Judi Valentine: The mad vortex
Even Pollyanna has a shadow. I learned this from my brilliant writing coach, Kathrin Seitz of Rockport. I say Rockport, but she has run with the big dogs in Los Angeles and New York. So, when she said read this book, I did. The book is by Stephen King called, On Writing. In the book Stephen suggests a writing exercise based on a scenario he made up. It wasn't pretty, but I couldn't stop myself from rooting around inside my own fetid world to write this piece. Kathrin, thank you for the knowledge, inspiration--and belief--that anyone can learn how to write fiction and get published. — Judi Valentine
The mad vortex
I'm scared shitless and not ashamed to admit it. Until today my life has been euphoric — one entire year free from living in a constant state of fear. Now, familiar tentacles of terror crawl up my spine, scheming to overwhelm me. How could this have happened? Where is my freedom now? In the shitter.
I just learned that my psychotic ex-wife, Jane, escaped from her prison hospital along with two other inmates. Two have been captured, but the third person is still at large.
Heading home to Nashua from my job as a reporter in Boston, I'm afraid of what I'll find there. I probably shouldn't even be going home. Well, it's not home really — it's the cabin I'm watching for a friend, short term.
I press harder on the gas, trees whiz by — gotta get there and then get out. Thankfully, no one knows where I am. For the last month, I've been at that friend's place outside of Nashua. I pray the monster hasn't somehow found out. Since divorcing and being rid of her a year ago, I've had to work at not constantly looking over my shoulder in the way that was my life for years. That's how terrifying the woman was.
During our marriage, Jane burned me with her cigarette, put a poisonous spider in my bed and turned the scalding water on while I was in the shower — not to mention her many attempts to damage my private parts. I prefer not to talk about that, even in therapy, which I've been practically living in full time since Jane's incarceration.
We tell stories.
We tell stories to make sense of our lives.
We tell stories to communicate our experience of being alive.
We tell stories in our own distinct voice. Our own unique rhythm and tonality.
Transformations is a weekly story-telling column. The stories are written by community members who are my students. Our stories will be about family, love, loss and good times. We hope to make you laugh and cry. Maybe we will convince you to tell your stories.
— Kathrin Seitz
“Everyone, when they get quiet, when they become desperately honest with themselves, is capable of uttering profound truths. We all derive from the same source. There is no mystery about the origin of things. We are all part of creation, all kings, all poets, all musicians; we have only to open up, only to discover what is already there.” — Henry Miller
Kathrin Seitz teaches Method Writing in Rockport, New York City and Florida. She can be reached at email@example.com.
We do have one great outcome from our marriage — Alfie, a beautiful little girl. Alfie is a product of the safe days. The days before Jane fell irreversibly into the vortex of madness. The days before she stopped taking her meds and her illness grew like a well-fed bacteria in a warm petri dish.
Alfie lives with me now because her mother has been locked up in the prison hospital for the last year. Good place for her. Even her entire family pushed to have her permanently institutionalized after she served several sentences for heinous acts of violence — mostly perpetrated against me, but also sometimes against Alfie.
I remember that final day in court like somebody stuck it on my brain with bubblegum. It was the culmination of a long series of hearings worthy of a Grisham novel. Except with Grisham, you know the good guy wins in the end. I had no such reassurance.
The purpose of the hearing was to establish the insanity of my wife. Before that, she had been to court on 17 counts of violence, acts too gruesome to describe. Most of these did not have other witnesses — besides me and Alfie — who was too young to testify in court. That's what made it so damned difficult to prove.
In most cases it was her word against mine, but like a typical sociopath, she could often seem balanced and charming. Even her family and doctors didn't doubt that Jane had to be taken off the streets, taken out of society, and as far as I was concerned, taken off the planet — for good.
That final day in court my lawyers strolled into the courtroom late, with an unruffled bravado only many years of tort practice could muster. I was feeling the opposite — worried sick. I was already seated, alone, at the long front table on the left. My wife and her legal team were seated at the front table on the right. There were four or five people in the courtroom. Not exactly six o'clock news worthy.
This was to be the final hearing before Judge Timbal. Timbal was a white-haired lothario who seemed to wear a coat of Velcro for women. His eyes couldn't resist tailing after long bare legs and curvy body parts. I sometimes wondered if he was even listening to the testimony—especially when said parts were bouncing.
