Here is the first 20% of Broken due to release 11 September 2015
Angela B. Chrysler
I opened the red door of my cottage and peered through the crack into the early morning and at the stranger who approached my door. My home was out of the way of everything. Those who came to visit had to make an effort and almost no one made the effort. I liked it that way.
“Miss Lundy?” The stranger said nervously. “Miss Elizabeth Lundy?”
Like a sniper staring through the scope of a rifle, I assessed the youth, determined the level of threat he posed, and punched out the stats in my head: Male. Twenty-two years. Five-five. One twenty pounds. Thin arms. Wide shoulders, straight back. If he worked out he could turn more than a few heads. Pity he didn’t bother.
He smiled a bright smile that exposed a decent set of teeth. Everything about his composure exuded relief and elation once he saw that I hadn’t slammed the door in his face.
“Good morning,” he said and it truly was. The sun bathed the deep greens of the forest and hills despite the white clouds that streaked the Irish sky. The stream that cut through the land behind him caught the light and glistened like crystal glass. The rains would be here by evening, but for now, it was a very good morning.
He was American. New England. His hair was sandy, short, and brushed back. Eyes were hazel and clear. Skin, pasty pale. Not a fair Irish pale I had grown used to seeing, but an unhealthy sickly complexion one can only get from living in an office too long. Desk jockey, I concluded. Pencil pusher. Virgin. I could take him. I could teach him a few things. I would break him.
“Dia Duit,” I answered softly and waited for an explanation.
“Miss Lundy. I’m William D. Shaw from the university.” He nervously shuffled his bag then freed and extended a long, slender hand. His fingers were strong, almost pianist quality and I felt my blood rise when I slid my hand into his. Strong shake. Confident. Not feeble or limp. I imagined his hands on me. Sliding up my neck, through my hair. If he knew what he was doing, that is. He didn’t look like he would. He was shaking, but doing a decent job keeping it together all things considered.
“We spoke on the phone,” he said. “Well…we didn’t speak on the phone so much as I left you a voice message. I…may I come in?”
I released his hand and noted the warmth. His blood pressure was high, but no sweat. That was a plus.
I pulled my cell from my pock and woke the phone. Yep. There was the message I didn’t want to listen to yesterday. I hated checking my voicemail. I associate it with matters of importance and nothing ever was. Such a pain. I also hated guests, change, interruptions, and the feeling I got when someone came to my door. Anxiety, terror, then the arousal. I wanted him to leave and afterward I would indulge on a bit of fantasy. The anxiety always won and I rushed them out the door. I never invited them in. Never asked them to sit down. They were not welcome. They needed to know that. But I had promised myself I would do better. I had felt myself regressing again. Two months is too long to go without contact. Even I knew this. I could invite him in or don my coat and go out. I felt sick at the thought of a crowded room.
“Yes. Come in,” I said and pushed the door open, giving him room enough to enter my domicile while granting myself the space for my own comfort.
Mine was a small domicile with one floor, perfect for just me. Aged rich planks made up the wood floor and whitewashed stone formed the walls, which were dressed in moss, roses, and ivy on the outside. The old kitchen that greeted guests, if ever I had any, extended into an eatery that turned a sharp corner around the only bathroom and into a quaint living room I had converted into a greenhouse years ago.
Aside from a plain, but comfortable sage couch, a rocking chair where a faux fur blanket hung on the back, and a bookshelf containing my most prized possessions, the room was dripping in plants. Floor plants, hanging plants, and floral potted things all strategically positioned to bask in the morning light that poured in through the giant bay window where my tabby cat, Cookie, spent her days watching the birds. That room gave the same feel of an old forest. I loved reading in that room. A Steinway electric piano graced the corner and provided a gracious view of the forest outside when I played. My bedroom was accessible only through the green room.
Mr. Shaw stepped into the small part of my kitchen reserved for dining. He studied the living room I had converted to a greenhouse across from the dining table. Cookie flipped her long, plush tail and stared at the birds through the large bay window where the morning sun seeped in.
He appeared surprised at the simple accommodations and inhaled the scent of Irish stew simmering on the stove. Directly left of the red door was the only fireplace I used to dry the air on the dampest of days and coldest of nights.
“What can I do you for, Mr. Shaw?” I asked.
“Thank you, Miss. Lundy, for seeing me,” he said. “Please, call me William.”
I gave him a disapproving stare.
“I was wondering if you would be willing to do an interview with me? I’m a big fan. Longtime fan, actually, and your work with the Druid Series was astounding. Ian was…”
I said nothing, unimpressed with his compliment, but forced a smile. I was still too annoyed at the interruption.
“I’ve been following you for quite some time and…well, nothing is known about you,” he said. “Nothing, really. It’s all so limited.”
He saw I wasn’t impressed and was eager for him to get to the point.
“Right,” he said. “So I was wondering if you would be willing to do an interview…”
The tension was unbearable. I watched the way he rubbed his thumb on the strap of his back pack.
He was still rambling when I zoned back in and hadn’t heard a word he said. I took great delight in watching him squirm. Maybe if he was as anxious as I, he would get the hint and leave.
“My dear, Mr. Shaw,” I said and raised my chin so that he could see the sunlight graze my neck. “Please, speak plainly,” I said softly.
