-1Empty Vessel

My sister-in-law and I gave birth on the same day, only a few hours apart. We both gave birth to girls, in two different hospitals in southern Oregon. I hate to think about it, but I believe that something was created there. Something between those girls. Or maybe they created each other. That's another one of my theories. Her child was just an empty vessel with too many emotions. As was mine. But they both had enough capacity to fill each other up.

Fred was a shooing to die from the start. He was reckless. I can remember as far back to the childhood years, when he didn't have a care in the world. Maybe he never grew up, I have theories about that, too. Why Olivia chose him I've no idea. From the start of their relationship she seemed a sensible, smart, honest woman. Fred didn't seem her type. But they were married anyway.

It was the drugs that took Fred. He was your average junkie, and he had no intention of ever quitting. Even after that girl was born, he kept on just as strong as ever. Don't get me wrong, I have always loved Fred, but we used to be close, and he died at such a young age; I just cannot imagine what was going on in his mind. I suppose all addicts are that way.

The funny thing was, Olivia never even thought about divorcing him. They loved together 'til the day he died. The girl was only two. In fact, she had just turned two.

Olivia says that the problems with her little Aimee started when she was born. I don't know how she could ever tell, and I didn't even lay eyes on her 'til the Christmas on '93. She was four by then. She was a very pretty girl, I'll tell you that, but boy did she have a mouth. Olivia says, sure, there was always something about the girl, but when she got talking was when it all escalated. One minute the girl was happy, then next she was having a fit, the next she was cursing, the next she was mellow, and the next she was talking about sex! I witnessed it all with my own eyes when the girl was only four! I know Olivia is not at fault, she protected that girl from everything she could, even her own father. There was no TV or radio in the house, and the child was rarely allowed over to other kids' houses. There was a very big feeling of censorship in that household.

But the girl said the most awful and horrid things, anyway.

My girl wasn't like that. In fact, she rarely talked. From a very young age she seemed like she was trying to avoid everything. To avoid the world. She is me and my husband's only child. We were both praying for a boy when I was pregnant. Well, I was praying because he wanted it so bad. After all the praying I did, I was certain it would be a boy, so when she was born we already had a name picked out. Astor Damon. When the boy we wanted turned out to be a girl, I think my husband went into a depression or a denial, but I got a lot of theories. We named the girl our chosen name anyway.

But we always called her Damon. She wanted it that way. About the only time she talked to me was when she was reminding me that no, her name was not Astor, it was Damon. So we called her Damon. Damon always had that look in her eyes, not of hatred, but of pity. Why did she pity us? Did she think she was better than us, her own parents? It's a wonder that that shy, quiet child could scare the jesus out of me with just her eyes, but she did. And I often, very often, got mad at this. But I only hit her once. She was three, and I just couldn't take it anymore. That look in her eyes could kill even the toughest man.

But we pressed on, both my husband and I, and we tried so very hard to love her. We never talked about it, but I know for myself that I succeeded. I loved her. I couldn't help it. She was mine. She was me.

I didn't know what to think when Olivia called me up the day before Christmas Eve in 1993. I would understand it later, but at the time the frantic call in the middle of night seemed horribly unnecessary.

"Oh, Katherine, I just don't know what to do!" she rambled. She seemed so afraid. I had had to leave the room to talk for fear of waking Marshall, my husband. I don't think he would've been mad, but he most likely would have found the call equally unnecessary.

"What is it?" I asked in the most calming voice possible. I also didn't want to wake up Damon, so I sat at the kitchen table and talked. After Fred died, everything had changed between the two of us. I hadn't gone to his funeral, but there hardly was one. He was cremated.

"I need to get rid of her, I know it sounds horrible!" she began to cry, "Please take her, please, I beg of you! I don't want her to go anywhere else. I promise, it will only be for a few months, I need to get my head on straight. I need so, so much time without her. Oh, I know it sounds dreadful!"

I honestly didn't know what to make of it. What could be so important that she needed to be rid of her own flesh and blood for a few months?

"Oh dear, what happened?" I asked.

She was crying harder than ever now, "I do love her," she kept saying. I guess I remember that most, "I do love her."

So I agreed to take in Aimee, only for a few months. Olivia brought her over Christmas day. We had bought and wrapped a stuffed animal for her and gave a few candy canes. Olivia and I worried for hours about how we'd explain it to the girl. Her mommy was leaving, but she wasn't to go with her.

Strangely, she didn't find this confusing or sad. It was almost as if she understood. But that couldn't possibly be right. At least not for a girl of barely four. I mean, I didn't even understand. That was the first thing that scared me about Aimee, she always seemed to be teasing me. Throwing riddles at me left and right.