I stole a glance over to my wife's table and saw that she was staring back at me with dagger-like eyes seeking their prey. Cold chills ran up my spine, the same as always. I knew what the woman was capable of.
Her legal team was all women — gorgeous women — smart, gorgeous women. Jane's lawyer knew Timbal's weakness and played it like a harp. I had a tiny modicum of confidence, based on the way Timbal had ruled on technical decisions so far, gorgeous women not withstanding. But I wasn't placing any bets.
I was taking a shaky gulp of water when the bailiff yelled, "All rise," and in walked Judge Timbal, his stiff white hair looking like he had stolen Anthony Quinn's stylist. He first glanced over at the table of gorgeous women, then threw a reluctant eye pass over to our table. Shit, I thought.
Jane and I had met seven years ago in a college writing class. It was love at first sight — and sound. We were both taken by each other's voices during the read aloud sessions. Well, to be honest, I was completely reeled in by her muscular body and laser blue eyes. I was the star quarterback of our football team and could have had any girl I wanted. But I didn't want just any girl; I had to have Jane — seduce her into my bed — feel those pecs for myself.
At our professor's suggestion she and I banded together as a writing team, sharing assignments and crafting joint articles. Forced to be with me for hours at a time, Jane eventually fell for my irresistible charm. Well, that's what my super-sized ego thought at the time. Little did I know I was the one being snake charmed. I found out later she had paid our professor to team us up — and not with money.
We got married right after graduation and both went to work for The Boston Globe. Two years later Alfie showed up and Jane switched to part time. Then my world started to go tilt. Up until then I had seen some odd — even scary — behavior, but not enough to realize how totally screwed I was.
Over the next three years Jane's actions became increasingly more psychotic with some episodes requiring hospitalization — for her safety and ours. Each time she came home things were better for a while. Her meds got balanced and it was like I had my old Jane back. She was as placid as pond water. Then within weeks, the water would turn dangerous and murky. I'd come home to hysteria and danger. Often Alfie was locked up all day in a dark closet screaming for her daddy — with Jane out back throwing knives at a target. She'd tell me she had been hired by black ops and needed to practice her skills.
I shook away painful memories as Judge Timbal slammed his gavel several times to quiet the courtroom. "Ladies and gentlemen, present your summaries."
My heart sat solidly in my throat for the next several hours during final arguments. I could barely stick it out as I listened to Jane's lawyers lie about my behavior, all the while painting her as a stressed out, but loving wife and mother. I wanted to puke my guts out. Luckily there was nothing in my stomach to heave; I hadn't eaten for days.
After five excruciating hours in courtroom hell, the judge finally called for a recess. He stood and without looking at anyone, turned into the chambers to deliberate and reach his final judgment. We all stood as he left the courtroom.
The second his black robes disappeared I bolted outside for some fresh air and found a nearby bench hidden by bushes. I looked up at the sky and begged whoever was up there to please help me and my little girl become free of this demon. Then I chain smoked and paced, even though I had quit smoking after college. Feeling like I could easily go crazy, I caught myself . . . Alfie needs you.
After one of the longest hours of my life, we were finally called in. I entered the building from the back and as I began to climb the isolated stairs to the second floor, I immediately smelled a familiar perfume — Egyptian musk oil. A smell that now sickened me.
"Hello, handsome," Jane's smarmy voice peeled out from under the staircase, as if she had been lying in wait like a predatory cat.
"Jane . . . what the hell do you want?" I stopped, looking around for someone, anyone. She seemed normal at the moment, but she could turn faster than an F-16.
"Nothing critical, Dick." She placed a kind of wormy emphasis on my name.
"I just want to wish you luck . . . Dick . . . and Alfie. I know you'll miss me. You did love my body, didn't you?"
I turned away and continued to climb the stairs, trying to gain distance from her as fast as possible. There was no talking civilly to that woman. I'd tried a thousand times before and gotten burned—every time.
"Just remember, Dick," she started to yell up the stairs. "No matter where you and Alfie go, I'll find you. You can't take my daughter away. She's mine. Remember that. She's mine . . . mine. She came out of my body, my womb, my birth canal . . ."
Her voice got louder and more crazed as I picked up speed, now racing up the stairs. By then she was screaming up at me like the complete mad woman she was.
"My labor pains . . . my bleeding nipples . . . my . . . " followed by a gasp and sobbing.
