Summary: Myra Reed has the tendency to date lost causes. Broken boys beyond repair. Aubrey Welles is no exception. Or is he? Can Myra love Aubrey without drowning in the process?
A/N: I've wanted to start another chapter-length story for awhile now. I hardly write poetry anymore, because I've come to the realization that most of what I write is terrible. Anyway, I'd appreciate feedback on this story, even if the response is a few sentences. I've also realized that my best prose comes from just exploring relationships and the motivations behind people. Anyway, enough with that. Read and (hopefully) enjoy! Thanks!
You've gone to the finest school all right, Miss Lonely
But you know you only used to get juiced in it
And nobody has ever taught you how to live on the street
And now you find out you're gonna have to get used to it
-Bob Dylan, "Like A Rolling Stone"
If the relations between my parents could be described in metaphor, then they were the Cold War. Namely, they never used massive quantities of fire power. You couldn't gauge the severity of an argument by the volume of their voices. It was just the opposite. They hardly argued. In fact, when they began to tread into such territory, my Dad automatically hoisted a white flag. He would sigh, as though he were cast as Hamlet and forgotten his soliloquy. Then, scratching what was left of his hair, he'd apologize.
"Anna, I'm sorry for not listening," he'd say.
My Mom's face would soften, though the softness contradicted her flat tone of voice. The customs of her Japanese background cooled her Americanized fury.
"Norman, I'm sorry for yelling," she'd say.
Then, they would retreat into separate rooms, their steps heavy. These minor scuffles usually occurred in the living room. Even with my door shut, I could hear the exchange. My bedroom was down the hall and the walls proved thin. The only way to block out the roar of the TV or whir of the dishwasher was to crank up my stereo. It was a boom box, a replacement for the system I'd accidentally broken.
When I was feeling especially frustrated and restless, I'd lay on the floor. Angrily pressing my spine into the carpet, I'd place the boom box next to me. I'd put my ear against the speaker and close my eyes, savoring the ringing that echoed in my head. I felt an ache after the entire CD was finished. To defer this problem, I'd often put it on repeat and listen for hours. This might bother the majority of people, but I enjoyed the experience. Each song would conjure images and faceless people, my fingers sinking into the maroon floor.
When my Mom was redecorating our house, I told her I wanted forest green. I had turned thirteen and decided I wanted to be mature. The girls in my grade obsessed over makeup and kissing techniques. At lunch, Wendy Peppercorn and Nancy Yates bragged to their followers about their growing collection of Cosmopolitan and Redbook magazines. Wendy had an older sister in high school, Helen. Helen wasn't exceptionally brilliant, but she was kind and gave out free shakes at McDonald's. Supposedly, she was dating a roadie for the Dave Matthews Band and thus, she'd been catapulted to deity status.
Every Friday night, when Helen went out with her friends, Wendy and Nancy snuck into her room and stole an old copy of the magazines. Then, the thieves would scamper into Wendy's walk-in closet. They would share their loot, religiously studying vital information such as 101 Sexy Ways To Turn Him On and Lose Fat Without Dieting! The following school week, the pair would report their findings to the loyal flock of female seventh graders. Occasionally, boys would listen and leer.
I wasn't among the minions. I preferred to eat my peanut butter and banana sandwich outside, under the rotting sycamore. My best friend and I would joke about our peers. We'd do our best to imitate Wendy's nasally voice, giggling at the whole ordeal. But sometimes I didn't want to be outside. Sometimes, I envisioned myself sitting next to Wendy or Nancy. I never did and immediately felt ashamed after the daydream ended. This could be the main reason for my room's unisex makeover. Whatever the conditions, I knew that I detested my pink walls.
My Mom agreed with surprising enthusiasm. She promised to take me to Home Depot, so I could pick matching paint. I hoarded my baby-sitting money and bought a plasma lamp, filled with black liquid that oozed upon direct contact. Imagine my surprise when I came home from school and the walls matched the floor. The entire room was maroon.
But now, I would never have to live in an explosion of maroon. I'd graduated Fordham University with Academic Honors. I'd walked across the stage, wobbling on my heels, smiling for the crowd. I'd paid the deposit and signed the lease. From now on, I would be living in the East Village of NYC. I had my own studio apartment and I could decorate the walls with whatever I chose. I glanced around the assembly of boxes and bags. I felt proud of this accomplishment, proud of my new freedom. Granted, my parents would be helping with the rent until I secured a steady job. But this didn't diminish my euphoria. However, its intensity threatened to be short.
