This was my first time at Chris’s house and he wasn’t expecting me. I stepped up the white, marble steps to the large wooden-slatted front door with the rounded edge at the top. It fit perfectly into the white walls of his stone mansion on the beach. This afternoon was one of those dreamy October days. The air was finally turning a little cooler, blowing inland a little stronger. I could smell the ocean with the strong breeze, even taste it, and it reminded me of last year when Chris and I were briefly, fleetingly- happy. Now I was a little nervous…not sure how he was going to react to seeing me after I had basically hidden from him for the past few months. I always had Aunt Luna collect Zoe from his new house just down the road. But today I wanted to do it. I was strong enough, happy enough and finally, curious enough.
The front yard on both sides of the path, was covered with vines of black-eyed-susans, twisting over the sparse, tough grass and patches of sandy soil. The little pops of sun-yellow were so beautiful. It was as if Chris planted them there on purpose, to make my heart ache for this place. I took a deep breath, I could do this. I lifted up the large black-iron knocker and wrapped it three times on the door. A gentle breeze wafted through my hair and I pulled a strand from my salty lips and waited.
The door flew open and Dave’s eyes widened. “Oh! Odette…really…really?”
He looked back at the couch where Chris was sitting next to “Disney” and she was laughing, but stopped when she saw me. I felt my stomache tense up and instantly regretted coming here. This was why I never came here, didn’t want to see another girl here.
She announced loudly, “Well, I think I’m going to head out now.” Dave stepped away from me so that Chris could see who was at the door. His face changed, to complete shock and I didn’t know weather to feel pleased or insulted. Then he quickly recovered, nodded impatiently at “Disney”, practically pushed her up off the couch as she stood up and smoothed her teeny-tiny skirt on her long tanned legs. She slowly picked her enormous, shiny gold purse off the floor and whisked over to me. She gave me one of those smiles where you aren’t sure if she is smirking or not. I looked closesly, wow, she had on false eyelashes, who does that when they are not getting married or having a photo shoot? Then she breezed by, bumping my arm a little with her shimmering bag. I turned to watch her go. She clumped down the path in her heels, her bag glimmered in the sunlight and she strode carefully down the weathered rocky road to her tiny Prius. I could see from where I was standing that she had her initials printed on the headrest of the drivers seat in large swirling letters.
I turned back to Chris and he was staring at me from he seat on the couch, seemingly at a loss for words. Perhaps I should have called to warn him I would be picking Zoe up in the flesh. “Um, hi” I waved unenthusiastically.
“Hi” he said, frowning a little.
I stepped in the door and looked around. This was supposed to be my house too. In fact he bought this for me. I was a little inwardly shocked at my previous ungratefulness. I never even told him thank you, just ran off and well, never mind all that now. I bit my nail for a minute while Dave gently closed the door, glanced at me incredulously, then went off down a hallway shaking his head. He always managed to embarrass me with his outward, obvious disgust at my existence.
Chris finally grinned at me and I exhaled. He looked so cute sitting there with his khaki pants and light-blue short-sleeved button down tucked out. He had his ankle propped up over his other knee with a tan-fabric flip-flop dangling from his toe. Even his toenails were perfect. His hair was very short instead of the usual wind-blown floppy mess in his eyes. I liked it and he was clean-shaven. It was almost as if he knew I was coming. Then I suddenly realized he was probably so well groomed for “Disney”, ugh, he couldn’t possible be serious about her, I knew him better than that. He leaned back so comfortable on his new white couch…not a stain on it. I didn’t even know how it felt to sit on it yet. I just wanted to go and fall into his arms and have a glass of wine and watch Netflix with him while Zoe looked at her books. But that wasn’t happening today, or ever. “Where’s Zoe?” I said.
“She’s playing on her iPad in her room” he said.
“Her own room? You got her an iPad?”
“Yeah, want to see her room?” He smiled with a flicker of pride. I was suddenly very curious.
I followed him towards an archway over a wide white hallway. All the white in this house was ridiculous. It was like a magazine spread where you wonder as you turn the pages, how they actually keep the place clean. He pushed open a cracked door and there was Zoe sitting on a Queen-sized bed with a lovely pink and yellow quilt covered with dancing fairies…definitely Pottery Barn Kids, I thought. The headboard was white and had her initials etched in curly pink. I wondered if “Disney” had anything to do with that and I shivered to think of it. “It’s a beautiful room” I managed.
