You know what is every parent’s worst nightmare? Losing their child. This tale follows Carol, a mother, who is coping with the disappearance of her six-year-old son Norman. Narrated by David Cummings of the No Sleep Podcast, and written by Anton Scheller, this tale, which rings of truth, will leave you unsettled and unable to forget that, sometimes, the worst monsters are not under your bed. Sometimes, the worst monsters are ordinary people.
To be honest I don’t have much hope for Carol. Her head is now bald and covered in red blisters where she scratched too much. She refuses to eat, has to be restrained to stop hurting herself and her only interaction with psychiatrists is to attack them. Most cases of insanity are random or due to a chemical imbalance. But sometimes I get the impression that the victim didn’t have a choice, that insanity is the only option when your world falls apart.
You know what is every parent’s worst nightmare? To lose a child.
Four years ago Carol had everything. She had Tim, her loving husband. And together they had Norman, six years old, and Chloe, four years old. The kids were healthy and smart, and Norman had just entered school. They owned a large yellow house with a nice backyard, were good friends with their neighbors. Tim and Carol had everything they could have wished for.
Then Norman disappeared.
Just a few months after he had started school, on a warm and sunny Tuesday evening, Norman didn’t come home. Several of his classmates saw him leaving school and getting on the bus. The driver thought he remembered Norman getting off – while leaving the bus Norman tripped and nearly fell, but rather than cry he laughed about it. “What a great child” thought the driver – and that’s the last time Norman was seen.
The police searched the neighborhood, investigated for months, even followed leads out of the country – but Norman was never seen again.
And Carol, Tim and Chloe – not even old enough to understand what it means that “your brother won’t come back” – could do nothing but go to the police station every morning and beg them to do more. Of course, they put up posters, rallied the neighbors, they did everything. But Norman was gone.
It is not surprising that Carol became very protective of Chloe. She quit her job to make sure that Chloe would never be alone. When Chloe started school – an expensive one, with safety fences all around – Carol would do everything to make sure that Chloe would safely get into the school door in the morning and would never be alone when she left school in the evening. They picked up Chloe’s friends for play dates, just to make sure that the children would play at the safest possible place.
Carol, in other words, became overprotective. It took Tim more than a year to convince her that he too would take good care of Chloe. But still there was no birthday party at a friends’ place where Carol would not stand in the corner, making sure at every step that nothing could happen to Chloe. Sure, her fear was excessive – Chloe wasn’t even allowed to light or blow a candle, or to walk into the basement, or to go out anywhere alone.
That’s why Chloe was always happy when her mother was shopping. Tim too took care of Chloe, he even allowed her to play in the garden on her own.
You know what is worse than losing your child? Losing both of your children.
Two years ago, a bit more than two years after Norman’s disappearance, Tim was taking care of Chloe. Carol was shopping for gifts for Chloe’s upcoming birthday, and taking her to the mall would have been “too dangerous”, as Carol had always pointed out. Most child abductions, after all, happen in malls. It was a busy Saturday and Carol was gone for nearly four hours. Then she got the call.
Tim later described to the police that he was reading on the sofa when Chloe disappeared. That she had played in the garden for several hours – something that she knew would stop the moment mommy came home and so always enjoyed especially much. “I checked on her every ten minutes. I knew Carol would freak out if Chloe would hurt herself in any way, so I even made sure that she was dressed in long clothes, despite the heat. And I just finished the book, it cannot have been more than fifteen minutes after I last checked on her, after I saw her playing with her doll on the terrace – and she wasn’t there. I mean, there was just no way for her to get out. We had these high fences on two sides and the third side was just our neighbor. She was always so sweet with Chloe, I couldn’t imagine that she would ever do something to her.” At this point in the police interview Tim started crying.
That is the point in time Carol lost it the first time. She just couldn’t process losing her second child. She had doneeverything to make sure Chloe was safe – and still she disappeared. Carol first went into a full-blown depression and tried to kill herself two times. First she used razor blades, but when Tim found her and brought her to the hospital. In the psychiatric unit Carol tried it a second time, by ramming a pen into her throat.
It took six months until Carol was able to return home. The physical wounds had long healed, but getting Carol out of the depression took much longer. And even then, when she returned home, she was still unstable.
Tim took a sabbatical year from his job to care for her. The money was a bit tight, but both of their parents helped Carol and Tim out with their support – but because of the distance they weren’t able to visit very often. Carol spent nearly six months in Chloe’s room, crying into teddy bears and hugging barbies. Tim did the household chores, cooked and went shopping and arranged for Carol to meet her old friends and colleagues whenever possible. Their neighbors and friends were all very supportive.
