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episode seven - being powerless part five
My aunt Ellen and my cousin Charlie were over for dinner. I don't think Charlie and I said even a word to each other the whole time. I'm sure everyone noticed too, but no one said anything about it. They were too busy figuring out who all would be going up to Cedar Cliff the next day.
Carrie didn't want to go, and believe me, I was glad of that. She was apt to make jokes about our mom sometimes, making a guessing game out of who mom might be talking to this time. Is it Saint Agatha, Saint Joan of Arc, Saint Isabella, Saint Peter? I hated Carrie sometimes in normal life, but at Cedar Cliff, I hated her even more. Whenever she said she didn't want to go, I was glad. But, of course, our father kept insisting that Carrie go, that she should WANT to see her mother. I kept hoping Carrie would say something particularly mean, so dad would finally get it in his head that she shouldn't go, that all would be better if we just left Carrie out of it altogether, but Carrie didn't make any of her jokes. And, I knew that even if dad heard one of them the next day, he'd forget all about them before the next time any of us got to go to see mom. His selective memory left those worse bits out, I knew. Otherwise, I guess I could have spoken up just to remind him of how Carrie had made jokes about her chest hurting when mom had said something about Saint Agatha during our last visit. He just would have thought I was making it up, and he would have gotten mad at me instead of at Carrie.
Samantha, on the other hand, was eager to go. So was Danni, though dad only would let her in to see mom for a couple minutes. He'd done that with me when I was younger, too. Like seeing mom act crazy for just a couple minutes was any better than ten or fifteen or twenty. She was still our mom, and she was still acting crazy, no matter how long we got to be there with her. I had to wonder if he even remembered himself how bad she was when he wasn't there visiting her, or if he blocked it out completely. He was always so busy, either with work or with thinking about work, or about the hardship of raising the lot of us on his own, and it was hard to figure him out, hard to figure out how he thought of us or how he thought of mom. I wondered sometimes if any of us were real to him if we weren't right there in the room with him. And, I thought Samantha and Carrie and Evelyn all thought the same thing, and that was why we all put up with eating dinner at the table most nights. That was the check in, our chance to keep existing for him, for each other. Evelyn was not so preoccupied with heading into her senior year in high school or her college plans. Carrie was not so preoccupied with the guy she happened to be dating lately. Samantha was just her usual self, caring, empathetic, Sam. And, me--well, I tended to talk more at these dinners than any other time, that night before that particular visit to Cedar Cliff being an exception of course. Even Danni, too young to know that these dinners at the table held any importance other than a chance to be with all three of her sisters still at home and her brother and her dad all at the same time, one of those big joys of her life, was even more talkative than usual. This particular night was no different for that. Danni, only five years old, was putting her two cents into the debate over whether Carrie should have to go to see mom or not. Hell, Danni contributed more to that debate than I did.
Now, Aunt Ellen and Charlie would be going. That was, afterall, why they were in town. Them going meant that we had more than just our one car for the drive up to Cedar Cliff. If it were just ours, then Carrie could easily have argued that she didn't want to squeeze in the backseat along with Samantha, Danni, and I, but with another car, that whole argument was even more useless than it was usually anyway. Somehow, it had ended up that Samantha and I would both be riding with Aunt Ellen and Charlie. I don't know if anyone actually made that decision or if it just sorta happened, but that's how it was. That left one empty seat in each car. Of course, when heading up to see our mother, we weren't too eager to invite people. Haley had gone with us a few times. Samantha's best friend, Gwen Belts, had gone once. Evelyn's boyfriend, Ben Tramer had gone the last couple times--generally catching his own ride and meeting us there. This time, Evelyn had asked ahead of time if Ben could go again. At dinner, after Carrie's attempts to get out of it were shot down, dad officially said what we all knew he would, that Ben could go. That left one seat. And, for some reason, I wanted to fill it. I spoke without thinking it through, though, and I'm sure everyone expected me to say something different than I did. To be honest, I think I expected something different, too.
"Can Olivia go with us," I asked.
