I hated this place and every place like it—uniformity, mediocrity, everything so black and white, cold, and clinical. It had taken me a while to work up the nerve to make an appointment, but, according to the phone book listing, the initial intake was free.
A woman called me in. It’s a face I can’t remember—except to say she looked average and seemed normal. She asked me to tell her about myself. She wanted to know what had prompted me to seek psychotherapy.
My mind seemed to have emptied itself, leaving only an uncomfortable notion that I was uniquely unacceptable. I told her my name and my age, and then paused before speaking again.
“I’m too honest,” I said. “I always tell people the truth even when I shouldn’t. If I don’t like something, and someone asks me if I like it, I can’t say I do, and I can’t talk to people I don’t like unless I really have to.”
She smiled. “I see nothing wrong with that. It’s not uncommon for a young person to be blatantly honest. You’re becoming more and more aware of your feelings, and you want to make them known.”
“I don’t think people like that honesty… or me,” I confessed.
“Why?” she asked.
“I don’t tell them what they want to hear.”
“You will outgrow that. Or, rather, you will sort out what is appropriate and what isn’t and find a more comfortable way of dealing with people.”
“I don’t know how to be myself.”
That was true. All my life, people had referred to me as Joey’s sister, Robbie’s sister, or “one of those DeCorso kids.” By eighth grade, my classmates considered me a tough girl, though I didn’t fight. My brothers did. Once they were in high school, and I was still in middle school, a different Danielle emerged. I became a popular, gregarious type—in school, anyway. I enjoyed making others laugh. By the time I got to high school, I was befriending classmates the popular crowd shunned, perhaps because I knew a thing or two about being on the opposite end of that spectrum. If anyone knew the hearts of those quiet, fearful souls, it was me, and I wanted to use what power I had to put them at ease.
I told the therapist about that, how I would invite them to eat with me, thinking I could end up an outcast, too, but it had the opposite effect. The others subsequently welcomed my new friends. While I had never expected that, I was glad.
A different structure existed within the family dynamic. Whatever flaws I saw in those I held dear paled in comparison with their goodness, but I did not extend the same courtesy to myself. My flaws erased everything else about me.
Quite possibly, it began with my barbaric entry into the world. I had arrived with my fists tightly clenched, looking more like a boxer than a baby, more like a boy than a girl, and ready to fight, rupturing membranes, and necessitating a C-section. A priest had administered Last Rites to my mother—Extreme Unction, as they called it, the Roman ritual that meant you were doomed.
My first recollection is of lying face up in my playpen. I could see shadows. One seemed small, compared to the others, yet it signaled danger and instilled fear. The moment I became aware of its presence, hands assailed me … pulling, hitting, and hurting. A larger shadow would appear, scolding, “You were told to leave her alone.”
It was as if I were witnessing my life from another plane.
Years later, I asked my mother if Robbie or Joey had harassed me when I was a baby, though I felt strongly it was Robbie. I asked if she had scolded him and pulled him away. She said I’d imagined it all.
“Sounds to me like you are a good person,” the therapist was saying.
“Then I don’t need help?”
“You do if you think you do, but something prompted you to come here today. You took a big step in doing that. Is there something else bothering you that you wanted to talk about?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Do you have hopes, Danielle? Dreams? Future plans?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Tell me about that.”
I told her about my writing and my singing.
She flashed a grin then said something nice and encouraging. That impressed me, so I tried to convey how those dreams kept me alive and how terrified I was that through the continuous horror and chaos that was life, those dreams might fade away.
“You’re so young,” she said. “What’s the hurry?”
Good thing I didn’t tell her I had initially hoped to achieve all of my goals before my seventeenth birthday—that, at one time, I vowed to kill myself if that didn’t happen. I don’t think I ever intended to do that, really, but I must have figured if it took much longer than that, I would be too old to enjoy my success. Where these absurd notions came from, I could only guess. I was drowning in my oblivion, and I thought these accomplishments would save me.
What I did say was, “I think I’ll be writing until they decide to take the typewriter away from me and lay me to rest in my grave.”
“Who are ‘they?’” she asked.
I grew more nervous and lowered my eyes. “You know, I thought I was … I mean, I felt … I just get so … I don’t know. I seem to be fine now. I felt something was wrong. I get very depressed sometimes. This is so stupid. I shouldn’t have come here. There are enough people out there who know what’s wrong with them, and here I am. I don’t know what’s wrong, and I don’t even know what to say.”
“Tell me about your family.”
Something inside me caved. I had butterflies but not the happy sort. It was panic. I hesitated before saying, “There’s my mother, my father …” My eyes filled with tears. “I have two brothers.” I hesitated again. “Joey and …” A lump swelling in my throat made it difficult to speak.
“Is there someone else?”
I shook my head.
“Take a deep breath.”
I did and then broke down crying. “Robbie,” I said, “Oh, God, Robbie …”
Deep concern filled the woman’s eyes now—and pity. It made me uncomfortable.
