At last, The Final Chapter. You can finally fall of the edges of your seats and into the creepy world of our last week in Keswick. It's a VERY long post, but it's time this story be dispensed with.
It's our last week in the House of Horrors. We have to find another place to live. I'm confused and confounded and searching for an explanation. Was it something my kids did? Maybe...
As I mentioned before, the Xs only had dial-up internet and no call waiting. But if you were on the computer and a call came in, people could leave a message and you'd hear it. You could pay $2 to take the call while you were online, or simply let the caller leave the message and call them when you got off. Alex's only lifeline to his friends was that computer, as his cell phone didn't work in Keswick. We were told that we could use the computer any time and if a call came through, to let XX know. But Alex wasn't telling anyone that calls had come through when he was on the computer and I could see XX was getting frustrated by this, as I would, too. But she didn't restrict his use of the computer and still said he could use it any time he wanted. But I didn't feel good about this. I knew no one really called the house after 10:00 PM, so I told Alex not to use the computer until after that time unless he needed something for schoolwork. In that case, he should get it and get off ASAP.
When I was in New Orleans, I called the house one night around 8:00PM and got the machine, which meant that someone was on the computer. I left a message, asking that I be called back. Nothing. I called three more times. Same thing. It was getting late and I knew Rachel would be going to sleep and wanted to talk to both kids before it was too late and stressed this in my message. Finally, Alex called back, but by that time, Rachel was already asleep. And yes, he had been on the computer. Yes, it was during the time period that I expressly told him not to go online. Yes, he heard the messages. Yes, he basically ignored them. I was not happy about this and told him not to do it again!
The next evening I called and ...same thing
! I was furious
The night I returned to Keswick from New Orleans (the night before our expulsion), I observed that XX closed the door to her "office" which had wind-chimes hanging from the knob. Alex needed to look up an assignment for school that was due the next day and because the door was closed, he asked her, very politely, if it was okay to use the computer. In a very harsh and nasty tone, she responded, "Oh, give it a break, will ya!" then turned and walked off.
Alex was a little freaked out by this, and though I didn't like the way she handled it, I understood why she may have been aggravated. Alex was on the computer a lot. On weekends, he might stay online until 2:00 or 3:00 AM, but aside from me, XY was the only person who got up in the middle of the night to observe this. Otherwise, he was quiet and you wouldn't know he was there. Anyway, this was just one more of the many less-than-friendly interactions between she and Alex.
I also learned that her obvious favorite, Rachel, had some problems while I was away. On one of my calls to Alex from New Orleans, he was very unhappy about the way XX had jumped all over Rachel for lifting the lid off a covered dish using a potholder. XX told her not to do it because she's drop it, and Rachel, in her usual way, sweetly insisted that it was okay and she could do it, and then attempted to demonstrate. According to Alex, XX flew off the handle and in what, from his perspective, was an extremely harsh and threatening tone- a tone, Alex says, that is much more severe than any I've ever taken with my kids -she roared at Rachel, "Are you challenging me???"
I'd heard her use a similarly harsh tone with Rachel once before, when she didn't think Rachel expressed enough gratitude for some act or deed- I can't remember what it was now. Anyway, I remember thinking at that time that it was a bit much and it sounded childish for an adult to react in that way.
There was one other incident involving Rachel that occurred while I was gone. XX gave Rachel some nail polish remover to use, unsupervised. Most adults know that nail polish remover is a strong solvent
, and that if spilled, it will remove the finish from wood. I have only let Rachel use it without my direct supervision a few times and, explaining to her what could happen if it spilled, instructed her to only use it while sitting on the tile floor of the bathroom. Well, guess what happened? Rachel sat on the bed and used it, left on the bedside table with the cap off, went to sleep, and knocked the bottle over in her sleep somehow- maybe with a pillow. And it messed up the table's finish.
According to Rachel, XY seemed aggravated, but XX said that it wasn't a good table anyway, (I had noted earlier that it had white paint splatters on it), and she was very forgiving to Rachel - "everyone makes mistakes
," she said, and indeed, it was just as much of a mistake (in my opinion) giving a 9 year-old a strong solvent without supervision. It couldn't have been that big a deal to XX, though, as she rewarded Rachel with a trip to the salon for a French manicure the day before I returned. No one said a word about the incident to me and I didn't even notice the problem on the table until a can of Scott's Liquid Gold mysteriously appeared on it (hint, hint) days after I returned.
