where the bad kids go
When I awoke in the hospital, Marco was asleep in the chair at the foot of my bed. He was still in his officer's uniform and had spent the rest of his shift watching over me. I opened my mouth to call his name, but instead a weak cough escaped my lips. It shook him from his slumber and he groggily smiled at me when he saw that I was awake.
“Hey there,” he said quietly as he stood up and walked over to my bed.
“Hey,” I replied weakly, and then coughed again.
“You need some water?”
I nodded. He filled a small paper cup with water and fed it to me in sips. We stared at each other for a long moment, and his amber eyes warmed me up inside.
“How are you feeling?”
I shrugged. He frowned.
“You know I hate you right now,” he said. “You almost got yourself killed.”
“I had to.”
“You didn’t have to do anything, Jesse. What were you thinking?”
“It was the house.”
“It was cabin fever,” he replied sternly. “You barely ever left the place. You were stressing out. It didn’t help that that place had nothing but bad memories in it.”
“That’s not true,” I denied quietly.
“Then what was it?”
“Can we please not—” I coughed weakly, “—talk about this right now?”
“When you’re able to talk, the police will be here to question you. I’ve talked to them a little bit about what I know.”
“What did you say?”
Marco was very hesitant to respond. “I told them that you needed help.”
“You don’t believe me.”
Marco didn’t say anything and we stared into each other’s eyes for a moment longer. “I don’t know what I believe,” he finally said. He didn’t seem sure of himself.
“It really was the house,” I said. He didn’t respond and instead ran his fingers through my hair. “If you saw my mom’s note…”
“She wasn’t stable. You know this,” Marco said. “Which reminds me…” He walked back to his seat and grabbed my mother’s Bible. “You dropped this as they pulled you from the house. Thought you’d might want it back.”
I opened it and pulled out the wad of folded paper. “Did you read this?”
He shook his head. I decided to read it once I was discharged from the hospital.
I was interrogated by police that morning, and I told them everything. They didn’t believe me. I wouldn’t have believed me, either. I was initially charged with arson, but after my story, and the voicemail that Marco had kept on his phone, the charges were dropped. Instead, they referred me to a psychiatrist to evaluate my mental state. He came into the hospital room to begin the questioning.
I told him about my traumatic childhood, especially the crawlspace where both my mother and I had believed that The Thing lived. I told him of the many times when my mother locked me inside and tormented me from the floor above, and how I always felt that something else was always in there with me. He claimed that the darkness of the crawlspace, my mother’s form of punishment and her claims of a ‘monster’ that ‘likes bad kids,’ and the terror that I had experienced, all had manifested a creature inside of my own head to the point where I had believed It, even though I couldn’t see It.
I recounted as much of my mother’s note to him as I could, and he concluded that it had resparked my childhood belief that a ‘monster’ really did live inside of the house. When I had asked about The Thing visiting both her and I at night, he based his claims off of the fact that daily events—even something as simple as reading the note—can slip into our subconscious and appear in our dreams; that my ‘visitations’ were merely extremely vivid nightmares or night terrors. He had even mentioned sleep paralysis, though I didn’t say anything. We discussed my nightmare of walking into my bedroom to find The Thing sitting at my desk in the corner, and then finding the claw marks the next day. He stated that I had slept walked and acted out my dream, using a knife or some other household object to carve into the desk.
The man asked about my dad when he’d broken into my mother’s house, and requested that I described what Trent had seen. When I couldn’t, he informed me about the blood test results for my dad. He was high on cocaine when he was killed. He had been an addict for the past two years. Though they were unsure if he was high when he broke into the house, the psychiatrist claimed that it was a possibility that he may have hallucinated The Thing beneath the staircase. He’d added on that, even though it was an unusual and rare case, the cocaine must’ve managed to allow him to disfigure his face to such an extent, and cutting his own tongue out. I mentioned the bruises that were left on my mother’s neck after she supposedly attacked my dad. His response was that either Trent actually did attempt to strangle her and didn’t remember it due to his inebriation, or that my mother had managed to create the bruises herself as a defense for a domestic disturbance, if what Trent had said was true, and that she deliberately attempted to frame him.
