tagNovels and NovellasThe Wanderings of Amy Ch. 09

The Wanderings of Amy Ch. 09


Chapter 9 - Suzanne's Ghosts

Amy and Wendy were together constantly until November 10, putting in grueling 16 hour days in their push to get the make-up term paper done on time. They realized how much they complimented each other doing research. Amy was excellent at writing, but bad at math. Wendy breezed through anything having to do with equations, but left the writing to Amy. They both found their topic extremely interesting, escaping into the era of their grandfathers. Amy learned much about Asia, while Wendy came to a better understanding of what happened to the US during the Vietnam War. Without each other, their research would have gone nowhere. This time the closest they came to cheating was simply to have Robert and Suzanne look over the paper for mistakes, the night before turning it in. On a last minute inspiration Amy scanned one of the photos of her grandfather with Wendy's and added the scan to the beginning of the report.

Two days later, Burnside called Amy and Wendy into her office. She said nothing at first, but then handed the paper back to them. Amy looked at Burnside's comments and passed the copy to Wendy. On the cover Burnside had written...

"Excellent research. Masterfully written paper. You brought to life an interesting topic not examined enough by economists. Theoretical analysis needs better incorporation of material covered in class. Outside research partly makes up for that. 93% A-"

Burnside looked at her two students. "You got the second highest grade in the class. I never give an 'A' unless I learn something from a paper turned into me. Now, why didn't you do this two weeks ago?"

"We didn't know each other. We didn't know about our grandfathers either." Amy responded.

Amy left Burnside's office with a sudden understanding about herself. The experience of writing the paper made Amy realize that she actually liked economics. If she could get over her fear of math, she felt that she might have found her field of study. That night she thumbed through a couple of old course catalogues to start thinking about what to take for the Spring semester.


Once she was done with Burnside's paper, Amy had other worries. The year anniversary of Courtney's death was coming up. Courtney had been a demon haunting her over the last year. Amy decided that she needed to face it head on. She told Suzanne that she wanted to go to Detroit. Suzanne had doubts about the idea, but she understood. If Amy wanted to go to Detroit, Amy would go. Suzanne also knew that she would have to drive her roommate there. Amy would need someone with her.

Amy's personality changed during the days leading up to her personal pilgrimage. She became quiet and sullen. There was deep sadness in her face that Suzanne had not seen since the week before Spring Break. Amy was stepping back into her own past and was scared.

Well before sunrise on the dreaded day Amy pulled out her old street clothes and put them on. Suzanne was shocked when Amy came out of her room. She looked like a bum.

"This is what I had on a year ago. I wore these clothes almost three months straight without taking them off. I need you to bring a camera. Let's go."

They had a silent, grim drive to Detroit. They started out well before sunrise and were in Detroit by mid day. Amy spent the entire trip quietly staring out her window while Suzanne drove. First they passed the rustbelt cities of Gary and Hammond, then they continued across the bleak, frozen countryside of southern Michigan. There was no music from the radio, no conversation, nothing to break up the drive except a stop for gas. Suzanne wondered about the camera. If Amy wanted to take pictures of the spot where her friend died, that was just plain sick.

Once in Detroit, Suzanne found a parking garage close to the bus station. She was terrified of all the creeps standing around and staring at them as they made their way past the station. She also was worried about the fact that she was carrying a camera worth several hundred dollars, and that she and Amy were two young white women alone in a hostile city. The only thing Suzanne and her friend had in their favor was that it was extremely cold, keeping most of the bad types indoors. Amy was not dressed warmly enough, Suzanne thought. Amy seemed not to notice any of her roommate's concerns. With a quiet, mechanical way of walking, she made her way along the unpleasant streets, Suzanne struggling to keep up.

Amy suddenly turned off the sidewalk and walked between two buildings. Suzanne quickly looked in both directions to see who might follow them in, then went in after Amy. The ally opened up into a bleak courtyard with two dumpsters. Amy quickly walked behind the closest dumpster and stopped. She stood there, without moving, for what seemed forever to Suzanne.