I felt myself doing it again. Already my defenses were up. If I could coerce him into thinking about sex, I would be safer. I needed to calm down. He was no threat. I had already assessed that. Good God, I missed my swords.
“Beggin’ your pardon ma’am?”
I watched him glance at the slender lines of my neck. It was working. He would calm down soon enough.
“There is something else you wish to ask me,” I gently declared. I watched him relax and I smiled. I knew the light gleamed in my eye and I tipped my head ever so slightly. I had this routine mastered. “Instead of winding your nerves into all sorts of knots, please just ask what you will of me.”
I could feel the smooth coercion in my voice, the way my words rolled off my tongue and soothed him like a charmed snake heeding the words of a succubus. He inhaled and I waited patiently.
“I had hoped to wait until later to ask this, you being a recluse and all. I…” He nervously glanced away. “I wish to do a full biography on you.”
The room fell quiet. The boy was holding his breath as if afraid my answer hinged on whether or not he breathed in the next two minutes. I toyed with the idea of delaying an answer for ten minutes just to watch him squirm.
After three minutes, I put him out of his misery. “You wish to write a biography.”
“So…” I grinned. I could see his jaw line twitch. He still hadn’t breathed. “…you’ve come to descend into the bowels of my psyche, have you?” I took up the coffee pot and poured myself a cup. “And what is it you think you’ll find there, Mr. Shaw?”
I added a tea spoon of sugar and opened the fridge.
“Why a biography?” I clarified.
“Well, you’ve been strangely quiet about your life,” he said. “Your past. Almost no one knows anything about you prior to your thirties. People want to know. I know some who have started a pool that you’ve killed someone. They think you’re a serial killer hiding from the law.”
I leaned out of the fridge, arching my brow. I permitted a smirk.
“It’s the eyes,” he said. “They…”
He caught the look, my posture. Nothing he was saying impressed me and he knew it. For a moment, there was a hungry flash in his eye and surprising even me, he dumped his bag to the floor.
“Miss Lundy,” he took a step and I straightened my back, my hand went up and before he knew it, I was holding a knife to his throat. He didn’t move.
I blinked and realized he hadn’t moved. There was no knife. There was only me and him in my kitchen. The fridge door was wide open. The coffee creamer in my hand. The look in his eyes was enough to know I had my boundaries and he was on them.
I knew where I was. It had been too long. I blinked back the image and tried to clear my head. I had to remember which world I was in. I put the creamer back in the fridge and reached for the Baileys I kept with my whiskeys and wines on the top of the fridge instead.
“This isn’t just about your books, Miss Lundy,” he said. “This is about you, the author. People want to know about you, the woman behind the books, and you’ve told us precious little.”
“That was no accident,” I said, pouring two shots into my coffee. “Do you want coffee?”
My invitation for coffee was enough to urge him to slide off his coat and drop it on the back of the chair nearest the door.
I let the silence settle between us while I poured a second cup then walked to the table beside my guest. I set the coffees down and extended a hand, directing him to sit.
“So,” I sighed, taking my seat as he scrambled eager to take his. “You wish to write my biography.”
“Yes, Ma’am,” he said. “People want to know who you are. What you are. What made you write the books that you write. They wish to know your schooling, your loves, your struggles. What challenges in your life made you what you are. They want to know your lows, your highs. They want to know…” He sighed. “They want to know what struggles shaped you to write the macabre you portray in your books.”
I clutched my coffee. I felt sick. The challenges in my life? I held my cup steady against my shaking hands. I didn’t trust myself to move. I knew what he asked. The poor whelp didn’t. My hands went white.
“Get out,” I said darkly.
William stared at me stupid, and I felt the anger surge. He didn’t move. Nor did I.
Perhaps I needed to tell my story, to talk, to not be alone. I knew where I was. If I were alone right now I would descend into the bowels of my mind and, this time, I wasn’t certain I could come back. There was less and less reason for me to.
I heard William shuffle and take up his bag from the floor. I thought of Jacob and Isaiah. I thought of my Raven. Oh, how much I missed Raven. So much. So…so much.
Don’t think about that.
I took a sip of my coffee and felt the tears burn, but that well had dried up long ago. I heard William take up his coat and his bag from the floor. He opened the door and just like that, I didn’t want him to go.
“You think this is some love story?” I said.
He stopped at the door.
“The life I’ve lived, you think it’s something to admire, to aspire to? You think I hoard romanticism within my silence?”
He watched me with a look, uncertain if he had offended me or not.
“You hope to hear a fairy tale, Mr. Shaw, a “Hemmingway-lost-love” story, but what you will get is a nightmare.”
He closed the door.
“There are those whose lives are hell,” I said. “Hell barely begins to explain what I have lived. The books I wrote were buried beneath the endless screams. Most days, I can not write or think or breathe over the screaming in my head.”
William dumped his bag to the floor. This time, he remained at the door.
“You let me into your home,” he said. “You agreed to hear me out. You invited me in and poured me coffee. Part of you wants this story told.”
And he wasn’t wrong. I did want this story told. I did want to release this poison inside of me. Something longed to put it out there. I ached to be heard. I had tried so many times before. I had written the outlines, drawn up the plans. I knew exactly what parts to tell. I knew which parts needed to be heard. But it felt selfish. It felt wrong.
A part of me ached to do this in the chance that someone, anyone would hear me, just once. Oh, how I longed to be heard just once. Perhaps that was why I always spoke my mind. I was tired of not being heard.
