When I was six, my parents sat me down on the brown sunken couch in the middle of their living room. My mother sat to the left of me, my father to the right, both in matching recliners. On either side of me, large brown pillows took up the other two cushions. I held the other pillow in my arms, peeking over it at these two adults.
I could see past my parents out the window into Illinois woods: 10 acres separating us from everything we were not.
My mother, although four and a half feet tall, commanded the room. Her hair is a struggle to describe, somewhere between Marge Simpson and Alice from Dilbert. Somewhere between a bulbous bouffant and the outline of a cartoon Christmas tree with the edges rounded.
My father, although he towered over a room at seven feet tall two inches, was a meek, quiet man who wore a mask of solemnity. He spoke in monosyllabic sentences, mostly. When he spoke more than that, there was a reason, as he would say, a breach in expectations.
My mother looked knowingly at my father and said she had news. Although they were seldom apart, this was not their news, but hers.
Mother rubbed her wide belly, the foil to my pillow, and said, “God is sending you a brother.”
Bart Simpson from The Simpson’s. Matt McGuire from Lizzie McGuire. Bud Bundy from Married with Children. Richie Miller from Teen Witch. The annoying younger brother was a familiar trope in the TV shows and movies I watched when my parents went to Bible study and left me with Lady Wisdom.
I knew better than to question God’s will, which was indistinguishable from my mother’s will. She said that happened when a family walked so closely with God. She was the mouthpiece for the divine. To question her was to question the creator of every blade of grass.
Every night after she told me I was getting a brother, I had two sets of prayers: one set for my parents and one set for me and God.
The first set: God bless our house. God bless Mom and Dad. Thank you for sending your son to die for our sins. As for me and my family, we will serve the Lord.
The second set: Please God don’t send me a brother. Please don’t send me a sister either. You can send a new pair of parents or a new principal or a new boy to sit next to me in class. Scott is mean to all the girls. Please let Grandma stay. But everyone else can go.
Winter. Spring. Summer. Mother was getting bigger. Her recliner no longer sounded like Father’s. Hers was loud now. Every time she sat down. Every time she got up. Every time she adjusted, resting the King James Bible on her belly. This was no squeak. This was something made of metal screaming. Soon she barely got up at all. The recliner breathed when she breathed. I memorized the cracked, ragged bottoms of her feet. Mom stopped making meals for us. Dad took over. Every breakfast: toasted Ezekiel Bread. Every lunch: cream of mushroom soup from a can, overheated in a small pot that smelled like eggs. Every dinner: shredded wheat cereal with a glass of apple juice.
God was not listening.
So I asked someone else for help.
I did a very bad thing.
Every Saturday, my parents would drop me off at the library from 9am to noon. This was recompense for the isolation I was subjected to throughout the week. We lived on 20 acres of farmland – farmland, they said, but with no actual farm. It was like the lake that isn’t there. I loved visiting the lake that isn’t there. If I squinted hard enough, I could really not see it. It was the opposite of a mirage. A shotgun mirage.
There were no kids my age anywhere near the farm, especially no other girls. I was destined to be a tomboy.
Snakes, deer, possums, feral cats, the occasional wild turkey. Once I woke up to pointed reptilian eyes peering at me from the other side of my bedroom window. My pillow was right below the window ledge, but I would shrink down to the other side of the bed as I slept, so that when I woke up, I could see an upside down angle of right outside my window. Sometimes I saw blue jays and cardinals, other times my father going for an early morning run. But one morning I saw the reptile peeking through a fallen rainbow. A demon’s tongue, wrapped in a coat of many colors. I thought of Jacob and Esau, of Daniel and his brothers, of Leviathan, and the Beast.
When I described it to my father later, he was sitting at the kitchen table arranging scrabble letters to spell scripture: IS541 for Isaiah 54:1. He would dump the silver bag on the table and let the letters direct him back to the Word. Without looking up, he said, “Peacock.”
That Saturday, I asked the librarians for a peacock book. In a thick reference book, in the far left corner, I saw pixelated ink, black & white. Side profile. Eyes looking at something I could not see. What I had seen was a demon dripping in every color of the rainbow.
I had heard some things. Pretending to be asleep during my parent’s prayer meetings in the kitchen. The only time they had people over was at night to pray. I would not call these friends. They did not have proper friends. Instead groups of 4 to 6 lighting candles, turning off the lights, and reading scripture, sometimes speaking in unfamiliar tongues, sometimes praying aloud to God, and sometimes discussing the devil’s agenda for this wicked world.
There was a cartoon from Japan. It gave kids seizures, made them shake, possessed them. They were told to catch all the monsters.
