Once and Again...Once Again

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Written by Angela Stockton

Edited by Milton Boyd

[Karen, wearing a hospital gown, wanders aimlessly. She looks up.] Karen lies in her darkened hospital room, monitors beeping and humming overhead, fear and pain on her face.

Eli awakens in his room and sees Jessie, wearing headphones, seated next to his CD burner. When he objects to her using it, she explains that she is making a CD of music for their mother. She scolds him for not going to see her. "I don't like hospitals," he answers; "Nobody likes them," Jessie retorts. "What kind of excuse is that?" Grumbling that he doesn't go into her room and doesn't like her being in his, he stalks out, slamming the door.

Rick and Lily are in their kitchen, Rick cradling the phone under his chin and complaining about being put on hold by Karen's insurance company. While Grace and Zoe head for his car, he yells for Jessie. She walks in and says that she ought to go to the hospital, but Rick reminds her that she's missed a lot of school already and Karen wants her to go back. "Fine," she answers sullenly.

Lily offers to take Jessie to the hospital at 4:30, but Jessie says that 4:30 is too late and turns to Eli, seated at the breakfast table, to ask him to take her directly from school to the hospital. "Oh, I don't know. Mom's car has been acting kinda funny and I was thinking about taking it in," he answers. Exasperated, she asks, "Are you ever planning to visit Mom?"

"Of course!" he replies resentfully.

["I don't remember it happening exactly. I only remember what I was thinking right before it happened," Karen tells the camera.]

A tall black man enters Karen's room and turns on the light. At first she mistakes him for an orderly, but he introduces himself as Henry, her physical therapist. "How can I have physical therapy? I can't even move!" she protests. Unperturbed, Henry peels the splint off her left leg and proposes that they do some range of motion exercises, noting that the sooner she gets started, the better. When he bends her leg, she moans in pain and pleads, "Just not today." Reluctantly, he agrees to wait until the next day. As he reaches the door, she asks him to turn the light off.

["I was starting to feel like things could get better," Karen recalls.]

Eli visits Booklovers, where Judy greets him and asks about Karen. Though it's not his intention, he makes himself look uncaring and irresponsible, letting it slip that he hasn't seen his mother recently even though he doesn't have a job to occupy his time. When Judy accidentally knocks over a stack of books on the floor, she's inspired to ask Eli if he can work a few days for her. "I can pay you a really crappy wage," she offers facetiously.

"I could use a really crappy wage," he answers in kind. "Plus I have had extensive experience in shelving." Satisfied, Judy asks him to report the next day and to say hello to his mother for her.

When Lily, Jessie and Eli step off the hospital elevator, Eli immediately lags behind. "I hate the smell of hospitals," he explains to Lily. She decides to wait in the lobby while Eli and Jessie visit their mother. As the children start toward Karen's room, Eli makes no effort to keep pace with Jessie, who asks irritably, "Are you high?" He angrily denies it.

Outside Karen's room, a nurse advises them that Karen may be "out of it" from her medication. But her eyes are open when Eli and Jessie walk in, although her greeting of "My babies!" is slurred. Eli stands mutely near the door while Jessie tries to talk to her, but Karen dozes off almost immediately.

Lily enters the room to fetch Eli and Jessie, but while Eli is eager to leave, Jessie insists on staying. Karen wakes up and apropos of nothing, mumbles, "I like those cookies with the vanilla icing," before slipping back into sleep. Eli and Lily leave.

In the morning, Lily shows Jessie a packet of vanilla-frosted cookies which she has just bought, and urges her to take them to Karen. Jessie remarks that they're not the kind Karen likes and brushes off Lily's offer to take her shopping for more, saying that she doesn't know where to find them.

["I can't believe I was this close to leaving my children alone in this world," Karen says worriedly.]

In her bed, Karen howls with pain, her sweaty hands gripping the pillow while Henry manipulates her left leg. "OK, that's how we know when to stop," Henry tells her cheerfully. He keeps up a nonstop string of chatter until she exclaims, "Just stop! I can't stand you talking to me like I'm a mental patient." Calmly, Henry suggests, "Let's try it again, OK?"

At Booklovers, Jake finds Eli sitting on the floor reading a magazine, and says he's needed to help unload a food shipment. "I didn't know I was going to be doing restaurant stuff," Eli says defensively. "Well, you are," Jake answers. Once Eli is on his way to the kitchen, Jake turns to Judy and complains, "I know he's a good kid and he's got a lot going on, but I think we need somebody here--on planet Earth." Judy shrugs off the incident.

