Reflections

 Dear Mother,

It has been almost eight years since we have seen each other. If you’re reading this, then I am no longer among the living. No doubt you knew before someone handed you this scrap of paper – I understand that prison guards are stingy with information, but surely they must tell you that. In any event, now you know. Your only son is no more.

I likely didn’t suffer. I have been led to believe that bullets are very good conversation stoppers. Perhaps giving you the details of my demise could be considered cruel. I choose to believe you would rather know from my own hand that I died painlessly. Suffering is something we have both had enough of in our lives.

This will be the third time I put the barrel of the gun into my mouth. The taste of metal is unpleasant but it seems fitting to do it this way. I watched my reflection try it, once. It looks more uncomfortable than it is.

I have chosen to die shortly after finishing this missive. I have no doubt you have guessed Father’s death as the genesis point of the decision. Already gone, you may have avoided the worst of the circus it became. His passing unleashed something, the barriers he’d carefully erected shattering around us, his life’s myth crumbling under the boot of official history. The press were the least of it, though the loudest. Losing my friends, losing you – these were the events which drove me under the first time. Even leaving the city was a cruel reminder that I was now dependent on the government’s so-called compassion. With one hand Big Brother put me in a home and locked the door. With the other he re-wrote our family history, re-wrote Father’s life and how he became who he was, re-wrote my deserved inheritance away from me.

The less said about the people who ‘took me in,’ the better. The Dunblanes were only too happy to take a fractional reckoning of what I was worth and waste it on staying in a common stupor – I hope both he and his horrid wife die of some terrible rot. I suppose it was marginally better than discovering the boundaries of a six-by-eight concrete cell, as you did. Even then I might have taken my chances.

I went under then. The media did not stop at the city boundaries, but followed me across the country, saturating my existence. Where the loss of my friends and my life had been the most wounding, now three or four journos dogged my every step out the door, preventing me from forgetting. ‘Home’ was a prison – school a nightmare. I could not heal the wounds of losing a mother and father, and with the incessant, buzzing presence of people so dispassionately obsessed with my story, I couldn’t even escape the confines of this new narrative. Reality is a flimsier shield than most in the best of times, but no child should be forced to try and find solace in the memories I held. Even knowing the truth could not save me. Yes, I called Father’s death a murder, but rest assured – despite your incarceration, I know you for innocent. How, you ask?

The truth, then. Why I have written you now, and not before. Why I have never come to visit.

 

I saw him die. I was in the room when the window shattered and an apparition emerged from its weak reflection. Like-for-like, it was him. The size and frame, the face, the way it moved, it was like a twin from some hellish mirror. I watched it take him, grab him and pull him close and push the knife deep until the metal edge disappeared altogether. The double knelt by his side a while as he bled and died, waiting until he’d stopped struggling. I remember finding it so strange that the apparition was dressed differently – heavier clothing, rugged gloves. All overwritten with dark blood. His tie, a splash of red, was the only real colour on him. It was lighter than Father’s blood, that tie, and still unstained in the end. A small ornamental snowflake was mounted on the top, simple yet bright, like the ones on Father’s cufflinks. Another perversion.

That is the truth, as I remember it. It has not taken long to tell.

 

There was more, of course – there always is. One of the detectives would not leave me alone even after you went away. At times he was even worse than the journos, but I felt a strange connection to you in him, even though after your verdict Dr. Althea said that I was not to see you. The detective would follow me home from the bus stop, haranguing me with stories about what kind of man Father was. The way he conducted his business. Why the city was the way it was. Where our money had come from. What it said about you. Why death was too good for him.

Perhaps one has fallen far when they begin preferring the sensation of abuse to the lack that comes before or after it. Telling me, hating me while he did it, pinning Father’s crimes on my ten year-old frame, he was punctuation in the white noise that surrounded me. He felt like the only honest person I knew – more honest even than my own recollections.

My therapist, Dr. Althea, led the assault on those memories. The chain of events was everywhere – in the air over the radio waves, wherever the eye rested on magazines and newspapers or static, skipping televisions. The story seemed so simple when abstracted through the media. It became “local politician turned mob tyrant murdered by wife.” The space of a headline told it all.

You may be interested to know that I told Dr. Althea what I saw much as I have told it to you. Those sad little facts, ordered the same way, compressed even further. It was of no use. My voice was a lone countercurrent in the media soup – worse, it was a voice that spoke from a ten year-old’s body. No one believed it. When I began to go under, I tried, reflexively, to hold on to the truths I knew. The stranger’s face, so like Father’s own. The blood. The knife. The snowflakes.

