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can’t be worked through. It won’t – can’t – get better with time. The myopic shrink with glasses thick as bullet proof glass tells me I should keep a journal. It’ll help me work through my depression he says. His name is Dr. Calloway. His right hand is shriveled up, his twig arm bent at a weird angle. I can’t help but stare at it. I like to imagine he’s part tyrannosaur. I want to touch his desiccated fingers, fold them, shape them into the talon of a dinosaur. He says I should begin each journal entry by writing three words to describe what I’m feeling, and then explore whether my mood has improved or changed at all, and then maybe try and write something positive to think about for the rest of the day. Bulls___. Oh. He also told me he’s going to read the entries every day and edit them, removing all the bad language and whatnot because he has to present the progress of my case to a panel once a week, but, he says, I can still feel free to write whatever I want, even cuss words galore. He said that, cuss words galore. Well d___. I wonder if women find his freakish, contorted hand attractive. I do. It’s like watching someone make a joke about the brains of your husband stuck to your lime green kitchen wall. I wasn’t supposed to see that part. I rushed back into the house because I had to find a picture of Caylee, any picture, just something to remind me of her. There was a big, fat cop there. His hands weren’t like Dr. Calloways. His fingers were plump, gluttonous caterpillars clinging to the catcher’s mitt of his palm. He poked at what remained of Jim’s skull, somehow glued to the wall with gray matter. The cop jabbed at it, said hey buddy, what’s on your mind? He guffawed, turned to his fellow cops, their eyes wide on me. The fat one realized who I was. He looked down and shuffled his feet like a disciplined school boy. The tip of his finger was red. He wasn’t wearing any gloves. I couldn’t stop staring at his hands. Just like I can’t stop myself from wanting to touch Dr. Calloway’s. I don’t think this journal is working me through anything.
July 11, 1998 Dr. T. Rex says my first journal entry was a good start. He says I should try writing three words to describe my feelings, though. It’s part of the healing process he says. Ok. Three words: Numb. Numb. Numb. Maybe it’s the drugs. Mom gives me enormous light blue pills every day with breakfast. Horse sized pills. Why are pills always blue or white? Why not magenta or sunshine yellow or black or polka dotted or s___ brown or lime green? That was our first argument after we bought the
house. I wanted to paint the kitchen lime green. I wanted to because that was the color of my grandmother’s kitchen. I always loved the way her home smelled, and how the walls were a horrible motley of green and red and blue and yellow, and how she had a collection of the most bizarre, intricately designed ceramic figurines from around the world. I remember I loved all her statuettes, except one. It was supposed to be of a smiling little black boy kicking a tin can. Something about it scared me. His skin was too black, his features not quite defined. His eyes were overly white and his mouth was set in what was supposed to be a smile, but it looked like a menacing red gash across his cheeks, the grin just a little too wide. Like someone had tried to cut his throat but missed. I made her hide it whenever I came to visit. She did. She was kind. She made the world’s best lasagna. I wanted to paint the kitchen lime green in honor of her, my grandmother. Jim refused. He said it was ugly and no one would ever buy the house again if we had horrible, lime colored walls. He told me the paint should be neutral. I told him he was sleeping on the couch until the wall was painted how I wanted. That was mean. We had just moved in. We came all the way to Florida by plane. Our furniture was coming by truck and would be at least another day arriving. I found him the following morning sprawled across the floor atop a pile of his clothes. When the furniture arrived, he slept on the couch for a full week. One day while he was out looking for work I went to the store and bought a can of paint and a roller. When he came home I greeted him with a ribeye dinner, a glass of champagne, and a hideous, Jello-colored wall. I did a poor job. I got paint on the tile and the running boards. I even managed to get some on the ceiling. There were drips and drops here and there where I had put too much on the roller and thick runnels of green cascaded down without me noticing. I think I was too terrified to notice. It was the first time I ever stood up to Jim. I was only twenty one, and Jim was an imposing figure, tall and stocky. He had a well groomed beard and nice hands. They were calloused because he liked to work outside. Jim shook his head in disgust at the wall, but the following Saturday he went to the store and bought more paint, then came home and fixed my Jackson Pollock. I think maybe he shot himself in the kitchen on purpose. One last petty act of protest. Probably not. I don’t actually know what these pills do, the ones my mother feeds me. I’ve never thought to ask and, really, I don’t want to know. Some people think it’s better to know. They say once you know, you can move on. They say you can have closure. They say it’s better than imagining the thousand possible horrible scenarios that may or may not have happened. I’ve never much liked funerals. I didn’t attend the community vigil afterwards. I’d rather not know. In my scenarios, Caylee is alive and happy somewhere. Every day it’s the same thing. Two eggs over easy, a glass of orange juice, and one big, fat mournful blue capsule. My mother was never very imaginative. It’s been… three months? Three months since Jim did the deed and three months I’ve been under house arrest with my mother. Three months of two eggs over easy and a horse pill. She never cooks the eggs right either. She always breaks the yolk. You’d think after three months of cooking the exact same d___ thing she could figure out how to do it. You’d think after three months of wallowing in my own shame I’d figure out how to survive without my mother feeding me, watching me, caring for me like a child. You’d think, though, after only three months I
would still need a shrink. I would still need to talk to someone. Like Dr. T.Rex. I don’t. But my other tells me I should. She says, for starters, it’s the only way to get a prescription for my medicine. Medicine. It heals the sick. Am I sick? I don’t think so.
