It was dark when I turned up Cricket Lane. A thin level of fog had developed with the cooling air. There was nothing to light the wooded path except the sun’s golden gleam reflected by a waxing gibbous moon. I’d been walking fast or running. I kept looking over my shoulder.
Passing the little white church, I could see a group of teenagers inside the cemetery—three standing and one slumped over a tombstone.
“Get up, DeCorso,” someone urged. “Your sister’s here.”
I moved forward.
I could see it was Robbie. He jerked his head and tried to rise but fell back over the stone. He couldn’t open his eyes.
“What did he take?” I demanded.
No one spoke immediately. They appeared stunned that an eleven-year-old girl would come here alone in search of her brother.
“Tuinals,” the one female answered at last.“Maybe five …”
“Oh, God … Robbie?” I shook him. “Are you guys just going to stand there? Help me get him out of here!”
The two males flanked him and made a bungling attempt to pull him along.
“Danielle?” Robbie called out to me in a faint voice. He stumbled, nearly dropping to the ground.
His hair was in a shaggy style back then that had bangs swept off to the side. Those bangs now hung over his eyes.
I reached for him as his handlers tightened their grip. “I’m taking him home.” There was an authoritative air in my tone, mingled with impatience.
“I don’t think so,” the girl responded. “If your parents see him, he’ll be screwed.”
“My parents are not home yet.”
“We’ll take him somewhere to sleep it off.” It was the guy on Robbie’s left talking.
“You can’t!” I yelled. “If you do that, he’ll die!”
I don’t know where that notion came from, but I believed it and evidently convinced him as well. He offered to help. We anchored Robbie by his arms across our shoulders. All the way home, Robbie kept mumbling, stumbling, and calling my name.
“I’m here,” I answered him.
We dragged him along, passing familiar homes decorated with pumpkins, skeletons, and tombstones. My mom had decorated our house, too, and I could see the lights on when we got there. Joey appeared in the doorway, likely worried about not finding me home, and ready to go looking for me.
“Help him up!” I shouted. “I’m calling 911.”
Joey hastened down the stairs and took my side of Robbie as I ran ahead. They brought Robbie to my grandmother’s room and laid him down to rest on her bed.
I nervously rattled off the details to a dispatcher and hung up the phone.
“Don’t sleep,” I beseeched him upon my return.
“Why can’t I sleep?” Robbie slurred.
I could see the concern in Joey’s eyes. He stood close to the bed now, trusting my instincts.
“Where’d his friend go?” I asked.
“He took off, but he told me about the pills,” Joey said. “Where’d you find him?”
“A bunch of kids … I didn’t recognize them, but they knew him. They knew me. They told me they saw him heading toward the cemetery with two guys holding him up, and he was in bad shape.”
“You went to the cemetery?”
“I was five minutes away, halfway down Angie’s block.”
I normally left Angie’s house before it got dark, but we got busy creating a scrapbook of our teen idols, and I hadn’t noticed the time.
He shook his head disapprovingly. “What’s his problem, man?”
Robbie’s breathing was slow. He seemed oblivious to his surroundings, barely hanging onto consciousness. Rosary beads dangled over one side of the headboard. A nativity scene on a plaque loomed above. I sat on the bed. “Robbie told me a funny story about this one day in church, during Benediction, when he thought he was getting that calling to be a priest. Right, Rob? See, it was the fumes from the incense making your head all fuzzy. They would never call you to be a priest.”
He was fading fast, so I sat him upright, holding onto him.
“Stay awake!” I yelled.
“Stay awake, Rob,” Joey echoed, shaking his shoulders.
“Don’t fall asleep,” I told him. “Talk to me.”
“About what, Dan?”
I heard sirens. It wasn’t long before the emergency technicians descended upon him.
“What did he take?” The paramedic who asked this question was the only black man—a hulking figure with a warm voice and the sweetest, most caring, eyes.
“Tuinals,” I told him, “maybe five.”
“Has he done this before?”
“Not that I know of.”
“Are you all siblings?”
“What’s his name?”
He spoke to my brother. “Robbie? What’s going on? Do you know where you are?”
I watched as they examined him. I saw them shine a light into both of his eyes.
“Yes,” my brother said.
“And where’s that?”
He fell silent, and they hoisted his leaden body onto a stretcher.
“I didn’t think he should sleep,” I told the kind man.
“Well, you did a good job. He took an overdose. If he had gone to sleep, he would not have awakened.”
“You mean …?”
“He could have lapsed into a coma. He could have died. You can’t be messing around like that.”
I looked at Joey, and he shook his head.
