Editor’s note: The following story was written by the Lovefraud reader from Australia who goes by the name “Acharbet.” He says, “The names I use below are false in order to protect the innocent, guilty and bystanders. I have preserved people’s genders in their names, but have obscured ethnicities, which I consider to be irrelevant to my story.”
As mine is a convoluted story, a tortured story, and clearly not a terribly customary story, I am not going to write it in a terribly customary way. I will use no firm and fixed chronology. Instead, I am going to reveal events in the order in which their truths revealed themselves to me.
She stood there, tall, severely overweight and with a smile on her face that almost screamed “I dare ya.” She strained at the effort as she lowered her weight upon the chair. It was at least the second time (and quite probably more than the third) I had met Alice-with-the-Two-Family-Names, even though I was convinced I’d never before met her. It was the early 1990s; I was in my late twenties. I was on unpaid sick leave from my law enforcement job, as I had suffered a major psychotic disruption (a breakdown, some called it, schizoaffective disorder was what my psychiatrist called it). Between the illness, the heavy medications and the bevy of Parkinsonian tics the latter gave me, I was barely there and barely myself. Over ten weeks since going on the meds, my weight had nearly doubled. Sometimes I’d slap my hand or arm to test that it was mine, as my body felt alien to me. Sometimes I’d jab myself with a steel ruler or fork, just to feel. My head was full of electric worms and flashes of horrors that could not possibly be real. I felt as if I’d been slowly drowning in a tub of cold bathwater for too long and my flesh had become pollen and misshapen, the real me, my real voice muffled within rimples of bloated, waterlogged flesh.
Some family members had already taken advantage of my breakdown, to coerce things from me such as my car, some savings and my right to self-determination. I was still years away from figuring out my twisted mother had twisted me. I was yet to figure out that any love in need of earning was in itself an illusion. Dad had died when I was six and either she’d changed as a result, or, as I later came to believe, his death meant she felt no further need to secrete her true nature. And it gave her a few additional weapons to wield to bolster her reign of tyranny. It is a sad truth that when a man wants love his mother cannot give, when denied it, sometimes he will seek it out elsewhere.
Alice, on reflection, was so very much like Mother. Similar temperament, similar values, similar displays of looking Christian, of appearing devout, of being seen to be a church-goer. Similar means of barking moralistic truisms as if they were deeply held principles, when in fact they were all huff and puff and displays of malignant vanity.
A qualified mental health professional, Alice-with-the-Two-Family-Names was working as a part time staff counselor for a large, local company, and as a part time sandwich hand at a small convenience store. Even through my shrouds of illness and medications, her jobs seemed an odd combination to me, as if she were underachieving for a professional. She also said things about having once competitively driven racing cars, although she’d not be drawn on any details of that.
When my sister introduced us, let me say she called her Alice Upton. Alice sometimes went by the diminutive Ally, and I was later to discover, would swap and change between her maiden name Upton and her married name Xavier several times even over the course of a single day. Alice and my sister Barbara seemed always together. “Getting up to no good,” they’d guffaw together. “Being bad is good.”
Barbara told me that she’d met Alice when Alice had moved into her neighbourhood and put her children into the same school as Barbara’s kids. They’d “clicked” oddly quickly. “It was as if she knew me before she met me,” she said.
Coincidences were not short here as it turned out that Alice’s husband grew up in a house two doors down from my childhood home, and that my family knew his. These coincidences were going to multiply, to the point I later wondered whether they were truly coincidental at all. In that I do not mean coincidental in the “woo-spooky, isn’t it all a mysterious wonder” sense of the word, but rather in the “isn’t she a really creepy stalker type psycho” sense.
Barbara was in an unhappy marriage. My brother-in-law, Don, was neglectful and emotionally distant, sometimes emotionally abusive. I naïvely felt this new friendship would be good for her. But there was something disquieting about Alice.
At first, I felt something for Alice. She was totally unlike any other woman in whom I had found any attraction. It was odd that, despite my health, I felt anything at all. I was unable to explain what I felt exactly, but I had a compelling desire to be with her. Fortunately for me, I was too much of a basket-weaving case at this point to do anything about it.
Time went by and I learned Alice was living with a man, Ed, whilst awaiting her divorce from her husband, Frank.
