the destroyer > the vent > Laura Story Johnson


A few years ago, my husband discovered a photograph from one of my nightmares. This.

Beth Skogen/The Daily Iowan [March 10, 2008 at page 6B]

He brought home the clipping from our local University newspaper and taped it to the refrigerator as a joke.

I was so overwhelmed I didn’t know where to begin. I was biased, but I couldn’t appreciate the nod to postmodernism. I’d seen plenty such photographs drying on the rope of my high school art classroom. Add an unlit cigarette, high heels, posed parted lips: the depth of the developer at which these attempts resonated was shallow. It was the act of giving a chemical bath to notebooks covered in drawings of eyes with teardrops. To me, the photographer of this particular image was like any other teenager in dark lipstick with a camera in her ballpoint pen-covered hands: she couldn’t resist the temptation of a mirror. It wasn’t her fault, entirely. After all, intended or not, Duchamp had paved the porcelain way. Not artistic enough? Have you thought about the bathroom?

I also was upset by the lack of journalistic integrity. The torn caption gave the name of the Delta Delta Delta sorority girl in the Easter Bunny costume, making the photograph kind of like interviewing the guy who plays Santa at the mall. I envisioned a headline: “Quarter Loss – in current recession parents unable to be the tooth fairy.” Whoops. It made me feel better that even if children could read they probably didn’t think that the Easter Bunny wore sneakers. Or spoke with vocal fry. I know I always envisioned a real bunny. So, the basket unpacked, it was fine to acknowledge the poor freshman suffering global warming’s early summer, wrapped in a self-titled “freaky” suffocating layer of fur as she waved and handed out plastic eggs. “Throw away the wrappers when you’re done; Christ died for our sins.”

Still, the bathroom. Everything about the picture screamed creepy. From the bunny’s hollow coy gaze to the menacing Donnie Darko reflection over her shoulder. Not to mention the fact that the Easter Bunny seemed to be coming out of a stall. No one wants to think about that. At first I thought it was a screen shot from a horror film.

The scientific term for my condition, I believe, is furryphobia.

I’ve had it since I was a child. Sports mascots, Disney characters, the bigoted cow advertising Chick-fil-A: people dressed as large animals or cartoon characters terrify me. It’s not the costume aspect, I love a good costume. I don’t love a furry: a person wearing a “fursuit.” And though I also run away from clowns, that’s more of a loathing. This, my fear of a furry, is something much deeper. Part of it must be due to the fact that they don’t speak, but I can’t put my finger on it. It’s not just the fursuits, either. Because people who wear “partials” - like just a head, paws and tail with “normal” clothes - are somehow even worse. Even scarier.

Apparently most people love furries. You see fans lined up to take pictures with Bucky Badger or Herky the Hawk. Kids rush over to hug Donald Duck. Parades are full of furries of all shapes and sizes. And I’ve read that some people really love furries. The furry fandom. These are the people who love furries so much that they buy or make their own fursuits and wear them around to various events where furries are welcome. There are even conventions. Midwest FurFest is one such furry convention, where furries come together to…to what?

The media circus that surrounded the answer to that question a few years ago upset a lot of furries and furry fans. They felt that they were being portrayed unfairly. After all, it was only a small percentage of the furry fandom that were in it for the sex. Damn those kinky furries, screwing it up for everyone else. Those weirdos, the ones who were attracted to giant stuffed animals, they gave the community such a bad rap. The rest of them just wanted to hang out, draw some comics, and maybe do a three-legged race.

The encounter with a furry that scarred me for life happened in the least expected of places. I’m actually still not sure where we went or what the occasion was. As a teacher in Ulaanbaatar, one winter day I came to school to discover that we were being loaded onto buses. I was instructed to sit with my first grade class. “A fieldtrip,” our Principal explained. After an hour or so of endless white passing out the window, a massive Soviet building appeared in the middle of nowhere. I think it might have been an old hotel, though it was never clear. Perhaps like the newspaper that featured the Easter Bunny post-urination, it only existed in a bad dream.

Outside the decrepit structure were blocks of ice carved into various unidentifiable shapes, some of which the kids used as slides. There were hundreds of children there. We all watched some sort of performance in a large room where the crackling speakers turned way too loud made the Mongolian impossible to understand, even had I been fluent. A woman shouted into a microphone between the acts, which featured an ancient man with a dissolute monkey, contortionists, and lots of lip-syncing (an accepted and admired art form in Mongolia, at least when I lived there). The man with the monkey never left the stage. He never really did anything either, except hold the monkey’s chain and smile a tooth-missing grin. The monkey lunged at the kids in the first row, clawing and hissing as his chain pulled him back. The man just leered, the kids laughed nervously. By the time I made my way back outside to supervise my students at the ice activities, I was both deaf and bewildered. And then I saw him.

Hanging out, as furries will, near a group of children was a tall mouse. At first I thought it was Mickey Mouse, since the ears were close to the Disney classic, but when he turned the face was all wrong. I will admit that my head was already spinning and so it’s possible I conflated the chained and isolated abhorrent monkey’s stare with the mouse furry’s eyes, but I swear they were red and glowing. My students wanted to go and meet him. I declined, but they pressed. I explained in my MongolEnglish that I didn’t like “big animals.” That I had “scared.” I hung back and some of my students went over anyway. I watched them talk to the mouse furry. And then I stood frozen in dread as the sea of children parted and he looked right at me.

He started running. I panicked. I turned and ran as fast as I could, slipping and sliding on a patch of snow-turned-ice where seven year olds were pushing each other around. I looked behind. He was still coming. The mouse furry was actually pursuing me. For a moment I thought I must be dreaming, the whole day had been too surreal. Then I tripped and the cold snow on my bare hands was the truth. I was sprinting across the snowy steppe of Mongolia being chased by a furry. A demonic Mickey Mouse was gaining on me as innocent children stood by and laughed. I ran and ran. Eventually he gave up and turned back. I stood and watched him retreat, my heavy breaths clouding my vision and frosting my cheeks. I was triumphant, but it was all too brief. I made my way back and sat on the bus until we left. My students tried to tease me, but I ignored them. I had a lot on my mind.

They cannot be trusted. That silence. Those empty eyes. The slow nodding head. And they are everywhere. Maybe even in the stall next to you.

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