They tell me I was around the age of six when Ferdiland first came to visit. I don't recall much in the way of time line or age group, but I certainly remember that first meeting. And no, no I do not mean Ferdinand. His name was Ferdiland. And he was gorgeous.
Eyes of the palest blue imaginable fixed on me the instant I walked through the kitchen door, dragging my ratty purple and green school case behind me. Generally, I made an extreme effort to show just how strenuous I found the whole school ordeal, in the hopes that my adults would decide I need not go any longer. Not that day though. Any thoughts I might have had of an overly theatrical entrance where stolen swiftly by the man seated quietly at the counter island. He seemed so still, that if it were not for his rapidly tapping fingers on the counter top, which I could almost hear landing with soft little pats, and his eyes; that took in every inch of my child sized self I might have thought him made of plastic.
Until he moved. And everything changed. His smile was so wide, so open that even in shock as I was; I had no choice but to return the offering. His eyes wrinkled at the corners and seemed to flash with laughter. The skin around his mouth dimpled and folded lines of pure perfection in on itself that I instantly wanted to trace with my fingers, over and over again. Then there was his hair... it is the most striking thing about him undoubtedly, even to I, who possesses a long, ever increasing list of all his striking facets. It was deep black, the colour of the night when even the earth gets too scared to whisper, and hung in thick messy cords down his back and at his shoulders. Interwoven though these thick ropes that he latter explain were call dreads, I could see flashes of colour that closer inspection would prove to be threads, beads, chains and bands all the colours of the rainbow. As he bent swiftly before me, all that was metallic in his hair caught the sun and sparkled. He was radiant. And I was enthralled.
His voice, when his finally spoke was no more than a rolling whisper that made me think of the ocean waves breaking softly onto the beach and seeping away between the grains of sand.
"But my dear Cassie, you look sad?"
The fact that this stranger knew my name was both glorious and frightening. Frightening because I was not allowed to speak to strangers and knew I would get in extreme trouble if I did. Glorious because he was up until that point, the most interesting thing that that had ever happened in my life. And he knew who I was. My six year old mind must have reasoned that if he was sitting at my kitchen counter in the midst of a work day he was hardly a stranger, for in no time at all I unburdened myself of my terrible school day, leaving out no details of the vicious torment Jamie Prett had ,once again, subjected me too. When the first hot tears of humiliation began to roll Ferdiland scooped my up into his arms and held me close. As I snuggled into his warmth and allowed the salty smell the hung around him to settle around me, I realised that for the first time in a long time I felt something that I had missed, even in my child brain. I was happy. Don't misunderstand me, my other adults where pretty fantastic. No one can give a back rub like my mom, and to this day, her blueberry pancakes are the best in the country, if not the world. And my dad, my dad is one of those guys you can always count on to lighten the mood, crack a joke that will make everything seem not that bad for a moment, and then proceed to try fix the problem. They are honestly stand up people, but that was my issue. Jamie Prett was not a stand up people solutions kind of problem. He was beyond all that, and no amount of following their advice, or soothing back rubs, or funny jokes was making any difference. And unlike them Ferdiland was not telling me to ignore him and report him, or not react when he pulled at my braids or pushed me on the stairs. Ferdiland whispered in my ear, things I had longer to hear for the past year since arriving at Westwood Primary. That it was OK to kick Jamie back, that a well aimed kick would sooner sort out my problems than any amount of polite talking. Better than that, better than all that, Ferdiland had plans. Things that I could do to Jamie, before he got anywhere close to me, which would make him think twice about messing with me again. They were naughty, naughty things, that my parents would have never approved of and I could get in great trouble for. But Ferdiland assured me that they would never know, that we would never get caught and I believed him. For not only was Ferdiland an adult, he was a pirate. And if anyone would know these things, it was a pirate.
When my mother finally came into the kitchen, dragging yet another dry load of clean laundry with her, I was over the worst of my tears. She fixed me a sandwich, which I was more than happy to share with Ferdiland and watched with envy as he washed his down with a great gulps from his leather kidney shaped sack of wine. Something I have watched him do repeatedly over the years. It did not occur to me until recently that he might have a slight drinking problem.