The adults discussed Harry Potter, Gargoyles, Teddy Ruxpin, Sabrina the Teenage Witch. Any show with supernatural elements that were perversions of God’s Word.
I knew leprechauns taunting children with marshmallowed rainbows were demons. I knew the brightly colored trolls with unkempt hair at the ends of pencils were demons. My father would connect this to the gay pride movement, appropriating the image of the rainbow for their parades. For my father, all this was part of the same agenda. They were taking this sacred symbol of the rainbow that God had given Noah. God’s promise to never flood the earth again. Even if Man’s wickedness equaled or surpassed the evil in Noah’s time or the wickedness in the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, God had made a promise. Never again with cleansing water. Not to say he would not smite the world again if necessary. But the rainbow was God’s signature on a treaty with Man. It was not a place of pots of gold or brightly colored troll hair.
I knew Lucifer was the praise leader of Heaven. His body was made of music. Muscle tendons made of harp strings. But I also knew that Lucifer was made of light. Pure light.
I had seen crystals shine small rainbows on brick walls. I knew black was the absence of all color. Mother would joke that the mark of Cain was taking the light away, that all people with black skin were descendants of the first murderer. She would laugh when she said it, but even then it did not feel like a joke.
I was confused why Satan himself was not a figure dressed all in black. Instead, in the Saturday morning cartoons I saw, Bugs Bunny found himself in the depths of the earth: burnt-orange stones, sparks of yellow, and a towering muscular tomato-red Satan.
I was not allowed to ask much about Lucifer / Satan. I read my Precious Moments Bible front to cover over and over, attempting to understand. Blonde white children with enormous heads and large dark blue eyes with yellow halos, on their knees, in submission.
I did not understand why God allowed Sampson to kill himself. I did not understand why Lot’s wife was turned to salt just for looking back at her burning city. I did not understand why a third of the angels would side with Lucifer and fight against the Creator Himself.
I looked for girls like me. I kept returning to Noah’s daughters in the cave. I felt like they had probably looked like me, small and thin and alone together.
My namesake, Esther, even had her very own book. But it was a very short book and did not seem to really be about her.
These stories were too much for my six year old mind. The actual scripture seemed far removed from the Sunday school stories told on felt boards with thin-cloth two-dimensional figures dressed in long brown robes. When I heard these stories at church, they made more sense because the moral was clear. Do not lie. Do not steal. Obey your parents. But when I read the stories for myself at home in my bed, the morals became thornier.
And again, even at that age, something seemed wrong. These stories did not seem to be for me, in any form. They were stories of men in sandals killing other men in sandals. All the main characters were men, and all the men were violent. Even King David, who Mother talked about with reverence, stared at Uriah’s wife bathe on rooftops and then sent him to die in battle. Then King David claimed her as his and got her pregnant. God killed their first baby to teach David a lesson. But his next son, Absalom, spent most of his teenage years trying to kill him.
Reading each story after the other, it all seemed so boring. Man kills man kills man.
I didn’t tell anyone, but I didn’t think Eve had done anything wrong in the garden. She had three different men telling her what to do, and she took a bite to drown out their voices with the sound of her chewing.
I knew the common link between all of these problems in all of these stories.
I did not take my decision lightly. My mom could sense any change within me, and I tried my hardest to keep my secret.
I could tell you then I was not jealous. But adults would only see it that way. From the outside, it would look like I wanted their undivided attention, that I wanted my parents’ love all for myself.
This was not the case. I could not crave more of something I did not have.
Lucifer was harder to pin down. I could not find the same devil in my Bible that I saw in the puppet shows at church.
I wanted to know if Lucifer was still made of light, or if he had lost it. I figured that if he were made of light, he would come as a rainbow. In the Garden of Eden, he came as a snake, so I knew he could come as an animal, probably any animal he wanted to be. And I had seen those snake eyes wrapped in a rainbow of light outside my window, beckoning.
I knew that Satan had come to me as a peacock.
And I prayed to him to take my brother away.
When my brother was born, I was not allowed to go with my father to the hospital. They sent me to Grandma’s. It was perpetually dark there, the blinds always closed. We sat on her dulled floral couch and watched episodes of The Lawrence Welk Show.
The bubbles. The brightly colored pasty white young men and women dancing and twirling and smiling. Long floral dresses. Suspenders and barber shop quartet hats. Then, the malt shop backdrop would be wheeled away in preparation for the next song and dance.
After Lawrence Welk, Grandma would turn the station over to the local Christian station where they were perpetually having a telethon. I see a woman with an aching back. I want you to place your hands against your TV screen and repeat this prayer after me. And after you pray, sister, you call in and testify to the healing grace of Jesus Christ. Love gifts of $50 or more will receive this beautiful dark blue tote bag.