During this time, I worked hard at improving my health. I’d had to resign from my job, as they were applying a lot of pressure upon me to come back before I was ready. I think they pressured me into resigning as my illness made things hard. For them. I went onto social security. Sickness benefits at first, then I was granted a disability pension.
Then I had to sack my psychiatrist. He’d put me on a new antipsychotic, which in theory meant he had a responsibility to monitor how that was going, and when I turned up for appointments, he’d cancelled without telling me so he could attend a board meeting at the private hospital he part owned. He did this three sessions in a row, so through a friend I found a new psychiatrist.
I will call her Dr. Taylor. She was an odd sort of doctor who wore op-shop (“thrift store,” to my American friends) clothing and urged me to get on top of my finances by learning to cook soup. She said the number one thing that people with mental illnesses can do to improve their health is to learn to cook nourishing, affordable food. She was not afraid of her prescription pad when it was needed, and she was brilliant with her “talk therapy” but she much preferred to teach self-observation and meditation or the best use of lentils, herbs and spices or how to get more mileage out of one’s razor blades. We spent occasional sessions bent over, pulling weeds from her garden in the sunlight as we accepted visits from her free-range egg-laying chickens; or sometimes we would talk inside eating some of her vegetable soups on colder, less pleasant days.
Doctor Taylor got me thinking about matters spiritual and she was a Hindu. A former atheist, I converted to Christianity and studied. I found I had a knack for understanding spiritual principles, but I was aghast at what I saw in my local church. I later decided I had become a Christian as another means of earning my mother’s love, but I did also have a love for truth and it was in my Christianity that I started to see her hypocrisies, at first dimly, and then with ever greater clarity. I eventually decided that Christianity was not for me. Not because that faith lacks truth, but rather that I discovered that it was not the best model of truth for me. I found hypocrisy and lies seemed to be most commonly found on the pews of my church, and having started to look into other faiths, found an overarching truth shared by all beliefs. I decided that religion was not for me, but that faith was. I decided that, for me, the problem with religion was that it always carried dogma that stood between myself and what most people call “God.”
Through Dr. Taylor I learned meditation and decided to explore Hindu and Buddhist practices and beliefs. I did not actually become a member of those faiths, but I did learn a lot from them. I started some ascetic practices, trying to clean myself out. I became a vegetarian.
Then one Christmas, I travelled to spend time with my family (I was living in that country at this point) and there at Barbara’s place was Alice. We started talking and I thought I had fallen in love with her. She told me she had fallen for me as well. So much for the spiritual disciplines.
The sex was for me unprecedented in that we could keep going and going and going and going and going. But I had had to come to an understanding about her anatomy. I have always liked learning how to please a lady when I am with her, to learn what she likes, how she likes to be touched, how she doesn’t like to be touched. With Alice, I had to learn her anatomy from scratch, as it was unlike anything I had ever before seen. She said that she’d had a cancer scare and that the surgeons had had to give her an emergency operation “down there.” From what I could see, I did start to wonder whether the surgeon involved had worked in London’s East End in 1888 and had gone by the name Jack.
A few days after our first sex we became “engaged.” I use quotes here, as I was later to learn she was not serious. She asked me to promise not to tell Ed, who she said was only her housemate. She asked me to keep our “engagement” secret from him, telling me that “he has a silly idea in his head he’s gonna marry me (Alice) one day.”
There were times I found her talking on her phone with him and she’d put the phone away. I began to feel jealous.
She kept two, sometimes three separate mobile (cell) phones. I noticed that when she answered her first phone, she’d use her married name, when she answered her second phone, she’d use her maiden name, and on occasions when she carried her third phone, she’d answer with her given name. Sometimes I saw he stumble and use the wrong name, but she’d quickly catch herself, oftentimes correcting herself mid-word. She was also always camera shy, never willing to be photographed with me. When we became engaged, my mother took a photo of her and she dodged her head away, leaving a blur.
Then in our sex, sometimes in bed we’d talk, but she’d always deride me if I brought up Ed. She’d change the subject after telling me not to pressure her, that she’d set him straight but that she’d have to do it her way.
One day, we went together to meet her parents. Herein I discovered another “coincidence.” Her father, now retired, was formerly a bus driver who had regularly driven the route outside my childhood home. He remembered me (odd in itself) as he’d called me “the little gentleman,” after my politeness and the care I took as a child riding on his bus to give up my seat to elderly passengers, and to help people who had tripped. I learned how he had come home and told his family about the exploits of “the little gentleman.”