Zoe didn’t look up from the iPad. “What is she watching?”
He went over to the bed, peered over her shoulder and said, “My Little Pony”.
Then Zoe giggled. “Did you see that!’ I cried out.
He nodded at me. “She always laughs at this show.”
“Really? I tried to think of the last time I had seen her laugh. Probably with Chris and me at Luna’s house, ages and ages ago. But I didn’t know cartoons made her laugh. But then, I didn’t let her watch TV. “I guess the shells on the beach aren’t quite as funny as My Little Pony,” I said quietly. “I haven’t seen her laugh in a very long time.” I felt myself get a little teary and wiped my eyes quickly with the back of my hand. Chris smiled and looked at his shoes.
“I guess we don’t have to leave right away.” I said. “I could let her watch this”. Then I thought maybe I shouldn’t have said that because now I was going to have to stay too.
“I could show you the rest of the house?” he said.
I nodded then followed him out and down the hallway further. He pushed open a large oak door and we stood there and looked at his bedroom. A wave of awkwardness swept across us both. There was his big bed, a wooden four-poster bed with a huge white duvet strewn across. “I got that duvet because I thought you would like it” he said. Then he laughed bitterly and shook his head and started to walk away down the hallway. I stayed in the doorway and looked in again at the beautiful room and felt an awful pang in my chest. The dressers were made of the same wood as the bed. There was a makeup desk there with a mirror etched in flowers around the edges, and I knew that couldn’t have been for him. Was it all meant for me? It looked like it was decorated for a couple, but there was no makeup on the desk, just his clothes strewn on the chair. It looked like a girl was missing and it got hard to breathe again. Also, everything was weirdly clean and tidy except for the two shirts draped over the chair and a towel (white of course) on the floor near the door that lead to the master bath. I looked up to see Chris standing at the end of the hallway staring at me. “So, do you have a maid or something?” I called down to him.
He nodded and l went to go and join him. “Does she live here?”
“No, but she comes every morning.”
“Everything is so…white”
He said. “You like that though right? I mean, you always wear white clothes.”
I thought about it. I guessed I did wear my long white cotton skirt on the beach a lot. And my big comfy cable-knit sweater was white. But that was about it. I thought maybe it was time to get some new clothes.
I followed him to the dream kitchen, and stopped to take it all in. I was in awe. I couldn’t have decorated it better myself. It had all the appliances I had ever wanted. I smoothed my hand over the Vitamix blender. “Imagine,” I said, “smoothies without seeds in them.”
“I never use it” he said.
I eyed the silver Kitchen-aid and the enormous fridge with what looked like a computer on the outside of it. “If that computer breaks your whole fridge is useless,” I mumbled.
We found our way back to the living room and sat down awkwardly on his couch.
“So, how have you been?” he asked weirdly-politely.
“Fine” I answered with the same emptiness. I waited for him to say something real.
“Luna said you are pretty much, um, all better now.”
I nodded and smoothed my hair behind my ear. It was a bit embarrassing. “I make better choices now that I’m not desperate to find some kind of self-healing. “
I glanced up to see his expression and he looked really stressed out. He looked over at me then shook his head and clasped his hands. “Don’t look at me like that,” he said.
He looked back over at me. “Like how you do!” He rubbed his hands together. “It’s your eyes” he said then looked down at his clasped hands between his knees. “They are so…you. So brown. So beautiful. I can’t take it having you sit next to me. All you have to do, Odette, is sit down next to me. And it messes me up all over again.”
“I’m glad you are still comfortable enough with me to tell me something like that.”
“I don’t know if comfortable is the right word. I just can’t not tell you that.”
I bit my lip and thought maybe I would explain what went wrong if I could. It sounded like he was being open enough to talk about real stuff. “Chris, Remember when I was in labor with Zoe?”
He nodded, “Of course.” He smiled a little, but still looked stressed.
“Well, the contractions were pretty much like torture, especially when we were at 7 centimeters. Do you remember that?”