July 12, 1998 Instructions! So many instructions! Dr. T. Rex keeps telling me how to write my journal. Maybe he should write the d___ thing. Again he says, why Janie, this entry is a really great one. You’re doing a good job. If you can, for your next one, try and write about something positive. Maybe a thought that made you smile, or a bird outside your window, or even just the smell of something good. Like coffee. As he said this he was gently flexing the talons of his shriveled hand. I reached out to touch it, but stopped myself halfway. I bet it feels like leather. Oh, and don’t forget to write three emotions too. And to take your medication. And to eat your eggs. And to brush your teeth. And to wash your hands after you s___. And to scrub behind your ears. And to tie your shoelaces. And to comb your hair. And to wear clothes. And to say your nightly prayers. And to stop peeling the paint off the wall. And to stop eating it. And to wear your mask. And to water the hydrangeas. And to peel an orange before you bite it. And to clip your toenails. And to hold onto the rail when you climb the stairs. And to tuck your daughter into bed. And to kiss your husband goodnight. And to wear your mask. Three words: Numb. Numb. Numb. Something positive? The fact that I don’t know. One of the other mothers – she knows. Knew. There were nine of them. The newspaper called them the Newberry Nine. Nine little children gone missing from the park. Nine wailing mothers fumbling hysterically after dark. Nine anxious fathers circling the streets in cars. Nine sons and daughters strayed too far. I want to say I’m the worst mother the world has ever had the misfortune to beget. I can’t. There were nine of us who managed to lose our children. All on the same day. Lost. Like a TV remote. So I’m in the top nine. I’m in the running for worst mother of forever. I misplaced my daughter. Maybe if I look between the couch cushions I’ll find her. A friend of mine once lost her remote for two weeks. Then one day she discovered she had somehow, in some bewildering act of forgetfulness, left it in her freezer. Maybe I can find Caylee in mine, balled up among the frozen corpses of chickens and butchered cattle. Maybe, by some miracle, she would be cold and hungry, but still okay. These thoughts give me hope. Because I don’t know. The woman who knew? She killed herself even before the funeral was held. Her boy’s name was James. Just like my husband. He played with Caylee once or twice and, sitting on the park bench, made allies by virtue of both being exhausted mothers, I talked to her. She seemed nice. Busy. I remember James was a rascal. Caylee was trying to kiss him on the cheek and he would run from her, screaming at her to get away. But he always stopped and she always caught up. He patiently waited until she gave him a peck. Then he took off running again, hollering at her to stop. It was strange to see how this little boy, James, was so very much like my husband. When they found the young rake two weeks
after the Newberry Nine went missing, the boy was reclining peacefully against a tree. His eyes were closed and he seemed to be napping in the warm sun. Something he never did voluntarily before. Napped. He appeared healthy, except, of course, that his heart was no longer pumping blood through his veins. And someone had cut open the palms of his hands and removed all the bones, leaving only an empty glove made from flesh, embellished with tiny fingernails. So there. I don’t know. It is something to be happy about. I suppose I never will know, the way my life is censored. Every morning while I eat breakfast Mom takes the newspaper and a pair of scissors and locks herself in Dad’s old study. When she emerges, the High Springs Herald looks like one of the construction paper snowflakes Caylee makes every Christmas. Made. I never ask what she cuts out. Mother knows best. I take my blue pill and read the articles that are deemed to be wholesome for my mental well- being. Articles that survived the prejudices of my mom’s shears. Sometimes I think maybe I’d like to ask. One time her eye fell upon an offending Dear Abby article. I know this because I read it every day. But that morning, where Abby’s sage words usually lay in stark black against white, there was simply a large, rectangular hole. I held the paper up, peered through the opening at my mother, arched my eyebrows. I didn’t ask the question, and she pretended not to notice. I had to survive the day without Abigail van Buren’s wisdom