But, when all was said and done, Chloe couldn’t be found. The police investigated for more than a year after the disappearance. They questioned neighbors and friends, even Tim and Carol themselves. Their direct neighbor was shortly even in custody, but when the neighbor’s alibi turned out to be solid – a speed camera shot showed that she was too far away from the house at the time that Chloe disappeared – she too was released.
More than a year after Chloe’s disappearance Carol started to get better. She started cooking and cleaning again and she finally allowed Tim to give some of Chloe’s old toys – some of which had belonged to Norman – to charity. A few times she even went out on her own again. But, as Tim confided to a few friends, every night Carol would still cry herself to sleep. But at least, Tim said, she stopped blaming him. She stopped accusing him, every day, of being responsible for Chloe’s disappearance. For more than a year he had heard the same message every day “It’s your fault. If you wouldn’t have let her in the garden…”
Six months ago Tim had to start his work again. That was hard for Carol, but it was the only way to save their strained finances and to restart their lives. “You cannot live in the past”, Tim would say, “they are gone and we have to accept that.” Carol would cry, but she would nod between her sobs. They planned to travel the world together and, maybe, to try again to have a child.
It took Carol several weeks, but she learned to deal with being alone at home. She would chat with the neighbors and go to meetings for parents of lost children. She even started to organize a fundraiser for a new playground in the neighborhood – one, she would insist, where the neighbors together could organize a watch so that no child ever had to play without oversight.
Carol had also taken again to doing the chores in the house. She started cooking, cleaning and shopping, she tidied all rooms except Tim’s holy DIY room, where she only dared to clean the floor and to eliminate the thick layers of dust on the shelves. Finally, Carol started the thing that she had dreaded the most after Chloe had disappeared: She started gardening.
She mowed the lawn, trimmed the bushes and seemed to be getting better from it. Tim wasn’t sure all of this was truly a good idea, whether Carol might have another breakdown. But Carol felt her improvement. It was a cathartic experience for her and she even felt as if it was reconnecting her with Chloe – to be in the last place that Chloe had been and in the garden that Norman had loved so much. Carol even went so far as to start planting new flowers and bushes.
You know what is worse than losing your children? Finding their pieces.
Roughly six weeks ago, just when things seemed to be going uphill, Carol was renewing the hedge at the end of their garden. She dug a hole to remove an old bush, when her spade cracked through something hard. A small bone. Carol figured it was a dead animal and continued digging. Just a few minutes later she found the hand. Not an old skeleton hand – no, a clearly fresh, half-rotten hand of what must have been a six year old child. Carol, with tears streaming down her face, kept digging. She thought that something might have buried Chloe there, that maybe Chloe had fallen into a small hole and that somehow they had just overlooked the hill that must have covered her body.
Carol dug for nearly half an hour, frantically heaping soil away from where she thought her child was lying. She didn’t find more than the hand, and, at least that’s what her mother says, that’s when Carol knew. That’s, says her mother, is why Carol called the police and her own parents – but not Tim.
Within the next two hours the police found four more pieces – a ribcage, an entire arm, a chinbone and a foot, still in small boy shoes. That’s when they realized that there wasn’t one child buried in the garden. It was two.
You know what is worse than finding the pieces of your children? Living with their murderer for four years.
Tim was arrested at work. The police excavated the whole garden, carefully sieving through the soil not to miss a single bone – like the small one that Carol had found first and just thrown away, Norman’s finger. They found the bodies of two dead children, around six years of age, the girl, the coroner determined, was buried for around two years, the boy for around four years.
Still, it seemed that it must have been somebody else. Tim denied his guilt, denied that he would ever do anything to his children. And Carol believed him. “It cannot have been him. He was the best father I’ve ever seen.” Then, at the bottom of an old metal trunk in Tim’s DIY room, wrapped into old towels, police found the heads. Only when she saw them, when Carol herself identified the two moldered heads as those of her own children, did Carol break down.
As said, I don’t have much hope for Carol. She is now here for four weeks. There is no hair left on her head, every day she causes another dark blue or purple bruise to appear on her body, and her fingernails are long either ripped out or chewed down to the flesh – and because most of the time she refuses to eat or drink none of the damage to her body can heal. The doctors and nurses try their best to help, but there is just nothing we can do to help.
Sometimes, when your world falls apart, insanity just is the only option.
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