|Summer of the Japanese Beetles
Author: Adora Akai PM
warning: story is a hard read. not only written in stream of consciousness, has twist at the end that changes everything you thought you knew. emile is so lonely that she lets audy think she's gay, just so someone will love her. review me, i review youRated: Fiction T - English - Words: 6,509 - Reviews: 20 - Favs: 14 - Follows: 1 - Published: 12-05-04 - id: 1775984
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Fuckin' fake ladybugs. I used to suck them up with a vacuum cleaner. Can't stand those things. For one summer, they totally infested my city. No kidding. Every time you opened a door or a window they rained down on you. I stayed inside. And they found all the damn cracks in your house and come in and crawl all over your shit. They were mostly harmless, mostly went on their merry way exploring all the stuff that bugs do and then pooping on it, until you tried to swat them away. Then they'd bite you. So then you'd get angry and squish it. And it turns out when you squished the damn imposter ladybugs, they'd stink. They'd stink like hell. And when you were squishing thirty of them at a time, it got pretty stinky. In fact, you had little time for sleeping or eating, you were so busy squishing, vacuuming, or flushing this damn infestation of orange ladybugs.
I remember when they first came. I had never seen them before. I used to call them "man-bugs" because they weren't ladybugs and I didn't know the names for 'em. I liked 'em. I was really excited that there were red and orange ladybugs. I was really hoping that somewhere out there, there existed a whole rainbow of ladybugs. I envisioned blue ones, purple ones, yellow ones, green ones, all coming together and crawling around and looking like a giant, quivering pile of Skittles. And who doesn't love ladybugs? They are so harmless. So cute. They are like the only non-scary bug that exists. And I am damn afraid of bugs. I might choose death over being covered with bugs.
This fear probably stems from the fact that when I was little, I had long pretty brown hair. One night I had a dream that I had a bird stuck in my hair. I woke up in the dark to realize that there was something in my hair and it was fluttering. But it was not a bird, oh no, it was a moth! A giant moth! Stuck in my pretty brown hair and frantically flapping and kicking to get itself out and only getting itself more tangled! You know when you wake up from the middle of a strange dream and sometimes you find yourself kind of disoriented and maybe a little panicked? Well I woke up with that extra terror and had a 3-inch moth tangled in my hair. I could feel its nasty little legs and hairy wings on my tender little 7-year-old neck. I screamed and screamed and my mom didn't even come up to see why her little girl was screaming. I ran downstairs, sobbing, still screaming, almost tearing out my hair and about gave my mom a heart attack. Finally. It was very comforting to know that I could scream and panic like that and mom could sleep soundly through it. She deserved to be damn scared so suddenly. So anyway, now that I had Mom's attention, I turned my screaming into overdrive. Attention just makes little kids' problems worse, you know? So Mom didn't really want to touch the moth either but moms are really heroic sometimes when it comes to their kids, so Mom tried to get this damn moth out of my hair but it would not come out. She struggled so long that I got hoarse from screaming and resigned myself to fearful whimpers. Eventually my mom had to cut my pretty long brown hair. She had to cut that cursed behemoth of a moth out of my hair. And haircuts given at 2AM are not very fashionable. I ended up looking like a mushroom. My older brothers thought it was hilarious. I woke up crying the next morning when I saw my hair and bawled, "I guess for Halloween this year I'll just go as a mushroom!"
So you can see why I am afraid of bugs. They ruined my life. Or my hair, at least. And they're gross, too. I'm not gonna talk about 'em anymore.Restaurant
At the restaurant, I absent-mindedly watched a stupid little Japanese beetle wander over a large, circular patch of reflected light on the glossy, plastic-painted-like-wood table. After it was bored with my water glass, it marched over the table to have a look at Audy.
I suppose you could say Audy was my girlfriend. Well, I suppose you should say she was because she would say she was. She thought I was her girlfriend. She didn't know that I didn't like her, though. She was a great person. Funny, interesting, smart, all that stuff, only I wasn't attracted to her romantically. I wasn't even gay. But she was fun to be around. And more importantly, I was really lonely. I had no friends. People didn't seem to like me. Audy was the only person that liked me. And I was lonely. I took anything I could get. Even a girlfriend.
"You gonna get the animal-hater plate again?" she asked, pulling her cigarette away from her mouth only momentarily.