“How old is he?” the man asked.
“Thirteen,” I replied.
“Where are your parents?”
Joey answered that. “Some two hundred-year-old lady died, and they all went running off—some friend of my grandmother’s.”
“I think you better get a hold of them.”
Joey wrote a note for my parents and grabbed my mom’s car keys off the dining room table. We left for the hospital. He wasn’t supposed to be driving without supervision, but I knew he’d get us there safely.
“The woman was ninety,” I told him.
“Grandma’s friend who died.”
“What’d you write in the note?”
“That Robbie’s okay but in the hospital.”
“He is going to be okay, right?”
“I hope so.”
He hugged me in the waiting room. I hugged him tight in return, afraid to let go.
My father showed up at the hospital sooner than I had expected.
“Where’s Mommy?” I inquired.
“Where do you think? She’s home, cooking. She was worried sick, your mother. She wanted to come. I told her to stay there. So what happened?” His gaze shifted from Joey to me and then back again.“Is he all right?” My father began walking in circles. “Where is he?” He approached an emergency room physician who’d been walking toward us. “I’m the father,” he said. “What happened?”
The doctor smiled politely. “I’ll fill you in on what happened, but your son is fine. He had his stomach pumped, so he may be feeling some pain. He may be fatigued. Let him rest.”
The ER staff released Robbie in an improved state, but he continued to stumble around with his eyes closed. My father held him by the arm then assisted him into the passenger seat of his car—the Pontiac Bonneville he drove then.
“Geez, I know none of us are saints,” he mused on the way home. “I did a lot of things when I was a kid to make my father mad. He would get so mad at me, he wanted to kill me. My mother would say, ‘Wait until you grow up and have kids of your own. You’ll see.’ She was right.”
“I’m sorry, Dad,” a groggy Robbie replied.
“Well, I hope you learned your lesson.”
My mother was wringing her hands when we helped Robbie through the door. She looked flustered and pale. I couldn’t tell if she wanted to hug Robbie or kill him.
“What the hell is the matter with you?” she screamed.
Robbie said nothing in response. My father and Joey helped him upstairs to bed.
“What’s going on with him?” she asked me.
I told her what had happened.
She clenched her teeth and then went about setting the dining room table.
I helped minimally, distracted by my concerns about Robbie. Did he know he could die? Did he want to die, or did he simply not care if he lived or died?
We sat down to dinner without him. My grandmother asked what had happened, and my father spent the next five minutes talking to her in Italian. She made the sign of the cross, tears streaming.
“And don’t go blabbing to Zuza and everyone else, Mom!” he bellowed. “It’s nobody’s goddamn business.”
Grandma denied she would say anything while nervously grazing her fingers across her forehead. Her hair was up and tightly bound, as always—hair she would say was the color of coffee beans, except for the dusting of silver. I could see her sad little brown eyes behind the lenses of her glasses.
We ate with no further talk about Robbie. Everyone assisted my mother in cleaning up. She prepared demitasse. We all had a piece of Entenmann’s cake.
I checked on Robbie in his blissful sleep and then joined my grandmother in her room.
She was sitting on the bed where Robbie had been earlier, the tufted chenille bedspread in pure ivory pulled up to the headboard, as though nothing had happened. The dimly lit sanctuary was quiet and safe again, a simple place of walnut-crafted furnishings, eggshell walls, and wood floors. All of it had faded away—Robbie, the sirens that had brought heroes to my door, and all the day’s events. For a few moments, we remained silent and in a comforting womb of peace.
I looked around the room at her wooden crosses of Jesus and her pictures of the pope. There were many pictures of the pope. One might have imagined he shared the room with her. He hung amid family wedding photos. She’d tucked another photo of him in one side of the annual calendar she got from our neighborhood dry cleaner. Every year, on Palm Sunday, she brought a palm home from church, shaped it into a crucifix, and tucked it behind the same calendar.
She’d hung two paintings of birds in this room, one a pair of bluebirds perched on a tree branch adorned with large leaves and tiny flowers. The other featured a white heron amid blossoming trees. She loved birds, as I did.
“Oh, Dio…” She was calling to God. She looked at me. “The way you know?” It was how she talked, yet I understood.
I explained how I’d found Robbie and what had happened next.
“The way you know?” she repeated.
“I didn’t know anything. I didn’t think about it.”
“God knows—and the angels.” She reached for my hand and squeezed it. “God bless. God bless … you good girl.”
I could feel her pain profoundly, just as I could with the other members of my family. Every one of them suffered immensely.
