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Once and Again...Once Again

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Written by Angela Stockton

edited by Elizabeth Angela

In her kitchen, Lily asks Grace and Zoe, "Is this blouse OK?" Although Zoe assures her that it’s pretty, Lily says fretfully, "I look like his mother," referring to Aaron, whom she’s going to visit on Family Day at his group home.

["When you go there," Lily says, "what you feel is how much work it must be to be insane, I guess."]

Lily puts on her coat and Grace hands her a box of cookies to give Aaron. Once their mother has left, Zoe tells Grace that Jessie found in the attic some photos of Aaron, in which he appears to be of high-school age. Examining them in Zoe’s room, Grace is surprised that one photo shows him juggling.

At the group home, Lily and Aaron sit side by side, across from a white-haired man with a careworn face, and a wild-eyed young woman in her thirties, who constantly talks over him. He calls her "Miriam," and she calls him "Dad" and "Daddy Lion," mockingly growling at him. Lily notices Aaron smiling at Miriam.

After the family get-together, group home director Shelley tells Lily that an opportunity has opened up for Aaron to move into an apartment. She thinks that Aaron is ready for independent living if someone checks up on him regularly, which she assumes that Lily and Judy will continue to do, with help from her. When Lily seems skeptical, Shelley urges her to think about it. Going to Aaron’s room, Lily finds her brother examining a clock. "Miriam got me a clock for my birthday. She says if I’m gonna live independently, I need clocks," he explains. "Miriam’s a very wise woman," he adds earnestly. "Where she walks, fields burst into bloom."

"I never heard you mention her before," Lily remarks cautiously. Aaron replies that Miriam was in the movie Casablanca.

Taking a paper from his pocket, Aaron unfolds it and shows it to Lily, who reads "Aaron’s List of Dreams" across the top. He explains that Miriam told him he should write things down. Lily is stunned when he continues, "I love her. I only want to live independently if I can independently live with Miriam."

Taken aback, Lily asks if he has talked to Shelley about Miriam, to which he repeats, "Where she walks, fields burst into bloom." But he drops the subject of Miriam when Lily offers him Grace's cookies.

Later, in her kitchen, Lily talks to Judy about Aaron and Miriam. "Go, Aaron!" Judy crows; "Aaron doesn't know what he loves," Lily insists. That night, in her bedroom, she asks Rick if it bothers him "that I have a crazy brother." "It doesn't bother me that you have a crazy sister," he quips.

She tells him that Aaron claims to be in love with Miriam. "So love's bad?" Rick wonders. She explains that Aaron is sensitive -- "before he was sick he was the most sensitive person I've ever met" -- and that he has no sense of proportion about falling in love.

"I have no sense of proportion when it comes to you," Rick answers, which flatters Lily but fails to dispel her misgivings about Aaron.

Next day, Grace opens the front door and is stunned to see the sunken-eyed Miriam on her front step, puffing on a cigarette and accompanied by Aaron. As they enter the foyer, Lily asks warily, "Do the people at the board-and-care know you're here?" Miriam insists that they do, but Lily isn't at all reassured when Miriam volunteers that they arrived in a bus driven by Ralph Kramden, and that she herself is Alice Kramden when she isn't Rosa Parks or Jackie Kennedy.

Trying to make the best of the situation, Lily invites them to stay and offers tea. Miriam reciprocates with a "hostess gift" -- a handful of skin magazines. When Lily pours the tea and asks Miriam what she'd like, Aaron blurts out that he wants to be with Miriam and that they ran away from the board-and-care because they aren't allowed to be together. Lily buries her face in her hands as Aaron rambles on about Miriam. Finally, Miriam diverts him by urging him to take out his list. Docilely, he pulls the list from his pocket.

That evening, while Miriam eats her way through one and one-half pounds of shrimp which Lily was planning as dinner for her family, including Judy, Grace asks Aaron and Miriam how they met. "We were on the same anti-psychotics," Aaron answers. Grace and Zoe are discomfited when Miriam climbs atop Aaron and they plant slobbery kisses on each other.

