Here Today, Gone to Hell

By Christopher Aiello

A pearl white Jaguar F-Type pulled into the parking lot of a business park in Santa Monica, California. The Jaguar originated from the upper crests of the Hollywood Hills but had ventured down from the clouds for the day. The driver, Casey Willow—a sharply dressed young man wearing Ray Bans—got out and observed the outdated concrete building bordered by palm trees. He stared at the building for a while, playing with a sapphire jewel hung around his neck that glimmered like an underwater treasure. He didn’t want to go in. He dreaded being there; it felt like a snaring trap.

Casey finally released the necklace and proceeded into the building and found the psychiatric practice of Haim Levine. Separated by a glass table, the two men sat across from each other, saying nothing for a long while. Haim was a middle-aged man wearing oval glasses, who Casey judged to be of the self-important intellectual variety. Haim studied Casey, trying to get a bead on him; he couldn’t decide whether his hair was messy on purpose or if he had rolled out of bed that way. Finally, Haim decided to break the ice.

“Why are you here?” Haim asked.

“Judge says I need to go to a psychiatrist and prove that I’m not crazy so I can get custody of my kid,” Casey replied.

“You’re in the middle of a custody battle?”

“Yeah. It’s a pretty nasty one, too,” Casey said, disinterested. “I’m going to be honest, though. I don’t have much faith in psychiatry. From my experience, psychiatrists are usually trying to diagnose someone so the insurance money kicks in.”

“Where do your preconceptions come from? Personal experience?”

Casey glanced around the room. There wasn’t much to the leftover 90’s office except for some medical journals on a shelf, some abstract modern art hung around the place, and a degree from Stanford on the wall. On Haim’s desk, there was a miniature Israeli flag.

“I practice spiritual medicine,” Casey continued. “Past life regression is what some might call it. My guide, Anita, gives me a view into the other side.”

“I’m aware of what past life regression is,” Haim replied factually. “It relies on hypnosis to induce the client to recall fabricated memories and events.  I saw an interview with you on Sixty Minutes a few years back discussing your experiences. You said you believe your ex-wife is the devil and she is trying to kill you.”

“The press tries to twist my words. It’s more complicated than that. The therapy takes place at a sanctuary in the Mojave. Anita helps me uncover who I’ve been in past lives, repressed memories, and what spirits haunt me.”

“Go on,” Haim said, jotting down some notes. Casey looked annoyed by this but continued anyway.

“Our last session, Anita uncovered a previous life during the 1850s. I was a chieftain in the Sioux Lakota. My name was Akecheta, a warrior’s name. This demon embodied my wife during that life; she sold us out to the Americans during Wounded Knee, and the 7th Calvary gunned us down.”

“In another life, more recently, I lived in London during the air raids in World War 2, hiding in the basement of a row home. We spent so much time down there, she went crazy and stabbed our son and I to death in our sleep.”

“Why would this spirit be after you?”

“Spiritual attachment,” Casey explained, “Lost souls, evil and benign, wander the Earth looking for a host body. In each life a certain evil spirit leeches onto a woman, usually my wife. What I don’t know is in which life it started following me and why.”

“So, they’re just regular women afflicted by demons?”

“Some people’s resistance to attachment is higher than others. Depends on the person. I’ve tried everything to get rid of the one following me: Spiritual Release Therapy, exorcisms. Nothing works.”

“Are you aware of how notoriously unreliable these new age therapeutic methods are?”

“Unreliable? Who the hell are you to judge?” Casey said.

“I’m not judging anything,” Haim interjected coolly. “Do you know what confabulation is?”

Casey said nothing and looked out the window.

“Confabulation is when a suggestible person is convinced into believing elaborate memories that didn’t happen. This occurs with people who practice hypnosis and past life regression. Some people can even be induced into believing they can speak a language they have no knowledge of.”

“My memories are as vivid as this room,” Casey said.

“Wounded Knee didn’t happen during the 1850’s; it happened in 1890,” Haim stated, looking up from his notebook and resting his eyes on Casey.

Casey sat back, twisting his fingers between the metal chain of the sapphire necklace, his eyebrows furrowed. The jewel caught Haim’s eyes; it made even Casey’s gold watch seem dull in comparison. Casey had a freshness to him, a down home charisma that was cool like minty aftershave. There was a stark silence until Casey let the necklace drop on his chest. Haim quickly changed the subject.

“Tell me about your ex-wife.”