to guide me. My phone calls are censored in much the same way. I can only talk to preapproved persons, which generally means only Dr. T. Rex or one of his assistants. The police interviewed me after Jim protested my green paint with his brains. Mom kept trying to interrupt. She was trying, even then, to censor the world for me. Four questions he asked, four times she intervened, a parrot repeating: hasn’t she been through enough? The cop: Can you think of any reason your husband would kill himself? A million. I can think of no reason why he wouldn’t want to. I answered: No, officer. Mom: Now is not really a good time for Janie. Can you come back another day? The cop: No. Did you and your husband fight at all before he… Every day of our lives. Caylee disappeared, so did our love. I answered: No, officer. Mom: Hasn’t she been through enough? The cop: Was he acting strangely before he… Strangely? No. Terrified? Yes. I had never seen him- anyone- so afraid. I answered: No, officer. Mom: Please, the stress is too much for her. Janie’s daughter, she—and the cop perks up. The cop: You have a daughter? He wrote on a small notepad. His hands were delicate, his fingers thin, his nails perfect. I wondered if he manicured them. For some reason I always believed police officers would have rough, worn hands. I don’t know why. It was a question, not a statement: You have a daughter? I didn’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know if she’s still alive. I don’t know where she is. I don’t know if she still has bones in her hands. I don’t know. My mother had enough and dragged me from the room while the cop ineffectually protested. She pushed me into the living room and shut the door to the kitchen. I heard Mom hiss at the cop. I clutched my stomach when she whispered the words Newberry Nine. It was a catchy phrase, thought up by some headline writer
who, doubtless, enjoyed the alliteration. The way it sucker punched you right in your broken heart. That was the last time I spoke to anyone other than my mother or the doctors who diagnosed me with chronic depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and a thousand other terms that changed day to day. Even anorexia nervosa. It’s difficult to get an appetite when your kitchen is covered in gore. Not that I’ve been back since. Mom won’t let me out of her sight. I live here, I read preapproved newspapers, I watch preapproved movies, I eat preapproved food, I swallow preapproved drugs. And I’m content. Why? Because I don’t know. If I did, I might end up like James’ mother did. Mom would come home one day to find me hanging from the dining room chandelier with one of Dad’s old ties lynched around my sorrowful throat. I think I would leave the lights on. Sometimes the dark scares me. Mom knows this, has always known this. I had nightmares when I was a child. They were never the same. Sometimes I dreamed that the figurine from my grandmother’s was after me, his horrible gaping slash of a smile dripping red at his feet while he chased me down the hallway. Other times I dreamed of being attacked by a large, black dog that would make me watch while he ate pieces of me. Other times I awoke from sleep with the overwhelming feeling that if I were to open my eyes there would be someone leaning over me, inches from my face. This one scared me the most because I had a very definite idea who that someone would be. When I was six I dreamed once I had woken up to find a man, standing in the corner of my room. He seemed impossibly tall. His skin was white. Not pale, white. His hands freakishly huge. The fingers were long and thin and could easily cover half my body if he put them on my chest. Which he did. Though he had the frame of a scarecrow, he moved faster than my eye could follow in a kind of crablike scuttle. He was in the corner, and then he was leaning over me, nose to nose, his massive hand pressing down my body. He didn’t speak a word to me, only looked. At least it seemed like it. He had no eyes. Something dripped from the hole in his face onto my cheek and I woke up screaming. Afterwards I slept with the lights on. Even when I got married. Jim and I argued over this, too, like so many trivial things. That period of time, the honeymoon and the aftermath, could be recollected in terms of the arguments we had. As if marriage itself were measured like geology, our time together divided into strata, eras of argument. The era of my need for a night light. The era of lime green walls. The era of alcoholism. The era