“But between each contraction was a rest…a break from the pain.”
He nodded and pursed his lips.
I took a breath and went on. “But with this anxiety business, when it got really bad, there was no break from the pain. It was endless consistent agony. Every second of every moment I was trying to figure out ways to cope, to get out of my own skin…to stop feeling like I was constantly pursued by something frightening when there was nothing there.” I sighed. I didn’t feel like that anymore. I just had peace in my heart now and I didn’t want to somehow bring it back by talking about it about it too much. I tried to think of a way to make him see how things were different now because everything felt different.
I looked right at his eyes and said, “Running away from you was the worst mistake of my life. And now I need to tell you that I am sorry. I was desperate to change what was happening to me then, anything to stop the pain. The physical pain is real, even though no one can see it.” I looked at my fingers, ashamed at how explaining anxiety always sounded like I was making dumb excuses for myself being some awful, flakey girl rather than someone with a sickness that needed to be treated. The only people who could ever truly understand were people who suffered from it.
He nodded. “I’m really sorry you went through that stuff, Odette. I wish you would have let me help you.”
I shook my head. “For some reason you were the last person who could have helped me. Because you were the closest person to me, I thought it was your fault I was anxious. I thought maybe you were making me that way and that I needed to replace you somehow in my heart. I know it is crazy but I understand it all now after talking to Dr. Lotus.” I shrugged. ” You weren’t the problem, Chris. I was.”
“No shit, Odette, and I can’t get past the fact that you sought out HIM again and again and again when you were sick, well, or whenever the hell you felt like it. I can’t believe I’m even talking about it with you. I’m so done with all of this.” He slapped his hands on his knees and looked around him like he wanted to escape.
We sat there quietly for a couple of strained minutes while he rocked back and forth a little, periodically shaking his head in disgust or anguish, I wasn’t sure which. I could faintly hear ‘My Little Pony’ down the hallway and the three of us seemed so far away from each other.
Chris leaned forward and put his head in his hands with his elbows resting on his knees. “I just fucking WISH that you would have let me help you when you were sick. Then we would probably still be together.”
I bit my lip, the prospect of that was agonizing. “There was nothing anyone could do for me then except for Doctor Lotus. I never stopped loving you and I made some really stupid choices that messed up my life and I don’t know how many times I can say I am sorry or how to win back your trust.”
“Me neither” he whispered. Then he sat up and looked at me. “Are you back on the Zoloft?”
“No. Some different stuff without all the side effects. It is called Inositol. It is some kind of vitamin or something I think. Some kind of a sugar. It really helps me more than anything else ever has.”
“That’s cool. Do you want a drink or something?” he said. Our whole 10 years together he had never really liked talking about my crazy meds.
He got up and disappeared for a a couple of minutes. I looked around at the guitars hanging on the living room walls. Was that mine? Yep. There was the guitar he got me for my birthday a few years ago. I didn’t even realize it was gone. Then he came back with orange juice. “Freshly squeezed, just how you like it” he smiled, handing it to me.
I sipped at it, it was delicious. “mmm” I said and drank a little more.
I looked over the glass rim at him and he was once again looking at me with an intensity that was a little unnerviing. “I miss you, Odette. God, I miss you and us.”
I felt myself tearing up a bit. “I miss you too,” I said at my orange juice. I also missed freshly-squeezed orange juice, and Chris making it for me. My hands were cold and sweaty on the glass.
He sad down next to me again and rubbed his knees. “Well, I wish everything had turned out differently” he said loudly.
I said nothing and drank my juice, wondering if it would taste a little salty now. There was no coffee table so I put it down on the floor by my feet.
“But the trust is gone.”
“I know. Don’t worry you’ve made that perfectly clear” I didn’t need him to tell me that over and over.
Suddenly he stood up and started to pace back and forth in front of the couch. Then he just picked up my glass, orange juice and all, and hurled it into the fireplace so that it smashed loudly and the orange juice splashed out onto the floor. I reflexively jumped back on the couch pulling my knees up to my chest and covered my mouth with my hands. I had never seen Chris break anything before ever. I looked over at the door.
“What are you doing?!” I shouted at him.
