Secrets Excerpt

Posted on Posted in Secrets

I LEAVE THE HOSPITAL CONFUSED, pissed at Max instead of myself. Although the weather has changed severely, and I should get off the road.

I drive aimlessly through the downpour, not realizing that I know exactly where I am headed.

As I pull up to the bridge, a strange combination of shame and guilt works its way to the surface of me. I use anger, recalling Max and his ludicrous comments to force it back down.

I don't know why, but something makes me get out of my car. I fight my way through the torrential winds and head over to the rock-face.

How will I ever find her necklace in this rain?

I stand for a moment, staring down at the canyon, watching the water rise above the underbrush. I feel a sense of weakness, ignoring the emotions that threaten to strangle me.

The thought of hurting my wife sends a stabbing bolt right through me. The feeling is so strong it forces me to hold my breath. But I refuse to let myself feel. It's better this way.

I reach into my pocket and pull out the little white disc. I stare down at the double red line picturing the expression on my wife's face as she came to my office to share this with me. I feel the moisture in my eyes build. A roaring thunder from deep within drops me to me knees, weeping.

And this time, I don't know how to stop it.

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photographs and memories

Posted on Posted in Forever Exposed

My brother grabs my hand, holding a stack of photos. “Do you want to check these and tell me if they’re okay to use?”

“Yeah,” I say. “Sure.”

I look down at the photos of Nikki, and i am slowly absorbed into the beautiful story of her life; her graduation, prom, Easter at Grandpa and Nanna’s — there must be a hundred photos here. I lift the photo of my little Nikki, sitting in the snow next to a snowman — she was six. I trace my finger across her face and start to cry. It’s only when I see the photo of my precious newborn, lying in her bassinet beside Big Bird — who is twice her size — that I remember her tiny voice in the car on our way to her first radiation appointment.

“Mommy,” Nikki said, smiling, “when I die, will you please put Big Bird in the box with me?” I felt the heat of her stare on my skin.
“I’m not scared to die, you know… I’m going to be with Jesus. But I really want Big Bird to come with me to heaven. Okay, Mommy?”

I feel the bones inside of me harden. Hazy spots dance in circles around my eyes. I stare at the photo, which is beginning to fade. I picture Nikki’s face in the car that day, her hair mostly bald, with a scar on the back of her head that looked like half a railroad track. In spite of everything she’d been through, she was more beautiful that day than I had ever seen her before. My body sinks into the sofa. My cheek pressed against a pillow, as i imagine myself, just like the photo, fading away.

“Yes,” I say to my brother who has now wrapped his arms tightly around me. “These will be fine.”

Nikki Christmas

Disbelief

Posted on Posted in Forever Exposed

THE CLOCK ON MY NIGHTSTAND is ticking, but I can’t move to look at the time. The curtains are drawn. It’s dark. Yet somehow, I know morning is just beyond the door.

I am alone, cocooned inside a vortex of emotion, oblivious to the world around me. My eyes brim with tears, yet they are empty and dry. I try to trick myself into believing it was all just a bad dream, but only until I feel the air enter my lungs.

As I take the next breath, the need to understand possesses me. Images of Nikki’s smiling face cloud my thoughts. The feeling of her is so strong it seems to be falling from the pages of my mind.

Emotions flash through me like lightning. Feelings of shock and disbelief — a feeling of I told you so — spinning all around me. I know that I’m sobbing. I can hear it. But it’s almost as if it is someone else. Some other poor mother who has just had her heart ripped to shreds.

Nikki

The day Nikki left

Posted on Posted in Forever Exposed

"CHRISTOS,” I SAY, STARTLED, AS I drop the ivory bowl into the warm soapy water. “Is that you?” I look over my shoulder. No one is there.

I’m not usually this anxious, especially in the middle of a weekday afternoon. In a household of four kids, a husband, two dogs and a bird, you get used to strange noises at any given moment. But it was a long night, and lately things haven’t been quite as they seem.
I listen carefully to the noise behind me staring into the reflection of the kitchen window. The dog is barking, but no one is there — at least, no one I can see.

It’s strange how doubt always looks different when you are ignoring your deepest instinct. I tell myself it’s nothing and continue scrubbing the ivory bowl of the tuna salad I made for lunch.

Somewhere along the way, I’ve learned how to calm that still, small voice — the one that keeps telling me that some-thing is about to go horribly wrong. I feel as if I can change fate by focusing on menial tasks like carpools and housework, or just making sure lunch is ready when Christos sneaks in from work for a quick bite to eat.

But when it comes to Nikki, I can’t afford to ignore it completely. And lately, the unrelenting whispers have been deafening.