Once again, battle lines had been drawn without a formal declaration. My Dad was bringing up the last of my belongings, while my Mom sat on a folding chair. My Dad had driven. My Mom had spat out instructions, adjusting her sunglasses. I sat in the back, wedged between suitcases. I read a book but stopped, my stomach unexplainably queasy. Their civil and apathetic interaction thus indicated their fury. I wanted them to leave, so I could enjoy the solitude. Turn up the stereo. Linger on the fire escape and smoke Menthol. Tape the poster of Steve McQueen above my bed, without my Mom scolding that I'd ruin the paint.
"Now, do you want help unpacking your things? You should get it done as soon as possible," she insisted.
She sat up in her chair, checking the sunglasses perched on her crown. She owned ten pairs of sunglasses, mostly because she constantly lost pairs. My Mom also claimed that her pupils were extra sensitive. Many of the lenses proved to be ineffective. When my Mom displayed a ring of crimson around her irises, I knew it was officially summer.
"I'm fine. Thanks. I'm probably going to unpack a few things and then walk around the block. Just to get a feel of the neighborhood," I outlined.
The corners of her mouth twitched. She folded her hands in her lap. I recognized the clomping of my Dad.
"You should wait until tomorrow for that."
I glided over to an unmarked box. I tore off the packing tape, the strap of my tank top sliding down. Picture frames wrapped in newspaper shielded the contents.
My Mom sighed, glancing around, as though she expected an ax murderer to pop out.
"It's going to be dark soon. And I don't want you wandering around the city at night. You haven't even been here a week. You don't know where you're going!"
I rolled my eyes, digging through the box. As far as I could recall, my Mom masked her fear of travel and the unknown through her persistent nagging. During my four years at Fordham, I never got the chance to study abroad. My Mom murdered all hope; she claimed it cost too much money, money we didn't have. Fortunately, this non-existent money materialized the minute she "needed" to buy a pair of pumps or a gas grill.
"That's the point. To get to know the city. I'm going to be living here, aren't I? And it's not going to be dark any time soon. It's only three."
"Three-ten," she corrected.
If I'd set up curtains, I would have rushed to the window and dramatically thrown them aside, allowing the hazy sunlight to flood the room. My Mom pursed her lips, stained with a shade called "Poison." With a pronounced clatter, my Dad threw open the door. He grunted, swiftly shifting the two boxes in his arms. He'd put on about five pounds over the last year, but his strength remained intact. My Mom regarded him with cool disinterest, and then crossed her ankles. I silently wished the floorboards would cave in and down she'd tumbled, chair and all. I shuffled over to my Dad and snatched the top box. He smiled, a gesture I returned.
"Ok, whatever. Three-ten. Look, traffic is going to be pretty bad in the next hour or so. Once it gets dark, people are going to start going out for the evening. So why don't we grab something to eat and then you guys can leave. I know how Dad hates driving in the dark," I wearily suggested.
My Dad carefully eased his box onto the kitchen counter, his taunt shoulders relaxing once rid of the weight. He nodded, refusing to look at my Mom.
"Sounds like a good idea."
"But how is Myra going to unpack? She has so much stuff. It'll take her all week to get organized! And you know how lazy she is. We leave now and all her clothes will stay in boxes," my Mom crisply retorted.
I looked at my Dad. We shared mutual aggravation. I recognized an odd pang of endearment for our secret "looks," our silent dissent.
"She's twenty-three. She's an adult. And it's her apartment. She can decorate the place with toilet paper for all we care. I'm willing to stay and help set up, but Myra has indicated that she is perfectly capable of arranging her own belongings. And I want to get out of here before night. Of course, you don't really care what time we leave, because I'm the one driving," he stoically protested.
I almost thought I would be forced to literally scream. One evening, my parents bickered about an appropriate bed time. I was eight and already exhausted with their aversion for peace treaties. I wanted to watch another episode of Ah! Real Monsters, but it started at 8PM, my assigned bed time. I begged my Dad to make an exception. He agreed within ten seconds of my whining. When my Mom saw I wasn't in bed, she strapped on her body armor. I watched them, eyes manically darting back and forth. I wanted them to stop, I didn't know how. Finally, I opened my mouth and wailed, a terrible cry that burned the back of my throat. I remember them gaping, probably wondering when their child had transformed into a monster.
