Apollo says, “Red and green baby, you have to use red and green gumdrops. It’s Christmas!” I look down at the double row of purple gumdrops outlining the front door, windows, chimney and walkway of the picturesque two-story Gingerbread House I just made and can’t help but agree. Apollo is Brazilian and his skin is as black as night and the whites of his eyes beam like bright stars against his chef’s coat. He points his steak knife at me.
“I tell you baby, red and green! Ms. Morgan is not going to tip well when she sees those purple gumdrops. You can’t fool her, no way, baby. This isn’t Easter.”
Apollo has a voice that booms like a kettledrum. His tone and decibel would normally scare me but he is the gentlest man on the planet. One look at his chunky teddy bear cheeks, embedded with two adorable dimples, and I can’t help but smile.
“Iridicia used up all of the red and green gumdrops,” I say.
Apollo hums as he cuts one hundred chicken breasts into thin strips. His project is to assemble the chicken satay h’oudeuvres for one of the four parties we are catering to this evening.
I work in a crowded upscale catering kitchen and my main project this Christmas season is to bake and assemble Gingerbread Houses for our clients. I am also taking four college courses, with only a year and a half left before I graduate. The balance of work and school is really nice – I wouldn’t like to be a full-time anything, because I like to mix my days up with activities so I have a sense that I am moving forward.
Megan is stuffing prunes with fois gras, Rich is sprinkling rosemary and kosher salt on his focaccia bread with as much finesse as an orchestra conductor, and Mary is euphoric as she puts her nose to a bottle of rum before she pours it into her fruitcake batter. If we weren’t under the gun and exhausted from our grueling schedule there would be a lively discussion about politics, religion, art, food and of course a never ending supply of gossip about our clients; their guests, their apartment, their household staff, their children, their eating and drinking habits, and their extramarital affairs.
Last week we had a big debate about irony: what is its function and is it dead. It was a heated debate that took our mind off the fact that most of us would rather be doing something else in our lives besides rolling, cutting, mixing, dipping and marinating over and over and over again. But the kitchen is, well, for me, it is a haven. It is like the 4H club I never joined; we all get together and make things. Things that, soon after they are made, are then destroyed. Hindu shit like that.
I look down at my Gingerbread House and, duh, as Apollo said, it IS Christmas, the purple gumdrops will not be acceptable to our clients. I know. I’ll give it to my family; they’re not particular about things like that, in fact they’ll never notice and even if they do notice, the truth is that they love odd things. I’ll go to the office and call them.
I pick up my bowl of white frosting and stand up. The room starts to spin and I sit down. I must have gotten up too fast, or maybe I am just tired. December is a killer month in the food service industry and I have been getting up at dawn to be at work in the mornings, going to college in the afternoons and working a lot of late nights catering – back to back, sleeping little, and eating even less. And who knows, I am probably coming down with the flu – it is going around. All I have to do is get through the next couple of weeks. I can do that. I am strong. I close my eyes and wait for the wobbly feeling to pass. I stand up again, this time I am fine.
I walk towards the office to make my call, but see that it is occupied. I stand against the door and wait for Andrea, our squat secretary/booker, to get off her call. I have an impulse to either throw my bowl at her or break down and cry. I am very tired. This time of year is so depressing when you’re depressed, which I am, but then again, who isn’t during the holidays?
I take a seat in the office and wait. I listen to Andrea schmoozing up our clients, very few of whom are ever satisfied. They pay a lot of money and everyone is trying to make a good impression on everyone else; all in all everyone involved in giving, making, and probably going to a party are really, really tense which makes me wonder why people give parties at all, but it is New York City and the stakes are high, not only for the chefs but for the clients as well. Anyway, I suppose it is good to be working a lot at the kitchen now, because the routine and the running around has helped to take my mind off of all the things I don’t want to think about.
Andrea turns to me: “Who is making lunch today?” I tell her that Mary said she would make it and that it would be ready at noon, as usual. She takes her file and leaves the office.
I take out my cell, close the door and call. “Mom?” I say.
She asks me if I am at work, and I say yes. I ask her why she asked me that and she says, “Oh no reason.”
I ask her what she is doing?
It’s like we have a competition about who is doing what. Or, I should feel bad and sad that she has nothing to do, which I do. But truly, I feel like her REAL question is not, am I at work but: why are you working? Why aren’t you married? Having babies and at home while your husband is at work?
“What are you doing?” I ask again.
“Oh, I’m just chasing the cobwebs,” she says in a dreary, flighty voice.
I do not say anything for a second and then I say, “Look Ma, I’ve got an extra Ginger Bread House, do you want me to put it aside?” She says, “Hmm…” I finish her thought for her, and tell her that she will not have to pay for it. She perks up and says, “OK. That would be, sure, why not.”
I instinctively want to get off the phone with her, fast. I tell her I am on a break and that I need to go. She asks me if I am coming and I wonder who she just had conversation with.
I ask my mother again. “Where? Am I coming where?” And she says “Iceland.” I tell her it sounds, “I don’t know…” I ask her, “When?” and she says for New Year’s. I say, “This New Year’s?” And she says, “Yes,” and that it is all last minute. I ask her who is going and she says anyone who jots his or her name down on the list that she has put on the refrigerator. She says, “At the moment your brothers, Aiden and Thomas, have signed up. “And Dad?” I ask, and she says, “Yes, of course, it was his idea.” I tell her I need to think about it and that I need to go. I rip a cuticle off from my index finger. I put the finger in my mouth to hide the blood. “I don’t know, Ma. That sounds…l don’t…know. Look I have to go.” I tell her that my break is finished and that I’ll let her know.