Grandma’s house was full of telethon swag. Bags, clocks, pens, Bibles, magnets, bracelets: all with the local station’s logo.
This station was full of reformed 1970s hippies with greying pompadours and vintage suit jackets they barely fit in anymore. The women wore wigs and brightly colored makeup. The women’s faces were painted up like the coat of many colors: unnatural rosy red cheeks, black and green eyeliners that expanded far past the eyes, large fake eyelashes that made it nearly impossible to tell where the wives were looking, and green tints around the smile.
I would crawl over to the set to change the contrast. The picture would change to tints of blue, green, pink, a bright yellow that washed everything out. I could not believe the colors of these faces were real. I did not understand the concept of makeup. I had never seen my own mother wear any. She would say, Who do I have to impress but the Lord?
During telethon, the men and women would croon with popping microphones to long-ago recorded cassette tracks. The music always seemed to warble, but they did not seem to notice or care. Their eyes were closed, their heads were pointed up to heaven, their hands were pointing to God and then to the television set, and they would bob to the warbling music, bending their knees so that they were almost on their knees, and then they would bob up at the point the music swelled, and they would belt out their love for the Son who saved them from sin.
Around 8:30 p.m., Grandma would fall asleep next to me on the couch.
The night my brother was born, I waited until Grandma was asleep and then walked out to the patio. The sound of night was deafening: an orchestra of frogs, toads, grasshoppers, crickets, cicadas, and owls. Blue light shone through the branches of tall oak. The yard was full of pinecones scattered, partially hidden under pine needles and oak leaves, like the Easter Bunny had come in Fall.
I was sweating hard in the cold night, a soft wind pushing my own moisture back onto me so that my warm little body was blasted with my own ice cold sweat. My body was crying or leaking or raining.
I was waiting for some news, perhaps in the sky. A blood red moon, or a rain of blood. Something apocalyptic. A testament to my wrong.
At the same time that I felt so guilty and half wanted to take back my prayer, I was giddy. There was the hope that my mother would not get her way, that my mother could be wrong.
I took a few steps off the porch into wet grass to test my resolve. I knew Grandma would not wake up all night. But she would wake up promptly at 6 a.m.
I walked out a few yards and stood between two large oaks. I could see the flicker of blue and red light coming through cracks in the blinds, emanating from the television set.
Geography was a tricky thing at 6 years old. The world seemed impossibly big, each road impossibly long.
I pictured the drive from our house to Grandma’s. It couldn’t be more than 3 minutes by car. I figured that calculated to about a 6 minute walk. 360 Mississippis.
I bet I could walk right through the woods and find myself next to our house in no time. I didn’t know directions, but I knew trees: a specific mixture of pine, oak, and conifers. I could follow those until I got to the apple trees. The apple trees would take me right to my bedroom window. I walked through the yard to where the trees stood together, thick as thieves. I peered through into a soft blue darkness. I could make out branches and leaves, but the further I looked out, everything turned to flickering shadow.
I had to know if I was successful. I wanted to be right and wrong at the same time. I wanted to repent, and I didn’t want to repent at all.
I wondered if mom and dad would come home tonight. Another girl in my class told me that when her baby sister was born, she stayed with her aunt and uncle for five days.
How long would they keep me away? Why didn’t they want me there when my brother came?
I wondered if Mother knew what I had done. It was impossible, of course. I had kept everything in my head where she could not see. But sometimes Mothers know even what is deep in your head.
One time I broke a plate while washing the dishes. I cannot say for sure whether or not it was an accident. I swept up the pieces with my hand. I had cut myself, several times. Under the bathroom light, I saw my index finer full of glass and imagined it was a tinseled Christmas tree.
I scooped up the big pieces with my hand a paper plate and then kicked the rest under the fridge.
I crumpled the paper plate with the glass into a fist with other paper plates and carried it all the way across the yard to the barn where we kept our trash and buried deep in a week-old bag.
My hands smelled like coffee grounds and bananas.
Inside, I stripped down, walked to the tub, and turned the knob all the way to the left. I crouched down into scalding water.
By the time my parents came back home, I was in my pajamas in bed, pretending to be asleep. The next morning when I woke up, my mother was standing over me, peering at me.
She asked, “Is there anything you want to tell me?”
I shook my head.
“Mothers know,” she said.
I said nothing.
Without looking away from me, she called out to Father in the next room.
“Mothers know, don’t they, Father?” she said.
“Mothers,” he said.
For a week, she watched me closely, closer than usual, but she never called out my sin. I began to wonder if she really knew.