"Sure am," I said proudly, looking up from the shiny table.
"What's our waiter's name…" she pushed up her thick black Buddy Holly/emo glasses and looked over at him, "… Bernie… You're gonna make Bernie cry."
Every time we come to one of these vegan restaurants, I ask for animal flesh - I honestly say, "give me animal flesh" – and my extremely attractive but extremely 8-feet-tall-80-pounds PETA activist/waiter sniffles and grudgingly tells the cooks to turn down their Grateful Dead and throw some beef on the veggie platter for the animal-hater.
"Eh. I tried the vegetarian thing a while. Then I realized I was only doing it 'cuz it was trendy for alterna-types. Oh, I also realized that I love steaks. Absolutely love 'em. Big fat ones…"
"Yeah, it's always nice to see a noble movement made into a trend," Audy said, folding her arms across her shitty, threadbare blue tank top that must have been 8 years old but still fit her. Surprising. She had a huge rack. That tank top must have been splitting at the seams. Its un-fashionable cut revealed how unconcerned with trend and appearance she was. She also wore some tore up, Motley-crue style jeans held up with a leather belt that had "#1 Grandpa" pounded into it.
I plopped my skinny elbows on the table and shook my cigarette as I spoke. "Ironic isn't it? We're shot at from both sides. The ones who come out in daylight dislike use 'cuz we're meat-eaters and we don't like Bob Marley. Then the ones who come out at night don't like us 'cuz our thongs aren't visible and we don't have long, flat-ironed blonde hair."
"Or those lame-ass tassel belts. 'Member those?"
It was true, too. At noon you'd walk by a pack of dread-locked hippies playing hackey sack and at midnight you'd drown in girls in tight jeans and male primates beating their chests, fighting, and calling everything gay. These males alternately called the women bitches and tried to stick their hands in the tight jeans. Everyone tried to mate. It was a whole ritual and easy to observe. Competition was fierce. All the males were on the verge of peeing on their women, they were trying so hard to claim them as their territory.
The females weren't any better. I guess there's a certain posture that's conducive to attracting a male. There is an arching of the back that must be mastered, and this arching of the back sticks the breasts out in one direction and the ass out in the other. The sexuality of both sides is optimized! Stuck right in one's face. You can't miss it. Put something closer to one's face and one is more likely to reach out and take it. You can admire the advanced psychology. It was pitiful shit. Those girls, with their cookie-cutter, carbon copy outfits and their bad posture, their jealous, competitive glares at each other, each trying to dyke out "Girls Gone Wild" style in order to better their chances of attracting one of these impressive males… it was amazing. Inspiring. I felt proud to be a woman and even more proud to be a human being. I felt proud that a man died a very gruesome death in the year 33 AD for brutes and sluts and dykes (and snobby bitches like myself that went to the trouble of writing how ridiculous these sluts and assholes are.)
But I can't say they're sluts. Girls desire male attention. We just go about it the wrong way. Sexual attention doesn't equal respect or affection or that thing that all of us seek, like it or not, love.
"That's a good point, Audy," I told her when she said exactly that. "Now I just wish I could've realized that when I was in high school and tanning every day and wearing tube tops and those disgusting artificial nails."
"That's fucking sick," she said with a laugh, leaning to her right and causing the pink leather booth below her to squeak as she pulled a pack of cigarettes from her back pocket. She was never the outcast I was. I was that girl that everyone made fun of until one day I woke up in high school and males thought I was attractive and somehow that made females pay attention to me, too. Beauty is power. But what a disgusting power. And what a fickle source of strength.
After taking a thoughtful drink of water, I said, "I wish it had actually taught me something. Y'know? Like: I can't think myself too high and mighty 'cuz I was once everything I now hate. But it totally didn't."
Out poured the smoke as she laughed and her mouth opened to reveal her many teeth. She had a mouth like fucking Julia Roberts. Teeth, teeth, teeth. Almost to the point of being frightening.
"S'true. I'm a hypocrite and a snob," I shrugged and stole the cigarette from between her fingers as she finished laughing. I took a long puff and leaned back into the booth. God bless restaurants that still allow smoking.
"You're too hard on yourself. You are one of the most patient people I know. You're a pacifist for Christ's sake."
