Toothbrush (Twilight Parody)

Chapter 1.  Initial Discovery

 

I was sitting in the car, which was being driven by the woman that I call mother, since she gave birth to me.  Looking out at the window, I felt as though the world simply couldn’t understand me or the deepest feelings reflected in the iridescent pools of my sparkling eyes.  I sighed or grimaced, since I wasn’t sure which I was feeling.

“Things in our past have been rough,” said my mother, “and things in our past have been tough, but the past is past, and . . .”

She just couldn’t say any more, and I just couldn’t hear any more.  She turned her eyes back to the road, probably since she was driving, and I turned with a sigh back to the rolling expanse of that green place out there.  We were leaving the place we had left, left as if it had never happened.  But it had, and it would never, ever go away.

“Amora Bird,” my mother said, “remember that I love you.  That’s why I named you Amora.  Because I love you so much.”

I felt my stomach tighten at those words, words that should have meant something to me, and which almost did, but I was not one given to intense intercommunion with the inner veils of even my own parents.  I was in high school, and always felt so distant and aloof, so very different from people who weren’t like me.  Oh, it is such a burden to be so different!

We were going somewhere, that was for sure.  Somewhere else, that wasn’t home, wasn’t the place we had left.  It would never be the same, because things had changed.

“I’m trying,” my mother said with tears into my silence and my sighing.  “I want you to try too.”

I looked into those eyes and saw the intense obfuscation of turmoil deep within her trying soul.  “I know, mom.  I’m sorry.”

That was all I could say, so I didn’t say anything else.  We pulled into the driveway of our new home, and suddenly it all became so real.  Everything had really happened, and here we really were.  I just hoped I could survive this place, where people didn’t know how fantastic I was.  I sighed as I helped my mother bring our luggage into our most recent domicile.

 

That night, I was asleep in my bed, thinking about all of the things that had happened that day.  I couldn’t think very clearly for some reason, so I decided to stop, so I just kind of lay there with my eyes closed and my mind drifting through a whole bunch of complex dreams.  As I slept, I felt a little more rested than I did while I was awake, and when I woke up I was tired, but not as tired as I was without sleeping.  I stood onto my feet and stretched, and realized that it was still dark outside.  The clock read 4:50 a.m.  Still a few hours of sanctuary from the cold, tomblike halls of high school that stretch ever on, trying to consume my soul in a swath of morbid conformity.

I looked out of my window into the street below, where the moon was glowing like a big, round lamp, a lamp that someone hung every night so that the sky wouldn’t be so dark.  I saw things moving out there, things that moved with insidious purpose.  It was then that I knew.  It was as if somehow I forgot to think rationally about anything; I just knew.  These things, they weren’t just people.  They were vampires.

Yeah, they looked like people, but they were outside at night.  And they were walking thirstily.  And I read in a book somewhere that vampires walk thirstily in the moonlight, and it sent a chill creeping up my spine, the kind of chill you get when you look out into the street and think that bloodsuckers are running around your neighborhood.  I was so terrified.

But then, I saw him.  I didn’t just see him.  It was like my soul danced out of my bones and did the cha-cha right up to his soul, which came out and then our souls waltzed in the moonlight across the lawn in a spiraling ascent of incredible, instantaneous passion and understanding.  His eyes were like big blue birds, flying in the glint of the sunlight, passionate and real and cool.  His muscles were strong and muscular, and he was wearing a black trench coat that covered his body.  He looked like the kind of neat movie star who wore sunglasses on cloudy days and smiled in the face of horrible danger.  I knew that I loved him, and that he loved me.  He gazed up at me and I knew that he knew what I knew.

May I come inside, his eyes asked me.  Yes, you may, my eyes replied.  And suddenly, he wasn’t in the lawn.  Suddenly, he was in my room.  He leaned close to me and brushed my hair aside.  I ached for him.  I knew he was a vampire, but I figured, hey, nobody’s perfect.

“I am falling in love with you,” I said.

“You don’t even know my name, Amora Bird,” he said, smiling, his fang glistening like two sharp pearls of perfect love.

“Oh, but you know mine, and I will learn yours!” I asserted with all of the vigor of my beating heart.  “I don’t know what is in a name, but what is yours, if we must insist upon Shakespeare, my love?!”

“My name,” he breathed, standing close, his body against mine.  “My name is a thing I do not give out lightly.  Few mortals have heard my name.  Those who have shake at it, they tremble, they fear.  They know what I am and what I like to do in my spare time, and it scares them.  Amora, my name, my name is . . . Bob.”

Bob.  It sent a chill up my spine.  I shivered with love for Bob the vampire.  I put my arms around him.