The day those two met, they were like sisters. Damon and Aimee, together at last. They grew together, as the days passed. They would hold hands and snicker to each other, and I never knew what they were talking about.

I was so mad. It seemed everything they giggled, glared, and sneered about was aimed at me and Marshall. And Damon had never opened up and talked to anyone, not even her own mother, until Aimee came along.

The liquid thoughts and emotions for their empty souls came with Jason Tiller. Jason Tiller was in a local band in our town a whole while before those girls were born. He was the one that made it. But not really. I mean, he was never that big. Nobody had really heard of him except for the citizens of our town. His claim to fame was he had escaped and gone to California at nineteen. He had then released a record, and everybody was talking about it. But only for a second. No, it didn't take long to pass.

Obsession is a weird thing. Believe it or not, I've got some theories on that subject, too. I found that most of those little girls in their school had obsessions with the right things. The newest movie or the cutest actor. Those obsessions were simply acts because everyone else liked the same things. They were ways to get attention, if you will. If you knew the birthday of the certain actor then all the other little girls might gather around you and giggle with you. Maybe they held out their hands when they heard his name and said, "Oh, I'm - like - obsessed with him."

Aimee and Damon were not obsessed with Jason Tiller. They were not in love with him either. They never wore his t-shirts or carried around his record like a prized possession. I really don't know why they did what they did. Maybe it was to mock the world.

They needed Jason Tiller to live, to breathe. When you get to that point it's not safe. It's not safe to have the perfect amount of water to fill up a vessel that has too much invisible emotions, too much to hide, too much to need. It's more than not safe, it is completely dangerous.

It started almost right away, I guess. I had already noticed something was wrong with Aimee. But when she first started kindergarten, she rubbed my nose in it. I got called in to have a talk with the teacher on only the second day of school. She said Aimee had "viciously bitten another little girl, and made her bleed." Of course I was appalled.

I drove her and Damon home that day. They were in the same class, with the same teacher I had just spoken with. I yelled, or tried to yell, at Aimee the whole way home. She did not get to ride shotgun. She was being punished.

"You wanna know what happened?!" she yelled back, just about ripping off her seatbelt, "She tried to rape me, that's what happened!"

"Put your seatbelt back on this instant!" I yelled at her. But she did not do as she was told. I had not expected her to.

"You bitch, you don't even believe me!" she continued to yell.

I pulled the car over. Aimee did not put her seatbelt back on, but put her forehead in her hands and began to weep, "I'm so sorry!" she wailed.

I felt guilty. I didn't hit her like I planned. Instead, I climbed back into the driver's seat, fastened my belt, and drove off. I saw Damon holding Aimee and shushing her and running her fingers through her hair out of the rearview mirror. That's when I realized that they only had each other. And they were busy filling each other up. They were too much alike, I know, it sounds strange.

I got Damon transferred out of that class right away. I didn't think that Damon and Aimee belonged in the same learning environment. Everyone else seemed to agree. But it didn't stop the two. I heard that they would commune in the girls bathroom at a certain time each day. They would sit in the same stall and yell cuss words at each other, or so says the principal who caught them the one time.

Simply put, I just could not wait for that call from Olivia. The one saying she wanted her daughter back. But months passed and the call never came.

I managed to get them into separate first grade classrooms, also. They were still up to their old ways, though. Aimee got the new teacher. Miss Moore. Miss Moore was young and innocent. She thought first graders were, too. The only time during that year that Miss Moore ever spoke to me was at parent teacher conferences. She only made one comment, "That one little girl, the one Aimee's always smiling at in the halls. That is her sister, correct?"

I frowned. And then I shook my head, "Cousins," I replied. And that was the end of that.

December of that year was the first and only time I eavesdropped on the two. Damon was in Aimee's room, and the two were giggling. The door was open a crack, and I couldn't help but noticing as I passed with the basket of laundry.

"Don't you remember when we walked to California last night?" Aimee was saying.

"Oh yes yes!" Damon said enthusiastically.

"And we went to that party and danced with…oh! Jason Tiller," Aimee continued.

"Mmmhmmm."

"And he gave you…this!" I peaked in, Aimee had jumped up and presented Damon with a hair tie.

"Did he?" Damon looked at it questioningly.

"He kissed you and put it in your hair. Put it in your hair!" she had really yelled that time. I could tell it was a demand.

I had seen enough. Damon was changing Aimee in the worse possible way, and vice versa.

And that's now I understand part of the story of what happened on the bus.

It only happened a few weeks later. I had noticed that Damon had been wearing the hair tie for each day of every week, but I tried not to think too much of it.