He leaned against his hand against the wall as if it were holding him up and touched his other hand to his forehead. “Odette,” His voice cracked as he said my name and he took a breath. “You made such a fool of me over the past year. I can’t be the asshole every time you have some kind of a mental crisis. Damn it, I don’t have the energy in me anymore to take the constant emotional beatings…or the fucking physical beatings.” He rubbed his cheek as if remembering his horrible fight with Jake on the beach. “I don’t think my face ever looked quite the same after that asshole busted my jaw.” He rubbed it again. Suddenly he turned at looked right at me.”You annihilated me Odette. I’m done with drama!” he shouted. He suddenly walked over and sat back down next to me and took my hand and weirdly kissed the back of it, as if it were some kind of a goodbye kiss.
I yanked my hand away with disgust. ” I didn’t come here to be criticized or to be frightened by you smashing things like a tantruming child ,” I snapped angrily. “I came to pick up our daughter,” I paused, “and to try and make peace but I see now that it was stupid of me to try.”
We sat there quietly for a minute on his pristine couch, orange juice all over the floor, my heart pounding with emotion him sitting with his hands clasped between his knees rocking back and forth a little. I thought about going up to get Zoe from her room. Then I sighed, feeling very beaten down. “Chris, I know I screwed up too much, too many times. But I’m well again. I’m me again, the one you know from our 10 years together. I wish I could take back my awful choices from this past year and fix what I did to us, but I can’t.
He looked at me with that piercing, inquisitive stare again. “Do you really want to fix us?” he said.
I looked back him in surprise. His eyes looked so intense and wet. “Of course,” I said. “How could you ask such a question? I hate that I did this to you and to Zoe. I’ll never forgive myself. I regret it every day, right from the minute I wake up alone to when I am trying to go to sleep at night without you there next to me.”
His expression seemed to change and soften. The anguish was gone. Now I recognized the Chris thinking-frown, then a smile crept in. “Well, maybe I could talk to your Doctor Lotus?” he said.
I couldn’t help but smile. That would be funny to have Chris in there. She would get to see the person behind all the stories. “Oh, she would love you,” I gushed.
He raised his eyebrows. “Really? Why?”
I smoothed my hair behind my ear again. I just about beamed at him as I flickered my eyelashes to remember what I had said to her. “Well, I’ve told her how you are the most amazing and kind and brave man that I know. I’ve told her how funny you are and how much you supported me even when I was pushing you away.” I bit my lip and the tears started to slip again. I quickly wiped them away when Zoe came running into the room with the iPad and plunked it on Chris’s lap. “Charge it Daddy!” she yelled at his belly button.
“Come on,” I said to Zoe. “Let’s go jump on the trampoline. Say bye to Daddy.”
“Nooooo!! Charge it!”
Chris slid down to the floor on his knees and gave Zoe a bear hug, carefully prying the iPad from her hands and putting it behind him on he couch. She didn’t protest at all. Then he picked her up and carried her to the door. I followed them. He transferred her over to my arms and gave her a kiss on the cheek.
“I’ll talk to Dr. Lotus about meeting you, ” I said. “Maybe we could go together on Thursday? No drama though, right?”
He nodded. Then he laughed a little. “No drama,” he said. “Right. Well I’m glad you are feeling better. Let me know about Thursday. That’s just two days from now so let me know tomorrow if you can.”
I felt myself beaming at the prospect of having him suddenly back in my life, and not completely hating me anymore. “OK, I will. Bye” I smiled at him.
“Bye” he looked right in my eyes and grinned back which made my heart ache for him so much. I wanted to kiss him. Then I turned to walk down the steps with Zoe but he grabbed my hand and pulled me back to him. He enveloped me in a tight hug and I wrapped my arms around the back of his neck and buried my head in his chest. He felt like home and he smelled so nice, like the beach and soap and, well, like Chris. Zoe was starting to wander off through the flowers so I left Chris’s embrace and hurried down the stone steps after her to the weathered street. I wrapped my fingers around her tiny hand to walk her back to Luna’s crumbling, lovely beach house only a few houses away. She skipped a little, which was very cute and unusual, and then I thought…perhaps the messy and beautiful entanglement of the black-eyed-susans all over Chris’s yard…perhaps they really were there for me.