“Bob, I know you are a vampire!  Please, do what you need to do,” I begged.

“You don’t understand what you’re saying!” he argued, his eyes pleading with desperation.

“No, but I understand what I feel!” I cried passionately.

To that he could brook no argument.  And so, he leaned his head to my neck.  I felt teeth begin to press against my skin.  Then, he stopped.

“Wait . . . wait . . .” he whispered.  “This . . . this is your first time.  I have to brush my teeth first.”

“No, I am ready,” I said, hot tears staining my face.  “You do not need to brush your teeth!”

“I do.  I just . . . I love you, Amora!  That is what your name means, Amora.  It means love.  And love means doing the thing that’s best for you, even if you don’t understand everything.  You have to let me do this.  Please!”

My chest heaved with indecision and an overwhelming sense of ambiguous, floating signifiers.  “Very well.  Come with me.”

So, I took him into my bathroom.  His skin looked like perfection in the brilliant light of the bathroom.  I put the sparkling toothbrush with the glistening toothpaste on those little, amazing bristles, and I said, “There.  Do what you have to do.”

I turned from him then, in that moment, knowing that it was his moment and that I had to leave him to do what he had to do.  He only said, “If I’m not back in five minutes, don’t wait for me.  Save yourself.”

Those words might sound like they were meaningless, but they weren’t meaningless.  They were the most breathtaking words I had ever heard.  My chest heaved with love for the vampire man who would think to say such a thing for me.  I waited in my room.  Thankfully my mom was a heavy sleeper and didn’t expect a vampire to visit me late at night, so she kept her door closed and didn’t hear any of this.  I sat on my bed, aching for my love, my precious Bob.  Even being a part from him was like being apart from someone who was actually not someone else, but a piece of me.

Then he returned, and that feeling I just described went away because it wasn’t true anymore.  Now he was there, not gone.  I sat there, looking at him with my sparkling eyes on his glittering teeth and glistening eyes.  He stood there, looking at my sparkling eyes with his glittering teeth and glistening eyes.

“Is it secret?  Is it safe?” I asked him with passion.

“It is.”

“Please,” I said, “please.  Do what must be done!!!”

“I shall,” he whispered.  Suddenly he was there, holding me, drawing me close, and I knew that for the first time I was truly alive, here in this dead man’s arms.  I felt a flutter in my heart as the bloodsucker jammed his teeth into my neck.  “He truly cares for me,” I sighed.

And that is how I came to be in love with someone I didn’t think I’d ever love, when I didn’t think I could ever love at all.  But I could love, and I did love, and I loved someone I wasn’t supposed to love.  I loved a hygienic vampire!

The Grendel Crawling in Our Skin: In Memory of Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington

“I woke up in a dream today to the cold of the static and put my cold feet on the floor.”

I don’t know how to write this post. It’s about the sound of a voice painted in my memories since Middle School. But if I don’t try to walk the talk now that I commit to every time I speak in the classroom, then I will be a hypocrite. So here’s a shot.

The reason it’s important to read Beowulf is because the monsters it describes exist. It’s pure arrogance of the intellect to believe that trolls and dragons aren’t real just because they aren’t visible like sharks or drowning. We don’t need to invent horrors in this world anymore if all we need monsters for is to tell us about physical threats of the animal kingdom or the natural world, or even that other people might hurt us. We tell stories about monsters because we are huddled in the middle of the darkness of our private minds. Stand in the doorway with your back to a dark basement, and without fail your imagination tells you that a Grendel is watching from the shadows. “Then out of the night came the shadow-stalker, stealthy and swift, the hall-guards were slack, asleep at their posts,” explains the Beowulf poet. Of course that’s when monsters come. It is so unfathomably stupid that we have, as a culture, tamed the monster, made dragons cute and trolls into toys.

Just this morning I was teaching Beowulf to my students and telling them that an essential part of the hero’s journey is the encounter with death. It’s the encounter with the Abyss, the breaking point where the hero doesn’t just test whether he will shatter. He shatters. He breaks. He is unmade by gazing into the face that dwells inside his skin, like burying the one he loves on Valentine’s Day. And if he is going to become the hero, he needs to integrate the devastation of death into the strength of his arm and the beat of his heart and return to life, having killed the dishonest part of himself, bringing only the truth and leaving out all the rest. And then I open Facebook and see a news link explaining that Chester Bennington has committed suicide.

Grendel and his devouring mother are the kin of Cain, the murderous son of the parents of the whole human race. He’s a cannibal who eats his own. Cain killed his brother, Abel, because he chose to ignore his own failures and foster resentment instead. The descendants of Cain are caught in the flood, and cursed already, they become water monsters. The Grendelkin are just one species of many denizens of the underwater darkness. But see, that’s the thing – monsters are submerged humanity, denied honesty, not merely broken and tragic but having gorged on the delightful premise that they might spread that tragedy to others.