I gazed at the man-boy in front of me. The fire in his eye confirmed his determination.
“It feels selfish,” I said. “Talking about myself like this.”
“I’m asking you to do this,” he said. “I want to know.”
“I don’t want to,” I said.
Something in the boy told him to hold his tongue. Now was the time to listen. For that, I was grateful.
“I want to bury this inside me,” I said. “You must understand. There is a part of me that always longs for death. There are days, it hurts too much. I can not get angry. I can never be angry. I won’t allow it. I’m afraid of what I will do if ever I get angry.”
He stared with that look I’ve seen so many times. The look everyone gets when they hear pure honesty. People don’t hear it often. The inner most thoughts of our psyche. Those are the words we keep secret.
I gazed out the south windows across the table. The hills were green and calm as if they had suffered and weathered and aged over a lifetime of ancient wars. And endured it all, they did. Today, nothing more could bother them. Nothing mattered anymore. Endurance teaches us one thing if nothing else, to savor the calm after a storm. To savor the lives of those who survived.
Hadn’t I savored long enough? Perhaps it was time to reflect.
“Twenty four hours,” I said.
He blinked as if stunned I had agreed.
I took up my coffee, grateful I had added the double shot. This morning, today, I would need it.
“I’ll give you until dawn. Whatever you ask of me, I’ll answer. Whatever you wish, I’ll consent.”
He blinked again, this time relief, shock. He didn’t smile.
He dropped his coat, slid off his shoes and placed them properly beside the door, toes pointing away from the wall. He grabbed his bag and, in a rush, dropped a notebook and pens on the table.
He pulled out a recorder, checked its batteries, and positioned it between us. I waited until he was settled in before beginning.
“How is your tolerance for swearing, Mr. Shaw?”
“Uh…fine, I guess,” he answered.
“If I am to tell this, then I am telling this the only way I know how,” I said sternly.
He nodded attentively. “At times, I will be vulgar, crass, and uncouth. I will be graphic and blunt and honest. Understand, that if I attempt to censor myself, then there is a chance—a good chance—I will not finish this. So I ask again, Mr. Shaw, can you handle vile and vulgar?”
He nodded. I knew I made him nervous.
Good. He needed to be. “Let’s start,” I said.
He settled into the chair and positioned his pen, eager for the lesson.
“I have a fear of relationships,” I began. “When I love, I love easy, deep, hard, strong, and long. But I can not marry. I can not live with anyone. I can not accept gifts from anyone or let anyone close enough for intimacy. If we do this…” William looked up from his paper, suddenly aware that I was addressing him directly. “…you are not to touch me,” I said. “You are not to comfort me. You are not to approach me.”
He stared at me, not sure why I was saying this. But I knew. I had given this disclaimer so many times before. This was the best way.
“Know my intentions now. Know what I am, so when I flirt and smile and play with you, you’ll know exactly what my intentions are. We will never be more than friends. If we have sex, it will be nothing more than just sex,” I said. “I will cry afterward and you are to let me. If you touch me, I will attack you. I will want to kill you.”
He looked stupidly at me now. But when we get into this and I throw myself at him, if I break and lunge at him, he’ll know why. He’ll need to know why.
“Do not love me. You can not have me. You can not keep me or wife me. I can not be owned or possessed. I will stray. I always stray. If you get close, there will be a day when I will push you away only to pull you close to me to push you away again.
“Do not love me. I will love you hard and long and deep, but to keep you safe from me, I will destroy what little is left between us. I will reject you. Let me save you the time and trouble. Do not love me. You have been warned.”
* * *
I can feel it in me, right now. My hands shake, my breathing is erratic. Fear.
In most people, it provokes a response to run. At times, it evolves, and encourages most to fight. In me, arousal sets in. Right now, I’m scared, but I don’t want to fight. I want to lay you down and fuck you. Cold, hard, meaningless sex.
I will ravage you so quickly that you will have no idea what to do with it. That is my plan and I know exactly how you will respond. You’ll throw your arms up and let me devour you because I move so fast you won’t have time to keep up. After the shock wears off you’ll give in and respond. Your mind will be blank and I’ll do things to you that you can not imagine.
It will all be about you. I will fuck you and taste you. This isn’t love. This isn’t sex. This is fear. I will make you cum and then I will run. That is what I was trained to do. My brain is programed this way. My body is conditioned this way. Fear is my trigger. This is what I am. Fear. This is what I have become. This is my defense. You asked for my story. I will tell you exactly how I came to be like this.
Think of how often we fear. How often we experience it every day. Fear is the core human emotion. We are prey. Prey move on fear, live on fear, they think on fear. Fear makes mothers kill to save babies. It makes men into warriors. It turns hate into prejudice. It turns Hitlers into leaders. Fear is the primary emotion programmed into the center of our brain to command each and every choice to keep us alive long enough to breed. Fear of death spawns religions. Fear of the unknown spawns philosophy. Fear of repercussions spawns lies. Fear of isolation spawns love.
But I don’t hate. I don’t fight. Not anymore. I don’t lie. My fear converts to lust. The stronger the fear the more I pursue. Its honed in me. My body has grown around it, shaped it until I drip sex in my smile, in my eyes, in my posture, in my words. I control the flux in my voice to provoke the most sensual of images from you. Every word I speak is with the intent to relax you, to woo you, to draw you in, to make you love me, so I can weaken you, kill you, and run.
