I remember when I was five, I talked to a boy in my head. He would ask about my day. I would ask about his, but he would never tell me. He did tell me his name was Chris. I told him my sister’s name was Chris. That’s how I remember his name.
I had been talking to Christopher in my head a few weeks when my sister’s voice started in. He was good, and she was not. So, they had a war. Chris and Chris. Little pistols. Swords. Nooses. In my little, almost six-year-old head. And then, the Friday before my birthday, he died.
Over and over, I have wondered if this memory is real: a week or two before he died, Christopher said it was time to meet. He gave me instructions. I was to go to the caddy corner house and go in the side door. I did as he said. That was scary. He was there, standing behind the couch. We looked at each other. We didn’t use our mouths to talk. And, we had nothing to say. Heaven opened up, a dark fissure I could see, and spirits asked if we were soulmates. I turned to him and said with my mind, “Want to be soulmates?” He said “Yes,” with his mind. And I said, “We don’t have to kiss do we?” And, he said, “No.” He paused and looked at me before he said, “You have to make it.” Then I seemed to know what he meant. I looked over my shoulder down a dark tunnel and saw that I would. We went in the laundry room a minute, and he sat on the washer. There was nothing to do now. I left. If I tell Christopher’s story, will that be making it? Will he live again? I want bones, mouth, sinew, something tangible that I can say, yes, that’s a truth. The scary thing is I found Christopher Servant’s obit. It was in the Post. He died the day I remember, the Friday night before my birthday. The obit says only that he died suddenly.
I cried as he ascended, sorry for myself that I was alone now. On his way to heaven, he yelled to me that my mother killed him. She was listening.
I went to the window, put my hands on the sill, and said to God’s people, “Scatter.”
On my sixth birthday, still unaware my experience was unusual, two days after Christopher died, my mother handed me a pink hippopotamus piggy bank that said love on it and said it was a present from him. She said his mother dropped it off. He couldn’t come to the party. He couldn’t come because he was dead. She had a big smile on her face–wasn’t it sweet? I stopped talking. I wouldn’t talk for years. I still have trouble.
And, I still have it, my pink hippo that says “love.” And, I still have it, the anger.
The night after my birthday I saw a trail of energy from my mother’s bed to mine. It was supposed to kill me, but it didn’t. I also felt energy from Satan that left me in a fog until I was 32. Then, memories flooded in, too many, too fast: voices, spirits, God, angels. I went insane. I have been trying to glue myself back together ever since.
And so, as a 55-year old woman, pregnant with a memory that needed airing out, I called my 83-year old mother. Where to begin? There was no hope of validation. Why begin? I don’t know. I don’t know. But, I told her I talked to a boy in my head when I was little. I was afraid to believe myself, but the fog around it was not thick enough to negate it. In fact, it still mattered, 49 years later. Not only that, it made sense in a strange way. It didn’t seem like psychosis.
She said, “Carroll, you are very ill.” Cut and dry. I envied her that. But, the memory dug in like a tick. I had tried to believe I was ill, that it didn’t happen. But if it didn’t, it was still a truth my mind made to explain what it had no rational explanation for. I had learned to dismiss the memory as psychosis. But, even as psychosis, it was a construct that explained the neglect and abuse I faced as a child.
I told my mother, “On his way to heaven, he said you killed him.”
My mother gasped and paused. She breathed out. She breathed in. “Oh, Carroll,” my mother said. How could I do this? But I did, so angry still.

“You are breaking my heart. How could you think I could kill someone?” my mother said. I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t think anyone should hate. Hate is antithetical to God. How could I? Guilt settled in and something else.

Thinking became hard.
I said, “It’s not that I don’t love you. I do, but God told me not to.” It’s true. I love my mother. My terrible mother. And it’s true. God said don’t. Yes, God talks to me. Yes, I know that is another strange truth of mine.
“Why would God tell you not to love your mother, honey?” A good question for most mother cases. But for her, maybe because of the years of neglect, maybe because she’s Satan’s wife. That’s what my dad thought, too. And she locked him up, too. For Satan’s wife, she is a pretty nice lady. Doesn’t argue with anyone. Always a pleasant demeanor, one you can’t pummel away. I know. I’ve tried.
“I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve this. I took care of you and your sister. I worked hard,” she said.
“I wore perfume and went out a lot,” I said.
“You always blame me for your terrible childhood,” she said. Despite myself, I started to forgive her, believe her, but then I remembered the puppy my sister brought home starving to death.
I tried to tell my mother the story, but she interrupted with sighs and groans and “uh,” like I stabbed her. This led to my starting and stopping and leaving things out. I couldn’t get it out rational and whole. Once she said, “And this is what I have to put up with?” meaning me. AHA! A break in the demeanor. Finally! But she quickly recovered herself and went back to being impermeable.
She said, “Carroll, honey, can you see how sick you sound? The voices aren’t real. They’re not real.” That is the debate now for 22 years.
“Okay,” I said, “okay. Let’s just drop it.”
After we hung up, I took long, deep breaths. My lungs hurt from chain smoking. I considered taking all my pills and giving up the ghost. But, I didn’t. I wish the truth were in a library, and I could check it out for a month, renew as needed.
Half an hour after I talked to my mother, my sister called for the last time. “You can’t talk about us like we’re criminals! You hate mom? Stay away from her! And me. And my family. I don’t like who you are. You are a manipulative, controlling, selfish bitch. This is it. I am done. Finished with you!” And then she hung up.

I worked as a fry cook. Sitting by myself, waiting for someone to order a burger, it weighed on me, all this. I sat looking at laughing people wondering if I ever could be like that again. The people talked together, and I sat alone, alone. But then, an angel told me to go outside. I was not supposed to. I was at work. But, I do what angels say.
Passed the crowded floor, the door squeaked as I opened it and walked onto concrete. I looked at the red painted storefront, the neon bar signs. And then, something told me to look up. Stars, a full white moon. Night air, cool and soft. The moon pulled me. He was up there. I felt him. I heard, “You’re not alone.” My liquids ebbed and flowed.
And then I knew, my mother tried, but she didn’t kill him after all. And I knew, my mother wouldn’t kill a soul. My truth is strange, but it makes sense to me. So, I hold on to it. And one day, one day, I make it. Maybe today. Maybe tomorrow. But, the future unfolded once. I trust it to happen again. And so, in a strange way, it is all okay. I think that is all we can ask for: that thought, that feeling.
I lingered outside the restaurant, felt calmer, before I pulled the door open and went back inside to wait for someone to order a burger.

I have an MFA in fiction from the University of Pittsburgh and numerous publications, including Cutbank and The Sun Magazine. I also am mentally ill.