She told me Lady Wisdom had told her what I’d done. Lady Wisdom always babysat when my parents were away.
But I was beginning to think Lady Wisdom wasn’t real.
I decided to wait until my trek through the woods. I would have to be brave. I had to be my own eyes.
I taught myself how to have a really big secret. A pocket of secrets.
I believed Jesus was no longer in my heart, if he had ever been there. Even at 6, I did not want to be defined by the men inside me.
I imagined that my thoughts were a spool of manual 35mm film and that I had pulled some of the film out from ears and hid it under a paper plate so the light couldn’t get to it. I then imagined I cut open a ripe green crabapple and hollowed it out. I held the film in my hands like a baby chick and softly placed it into its new crabapple womb, sealing the sides with black duct tape, the kind my father used to seal packages of ministry tapes he had recorded from church services to people all over the country. I then cut myself open with the box cutter my father hid in his sock drawer. This is what hard for me to mentally picture, to hold on and not wince away. But it was necessary to see. I opened up my chest where Jesus used to be. Or where LOVE was supposed to be. And that is where I placed my crabapple womb filled with my memory film which writhed like young newborn garter snakes crawling over each other looking for light. I pondered how to put myself back together, thinking of how my mom occasionally stitched Bible verses on pillows for friends. I could cross-stitch, needle-thread, sew up my chest. But I rejected this. It seemed wrong, too feminine for my mother certainly, her mannish hands fumbling over needles, her scripture large, crooked, and didactic. I needed something much more utilitarian. I imagined pressing my chest together with one hand and stapling with my father’s large silver stapler with the other. It was like I was mailing a package. But I was the mailbox. And I didn’t want anyone to ever open me ever.
I focused on thoughts of bubbles ad pasty white faces dancing in front of wooden city skylines. I focused on pompadours and brightly colored faces and the sound of Southern Gospel.
I didn’t even allow myself to think about the woods. I cleared my head and kept everything inside the crabapple. I could feel its heaviness. I could feel it press against my lungs.
I had asked Grandma very casually a few times if there was any word about my baby brother. She gave me a very grown-up look that was very hard to decipher, and then she said no.
Maybe they were keeping me away because they really had figured it out. But I had to remind myself that I didn’t know anything. I was a 6 year old girl who was waiting to welcome her new baby brother into the world.
I waited to make sure Grandma was truly asleep. She was sitting on her side of the couch, her head resting on a pillow my mother had made. In her white nightgown, she looked so peaceful, like a sleeping angel.
I waved my hand in front of her face. No response.
It was time to move.
I had emptied out my school backpack and filled it with a few plastic bags containing white bread, peanut butter cookies, and peppermints. I had filled an old Western-themed thermos with water the day before and had hidden it behind the ice cream in the freezer. I figured it would melt quickly outside. I did not plan to be gone long, but if anything unexpected happened, I wanted to be ready. I put on my large pink goose-down jacket that was hanging in the closet by the door and tied the hood tight against my chin.
I quietly walked outside, stepped off the porch, took a deep breath, and ran into the woods.
Let me be clear. I know I was young. I know I was sleep-deprived, cold, and scared. But I also know that I saw two things that late night / early morning that I will never forget.
The first is my baby brother laying on my bed. No crib. Naked.
Crawling out of the woods, leaves tangled in my hair, following our porchlight, glancing into my own bedroom window, I knew I had become the peacock. But what I assumed would be a kind of hate dissolved into curiosity. I could not put my name on it. I did not have words for it. But I thought I knew why my parents were keeping me away.
I also knew that whatever the name of this condition was, I was responsible. I had made this happen. But that made me love him, truly love him. I had surpassed my mom’s will. I had made my brother myself. I was his true mother.
Yes, I felt guilty. Very guilty. But now I knew my mother’s God was not as all powerful as she claimed.
Years later I would see video of a person like my brother and would be able to put a name to his condition. But I would not be able to tell anyone.
I never told my parents I saw my brother outside the window.
When they brought me home two weeks later, my brother was gone. They told me there had been complications, that he had not made it home. He had been born in pain, and God called him back to Heaven.
I knew what I had seen. I knew at least some of this was a lie. He had looked up at me. I had heard him cry. I heard my parents speaking in the living room. I ducked out of sight as they walked into my room.
My mother said, “We have to decide.”
“Decide,” my father said.
I saw the second thing walking back through the woods back to Grandma’s when it was still just a little bit more night than morning. I was kicking a pinecone with my foot, following the tree path when I heard something snap.
I stopped, realizing how small and alone I was. I slowly dropped to my knees and hid under a fallen tree. There was a large hole where its roots had been torn up as it fell, and I nested into this space like film into a crabapple, and waited.