That is what I am.
Even now, I want to fuck you hard. Because I’m scared. I want to pull off my skin with lust and devour you. That is how scared I am. And if I don’t…
* * *
I pinched the bridge of my nose. I wanted to cry. I wrung my hand on knee. The desire to lunge across the table and fuck William—Mr. Shaw—right then was unbearable.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
I looked up and allowed him to look right through me. I know how my eyes appear to others: honest and completely open. Haunting is what I’ve been told. My smile forever glows in my eyes and I know it. Too many men have told me this. I’m lethal. Everything about me, I unknowingly developed to attract and seduce a male. I mastered seduction, but there is venom in my blood. It drips from my thorns.
I watched William’s eyes dilate. I watched his breathing increase, his neck flush red. I made him feel things, think things all with a glance. I had this mastered. If I smiled right now he would think I desired him. They always think I want them. I was already working on him. I did it the moment I spoke my words. I had a way with words. It was just one more bit of poison I use to seduce.
“I don’t exactly where my heart on my sleeve,” I said. “I wear my soul in my eyes. Everything in my life primed me for the next event good or bad. Every event left me in the mental state I needed to be in to enter and maintain the next stage. If something had altered at any point along the way, then maybe I stood a chance. But it didn’t. One train wreck prepared me for the next train wreck, which only prepared me for the next train wreck until I had inevitably become what I am before you.
“The hard part is watching men—good me, decent men—fall for me over and over again. The hard part is not knowing how to shut this off. The hardest part is not being afraid.”
I guess the best place to start is the beginning. I’m not going to drone on about every tedious event of every year. I’m going to be honest. I remember very little from the first eight years of my life.
I was born in Cortland. I remember the staircase where my older brother, Charles, and I threw little parachute men off the banister while my father watched the news with his back to us. I remember the toy I played with in the driveway that belonged to my neighbors. I remember the walk we took down the road in the stroller, and my sister’s bedroom: a large closet painted pink. I remember my mother crying over a load of ruined clothes because she had washed a black crayon with the laundry. The dryer had melted wax all over the machine and the clothes. That day taught me never to wash children’s clothes without checking the pockets first. I think I was four.
Her mother was there. It was the only time I ever saw her mother leave the dump of a trailer where she festered. My mother was Irish and had a sliver of Egyptian in her. Lundy and Fitch were the family names. I don’t know much about her family. In fact, I know almost nothing. My mother was—and is—a chronic liar. Don’t get me wrong, I love my mother. But I don’t believe a word that has ever left her mouth.
My mother was beautiful, but insecure, and she boosted her lack of confidence with boasting and bragging. Every story was embellished. Every truth, exaggerated. The rule with my mother is simple. Believe nothing. My mother was, to say the least, messed up. From my earliest memories. the signs were there.
Her punishments were random, unpredictable, and, at times, unusually cruel. My brother received the brunt of those fits and, more times than not, she humiliated him to such a degree that it left him scarred. Most of the time, she exercised the classic discipline from the early 19th century. Bend over and hold the chair while I spank you with a belt. She was the mother who literally washed our mouths out with a bar of laundry soap. I grew up with my mother threatening to spoon feed us castor oil. I think we were the only children in the school who knew what castor oil was.
But it wasn’t the punishments she doled out that groomed my siblings and I into what we would become. It was the constant, dedicated lack of support and complete absence of physical touch. My mother made sure we were clean, cared for, and beautiful. My brothers had suits. My sister and I were dressed as porcelain dolls with curls, petticoats, pinafores, and saddle shoes. I don’t remember a single hug. Ever. What little I remember in way of affection was too boldly overshadowed by her rage, her anger, her screaming, her reprimands.
My father was a by-the-book kind of guy. According to his religion, he was to go to work and bring home the bacon while the wife cooked, cleaned, and mothered children. The only time my father stepped in is when we deserved an extra hard spanking. We went to church on Sundays, Saturdays, and Wednesdays. Yes, we were well-behaved children. Yes, we were manicured into perfect ladies and gentlemen. My mother would have it no other way at any cost.
I remember very little of my father from those days. I remember when I was four, we were camping and a recent spanking had left a bruise on my leg. My father never spanked me or my sister ever again after that. I remember that camping trip well though. We went to Buttermilk Falls and oh…we swam beneath the falls. I loved the forests in New York. The water and gorges the trails. More on that in a moment. I could talk for hours on the forests of New York.
After Cortland we moved to a larger house that I have no memory of, then, when I turned eight, we moved into the ranch. Town was an isolated village with a population of one thousand and was fifteen minutes away. We had two traffic lights. We lived on a dirt road and the ranch-styled house sat in a clearing. I remember that day very well. Not the house, but the forest, endless stretches of woodland area that went on for days behind the house. All around me were hills and mountains covered in endless forest.
Barefoot, I would run to the trees and play. For hours I would explore the Wood.
The forest was old. So very old. You could tell there were places where no man had walked in centuries, if ever. There was a peace there. A refined, ancient peace preserved from society, electricity, and people. Electricity is loud. Did you know? When we had power outages the peace from the forest would seep in and blanket the house in perfect, beautiful silence.
Those were my happiest of days.
