Authors: V. C. Andrews
Copyright (c) 2002
I walked hesitantly down the corridor to my
sophomore English class at the University of North Carolina as if I already knew the trouble that awaited me.
could actually feel the increasing trembling in my body, the quickening of my heartbeat, and the spreading of the small patch of ice at the base of my spine. The moment I had awakened this morning. I sensed something was seriously wrong back home. It was as if a dark storm cloud had floated by earlier and had paused overhead long enough to rain a chill down into my heart. Almost as soon as I opened my eyes. I wanted to call Daddy, but I didn't. My boyfriend. Allan Simpson, a prelaw student, was fond of teasing me whenever I had what my Portuguese nanny. Isabella Martino, used to call the
-- dark, ominous feelings that moved up your spine like mercury in a thermometer.
"I can't believe you let a superstitious old woman affect you like that," he said. "The dreads? The ability to feel trouble coming? Really. Willow, you're almost nineteen. You're not a child."
I knew I wasn't a child, but how could I not have been influenced more by her than by anyone else and carried that influence into my adulthood? Up until I was nearly seventeen, when she finally left us to return to her family in Brazil. Isabella, whom I fondly called Amou, had more to do with my upbringing than my own mother, who had leaped upon the opportunity to let me know I was adopted as soon as I could understand what the word meant. Afterward, she didn't hesitate to put the word in front of mother whenever she used it in reference to me. Other children my age had mothers,
had an adoptive mother.
My father never did that, and so I never thought of him as anyone other than my father. Daddy.
began to call Isabella Amou just about the time I began to speak. In fact. I feel quite certain that I pronounced that word way before
said any other understandable word. Amou's eyes were always full of laughter when I said it, full of sparkling lights
"Amou. Amou," she would cry, and began to refer to herself the same way. "Do it for Amou. Willow. One more spoonful." she would urge. and I would eat one more spoonful.
She had been referring to me as
from the moment she had begun to care for me, to hold me in her arms and rock me to sleep as she sang one of her favorite Portuguese children's songs. In Portuguese,
means "loved one." and
simply echoed it back at her, only choosing to shorten it because it was so much easier for a two-year-old to do so. I insisted on calling her Amou despite my adoptive mother's always correcting me and lecturing me, sometimes quite emphatically, to call her Isabella and not Amou, especially if I did it in front of my adoptive mother's friends, who would grimace and ask. "What did she say?" It was practically impossible for any of them to understand, which made my adoptive mother angrier and angrier,
I can recall her seizing me by the shoulders when
was no more than three, three and a half. and shaking me roughly as she chastised me. screaming, "Are you an absolute idiot already, Willow De Beers?"
When my adoptive mother was angry at me, she always used my whole name. It was as if she were reminding me that the entire family would suffer for any mistakes
had made. reminding me that I carried the family name and I should consider it a greater gift than life itself. for, after all. wasn't it true that I had been born without a name, without an identity, almost without blood?
"Don't you understand what
am telling you? Her name is Isabella. Isabella. Say it. Say it she demanded. and
cried and pressed my lips together because I was terrified that somehow the word Isabella would escape my mouth and bring a stab of pain to Amou, who stood by, holding her breath and feeling guilty but too frightened to come to my defense. I'm sure.
"Willow De Beers, you say Isabella. Say it I want to hear that you can say it. Say it!' she insisted. She had her face so close to mine, I could see the tiny blood vessels in her temples. I remember thinking her blood was blue. Mine was red, but hers was blue. Why were we different? Did this mean something really was wrong with me. just as she often claimed?
She shook me again, and I stared with frightened eves at a woman I hardly recognized as my mother, adoptive or otherwise. It took my breath away to see that she could speak and look so out of control. How could I help but cringe and swallow back any words, much less say the one she wanted me to say?
"Say it. or I'll stuff you into one of my luggage trunks and send you away to one of those countries where other little adopted girls have nothing to eat and have to sleep on beds of hay. Isabella can tell you about that. Would you like that? Well? Would you?"
started to cry softly, my body shaking almost as hard as it had when she had seized my shoulders.
Fortunately, my father was nearby, which wasn't often enough for me, because whenever he was home, he always came to my defense. He interceded in his calm doctor's voice.