I know what I saw. And I know what my therapist has told me. What the one boyfriend I told before he ran away told me. But I can still see it clearly in the area where my father’s land and my grandmother’s land met. I can still see it clearly in my eyes. He was tall, broad-shouldered, naked, and incredibly green. His skin was green—the entire body. Not painted green. He gave off a kind of shimmering light, but this was not paint or a tattoo. This was his skin. There was no hair from what I could see. Just hardened green skin.
I was breathing loudly, but so was he. Thankfully his breath masked me. His back was turned to me. He seemed lost, like he was looking for something or someone. He heard another noise in the night, and he turned his head in response. I only saw half his face, but I know what I saw. He had bright green eyes, and the bridge of a bright green nose. But there was no bulbous end, no nostrils. It was like his face suddenly stopped. I could not tell if there was skin there where his mouth should be. I could only see a gaping emptiness. There was either a deep hollowness where a mouth should be, or there was black skin where a mouth should be, blending into the blackness of night. But there was no mouth. I am certain of that. He clenched his fists, took a silent breath, and took deliberate wide steps deeper into the woods.
I knew without a doubt that this was a demon, that I had summoned him, and that he had already been to see my brother.
The peacock had decided not to take my brother away. There seemed to be a much bigger game being played that I did not understand.
I was small, cold, and terrified, hiding in the earth, a canopy of roots above me.
I made it back just as the sun was rising and quickly changed into my pajamas. I crawled into my grandmother’s bed. She was still asleep on the couch. I did not sleep. I was processing the two new males I had met that night. One was a tiny pink almost-nothing, a sentient acorn, but full of potential, teeming with life. And there was something in his face I did not recognize.
The other was older, towering like an oak tree. And green. His face had not been completely there. I wondered if I was in control. I felt I had sent him here, but I did not know if he would listen to me or stomp me like a bug.
When I finally returned home, officially, my brother was not there. I waited for my parents to offer some explanation, but days later, they had said nothing.
When I gathered the courage to ask, my parents sat me down on the couch. They surveyed me from their respective recliners.
“Your brother was born sick,” Mother said. “He was in pain, and God called him back home.”
The crabapple in my chest was burning.
I quietly asked, “When?”
“At the hospital, honey. We had to leave him there.”
Called him back home meant death. She was saying he had died in the hospital.
There could of course have been some confusion. Maybe my brother was not the boy I had seen.
“What did he look like?” I asked.
My mother looked at me silently for a long time. And then finally: “He looked like he was ready to go home.”
Here is what I know now. That was my brother in my bed. He was born with Down Syndrome. He was not sick. He was not dying. My parents could not see that.
And something had happened to take him away. Something I did. Something my mother did. Something the green man in the woods did. Maybe something we all had done.
I was a liar. But so was my mother.
My brother. Lady Wisdom. The lake that isn’t there.
Everything was stuck in an in-between place. The realest things in my life were not quite there.
The Fall I moved away to college, from Illinois to Missouri, I was 19. Over a decade had passed since the night I saw my brother and the green man.
In those years, my life had reached a certain level of normalcy, as long as I told my parents what they wanted to hear and kept my mouth shut.
We walked through the motions of family, but there was no love. Perhaps they thought what they were giving me was love. Perhaps it was love, and I could not feel it.
When I moved out, I felt a great absence. But not because I missed my family. It was more that I realized when I was alone that I had already felt the emptiness that I felt now. Except now I had a reason. I had already felt like an orphan on my own. I was just waiting for the right circumstances.
My parents felt something too. Shrinks and boyfriends would say, empty nest syndrome.
There was a severe shuffling that happened when I left. I imagine my mother and father looking at each other, turning their recliners to face each other. My parents really looking at each other for the first time in a long time. Now they could have the conversations they had been meaning to have for 13 years. Finally they could be honest.
Instead, my parents had a new child. Not like me, or even my brother. This third child was even less there than my brother. This third child did not need a physical body, and they did not have to raise it. They had to only let it grow in the corner of their eyes. They named it Portal.
When I left home, my parents quit their church. They said they felt stifled. The pastor did not want to “follow the spirit.” His sermons were too regimented. He had left no room for God.
They had people over from the church to their house. They promised Scrabble and coffee, but these meeting quickly turned into something else. They would gather in the kitchen, light candles, and turn out the lights. They would speak in tongues and call out words of knowledges: prophecies.
My mom found a 2,000 page dictionary at a yard sale: dusty, broken spine, missing both top and bottom covers. The paper was crisp and yellow and had every conceivable word you could think of, even ones you couldn’t. There were elaborate diagrams of city populations and illustrations of all the types of knot ropes.
