Once and Again...Once Again

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Written by Angela Stockton

Edited by Elizabeth Angela

Karen wakes up in her bed, her face haggard, her eyes focusing on a water glass and a bottle of pills on her nightstand. ["When you don't want to do anything, but you still have to, what you do is make manageable pictures," she says despondently. "For example--getting up."]

Downstairs, Eli and Jessie try to fix breakfast, but are frustrated by the meager contents of the refrigerator. "She doesn't eat when we're not here," Eli remarks. "I came home late yesterday, her light was on, she didn't even yell. She didn't even give me that hurt look I've been getting since I was six."

"What did she do?" Jessie asks worriedly.

"Nothing," Eli replies, shrugging.

Karen, struggling to sit up in bed, thinks, "You wait for the next set of pictures and hope they come." [As the camera soars away from her, she admits, "I'm not supposed to feel like this."]

Bounding into the kitchen, Karen calls a blithe "Good morning!" to her children and proposes that for dinner, they have a make-your-own pizza night. When Eli and Jessie, puzzled by her atypical high spirits, respond indifferently, she "remembers" that Eli is working that evening. Rather than tell her that he has no job to go to, he lies that he is, indeed, working from 4:00 to 11:00 p.m., and feigns enthusiasm for a rain check on the pizza dinner. When Rick arrives to pick up Jessie for school, Eli takes advantage of the distraction to slip out.

Rick asks Karen if Jessie can come to his house on Thursday instead of Friday because he and Lily have plans for the weekend. ["Picture, stop. Picture, listen," Karen coaches herself.] Karen, keeping her back toward Rick and Jessie as she tries to look busy at the sink, objects that she and Jessie were planning to visit Field's department store for the sale on winter clothes. ["Sometimes you can't make the pictures, so you count to get through. One, two..." Karen intones dully.] But when Jessie suggests that she stay with her mother both nights, visiting Field's on Thursday and having pizza on Friday, Karen pastes a smile on her face before turning around. "OK, great," she replies. Though Jessie is satisfied, Rick observes Karen with suspicion, as if sensing that her good humor is a facade. As soon as Jessie and Rick leave, her smile vanishes.

In a psychiatrist's office, Karen recalls that when she and her sisters were children, "Mom's resting" was their euphemism for "Mom's depressed." When the doctor asks if "Mom" ever sought help, Karen shakes her head and wryly answers that her mother was so self-reliant, she made her own ketchup. Her father never dealt with her mother's depression either, she adds. As for her own bouts of depression, Karen admits that Rick dealt with them by retreating to the basement and making scale models.

"So you've had a lot of support for your emotional life over the years," the doctor observes sardonically. He asks Karen about her medications. Although she admits that she feels fatigued and dizzy and is never hungry, he points out that they can't be sure whether those are side effects of her medication or symptoms of depression. He asks how she feels about increasing her dose of antidepressant to 50 milligrams. In response, she asks, "Do I just wake up one morning and everything's wonderful?" He answers with what he calls an old Russian saying, "If you wake up one morning and feel no pain, then you know you're dead," and a newer American saying, "Hang in there."

Arriving home unexpectedly in midday, Rick is surprised to hear a guitar being strummed in the garage. The noise drowns out the sounds of his moving around outside, but when he walks into Eli's room, Eli looks up from his guitar and reacts with a guilty start. When Rick asks why he's at home instead of at work, Eli tries to dissemble, but is finally forced to disclose that he was fired three weeks before.

"And when were you going to tell me this?" Rick asks, stunned.

"Now?" Eli jokes lamely. Shaken, Rick mumbles that he needs to get the sketches he came home for, and leaves.

At school, Jessie is approached by a boy who asks, "Will you have sex with me?" "OK, but it has to be today, now or never," she replies flippantly. Flustered, the boy stammers, "I can't today, I have basketball practice."

"Sorry!" Jessie smirks and walks away, ignoring his shout of "Jessie, you're a fox!"

Katie meets Jessie at the lockers. When Jessie wonders if all boys are idiots or if girls just mature earlier, Katie states with conviction that boys never mature. She then hands Jessie a CD of Billie Holiday songs. Since Jessie has never heard of Billie Holiday, Katie explains that she was "this amazing singer" who had a difficult life, and who always wore a white gardenia in her hair. "I was listening to her and thought of you for some reason," she adds. Jessie is so touched by the gift that she can hardly express her thanks. The awkward moment ends when both girls say that they have to leave, and go their separate ways.