We also talked about the instance inside of the coroner’s office and how my dead dad ‘talked’ to me, and had even moved across the room mysteriously by himself. Though there were no security cameras in the freezer room, he concluded that I had an episode and picked my dad’s body up and moved him without remembering it.
Lastly, we talked about my mother. We talked about her depression, and how it intensified shortly after she gave birth to me. He first determined that it was most likely postpartum depression that soon transformed into postpartum psychosis. The alcohol obviously didn’t help, and had exacerbated her psychosis until it deteriorated her brain. He then considered her condition as a sign of schizophrenia, and believed that she may have had a severe case of it. When she had become pregnant, she was at the ripe age at which the disorder starts to expose itself. It would explain the voices that she had heard in her head, the hallucinations of the monsters that had visited her in her sleep, and maybe she really believed that the alcohol was a way to suppress it. He informed me that both genetics and environment can contribute to the development of the disorder, and though he didn’t expand more on it, a voice in my head told me what he was thinking.
I was discharged from the hospital the next day, and Marco chauffeured me back to my mother’s house that no longer existed.
It was nothing more than a charred, black skeleton. Everything was gone, burned away and up into the air. The basement and the crawlspace was a pit of soot, ash, and burnt debris, and some areas of the house continued to smolder.
Marco and I walked around the perimeter of the house as we observed the remains. He and I both agreed that the property felt different, like something had finally been released. He believed that it was the negative energy that had lingered for so long and now had no place to reside, that all of the bad memories are now nothing more than something of the past. That it was a clean slate waiting for a new story.
I disagreed silently.
I opened the Bible to the first letter of Peter where the wad of paper had been bookmarked. I unfolded it. It was a letter to me, the day before my mother had committed suicide.
June 6, 2015
I am writing this letter to you, for myself. I don’t expect you to find this letter, or even read it. I am sober as I write this, and have been for the past three days while I stayed up all day and all night reading the bible. This is my confession for the sins I committed, and I hope that finding any hint of faith in the bible will keep me from going to Hell, as It told me a thousand times I would.
I saw a light when I found out I was pregnant with you like I was supposed to have you. I was slipping into a dark place before I learned the news. I never been so happy in my life once I found out. I never thought I was going to be somebody, but then I became a mother. Trent wanted me to get an abortion, and I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to murder the one thing that could make me truly happy. When he told me to get one, a voice in my head told me “Do it.” I don’t even know where that voice came from, or why I even thought it. It got worse the more pregnant I became. It kept saying how horrible of a mom I was going to be, and that you would be a disappointment, and that you would never love me. I couldn’t sleep at night because the voices kept me up.
Even after you were born, they continued. They said horrible, horrible things. Whenever I tried holding you, or even thought about holding you, they screamed for me to throw you on the ground, or swing you into the wall, or wrap my hands around your small neck and squeeze as hard as I could. It made me so afraid to hold you. I wanted to so bad but I was afraid that if you started crying I would eventually do something bad. Loud noises made the voices angry, and they would make me angry. They insulted me, calling me worthless and that I served no purpose in life. They made fun of the weight I gained while I was pregnant, as if I didn’t get enough of that when I was a teenager. When I looked in the mirror, they laughed at me and made me pull at my loose skin, saying things like Trent would leave me because I was ugly. It made me so sad. Why was I thinking these things?
I drank because it killed the feelings. It made the voices quiet and they said good things to me. They said that the more I drank, the prettier I looked. They said that Trent liked it when I was drunk because he thought it was sexy. They said that if I drank, I would be a better mom because it would relax me and I wouldn’t be so afraid to hold you. So I drank wine mostly. That didn’t help very much. The feeling could only go so far to keep away the bad thoughts. That’s when I started drinking liquor, and that made me feel the best. After a while, I started to notice that I was losing weight, and I liked it so I kept doing it because it made me feel good.