I hang up and put my hands in my pockets. Should I stay in New York City, or should I go to Iceland? I walk my empty bowl of frosting over to Pedro, our dishwasher extraordinaire. Why not go? I’m just a kitchen wench. I could use a break. Life sucks at the moment.
As I drop my bowl into the sudsy water, I tell Pedro that I might go to Iceland for New Year’s. He furrows his brow as he thinks, then says, “Iceland? Where is that? Isn’t that Upstate somewhere?” I look into his dark brown eyes and I realize that there is no way in Hell I could even begin to explain where Iceland is because I only have a vague idea of where it is myself.
I tell him yes.
“Yes, it’s just north of Albany.”
Why not go to Iceland is right. My boyfriend status is, well, viciously vague. In other words, neither one of us wants to commit to a relationship, but we both want to have sex. In theory, the concept is efficient in that it satisfies needs, but in reality, it sucks. And to top it off, I like him more than he likes himself. This really annoys him, but eventually it has all evened itself out; we have both grown to like each other in the same hostile way. The fact that our hostility is balanced is essentially what keeps us together. We’ve both been in worse. His name is Ian and I picked him up and out at the Apple store and as it turns out, we have friends in common. Destiny! Let’s sleep together! And we did!
Ian lives in a two thousand-sq. ft. loft in Chelsea, with two iguanas roaming around and an amazing bed. Ian is an architect, and his style is austere, cool: very Scandinavian. One day I was looking at his collection of hand-carved wooden iguanas, and he came up from behind and covered my eyes with his hands. He led me into his workroom.
“What are you doing?” I said giggling.
“I’ve got something I want to show you, something I’ve made. When I count to three I’ll uncover your eyes. I want your immediate first impression. No cheating because if you cheat, that’s not good. OK, one, two, three.”
I opened my eyes and took in his creation, but I had nothing to say. Not immediately, that is. It was a chair with a long wooden back, the seat was narrower than the seats on a Japanese subway, and the arm rests were thin, erect pieces of uncovered blocks of wood. Oh, and it rolled. I waited for a cue from him before I spoke.
“It’s a chair. I just designed it,” he said. He might as well have said DUH!
“I can see that,” I said.
“Well?” he said.
I took a breath, “No cheating right?” I said earnestly.
“Just tell me what you think. Christ, why do you make everything so complicated?” he said.
“Well, gosh, Ian, it’s interesting, I mean it sort of looks like an electric chair – except on wheels.” I stood back and stared a little harder. “You know, it would probably do great in the S&M market. All you would have to do,” I said as I pointed with my hands, “Is install metal or leather cuffs to the arm and leg rests. Don’t you think?”
He didn’t answer. I had also wanted to ask him if there was anything that he wasn’t telling me, but then again, I was sure I didn’t really want to know. He squinted and his bottom lip twitched, but he said nothing, which was very unlike him. I got nervous. I never would have been so insensitive about a person’s creation, but our viciously vague agreement had been wearing thin. He inspected the chair from top to bottom. He held the backrest with both of his hands and lurched the chair forward, sending it reeling, WHOOSH, passing the columns and into the far wall. A tense silence followed. I said that I was sorry. He jerked his coat out of the closet; “I have to get out of here.” He walked towards the door, and I trailed behind him. I passed the chair on the way out and paused. Part of its back was now missing and one of its arms was broken off, yet it sill looked like an electric chair on wheels. What kind of an office would want a chair like that? What was he thinking?
But should I stay in New York, or should I go to Iceland? Where is the warrior in me? Was there ever a warrior in me? Is a Kamikaze pilot a warrior? A warrior goes forward with fear by their side, a warrior goes forward knowing full well that the past will be left in their wake, a warrior goes mindfully. A Kamikaze pilot goes forward on motion, speed and with not much thought, whizzing past those on the left and right of him, skillfully, avoiding confrontations and even opportunities, whereas a warrior might stop and consider the possibilities. But stopping means thinking, and feeling and fuck it, I’m tired. Decided. What the hell, yes, I will go. I will go to Iceland.
It is the morning before I am to leave for Iceland, and I am at Ian’s loft eating breakfast. He is sitting across from me reading ‘The New York Times” while I stare at my oatmeal. The silence in the room is heavier than usual. I am feeling a little feverish this morning, but I think the heat in his loft is up too high. I am wondering if he has any feelings about me going away for New Year’s. I know I do. I want him to want me to stay with him, sort of, I guess. I like him, but I do not love him. I know he feels the same, and yet I want to be wanted by him. At the same time I wouldn’t dare ask, as it is not part of our arrangement. He holds the newspaper in front of his face as he reads. I get up and walk the distance to his refrigerator to get some orange juice.
He reads aloud, “A college in Connecticut is lobbying for a co-ed wrestling team.”
s I pour the juice I think about what it would be like to wrestle with a man. It would be suffocating. I carry the glass and the carton back to the table, careful to avoid our underwear and stockings strewn about from last nights’ romp. “I don’t think that is very fair,” I say as I take my seat. “I mean men are stronger than women, and what about all of the sexual elements? I think it is very complicated.”
