I wasn’t always like this. Locked up in this place of sterile, soft walls, my head fuzzy and unclear. Once, I was animated, full of hopes and dreams. My husband and I owned a four bedroom, ranch-style home on six acres of wooded property just outside the city of Albany, New York. We were your normal suburban family with a mortgage, car payments, college funds and money set aside for retirement. Our girls, Alessa and Arielle, identical twins, were almost impossible to tell apart.
On the morning of my descent, I noticed changes in my family’s early morning routine. Little things, mind you, nothing that anyone but myself could distinguish. For instance, the twins came downstairs, like they usually do, to grab a quick bite to eat. Instead of their normal breakfast of Pop-tarts, they each made themselves a bowl of hot oatmeal. They never ate oatmeal, ever. I observed subtle exchanges between them, little signals. I knew they were communicating telepathically, that much was obvious. They’ve always been able to communicate with each other that way. Then in walked my husband, adjusting his tie, running his fingers through his thick, dark hair. Instead of going right to the coffee pot as he did every morning for sixteen years, he went over to the girls and gave them each a kiss on the forehead. I saw them pretend to be surprised, going so far as to ask what they did to deserve a kiss. I knew it was all an act for my benefit, by the way, they glanced over at me.
“Why did you do that?” I asked him, “Just spontaneously kiss the girls good morning? You never do that, why today?”
“Can’t I give my two beautiful girls a good morning kiss, for God’s sake?” he asked, “What’s wrong with you, Charlotte?”
There, another change, he called me by my full name. I never heard him do that before.
“Why’re you calling me that, Jack?” I said, “You never call me that.”
He looked at the girls like I was crazy, downed a cup of coffee and they all left together, something else they never did. He usually stepped out the door first. What the hell was going on? Peeking out of the living-room curtains, I saw them conspiring together, looking at the house and no doubt talking about me. I spun around, my back to the wall, hoping they didn’t see me.
Were they planning something? Maybe my own family was plotting to murder me. I ran upstairs to the girl’s room, looking for clues and opened up the computer to Arielle’s Facebook page. Checking their messages to one another, I found what I was looking for.
Arielle: Hey, what time r we doing that today?
Alessa: I think dad said right after school so b ready.
Arielle: Think mom suspects anything?
Alessa: Nope. She’s clueless. Pretty soon it’s off 2 the Rio Grande!”
Arielle: We r gonna have so much fun when she’s gone, Alessa! Mom can b such a tyrant, it’s gonna b awesome while she’s gone!
Alessa: Amen, sister! C u later.
My God. This was really happening. They planned on killing me, then taking off to the Rio Grande! I could feel my heart pounding in my chest, my stomach flooding with bile that threatened to choke me as it rose up into my throat. I had to go! Leave! Just pack up my things and never look back! How could they do this me? Was I that strict of a parent?
Running to the bedroom, I let my robe slip off to the floor and grabbed a suitcase out of the closet. Not bothering to fold anything, I threw some undergarments inside of the suitcase and with my arm, scooped everything off of my dresser. Running into the bathroom, I opened the medicine cabinet and got my medication, my toothbrush, and some toothpaste, Throwing on the same clothes I’d worn the day before, I slipped into a pair of sneakers, grabbed what I’d packed and ran for the front door. I passed the mirror in the foyer and stopped dead. A wild-eyed, tousel-haired stranger stared back at me. I didn’t even recognize her.
Outside, a swift wind rolled huge, cumulonimbus clouds across the darkening sky as if the wrath of God would soon be upon the earth. It only added to my anxiety. Carol, my next door neighbor, must have been part of their insidious scheme, for the moment she saw me, she was on her phone. Calling my husband, no doubt. Then it hit me. Of course! Why didn’t I see this sooner? Carol always had eyes for Jack! Coming out in her nightgown in the early morning when Jack would leave for work, shamelessly flaunting her young, stick-thin figure in front of him as she bent over in her garden. I felt like a total fool not seeing her flirtatious signals! I felt old and used up compared to Carol. Is that what my girls wanted? A younger, prettier mother? Getting into my Ford Escalade, I turned the key, tears hot and brimming. Nothing. Not even the sound of the engine trying to turn over. They sabotaged my vehicle! My God! Hyperventilating, I got out of the SUV and ran back inside, not bothering to take the car keys with me. Back up to my room, I shut the door and tried to think. Walking to the window, careful not to disturb the curtain, I watched for any suspicious behavior.
I watched the mailman go from house to house, noticing his bag looked suspiciously larger than usual. As he approached, I saw him reaching into his bag, wondering if perhaps he had a concealed weapon or something to jimmy the lock on my front door. I waited to hear any telltale signs of forced entry as I ducked down to the side of my bed. My mind felt strange and disorientated as I sat there for what seemed like hours. My hands felt clammy, fingernails biting into the flesh of my palm as I listened for any sound that was out of the ordinary. There was a strange buzzing in my head as I struggled to comprehend exactly what was happening here. I’m not crazy! Saying it out loud like a mantra, I looked over at the clock and my heart almost stopped. Two-thirty? How can that be? Where did the hours go? Hearing a car pull into the driveway, I stood and ran to the window. Jack and the girls! Oh, my God, no! Why was he home? I knew why and my heart was breaking.
Panicking, I looked around wildly for a place to hide, going so far as to open my bedroom window in case I needed to jump. Then I remembered the revolver Jack kept hidden in the nightstand and scrambled over the bed to get it. Cradling the cold steel in my hand, I remembered it wasn’t loaded, the bullets kept in a pocket in his best suit. Running to the closet, I flung open the door, searching frantically for the suit. Finding it, I grabbed a bullet and fumbled to load the damn thing. Clicking the chamber in place, I undid the safety and waited, gun pointed at the door with my trembling hand.
I froze. They were coming. Rooted to the spot, I listened as they walked up the stairs, my heart beating wildly.
“Char? What are you doing in there, baby? I have a surprise for you!”
“Go away! Get away from me, Jack!” I cried out. “I just bet you have a surprise!”
“Char? What’s going on? Are you alright? What happened?”
“Keep away! I won’t let you kill me! I won’t!”
I saw the doorknob turning.
I heard the girls giggling.
I pointed the gun at the door and pulled the trigger as the door swung open.
The chaos that ensued is something I will never forget. The sound of a body hitting the floor. The girl’s shrill screams. A dozen roses scattered like fragrant drops of blood and Jack lying still and bleeding on the floor, mouth open in eternal surprise. But the single most memorable moment was when I picked up the tickets from the floor that had fallen from Jack’s hand. Two tickets to the Rio Grande. It was my birthday today.
Like I said, I wasn’t always like this.