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On June 8, 2010, I turned 14. Two days later, my mom tripped over a pair of my tennis shoes and died. She was carrying laundry down to our washer in the basement when it happened. She broke her neck. Her name was Meredith and she was only 45. Her and my dad would have been married for 23 years that August.
After my mom died, it was just dad and me. I am an only child. When I was younger, my dad use to joke that I was such a miserable baby he and mom decided not to have any more kids, but mom always said I was the her greatest accomplishment. I was named Mary after my mom.
I was in the middle of taking final exams at school when mom died. The school gave me a pass on taking the rest of my finals that year. Dad took the next two weeks off from his third shift delivery job, and we spend the time planning mom’s funeral and trying to figure out what to do next. Everything had changed.
At the end of the two weeks, dad had to go back to work. I knew he felt guilty leaving me alone at night, but I also think he was relieved. The house was so quiet now. His first night back to work was also the first night I started sleeping with my t.v. on.
I had always been a good sleeper, even as a baby, but that first night alone in the house, I was wide awake. I kept thinking about my mom and the accident. Every time I closed my eyes I could picture her lying there, dead on our basement floor, sheets and towels scattered around her body. I kept thinking about those stupid tennis shoes. The ones that shouldn’t have been on the steps.
At first I tried watching cop shows to help me fall asleep, but shows like CSI and Law and Order hit too close to home. Next I tried putting on “The History Channel”, but I got so interested in the programs that I stayed up all night watching them. The news was too depressing, I hated sports, and cooking shows made me hungry. And then I stumbled across it. The perfect put-you-to-sleep show. HSN, or Home Shopping Network.
I knew what HSN was; I think my mom may have even bought from them once or twice. It was never anything I would have chosen to watch. But that night, alone in the house with just my thoughts, I decided to give it a go. To my surprise, I found the overly excited sales ladies comforting. They were the exact opposite of my mom, with piled on make-up, perfectly coifed hair and way too much personality. The drone of their sale pitch became white noise, and before I knew it, I could sleep.
As the weeks went on, I developed a bedtime ritual. Dad would leave for his job by 10:00, I would take a long, relaxing bath, read in bed for an hour or two, and when the lights went out, the t.v. came on.
I kept the station on HSN, and I watched it with the volume turned low; just loud enough to hear the strangely soothing voice of the 10:00 p.m. to 4:00 a.m host.
“Welcome everyone to this amazing hour of shopping here on the Home Shopping Network. I’m your host for the next few hours, Cynthia -Cindy- Myers and I’m so glad you could join us. We have some great deals coming up and our first one will be a flex-pay…”
I was usually sound asleep before the first item was sold out.
“Hurry hurry hurry all you shoppers. If you want to get in on this deal, you MUST act now. This one won’t last.”
By the beginning of July, I was starting to feel a little like my old self. I still missed my mom, and I was still lonely at night, but Cynthia -Cindy- Myers had become like a surrogate to me. I looked forward to her visits each night and drifting off to sleep to the sound of her voice. I thought I was adjusting. I was wrong.
It was during the big “White Sale” that Cynthia Myers stopped talking to her audience of shoppers, and started talking directly to me.
It had been a rough day for me, and by the time I got upstairs to bed, I was too tired to even read a chapter of my latest teen novel. I must have been asleep for only a few minutes when I was awaken by the sound of someone calling my name.
“Hey Mary. Wake up. You’re not going to want to miss this one.”
I opened my eyes, confused. Did the t.v. wake me up?
“This is the one you have been waiting for Mary. Home Shopping Network’s famous White Sale. 300 thread count Egyptian cotton sheets in white, cream, beige, and for the first time, desert sand.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I sat up in bed and stared at the t.v. in amazement. There on the screen, looking right at me, talking directly to me, was HSN’s Queen of the Late night. Only this time, Cynthia Myers looked…off. Her normally perfect hair was sticking straight out from her head in electric shock fashion. Her eye makeup was smudged under both eyes, and one false eyelash was dangling from her lid like a sleeping spider. When she smiled, her perfect teeth now appeared discolored and grey.
As I watched, blood began to drip from Cindy’s nose and splash onto the once pristine sheet in her hand. This pissed her off.
“Oh great” she said, holding the sheet up to the camera. “Look what you made me do Mary. Look what you made me do.”
She was getting herself worked up. Her eyes looked wild.
“You couldn’t just call in could you Mary. You couldn’t just call in and help me make a sale could you. You owe me Mary. This is all your fault. You and those Goddam sneakers.”
Cindy then took the once white sheet and began to twist it around her neck. Once, twice, smearing the drop of blood in the process.
“What are you going to do now Mary? What now?” She screamed from the t.v. “Pick up your phone. There’s still time to get in on this deal.”
With that, Cynthia Myers pulled the ends of the sheet tight across her throat, and with a resounding “snap” proceeded to break her own neck.
