I had always know my son, Caleb was different. How often had I stood at the kitchen window watching him talking and playing with someone who wasn’t there? I had blamed it on imagination. He was an adventurous child, forever wanting to do things and chatting away.
He had a normal up bring. Yes, he was an only child but his father and I were happily married. We did lots of family things together and with both of us being teachers, we had Caleb embrace education. He was perfectly fine in school too, always getting high grades and having lots of friends. He was healthy and loved sports.
Under that though, there had always just been something…
When he was twelve he still had imaginary friends. He could be playing in his bedroom, the garden or at the park and you could hear him talking aloud. It would seem at first he was talking to someone, an adult or another child, but then you just knew he was talking to himself.
‘Who is it you are talking too?’ I asked him one summer’s day.
Caleb was sitting on the lawn, a few toys scattered around him and I was hanging out the washing. It was the summer holidays and though we normally send him to a summer school or camp to be with other children, he had refused to go this year.
He turned to me, a toy tank in his hand and looked up through his choppy fringe which needed cutting.
‘No one,’ he replied.
‘You’re too old for imaginary friends now,’ I pointed out.
‘They’re not imaginary,’ he muttered and went back to playing.
‘Oh, then who are they? Are you on the phone?’ I asked.
‘No. I’m thirsty. Can I have a drink please, mum?’
‘Okay,’ I said slowly.
Pegging the last sock on the line, I walked back into the house. From behind me, I heard Caleb whisper, ‘she’s going now. Tell me more about the War.’
I almost turned around but I didn’t. I made him a glass of orange squash and took it outside. He was playing like a normal child, rolling his tank over the grass and making gun like noises as he reacted a battle with his toy soldiers.
Of course, I then spoke to his father, his teachers, the parents of his friends and they had for years noticed the same thing that I had; Caleb was seemingly talking to someone all the time. The idea that he should’ve grown out of that by now stuck with me and I became determined to figure out what was wrong with him.
Finally two years later, I got him in to see someone from the mental health, but Caleb wouldn’t talk. We had maybe four sessions then that was it. For awhile after, I thought it had worked, he was quiet and sullen, a typical fourteen year old most would say. It wasn’t the truth though.
Instead of finding hidden adult materiel in his room, I began finding notebooks filled with what seemed to be stories and conversations. There was no title or dates, just a run on of writing. The stories covered lots of different time periods. There was one about a WW2 fighter pilot, who was blown out of his plane over Germany spent the rest of the War as a POW. Another, told of a little boy who was tricked into going down into a well and died there when he became trapped.
I put the notebooks back every time and I tried to bring them up in conventions without reveling I knew about them. Caleb shrugged it off, ignoring my suggests that he was interested in writing and journalism. I had to let it go in the end.
Caleb made it through high school and college. He got top of the class grades and he went on to a good university to study to be a teacher. We were both proud of him. When he moved out though, the house became empty, almost sad like. We got by though. Work kept us both busy and we were looking into fostering and maybe adoption.
The news hit out of no where, almost three years after that, just as Caleb was doing his finals. I was sat in my headmistress’ office, reading emails when the phone rang. I picked it up like normal, thinking it a call from a parent or teacher etc, but it was Caleb’s university tutor telling me that Caleb had been found dead in his student room. He had hung himself three days ago.
A strange feeling went though me, it was like sand slipping through my fingers in slow motion. The tutor’s voice sounded dim and everything around me had begun to fade. I couldn’t think clearly. I dropped the phone and just sat there.
We had to go and pack up his student room. I was running on automatic and so we just moved his stuff back into his bedroom. I just kept thinking that Caleb had moved back in and he was out with his friends. It was months, maybe close to a year before we actually went through all of his things.
Sitting on Caleb’s bedroom floor, sorting things out into piles, my husband and I worked in silence. It was raining heavily outside and the wind was rattling the windows. A storm was on its’ way. I dug through a cardboard box and began pulling things out.
In a handful of notebooks and even in between his uni notes, he had written strange stories and conversations which so reminded me of the notebooks I had found when he was younger. These were not like any stories he had written before though. They were horrible, filled with violence and death.
I found a diary. It was a fake black leather covered A5 size with lined pages for each date. I had never known him to keep one before and as I flipped through the pages, I saw he had written about hearing voices in his head. Some days were blank or he’d simple put;
I didn’t hear any voices today.
On other days he had written things like;
A voice told me a new story today. I wrote it down, like I do with all of them. These voices are more then just those of fiction characters. They are so real. Maybe they are ghosts? I’ve never believed in that though. But how else can they be explained?
Then about four months before his death, I found this;
The voices were bad today. I have one at the moment that keeps telling me to kill myself. I’m fighting it like I do with all the others but it’s so strong. It doesn’t seem to have a story or talk to me like the others. It questions if I’m good enough and what’s the point and that every will be better if I just pick up the knife and bleed.
I shall try to contain it. I know what the voice is saying is wrong.
Two months later, Caleb had wrote;
The “suicidal voice” has gotten worse. I can’t sleep and I’m not eating much. The voice has taken over and it’s constantly whispering to me. It tells me over and over to kill myself. It says pain is good and so is blood. My life is pointless, I’m useless, nobody loves me or wants me. I can’t think of anything else but that voice.
All the other voices have gone now. They have vanished and even if I try to think about them and speak to them, I can’t. The “suicidal voice” blocks them all. I don’t know what to do. I need to tell someone. I need help. But what can I say? I’ve been hearing voices all my life, Doctor and now I’ve got this voice repeatedly telling me to kill myself. No one will believe me!
I felt tears running down my face. My husband was saying my name but I ignored him and turned to the last page my son had written on. He had put;
I can’t cope any more! Everything I’ve tried hasn’t worked! Listening to the voice is the only choice I’ve got now. I’m going to do it tonight.
I pressed the pages to my face and burst into tears. My son had been a schizophrenic and no one had ever known about it.
(Story inspired by local research into hearing voices at Manchester University https://www.bmh.manchester.ac.uk/research/projectdetails/?ID=3083)