She would carry the large dictionary to the kitchen table hours before her guests arrived. She would grab paper from Father’s desk printer and write with a large black marker. She would close her eyes and turn to a random page, allowing the spirit to guide her.
Before they had left the church, the pastor had met with them in private to find a compromise. He did not mind them sharing with the church, but they were taking the microphone and speaking for hours. They were telling people to come to the front because Mother had a word of knowledge for them. Any time a new person came to the church, they were on them with a prophecy.
Right after I moved, Mother still trusted me enough to tell me about her prophecies. To me, they sounded very general: God is saying to let go of the past. You do not have to be defined by old habits. Usually these were people in tight leather jackets and bandannas who smelled like tobacco. Or, God is asking you to let go of the spirit of depression to a middle-aged divorcee with three kids and bleached blonde hair.
These did not seem to be spiritually-divined words of knowledge so much as basic logic and reasoning. Or basic deduction.
When they finally left the church and began inviting church families over, Mother had many dictionary-led prophecies about the pastor: I see the word blind. He cannot see. He is in darkness. He needs to open his eyes to the spirit.
When a concerned parent asked my mom what to do about her son’s obsession with Pokemon, Mother gathered her and 6 others into the kitchen with Father. Dad put on a Christian CD he had bought at a revival: a woman singing shrilly about surrendering to God. These CDs usually contained 20 minute songs of saxophones, pianos, harp strings, and trombones building and building as people shouted louder and louder, “I want to enter into your spirit, Lord!” This was not Hillsong praise music. Father considered this much more genuine: true praise and worship, like how we would praise God in Heaven.
“Praise,” he would say. “Worship.”
Mother read definitions, first for pocket: to take possession of, to submit to, to conceal or suppress, to enclose or confine, to influence, to profit from, to make unreachable.
Then she read definitions for monster: having characteristics of both man and animal, a creature so ugly he frightens, a cruel and wicked person, a nonviable fetus or infant.
From there, Mother would, in my words, riff or improvise. In her words, God gave her the words.
One late afternoon, as the sun was setting, Mother had her small group follow her into the yard where she took their picture with Father’s Canon A710IS.
When she had Father upload the picture to their computer later, they both stared at the photo in awe. There was a blue orb right above the heads in the photos, shining blue light down, obscuring their faces.
The next day, Mother took the camera out in the yard, walking with it, her arm above her head, snapping photos of herself. When Father uploaded them that afternoon, there were again blue orbs. But also red lights, flashes of orange and green. There was a rainbow of color hiding all about them.
Mother began walking out daily, taking photos in the yard and even into the woods.
In the next few months, Father spent his nights on eBay bidding for cameras. Soon they had a Canon PowerShot G7, a Sony Cyber-shot T33, and a Nikon D70 SLR.
Soon there were over 400 pictures a week between the 4 cameras. Both Mother and Father would walk around the property, taking pictures.
A few months into my first semester away, I came to visit. Mother asked if she could take my picture. She had me walk into the yard, the woods behind me. She had me follow her as she angled the camera in new positions to find exactly the right spot.
In the photo she took of me, I could barely see my face. It was washed out with pink and blue rays. Mother was excited.
In the months after, their photo frames were filled with these photos, instead of school pictures and holiday photos. There were now pictures of Mother and Father, their faces cut off at odd angles, and then a jutting of rainbows and orbs.
Of course these rainbows and orbs were reflected sunlight. Of course my mom was pointing the camera in the direction of the sun, using outdated digital cameras with few megapixels.
I knew what I had seen long ago in those woods, and these orbs were nothing. They were less there than my brother.
Father focused on the pictures of the woods. I knew he was catching the reflection of sun on a recent ice fall, but he saw something else. The orbs had become angels. Visitors from Heaven. He was the one who gave it a name.
“Portal,” he said.
Mother filled in the blanks. This was a portal to and from Heaven, a Jacob’s Ladder where angels could descend and ascend. God had blessed them.
Soon their Bible studies were less about the Bible and more about the portal. People brought lawn chairs and peered into the woods. Mother had Father carry her dictionary across the yard just in case.
They refused to call this a church. This was their upper room, like in the book of Acts. They were looking for rushing winds and tongues of fire. They were looking for things others could not see.
One night in the university library, I was studying for a philosophy final. I would go up to the third floor late at night. Hardly anyone was there. During finals, the library would stay open until 3 a.m. As it approached three, a loud recording of a man’s voice would announce, The library will be closing in thirty minutes. The library will be closing in fifteen minutes. The library will be closing in five minutes. The library is now closed.