"Olivia?" My father knew who I meant, of course, but saying her name like that was his way of thinking out loud, his way of saying maybe.
Charlie looked at me strangely, but didn't say anything. Carrie looked at me angrily, though I couldn't figure out why. Samantha sorta laughed, a sweet little knowing laugh, like she might if someone said I had a thing for Haley Manning, then she said, "sounds like a good idea." Why she thought that exactly didn't matter to me. I was just glad she had said it, glad dad had heard it. My Aunt Ellen asked who Olivia was. Danni proclaimed that Olivia was my girlfriend. I wanted so much to argue against that, but I was busy watching my father, trying to figure out his answer before he actually said it. Fortunately, Sam came through for me again. "Olivia's a friend of his," she said to Aunt Ellen. Then, Evelyn jumped in. "Olivia Cross," she said. I got the distinct impression that adding the last name put a whole complex backstory into my Aunt's head that I didn't know, and I wanted to ask about it, see if she knew something about Olivia or about the Crosses that I didn't know, if she even knew what I DID know, that Mr Cross had hurt Olivia, that Phyllis Cross had taken her two daughters away for a few years. Did my Aunt know about the scars on Olivia's wrists? Did she know how Olivia's father had hurt her? Did she know what the whole business was between my father and Olivia's mother? Did she know . . .
"I suppose Olivia can go," my father said. I had gotten distracted, I hadn't seen his answer coming, and now there it was. "You've already checked with her mother?"
I nodded, told him I had. That wasn't true of course. I hadn't said a thing to Phyllis Cross. I hadn't even asked Olivia if she would want to go. Hell, until the question had popped out of my mouth, I don't think the idea had really even occurred to me. But, somehow, like Sam had said, it seemed like a good idea.
Before dinner was over, Carrie had tried again to get out of going the next day, but it didn't work. So, assuming Olivia would want to go and could go, there would be ten of us going. It wasn't Cedar Cliff's policy to allow such a large group of visitors or even one as young as Danni was, but as I think I've said, my father was good at getting his way sometimes, really good at it. When we got there, he wouldn't even have to argue again. The hospital was used to us now, and sick of his arguments. They'd just let us in, no questions, no attempts to stop us.
The next morning, I went off to find Olivia. Her mom, after finally coming to the door and giving me a dirty look, told me she thought Olivia and Jaimie were at Memorial Park. I'd already checked there of course, but I didn't tell Phyllis that. I was sure she'd worry if I told her. So, I lied, said I hadn't checked there yet. And, I headed off toward Memorial Park. Once I was far enough away that Phyllis couldn't see me, if she was watching that is, I turned in the direction of that old church, sure for some reason that I'd find Olivia there.
And, sure enough, I got there and Jaimie was sitting on the front steps, looking a little bored. She saw me coming and smiled. I sat down next to her, asked her where her sister was.
"Inside," she said, pointing with her thumb over her shoulder, not bothering to look back toward the church or into it. I looked, though. The front door was propped open again, and I could see inside, but I didn't see Olivia. That just meant she wasn't in the main aisle but off to one side or the other, no big deal.
"What's she doing?"
"She was talking to that guy again," Jaimie said. "But, he left. Now, I think she's just sitting there staring at that big crufi . . . crufi . . . crucifix." Jaimie laughed. I did too. "Sorry," she said, "didn't want to call it a cross." She smiled a silly smile then, her tongue out a little, like not wanting to use her last name like that was a whole lot more clever than it was. I humored her with a smile, then got up. "I'll be right back," I said. "You promise," she asked me. It wasn't until I stepped into the church that I wondered how long she'd been waiting for Olivia to come out.
"Olivia," I said. I got no response. I stepped past the entrance area, into the main one, the center aisle. Olivia was sitting in a pew to the left, looking up at the ceiling, not the crucifix. I said her name again, but she didn't react at all. So, I walked to that pew, so she could see me out of the corner of her eye if she couldn't or wouldn't hear me. I said her name a third time. Finally, she reacted, glanced with her eyes toward me, then returned her attention to the ceiling, or something up past it, maybe Heaven.