Lily telephones the group home. At first Shelley says that Aaron can stay but that Miriam isn't authorized to be out overnight, then decides that it won't hurt Miriam to spend the night at Lily and Rick's house. While setting the table for dinner, Judy and Lily gently try to explain to Aaron that Miriam must leave because she doesn't have her father's permission to be out. "She doesn't need permission! She voted in the last election!" Aaron protests.

"Something's burning!" Zoe calls from the kitchen. Running to the stove, Lily finds an empty saucepan atop a lighted burner. In trying to move it off the open flame, she burns her hand. Miriam apologizes, saying that she was trying to make tea. "But you didn't put any water in it!" Lily points out.

"I'm scared. Other people's houses scare me," Miriam whimpers.

"Who wants ice cream after dinner?" Rick chirps, but he's ignored as Lily and Judy, speaking softly to Aaron, again explain that Miriam's father wants her to go back to the group home. "I don't want to go back, I didn't vote for him!" Miriam shrieks. Aaron runs to the breakfast nook and huddles on the floor. "Why do they want me to be alone when I am already?" he sniffles, pounding the floor with his fists and kicking a chair in frustration.

[Lily recalls that when Aaron was eighteen, he spent the summer in clown school and met a young woman, Jamie Davenport. One night he called his family from the school and announced that he was going to drop out of school and marry Jamie. While she reminisces, Aaron deftly juggles bowling pins]

Miriam kneels beside Aaron and, stroking his head, gradually calms him down. At her urging, he again pulls out his "list of dreams." Eventually, quiet again, he rests his head on her knees. Later, with Judy keeping her company, Lily scrubs her kitchen sink. "What do you mean, they remind you of you and Sam?" she demands. Judy answers that when things are working between two people, it's like a list of dreams coming true.

"You don't know what happens to Aaron when he gets attached to someone," Lily says. Resenting the implied older-sister condescension, Judy demands, "What do you mean?" Rather than give Judy a direct answer, Lily says vaguely that she doesn't want Aaron to be hurt. Judy argues that he's already hurting, and maybe Miriam, for all her unkempt appearance, is good for him. Lily silently shakes her head.

Later, Lily finds Miriam in the attic bedroom and politely asks if she has everything she needs for the night. "You don't like me. I'm not very likable," Miriam tells her, but without rancor. [Wistfully, Lily recalls that she once had a mental picture of the girl Aaron would marry: her name would be Caroline and they'd meet at Oberlin, backpack together across Europe, and read Steppenwolf to each other. Caroline would be a pediatrician, and every spring she and Lily would go to New York for three days and see some plays.] Lily reminds Miriam that Aaron likes her.

To Lily's chagrin, Miriam calmly talks a string of disconnected nonsense: Aaron's going to get a job because she needs pearls and wives shouldn't work, Jay Leno is a lesbian, she and Aaron are going to appear on The Tonight Show. [Lily recalls that she expected Caroline and Aaron to marry in Paris and cruise the Seine "on one of those boats with the lights -- what are they called?"] Aaron walks in on them and when Lily asks if he has everything he needs, he replies, "Miriam has substantial breasts."

Lily joins Rick in their own bedroom, where she tells him of Aaron's wish to marry Miriam. "Can he?" Rick asks.

Lily pines for the old days when Aaron would simply live with them forever "like Boo Radley." This sets off an alarming train of thought: "What if my mother gets sick, and your mother, which they will because everyone dies. What if they didn't have anywhere to go, which they don't, we'd have to take them in, which we have to--"

"Lily," Rick interrupts her, "you're spiraling." He kisses her and she settles down. However, sleep is impossible for Grace and Zoe when they hear graphic sexual noises coming from the attic, and Zoe appeals to her mother for help. "This can't be happening," Lily says in exasperation as she shuts the attic door.

In the morning, Lily again tries to convince Aaron that Miriam must go back to the group home. Grace enters the kitchen. Aaron reaches for his list and writes "eggs" on it, then tells Lily that he doesn't understand why Miriam has to go back. When Judy arrives, Aaron excuses himself to go upstairs.

"So you're kicking her out?" Grace asks her mother coldly.

