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Do you know that I used to watch you when you were growing up?
Because I did.
Does that frighten you, David? I remember one time when you went to the park with your mother and father. I think you were only about four years old. Your father threw a Frisbee for you, and you chased it all the way to the trees. Could you not feel something watching you then, David? Behind the leaves? You should have done. I was there.
I’ve been watching you since you were younger than that, in fact. You were always screaming when you were an infant. You should have seen how it grated on your mother and father. They always quietly thanked their lucky stars when you weren’t there. Don’t misunderstand me here; they loved you very dearly, of course they did. But love is not a sword with a single edge, is it, David? I think that’s a subject you have a lot of insight into.
I was never quite as involved when you were growing up. Just a whisper, skirting around the periphery. But I was still there. You never forgot those early nightmares, did you?
I was there when you first met Annie too, when you fell into each other getting off the bus and began talking. I wonder if I remember how vivid her smile was back then better than you do. Her hair was so red then, wasn’t it? So much like fire I could read by its light. I allowed myself to touch it once. Just once. Annie was making you dinner. It was your anniversary, and the two of you had only just come downstairs. You were in the living room. So I stood behind her, and I stroked her hair. It was only for a second. She looked around, and never saw a thing. She never told you about this, because she thought it was nothing. But it wasn’t.
It was me.
How angry does that make you? You never thought I could touch other people, did you? I could have choked Annie on my fist at any moment in any day, and you would never have known it was me. I know she became your sanctuary towards the end, the place to which you brought all your fears and the earthly weights you bore, and tucked them away behind her, so you never had to look again. But Annie looked. Annie looked at every memory, every moment of panic you brought to her, and let herself gag and splutter on your neurosis until she was just an extension of your doubts and nightmares. Perhaps that’s why, when she became ill, it came as such blessed relief to her. I didn’t have to twist Annie to welcome death, because you did that to her yourself.
I remember, when you went to see her at the chapel of rest, how you promised you would never force the things you had seen onto Holly. You held her little hand, looking at Annie. Holly was far too young to know why her mother was in a box and not by her side. When you took her home, you both sat in Annie’s chair, and you tried to tell your four year old daughter that her mother was dead.
I was standing right behind you then.
I don’t think Holly ever really understood all the things you eventually confided in her. You would sit her down on certain evenings, when your eyes were especially bloodshot, and you hadn’t shaved or washed for some time. When even a child could tell that you hadn’t slept all night. She would sit by the fire, and try to see her father in the man that was sitting before her. Let’s pretend for the sake of saving time that she could. You told her to sit still, and even when she was rubbing her eyes and asking to go to bed, you would not let her. You would make her stay and hear about all the things you saw, and all the things you thought you saw, and all the things you wish you hadn’t seen. Just as you had done with Annie.
You told her you dreamt of hands coming through the floor, each holding a clump of Annie’s hair. You told her how you dreamt that she forgot how to tell you she loved you, and that it made you laugh so much you stopped breathing. You told her that you dreamt of being in a room where the walls had a hundred mouths each, and that each one of them screamed.
And you told her that you dreamed of me.
It wasn’t just the night time by the end. It was all the time. Everything you ever said to her once Annie had passed away was about the awful things you could see in your head. So every night, Holly had nightmares, but she could never tell you about them, because you would always cry when she even mentioned the word. And sometimes, you’d wake her up in the earliest hours of the morning, because you hadn’t slept again. Too afraid to dream. Too afraid to stop thinking of me.
You never seemed to care. You never seemed to care when she started crying. You never seemed to care when her teachers asked you to come in for a chat, because Holly was still sat in lesson drawing pictures of a man who was just a shadow and who never spoke his name.
You promised that this would not be a burden for her to bear like it was for Annie.
You also promised that you would rather die before you saw her become unhappy.
You always break your promises, David.
Holly has a new family now. They’re very lovely people. One of them is a school teacher and the other bakes rock-cakes at the weekend. She smiles so much more now, but they can still see her, every now and then, jumping at shadows.
I imagine you must be wondering why I’m covering so much old ground here, David. I just thought it would help you to see all of this from a different perspective. The way I see it is this; you told your wife about a bad dream you had since you were a little boy, in which you were talking to a shadow that wouldn’t leave you alone, because you had it again after quite some time and it began to bother you. And when she listened, you kept on telling her. You told her when they got worse, and worse, and worse, until there was not a waking thought in your head that they did not occupy. And you told her every single one of them, until she wore away into nothingness. So when she passed away, you had nobody to tell but your infant daughter. So tell her you did.
You tortured the people you love because you yourself were tortured. You passed on your terror like a disease.
Most people would take a more judgemental stance on this. I, however, will never judge you. You have no need to fear on that score.
Do you remember that time when we spoke? You must do. It only happened once. In a church. I think you thought you were safe there, in the house of God. But I am not the Devil, nor am I his servant. A wall with a cross is just a wall to me. But how could you have known?
It was a few months after Annie died. You sat with your head bowed in an empty hall, and for the first time, you thought you had found some peace.
Why did you ever think you had found some peace?
“Hello David.” I said, when I sat down next to you. Thank you for not asking me who I am. I always hoped you wouldn’t.
“Why won’t you leave me alone?” you said, though your voice was choked on tears.
“Don’t make me spoil the end of the story, David,” I told you, “The end is my favourite part. You’ll understand me when you see it.”
“Why are you doing these things to me?”
“Hush now, David. I only came here to say hello.”
I found it very sweet how you kept quiet after that. Did it feel good to finally hear my voice? It has been close to thirty years now, after all.
That was the last time you saw me, if you recall. Before today, that is.
I bet those three months without me flew by.
I think I shall have to go now. It’s getting awfully late.
You won’t see me again, David. I just came by to touch base one last time. Well, I say for the last time.
What ever will you do with all this calm now I’m gone?
Of course, when did I say it would last forever? I give it three months until you start having nightmares again. Three months until you start breaking furniture and crockery again out of frustration. Three months until you go out and buy yourself a length of rope. So consider this a cooling-off period.
I’ll be waiting, David. We have so much to talk about when you come and see me on my side of the wall. You, me and all of my friends.
You’ll scream when you see it. When the pieces of the puzzle all slot into place, when you hear the punch line at long last. I’m sure of that. And you’ll cry. But I think you’ll see sense, given time. And one thing we’re going to have is time.
I’ll be seeing you, David. It’s been quite some time since I saw my friends, and there are so many things we must talk about.
And don’t worry about getting lonely whilst I’m away. I promise it won’t last.
We’ll be in touch.
Credit To – Stefan Rasmussen