Danger—Aussie accent ahead. Turn away now.
Oh, song lyrics in here, too. So, for those who don’t like song lyrics, you might want to skip that part, too.
All other previous disclaimers still apply.
Chapter 79—Tassie Trauma
The guide tells us that locals claim that there has been some sort of paranormal activity in all the areas of Port Arthur for over 100 years. Christian frowns.
“What is it?” I ask.
“In the C block,” he says, “I could swear I heard a man coughing in one of those rooms.” I twist my lips.
“There are a lot of people on the tour. They were all around the prison. You may have heard an echo…”
“No,” he says firmly. “It wasn’t an echo. I heard a man cough in one of those rooms.”
I just look at him. I won’t debate whether or not he actually heard someone coughing in the criminally insane area. This place is already giving me the creeps, so the last thing I want to think about right now is ghosts.
And speaking of ghosts…
The tour guides talk about a ghost tour held on the grounds at night. We’ll be at sea headed to Melbourne by then, but they tell us about it anyway, since not everyone on our tour is from the cruise and may want to partake. During the tour, guides would explain the different types of ghost who haunt Port Arthur.
First, there are the ones you hear. They may be close by, they may be off in the distance somewhere—a noise or footsteps, like the cough that Christian claims he heard.
Then, there are the ones that just leave you with a horrible, bone-chilling feeling that someone’s standing right behind you.
Finally, there are the worst ones, the supposedly physical ghosts. They pinch you or shove you, or they throw you to the ground. According to the guides, all of these encounters have happened on the ghost tour.
They do creepy things like move suddenly and tell you not to look into windows, make loud noises, send someone ahead with a lantern to see if the coast is clear, shit like that to make the tour exciting
When I’ve had enough of the heebie-jeebies, we head back to the visitors center, but not before we visit one more important site.
Across from the Port Arthur Historical Site is the Memorial Garden—another open-air building. This building is the shell of the Broad Arrow Café where the worst massacre in Tasmanian history occurred in 1996.
On this final leg of our tour, the guide gives us the background and the condensed version of what happened that fateful day in April, 18 years ago…
A man named Martin Bryant devised a plan to shoot two people—David and Noelene Martin—whom he felt conspired to secure property that Bryant’s father was planning to purchase, leading to his father’s depression and ultimate suicide. After killing the Martins at that very same property, he locked up, drove to a second site claiming to want to purchase some cattle, then headed to Port Arthur.
After a back-and-forth of sorts about parking, he parked at the Broad Arrow Café—the shell of the building we’re standing in now. He took a duffle bag and a video camera from his car and ordered some food. Eating on the outside deck, he tried to make conversation with the people outside. After finishing his meal, he took his tray back inside, pulled out an AR-15 automatic rifle, and began his shooting spree. In the café were…
A group of people on an outing, taking a break from caring for sick family members with cancer…
Workers, cooks, and other staff of Port Arthur…
Families having a simple lunch in a café…
Bryant’s wake inside the café resulted in 20 people killed and 12 injured in 90 seconds.
Moving to the parking lot, he opened fire on people trying to hide in and around two buses outside. People running to the historical site and down the road and along the shore tried to escape. By the time the shooter got in his car and left the parking lot, his toll was 26 dead and 18 injured.
Although the recount of the massacre is horrifying and unsettling, the most heinous and sickening portion of the tale involves that of Alannah, Madeline, and Nanette Mikac. Fleeing the parking lot on foot, Nanette was carrying her three-year-old daughter Madeline with six-year-old Alannah just in front of her. Bryant caught up with them, made Nanette kneel and shot her in the temple and killed her while she was begging for the lives of her children. He then shot Madeline twice—in the shoulder and chest—and then chased Alannah into the woods and shot her in the neck, killing both children.
I immediately get a picture in my head of a three-year-old Minnie, falling at the hands of a brutal, heartless killer and his bullet with no name on it. I fight not to swoon right then and there at the horrendous mental image, but the helpless feeling only lasts a moment. What kind of monster chases down and murders helpless children? As the killer’s face forms in my mind’s eye coming for my babies, all I can think of is, “Not if I see you first, motherfucker!”
At the toll booth ahead, he shot four more people and injured one, then carjacked the BMW of his victims. At a service station further up the road, he kidnapped a man and shoved him in the trunk of his car, shooting and killing his girlfriend in their Toyota Corolla. The toll is now 34 dead and 19 injured.
Bryant returned to the scene of the original crime with his hostage. When he arrived, he began shooting into passing cars, injuring four more people, two of which stopped at a nearby establishment and called the police. After an 18-hour standoff where he killed his hostage and set the building on fire where he was holed-up, he was arrested and hospitalized for his injuries.
His family says that Bryant was distressed by his father’s suicide—that he felt the Martins purchased a guest house at Seascape that his father was trying to purchase, causing some hardship for the killer’s family, and setting the rampage into motion as he killed the Martins first and ended up back at that location at the end of the situation where he was arrested. Apparently, the events that set him off were well before Bryant’s inheritance, as he was apparently very well off. All accounts say that his father died three years prior… three years, he held this grudge then went on a shooting spree.
The final toll on April 28, 1996—35 people killed, 23 wounded.
There are still varying judgments about Bryant’s mental state and capacity, including one that he has no recollection of the events of the massacre. However, this horrible event was the catalyst for the gun laws in place in Australia today.