Okay- let me get back to the last week and the day of our expulsion. It's Monday. Kids go to school. I am going through everything in my head to try to figure out what we did/didn't do wrong. I was extremely upset and didn't want to see, talk to, or be around the Xs in any way. I was just too hurt and didn't feel I could just pretend that nothing was wrong to make them feel comfortable with the situation. And Renard and I noticed that they seemed to be hiding out anyway. XY was usually camped out in front of the TV in the den while XX watched soaps with him or flitted around doing this and that, but on this day, they stayed in their room and we didn't see hide nor hair of them until they started preparing dinner. Rachel went in the kitchen for some reason and XX snidely inquired of her, "What's your mother's problem? I notice she's not talking to me
." This was not a sincere sort of inquiry. It was in that tone, you know... What's your
problem? Rachel knew what had happened, but simply didn't respond and came back to the room and told me about it. I thought it to be an odd question, given what she knew happened that morning and the fact that she'd been for the most part, tacitly ignoring me for the last few weeks.
We were going out to get some food (no way I was going in that kitchen to cook anything) and I had been thinking that I should go and explain to XX why I had become invisible. Renard and the kids went to the car and waited while I went to the kitchen.
I stood in the doorway, about 6 feet from where she stood at the sink, washing vegetables. In a very calm and quiet voice I said, "XX, I understand you were wondering why I wasn't talking to you. I just wanted to let you know that I'm not in a place where I can do that just yet. I'm hurt and upset and ..." As I am speaking, XX keeps her eyes fixed on what she's doing, but begins muttering, first at a normal volume, then in an escalating tone, onw word, over and over...you.
"...I'm hurt and upset...you
...And I'm worried.....you
....you're putting us out and I don't really know this city or where to go...YOU
At this point I can no longer ignore her interjections and I'm a little confused by them, so I responded by very calmly explaining, "well, I am
talking about my
feelings .....and it is
my life and my children's lives and...
Before I can get another word out of my mouth, she turns and looks at me, wild-eyed and shrieks, "WELL WHAT ABOUT ME?? WHAT ABOUT ME???? WHAT ABOUT ME???
" I'm completely confused by this, and know that any attempt to get to the root of what's going on will not happen in the state she's in, so I calmly said, "I can't talk to you about this right now. I've got to go." I turned to leave and before I could get to the front door, XX is following behind me and screaming in my ear, WHAT ABOUT ME???? WHAT ABOUT ME??? IT'S MY HOUSE!!!!!"
I stepped out of the door and she slammed it behind me so hard that I expected to hear the sound of glass panes shattering.
First, I thought what the hell is she talking about??
Then I thought to myself, well that's surely sets the tone of things from here on out. How does one recover from something like this?
I guess if she had apologized, there might have been a chance for detente. But she didn't. And from that point until the day we left, we did everything we could to become invisible. We'd make great pains to avoid XX, though we'd still pass XY in the den and when we did, we'd cordially acknowledge him. He inquired occasionally as to how the hunt for another place to live was going. Despite the coldness of his announcement that we'd have to leave, he'd never been ugly with us. And frankly, I had to wonder what he thought of his wife's explosion. Maybe he'd seen this kind of thing before. I'd now seen it twice. Except she apologized to me for the first episode.
Renard was scheduled to fly home from Baltimore on Wednesday of that week and, because of the distance from Charlottesville, we were going to spend the night in Washington so we'd have a shorter drive the next day. I made arrangements for Rachel to stay at a school friend's house down the street. Alex said he was fine staying at the house and could take care of himself. I knew he could, too, as he can be quite the diplomat and muster up civility towards people who are hardly civil to him, if need be. He would come home from school and stay in the wing, eat a microwaved pizza, do homework, etc. and go to school the next morning. I'd be back by the time he returned from school that afternoon. If he had any problems, the neighbors said he could go to their house.
When I returned on Wednesday, I entered my bedroom in the wing and found most of the clothes that had been hanging in the closet that Rachel and I shared strewn across the bed. Confused, I went into the den and asked XY about it. He said that XX told him I had taken all the hangers and she needed them. I was confused by this, as I had taken all the "good" hangers I had from my home and brought them to Keswick. I had as many as three articles of clothing hanging on one hanger, just so that I wouldn't use too many of XX's. But she had an amazing surplus of them anyway. I went and looked at the few that were left in the closet and noticed that the remaining hangers were hers, but she'd taken all of mine that came from home. I went back into the den and sheepishly told XY that...uh...the hangers XX took were mine that I'd brought from home.
