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The Monsters of Templeton, Lauren Groff

Voice, February 5, 2008

Because even though I now had a father, he brought with him such a thickness of ancestors that it would be impossible to dig and understand them all, and they would be stamped only in the DNA of whatever future children I could have. It was too much. It was impossible to understand it all.

And yet, we cling to these things. We pretend to be able to understand. We need the idea of the first humanoid in North America though we will never find him; we need a mass of ancestors at our backs as ballast. Sometimes, we feel it’s impossible to push into the future without such a weight behind us, without such heaviness to keep us steady, even if it is imaginary. The more frightening the future is, the more complicated it seems to be, the more we steady ourselves with the past.

A funny thing happens while I am steadying myself with the pillars of my past. A great beast awakens. Feelings previously unknown twist my stomach as if I am suddenly being possessed by a demon.

And the ghosts in the lake will rise and follow me, calling, until the day … when I will be too weak to resist, and I will walk into the lake. . . .

I ponder the concept of what it took for me to arrive at this place in time, in sudden need of an exorcism. The branches of a family tree stretch far and wide into roots that are buried far too deep in the soil of history for me to begin to accurately trace the trail of years. I am left without a clue as to their proper beginnings, but conversely know exactly where they will end (with me).The sadness inflicted by this realization—that I am the cause of the ultimate break in the chain—is what awakens the great beast. I suspect that they will come from all around—the ghosts of my DNA past—to haunt me over the decisions that have led to me this ultimate crossroads.

My husbands are like that monster, hovering, and I have lit ten tapers here, the fire blazes, it is all as bright as noon, but in every reflection, every dark space, husbands. I know they are not here. But they are. They hide in the mercury of my mirror, they are not real, but they are, there is no such thing as a ghost, but they are here. And I am afraid. . . .

And so, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, the trail ends here. Long after I am gone, if someone is so curious, they can construct their own version of my humble outline and come to their own conclusions. I leave behind invisible bread crumbs—ghosts from my past—that will eventually lead straight to me, the chain-breaker. The dead end.

Why so serious, you ask? Do not suggest that this is something akin to a mid-life crisis or that I am worried about the passing on of the family name, because I know that neither is the case. Through nephews and nieces, the name is adequately secure and as for the concept of mid-life, I have never felt secure enough in the mirage of tomorrow to ever be able to place myself along some imaginary timeline. This is clearly about something else entirely.

It is about me of course. And the ghosts of me.

Perhaps, in a few years, this mini-crisis over my reproductive failures will be nothing more than an example of a long line of vanity that died along a well-trodden path.

Strange how when we’re young, we think we’ll die over things we chuckle about when we’re old.

Until then, I can only pass the mirrors and darkened corners with more than a little bit of trepidation, ever wary of the spirits who conspired to put me here, hoping that they are not too disappointed with how it all turned out. Because the truth is, I’m not sure I am.

Not yet anyway.