of not having enough money. The era of dividing house chores. The era of Jim’s slip-up. The era of deciding Caylee’s name. The era of blame for her loss. The era of my shut down. The era of suicide. When I moved in with Mom — rather, when she forced me to move in with her — she remembered my nightmares. She left the light on. That’s how we are, me and Mom. The lights are on and ain’t no one home. I rotate between my pajamas and my robe every other day. After the ritual of eggs and pills and holey newspapers, I shuffle around the house aimlessly. We don’t talk much. We never did. Growing up, Dad was the energy of the house. He was vocal, lively. He laughed loudly and told inappropriate jokes at restaurants. He was in the navy. He brought home exotic gifts for me. Elephants carved from teak wood. A string of tiny metal cymbals worn by belly dancers. A wind up monkey. I miss
him. Mom was always the quiet, protective, stoic type. Whenever we were left alone, Dad off to sea somewhere, the house became an empty shell. I don’t think I ever remember my Mom saying anything to me other than the necessities: Brush your teeth. Take a shower. Get ready for school. Wash your hands. Eat your breakfast. Not much has changed. She gets a fat paycheck from Uncle Sam thanks to Dad. She doesn’t work. Neither do I. So we mope. We stumble. Ghosts shuffling room to room. She is very neat and orderly. I would say OCD. The books on her coffee table have to be positioned just so. The china in the cabinet has to face just so. I like to follow behind her and nudge things, move them ever so slightly from their designated spots. I don’t even think she’s aware she’s doing it. She’ll walk back into the same room, shift the book back where it’s supposed to be, and move on. The lights are on, but nobody’s home. That reminds me of a song Caylee learned in church. This little light of mine… I’m going to let it shine…
July 15, 1998 It’s been a few days since the shrink’s been here. Mom says he’s at a conference somewhere. So I have no one to read my inane thoughts. A shame. I’m going to write today anyway. It gives me something to do besides lay siege to my mother’s compulsive disorder. Stir crazy. I’ve been diagnosed with all kinds of crazy since Jim’s suicide, but never once have I been labeled stir. Self-diagnosis: I’m going bats___ bonkers here. I think my Mom may be more dead than Jim. She walks room to room with a glassy look to her eyes. The only time she reacts in any way is if she feels I’m in need of protection. Her hands are old. Spotted, wrinkled. Emaciated. She makes sure I eat, I pop my pills, I don’t read anything that will bother me, I don’t see anything that might cause pain, I don’t breathe oxygen that might ache my lungs, I don’t do anything. Most of the time she’s a zombie. I expect her to groan when she ambles through a doorway. But if she sees something that may offend or hurt me, bam, she snaps right out of it. Overreacts. Shelters me from the rain. I tried to make myself a bowl of cereal the other day. She took the box out of my hands without a word. She poured it into a bowl, milk on top. Handed it to me and walked away. I was dumbfounded. I think Dr. T. Rex needs to talk to her, not me. Diagnosis: excessively overprotective. I guess that apple fell far from the tree. I can’t make a bowl of cereal without my Mom’s help. Caylee can disappear without her mother ever coming to the rescue. There’s a little park near our house. My house. It’s a small, community plot of orange mulch harboring a jungle gym, a few metal slides, and a little green and yellow plastic house. Barely big enough for a mouse. Caylee loved it best of all. She would go inside and pretend she was baking cookies for everyone. A few times I gave her a pack of Oreos so she could give them to her friends. Pretend she baked them. Parents are more responsible for their kids’ popularity than they believe. All it takes is one purchase. This is America. We learn the value of money at a very young age. Buy one cool pair of shoes. Bring cake to class one day. Own the newest video game. Boom. Suddenly, you’re the popular one. Growing up, I was never that kid. Not because we couldn’t afford it. Because my Mom believed in saving. She still saves money, but now she’s set her sight higher. Now she wants to save me. Caylee’s friend knocked on our door. Asked if my
