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Drama Sad

“And,” Clarissa touches my shoulder briefly, “what about you, Zee? What’s kept you busy lately?”

I know what she’s getting at, so I shake my head, pushing a rogue strand of hair behind my ear. I can’t and won’t bond with others unnecessarily because such things come at a price that I can’t afford: persistent night terrors and break-downs. I suppose the universe decided to have the consequences of my father’s crimes added to my plate. As if it wasn’t already packed enough.  

“Nope. No. Not at all. I’m not interested in anyone,” I shake my head too many times.

She rolls her eyes. “Hon, you’re kidding. You’re literally turning thirty next month.”

We’re relaxing in Clarissa’s homey living room, the winter rain tapping rhythmically on the window to our right. Her six-year-old nugget is wrapped in a pastel blue blanket, and with only his face uncovered, he vaguely gives off cocoon vibes.

It’s been four years since I returned home to, solely, see Clarissa. It’s warm here, with her, I mean: my cousin, best friend, and sister in one.

I took a sip from my mug of hot chocolate and exhaled to amplify the taste. 

Feels like a scene straight out of a family movie. Ah, that’s probably why I have an ominous feeling. This is too good to be true.

“Yeah, look at you,” I snorted. “Bags under your eyes and intense hair loss. Your breakfast was a slice of cake, and your lunch is hot chocolate that you heated twice already. That’s only after I got here! You fight on your anniversary, and your birthdays are–“ I noticed her raised brow.

“Sure, why not just write a book about all the faults in my life.”

“But, you’re happy this way, aren’t you?” I pull my legs up and cozied into my armchair. Another sip. Gosh, how much I’ve missed her hot chocolate.

“I won’t be. This,” I paused and looked around for oratorical effect, “is your happiness. Mine? It’s being able to go to bed in a quiet room, eating a nutritious breakfast, going to work, cutting open my patients (don’t tell them that), and saving lives.”

“You go to bed in a fully-lit room, babe. Find someone, and perhaps you’ll be able to turn off the lights for once. Like other people.

“Yeah, and when I get called in for an emergency, it’s a problem for one extra person. I love that my patients can depend on me without wondering if their life is worth disturbing me for.”

“Life isn’t all about your patients.”

I shrug. “No, life is what you make it, and I prefer to make it about my patients.”

She reads me for a few moments just the way I hate it because that face of inspection is always a precursor to statements that are going to unravel my deepest scars. Similarly, I love that that I don’t have to explicitly tell her. Maybe that’s why I still bother seeing Clarissa: I was never an open person, but with her, I didn’t need to be.

“Is it because your patients thank you? Because they somehow validate your existence?”

Bringing the mug to my lips was the easiest way to avoid answering. Clarissa places her drink on the coffee table, and I see that it’s still almost full. She’s going to have to reheat it again at this rate.

“Hon,” she hunches her back and catches my gaze. There’s no escaping. “I show you so much more love than your patients, so why’s it difficult to comprehend that someone out there can genuinely care for you? Just because some jerkwad abandoned you after raping a neighbor, you’re not any less deserving of love. Plus, who’d want a father like that anyway?”

She’s right. I don’t want a criminal on the run for a father, but that doesn’t mean I frequently wonder what life would be like if I didn’t grow up believing everyone had ulterior motives to showing kindness to a rapist’s daughter. My father wasn’t the trigger, he was just part of a greater, more powerful domino effect.

The family members who wanted to be on the good side of the genius teenager that landed a prestigious scholarship to the #1 university in the country. The classmates who wanted the knowledge of a medical student that aced all subjects. The relatives who wanted the money of a renowned surgeon with a high success rate. They were all to blame.

Perhaps even Clarissa has an ax to grind, but I don’t dwell on the thought for the sake of my peaceful nights.  

“What’s the difference between your patients and me?” She urges.  

“They’re… temporary.” Despite the hushed tone, she catches it.  

She always does.

A puff emerges from her, and she releases an exaggerated sigh. “Huh, wha- why- am… Am I temporary?”

“N-no, it’s… Look, I don’t bond, okay? Remember that boy from the café shop?”

“That was 14 years ago!” Blankness on her face. Then, cheekiness settles. “Of course I do. That was the only boy you’ve ever crushed on.”

“Because he saved me from that creepy café cashier. Anywho, it was a simple act of kindness from a stranger, but that… what do you call it, ‘heart-farting moment’ kept me up so many nights. And not in a good way. I just can’t… ‘bond’. Not without it parasitically draining my life.”

Clarissa bursts out into a hysterical fit of laughter. This is why her son has earplugs; because his mother’s noise would wake a bear in hibernation. Poor boy was going to have to get used to this.

“What was up with that woman anyway?” I ask when she tastes her hot chocolate and shoots it a look of disgust. Probably too cold by now. 

Even if she notices how I was eager to change the topic, she plays along. “I know, right? She just –“  A memory flashes through her mind, and she gives looks at me with hesitance and fear.  

I twist myself to look behind. Nothing. “What? What? Are you seeing something I can’t?”

“No… I just remembered…” She forced a grin. “Hon, what did you think of her?” Her voice is shaky.

“The café woman?”

“Yeah…”

“Why?”

“Just… you know.”

“She was freaky as hell.”

I highlighted the incident in my diary and found comfort in rereading a cliff I surmounted. So, I recounted the details accurately, much to Clarissa’s discomfort. Whatever it was the woman was doing, she’d take over the position behind the cashier whenever I came in. Then, when I received my order, she’d stare. And stare. And stare. While I studied, drank, or ate. This once I fell, and the woman appeared right next to me, grabbing me aggressively by the elbow. I was more startled by her presence than my sudden loss of footing!

