Once and Again...Once Again
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Summary of Aaron's Getting Better
by Sue Kaliski
edited by Angela Stockton
[Lily recalls in an interview: "It wasn't like we never fought. We fought all the time over everything: who had to sit next to Grandma at Passover, the best way to torture Judy...It was great," she says, smiling slyly.]
One weekday morning, Lily changes the bedding in Grace's room as Rick stands by, holding pillows. Hard as it is for her to believe, her brother Aaron is coming for a visit. He did so well at Judy's, she explains, and Rick credits this to Aaron's medication. Lily insists that she expects no miracles, but she can't conceal her happy anticipation.
A phone rings and, finding it buried in the bedclothes, Rick hands it to Lily. The caller is Jake; after speaking to him, she yells to her girls that he'll be there in two minutes. "You don't have to scream!" Grace complains. When Lily asks why the phone was in the bed, Zoe pops out of the bathroom to report that Grace was on the phone with "that Spencer guy at midnight."
Grace tries to defuse her mother's consternation by reminding her that she and Spencer went through a "crucible" together, and they need to talk about their shared hostage crisis. Unaware that Uncle Aaron is coming that day, Grace is disappointed when she realizes that, because she's meeting Spencer after school, she may not be at home when her uncle arrives. Zoe asks if Uncle Aaron has always been the way he is. "No, honey, he was wonderful once," Lily replies, adding hastily, "Not that he isn't now."
[Lily recalls the time Aaron found a mouse, and they took a bizarre outfit from one of Judy's little trolls.... "Oh, we were terrible!" she laughs. Thoughtfully, she adds, "Daddy always said they had Aaron for me."]
Lily kisses Zoe good-bye as Rick returns with coffee. "Do I scream?" she asks him. "Only when I'm really good," he teases. Smiling knowingly, Lily tells Rick she can't wait for Aaron to really get to know him.
At school, Grace happily catches up with Spencer at his locker, saying how cool it was talking last night. He agrees, though he is anxious to get to his literary magazine meeting. He tells Grace he's having trouble sleeping, which his mom attributes to his needing "closure" on their recent ordeal. Grace promptly suggests that they write about this "real moment" they shared, and interview each other as survivors. Spencer says he'll think about it, and, in his haste to leave, stumbles on a step.
That afternoon Aaron's caseworker, Shelley, drives him to the Mannings'. Lily and Zoe approach the car as Aaron emerges clutching a suitcase. Aaron thanks Lily for having him, then adds, "I think I should state to be perfectly honest, that this is not my own actual suitcase." Lily tells him that Judy is on her way and mentions the possibility of a visit to the bookstore tomorrow. He likes this plan.. Zoe escorts him into the house.
Shelley observes that Aaron is a little shy, but Lily is excited by the connection she already feels. She takes the plastic box of medications from Shelley, who explains that they have a downside: Aaron needs lots of sleep. She advises Lily to keep her expectations reasonable, saying, "Think about what you might need from him. I know it's been forbidden for twenty years, but he needs you to need something from him."
Preparing pasta that evening, Lily chats with Judy while Aaron sleeps. Judy remembers that long-ago weekend when Lily and Aaron babysat for her, serving her "tiny tiny little portions of food." Then there was the time they made her a birthday cake with sand instead of sugar, and the tree house from which they dangled a rope ladder to torment her.
When Aaron wakes up, he wants to help Grace and Zoe set the dinner table. Examining the napkins, he points out, "We have Star Wars napkins at my group home. Which may be why they call us space cadets." A burst of laughter escapes from Grace. Aaron says he can't join in "because the state will cut off my funding." Lily and Judy are amazed when Aaron tells them that Grace reminds him of Aunt Marion. "She was nice in a way. And so is Grace," he says. Returning to the kitchen, Lily becomes teary.
Judy asks if Aaron knows about Rick; Lily responds, "Maybe I'll tell him tonight." Picking up the salad bowl, she warns Judy, "Tonight you'll be getting very tiny portions."
Later that evening, Grace furtively enters through the front door. She finds Aaron in the living room, enjoying red licorice. Grace accepts a piece and wonders if her mom is mad that she's late. Not that he could see, Aaron reports, "but I see things that are not there."
Grace proceeds to light some candles, saying, "They're better for talking late," and remarks that her uncle "cleans up nicely," a favorite compliment of her Grandpa's. Aaron suddenly admits, "I get worried, don't tell Lily! I'm doing really well." Grace tells him about Spencer, someone with whom she went through an "astonishing experience." She now sees the world as made up of two teams, "those who were there, and those who weren't." His eyes alight, Aaron comments, "That's my life!"
