It was four am. I found the thought of you, dusty and damaged at the back of my mind, brushing it off as I placed it on the bedside table, beside my favourite framed photograph of my mother. At last, the band is back together, and at four am, for the first time in months, I am thinking about you. I am REALLY thinking about you. It is not a passing moment, or a stream of swear words while I am under the influence, it is a real, lasting, languishing thought. You grow tall, towering over my mother in the frame, spilling off the table, a shadowed phantom, and my head is full of smashed bottles and shouting.
I have put my life in your hands too many times, because up until recently, it didn’t mean much, but now, I’m grown. I am not a girl, I haven’t been one for years, I am a Goddess, gliding across the golden sky, and I know that it terrifies you, as you stare up from hell and see what I have become.
I used to daydream about fantastical shows of regret. The tower of leaning father, stumbling over his machismo, making good with the charred child, at last. The tossed whisky glass returning to his scorching hand from the wall that it slid down, an understanding smile instead of banishment, the grace to just accept the child that God gave you.
The thought returns to being just a thought. It grows small again, taking you with it, and in an instant, you are a small speck of dust on the bedside table. I used to think that my greatest achievement would be your acceptance, that my crown jewel would be an apology from a man who drank himself to death, disturbed by the notion that his sweet little daughter was a seduced by a siren of sin.
Tonight, I thought about it, and I thought about you. I REALLY thought about you, and I noticed that my head has always been held like a Queen’s should be. Pressure and stress are their own tiaras and I have been coronated, I have lived a long life and reigned in a way that leaves me satisfied.
I write love songs to the people, to the roses and poppies that are summoned by spring, and every Sunday, I read stories to the starlit skies, and you, you are a small speck of dust on the bedside table, bawling into a shot glass about how shocking and upsetting it is to discover the truth about your daughter. You are a small speck of dust on the bedside table, you do not get to rise from the dead, but I have never stopped gliding through the golden sky, because I am a Goddess.
At the highest point of my heart is the one who placed a name, so gently, on my tiny, tender chest, that rose and fell with the tiny, timeless breaths, as she stood by a cot, staring at the thing she had created, with the might of her feminine form.
As I grew, I grasped that there were many women who could adore me in an eternal, unconditional way that surpassed the power of romance or friendship, and as I searched the world for a desire I could not yet understand, I was guided by the kind, consequential hands of many mothers.
My own, the first, humble in my home town, never able to recognise her power, and the power that she had planted underneath my skin when we shared nine glorious months in each other’s company. I learned to be a woman from her, and from her mother. Icons of ambition that cast a cool shadow across me, giving relief from the constant callous lights of life.
I found another, when I tripped and fell into time and space. Our skins had a similar shimmer, and I knew she was something to do with me. That ol’ black girl magic, bewitching and bold. Bricks at the pigs as the sun hid in shame on the corner of Christopher Street. I looked at her, for years and for centuries, seeing the same image that had manifested in my mirror during those troubling first months of puberty.
One more, making her way to me from the movies. Over the rainbow and over the edge, where my fingers clung to the crumbling remains of my restful unawareness. As I spent so long asking what was wrong with me, she just sang softly to my soul as I slept among poppies and popular characters, dreaming of a time when the demon that lived inside of me would feel more like a friend.
Loved and lauded, I still return to the first, sobbing on a voice note about my secret, from miles away, because as I tell her the truth, I cannot face her. Her face is pure, unparalleled love, and though her arms are miles away, I feel the embrace of my mother and the power that she has always had.
I am a daughter to many mothers. A child of war and a child of peace. I am a recipe that has been crafted and perfected by generations of Liverpool’s ladies, the songbird from New Orleans and the little girl that got lost in Oz.
My Son is missing, but I have a feeling I know where he is. That sounds ridiculous, so allow me to explain. I don’t know his location, or the address, but I know where he’ll be. I know who he’s with.
It’s those people. Those sick, sick people.
They’ve got my Andrew. I’ve told the police but they didn’t believe me. I called his university and they said there was nothing they could do. I’ve called his phone every day since he disappeared, and today, it stopped going through at all.
He’s at The Garden. My son is locked away with God knows who, and all I know is that he’s at The Garden of The Free Children. What is The Garden? Well, that’s quite simple. It’s a cult.
The worst part is that it didn’t seem like such a bad place at first. That’s how they do it. That’s how they steal away our children. Please listen to me. Yours could be next.
Andrew came home for the Christmas break and told me all about it. He seemed so excited about this “Garden” and all the friends he’d made. I was pleased, because he’s painfully shy and he had always had trouble making friends and connecting with others, so it was great to hear that he was thriving, even if it was through a church group.
He told me that they supported each other and did volunteering, and my mind was at rest, for a little while, anyway.
I wish I’d asked more questions. That’s what I keep coming back to. If I’d have found out more at the time, I’d have an easier time finding him now.
I started to get worried a few days later, when he started sleepwalking.
He had never done that before, he was always a deep, and relatively still sleeper, but I woke up to find him stood at the foot of my bed.
I called out to him, but he didn’t look up. His eyes were closed and he was whispering. As I stood to investigate, my husband pointed out that he had earphones in. Andrew was just standing there, his eyes closed, undeterred as my husband shook his shoulders, constantly chanting all this nonsense about darkness and a Goddess.
He stayed that way for about a minute, before he just collapsed to the floor. In that moment, it felt like my heart stopped. He began chanting again, over and over, just one word.
“Darkness. Darkness. Darkness.”
He began shaking, his whole body, shaking as his eyes opened wide, bloodshot and sore. There was a horrifying gargle from his throat and then he suddenly fell back, still.
We called his name, shaking his almost lifeless body, before he snapped back to life with a smile. He had no memory of any of it. He didn’t remember the chanting, the sleepwalking, the shaking. None of it.
