I hear what people say and I hear what people think, and in my experience the two are rarely the same thing.
Take my parents. My father the professor is holding forth on natural history, one hand on the wheel, the other gesturing towards the exposed rock lining the Taconic State Parkway. He is saying: “Look, Jeannie. You see how all those different colors of rock are all slanted? That's angular unconformity. But look at the tops of those hills: the angles are cut off, smoothed down. And that's because this entire area was buried under a mile-high glacier. The mountains were much higher, much sharper back then. But as the glacier receded, all the ice and the gravel scraped the tops of the hills...”
He is thinking: It's all my fault. She was in the womb when I was on that project. I must have exposed her to radiation. I'm the reason she's like this. Why did I take that job? There must have been thousands of physicists that would have given their right arm for the opportunity...
The radio says: “—involuntary manslaughter for the deaths of six children at St. James Orphanage in Omaha—”
My mother is on her fourth cigarette since we left Annandale-on-Hudson. She has asked me if I remembered to pack my toothbrush, my curlers, my Librium. She is saying: “Remember, honey, we're just an hour away. If there's anything you need, or if you just feel homesick, you can always call a cab and come home. We'll pay for it.”
She is thinking: I'll miss her. But it'll be a relief to have her gone. No, that's not fair. It's not her fault. I'm a terrible mother. No, I'm not. All mothers think bad things about their children sometimes. It's just that most daughters can't read minds. It's understandable, isn't it? Not wanting to watch my own thoughts. Can she hear me now? Is she listening? Our eyes meet in the rearview mirror. Oh Lord, she is. I'm so sorry, Jean. I'm a terrible mother. I'm a terrible mother. I'm a terrible— She puts her fourth cigarette out in the ashtray and snatches a fifth, her lighter quivering in her hand. She has to flick the wheel almost ten times before it finally makes a spark.
The radio says: “—released from the Boys' Training School, Kearney, and delivered into the custody of Dr. Charles Xavier, whose new boarding school is the first-ever founded specifically to educate Mutants—”
I slide back in my seat, lean my aching head against the window, and watch the rolling hills fly by. My parents aren't trying to hurt me. Few people are really trying to hurt anyone, but we hurt each other all the same. Luckily for me, my parents' thoughts are the only ones I've got to block. Salem Center is in the middle of nowhere, all orchards and horses, farmhouses and rich people's country estates. Blessed silence.
The radio says: “—protests from residents of Westchester County who aren't comfortable with such a concentration of Mutants in their community—”
We pass a cow pasture. On the fence, a hand-painted sign reads: “Remember the St. James Six.” Glacial ice and gravel scrape my stomach. My head pounds. I grab the bottle of aspirin from my purse and swallow two pills. I don't even need water anymore. I try to remember what Professor Xavier told me when he appeared in my room at Payne Whitney Westchester all those years ago.
I was curled up in a fetal position, my sheets twisted around me, my hands uselessly clasped over my ears. My bed and its coverings were the only things in the room because any possessions tended to rise into the air and whip around the room as soon as I got upset or had a nightmare. And even the bed was chained to the floor because otherwise I had a habit of making it float. The Thorazine did nothing to stop the voices; all it did was help my migraines a little and drain me of any energy or motivation. Nothing helped until Professor Xavier wheeled himself into my room. One minute I was bombarded by all the stray thoughts and feelings of everyone within a two-mile radius, and the next minute I wasn't. I pried open my bloodshot eyes and lifted my head from the pillows. I hadn't slept in so long that at first I thought I was hallucinating the bald man in the wheelchair at my bedside.
“Hello, Jean. My name is Charles Xavier.”
“You... you made the voices stop.”
“I'm a Mutant. A telepath, like you. And I will tell you exactly how I did it.”
He told me to picture my mind as a hallway filled with doors. The doors all led to other peoples' minds. All I had to do was picture the hallway in my mind, focus very intently on that image, then picture myself walking down that hallway and closing the doors one by one. That was the first of the little tricks he taught me.