Much to my relief, my howling skills proved unnecessary. We eventually agreed to eat at the deli. I ordered a turkey grinder and my Dad devoured a meatball sub. My Dad and I talked about a movie we'd seen. I slowly ate my meal, already missing my Father. My Mother picked at her ham grinder, tossing aside the lettuce, the tomatoes, the pickles, until there was nothing left but bread.
The answering machine pulsed like an ambulance siren. I rechecked my locks. I let my keys plop onto the coffee table. I slipped off my heels and rummaged through the fridge. The florescent bulb illuminated the naked shelves. I selected a bruised apple, then pressed the Playback button.
"Hi sweetheart, it's Mom. I just wanted to say congratulations on your new job! I know you must be excited. Your Dad says he's very proud of you. Anyway, I think you should come home this weekend and I can cook you a nice dinner. I'll even make that coconut-chocolate cake you love, the one I made last Christmas. And did you buy that allergy medicine I told you about? Mrs. Wallace said it works good and-"
"Hey Myra, it's Amy. I found your scarf, it got stuck under the futon. So, you'll never guess who I talked to! Alec Neils? You remember, the Chess Nerd who lived across from us? The one who tutored me for freshman biology? Anyway, he stopped me in Starbucks and I almost didn't recognize him! He must work out or something, because his face has filled out and he's actually got biceps now. I think he's still got a crush on you, because he asked for your number! Well, call me back when you get this. Hopefully, I'll talk to you soon! Bye!"
"Hi, it's Mom again. Can you call the house? I bought a new digital camera and I don't know how to use it. Your Dad won't help me and these instructions are confusing. I know you're computer savvy, so maybe you-"
"Um…Myra? This is Alec? Alec Neils? You probably don't remember me, but uh…I lived across from you. I think we had a few theology classes together? I got your number from Amy and I hope this is all right, but Amy said it'd be all right if I called you. And…uh, yeah. I was wondering if you'd like to grab a coffee or see a show at the Derby? There's a good swing band coming next week. And I asked Amy and she mentioned that you like Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, so you'll probably like this band. But we don't have to go if you don't want to. But, um, give me a call at-"
I would call Amy, thought about calling Alec, but knew I wouldn't call my Mother. Wearily, I walked across the room. Without looking at the cover, I picked up the closest CD in my reach. I loaded the disc into the barren carousel, hoping the furry of notes and the thump of the bass would downplay my seclusion. The cluttered apartment seemed like miles of desert.
I went into the main room and flopped onto the couch. Despite her lack of faith, I'd successfully unpacked within two days. By the second week, I'd bought all of the major furniture. The flat started to feel like a home, rather than a lonely room. As cruel as it sounds, I'd begun to miss my Dad and savor the absence of my Mother.
I associated my Mom with discipline and lectures, while I correlated my Dad with private jokes and a sense of impenetrable loyalty. My Mom was infamous for eavesdropping; father-daughter phone calls were accompanied with background breathing. We'd recently resorted to e-mails. But the computer screen extracted the warmth of his voice, technology transforming him into a ghost.
My Mother called at least once a week. It might have been pleasant, if these calls did not involve fifteen minutes of nagging, followed by thirty minutes of useless gossip about unfamiliar names and forgotten faces. She would chirp on about the status of Mr. and Mrs. X's marriage, hashing out criticism. She'd rave about Mrs. Y's new car and Mrs. Z's kids with the synthetic vivacity of a game show host. Naturally, she interrogated me like a baseball lover that's missed the World Series. She demanded a luscious picture, complete with the minutest details. Regularly, she'd ask the same question multiple times, convinced that the answers were lies.
Often, I felt alone. I'd have fleeting sensations of loneliness, the kind of aching for confidentiality with another person, the sort of pang that my Father's e-mails triggered. But the reality of being alone was permanent, like the scar from a scab I'd picked too many times. While on the phone with my Mom, I always wanted to confess this strange isolation. However, admittance of my weakness would mean defeat. We were not at war but I could see the bulge of her cannons, thirsty for a spark. I wasn't about to throw down my arms, naked and vulnerable for a surprise attack.
I bit into my apple, overwhelmed by a feeling that mimicked jet-lag.