I might have screamed then. I really don’t know. But the next thing I remember I was standing in the hallway outside my bedroom door. My heart was slamming and I couldn’t catch my breath. My muscles felt tight and I was ready to run. Instead I stood stock still and listened. And waited. And when nothing happened I dared to look back into my bedroom, and at the t.v.
The twisted image of Cynthia Myers breaking her own neck was replaced with the pleasing face of Samantha Greene, host of the 4 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. sunrise show. The “White Sale” was over, and we had moved on to herbal remedies and supplements. Needless to say, I didn’t go back to sleep that night.
I decided not to mention my crazy dream to my dad the next day. He was dealing with his own issues, and his guilt at having to leave me alone at night. I had also convinced myself that this dream, this nightmare, really wasn’t as messed up as I had first imagined. You can make yourself believe anything if you really want to.
The next day I replayed that dream over and over in my head, and when it was night again, I couldn’t bring myself to try and sleep. Even though I was exhausted, I decided to stay up and watch t.v. on the living room couch. I put on a rerun of some campy show from the 80’s, and I was asleep before the first commercial break.
This time, it wasn’t the voice of Cynthia Myers calling my name that woke me up, but the distinct “click, click, click” of channels being changed on my t.v. screen. In my groggy state, I only caught a glimpse of different shows as they flicked across the screen. Then, the clicking stopped. Cynthia Myers was looking up at me from behind a table heavy with costume jewelry and semi-precious gems. She smiled at me, and this time I noticed she was missing her two front teeth. When she spoke, her voice came out in a whistle.
“Hi Sweetie. Welcome back to this hour of exciting sales.” She lisped, air escaping from between her teeth. “Stick around kiddo, you just may learn something.”
Then she gave me an exaggerated wink and a thumbs up sign that she quickly twisted around into a one finger salute.
I pushed my hands against my eyes. Hard. I tried to blink her away. She was still there. Only now, her broken smile was once again perfect and whole, and impossibly white. She spoke to the camera and to her “viewers at home”.
“You don’t want to miss this next half hour” Cynthia smiled. “We have something really big coming up so stay tuned.”
I abruptly turned off the t.v.
I picked up my cell phone and hit speed dial for my dad. If I was going crazy, he would probably want to know. Plus, I was scared shit-less. I wasn’t worried about protecting my dad anymore, I wanted someone to protect me. My dad answered on the second ring and he sounded worried. He always sounded worried when my mom or I called him in the middle of the night. He said he always thought something bad must have happened. My mind had been racing a mile a minute about what I wanted to tell him, but once I heard his voice, all I could manage to say was “hi dad”.
I don’t know why I didn’t tell him about my freaky dreams or visions or whatever they were. But I felt 10 times better just talking to him. I told him I couldn’t sleep and that I was thinking about mom. He told me that he thought about her all the time too. He said there wasn’t much else to do when you were on the road except think. He sounded so sad. We talked the rest of the night, and into morning. And when his trip was over, I talked him home.
We sat at the breakfast table together and I made us scrambled eggs and toast. It was one of the only things I knew how to make. We ate our breakfast, cleaned up the kitchen, and then we both went to his room and fell asleep.
When I woke up 12 hours later I felt like a weight had been lifted from me. I felt like I could see things more clearly. It was then that I decided to face my fears head on.
That night, at 10:00, every light in the living-room blazing, I called Cynthia -Cindy- Myers.
The phone number for HSN was blazing across the front of my screen in bright white digits. I picked up my cell phone and dialed the toll-free number and waited for an answer.
“Hello, and thank you for calling the Home Shopping Network. We’re so glad you decided to shop with us today. How can we help you?”
This recorded message was followed by a number of options.
“Please press 1 if you would like to make a purchases.”
“Please press 2 if you would like to make a payment.”
“Please press 3 if you have a question regarding shipping or delivery.”
“Please press 4 if you would like the opportunity to speak on air with one of our Home Shopping Network Hosts.”
I didn’t need to listen any further. I pressed option 4 and waited.
In just a few minutes, a voiced answered the phone.
“Thank you for calling Home Shopping Network. This is Lisa.”
After answering some pre-screening questions about why I wanted to talk to Cindy Myers on-air (I lied) they put my call in the queue and told me I would be “live” in about 15 minutes.
My hands were so sweaty that I thought I might drop my phone. My heart was pounding and I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to speak when it was my turn. After waiting about 20 minutes I started to question what the hell I was doing. This was nuts. Just as I was about to hang up the phone I head a click and then:
“Hi, this is Cynthia Myers thank you so much for calling into the show tonight. What is your name?”
I drew a blank. I couldn’t remember my own name.
“Hello….your on the air with Cynthia Myers. Can you hear me?”
“Mary” I squeaked out. “My name is Mary”.
“Hi there Mary, so nice to talk to you tonight. Where are you calling from?” Cynthia asked. Her voice was so soothing, she put me at ease.