“I think you should schedule an appointment for regular sessions,” she said. “Although, because you are a minor, you would need parental consent. I’d have to give you a form, and you’d have them sign it, then we can begin.”
“No, I can’t do that.” I stood.
“Unfortunately, we don’t have a choice.”
“They think you only go to a shrink if you’re crazy or want to find out who’s to blame for your problems and, deep down, they’ll think whatever’s wrong with me is their fault. No, they can’t know. Isn’t there a way you can bend the rules? Or is there something I can sign to say I take full responsibility? I’m going to get a job, and I can pay myself …”
She looked sympathetic while shaking her head. “I’ll give you my card. Please think about it, and if you decide to go ahead with their consent, give us a call. I think it would be a mistake if you didn’t.”
I took the card knowing I would not call. It angered me that I was not entitled to help unless my parents agreed. All the relationships I had nurtured thus far in my life meant the world to me, and I cherished them in the only way I knew how. Oh, my … how I cherished them! It was a big part of why I worried so much. I felt unworthy of their love and feared losing them all. My instinct was always to take care of them, as if their needs were more important than my own. I fantasized about being rich and famous and buying them whatever they wanted, I suppose as some way to compensate for my inadequacy.
Oddly enough, not once throughout the course of that therapy session did I mention what had happened with Phil and Sergio. I didn’t think about it. There was a little girl within me whose wails I ignored. On the surface, I was a DeCorso who would rather rebel and defy than admit defeat. People seemed to prefer that, anyway—that I bury it. It worked better for Farran, better for Angie. Maybe it worked for countless women who’d lived in places and times where you simply didn’t talk about those things. You picked yourself up, dusted yourself off, and trudged on. Except I was certain, at this point, that I was not okay. I felt lost. I didn’t like myself. I wanted nothing more than to be okay again and to feel normal.
I had a dream that night. I was plummeting to the depths of something. It was a smooth, effortless decline in total blackness until I could feel a surface beneath me. People were talking to me. I smiled, wanting them to know I was okay and could hear them. In a subsequent dream, I saw angry eyes that changed from dark to light and then red, before flames began to burn in them with a fury. The eyes had no face or body. Though I didn’t recognize them, I wondered if they were a reflection of my parents when angered—or Robbie. They may have been the eyes of others who were angry with me. It may also have been me, I suppose, angry at the world.
When I woke, however, all I could think about was Robbie.
He was the brother who had looked for ladybugs and caterpillars with me in our yard. He watched me chase butterflies and elusive dandelion puffs that floated through the air.
“They’re wish nicks,” he had explained. “You’re supposed to catch one in your hand and make a wish, then blow it away.”
It felt like holding on to nothing, yet it saddened me to open my hand and watch it float farther and farther from my view. I didn’t want Robbie to be like that wish nick. It was a familiar longing I had. There seemed to be an ongoing risk of losing him in my life, resulting in this need I had to cling to him.
Everything changed between Robbie and me after the wish nick phase, and it seemed to begin with a boy named Tommy Catalano. There was more to it, of course, but I knew Tommy was trouble the first time I laid eyes on him.
I was four years old at the time, returning from the hospital with a black patch over my left eye, clutching my mother’s hand as we emerged from the car. We began our ascent up the staircase. Tommy headed toward us. He must have been eight or nine at the time. He passed and, after a few paces, turned around for another glance. It was a foreboding glare, and it chilled me to my core.
“Come on,” my mother encouraged me. She shot him a fierce look and moved me along.
When she wasn’t around, he made fun of my eye patch. He got other neighborhood kids to make fun of me, too.
Admittedly, he was a good-looking kid, with his dark brown hair in a regulation school cut, his downward-slanting eyes an unusual light golden brown. The fierceness in his face always reminded me of a tiger. I sensed, however, that although he acted tough, it was some sort of camouflage—an omnipotent, unshakable external facade masking something dangerously fragile. Perhaps something had distorted his countenance, stripped him of his humanity. When he laughed, he looked pained. I would see anger in his amusement.
He used to say my brothers and I should go back to wherever we came from with our spic mother. Robbie had told him at the time that we were born here and then called him a jackass.
When, after numerous eye examinations, I was able to trade the dreadful patch for a pair of glasses, Tommy called me “Four Eyes.”
Robbie had defended me, saying, “The doctors fixed Danielle’s eyes.”
But Tommy said I was still ugly, and he taunted me until tears blinded me, something collapsed inside me, and I could no longer hear him. In retrospect, it seemed such a pitiful waste of energy and emotion—the extent of my humiliation perpetuated by some bully who likely harbored his own feelings of worthlessness.
“He doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about,” my father said when I told him. “He’s a stupid jerk. Your eyes are straight, perfect, beautiful. When somebody like that says something to you, let it go in one ear and out the other.”
“Don’t pay any attention,” my mother agreed.
Joey told them Tommy never said anything when he was there, or he would have beaten the crap out of him.
But all I wanted to know was why I had to wear glasses in the first place.