Lily descends the stairs, irate over Grace's late return home. Aaron quietly informs Grace that her mother always used to be late. Grace enjoys this revelation, then pleads her own defense, "You can trust me, it's not like I'm out taking drugs." "I take drugs," Aaron remarks. As her daughter retires, Lily suggests she and Aaron have some tea.
In the still kitchen, they reminisce about tree houses and turtles painted with peace signs. Finally, Lily mentions bed and confirms that Aaron has taken his medicine. Sensing the appropriate time, Lily sits on a stool next to her brother. "I'm getting married!" she says happily. "To Rick, who has been...this amazing event in my life." Choking up, she regrets the things that have been gone from her life--her marriage, her dad, and "You! You've been gone so long I didn't know how much I missed you!"
Aaron smiles tenderly and she continues, "I want you to be there! You're the man of the family now." They hold hands while she recalls the Liebermans, former neighbors who were Russian spies, or so Aaron convinced Judy. "They were!" he insists.
Delicately, Lily asks, "So you remember that?" "I remember everything," he replies..
At BookLovers the following day, Judy warmly greets Aaron and Lily. They are followed into the store by a young girl on a scooter, whose mother indulgently informs Judy that the child is "a superb athlete.."
Judy watches as Lily shares books from "Aaron's shelf" with their brother. [In an interview, Judy says that Aaron was a really good artist when he was young. "His masterpieces were these signs that read, 'Judy, keep out!' Little drawings of me in the margins, headless, looking up at my body." She smiles ruefully. "He was really good."]
Lily recalls the Lord of the Rings show in which they all had roles, Judy remembering that she was "the all-purpose hobbit." "That's because you were short with hairy feet," Aaron explains. He adds a playful nickname, "Judy Doody," to the memories. This delights Lily and embarrasses Judy, who turns and is almost run over by the scooter. The girl nearly careens into Aaron, and chaos follows as Judy shows mother and daughter the door while Lily helps the panicked Aaron to a chair. Breathless, he says he didn't mean to be in the way, and his sisters soothe him. Lily suggests they eat, but Judy recommends that Aaron rest instead. Lily insists that he's okay. "He's never okay!" Judy retorts. "It's nothing we can count on." Not wanting to fight, Lily says she'll take Aaron home.
That afternoon, Grace and Spencer drop in at Phil's, where Jake greets them warmly. When talk inevitably turns to the hostage crisis, Jake opines that it would not have occurred had Phil been around: "He'd have bet him for the gun and jumped up on the table, and recited some big, fat Sandburg poem about...Chicago."
Grace tells her dad that they are doing investigative journalism for the literary magazine, "only we investigate ourselves!" Spencer's mounting nervousness goes unnoticed by Grace as she offers to interview him first. "A day in the life," she brainstorms. "We could do a timeline!"
"Grace, could we do this later?" Spencer asks, approaching panic. She hates to miss this on-site opportunity, but he craves air and says that he'll catch a bus home. He hurries out the door, Grace watching him forlornly.
Alone in the Manning dining room, Aaron prepares to set the table. Hearing rapid footsteps, he looks around, then covers his ears as the steps reach a crescendo. [In a black and white flash, he turns towards the sound of an opening door.] "Uncle Aaron?" Grace calls, entering the front door. He quickly busies himself, explaining that Lily's at the market and Rick's coming to dinner.
Grace is pleased to have a quiet moment with her uncle and she tells him she saw "that boy." "Are you in love?" Aaron asks innocently. This is an arresting thought, and Grace wonders how she would know. "It would be an unknown element," Aaron says, and an idea suddenly occurs to Grace. "Were you ever in love?" she asks. "I think I was," Aaron answers. He recalls that "she" wore a scarf with fringe down to her knees.. "I tried to talk to her, but there was just too much fringe."
Grace is touched by his memory, and he comments, "Yes, things remember me." This rings very true for Grace, who admits, "Sometimes I wonder if I'm actually here, or I'm someone else's idea of me."
Aaron wants to know what love is like. Gazing out the window, Grace likens love to snow, explaining that a person can go to bed at night expecting snow, but wake up in the morning having forgotten about it: "In the morning you go to the window and it's everywhere! You're surprised, but not really." Aaron asks gently, "So, is there snow?" "All around!" Grace answers with delight. Hearing Lily arrive home, they hastily adjourn, their moment safely tucked away.