The most tragic question, the real gnawing monster crawling in our own skin, is whether existence can justify the burden of suffering. “I’ve given up. I’m sick of feeling. Is there nothing you can say?” When Chester sang those lyrics, he wasn’t trying to be edgy or melodramatic. He sang them with the power he did because he could feel the Grendels in his papercuts. A papercut is a small wound that insults as it stings, because it’s such a minute reminder of how painfully fragile we are. And no number of first world comforts can hide us from the fact that we aren’t safe alone in our rooms from the real question of whether life is actually meaningful. Some people who don’t have those comforts are grateful for what they do have, because they don’t have the illusion that Grendel isn’t lurking in the basement anymore.

Grendel attacked the mead-hall in Beowulf because the warriors there were listening to the music and song that celebrated creation and the glory of the God who made it, while he suffered from the grievous wound of a cursed loneliness. This is not naïve character creation, because monsters have a point: whether in mind or body, some people do have wounds of loneliness that will not heal. It is rational to resent unhealing wounds. It makes sense. Something inside you is, with disturbing legitimacy, pulling beneath the surface, something that consumes and confuses your self-control, when it actually feels like the walls are closing in, the ugly weight of despair and depression whispers: Be a monster. And that whisper becomes louder until it screams.

That is the Grendel crawling in our skin, and it is the one that we are all battling. We all are. Some people roll their eyes when suicide is linked to mental disorder, but what they are really doing is not denying the mental disorder. They’re afraid. And they should be. Because the fact that suicide can happen means that every single person they love is capable of the same brokenness. Something can go wrong, maybe in one bad day or maybe in a series of inward refusals to face the Abyss and an even worse series of refusals to leave it, and then they’ll be completely unable to help.

I was always mesmerized by the performance of Chester, the red-faced, full-bodied, lung-stretching howl of violent melody that he brought to each song. He did more than perform; he battled the song into existence, admitting the brutal fight was happening even as he fought it – told us, though “nobody’s listening,” that we need to listen to music and fight existential resentment too, because the face is right beneath our skin.

chester-bennington-2ba58e5b5dc528ad

Sometimes heroes fall in the fight. But that they fell doesn’t make them Grendels. It makes them our fallen comrades, and we have to honor them properly: we have to fight all the harder against the crawling Grendel that tells us that we don’t matter, that we can’t overcome, that our feelings and our frustrations are pointless and aren’t worth hearing, that we are less than conquerors and that there’s nothing inside of us that is greater than the monstrous ingratitude and deep grief of Grendel.

We need to get a little further and try a little harder to not let ourselves or others be alone anymore. We have to listen to our own haunting wail that says it doesn’t even matterwe need to hear ourselves say it doesn’t matter so that we can actually know that it does. We have to stop hiding the Grendel in our papercuts. We have to keep killing the Grendels before they kill us.

I like to think that, for a while and most of the time, Chester had learned to become to become so numb to Grendel that he couldn’t even feel him there, and that he performed his song right in Grendel’s stupid, evil face, resisted him and made him flee. I don’t understand my own grief about the death of a celebrity I never met – some part of me feels silly about it even now. But that’s a Grendellish part, one that thinks humans can’t really connect over art. Of course they can. And Linkin Park has given us a tool, a sword to put some blood in the demon’s cuts – it acknowledges that the Grendel is crawling in our skin. And like cockroaches, those disgusting lies haunting our minds don’t like to be brought to light. Good. Let there be light on all the ugliness inside.

The least heroic thing about Beowulf is actually that he fought the monsters alone. The most heroic thing about Beowulf is that when Hrothgar gave him wisdom, he listened, and when Weahltheow gave him a cup, he drank from it, and when God gave him a sword in the darkness of the underwater cavern, he brought it to bear. Fighting suicide isn’t about being tougher or stronger, it’s about fighting the temptation to be strong alone. The dragon takes all of us eventually, but the greatest lie the dragon’s minion tells is that we have no allies in the fight. Kings and queens and all the heroes of the hall are everywhere, and the memories of those loved ones who die in Grendel’s deceptions can numb us to dragonfire long enough to make us able to sacrifice death to the pursuit of a meaningful life.

My prayers are with those who survive Chester, especially the Bennington and Linkin Park families. And my prayer is with you, if you feel the crawl in your skin, to not give up and not try to do it alone anymore. Whatever the face inside is telling you, your life matters. Even if you’re not with me, I’m with you.

http://chester.linkinpark.com