One hundred years ago, there had been a road that cut through the wood. An old wagon trail still remained. Moss and grass had grown over it, streams flowed across it, shaping it into an old path through the wood. I always strayed from the path. I would climb into those woods and find little newts, the beautiful little red ones with black spots. They’re endangered. I would love them, carefully pick them up, pat their tiny heads, and return them to their streams and beds of moss. I visited them often. I knew they were precious. I miss them.
I remember little from that time. Only the forest. I remember when the screaming got loud, I would run, barefoot into the wood and find my newts. I named the trees and followed the streams to the gorge. Oh, how I loved the gorge.
If you’ve ever seen central New York, you’ll know it’s all hillside. Everything is at a constant forty-five to sixty-five degree slope. Houses and farms were built on the occasional slot of not-so flat land. The wagon trail in the wood was on a rare layout of farmable land flanked by sheer drop offs, massive slopes, and plummeting gorges. This was my playground and oh, did I use it.
I had this one spot in the forest mastered where I could jump on the leaves slide for three feet, snag a branch and slingshot myself around and bolt, hopping and sliding, surfing the hills on leaf litter into the gorge. I would end my dance on a jump into the shallow streams with my skirts hiked up to my thighs. That was my home. That is where I wanted to be more than any place in the world.
The stream continued down to the river below. The Tioughnioga (Tee-off-nee-o-ga) River. Some summers we would swim in that river. It was so, so beautiful. The streams that trickled down the mountains cut through the shale and earth leaving behind massive walls of slate and stone that cradled streams and waterfalls. One stream formed the Gorge.
The Gorge had walls nearly thirty feet high. I would climb them in my skirts, stand at the ledge, and gaze down at the deer with their fawn. Up there with the wind and the trees, I found me. I could slip, so easily into the elements and feel them move through me. It felt like I could really fly and wanted, so badly to jump, to try. Self-preservation and Darwin said otherwise. I could see the rows of waterfalls and, upon, my descent, I would strip off my dress and swim naked in the pools of cool, clear water. I crossed rivers and streams hopping bare foot from stone to stone.
There, in my glen I was home. That is the only happiness I remember.
* * *
Life on the ranch was quite the opposite. Life in the ranch was hell. Together, my parents had four children: Charles, myself, Marie, and Eugene. My mum was a screamer. The screaming was relentless. There was always noise. If we fell and got scraped my mother screamed and coldly reassured us that we were fine as if she was annoyed that we bled at all. There was no hug. No kiss. No contact.
At night, we watched TV. My sister sat snuggled into my father’s lap while I sat on the floor as far from everyone as I could. No one touched me. I was fine with that. I don’t think I would know what to do with it if I did.
I remember seeing Marie, her thumb in her mouth, her head resting on my father’s shoulder. I remember wishing. I wanted it. I pined. So I hated. I never said anything. “Children should be seen and not heard” was verbally beaten into us. You didn’t speak. You didn’t ask. You didn’t talk. I turned my thoughts back to the TV.
That was a memory I had. The TV was precious and when it was on, we were not to speak to our father, and it was on from the moment he came home from work to the moment we sat down to dinner to the time we went to bed. The TV was more important than us. My father loved it more than me. It was one of the first lessons I learned and I learned this lesson well. I detested the TV. It was a fifth sibling who absorbed all my father’s love and attention. I was jealous. I loathed it.`
Dinner was the only time we had with our father. Again, we were not to speak, but my father did. Every meal he made his rounds. He’d start with my brother, Charles, and would spend fifteen minutes telling him how worthless he was, how selfish and miserable he was. Then it was my turn.
I would slip food in my mouth and I’d hear the words.
“You’re selfish, ungrateful, and spoiled.”
“You only think of yourself.”
I spooned my food in my mouth flanked by tears.
“You don’t spend any time with the family.”
It hurt to swallow. My stomach tightened. I lost my appetite and I stopped eating.
“You only ever think of yourself.”
He went onto my sister. She was five at the time. Eugene was two. He got skipped.
The next night, the routine repeated itself. My father would drive in.
“Go to your rooms,” my mother would say. “You know your father doesn’t want to see you.”
We scattered knowing we would be scolded if seen.
I’d steal a peek. He kissed my mother and, after changing out of his work clothes, he turned on the TV and watched. My mother called and we’d sit in silence at the dinner table while my father made his rounds again.
“You’re selfish and spoiled.
I’d spoon food into my mouth.
“You care only for yourself and shut everyone out.
I’d swallow and the tears would fall.
“You’re ungrateful and spoiled.”
My stomach would clamp and I wouldn’t eat.
“You’re useless and rotten and spoiled.”
His words became a recording that play in my head to this day every time I try to eat.
I don’t believe my father is a bad man. I think he is a very good man who had no idea how to parent children. I think he did his best. I think he did love us with all his heart.
Do not misunderstand me. If he was to ask me today if I know he loves me, I would say, ‘yes.’ But a part of me will never believe it. Growing up, I had never seen it. I still don’t see it. I think he loves me today because I am a parent and I believe all parents love their children. Okay, not all. Some parents are that horrible, but I think my father simply didn’t know how to parent. I think he was clueless, confused, and, at times, completely unaware of the problem. He did his best. He still had no idea what I am. I don’t think he ever will.
I remember one movie we watched that made my father tear up.
“I do not know how to love. Please teach me,” the actor said.
I watched my father choke up.