That afternoon, Eli goes to his mother's house and while he's in the kitchen, Karen slips into the doorway behind him. Turning, he sees her rigid posture and icy stare and says nervously, "Dad must have called."

"Three weeks," she says, her voice quivering with barely-controlled rage. "You lied for three weeks."

Defensively, Eli claims that keeping a secret is not the same as lying, but his hairsplitting only provokes Karen into open rage. Her eyes bulging, she screams, "What do you think is going on here?" "I'm not sure, but I think you're gonna tell me!" he shouts. He paces the kitchen, daring her to call him a "stupid, irresponsible loser," while Karen, at his heels, shouts that she can't believe anything he says and doesn't have the strength to deal with him. To his astonishment, she suddenly orders him out of the house. Though taken aback by her fury, Eli retorts, "Fine! I'll just get my stuff," but that isn't soon enough for Karen, who shouts, "I want you out now!"

"Nothing would make me happier!" he yells and storms out, slamming the door behind him. Even after he's gone, Karen screams hysterically, "Get out of my house!" and beats her hands on the door.

Later, Karen is sitting alone in her minivan, lost in thought, when Judy taps on the window and climbs into the passenger seat. She says that she's been trying to call Karen, who answers vaguely that things have been "a little dramatic" at her house lately. Judy invites Karen to join her and some girlfriends the next Friday for an evening of pizza and Sex and the City, and asks about Karen's medications. Karen admits that they make her spacey and a little dizzy. Judy says her own anti-depressants initially had the side effect of lowering her libido, to which Karen feebly jokes that for her, having a libido would be a side effect. When Karen says she has to pick up Jessie, Judy climbs out of the van after telling her friend to "hang in there" and to call any time.

While driving Katie and Jessie home, Karen does her best to join in the conversation, but the girls, giggling and whispering behind their gloved hands, unintentionally make her feel like an outsider. After dropping Katie off, Jessie and Karen continue on their way, Jessie asking Karen about her tastes in music, and about Billie Holiday. Jessie says that she doesn't know what kind of music her mother likes because she never plays any. As if this topic is too personal, Karen changes the subject, asking Jessie if she knew that Eli was fired from his job. She admits that they fought and that she kicked him out. "Mom, you cannot just kick my brother out!" Jessie protests. Karen heatedly insists that she can't deal with this situation and demands that Jessie "just let it be."

Later that evening, Jessie goes to her mother's bedroom to ask permission to meet Katie at a coffee shop. She sees and hears Karen crying. In a futile attempt to disguise her tear-streaked, puffy face, Karen smiles as she refuses Jessie's offer to bring her back something, and encourages her to enjoy herself. But once Jessie has left, Karen again breaks down.

Next morning, Rick tells Lily about Karen's depression and his fear that it's affecting Jessie. He admits that he doesn't know what to do. Recalling that she experienced depression toward the end of her life with Jake, Lily says, "She doesn't want to be where she is," and urges him to give Karen time. Time, she explains, is what cured her own depression--time and Rick.

At school, Jessie tells Katie that she has to go shopping with her mother but complains that she doesn't want to, because she doesn't like the clothes Karen picks out. She says that Karen is depressed, to which Katie replies that her own mother is depressed also. "Clothes are interesting," Katie continues. "You ever notice that no one our age dresses to show who they are? They dress to hide who they are." She urges Jessie to go shopping with Karen.

Lily is at work in her kitchen when Eli walks in. Her mild "hello" sounds ominous to him: "So you hate me too," he says glumly. "You would have said 'hi' if you didn't." Lily insists that she doesn't hate him, she's only disappointed in him. He asks what his father said to her, and when Lily replies that she shouldn't be the one to tell him, he comments, "That bad, huh?"

"You're very wise this afternoon," Lily jests. Eli describes the scene at his mother's, admitting that it upset him. He adds that being thrown out wasn't weird, but the way she screamed at him was. "Ever screamed at your mom?" he asks Lily. "No comment," she says crisply, her eyes glued to her chopping block.

While shopping with Jessie in the junior department of Field's, Karen finds a sheer peasant-style blouse trimmed with sequins. Calling the blouse "adorable," Karen wants to buy it, but Jessie complains, "I don't want to be adorable, I hate that word! It makes me sound like a pixie." When Karen tries to change Jessie's mind, Jessie quotes Katie's remark that people dress to hide who they are. Karen feels the room spinning and abruptly stops talking. Jessie notices the change in her and comments on it, but Karen insists that she's all right and that as soon as she goes to the ladies' room, they'll leave.

