Trigger warning - talk of murder and implied abuse.
My lawyer advised – no, demanded, that I take a reprieve from the endless parade of reporters and journalists and well-intentioned acquaintances. That I allow myself some space to process what was about to come. A storm that had every intention to blow me over if I let it.
I was overwhelmed. Weighed down by the burden of proof that lies somewhere within me. I cannot recall the horrors they need me to remember, though I’ve tried and tried. Dissociative amnesia, they’re calling it. A blockage of information associated with a traumatic event. My memory loss encompasses enormous gaps of my childhood. I can hardly recall any of the names of my grade school teachers. Concentrating, with my eyes closed, I try to picture the house we were living in when they said it happened. Can just piece together the color of the station wagon my dad used to drive, sitting in our weathered driveway. Gray. Like the color of the stray cat I found. Like the fabric of the collar I had made for him by hand, that I found in the trash along with the kitten, the day after my dad found out.
It wasn’t that I had thought this normal, but I was content with letting the past close up behind me as I walked towards the future, letting it swallow all its agonizing secrets.
As it turns out, I was only walking sideways. Had no idea that my own mind was protecting me from memories that would only serve to destroy my sense of self.
It was my fault, he accused. I had taken the Ancestry DNA test in hopes of connecting with someone, anyone, from my mother’s side. She had died, he told me, in a rather tragic accident down the stairs when I was six. My dad had explained away that her family had disowned her, thrown her away. They weren’t even informed of the funeral. He said they had no right to her anymore. I think I remember a woman who may have been my grandmother try to visit me at my school. My dad found out, and I was transferred to a different district. I never questioned him when he was angry.
I had assumed, when I submitted that test, that I wouldn’t find much. That if anyone cared enough to find me, they would have. Though, admittedly, I still dreamed about locating someone with a shared past that had been hidden from me without reason. When the barrage of messages from my Aunt, my own mother’s sister, choked up my inbox, I clicked open each message and read the contents with a voracity I didn’t know I possessed.
My dad had changed our name after the death of my mother. I didn’t know that. I don’t remember life before her, even though I was 6, and by all accounts, precocious and bright. She had, she fervently insisted, been trying to find me ever since.
Though fearful, I acquiesced to her wish to see me. She flew out to meet me in Seattle, and we cried over pictures that she had brought of my mother. When I insisted that I didn’t remember meeting her or any other family connected to my mother, her concerned brow was the first inclination I had that something wasn’t right within my own mind.
She showed me memory after memory through pictures. I was there, seated beside my mother on a piano bench, green drink in her hand, juice box in mine. We were both smiling so hard that the corners of her eyes were lined with happy crinkles. Seeing us seated together, love evident on our faces, it was the first time I can ever remember crying. So, we sat there. And she let me, for the first time, mourn my mother’s death.
It was my dad, she had sworn, that isolated my mother from her family. Stole her away, manipulated her into silence with the threat of taking me away from her. She loved me more than her own life, she had told me. And I cried anew.
I had a whole loving family waiting to embrace me, she stressed. Though the joy in her face belied the sadness in her smile. So much unresolved family trauma. So much time lost. I told her I was ready to make space in my life for them, and I meant it.
That was the plan, of course, until the FBI came knocking.
You see, my dad had been careful. Until he wasn’t. And I’d almost feel bad for my father, if the muscle memory of his abuse wasn’t such an insult to my ever-present trauma.
Months later, with my DNA that was ultimately linked to him, my dad was arrested on 5 counts of murder, including that of my own mother. His DNA was found on 4 bodies that had been recovered in the woods, miles from our old house. When they uncovered his connection, it wasn’t long until they reopened the strange case of my mother’s accident and ultimately declared it murder.
These brutal slayings occurred at my house, with me in it. State’s Evidence would show that I was there. Had likely heard these murders. Seen something damning. Smelled the bleach he used to clean the bathroom and the kitchen tile. Had probably even been in the car when he went to dump the bodies.
The problem? I could remember nothing. No amount of questioning could close the cavity of memory loss in my mind. The therapists labeled it dissociative amnesia. Privately, I felt it a blessing.
So, following the sage advise from my lawyer, I made to leave town for a while. I know the prosecutors have hopes that my buried memories will somehow resurface, but I’ve warned them it’s unlikely. If anything, the stress of the last few months has worn me down so hard, that I scarcely remember to breathe, to eat, to sleep.
Hardly able to mourn my own mother’s murder in solitude.
So here I am. A renovated lighthouse in France. Just me and the sea. How ironic, that I would be staying in a place meant to act as a beacon of light to warn ships at sea, so the crews make it safely home. I couldn’t even help my own mother, or the others.
I chose this location with intent. My Aunt had told me that my mother, before meeting my father, had visited France in her 20’s. Told me all about her quest to see the Carthusian Monks that produce her beloved Chartreuse. A terrible green liqueur she absolutely savored. Her family would tease her mercilessly for it, but she held fast, insisting on its excellence. Their monastery is just over the hills in Grenoble. When I find the will to move, I will go there and visit. Follow the flock of monks and honor my mother by tracing her footsteps. I imagine my bare feet walking the winding path up the mountain. Stepping on seedlings, feeling the light sprinkle of clean rain on my face, the universe doing its absolute best to absolve me of my sin of association.
I don’t know whether I’ll ever get there. There will always be guilt until I can remember. I knew my father was a monster, but I did not know he was a killer. And honestly? I don’t think I want to remember.
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My God. Dark and gritty. So intense. What else can I say.?? This was fantastic!!
I had to reread this one after you commented. Yikes...must have been a weird day lolol. THANK YOU!!!!!!
Well whoa whoa WHOA T H E R E, COWBOY. THAT was a compelling read and an excellently written story. Your use of metaphors and excellent use of pace made the story something I would want to read a full book of! This is quite an amazing piece. Wow. I really really enjoyed the amount of detail and jumping between the past and the present. Kudos to you, dear friend.
Ah! Thank you!! I so appreciate the complimentary kudos! :) :)
This story blew me away! They way you wrote this piece was brilliant. I'm almost speechless! - But I still have a few things to say ;) I feel so bad for the daughter for having to go through what she did. Her mother - I also really felt for. It stirred some emotions in me for sure. If I came face to face with a guy like that I would have some words for him. This line: "Though the joy in her face belied the sadness in her smile." I can relate to this. I don't know if you've ever felt this way, but how many times in life have we had to put...
Daniel! Thank you SO MUCH. Truly. Seeing these thoughtful comments has literally been the highlight of my day! And I hear you on that...I read a lot of amazing authors on here but your stories are so much fun and I enjoy piecing them all together! :)
I'm glad I could make your day a little brighter :) I'm also glad you like my stories too, it's a good feeling for sure!
Well that was powerful. I get why she would want to forget. The mind puts stuff away we can’t deal with sometimes. Closure is one thing, reopening old wounds is another. Great writing, chilling.