“I feel that way,” he said.
My father is not good with words. I think it meant a lot for him to finally hear those words. I imagine he had needed to hear them for a long time. I’ll say it again, I think my father did his best. I think my father tried. I think my father didn’t have a fucking clue back then.
As a mother, I understand and appreciate that conflict, to not know how to love the way a parent should, to be flying blind and have no idea if what you are saying to your children every day is crippling them. As a child, all I saw were the monsters.
In my early life, I had one friend, one solace that wasn’t the forest. I had my black short-haired cat with white patches on her feet. Patches. She was old and sweet and would run off into the Wood for days at a time.
Before the situation in the house turned too abysmal, Charles and I would wander into the forest. He had his stick as all little boys must. As we walked he hacked the flowers. I hated that. If it was beautiful, Charles destroyed it. That should have been the first clue that there was a problem.
“Don’t do that,” I’d say.
“Why?” He’d hack at a patch with his stick. “They’re just flowers.”
“They’re beautiful and we’re in their home. Stop killing them.”
“They’re just flowers.” He’d hack down another patch.
We arrived at the tree house we had started that summer and never finished. The ladder was gray and had begun to crack under the hot of summer and cold of winter. The floorboards no longer sustained our weight. We hadn’t been to the tree house in months.
“See this,” Charles said, tapping a pile of stones beside the tree. “Know what this is?”
“A marker.” I said. There were a lot of them around there like you see in here, in Ireland. This one was small. Very small.
“No,” he said. “You don’t know what this is.”
He had a tone that jeered my ignorance. Not friendly or informative at all. Simply boastful. ‘I know something you don’t know,’ he passively said with his smile.
“So what!” I said and he hacked at another flower. “I don’t care.”
“You will.” He hacked at another flower.
“I know what it is!” I said, though I didn’t. I didn’t care. I was too annoyed at his smugness.
“No, you don’t know,” he said. He hacked at another flower.
“I don’t care!” I stomped off.
“You will!” He hacked at another flower.
“Shut up! I don’t care!”
“It’s Patches’ grave.”
I turned and he stood there smiling at me, proud of his power trip.
“You’re lying,” I said.
“Nope. She’s dead.” He hacked at another flower.
“You’re lying!” I screamed and stomped off blinded by tears.
“What’s wrong now, Elizabeth?” my mother screamed through the kitchen window.
“Charles says Patches is dead!” I cried.
I looked up at my mother’s cold face in the window.
The annoyance on her face added to the pain of being excluded on top of the pain of losing my friend.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” I asked.
“We didn’t want to upset you,” she said as if she was telling me my clothes were in the dryer. She was gone, back to her dishes without so much as a hug or encouraging word.
Sobbing, I slumped to the front of the house and dropped into the porch swing. There, I cried and let the hurt wash through me. I cried for an hour, loud and long. And no one ever came.
* * *
After Patches’ death, my brother developed a new hobby. He collected critters. While I ran to the Wood to escape the screaming, and embrace and nurture my isolation, Charles diverted his attention to the wildlife.
He gathered up frogs and snakes and stones. One by one, he would throw them into the kiddie pool out back and, one at a time, would pull them out, set them on the back porch, and stone them to death.
My sister and I would scream and cry. “Let them go!”
He’d laugh and I’d watch him smash its hind leg. It would try to hop away on a foot that wasn’t there. He’d laugh again and throw another rock. Its stomach would split and it tried to escape, but its skin and blood glued it to the porch hot. My brother laughed while we screamed for it. He’d smash all its limbs, it’s back, and it’s belly. And when it was done breathing, he would pick up the remains and throw them at us.
We’d scream and he’d take up a snake.
“What are you doing?” my mother shouted, annoyed by our sobbing.
“Charles is killing them!”
“So what!” she screamed. “Boys will be boys! Get away from him if it bothers you!”
Get away? And leave the poor victims to suffer their fate? Alone?
A stone smashed the snake’s tail. It slithered leaving behind a trail of blood while making its escape. It made it further than the frog before Charles stomped it, holding it in place with his foot. Another stone to its back. Blood and guts oozed and my sister and I cried.
“Let it go! Leave it alone!”
Charles laughed and threw another rock, smashing its body until it was dead. When he was done, he threw the mangled remains at us.
We couldn’t leave. We couldn’t leave them there alone to their demise. We wanted to help them. But he was too strong to stop. My mother stopped occasionally to tell us to leave Charles be.
“Boys will be boys! Leave him alone!”
One by one, we watched him mutilate the bodies. We watched the frogs suffer then die. He started to see how long he could keep them alive. He took up the snakes and spun them over his head then slammed their little bodies to the ground. He beat them and broke them and when it was done, he threw the pieces at us.
* * *
I glanced at William across the kitchen table. He massaged his temple with his thumb. When he saw I had paused, he furrowed his brow in question.
“Where was your father in all of this?” he said.
“My father felt this was normal for siblings. He often boasted his own battles with his younger brothers.”
“Yeah. Brothers. Not sisters.” William’s tone dripped with objection. “If I treated my sisters like I did my brother, my father would have whooped me.”
I smiled at William’s innocence.
“I think my father passed off Charles’ behavior as normal because if he didn’t, he would have to own up to his own behavior.