She declared me dissociative, saddled me with the label of post-traumatic. Little pills followed, another level of the prison. No happy pills, of course – pills that deadened, that prevented anger and confusion and pain and dulled the insistence that what I thought of as real deserved to be acknowledged. The years that followed were filled with chemical mental sentinels, constantly under the guard of my surrogate parents – Dr. Althea and the detective, certainly much more involved in my formation than the two drunks night trapped me in a four-walled cage with. Through her I felt the slow replacement of my incongruent memories with an alternate series of events, and I am not ashamed to admit that I believed Dr. Althea, that on the rare occasions I went off medication I found myself panicked and tachycardial, my heart rate spiking out of control as I wondered why I could never remember what had truly transpired, why even knowing that they were false memories never seemed to be enough to break their primacy – and why no matter how hard I tried, even knowing that I had been there, I could never see you kill him.

The detective, my other surrogate, expanded my past, providing histories beyond my experience. I understood, after a time, why Father was murdered. Why someone would believe that he deserved it. What he controlled, how he controlled it, how he’d been near untouchable – the detective told me everything. In the end, it appears that legal protection did not extend to his body. This lone fact seemed to comfort my storyteller – at least someone had done it. Someone had taken the villain out.

 

And yet, look at what has happened. The detective is dead now, I understand – killed in a shootout. Perhaps he was too principled for the new underclass to use. The byline read it as a random incident, unrelated to organized crime, but for once I enjoyed the luxury of overlaying my own narrative over the story, my small personal inversion. Dr. Althea has also disappeared – referred to me as Father’s own therapist, I can only imagine why. When I do, I do not imagine happy thoughts.

I have spent the last few years in a small town near the border. I doubt its name or history will interest you. At fifteen I accepted the new world I had been presented and Dr. Althea signed off on my relocation. My file was sealed until I become a legal adult. For the first time, newly independent, I began to experience life without a story forcefully imprinting itself on me. Without my three strange Fates in Dr. Althea, the detective and the journos. Free of them owning my past more than I did, and setting my future by it.

Without that constant reordering of reality, I found that my anxiety had almost disappeared as I abandoned the medication. I wandered. I drank, and fought, and when I wanted to I ignored school and explored the mountains nearby or the city dumpsters. Other times, I preferred to sit in class, invisible amongst sixty others. It may dishearten you to hear that I was neither dismal nor exceptional in school. It was enough for me to settle slowly back into the mold of average life, to be disregarded like every other hormone-triggered clod I shared the air with. There was peace in that. That invisibility is why I did not come to see you. It would have mean rematerializing and I could not risk it.

 

My eighteenth birthday is approaching. In less than a week I will be an adult, my records will be released and it will all begin again. There is no avoiding it. In these eight years the country has become obsessed with the deterioration of its capital city. I have read the papers. I trust you have, too. Father was the prototype for the new controllers, the new untouchable white-collar leaders that seem to be strangling the country. His life is hidden in the background of every byline about a body that washes up near the docks, his name whispered just over the headline about a shipping container found containing half-dead labourers producing drugs, forced to manufacture unclean and impure synthetics at knifepoint. In the citizen’s mind, he provided that blueprint.

I remember, once, the detective said something to me. He had been close, so close, to catching Father. To putting an end to him. In the end, the murder meant that the chance was denied to him. It has always made me wonder. If he had caught Father, would any of these functional duplicates ever have appeared? Other questions circle. With their emergence only upon his death and not before, did no one think to ask whether he had been the biggest fish in the pond? Few big fish can survive in a stable ecosystem, and now we have too many. Perhaps one was the optimal number. Either happening – Father living on as he was, or going to prison, would have changed the course of my life entirely.

But these questions are a waste of time.

In a few days I will be rediscovered, and I will not take the fall again. I cannot handle the resurgence of the media into my life, and I fear that the attentions of those who have modelled themselves on Father’s prototype would be even worse. I have chosen this way out – it allows me to die the way I wanted to live. Unknown. Unnoticed, even.

Before I take that final step away, know that I have been happy these last few years. I will not pretend that it has been enough, or that it was any sort of charmed existence – but there was happiness there. It is why I wrote you. My decision is made, but I felt I owed you a bit of the truth – that little bit that you were perhaps lacking. I hope the truth does more for you than it did me.

Apt that Father was sent into the afterlife by a man that looked exactly like him, and now his son will follow the pattern. No children of my own to follow along, but I can’t imagine anyone thinking that it’s much of a pity.

I have said what I picked up this pen to say. I hope this letter finds you well.