My father looked at my mother, and Robbie’s eyes shifted from one face to the next.
“You had what they call a lazy eye,” my mother said. “A lazy muscle in the left eye.” It didn’t escape me that both she and my father looked away, like they felt guilty or embarrassed.
“Didn’t the surgery work?” Joey asked.
My curious gaze shifted to him and then back to my mother again.
“Of course,” she said, “but the doctor said there are no guarantees. She wants you to wear glasses to keep the eye straight, so it doesn’t go back or more in. If you don’t, your eyesight might get worse instead of better.”
“I only have to wear them for a while, right? Like the patch?”
“You have to wear them until the doctor says you don’t have to, and if she says you have to wear them all the time, then you wear them all the time.”
“Whatever it is, it is.”
“No!” I screamed. With a vigorous pull, the glasses were off. I heaved them upon the patterned linoleum and stomped on them until they’d shattered.
I can’t forget the look of pain in my father’s eyes.
Robbie shrieked, “Oh, my God, she broke them!”
My father rose from his chair. He picked up all the pieces and set them aside, then moved toward the china cabinet. “I’m going to show you something,” he said. He opened a side drawer. There was another tiny pair of glasses in there. “Those are yours,” he revealed. “We bought them, just in case. But I’m not gonna make you wear them. I’m not gonna force you. They will be right here in this drawer.” He lifted them to show me, and then placed them down again. “If you don’t wanna wear them, you don’t touch them. Okay?”
I nodded, tears streaming.
Robbie seemed shocked. “But she has to wear them!”
My father clenched his teeth. “And how’s she gonna wear them if she breaks them again?”
“The doctor said it’s like water,” my mother said. “If you’re thirsty, you’ll drink. Or like medicine: If you need it, you’ll take it.”
It surprised me that the decision was up to me, but, for the moment, I was satisfied with my choice.
“You know if you don’t take your medicine, you get sick and die,” Robbie hounded me.
“So? I’m not sick.”
“You’re supposed to be wearing your glasses!”
“So the doctor said you’re gonna go blind if you don’t.”
“I am not.”
Now, I don’t know when exactly it happened, but Robbie went from defending my honor to laughing at me alongside Tommy Catalano. It was as if he’d reached inside of me and ripped my heart out, along with the rest of my insides, leaving a mere hollow cave behind. He had set about trying to convince others that something was wrong with me. In all fairness, I think he believed that to be true.
At seven and eight, I’d spent hours drawing pictures, mostly of children. I’d cut them out, so that each one was an individual on a rectangular slip of paper, and I named each one.
“She’s drawing her little girls again,” my father would say to my mother.
“They are not all girls,” I told him. “There are boys, too, and some of them are teachers.”
“She puts them in rows like school, and she talks to them,” Robbie tattled. “She thinks she’s the teacher, and they are her class.”
He seemed ashamed of me, and I got the feeling my behavior was worrisome to my parents as well.
“That makes it easier for me to study and do my homework,” I explained. It was a strategy I had devised to break the monotony of giving my attention to something I didn’t enjoy. Otherwise, it bored me to a level I couldn’t bear.
My pretend game worked with buttons, too. I collected them from my aunt Zuza and my grandmother. Concentrating on mundane tasks never got easier, but I would learn to devise other strategies.
My brothers, on the other hand, broke the monotony of life by fighting with other kids. It was par for the course to see one of them throwing someone into a pile of bushes or up against a wall. Adults told their kids that my brothers were crazy, and to keep away from them. I often hid on them myself.
As far as Robbie was concerned, I was the crazy one. I think he had a sense that I relished fantasy far more than reality, and that it was not merely an extended phase but very much a part of my nature. He would tell the other kids, “Oh, she’s retarded.” There were times he summoned friends, siblings, and cousins to his room and locked the door. They would be in there talking and laughing, and I would be on the other side, wondering how I’d managed to get myself placed outside the sphere of acceptability.
When Robbie was nice, he was irresistible. Though I could never interest him in all the writing I did, he praised my singing voice. We would listen to albums on the stereo in his room. We played a game where we took turns singing and acting out songs. I was ten and beginning to realize that music had an incredible power to lift me. Over the years, I grew to love Bach right along with Led Zeppelin. Christmas hymns during the holidays moved me to tears now, while, year round, I enjoyed gothic rock bands like the Cure, Bauhaus, and Christian Death.
At age eleven, I continued to play with dolls. Angie and I often sat on the rug in my room or hers with our Barbie dolls and their dream houses.
Robbie would wander in bellowing, “God, are you ever going to grow up?”
It broke my heart to think I might have to let my dolls go in exchange for more complicated things, but that’s exactly what happened in the fall of ‘82.
Deadly Veils Book One: Shattering Truths was originally published as Deadly Veils: Book One: Provenance of Bondage copyright © October 2015 by Kyrian Lyndon. The revised edition, Deadly Veils: Book One: Shattering Truths was published in December 2016. Cover design by KH Koehler Design.