I often wondered if the owner of that voice still worked at the university. It was unnerving to think his voice could be heard in fifty years, in a hundred. He could forever be the voice of a closing library. But it was also a soothing consistency to it.
Sometimes I would fall asleep in the aisles and wake up to that voice.
I would wander through the rows of books, closing my eyes with my finger out. When I opened my eyes, I would grab whichever book I was pointing to. I was a voracious reader then and could devour a book in a few hours. I would give myself rests from studying philosophy by reading a novel for fun. Suffice it to say I was not very popular in college. I did not quite know what I was supposed to be doing, but I knew I was doing it wrong. Most people annoyed me. They seemed vapid, empty, or just boring.
And at the same time I wanted desperately to be boring. Boring meant normalcy.
I learned quickly not to talk about my childhood or my family. I brushed these questions off casually but sternly. When people asked me what I was doing for the holidays, I would smile and wait for them to say, “Family?” Then I would nod.
This night in the library, I was waking up, my back against a row of books with a book open in my lap. My backpack had fallen away from me, and some of my papers had spilled out.
As my eyes were refocusing, I grabbed at the blurs and put them back into my blurry backpack.
As my eyes focused, I saw a figure a few rows away, standing still. He seemed to be watching me. Then everything flickered. Not the lights. The bookshelves. The floor. The man. Everything flickered. Like when the blender interfered with the TV signal and you had to pound the top of the TV box. A row of books suddenly blurred out at a right degree angle, like it was becoming a chair, then corrected itself and melted downward.
He was closer now. But I could not see his face. I rubbed my eyes, but the blurriness was not coming from me. His face was blurred, not quite there, twitching and changing. He was wearing a long dark green trench coat, the collar turned up. He wore a large dark green hat, the brim covering most of what face was there.
Everything flickered again, and he was closer. And I could make out his large, rough hands. They were green. Entirely green. A lighter green than the coat, but not by much.
I wanted to get up. I wanted to move so badly. But every time the room flickered, I felt frozen. Not in fear. Almost like I was frozen in time, my mind still running, but my body might as well have been a book on the shelf behind me.
I screamed silently at him. I screamed silently at my body.
I had known he was real, but not this real. He was not supposed to be here. This kind of stuff was not supposed to happen anymore. Especially not here. This was a house of logic and reasoning, of truth and information. Monsters did not belong here in the university library. Monsters like these belonged in my parent’s woods.
I could feel the long-forgotten crabapple inside me twitch alive. 6 year old Esther was still in that crabapple. She had crawled in there before her 7th birthday, and she had never come out. I realized 6 year old Esther was looking to me for help. I was the adult. I was supposed to know what to do.
6 year old Esther was trying to open the crabapple from the inside, clawing at the edges, attempting to cut the tape with her long fingernails. She knew her crabapple home was not going to save her this time. The green man could see right through her.
I could see the parking lot streetlamps reflecting off the black plexi-glass windows of the library’s third floor. I could see the adult me cowering on the floor, and I told her to get up.
I concentrated on the books right in front of me. Around the World in 80 Days switched places with A Journey to the Center of the Earth, then both fused into Center World. The 80 was on its side, like infinity resting on a lake of nothing.
He moved slowly, but he was getting closer. I could see his green eyes. I could see the beginning of a nose. I could see the place where his mouth should be.
I told myself to stay calm, like I had that day in the woods. Like I had been for 19 years. You never showed how you felt. You never showed weakness. And when you needed to, you ran.
I was running. I was up, and I was running. The fluorescent lights were suddenly under my feet. Tables shook and protruded through walls. The drinking fountain replicated itself ten times along a wall.
I closed my eyes and ran. I did not look back. I was not going to be a pillar of salt. Not tonight.
I could feel the next flicker shake through my body and into my crabapple. 6 year old Esther convulsed, screamed through my body, the vibrations of her voice spiking my blood like an audio file.
I kept running until there was no more floor.
I opened my eyes to see the windows were behind me. Above me.
I was completely vertical, running in place as I fell.
I stopped running.
So did the young girl inside me.
It’s a funny thing.
I felt so free afterward.
I was completely free of any responsibilities.
No one would ever expect anything from me again.
I could just be.
I wouldn’t have to go anywhere because there nowhere to go.
For months, I did not move. I let them feed me.
I found a good spot on the ceiling and stared into it, until I burned it there with my eyes.
My eyes would be my greatest tool.
You want me to watch? I was born to watch. I was born to follow what I was told, to not ask any questions about the baby on my bed.
Now I was the baby on my bed.
I could be taken anywhere.
For months, I did not move.