And a staunch Catholic that winces when I hear people say Christ's sake or goddamn. Think about that. How would you feel if the mother you loved so dearly was a curse word in the English language? Or your dear old grandmother? What is your grandmother's name? Mine is Violet. I'd be pretty damn pissed if people were like, "Fucking dirty whore Violet," every time something pissed them off. I love my dear grandmother, rest in peace, and would be pissed as fuck to have people turn her wonderful, loving name into a curse word. I'm way Catholic. Yeah.Greg
I stopped talking to Emile a year after I met her… or rather, she stopped talking to me. But I'll get to that.
I remember her ring tone on my phone. I have one of those ridiculously expensive cell phones – "for fuck's sake, Greg," she used to say, "you are bling, bling" – that records voices. I recorded her laugh on my phone. One night out of the many late, drunken nights we spent together under my hot cotton zebra sheets, I was telling her stupid jokes and she was almost sobbing with laughter. I remember how she looked – she wore one of my over sized gray shirts and her long brown hair was down (for once) and falling all over her eyes and face as she laughed and rolled around. I remember how beautiful her mouth looked when it was wide open in laughter, how beautiful her big brown eyes were when they were smothered shut with her heavy eyelashes, and I guess just how lovely she looked as she laughed uncontrollably. I stuck my cell phone in her face and she tried to cover her mouth and turn away but I sat on her and recorded her laughter, and just a piece of her saying, "You're squish-"
She was beautiful. Maybe it was because we were each other's booty calls and only saw each other at night, but she looked just gorgeous in moonlight. Like a silent film star, all covered in black and white and looking more striking than Rhetta Garbo. For a year we were each other's faithful booty calls, yet booty call is not the right word since she was a virgin.
"My virgin princess," I used to say as she'd fall asleep on my shoulder.
"My dear swinger," she'd murmur and pass out. It's true. I was a swinger. I couldn't date any one girl exclusively.
"You're so varnished," she once mumbled, her eyelashes tickling my shoulder. "Like you're covered with a coat of clear nail polish. You're never stressed or scared or angry. Your face never changes. Your voice never changes. Like a damn gentle jazz radio dj… "
"Ooweee, Greg. Portia? You really can't keep your dick in your pants. I can smell the STD's on that girl," she said another night.
"Probably won't make it to 25. Been trying to kill myself since the third grade. Surprised I've lasted this long," she said yet another night. And that was the worst thing I've ever heard. I just grabbed her and held her as close and hard as I could, like I could squeeze the sadness out of her, but she just smoked her cigarette nonchalantly, as if it didn't matter at all that I had my arms around her. As I watched her, I learned a lesson about her. She's numb. And she doesn't know it.
For a year, my phone rang with her laughter and my bed echoed of it. Then one night, tears in her eyes, she told me she thought she loved me and asked if I could be with her. I said no and she said it hurt her too much to talk to me anymore. I didn't believe her, but after the dropping her off the next morning, we never spoke again.
I really do hope she makes it to 25, though.Movie
"Anti-depressants. Wow, Emile," Audy said, petting my hair.
We were watching some movie I was really interested in. I don't remember what it was, but I was so absorbed that I didn't realize I was talking. The popcorn Audy made me was also spectacular and distracting. She covered it in melted butter and salt. And then she was petting my hair. I enjoyed the attention and love she showered on me. Luckily, the question of sex hadn't come up yet. I didn't know how I'd handle that one. Maybe I'd tell her I'd taken a vow of celibacy. Maybe I'd finally have to tell her I wasn't gay. But until then, I'd appreciate her bowls of popcorn and her attention.
"When did you start takin' em?"
"Just a week ago. Doctor said they'll take at least 2 weeks to kick in." I stuffed the greasy popcorn in my mouth, not taking my eyes from the movie. "I'm probably long overdue for 'em. My family, and I myself," I shoved almost my whole hand full of popcorn in my mouth and spoke clumsily, "have a history of depression. My mom's totally depressed and pretends she's not. She hates her job and I think life in general. I think she thinks that, outside of Dad and me, the whole world is full of hateful, cruel people."
"I might agree with her," Audy said and began braiding my hair.