He stares at me and then leans his body as far forward as the table will allow. “Aside from that, imagine losing to a girl?”
I need to pause to think about that. I am feeling dizzy and I am finding it hard to concentrate. He raises his eyebrows at me, expectantly, and I say, “Gee, I never would have thought about it that way.”
I place my head down on the table. In a million years I never would have thought about it that way. I pour myself another glass of O.J and gulp it down.
My throat feels like it is being invaded by a little patch of thistles and the juice is taking to it like Velcro.
I get up to dress, and he follows me. He then leads me to the door, and we part in our perfunctory way.
“I’ll call you,” he says.
“OK great. Happy New Year,” I say as the door to his elevator closes.
“Same to you,” I hear him say. And down I go.
The air outside is cool, but my body is clammy with sweat, and I start to cry. I always cry when I leave his loft. I feel vague and empty, and I am finding it hard to cough and cry at the same time. I zigzag through the streets towards my apartment in the East Village.
I get out of the elevator and hug the corridor walls until I reach my apartment. I take my keys out of my pocket and drop them. I bend down to pick them up and see that there is a note. My neighbor, the cat lady, the 85 year old woman who looks like Mrs. Doubtfire and who is taking care of my two cats while I am away, has left me a note telling me that she wants me to knock on her door when I arrive back in New York. I wish I could give her, instead of my family, the oddball Ginger Bread House that I made. I don’t know what kind of gift I will find for her in Iceland. Icicles?
Wait, why am I going to Iceland? My cough has turned into a hack and I am sooooo exhausted. I need to pack. I throw some clothes into a suitcase and stuff a large tube of Depakote and toiletries into my handbag. I sit down on the cool bathroom tiles with my back on the cool porcelain bathtub. I am hot, I am cold, and I need to catch my breath.
I carry my suitcase and Gingerbread House through the crowds of travelers and Santa Claus look a-likes in Grand Central Station. It smells like greasy popcorn, pizza, and doughnuts mixed in with coffee, pretzels and hot dogs. It occurs to me that I might be hungry, but maybe not. I don’t remember if I have eaten today.
There is a black limousine waiting for me – for us – at the top of our driveway. I am finally going. I am getting away. Away from the kitchen, away from Ian, away from being the person I don’t like in New York. When I come back, I’ll be different. I can talk about my exotic trip to Iceland to future boyfriends at future cocktail parties; but a limousine? Is this really necessary? But why ask why? Banal questions like those are not applicable when it comes to how my family does things. I know better. The trick is to ease into the discordant rhythm that they so effortlessly compose, as if I am an onlooker. I curl up like a gumball in the back seat and stare at the shiny doorknob.
My father and my brother Aiden are sitting across from me. My mother and Thomas sit alongside me. We all sit looking at each other and an intense awkwardness permeates the air. I look at my father and see him not as the handsome, angular man that I know him to be. My fatigue and fever have elongated him. He looks like a hatpin! His legs and feet are long and pointy while his body and head are stretched out and globular. I am just very tired. I blink my eyes and wait to see what will come next. Thomas takes out a bottle of whiskey from a hidden panel in the car’s door. My father pulls out a glass from another panel. It is a party!
I take my seat on the plane next to Thomas. My mother and father sit on the row across the aisle, to the left of me. The stewardess comes by and asks for my order and I pause to think about it. I think about the disruption that the time change to Iceland is going to cause with my eating patterns. By the time we arrive in Iceland I will have eaten dinner, breakfast, and a snack all within a six hour time period. I begin to calculate. I don’t need to calculate like this when I am in New York, but now that I am with my family, it feels like a knee jerk reaction. I become a very different person when I am around them and it scares me. If I skip the dinner and eat the breakfast, then I’ll be back on track.
I look up at the stewardess’s expectant face. “Nothing thanks.” I’ll wait until breakfast, I think.
Thomas ribs me with his elbow. “Get it. I’ll eat it.”
Ow, I think. “Chicken.” I say. “I’ll have the chicken.”
I put my head against the backrest and think about what a mistake it was for me to have come on this trip. I am feeling very anxious around my family. I don’t go to see them often, but every time I do, I think everything will be different. I hope for that and there hasn’t been a time in my life when that has actually happened –what was I thinking? I feel like I am going backwards. I should have stayed in New York as my therapist, not M.D, the one who gave me the pills doctor, but the Ph.D., therapist, Doctor W. suggested.
Thomas brings his face close to mine to rant about his ex-wife. His face is getting redder as his bitterness rises. I tell him to shush. People are glancing at us, murmuring at us behind our backs. I hate him for that. Doesn’t he know how to act in the world? I want to tell him to just shut the fuck up.
Instead, I turn to him and speak softly. “Look, let’s make a pact ok?”
“What kind of pact?” he says suspiciously.
“Let’s make a deal while we’re in Iceland. If you don’t have anything positive to say to me, than you can’t talk to me, ok?” Surprisingly, he agrees. I put my head down on my meal tray and close my eyes. My seat is unforgivably rigid and I think about Ian and the chair that he designed.
