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episode eight - being powerless part six
My father once tried to put into words what it was like making the decision finally to put mom in the hospital. He'd known it was for the best, of course. Or, at least, that's what he said anyway. Who really knows if it was for the best? It's not as if Cedar Cliff has cured her or anything. Confined her, sure. Cured her, no. But, it was for the best, he said, but that knowledge didn't make it easy.
"I loved your mother, Travis. I still love her. I'll always love her. And, these doctors tell me she needs to be locked away in that place." He paused, and I thought he was going to leave it at that, leave the blame on the doctors. But, he continued. "I always thought when we got married, we'd be together forever after that," he said. "You know that line in the wedding, till death do us part, I thought that's how it would be. Your mother and I together until we died. And, as much as I know it would hurt her to live without me, I sorta wished I'd die first. Or, better yet, that we'd die at exactly the same moment."
A line from Winnie the Pooh occurs to me here, though my father didn't use it. "If you live to be a hundred, I want to live to be a hundred minus one day, so I never have to live without you." Maybe it would be better if people thought a little differently though about the person they love above all others. Like, if you live to be a hundred, I want to live to be a hundred PLUS one day, so I can live just long enough to make sure the world realizes just how enormous a loss you were. Or something like that anyway.
But, I digress.
My father continued. "There would be times we'd be apart. I knew that. But, I hoped those times would be for mere minutes at a time, maybe hours, maybe on a very rare occasion even days, but hopefully not days, and never more than that. Till death do us part. So romantic a notion. Pretty unrealistic these days, too, the way most marriages are, but I believed it. And, before . . . well, before this, your mother believed it too."
He paused again, this time longer. When he spoke again, he seemed on the verge of breaking down in tears, though he resisted that, not out of any notion that I shouldn't see him cry--there was none of that "boys don't cry" attitude allowed in our house, mom had seen fit to that--just because crying meant he'd given in a little more to the feeling he was trying get around to describing. "But, she was sick. She IS sick. And, the medication helps, sure. But, it hasn't made her better. There's a good chance it won't. And, what was I supposed to do--quit my job to take care of her? As much as I had wished that I could spend every minute of every day with her, that just wouldn't work in the real world. Some romantic fantasy land, maybe, but not here. I couldn't stay home all day with her, making sure she took her medication on time, making sure she didn't act on one of her delusions, making sure she didn't yell at some kid that happened by outside, making sure she didn't push one of her own kids around cause they looked a lot like Raphael d'Achertainne. I just couldn't.
"They say they can help her. They say at Cedar Cliff, she'll be in good hands. They can take the time to be with her, and not have to worry about supporting five kids at home. They aren't . . . they aren't powerless. That's what it's like, Travis. Watching the woman you love sink away into one fantasy after another, losing her grasp on what's real and what isn't. Watching her lose her mind. Totally unable to help her. I could just sit back and watch, wait for the spell to pass, be there to hold her afterwards if she can remember enough of it to feel horrible about it, or if she just felt weary and confused at the loss of several minutes. If you're lucky, you'll never have to be put in that position, being powerless to save someone you love, from some outside force, or from herself, her own mind. If you're lucky, everybody you love will live forever."
Did I really understand all that when he said it? I don't know. But, when I was only ten years old, I learned any of it I didn't already know. I got to feel it for myself.
I knew something was wrong with Olivia. I'd seen her scars, I'd figured out enough to know that she'd tried to kill herself on more than one occasion, that it was because of her father, a guy who was somehow linked to my own father, though I didn't yet know how, or why it made Phyllis Cross dislike my father. And, I knew that whatever was wrong, with all the unknown specifics, was not in the past but still there. Whether it was Olivia scratching at her wrists, or her strange obsession with going back to talk to Enoch after that day in the old church, or how she kept asking me to look after Jaimie if anything ever happened to her, I knew that there was still something wrong. And, even if I had known every little detail of the problem, I don't know if I would have known what to do about it. Hell, I'm pretty sure I would have still been helpless. Like my mother's "problem"--and, isn't that just the best little euphemism for being completely fucked in the head, got my Aunt Ellen to thank for that--Olivia's was dragging her into some unknown place. And, I couldn't rescue her myself anymore than my father had been able to rescue my mother. And, Saint McMasters couldn't step forward and drop down among the prickly branches to pull her out like he had Haley. And, as much as any of us might have been praying for her--believe me, I was doing it almost constantly--God just didn't seem to be swooping down to pick Olivia up.