Rick visits Karen, bringing an insurance form for her to sign. He finds conversation so difficult that Karen asks, "Why do I feel like everyone is suddenly tiptoeing around me?" Rick blurts out, "I'm trying to apologize for things that might have happened, before --"

"It's not your responsibility," she murmurs, and asks anxiously if Eli is coming to see her that day, acknowledging that she can't blame him if he doesn't. Rick tells her that both kids will come by later, and that Eli is now working at Booklovers, news which pleases Karen.

In their bedroom that night, Lily finds Rick searching through files for another of Karen's insurance forms, and he tells her that he has to go by Karen's house for her checkbook. When Lily comments that he seems obsessed, he doesn't deny it and admits to feeling strange about doing so many things for his ex-wife. "I still care about her," he says as if disclosing an embarrassing secret.

"Of course you do. You're not betraying me," Lily assures him.

"I was really scared she was gonna die. I don't know why, I just thought maybe I wasn't --" Rick continues. Lily silences him with a kiss. Rick responds ardently, and Lily pulls off her shirt, ensuring that Rick's errand for Karen is postponed for the moment.

On her next visit, Jessie presents Karen with a bag of cookies. She's chagrined when Karen thanks her but says they aren't her favorites, cookies from an Italian bakery on Sullivan Street. "Eli knows the place," she says. At first assuming that Eli drove Jessie from Dr. Rosenfeld's office to the hospital, Karen is upset when Jessie replies that she walked because Eli never showed up. Karen makes her promise to get a ride next time. Their conversation is interrupted when a nurse walks in, carrying a bedpan, and asks Jessie to step out. From behind a privacy curtain, Jessie listens to her mother and the nurse, her face contorted with revulsion at Karen's helplessness.

When she returns home, Jessie bursts into Eli's room, where he's playing his guitar. "You don't even care, do you? Mom almost died, Eli! Does that even faze you?" she shrieks. "You didn't have to see the look on Mom's face when she realized you weren't gonna be there --"

"Just because you're obsessed with being there every day doesn't mean I have to be!" he barks. "I hate you!" Jessie snarls and storms out.

Next morning, Eli sleeps until he's awakened by Rick, who berates him for not picking up Jessie the day before, and for not visiting Karen. "I used to be able to trust you with all this kind of stuff. It's getting harder to do," Rick complains. He leaves when Eli promises to be ready in fifteen minutes to take Jessie to school; but as soon as Rick closes the door, Eli rolls over and pulls the covers back over his head.

During her American history class, Jessie can't answer her teacher's question when he calls on her. Though expressing sympathy for her family situation, he makes it clear that he's not happy about his students' neglecting their homework. When the class ends, Katie commiserates with Jessie over being publicly embarrassed, and proposes that they take the rest of the day off. At first shocked, Jessie quickly agrees.

Judy visits Karen at the hospital and although they talk about Eli, Judy refrains from mentioning that he's not a model employee. ["When Eli was sixteen months old, he knew about a hundred words and I was convinced he was a genius. I just couldn't understand when things started to go wrong. I blamed it on his school, I blamed it on Rick, I blamed it on myself. The truth is, I just keep thinking he's going to turn it all around," Karen confesses.]

In her room at Karen's house, Jessie sprawls on her bed and confides to Katie her dream of living on a ranch. In turn, Katie says that she hopes to live in London. "Of course we wouldn't see each other," she says, lying on the other side of the bed. "You could visit," Jessie tells her; "So could you," Katie replies. They gaze intently at each other until Lily suddenly enters the room. As surprised to see the girls as they are to see her, Lily explains that Rick asked her to come by and pick up some of Karen's things. "Is there any reason you're not in school?" she adds.

At the bookstore, Eli saunters up to an attractive blond customer, introduces himself, and offers his assistance. She declines and when Eli turns around, he finds Jake observing him. Jake orders him to help out at the coffee bar and lectures him that in a place like Booklovers, he has to be cognizant at all times of what's going on.

Once Eli is out of earshot, Jake complains to Judy that the men's room smells like pot. "It could be clove cigarettes," she suggests. "It's not clove cigarettes," he insists. Troubled, Judy asks a busboy, Kenny, to send Eli out of the kitchen. To her dismay, Kenny replies that he thinks Eli left because he said "See ya" and disappeared out the back door moments before.

