by Denise Kelly LeBlanc
This is not a suicide note. It is the beginning of a quest that I don’t expect you to understand, but I ask that you accept my decision. It’s strange that I write this to provide answers when what I have are mostly questions; nevertheless, I am compelled to leave a record. Sasha, I entrust it to you in the hopes that someday its mysteries can be solved.
It all began seven months ago. My shifts at the hospital had been even longer and crazier than usual and I was close to the point of nurse’s burnout. My days off couldn’t arrive soon enough and I was looking forward to a date with Rob Arezzo. We had only recently met and the thought of a night out had given me something to anticipate. I was desperate for something to break up the cycle of work-home-work-home.
This chronic boredom made me think of the date as more of an event than I usually would. Preparatory details were few but savoured in an effort to amuse myself. I picked out an outfit totally unlike anything I would normally have worn. A fitted black shirt with a low-for-me V-neck and low rise black pants. I practiced walking in my new heels around my apartment. When the evening arrived I felt strong and confident and only slightly nervous. There was nothing I couldn’t handle!
The night began well. He suggested a couple of places but I knew of none of them. I told him the night was in his hands as I had no preference; besides, I craved something different than any of the places I would normally go. He chose a pub, warm with lots of dark wood and black and white photos on the walls. Our booth had a nice view of the street, panels of fabric covering the bottom half of the windows. It felt both cozy and social being out of the house but in this warm space. There could not have been a better place to suit my mood. Optimism flooded my every thought. I was decidedly content.
It was then that I first saw him. Rob had gone to the washroom and I was absent-mindedly watching a couple outside as they attempted to hail a cab. The woman was in her mid-20’s, pretty, with shoulder-length dark hair and an unusual ethnic touch to her features. I remember thinking I liked her dress, black and plum with spaghetti straps and an empire waist. The slight breeze was blowing the skirt gracefully around her calves, and with my mind fuzzy from two martinis the movement of the fabric was enthralling. When I realized that I was staring I shook my head clear and shifted my attention upward, finally taking note of the man for whom she moved so seductively.
He was more striking. Magnetic is the word that comes to mind. Once I took notice of him all thought of his companion was chased from my mind. He had pale skin and dark hair, cut short so that loose curls fell around his face highlighting his bone structure. Strong jaw line, almost square chin and high cheekbones. He was dressed like an after-hours Wall Street broker, sans tie and jacket. At what seemed to me at least 6 feet he towered over the petite woman.
It was his eyes that were remarkable. As they danced and laughed around each other I caught sight of those two empty pits of darkness. A darkness so deep that it didn’t end with his eyes, it flooded his every pore. I froze in my seat, unable to move, unable to warn the woman in the pretty dress. In retrospect, what could I have said? Don’t leave with him because I don’t like his eyes? I tell myself there was nothing I could have done and wonder if I’m just trying to comfort myself.
The couple finally managed to stop a cab and as he lowered himself into the seat he suddenly returned my gaze. To say that I felt an iciness mount from the base of my spine is like saying that the ocean is a little wet. His face broke into a sneer that would send the bravest soul shivering into a corner, and I’ve never been known for my bravery. In a split second he was gone, and I wish I could say it were as though it never happened.
I cut my evening short telling Rob I was not feeling well, not a hard sell as my face had drained of all colour and I was visibly shaken. I don’t remember exactly what I said and I fear I may have babbled a little, but at the time all I could think of was escape. Returning to my apartment I was no longer filled with the excitement of a first date. The cold fear that had gripped me with the man’s glance clung tenaciously, refusing to be ignored. Confusion and fear ruled my emotions as I tried to fall asleep, succeeding only in the early morning when sheer exhaustion overcame any objection.
When I awoke after a few hours things seemed different, as they often do in the light of day. I felt silly and rationalized what I’d experienced. Clearly I’d been tired from overwork and those two drinks must have affected me more than I’d realized. Clutching my coffee I left for the hospital, tired but reassured of my safety and my sanity. With any luck I would run into Rob so that I could try and do some damage control. I was embarrassed at how frantic I’d been and realized he must think me a little nuts.
