IT IS MY BIRTHDAY and my wife is almost finished getting the children ready to go out. It's very cold tonight and she's bundling them in their heavy winter coats as I blow out all of the candles and dowse the lamps. We step out on the porch and I breathe deep of the bitter cold air as I stare at the winter sky, my thoughts rushing away from the present to a time long ago. My wife looks at me curiously and kisses me on the cheek, her soft touch and warmth returns me to the present. I take my son's hand and the four of us begin to walk. I listen intently as he tells me about his new toy and how his sister won't play the game that he wants to play. I suppose most people would be annoyed by this constant chatter and complaining, but I find it to be a welcome distraction, at least tonight.
We're on the way to my mother's house this evening. She's making a special birthday dinner for me and I look forward to seeing her. I see her almost every day, but my birthday is a special time for her. She always makes a fuss and I don't disappoint her. My mother lives about a mile from my place on our family's two-hundred acre estate just outside of Baltimore. We purchased this place just over a year ago to start a new life and put some distance between me and my frightful childhood. I thought that leaving would help to dull the memories of what happened to me there, but it hasn't. I've come to realize I will never be able to completely leave those painful memories behind, and they will always be a part of me. I suppose everyone has at least a few bad memories they can't seem to forget, but my situation is precarious. My memories threaten to relieve me of my sanity, and I am afraid.
Tonight as I look into the night sky my fear transforms me once again into a frightened child. The stars appear exactly as they did the night Molly died, and the constellations of the winter sky will always remind me of the terrible thing that happened that night. It's a beautiful night though, and I put on a smile and try to enjoy it. My wife isn't fooled by this act, she senses that the frightened child has returned and takes my hand pulling me closer, as if she were comforting one of our children after a bad dream. Her touch does comfort me and again I return to the present. She smiles at me, but her smile is a window dressing, as is mine, a show that we put on for each other to pretend that everything is okay, though we both know it isn't. There is a very real tension in the air that both of us can feel.
Off in the distance I see the smoke from Mom's fireplace trailing across the sky in the light of the full moon. These sights and smells as I breathe deep of the cold air, are powerful reminders of what happened that night, and for a moment I am disoriented as panic takes control of my body. My wife anticipates this as she has so many times before and steps in front of me, cupping my face in her warm hands and whispering to me. She kisses me and then holds me tight, her head resting on my chest as she cries. The children know there's something wrong, but they are used to this by now, and they ignore us. I take a deep breath and tell my wife that I'm okay. We continue to walk, both of us pretending that nothing happened. I make a conscious effort to avoid looking at the sky and the smoke from Mom's fireplace and I feel much better by the time we arrive at her front door.
My mother's house is a small cozy place decorated for the holidays, with no expense spared. The children love to come here and do so nearly every day. When we open the door the smells of baking bread and cinnamon fill the air and I notice the tension that was so prominent during the walk over is gone. My wife is smiling, and it's her real smile, not the pretend smile she had on outside. I'm glad she's happy now. She puts up with a lot being married to me. I laugh as the children descend upon my mother and barrage her with questions about when they will be able to play with their toys and if they can help her cook. As she embraces them, she smiles at me and I know she is happy, and she deserves to be happy.
My children enjoy a much nicer childhood than I had. Mom and I nearly died at the hands of my father. I sometimes wonder how we made it out of there alive, but we did, thanks to Mom. She put herself between me and my father during his drunken rampages and protected me, taking a beating more times than I care to remember. She tried to hide what was happening and pretended that we were okay. I never understood why she put up with it for so long, but when I was older, she told me that she was afraid he would take me away from her, and that was more than she could bear.
Mom's fear drove her to put up with his abuse in the hope that he would someday realize the error of his ways. He didn't of course, and now each day of my life is a careful voyage through the memories of my childhood. My memories stalk me like a predator, and I am helpless to defend myself from them. I try my best to be happy, but long lasting happiness eludes me, and my wife and my mother worry about me. I put on a good show for them, but they know that I'm not being truthful.
Then there was Molly. My relationship with her was complicated and not something that I can easily explain. We shared a special gift that joined us in a way that transcends our mortal existence, and this is what my wife and mother can never truly understand. The memory of her death constantly threatens to relieve me of my hold on reality. She's been gone for nearly ten years now and I still worry about her. I wasn't with her when she died, but I knew the moment it happened, a sense of blackness and falling as I heard her cries for help and sensed her terror. Her departure from this life was cruel and violent and I know that she's not at peace. She's alone and frightened, stuck in the barrier between this life and the next. I won't rest until I find her. Our magic creates an intimacy that I cannot completely describe using words. It is something fundamental to our existence, deeper than the most powerful love that you can ever experience.
The events surrounding her death have become the stuff of legend, a tale of an evil witch burned out of her home by an angry mob. People say that she still walks the land and haunts those who happen upon her, and I am a part of the tale. If you ask about me in the town where I grew up, people will probably tell you that I was the little boy who found her frozen to death in the woods, near my family's farm, the day after she fled from her burning house. I find the legend to be offensive, a pack of lies based on superstition and ignorance. The truth is only a few of us know what really happened that night. We consider it to be a private matter and have discussed it with no one except those closest to our family. I suppose that if the facts aren't brought to light soon after an incident like this, wild stories are bound to emerge, and they certainly have. I believe that the time is right to set the record straight.
December 3, 1774