At one point, that café lost its star as my go-to study spot, and I assumed I’d be free. Apparently not. Occasionally, my danger instincts nagged me, and after some time, I realized I was being watched. Grocery shopping, malls, libraries. Wherever I went! Often, I’d find her hiding behind something or someone, poking her head out and just staring with her white bead-like eyes.

I shuddered. “If the stalker is an old woman with wrinkles, something supernatural always happens to the characters!”

“She wasn’t that old, though…”

“I’m forever grateful to that boy who warded her off and threatened to come after her if she ever bothered me again.”

“Woah, Zee, wait!” She held up her hands. “Back then, you didn’t mention she was threatened!”

“Is that important? She’s a stalker, and she deserved it. Why? What’s wrong with you?”

I could hear her teeth grit, and it must’ve rung in her ears too because she winced at the sound.

“Claire, you’re freaking me out.”

“Hon… My dad… Your uncle.”

“Yes, I know my uncle’s your dad and your dad’s my uncle. What about it?”

She didn’t take my joke calmly, and I decided to cut the crap.

“Sorry, sorry.”

“Do you… ever wonder what happened to your mother?” The last words came out in a rush, and knowing her, if they hadn’t it, she never would’ve gotten them out.

“Why…?” It begins to feel as if my throat has been vacuumed dry.

“Your fath- David, abused her, and she ran away, right?”

“Yes, she left me to take her place.”

That’s a lie I tell myself so I don’t linger on my longing for her. Dad was a monster of a human, but he tried hard to be a good father. He wouldn’t injure a cell in my body even if his life was on the line, but the psychological damage done by his reputation erased all the roses from my memories, leaving behind the thorns.

“Hon… She visited us after word got out that David left town –“

I stood up so fast, the force burned my soles “What? Why didn’t you tell me!”

Oh gosh, the blood rush. The adrenaline. Everything was hitting my head simultaneously, and my body begged me to puke out my organs.

“Because you didn’t want to know,” she says as if it’s an obvious and reasonable answer.

With my quivering bottom lip, I breathed out, “Wha-ha-ha…?”

“I asked you: If your mother returned, will you want to meet her, and –“

“It’s a completely different scenario if you informed me that she actually returned!”

I see that her dark circles have deepened, and her lips had dried. Cracks began to fade in. She was sweating furiously, and I realize this is an honest mistake.

“Dad and I were so worried about your mental health, Zee, and we only wanted to do what would make you happy, so I asked, and that’s what you wanted, so we just… We just… Hon…”

“That’s why you weren’t worried when I confessed to being stalked,” I voiced my thoughts. “Because you know she wouldn’t hurt me. Because she was my mother!”

“I…”

I grab my clutch bag and swing the strap around my shoulder, pulling it down hard enough for it to dig into my skin.

“Hon, wait,” she reaches out but I flinch.

“I need some time alone.”

“Hey –“

“I love you, Clarissa, I do, and I promise this isn’t going to stop me from talking to you. But, I just need some time to myself right now.”

I stomp out and go wherever my legs led me. Past the kitchen, out the door, across the hallway, down the stairs, and into the lobby. I knock into someone, but I don't bother apologizing. I wander for the longest time, my mind fuzzier than it was on my first day as an intern. I only stop when a dog barked at me.

I nod at the corgi through the iron gate. “I don’t like me either, bud.”

My stomach growls, and I check the time. “Ah… It’s past eight. I’m starving. Food, I need food.”

Even as I say that, I head in the direction of the park – opposite to the restaurant – and take a seat on the swing. My legs are too exhausted to rock me, and all I can do is clasp the chains. The smell of rust hits me. I’m not crying, no. I haven’t cried in so long, but my eyes sting and the insides of my nose itch.

“Mom?”

But, there’s no one here. With its three swings, one see-saw, and one merry-go-around, the park is void of any memories of children’s laughter.

The only reply I receive is from myself in the form of the woman – my mom’s images from 14 years ago. How she readily dropped her work and dashed to the cashier to take my order in what must’ve been an attempt to hear my voice. Her stare no longer felt nightmarish. Rather I see now that she might’ve actually gazed me longingly. When I fell that day, she was only by my side to help me, and had she begun to stalk me because she wanted every opportunity to see?

That boy… Oh, gosh.

I remember her face when she was threatened, terror taking root within her eyes and wrinkles. However, she was frightened not for her life but of never seeing me again.

“Mom?” I repeat.

Only a cricket cries.

I must be hallucinating. Crickets don’t chirp in the winter.

“Mom…”

I know by now that no matter how many times I call out to either of my parents, they’ll never appear. So, I lean my head to the left and keep it against the chain. It hurts initially, but I adjust my position accordingly. When I realize that the streetlight isn’t strong enough to illuminate my spot, my need for sleep dissipates.

For the next few hours, my arms tingle, and my heart beats loudly in my ears. My tightly curled fists on my thighs aren’t enough to ease their shaking, and until the sun begins to rise, I’m wide awake. Physically still, but mentally chaotic, I repeatedly relive the handful of memories I shared with my mother.

Once the sun begins to kiss my face, I fall into a deep slumber. Darkness leaves my side, and loneliness keeps me company.  

October 02, 2020 17:02

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2 comments

Barbara Eustace
14:02 Oct 19, 2020

How sad. I hope she found her mom eventually

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Em P.W.
07:52 Oct 20, 2020

Thanks for reading! I was tempted to go in that direction but decided that territory was best left untouched.

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