Having had enough of death, brutality, psychological torment, and murder, I’m only too thrilled to leave Port Arthur and board the shuttle to the Tasman National Park. I sit in deep contemplation of the stories that I heard today—men being driven out of their minds in solitary confinement; harsh and brutal punishments meant to break the bodies and souls of even the most hardened criminals; serial killers chasing down and murdering little girls…
There was a boys prison somewhere in the area, too—a boys prison! What could a young boy have possibly done to be shipped from England to here in the 19th Century—a trip that normally takes eight months? And at the end of the harbor, there’s a little island full of nothing but dead people, said to house the marked and unmarked graves of 800-1100 people. That’s a lot of damn dead bodies!
With all this beauty, manicured lawns, memorials, and historical importance, all I gathered from this place is death and suffering. I could feel the helplessness of the prisoners in the separate prison and the longing of those who watch the water through the bars of the main penitentiary. And now, I’m not so convinced that Christian didn’t hear one of the previous occupants coughing in one of the cells. I’m not even sure how people can live here now…
I don’t know what my face is saying, but my husband is prompted to inquire about my state of mind. I look at him, then at Laura and Jaxon, and back out the window, shaking my head slightly.
“Right now, I’m having a TMI overload,” I say.
“Ah, Poht Ahthuh can do thaht to ya,” Jaxon says with a nod.
“Why do people come to hear these stories?” I ask, turning on him for answers, frantic and a bit angry. “There’s nothing here but tales of heartache and misery, death and murder. I know there’s history here and I’m supposed to see the historical value, but I’m sorry, I don’t see it. I just see despair and death with a beautiful garden that’s grown over and a memorial where dozens of people were killed for no good reason at all—there was no statement trying to be made, no protest, nothing. Just an idiot who claims that he doesn’t remember what happened. I’m not saying that it’s okay to kill somebody for those other reasons, but…” I trail off, too angry and unable to finish my point.
“TMI,” I repeat. “I could’ve gone my whole life not hearing the story about those two little girls being chased down by that murderer. We paid for this?” I say to Christian.
“OI know this is a hahd playce foh someone to swallow,” Jaxon begins, “but in tha wayke of the tragedy, Australia has some o’ tha strictest gun lahs in the wohld. Amehrica could lehn from thaht considehring the tragedies we always see on tha news.”
“You’re only partially correct, there, Jaxon,” I argue. “With the mass and school shootings, there does need to be some kind of gun control. Unfortunately, at this point, Australia’s example isn’t going to work for the United States.” Jaxon frowns.
“Whoi not?” he asks nonplussed.
“America’s too far gone, dear,” Laura interjects. “Australia had the right idea. As soon as they saw a problem, they zoomed in on it. America waited too long.” Jaxon looks from his wife to me and I nod.
“If America tried to do the sweeping gun laws that Australia has now, law-abiding citizens would turn in their guns and the criminals and gang members would still have theirs,” I say. Jaxon turns to Christian.
“Australia nipped the problem before it became an epidemic,” Christian tells him. “As harsh as this sounds, the best way I can describe it is to compare it to a person inflicted with a fatal disease, like cancer. Australia caught it and stopped it at the initial tumor. America’s in stage four. Can something be done about it? A lot of people seem to think so, but in the meantime, people still want to protect themselves.”
Jaxon looks from face to face as if he can’t believe what he’s hearing, which he probably can’t.
“OI don think OI could live loike thaht,” Jaxon says. “OI’d be in constant feah of tha Puhge!”
“A lot of people are, Jax,” Laura says for me. “A lot of people are.”
I’m able to decompress a bit during the hour or so that we spend at the National Park. We start at Pirate’s Bay, where there is a rugged coastline and rocky formations known as tessellated Pavement. This unusual and rare feature appears in flat sedimented rock formations on ocean shores. The rock has fractured into rectangular squares that look like tiles called tessellations. This is one of the natural wonders in Tasmania said to be caused by the salt water settling on the rocks and causing both concave and convex tessellations.
We then spend some time at the famed Tasman Arch and Devil’s Kitchen, two of Tasmania’s famous natural phenomena. Watching the beautiful water and studying the stratification of the rocks helped to calm my uneasiness from the tour we took earlier this morning. The nature walks also contributed to bringing me back from the edge.
Jaxon tells us about real Tasmanian devils which, by the way, look nothing like the cartoon. I’m dying to know where they got that concept from because besides the fact that Tasmanian devils are scavengers, they don’t destroy everything they touch. We don’t actually get to see any because they are in preserves in the north, but Jaxon seems to know a lot about them.
I get the idea about the incoherent noise, because when they find a carcass, they let loose this scream that attracts other devils—like a dinner bell. They have to do this because even though their jaws are strong and their teeth are sharp, they’re so small that they can’t tear a carcass apart on their own. However, with the help of a few friends, they’ll leave absolutely nothing behind.
There are a lot of “devil” preserves, but not many Tasmanian devils in the wild. The ones in the wild are dying off because they’re infected or diseased with a form of face cancer. They pass it among each other by biting each other in the face when they’re trying to tear apart a carcass. As a result, a lot of Tasmanian devils in the wild have died, and preserves are waiting for the rest of them to die off before they release the healthy ones into the wild to rejuvenate the population.
Believe it or not, I can’t wait to end this excursion and get back onto the ship. The trek through the Tasman National Park was beautiful with its nature walks and natural geological wonders, but this part of Tasmania has left a bad taste in my mouth, and I’m ready to go. I opt to forego the late lunch on the island and get back on the early water shuttle back to the ship. I tell the rest of my party that they are free to stay, but this place is really messing with me and I need to get away from it.
“Guys, why don’t you go and… do guy things? I’d like to talk to Ana for a while,” Laura says once we get back to the ship. Christian looks at me, then at Jason.