"I'm afraid you won't get anywhere with her that way. Alberta. You are frightening her, and when an infant is frightened, she cannot accept information, much less imprint it," he told her.
"Please. Claude, spare me your psychiatric jargon. We are not all patients under your tender loving care in your mental hospital," she threw at him as if she were tossing a gift back in his face.
can vividly recall the look on his face. I remember all of his expressions. but those he reserved for my adoptive mother were truly special. Now that I'm older and can put it into words and ideas, I realize he looked back at her that day and on many similar occasions afterward as if he really were looking at one of his patients. She either ignored it or didn't realize it.
She turned from him and glared at me. I thought she still might lash out and slap me, but she turned away and slapped at her own ankle-length flowing skirt, snapping the material as she rushed off, the heavy scent of her perfume lingering like a constant reminder of her fury.
I often looked back on those early days and thought that married to a woman like my adoptive mother, my father couldn't have been a happy man, despite her physical beauty and despite his great success and his national reputation as a psychiatrist with his own clinic, which he called the Willows and after which I had been named. My adoptive mother claimed she had nothing to do with naming me. She made that clear to anyone and everyone who remarked about it. I remember thinking there was something wrong with my name. It was probably why I was too shy to reply when anyone asked me who I was. That embarrassed my adoptive mother, who, ironically, was really the cause of it. However, she was not about to take the blame for that.
"Who would name a child after a nuthouse," she ranted at me one day. "even if it was where you were conceived and where you were born?"
Where I was conceived and born?
I didn't know this until I was nearly eight. Daddy tried to keep her from ever telling me, but my dear sweet A.M., as
often referred to her years later in my thoughts and when
spoke about her to Amou, had been permitting it to slip out in various innuendos and suggestions for years, until she simply sat me down in the living room one afternoon and told me.
"Pay attention!" she ordered. These were nearly always her first words to me, as if she were afraid I would fix my gaze on something else and ignore her completely, just the way Daddy often did. She wouldn't start until she was satisfied my eyes were directed at her.
"You should know how you came to be living here with us." she began. "Maybe then you'll be a little more appreciative and be more obedient and listen to me when
speak. for I am trying to help you." she added in a much sweeter, softer tone of voice. Even then. I knew enough to brace myself for some terrible aftermath whenever she was too nice to me.
She pulled herself up, staring at me a long moment, the displeasure suddenly so clear in her face, in the cold glint in her otherwise beautiful blue eves, that I couldn't deny it even if
wanted, even if I could pretend she cared about me. She was the only one permitted to have illusions and fantasies in our house. My dolls weren't permitted to speak back to me; my toy teacups were forever empty.
After a short moment of hesitation, confirming her decision to do it, to tell me what my father had forbidden her
tell me, she brought her face close to mine and asked in a dark. Throaty voice. "Do you know how you were made? Do you have any idea at all?"
Of course. I shook my head. How would
know such a thing? My little body tightened with anticipation. It felt as if
had lightning inside my stomach and thunder in my bones.
"One of the assistants at your father's precious clinic apparently raped a patient. So much for his socalled exceptional professional staff." she said, her lips hinged at the corners with disgust. "Do you understand what I am telling you. Willow De Beers? You were born as a result of a rape!"
I didn't know what rape meant, but she was determined that
"You're only in the third grade. but I know how street smart kids are nowadays. I know you know babies don't get brought here by storks or any other fairy tale. right?"
"Babies come from the hospital," I said.
"Normal women have their babies delivered in a hospital, yes, but first they are made at home or somewhere else convenient. Half the country was probably conceived in the back of an automobile," she muttered. She always tilted her head down toward her right shoulder when she said something that disgusted her. It was as if she were going to spit the period at the end of her sentence.
was really confused now Why was she telling me all this? At first, I hoped she was just being a good mother, trying to get me to understand something important, but I soon realized she had a different purpose.
"The man through his pee-pee puts his part into the woman through her pee-pee, and there's an egg in the woman that grows into a baby. You don't need to understand much more than that to understand what I'm saying."
grimaced. It all sounded awful. Why would a woman permit a man to pee into her? Surely, my adoptive mother was trying to frighten me again.
"When a woman doesn't want a man to do it and he does it anyway, forcing her to have a baby, that's called rape. Understand? Well?" she asked quickly.
nodded, afraid to say no even though it wasn't all that clear to me yet, especially why a man would want to make a baby with a woman if the woman didn't want him to do it.