Slowly, I woke.
I took my time because there was no more time to give.
People with no legs get the treatment. You wake up, and suddenly you have this small, cozy apartment all for yourself. You know how you always wanted to live in a house with carpet on the walls and a stern yellow telephone placed with purpose at the very edge of a gentleman’s table. Those are good grey curls. When you were a child, you imagined Model As & Ts riding into those flipping grey telephone highways. You could stare at a wooden closet door for days. Really stare into it. There were faces in the wood. There were whole stories in a good wooden door.
And you always wanted an attic. Lost things right above your head. Some people stapled black felt with silver felt stars to ceiling beams. You saw red curtains in a gentleman’s film once.
None of this was to be used, mind you. It was to quietly have. All God’s children want to quietly have.
Remember when you first watched The Flash in your late twenties? You didn’t care about Iris or Eddie or Joe or Katelyn or Cisco. You did care for Barry, but in a different way. You felt sorry for him. For his constant need to go, to fix, to do.
It was so tiring to do. This seemed to be a basic, fundamental truth that all people know. But no one wants to look weak. It is so tiring to be.
I wanted to be Harrison Wells. The scientist in the wheelchair.
Yes, he had intentions. But only he knew those intentions. And as a person grows, their intentions can change. It is nothing but vapor. All responsibilities are gone.
I could be the woman in the wheelchair. My name is Esther, and I am the woman in the wheelchair.
For a long time I read. I had no identity anymore. I was just eyes looking at a picture book. I read about the inside of a whale. I read about cold fire. I read about a place so far away you can touch it.
I had one bowl and one glass, and I ate just enough to stay alive.
Going to the bathroom was such a chore. Some weeks I made myself go days without the bathroom.
After a few years, my eyes burned. They throbbed. They needed release. I started writing it out. I wrote thousands and thousands of pages. Sometimes I would be typing and typing, and it would flip to a clean, brisk new blank page. But as I scrolled down, I would realize this page was not blank at all. There was a train of text at the very bottom chugging along out of sight. Many pages were meditations on coral reefs, how a current of water would graze a coral’s hand. I watched a crab crawl a quarter of a mile once. I saw right through his eyes. I’m talking a blue you’ve never seen before. There are moments in darkness where everything hollows, and you stop hearing even yourself.
I was running. With my words. I realized I had never stopped running. Truly. My body was walking away from my grandmother’s woods. And it still was. Even now. There had never not been a moment where I was walking away.
I did not speak for 8,821 days. Not one word. I could communicate wordlessly with any mouse. I could make a nail on a wall un-nail itself til it dropped on the softest shag carpet that crept up the walls. Sometimes I could even make a leaf fall. I could get them to catch a draft and get pretty near the window. But I never got one to hit it.
I woke slowly. I read Craigslist missed connections. They were too sad.
Hot girl with pinecone glasses: You don’t work there anymore. I miss you. I thought there might be a spark.
You wear a black shirt and capris blue jeans. Thank you for the laughs. If you ever see this, maybe you can convey my heart to check me out.
I was the only other guy in the elevator. It was shaky. You were the girl in the tie-die shirt. Maybe we could hit the sauna? Tell me something obvious about myself so I know it’s you.
I read the Lost & Founds.
Found: 3400 Interview Assignment and notes.
I lost my purse on the seventh of October between 10:30 and 11:30. It was a Navy blue DKNY. I had a NH state ID and my passport. Kindly return to me. I will ask no questions. I just want my passport back. God bless you.
This is Lady Wisdom. I watched you as a baby.
Of course I emailed her. Eventually. I waited a few days, remembering the specifics of my childhood. It was a joke. An elaborate joke. Lady Wisdom was not my babysitter. She was a closed door and a tape of my mother breathing. She was an idea. Nothing more. She was the excuse my parents gave so they could leave me alone. This was right about the time a parent couldn’t leave their child alone anymore. Neighbors would call the police. Children could be taken away. And all of this can rest inside the point of view of a child. There does not actually have to be a babysitter there, only the idea of one. A name to rest on.
I remember the first time I opened the door. I must have been 5. And when I opened the door, my heart in my throat, peaking behind the clothes to the closet walls with a crutch, I realize I have already known. I just needed my eyes to know too.
For a few years, I reveled in playing the game. My mom would tell me what Lady Wisdom had said about me, how I had behaved when they were gone. Lady Wisdom would tell my mother everything. But I knew Lady Wisdom couldn’t see me. I made faces at the wall. I ate half a pint of ice cream. I ran outside behind a tree and took my shirt off.
And Lady Wisdom never said a word.
Thomas Lake lives in Denver, CO. This is his first publication.