“Ben can come with me if you like,” I say, noting the concern in Christian’s face.
“Um, sir, you should be okay on the ship… remember?” Jason says.
“I… would feel better if Lawrence were with her…” because you’re not with me. “No offense, Laura…”
“None taken,” Laura says, waving him off. “I’ve seen him be invisible. I just want to have a little chat with Ana.” Christian still looks uneasy.
“I promise, I won’t run off and join any convents or rock bands,” I say, kissing him on the cheek. “C’mon, Ben.”
Laura and I leave Jason and Jaxon to tend to Christian and she and I head to a blues spot called Maderno’s for a late lunch, with Ben close behind.
“You and Christian are opposites,” she says. “Same… but different.”
“You’re right,” I say, examining the menu.
“You’ve got a big monster in your closet.” My head jerks up from my menu and I glare at her. “And I’m right about that, too.”
How could she possibly know that?
“Our monsters are strange things, Ana,” she continues. “They follow us everywhere and they manifest themselves in different forms. They pop up when we least expect them and when we least want them, and they scare the shit out of us.”
Suddenly, my guard is down. I’m immediately open and raw and I want to cry.
“It’s okay,” she says. “I consider us friends and I hope you do, too, even if we never see each other again.” I clear my throat uncomfortably.
“I consider us friends,” I choke, barely able to get my words out.
“Good,” she says. “Waiter?” She waves one of the servers over. “We’re going to need two hurricanes, the smoked mozzarella ravioli in lobster cream sauce and the New England Clam chowder.” He nods and he’s off. I didn’t even order and that sounds really good, except…
“What’s a hurricane?” I ask.
“Some delicious fruit juices, and a lot of rum,” she says. I look over at Ben, who nods at me.
“Sounds like my kind of drink,” I reply.
Two hurricanes and two appetizers later, I’m tearing into the breaded flounder fillet while Laura is chomping on shrimp and mushroom Alfredo. The hurricanes were to burn the Tassie experience out of me and help me loosen up about my monsters.
“My monsters don’t seem so big lately,” I confess. “At first, it seemed all encompassing, but over the last few weeks or so, not so much.”
“What’s been going on over the last few weeks?” she asks, taking a healthy forkful of her Alfredo.
“Well, for one thing, I’ve been focusing on everybody else’s problems but my own,” I say.
“Okay, that could mean a couple of things. What else?”
“I haven’t seen my shrink,” I confess. “He kicked me out of his office a few weeks ago and he cancelled my last two appointments.”
“How have you been dealing with the monsters since then?”
“Journaling,” I reply. “Meditating… when I get the chance. So much has happened that I don’t get the chance to meditate and my journal entries are mainly about other people.”
“Well, that concerns me,” she says. “Your monsters don’t just go away, and as soon as you’re rid of all these distractions, they’ll be back. You’re not dealing with them, Ana, you’re avoiding them.”
“How did you know I had monsters in the first place?” I ask. We’ve talked about some things, but nothing in grand detail.
“The way you reacted to Port Arthur,” she replies. “I told you I’m a spirit guide. You weren’t simply dismayed by the stories you heard and the vibes you got from that place. You were offended. You were offended for the convicts. You were offended for the children in the boys’ prison. You were offended for all those bodies on the Isle of the Dead. You were offended for all those people who were killed at the Broad Arrow Café. The dead spoke to you—they gave you their outrage and you carried it, because you have a like monster. Now, you’re drinking spirits and chasing the other spirits away. It doesn’t always work, but it doesn’t stop people from trying to make it work. That’s how alcoholics become alcoholics.”
“If you know this, why did you give me alcohol?” I ask.
“Because you needed to chase the other monsters away, and now there’s nothing left but yours. Tell me about them.”
I furrow my brow. Do I want to tell her this?
“You haven’t spoken to your shrink in weeks. Tell me about them. I don’t need to know what brought them on, I just need to know what they are.” I sigh and roll my eyes.
“I had something really bad happen to me as a kid,” I say.
“Yes, I remember the reference to the tattoo.” I finish my hurricane.
“It wasn’t until I became an adult that the monsters really came out. Things started happening—crazy shit, regular life shit, just shit. Now, I’m just afraid that the monsters are all going to eat me up.”
“Which monsters are going to eat you?” she asks. I shrug.
“The monsters that are coming to get me,” I say, and I sound like a toddler to myself. Her brow furrows and she ponders my statement for a moment.
“Oh,” she says in sudden realization. “So, you’re not afraid of present monsters. You’re afraid of the monsters that are coming.”
“Yes!” I say, my voice sounding like “Eureka!”
“So, what are you going to tell Minnie?” she asks. I frown.
“What?” I’m confused.
“What are you going to tell Minnie?” she repeats. “You’re her mother. You’re her first line of defense; her female role model. What are you going to tell her when her monsters come—to be afraid of them before they even get there? What do you tell the people seeking sanctuary at the help center? They’ve got some real monsters. What would you tell your patients? Why is any of this stuff that you would say to them—to your daughter—not good enough for you?
“Yesterday, you sat on a bus… or somewhere… and declared that you were tired of women hating on you because you’re beautiful and your husband is beautiful. You’re willing to take control of a bunch of catty bitches that you may never see again—who’ll only have an effect on you for the moment, but you can’t conquer impending monsters? The monsters are in your head. What sense does that make?
“Knowing and fearing that the monsters are coming is a very natural thing, but knowing that they’re coming gives you plenty of time to prepare for them. You don’t fall prey to them, Ana. You get ready for them and then you battle them. You’ll win some, you’ll lose some, but they. Won’t. Kill you. And guess what? That which does not kill us only makes us stronger.
