Tides gradually wash away the fresh footprints littering the beach in no particular pattern. A light evening breeze sweeps through the now quiet shore. Alone on the beach, Caroline walks casually in the shallow waters, the tides rushing in and out to wash away her footprints. She enjoys the salty air, reminding her of where she is, and what she is away from. She takes a seat on some smooth boulders to watch the sunset. She often wished she could stay here for hours, but life would not allow it. The tides picked up and the temperature slowly drops, indicating night was falling. She would have to return soon.
As the last bit of sunlight slipped away, Caroline stood up and slowly made her way towards the bus stop to catch a ride back into the city. She found her flip flops where she had left them and boarded the bus as it arrived—right on time, as usual. She lived in an apartment on the tenth floor of a fairly nice condominium. Her father worked while her mom remained at home to watch over them. She had a brother that was only a couple years younger than her. He was constantly out with his friends at the city park just hanging out. This often annoyed her father, but little was done about it. For Caroline, it didn't matter. She was confident her brother would be able to take care of himself, and she understood why he didn't want to remain home.
The bus ride seemed too short, for within moments, she had arrived to her bus stop. She got off the bus and began the short walk home, wondering what would be for dinner. She predicted something simple, familiar, and, unfortunately, dull. Caroline couldn't complain though. She knew she was luckier than some people in the world who had nothing to eat and no where to live. She would be considered quite fortunate. She had a family and lived in a house with enough food to eat. Her school and social life didn't suck—she had friends and her grades were fine.
There was only one thing that burdened her. It was a secret she couldn't bear let those know around her for fear they'd treat her differently; for fear they would pity her rather than treat her as the person she was before the secret was out. It was a secret she wished she could tell others, just so she could have someone to turn to if she ever needed the support. Yet, it was a secret that she could not yet trust anyone to carry the burden.
Caroline finally reached the condominium and rode the elevator up to the tenth floor. She took out her key and opened the door, announcing she was home. Silence greeted her, but she knew her mom was around as she could smell the food awaiting her for dinner. Her brother was already in his room, typing away madly on his computer to keep up with the new IM windows popping up.
Caroline dropped off the few things she had and went by her brother's room to call him out to dinner. Caroline's brother, David, began eating casually, not too interested in the dinner itself, as it was plain and the same as always. It was obvious to Caroline that all he wanted to do was finish eating and then leave. Caroline began eating too, just as casually. They went through the same routine, knowing what to expect.
"Why aren't you eating mom?"
"I already ate earlier."
Their mother looks at them closely, a bit of suspicion in her eyes. But nothing more is said. Once the two finish their dinners, their mother spoke once again.
"Just leave it in the sink. I'll take care of it." The two nodded, knowing this would happen, and Caroline felt a twang of guilt as she allowed her mother to finish cleaning up everything. Later their father would return home, with no interest in eating dinner.
Caroline returned to her room and began checking her email as well as talk to her own friends online. After completing all those activities, she would finally move on to completing her homework before hitting the sack. After her mom finished cleaning up dinner, she would enter Caroline's room and sit idly by, watching Caroline as she went about her evening activities.
A conversation would start up. "You went to the beach today?"
Caroline nodded slightly in response, not really interested in engaging in a conversation.
"Were there a lot of people?"
Caroline nodded again. "You should go there sometime."
"Yes, I should. It has been a while since I last went."
"Yes, you should go out more."
Silence filled the air again as the conversation died down.
Caroline was chatting online, so she continued doing so, hoping there would be no further interruptions.
"Homecoming is coming up. Dad is suggesting I get a nice dress for the occasion. Do you want to go shop for one?"
"Dawson Hill Mall. It's close by, you know."
"This weekend, whenever is convenient for you."
"Oh. You should just go with Dad."
"I want to go with you though. Let's do some women's shopping, you know. I mean, you know how guys can be when it comes to shopping. They don't like it."
"It's your father's job to take you," her mother said, deciding it was time to get ready for bed. "You should sleep soon."
Caroline sighed, expecting the answer. She started working on her homework, finishing as much as she could. She could finish the rest during Homeroom. It wasn't too difficult. She was partially excited about Homecoming, for she had been asked out by a cute guy. She just hoped the night would be worth it, as she wasn't too much of a dance person. She still enjoyed the social gatherings though, as she had the chance to hang out with her friends and avoid sitting around at home in pure boredom.
As she prepared for bed and slipped under her covers, she heard the distant sound of someone crying. She knew which room it came from too. She also had expected this, and resultantly, left it as so. It didn't happen every night, but every now and then was not unseen. Her mother was depressed, a fact that wasn't that new to her. She sighed once again as she tried to drift off into a peaceful slumber.