Suzanne stood back, terrified. She was worried about what might be happening to her friend, as well as concerned about who might follow them into the ally. Amy's silence scared her the most.

Finally Amy turned around. "Come over here. Take my picture."

Suzanne walked over to Amy. The forlorn young woman, with her hands in her pockets, stared straight at her. Her face was discolored by the cold. Amy's eyes had an expression of anguish that Suzanne had not seen before. It would make one hell of a portrait, but it would be pure exploitation to put that on film.

"Look...I mean, I can't take a picture of you like this."

"Do it! All year long you've been trying to figure out who I am with that camera. This is who I am. Take the picture!"

Reluctantly Suzanne adjusted her lens and snapped three photos.

"Amy, this is who you were for a day! One day! It's not who you are now. Don't you understand, you have to put this behind you! You didn't kill Courtney!" Suzanne tried to hug Amy.

Suddenly Amy broke away from her friend. She leaned her elbows up against the wall next to the dumpster and buried her face into her arms. Her body shook with sobs. "NO!" She sank to her knees. She sobbed louder, "NO!" Amy, on her knees, collapsed with her side against the wall. She sobbed continuously.

Suzanne had no idea how to handle Amy in this situation. Part of her told her that her friend had to be given time to cry it out. Another part of Suzanne made her continuously glance at the entrance to the street, still wondering who would be coming in. She could not get out of her head the idea that she and Amy were in danger staying here. Amy was not showing any sign of recovering. She remained crumpled up against the wall, sobbing.

Finally Suzanne decided that she had to drive home the point that Amy was not responsible for Courtney's death. She knelt next to Amy and took her hands.

"Amy, you did not kill Courtney. You need to say it! Please, Amy! You did not kill Courtney!" Amy looked up at Suzanne. "Amy, say it!"

"I didn't kill her..." mumbled Amy.

Suzanne sighed with relief. "Amy, say it again!"

Amy sobbed. "I didn't kill her!...It wasn't my fault!"

Finally Amy managed to stop crying. For several minutes she knelt quietly and simply stared at the filthy pavement. At last she got up. She hugged Suzanne.

"I'm sorry I put you through this."

"Amy, I'm your friend. You don't have to be sorry about anything."

Amy and Suzanne walked out of the ally and back onto the street. They made their way back to Suzanne's car for the long drive back. Amy was just as quiet going back, but there was a difference. Suzanne realized that Amy had achieved her goal in traveling to Detroit. She had managed to purge whatever it was that had tormented her over the past year.

It was dark by the time they returned to Chicago. Amy asked Suzanne to drive her to the Fast-Mart where she had been arrested. She wanted to see it as well, on this day of facing her memories. To her shock, it was gone, replaced with a car wash. Life does go on, thought Amy, whether we want it to or not.


Suzanne was relieved to find out that Wendy was coming over to the apartment that night to help Amy with the latest chapter in Burnside's textbook. Suzanne desperately wanted to spend time with Robert and talk to him about the Detroit trip, but she would not have wanted to leave Amy alone in the apartment after what she had just gone through. More importantly, Suzanne had her own issue to discuss with Robert, that of her own father, Robert's partner Ed.

Suzanne's final break with her father had come only two days before her trip to Detroit with Amy. Suzanne had not said anything to Amy about her father, knowing that Amy was burdened enough with her own situation. Suzanne was deeply hurt, but she forced herself to defer her own pain to help Amy get past the Detroit trip. Suzanne had made a huge sacrifice for Amy by putting off her own problem, one that Amy would never know about.

Once she was sure that Amy would not be alone that night, Suzanne rushed over to Robert's apartment. Talking about Amy was easy enough. Robert had not known about the Detroit trip. Had he known, he would have wanted to take Amy. Suzanne disagreed.

"She needed me. I'm not sure she could have opened up to you. All I can say is I'm glad it's over with." Suzanne was unsure how to continue. She walked over to Robert's window. For a long time she stared out at the city. Finally, without looking at him, she said, "It looks like I'll be spending Thanksgiving with you after all." After a long pause, she opened with a question. "Robert, what do you think of my father?"