“We’re all going to die one day,” she says, finishing her second hurricane. “One day, a hundred years from now, we’re not going to be here anymore. Are we going to sit right now in fear of that day? That’s the ultimate monster, when everything that we know in this life on this side ends. So, we’re going to sit every day and wait for it to end? Fear death’s arrival every day?
“I’m not! I’m going to live. I’m going to eat well, exercise, and do what I can to fend off this monster as long as possible. I’m going to live right, make good decisions, and when I see the monster coming—in dangerous situations, in bad habits, in illegal activities, in toxic people—then I’m going to avoid those things. And I’m going to do that for every monster that crosses my path. I’m going to analyze the situation, come up with a solution, then I’m going to implement a plan. If the monster gets the best of me, then I’ll implement another one. No monster—no monster—is bigger than me, but they’re always going to come. And what am I going to do… hide from them? Be afraid of them? Might as well send the big monster now if that’s what I’m going to do.
“You can’t pretend the monsters aren’t there, and you can’t run from them, but you know what? They don’t have to run your life. You grab those sons of bitches by the throat and you show them who’s boss. Only one of you can dominate the present—you or the monster. So, which one of you is it going to be? He has to go and find something else to do, someone else to terrorize, or die completely while you’re dominating the present. And what are you doing while he’s dominating the present—cowering in a corner? Crying and praying and hoping that he’ll go away? Living your entire life in fear when there’s nothing in front of you but opportunity?
“Here’s the thing, Ana,” she says, turning to face me, “you’re a spiritual being. We’re all spiritual beings, but yours is on display. It’s on your sleeve. I can see it… I can feel it. When you went to Port Arthur, you’re one of those people who connected with the troubled spirits there. At the risk of sounding hokey, do you remember the movie Ghost?”
“Who doesn’t?” Patrick Swayze at his hottest… except maybe for Dirty Dancing… What were we talking about again?
“You remember Whoopi Goldberg’s character, Oda Mae?” I look at her and twist my lips. “Okay, you know who I’m talking about. Do you remember every ghost in the city came to her house because they found out that she could hear them?”
“Yes?” I answer skeptically. Where is she going with this?
“It’s the same concept. You showed up and you caused a ripple in the continuum and all those spirits were drawn to you. You were bombarded by the spirits, and you were overwhelmed by all the death of all those people who died on that island. Whether they died in the prisons, at work in the fields, or from one of the bullets from Bryant’s gun, those spirits were drawn to you. We’re not talking about those people who lived there and lived out their long, happy lives and died with their family members surrounding them. Those people are at peace. We’re talking about the ones who died in turmoil—the souls who were tormented beings while they were alive or untimely ripped from their bodies during that massacre.
“You showed up and you picked that burden up at the prison. Then you went to the café and you picked up a few more. You carried it through the park and all the way back on the shuttle ride to the starting point. By the time you got back to the starting point, you were so angry at death—just another monster—that your day was over. Port Arthur held nothing more for you and you wanted to get as far away from it as possible. So, we came back to the boat. The problem is that the spirits are still in a state of unrest, and it’s all over you.
“But here’s the thing—that’s nothing any different than what happens to any other spiritual being. Having control over that spirituality is what makes one able to overcome those feelings. They’re able to conquer it and let it go, not live in it. They use their inner strength, their chakra, their chi—whatever it is you draw on—to overcome the anger or the overwhelming anguish, and you couldn’t. You have so many things holding onto your spirit that these spirits latched on, too. If you’re walking along with trash in your hand and you see a pile of garbage, your mind would say, ‘I need to find a garbage can,’ but human nature will throw it on the top of that pile.”
I kind of hate to admit that she’s right.
“That’s the same concept with all these spirits jumping on you,” she continues. “You’ve got the one friend who lost her mother, the other friend who just had an abortion, the other friend who was ambushed by her grandmother, and whatever else you have on your plate, and these restless spirits see this and they’re like ‘Hey, let’s hitch a ride!’ That’s why I was able to pinpoint your spirituality. Spirits know spirits, girl.
“So, here’s my question. We’re going to leave Port Arthur, and those spirits stuck here are not going to be an issue for you anymore. You’re not the first person who has had that kind of reaction to this place, and you won’t be the last. Then you’re going to go back to Washington and one way or another, all those problems and issues and monsters and spirits are all going to work themselves out, too. So, what are you going to do when theirs are gone and you’re face-to-face with your own monsters again?
“You’re in a constant state of Armageddon and you can’t survive that way—you’ll go crazy. Bad things happen. They’re going to happen again. They make us fight to overcome so that we can return to and appreciate the good times. So, are you going to let them run your life? If you do, you’re already dead. The entire concept behind living, being alive and being able to survive the bad is the reality of knowing that you can defeat the monsters. Even if you have to defeat them repeatedly, you can still beat ‘em! People can be fatally ill—they can have a death sentence and somehow come back. It’s the will to live, the will to fight, the will to win. How do you think people beat cancer?”
The will to live, the will to fight…
I was constantly afraid of things that go bump in the night. Was afraid? Fuck, am afraid…
Suddenly, I’m seeing myself in everything that she’s saying.
He did a background check on me and I immediately went spiraling down the vortex of oh-my-God-they’re-after-me.
He came back home after a bit of soul-searching and suggested that we maybe postpone the wedding. I saw the death of all my future happiness and ran off to Montana.
The moment I found out that I was pregnant, I was afraid for the embryos to face the world.
I was frozen with fear when Christian was facing off with Robin Myrick and the hackers to the degree that I basically threatened Brian to keep him safe.
