Just Like Home is dedicated “to everyone who ever loved a monster.”
It is the easiest thing in the world to love a monster. It’s easy to love a monster because love isn’t a decision. It’s no one’s fault that love happens. Emotions, urges, and impulses are themselves beyond our ability to control. Love in its many forms wells up out of the human spirit irrepressibly. Like anger or sadness or the desire to kill, it arrives without invitation or intention. Action might spring from emotion—love might lead to an expression of affection, anger might lead to violence, a powerful impulse might lead to a monstrous act. But on its own, love is no different from any other feeling. To love a monster is easy, when the monster seems loveable.
It’s easy for a monster to seem loveable. All monsters partition other people into two categories—those who witness their monstrosity, and those who don’t. Maybe this is because the monster sees the world as divided into unequal parts, where some deserve to flourish while others deserve to be the targets of ungoverned impulse. Or maybe it’s because monsters want to be loved just as much as anyone else, and they understand that those who experience their ungoverned impulses aren’t likely to give them support, affection, admiration. Maybe it’s just another reflex, as unconscious as the way my voice slips into a slightly different register when I’m around trusted friends.
Regardless of motive, the outcome is the same. Not everyone experiences a monster as a monster. Not everyone agrees on what constitutes monstrosity, which clouds the matter even further—but even if we all understood the same traits and behaviors to be universally monstrous, we would not all be able to see the monsters standing beside us for what they are. We understand each other through a combination of preexisting bias and interpersonal encounter. If nothing has ever illuminated the monstrosity in a person, it’s impossible to see that monstrosity for what it is.
That experience, that failure to behold and understand the whole nature of someone who reveals only certain parts of themself, is not the fault of the beholder. It’s only natural that, without new information or a new experience to change things, some people will experience a monster as a loved one. Some people will experience them as a spouse, a parent, a friend, a colleague. And still others will experience them as a monster—but in that experience, will feel something as simple as familiarity, and mistake it for love, because those two emotions are so often indistinguishable.
It’s easiest to love a monster when that love springs from familiarity. So many of us spend our lives learning and re-learning how love is supposed to look and feel, and our teachers are often, themselves, monsters. If a monster teaches you that love feels like control, then when control arrives, it’s easy to recognize it as love. If a monster teaches you that love feels like fear, then when love arrives without fear, it’s hard to recognize it at all. If a monster teaches you that love feels like support, affection, and honesty—and you find out, later, that they were a monster all along—then support, affection, and honesty can feel bewildering. It can feel like a trap. We are ill-equipped to process good information from bad sources.To have loved a monster—even to have been loved by a monster—does not make a person monstrous, or unlovable, or incapable of love.
So, how do you navigate the world when you can never really be sure what you’re recognizing? This is the question at the heart of Just Like Home. Vera Crowder spent her childhood learning from monsters—one that loved her and one that didn’t, one that is easy to recognize as monstrous and one that most would consider blameless. As an adult, returning to the place where she learned how to be a person, she’s confronted with questions about what that childhood meant. Which love should she long for? Which familiarity should she reach towards? What is she allowed to miss?
How can she love herself, when she only knows how to love and be loved by monsters?
Ultimately, the answers to those questions are different for everyone who has ever loved a monster. And make no mistake: they are answerable questions. To have loved a monster—even to have been loved by a monster—does not make a person monstrous, or unlovable, or incapable of love. Some people learn to untangle themselves from their pasts, from their teachers, from their monsters. Some find profound healing in the question of what love can look like, when there are no monsters involved. Some grow into their fullest, richest, most beautifully-realized selves.
And others, in the process of learning more about monsters and love and ungoverned impulse than most people could begin to imagine, take a different path. A path of acceptance, both of the monstrous love they’ve experienced and the monstrosity they themselves contain. Because love is not a choice—but it is a refuge, a comfort, and a balm. Because monsters can hide themselves, even when they live inside of us. Because monsters can teach us how to love, even when that love is itself monstrous.
When a person only knows how to love monsters, the monster within can become something to discover, to nurture, to cherish until it blossoms into something that can be seen and understood and loved. Vera Crowder, in returning to the home where she grew up among monsters, will confront it all. On the way, she’ll uncover the secrets of her mother, her father, and the home she grew up loving. The monsters have always been there. It’s just up to Vera to learn how to recognize them—and to learn how to see herself for who she’s always been.