“Alyssa Guidano—you know, the model? We met at a mutual friend’s party in Malibu. Red hair, blue eyes. In each life, every woman I’m with has blue eyes. I don’t know why. Anyway, we were married for less than a year, but when we met, it felt like love at first sight. We got married after two weeks of knowing each other. Our impromptu wedding was on the beach and she was wearing a bikini,” Casey said humorously.

“We had a son, Michael. Really good kid, especially considering what he comes from.”

Casey pulled out his phone and showed Haim a picture.

“There’s nothing in the world I wouldn’t do for that kid,” Casey said, shaking his head. “The court won’t consider what a psychotic, self-absorbed mess she is, but they won’t let me see my own son.”

“Tell me about your daily routine,” Haim said.

“I’ve taken a break from movies over the past couple years. I got my break when I was 20 in some indie film that hit it big and did a string of roles until I was around twenty-six. Now, I’m twenty-eight. I’ve just been working on myself, clocking in miles on my Indian bike, playing guitar. I’m also working on a screenplay—a drama.”

“Do you still do drugs? I know because-”

“Because of the tabloids,” Casey interjected. “No, not anymore. I sip on some tequila every now and then when I’m poolside, but I’ve been clean and serene for almost two years.”

“That’s good. How’s your social life?”

“I’m taking a break from people. Just me, my dog, and my house in the Hills. Oh yeah… and Nick.”

“Who’s Nick?” Haim asked.

“The bane of my existence. He’s a freeloading bum who lives in my ten-thousand square foot house, eats my food, smokes weed, parties with some crazy Armenians from Venice all night, and sleeps all day. The guy wants to be a DJ, but he doesn’t have the work ethic. I tried to get him a union job at a production company—a union job. You could burn down the set and not get fired, but he still managed to screw that up.”

“I’m confused, is Nick one of your kids?”

“He’s my friend.”

“He doesn’t sound like one.”

“It’s a long story. We used to be inseparable, but now he’s like a plant I never water. Actually, we just had a massive blowout before I came here.”   

“What exactly do you do in your house all this time?” Haim asked, incredulous at how someone could have so much idle time on their hands.

“I just sit and think a lot. I sit on my deck or in my yard looking down the Hills with their Palm trees, Spanish villas, and the city sprawled out under me. It reminds me of when I was a kid and I saw an interview with Sylvester Stallone by his mansion. When I saw the way my idols were living, I had to have that same feeling.”

“What do you mean?”

“The first movie I saw was A New Hope, then Rocky, Predator and so on. I had this feeling when I saw those movies I can’t describe. It’s what made me want to come out here. I used to watch those movies with my dad before him and my mom divorced. When I’m at my house, all those emotions come back; it gives me that same limitless feeling I had as a kid.”

“Tell me about your parents’ divorce.”

“Not much to tell,” Casey said. “Before that, we were a normal family living in North Carolina, fishing, hunting, riding dirt bikes.”

“How did you react to the divorce?”

“I acted out big time. I got kicked off the football team for drinking. I got into fights. By senior year, I was a mess. My grades had slipped so much I barely graduated high school. Actually, Nick was my only real friend.”

“So, Nick’s an old friend.”

“Yeah, we grew up in the town of Apex together. We met on the first day of elementary school and were inseparable from then on. Two rebels growing up in the South, fishing at the Haw River, raising hell, especially when he got his Chevy pickup. Right after graduation, we hauled all of our possessions into the back of that truck and left.”

Casey smirked, “Jesus, we were basically kids.”

“Since I divorced Alyssa and she took Michael, I’ll admit, it’s been nice having someone in the house.”

 “Nick is something familiar to you. He is someone from a time in your life that was good—like a token—and you keep him around even though he’s changed,” Haim said.

Casey laughed and shook his head. “Here comes the psycho-babble-crap. How do you know what goes on in my head? You haven’t even known me a day. You can’t compare to the work Anita does.”

“How much does she charge you per session? Gurus can cost a lot. They can charge tens of thousands for exorcisms.”

“Let me tell you something,” Casey snapped at Haim, his mood souring. “I blew out of that town the day after I graduated. I took a chance unlike the rest of those idiots who went to college or got stuck working nine to five leading idiotic, pointless lives!”

“What makes you think they’re unhappy? Haim said, slightly defensively. “They may be very content people living their lives and going home to their families. What can you say for your own happiness?”

“When I came to LA with Nick, we lived like urchins, sleeping in the back of his truck until I landed a role. I’m someone who makes things happen. I made millions doing films, and now I can do whatever I want.”

 “But are you happy?”

“I don’t regret my fame,” Casey said, delaying the question. “Things are a little rough right now. This woman, this devil, is plotting my demise. I’ll get back on top. Everyone will see.”

