When mom arrived at the hotel, she was reserved but not angry. Matter of fact. She didn’t overwhelm me with any strong emotion. She hugged me but didn’t fuss over me too much. Most important was she wasn’t angry or accusatory at all. I cried a lot, I remember that. She cried a little, but mostly was just a calm presence. She also called the Players, and the next day she flew herself, Jordan and I to Virginia to meet up with his parents. Again, something Jordan tried to spin to his advantage, while I mostly just rode alongside.
To say it was awkward is a tremendous understatement. Jordan’s parents were much more demonstrative. Once we were together, all the parents had lots of questions. I don’t remember this part all that well; it’s more a series of impressions. I honestly think I was in shock. The thing I remember most clearly was when Jordan’s mother asked asking what we wanted. She so clearly meant “how can we help you right now,” but Jordan started extrapolating about his next grand plan, about getting a house and starting our own business. I was floored, because it was such a grossly inappropriate way to respond.
The Players had a timeshare in Williamsburg and were nice enough to set Mom and I up there for a week; Jordan alternated staying with us and his family. It was stiff and awkward, and mostly a blur. I do remember that it was the week Anna Nicole Smith died, so we spent a fair amount of time watching entertainment news. Its strange, the scraps I remember. At the end of the week Mom made me an offer: she would help me get set up in an apartment in Virginia with Jordan, if I would come home with her for one month and go to a therapist with her. This seemed entirely reasonable to me, although Jordan sulked terribly. He would be staying with his parents for the month, and he wasn’t grateful at all. But it wasn’t any choice; I had no desire to be homeless and destitute in a completely unfamiliar town.
Boo stayed with Jordan and I left with my mother. I remember how my heart sank as we drove back to the same house I’d lived in during high school. I felt like I had failed at life. Once again I felt like Dorothy returned to Kansas; everything in life was as gray as the sky. My parents welcomed me home gently. I had my own room back. And for the first time in years, I didn’t feel completely consumed with anxiety.
Since I was only going to be there for a month, I was seeing a therapist two or three times a week. This seemed reasonable enough. I was as honest with the therapist as I dared do be, which meant I was actually lying a lot. It sounds like a contradiction in terms but it really isn’t. I told him as much about my life as possible, but I couldn’t tell him how many of the “people” I told him about were Others that I only spoke to through my partner. He worked with me on my anxiety, which I admitted was crippling at that point, and helped me start to trust my mother again. I was starting to see that I had gotten “carried away” with my memories, that they weren’t completely accurate after all. I was facing the fears that had kept me prisoner, even as I defended my prison.
Those early sessions, and much of that trip home, remain kind of a blur. I had been driven so hard for so long that I didn’t really know how to deal with actual leisure time. Mom took a good chunk of time off from work to spend with me, but often I was alone. I hadn’t been alone in years either. The funny thing was, in the middle of the awkward half-honest therapy and long days watching horror movies with my stepdad, Mom had a business trip to Manhattan. Rather than leave me for three days, she cashed in some frequent flier miles and brought me along.
There was something kind of real-world magical about that almost-vacation in the middle of those weeks reconnecting. I spent the days exploring Manhattan while she went to conferences. In the afternoon and evening we went places together: the Metropolitan Museum of Art (which I’d wanted to visit ever since I read From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler when I was nine), the Museum of National History, Ellis Island. We met up with friends we’ve known since I was in Kindergarten (one of whom lived in town), and even caught a showing of Wicked at the Gershwin Theater. It was so much fun.
Meanwhile, Jordan made it clear that he was totally miserable, and did his best to make me miserable too during his nightly phone calls. We were only allowed to talk once a day, for no more than an hour, under the banner of “long distance charges.” We also wrote letters; every day or two I’d get a fat packet of missives and cards from multiple Others. There were multiple attacks in those letters; some were filled with rage, others with longing, still others with hope and excitement for the future. Mostly, in all his correspondence, there was complaints about the Players. When he found out I would be spending a few days in Manhattan, taking an actual vacation, he made a desperate attempt to ruin my trip. He posted his massive apology.
That entire post was made up of the carefully screened lie that Jordan had based our “new” life on. He knew that I lived in tremendous fear of the online gossip and that few things could throw me into a panic attack faster than to agitate that community. It was a gesture that was transparent to me, even though I was still fully enmeshed in his mythology. I was disgusted and annoyed, particularly that he had spoken so freely for me. For the first time I really bristled against the way he was behaving. I knew I was being punished, and I didn’t think I deserved it.
