From the very beginning I didn’t like Erik. There is not much I remember from that age, but I remember that Erik scared me; whenever mom left the room I followed her, just so that I wouldn’t have to be alone with him. Mom often scolded me for that, especially if Gia was in the room too.
I was six back then and Gia was three. I loved playing with her, but in contrast to me Gia didn’t mind playing with Erik either. I hated it when he played with her, often I felt he just played with her to taunt me. Most of our evenings ended with mom in the kitchen and Gia in the middle of the living room with a ring of toys around her. On the one side, the side closer to the kitchen, was me, on the other side, towards the stove, was him. Gia was the barrier between us, the protective wall that kept us in place and at the same time kept me away from him.
I remember mom and Erik fighting about me. They never fought about Gia, they only fought about me. They fought often during the three months that Erik slept in mom’s bed.
“She hates me.” I heard Erik say.
“She will get used to having you around.” Was my mom’s reply. “She will think of you as her dad.”
My mom was wrong. She was wrong about everything. She was wrong when she told me that Erik was a good guy and that he was just trying to be nice. She was wrong when she told me that I should stop glancing around corners to see whether Erik was hurting Gia. And mom was wrong when she swore to me that Erik would never hurt me.
After those three months, when he left, Erik hurt me more than I could have imagined in my wildest nightmares.
In retrospect it’s strange to think back of the weeks where the nice lady talked to me nearly every day. I knew she was a police officer, I knew I could trust her. And still, every time she asked me whether Erik had touched me somewhere I said “No.” And I don’t think that I was lying. He really never touched me. He tried hugging me a few times, but he gave up when I kept running away. I think that’s why he chose Gia instead.
When I think back of the times where the nice lady asked me questions I remember three things: the way she smiled, how the teddy sheep in my arms made me feel safe, and that the lights on the Christmas tree were twinkling at the other end of the room, behind the couch.
In the years afterwards I knew that mom always cried around Christmas because of Gia; she didn’t cry because Erik left – she cried because Erik took Gia with him.
I always thought that important things stay with you, that you don’t forget the memories that matter in life. Then, shortly after I turned sixteen, I read the protocols that the nice lady did – the protocols of her interviewing my mom and me. I felt my stomach cramp when so many memories, so many paranoid habits and fears suddenly made sense.
I didn’t remember that I had told the police why I was scared of Erik. And of course I didn’t know the things mom told the police either.
I told the police that I was scared because Erik was often hiding behind my window. Mom told the police that I cried on the day that she brought him home for the first time. I told the police that he had the same smile behind the window that he had when he played with Gia. Mom told the police that she thought I was just inventing things; that she thought the boogeyman I’d been seeing outside my window for over half a year wasn’t real.
That day, when I read through the old protocols, much of my past suddenly seemed in a different light; suddenly those Christmas with my mother crying on the sofa seemed almost evil, nasty. I felt that for all those years mom had not just crying because of Gia, instead she cried because I warned her and still she let him in.
And maybe mom was also crying because originally Erik was at my window, not at Gia’s; she was crying because I stayed safe because I refused to be alone with him. Mom would have taken Gia to go gift shopping; instead she took me and left Gia with Erik.
From my sixteenth Christmas on Christmas was even worse than before. It was suddenly not just the time when mom cried – and of course I was sad too. Suddenly it felt as if mom was blaming herself, and it felt as if she was blaming me.
Those days, when she cried, mom was blaming herself because she had ignored my warnings. And she was blaming me because it should have been me. Erik was outside my window. He always tried to be friends with me. But I fought hard to get away from him; I was never alone with him. The one Erik wanted to take was me, but because he couldn’t get me he took Gia instead.
I’m 23 now. It’s been seventeen years and it always made me angry that mom couldn’t get over losing Gia. I’m not cruel and I don’t want to sound selfish, but for me the fact that she mourned Gia around Christmas felt like a knife in my back. It always felt to me that she wished it had been me, rather than Gia, and it felt to me as if she rather mourned a family that doesn’t exist anymore than spend time with the family she has – with me.
I feel dirty and guilty for it, but for years I felt angry at mom – angry that Erik might have taken one part of my family, but she took the second part.
A wedding invitation changed all that. It came about three month ago; a stray mail with my name on it. My name is fairly common and I’m used to getting holiday cards or other letters obviously not addressed to me because my address is the only one in my town that shows up in a cursory internet search.
“Together with their families Jennifer Swift and Greg Murray request the honor of your presence…”
I stopped reading because I knew neither of the two. As said, a common mistake.
There was no return address, just the address of a venue in Jamaica and an email to send the RSVP notice.
I sent a short note that they sent the letter to the wrong address. Within three hours I got a one-line response:
“Sorry to hear that. – Greg.”
The letter went in the trash and the memory fell out of my mind.
Then, last week, I got another email, an obvious mass message:
“We are sad that you weren’t able to attend – here are some of the photos from our wedding. Love, Jenn & Greg.”
I’m not sure if it was curiosity or the peeping tom-like instinct to look at private photos that you are sent; to see what other people’s lives look like.
The venue looked great, with open spaces, a beautiful beach backdrop and a perfect ceremony, but there weren’t many guests and even those looked uncomfortable. The groom stood at the altar with a smile on his face.
The bride looked ugly, nearly scary, in the way she was standing at the end of the aisle. Her nose was bent and despite the beautiful white dress several scars and blue and yellow bruises were visible on her face and arms.
On the next photo she was led down the aisle. The bride was crying.
It took me a moment to register it, to pull my eyes away from the scared bride and onto the man next to her. He held her arm gently, had a beer belly, and his hair and beard were gray. Still, I recognized first the beard and then the nose and finally the eyes. I hadn’t seen his face in seventeen years and still I held my breath and felt cold sweat running down my skin.
The man walking the bride down the aisle was Erik.
My mom came over. She cried when she saw the pictures – she cried just the same way she cried each Christmas.
It’s strange to discover that there are some important things you don’t remember, for example that your sister’s full name is Jennifer.
And it is even stranger to loathe your mom for many years for hurting you every Christmas; to loathe your mom for not allowing you to be happy and be a family – and then, one day, you learn that she was just protecting you. All those years, all those tears for Christmas she wasn’t mourning Gia, she was crying for Gia. She was crying because once a year, once every Christmas, she received an envelope with a photo inside – one photo of Gia, sitting on a stone floor and with dirt on her clothes and bruises on her face.
This is my story, originally I published it on Reddit.