XY left the room and returned with an armload of hangers, saying indeed, he knew that these were different from their own. He left again and came back with another bunch, and apologized. I wondered what he must have been thinking about his wife and her actions at that moment.
I took the opportunity to clean out the closet and get everything ready for packing. As I did, I realized that a nightgown and robe she'd given me to use in the cooling weather were missing as well as several articles of my own clothing. This really disturbed me, but I decided that it was not worth saying anything to XY about this. After all, it would be akin to accusing his wife of stealing, and I don't know how he'd take that.
Then it occurred to me that XX had ample opportunity while we were all gone to snoop around in all our things. I looked around for more evidence of snooping. When we evacuated, I'd taken all our valuables with me. The pouch with my good jewelry was still in its place, Alex's savings bonds were where I'd left them, the money XX's mother gave me for Alex was still there. So I dismissed the thought.
There was nothing belonging to the Xs in our rooms. The closets, drawers and cabinets had been emptied for us and everything they had been storing in the bedrooms had been moved out. XX had no reason to go into our rooms whatsoever. But she was going in. Over the next few days, I noticed that more things were disappearing from the wing. Every time we left, she was coming in and taking things. Little things and mostly things that XX had given us that were in obvious places. The body spray that Rachel loved disappeared from the bathroom. XX had multiple sets of stainless steel flatware and we had an overflowing container of it by the sink in the wing. Every day it dwindled until there was only a coupe of butter knives left. XX took all my loose teas and herbs out of the little plastic containers she'd given me and put them in plastic bags. I found the containers in her cupboard.
On Thursday, the Red Cross called to let me know that they'd gotten us a hotel and we could check in on Monday. On Friday I let XY know of our moving plans. I asked and XY had told me that we could take all our food with us. (I wasn't assuming anything at this point.) On Friday, I went out to buy moving supplies and returned to the house to find a box in the wing with our non-refrigerated food in it. XY said that XX had packed it. When we first arrived in Keswick, we went to the grocery store and I bought about 4 bottles of Crystal Hot Sauce, made not far from my house in New Orleans, and three other kinds from Louisiana. I love Crystal and knew it would be a while before they'd be making and distributing it again. XX wanted to buy the store's entire inventory, but I thought that was unnecessary and we left several bottles in the store. XY told me to be sure and take the Crystal because he preferred another kind and no one would use it anyway. The Crystal was missing from the box of food and so were all the items my mom had sent in a care package for me- seasonings and such. The day we moved, I went to look for these things and found everything but the unopened bottles of Crystal. They disappeared from the pantry in the kitchen where they had been for weeks. Apparently, XX had hidden them. I put all the other items on the kitchen counter and told XY that these were things my mom sent that weren't in the box and that I wanted to make sure it was OK to take them. (I know- it's crazy that I thought I had to ask permission to take my own things, but they were in a communal area and I didn't want to take the chance of XX claiming I took anything of hers. And after having told me a couple of days before to be sure to take the Crystal (which clearly meant something to me), XY told me, with some embarrassment, that XX informed him that she bought the Crystal and wanted to keep it "for the house." Forget the fact the fact that I actually bought the Crystal. It's cheap. But it was clearly my sentimental connection to home and she chose to keep it from me. And to add to the strangeness, when we went back to that store to buy some of the remaining bottles, every one of them was gone. And so were the other Loisisana brands. (!!??!!) We couldn't find any anywhere, but did eventually did find a few gigantic bottles of Crystal and bought two of them.
One afternoon, it may have been when I was in Washington, XX walked right into Alex's room and was clearly shocked to find him there. She mumbled some excuse about airing out his room and then quickly left. Then Alex heard XX go into the den and snap at XY, "why didn't you tell me Alex was there???!!!"