The month stretched into five weeks, and I was becoming comfortable and almost relaxed. I had even begun to question things with Jordan. Things he had said about my mother and my upbringing were provably false. A few times I wondered to myself if maybe things weren’t pretty bad with him. I didn’t have any anxiety at all, until the mail came, or the phone rang. During the hour before our nightly call I would become more and more distressed, until the moment the phone sent my heart racing. It was awful, and it was impossible not to notice. At the same time I missed him desperately; I didn’t know what to do with myself, and I worried constantly about what might be happening to the Others, and how I would be punished for my absence. I think there was more fear than affection by then.
Finally, Mom couldn’t extend things anymore. She asked if I’d like her to come with me for the first week back in Virginia. I thanked her, so grateful that I wouldn’t have to do it alone, not realizing that going back with me was also part of her master plan. All that research she’d done, all the planning and saving; she’d thought of just about everything. That’s where the name of this post came from; she called the entire endeavor “Operation Catch and Release.” In my world, Jordan had gotten a job in my absence, but (very tellingly) was fired the week before I returned. Mom and I flew back, staying in the same timeshare the Players had lent us before. When we pulled up in our rental car, Jordan ran out to meet me. And I felt sick.
I honestly winced when he came toward me. He hugged me and was talking to me, and all I could think was get your hands off of me. I felt physically ill in his presence. He noticed, too, and I spent a lot of that evening having to deal with how badly my reaction had “hurt him.” I was welcomed back, punished, lectured, and all in all, didn’t feel happier to be with him again. He also put a tremendous amount of pressure on me to find a job. He had set us up to look at several apartments, and I’d pre-arranged a handful of job interviews. All along, he was telling the same casual lies, to me and to everyone else. Like when he said to a prospective apartment manager that we had paid off the eviction that he’d caused. An inarguable lie, one that he spent hours justifying later.
Jordan tried to just move in with us at the condo, which I was no more comfortable with than anyone else. I felt very ill at ease, and everything seemed so over-dramatic and unnecessarily complex. I didn’t want to spend half the night talking to Others. I didn’t want to frantically patch things up, or go for long walks, or get nagged to find a job. I was so tired of it all, and I hated the way Jordan treated my mother, who had been nothing but patient and kind with him. I loathed the way he would sob, loud and wailing, making sure Mom overheard and then later criticizing her (to me) for not coming to “check” on him. I was relieved when his parents made him go back to their house.
Mom drove me around to my various interviews. At some point, a couple of days before my mother was flying back home, I just broke down. I could not take it any longer. For the first time, I had been willing to see Jordan as he was, and having the blinders off I couldn’t pretend he wasn’t outright, baldface lying to people. I couldn’t even care right then if I believed or didn’t believe in the “Mindhole” anymore. I just knew I couldn’t spend one more day in his presence. I asked her if I could just come home for good. She called the airport and reserved my ticket from the car.
Actually saying I was leaving was hellish. We met him at his parents’ house; my mother had called them so they would be prepared for what was coming. Part of the conversation was in private, where there was a brief, brutal onslaught of Others, pleading, condemning, cursing, crying. I couldn’t be alone with him any longer; I came out to where our parents were. I told him I just…couldn’t. He kept asking me, “You can’t what?” over and over, trying every possible way to get to give him a reason he could deconstruct, or a person to blame. I couldn’t. He became more and more heated. I remember all our parents moving as one, his to stand on either side of him as my mother gently took my arm. I needed her to help me walk away; I could not turn from his pleading eyes. She guided me to the car as Jordan began to scream; that same hideous, chilling, keening wail that he terrorized all of us with in the cult. Now no longer the howl of some supernatural anguish, but that of a thwarted, monstrous child. I got into the car and Mom drove us the hell away from there.
Our flight wasn’t until the next day, and it wasn’t even noon yet. We decided to walk around Colonial Williamsburg for a few hours. It was incredible; I felt dizzy with my freedom. We walked around, sometimes laughing, sometimes crying. Mostly I felt like a tremendous weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I couldn’t believe that I could just let go. I wasn’t responsible for the fate of worlds anymore. It is funny that we spent that day there, because for as long as I can remember, my mother has collected things from Colonial Williamsburg. She has an extensive collection of beautiful miniature houses, and it was so much fun to finally see the buildings I’d seen on her shelves since childhood.
On our way back to the car, I picked up a pebble. It’s always been a habit to pick up small stones and other talismans when something important happens to me. I still have that stone, picked up the day I got free. I hold it sometimes, after I’ve had nightmares; I don’t want to admit how often I still have them. I hold it and remember that I am still alive. I hold it and remember that I never have to be that person again.