daughter wanted to play with her. I was busy. I was a school teacher. Lesson plans were due. My God. Lessons plans. I hated those things so d___ much. Principals want to see them, parents want to see them. The world wants to know you are teaching their children what they think you should teach them. Kids? Kids are smart, young, curious. They’ll learn anything you throw their way, and then more. They somehow always learn the things you don’t want them to. Cuss words. The birds and the bees. That Mommy thinks Daddy drinks too much. That they don’t love each other anymore. That Mommy thinks he’s a worthless a__hole and that Daddy thinks she’s stuckup b____. Kids will learn long before you ever think they’re ready for it. They’ll even learn what it’s like to disappear. I told Caylee she could go. I told her to be careful, and to go only to the park. Nowhere else. She promised, and out the door she went. Eight years old. At the time I felt justified. Parents are so paranoid these days. They smother their children. They don’t let them out of their sight. They won’t even let them pour their own bowl of cereal. Caylee was smart. I knew she’d be fine. An hour or so later I finished my work. I wasn’t done, but I was tired of it. I walked to the park. The afternoon had turned beautiful. It was breezy, the sun wasn’t overly hot. I arrived at the playground and a chill went up my spine. There were two other mothers from the neighborhood. I recognized them vaguely. Perhaps from some community social event that I cannot recollect ever going to. Maybe I had taught their kids the year before. There were no children on the playground. The jungle gym was silent, the plastic house empty. The slides bore witness to stillness. Only three women batting worried glances back and forth, calling out the names of their children. It strikes me now that none of us called for any child other than our own. I could have easily mixed in a James or an Ashley between my anxious cries for Caylee. But I never did. I never heard the others call for Caylee. I think, even then, my womb had begun to ache. Empty. I don’t think I want to write anymore today.
July 18, 1998 Dr. T.Rex came back today. His glasses are thick. I bet he could take them off and use the lenses to start a fire. Like they did in Lord of the Flies. His are so thick I think the beam would be intense enough to burn a hole straight through the Earth. Some guy in China would be out in his field. He would be following behind his ox or cow whatever they use over there when, pew! A laser beam pops out of the ground and turns his livestock into a burger. He’s a lefty, the good doctor. I just noticed today. I suppose it’s common sense. He certainly can’t write with his gimpy claw. I’ve read before that left handed people think differently. They’re more artistic. They use different parts of their brain. I’ve also read before that people only use ten percent of their brain. I wonder which ten percent lefties use as opposed to righties. I think the whole idea is a lie. An urban myth probably. I doubt people use one percent of their brain. My one percent? I think I spend it all in the same place. In the self-loathing spot. I’m sure there’s one somewhere. A double-fist sized grey lump packed with emotion and thoughts and memories and my one percent is invested in a tiny location. A single wrinkle of the brain. I wonder if that was the spot the cop was poking when he jabbed Jim’s brain. Hey buddy, what’s on your mind? I wonder if by poking
that exact point the fleeting ghost of Jim felt, for an instant, self-loathing. Maybe in that moment he hated himself for abandoning me. For giving up on Caylee. For taking the easy way. For ruining my kitchen. I doubt it. I can still remember his face that night. Fear. Dread, I think is the better word. Like he knew something terrible was about to happen and he couldn’t stand to wait for it. So, off with his head. Or most of it anyways. The important bits. The locus of self-loathing splattered on my wall. Doc T.Rex with the googley-eyed glasses praised me for writing in his absence, but again, the condemnation. I didn’t write about something positive. I didn’t write three emotions. These are important to the healing process. He insists again. Healing process. As if I scraped some skin off my knee and it only needs to time to repair itself. Three words: Numb. Numb. Self-Loathing. Bet you weren’t expecting that. I only took half of my blue pill today. I cracked it down the middle with my fork. Curious if the world would end if the horse pill didn’t wind up in my blood stream. Something positive? I solved all the answers in today’s crossword puzzle. Hooray me.
