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I might be a monster - Daniel Silliman

I heard there are three brothers left. There were four, but one died, and now the remaining three live in New Jersey, or Connecticut -- one of those odd-shaped Eastern states -- where they have vowed to never have children.

So, that's how the Hitler family will end.

The mass murderer's great-nephews have taken the vow and, apparently, kept to it, so that no one, ever again, will grow up knowing they're related to the man who murdered millions in the name of a racist ideology.

The brothers have changed their last name, and they live quietly, going about their normal, daily business. They work normal jobs. They live in normal houses. And they have promised to terminate their own blood line, because they don't want any genetic trace of that evil to go on.

We're all taught to fear monsters, as children. Well, no, not taught to fear them, because the fear is already there. The fear is nameless, though -- we look under the bed, but don't know what we're looking for -- and so, we're taught to identify monsters, to know their names and to try to avoid them.

With fairy tales and Disney movies, children are taught about big bad wolves that dress like grandma, wicked stepmothers and stepsisters and witches. Around Halloween, children are taught about ghosts, witches, werewolves, walking skeletons, vampires and zombies.

On Wednesday, sometime before dusk, kids across the country will put on costumes. Some of them will dress like monsters, taking on the masks of feared things, and parading around their neighborhoods, for candy.

The lesson, I suppose, is that scary things aren't scary, if you laugh at them, or, if you know enough about them. This is true and I don't have a problem with it. I am surprised, though, that the lesson isn't about how even sweet little kids can grow up to be monsters.

Halloween is a pantomime of every mother's worst fear. Yet, as innocent children are transformed into grinning evil, no one seems to notice. The lesson of the Hitler brothers, the lesson of the Christian doctrine of sin, and the lesson that you, too, have a great potential for evil, are avoided.

We can probably chalk this column up to my own religious guilt, though I've been noticing that religious guilt is on the wane. The majority of the sermons I've heard, in the last decade, at churches across the spectrum, get around, at some point, to mentioning the pleasant difference between the congregation and regular, run-of-the mill sinners. It's not that the faithful have lost their ability for guilt, it's just that it all seems to be directed at the other people.

I got my religious guilt incidentally. There was no concerted effort to convince me of my own monstrosity when I was a child, but I heard it loudly in a passing, half-joking comment.

It was the summer in the country, and I had played outside all day in the way you do, when you're five. I came home to find my mom had been to the store and bought me a toy gun. She was coming into the house, my baby sister in one arm and my present in the other. I grabbed it and turned to go back to playing.

Mom said, "Don't you want to play with your sister? You haven't seen her all day."

I didn't want to play with her. She was a baby. She was a girl. I had a brand new gun that popped when I pulled the trigger. I stood there, holding my gun, looking at my mom and my sister and realizing, I guess, the vastness of my own selfishness. I considered that I might be a monster. Not only did I not care about my little sister, I cared a lot about a plastic toy.

I didn't know much about evil, when I was five. I knew what I saw on Superman, and I knew a neighborhood bully and I knew I'd been told not to talk to strangers. A cold knot gripped my stomach, though, and I considered that I could be the worst person who ever lived.

Daniel Silliman covers crime and courts for the Clayton News Daily. He can be reached at (770) 478-5753 ext. 254, or via e-mail at dsilliman@news-daily.com.