“Charles was obstinate. Determined and knew exactly what he wanted. He still does. And when there was something he didn’t want to do, Charles made sure he didn’t do it. Homework was a constant battle. Every night, Charles brought homework home. Every night my mother screamed at him to do it until my father stepped in.
“One night, my father stepped in and I watched him pin my brother to the floor. He took up the board he used to spank us and he beat my brother, Charles. Charles squirmed and it struck his back. Charles screamed and he raised a hand to us, “Mother, please!” he screamed. Mum, Marie, and I just watched while my father beat him. No one raised a hand. We just stood there and cried for him.”
I felt William’s eyes on me. Remembering revived an old hurt I had packed away and I crunched my brow in pain. I wanted to cry, but couldn’t. The hurt was too old, too stale. I sighed and went on.
“My father knew there were problems with the family. He did try to fix them, but I think he wasn’t sure how. He loved the idea of family vacations and made an effort to implement them. Every summer, we drove down to North Carolina and stayed at a cabin on a lake. The trips did work at first. For one week, we were able to put our lives on hold.”
I fell back into the memory.
* * *
Most of our trips were filled with day long trips to the sea. I do remember once my mother touched me. I was eight and got caught in a rip tide. The undercurrent in the wave knocked the feet out from under me, but I was small. I went right under the water. As I tried to stand, another undercurrent swept my butt out from under me. I needed air, but I couldn’t stand. I felt the ocean carry me. Each time I found the ground beneath me, another rip tide knocked it out from my hands.
I swallowed salt water and thrashed. I could not stand. My mother took my arm and hoisted me up. My head broke the surface and I gasped. I wouldn’t go back to the ocean again. Not until I was old enough to keep my own body above water.
That same trip was accompanied with the worst ride home imaginable. We were on the highway heading back to New York in the station wagon. We had been on the road for about three hours when I found a handful of clear spiders crawling up my shin.
I brushed them off and found more on my calf. I brushed those off and found nearly a dozen on my other leg. By the time I wiped them off, my arm was covered and they were making their way to my neck. I screamed and slapped them away, but they crawled too fast.
“What’s wrong, Elizabeth!” my mother shouted.
I brushed my leg again and more replaced them.
“There are spiders on me!” I screamed.
“So smash it!” my mother screamed back. Always the one to scream and not console.
I swiped at my arm and more came.
“I can’t get them off!” I said. “Pull over!”
“Smash it!” my father said.
I screamed and rubbed them off my neck. I slapped them off my face. “There are hundreds!”
“Stop screaming!” my mother said.
“Pull over!” I screamed.
“We can’t pull over!” my mother said. “We’re on the highway!”
And so I sat, screaming and slapping the spiders away from my legs, my neck, my arms, my chest, and my face.
I won’t lie. I have no idea how long I was in the back of that car. If I were to guess, I would say an hour. I know that isn’t true. It felt like an hour. Felt like a day. It may have been ten…fifteen minutes. It may have been twenty. Regardless, I spent that time arguing with my parents to pull over who were annoyed that I had inconvenienced them at all.
They slowed down and stopped the car along the side of the road. I was still slapping baby spiders off my body. I could feel them everywhere. My parents huffed and sighed while they opened the back seat of the wagon and pulled a shaking eight year old out of the blankets. I couldn’t stop shaking. I couldn’t get them off. My mother complained under her breath while she shook the spider nest from the blankets.
Five minutes later, and with a mouthful of complaints about how I overdramatized the situation, my mother shoved me back in the car with the blankets. No hug. No reassurance. No comfort. No sympathy. Just an earful of how much I had troubled them. I climbed back into the wagon sobbing and shaking without a single word of solace.
* * *
“This is all in your eighth year?” William asked, looking up from his writing.
I nodded. “Yes. I was eight. Comfort, compassion, and love were foreign to me. And I didn’t question their lack of sympathy either. Already, I had come to expect nothing from them or anyone.”
William skimmed over his list.
“Locked in a car with spiders, your only friend dead, which you aren’t even told about, and then subjected to…how long did he torture the frogs and snakes?”
“That time?” I asked. “At least two hours.”
“He mutilated all animals he came across,” I said. “In the driveway, in the forest, in the yard. He had a turtle once. The poor thing. He took a rock and smashed its shell. He beat it into powder. It was so beautiful until my brother got ahold of it. He caught a baby rabbit once. Rabbits scream, did you know? He picked it up by the ears. That sound…that sound…”
I burst into tears.
To this day I can’t hear that sound in my head without sobbing. I threw my hands to my head and rocked, squeezing my head, willing the screams to stop. I could hear it all over again. The sharp staccato of shrieking. A frequency that ripped the fabric of sound like the violin score of Psycho. I hugged myself to stop the shaking.
When I looked up, I saw William staring at me in horror. Poor virgin boy. He had no idea what he was in for.
“I begged my mother to release it,” I said, still rocking. “Charles wanted its feet. He was talking about cutting off its feet. It was the only good thing my mother ever did. While we were at school, she released it. Charles was pissed.”
I looked at the window. The morning sun was high and now poured in through the south window, streaking the table and my empty cup.
“I don’t want to talk about it…I don’t…”
I stood from the table and took up my cup and his. A moment later I was rinsing the mugs and pouring ourselves two fresh cups.
“Tell me more about the dinners,” William said, in an effort to change the subject while I added the Irish cream. “You said his words play back like a record every time you eat?”