Granted, him running off to Madrid shook everything I knew, but even after he came back, I couldn’t see any horizon—nothing but gloom and fear and unhappiness, waiting for the next shoe to drop or the next boulder to fall.
And then, there’s Val… fighting that tumor and not even knowing if any of her friends would be there when she awoke… if she awoke. She named her monster, her unwelcome intruder. She named it Meg, a harmless little name for something that she planned to fight with every fiber of her being.
And she did.
She fought through surgery, through radiation and chemotherapy, through getting her head shaved and losing all of her hair, even through Kate fucking Kavanaugh tripping her at a garden party… and that ugly yellow house that she loves so much.
Meg… she calls it Meg.
What do I call mine—Boogeyman. Why? Because the Boogeyman is usually something you can’t beat. He’s the all-knowing, all-seeing manifestation of all things scary; the opposite of Santa Claus and worse than the devil; the scary blob of nothing that makes children behave for fear that he’ll “come and get me.”
I made it real. I gave it life. It may have started as a Meg, but I gave it life. I gave it the omnipotence of the Boogeyman.
I had the answer to my monsters all along and I’ve been sitting here… what? Hiding? Cowering? Shrinking? What? I can’t believe it was this simple all this time.
Accept the monsters. They’re going to come. It’s a part of life.
Be prepared for the monsters, but don’t live in them. Don’t sit there and let them run your life.
Do what you must to build up your armor so that you can fight when they come…
But you can’t let Meg live while you die.
Isn’t that what everybody was telling you all along?
They might have been, but I couldn’t hear them. They weren’t saying it in a way I could understand.
“I see the light,” Laura says. “I see it in your eyes. Let’s go to the spa and cleanse before it gets away…”
I’m lying on a hot thermal bench after a shampoo, condition, and scalp massage with some kind of homeopathic sacs on my eyes to help with the swelling from my crying. When did I cry? Right after a session of acupuncture. I cried like a damn baby. I felt like those tiny little needles were antennae drawing the weight of the world out of my body through those tiny holes… and through my tears. Waterlogged from my Sob-Fest, I followed the spa technicians as they guided me through a rainwater therapy shower-like hallway where seven different settings helped to release tension, wash away toxins, and aid in regaining my composure.
After a luxury facial that leaves my face as smooth as a baby’s bottom and a foot massage that pops nearly every joint in my feet, I take to an amber quartz crystal bed for the final soothing massage to release what’s left of my tension—a gentle rubdown with eucalyptus and juniper oil…
… on the heated quartz crystal table. It’s magnificent and I totally forget where I am.
Now, I’m left to finish my cleansing on the heated thermal bench—it feels like sitting in a dry hot tub—and ponder all things Boogeyman. Why does my mind immediately go to the worst things that could possibly happen? If I were shrinking myself, what would I say about this…? What would I tell Minnie…?
“Mrs. G, you’re suffering from the worst type of phobia there is—phobophobia, the fear of fear. You’re afraid of being afraid… so afraid in fact that it has you paralyzed. You’re unable to make any solid decisions about your life or the future, afraid to step left or right because the unknown may come and gobble you up… may come. You almost stepped your drunk ass off a cliff three months ago, and what could have happened to you doesn’t scare you as much as what could happen, what’s waiting around the corner. Never mind the very clear and present danger of falling your ass off a cliff… No, you’re more concerned about the fact that Mr. G left you all alone and even though he’s back, you still can’t deal with the uncertainty. Uncertainty… there’s the worst phobia of all. You know what it’s called? Being human.”
I wasn’t always like this, at least I don’t remember always being like this. Even after Green Valley, when I came back to Seattle and slowly began to find my way, I remember finding some modicum of peace. What happened? What changed?
“Minnie, it’s a scary world out there, I know. Sometimes, it seems like things are all coming to get you at once, but I promise that it won’t always be that way. There’ll be good times and fun times, things to make you happy. When the bad times come, my little princess, you have to be strong. You have to believe in yourself and know that the bad times won’t last. You have to know that sometimes, you may have to endure some things—to wait them out—but other times, you can conquer those things. You can be your very own superhero and defeat the monsters. It won’t be easy, Minnie Mouse, but it’ll be worth it. And you won’t be alone. Even though there are some monsters that you may have to fight by yourself, there are a lot of people who love you very much, and they will never leave you alone. Remember, baby girl, you’re strong. You come from good stock, and you can conquer anything that comes your way. I love you.”
I’d like to say that I’m all better—I’m not, but at least I have a clearer and more productive perspective of what I’m dealing with… and it only took an island full of dead people, two hurricanes, and a spirit guide.
Butterfly had a hard time with the Port Arthur tour. I’ll admit it was pretty creepy, especially that coughing that I know I heard in that cell, but she had a particularly rough time with it. I don’t think I’ve seen anything affect her quite like that. She wasn’t just affected; she was angry.
And I could almost feel the souls at that café crying for justice. That maniac that shot all those people is living and getting fat in jail. He’s not being punished for his crimes because whether he was or is mentally unstable or he doesn’t remember what happened, he couldn’t possibly care about jail if he killed all those people. The most feeling he had was running out of that burning room right before he was captured.
I’ve had enough of chewing the fat and sitting in the humidor with Jaxon. As he enjoys his cigar, he and Jason talk a bit about soccer… oh, I’m sorry… football. I’m not a smoker and while I don’t mind cigar smoke that much, we’ve been in here for the entire cigar, and it’s starting to irritate my eyes.