Caroline awoke the next day to the sound of her mother's movement in her room, again an action that no longer surprised her. She groggily got out of bed and went to grab a Chewy bar for breakfast before grabbing her books and heading out. Her brother was still snoozing, not really needing to get up for another two hours or so. She envied him for that, but high school was high school. The bus took her to her high school and the day went by like any other day. She finished her homework in Homeroom, as planned. Her friends were happy to see her, and she was happy to see them. The sad face she once had was no longer visible as soon as she met up with her friends.
They hung out during breaks and whenever they could during classes. School was a nice escape for Caroline, she thought. The social atmosphere and random events that come with just a normal day at school help her to forget of her secret.
Good times never last, however, as the final bell rung, ending the school day. After Caroline attended the club meetings she had for the day and choir practice, she boarded a city bus, as did her friends who also engaged in the same extracurricular activities. They all said their goodbyes, promising to catch one another online later that night to discuss their plans during the weekend to shop for their Homecoming dresses. Caroline couldn't wait.
Caroline donned some headphones to listen to her I Pod as she waited for the bus to arrive at her stop. When it finally did, she got off and once again headed to the tenth floor. She dropped off her book bags. She knew her brother was not home from school yet, but that her mother was around, so she quickly called out, "I'm going to take a skate around."
Before waiting for a response, she was out the door again. Reaching the ground floor of the condominium, she finally took a seat and buckled herself into her roller skates. She skated out the doors and onto the streets, taking a new route to vary her skating exercise a bit.
Caroline skated quite a distance, as she ended her journey only when she reached the seawall of the beach she was at the day before. She took a break and rested at a bench facing the ocean to watch as the sun set once again. As the temperature dropped, she made her way back to the condominium.
Sh entered the building of her condominium and took off her roller skates, riding the elevator to her floor once again. Her brother was not yet home when she arrived, so she dropped off her things and turned on her computer, wondering if any of her friends were online yet.
David finally returned moments before her Dad returned home. He had decided to join them for dinner today. Dinner carried on as usual, with everyone finishing up and leaving their plates in the sink. Caroline headed back to her room once again, as did her brother and father. She began IMing once again as a pop up alerted her of her friend's presence.
Once the dishes had been cleaned, her mother once again entered Caroline's room after visiting her brother's, looking at her closely with a bit of suspicion. Caroline looks up from her computer screen. "Yes?" she asks innocently.
"You look different."
"I went skating and haven't showered yet."
Her mother looks at Caroline once again. "Didn't you wear something else this morning?"
"No, I wore this to school, as I do every Tuesday. It's our school spirit day."
Her mother turns away and takes a seat in her room, watching Caroline as she withheld a sigh and began typing again on her computer.
"I wonder which one you are today."
Caroline ignored the statement, having heard it too many times.
"The other one talked to me. You must be the tall and quiet one."
Caroline again ignored the statement.
"Oh…I can't believe they're doing this to me."
Caroline yet again ignored the statement.
"You should stop playing the computer and read instead."
Caroline couldn't take it anymore. "Why?" she challenged.
"You won't understand. I can't explain, but they're always watching you. Every time you spend time on they computer, they're watching you."
"Who's watching me?" she asked, annoyed.
"You don't understand. They're always watching you. It's been happening. I can't believe I didn't see it earlier."
"See what? Caroline's patience was growing thin.
"They're already taking over the world. They're going to control you if you keep staying on that computer. Don't you hear that voice telling you to do something Caroline?"
"There. Is. No. Voice."
"I know you don't believe me, but you have to trust me. There's a chip inside your head and they're controlling you."
Caroline tries her best to multitask by keeping up (and paying more attention to) the conversation she is currently having with her friends.
"I know you look different. You're not Caroline. I don't know who you are, but you're not Caroline. I wonder who you belong to."
Caroline once again ignored to the best of her abilities the cries that now erupted from her mother.
"I wish I knew where my Caroline is." Her mom then left the room to dry her tears in the bathroom. Caroline, no longer in the mood to talk with her friends, quickly finalized their shopping plans and logged off. She would attempt her homework all during Homeroom. She was lucky that her classes today didn't load it all up today, but she could expect that she might have more work in the upcoming days.
Caroline once again got ready for bed and slid under her covers, turning on her music just a bit. It was early though, so she wasn't exactly tired. All she could do was think…and allow her mind to wander. Every now and then, her mind would wander to the events that led up to her current life. No one saw it coming, the depressive state her mother was in. No one predicted severity of her depression. It was Caroline who would be the first to find out the depth of her depression and the extremes that her mother was willing to take to end it. She would never forget the images that stem from that day.