I cannot remember the remainder of that afternoon with any great accuracy, although I know we spent it in the back yard. Ferdiland and I dug up fat wriggling earthworms for Trevor's dinner. Normally I was careful to not damage their twisting soft bodies and cause the brown gunk to seep out of them, but Ferdiland assured me Turtles liked to have their dinner cut in half. By the time we were finished Trevor had an overwhelming amount of somewhat mutilated yet frantically slithering worms. And he certainly enjoyed gobbling them down, Ferdiland was right about that. I also think Mom was right when she said it was too much food that killed Trevor, but I cannot tell Ferdiland that. He gets angry with me when I point out that sometimes things don't work out like he says, when I listen to him and I end up in trouble. That night was the first of many times that I got into trouble for listening to Ferdiland. It was also the first time that someone pointed out that I was the only one who could actually see him.
The first time someone called him anything other than my imaginary friend was in the doctor's office, after they found us out for pouring the weed killer in Jamie's juice. Ferdiland was wrong that time too, it did not just make him very sleepy. It made him very sick and he ended up in the hospital. Ferdiland does not want to talk to me about those times anymore though. He just says we did what needed doing. But to remember to always tell Dr. Lee that it was a childish mistake, or they will take me away again. I still don't quite understand how, although they say they can't see, hear, or even feel him, they all still think I say his name wrong. It doesn't really matter anymore though, cause now I know to pretend he is not there anymore, like they do. It is the only way that keeps them from putting me in that hospital again.
I didn't like that place. And Ferdiland isn't allowed there. I hate to be apart from him. It's feels like part of me is missing when we are apart. And nothing really makes sense without him. The hospital makes no sense at all. I can't remember where it is exactly, I just know it always takes a terribly long time to get there, and Ferdiland sits next to me, that whole trip long and yells. He calls me horrible names that make me feels very stupid and bad about myself, even though I know he loves me and is always trying to keep me safe. I love him too, more than anyone or anything, even when he is wrong and I get into trouble, even when he yells and calls me ugly names. Even those times when I have been on my own for a while and most of what he says does not make sense anymore. However, he promises that the names he calls me when he is angry are still better than the names they use, like schizophrenic or psychopath. I like that way that one sounds though and I especially like the way it sounds rolling past Ferdiland's beautiful poet lips. The other words they use like delirium and psychotic disorder I don't like at all though. Ferdiland says that those are the ones they use as an excuse for the pills. And that the pills will kill me in the end. Like they did Beth.
They told her they were only to help her, like they tell me but in the end, they killed her. It was all very sad for Ferdiland; I know he hates to talk about. I try not to be jealous but I hate that she existed at all. I especially hate that he still calls her the most beautiful woman he ever saw. One day I will be that beautiful though, one day soon. I will have enough marks on my arms and legs and tummy and then I will be as beautiful as she. Then Ferdiland and I shall escape to the circus like he always planed. The circus where people will not look at me like there do. Or talk about me behind their hands like they do. Ferdiland says it is perfect there. That there are only good times there. And good people. People like us. Not like here, not like here. But I have to be beautiful first too. The circus has not place for average he says. He proved it too, the first time he ever took me there. The hall of mirrors lever lie, never never lie. And no matter which way I turned or how I stood, I was ugly. The pale smooth skin was ugly. It was better the second time round though, after I had painted my arm red with blood behind the llama pen and left a line running across it that you can still see today. I will not mention again to Ferdinand how scared I was that day though, when I couldn't get the blood to stop like I always do. He got so angry and called me weak. Said I did not want to look beautiful for him, that I did not trust him. Yes, I am more beautiful after that day. Even Ferdiland says so. And I can always trust Ferdiland. Always. He is the only one I can ever trust, because he is the only one that really loves me. Not like Mom or Dad, or Dr Lee. Certainly not like the boys, we take into the alley on Church Street either.
Ferdiland likes the irony of what we do on in that alley so close to the house of god, I just like the way those boys make me feel. I still wish it was Ferdiland though, who was with me, touching me, making me feel so good, instead of just leaning against the opposite wall watching. But I don't mind too much though. Soon I will be done with school and after that, I can leave the house. I won't have to keep hiding my beauty anymore and eventually I will have enough, be enough and he will touch me. We can leave finally escape this life for the circus and he will love me as he loved Beth. And we will always be together, just as he promised that first day we met and his eyes danced with laughter as he showed me how to hide inside his waist length coat.