I wake up and reach my hand across to the aisle and grip my mother’s arm. “They’re going to blow up the White House,” I tell her in a panic. Her eyes feast on me. She sits back in awe. She turns to my father and tells him that I am an oracle and that we will be reading about it in the papers.
Her response depresses me as I realize that I can expect nothing from her. I must pretend that my fever is not bothering me. When I am with my family it is very important not to show excessive feelings of any kind, sickness in particular. I have forgotten. Sickness is considered a weakness, and if you display emotions you are considered crazy. Both have been catalysts of my father’s complete disapproval – rather, disregard – towards me, but not just me, anyone that isn’t his patient. It is not that he doesn’t care, because I think deep down he might, it’s just that that’s the way he is, like it or not. I am not sure if I like it or not, but its all that I know. Mostly, the most important thing to do when I am feeling freaked out or out of control is that I must hold on tight and persevere. If there were an award given for “After all, I did agree to come on this trip.” I’m not an infant, I’m an adult and lets face it, there is no turning back. I am at the point of no return.
The inside of the Iceland airport is paneled with blonde wood and the tan carpeting is unusually clean. We move briskly through the crowds of people to find the bus that will take us to our hotel. When we get off the bus I notice that the sky has brightened up to a hopeful blue gray. The driver of the bus tells me that this is their ‘daylight’ and that ‘sunset’ will be at four in the afternoon. I am beginning to hate Iceland. There is no concept of time here. I associate darkness with night; everyone does; yet it doesn’t seem to bother anyone here at all. Who would choose to live in a place where light is withheld? I need a sense of time as it relates to the light to hold me in place, determine my next move, and to dictate my meals and my moods. I am sluggish and dizzy. I tell myself that after I have slept everything will be better. Soon I will be back in New York and everything will be back in order. I just have to keep a tight grip and try to perk up. We pick up our suitcases and enter our hotel.
My mother and I are going to share room number sixteen. When our family travels this is usually the arrangement. The boys stay with the boys, and the girls stay with the girls. The concierge tells us that our room will overlook the parking lot and that the boys’ room will overlook the pool and the woods. That hardly seems fair, but I’ve lost my voice. I have gone backwards in time when it comes to speaking up. I am an adult yet I feel like I am a child again. I can’t say anything about anything. I feel like a car battery that is losing its charge, and slowly but surely my lights are dimming.
As we walk up the stairs, my father tells us that he will knock on our door after he has rested, and then we will go and do something or other, I hear him but barely. I realize that I must relinquish my voice in order to accommodate this group, and also not disappear entirely from their sight and sound. I had forgotten that oppressive familial arrangement that I had agreed to a long time ago, but had since grown out of, but while I am with them it is if time has taken me back to the old days, the days where my family is in charge of me and not the other way around. But what am I to do? I am sick with some sort of flu probably, my thinking is off, my head is hot, I have no allies, and I’m not on familiar turf. I must follow the herd because I don’t feel strong enough to go out on my own. I don’t feel strong enough to challenge the herd mentality – a combination of both.
Our room is small and dark with just enough room for two narrow beds, a night table, and a dresser. I drop my suitcase at the bottom of the bed by the window, get under the covers, ski jacket still zippered up, and close my eyes.
Hours, minutes, days later, it is impossible to tell, I feel my body being shaken. Someone’s hand is shoving my shoulder.
“Get up. Get up.” I open my eyes. It is Thomas. Bitter Thomas.
“Gross,” he says as he backs away from me. I am drenched in sweat. But didn’t he and I make a pact?
My father comes into the room and peers over at me. I am ruining his trip by this ‘sick’ business. He is eager to go out and see the sights. He asks my mother to ask me if I am going to come out, and yes I desperately want to please him by being enthusiastic, but my mind is so blurry and I am soooo tired. No, I say, as regretfully as I can. I tell them to go and that I will join them later. I need to sleep. My mother looks at my father. I know that look. She looks at him to see what it is she should think, feel, and do. On her own my mother is smart and funny and competent, but when she is with my father something happens to her. She loses herself and instead waits for him to determine her next step. She is so dependent upon that from him that I sense she might be lost without him and his look. Go, I’ll be fine. I say. I just need to sleep.
My mother gets the “ok” nod from my father, and she tells me that she will bring me back something to eat.
They close the door and I am blissfully alone. I can feel my thoughts when I am alone. I wonder why my father didn’t give me an aspirin or treat me like a patient. I wonder why he doesn’t take care of me the way that I’ve seen fathers in the movies take care of their children. Besides that, he is a doctor. My father is a medical doctor, an obstetrician, he specializes in women, I am a woman, and I am special, I am his special daughter, we go way back with our special relationship and besides all of that, I need to get better.
I reach into my suitcase and take out my tube of pink pellets and spill them out onto the bed. I need to get better fast. I rinse my hands through the pile and it occurs to me that three times the amount of what I normally take is going to make me feel that much better, that much faster. I’m sure that my therapist, the fabulous Dr. W. would not agree with this thinking, but he is not here with me now. I am with my family now. I plop the pills in my mouth and down they go.