He was a professor of psychology at Columbia University and had read about me in a case file. That got him into Payne Whitney to see me. His story was that he wanted to use experimental new techniques to treat my schizophrenia. He didn't tell anybody that I didn't have schizophrenia, that he was actually teaching me to control my telepathy. It took many visits from him, but eventually I got well enough to go home. And some house calls later, I got to the point where I could go outside and be in crowds of people without breaking down, and even go back to regular school. And now here I am, all functional and nicely dressed and speaking in clear sentences and everything. All because of closing doors. So I close my eyes to rural New York, and I close the doors in my mind. I close the door to my mother. I close the door to my father.
Except for the radio.
“—rehabilitated. The word means nothing when talking about someone who can kill people by accident. Regardless of good intentions, he will always be a threat to everyone around him—”
“Maybe this wasn't such a good idea,” my mother murmurs.
“What wasn't a good idea?” my father asks.
“Sending Jeannie to this school, with all those dangerous Mutants.”
“Mother, I'm one of those dangerous Mutants,” I say.
She spins around in her seat, pointing at me with two gloved fingers and one half-ash cigarette. “No. You mustn't say that. You are not like those other Mutants. You are not like that boy who killed those children. All you do is hear people's thoughts.”
“And move objects with my mind.”
“You couldn't really hurt anyone.”
“Heavy objects. Sharp objects.”
“You wouldn't hurt anyone. You're a good girl; the thought would never even occur to you.”
“He didn't do it on purpose.”
“We really ought to keep the conversation civil,” my father says quietly, “right before we say goodbye.”
My mother turns back around in her seat, her eyes wet. “No, you're right.”
“—might be kinder, in the long run, just to put a bullet between those eyes of his—”
With a violent lunge, my mother grabs the radio knobs and changes the station. Soon the only sound in the car is the Ronettes begging someone to be their baby.
We drive in silence. I notice the sign for Graymalkin Lane as my father turns onto it, and then onto a long, winding driveway. The house is masked from the road by a small wood, but once we've passed through that, the land opens up into rolling fields and the road straightens out into a wide avenue. On either side, rows of beech trees frame the red brick mansion like curtains. A sign out front reads, “Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters,” the kind of sign that's brand-new but made to look old. Teen-agers and their parents pass in and out of the front doors carrying suitcases and desk lamps and boxes of books.
It suddenly occurs to me that I've never met another Mutant except for Professor Xavier. Who are these other Mutant kids anyway? What can they do? Have any of them been in a mental institution? I feel certain somehow that they've all dealt with their gifts better than I have, that even here I'll be the crazy girl that everybody either makes fun of or feels sorry for.
My father pulls up and parks on the edge of the house's circular driveway. I take a deep breath and step out of the car, smoothing the folds of my skirt. I don't know if it's my nervousness or everybody else's, but instantly I crash into a wall of thoughts and crumple to the ground. There are too many doors here, and all of them are hanging wide open.
...wow, she's a real living doll hope my roommate's nice what if everybody hates me hardly any girls here and I can't date Wanda or Mr. Eisenhardt will throw a car at me does my back look lumpy? I hope no one notices can't let it happen again. Not here. Not ever. Coca-Cola, Coca-Cola, things go better with Coca-Cola, things go better with hey, that redhead just collapsed whyisthistakingforeverwouldyoujusthurryupforcryingoutloudFINEI'lldoitmyselfWHATI'MHELPING just hate it when adults talk about you like you're not even there is that girl okay? Should I do something? Is anybody else doing anything? I probably ought to oh my stars and garters, I may have taken too many books to fit in my dorm room where's Daddy, he'll know what to do this was a mistake, I should leave, nobody's going to want to be my friend...
Close the doors close the doors close the doors close the doors
“Hey... are you all right?”
When I open my eyes, for a second everything is still black. Then my vision slowly returns. I see white gloves on a blue skirt on gray cobblestone. I see my parents hovering around me, their terror emanating from them in waves. And there's a boy kneeling beside me, tall and slender in a green sweater and bowtie, with neatly-parted brown hair and concerned eyebrows. He's so unassuming, it takes me a moment to realize who I'm looking at. But it's impossible not to notice the eerie glow behind his red-tinted sunglasses.
Scott Summers: the St. James Killer.