On monsters

I haven’t decided what to be for Halloween yet.

I’ve had a string of overly arcane costume ideas the past few years. Being Elliot Alderson from Mr. Robot didn’t go over so well last year, even with a very committed ersatz Christian Slater following me around heckling all night. The costume was perfect though. Black hoodie, check! Black backpack, check! Bug-eyed glassy expression, check! Ah — I’ve gone and dressed up as myself, haven’t I.

Nobody got the iPirate, either. Not even with the white iPod headphones braided into my hair, and the glossy white enamel hook I stole from the dough mixer. The Dalek, an ambitious mashup of cardboard, LEDs, kitchen utensils and trash-bin parts, fared a little better, even though nobody knew what it was. At least I won a costume prize for the “exterminator robot.”

I’m trying to think about costumes. I’m not getting very far this year. It’s hard to think at all over the drumbeat: me too, me too, me too.

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News of Harvey Weinstein’s crimes broke two weeks ago. It’s a familiar pattern in the news cycle, I should recognize it by now. I should have known that once the Hollywood dam of silence broke, my friends and neighbors wouldn’t be far behind. I should have known it would get me where I live. I should have shut the computer, bricked the phone, maybe found a nice monastery to hole up in for a few weeks ‘til it blew over.

Now that I have seen what’s happening on all my social media channels, there is no looking away from it. The #MeToo personal accounts of sexual harassment and rape and professional derailment keep pouring in, from friends and family members and colleagues and acquaintances and people I hardly know. It’s hard to stop reading.

Some of my best friends’ worst stories I know already. Terrible things visited on little children, torture that would break a soldier. Without fail, when they march by on my Facebook wall, the worst ones are only two words long.

But hey, life goes on, right? Halloween is coming, and I’m so unready. It’s a high holy day in the Harris calendar, we joke, but we’re not actually kidding. There were sequins embedded in the floorboards of my grandparents’ apartment in the Village; that’s the kind of people I come from. We take these things seriously. It is time to get cracking.

I could be Alexander Hamilton. Do I have time to sew a pair of breeches? Does the Kingston store have powdered wigs?

It’s impossible, I keep getting distracted. Here is Barry Crimmins consoling survivors on Twitter. Here is a friend talking about being assaulted by a cop, and here is a troll jumping on her post to tell her she’s too ugly to be telling the truth.

I’m trying not to get sucked in. I’m trying to wrench this column around to something less monstrous. I’m trying to get things done here. But the stories keep coming. They keep coming. They are still at it. They are relentless, like Mickey’s brooms and buckets, each one spawning three more just like it, marching, marching up the stairs. They are strong and blind and purposeful and nothing will satisfy them.

There’s a poem I like, by Brad Leithauser, that goes like this:

You will carry this suture
Into the future.
The past never passes.
It simply amasses.

And there it is, right on cue, a friend is applauding me on my Facebook wall for having been brave on this particular topic myself some years ago, in some other essay for some other publication. I’m of two minds on “brave.” I’m not sure that’s the right adjective.

My kid is nine this year. Prime Halloween age. She’s known what she’s going to be for months. She’s going in one of those ghostface Scream masks; she’s kind of a morbid child. They’ll have a costume parade through town. Hundreds of kids, all brave and silly and hepped up on Twizzlers, with fangs and wings and claws. I wonder, I always wonder, how many of them have already had to contend with real monsters.

I want to protect her. I hardly know where to begin. You’d think I’d have more insight on that front, considering. I don’t care to dwell on it, but if the proportion of “me too” stories among the women I know is any indication, the question isn’t “will she have a story,” it’s “when.”

These stories need telling, they push and jostle to be told. They make room for themselves, and for their authors. But they don’t make the world safer for any of us. They give us courage, but they don’t defend us. They are the plastic swords and pistols we carry into the darkness.

The only cure worth a damn is time. By the time October 31 rolls around, the latest hashtag storm will have passed us by. We will be on to some other, less personally ruinous form of bad news. We will be carving pumpkins and hanging up bats. The creepy animatronic butler, who tells spooky dad jokes, will be pressed into service. All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.

Me, too.

Lissa Harris is the former editor of the Watershed Post. She lives in Margaretville with her wife and daughter. Send her Catskills news tips at lissa.e.harris@gmail.com.