Hours later, I suppose, have passed. My mother, my father, Thomas and Aiden clamor their way into my room. For some reason, Aiden feels the need to touch everything in my room, while he speaks about his day riding snowmobiles in the mountains and sitting in hot springs. I sit in my bed and watch him laugh as he describes the funny faces, the odd looking bodies of the people they saw in the hot springs. His face is angular and his smile is jubilant. My mother brings me a container of pea soup and a tuna fish sandwich. She places it on the night table by the bed. The pea soup is beyond hot, so I put it aside. My father takes a bite of my sandwich and then passes it to me. I look at him and I wonder why he needs to eat my food. I have forgotten that awful habit of his. I put the sandwich to my nose and it stinks like fish, I put it down on the table. I can’t remember when I have eaten last. I try to think if I am hungry. I know that I am boiling hot, but I can’t think if I am hungry or not. I can’t feel what I am feeling with them staring at me like that.
I see my mother biting her cuticles as she sits next to my father at the end of my bed. She does this when she is conflicted. I wish she would stop doing that so that she could take my side and not his. She looks haunted with worry as she looks from me to him. They both watch me as I cough. I stick my face in the pillow so I do not make so much noise. I stare at the dark wood paneling and wish they would leave already. I think about my mother and I wonder what did I do to her that she sides with my father and not me? What did I do to make her hate me so much? She and I both know that if my father doesn’t get his way, then he will go his own way and she, like me, doesn’t want him to go that way. She’s with him, and not with me, and if he goes, there is no her, so she stays for him and waits for him to make her a her again, while I pretend that I am not theirs, as they are both not mine. My thoughts are swimming.
The next morning my mother asks me if I want to take a tour of a volcano. I say no, I need to sleep and that I will be fine. I don’t know what I mean when I say this; I just say this so that they will leave me alone. And they do. The door closes and I feel relief as I am finally free to cough as loudly as I want. I sit in the dark and wait. I hear a key turning the lock in the door. I ask who is there and they enter before answering. “Maid Service.” A short woman, wearing a black and white outfit, steps in. She hesitates a moment before stepping too far in. I know she knows that I smell sick by the careful look in her eyes. I also know that she has probably seen this and worse. She asks if she can clean and I don’t know what to say. I can’t reason in my mind how it is that I should answer her. I’m losing the ability to think.
New Year’s Eve. My mother shows me four classic Icelandic sweaters that she has bought to take home. I like these sweaters a lot, they are soft and warm and tastefully designed, in a sparse sort of way. She hands me the smallest sweater because I am the smallest of her daughters. Things are looking up. I will go out tonight. I have not left my bed since we got here. I have, however, been very diligent about taking my pink pellets. I know that if I continue to take them, they will have a positive effect. I can make it through this trip. I must get myself together and go out on New Year’s. My parents’ have spent a lot of money so far on this trip and I don’t want them to think that I am wasting it by staying in my room coughing. I put the lovely crème anglais and gray sweater on and wait for my father to come knocking on our door to take us away again.
I am in the back seat of a cab that is taking us to the restaurant. I see the back of my mother’s head. I hear her say that after dinner we will go and see houses burning in an open field. Apparently it is a custom in Iceland to burn down a house, a mock house, on New Year’s Eve as a symbol of redemption, or something like that. This sounds weird and surreal to me but at the same time it makes complete sense, considering the weird landscape and the constant darkness.
I look out the window at the steel gray vicious, mountains that are flecked with white patches of snow. The rocks out there are relentlessly gray, cold, and cruel. We pass vast stretches of gravelly land that is pock marked with craters, puddles, and beast-like bramble. Primitive hostility reigns in Iceland like it did when the Vikings first set foot here.
I look at my mother who is looking at my father. The air in this car is stale, and I feel claustrophobic. I roll the window down and a cold rain spatters my face. As I look out into the darkness, I sense that bizarre things are allowed to happen in Iceland. They are allowed to happen because the meaning of ‘rules’ and natural order as I know them have a meaning all their own here. If anything disturbing or perverse were to happen here, no one would blink an eye. What kind of a person would want to share this dark world with their family? I look at my father, and I feel profoundly scared.
The revolving restaurant is on the top floor –the forty-first floor – of the tallest building in Iceland. My mother, father, Thomas, and Aiden are being escorted to a table. I veer away from them and the next thing I know is that I am writhing in pain on the floor of an empty ballroom. The carpeting is burgundy red. I don’t know how long I have been here and I don’t know what is going to happen to me.
Aiden finds me there. I tell him I am tired. He helps me up and guides me to the stairs. He is bringing me back up to the table where my parents are sitting. I don’t expect anything from him in terms of getting me out of Iceland and away from my father. He is trapped here just like me. And when he is around my mother and father, he cannot think for himself. We are all like this.
I stumble up the stairs and rest my head down on the carpeting mid-way up. I’m sure the waiters that are passing me think that I am drunk. I can hear music, laughter, and glasses clinking. I can smell a rich meat gravy, musk perfume, and red wine. I want to be a part of the party. I stumble on over to their table.
My mother asks me where I have been, but before I can explain to her a photographer comes over to us and takes our picture.
The flash blinds me and I think that I am hungry. I go to the buffet line for food and take a plate. I stand there and do not know what to do next. The process of getting food here is too complicated. I look around me and I feel as if people are laughing at me. My knees are weak and I need to leave here. I will have to miss the burning house. I go back to our table and apologize for not being able to stay.