"I never wanted to rely on drugs to be sane and I didn't wanna admit that I needed 'em. But I do. I've been pretty sad lately." And stupidly, my throat tightened in a snap. It just suddenly imploded and resisted me expressing my pain. "I'm just, really, really lonely," I squeaked out. Then the tears came.
Audy, like the predictable good girlfriend she was, sunk down next to me, laid her head on my back, and held me tightly. But it was like I couldn't even feel her. She neither helped nor harmed. The loneliness I felt wasn't rational and couldn't be cured by thousands of loving friends. She could do nothing for me. Her arms might as well have been smoke.
She laid her head on my shoulder for a while, occasionally petting my hair and rocking me. I stopped crying, realizing how futile tears were, and began devouring popcorn again.
"Well, you won't be lonely as soon as you make that play. You're gonna meet so many fun, crazy theater people… 'cuz you know theater people are fuckin' nuts. Orgies all over the place," she said, catching a hint of a smile and running with it. "Not a single straight man in the whole mess."
I still stared at the television. A Japanese beetle crawled across the bright screen. I was finally smiling, though the dried, salty tears on my face seemed to harden my cheeks and oppose their shaping a smile.
"And then you'll get rich and famous. And think of the shit we'll do then. I'll make you buy a gold toilet. I've always thought those were a great idea. Why not adorn what you empty your waste products into with a shiny, expensive metal generally used in royal crowns and wedding rings? Shit and gold. Natural partners. A match made in heaven."
Then I was laughing and wiping my eyes. "Thank you Audy. You're too nice to me."
She waved her hand in the air. "Oh, I'm not that nice. What's the part you're trying out for again? The bitch or the sorority girl?"
I wiped my nose. "The bitch."
"Well," she said, moving some hair out of my eyes, "let's hope they're type-casting."Allan
First time I saw Emile, she looked… well… mean. Might have been how she stood. She had good posture, stood up very straight, shoulders back, chin up, and she walked with purpose. I know that's a dumb saying, but she did – she walked with purpose. You wanted to get out of her way. She probably ate men like me for breakfast. She wore a lot of black, too. That might have done it. Big black boots, fishnets, usually a collared black shirt, a skirt, and more black. And I think she had brown hair when I first met her – but back then she always wore it back in a bun or twisted up with a pencil. She ended up looking like a sexy secretary. All in black, hair up, all professional-like, and with a walk that would mow you down. Plus, she was very talented. When my friends and I saw her audition, we labeled her "fishnet girl" and said she was good. (We always gave people names at auditions. She was fishnet girl, another girl – we later learned her name was Meghan – was "bitter ugly girl" and yet another auditioner was "comic book guy." Like from the Simpsons? Y'know? Of course you do. Comic book guy is an awesome character.) So anyway, Emile was intimidating, but I wanted to meet her 'cuz I liked her fashion sense. Call me a metrosexual, but she was the best dressed girl I'd seen in a long time.
"I will give you a quarter for a cigarette," I said, emphasizing the word quarter like it was $50 and holding it between two fingers in front of her. She was smoking behind a corner of the theater after callbacks and looked particularly unfriendly because the director didn't call her back for a very good part. My friends and I were surprised – the lead role was a bitch and she played it well.
Most people are charitable. They give me a cigarette and wave my quarter away. Not Emile. She laughed and said, "Deal." I put the quarter in her palm and she offered me a smoke.
As I lit it, her intimidating visage melted. Rhe fishnet girl jumped up and down, looking at her quarter greedily and saying triumphantly, "Yes! One-fifth of the way to a Tall Starbucks coffee!"
"Well," I said, digging in my pocket dramatically and luckily finding my quarry so as not to ruin the effect, "How 'bout four more quarters," here I revealed more change, "for four more cigarettes?"
"Lay 'em on me, brotha'!" she laughed and opened her hand. I plopped the change in her hands and she, equally dramatically, whipped out four cigarettes.
"But," I said, "you have to smoke them with me."
"Sure," she said brightly. The impression I first had of her melted away. She talked energetically, like a big fat dork. "I'm Emile," she said, sticking her cigarette in her teeth and offering her hand, "what's your name?"
"Super to meet you, Allan. Will you introduce me to your friends?" The way she cocked her head and smiled gave me an instant crush on her. I almost didn't want to introduce her to Jeff, Paul, and Peter. But I did, and we all stood around in front of the theater, smoking and talking for 'bout a half an hour before she suggested, "Let's all go get a drink."