“I’m all better,” I announced happily.
Dr. Lotus didn’t move an inch, not even her expression. Perhaps her brow furrowed a little.
“It has only been 3 weeks,” she said. “That is a good sign that you are optimistic and feeling good but we have a lot further to go. You do realize that?”
My heart sank a little. “What are you saying? That I’m not better?”
She licked her lips thoughtfully like old ladies do and then adjusted herself in her chair. I imagined she was going to be very careful with her words right about now. She looked directly at me and I noticed that her eyes were electric green like Chris’s, and like Jakes. It made me feel a little sick for a second. “You are getting better.” She said, then stopped.
I nodded slowly, whatever.
“Tell me,” she said, “why do you think you are better?”
I smiled, “I have had 2 full days with no panic attacks at all…none. I haven’t even thought constantly about taking my medication and when I woke up this morning I didn’t have a song screaming inside my head.”
I thought I saw her start to crack a smile, then she looked serious and nodded. “OK, good. I don’t think you’ve told me about the songs in your head before.”
Then she waited. She was always waiting for me to do the talking.
“I probably don’t need to come twice a week anymore.”
“Let’s just keep this consistent at least the end of the month. You were very sick Odette and we have to be vigilant with your recovery.”
I wondered if she really cared about me or if she liked the regular paycheck. I decided to give her the benefit of the doubt. “OK.” I nodded.
We both sat there silent for a couple of minutes. Finally she said, “Have you seen your husband yet?”
I started to cry and nodded. She pointed to the box of tissues on the table next to my armchair and I took a few and blew my nose then wiped my eyes. “I’ve broken too many promises. He has no trust in me anymore. I don’t even know if I trust myself. Shoot, maybe tomorrow I will go driving off back to Athens to see if Jake is still into me.”
“Who is Jake?”
“Oh, Jake. He is like the sunshine and the rain all put together, but hell, don’t expect a rainbow. He is like everything you dream of as a child, the guy you would expect to play all the lead characters in your favorite movies. He is dashing and brooding and doesn’t know how amazing he is, even though he is horribly cocky and overly-confident…but for the wrong reasons. He thinks he is putting on a show to hide his flaws. He thinks he is made up of all flaws but he is magical, an artist and he understands my heart and my brain like…I don’t even have to talk. It is like he is telepathic, he just knows what I am thinking and feeling. And he loves me. ” I bit my lip, and felt horrible. I looked up at her. I whispered, “He loves me.”
“He is the one that you have been unfaithful with.”
“Yes. Unfaithful is such a weird word.”
“When I was with Jake, I didn’t feel like I owed Chris anything, definitely not faith. What is faith anyway?…believing in something without question? How stupid.”
“But don’t you think that promises in life should last? I’m not saying that we don’t make mistakes, we all make mistakes. But just for the sake of continuity in this world, shouldn’t we keep a promise simply because we made it? What are we, if we aren’t our word?”
I sat there feeling a stinging in the back of my head. I felt like I was going to faint and then I realized I wasn’t breathing. I guess she realized too because she suddenly said, “breathe, Odette, BREATHE.”
I took in a big breath then she said, “Now SLOWLY, count to ten as you breathe in and ten as you breathe out. Did you take your Ativan this morning?”
“No” I coughed and I said angrily, “I told you I was better!” We were both quiet for a moment and then we started laughing.
“Oh Odette, this is going to take time. Now start from the beginning, when did you meet Jake?”
Each day I woke with the birds singing through my window and fell asleep to the soothing racket of crickets and frogs in the small marsh between the dunes and the road in front of Luna’s house. The sounds of the waves crashing on the beach were a clear indicator of the weather. I didn’t have to leave my bed to know if an afternoon storm was coming. I just noticed the changes in the sound of the waves whipping up in a frenzy. My favorite time in Luna’s house was when a storm fully raged and the three of us would sit in the middle of the living room away from the windows. I put Zoe’s noise-cancelling headphones over her ears and that seemed to keep her comfortable enough. It was incredible to see the whole beach light up from flashes then fall dark again, shrouded by black clouds. It was during one of those storms, while I was lying on my back on the rug tickling Zoe’s tummy with my toes, that I suddenly realized I was enjoying myself. I looked over at Luna and she was watching me and smiling. I grinned at her, she was so intuitive it was scary. I let myself soak in the happiness and hoped that I would feel this again soon. I didn’t want to let it go. A huge crash thundered around the house, shaking it so hard that the windows rattled alarmingly and Luna and I both screamed in surprise then laughed with relief that it was just thunder and over as quickly as it came. I went and looked out of the kitchen window and saw the tree over in Bob’s yard had a black line down the middle of it.