That’s when I started seeing It. I saw It in my nightmares that happened every night. I saw It in the shadows and I felt It watching me. I didn’t know what It was at first, and I thought maybe it was my imagination or I was too drunk and was seeing things. It visited me at night and said awful things about you and Trent, and it sat on my back while I was awake and whispered things into my ear constantly. It would repeat itself, “Hit him. Hit him. He deserves it. Hit him. Hit him. You hate him. Hit him. Do it. Do it. DO IT.” and it wouldn’t stop and it only got louder and I hated it and so I hit you and when I did, It stopped whispering. That was the only way to make It stop. No matter what you did, even if it was something small, It whispered horrible things to me and the only way to make It stop was to obey It. When I looked at you, all I could see was It’s face. It made me so mad because I hated It so I would hit It. It laughed when I did, and It taunted me, so I kept hitting It without even thinking twice that It was really you. It was tricking me.
After you were taken away from me, I locked your bedroom permanently. It was the only way I could think of to keep It from tormenting you as It has with me. To keep It from obsessing over you so that when It finally takes me away, It won’t come for you next. I don’t know if it worked, but it was the only way I could think of.
Last night, I had a dream that wasn’t a nightmare for the first time that I can remember. I was in your bedroom, sitting at your desk in the corner and admiring your third grade school picture. I heard someone walk in, so I stood up and when I turned around, I saw you as a child. And you look so scared, and it made me so sad that that was how you saw me. How you always see me. As a monster.
It is a demon. It found me and It consumed me. It took over my depression and fed on alcohol, and It became real and It lives in this stupid house in the basement crawlspace. It scared Trent away. It took you away from me. It ruined my life. I can never forgive myself for this. It is me. I am the demon.
It hasn’t whispered anything to me today. I think it’s because It knows what I’m going to do tomorrow. I’m going to destroy It. I’m going to stand in front of the crawlspace where It lives and wait until It comes out and becomes me, and I’m going to destroy It.
Jesse, you were my baby. You still are my baby. You are my son and you always will be, no matter what. I know I said terrible things to you, I know I said terrible things about you, but that wasn’t me. I want you to grow up happy. I want you to be with whoever you want to be as long as they make you happy. Please be a good person. I’m sorry that I wasn’t. I’m so sorry Jesse. I love you so much. I hope you know this.
Please forgive me.
I love you.
1 Peter 5:8
Teardrops stained the pages and made the ink smear. Marco rested his hand on my shoulder as I wiped my eyes. This was truly a side of my mother I’d never witnessed before. Guilt washed over me as I thought about all of the years living with a pure hatred toward her after I was taken away by CPS, when in reality she suffered just as much as I did. A woman who wanted nothing more than to be happy, and instead spiraled into an abyss of mental illness and addiction. Somebody who was already weak and had collapsed underneath her own personal demons, plagued with a darkness that took over until she became estranged and used her own hands to take her life.
Curious, I flipped to the end of Peter to find the verse that she ended her letter with. She had it underlined.
Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walks about, seeking whom he may devour
After I reread the letter for maybe the fifth time, I contemplated whether or not I should get rid of it. It was the very last piece of my past that still existed, but it was the truest form of my mother as a person, and who she really was, and who she really wanted to be. I remembered what Shirley had told me before I departed for the house that doesn’t exist anymore. I came here to overcome my past, and I have.
I kicked away some smoldering ash and a few embers continued to glow beneath it. The moment I set the letter on the orange glow, a flame grew and ate away at the paper. I tossed the papers into the basement and watched the last piece of my past burn to nothing with everything else. I buried the Bible in the ashes of the house under the impression that it would bless the property for whatever was to be built there next. I whispered a silent promise to myself to never think of this house again, or the events that happened inside of it. These were the grounds of another life. There was nothing else left but memories, now. It was time to let those go, too. This was the end. Or a beginning. Or both.