That’s why today, Christos and I are taking our daughter to meet with a neuro-psychiatrist. A doctor who specializes in brain disorders. Although Nikki’s life is proof that miracles do happen, the highlights seem to be fading, overshadowed by an unexpected neurological diagnosis.

Despite all the maladies that have surfaced over the last ten years; pinealcytoma, scoliosis, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, Christos and I know that it’s never been quite this bad. A brain tumor is one thing; paranoid psychosis is another. And there is nothing running deeper through my mind as I dry off the dishes and check the clock above the oven. It’s almost 1:30. Just one more hour to go.

I have always lived in fear of days like these. When at any moment, my whole world could come crashing down on me. And this is exactly how it starts: a cautious whisper balancing on the edge of disbelief, hanging by a thread of a blinding fear, snapped by a moment I never saw coming.

She seems fine now, the picture of perfect health. But something I’ve learned a long time ago with Nikki. It’s not what you see on the outside that is so dangerously deceiving. It’s what you can’t see on the inside that will cut your heart to pieces.

I can’t help but to worry this way. I think deep down she knows I can’t really help how I feel. “It is what it is, Mom, stop worrying so much,” she always says.

“But it’s my job,” I tell her.

Then she puts her hands on her hips and says the same thing she said the last time she scolded me for worrying: “Thanks Mom, but couldn’t you find something better to do with your time?” I never do answer that question. I just shake my head and smile, because nothing could be more satisfying.

Another sharp thud in the hallway behind me makes me jump. “Christos…” I say, almost knocking over the Tweety Bird cookie jar with my dust cloth. “Did you forget some-thing?” As I say this, I hear a swift thunder of footsteps, dense and solid, plummeting down the back stairway.

I freeze.

I do this every time something startles me. Despite the fact that something might be terribly wrong, I stop whatever I’m doing and hold my breath. I am completely unaware of the idling car in the distance, or the fact that Christos is miles away from home.

Finally, I glance behind me toward the noise just in time to see the garage door slam shut. The force of the door sweeps the papers off the kitchen table, scattering them like leaves; they float gently to the ground.

Now my heart is racing. My head is spinning with questions. What time is it? Where is Nikki? I hadn’t taken my eyes off her all morning — not until a few minutes ago when she went upstairs to take a shower, which is why I am positive she’s upstairs in the shower.
For a second, I’m so confused I have to think twice before I remember how to walk.

Then suddenly, I hear it, that strong, indelible voice — soft, and familiar. “Trust me,” it says, “everything will be okay!” Without thinking, I bolt toward my garage.

I fling the door open with a great surge of panic. But not in time to stop my precious Nikki from driving away.

The fumes are fresh; she is backing down the driveway.

My body stiffens and the towel I’m holding falls from my hand.
I close my eyes in disbelief, hoping they are playing tricks on me. But when I open them up again, there she goes. It takes a full second to realize. She is driving the 911 Porsche Carrera Cabriolet.
A car too dangerous for an eighteen-year-old to drive.

“Nikki!” I shout, and she turns toward my voice as if to say she is sorry. But she doesn’t stop. “No, Nikki don’t…” I scream, louder this time, “Please don’t!” But the weight of the moment shatters, as heavy and sharp as glass.

As I take a breath, my shoulders thrust backwards into the doorframe of the house. Huge sections of my body go numb. Instinctively, I want to run, throw myself behind the car, and stop her. But my body is frozen, locked in the prison of my own disbelief.

I focus hard, try to stop her with a stare. But she turns her eyes away from me, barely missing the mailbox as she backs onto the street.

Unlike most teenagers who break the rules from time to time, Nikki is not leaving this house because she is angry, or to get my attention, or because she wants to go have some rebellious fun. She’s not thinking clearly. And she’s not in control of her mind.
I just stare at her face.

God, her face…

Her long brown hair drapes like ribbons over her shoulders. Her round, fleshy lips bloom like a rose against her pale porcelain skin. I see her eyes — Christos’ eyes, electric blue, drifting through a rivulet of thoughts.

But this child, the one staring back at me through the windshield of her father’s car, is not one I recognize. And now it’s too late. Her psychosis is back, and this time it comes with a vengeance.

It’s hard for me to fully understand Nikki sometimes; why she does the things she does — like this, something totally irrational and unexpected. And sometimes, like now, even when I believe I know my daughter so well. I realize there is a difference between knowing someone and understanding them. For me, understanding is the balance between living in fear and living with hope. It is the weight between my need to protect her and my need to see her happy.
But I do understand this about my daughter: when you live your life on a moment’s notice; you can’t afford to think twice. You find reason in the unreasonable, humor in the things that feel so sad. You measure worth by time and not by weight. You understand that when things become too black and white, you just add in your favorite color. And when everything turns upside down, you simply stand on your head. When you live with the constant reminder that life can be wiped away in an instant. You learn very quickly how to live as fast as you can.