Every day that week until the day we left, there was evidence of XX's activity in our rooms, but after the in-plain-sight things disappeared, we found nothing of ours overtly missing. But remember, I had just returned from N.O. with the car loaded to capacity with items from home that we needed or that would make us feel better about being away. We had a lot of things in the upstairs bedrooms as well, in open boxes since we thought we'd be unpacking. I saw that XX had gone through some of these and had even taken some of the things that one of her husband's friends had given us out of the box and put them with her things on the other side of the room. I just left them there and added some of the other accompanying items that we'd been given to her collection. Clearly, she didn't want us to have these things. But it bothered me terribly that she'd been rifling through my stuff and it was starting to creep me out. There was no way for me to tell if anything was missing. So, I taped all the boxes up and stacked them by the door.
Usually, XX came into the wing when we were gone, but very early on Sunday morning, long before we'd normally be getting up, something awakened me. I heard the creak of the door to the wing as it opened and footsteps creeping up the stairs to the second floor. Then I heard footsteps moving from one side to the other of the room above mine where Rachel had her toys and things. I heard some sort of muttering - definitely XX's voice. I was wide awake now. I could hear drawers opening, I could hear her on the far side of the room by the window and couldn't figure out what she could be doing. I could hear things moving around. She spent the most time in this room and I couldn't tell if she went into the other (but I already knew she'd been through that one.)
This was creeping me out. I wondered if I should wait by the bottom of the stairs and try to catch a glimpse of what, if anything, might be in her hands. But instead, I just laid silently and listened to the angry-sounding muttering and movement in the room until I heard her move back down the stairs and out of the door. I had considered locking the door to the wing, but I was afraid that if I did, I'd have to experience another shrieking session - how dare I lock her out of part of her own house!
- and I really preferred to avoid that kind of confrontation.
The only other times I'd seen XX that week was on two occasions when we passed each other in the hall. On the first of these, we made eye contact and she had an sad, almost tragic look on her face- the look of someone who was suffering. I felt kind of sorry for her. The second time, it was a look I can't describe easily- cold, piercing. I remembered her telling me one day before I left for N.O., that she dreamed she had monsters in the house- monsters in every room. Evil monsters.
I wondered of she thought we were monsters. She looked at me that second time in the hall as if she were the monster and I should be afraid.
It was Sunday night, our last night in the house. After the kids went to bed, I had a bad feeling. I had been telling my mother what was going on and all week she had been saying, "You've got to get out of there. Please get out of there!"
My mom and I are both pretty intuitive, and she was really upset and worried about us being there. I'd felt like we were okay before, but that Sunday night I felt in my gut that something was not right and I'm not the type to have irrational fears. And my gut-feelings have been pretty accurate in the past. I think XY felt it too, because he did something very unusual that night that he'd never done before, and it may have been the thing that kept this story from a tragic ending. We'll never know. That night, our last night in the house, XY stayed awake the entire night watching TV in the den, the room that separated the main house from the wing. He was usually in his room by 10:00 PM, but not on this night. I still had this bad feeling and began to wonder if I should be worried about him, too. But I knew this wasn't a rational fear. I had no reason to think he might be unstable in a dangerous way. But, oh, that feeling. So, just in case (and in case he fell asleep), I stacked heavy boxes in front of Alex's door so that no one could get in without making noise moving them. (I didn't want to wake him up and scare him. His room was right across the hall from mine. Rachel and I sleep together.) The door to my room would not lock, so I barricaded us in, as well. The next day when I told my mom about XY, she said, "He didn't trust her. He was standing guard." I think she was right.
The next day, I sent the kids off to school and I got busy cleaning and packing our remaining posessions. I think XY saw how uncomfortable I was after XX's erratic behavior and he was being very accommodating of my requests for things I needed like the vacuum cleaner. (I wouldn't go in the main house without asking him to come with me, anyway.) I was still cleaning when Rachel came home and I asked her to go and get the sheets from the dryer. XX was in the kitchen and said to her, "It's wrong
for your mother to make you
do the work that she
should be doing. But don't tell her I said that because I don't want that monster
coming in here and screaming at me." Rachel didn't respond but when she told us about this, Alex said that he was glad XX didn't make that remark to him. He was furious that XX would refer to me as a monster
and tell Rachel something intended to turn her against me. (That's my boy!