So all five of us walked two blocks to Fat Mike's and on the way, she picked each of a us a good luck flower and told us we had to keep it until we called the theater the next day to see if we got parts. I honestly held that yellow chrysanthemum in my hand as I called, too. Probably still have it. But it didn't do me any good, sadly. I didn't get a part. Paul, my 6'6", broad-shouldered, bald, and bearded friend got the part of the asshole jock and Emile got the part of the somewhat naive sorority girl. Yet as far from the character as she was, she played it well.Dressing Room
"Where are we goin', yo?" I said, sticking my head into Paul's brightly lit but filthy dressing room.
"O'Malley's?" he asked, wiping off his stage makeup
"No – Fat Mike's!" I said excitedly, plopping down on a silver folding chair next to him and helping him rub off the fake tattoo on his right arm.
"Emile! You're not allowed in Fat Mike's anymore, remember?" Paul asked loudly, stretching his eyes and laughing. It was a good thing he did impressions of effeminate gay men and little children all the time, or else his 6'6" frame and Mr.-Clean-bald head would have constantly frightened me.
"Aw damn, c'mon. Don't put expensive things around drunk people! They were asking for trouble!" I said.
"The guy told you to get off the pool table."
"But it was Guns and Roses! Sweet Child of Mine! It must be sung on pool tables."
"Well you didn't need to get in a fight with him."
"Well he started it. He pushed me."
"He tried to escort you off the pool table!"
"He pushed me!" I laughed, arguing only in half-seriousness. It was my fault. But come on – when G 'n' R calls, you have to answer. And it was telling me to get up on the table and use a pool cue for a microphone. "Okay, Mr. No-Fun. O'Malley's it is."
"All right." Here he busted into his teenaged girl voice, "Call up the rest of our running crew!"
"All right, Paul. I'll call our posse." I got up and headed for the door. "You hurry up and get pretty."
"Hey Emile, what about that Audy girl? How come you never call her out with us?"
"Audy?" I asked, half-stunned. "I mentioned Audy to you?"
"Yeah," he said, facing his mirror and wiping his neck clean. "How come we've never met her?"
I leaned on the doorframe, my head in a fog. Audy. I hadn't thought about her in a long while. I'd been so busy with work and the play that I hadn't seen or talked to her in a while.
A Japanese beetle climbed up the doorframe next to where my hand rested.
I realized, as terrible as it sounds, I'd forgotten about her completely.
"I dunno, Paul. She'll come out some time, though," I said, still somewhat confused. I flicked the bug to the floor. "I'm so damn happy it's almost fall. Maybe these stupid bugs will finally die off," I said and squished the beetle.Bottle
In the morning, in the bathroom, in my baggy pajamas, in the steam of the running bath, I'd cock my head and look at that green prescription bottle. I'd examine the curves of the black letters that demanded, "Take one tablet daily." I'd stare through the green plastic walls at the powerful white circles inside. What terrifying power those white circles had. They could save my life… or save me from taking my own life, at least. Stupid bottle, I wondered, do you have control over whether I live or die? If I refuse to take you and try to fight this monster on my own, will I just end up offing myself? If I realize I'm powerless, will I be a slave to you for my whole life, you stupid green bottle of drugs?
But I brushed my teeth, swallowed one, and then did my hair. They easily fit into my morning routine and I think they helped. I had an amazing amount of energy. It was easier to get up in the morning and in those last few weeks of summer, I would run like two miles and come back home and vacuum my apartment and it was like I was on speed or something. I also picked up new hobbies like Michael Jackson picked up child molestation charges. I was sewing and painting and cooking. I'd even signed up to take guitar lessons through my college. In two more weeks, class would start and in no time I'd be Joni Mitchell.
However, they made it tough for me to sleep and I need my sleep – I think I'm partially narcoleptic, to tell the truth – and so I decided, y'know what stupid green bottle? I'm gonna do this on my own. You steal my sleep, and though you have given me the energy to start running every morning and helped me lose six pounds, I am taking a break from you. I will face this monster on my own. I will beat him, not you, stupid green bottle of drugs.