“Luna! Oh My God, come and look at this!”
She ran to the window and and gasped. “I’m glad it didn’t hit his house, or my house.”
We stared at the black line. Then I saw someone out on the beach and realized it was Chris. It was the first time I had seen him since I got back. What was he doing walking around in this storm? Luna and I both stared at him with the rain rushing into his face while he leaned into the wind and marched on.
“Should I go out there?” I said.
“Of course not” Luna said, surprised.
I pushed open the kitchen door and made my way out on to the porch. He was hurrying off so I ran down the steps onto the sand and after him. He was going so quickly so I ran fast and when I got close to his back he didn’t even notice me. I reached out to touch his shoulder then changed my mind and took my hand away and stood there as he kept going. Then he stopped and turned around and I saw his face change as he saw me standing there getting soaked. Then he suddenly looked angry. “What are you doing outside in this storm? Get inside where it is safe.”
“What are you doing out here?” I said.
“Going for a walk.”
I smiled. “That’s crazy.”
He strode over to me and grabbed my arm and we walked over to Luna’s house and stood under the porch out of the rain. He went to smooth the dripping hair out of my face then thought better of it and just let his hand hang by his side.”Hows it going over here?” he mumbled miserably.
We stood there listening to the rain pounding on the wood above our heads.
“I’m sorry” I said.
He nodded and looked up at the waves.
I watched his face. There was nothing I could do now.
“It’s like you’re dead” he said.
“What do you mean?” I started to cry.
“My Odette is gone,” he said. “I don’t know who this person is standing here with me.”
I walked away from him back out into the rain and it felt wonderful pounding through my hair in torrents, washing away my hot salty tears into lines of cool fresh water. I licked the water running down my face and decided to go back inside where it was comfortable and warm. Luna was waiting at the kitchen door with a towel and I let her throw it around me and soak up the water. I put my head on her shoulder while she rubbed the towel on my arms. I looked up to see Zoe looking at me. I smiled at her then she continued to read her book. Luna ran the towel over my hair. “I told you not to go out there,” she said.
I went to my room to change into some dry clothes. I wasn’t that upset anymore. I already knew I was dead to Chris. This wasn’t new news or some kind of a surprise. I was almost relieved to have some confirmation that it was truly over with him. But then I wondered, would it ever be truly over with him?
I didn’t recognize the phone number and pulled the white comforter over my cold knees. Luna had just installed a brand new central heat and air system and was “testing” it, which meant the temperature was down to 60 degrees in my bedroom now. I considered opening my window to let the warm summer breeze back in but I figured that Luna wouldn’t appreciate that.
“Hello, Odette Swann?”
“Yes, this is she.”
“You might remember me…you interviewed at our company a couple of months back but we weren’t able to grant your salary request at that time. But I am calling you now because the company is in a different position and we are able to accommodate your requirements now, if you are still available.”
I sat there for a minute while winding my thoughts back to the weird interview I had and how they balked at seemingly everything that came out of my mouth and how I had muttered some odd nonsensical jokes to him and figured I ruined the whole interview anyway. I guessed I mustn’t have messed it up after all.
“I was able to take some time to review your work also over the past couple of months and, well yes, you are definitely worth what you are say you are worth. Yes, you are.”
He sounded a little uncomfortable and I felt a awkward.”Um, OK.”
“Do you want to come in to discuss possible employment?” he stammared.