) Maybe XX hoped that Rachel would hate me for asking her to bring the dry sheets to the wing. Hah! Anyway, the remark didn't anger me at all the way it did Alex and my mother when she heard about it. I just found it amusing that someone who'd shrieked at me on two occasions while I either sat mum or quietly excused myself, would worry that I might come and scream at her
All of our stuff was going to be taken to the neighbor's garage for storage until we had an apartment. Not everything was in sealed boxes when we left. Some boxes were open and we had some things in bags. My musician friend helped me move and it took two trips in our two Camrys to get everything out of the house. I washed all the linens and cleaned that wing like it had never been cleaned before. We checked every nook and cranny to ensure we hadn't left anything behind. I think it was at some point while we were unloading from the first trip to the neighbor's house that the last things were taken. Mostly Alex's things- books, magazines and CDs- a whole bag of things. Alex said that I had things in that bag as well- but I'm not sure what. One day when I go to look for something I know I had here and it's gone, I'll find out. Anyway, the whole bag disappeared. But because our things were packed up and in someone else's garage, we wouldn't discover it right away.
Before we left, I wrote a thank you note and left it on XY's chair. In it, I thanked him for everything he did to help us when we first arrived and I apologized for whatever we did or didn't do to make XX so angry. XY was supposed to have left at 6:00pm for a poker game, but he stayed until we finished at 8:00PM. Again, I think he didn't trust XX and he knew how uncomfortable I was without him there. When I went to tell him goodbye, I saw that he'd read the note. I thanked him again and gave him a firm and sincere hug. I realized that none of what happened was his doing. He was carrying out XX's orders. He told me that he thought we'd be much happier in our own place (no shit
!) and wished us well.
Once we found a place to live and began unpacking, it became clear that several things were missing. Alex discovered this right away, but I had brought things with me that I didn't have a reason to use, but just wanted them out of the house in New Orleans for safe keeping. Things like jewelry, photos, Alex's savings bonds, important papers, and a few sentimental items. These are not things you use day in and day out. These are things that you don't discover are missing until the occasion arises when you want them and go looking for them. And every so often, we realize that there is something else that we haven't seen and can't find.
I don't wear jewelry with any regularity, with the exception of earrings and the occasional bracelet. I had the everyday stuff- earrings mostly- in one place and the good jewelry in a few little pouches all enclosed in a larger pouch. These were kept in a drawer in my room in Keswick. Once I realized that my things had been gone through, I did a cursory check the pouch and it was okay. I knew what was supposed to be in it and it was there. XX knew, too because on the day that she took me on the tour of her jewelry boxes, I retrieved the pouch and showed XX some of the things I treasured. Among the more valuable items in the pouch (in terms of both monetary and sentimental value) were an antique diamond cocktail ring given to me by my parents, my wedding and engagement ring and ring guard, a ring belonging to my deceased father, and a beautiful pair of antique (19th century England) gold earrings given to me by Rachel's father. I checked the pouch on the first day that the room had been pilaged. But I didn't check it again on the days following that. I didn't think I needed to.
A few days ago, it occurred to me that we hadn't seen a ring that I bought for Rachel at the Tower of Terror in Disney World. It was a cheap ring, but a good fake. It was the kind that looked real and expensive, but after being worn a few times, surely that would change. I said, before we start attributing this disappearance to XX, let me make sure it's not with my good jewelry. I opened the pouch and looked through every one of the smaller pouches, but it wasn't there. And something else was missing. My wedding set. A 2.63 carat pear-shaped diamond with a sapphire and diamond baguette on each side, a medium gold band, and a band of alternating diamond and sapphire baguettes that's worn on the other side of the wedding band as a ring guard. (Don't get too excited. It was 1985 and Willie had just done a Levi's 501 Jeans commercial -huge checks were pouring in. It wasn't cheap, but it didn't cost a fortune. The diamond had some significant flaws in it, though not visible to the naked eye -and Willie got it loose from a friend whose dad was a diamond broker and gave him a great deal. I bought the baguettes myself and paid to have the rings made, since it was my design.)
I have been absolutely sick about this. I have torn this place apart looking for the rings, hoping and praying that I took them out but just don't remember. That pouch has only been in one place other than in my personal posession: the X's house. And all the other jewelry is there, unless I'm forgetting something else. But all three of these rings -the set -is gone. Please say a prayer that they turn up somehow, because I don't know how to deal with this one if they don't. And the sad thing is that these rings would have been given to Alex to either give to the woman he would marry or to his own daughter or granddaughter, if he has them. So, if XX took them, she screwed Alex again, albeit indirectly this time.
Let's hope the story really ends here.