Cigar smoke doesn’t bother me as such. At the risk of sounding like the snob that I am, it has a more distinguished aroma than cigarette smoke—the good ones, anyway. Besides, cigarette smoke reminds me of… him.
Jaxon accommodates me once I’ve had enough of the humidor and we go in search of our women. Jason confirms with Lawrence that they’re in the spa. Good. That’s exactly what she needed. We enter the luxury spa—even grander than Miana’s—and I spot Lawrence sitting in the lounge with a magazine.
“Sir,” he says, standing and acknowledging my presence.
“Where’s my wife?” I ask.
“Inside, sir,” he says.
“Why are you out here?” I say, somewhat demanding.
“This is as far as I go, sir,” he replies. “I couldn’t very well watch them get their treatments.”
“Of course,” I say, a bit more contrite. “How did she seem?” He twists his lips.
“Uneasy,” he says honestly. “She and the lady had an extensive conversation to which I was not privy, an impressive lunch, and two hurricanes… each.”
“Whoa,” Jaxon replies. I look over at him.
“Something I should know?” I ask. He raises his brow.
“D’ya knoh whaht a Huhricayne is?” he asks. I shake my head.
“No. Should I?” He chuckles a bit and Jason flexes his jaw and rubs his neck.
“In laymen’s tuhms,” Jaxon says, “a Huhricayne is one paht rum, one paht fruit juice, anothah paht rum, and anothah paht rum.” Jason hides his snicker at Jaxon’s description.
“So, basically, my wife is pickled… again,” I reply.
“Well, once she comes out of there, she probably won’t be,” Jason says gesturing to the spa. Jaxon nods.
“We’re fine from here, gentlemen,” I say to my security staff. I assure Jason that we won’t be needing them for the rest of the night and that I won’t let Butterfly out of my sight before dismissing him and Lawrence to try to have a little fun on our last evening on the ship. Jaxon and I enter the spa and go in search of our wives. We don’t have to look far before we see Laura sitting in a section of floating chairs over what looks like sand sipping tea and eating mango and cantaloupe slices.
“Thehre’s my possum,” Jaxon says upon seeing Laura, who raises her gaze and smiles at him.
“Hello, pet,” she coos when she sees him.
Oh, dear God, if you only knew. That’s even worse. I look just past where she’s seated and I can see a woman in a room laying prostrate on a table with some kind of sacks over her eyes… like tea bags. Even with her hair wrapped, I know that’s my Butterfly. I’d know that body anywhere, even though she’s not moving, barely breathing. She looks serene… too serene.
“You look concerned,” Laura says, drawing my attention to her and away from Butterfly. I don’t respond. I don’t really know what to say.
“It was a rough day,” she adds, and I turn back to Butterfly. I watch her silently for a moment…
“We had a long talk.”
Laura’s voice draws my gaze back to her and I realize that it must have been more than a moment that I was gazing at Butterfly, because Jaxon is gone, and I didn’t even notice he left.
“She’s carrying a lot of demons,” Laura continues, gesturing to one of the floating chairs. I feel strange having this conversation with her. Is she about to betray a confidence by telling me the content of their conversation? Should I decline her invitation and wait for Butterfly to reveal these things to me?
Then again, how many opportunities present themselves to get an objective insight into your girl’s mind? I reluctantly, and anxiously, take a seat next to her.
Wow, these floating chairs are really comfortable.
“She’s a strange bird,” Laura says. “She’s an anomaly to most ‘regular’ folks, but I come across people like her all the time.”
“People like her?” I ask. Laura nods.
“She’s intuitive. She’s more spiritual than natural, empathetic almost to a fault. She’s in the right profession—therapy and emotionally helping people who need it, but she’s got to learn to leave their demons at the door.”
I can’t argue with that.
“She’s loyal—faithful even if it’s to her own detriment. She’ll need you to guide her through that, to ground her…”
“How am I supposed to do that?” I interrupt. Hell, she grounds me. I’m the unstable one in this relationship… aren’t I?
“You are the hand that holds her, that keeps her aligned and steady. She guides the world, but you guide her.” I shake my head.
“I think you’ve got that backwards,” I confess. I’m the one with control of the world. I’m the Master of the Universe. She’s the one that keeps me in place—helps me to remember that I’m only human.
“Do I?” she asks, swinging one foot casually in the chair.
“I think so,” I reinforce.
“Did you fall apart when you left?” she asks. I’m taken aback. This conversation has gone much deeper than I thought.
“So,” I begin, “she told you about our very temporary split.” Laura raises a surprised brow at me.
“Yes, but… she didn’t call it that,” she reveals. “Have you ever put a name to what happened?”
You mean like Liamgate? Liam… asshole.
“No, not really.”
“That could be one of the reasons that she’s having such a hard time with it,” she continues. “Was it a break-up or a break? How likely is it to happen again? You talked about the effects, but did you name the situation—actually tag what it really was?”
“We talked about it extensively,” I defend, “to nearly everyone that would listen—family, friends, her shrink, my shrink, she journals, we meditate… we’ve beat this horse about as much as it can be beaten…”
“And yet it lives,” Laura says.
Good grief, is this woman licensed?
“She’s already very spiritual, but she’s still an open wound,” she continues. “She’s like Velcro, and the demons and the spirits and the needy all flock to her. She’s a welcome mat and a door mat at the same time, and that’s why she was so overwhelmed by Port Arthur. It’s still open and it still leaves her vulnerable, and you may not have named it, but she did. She gave it a name. She calls it the Boogeyman.” I frown.
“I think you may have misunderstood,” I say. “The Boogeyman is her constant fear that something bad is going to happen.”