I vaguely heard a woman's voice speaking calmly, but by then was at the top of the stairs and practically flew down the hall and into the men's room. I scrambled into a stall, sat down holding my throbbing head with both hands, rocking back and forth.
Please God, take this weight from us. We can't take it anymore.
After a few minutes my heart slowed down to its normal high blood pressure pace. I wiped off my wet face, stood up and left the stall to see my lawyer, Jake, swishing at the sink.
"Everything okay, man? You look like you've just seen a ghost."
"I hope so. Let's get this damn thing over with." Still feeling light headed and sick to my stomach, I walked the long stretch with Jake back to the front table.
"All rise," the booming voice of the bailiff yelled out, and Judge Timbal walked swiftly to his bench as if now that his decision had been made we were all wasting his time.
For a few drawn-out minutes, Timbal said nothing. His unreadable stare traveled back and forth, back and forth between Jane and me. The courtroom was so quiet I could hear my brain creaking like it wanted to bust out of my head and run to the nearest bar for sustenance.
Finally, Timbal blared out, "In the case of the Massachusetts State Department of Corrections versus Jane Flicker, I hereby declare Ms. Flicker legally insane. She is to be remanded to the Bridgewater State Hospital for life, her sentence to begin immediately."
He pounded his gavel twice, then picked up his file and stalked out without saying another word. Courtroom sounds erupted. I sat there with my head in my hands, ready to bawl with relief. Is this real or am I dreaming?
"Jesus, what the hell . . .?" I heard Jake say as commotion erupted on my right. I looked over to see Jane freaking out. Even with a ton of sedatives in her system she was trying to fight off the prison guards attempting to cuff her. One of them already had a bloody scratch running from his eyebrow to his chin. She was a wildcat who needed the tranquilizer gun. Eventually it took five guys to subdue her. Finally, she was taken away, broken, hysterical.
That was the last time I saw Jane. Immediately after the hearing I said no to a victory round at the local bar and took off. Even though it was tempting as hell — I couldn't wait to get away from this place, these memories.
And now, exactly one year later, it feels like no time has passed. I'm worried about Jane all over again. It seems unlikely — probably impossible — that she knows where I'm staying.
Thank God Alfie is with my sister for a couple of weeks. Earlier, as soon as I learned about the escape, I called Julie and ordered her to take an emergency trip: "Get the hell out of there. NOW! Jane knows where you live, Julie."
My plan is to disappear as well, but not with Alfie and Julie. I don't want to endanger them. As soon as I turn in my article, I'm blasting out of here too; at least until they recapture Jane and put her away for good.
After the long drive out of the city, through commuter traffic and over back roads, I finally spot the cabin. So far so good, I think as I shut the car off, slowly get out and look around. Not that Jane would make her presence obvious, but I doubt she could find me so fast. Even so, my neck crawls with warnings. Calm down; there's no way she can find you here.
I hurry inside, start a fire, and settle down with a tall brandy and short espresso to finish my piece for The Globe. The calm environment presses down on me and I finally begin to relax. I stare into the roaring fire and take in the breathtaking views of the sun setting behind the little pond. Life could be great if it weren't for a monster lurking in the distance — what I hope is a great distance from me.
After several lost hours and more liquid fuel I look at the clock. Wow! Four straight hours at it, but I'm done. I click "save" and download the article onto my thumb stick, then shoot the damn thing off to my editor. Now I'm free — totally free to press on with my disappearing act.
I walk into the back bedroom, turn on the light and begin to pack. Not wanting to hang around much longer, I decide to eat on the road. As I throw unfolded clothes into my duffle bag, I hear a noise outside. What the hell's that? I look out the back window; maybe it's raccoons. They're always getting into the trashcans. I don't see anything in particular, but notice the bulkhead doors are open.
"Damn, didn't I shut that thing yesterday after putting away the lawn chairs?" I say out loud. Maybe I forgot to. My mind hasn't been firing on all cylinders lately.
I grab a flashlight, pocket my buck knife and head outside. I should own a gun, I think belatedly. I walk over to the bulkhead, check around with the flashlight — trashcans seem okay — and noisily shut the bulkhead doors. There's no quiet way to shut these damn things.
I head back inside to finish packing and begin to feel my self-control slipping. I've got to get out of here, man. I'm jumping at shadows. Just throw in a few more things and you're ready.