Of course, that brings me to Enoch. That story he'd told us all--I didn't believe it. At least, I didn't want to believe it. Or, I was scared to believe it. Well, one of those. I didn't believe the Enoch in the story really was an angel, or that this Enoch was that Enoch. I believed in God. I even believed in angels. But, when some guy shows up claiming to be one, the whole thing just seemed a little outlandish, a little impossible. If this guy was an angel, then the whole thing just seemed silly. He was too much like some friends of my dad's who I'd seen after they'd had a few too many drinks. I would have believed Jerry Sedgwick, too drunk to walk and spouting obscenities left and right, to be an angel before I believed this stranger, even if he had had us all so fixated that day he found us in the old church.
But, you see, whether I believed him, or whether anyone else believed him, Olivia DID believe him. I didn't understand why, but at first, I didn't ask why. She was usually in a good mood after talking to him. Jaimie, though, after sitting out on the steps like that one day, was usually pretty bitchy, complaining about every little thing and hardly caring to spend all her time with her big sister like she had before. But, Olivia was happy. She'd talk to Enoch in the morning then catch up with me a little before lunchtime. It was still summer, so we had no school yet.
And, seeing Olivia at all happy, whatever the reason, was just fine with me. I knew that I was often happy after visiting my mother, even when she was delusional and thinking she was a saint, or talking to one at least, even when she attacked me, or demanded that I give back the innocence God had given her and I had no right to take. So Enoch was crazy. So what? He made Olivia happy.
And, once they got to me, alone or already hanging out with Haley and Kyle and Josh and Barbara, I could pretty easily get Jaimie out of the funk her morning with Olivia had put her in. So, things seemed just fine. Well, fine enough.
But, as it got closer to the end of summer, and school got closer, things changed. Jaimie kept trying to tell me something about Olivia, about what Enoch was telling her, but Olivia would give her this weird look, and Jaimie would shut up about it. But, that changed one day, the last week before school.
The whole lot of us, me, Olivia, Jaimie, Haley, Kyle, Josh, and Barbara, were sitting in Memorial Park. We'd been playing around on the playground for a few hours, and then we'd had a nice picnic sort of lunch put together by Noelle Manning and Sandra Doyle, and we were all exhausted and stuffed. The two mothers were still sitting at the picnic table, talking back and forth about something or other. Kyle was laying down on the grass, his head on an exposed tree root. It looked liked he was asleep, and he probably was. Haley was between he and I, awake, but just as relaxed as Kyle was. Josh was sitting not far from me, crosslegged, picking at the grass rather aimlessly. Barbara was sitting right next to him, leaning on him, her head on his shoulder. Olivia was laying near them, on her stomach, her head on her crossed arms. I was sitting against a tree (the same one that exposed root came from, no doubt). Jaimie sat down by me. Well, at first, she was by me. Then, after about a minute, she got up, looked over at her sister, then sat down ON me, on my legs, facing me. "Something's wrong," she said. She barely said it loud enough for me to hear her, so the chance anyone else had heard was slim.
I didn't connect the statement to Olivia immediately, of course. I was ten, I was stupid. "What's wrong," I asked, expecting Jaimie to maybe say she had a tummy ache or something, she'd eaten too much.
"She's been scratching more," she said. "That angel guy has 'Livia acting real weird."
I focused my attention better, seeing this wasn't just Jaimie being a little girl trying to talk about useless stuff. "What's he been saying to her? Or doing to her?" Odd that I jumped to the idea that he might have been doing something to her, maybe molesting her or whatever, as I hadn't really figured out exactly what her father had done yet.
"He's just been telling her stuff," Jaimie said, "'bout angels, 'bout heaven, 'bout God. He's not really an angel, is he? 'Livia thinks he is. I don't. I don't like him. If he were an angel, I'd like him, wouldn't I?"
I nodded, first thing I thought to do.
"Well, I don't. I don't like him. He's weird. He keeps talking about all these people he's taken up to heaven, sick people, dead people. It's cweepy." Why she'd pronounced that last word like that, I didn't know, but it sorta fascinated me for a moment, and I didn't quite hear what she said next.
Then, Olivia turned her head to us. "What are you bothering Travis about this time," she asked.
"Nothing," Jaimie said. She looked at me, pleading with me that I agree with her, a strange look from a five year old.
"Nothing," I said, "some stupid cartoon."