Lily reminds Grace that it's not about kicking Miriam out, but about the fact that it's illegal for her to be in their house. Judy suggests that Lily would be happy if Aaron never saw Miriam again. Not satisfied with her mother's answer, Grace argues, "Their love is really touching and beautiful, and you should support it with all your heart."

Lily retorts that since everyone else is making lists, she'll make one: how would Aaron and Miriam shop? Could they cook without burning the house down? How would they do laundry? Would they do laundry? What if she got pregnant or one of them got sick?

"There are answers to all those questions," Judy insists, but Lily claims that relationships are hard enough for people with normal problems, never mind for Aaron, who can't manage his own life.

Grace sneers that even if Aaron and Miriam have problems, Lily of all people should be understanding. "Oh, great, now I'm Cruella deVil," Lily retorts, and orders Grace and Judy to take Aaron and Miriam for the day because she's busy.

While Rick, Grace, Zoe and Judy accompany Aaron and Miriam to the vacant apartment, Lily looks through old family photos, including the shot of Aaron juggling, and one of Aaron with a girl. [She recalls that when Aaron announced that he was marrying Jamie, their father screamed that there was no way he was going to get married at nineteen. Phil Brooks went to Florida and brought Aaron back, "and that's when he started to change." He started bombarding Jamie with phone calls and letters instead of going to class. The family didn't know what he was up to, Lily says, but perhaps they should have.]

At the apartment, Judy and Grace agree that in Judy's apartment and Lily's attic are plenty of items which Aaron could use to furnish his own place. As he hangs a wall clock, Aaron declares, "Places need two people. One person is a room. Two people are a home." Miriam reads from his list some of the things he needs to set up housekeeping.

Alone in her house, Lily hears a knock on the front door and opens it to find a man who introduces himself as Herbert Miller. She recognizes him as Miriam's father and welcomes him inside. Over tea, he asks her what Aaron was like before his illness. Lily says he was wonderful, like a hero to her: "I always envied his depth of feelings."

Miller says he and Miriam's mother knew by the time she was three that something was wrong with their daughter. He asks Lily if she thinks Aaron can live on his own. "Well, he's been on some good medication," she begins, but he continues, "Because I don't believe that Miriam can." He explains that she lived on her own once before, and even though, as a retired cop, he knew the streets of Chicago, it took him two months to find her. By then, he says grimly, she had been raped, "shot up with drugs," and beaten.

Lily is horrified. Miller concludes, "Perhaps your brother is ready, but Miriam is not. She will never be ready to live on her own." At that moment Aaron, Miriam and the family walk into the kitchen, and Miriam's face hardens when she sees her father. He tries to tell her that he brought her gloves and her medication.

"No, I don't want my medication! I want Aaron! I want my life!" she screams, and clings, weeping and wailing, to Aaron, who repeats, "One person is just a room." This means nothing to Miller, who barks at Aaron, "Will you be able to give her her medication? Keep her from wandering off? Make sure she doesn't injure herself?"

Judy steps between her brother and Miriam's father, warning him, "Don't talk to him this way."

"That's the trouble -- people will," he retorts. Judy pleads with Lily to make Miller leave. Turning to Lily, he asks, "Do you believe this could ever work?" Lily shakes her head.

Miller tries to coax Miriam into leaving, but she screams again, "Nooo, I want Aaron, I want my life!" and runs from the kitchen. Judy tries to soothe Aaron, but he cowers behind the refrigerator, beating his head against the wall. Miller says that he'll be waiting in his car, and if they don't call Shelley within the hour to have Miriam removed, he'll place the call himself. As soon as Miller leaves, Aaron goes upstairs. Grace turns on her mother, snarling, "You think everyone has to be just like you to be happy. Well, you don't seem so happy to me, Mom!" before leaving the kitchen also.

Judy also turns on Lily, demanding, "Why do you get to decide? Why does it hurt you for Aaron to have just one little moment of happiness?"

"I don't see how we can decide that for him," Rick adds. Wearily, Lily asks Rick what he knows about Aaron, and dares Judy to tell Rick about Jamie Davenport. Impatiently, Judy argues that it's been twenty years since Aaron became upset over his breakup with Jamie.