During her dinner preparations, Lily tells her girls that dessert will be apple cobbler, though Grace insists upon sorbet for herself. "Oh, yes, ma'am, I don't want to get fired!" Lily assures her facetiously. Zoe wants to check on Aaron, but Lily discourages her, saying he needs his rest. However, Aaron isn't resting. In his shadowy room, he sits on the bed, his eyes darting from side to side. ["So when they come, sometimes you don't know. Sometimes though, you...wait. They always know where you are. Or he does."] A doorbell startles him.
Downstairs, Lily opens the door to Rick and, casting an eye toward the second floor, she confides that Aaron is doing "so much better." Rick's glad that she shared the news of their engagement, and Lily adds that she wants her brother at the wedding. "Do you think he'll behave?" Rick asks in mock seriousness.
In the bedroom, Aaron remains transfixed. ["When he's there, which is less if I stay very still, but when he is, he talks about me. He was in Nixon's Cabinet, see, so he knows all about me--when he's there, and when he's not."] He looks up as a shadow passes before him. "AARON?" it calls in a gruff voice. "Aaron?" Lily calls from the doorway. [In a black and white moment, the voice orders Aaron, "TALK TO HER!"]
"Lily!" he greets her. "You okay?" she asks, her concern evident. "Oh yes," Aaron replies. ["TELL HER!"] "I closed my eyes and dreamed, I guess," he offers. "Remember what you dreamed about?" she asks with interest. ["TREES!"] "Trees!" Aaron answers. "I dreamed about trees."
Lily says if he wants more rest, it's all right. "No, I want to be with you, Lily," Aaron insists. "Okay, great!" she responds with pleasure, adding that Rick has arrived. Once she has left, Aaron shakes his head in misery. As he starts to leave the bedroom, he looks back.
Lily gazes out her bedroom window the next day and sees Aaron sitting on a bench, legs pulled up, enjoying some licorice. [In an interview, she says, "In the last picture I have of Aaron, he's around eighteen, he was skiing. And the face I see now is that face, or close enough!"] Aaron looks up and smiles at her. [She continues, "I guess I just mean, I see my brother again!"]
She calls Rick. "You naked?" he asks hopefully. "Of course," she replies archly. Talking about their plans for the evening, he says he was going to take his kids to a movie, but Lily asks him to bring them to dinner instead.
At a coffee shop, Grace finds Spencer sipping a cup of cappuccino. She wipes his foam mustache before sitting across from him. Working on their project, she has come to a realization, she announces: "It started being all about me, but it became sort of....all about you!" She finds it amazing that she really knows him and feels him.
Before Grace can continue, Spencer asks her to stop. Searching for words, he says, "I've never had a girlfriend, Grace, you know that?" Grace asks, with a shy smile, "Is that what I am?" Spencer fumbles a denial, and Grace tells him it's okay, "A lot of people haven't had a girlfriend...or an anything."
Spencer disputes her feeling that she "knows" him, citing two glaring exceptions -- his love of comic books and Japanese anime. He repeats that he never had a girlfriend, and if he ever does, "I don't think it would be you," he finishes in a rush. "You're too intense for me!"
Grace, hurt and near tears, asks, "I'm too intense for you?" Spencer attempts to reassure her, saying, "I can't handle a girlfriend right now. I can't handle myself right now. I'm too intense for me!" He seeks two things from Grace, time and "for you not to be mad at me. Because it's me, Grace, not you!"
In silence, Grace looks out the window as tears begin to flow. With one more glance at Spencer, she picks up her book bag and leaves.
In the Manning dining room, the camera looks down on Aaron from behind. He sits alone, hunched over the table, tormented by the cruel voice. "It's the same with you always, you're just the same! And what's that??" "A liar," Aaron whimpers. "I can't hear you!!" the voice grates. "A LIAR!" yells Aaron.
"There aren't even words," the voice sneers, adding that Aaron's never been worth a damn. "Now say your name!" it commands. "Aaron," he responds. "LOUDER!" "AARON!" Aaron cries, grabbing his head. "I can't even hear you so you must be nothing," the shadow says, moving behind him. "You're nothing! Always and never, NOTHING!" The apparition, clad in a dark hat and coat, perches behind Aaron.
The front door opens and Aaron bursts from his seat, knocking the basket of cutlery off the table. "Uncle Aaron?" Grace hurries over as Aaron apologizes and crouches to collect forks and knives. Assisting, Grace says, "You're not doing so good, are you?" "I'm better!" Aaron hastens to assure her.