Jaimie laughed, and the strangest thing happened. That thing I hadn't heard a moment earlier--it just came to me, suddenly. Like it had gone right past my eardrums and was bouncing around inside my skull and only now found my ears again. "She's getting like she was before," Jaimie had said. And, as simple as that was, I didn't like the sound of it once it got to me.
"What did you mean by that," I asked her.
Jaimie stopped laughing, looked at me crookedly. I think she'd forgotten what she'd said.
"You said she's getting like she was before," I said.
Her eyes widened. She remembered now. Jaimie held up her arms, turned them over so the inside of her wrists were showing. She looked at one then the other, as she said, "when she cut herself, she was sad, but she was happy first, like she'd gotten the best little idea in her head that nobody'd ever got before. She's happy like that again." Jaimie put her arms down. More accurately, she let them drop, like talking about her sister was draining too much energy to leave any for her arms. "And, she's scratching at 'em more than usual," she said. Then, she put her head down, the rest of her energy gone. Somehow, I knew asking her any more questions just then would be pointless. A moment later, Jaimie got off my legs, sat down next to them, leaning on my legs for a moment, then laid down, put her head on my knee. By the time I got up, she was asleep and I had to wake her.
Rested up, we returned to the swings for a bit before heading home. And, even then, most of us--not Barbara cause she had to get dressed up for some dinner her parents were dragging her to--went not to our own homes but to Haley's. And, there we played a couple board games, video games, or just talked, unimportant stuff. As it started getting near dinnertime, I found myself playing cards with Haley and Olivia and Jaimie. Kyle had gotten talked into helping Haley's mom with carrying some stuff in from the car, and Josh had gotten bored--"half of him's gone already," Haley said, and we all laughed--and headed home. As we played cards, and as we'd been playing other games before that, I'd been dividing my time between worrying about Olivia and staring at Haley. We were playing crazy eights. I was about to play the eight of diamonds. I can still remember that. That's when Haley said she had to pee, and she got up and went to the bathroom.
"You think you could stare at her anymore than you have been," Olivia asked.
Jaimie smiled, her tongue sticking out a little. Her assessment: Olivia had a brilliant way of getting right to the point.
"Yeah, I think I could," I said. Not the best comeback, hardly even a comeback at all, but what I said nonetheless.
"Oh really," Olivia said. She didn't believe me. I was about to respond to that when I noticed she was scratching her right wrist. The sight of that kept me from saying anything at all.
Then, Kyle came in the room, done with what Mrs Manning had him doing and eager to get into the card game. Then, Haley came back, and the game continued. I didn't stare so much at Haley now. Instead, I watched Olivia, watched her hands, her fingers, her wrists. She wasn't scratching hard, nothing that could make the skin raw or make it bleed, just lightly brushing her nails against the skin, against the scars there. And, she was doing it every few seconds, it seemed. The more she did it, the more it fascinated me, the more I just watched that, looking away only to take my turn in the card game.
Afterwards, walking home, I was with Olivia and Jaimie, as I'd often been. And, Olivia, attentive enough to have noticed me staring at Haley, sure enough had noticed me starting at her hands as well. "I'm fine," she said, when she scratched at them as we crossed Spruce and she noticed me watching her again.
"Then, why do you keep doing that?"
"They itch sometimes," she said.
"All the time," Jaimie added. Olivia gave her a look, and Jaimie knew not to speak again.
She scratched her left wrist again, then looked at me. "What? It itches."
Out of the blue--I expected it about as much as she did--I asked, "so, what've you been doing with Enoch?"
"Nothing," she said rather defensively.
"Does Dalton know about him," I asked. "Should he be jealous?" I thought that I was pretty clever going in that direction.
"Oh, who cares about Dalton. He only likes me 'cause I put out."
That surprised me. "I thought you two were in love."
"Oh we are," she said. I'm not sure if she knew she was contradicting herself or not. I'm not sure if she even had any idea what she was saying, she was so concentrated on scratching her wrists.
I grabbed her left arm, stopped her from scratching and from walking. She looked at me angrily, then yanked her arm away. She didn't go right back to scratching, which I thought was a good sign. "What's wrong with you, Travis," she asked.
"What's wrong with you?"
Jaimie didn't say anything, just looked back and forth between us, waiting.
"Nothing's wrong with me," Olivia said.
"Well then, why do you keep scratching your wrists?"
"They itch. God, what don't you get about that?" I thought she'd just start walking again then, but she didn't. She looked at me for a moment, then said, "and, what business is it of yours what I'm doing with Enoch? If I'm screwing him, that's my business. If I'm just talking to him, that's my business. Not yours."