He paused for a moment, because he did not have much good to say about Ed Foster. Robert's partner was under investigation for several ethics violations and was at risk of losing his ability to practice law in Illinois. Ed's problems threatened to taint Robert and the other two partners in the office. How to tell that to Suzanne? Robert realized that she might as well know now. She was quiet for a few minutes when he broke the news.

"I guess you'd expect me to be upset." Suzanne began. "I'm not, really. I feel bad about how it will affect my step-mother, that's about it."

Finally Suzanne was able to tell Robert her story. Robert did not have much good to say about Ed. Suzanne did not have anything good to say about him.

Suzanne's relationship with her father was somewhat distant, but fairly normal until she was eleven. That year, her parents divorced and her mother suddenly left, not giving the girl a clue as to where she was going or how to get in touch with her. With her mother gone, Suzanne noticed an immediate change in her father's behavior toward her. Suddenly she felt that her father could not stand the sight of her.

Two days after her mother disappeared, Ed called Suzanne into his den and gave her an hour lecture about her faults and bad behavior. In the same way that he would cross-examine a witness, he berated his terrified daughter. Suzanne spent hours crying afterwards. She had never seen her father like this.

The lecture was the beginning of three very unhappy years for Suzanne. Three days later Suzanne left some dishes in the sink and went upstairs to do her homework. She forgot about the dishes until about a half an hour later, when her father came storming into her room.

"GET INTO MY DEN, NOW!" Suzanne's father slapped her hard across the face as she passed him. The shock of being hit disoriented her. Ed suddenly grabbed her and shook her hard. "YOU DON'T OBEY ME! I'll teach you!"

Suzanne was terrified. She had never been so scared in her life. She stumbled down the stairs. Her father's next orders terrified her even more.

For the first time Suzanne took down her jeans and bent over her father's desk. He took off his belt, and for an hour berated Suzanne, punctuating his speech with swats of the belt. The eleven-year old was so shocked that she had trouble breathing.

It was only afterwards that Suzanne could pull herself together enough even to cry. She couldn't figure out what had happened to her father. He had never behaved this way before her mother left. It would not be until much later that she would realize that it was actually her mother that Ed wanted to punish. Ed was furious about having been abandoned by his wife. Suzanne would never know where her mother went or why she left, but it was the daughter who remained behind to pay for her actions. Suzanne had the misfortune of looking like her mother. Ed, in his rage at his wife, seemed not to be able to tell the difference.

Suzanne paused. She turned from the window to face Robert. "Now you know why I wanted to punish Amy when she got caught with that term paper. It wasn't just the plagiarism. I was replaying what my father did to me. I wanted to punish her like he punished me. That's the reason I felt so bad about it after we talked in the street. You only knew part of the story when I asked you to strap me."

The punishments went on for three years. Ed quickly re-married, to a woman who was not exactly loving, but who felt sorry for Suzanne and did her best to comfort her. The sessions disgusted the woman, but she did not know what to do about the situation, other than to comfort the girl afterwards.

Ed graduated from his belt to a paddle. He was smart enough to know that belt marks could raise the issue of abuse if seen by a teacher, so he bought a paddle that did not leave much in the way of bruises. Ed seemed to delight more in humiliating Suzanne than in actually hitting her. He always hit her over her panties. Later in her life Suzanne quit wearing underwear, largely because the sight of panties always reminded her of the hours spent in her father's den. She even hated seeing Amy's lingerie catalogs in her mailbox.

Time went on. Suzanne slowly came to realize that she did not deserve what was happening to her. She had done nothing wrong. It was her father who was bad, not her. She never talked to anyone about what was going on in her father's den, but even at her young age she had the ability to perceive the truth about people and situations, a trait that would later help her as a photographer. During the sessions in the last months before her 14th birthday, she repeated over and over in her mind "I don't deserve this...I don't deserve this." She forced herself to stop crying during the paddlings.