He seemed weird enough, but her mother scared me. There was something disquieting about her, disquieting in the sense of “is she a serial killer or somesuch?”
I also learned that it was on one day when Alice was with her father on the bus that she met her husband, living two doors away from me.
At times, when in bed together, Alice would talk in her sleep. I recall her saying one night, “Okay, Mummy, I be a good girl now, I promise.” Then she started to rock back and forth and cry in her sleep, saying, anxiously, “I will, I will, I promise, I promise!”
Then one night she told me a story about her car racing career. She’d first referred to it when Barbara had introduced us what was by this time eight years before. Neither Alice nor Barbara had spoken much detail about it.
The story she told me was that she was fifteen years old and used to frequent a racetrack. It was the same racetrack at which my deceased father had spent time as part of the pit crew of a racing team. Remember what I said about coincidences regarding Alice? Here’s a doozy.
She said that she had to bind her breasts with tape so she cold pass as an eighteen year old man. At the time, women were excluded from racing at that track, and the minimum age was eighteen. She said she’d had an accident in her race, her car was on fire and they had to cut her out of her wreck with the “jaws of life.” And there, standing above her, was “an older man” who pulled her free and took her under his wing. She said his name was Richie Robin.
She said Richie took her around, and used to take her for rides in his purple hotrod, speeding like crazy all over the place.
Now, leaping back to my childhood, Richie Robin was the name of my deceased father’s friend. Richie was one of the younger, less experienced drivers at the track where my father volunteered as pit crew. I recalled him as he drove a rather impressive hotrod. My father, an automotive spray-painter by trade, had painted that car himself. He’d had to order the paint from California to Australia, and it cost more than the car. Due to Dad’s inability to read or write (he had severe dyslexia), my sister Barbara had to complete the paperwork for the order and for the customs documentation. I recall how purple it was, and the mirror effect on the massive engine block. But I also remember the shimmer of metal flakes suspended within the paint that gave a rainbow reflection effect when sunlight struck the car. Dad always raved about how proud he was of his paint job on Richie Robin’s hotrod. It was very hard to get the metal flakes properly distributed through the paint when it was applied to the car body, as the flakes of metal within it tended to fall and clump at the bottom.
I also remember my father being angry about Richie. My father was never an angry man, and was usually very even tempered. But this one time, I could see he was angry. It was not that long before he died, so I was probably five years old at the time (he died within days of my sixth birthday). He was angry because Richie was getting around in his hotrod, speeding around with a young girl in his lap, a teenager. Dad said, “If he lets anything happen to that girl, anything, anything at all, he’ll, he’ll, he’ll… well he better not let anything happen to that girl.”
So back to Alice’s bedtime story; she was saying she was the girl that Richie was going around with in his hotrod. When I asked her for more details, I could see in the darkness (for I have abnormally good low-light vision, more on that later) that she was struggling for answers. Something was… odd. Wrong. Something was awry about her story.
I wanted to explore that further, and my ever-increasing doubts about her fidelity as regards her housemate Ed, but at this time I started to feel odd. One day I was outside my local supermarket and I collapsed. Another day I was driving just outside of the town where I lived and lost consciousness. I came to with my car flying through the air into a paddock, the barbed wire fence slicing up my windscreen. I came down onto a boulder, and after limping home in my damaged car, quit driving for a while.
I saw my doctor who referred me to a neurologist. He was concerned I may have a tumour, so I underwent tests. A lot of tests. CAT scans and MRIs showed no defect, but my neurologist was convinced there had to be a tumour. Not all tumours show on scans, so he was tentatively thinking of exploratory neurosurgery, wherein he’d cut open my skull to see if there was a tumour there. The only neurological explanation for my mental absences was, he thought, a tumour.
Then one day I was in the shopping centre and I found myself staring at the ATM. I was gone, vacant. It transpired that I had been standing there for nearly twenty minutes. A security guard was there with me when I came back to Earth.
I called my “fiancee.” She was openly chewing some food over the phone. I told her what had happened and she said, “Yeah? Whaddaya want me to do about it?” I said “Nothing.” I went to the hospital.
More tests, no clear results.