I grab a handful of underwear and socks from the open drawer and suddenly, there it is. I can't frigging believe it; I smell that nauseating scent—Egyptian musk.
You must be imagining it. I try to reassure myself. She has no idea in hell where you are. They say strong emotions can make your biochemistry react—even smell stuff that's not really there.
As if to squash that hope, every hair on my body stands up like soldiers ready for hand to hand. I spin around and see her—the monster—standing in front of the dying fire. Red-hot embers light her face into demonic colors — blackened reds, sinister oranges — dancing across her body as if to celebrate her arrival.
"Hello, Dick," she says in a voice that warns of bad things to come. "Have you missed me?" I notice something in her hand—the dying firelight reflecting from it. Is that a knife for God's sake?
"J . . . Jane, what are you doing here?" I ask, trying to slow down time, my heart beating its way out of my chest and the sound pounding inside my ears.
"Well, Dick, we haven't seen each other for an entire year; I thought we should have a little . . . celebratory reunion."
"I . . . I'm just headed out, see?" I point to my open suitcase, unfolded clothes hanging over the edges.
"Let's have a little drink first, like old times," Jane says, her voice dripping like syrup on velvet. "You owe me that much, Dick, taking Alfie away from me and all."
As she talks I slowly move into the living room toward her. I remember my buck knife. Will that be enough? Could I really kill Jane with a knife? Why in hell didn't I buy a frigging gun like my sister suggested . . . too late now.
"Listen, Jane. You're not well. Let's get you some help. I'll make a call."
"Help—ha! I've had enough of your kind of help — for a lifetime — two lifetimes. You have no idea what I've been through this year. That place is a frigging shit hole; this world is a shit hole. I'm not going back, Dick." She stares right through me with stone calmness. "And besides, your phone's in the fire."
Then she makes eerie eye contact. "I thought we could have a little drink together, Dick — a kind of farewell to arms before taking ourselves off to the next adventure — together." The whites of her eyes look like huge marbles I had as a kid — Devil's Eyes — all yellow and red.
"What about Alfie?" I ask, stalling. "She needs me. It's bad enough she lost one parent already." As I speak I continue to approach with the idea of taking that knife away. I grab mine hidden inside my left pocket. I'm not sure I can kill her . . . still not close enough.
"Alfie is better off with Julie and her cousins. You're not leaving here, Dick. You must know that," she says, slowly lifting her arm and the knife into throwing position.
Everything slows down as she aims the knife directly toward me. I watch the long, drawn-out motion of a shiny steel blade heading right for me.
"Jesus, Jane, what the hell are you doing?" I yell out, trying to duck. As if anticipating that move, the knife curves in an unnatural arc right toward my gut. I watch slack jawed as the knife pierces my abdomen. Immediately I lose all feeling in my legs and drop to the ground.
"Goodbye, Dick. See you in hell," Jane says, her face a blend of pity and madness.
Then she pulls a gun out of her pocket, aims at her forehead and shoots.
I lie next to her headless body, with the embers slowly dying in the stone fireplace. This is the last fire I'll ever see. I don't feel any pain. Maybe the wound cut off some nerve endings. But I can tell I'm bleeding out. I feel my clothes and skin soaking up my warm, wet blood — my lifeblood — leaking out of me. I'm dying.
Go with it, I think, and close my eyes. Distancing myself from my body I now focus on a bright light I see in the distance. I seem to be all mind now. I want to flow into the glowing vortex. This motion feels like ecstasy. If this is death I think I can handle it.
But all too soon I sense a familiar presence — hear a familiar voice.
Hello, Dick, the voice says. I died first so I could be here waiting for you. Isn't that wonderful? Now we'll always be together.
Dr. Judi Valentine is a clinical nutrition specialist with 20 years of experience in private practice and consulting to hospitals, clinics and corporations.
Judi is currently working with Kennebec Pharmacy and Health Care in Rockport offering expertise on nutrition supplements and other natural wellness approaches.
Judi grew up in Maine and, with her husband, Barry, has lived in Washington, D.C., and Annapolis, Md., for 20 years. They now live in Camden and are very happy to be back home.
In 2003, Judi published Weight Solutions: The New Body-Mind-Spirit Approach with co-author Dr. Janet Cunningham. Contact Judi at firstname.lastname@example.org.