I went into the row and sat down next to her. "You got anything planned today aside from sitting here," I asked. She shrugged but didn't take her attention off the broken ceiling. "Would you be interested in going to meet my mom?" She blinked, then her head came down, she looked at me.
I nodded. She looked down a little, her eyes darting from side to side like she was weighing her options. Then, she looked up at me again. "Can Jaimie go?"
I hadn't even been thinking about Olivia going when I'd asked if she could, so of course I'd completely forgotten about Jaimie. I didn't think my father would say it was ok. And, I wasn't too eager to ask him. But, I wasn't going to say no just yet. "I don't know. Have to ask my dad," I said.
She looked toward the pulpit, toward the crucifix, the stained glass window with hardly any glass left in it. After a moment, Olivia asked, "if something were to happen to me, would you look after Jaimie?" I told her I would, "like she were one of my own sisters." Olivia smiled at that. Then, she was quiet again.
Just when I was trying to find something else to say to break the silence, Olivia turned toward me. "So, when we going?" There was an unexpected bit of excitement in her voice.
I shrugged. I didn't know what time it was, but I figured we'd probably get to my house just in time to go. I told her as much, and she got up. "Well, why didn't you say so? What are we doing sitting here? Let's go."
And so, we went. My father, as expected, said Jaimie couldn't go. But, Jaimie didn't mind so much. She wasn't as eager as her sister to meet a crazy woman, even if that crazy woman WAS my mother. So, Jaimie squeezed into my Aunt's car with us, but only to be dropped off at home. And, at that same time, Olivia, cued by me not to let on that her mother didn't know about this, walked her sister inside, and told her mother something or other about where she was going, most definitely not the truth. Then, she came back out and got into the car, sitting in the backseat with me and Charlie. Samantha was in the front seat. My Aunt Ellen, of course, was driving.
And so, we drove up to Cedar Cliff. And, as expected, no one tried to keep our group from going in to see my mother.
She'd been reminded we were coming, so she was waiting in her room, dressed up as nicely as she could be with a limited wardrobe and no make up or anything like that. I thought she looked great, her hair long and straight, probably brushed with a hundred strokes of the hairbrush just that morning--and that wasn't one of her crazy things, just something she did, more a long hair thing than a crazy thing--her feet in slippers that matched quite nicely with the dark blue dress she wore. The first thing anyone said to her was that she looked beautiful. That was my father of course. He usually started each visit with that. I liked to think he sorta fell in love with the sight of her all over again each time, that as he saw her, none of the days since our last visit mattered much compared to right now.
He hugged her. Then, Aunt Ellen hugged her. Then, the rest of us, one at a time. Even Ben hugged her. So, when it came time for Olivia to approach her, she too hugged my mom. Then, even though my mother just smiled at her, and didn't look at all confused by this new girl hugging her, Olivia explained who she was.
"Oh, she's Travis' friend," my mother said, turning her head a little to the side. I wasn't sure if she was talking to an imaginary person or if she just happened to have turned her head as she spoke. Before I could figure it out, my mother turned to me. "She's a beautiful girl, Travis, but what ever happened to that Manning girl?" Olivia laughed. And, so did Sam and a couple of the others, even my dad. I explained that Olivia was just my friend, but I don't think my mother bought it. Finally, Sam jumped in to help me, but not exactly as I would have wanted. "He's still in love with Haley Manning," she said.
"Yes, Haley," my mom said, like the name was new to her. "Her mother's a dancer, you know." She didn't really direct this to anyone, but Olivia, God bless her, grabbed the opportunity. "Oh, is she," she said. "Yes," my mother said, and they got a nice little conversation going about Noelle Manning and her dancing, which then digressed into talk of Danni maybe getting signed up for Mrs Manning's ballet class, and that digressed into talk of Sam's violin playing, how well that was going, and that digressed into something else, and that into something else. Everyone got to talking, and you would have hardly noticed that we were in a room at a mental hospital instead of more of a social gathering type place.