"She's not screwing him," Jaimie said. She was looking at the ground, so she didn't see the look her sister gave her this time. She was quiet anyway.
"We talk," Olivia said, turning her attention back to me. "Well, he talks more than I do. He tells me stories, like that one he told all of us. You liked that story, didn't you? I did. And, he's got better ones. Just yesterday, he was telling me about this married couple that--"
"He's not an angel," I said.
"Yes he is," she replied, stated it as if it were incontrovertible. Then, a little less sure, she added, "he's got to be."
"Why does he have to be an angel?"
She looked away from me now. Her voice got quieter. "If he's not, then none of his stories are true. If he's not, then those people aren't real, heaven isn't real, God isn't real." She looked at me again. There were tears in her eyes. They looked out of place for some reason. Maybe because she'd seemed so happy lately. "You know how hard it is to keep believing in all that stuff, Travis? You know hard it is to believe in God when everything's so damn hard?"
She started scratching at her wrists again, not so lightly as before. Breaking the skin was a real risk this time. I reached out and pulled her arms apart, held her hands in mine. She looked down at them, perplexed, like she didn't know what they were. Then, she looked up at me. Those tears in her eyes, and the ones falling down her cheeks--they looked right at home now. The sadness in her face right then was overwhelming. "It was so easy before," she said. "It seemed easy, anyway. Just, cut my wrists open, let it all come out, bleed until I can't bleed anymore. Just let my life drift away. It didn't even hurt that much."
Jaimie was crying. Though her head was still down, I could tell. She wiped tears away with her sleeve. Olivia looked at her, smiled, then reached over and lifted her sister's chin with one hand. Jaimie forced a smile, but it didn't last.
"It never worked though," Olivia said. "Somebody had to be here to take care of Jaimie. I'd get it in my head that killing myself was the only way out, the only way to make it stop hurting, and then as the blood came out, I'd think of you, James. And, I couldn't do it. Couldn't leave you alone with mom. You'd go crazy." Jaimie half laughed at that. Olivia smiled again. Her tone brightened a little. "I loved you too much."
Olivia turned to me again. "It never stopped hurting though. And, on those days that it almost seemed like the past was finally the past, my wrists would start itching. Just like that, they'd start itching, like God was telling me I shouldn't ever forget. Now, I guess I'd just been trying too hard to forget. They itch all the time. God just has to keep reminding me. Like I'd ever actually forget."
"Forget what," I asked.
"Forget what," I asked again.
"Forget my father. Forget that day he finally stopped just touching me a little here and there and just raped me. Forget how much it hurt, that bastard on top of me." There'd been tears already, but only now was Olivia really crying. Crying, sobbing, weeping--whichever one's the worst. She could hardly get out her words, though she kept talking. "I loved him," she said. "He said he loved me. I was his little girl, his little princess. I was everything to him. I was his whole world and he was mine. I remember when Jaimie was born, he told me I didn't have to worry, I didn't have any reason to be jealous. 'She can't take anything away from you,' he said. 'She can't take me away from you.' He kissed me the day she was born, you know. And, it wasn't just a little ol' kiss. Dalton can't even kiss like that. No one can."
She was shaking, crying so hard now, she couldn't say anything more. Jaimie went to her and put her arms around her, holding her up as best she could. I took my cue from her, stepped forward and hugged Olivia as well. That just made her cry even harder. When she finally said something again, it wasn't what I would have expected. "He wasn't a bastard," she said. "I called him one, didn't I? He wasn't. He was my daddy. He loved me. Then he had to go and hurt me, but he wasn't a bastard. He was my daddy." She pushed me off of her, pushed Jaimie off of her, then started walking again, wiping away tears. Jaimie and I followed after her.
"He would have hurt me again, you know," she said, speaking as if the subject were any casual thing we might talk about while walking home. "Eventually, he would have. But, he loved me, and after that one time, he didn't do anything for a while, so I kept quiet. I didn't want to get him in trouble for what he did. I couldn't do that. He was my daddy. How could I get him in trouble? Nobody would understand. They'd just take him away."
When she was quiet for a moment, I asked, "did he do it again?"
She shook her head. "No, he didn't. He started ignoring me after a while. So, one day, I told mom what he'd done. They made me testify in court. Then, they took him away, and made me go and talk to a bunch of other girls whose father's had hurt them too. They seemed to think that would help. But, it didn't. Well, it did, but it didn't. You know what I mean? No, how could you? You never had to tell a bunch of stupid girls about your father hurting you over and over, did you? So, how could you understand?"