I almost laughed. Then I thought about what I wanted to do this month and that was sit in my room and not talk to or see anyone unitil the Zoloft kicked in and actually started to help. Right now it was just exacerbating the anxiety, and leaving me with constant dull-headaches. The only thing that seemed manageable these days was to get in my car and drive to see Dr. Lotus. Anything else, even the grocery store was a huge, terrible effort. I couldn’t imagine walking into a cold office, having an awkward conversation with some boss guy. He had worn a suit at my last interview. What kind of a web start-up-company person dresses in suits anyway?
“I’m not available to come in for 3 more weeks” I said flatly.
I needed to save this, just incase I decided I wanted this job. “I’m going to be out of the country and I’ve already bought the tickets. But I can set up an appt so see you when I get back.”
“OK, just email my secretary. Do you still have his email address?”
“OK then, I look forward to seeing you in three weeks. Enjoy your trip.”
I pressed “end” and looked at my phone then rubbed my goose-bumped arms. Well, there was some direction beyond just sitting on the beach for the rest of my life, lamenting about loosing Chris. I looked at my door and thought about going to tell Luna but I froze and couldn’t move from my bed. I would be taking the next Ativan in about an hour so I would go and see her after that. I put my phone down and looked at the white curtains blowing from the air-conditioning breeze at my window. Then I couldn’t help it, I had to go and heave open the old wooden glass and the air rushed out causing a breeze past my arm as the warm air edged in past it and warmed my arms. It was if I were thawing. I thought that when I didn’t feel like this anymore, when I could relax, I would do something fun. Maybe I would go to Disney World with Luna and Zoe. Zoe would be able to get a Fast Pass for all the rides with her Autism. We could stay at a fancy hotel and float in the pool. Would I ever be able to do that again? Dr. Lotus seemed to think so.
I left the window and lay back down on my white, clean sheets. I pulled a long strand of my light hair to where I could see it in front of my face then wrapped it around my finger. I realized I hadn’t looked in a mirror in at least a week. I got up then stood in front of it deliberately. I looked OK, kind of oddly-sad but I was still me. My cheeks looked a little flushed. I sat down at my chair and took out some mascara and pulled the dark liquid through my lashes. I looked a bit more awake now. Then I pulled out some burgundy lipstick and ran it over my lips and wiped most of it off with the back of my hand so that it looked natural. I blinked up at the mirror again and smiled. Even though I felt like hell, I didn’t look so bad. That was a small comfort. I put my forehead on my desk to wait out the hour until my next beta blocker. The pointless nervousness was endless and exhausting. I craved the soothing relaxation the Ativan would bring, releasing the tight fist around my heart. Then I would venture past these walls and perhaps get up the nerve to read a book to Zoe.
She just stared at me and I stared back at her…her short gray hair, her small frame in the large arm chair and she crossed her legs with a notebook balanced over her green polyester skirt. She looked like a grandmother. Her voice was soothing like one too when I had spoken with her on the phone to confirm the appointment. But she was silent now and I supposed that meant I was the one who was supposed to start talking.
“Do you want me to tell you what is wrong?” I said, nervously.
“Yes, if that is where you want to start.”
“Well, I’ll tell you what the biggest problem is…” I found my words tumbling out of my mouth, as if they had been in there, dying to get out for years and now they were finally being set free.
“It is that I was always such a strong person, that is how I have always seen myself. I can solve problems, I can travel around the world, I’m not afraid of blood or pain or having to stick up for myself or loved ones. But now that I’m officially crazy, I’ve lost my identity. I’m not that strong person anymore and I don’t even know who I am or if I even like myself.”
I stopped and waited for her response. I had finally said the words, the truth that had been dragging inside my belly and she nodded thoughtfully and sat forward. “You’re not crazy,” she said, “and you are still a strong person. What has happened here is that you are dealing with an illness called clinical anxiety. Many people suffer from it and it is most common in women your age.”
I looked at her in amazement. This was common? Why didn’t everyone talk about it then?
She said, “Do you know how many people are on SSRI’s for this? Half the country.”
“Sounds like Brave New World to me,” I said. “I don’t want to take drugs.”
She nodded. “In Brave New World, the people didn’t take the happy pills because they were sick and trying to get better like you are. This is a different scenario.”
I nodded. Perhaps she was right.
“And Odette, I want you to know that you will get better.”
