Once upon a time in a land not so far away there lived a little boy with his parents and two younger sisters in a house on the edge of a corn field.
Although the parents loved the boy and his sisters very much, and made sure that they had food to eat and clothes to wear, their religion taught them that anyone who did not believe exactly as they did would burn forever in Hell.
This made the boy’s parents very sad, but also very afraid for their children.
From the moment that the boy was born, like Thetis burning away Achilles’ mortality, his parents studied and scrutinized every word and every action for signs of worldly corruption—any signs that Satan and his demons were masters of their child instead of god.
If he dropped food off his high chair as a one-year-old, they would shake their heads and sigh, saying, “There’s his sin nature.” Then they would spank him until he finally stopped dropping food from his high chair, because they read in their holy book: “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.”
Ditto if he didn’t go to sleep right away at night, or didn’t finish his oatmeal, or once when his father whipped him because he mistakenly thought he’d heard the boy curse god.
Unlike most children, the parents kept their children at home instead of sending them to public school, because public schools belonged to Satan. At home, there was no lesson that did not have a Christian moral—math, history, biology, etc—and the parents read the Bible and prayed with their children each day.
Yet while their intent was to teach them about the unconditional love of their god, the boy and his sisters learned little about it from their parents.
They read in the Bible that “man looks on the outward appearance, but god looks on the heart” while learning through punishment and rewards that conformity and knowing how to play the right part in public was what truly mattered.
Though lessons about sin were intended to teach them about the grace and the love of their god, what they internalized from being told every day that there was nothing good about them, that they couldn’t do anything good (unless imprisoned, enthralled, and ravished by Jesus) was that they were bad, broken, and hateful. No one would ever love or accept them.
For the boy, being the oldest, with the weight of expectation that the parents put on him to be the model sibling for his sisters, all he could do was retreat into his imagination, into books and fantasy, hiding from the weight of the guilt and shame he felt all the time.
By age eight, had stopped smiling.
It was then that the Dark Man first appeared.
Although the boy couldn’t actually see the Man (except in dreams), he could feel him creeping, always, at the edges of his mind.
The Man would whisper that feelings like love or happiness were poor, inferior emotions for the simple or the weak—only the strong could look at life head on and not flinch. Though he could not hear the words, their chill froze his heart.
So the boy locked those feelings in a vault buried deep in his mind. He tried not to listen as they cried out in the dark, and after a time he couldn’t hear them anymore.
When the Dark Man told him it was stupid to be childlike, piece by piece the boy threw his toys and games into the black vault, sneering at innocence and youth. Inside, he began to feel more like the Dark Man every day, cold, lifeless, scowling at the world and everyone in it from behind the mask he learned to wear.
When the boy made a mistake and his parents didn’t show the disappointment he expected, the Dark Man would scream and rail at him instead about how worthless he was, how no one would ever love him, that he would never be good enough for anyone.
And when the boy became aware of the feelings he had for other boys, a thing he had been taught was forbidden, he took those desires and locked them away in the vault too.
There, in the darkness, all the things he shut away from the prying eyes of parents, teachers, pastors, and friends grew twisted and pallid, like tiny homunculi in his mind, primeval gods of the elements of himself he had buried.
The love and happiness he had abandoned became a hurt and angry child–the boy who hadn’t understood why his parents couldn’t just love and accept him.
The desires and ambitions he was supposed to surrender to god curled and twisted into a cruel, cunning schemer that would do anything to get what he wanted.
And when the boy grew older, his buried sexual feelings became a monster of desire, a dragon who, when unleashed, sought to consume and devour all things before it.
With the Dark Man, these four stood behind the mask of self the boy curated to show to the world—a face that others expected to see. With the boy’s assent, they built a wall of suspicion, cool looks, and cynicism around him to keep everyone from getting too close. They stepped forward to take over in moments when he felt uncomfortable, fearful, threatened, or inadequate. The boy thought this part of his protean, kaleidoscopic personality.
When he finally left home, they went with him, silent guardians watching and waiting who cared little for distinctions between friend and foe. The Dark Man whispered that no one was safe, that everyone would hurt and disappoint him.
Yet a piece of the boy still remained, deep within the fortress of his mind who remained redeemable and hopeful, who longed to live free in the sunlight.
Free of his prison.
Please note: though based on real experience, this story is intended only as a metaphor and should not be interpreted as describing dissociative identity (formerly “multiple personality”) disorder.