Jaimie grabbed her sister's hand. Olivia looked down at it, smiled a little, then looked up again, walking hand in hand with her little sister now. I thought of moving around to hold Olivia's other hand, but I didn't do it. I'm not sure why not.
"It didn't hurt so much at first. I mean, he was my daddy and he loved me. But, later, it hurt. It hurt a lot. And, everybody kept making me talk about it and talk about it. Like that was really gonna help anything. And, mom was so busy working and looking after Jaimie, and one day, it occurred to me that I didn't have to do it anymore. I could just make it all stop. And so, one night, I got a knife from the kitchen and I cut my wrists.
"But, Jaimie needed me. Mom was more busy with work than with her, so I stuck around a little longer. But, things got bad again, and I got it in my head to do it again, and everything seemed brighter. The world was a better place, just knowing I wouldn't be seeing it much longer. Then, I cut my wrists again. You should have seen my mom's face that second time. I think she thought I'd gotten all the pain out of my system the first time. Well, that, or she just didn't care enough to notice that I was crying all the time, that I wasn't eating, that I wasn't playing with friends, or doing my homework, or doing much of anything. She was more shocked by that second time than the first.
"And, when it came time for my third try, you woulda thought she'd never even heard of the concept before, she was so shocked. Selective amnesia, or whatever they call it, I guess. She just forgot all about me doing it before, and she went on with her life, thinking she was a fantabulous mother. She'd kept me alive. There was no way I'd done it myself, no way I'd stuck around myself. It was her, all her. Oh, what a great mother she was. Taking us to live in New York--that was just the best idea in the whole wide world. Or, so you'd think, hearing it from her. I'm surprised she didn't just go around asking people to congratulate her on how great a mother she was. Actually, come to think of it, maybe she DID that. There were plenty of people who were pretty congratulatory, so maybe she did actually ask for it. I don't know. I wouldn't put it past her.
"By the fourth time I cut my wrists, she had all these friends that felt so sorry for her. Like she was the one who was hurting. Like, I was just an afterthought to her pain. Like I was--"
We'd reached Maple. We'd reached their house. Olivia looked at it, silent. She took a deep breath, tightened her grip on Jaimie's hand, as if to say, ok, we can do this as long as we do it together.
Then, Olivia turned to me. "Five times total," she said. "I just know you're gonna ask that, so I'll say it now. I did it five times. But, every time, I stuck around. Jaimie needed me. I couldn't be expecting mom to take care of her well enough. And, there was no one else. Dad was off in jail. And, Aunt Anne--well, she had her own kids to worry about. So, it was up to me to look after her." I knew she was referring to her sister, but Olivia lifted her arm, raising Jaimie's as well, just in case I didn't know who she meant.
Jaimie grabbed my hand with her free one. "Now, I've got you too," she said.
"Yeah," Olivia said. "Now, she's got you too." She smiled at that thought. Then, she looked down at Jaimie. "Let's go inside, kiddo," she said.
The tone had changed so abruptly, and not for the first time, but it didn't seem too strange. Jaimie said bye to me, let go of my hand. Olivia looked at me, a long hard look. "Don't let your fears screw up your life," she said. "Haley's not a stupid girl. She'll figure out how you feel about her eventually, if she doesn't know already. Just remember, it isn't a competition. You don't have to do something better than Saint McMasters, or better than Kyle DeMetz. You just have to be you. She's known you all her life. It'll work out just fine." She took another deep breath, glanced toward her house, then looked at me again. "And, in case I haven't said it before, thanks for looking after Jaimie with me since we got back in town."
"You're welcome," I said to Olivia. Then, I looked down at Jaimie. "You're welcome," I said again. Jaimie smiled.
The last thing Olivia said before they went inside was, "you'll be good for her." I wasn't sure if she was referring to her little sister or to Haley. I suppose she meant both in a way. I never got the chance to ask her. About an hour later, Olivia took a bath. And, for the sixth time, she cut her wrists open. The blood came out and came out until it couldn't or wouldn't anymore. Now that Jaimie had me to look out for her when her mother wasn't around, Olivia had no more reason to stick it out. By the time her mother realized anything was amiss, Olivia was already dead.
And, I wouldn't see her again for another three years, when she just appeared in my room, a ghost, a phantom, or maybe an angel.