Caroline took the lonesome walk down memory lane once again, analyzing her feelings at the time of the event. She didn't know what to think; it was more of a state of denial. She couldn't believe what her mother had done, so she had simply denied it was real. But as the hours dawned into a new day on that horrid night, the reality of the situation sunk in.
Her mother had been transferred to a psychiatric ward temporarily, until the situation was understood by the doctors and "under control". Caroline would remember the days thereafter where she visited her mother there. Her brother was not allowed visitation since he was too young (by perhaps a year). It seemed unreal, like a dream. Her mother's relatives had flown in from another state to support the family and make sure everything would be alright. Caroline personally suspected, however, that it was more so to make sure there was no foul play. It hurt her that this was the way their actions had appeared to the family, but she just didn't see them as the 'understanding' type. She had visited them on occasion while she was young, but throughout all her visits, that just didn't seem like something that would appear in their characters.
Her relatives lived in the suburbs, and so their lifestyle was quite different. Not too different, but not all the same either. Caroline's younger cousin grew up in a rather quiet neighborhood, with minimal gang threats, something that was constant in urban county. She felt they would never understand the stresses that came with a city life, having never experienced it themselves.
The days went by quickly and before long, her mother was released under the prescription of some anti-depressants. Caroline knew, however, that depression wasn't quite the only thing her mother seemed to be suffering from, but she didn't know exactly what other illness her mother was now suffering under. Her father knew this much too and spoke to the doctors about it, who then conducted another 'interview' session and determined she had a minor form of schizophrenia.
As Caroline thought back to this diagnosis in her bed, she would, without any medical training, mark it as a diagnosis falling a bit short, as minor was not exactly what she had in mind. She thought about this again some more, however, and realized that perhaps the doctors had been right. At the time, the onset of schizophrenia had been minor. The new set of prescribed meds would prevent it from becoming "major".
The family went home, hoping this would be the end of the nightmare. But it had only just begun. Caroline then remembered their attempts at reminding her mother to take her medicine. Her 'minor' paranoid thoughts, however, would prevent her from doing so. It would be an endless battle.
The days turned to months, which turned to years. Caroline's mother continued without her medicine, refusing to take them and causing the family misery. Her mother remained oblivious to the dread she had been causing those who loved her, while she suffered from her own paranoia. Caroline's mind then wandered to the one time her father had tried to intervene and bring their mother back to normal, using the local police to force their mother to get another check up with the psychiatrist. She and her brother had been sent to a friend's house while this happened. She was grateful for that decision on her father's part. They would be kept from seeing what would most likely be another horrid nightmare.
The plan had been successful, with her mother temporarily resuming her medication. Just when things seemed to take a turn for the better, she stopped once again. She had become aware of the drugs' effects to block her mind's processing, limiting her ability to think about the things she wanted. So, once again, she dropped her medication intake.
Caroline's eyes cried quiet tears as the end of her trip down memory lane brought all the events back to her. It was as if everything had just happened yesterday. Her mother never resumed the medication after that incident, which was nearly two years ago.
Now, things only seemed to get progressively worse, and she would worry that perhaps her mother would experience another bout of extreme depression at any given moment. By now, however, she didn't know what she could do. She had lost much hope in a full recovery. The situation in itself had brought her much confusion, though she would not admit to it. Ignorance had been bliss, as her mother's expression of her thoughts only brought her sadness. She had tried helping her mother to rationalize her thoughts, but as time progressed, her mother had become increasingly stubborn, believing only what she had in mind. This was evident as her statements ended more with "I know you don't believe me, but you have to trust me," instead of "You're right. That does seem a bit impossible."
Though she had not lost her mom, she felt that she had. Never again would her mother be as she once was, caring for her as her own daughter. Never again would her mother take her out shopping. Never again would her mother be…her mother.
Caroline cried herself to sleep that night, hoping the tears would not show the next morning when her mother would come into her room to check on whether or not "they had been doing something wrong to 'Caroline'"—hoping that her friends too would not notice, as she was still not ready to tell them her little secret. She was, after all, quite fortunate, and there was no point in burdening them with such a small part of her life.
A/N: This story is loosely based on a true story. A friend of mine has taken the courage to burden me with their secret…and so I thought it should be told, in one form or another—perhaps just not to people the person knows, for the reasons mentioned in the story. In a sense, this story has been in the works for a while, ever since the secret was revealed to me. As such, it's also loosely based off of one of my earlier short stories, "A Night Forgotten". Reading that may help to understand some aspects of this story.
I also felt I wrote it in a way that made it possible to sympathize with two different characters…depending on reader interpretation. Finally, I was attempting to drag out the unveiling of this secret while maintaining reader interest. Let me know if I succeeded. I hope it wasn't confusing…this is definitely a new style of writing I felt I had incorporated into this story…although I haven't quite identified what style that is yet. P