My mother looks at my father. My father says fine and gives me a handful of money. I ride the elevator down, alone, and pick up my coat. The man at the coat check hails me a cab.
I have no idea where I am going. I hand the driver my hotel key with the name and address on it. I look out the window and think that my destiny is in his hands. If he wants to, he can take me and do to me whatever it is that he wants to; no one would ever know.
My parents are back at the party having the time that they feel they deserve they should be having. If anything did happen, they will hear about it when they were done. Absurd crazy. Everything is turning fucking absurd crazy. I find some solace when I think about how normal life will become once I am back in New York; that seems for sure. We are leaving the next day; until then I will continue to take my pills and wait it out.
The tan carpeting at the airport is absolutely perfect for lying on. I have been spending a lot of time lying down on floors while in Iceland so I feel qualified in expressing my assessment. I am on lying on line to board the plane that will take me back to New York! I have been drifting in and out of coherency, but at the moment I am sure that I am feeling positive about getting back to light and normalcy. I have been held hostage here too long. I hear a man ask if I am healthy enough to fly. I scream at him, “I am hungry,” and we are put on the handicapped line and are among the first to board.
I do not remember how we got back to Cold Springs. A plane I guess. But time and the flight has blacked out of my memory, and now we are pulling up the long driveway to my parents’ house on Cold Spring Road.
We’re back! I made it back! Finally things will be normal again. I get out of the car and I tell myself that soon this fucking nightmare will end. I promise myself that I will forget everything that happened in Iceland. I will just chalk it up to another crazy incident, particular to being around my family. I will remind myself of Iceland the next time I think about spending time with my family. The chances are good that I will never see them again.
I walk into their house and it is as cold as a tomb. My mother and father are sitting on stools in the kitchen. Thomas and Aiden have gone to their rooms. I believe my other sibling is in this house as well. It is very hard to keep track of who is living there at any one time. It wouldn’t make any difference to me though, because, as it is, people are not people anymore. I am surrounded by impressions of people. The people in my family must be impressions, because they are completely unbelievable in the way that they have acted.
I am standing in the doorway of our kitchen and I tell them to take me to the train. I want to go back to my apartment. My father says no. My mother agrees. She says that I must wait until I am better. But when? How?
My father puts his elbow on the counter top as though he is bored. He takes a piece of the now demolished oddball Ginger Bread House and eats it.
I have given up on time. I have no concept of when things are supposed to happen anymore. Life feels like a random event that may or may not be taken away from me. I just don’t know when, or if, this torture will end.
I am hot, I am cold, and I am furious that they won’t let me go. But what am I to do? My cylinder of Depakote is nearly gone, and when that is gone, then Dr. W., the good doctor who gave them to me will be gone as well. His pills have kept me company and are reminders that there is someone on the outside, someone that I know, and who knows me. I need to keep taking the pills, because I know that he wants me to get better. I have a wild longing to tell him something. I pick up a pad and a pen from Jonathan’s desk and crawl back onto the bed.
My hands are shaking so much that it is hard to hold the pen. I must tell him. I must let him know what is happening, how it is here. I write: emotionally bludgeoned. I write this down so that he will know, just in case I forget, and just in case they never let me go. Butch pokes his snout on the mattress. He wants his bed back. I kick his black and white snout away – once, twice, three times. For as long as I am alive in this house, this is my bed, not yours. I am a human being! I look out the window into the leafless, gray scraggly trees, and I think: this is Hell. I am in Hell, this is hell.
There is a flurry of activity this morning. I am going to the supermarket. My mother feels that if I am surrounded by a large selection of foods, then perhaps I will eat something. She is dead wrong. Her lame trickery is pathetic, but I will go anyway to appease her. I am trying to push the cart down food aisle number six; Canned Goods. The florescent lights and the colors on the cans seem disturbingly loud. They cause me to trip over my feet. My mother drops cans of soup into my cart as I try to push the cart forward. She looks down at my feet. She frowns and she looks around her to see if anyone else is watching. I look down at my feet, and I see that I am wearing my father’s sneakers. I don’t know why she is so shocked. What did she expect me to do? With the way that she rushed me out of the house, I didn’t have time to find my own shoes.
I am back in bed. I am hot, I am cold, and I am furious that they won’t let me leave. I am scared to leave the bed. I am refusing to drink liquids for the very practical reason that it makes me have to go to the bathroom. Going to the bathroom is no simple task as there is the stairwell to contend with. I am so delirious at times and so unable to keep my balance that one false move on the way to the bathroom will send me to the bottom of the stairwell. I found this out last night. As I navigated my way to the bathroom I skirted around the stairs but then, I couldn’t find my way back to my bed and ended up sitting in the hallway talking to the pictures on the wall until the sun came up.
I am a wandering spectacle in this house. My hands are shaking, I am having trouble breathing, my speech is slurring, I can’t walk straight AND they still do not know what to do with me! It is as if a bomb has gone off and EVERYONE has gone into his or her very own bomb shelter, waiting for the air to clear. Waiting for my father to decide when the air is clear. The only other thing that is clear to me is the feeling that I am under siege from five sides: my parents, my siblings, my flu, my self, and those pills. Yes, even the pills from the good Doctor W. have turned toxic. I was able to endure my family in Iceland because I knew it was a finite amount of time. But now that I am here, and there is no escape I must devise a plan to kill the very thing that is causing this conflict: me.