"Upset doesn't exactly describe it," Lily mutters, and sorrowfully describes what happened afterward, how the family became worried when Aaron, then back in Madison, didn't call home: "I found him. He hadn't eaten and he hadn't slept. There was blood everywhere, old blood. He had been cutting himself a little bit at a time for two weeks. He was practically dead because this girl dumped him. That's what happened the last time Aaron was in love."

Horrified, Judy demands to know why she never knew this. Lily replies, "Because you were in high school. Because Daddy made me promise never to tell anybody." Pain and grief are etched on her face as she adds, "You think I don't want him to be happy? I would give anything for Aaron to have one day, one minute of happiness!"

In her bedroom, Lily looks out her window and sees Miller's car parked in front of their house. [Lily says that Aaron has been hospitalized ever since.] Judy departs after saying, "I still think you're wrong and I can't believe you didn't trust me enough to tell me." Lily tells her that it's not about trust, it's about fear. With an understanding smile, Judy signals a truce.

Grace finds her uncle in her room and asks to sit beside him. She starts to talk to him about his new apartment, but he says he's going back to the group home. From the stairs, Rick eavesdrops. Aaron says he can't leave something he never had; "You mean someone," Grace replies. "I mean her!" Aaron weeps. Grace says she knows what he means, and pats his shoulder.

Rick goes to his bedroom where, after peering out the window, he tells Lily that Miller is still outside. Recalling how he met Aaron for the first time at Phil's funeral, he says that Aaron seemed to him like the loneliest person he'd ever seen. "I could have been that lonely, but I got lucky," Rick continues, putting his arm around Lily. "I found this phenomenon."

Lily complains that everyone else is lost in a romantic fantasy and can't see that Aaron will never be lucky because Miriam can't love him. "Sometimes I think romantic fantasies are all that we have," Rick answers. He tries to put his other arm around her, but Lily rises and walks out of the bedroom.

[Immediately after putting Aaron in the hospital, Phil told Lily that after his own death, she'd have to take care of Aaron. At the time, she couldn't imagine that her father might someday be gone.]

Going downstairs, Lily finds Aaron and Miriam in the living room. Abruptly, Aaron says he forgot his suitcase and goes upstairs. Miriam tells Lily that she's ready to leave with her father because Lily's life frightens her: Lily has too many people in her life --"enough for six lives"--whereas she has only one person.

"Yourself?" Lily guesses. "I worry about Aaron!" Miriam answers. "Aaron looks at things and they say, ‘you'll never have me' and they turn away. But I don't turn away." She says that she has tried to convince Aaron to move into the apartment alone.

Lily looks at Miriam with fresh eyes. "You really love him, don't you?" she asks.

"He's my list of dreams!" Miriam replies fervently.

Lily goes outside to Miller's car and climbs into the passenger seat alongside him. She explains that she's been trying to keep Aaron and Miriam apart because emotions are "toxic" to Aaron and could literally kill him. "So we're in agreement, then," Miller declares.

Lily shakes her head. "I think I've finally realized that Aaron's never, ever going to get better. He's going to die a very sick man," she says mournfully. "There's nothing to protect because he suffers so much already. The question is: is there a chance of something that's not suffering, that's beautiful even if it's temporary?"

Miller tells her that as a cop, he had to accept people as they are and what they're capable of, and that Miriam is limited. Lily replies that people who are limited in some ways are not limited in all ways, and that while she originally doubted that they know what love is, she now believes Miriam really loves Aaron.

"I just don't know how to hope any more," Miller sighs. Lily replies that if life for Miriam and Aaron is a mess, so are the lives of half the people she knows. "God help him if he doesn't fit into her movie," Miller jokes.

[Lily continues her own romantic fantasy: "Aaron and Caroline would get married in Paris, and I would meet a handsome French artist who lived in a loft. At night we'd go out on one of those boats on the Seine--what are they called? Bateaux mouches!" She shrugs. "Oh, well--whatever."]

In the company of his family and her father, Aaron gleefully carries Miriam over the threshold of their apartment. Everyone pitches in to unpack and furnish Aaron and Miriam's new home.

The End

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