In the distance, I hear the roar of the Porsche shattering the placid stillness of our neighborhood. Suddenly, everything in front of me turns dark, and for the next several seconds, time changes its meaning — and everything about me. It doesn’t exist. I don’t exist. The world around me spins fiercely. I am lost somewhere in the middle of timelessness.

Until a warm sensation sinks into me; a feeling of peace and assurance pulses through my thoughts like a drug, sooth-ing and somehow comforting me. I hear it again, a promise that everything will be okay. “Just trust me!” it says. “This is what you agreed to…remember.” But as hard as I listen, and as much as I try, for the life of me, I don’t know what it means.

It seems ridiculous to believe, but somehow, I know my daughter is about to die. I know that in a few moments, she will be ripped away from me, away from this world I have brought her into. It’s as if I have lived this moment in another time or place. I know exactly what is going to happen next.

As I argue with my thoughts, dismissing them as non-sense, my need to stop it from happening has me running in the house to find a phone. There is a mixture of Downey fabric softener and the warm smell of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. A subtle reminder that my life is normal and things are perfect. As I listen closely to the voice inside of me — “It’s okay,” it says again. I know despite what is about to happen, and all the pain it will bring. Even death will not be enough to take Nikki away from me.

My hands begin to tremble at the thought. I grab the phone and dial my husband’s cell. He just left the house a few minutes ago, so I know he can’t be too far. I am scared, so scared, yet there is a feeling of understanding — confidence — as if everything makes perfect sense. As if this is what I have always known. As if this is what I have agreed to? But then suddenly, I can’t breathe. It’s like all the oxygen is being sucked out of the room and I can no longer think.

I clutch the phone against my cheek. And the second I hear my husband’s voice, I just cry. “Oh, Christos, it’s…it’s Nikki…” I squeeze my eyes let the tears drain out. “She left, she took the Porsche. Oh God, Christos, she’s, she’s…I think something awful is going to happen!”

I hear the sound of his car accelerate. “What?” he exhales hard. “Where the hell did she go?”

I cry even harder. “I don’t know. She just left.”

Then I hear a sigh. “Don’t worry, babe, I’ll find her.”

I met Christos when I was only seventeen. I fell in love with him for many reasons, but mostly because he fights hard for the things he loves.

Although it’s true Christos is Nikki’s hero, and she his princess, her impulsiveness has been a challenging task for both of us. But it is always Christos who swoops in at the last second to pluck her from whatever dangerous circumstance she has found herself in. He has spent eighteen years fighting for his daughter, and I am certain he will do whatever it takes to bring her home safely, to me.

“She can’t be too far,” he says. “I’ll bring her home… I promise.”

I close my eyes and nod. Because even though I know it’s not true. I believe him.

It is moments like these when the tiny knots in my stomach twist up tight questioning the existence of God. This is when I grab my keys, and rush to my car praying harder than I have ever prayed in my life.

I’d spent years convincing myself I was the only one who knew when something was about to go wrong with Nikki. That the intuitive bond between us was so strong it made it possible for me to see things that parents were not supposed to see with their kids. Because I knew, at any moment, I could lose her. Now, as I step into my car something is telling me I already have.

I back quickly off my driveway, slamming the car door as my wheels hit the street. I drive hard and fast, begging God to take anything, anything at all, just not my child.

Nikki is not like most girls her age, typical and predictable. You won’t find her out shopping, or getting her nails done on her days off. Instead, you will find Nikki on a hill taking photographs of nature, or sketching a stranger playing his guitar in the park.
Sometimes you will find her just sitting against a tree somewhere alone, reading Freud, sipping on her favorite Boba tea.

But today, she is not in any of those places. Today, she is nowhere.
I drive first toward the high school, but on second thought, I head toward the beach. I drive excessively fast, will-ing her — in my head — to turn around and come back home. But before I have made it to the main road, the urgency within me stops completely. A tingling sensation creeps up my arms and then into my chest. A sinking feeling, heavy and sharp, drops me like an elevator. The life inside me turns cold, and again I am struggling to breathe. I look at the clock on my dashboard: it’s 1:52.

Somehow, I’ve managed to pull over to the side of the road. Cars zip past me as if I’m not even here. I feel the tears trailing down my cheeks while I try to calm myself down. It’s getting harder to breathe, harder to think, because somehow, I know it’s true. I know my daughter is never coming home.

The humming of my car grabs my focus. I remember that bad things don’t happen to my family. That miracles are what Nikki’s life is made from. I try to convince myself Nikki is fine, that it’s only my imagination telling me she’s not. But that doesn’t stop the anger welling up inside of me. Or the sting of despair so strong it steals my sight.