Hearing that her mom is shopping, Grace remembers with a letdown that Rick's coming to dinner with his kids. She seeks to calm Aaron about this, saying of Rick, "He's...large, but he's okay." Aaron sees that she's near tears and asks, "Are you?" Sensing the problem right away, he says, "The snow boy! I should have told you -- snow's a meltable element, you can't keep things that are made of snow!"
Sobbing, Grace wraps her arms around her uncle, an act which takes him by surprise. Gradually returning her embrace, he ventures to say, "I've never been asked to do this before!"
Suddenly, trembling, he tells Grace he needs his medication. She hurries into the kitchen and asks, "How many?" Sitting at the table, Aaron is tongue-tied until the apparition next to him shouts, "TELL HER!" "Two!" Aaron calls.
Grace delivers the pills and Aaron whispers to her, "Don't tell Lily." He takes Grace's hand to kiss, and says, "I'm sorry." Crying softly, she strokes his head.
Lily prepares lasagna that evening as Zoe and Judy keep her company. Lily asks Judy where Grace is, then adds, "Do you think we should go check on him?" Judy leaves to check on Aaron.
Aaron rolls over on the bed when Judy enters. Bleary and rumpled, he sits up slowly. Judy, kneeling in front of him, assists with his buttons, and he says, "I'm tired, Judy." Recognizing warning signs, she says, "I think it should just be us tonight." Lily enters and greets her brother. When Judy relates her concern, Lily informs her, "They're on their way!" She asks Aaron what he wants to do, and, not wanting to disappoint Lily, he claims that he's fine. He gets up to go wash his face, and Lily follows Judy into the hall. Grace comes up the stairs seeking a word with her mom, who says, "In a minute, sweetheart," as she and Judy retreat to the master bedroom and shut the door.
Lily repeats Shelley's advice about trying to need something from Aaron, but Judy sees this as pushing. "He'll pay!" she says heatedly. "Like he needs your crap on top of everything else." Lily tries to be diplomatic, saying she appreciates how devoted Judy has been to Aaron, but Judy finds this patronizing. She scoffs at Lily's contention that she, Lily, wants to make it up to him for their lost years: "You want him to make it up to you, so you can feel good about your life, and Rick. But that's not his job, Lily, he's sick!" Lily knows this: "He's my brother, too," she insists.
[In black and white, a steaming Lily shouts, "Damn her, she is so like this, this is so who she is: poor little Judy, when she's really just superior Judy. It's just this manipulative little game she plays -- she's always played it!" Likewise an exasperated Judy shouts, "God, I hate her! I go see him once a week, twice a week, she's gone twice in ten years! Yeah, sure it's easy now, the hard part's done, I did it! Hey, let's have dinner! God."]
Angrily, Judy walks towards the door as Lily remarks, "You don't want to believe that he's better!" Judy retorts, "You don't want to see what's right in front of your face!" She slams the door as she leaves.
Quiet and pale, Aaron sits at the table. Judy shows him the tray of lasagna, and Zoe chatters as she sets breadsticks on the table. This earns a taunt from Grace, who sits to Aaron's right. "Grace!" her mom scolds. To Eli and Jessie, Grace complains that her mom repeating "Grace!" like a parrot is typical dinner activity. Eli completely understands, saying his dad parrots, "Eli, Eli!"
Rick, overhearing, enters from the kitchen and tells his son, "I hope you never have you as a kid." Eli offers to fetch Aaron a soda, but tells his sister to get her own. "Eli!" his dad admonishes.
To his right, the apparition harasses Aaron: "Just look at you!" Judy leans in to ask if he's okay, and Aaron says that he is. Jessie offers to bring in the salad.
Relentlessly the voice sneers, "I'll tell you again because you're too stupid to listen. You disgust me!" A wave of insults washes over Aaron. Covering his ears in terror, he erupts from his seat and collides with Jessie, sending salad and plates flying. The girls scream as Aaron runs into the kitchen, and Judy shouts for everyone to go upstairs, and for Lily to call Shelley.
Aaron cowers in the corner, yelling "Nooo!" Judy orders Grace to get his medicine, then whispers to Aaron as he cries and slaps himself, trying to be rid of the sounds. As she tries to touch him, he knocks her hand away, screaming, "No, No! Stop it, stop it!" Rick moves in to pinion Aaron's arms, and Judy shouts not to hurt him.