“I didn’t misunderstand,” she replies. “She’s had all kinds of bad things happen in her lifetime, and she may have retroactively related this fear to things that have happened to her before, but the Boogeyman didn’t show up until you went to Madrid.”
I fall silent, unable to dispute that most recent point of fact.
“The Boogeyman is not her fear of bad things happening—that’s just how she relates it. She felt safe and comfortable and confident and that security was unexpectedly ripped from her. All she was left with was uncertainty, complete and total uncertainty—nothing in front of her but a black hole. Nothing escapes from a black hole, Christian, not even light. And you wonder why when she slipped into hopelessness, she couldn’t get out.
“Fear is a very powerful thing, but fear doesn’t just happen. Something brings it on. She didn’t just wake up and decide the Apocalypse was around the corner. Something ripped her from her happy place, threw her into the abyss, and she’s been trying to climb out of it all this time. All of the clinical diagnoses and the opinions and points of others may have been correct—even helpful—but none of them turned that spotlight onto that darkness that’s inside her devouring her from the inside out. Then again, none of them could. Only she can do that.
“The Boogeyman is the manifestation of the fact that everything that she thought was, wasn’t. It’s the tangible reality that the security she thought she had could be ripped from her at any moment, because it was. We can try to put it into a different compartment all we want, but it is what it is.”
“We’ve taken breaks from each other before,” I protest. “It was hard, but the bottom didn’t fall out from under our lives. She took the time that she needed, then she came back, and we put our lives back together again. Why does this have to be different?”
I don’t know what I’m looking for. Maybe I’m looking for an escape from this responsibility—some other answer besides the fact that in leaving the way that I did, I totally broke my wife. She seemed to be dealing with things pretty well with the passing of time and her coping techniques, but it looks like that fucking trip to Port Arthur set her all the way back to the beginning.
“Are you talking about her trip to Montana?” Reluctantly, I nod. “Here’s the big difference between her escape to Montana and your escape to Madrid. Contrary to your belief that it lies in the commitment that you have now versus what you had then, that’s not true. It lies in what you’re not seeing and the message that each of you got when the other left.
“When Ana left, nobody but her assistant knew that she was gone, and even she didn’t know where Ana had gone. No one knew—her family, her friends, you, no one. Unless she was going to close up her practice and start a whole new life somewhere, you knew that she was coming back. You didn’t know what the circumstances would be when she returned, but you knew she was coming back.
“When you left, you took what you needed with you—you had your money and took Jason. As far as she could tell, you didn’t need to come back. You didn’t need her; you didn’t need your children; you could run your empire from anywhere, and you did. You left her the man that you were when you met her—cold, distant, a total loner—you and your security, and neither of you were forthcoming with information. All she was left with was ‘What do I do now?’
“You guys have talked about it and you hashed out your feelings, but you never made it an isolated incident. It’s a manifestation of everything bad that can happen. The bottom line, it’s the Boogeyman.”
Jesus, how long were we in that damn humidor?
“Well, then, what we really need to do is just isolate this thing, right?” She shakes her head.
“It’s too late for that,” she replies. “She has to battle that monster now, and you can’t battle it for her. She’s a strong woman, and you know that, but she’s delicate and sensitive, too. When it comes to you, you give her credit for her strength because she’s your anchor… but you don’t recognize her emotional weaknesses until she breaks down, and by then, the damage is already done. I understand that she’s your pillar, and I can see how and why, but you’re hers, too. You need each other, and when one is left with the uncertainty of not being able to have the other, the world falls apart.”
God, she’s so right. Nothing left me feeling more like a half a man than those twelve days that Butterfly was in a coma… not knowing if she would come back to me, not being able to see past the sixty days that I definitely had with her before I had to decide to unplug her or keep her alive as an incubator. I physically shiver at the thought.
“I can see that you have a story, too,” Laura says, “but we don’t have the time to hash it out. Besides, I’m all out of hurricanes.”
“You would need a lifetime to hear my story,” I confess.
“No, not a lifetime, just a couple of hours and the right bits. How do you think Ana and I got so far?”
“I was just wondering that.” We both look back to the room where Butterfly is lounging just beyond the glass door.
“We’re all connected in some way, Christian,” she says. “It’s a matter of being able to let your guard down and let someone else in. She can do that easily. You, not so much.” She’s got that right.
“Where did Jaxon get off to?” I ask, feeling a bit too vulnerable. She smiles.
“The barber shop,” she says. “Through the lounge and to your right.” I rise from the chair.
“Thanks… for the talk,” I say. She nods once.
“Woild hohrses wouldn’t pull you away from thaht dohr,” Jaxson says when I ask why he didn’t invite me to the barber shop with him. “OI thought OI’d get meself a shayve n’ bockeh.” I frown and look at the barber.
“Shave and a haircut, two bits,” he says, singing the old jingle. I mouth an “oh” and nod.
“I think I’ll have the same,” I say. I had no idea what I was in for when I said that.
Sometime later, I emerge from the “barber shop” having a love/hate relationship with the staff there. My hair has been cut shorter than it ever has been before. My beard is trimmed to such precision that it almost looks drawn on my face. My nose hairs and eyebrows have been waxed… waxed! After that torture session, I was treated to an exfoliating facial scrub and steam, a five-minute jaw massage along with a neck and shoulder massage with a Sandlewood fragrance oil accompanied by a shot of fine whiskey to help ease the sting of having my skin ripped off! Jesus, women do this regularly?
I’m not so pissed when I look in the mirror and see the results. Shit. I don’t think I was this sharp on my wedding day.
When I get back to the spa, Laura and Butterfly are already gone, so Jaxon and I head back to our staterooms. Butterfly isn’t there either, but there’s a note on the table as soon as I enter the room.