Once at the hospital it was easy to lose myself in work; in fact the ER requires us to do so. Understaffed as usual, we were all doing three tasks at once. It wasn’t until noon that my day changed.
An ambulance arrived and I was immediately sent to receive the patient with the other doctors and nurses. “Female stabbing victim, excessive blood loss” was all we were told. As I pulled on my gloves the stretcher was lifted out of the vehicle and I glanced to see what we were up against. An oxygen mask covered the bottom half of her face, the rest was a mass of bloody tissue draped with strands of matted hair. One thing was clear; this was no one-thrust stabbing. This was a mutilation.
We ran down the hallway rolling the bed, doctors grimly stating her vital signs. Pulse was faint but she held on. When we got to the room and took down the blanket I recognized her for the first time. It wasn’t actually her that I recognized as much as the dress. Though shredded and saturated with blood, the printed fabric was distinctive. The last time I’d seen this girl was the night before when she’d gotten into the cab!
Frozen in place, I struggled to find an inch of her flesh not covered in blood, as though that would somehow help her survive. So many shallow cuts, their number rendering them fatal. This had been a long, slow bloodletting, and I knew there was no chance of survival.
Julia Sampson grabbed me by the arm and pulled me out of the room. “Lily, come on! What the hell is wrong with you?” She was angry, as any boss would be in the same situation. Luckily she didn’t have the time for a confrontation as there was a patient who needed her, a victim that I clearly couldn’t help.
I didn’t wait to hear if she lived because I already knew the outcome. Part of me had known since the previous night, from the second I looked into those deep black eyes. All I wanted was to run, though I had no idea where to go.
I ended up at home, though how I got there remains a mystery. Shock is a strange thing. All day questions ran through my mind. Who was that girl? More importantly, who was the man she was with? I struggled with the thought of calling the police, but the one thing I knew for certain was that he had seen me watching him. And as certain as I was of that, I also inexplicably knew that he had been aware of my presence the entire time, had staged his little seduction for my benefit. How could I go to the police if he knew who I was? I was absolutely paralyzed with fear.
For several weeks I went through the motions, performing my tasks by rote. The girl’s name was Ramona Wilder, but I went out of my way to learn nothing else. The police investigation was ongoing; my insight ended there.
Things slowly returned to normal, or as normal as my life ever is. With a great deal of effort, and not a little denial, I pushed the image of that man away, forced that evil smirk out of my mind. But it was always just under the surface, waiting for me to close my eyes and try to fall asleep.
It was during this time that you started to work at the hospital. Remember how we became friends as we gossiped about the doctors and other nurses? Our little club of two. I was really happy thinking that maybe I was getting another chance at escaping my rut. After all, Rob had long since fled in the face of my temporary psychosis! Apparently no amount of giggling and joking could make him forget the trembling idiot I’d become that night.
Our shopping excursions and coffee dates broke up the monotony of my life. Through work and our friendship I had regained a sense of security. But it wasn’t to last.
I was walking home from work one evening, happy to have a few days off, when the monster found me again. The person that I’d prayed did not exist had found me! It was easier to accept that I could be unstable than to believe such a horror could be real. Yet here he was across the street, with a woman, and again he looked at me and grinned, if that’s what you call his expression. Evil, and I don’t use the term lightly, is all his expression conveyed. He hugged her and as he did he looked directly into my eyes, into my mind. I stood as though nailed to the pavement, unable to move but for the incessant trembling. As he looked into my eyes he slowly, deliberately mouthed a single word, “Lily.” Sasha, he knew my name! I’d been right all along.
My legs almost gave out and I stumbled to the nearest stoop. I sat down and wiped my hands on my jeans but could not get rid of the cold clamminess that coated my palms. My thoughts raced as I tried to decide what to do. In the end I was frozen, unable to go, unable to act in any way. I sat on that stoop the entire night and waited for him to come out of the building. And he did. Oh, God, he did!
The sun was just coming up and the streets were eerily quiet, a silence that doesn’t occur in the city. I groggily opened my eyes and lifted my head from its concrete pillow in time to see the monster coming down the stairs. He locked my eyes with his own so that I did not initially register the entire image. Did not immediately see the woman he carried in his arms, like a bride carried over the threshold. The remnants of her clothes barely covered her ravaged body. Blood seemed to pour from every inch, drenching the concrete. And he grinned as he lay her down on the sidewalk, as though making an offering. An offering to me!
