Lake Forest: Hillbillies and Satanists

For years I would go downstairs at night to fix myself an outsized bowl of cereal. I found a strategy that was foolproof in preventing any harm from befalling me over the years: as long as no one knew that I was scared, then no harm could befall me. I would, exuding tranquility and lack of concern, descend the stairs and walk into the kitchen on the first floor with my heart racing. I would prepare the bowl of cereal, careful to not take any concerned glances at the impenetrable darkness in the windows and to ignore the floor that creaked with my steps. There were innumerable presences whose actions depended directly upon mine skulking beyond my periphery. I would calmly ascend the stairs, but with a little additional quickness added to my step. When I stepped off the plane in Salt Lake last week I felt similar to how I felt when I had made it to my room safely with the bowl of cereal. I no longer had to be scared and pretend.

On Saturday snow began falling early in the morning with wind blowing it sideways. I rode up into the cloud shrouded mountains with my brother and sister to do one of the most amazing and ridiculous of things: skiing.  It makes no sense, it is like being a hampster on a wheel.  It may have been the low light or lack of depth perception, but I felt as if I was floating. I felt weightless on a white cloud with everything else blotted out through its sheer brightness and uniformity.

I saw a few old friends on the mountain and at dinner who crushed me in hugs and laughed as I unselfconsciously rambled at a mile a minute about skiing, New York, relationships, writing, reading, and work. Friends and family piled into my mom’s apartment to make pizzas and have a few drinks. It felt like a summit of immeasurable importance as we made light of our uncertain futures, poor choices, hopes, and fears. We reminisced about life and the years that had passed. We tossed logs in the fireplace and howled in laughter.

One of the stories that came up during the night was that of the Blue Sisters. With the years memories seemingly pass through a sieve comprised of irregular holes that incomprehensibly let some things drop away while others remain. The Blue Sisters saunter into my mind as unpredictably as they did as hooded apparitions into our neighborhood many years ago.

There was slightly less than a decade left in the millennium when I first encountered the twins. I remember waiting at the bus stop with my dad and brother. They came walking towards us in matching dark blue hooded sweatshirts with the hoods raised and framing their faces. We didn’t grow up in a neighborhood where people were friendly or for that matter even knew who most of their neighbors were. No words were exchanged between us as the two walked side by side, pushing a baby carriage. The traffic kept rushing by on Waukegan Road, filling the silence with the whir of tires. As they passed I looked into the carriage, which wasn’t far from my eye level, and saw several cats lazing in a cocoon of blankets.

As these encounters became routine, we became perplexed. They didn’t look like they were ready to go to work, as they were perpetually shrouded in sweat suits, and nobody walked around our neighborhood except with a very clear purpose or in the case of emergency. We found these peregrinations to be ominous and bizarre, even without the addition of the stroller cats.

My brother and I whispered as they passed. Witches. Satanists. Sacrifice animals. Entire house is a litter box. Pet cemetery in their yard. Raise animals to eat them. Drink own pee. Spent time in mental hospital. Child drowned in pool behind their house. Walls covered in carpet. We spun fantastical explanations for local phenomena that implicated the sisters. We talked to other kids, trying to grasp what we were dealing with. We talked big, plotting flaming bags of feces and fireworks through the mailslot. We kept our distance though, as it was preferable to all parties involved that the sister’s remained a mere object of speculation.

My family was the closest thing that Lake Forest, Illinois has ever had to carnies or hillbillies. We lived on the West side of town, where no blue blood would dare reside as people there had to shamefully work for their money. There were six of us kids, a family unusually large for a community of miserable heirs and striving, anxious professionals. We put additions on our house with our own hands. We had a pig that came inside to eat in our kitchen that we predictably named Wilbur. We had chickens, including a fighting cock named Sunny who was involved in three separate traffic incidents; I still laugh imagining our neighbors stepping out of their German sedans with their brows furrowed as they examined the bloody, white squawking animal that would have been as out of place than a black person on our street. Sunny recovered each time. I would tell other kids that my dad was drunk at a cockfight in Waukegan and bought it after it won a six round bout. We had rabbits. We raised grey squirrels. Chipmunks that invariably escaped and homesteaded within our walls to my dad’s chagrin. Birds. Turtles. Snakes. We built tree houses and forts, complicated eyesores that our neighbors called the city building inspector over. We shot guns in the backyard, at bee’s nests or at the boxes on the telephone pole. (We knocked out phone service to the neighborhood one time and I remember lying to the man from the telephone company while my parents were at work after he inspected the bullet riddled box.) My brother and I played with fire regularly and held pissing contests off of every highpoint within a several mile radius.

