by Berdine Jordan
part 1 of 2
It’s pouring rain again. Still. Staring out the window, I sip my tea. It’s lightly bitter under the citrus. It makes my raw throat feel better. When will this rain stop?
I need to be out there working the earth; work all this sadness out of my body and bury it deep under tomatoes and searing hot peppers. I’m desperate to nurture and cultivate something healthy out of that patch of tainted soil. Me and that dirt, we’re both gaping holes in a world filled with abundance.
My skin crawls with tension. I grab my raincoat and thrust my arms in, reaching for the doorknob before my hands are through the sleeve. I’m out the door and into the storm, feeling the thrumming on my head. I realize I’m still clutching the crumpled swatch of newsprint I tore from today’s paper. Protecting it from the rain, I jam it deep into my pocket.
Powerful raindrops pelt my scalp. My confused senses grapple over whether they’re beads of scorching heat or icy cold. My feet march me through the yard toward a brown square tilled into our meadow. Lying there, it resembles a scar, smothering the vibrant wildlife beneath. At the boundary between sweet wild grass and devilishly churned earth, I drop to my knees.
Rivulets and puddles of water mirror the gray sky to create organic silver shapes that contrast sharply with the dark soil. My balled up fist pounds into the middle of a puddle; then again. Then my other fist joins in, giving the muddled earth a beating with the ferocity of a damned soul unleashed. My body pummels the ground with a mother’s wrath; the wrath of one who had an angel in her grasp, but let it slip away under the cloak of a demon.
“I want my son back!” a voice is screaming. I know the voice is mine, but at times like this, when fury takes over, I find I’m merely a voyeur of my body’s effort to cope.
Exhausted by the fit, I let my body slump into a heap over the mud. My head rests on my forearm. Heaving gusts of breath make ripples on the surface of the mud just an inch from my lips. Closing my eyes, I let my muscles relax, but thoughts of the paper in my pocket still churn.
* * *
Ten years ago, Morgan was toddling across the wood floor in bare feet toward my outstretched arms. He had me entranced. Unprepared for the power of love I’d feel for my first born, I reveled in the high.
Charles and I welled up with parental pride for his brilliance and the attention he received wherever we went. He talked in full sentences before his second birthday and carried on adult conversations by three. “He’s a genius,” we sang under our breath as he counted to one hundred forward and backward while his peers were working at getting to ten.
In our innocence as new parents, we preferred to shrug our shoulders and laugh at the eccentricities Morgan developed. I’d overhear him playing, saying odd phrases that he wouldn’t have heard from us or the innocent books we read to him. “He’s an old soul,” we’d tell family and friends with smiles on our faces.
Once we heard him telling his toys that they must be quiet or they’d “get no rations.” “Rations? Have you been threatening him with rations?” Charles chided me later. Where did our two year old learn about rations?
Our favorite story was his ongoing references to his other parents — the parents he had before us — that live across the ocean. We waved these stories off as part of his obsession with anything nautical, and the moment would pass. I easily dismissed it as my overactive imagination obsessing on the ramblings of a toddler. Now, in hindsight, these stories blare at me like beacons from the shore; warnings of the complexities swarming inside of Morgan.
“Our little crow,” we teased affectionately, as Morgan’s habit for collecting and hoarding shiny treasure took hold. Collections of buttons, coins, and costume jewelry turned up in nooks and crannies all over the house. Morgan grew as did his stashes, like the jar I discovered, wrapped in a paper bag, tucked under his bed; it held over two hundred dollars in ones, fives and coin. “I’ve been saving it for a long time!” he hollered, incensed by the intrusion. His statement was clearly true, but the source of his savings was a mystery, even now. He was only four.
* * *
Slumped in the mud, my body is shaking now. The wet cold has found my core. Rain slides from the back of my head around to the front and drips into the murky water from my nose and lips. I can’t make out my reflection in the water, but my cheek and chin are silhouetted in the shadow I cast.
I feel too numb to move. Now that I’ve plunged into this swamp of self pity, I might as well just go ahead and wallow in it; dig around and root for that lost moment that made Morgan who he was. The reason, the excuse, and the blame for what he is.
* * *
Ethan came early. It was an easy delivery and he was an easy baby. His gentle nature was endearing and we all took to him intently. Morgan quickly became protective of his baby brother and refused to let strangers hold him or sometimes even look at him.
In the park on the Fourth of July, a kind, friendly woman tried to move Ethan’s receiving blanket from his face to get a better peek. Morgan bit her arm. Everyone reassured us that biting was a normal phase some children go through, albeit unpleasant, but very common for children Morgan’s age, especially for someone with such an intense disposition.
We averted our eyes from the darkness that began to float in, obscuring our rainbow. Morgan’s advanced intelligence was counterbalanced by a temper we hoped he’d outgrow. Fits and tantrums raged through him like hurricanes. His demanding, ceaseless need for control forced us into regular heated battles.
Irrational and violent, he would rage through the house screaming and thrashing his body as though we were dead weight he was trying to shake off. Slowly moving inward, at a time when he should be playing with friends — soccer, baseball or hot wheels — he chose to hole up in his room and write in his journals for hours.
His journals were private. “Too scary,” he’d say. So many times I tried to catch a glimpse of the scary drawings, peering over his shoulder as I passed by, but he’d hunker over them as though I was a spy going after his secrets.
Charles and I endlessly debated what was considered normal behavior for our son. Other children had obsessions for trains, construction vehicles, or ponies. “He’s fine,” we’d say and drop the topic to the floor, where later, when I was alone, I’d pick it up again; cradle it against my breast, right next to my sixth sense that insisted otherwise.
I was doing the dishes on a warm summer evening. We had grilled outside and eaten dinner on the deck. The boys were still outside playing on the ship; a crazy wood structure Morgan and Charles built to resemble a pirate ship.