Watching from the dining room entryway, Lily flinches, covers her ears, and begins to cry. As he weeps in pain, Aaron sinks to the floor, Rick and Judy hovering over him.
[In black and white Lily speaks softly. "He taught me which berries and leaves to eat if I ever got lost in the forest. He showed me the way a bird's wing works." She demonstrates with her hands, and continues, "How it's made, how it lifts, how it floats..." Her hands gently lift, as if in flight.] Aaron gulps his pills, looks up at Lily and tries to smile. She gazes at him yearningly.
Later, in the living room, Shelley finishes tending to Aaron, who is fast asleep on the sofa. "He'll sleep a million hours," she tells Judy, Lily, and Rick. She inquires how Lily is doing; she answers, "Just a little tired, I guess." "Oh this'll wear you out!" Shelley agrees. Judy thanks her for coming, and Shelley says, "I can see that, despite tonight, Aaron's doing better." Lily says, "The meds," to which Shelley adds, "And other things."
Shelley goes to the kitchen to sample the lasagna, Judy following her. To Rick, Lily suggests a walk. They stroll down the street and Lily speaks in a voiceover, "That's one of the things about Rick it's hard to describe." [Lily continues in black and white, "How it's OK for him just to be there."]
"He'll be all right," Lily states, admitting that she made the situation worse. "Looks like you did," Rick agrees, sensing her guilt feelings. "You're one to talk!" Lily retorts, alluding to Rick's brother. "At least I talk to mine," Lily continues. "At least mine's sane!" Rick returns. They laugh softly, and Rick proposes a deal: "When we're married, you solve my problems with my brother, I'll solve yours with yours." Until then, they'll focus on "how you screwed up with Aaron."
Finding a seat, Lily calls attention to her life, how it's been such a mess. "And Aaron getting better gave me hope for my life -- maybe it wouldn't be such a mess forever. I needed him to get better for me, to give me hope for my life." Rick observes, "You were wrong. About hope, where it comes from." "From me," Lily says, looking at Rick, "from me. Damn." Rick nods and says, "Yeah."
When they return to the house, a sleepy Aaron looks over from the sofa and murmurs, "Lily." She goes over to kneel by her brother, who says, "I'm trying, Lily." Tenderly, she tells him, "No, don't, Aaron. Just be here with us, however you are. Because I'm doing better, Aaron. Don't worry about me." He smiles at her and closes his eyes.
In her bathroom, Lily turns off the faucet, then hears, "Mom?" She sees her daughter reflected in the mirror and exclaims, "Grace, it's one o'clock!" "It's 12:49," Grace corrects her, "and I can't sleep." Lily approaches her and says lightly, "Between all this and you being held hostage, I'm surprised you're in one piece." Grace laughs, and, as her mom rubs moisturizer on their hands, wonders if it really works. Lily responds, "Oh yeah, I'm really a hundred and two! But don't tell Rick."
Suddenly serious, Grace asks, "Did you ever worry about us, Mom? That it could happen, what happened to Uncle Aaron?" Lily collects herself before answering, "Honey, I worry about everything!" Grace begins to cry as she confesses she knew that afternoon that Aaron was sick, that he asked her not to tell. Lily stops her, saying, "It was me. I wanted him to be something for me that he can't be."
Grace looks down and whispers, "It can hurt so much." Lily strokes her face, then asks if everything is all right with Spencer. Rolling her eyes, Grace responds, "Spencer is insane, Mom. No disrespect to Uncle Aaron," she adds with a smile. "Wanna talk about it?" Lily asks. "It's one o'clock," Grace points out. "It's 12:52," Lily corrects.
Turning to leave, Grace has one more thing to say. "You're a good sister, Mom. I just think you should know that, before you go to sleep." Touched, Lily smiles and nods her gratitude. "Good night," Grace says as she leaves. "Good night," Lily repeats after a moment.
[Leonard Cohen sings "The Sisters of Mercy" over the closing scenes the following day.] Aaron, hugging his suitcase, rises from the bed and leaves the room. [In black and white, Lily sits alone.] He descends the stairs, past Grace and Zoe, who give him his hat as they say good-bye. [Judy joins Lily. Tentatively, she smiles and places her head on Lily's shoulder.] Outside, Aaron smiles at Lily before he gets into the car. She waves. Judy gets into the driver's seat, and Aaron leans back for one more smile and wave to Lily, who waves back once again. The car moves away. [A final black and white reveals a smiling Aaron sitting between his sisters.]
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