Great and Terrible Terror Known as Charlie

From Reddit’s /r/goodlongposts: What deep, dark secret did you learn about the seemingly perfect family?

“One of my earliest memories is being prepped for kidnapping. Not the generic sort of “if anyone bothers you, find an adult you know or a police officer and tell them _______,” but the very specific “if a blonde woman about yea high introduces herself as +Charlie, run. Find a teacher, find Mom or Dad, find a police officer. Do not get in the car. Do not take anything she offers you. If she tries to pick you up, hug you, touch you, anything, fight like Hell and run, run, run.”

“Teachers at my elementary school were warned. I had my very own security guard who waited with me outside at the end of every day until my mother pulled up. I carried mace at eight years old. New locks were installed at home. My bedroom windows were nailed shut from the inside.

“My father, I was later told, kept a pistol by his bed, and some nights would set a chair in front of the front door and sleep there, rifle at the ready, just in case.

“This woman, so all were told, was obsessed with my father. She wanted to get my mother out of the way — divorce, or death, it didn’t matter either way — and marry my father, raise me as her own. If that meant kidnapping, so be it.

“The constant, looming threat of kidnapping — the presence of this woman whom I’d never met, the Great and Terrible Terror known as Charlie — was one of the defining themes of my entire childhood. I wasn’t afraid, as it’d been present in my life so long I was rather numb to it all. But the strange, over-watchful behavior of the adults around me was noted.

“But it was all a lie. My mother made it all up. Why? Nobody knows. It’s hardly the only, or even biggest thing she lied about. She was, it was later discovered, fond of criminal behavior, child abuse, and elaborate lies that spanned out through the family, the community, her various lovers.

“Maybe she was bored. Maybe she was unhappy. Maybe she was mentally ill. I never knew the details.

“But I do recall asking her about it, quite mildly, just a couple of years ago, something along the lines of, “Hey, Mama, remember that woman Charlie? I was just thinking about her the other day.”

“And in the typical fashion of someone who’s spent 60+ years weaving so many lies she can’t even keep her aliases straight, she looked at me blankly and said, “Who?”

“My family never seemed perfect to me, although they certainly maintained that illusion for a long time in our hometown, and this is hardly the most disturbing thing that occurred, but it was one of my earliest flashes of insight that there was something far beyond generic “dysfunctional family* manifesting in my bloodline.”

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