So I stopped taking my anti-depressants for a while.Mommy
Emile knows she's my favorite. Well, she is. I know parents aren't supposed to have favorites, but I do. I'm a bad parent. I don't really know why she is. Or I guess I don't want to face why she is. Maybe it's because I think she is the only child of mine that actually loves me.
Emile and I used to sit outside, drink coffee, stare at the stars and talk about philosophy and religion while Dad would read quietly, only stopping to look up at us and smile a big smile and ask if he should bring out more coffee.
One night, as Dad was pouring her coffee, she asked him, "Is Harold performing tonight?"
"No, not tonight," he laughed. "Harold's in DC on a business trip."
"Y'know, Dad, I feel quite uncool. I'm 22 and my 52-year-old father has been in more gay clubs than I have!"
Gay clubs. It gives me a headache thinking about it. Dad worked with Harold at the firm and Harold moonlighted as a drag queen. The two had become friends just a year ago, but I couldn't understand why my 52-year-old husband that had attended seminary school needed to go to gay clubs.
"Mom, don't make that face," Emile would tease me.
"I'm happy you haven't been there as often as your father," I'd sigh, staring at the sky.
"I'm happy Dad loves all people, regardless of lifestyle. 'Member Mom, Jesus was always criticized for the company he kept when he was alive."
"There's a difference between hanging out with tax collectors and hanging out with drag queens," I said quietly.
"Is one worse than the other?"
I didn't say anything. Emile, my little fellow philosopher, who I'd sit with after work and be reminded that there is good in the world… was changing.
Dad spoke up finally, not angrily. He was never angry. Always smiling. "Even if homosexuality is a sin, I'd probably rather be a homosexual than a jerk. Harold is full of love."
"Lucky Harold," I whispered sadly.Car
Did you know that when you stop taking certain prescriptions, the illness comes back worse? Yeah, turns out they do.
So two weeks without my stupid green bottle and I was driving my tin can Jetta on some road I'd never been on before and just driving and driving and holding onto the wheel with white knuckles, sobbing my eyes out to some terrible Whitney Houston song that at that moment sounded like the saddest, most heart-wrenching song ever written. I must have chain-smoked for like three hours because the air in my car was so rank and suffocating and thick that I could barely see. I was just panicking and driving, panicking and driving and singing along to this song that was almost laughably terrible but was speaking to me as if it understood all the grief and terror in the world and was dumping it on me. Dumping and drowning. Drowning and smothering. Shoving my face into a pile of crawling, quivering bugs. Injecting beetles into my veins. And my heart was wax that had melted and dripping onto my stomach and intestines, lining it with agony. I couldn't breathe. Breath was poisonous. Breath was miraculous. I couldn't stop accelerating. I needed to fly forward. My chest was going to explode and I would crash and my parents would have to identify my body in my broken car, a giant hole in my chest from where the monster called sadness burst forth.
Before I knew it, I was talking to Audy.
"Sweetie, what's wrong? What's wrong?" I heard her voice.
My hand could barely hold the cell phone to my ear. I couldn't believe I had freed it from the wheel. "I don't know, Audy. I'm gonna crash my car."
"Emile! What's going on?"
"I dunno, Audy. I can't do it. If I don't lose control of my car, my skin is just going to explode. My head will just crack open and my thoughts will just spill out and terrorize the world like these damn beetles everywhere!"
"Stop this, Emile," Audy said calmly.
"I don't know how, Audy!"
"Stop it," she said. She sat in the passenger seat, staring at me.
Then I crashed.Dr. Rimbau
10:50 AM, my watch read.
"Emile, Emile?" I said, leaning over, shaking her, and having to sweep my long gray hair behind my ear as I did so.
Her eyes flickered open and for just a moment, she looked disoriented.
"Oh, I apologize Dr. Rimbau," she said, finally taking a deep breath. "I warned you I might fall asleep. Your couch is so comfortable and the sun is so bright and warm… it's just lovely." She stretched her arms a little and yawned.
I smiled and reassured her. "That's quite all right, Emile. I'm glad you feel so comfortable here that you can fall asleep." I noted something different about her. Ah yes, color. As she finished blinking in the sunlight, I surveyed her outfit. She wore light blue pants and a medium blue long-sleeved shirt. I thought I might ask her where she got it – it was a great outfit.