I gave her a hug and then stood, making my way over to her lace-lined dresser adorned with resin statues of prayer plaques, angels, and the Blessed Mother. Our Holy Communion portraits were there in gold frames. I opened the musical jewelry box she’d brought from Italy, and, with my fingers, traced the gold satin lining the hardwood. I knew she shared a piece of my joy, taking notice of what I admired. It was the reason she’d made certain I always had a musical jewelry box with a dancing ballerina. I’d notice new things right away, like the bluebird song box in handcrafted porcelain and the floral trinket boxes.
“Here,” she was saying.
I turned to see her reaching for a small tulle pouch on a low wall shelf. Bomboniere is what she called it. Brides gave it as a wedding souvenir. She was untying the ribbons. She would eat the sugared almonds inside when she felt like it, unlike my mother and Zuza, who kept theirs intact. She put two in my hand and popped one in her mouth.
I smiled and began eating the almonds. “These are the only gifts you ever like.”
She smiled back. “Ah! I’m old, honey. I no need anything.”
The woman rarely smiled, but, when she did, it went to my heart.
She did go over to Zuza’s in the morning. She told them everything. I knew, because Angie rushed over and wrapped me in a hug.
My involvement in all the Robbie madness, however, didn’t end there.
Not a week later, I was in the family room recliner watching television. Robbie showed up with some friends. They cranked up the music, since no one was home, then put paper towels inside brown paper bags and soaked the paper with glue. Robbie handed one of the bags to me.
“Hold it up to your nose and then breathe in and out,” he said.
I can’t remember if I even asked why.
The surge to my head was like a magnetic recharge, and all I could hear was AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long.” An explosion in my brain unleashed an outpouring of dazed, rapturous sensations. Light prickles and tremors trickled through every fiber of my being. I reveled in the light-headed euphoria. A prevailing illusion of calm and peace washed over me. Everyone, everything, faded away. In that moment, nothing was better than this high. My love for these sensations was more powerful and more enslaving than my love for anything or anyone else I knew.
We inhaled ourselves into oblivion. The pillow top of the recliner felt so soft on my back, and I closed my eyes, drifting off to sleep with the bag on my nose. I awakened with a sense of the paneled walls encasing me. My first vague awareness was of the crouched porcelain tiger lamp resting atop the television set. I could see the fireplace my mother had decorated with sculptures—a cherubic angel with wings and a pair of praying hands. Photos in ornate gold frames, depicting all of us in our younger years, adorned the television top and the end tables. When I looked to my left and to my right, my brother and his friend were still there. I stood, dizzy, nearly losing my balance as I tried to position myself. There was laughter, howling, and cackling, all sounding far off. I felt giddy, uninhibited, and excited. I was unable to say or do anything without laughter and smiles.
Yes, fantasy was better than reality for me, and I welcomed any escape from the latter. I kept trying to bond with Robbie, too—going on “shopping” sprees with him and his friends. We rode the bus to neighborhood department stores and returned with stolen merchandise. I stole plastic bangles in different colors, earrings, T-shirts, and pants.
“You’re good,” a friend of his marveled.“A master thief and con artist.”
“Well, she has the face of an angel,” said another. “Who’d suspect her?”
I had ripped the lining out of my puffer jacket, so I could slide things around to the back.
“Where did you get this?” my mother would ask, regarding our new acquisitions.
We’d say a friend gave them to us, and, though she didn’t seem comfortable with the idea, she never pressed the issue. If it had been Robbie alone, and, possibly Joey, she might have, but she evidently couldn’t fathom her sweet little girl lying or stealing.
It was an unsettling time of strange and constant shifting between the uncorrupted purity of youth and the recklessness of a demoralizing coming-of-age. A choice seemed to continually surface, bittersweet reality or sweet imagination, child or grown-up, right or wrong. I kept searching for the in-between, but I couldn’t find it. I felt a rebellious joy as well as a distant sadness.
I began to see a parallel between life and roller coaster rides at amusement parks, even if I could not have explained it. We went barreling along on the formidable journey, propelled by some overpowering entity. There were uncomfortable moments. In other moments, we would be elated. There’d be mirth and amusement, just as there would be treacherous, spine-chilling turns. We twisted this way, that way, down many paths, and we hung on. We whirled backward, then forward then backward again. The times of gentle rolling on the track made the unexpected dark tunnels an intriguing mystery fraught with peril. We had to hold on, and we laughed a lot. It did seem uncertain, on various declines, that one was truly safe in the midst of it all, but everything was linked together toward the final destination—a higher purpose and greater good. At the same time, I weaved an intricate ball of yarn that would take a lifetime to untangle.
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.