“Why do you have such an inherent dislike of people?” Haim persisted. “You keep everyone out, taking memories from your childhood and regressing into it, creating a fantasy world.”

“Why would I do that?” Casey asked acidly.

“Because you’re inherently uncomfortable with who you are.”

Casey sat into the starchy fabric of his chair and didn’t say anything. Casey hated it, but he knew this self-assured psychiatrist was right. Haim saw Casey needed to get something off his chest and was determined to keep pushing down his emotional wall.  

 “Tell me again why you decided to become an actor.”

Casey’s face became flustered as he balled his fists on the chair’s armrests.

“It’s because you don’t know who you are, and you’re searching for an identity.”

“I thought you said I was regressing back into my childhood. Which is it?”

“Both, actually. Your childhood is the only part of your life that you’re fond of; you spent your teenage years searching for an identity but couldn’t find it. You came out here to find it, and you thought you could re-create the feeling of watching those movies as a kid, but that didn’t repair what was broken; you keep your friend around because he’s your only link to your past. That’s why you keep trying on different roles, different skins, to see if one will fit.”

Casey sat back and tossed his arms. “So that’s it. You know me inside and out just like that. Where do you get off, man? You’re a joke just like everyone else in your profession.”

“Casey, I’m a prominent psychiatrist in Los Angeles. I see cases like yours all the time. Many people with identity problems become actors; they’re insecure and desperate for praise and approval. Why do you think so many actors end up addicts or dead? Your troubles didn’t start with your divorce. They have nothing to do with demons. They started at some point when you were a kid. Regardless of how much wealth you have enshrined yourself in, at the core of it, you’re still inescapably yourself.”

Casey abruptly stood up, kicking the chair behind him. The jarring noise startled the office, cutting through the quiet. Casey’s tone frame seemed twice what it was while he was sitting.

“You want to know why I’m so locked up in my head?” Casey said speaking in a low, harsh growl. Haim shifted in his chair.

“It’s because everything seems to wilt and die in Hollywood, this inhospitable desert town. Everyone I’ve known, I’ve turned my back on. The woman I thought I loved ripped my heart out and stole my son, who the courts—and you—are holding hostage. My friend Nick, the kid I used to play video games and eat pizza rolls with, became a heroin addict while I got famous. That’s right. While I starred in movies, my friend was living on Skid Row with a needle in his arm. He would be dead if I hadn’t taken him in.”

 “I’m not holding you hostage. I’m trying to help you,” Haim said, imploring Casey.

“Help me with what? I don’t want to be here. I just want to get my son away from his psycho mother!”

“I want to show you that your delusions aren’t real.” Haim said. “Don’t you want to get better?”

Casey slumped into the chair and exhaled, the room falling silent. He looked out the window and saw the palms and happy, colorful buildings. Not far off, he could see the top of the Ferris wheel on the Santa Monica pier in the distance. Sitting under an air vent in this overly cold office, Casey imagined the beach, the sun’s kiss, golden sand, the sparkling Pacific—all of which were so close yet so far.

At last Casey spoke in a calm voice, “Here’s something I’ll bet you can’t explain.”

Casey lowered his head and took off the necklace which he knew Haim had been dying to know about. It gave an ethereal glow in the light as he dangled it.

“Sapphire stone,” Casey said, his eyes following it.

“Someone I loved a long time ago gave this to me. She was my first love, actually. During all that darkness and angst, she stood by me no matter how bad I got.”

Haim leaned forward, drawn in.

“She lived a few doors down from me. We’d sneak out on cold October nights, dye our hair black and go to shows, and talk on the swings at the park. Sometimes, we’d take turns sneaking into each other’s rooms and we’d listen to Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge or watch horror movies all night,” Casey said, creasing his lips in a bittersweet grin.

“She eventually moved away. We talked online for a bit but lost touch. Time passed, and now all I can remember is her first name, Kayla. I have no other trace of her. I always had this crazy idea that if I got famous, maybe she’d come back.”

“Anyway, she gave this to me before she left. We were huddled in some dark, sweet spot in my room among the posters and purple lava light. I held on to it for a long time, but I ended up losing it. Years later, when I began my sessions with Anita, she told me that in each life, my true love gives me a sapphire jewel. In each life, there isn’t just a demon, but also someone true, but I miss her every time. A week after that session, I find this laying in some place I know I never put it. What’s crazy is that I had completely forgotten about it until then.”

“She could be married now. Who knows? Maybe I’m crazy. Maybe all this past life regression stuff is just smoke and mirrors. All I know is that the one person I ever truly loved is somewhere out there and I have to find her this time.”