“Every time,” I said setting the cups back to the table and sitting myself back down. “I don’t eat. I hate food. I loathe it. It’s a constant reminder that my father hates me. I don’t eat breakfast. I don’t eat lunch. I have to wait until starvation cramps my stomach before I can try to eat. If I’m stressed at all or someone yells at me while I’m hungry, my appetite immediately vanishes no matter how hungry I am. If I force myself to eat, I get sick. The longest I’ve gone without food is one week.”
“One week without food,” William repeated. He looked my petite frame over, but asked no questions.
“I survive on coffee,” I said.
He returned to his notes. “Well you are a writer,” he sighed. “How did your siblings take to your father’s dinner lectures?”
“Marie was so young, I don’t think she even remembers. She quickly found a place in my father’s heart. She was sweet and kind. A genuine daddy’s girl. While I…wasn’t. I think I am a mama’s girl, but my mum didn’t hold me or touch me. I really don’t know what I am.
“My father dumped on Charles and I and only Charles shared my lot. He developed a similar problem to mine. He was as smart as I, but stronger. Bolder too at that time. I was still too shy and obedient. I hadn’t been broken yet. Charles took up his plate and ate alone in his room. Stirred up a whole lot of hell with my father, but…he escaped for a short time anyway, while I endured it. At one point, Charles stopped eating completely.”
“How long did this go on for?” William asked.
“I don’t know when it started. It’s something that, in my mind, was always there. I think it was there before I was eight, but I’m speculating. I truly don’t know. It ended when Charles stopped eating with us. He was seventeen. I was sixteen. And we stopped holding family dinners.” I nodded, remembering more details as I spoke. “Yes. It stopped when our family dinners stopped. Charles refused to eat with us and if he did eat, he ate alone. I hadn’t realized he had stopped eating completely until he was twenty and had collapsed in his room. Up to that point, he had accused me of being anorexic.”
I caressed the handle of my mug, but could not raise the cup to drink.
“In truth, I think he was. He purposely wore clothes two sizes too big. He had a huge, winter coat he wore all summer to hide his condition, and by convincing my father that I was anorexic, it took the attention off of him. I was enraged. My father insisted I was anorexic when I wasn’t all because my brother said I was. I ate, just not very much or often. And I never, never threw up my food. Nor did I ever think I was ugly or overweight.
“But when Charles fell…” I shook my head and stared at my full cup of coffee. “I was nineteen. By then, I had my own phone. Charles called me. I yelled at him for bothering me, but he cut me off to say he was paralyzed.
I went downstairs to find an ninety pound skeleton laying on the floor. I woke my father who followed me downstairs and he fed Charles orange juice through a straw. Three glasses and thirty minutes later, my father picked my brother up off the floor. Charles had no muscle. That is when I realized…The mental nightmare he must have lived through…
My chest clamped and I burst. I cried right then for my brother in front of William.
“The whole time,” I sobbed. “He was hurting as much as I…the whole time. He was just as torn up and dying on the inside as I had been. No matter what he had done to me, seeing him like that, I understood just how much hell he had endured. I knew because I too had endured it. Granted, at his hand, but I understood. The hate, the hurt, the longing to be loved and never finding it. He had been as alone and as hurt as I all that time. And if we had just…if I had known, then maybe we could have shared our hell and maybe…just maybe…it wouldn’t have been as bad as it was.”
I cried, and William moved to stand from the table.
“Don’t touch me!” I screamed, and he froze.
“You must not touch me,” I said between sobs.
“I was going to get you a tissue,” he said.
“No.” I shook my head. “No pity. No comfort. No tissues.”
He stared at me. I knew the look he was giving me. I didn’t have to see. The look that reminds me how different I am. How broken I am. I had to explain. There would be more crying and he would have to know.
“Don’t you see?” I said. I rocked myself and sobbed. I was so cold, and I held myself to shut out the chill that wasn’t there. “I’ve never seen comfort. I don’t know what it is. I wouldn’t know what to do with it if…” The words caught in my throat. I had to explain. He had to know. “If you tried to soothe me, to comfort me, even so much as say, ‘I’m sorry,’ it would confuse me.”
The look on his face confirmed my suspicion. He didn’t understand. He couldn’t understand. But I had to try. He had to know.
“Your efforts to comfort me would only evoke more fear. I would panic and I would see you as danger. Don’t you get it?”
The shock in his eyes made me desperate.
“The only physical contact I’ve ever known is pain. For the first twenty years of my life, all human contact hurt me. There never was anything else! Approach me and I will run. And if I can’t…I will sleep with you. I would let you hug me. I would bury my face into your neck and slide my mouth over your skin. I would kiss you.”
I felt it. Already, I ached to have sex, to seduce, sate, sedate, and run. I was shaking with want to fuck him.
“I would grind you,” I said. “And when you react, I would ravage you. I would view your attempt to comfort me as a threat and I would respond as if at war. I would seduce you to protect me.”
William slowly sat back down.
“Do not approach me,” I said. “Do not come near me. I say again, you can not comfort me.”
Stunned, William watched as I held myself and rocked.
I stood staring out the window an hour later. William sat waiting as I took in a deep breath. The sun still bathed the green land in gold, but black clouds had rolled in from the Irish sea.
“How often do you have breakdowns like that?” he asked.
I watched the wind rustle the trees, paying no mind to his question before answering.