And, for a while, my mother seemed just fine. She didn't even turn her head a little to the side, like maybe she was talking to someone who wasn't there. She said a cryptic thing here and there, asked questions about things she already knew, and offered some more explanations that were unnecessary, but for the most part, she was fine. Well, she was fine until it got around to time for all of us to go.
"You really have to go," she asked my father. He'd already answered that question twice.
"Yes, Diana," he said. "We have to go."
My mother looked around the room, not pausing to look at any one person, just sorta aimlessly looking about. Then, she focused on my father again. "You really have to go," she asked again. Then, before he could answer a fourth time, she interrupted, her voice the same, but her tone different. "He said they have to go. Stop asking that." She looked at me for a moment, then at Olivia. "Isabella," she said. She cocked her head a little to the side, squinted. "No, you're not Isabella, are you?" She turned her attention back to my father, and I tried to whisper to Olivia who Isabella was, that my mother meant Saint Isabella. Either I whispered too loudly or everyone else was just too quiet or my mother's hearing was just acute that day, cause her head spun back around to look at me. "Shut up," she said. "Don't you whisper behind Raphael's back." She wasn't yelling, but she seemed on the verge of it.
"Diana," my father said, using a forceful tone that usually got her attention. She didn't even notice. She just stared at me. Right at that second, she hated me. I don't know who she thought I was, but she hated me. I was talking behind Raphael's back. Raphael being, for those of you who don't know, Raphael d'Achertainne, the guy who Isabella, future Saint, had been forced to go to bed with. "Don't you ever talk behind Raphael's back," my mother said to me. "Don't you ever."
"Diana," my father said again. This time, she glanced toward him, maybe briefly out of her spell, then she looked at me again, the hatred replaced by confusion. She looked at Olivia next to me. "That's not Haley Manning," she said, like this was the most fascinating bit of info she could ever give us. Briefly, I toyed with the idea of acting shocked that it wasn't Haley next to me, but I resisted that urge. I didn't ever want to play into my mother's delusions. She'd once pushed me against the wall, when Saint Agatha got rather mad at me.
"No, Diana, it's not," my father said.
My mother looked at him, and she started to cry. He stepped to her and hugged her, kissed her cheek, whispered "I love you," in her ear, then stepped back. We all took turns saying goodbye. Olivia went last. As she hugged my mother for the second and last time, my mother said "goodbye Isabella." Then, she pushed Olivia away from her but held her by her shoulders, looked at her, looked her up and down. "You're not Isabella are you. You're an angel, an angel sent from Heaven to look after my dear Travis."
"We should be going," my father said. I'm not sure if he meant to direct that to my mother or someone else, or all of us. My mother looked at him, tears in her eyes again. She looked at Olivia again. "A beautiful angel," she said. Then, she let go of Olivia's shoulders, and Olivia headed out of the room with everyone else. I went right behind her. And, last to leave was my father, who hugged my mother again before going, told her goodbye, then followed the rest of us out.
Out at the cars, as we loaded back in for the drive home, I noticed that my father was crying, but like everyone else, I said nothing about it. Just before he got in our car, my Aunt Ellen went over to him, said something and hugged him. Then, she came back to her car and got in, and we all rode home.
On the way, Olivia looked at her wrists a lot, at the scars there. I wanted to ask her more about them, about why she'd done it. She'd told me she hadn't been too scared doing it because she thought she'd go to Heaven, but that wasn't her reason for doing it. All she'd said of her reason was that life had gotten too hard sometimes. Her father had hurt her. I knew that much. I knew it must have been bad if it sent her mother out of town with her and her sister. It must have been horrible if Olivia had gone on to try killing herself. But, to be completely honest, I still wasn't imagining what should have been obvious by then. And, I didn't quite know how to ask about it, either. I had so many questions, and I couldn't figure out which one to ask first or how to ask it. So, I was stuck with bits and pieces. And, until Olivia volunteered more or I got my questions straight, I had to be content with that.