Gone to Laura’s room to change for the evening. Tonight is semi-formal, so dress appropriately. We’ll meet you at Cagney’s Theater at seven.
Before I have a chance to wonder where Jaxon is changing since Butterfly has gone to their stateroom, he’s knocking at the door of my cabin with a garment bag in his hand. I can’t help but laugh when I let him in.
“So, tonight is our last night on board,” I tell Jaxon.
“Yeh. Lahrie told me. She’s feelin’ a bit bummed about it. Sez she nevah had a friend she could relayte to loike Ahnah. We’ll prob’ly nevah get tha two o’ them off the ‘Book.”
“The Book?” I ask, bemused.
“Faycebook,” Jaxon laughs. “Yoh a bit sheltahed thehre, Chris?”
“No,” I chuckle, “not at all. It’s just not feasible for me or my wife to be on social media.”
“OI’ll give it a week,” he taunts. “Get ready, Chris!”
We get to deck seven where the theater is, and I question Jaxon about what show we’re going to see. I’m certain that I hear nothing he’s saying, because as we bend the corner, I see a crowd of about five young men and in the center of them are our wives. Laura speaks to one of them while Butterfly stands demurely holding her clutch.
As usual, she’s fucking exquisite.
My heart actually begins to race when I see her. She’s wearing a beautifully modest black full-length sheath halter dress. The top looks like embroidered lace with a choker collar in the front—no splits this time, but she doesn’t need one to still look absolutely stunning. Her sunkissed skin is glowing and radiant, her mahogany mane full and shiny, cascading over her shoulders.
I know why women dislike her so. They want what she has—and I don’t mean money or even me. They want that class, sophistication, and ethereal natural beauty that she possesses… and they become angry with her because they don’t have it. Women often try to imitate her charm and elegance, but they fail miserably. They either come off overdressed, overdone, or skanky, but not my wife. Her beauty, grace, and sex appeal are effortless. No wonder men can’t control themselves around her. She’s a goddess. She leaves them powerless to behave themselves, poor suckers… and she’s mine, all mine.
My feet are frozen in their spot and I can’t stop staring at her. I’m struck dumb like the very first time I saw her. I’m afraid if I try to go to her, I might trip over my own feet and face-plant in the middle of the floor. She laughs sweetly, then her eyes lock with mine.
I don’t know how the space closes between us, but in a moment, she’s standing in front of me.
“You’re beautiful,” I say.
“So are you,” she breathes. I cup her face and place a gentle kiss on her lips.
“Of couhse,” I hear someone lament. “Wy too hoht to beh hehr alone. C’mon, boys.”
Yes, run along, boys.
I admire my wife for a few moments more before I take her hand and we enter the theater.
I try to pay attention to the show—a Broadway review of hit songs from various shows. It’s actually very good, but I can’t help staring at my Butterfly. She’s glowing, like she’s shed the weight of the world and aged backwards five years or so. I just want to hold her and watch the moonlight dance off her skin. Luckily, the stage lighting has the same effect as it shines into the audience. As a result, I see more of my wife than I do of the show.
When the show is over, we’re trying to decide which restaurant we’ll visit for our last night on board. Laura and Jaxon will finish the cruise back to Sydney, but Butterfly and I will debark in Melbourne to fly to Adelaide and spend the weekend in the Barossa Valley. As we’re passing the Grand Plaza, I take note of the martini bar we visited—still open—and the fact that no one is at the piano. I stop walking and my wife looks at me strangely. I pull her over to the white baby grand and take a seat on the bench. When she takes the seat next to me, I think of the shortest song that I can play and sing for her that has the least chance of being interrupted…
She may be the face I can’t forget
A trace of pleasure or regret
Maybe my treasure or the price I have to pay
She may be the song that summer sings
May be the chill that autumn brings
May be a hundred different things
Within the measure of a day.
Jaxon and Laura join us and stand next to the piano while various patrons of the piano bar or people just sitting in the lounge turn their attention to tonight’s impromptu entertainment.
She may be the beauty or the beast
May be the famine or the feast
May turn each day into a heaven or a hell.
She may be the mirror of my dreams
A smile reflected in a stream
She may not be what she may seem
Inside her shell…
I don’t know why I picked this song to sing. It just seems right and it’s short, but as I belt the song out in as mellow a voice as I can, I realize the words are perfect for the moment and for how I feel about her, especially in light of the conversation that I had with Laura this afternoon. Can I be that pillar that she needs to find her way back to the invincible Butterfly that she once was?
She who always seems so happy in a crowd
Whose eyes can be so private and so proud
No one’s allowed to see them when they cry…
She may be the love that cannot hope to last
May come to me from shadows of the past
That I’ll remember till the day I die…
Jesus, that’s a bit depressing. Time to bring this back around.
She may be the reason I survive
The why and wherefore I’m alive
The one I’ll care for through the rough and rainy years…
Me, I’ll take her laughter and her tears
And make them all my souvenirs
For where she goes, I’ve got to be
The meaning of my life is She.
Sheeeeeeeeee, oh, She…
My wife turns her beautiful, smiling blue eyes to me and my heart is quickly filled with love. I kiss her gently, and again before I rub my nose against hers.
“I love you so much,” I whisper.
“I know,” she replies. “I love you, too.”
I cup her neck and place my forehead on hers. Do you have any idea how much I love you? That I would do anything, give anything, just to see you happy?
If that’s true, why are you so hell bent on hurting her all the time?
A/N: The song that Christian sings to Ana is She by Elvis Costello.
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