Morgan insisted on drawing the plans, having had every minute detail in his head. Charles’ imagined outcome was something akin to a dingy propped up in the lawn. Morgan’s vision was a sloop with full sails and working rigging, all of which could someday be put on a trailer and hauled out to the nearest boat launch that would get him on a waterway adjoining the Pacific.
The imbalanced goals for the ship led to a number of brawls and finally, Charles surrendered, giving Morgan the hammer, nails and the remaining lumber to do as he wished; alone. Morgan fumed, pounded and sawed for weeks, until with sheer disgust at the crudeness of his materials, tools and perhaps skills (although he’d never admit to the last part) he accepted his primitive, dry-docked vessel. He made a red and black flag by hand, stitching a snake and dagger into the design and flew his own colors on the main mast.
After it was completed, Morgan practically moved into the shanty structure. We had to insist that he eat his meals with the rest of us, but he chose to sleep out there as often as possible and filled a hold with snacks and water. Charles pointed out the risks that came with sleeping with food outdoors. We share our rural neighborhood with its native wildlife and our ten acres provide plenty of wooded areas for creatures of all sorts.
That evening, just as dusk was settling in, I was putting the last of the dishes in the cupboard. Ethan came bursting into the kitchen yelling and jumping up and down. “Morgan killed a coyote! Morgan killed a coyote!” The plate I had been holding smashed into a dozen pieces as it collided with the floor.
I ran after Ethan, who was bounding out the door, through the yard and into the meadow where the ship was moored. As I ran, I could barely make out Morgan’s shape thirty yards away. It looked as if he was digging with a shovel. “Morgan!” I hollered, but he made no indication that he heard me.
Ethan already stood next to Morgan, panting, but otherwise frozen, eyes locked on his brother’s task. My lungs sucked in the crisp evening air at the sight I found. Morgan was indeed using a shovel, but it was to pulverize what looked to be a medium sized dog.
“Stop! Stop!” I screamed, but he was in a trance. I grabbed for the shovel handle hoping to wrestle it from him. This broke his trance and he looked directly into my eyes yelling “It got in my hold. It was eating my food!”
He stared at me with genuine fury in his eyes, but released the shovel. “Why can’t you understand?” he asked and hastily walked away from me, back toward the house. I stood holding the shovel, too stunned to move — trying to absorb what had just happened.
Charles also heard the yelling and came running to where Ethan and I stood in the meadow. He spoke to Morgan as they passed, but Morgan made no response in words or posture and continued his march back to his ship.
Two days later we met Colleen, a family therapist, and began having family sessions once a week. She met privately with Morgan twice a week. Colleen felt Morgan was deeply depressed.
Charles and I started having private conversations about Morgan being possessed. It started as a pathetic joke, but later, so many things started taking a shape. Morgan’s knowledge of geography surpassed both of ours and he had a keen sense of the cycle of the earth, moon and stars. He seemed to have wisdom well beyond his twelve years of life but there was also what could only be described as a mature heaviness to his heart.
Stories of children remembering past lives began popping into my mind. There had to be an explanation. This was my sweet child; I didn’t want him to be a monster. I didn’t want to feel so much love and repulsion at the same time. I needed a demon to blame.
Secretly I wished that it was me who was going insane and that my beautiful family wasn’t really unraveling. Denial and panic wound themselves around my heart and fought for possession.
Reality snuck in on me — on us — late this summer. Morgan became hugely withdrawn with everyone except Ethan. With Ethan, he had a willing partner in the imaginary worlds he lived in. He seemed delighted when living out his fantasies on the ship with his brother.
It was a beautiful afternoon until I was pulled out of the house by Ethan’s screams. Stepping out onto the porch I could see him on the deck of the ship. Morgan was manning the wheel with no apparent regard for his brother’s frantic screams.
Running toward the ship, it struck me that Ethan had not moved, he was statue still, not making any effort to run to me; his usual behavior after getting hurt. I climbed over the rail and onto the deck. Morgan gave me only a glance and returned to his dreamy navigation. Circling the main mast to face Ethan, I saw the terror in his eyes and then the blood on his shoulder. Searching to find the source of the blood I found his neck and hair covered in blood as well. “What?” I yelled. “What happened?”
I tried to pull Ethan close to pick him up but he defensively put his hand over his ear and shrieked. I pulled his hand away, and focused on his ear. There was something straight and rigid there.
Grasping the object I immediately knew it by feel. A nail; Morgan had nailed Ethan’s ear to the mast. Even with the strength that adrenaline provides, I could not pull the nail out with my bare hands. The details on how I rescued Ethan and treated his wound are lost from my memory, consumed by my shock. The memory of Morgan however, oblivious to his brother’s pain and his mother’s panic, will be etched in my mind forever.
His journals. That’s what brought about Ethan’s discipline, as Morgan called it. Ethan confessed to Morgan that he had secretly got into his journals and had looked at the pictures. This was the greatest trespass Morgan could experience, even by Ethan. Morgan defended his actions saying that payment for treason was to be nailed.
After Ethan began to recover from his experience, my unquenchable curiosity drove me to question him. “What did you see in Morgan’s journals?”
“Just pictures, Mom. You know... drawings of ships and maps and other stuff.” Ethan’s eyes belied his words. I knelt down on the floor so I could look hard into his face.
“There was a drawing of Morgan being eaten,” he said. “By sharks.”
“A person was being eaten by sharks? How do you know Morgan was the person in the picture?” The hair on my neck prickled.
“He wrote your names in with arrows.”
“Whose names?” My voice quivered.
“Morgan, Dad and you; Morgan was the person and you and Dad were the sharks.”
Copyright © 2011 by Berdine Jordan