From what I gathered from the bus driver and what I already knew, I can almost picture it. Damon and Aimee were in the same bus seat, slouched down, with their knees on the back of the seat in front of them. They were talking a laughing cruelly about something unknown to everybody else. A little boy named Cole was sitting behind them. I suppose he didn't like those two very much and decided it would be funny to pull out Damon's hair tie.

Damon felt it slip out as he did so. Apparently, she stood up on the seat, gained her balance as the bus turned and yelled, "Jason Tiller gave me that hair thing! You better give it back!"

And then she had gone into a fit. Aimee decided to take the aisle and headed a few steps over to his seat, "You bitch! You bitch! You bastard!" she screamed. She punched him randomly, until he was bawling hysterically. I guess this is when the bus driver decided to intervene. He pulled the bus over, and stormed back to investigate. Both Damon and Aimee had started crying, too. They could not control themselves, he said, and neither could the boy. So he drove them home without saying a word. I didn't think he should have. I had done the same thing, countless times, in a sense. I thought it made the girls feel like they had power. Power over people with more than them. And that was also mighty dangerous.

I guess the elementary school did not believe in suspending first graders.

So many more incidents happened in between, some probably without me knowing. The next year, I finally heard from Olivia. She was eight months pregnant, and remarried. She said the man was twenty years older than herself, but the sweetest guy ever. Handsome, too, she said. She knew for certain she was having a boy. She told me she was going to name him Peter. The subject of Aimee wasn't even brought up until I said something. It was almost as if she had completely forgotten about her, but I think she was just scared.

"I'm going to tell you a secret. It's been eating at me and you can never ever tell anyone," Olivia said to me over the phone that day.

"What is it?" I tried to be patient.

"I dropped her at your house. I was scared. So scared," she confided, "I thought she was," and then she whispered, "possessed."

I sighed, "When are you coming to get your daughter, Olivia? She is the child, you are not. She's your own flesh and blood," I persisted.

"I don't want her around my precious son," she snapped, and then she hung up. I wouldn't talk to her again for a long time.

One day during the summer, when Damon and Aimee were between second and third grade, they decided to go to California. Their incentive was obvious. But their plan - scheme, if you will - was not. They snuck out in the middle of the night without waking up either Marshall or myself.

The cop that brought them home the next day said he had found them about three miles from the house, lying in a field, wet from the dew of the grass. When he found them, they were crying. When he brought Damon home to me, she was bleeding. They had bandaged her arm up pretty good, but I could see the deep red.

I yelled at them both, and then shooed Aimee away outside so I could talk to Damon alone.

"What happened, darling?" I asked. I had never caller her darling before.

She just shook her head and stuck out her jaw.

"Oh, Damon, just tell me. I'm your mother. I will not tell a soul," I said.

Still, she was silent.

Finally, after enough persuading, she had made it clear to me that she had the power. And then she told.

"We stopped in the field for a break," Damon began. We were on the couch in the living room, "We were lying down and Aimee was whispering in my ear how happy we were gonna be when we got to California. I was really liking her talking like that. It was making me real happy. But then she was talking about how Jason Tiller," she stopped to smile, and lay those eyes on me, "was gonna kiss her and touch her. So I just yelled at her. I said, oh you bitch! You bitch! And then she stood up and she got that pair of scissors she had out of her pocket."

I stopped her there. She could be lying, "Did you tell the cops?" I asked gently.

She shook her head, "Aimee told them I fell. Then I said, yes sir, I fell."

I nodded, and then went outside. Aimee was sitting in the dirt, playing with ants. I walked over and reached in the pocket of her jeans. I took out the scissors and put them in my dresser drawer in my room. I kept telling myself that I could not abandon that child.

Such disturbing things happened next that I do not even want to repeat them.

It all got worse after the bathroom fight in third grade. The girls had had their daily commune when two fourth grade girls walked in. Apparently, they then went into fits and began pulling the girls' hair madly. And then they were laughing at them. And then they were crying. And then they were finally suspended.

They were both told not to return to school for two days. That was absolutely fine with them. They didn't talk to Marshall or myself for those whole two days. They began giving me really evil stares, while they had their milk and cookies, while they painted each other's nails, whatever.

I feared the worse. I wanted to call Olivia (she had given me her new number) but I felt guilty and ashamed. I simply prayed that one day she would show up at my doorstep, with a whole new outlook on life, ready to have her daughter back.

So my prayers went unanswered. And school counselors weren't helping like I thought they might. I was out of ideas. Drained of thoughts. Lost of theories. I didn't know where my life was going, and I feared Marshall would leave.

