(Warning: Contains some disturbing descriptions)
I thought I didn’t have a dark side. When a college professor asked us to talk about our most sadistic impulses, our temptation to hurt others, I was the only person in the class who said he’d never been tempted to do so.
But then I remembered my childhood.
Around age 11, my buddy Rory and I went through a curious-cruel streak. We learned that if we poured salt on a snail or a slug, it would disintegrate before our eyes. It was morbidly fascinating. And being boys, we had pocket-sized magnifying glasses that could magically enlarge things. Like disintegrating snails. Which made their deaths even more real. And disturbing.
But other kids were doing it.
And then, when the sun came out, we discovered concentrated beams from our magnifying glasses could set things on fire! Things like paper, leaves, twigs…and ants. We’d watch in guilt-laced fascination as the insects suffered. But a short time later, while delivering newspapers, I passed a kid who was methodically beheading bees. Horrified, I ordered him to stop. He laughed and called me a girl. I was fine with that if it meant not being like him.
It didn’t matter whether other kids were doing it.
But my curious-cruel streak wasn’t over. I’d learned that cats used their whiskers to navigate. And so, despite an internal warning bell, I took a pair of scissors and cut off our cat Ginchy’s whiskers. When he bumped against the wall in a darkened hallway, I let out a weird laugh-cry. And later, as though Ginchy were to blame, I pushed him off the dryer (one of his warm places), entrapping him in the darkness behind it. I told myself it was an experiment. But I knew better–I was a monster. Then, I climbed over the dryer, reached down and lifted him out, and begged his forgiveness.
I denied knowing anything, when my parents asked what had happened to Ginchy’s whiskers. But a few days later I confessed (I never told them about the dryer). For days, months, possibly years, I wondered why I’d done it. Was it just curiosity? Was I jealous of the attention Mom gave him? Or was there really a monster living inside me? I decided to starve the monster till it died, or at least grew too weak to come out again.
A year or so later, I heard about a junior high boy who’d found and brutally killed a litter of kittens. Was it true? My first thought was, No, it can’t be. But my second thought was, “Yes, I’ve seen that monster.” I still convulse at the thought of what the boy who fed the monster might have become. And what I might have become. Because…
I no longer believe I don’t have a dark side.
“What if I should discover that the very fiend himself (lives) within me, and that I myself stand in need of my own kindness, that I myself am the enemy who must be loved?”