I tell my plan to the Edward Hopper poster of a lighthouse that is on the wall in Jonathan’s room. My plan is to make another pact with Aiden, he will get me a gun – he will get me a gun. Somehow, I think he must know someone who could get one for him. And in return I will get something for him. I don’t know what, but by then, it will be irrelevant. After I get the gun, I will sneak out down the back staircase and I will go to Goose Harbor to see the sunset. If I am going to kill myself, I want it to be in a beautiful serene place. I want to see a baby blue sky, streaked with coral and gray, as I step into the water. I want to put my head in the water, and then I want to pull the trigger. The gun is not enough. I need the water for a guaranteed final amnesia. The sky will blow a fuse and go black. The wind will then pick me up for six dazzling seconds. I will dance in the nimbus clouds for a variation or two, before dropping downstream in a stream of freezing cold water, butt naked. Schools of fish will brush against my white thighs and long strands of green grass will stroke my bottom as I ricochet against the narrow and curvy banks. I will spread my fingers and let the plants ripple through them. As I tell my plan to the poster I can hear two voices. I can hear my own and then I can hear my other voice arguing with the first voice. I am seeing my two faces in the water now. I am trying desperately to pin my thoughts down. I do not believe, actually, that my cats understand.
I have my Icelandic sweater on and my mother is helping me put on my white ski jacket. I have worn this sweater now for as far back as I can remember. I love it so much that I want to be wearing it when I die. Patricia, my sister, the oldest of us all, watches me as I put on my boots. I tell her that they are magic boots because I bought them in New Hampshire with my boyfriend. My sister looks at my mother like I’m crazy. My mother and my sister lead me to the front door. Our house is very large, ill maintained, and stands behind a crop of oak trees at the top of the driveway. The door to our house creaks open, we step outside onto our porch, and the door closes behind us. Our muffled voices disturb the calm that has permeated the world outside. A blackbird gives up its post as if on “Lookout” and flies away. As we walk past our cars, of which there are many, an occasional gush of wind awkwardly swirls the premature snowflakes into a mild upheaval.
The air feels cold against my face. There is a light dusting of snow falling from the gray January sky. Yes, it is January. It is a New Year and so far, I have to say, this year has not gotten off to a very good start. I lean against my sister’s arm and wonder where my red mittens are, and why don’t I have a hat? My mother holds my other arm, and we walk down the driveway. I pull away from them and they pull me back. We continue this reactive dance half way down the driveway.
Butch barks and races ahead of us. Gray and white nimbus clouds blanket the Long Island sky like a dirty down comforter. Cold and clammy moisture impregnates the air. The type of moisture that creates a loud silence that says, I’m gonna fall on you, any second now, I’m gonna drop rain, hale, confetti, whatever, and with that, random flecks of snow are ushered down by a chilly breeze.
Cold Springs Road is as quiet as it usually is mid-week at that time of day. A black bird hops from branch to drooping branch. Its mate steadies itself on a telephone wire that runs parallel to the road. A car revs its motor somewhere in the faraway distance. Its roar jerks through octaves as it shifts gears, before settling on one which has a sound that lingers vaguely past the horse farm down the road.
Heavier, wetter flakes of snow make their debut to an impassive wildlife audience. The new snow’s presence dulls the sounds of the reactive wildlife and replaces it with an expectant silence. A silence that says: just you wait.
I am hatless and wearing a half-zipped white ski jacket. My mother is on my right and Patricia is on my left. Butch, our black and white mutt, the fastest newspaper delivery dog in the neighborhood, weaves himself in and around us. Why aren’t I wearing my mittens? What happened to my mittens, where is my hat?
My ears and head sting with cold, and those questions would have been the right questions to ask if I were well enough to be thinking. As I pull away from them, they pull me back. We continue this reactive dance until the middle of the driveway. It is right about there that they gave up the fight and let me go. I jerk my hands away from them and stumble forward, kicking up gravel as I go. I hear my sister ask my mother what should be done with me. I turn back and look at my mother. I see her put her hands up in the air. I hear her tell my sister that I just need some fresh air. The dog stops dead in his tracks to sniff a puddle. He looks back at us before he greedily laps up the brackish water. The squirrel runs frantically up the tree, and I stumble and zigzag ahead of them, kicking up the gravel as I step. Butch stops dead in his tracks to sniff a puddle. He momentarily and greedily laps the water, and then yelps, as a true leader should. Occasionally, and with his snout held high, he looks back at his posse of people. Onward! He seems to be saying.
I stumble along the white line of Cold Spring Road. I look back at my mother and sister before I lay on my back by the side of the road. They stand a few yards away and watch me from over there, occasionally referring to one another (to discuss me). My mother looks distractedly around her, while my sister fervently clutches her shoulders and shuffles her feet in place to keep warm. A shiny black BMW drives by. I writhe and scream to my sister and mother, tell them to stop looking at me. My mother and sister huddle closer together and act as if they are not involved with me. Me – that girl on the side on the road, who is coughing, writhing, and screaming. I am in Hell. This is hell.
