No one could see him but me.
I was six years old when he chased me. The goblin was a tall, disgusting, angry thing: taller than my father, more pungent than a sock, with gnarly teeth and thick, heavy thighs. He’d demand I lie down and please him, then take me behind the sofa, pin me to the floor, and laugh at my crying.
I liked what he did. I wanted him to hurt me, to scare me, to tell me awful things, and bend me to his will.
My mother caught me a few times behind the couch, struggling under him, and she’d respond with concern. “I’m only playing Army,” I’d lie. “Play something else,” she’d say. But why?
Why was it wrong for me to have an invisible goblin when she had her own, real ones? Four or five of them. Her boyfriends. The horror they inflicted dwarfed the worst mine dealt. They broke dishes, punched holes in walls, told my mother they’d kill her. I was in some ways jealous. My goblin was banal next to my mother’s boyfriends. I wanted one of hers. I wanted one of her men to do to me what they did to her.
I wanted to be my mother, gorgeous and charming, an enchanter of men, a seductress who’d twist sour hearts around her finger, break them to show them that she could, and walk away without a second thought. “Weak,” she called the nice ones. She tired of the others.
Gene was once my favorite of my mother’s monsters: a tall, thick man with an affected, booming voice and a sick-twisted manner both domineering and soft-hearted. He’d buy me toys and slap my back so hard it hurt (“patting,” he called it).
I took particular interest in Gene for our alone time together. Gene exercised his privilege as a used car salesman by bringing home different autos from work. He’d drive me around the neighborhood in them, impressing me in sleek sports cars, taking corners too fast, slamming on the breaks in the middle of streets, telling me we were going to crash, and occasionally grabbing my knee so hard I felt it shift under my skin (“I’m just tickling you,” he’d say when I’d cry out).
I enjoyed it.
But Gene was more disturbing than my mother’s other boyfriends. Something about him was deeply insidious. Just out of sight during even Gene’s most frightening outbursts lurked something more, something darker, more than a monster. It revealed itself only once, on the night of his death.
Gene put a gun to his head in the summer of 1992. He sat at the edge of my mother’s bed after an argument, eerily, too-immediately calm, looked into my eyes, and made me bear witness to the blooming of a goblin into a demon. He took a piece of my mother with him that night. She blamed herself the rest of her life for my being there. She became a different person and died a near-empty shell.
I stopped fantasizing about my goblin after Gene. I like to think it died with him. But my own sordid history with men gives me pause. Might his death been to my personal monster what I’d seen bloom from his own — an evolution into a slyer, more sinister creature, one with no need for imagination as sustenance — a treacherous addiction to men who’d do more than do me wrong, the men I grow increasingly attracted to. As I age, I see more of my mother in myself.
I imagine we all have goblins hunting us, wicked thoughts, feelings, events, people, we can’t stand but wish secretly never to stop, because the goblins after us are us after our own vulnerabilities, not terribly unhealthy for most people, but ripe for others to danger salting wounds into demons.