I met Lorelei about seven years ago at a rundown waffle house in western Sydney.
Lorelei was a friend of my then girlfriend, Sofia. They had first met at a support group for sufferers of Borderline Personality Disorder, and had managed to strike-up a close friendship over the years. Their shared experience of mental anguish and past trauma had bound them together in a unity of the similarly afflicted. They were both aged 25.
Sofia invited me to stop by and meet Lorelei on my way home from work one brisk autumn afternoon. Lorelei was only allowed a certain amount of approved social outings from the mental facility in which she was housed, so those rare occasions in which she was able to physically meet were treasured by Sofia. No matter what her own plans were, she would drop everything in order to meet on the day and time Lorelei set. Thinking that Lorelei might enjoy meeting some new people, I accepted the invitation, keen to know more about the girl I had heard so much about.
My first memory of Lorelei is that she was wearing a stained, grey Smurfs theme jumper. It’s the sort of thing one might see a toddler wearing, but Lorelei somehow managed to make it look both comical and weirdly cute. Despite not knowing her from a bar of soap, I felt as if I wanted to give her a reassuring hug. Actually, this would have been a potentially disastrous and insensitive move on my part. I knew that Lorelei had been sexually abused throughout most of her childhood by her own father, and that her mother had both known about it and refused to protect her. In fact, the mother had made things worse for Lorelei through verbally abusing her. Legend had it that Lorelei was once forced to eat dog food after being locked out of the house for coming home late from school. I found it hard to fathom how anyone could do this. When Sofia told me these stories it reaffirmed my own theological belief in the necessity of hell. To what other eternal destination can such heartless souls be cast?
After coming to terms with the fact that the Smurf’s jumper wasn’t an hallucination, I looked directly in Lorelei’s eyes and introduced myself. She smiled warmly but guiltily, as if the very act of being seen in public was some sort of minor criminal act. Her soft, mouse-like voice told me that her name was Lorelei and that she was pleased to me me too. I remember that she had light brown hair, which was worn tied back save for the odd strand that had escaped the bun at the crown of her head in order to dangle over her brow. Her melancholy green eyes seemed to convey traces of the pain and sadness she bore, but there was a cheeky, playful quality to them that I liked. Nevertheless, I could tell straight away that she was frightened, and that the idea of social engagements was more than a little terrifying. I decided to put her at ease and tell an innocuous but funny story about a recent day I endured in which everything went wrong. It was a sort of real life episode of Fawlty Towers, in which my own role was that of the long suffering Hotel manager. I made it as slapstick as I possibly could without lapsing into excessive exaggeration, and generally painted myself out to be a bumbling idiot (not too far from the truth, according to the long-suffering Sofia). As Lorelei giggled wildly, I continued my performance by telling her how I came to be slapped in the face at Woolworths the week before. I had been quietly shopping when I was approached by a ropable lebanese mother insisting that I was the low-life drug dealer who had been supplying ice to her son. Confused, I repeatedly told her that I had no idea what she was talking about (this was true). She didn’t believe me. I insisted again that I knew nothing, but still she wasn’t buying it. The affair culminated with her calling me a ‘RUDE, RUDE LITTLE BOY’ and then slapping me as hard as she could across my left cheek. I mimicked the action in front of Lorelei, who by this stage was in absolute hysterics.
Within a split second, however, her smiles and laughter departed. Lorelei’s eyes- so full of happiness and carefree abandon just a moment ago- had transformed into the vision of a haunted soul. Her slight frame began to furiously shake as gushing tears streamed down her face. Lorelei curled up in a ball and began to rock back and forth, in what looked like a futile attempt at self-soothing. I of course freaked out, not knowing if I had said something to trigger a distant memory from tragic past. As it happened I wouldn’t get a chance to find out. Sofia asked me to leave. She needed to try and calm Lorelei down and then take her back to the hospital. She was worried that my ongoing presence would cause further distress. I agreed and headed out into the soft, fading glow of a cold twilight. I would never see Lorelei again.