I slide my hands up and down my legs, in and out against the ground, leaving little bell curves in the snow. Snow slips up my sleeves and pants, chilling the skin on my wrists and ankles. I am hot, I am cold, and I am furious to be made a spectacle of. I’m dying; the least they can do is to let me go fast and furiously. That is, after all, our tacit agreement.
And really, hadn’t we, as a family reached the crest of craziness during the past week, on our vacation to Iceland? Iceland – who but my father would choose the northern hemisphere in the dead of winter to have to some fun? What was he thinking? What was I thinking when I agreed to go? Oh well, too late now.
When you come from a family of boys, losing one, a girl and a relatively slender one, is as Darwin predicted. What was one small human worth when there were others at home with brains in their heads to figure out that no one was going to save them?
My mother walks me up the stairs of the brownstone to Dr. W’s office. She takes my coat off and we sit in his waiting room. The door to his office opens – his swift and penetrating eyes assesses our situation as he ushers us in. I sit on the couch and my mother sits across from me in a chair. It is odd to have her in this room with me. Usually it is just Dr. W. and myself – it feels like it is us against her. Finally things are getting balanced. My mother is like the uninvited guest. I instinctively want to do my best to further her discomfort. Dr. W. asks my mother if she notices that I am sick, and she says yes. He asks her if she notices that my speech is slurry and she says yes. I can’t wait to tell him about my plan. I look at the very varied pictures that cover the wall and the brickface fireplace. His pictures are full of pain. It is a very painful office. The picture frames have headaches and I want to leave this room. But no, I love Dr. W. – even if his questions seem to have come too late. Dr. W. asks my mother to wait in the waiting room. She does as she is told.
Dr. W. and I are alone now. I love sitting here with him, and I am glad that my mother is away – now I can tell him everything. He asks me if I have been taking drugs. I tell him no. He thinks that I am strung out. I am surprised that he would think that of me. Doesn’t he know that I am not the type of person to take drugs – drugs don’t interest me, maybe he doesn’t know me as well as I thought he did, how many more millions of hours would we have to spend talking together before he would know that about me? I begin to tell him about my plan with the gun and the water. What the hell – it’s my plan and it needs to be told. When I am done, he stares at me intensely; he tells me that I must call him every day. I tell him that I will do that. I will call him everyday.
Dr. W. tells my mother to come back in the room and she does. He tells my mother that I need to go to a hospital. I recommend a car service that I have used before, when I used to work as an assistant to an art dealer. They both look at me as if I am crazy. They think I’m crazy. Well, it’s a good thing I’ve got a plan, people with plans aren’t crazy; everybody knows that.
Dr. W. walks me down the stairs and into the street. The black town car is waiting for us across the street. Why is it way over there when we are over here? It’s cold. He walks me to the car and we get in. The car is warm. He tells the driver under no circumstances are you are to stop anywhere but the hospital. I think he tells him that I am very sick. I think that is why the driver is so nice to me and why the car is so warm and the music on his radio is so happy. I feel good being in this car. I can see Dr. W.’s face looking at me in the car window as we drive away. I must remember to call him.
I am in the emergency room of a hospital somewhere in Westchester. There are tubes in my nose and an I.V. in my arm. Doctors and nurses surround me. A nurse tries to pull off my Icelandic sweater and replace it with some kind of gown. I fight with her. I refuse to take it off. If she wants it that badly, she is going to have to cut it. She gives up, the sweater stays with me and the tubes go underneath it. She puts yet another needle in my arm and I fall into a blissful slumber.
I wake up, hours, days later? Who cares-how-long-it-has-been-later, and I am in a warm room with clean sheets and a television.
Dr. Baktidy has come to see me often and I have been taken out to get x-rayed a number of times. My mother has gotten me a toothbrush and a tube of toothpaste. I think about what I wrote to Dr. W. when I was at home. I wonder if my parent’s found it and if they are going to hide it, the evidence.
I try and smile at my mother as she enters my room. My father walks in after her. It is lunchtime and a dietician stands behind them with my food tray. My bedside table is like a little bodega, from all the cans of Ensure that I have let pile up. My parents sit in chairs by the side of my bed. I lift the silver cover off of my lunch tray – sliced turkey, gravy and mashed potatoes. My father asks me how it is. I say it looks fine. I stick a fork in the meat and take a bite. It’s fine. My father reaches into the tray stand for a spoon and takes a spoonful of my mashed potatoes. He thinks it’s fine too. He takes some more. My mother sits by and looks a little irritated at the two of us.
I sleep about fifteen hours a day. Ah, the cat life. I must call Dr. W. to let him know how I am. I wrote his number on an envelope this morning as a precaution. My thoughts are still not reliable.
Dr. Baktidy comes into my room carrying two x-rays of my lungs. He points to three fuzzy dots lodged in the rib area. He says I had triple pneumonia. What am I, an amphibian? Triple? I say it looks weird. He said that if I had waited any longer, I could have died. I hear this but do not want to believe it, so I disguise it, interpreting it as the doctor just being dramatic. I look at him firmly and try to appear as strong and level headed as possible.
Eventually, I am strong enough to walk, with my I.V, to the pay phones in the lobby and call Dr. W. I choose to go there because I need to talk to him in private. Something fishy went on between my parents, my brothers, and sister, and I, and he is the only person in the whole world who knows. He saw me before and after, so the next time I see him, I am going to have to fill him in on what happened