That night, Rick and Lily confront Jessie in her bedroom. When they bring up her skipping school, she changes the subject to Lily, asking heatedly, "Why was she in my mother's house?"

"Because I asked her to pick something up. That's not the point, Jess!" Rick snaps. "I'm sorry if I upset you, sweetie. I was just trying to help," Lily adds.

"Well, you're not helping. Stop trying to act like my mother, because you are not my mother and you never will be!" Jessie screams. She flings herself on her bed, defiantly turning her back to Rick and Lily.

During another physical therapy session, Henry encourages Karen to keep going when she moans that she can't, and says that tomorrow she can try using a walker. In pain, she pleads, "I don't think I'm ready."

"I think you are," he replies, and resumes his coaching, alternating questions about her marriage and children with orders to "Focus!" Angrily, she insists that she is focusing, but that he won't shut up and she doesn't appreciate his personal questions.

Henry finally loses his professional detachment. "If you don't want to get better, if you don't want to take advantage of what's been given you, fine," he snaps. "But let's you and I get one thing straight--I'm not the one who's stopping you."

"You're condescending, you're patronizing, you're the opposite of motivating!" Karen screams. His indulgent smile only stokes her fury. "My life has been ripped apart, and I doubt very seriously if you have any idea what that's like!"

For answer, Henry coolly tells her to rest and he'll see her the next day. Alone again, Karen breaks down.

The following morning, Jessie asks Rick to take her to the hospital, but since Rick has errands to run, Lily offers to take her. Jessie can barely conceal her resentment at being beholden to Lily. Judy calls the house, asking if Eli is there. When Rick calls Eli's name, Grace and Zoe tell him that Eli never came home the night before. From Judy, Rick learns that Eli left Booklovers early the day before without explanation.

Outside the hospital, Lily stops her car and tells the sullen Jessie that she can't replace Karen and isn't trying to. "But I do have a role in your life now. You're terrific and smart and I'm proud to be a part of your life. I need you to know that I'm here for you, anything you need," she promises. Touched in spite of herself, Jessie chokes out, "Thank you."

Rick goes to Karen's house and finds Eli in the kitchen. Eli sourly admits that he knows he's not supposed to be there: "I got kicked out, I'm a screw-up. It's not like it's a secret."

"I'm not going to defend you or her," Rick says. "But I know your Mom loves you and wants to see you, and I know you've been avoiding it."

"You think it'll make her feel better if I sat there and reminded her how much I disappointed her, how much I let her down?" Eli scoffs.

"I need you to get past yourself. I need you to grow up, because you're a man now and I need you to see yourself that way. I can't do this by myself. Everything about this family has changed, but the truth is, we still need each other," Rick tells him. Humbly, Eli accepts Rick's offer of help with cleaning Karen's refrigerator.

Later, Eli finds Judy and Jake at Booklovers and apologizes for leaving the day before without notice, calling himself "completely irresponsible." As he turns to leave, Jake asks him if he'd like to work on Sundays. Gratefully, Eli accepts and Jake tells him to report the next day. Once Eli has left, Judy thanks Jake.

Jessie is with Karen when Eli comes to the hospital, bringing his mother's favorite pillow and a box of cookies from the Sullivan Street bakery. Karen happily shares them around. When the conversation turns to her impending discharge, she asks Eli to take her home and to stay with her, saying she'll need help with the stairs. He agrees and they trade apologies for the explosive argument in which she ordered him out of her house. Eli jokingly nags Jessie not to eat all the cookies and as she squeals in delight, he picks her up and swings her around. Watching them, Karen laughs for the first time since before her accident.

When Henry arrives for his next session with Karen, sunlight is flooding the room and she agrees to try walking. While she's sliding from the bed to a wheelchair, she reads his ID badge and realizes for the first time that his full name is Henry Higgins. "Go ahead, laugh. I've really never heard that joke before," he says wryly.

["I suppose you can drive yourself crazy trying to figure out why things happen, the way they happen, for what reason, if there is a reason. It all seems so random, and you can't always know why," Karen says. "But one thing I do know is that my babies still need me." Eli and Jessie join her. "These precious sweet souls still need me. That I am not lost to them. That I am not lost to me."]

In a corridor, with Henry at her elbow, Karen pushes herself to a standing position just as Eli and Jessie turn a corner, see her, and burst into smiles. Giving them a gritty smile in return, she takes hold of her walker and slides her foot in a tentative but unmistakable step.

The End

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