I had no idea what was going on, but I felt I had to end things with Alice. So I did. I ended our engagement. I told her I couldn’t do this any more.
The so-called “neurological symptoms” disappeared entirely within days of Alice’s absence.
I rededicated myself to meditation and “cleansing” myself. Then a few months later, Alice turned up at my door begging to get back together. I stupidly agreed.
The “neurological symptoms” returned, worse than before, only now I was getting other things happening. I noticed that pink-orange street lamps and foggy nights made me profoundly depressed. I started seeing things that were not there, hearing voices, smelling things, feeling very cold inside. Flashes of dead bodies, of a boy’s head splashed by a shotgun onto the wall behind him, of a cold, clammy girl in a bathtub, blue streaks tracing the blood vessels in her body. Smelly feet and a red beret with a gold pin on it. It was the exact same horror stuff that was at the beginning of my major breakdown, when my schizoaffective disorder hit me hard all those years before.
So finally I ended it for the final time. I lied, telling her I had decided to enter the local Buddhist monastery (I had been there a few times and found them very helpful) and so she let me go. I thought she may be more likely to let me go for that reason. I knew she would not so easily let me go otherwise.
A few days later I received a message on my answering machine. It was from a police officer in a different city. The name seemed familiar. Alice had occasionally mentioned him as being a friend of hers “who would do favours for her if she asked.” The message was non-committal but asked me to call a long-distance number in the state capital city.
I called and the Duty Sergeant there answered. He could not find any notes left by the officer in question. I knew this to be an irregularity. If a call is made from a police station, asking that you call the station, the Duty Sergeant must be informed, or at least a note left. This was not the case. The Duty Sergeant said it was “probably a welfare check” and not to worry.
The call had felt threatening, but it deprived me of sleep that night and made me focus on things. I pondered everything I knew and after a little while that night, a thought occurred to me: purple. Richie Robin’s hotrod had been purple and Alice had known that. But for someone who was a self-styled “car freak,” she remembered only the most sketchy details about the hotrod. I had asked her what colour was the engine, the upholstery. She had said she couldn’t recall. That was at odds with her claims about being such a freak about cars. Further, it seemed odd to me the way she shied away from delving into any details, how quickly she acted offended at my asking, the defensive then aggressive attitude she adopted.
After a sleepless night, I called the police station again only to be told that the officer in question, Alice’s friend, had gone on leave and would not be back for some weeks. They asked me whether I wanted him to call me back. I said “no.”
Oddly, after one sleepless night, all my “neurological symptoms” were utterly gone. Normally, sleeplessness would make them worse. Much worse.
I rang Barbara and asked her an odd set of questions. I asked her whether she remembered Richie Robin. She said, “Yes.” I asked her what colour was his hotrod. She said, “It was blue. Bright blue.” I said, “Not purple?” She said “No, and you were always cute how you insisted it was purple, that you loved Richie Robin’s purple hotrod.” I then asked whether it might have been easy to have mistaken the blue for purple. She said, “No, not really, not unless you’re colourblind or something.” To which I said, “Well, I am colourblind.” Then so much started tumbling into place.
Earlier, I mentioned how I have abnormally good night vision. It comes at the expense of my colour vision. I see colours, and do indeed enjoy them, but my retinas have an excess of low-light sensitive rod cells. The rod cells have grown in some parts of my retina that normally would have colour-sensitive cone cells. My father had the opposite problem: too many cones, not enough rods. He had brilliant colour vision, which he used in his spray painting career, but could not handle low light. At dusk and dawn, if he were on the road with Mum and we kids, he’d have to let Mum drive.
Now this colour blindness issue is a genetic disorder found in my Y-chromosomes. Only men can have that problem. So how did Alice remember such a sparsity of detail about Richie Robin’s hotrod, but remember the colour of it as purple, a colour that would only be perceived by someone with the exact same type of colour blindness I have?
I started talking to Barbara about it. It seemed there were more “coincidences” about Alice. She told me that she had learned that Alice and our mother had met and become friends just a few months before she’d moved into Barbara’s neighbourhood. It had been Christmas, and our mother was with a local church charity handing out food parcels to the needy. Alice volunteered there as well, in spite of it being a fairly large distance for her to travel. Mother had evidently said that her friendship with Alice had arisen astonishingly quickly. It seemed similar to how quickly had her friendship formed with Barbara, and our little affair had formed together.