I looked at her in amazement again. I would? She was saying all the right things and suddenly hope was surging through me in a way that I didn’t even think was possible anymore.
“You will get better through talk therapy, but it will be a faster recovery if we combine the therapy with medication. Trust me on this.”
“OK.” I was willing to trust her. I was willing to do anything for the person who promised me that I was going to get better.
I was afraid to ask the next question, but her answers had been so optimistic so far that I got up the nerve to put it out there. “Am I going to feel joy again?”
“Absolutely…no doubt about it.”
I smiled a small smile.
Then I had one more question. “There is no reason for my anxiety, so how do I get better if I don’t even know what is wrong?”
“There is always a reason, but sometimes an illness comes unexpectedly. It is usually triggered by something and we will work through that.”
I nodded. OK, I could do that.
On the way through the parking lot under the building, the only other car there besides my own was an old red, convertible BMW. Did she drive that? I laughed to myself. That was most definitely her car. I got to my silver SUV with the sun shining all over it and sat in the drivers seat looking over the steering wheel at the trees in the parking lot. I took my first Ativan of the day. Not because I was panicking, but because she had told me to take 2 Ativan a day for a month until the Zoloft kicked in after 30 days and I didn’t need the Ativan anymore. Now that I had a schedule I didn’t need to worry that I was a pill-popping addict. Now I was following the advice of my doctor and would be weaned off these suckers in a month. This, according to her, was “training my brain.” Anxiety had to not be normal and I would eventually forget about feeling like that. That sounded like a good strategy to me. I turned the ignition and headed to the drug store to pick up my prescription. Then I would be going home to Luna’s. Maybe I would even make it to the dinner table that night.
I pulled up outside of Bob’s house and was suddenly worried about the 3 cassette tapes wound together in a tangled mess on the passenger-side floor. I looked up the street at Luna’s house…my house and ached to see Zoe but guilt was heavy and I held the keys tightly so they dug into my palm. I texted Luna, ‘bring me 2 Ativan. I’m on the street by Bobs.’ About two seconds later she was hurrying down the street towards me, but she looked different. She had died her hair brown and looked weirdly young . She looked out of breath when she opened my van door and gave me the pills and a bottled water. I took them immediately, washing them down with the water and Luna went around to the passenger side and got in. She started to rub my back and I flinched. “Don’t touch me.” I said. “Not till I feel better.”
So we sat there and just 15 minutes later I announced to her I was starting to feel better. I looked out of my window and noticed the ocean. I thought about Chris and how nice it would be to be welcomed home by him. I looked down at my hands. I only loved him when I was happy, so maybe I didn’t want to be happy again.
Relaxed now, I looked at Luna and was ashamed. “I’m sorry I act like such a freak.” I said. “I honestly don’t know how you can stand to be around me.”
“You are not yourself,” she said. “You have an appt with a Dr. Lotus tomorrow.”
I looked at my keys in my hand and wondered if I should go and give the VW key back to Bob now. “Who the hell is Dr. Lotus?”
“She helped Lucy a long time ago.” Luna took my hand and I let her hold it and stared out at the waves peaking through the rolling dunes and waving seagrass. Luan held it tightly and shook it for a second like she was frustrated. “Oh, Odette” she said, sounding like she was getting a bit choked up. “I should have had you talk to someone ages ago, when all this started, and not waited until you couldn’t handle it.” She started to cry. I had never seen her cry before. I felt horrible. This of course was my fault.
She tried to look at me but I kept looking over at the ocean. “Odette, I’m so sorry child that I didn’t get you help when you needed it.”
“Are you seriously blaming yourself for this” I said at the ocean. “All you have been is a pillar of support.” I finally looked over at her eyes and smiled at her in a pleading way. “Please don’t blame yourself, or that will really put me over the edge.” We both laughed a little and she squeezed my hand. “Do you feel well enough to see Zoe now?”
“She’s been asking for mama.”
“She has, Odette. She really has.”
“That’s a ‘wh’ question.”
“I know, and she says, ‘Where’s mama? Where’s mama?'”
I smiled. “Amazing,” I said as I slid out of the seat and shut the big clunky door. “Amazing.”