I am ever so grateful I let the boys be boys, even if it ended up with piercings and Michael and Marguerite sneaking away to the beach at night to canoodle. When we returned, no one would ever be the same.
The house was empty, save for Régine who was quietly weeping at the kitchen table. She was drunk, but not dangerously so, though she could not tell us why she was crying. The sight shocked us since Régine rarely showed any sadness, it was always anger.
On a hunch, I went upstairs to the master bedroom and found the room to be emptied. Everything that belonged to Curtis was gone. His clothes, his shoes, his books.
I ran down to his study and it was emptied too. His degrees and certificates, his computer and files, everything had vanished. There was no note, no anything. He just up and left that day and that was the end of it.
Suddenly I knew I was faced with a problem larger than myself. I had inherited a family but I had no money to support them as the breadwinner was gone.
I never knew the reasons why your father left, Declan. I guess we will never know. One can only assume that his image and pride was worth more to him than his family and rather than trying to maintain the cover up, he left it all behind. Maybe he ran away with a mistress, perhaps he was evading the police, loan sharks or taxes. It doesn’t matter. The fact is he was a coward and he left a giant mess behind him.
I reached out to the O’Shea’s family friends, those who had been pushed aside over the years. With their help we got Régine into a treatment center and while she was there, I took care of Michael and Declan off of my own savings. Eventually I called Karl and he agreed to help me, then pleaded for me to go back home. I should have listened and I didn’t.
The truth was, I needed the boys as much as they needed me. But there came to be a time when I couldn’t look after them anymore. The shadowy demon was tormenting me. The pleas and touches in the dark never stopped. Even Declan was affected my actions - I could tell he was sometimes afraid of me and that hurt.
But how silly it sounds to say that for it was foolish of me to worry about my own feelings when it came to the boys. Michael handled it as well as he could and continued to excel at school and football. Declan started getting in fights after class, failing exams and fooling around with older girls from the wrong side of the tracks. He devoted all of his time to music and penning shocking poems that I found scattered about in his room, stuff I wasn’t allowed to see. Though Declan feared his father and was never once close with him, he took Curtis’s abandonment hard. He was an angry, frustrated young man and I could not fault him for it.
Finally, Régine emerged from the treatment center a somewhat new woman. She was prickly, skinny and stern but she was sober. For the time being, at least. She was able to get a job at a call center, which meant not only would my services cease to be needed, but she couldn’t afford me anyway on her new salary. They ended up having the bank foreclose on the house and she and the boys moved to a tiny two bedroom apartment in Brooklyn. Michael was close to graduating so he was able to stay at his school in Manhattan but Declan had to start all over again.
Sadly, this is where my story and Declan’s story part ways. Even after they moved, I still came and visited Declan when I could. I lived in Queens, renting the basement of a young family, surviving on Karl’s generosity, and the journey wasn’t very far. But after some time, as I deteriorated, Ingrid and Daniel came swooping into my life.
It was to my surprise when Ingrid and Daniel paid me a visit one day, showing up at my door unannounced. My small suite was a mess and I knew how it made me look. The dishes weren’t done, there was garbage on the floor and all my favorite books were scattered about, their pages spread open and covers torn off. The dishes and garbage were because I was too tired and depressed to help myself anymore. The tossed books were the actions of a poltergeist that wouldn’t leave me alone, however try explaining that to people.
Oh, maybe I’m kidding myself here. It has been a long time and there are some parts of my life that remain a haze. I am sure my apartment and the way I looked was far worse than I am describing to you. It was bad enough that Daniel insisted they would take care of me. They were now living in his small rented condo in the city and they were engaged to be married.
The next while was a blur. I fell into tough times. I’d react to things no one else could see. I was living in fear, too afraid to let my guard down for one minute, too paranoid to bathe, to eat, to sleep. The lack of sleep was the worst of all and it toyed with my health and sanity. But I couldn’t sleep unless I was forced too – my dreams felt all too real and I was unprotected. I had begun to dream about things that were yet to happen, dreams about being locked away, dreams about being raped by faceless figures, dreams about smashing open a makeup kit, dreams of blood.
I didn’t improve, even with their care, and Ingrid ended up having to give up her modeling job to take care of me. As if that child could not resent me more.
Finally, they had to call Karl and ask for his opinion on what to do with dear old Pippa. He couldn’t come to me, so he insisted I was to go home where I could be given proper medical care. He would be there to love and take care of me while the Swedish mental health system would ensure I was treated properly and respectfully.
That never happened, despite all of our best intentions. We were close; I had the ticket bought for me and had some things packed in my small suitcase. I calmed down in the last few days leading up to my flight, enough that I could feel the overwhelming sense of relief at getting help. Maybe with the right medication, the right people, I would be able to keep the ghosts solely in my nightmares. I was going to miss visiting my dear Declan though and hoped he wouldn’t forget about me.