So next I asked my brother to check in his local library for me the old records from the local newspaper. He was still living in the same place where we’d grown up, and he had a passion for genealogy, so was no stranger to library research. I recalled that Richie Robin had died in a spectacular accident that had appeared on the front page of the local newspaper. He had wrapped his hotrod around a support pylon in an underground carpark then under construction as part of a shopping centre (for Americans, shopping mall) development. The hotrod had been described as looking like a “piece of tinfoil, pressed around the pylon.”
He found a couple of things. Firstly, Richie had died later the same year our father had. Secondly, he was only twenty-one years old at the time of his death.
I did research at my end. The races of the type Richie and my father participated were only ever held at Easter. Richie had only ever raced in one year, and it had been that year. The legal minimum age for racers was at the time twenty-one, not eighteen as Alice had said. There had been no overt restriction against women racing, but they’d had no women compete there at this time. Basic math told me that at that time, Alice had been thirteen years old: that made it a little implausible that thirteen year old Alice had been able to pass herself off as a twenty-one year old man. Finally, the “jaws of life” that she said had been used to pry her from the car wreck were not to be invented until several years after the accident allegedly occurred.
So how did Alice know all these details, and clearly know them before she’d even met Barbara or my mother? How to explain all these hard-to-swallow “coincidences”?
Working with Dr. Taylor, I decided to explore my reaction to yellow-pink streetlamps. My aversion to fog seemed linked.
I went out one night to a place with the right coloured streetlamps and felt how it felt. It was awful. I could smell mold and urine. I started recalling how years before I had been volunteering with a mental health service.
Then I worked by day, and volunteered one night a week running a support group for teenagers and young adults who were in serious trouble. Two more nights a week, I underwent training in youth work at a local juvenile detention centre. Many of the kids in the program had been coerced into prostitution. They all had drug and alcohol problems. I had been in my early twenties at this stage and had attended the mental health service to deal with suicidal feelings and depression. I actually got no help from them at all, but started helping them. I had a knack for understanding psychological issues, in other people.
I think I had it ingrained in me to work, to put in, to contribute. I recalled the three suicides. The boy who blasted the top of his head off with a shotgun. I found his body, the plume of blood and brains painted onto the plaster above and behind him. The girl had taken something, some sort of poison. One of the other kids found her floating in the bathtub. It was winter, and it was cold. I attended just before the police arrived. Then the third. I didn’t see her but was told about it. I had been working long hours to help her get away from her father. I was trying to get her into a place, some emergency accommodation. Every week she joked about how many times her father had “dipped into the profits.” That was her euphemism for his rapes of her. She had always derided heroin addicts. It is a truth that many addicts will form a “pecking order,” with some looking down upon others. By looking down upon someone, a drug addict can hold on, if only a little bit longer, to a sense of not having fallen completely, thus retaining, at least a little bit longer, a sense of hope and of at least some vestige of self-respect. She had felt sorry for the work I had “wasted” on her, but the reason she’d refrained from taking heroin is that she had always known she would need something to “put an end to things” for her. She was nineteen when she suicided, and the oldest of the three. Her death was the hardest one for me to process because I think I loved her. I was only three years older than her and I admired her spark. I never acted on it because, despite not having been professionally trained, I knew the ethics of it all and the harm of it. A pity those ethics are not universally shared.
The so-called “neurological symptoms” were memories resurfacing. Alice had been my debriefing counselor arranged by the mental health service in the wake of those suicides. Barbara confirmed to me that Alice had told her of our past on the very day all those years before when Barbara had introduced us.
Alice the counselor/rapist had been a much younger, thinner woman than the morbidly obese Alice the friend/fiancee. She had gone exclusively by her married name, and using Ally instead of Alice.
I recalled how Alice the counselor had chastised me into consenting to hypnotherapy during my grief, how if I was serious about overcoming my issues I needed to cooperate. I did. She raped me during our session on a foggy night in August, the yellow-pink streetlamp light streaming through the cracks between the blinds in the window.
The next session she tried hypnotising me again, but I blocked her. She became angry, told me that if I am not going to cooperate, there are plenty of other mentally ill people out there who won’t waste her time, and do I want to be responsible for any other suicides by not dealing with my issues? The remains of this, our last session, were spent with her staring out into the night and me wrestling with the thought, “What happened? What happened really?”