His dark stare felt like ice water poured from the top of my head to the base of my spine, now fused to the spot on the stair where I sat. His white shirt, unbuttoned to the chest, was covered in blood and his pale exposed flesh dripped with the life of his victim. He held my gaze as a performer before a captivated audience. Try as I might I could not look away. Stepping back from the body he gradually raised his arms as though inviting me into an embrace, an invitation that I could never accept. For a moment my conviction wavered; a split second of uncertainty that was the most frightening moment of all. And as though he could sense it his face spread into a self-satisfied smirk.
In the blink of an eye the street was bustling, people rushing around the body yelling for help that would arrive too late. It was like two frames of a film badly spliced together, jumping from one image to another. Frantically I looked for the monster, just a few moments before so willing to be seen in an empty street. He was gone. Without a trace. And he was replaced by a crowd of strangers, none of whom seemed to have seen the murderer. I overheard their conversations, their confusion at how she had come to rest in this spot, and I knew with certainty that no one could validate my experience. This was almost as frightening as the event itself.
I returned home when I was able to walk. Went straight home like the coward that I am. I spoke to no one of what I saw. They would have thought me insane, as I imagine you are thinking now. The need to run was overwhelming. I could not be the one to receive another of his victims so returning to the hospital became out of the question. I quit my job, telling Julia that I was moving back home. Family emergency. I locked the doors and the windows, barricaded myself inside. Created a fort of my apartment. And he still found a way in.
Every time I turned on the television it seemed another body had been found. Always women in their mid- to late twenties sliced beyond recognition. My mind filled in the gore that the news could not report.
The nightmares began. Each bloodied victim tried to speak, but the only sound that escaped was the horrible gurgling of blood pouring from their mouths. Every night, every time I shut my eyes, the same images. I’ve had no real sleep for weeks.
I see him now out of the corner of my eye. He holds out his hand and calls my name without a sound. I cannot go to him this way, on his terms. He wants me Sasha, of that I am certain, but I can’t bear to think of his plans. I have to claim the power, the upper hand. He must be stopped, and I’ve finally figured out how to reach him. He must be met where he lives, and he lives in death. It is what he breathes, what flows through his veins. In death I will be his fuel; in feeding the evil I will become the monster, and hopefully I can control him. Strength is the key. I have to be stronger than him.
Or I may be crazy.
Sasha, I called you to come over and could hear the relief in your voice. You must have been worried when I suddenly ‘moved back home’. I am so sorry to put you through this, but you are the only one who can handle what I am asking. You are the strongest person I know. Just think of me as one of the bodies we talked over at work as we turned off machines and pulled up the sheet, distancing ourselves from what had to be done. Only I am luckier than those people because this is just the beginning of my true purpose.
This is the only way. Please try to understand.
* * *
Huddled in the safety of her own apartment, Sasha wiped tears from her eyes as she read the letter for what must have been the thousandth time. When she had arrived at Lily’s she was greeted by an unlocked door. A part of her knew what she would find. Making her way warily to the bedroom, Sasha found Lily lying peacefully on her bed, an empty pill bottle overturned on top of several sheets of paper. Lily’s intent had been to explain, to answer whatever questions her friend may have, but the letter resulted in a huge burden on Sasha’s shoulders. Guilt that haunted her every second, like the image of Lily’s blonde hair spread out like an angelic halo. Lily’s blue eyes waiting to be closed.
Co-workers shared some of these feelings. They questioned how so many health professionals could have missed the signs of depression. Sasha could take this a step further because she’d read the letter. How could a friend, a nurse, miss the signs of obsession and delusion? She could identify signs of mental illness in strangers but had missed them when it counted most.
The doorbell rang earlier than she’d expected, shaking her from her dream-state. It was time to move on, she reminded herself as she walked to the door. As hard as it would be, she knew she had to take that first step. It’s what Lily would have wanted.
Sasha opened the door and returned her date’s smile, and for a moment she lost herself in his dark, black eyes.
Copyright © 2005 by Denise Kelly LeBlanc