As such, I couldn’t leave the country for good without saying goodbye to him and perhaps imparting some of the wisdom I had gleaned from Jakob and it was Régine’s I was heading to on the day I fell apart.
I was going to catch the subway and was just about to head down the dirty stairs when I saw a familiar blonde head coming out of a ritzy restaurant.
It was no one other than Ludie and time stood still. I dropped the newspaper I was holding and let it fall absently to my feet. I stared at him enthralled, enraged.
He was finally showing some age, looking refined but tired. His smile was charming and aimed at a young redhead on his arm, but the sparkle was gone in his faded baby blues and his hair was greying and thin.
I can’t tell you what happened exactly, but I lost it right there on the street. I approached him with boiling breath, asking why he hadn’t shown any interest in our daughter.
He recognized me. I know he did from the fear and surprise that flashed briefly across his face. But, ever the actor, he covered it up and flat-out ignored me. He acted like he’d never seen me before and told me I didn’t know what I was talking about. I ended up spitting in his face, attacking the innocent redhead much like I did to the understudy back in the theatre days.
I needed to be restrained. I was violent, hollering nonsense. Out of my sorry mind and out of control.
I broke apart from the crowd that had gathered around us and in my blind despair I ran down the subway stairs. I fought my way past the greasy turnstiles like a panicked bird and in an unrelenting urge to leave my sad life behind, I ran for the nearest tracks, to the train that was just about to hit me head on.
I don’t know who saved me from throwing myself in front of that train and ending my life, but I know someone did for the next thing I remembered was waking up in a psychiatric hospital, the very place I would spend my last years before I died.
I think if there was a hell on earth, it would be inside a state-run psychiatric ward. It is a hopeless place filled with people who are either empty shells of what they used to be or monsters of another making.
I never knew what I was. I felt like a shell of the woman I was and I felt like a monster too. All I did know was I was left alone and afraid and never saw my family again, not in the ten years I was locked up there.
To be fair, I was shown pictures of my family. Karl wrote to me often, which was nice when I was in the right frame of mind to read and not tear the paper up. He wished he was well enough to come visit since he was having hip problems still, but I figured it was all a lie and that he had moved on with his life and found other people to love. And Ingrid. My daughter, who once swore – with Daniel – that they’d never lock me up, my daughter who went and did the opposite. She lied for she was the one who put me away. She also wrote to me, first to show me her wedding photos, then her pregnancy photos, and then photos of her and Daniel smiling above a beautiful dark-haired child they named Perry.
I am ashamed to admit that I tore up those first photos too. I was wildly jealous that Ingrid got to have the husband she wanted, a child she loved, and I ended up here, with nothing. I hated Perry at first for no other reason than that.
Then, on my days when my delusions calmed down and I had enough strength to push through the medication (which, Declan, as you know, did help a bit), I realized that Perry needed me. Everything that Jakob said about my grandchildren being cursed with my gift ran through my ears. What if Perry were to grow up as I did, and with Ingrid of all people as her mother?
I felt utterly helpless and spent most of my time feeling sorry for myself. I should have listened to Jakob when he had warned me, I was just too selfish to listen. Then I realized Jakob might have the answers. Jakob might be able to help. Perhaps he could do for Perry what he did for me.
I tried to access the Thin Veil, to make the portal appear in thin air, but nothing worked. I was probably just some crazy old lady waving her hands about like some wizard. I almost gave up hope until I skipped on taking my medication for a few days. I had been a calm and pleasant patient most of the time, so the nurses weren’t as watchful over me as they were over others.
It was then, on one rainy night with water and wind battering the tiny window of my room, that the air around me moved and glistened and I stepped inside.
That familiar pressure pressed down on my head and made my eyeballs feel as if they were about to burst. It lasted longer than last time but soon enough the pain subsided and I was in a grey zone, the parallel world. Here, Jakob was in the room with me, sitting on the uncomfortable stool in the corner.
“Pippa,” he said with a jovial nod.
Tears sprung to my eyes.
“Jakob,” I cried out. I got to my feet and found them to be sturdy and willing. Here in the Thin Veil I was more able, stronger and I used this change to embrace the young guide in my arms and sobbed all over him.
When my tears finally subsided, I begged Jakob to go after Perry and to help her.
“She might have someone at some point,” he said. “There is no need for it to be you.”
“But can I help her? Can I use this place to reach her?”
He didn’t say anything for a long time, weighing his options in his mind. But I could see the truth in his eyes and he knew it.
After a minute he said, “You can use this place for many things, but it doesn’t mean that you should. The most you can do, the most you should do, is just watch over her like I have watched over you.”
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