Marco and I spent the rest of the evening having dinner as we talked about our lives and what happened over the past sixteen years. It was wonderful. He offered to pay for a motel room with no funny business included. I would be leaving the next morning to head back home, but we both promised each other to keep in touch. Before we departed, he kissed me gently on the cheek and then cracked a joke about how red my cheeks flushed.
I stopped at my mother’s grave as I was leaving town. The squares of grass that the funeral home had laid over the loose dirt had started to blend with the surrounding lawn. I lay a bouquet of flowers against the headstone and said a small prayer in my head, and before I left, I mumbled quietly, “I love you, and I forgive you.”
Four months have drifted by since I had overcome my past, and I’m currently being treated for schizophrenia, along with my anxiety and depression, with medication and more therapy. It’s not so bad, even though the symptoms have become less severe since I’ve returned home. It was a long battle with Dawson Elementary concerning my mental state and being around my third graders after the school got hold of the story from my hometown; the Americans with Disabilities Act has allowed me to keep my job, as long as I had completed a number of community service hours, as well as continued to take my medication regularly and saw Shirley once a week instead of monthly. She has been an amazing person to talk to about it, and was very open-minded about everything. I told her the entire story, and she offered input in both science and the supernatural, along with stories of her own.
Marco and I keep in touch weekly. He has no issue with what has happened to me, and what I had been diagnosed with. He has the utmost support that anyone has provided. We’ve decided to remain friends like it was back then, and he’s even talked about visiting where I live so he can get out of town and I can show him around.
I adopted a cat. Her name is Shadow, because she’s black and follows me everywhere I go. She also purrs like there’s no tomorrow. It’s the best decision I’ve made in a while.
This is a great opportunity that will help you seek that life you’ve always been too held back to enjoy, Shirley had once said, but you have to remember that this is only the beginning with a lot of work to come.
This truly was a beginning of something new. A way to spend my life the way I want to without anything holding me back. My anxiety has lowered dramatically since I’ve been back home and have started treatment. I’m no longer afraid to go out and meet new people, to make new friends, and even start relationships. My weekends had changed from staying at home and watching Netflix while bumming back and forth late into the night, to visiting bars with colleagues and being social over a glass of beer (I don’t have one), or a bite to eat. I had also dipped my toe in the dating pool, going to dinners and movies, and even bowling at one point. I’d never been good at it, and he’d claimed he wasn’t either. We scored below one hundred collectively, becoming a fun joke for the rest of the evening.
Shirley had even told me about a website where you can meet up with different types of social groups, and I ended up joining a group of people who have sought out treatment for depression, or anxiety, or an addiction, or some form of mental illness. I’ve never seen such happy people with the most wonderful turnaround stories. Seeking therapy, receiving help with medication, travelling the world, finding God, joining a new religion, joining a sports team or league, learning a new language and moving to the other side of the world, and even living a normal life with their own hobbies. No matter the story, we were united by a shadowy past and built strength in numbers.
I was not alone.
I’m not entirely convinced that what I had experienced at my mother’s house could be explained by unbalanced chemicals in my brain, or because of how I was raised.
My mother suffered from something more than a mind that didn’t function normally. There was something else inside of her, and It turned her into a monster. It made her into something that she wasn’t. Not human. It’s something that we may never figure out, or that we may never be able to explain. It knows how to hide, whether it’s in the mind or in the shadows. It knows everything so that It can trick and taunt and terrify. It uses weaknesses to live among us and won’t let go until It brings us down. My mother fed a beast until It grew strong enough to manifest Itself into something physical. Into something real. Into something that took shelter inside of her house, and it consumed her mind and body and ate her away until she was nothing, something that she never wanted to be.
Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walks about, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.
This is for those in need of help but do not have the courage to speak. For those who call for help but fall on deaf ears. For those that seek help and are invisible to the eye. And for those who we’ve lost when help has come too late.
You are not alone.
We all have our demons. Sometimes they just happen to be real.