“I’m calling from Binghamton, New York” I said. “Thank you so much for taking my call.”
Cynthia went on to ask me about my experience with the current product she was selling, and asked me to tell the viewers why I loved it so much.
“Actually Ms. Myers” I began. “I don’t really use this product. I’m calling you because my mom died last month and I have been watching your show at night” I said. “I wanted to thank you for keeping me company and making me feel less alone”. I could feel my voice catching in my throat and I was afraid I would start crying. I watched Cynthia’s reaction to what I had just said on my screen. Her face softened and she smiled gently.
“Well bless your heart” Cynthia said, placing a hand over her chest. “That is one of the sweetest things I have ever hear in my 6 years on the air. I’m so glad that I could help dear”.
I took a deep breath and continued. “Ms. Myers, the last few nights something weird happened when I watched your show”.
Cynthia’s face filled the screen, a quizzical look playing across her features.
I gathered my courage and continued: “I was wondering if you experienced anything weird too.”
I didn’t expect what happened next.
Cynthia’s once pleasant features twisted up in an ugly snarl and she glared at me through the t.v. screen. “Mary, I really don’t think this is the time or place to be discussing this do you?” She said. Her voice stern and no-nonsense.
My breath caught in my throat. I didn’t know what to say. I could feel my hands sweating. “What?” I stammered.
“That’s it, I’m done with this shit.” Cynthia raged at the camera. She plucked something off the collar of her floral dress and threw it to the ground. I heard a crackle sound and realized it was her wireless microphone.
Cynthia moved around to the front of the display table, her face inches from the camera. She brought her finger up to her now red face and I could swear I saw smoke coming from her mouth. “I’m coming over there Mary. We are going to settle this once and for all. Face to face”.
Then she was out of frame, and the camera showed the empty sound stage for just a moment before a black screen went up with the words “We are experiencing technical difficulties….please stand by.”
It was at that moment my doorbell starting to ring.
I jumped up off the sofa, phone still clutched in my hand. I looked wildy around the room, as if it could give me some clue as to what I should do next. The ringing at the door grew incessant and then it was replaced with hard knocking, and then pounding. The door shook. It felt like the whole house was shaking. I felt something warm and wet trailing down the leg of my pajamas, and realized for the first time in 11 years, I had peed my pants. I started crying.
“Please, go away.” I whispered. “Please.”
And just like that, the pounding stopped.
I must have stood in the middle of my livingroom for 15 minutes. Legs shaking, my heart thudding in my chest. I looked down at my cell phone, clutched tightly in my hand, and realized the call had been disconnected. The smiling face of my mom stared back at me from my screen saver. I sat down on the floor and began to cry even harder.
Finally, in what could have been a few minutes, or a few hours, I dragged myself to my feet and walked over to the front door. I felt like I was having an out of body experience. Like I was watching myself lift my hand to the doorknob and unbolt the lock. I gripped the handle and it felt cold and slick in my hand. I turned the knob and opened the door. I stepped outside into the cool, pre-dawn air and took a deep breath. There on the stoop sat a package with “Home Shopping Network” printed on the side. The computer generated label was address to me.
I looked around, the street was deserted.
I picked up the package and carried it inside the house. I closed the door behind me but I didn’t bother locking it again. I took the box into the kitchen and got out a pair of scissors. Taking a deep breath, I cut the tape securing the lid of the box. I suddenly felt calm. I lifted the lid.
That was a little over 2 years ago. Not long after what I now refer to as “that night” my dad took a new job in a different part of the state and we moved from our house into a gated apartment complex complete with a swimming pool, tennis courts, and a cute 11th grade neighbor.
Overall, my life has been pretty good. I still miss my mom, but I can think about her now and smile. I have made lots of friends, and I joined the tennis team at my new school. I keep myself busy and I don’t dwell on the past.
I love my new room, and dad let me decorate it any way I wanted. The walls are pink with white trim, and I have movie posters and pictures of musical groups hanging everywhere. But my favorite decoration is the gift I got that night, packaged up in a Home Shopping Network box.
Inside the box was a new pair of white tennis shoes together with a Home Shopping Network “Receipt for Payment”.
Under the section for purchases, written in my mom’s delicate script, it read:
“The tennis shoes were never on the stairs Mary. They were on the basement floor, right where you left them, the whole time.”
The receipt is in a frame on my desk, and those new tennis shoes, just my size, are sitting on a shelf over my bed. Two years later, and I can still detect the faintest hint of her perfume on them.
I never figured out what really happened “that night” and I really don’t care. Maybe the whole ordeal was just a series of dreams from the mind of a guilt ridden teenaged girl. But maybe not.
A week after “that night”, I watched the Home Shopping Network for what would be the last time. They had a new host for the 10:00 p.m. to 4:00 a.m. slot. I don’t remember her name, but I do remember her saying the old host had moved on to “bigger and better endeavors”. I turned off the t.v., and went to bed.
Credit: Tracy Allen