Then, as abruptly as the punishments began, they stopped. There never was any discussion about what was going on or any explanation, but she bent over her father's desk for the last time just before her 14th birthday. For years afterwards she silently lived in dread of another punishment, but after she turned 14 Suzanne never again felt her father's paddle. Still, her problems did not end. The physical torment had stopped, only to be replaced by constant verbal abuse. All through high school Suzanne never seemed to be able to do anything right for her father. He cut her down no matter what she attempted to do, no matter how good she was at what she set out to achieve. The yearbook was a joke to him. Suzanne never took her friends home and went to great lengths to not let her father find out who they were. When she dated, it was in secret, because Suzanne knew that her father would do his best to humiliate her in front of any boyfriend.

During her bleak high-school years Suzanne found her escape though taking pictures with a vintage 35-millimeter camera. She learned how to capture moments in life, the power of an expression, of the unspoken word. Her school had a journalism class that published the school yearbook. Suzanne joined the class and quickly became the yearbook photographer. She could see her classmates in a way that no one else could. During the three years she photographed for the yearbook, her class received commendations for the quality of its yearbook pictures. Suzanne, at an early age, had found a focus in her life.

Even though Suzanne graduated in the top 5% of her class, her father tried to convince her teachers and counselors that she was no good as student. The counselors, used to dealing with students who refused to study and meet their parents' expectations, had to deal with the opposite in the case of Suzanne, an excellent student with a father who wanted her to fail. No one could understand Ed's attitude. Three of Suzanne's teachers, with her counselor and a vice-principle, knowing Suzanne's personal situation, had gone out of their way to obtain a series of grants and scholarships that would pay for her first year of college. Without their help, Suzanne would have not gone to college at all. When she graduated from high school her father had said "I don't see what the point of spending the money is, Suzanne will never amount to anything."

They had very little contact while Suzanne was in college. Ed took only a marginal interest in his daughter, and that only because of the prodding by her step-mother. He did give her some spending money, but that was only because her step-mother insisted. He seemed to be glad to have her out of his life. It was as a favor to Robert, not to Suzanne, that he mentioned his daughter when Robert had discussed the need to find a place to live for Amy.

Suzanne did not give up easily. She desperately wanted to prove herself to her father. With a book of her own, pictures published in two national magazines, several local prizes, and permanent contracts with several galleries, She had hopes that she could convince Ed that she was successful after all, perhaps in a field that her father did not approve of, but a success nevertheless. She had hopes that her father would finally accept her and dreamt of a Thanksgiving with her family.

Suzanne should have known better. Her father briefly looked through her portfolio and commendations, and tossed them aside with contempt.

"So you do pornography. That's what you wanted to show me? Of course you're successful, everyone in your business is. Don't expect me to pat you on the back, however. I find it pretty pathetic that's all you could do with your life."

That did it. After all these years she had enough. She picked up her portfolio.

"I don't know what your problem is! You are the most sick, disgusting person I have ever known! I tried to be a good daughter to you. I really tried! I don't know why, but I kept trying! But that's it! You won't be seeing me anymore!" Suddenly the last twelve years of anger came out of Suzanne. She spit in her father's face. He was so shocked that he did not have time to react before Suzanne charged out of the room.

Suzanne fled her father's house and the contamination he had inflicted on her. She drove off, angry at herself for all the effort that she had wasted on trying to get her father to accept her. Her father could rot in Hell. At first she felt exhilarated over have made such a dramatic break with her father. Spitting on him. She could not have done much better than that. But then the unfairness of her life sank in. Why had her father been so rotten to her all her life? Why had he gone out of his way to try to make her fail?

She had to talk, not to Amy, but to the one person whom she felt that she could truly open up to, Robert. Having to wait for three days was torture for Suzanne, but she had been determined to do what she could for Amy before taking care of herself.

Suzanne spent a long time staring out the window after she finished telling Robert about her father. This time it was Robert's turn to stay quiet until Suzanne was ready to talk again. He felt an enormous hatred towards Ed. As he sat in the dark, looking at the unhappy young woman standing at his window, Robert resolved to do what he could to help the investigation against Ed, even if it ran the risk of harming himself and the other two partners. He wanted Ed out of his life as fast as possible. He had some phone calls to make tomorrow.

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