That night, Eli arrives at his mother's house to pick up Jessie and take her to Rick and Lily's. Stiffly observing the formalities, Karen thanks him for coming, and he replies that he was planning to come by the next day and pick up his things. "Do you happen to know where my Boy Scout duffel bag is? The one you sewed the merit badges on?" he asks coldly. Karen stammers that she'll look for it. Eli tells Jessie, "Let's go," but as Karen starts upstairs, he mutters, "Go to hell." Jessie gives him a shocked stare, and Karen turns around and asks incredulously, "What did you say?"

"You don't care, so I'm not gonna repeat it," he replies sullenly, and beckons Jessie to come with him. Watching them go, Karen shakes her head.

After dinner, Rick takes Jessie aside and gently tells her that Karen is "going through a rough spot," and he knows Jessie is worried about her mother, but that it's not her job to take care of her. Shaking with fear, Jessie astonishes Rick and Lily by sobbing, "I'm really afraid that Mom might try to kill herself," and asking Rick to help her mother if she does hurt herself. "You know nothing bad is gonna happen. I won't let it," Rick promises, wrapping his daughter in a tight hug.

Next day, Rick visits Karen at her office. Before he can say anything, she warns him, "If this is about Eli, I'm really not ready to talk right now." She's dismayed when Rick points out that she's depressed, looking past him as if afraid someone will overhear, and is caught totally off guard when he says that Jessie is afraid Karen might hurt herself. "You know I wouldn't do that!" she exclaims, leaping to her feet.

"But she doesn't, and she thinks she has to take care of you. She has to know you're going to take care of yourself," Rick replies. Nodding forlornly, Karen sinks into her chair, the skilled lawyer unable to say anything in her own defense.

During her next visit to the psychiatrist, she tells him the situation with Eli is out of control. She describes her panic attack in Field's and wonders if it was caused by her pills. To her surprise, he replies that she looks more "present" and more animated than he's ever seen her, and assures her that her reactions to Eli are perfectly normal. "This kid sounds like a pain in the ass!" he exclaims. "He smokes dope every day, he gets his ass fired, and he lies to you about it for three weeks. What are you supposed to do--buy him a BMW?" Karen laughs in spite of herself, and he gives her a "homework" assignment--every day, she is to make a list of three things she wants, loves, or is looking forward to. When she jokingly warns him that Rick thinks she's a very negative woman, he tells her that she's already better because she can laugh about her condition.

While Karen is with her psychiatrist, Katie is visiting Jessie at Rick and Lily's house. In the attic room, they play the Billie Holiday CD. Katie encourages Jessie to sing along to "God Bless the Child," certain that Jessie can sing just like Holiday. Gamely, Jessie starts to sing, but while her voice is beautiful, she sounds nothing like a blues or jazz singer. Nonetheless, Katie sits at her feet and gazes at her admiringly.

Having left the psychiatrist's office, Karen starts on her "homework," and her mood visibly lightens. [She ticks off, "April...baseball...a new Woody Allen movie, even if it's bad...soft-shell crabs--hey, that's four!" she beams, surprising herself. "Eli's kids, and Jessie's kids!" she continues joyfully. "Someone to hold me!"] Absorbed in her thoughts, wearing an outer smile to match her inner smile, oblivious to her surroundings, she steps off a curb directly in front of an oncoming car. She is struck on her left side, the impact somersaulting her across the hood, and lands in a heap on the pavement.

Horrified bystanders rush toward her, and the distraught driver climbs out of her car, wailing, "I didn't see her!" Karen's face, hat and coat, and even patches of ice on the road are spattered with blood from lacerations to her nose, mouth and forehead. Her eyes stare vacantly. Only the twitching of her hands and eyelids indicates that she is still alive .

[In black and white, Karen is nude, lying on her side and murmuring, "It's been so long since I've slept. So long since I've sat and felt the sun on my face."]

Lily is at home, talking to Judy on the cordless phone, when call-waiting interrupts them. The caller is Rick and after hearing his news, she gasps, "Oh, dear God!" She calls to Jessie, who bounds down the stairs at first, then slows her step at the sight of Lily's horror-stricken face. Warily, she takes the phone and says, "Hello?" As she listens to her father, she whimpers, "Mommy?" and sags onto a step, the phone slipping out of her hand. Lily assures her that they'll go to the hospital right away, but Jessie wails, "I want my mommy!" She screams "Eli!" then a piercing, agonized "Eeeliii!" In his room, Eli hears her shriek and looks up from his magazine in alarm.