July 25, 1998 I’ve stopped taking them altogether. The blue pills. Doc. T.Rex says that if I don’t think I need them, then not to take them. That would be sound logic if I actually knew what they were for. I can say this: I feel like I’m waking from a dream. My thoughts are clearer, my ambition to do more than mope around the house is growing, my mother is increasingly annoying me with her slow stupor, and the pain of loss for both Jim and Caylee is so sharp sometimes I can’t help but kneel on the floor and sob. Cabin fever set in today between bouts of sobering agony, and I began to rummage through the closet of the bedroom mother has so benevolently gifted me. There were clothes, old and smelling like they hadn’t been worn in ten years or more. They haven’t. They were my Sunday dresses when I was growing up. I found some of the gifts Dad brought back for me on his trips, a jar brimming with old coins, and a box full of obsolete Polaroids dating to God knows when. I’ve been thumbing through the pictures for the past couple of hours. Most were of Mom and Dad before I entered the scene. He was tall, young, handsome and strong. She was never very pretty, even then. I can’t imagine what Dad saw in her. Unfortunately, I got my looks from her side, so Jim and Dad must have had something in common: a love for ugly women. The pictures were taken when they still lived up north, in the foothills of the Appalachian mountains. He had a boisterous way of speaking; he was almost too loud, too vigorous, yet he still gave one the impression of a gentleman. The kind of guy who held doors for women or offered his coat if it got cold. My mother, though, she was from New York, born and raised in the Bronx. She had a sharp edge to her. I wouldn’t call her mean. She just looked at the world as if through ice. She smiled rarely, and only when Dad was around. How the two ever met, I don’t know. But he wooed her or she wooed him and eventually his
overwhelming personality convinced Mom to move away from the big city and live in a tiny a__ town called Derry. It was in Pennsylvania and was populated by Irish. Lo and behold, that’s where I finally got my start in the world. Strangely, though, I cannot find a single image of my younger self in this box. There’s our old house, there’s the old car. There must be fifty pictures of our dog, Lucky, an Irish setter. Irish dog, Irish neighborhood. To my knowledge my family is German. Or maybe British. But definitely not Irish. There are images of our back porch, some of our old neighbors, some of the garden. But not one. single. picture. of me. I wonder if my parents simply neglected to point the camera my way, or if I am stored in a different box somewhere. I’ve dug through the rest of the closet, looked on every shelf, searched for an old shoebox labeled Janie, but no. Nothing. I’ve been erased. How rude. There’s another odd thing. There’s a picture of Caylee. I didn’t even know my parents still owned a Polaroid camera when she was born. The picture was mixed in with others from Pennsylvania. The ones taken even before I existed. In the center of the frame is Dad, gaunt and skeletal, brain cancer almost finished with its awful work. On his knee is my little girl. Though still a baby, I could recognize her smile anywhere. The two are outdoors, on a dock somewhere. Off to their right is a copse of trees, to their left a lake. I have no idea where the picture was taken. I thought about asking Mom, but given her history of censorship by scissors, I thought better. It went under my pillow. As close as I can get to my little girl.
July 26, 1998 I believed it was the weight of Caylee’s absence. I had always thought that was why Jim killed himself. Now, I’m not so sure. I got to leave the house today. The first time in months. Mom said she wasn’t feeling well this morning, so I took her to the doctor. Amazingly, I haven’t forgotten how to drive. I did forget how many dumba__ people are on the road, however. Apparently she has low blood pressure. Surprise. I’m astounded her heart continues to pump blood at all, the way she zombie walks around the house all day. I suppose I’m unfair to her. Maybe even mean. She’s only doing what mothers do. Protecting her young. Something I never learned. I took the car and left while she was in waiting room. What a horrible thing. Leaving my mother. But I had to. I hadn’t seen living, breathing people other than Mom for three months. I told her I’d be back in an hour. She protested of course. As winded and dizzy as she was, however, there wasn’t much she could do. So I took her car. I went to a coffee shop. I drove down West Newberry with the windows down. Turned up the radio loud. I didn’t recognize any of the songs but it didn’t matter. I almost felt alive. But then, I did it. I couldn’t help myself. By instinct my hands turned down one familiar road after the other until, there, I drove slowly past a playground. The playground. This time it wasn’t void of children. This time there weren’t mothers hysterically calling out the names of daughters gone missing. Honestly, I was shocked. If nine kids famously went missing from a playground, I would think no sane mother would allow their children to step foot anywhere near it again. But I had forgotten. It’s been almost two years since the Nine just evaporated off the planet. Well, the Eight. James was found. I searched for Caylee’s face among