Barbara, for her part, later told me she had thought it was “so romantic” that former counselor and client had “fallen in love” when we became engaged. She had not shared that knowledge with me because Alice had cautioned her it “would not be wise” to let me know. She had hinted that some sort of harm might come to me were the truth ever to come out.
She also told me that Ed had also been one of Alice’s former counseling clients. He had suffered a work-related accident in which he had hit a child who had darted out onto the road. The child had died, and Alice had aided him in her capacity as a debriefing counselor.
Over the next few years, I fought to stay at work but I became increasingly sick. I thought at first there were microphones in the ceiling at work, and then in my head. I thought every white car carried a Government agent who was tracing me, and they needed to stop me drinking Coca Cola (for whatever reason), then that a “thought worm” had entered my brain and was broadcasting my thoughts through manipulations of my body odour, which flagged to everyone what a worthless person I was.
I don’t know whether I would have developed schizoaffective disorder without Alice’s rape and hypno-torture. Dr. Taylor thought the psychosis was likely innate to me, beneath the surface, existing as a vulnerability. That vulnerability had been triggered not so much by the rape itself, but by a psychotic break caused by hypnosis being used so recklessly. Apparently, hypnotherapy is usually contraindicated when suffering depression, anxiety or grief reactions. It is likely I may never would have suffered my psychosis at all, unless triggered by some similar abuse.
Doctor Taylor also suggested that it appeared to her that Alice had, at the very least, profound malignantly narcissistic traits, if not an overt narcissistic personality, and very like borderline personality disorder. The abnormalities I’d encountered in Alice’s vagina seemed likely to have resulted from an act of self-harm motivated by her borderline personality disorder. It seemed to Dr. Taylor to be likely that Alice had used a large knife upon herself.
Today I live with the mental illness triggered by Alice. I am still angry at her, but also I pity her. I think she was sexually abused in early childhood. Dr. Taylor thought it possibly to have been committed by her mother, with her father being a subordinate and more passive abuser. The abuse Alice experienced was likely to have been egregious, and to have started early in her life, probably before she was eighteen months old.
In the times since these events, I have become involved in one way or another with more sociopathic people, but have learned to recognise them more. As a part of my process of getting abusive people out of my life, I discovered I had to estrange myself from my family.
I don’t blame them for their twistedness, and it would be hypocritical of me to do so, as I am not exactly undamaged goods either. But then I do not harm others, nor do I find pleasure in the misery and suffering of others. I have learned that sometimes my compassion seems to draw sociopaths in, flagging to the wolves that I am a lamb, and the chops that make me up are going to be simply delicious. Come and get it, dinner’s served!
I started volunteering then professionally working for some community newspapers. Then I put myself through college, earning qualifications in writing and editing, as well as in adult education. I taught for a few years, teaching literacy, numeracy, computing and business skills to mainly adults with cognitive disabilities (mental health, intellectual and autistic spectral) and teaching non-fiction writing at the college where I earned my Diploma with later qualifications in telematics education and in educating people with autistic spectral disorders. I taught until a few years ago when overwork saw me suffer a heart attack. Now I write, endeavouring to complete then market my debut science fiction novel. I also participate in two workshops for speculative fiction writers, and spend as much time with my writing colleague friends and fellow geeks as I can.
I have tried and failed at a few relationships, but feel I am not capable of being in a sustainable relationship. I cannot say which is the biggest reason for this, whether it is damage I suffered being raised by my sociopathic mother, or a result of the rape and torture by my sociopathic counselor/fiancee. But I have found relationships too hard and too painful to endure. I have trouble trusting in relationships as well. Alice and my sister kept the truth from me for many years. Further, I do not believe Alice’s happening to volunteer where my mother volunteered and becoming fast friends with her suspiciously fast, nor moving house into my sister’s neighbourhood and becoming fast friends with her suspiciously fast, were in either case truly coincidental.
When people ask why I am not with someone (and thankfully that seems to be happening less and less now that I am in my fifties) I reply that I would rather be happy than coupled.
I have thus decided to focus on being happy just being who I am. Researching and writing science fiction is enough for me. My babies shall be my books, and the hopefully positive memories I leave with my friends.