Karen is wheeled into an operating room on a gurney. ["Can I rest now? Would that be OK?" she murmurs, her eyes flickering open briefly, then closing again.] The anesthetist fits a mask over her nose and mouth [as if inhaling nitrous oxide, she giggles and babbles nonsense], but she remains semi-conscious while the medical team works on her.

Jessie, Eli, Rick, and Lily wait outside the operating room. Jessie notices Eli hunched against the wall and moves to his side, saying, "I know, it's OK." Karen's surgeon emerges to report that Karen's pelvis, left femur and left kneecap are shattered, and her spleen is ruptured. "She's going to be staying here with us for a while. Walking will be hard, it will take some time. But at least you've got her," he says.

Jessie and Eli go into her room. At the sound of Jessie's, "Hi, Mom," Karen slowly turns her head. ["Oh my God, they're so beautiful!" she breathes, extending her hand.]

Outside the room, Rick and Lily make plans, Rick saying he'll notify Karen's sisters, Lily that she'll ask Jake to keep the girls. That night, after sharing a somber dinner with Rick, Lily goes to call Eli and Jessie to eat. In Eli's room, she finds Jessie, who says that she sent Eli to Coop's house. Lily sits beside her and says, "You're not like a daughter to me, you are one. I have three. Three's magic, it's lucky. So am I." Jessie has no response to this, but when Lily tells her that dinner is vegetable casserole, she says that she hopes there's no eggplant in it. Lily is happy to assure her that all the eggplant has been removed.

Next day Katie and Jessie go to Field's, Jessie desperately searching for the peasant blouse that she refused to accept from Karen. To her relief, Katie finds it on the rack, still unsold.

["I first saw Karen when she was coming out of the library," Rick reminisces. "She stepped into the sunlight and just shone. Like a coin from some place where everything is beautiful."]

Rick is sitting by Karen's hospital bed when she awakens. When she asks about the children, Rick tells her that before the accident happened, Jessie wondered if he'd be there for Karen if anything happened to her. "Silly girl, doesn't she know you?" Karen says fondly.

Although Rick fumbles his words, Karen understands that he needs to know if her accident was no accident. She assures him that she was feeling better before it happened. "Rick, I want to live. I just don't know how," she confesses. Words failing him, Rick holds her hand.

In the attic room Zoe watches Jessie glumly try on the peasant blouse. "That blouse is so not you," Zoe says bluntly, and is surprised that Jessie agrees. Zoe claims that she couldn't say the same thing to Grace, even though she hates all of Grace's tops.

[From a sitting position, Karen bends almost double, flexing her feet and legs like a sprinter warming up for a run. Contentedly, she says she loves to run.]

Jessie visits Karen in the hospital. She explains that Rick brought her, and remarks that soon she'll have her own driver's license. "Promise me something--when you get your license, don't tell me about it, OK?" Karen says. Jessie is relieved that her mother can crack a joke.

Karen goes on to say that she was lucky. "Is that the truth, Mom?" Jessie asks. Karen apologizes for keeping things from her, and says firmly, "This is the truth. I'm OK and I want to get better. I want to."

Her eyes glistening, Jessie asks to stay at her mother's bedside and do her homework. She takes off her coat, exposing the peasant blouse, and apologizes to Karen for being mean at Field's. "To inaugurate our honesty, that's just not you," Karen jokes weakly.

Mother and daughter laugh, clasp hands, and say "I love you" to each other. [Karen, seated, looks over her shoulder and flashes a heartfelt, carefree smile. "Three things I love," she begins. "Number one: Jessie's face."]

Karen asks Jessie to go to a music store and buy her three CDs: Ella Fitzgerald singing Harold Arlen; Carole King's "Tapestry," and the Barbra Streisand Christmas album--"the old one, not the new one." ["Number two: Jessie's face," she continues, laughing softly at herself.] She gently brushes off Jessie's reminder that it's not Christmas, explaining, "That's some of the music I like."

Jessie takes the list and leaves. ["Number three..." Karen says, choking back a sob.] Eli appears in the doorway. "Eli," his mother whispers longingly. "Hey," he answers, offering her a tentative smile. In spite of her bruises, scrapes, and lacerations, Karen's face lights up as she smiles back at him.

The End

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