those playing. Finally a woman came up and knocked on my window. Can I help you? I realized then that I looked like my worst nightmare. My Mom’s car was grey with tinted windows. Dad hated the Florida sun. Said he missed Pennsylvania. So he had them tinted the darkest shade the police would allow. I was sitting outside a playground, no less than the very same place where the Newberry Nine had gone missing, in a suspicious looking car with windows tinted black. I rolled down the window. Tried to show I was friendly. No, I was just… looking for my daughter. And then I left before she could respond. Before she could see the tears forming. There will probably be a neighborhood watch for my Mom’s car for the next couple of weeks. Feeling like I hadn’t punished myself enough, I pressed on. I parked out front. Stared at the house. A ravenous clump of Virginia creeper vines had consumed the windows that open onto the street. If you were in the house looking out through that glass all you would see is green, green, green. I somehow mustered the courage and marched up to the front porch. As if I belonged there. I noticed there was still vibrant yellow crime scene tape wrapped around one of the posts. I put my key in the lock. I didn’t think I could do it. Who cleaned up? Did the fat cop come back later and scrape little bits of Jim off the wall? Did anyone? Did they expect me to just buck up, chin up, come back and scrub the bits and pieces of my destroyed marriage from my kitchen? I had no idea. I turned the lock and went in. Someone had been there. From the front door you can clearly see through to the kitchen, to the place where Jim said f___ it all and blasted himself into oblivion. The wall was no longer lime green. It had been painted white. A neutral color. The bastard probably planned it that way. Ok, Jim, you won. I didn’t have much time before I promised my mother I’d pick her up and, honestly, I didn’t want to stay. There was a feeling of such hollowness. Sorrow. Grief. Guilt. I went to the bedroom keeping my head down. Tried not to look at the spot where I had last seen him. I remember when I first heard the gunshot I thought it was the air conditioning acting up again. It had a tendency to pop and sputter loudly. I had asked Jim to fix it at least half a dozen times. Seeing as he had no job, the least he could do was work on the house. When I finally went out to the kitchen all I had to see were his boots. His legs sprawled out on the ground. I knew what happened. Poor Jim. Poor me. Poor Caylee. It wasn’t until the cops arrived that I actually surveyed the situation. Saw my husband’s opinion of our marriage. The writing on the wall. Can’t say I blame him. I kept my eyes low and walked past my newly painted white kitchen, into the hall. The house smelled stale now. Accented by the faint aroma of ammonia. I slowed as I walked down the hall. I had an overwhelming sense of panic. I couldn’t say why. Maybe it was the dread of seeing our bed again. The place where we had made love. Because it certainly didn’t exist on its own. We had to work for it. Make it happen against nature’s will. I paused outside the room. Wrung my hands nervously. Then, bravely, I charged in. I noticed no one had made the bed. The comforter was still in disarray. Pillow strewn on the floor. Sheets still tangled from when I had scrambled to the kitchen. I had heard the pop. I had called Jim’s name. Once. Twice. Three times he had denied me. Dreading what I already knew, I had clambered from my cotton sheets to the kitchen. It was strange being back here now. Three months later and the room was just as I left it that night. On the nightstand was a picture of the three of us. Caylee. Jim. Me. I picked it up and stared at it for
a long time. And then my heart lurched. In my peripheral vision I could see movement. It took every speck of control not to turn and run down the hall. Hop in the car. Pedal to the floor to the doctor’s office. Pretend I never saw anything. I tore my eyes from the picture and looked. It was standing in the corner, just like my dream. White and naked scarecrow thin. It slowly clenched and uncurled its massive hands. Its long, branchlike fingers. And then. It smiled. The same, horrible red gash of the figurine my grandmother owned. The smile was too long, the lips too red. All I could do was scream and scream and scream. It crabwalked over to me with blinding speed just like I knew it would. Nose to nose. Smile to open horrified mouth. And then I woke up. I was in the back of an ambulance. Apparently someone screaming bloody murder in a supposedly abandoned house tends to worry the neighbors. From what I can piece together, they called the cops, and the police had found me passed out in the hallway. The hospital said I was fine. I was sent home. Mom forced me to take a horse pill. I swallowed it willingly. Wished I could take all of them at once. I stared at the bottle in her hands jealously. I had never wanted to kill myself before. The hope of finding Caylee has kept my head from sinking into the sand. I’m now strongly considering the possibility of suicide. How easy it would be. When the T.Rex reads this, he’ll prescribe me all kinds of drugs. Hallelujah. I never want to think clearly again.