I clutch my head with my hands and try to block out the thoughts. But I can’t stop them. I know what I know, no matter how hard I try to will them away. I take in a deep breath, grab hold of the steering wheel firmly with both hands, and I scream into the air.
“N-O-o-o…”

I force my attention back to Nikki’s face and my breathing slows. I squeeze my eyes, concentrate my focus — make a U-turn — and drive, willing away the truth that’s been building for the last ten years of Nikki's life. I take everything that is in me — fear and determination — and search for my daughter. Because grief doesn’t exist in your heart or mind or soul. If you ask me, it’s found in the distance between a mother and her child.

Who is Nikki Catsouras

Posted on Posted in Forever Exposed

The minutes are crushing. Nothing has dulled the pain. It scratches and claws at me, digging its way deep into a place I never knew existed.

Christos’ voice has finally returned. He is standing at the center island answering questions and wiping his face. “That car is so fast,” he tells the coroner. “She couldn’t have known how fast she was driving…she couldn’t have known.” When he is finished speaking, he rubs his hands across the back of his head and lowers himself into a fetal position on the floor. “She didn’t know…”

Suddenly, there is a hand on my shoulder. I turn to see Sgt. Miller. His eyes are the lightest shade of blue. “Your friend went to get your two oldest daughters,” he says, “they’ll be here in just a minute.” Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, the knife plunges a little deeper. “We’re right here with you Mrs. Catsouras; we’ll help all of you get through this!”

When I hear my girls walking in the hallway toward the kitchen I feel every muscle in my body tighten. Christos wraps his arm around me. “Oh God,” he says. I watch in horror as my two beautiful daughters inch closer, and before I can say a word, Danielle is shaking her head, her palms raised. I watch her mind fit the pieces together like a puzzle. I say nothing, but now I feel a warm pressure forming in the center of my throat.

Time seems to slow while my daughters' eyes scan the room filled with men and women in uniform. I need a moment to get myself in order, to think, to understand. I reach my hands into my pockets and squeeze the silk lining inside. I think this would be where they would yell “cut!” in a horror film.

Forever Exposed: The Nikki Catsouras Story

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The Depth Between Us

Posted on Posted in Forever Exposed

The depth between us

When I was young, I believed in fate.

I believed that people were put in our life path for the purpose of some significant universal plan. How else could I explain the fact that a girl who looked just like me — also a new student — was standing next to Principal Fisher holding onto my class schedule?

Her hair was just like mine: long, blonde — with bangs — not quite as light, but it seemed to balance out the fact that her eyes were just a tinge bluer than mine. Everything about her was oddly familiar — the color of her eye shadow, her Jordache jeans — except for the fact that she was cool and com-posed while I was shaking underneath my periwinkle Angora sweater.

Truthfully, we could have passed as sisters. That was the first time I remember thinking, “If this girl can do it, so can I.” She led the way; I followed. She sat next to me through first and third period, lunch and P.E. And only because of her I made it through my first day of high school.

There were many reasons Patti and I became best friends. We had everything in common. Even our differences seemed to complement each other’s flaws. Patti got her driver’s license, and then I got mine. She started beauty school, then me. She got married. I got married. It worked well that way, because I always secretly believed, “if she can do it, so can I.”

Five years later, when I found out Patti was going to have her first baby, I knew that I would soon be getting pregnant. And later, when I learned my baby would require 3 a.m. feedings, I would just remind myself, “If Patti can do this, so can I.” Patti’s daughter, Christine was born in October; Nikki in March — one year later.

No matter which way the stars aligned, or how far the universe would separate us sometimes. I never once imagined that eighteen years after our precious baby girls were born, I would be telling myself, “If Patti can do this, so can I.”

Christine died in March — now Nikki, the following October.

Graduation Day.. Congratulations "angel" you did it!

Werner Herzog

Posted on Posted in Media

Lo And Behold: Reveries of the Connected World - Official Trailer

Legendary master filmmaker Werner Herzog (Grizzly Man, Cave of Forgotten Dreams) examines the past, present and constantly evolving future of the Internet in Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World. Working with NETSCOUT, a world leader in-real time service assurance and cybersecurity, which came aboard as a producer and led him into a new world, Herzog conducted original interviews with cyberspace pioneers and prophets such as PayPal and Tesla co-founder Elon Musk, Internet protocol inventor Bob Kahn, and famed hacker Kevin Mitnick.

These provocative conversations reveal the ways in which the online world has transformed how virtually everything in the real world works, from business to education, space travel to healthcare, and the very heart of how we conduct our personal relationships. In the words of executive producer Jim McNiel, “It’s a journey even Werner, with his immense imagination and inquisitive mind, didn’t expect. Unless you have lived in the technology space, you don’t yet fully appreciate what dwells there.” Herzog adds: “It is one of the biggest revolutions we as humans are experiencing.”