"I'm sleeping much better," she said in her smooth, bright voice. Every time she spoke it was like she was singing. It was so melodic it almost sent me to sleep sometimes. But that was to be expected – she was a singer. She also told me she quit smoking once she got cast in the touring production of "The Marriage of Figaro," explaining that her paycheck now depended on the health of her vocal chords.
"Good to hear. I'm glad you told your physician about your sleeping problems. There are plenty of anti-depressants that don't have that side effect. Now, if you don't mind, I'd like to hear more about your new job."
She smiled and I could see the excitement in her shiny brown eyes. She seemed like a little child just filled to the brim with pride. "Well, it's fun to be able to say that I get paid to sing. What else… well, it pays okay. But it's enough to pay for the new car. I have pictures of my old demolished Jetta, if you'd like to see how bad the crash was."
"How do you feel when you look at the pictures?"
"Shocked," she said plainly. "Hard to believe I came out of a totaled car with only a mild concussion and two broken wrists."
"All healed now?"
"I think so," she cracked her knuckles. "However, being forced to take an eight month break from the guitar has made me quite rusty."
Emile was all smiles that day. It was reassuring to see. Ever since the court ordered her to see me, she had changed entirely, from the color of her clothes to her state of mind. I looked at my watch again. The little black hands read 10:54. "Well, Emile. Only six minutes left of your last session with me. Do you have anything you feel like talking about?"
I saw her chest, under her folded hands, rise and fall slowly. She was obviously thinking. It was a moment before she began, but when she did her voice betrayed no signs of fear or uncertainty. It was still musical and gentle. "It's still kind of embarrassing, being 23 and having created an imaginary friend – or girlfriend, I suppose. But it's not scary anymore. Does that make sense? My struggles with depression don't scare me anymore. I've stared them in the face. I've seen them at their worst. And they didn't kill me. I'm not worried about the future."
"So, no Audy? No Japanese beetles?"
"Nope. Haven't seen Audy or the beetles for eight months. Not since the crash," she smiled an almost exhausted smile, proud of overcoming her wearisome battle. She had reason to be proud. Those eight months, to say the least, were certainly wearisome. The sessions I'd had with her were not always as pleasant and peaceful as that day's. But as I've told many of my colleagues, I prefer not to focus on patients' recovery stories. They are too easy to sensationalize. Patients are people. People with rich, complex, wonderful, heartbreaking histories and webs of people and influences and funny stories and even occasional catastrophes. That's all that's important. People. And that they live. No matter how they live.Parking Lot
The change in smell was quite noticeable as I passed through the exit of Dr. Rimbau's building. Doctors' offices always smell somewhat sterile and I always feel like every pore in my skin opens wider when I enter fresh air again. And the air that day smelled like someone somewhere was having one of the first fires of summer. Granted, it was not summer quite yet, but spring was warming and people usually get antsy to shed their heavy coats and start playing summer games again.
From twenty feet away, I clicked my car unlocked. That was my favorite thing about my new car – it had one of those key chains that allowed you to lock or unlock your car from several feet away. I felt like such a legitimate adult with that. After years of seeing my parents doing that same little act, I, at last, got to do it also. A little act, I know, but significant to me.
At my car door, I caught hold of a familiar scent. You know this scent I am sure, though there is no name. It is the smell of 60 degree weather. It is the smell of the Earth thawing and summer returning. It is the smell of budding trees and flowers and kids almost out of school. This smell only occurs annually. And it brought me back to a year earlier.
I was sitting in the mall, eating Chinese food from the food court, when I saw a girl with a 50's style hair cut and Buddy Holly/emo glasses. She was surrounded by at least 6 friends who all looked like wild, exciting people. And they all fawned around this girl as if she was the most interesting person ever. And I was jealous of how cool those six girls thought that girl with the 50's haircut and the leather, "#1 Grandpa" belt was. Very jealous. And very lonely. I remembered hearing the six girls call her Audrey. Then I remember staring at my cold Chinese food and deciding, I will have a friend like her.
That memory was interrupted by the ringing of my cell phone. I flipped it open and said, "Allan? Hey Allan! What's goin' on?"
"Not too much, just eating lunch with Paul and Linda. Wanna join us?"
"Sure," I said, swinging my purse into my car and sliding into my seat. As I continued to talk to him, I put my key in the ignition, started my car, and drove off into the warming spring air.