He was cheerful as he stood up, kissing us both on the cheek and wandering off towards his bedroom. I went after him, but he just slammed the door shut, and if I’m honest, I was a little frightened of opening it and confronting him.
I wish the weirdness had stopped there. I wish I could free my Son from this sickness but he’s consumed by these people. They’re eating him alive.
I asked him about the sleepwalking the next day, but he just told me not to worry. It happened every night for the rest of his stay, but he never had any real explanation. He’d just tell me not to worry. Every night, he’d be at the foot of the bed, mindlessly chanting, and then whenever we tried to stop him, he’d fall to the floor.
After the third time, I just stopped sleeping at night. I’d rest during the day while my husband kept an eye on him, but he went on, as normal, as if nothing was happening.
We tried to get him to a doctor, and that was when I saw a major change. He’d never enjoyed going to the doctor, nobody does, but he was never so insistent on not going. He started screaming at the suggestion, ranting about how doctors were untrustworthy and just wanted to butcher people. I’d never seen anything like it. He began packing up his things, and when my husband tried to calm him down, Andrew attacked him.
My Son has never been violent. He’s the opposite of violent. He was always a shy, sensitive boy, but as his father tried to reason with him, Andrew punched him, right in the face.
My husband fell back, in complete shock, and for a moment, there was stillness. It lasted just a second before Andrew launched across the room and began beating and choking his father.
It was like he was feral. I had never seen him that way and it terrified me. He was screaming and yelling. Not words, just noise. Guttural, wild screaming. I tried to pull him away, but there was a strength I’d never felt from him before, he just pushed me aside and continue his assault.
It took several attempts but I managed to finally pull Andrew away. As I checked on my husband, examining his bruised and bloody face, Andrew stormed out of the house, and that was the last time I saw him.
He stopped calling home, and any time I’d call him, it would go to his voicemail. I left messages over and over, saying that I just needed to know he was safe, but he never responded. I wrote letters to him. I called the university. I started leaving daily messages on his Facebook wall, until he shut his profile down. I even set up an Xbox Live account so I could sent a message to his profile there, but he closed the account shortly after.
It was like he was trying to isolate himself more and more from everyone around him, and was determined that nobody was going to reach him.
I decided to travel up to the university to see him, but he wasn’t there. His housemates said that they hadn’t seen him in days, and that he hadn’t attended lectures or seminars in weeks. They’d tried to contact him but had faced the same setbacks that I had.
Apparently, he just took off in the middle of the night, after they confronted him about his strange behaviour. He’d left all his belongings and just disappeared.
I asked them if they knew about the Garden, and their faces fell. One by one, they all explained that it was notorious around the campus. Once people went in, they never came back out.
They told me that the group latches onto vulnerable kids and pulls them in, and after a while, those kids were never seen again. None of them knew where I could find the Garden, just that a couple of girls visit the campus to recruit for them, every couple of weeks.
I’m going to wait here as long as it takes. I’m going to find those girls, and I’m going to make them take me to my Son. It isn’t much of a plan, but it’s all that I’ve got.
I called his phone again, and now I don’t even get his voicemail, it doesn’t even ring. His number has been disconnected, and all I can hope is that I find him soon.
Dear Annalynne McCord, I’m sorry that I was not your mother. If I was your mother, you would have been loved enough to know that a war is not the right time to center yourself. Held in the kind of esteem that makes you secure enough in yourself to offer real help, instead of attention seeking stunts with an unhealthy dose of internalised misogyny, and if not, I would have simply switched the wifi off when you said “Mum, I’ve written Vlad a poem.”
If I was your mother, the world would have gone on as it did, but your publicist wouldn’t have the headache of you being heartbreakingly empty headed as the bombs rain down and the dreams of children burn. I cannot imagine the stain, the soul stealing pain of being so blind to the world around you, and so convinced of your own good virtue that you think a dictator’s madness could have been stopped by the mythical magic of a mother’s love. The boy became a man, and then became much older, but the world still holds his mother responsible, holding her over the fire, when by his own admission, she was a better mother than you had been wishing to be, and still you blame her, instead of him.
If I was your mother, I would tell you what motherhood really is. It is not a recipe, nor a formula, there is no true guidebook or manual, it is just giving and giving and hoping and wishing that the child you gave your heart to will grow up and be a blessing, but a child is not a dish that you cook, or a drink that you mix, or a problem you can fix, A child is the wayward winds of the Western Isles, A child is the April showers on the coast of Hastings, A child is the sweet sunsets watched by tired shepherds…
If you haven’t guessed by now, my dear AnnaLynne, I am trying to make clear that a child is a thing we love but not control, a child is a storm, a summer breeze, things we wait for, things we watch, but things that will grow, love, hate, decide, laugh, run, cry and wage war, all on their own, eventually.
If I was your mother, you would understand, we can teach them to be polite, use the right forks at dinner, appreciate music and green vegetables, we can tell them to be kind, hold them tight, read them stories, but time passes, and our influence fades and they escape from our arms into the world and…
They wage wars, or they make stupid slam poetry videos on social media, and if I was your mother, I would ask you who made the decision to record that nonsense? Who said those words? Who simpered on camera for the “lost soul” of a dictator? Was it you?
If I was your mother, I would ask you what you expect the corpse of Vladimir Putin’s mother to do. I would ask you why years after her death, years after the childhood he says himself was good, you still throw the blame for a grown man’s crimes at a dead woman’s shoes? If I was your mother, I would ask why you look at a grown man and can’t understand that his soul was lost because he threw it away. If I was your mother, I would switch off the wifi, and tell you to get some damn perspective. If I was your mother, I would take you to a writing class.