"This patient, this mentally disturbed young woman, according to your father, never knew what was happening inside her until she was quite far along in her pregnancy. How everyone could be so oblivious to it, even including that mental case, is beyond me, but what do
know about the inner workings of Dr. DeBeers's looney farm?" she muttered.
How strange it was to me to hear her refer to her husband and my daddy as Dr. De Beers, as though he were a complete stranger, but she did that often, including right to his face, especially at the dinner table. Why she would ridicule the clinic Daddy was so proud he had created was another mystery and surprise to me.
"Our Dr. De Beers is not permitted to talk about what goes on there. Everything has to be kept so secret. All that stuff about doctor-patient
confidentiality. If you ask me, it's because either the doctor is ashamed he is taking money for what he is doing, or the patient is ashamed of what she or he has been saying and doing. That's all there really is to that," she lectured as if there were a number of other people besides me in the living room. I didn't know it but Amou was just outside the door, listening and trembling for me.
"I don't know how I was so weak as to agree to permit him to adopt you and bring you here in the first place, but I did. Anyway, this is why
have to be so stern with you. Willow," she said, turning calmly reasonable again. Then she leaned toward me, her eyes widening. "You might have inherited some madness," she whispered, which left me so terrified that I couldn't speak or sleep for days. I might have inherited madness! Even then. I understood what that could mean.
On the few occasions I had been at Daddy's clinic up to that time. I had seen patients who looked so disturbed and terrif
ing to me even from a safe distance that I had nightmares about it. Was she right? Could I be like one of them? Would I end up in Daddy's clinic, too?
For days. I moped about, afraid to look at myself in the mirror and terrified of what everyone else saw when he or she looked at me. I felt myself shrinking more and more into that small hiding place in my brain where
could feel safe and unafraid, even if that place felt like a cage. The more introverted
became, the more mentally ill I appeared, especially to my A.M.
Daddy finally noticed and asked Amou why
was looking so unhappy those days. When Amou told Daddy what my adoptive mother had done and said, he was very upset with her and tried to reassure me that there was absolutely nothing wrong with inc. He called me to his office and spoke softly, reassuringly, to me, wiping away an errant tear or two with his soft thumb.
"Who should know better than
do. Willow?" he asked with a smile. "Evaluating people, judging whether or not they are sick, is my profession."
That seemed reasonable, but he wasn't with me that often. Maybe he didn't know enough or see enough. That seemed just as reasonable.
And then he told me a startling thing. "That doll you love so much-- remember I told you someone had made it for me to give to you? Well, your mother made it for you. Willow, and it's very pretty, isn't it? Someone who's so sick couldn't have done that."
That did make me feel a little better, but unfortunately, his being upset about what my A.M. had done didn't stop her from complaining about me whenever she saw something she considered wrong. She was determined to paint everything as evidence that I had indeed inherited a mental sickness.
didn't like listening to her. so
ignored her, and she complained that I had an attention deficit disorder, even though there was no evidence of that at school. She claimed the teachers were simply too burdened to notice or, worse, not qualified.
She heard me talking to myself, so I must be a schizophrenic. Once, she even tried to stop me by making me wear tape over my mouth when I played in my room, especially when she had guests visiting and feared they would overhear me. She mistook my mixture of Portuguese words with English words as a sort of insane gibberish.
When Daddy learned about what she had done with the tape, he put an end to it, too, but that didn't stop her effort to establish that I had mental problems. Because
cried at the drop of a pin, or dropped my eyes when she looked at me. I was a paranoid. How could I help but be afraid of her? Even when she spoke nicely to me or stroked my hair and
complimented Amou on how well she kept me.
was waiting for some ugly or terrible comment to be tagged on at the end, even if it was just a wagging of her head and a sigh to indicate that I was somehow beyond hope and all that was done for me would be wasted. She was that convinced
carried the seed of some mental aberration inside me.
One morning, she even scooped up my drawings and my coloring books to show Daddy how I was revealing some deep-seated mental disturbance through my distorted faces and figures.
think she suspected some of them were depictions of her, and she couldn't imagine how anyone, especially me, could see her as anything but beautiful.