I was born a monster. Doctors gathered around my bed, arguing about what to do. They batted five-syllable words at one other. They considered zapping me with X-rays, depriving me of various vitamins and minerals, filling my bloodstream with drugs, slicing me with scalpels or lasers.

~

People knew there was something wrong with me, but they didn’t know what. They shied away from me, but they could never point to a physical sign. I marked my skin with razor cuts, but they couldn’t see that. I gave off an aura of violet and blue; I gave off a scent of despair. The twisted soul can be smelled.

~

I put an ad on the Internet, looking for other monsters. I got email messages from people who wore Bigfoot masks, people with big purple lumps growing out of their heads, people who bragged about stealing other people’s dirty socks. Those weren’t the monsters I was trying to find. Nobody was a monster in the same way that I was a monster.

~

I found a support group for monsters like me. We sat around a classroom on the second floor of a hospital. We put our chairs in a circle and sipped coffee out of styrofoam cups while we talked about our monsterhood. The fluorescent lights hurt my skin. Someone always brought fudge-striped cookies. Almost everyone brought store-bought goodies in cardboard and cellophane, but there was one person who baked from scratch and secretly, I think, sneered at the offerings of everyone else.

~

You may not know that monsters need to be stroked, like anyone else. That we crave the feel of fingers tracing our brows, noses, lips. That we love the taste of tongue and skin, and the smell of hair, and the unexpected gasp when tongues touch. That we wanted to go to proms decked out in satin ruffles or tuxedos, that we would look as good as anybody else when we danced.

~

The teachers and the kids at school may have known, but they never said anything. The other people who lived on my block may have known. People kept to themselves and didn’t care if you were a monster, as long as you didn’t blast your stereo or steal their newspapers or let your dog pee on their grass.

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I wondered if I could fall in love with someone who was not a monster. I tried dating people like me and people not like me. With other monsters I had a shortcut, an immediate crack in the shell, through which I could feel the heat of their true beings. I wondered if normal people had that shell, or if it was only we monsters who needed that. Whenever I met other monsters, I felt the way it must feel to run into someone from your home country after living abroad. What a relief it must be when your own language pours out over your tongue, without strain or hesitant translation, when the screen between you and another dissolves.

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I didn’t know any other way to live. I imagined it, read about it, saw movies about living as a normal person, but in the end I lived in my monster shell. More than a shell. So thoroughly was I a monster that I did not know if I would honestly choose to change, even if I could. Everything about me that jarred, the twisted and freaky parts of me, I came to love. If I’d had yellow scales or breath of flame or horns jutting from my head, I am sure I would have found those beautiful too.

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I am not unique. I found others like me and we wept together, licked up one another’s tears, wove our hands together, whispered our secrets.

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We did not always recognize one another immediately, but eventually we would catch a flash of something. Our eyes would meet, and we would know. We could sense things others did not need to sense. No, we did not have a secret handshake. It was a buzz, a subsonic hum in the air. An itch inside the ears, a heat in the skin, a tingle in the stomach.

~

There are other monsters. So many, and of so many different types, that sometimes I wonder who draws the line between monster and non-monster. Monsterhood left me untouched. Monsterhood permeated me. Sometimes I could forget about it, until people who were not like me noticed my difference, and fear would snap in their eyes like sparks popping off a fire. At times like that, I wondered if they would ever outlaw my particular kind of monsterhood. I wondered if we would be rounded up and branded, jailed and hanged. “By definition a monster is less than human,” I could already hear some earnest hate-monger from the future proclaiming. And I could see monsters’-rights advocates hanging posters: “Have you hugged a monster today?” As if to say, all a monster really needs is love. Like anyone else.