It was Aimee and Damon's ninth birthday when I found Aimee lying on her bed, in a fit. She was thrashing on her back and pulling her own hair literally out of her head. I rushed in when I saw her out of the corner of my eyes and picked her up, "Stop it!" I kept yelling as she flopped like a fish in my arms, "Stop it!"

After awhile of madness, she was crying and blabbering, "I hate myself! I'm an ugly, fat fucking bitch! And J-J-Jason Tiller. And Damon's hair tie is garbage. It's trash! Just trash! I hate myself!"

I had the worst of headaches, so I left her blabbering for a second and went away to the kitchen for a Tylenol. I realized that a whole bottle of liquor from the cabinet was empty. When I asked Marshall about it later, he said that he certainly had not drank it. So once again, I feared the worst.

I walked back into Aimee's room and found Damon standing above her and slapping her across the face, "You are nothing!" she was yelling, "You're nothing and Jason Tiller doesn't love you!"

I automatically pulled Damon away. And Aimee went into another fit.

The screaming and crying and pulling and shouting didn't stop for days. I let her stay home from school those days and made Damon go herself. I think that scared her. Finally, I had had enough, and I decided it was definitely best to take her to the hospital.

But it didn't stop there either. In fact, the fits got worse. They kept her in the hospital for a few more days. I kept telling the doctors, "I don't know what's wrong with her."

And then a few months later, in June, she just up and died. It seemed just like that. She was only nine years old. And she was oh so little.

As I looked over her lying in her hospital bed, when she looked frail as ever, I began to rethink my theories. She looked so powerless. I thought about all the crying those girls had done, and how alone they must have felt at school. I thought that maybe, being the way they were didn't make them feel powerful, it made them go crazy. I kept telling myself, they created each other's demons, but then I thought, wasn't that the same as needing someone?

It should never have happened the way it did. After a couple days in the hospital, I took Aimee back home, but she never did calm down. The girl barely slept, and she wasn't eating. She was killing herself slowly, and I can't imagine why she wanted it, at nine. But she did. She wanted it.

It took a turn for the worse a week later. She would not eat. She would not sleep. She would not even talk. She just blubbered nonsense and shouted. Damon was only making it worse.

The second time we drove her to the hospital, Marshall came with me. This time, they placed her in the psyche ward, and she stayed for a little more than a month. They said that she was the youngest person they had ever had to put in the psyche ward.

I cried for days after she died. And this time, I was the one who refused to talk to Damon. Two days after it happened, I contacted Olivia.

Right when she answered she went into how good her life was. How great her new husband, Nathan, was. How adorable little Peter was, and how he had developed a liking of singing and performing.

"That is so wonderful," I told her. I must have sounded horrible. All stuffed up and sad.

"Oh, isn't it?" she replied, in a dream-like state.

"I have bad news, Olivia," I finally said. I couldn't believe she wasn't catching on.

"Oh dear, what it is?"

"Aimee had been in the hospital for the last couple weeks, and on Thursday, she passed on."

"Oh." was all Olivia could say. But she didn't even sound surprised.

I controlled myself, though. And, to my surprise, Olivia stayed calm for a couple more minutes before we hung up.

Her new husband and her new son came to the funeral. They looked like such a nice family. Like they were meant to be.

I gave the eulogy. I talked about how young and fragile she was. And what a dear she was. And how it was a shame and a tragedy that she leave us so young. Oh how I wanted to explain my theories, but I did not.

And then, that day, Olivia trusted me with another of her secrets. Horrible, shameful secrets, she thought, that I could never whisper to another soul. "I had forgotten," she said.

Damon got on with her life. I never saw her cry over it. In fact, she actually calmed down a lot in a few short weeks after Aimee passed. She was even close to normal.

That was when we moved. We wanted to start over, so we moved a little north to another little town, and we became a family. Damon told me that she wanted to be called Astor, because that was her true given name. And she was accepted in her new school. She even made friends. She was so close to normal.

After that, there was not a single word about Jason Tiller. Not all through her school. She actually had boyfriends, and went out, and did all the things that I consider normal. I was happy, and realized that I had not really fallen out of love with her at all, ever. Marshall was happy, too. I think he realized the same thing. And we got on with out lives.

But I think that the most twisted part about this whole story. More disturbing than any death, any sickness, any tragedy, and any abandonment is what happened later. More specifically, who Damon ended up marrying.

I was there. I saw and heard everything with my own eyes. And it was a beautiful day for a wedding, and the ceremony was white and glorious. It was just begging to be enjoyed.

But I couldn't. I could not enjoy any minute of it. Because Damon, or shall I say, Astor, ended up marrying Jamie Tiller. Jason Tiller's son.

Special Note: Wow. I guess I just had to get that out of my system.

Mj.