We were also the type of people that refused to leash our dogs. This led us into frequent confrontations with our neighbors. One of our neighbors was a prominent architect at Skidmore, Owings and Merrill that my dad always described as ‘being so uptight that you could put a lump of coal up his ass and in a week you would have a diamond.’ One day my mom answered the door and he stood in front of her with a gnarly, yellow streaked dog turd on a piece of fine white china. He said, ‘Your dog left this in my yard.’ My mom offered an insincere apology while quickly closing the door to stifle back her laughter. Our laughter poured out the open windows of our un-air conditioned house as he walked down the driveway.

One halcyon fall day, my brother, sister and mom were walking with our German Shorthaired Pointer named Belle. We stopped in front of the Blue Sister’s house to inspect a pentagram painted in red on their mailbox when Belle decided to squat with quaking haunches over their front lawn.  We had to continue walking down Ashland Road as she would refuse to make eye contact and hurry through the act if we did not give her privacy. We heard unintelligible screaming come from their front door, but continued on our way. Belle casually trotted up with us as we were in the midst of discussing the other weird people who lived in an underground brick pyramid of a house at the end of the street. Suddenly, we heard a car coming up behind us at a rapid speed, its engine roaring. We saw a brown Crown Victoria coming at us and we moved to the curb, but something didn’t seem right as the car was going too fast and seemed not to acknowledge our presence.

We hopped into the grass and the car narrowly missed hitting us, an unintelligible howl of language came out the windows at us. We saw the matching dark hoods as they passed. They quickly turned around on the round-a-bout and boomeranged back at us. We were well clear when they flew past in a flurry of tongues and tire squealing rage. We took a back route home and kept looking over our shoulders as we huddled against my mom for safety.

We didn’t know who actually lived under the hoods until we called the police. The police arrived at our house and spoke candidly with my parents about the Blue Sisters. Lake Forest handles legal issues in a different manner, always trying to handle them with a certain amount of discretion. We were told how after a call from a neighbor, the police had staked out the house for several days, waited for the sisters to leave, then freed their mother from a chair to which she was tied and took her into state custody. At this point the police found hundreds of cats and walls painted with pentagrams and other errata. They learned through various encounters that the sisters spoke some sort of ‘satanic language.’ We were told to stay away as the police wanted to do the same.

My dad realized that he had attended highschool with them and had almost asked one of them to prom. He remembered them as cute blonde cheerleaders who were a little odd. How life weathered them into such oddities will remain one of life’s mysteries.

My dad has a penchant for novel, passive aggressive solutions to problems, like using a cell phone jammer to silence other passengers on public transportation. The following morning he waited at the bus stop with us, Sony Handycam in hand. He had decided that videotaping them would both provoke them and provide us with a modicum of security. They walked towards us on the sidewalk with their cat carriage. My dad hit record, aimed the camera at them as they approached on the narrow sidewalk, and we sat in quiet anticipation. He panned with them as they moved and it almost seemed like nothing would happen until one of them exploded. One of them started screaming in the devil’s tongue and the other was yelling for my dad to shut it off. He kept taping them, morning after morning, until they stopped coming past.

Another day we were playing baseball in our neighbor’s large front yard when my dad saw them walking past on the sidewalk at the far end. He quickly grabbed the bat from me and then several baseballs. He proceeded to toss up balls and hit fungos and line drives at them. We laughed and loved him for these antics. Then, one day they were just no longer around. A year or so later my dad stumbled across a newspaper article detailing their arrest with dozens of cats living in a van.

As I sat with friends and family collectively weaving stories and nearly crying with laughter, I suddenly understood life. The questions of purpose and direction that vexed me in New York seemed meaningless, laughable in this moment.Everything seemed laughable as I had everything that anyone could ever want. These dreamers, these cynics, these wanderers, these weirdos are all that I believe in. I love you all.