It's a jailbreak; we're free. (person)
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Mon Nov 13 2000 at 6:23:14
It was the trees that gave him away.
I sat in his office, a rare one-on-one session. Mostly we had been doing family counseling, which equated to my mom trying not to cry, my dad's fake stoniness belied only by how hard he gripped the arms of his chair. Me trying not to say anything that would ever have to be talked about again later. My sister looking at her hands in her lap, her words slow. My little brother home, with a neighbor, peddling weed on the corner, who knows, we didn't think about him much that summer.
So, the trees. I sat in Dr. Feinman's office in a chair that I would later notice was
, neither uncomfortable nor comfortable enough. He asked me questions,
I answered with the smallest answers
I thought might shut him up. I knew better than to give him real information. And the trees were preoccupying me.
It took three visits for him to ask what I was looking at. I told him. Roundish leaves like silver dollars, and I'd barely thought "silver dollar" when the wind stirred up the tree and flipped the leaves around to show me their undersides which were
. I sat up straighter and tried to make sure I wasn't imagining it. I wasn't. They were little silvergreen dancers, clinging to their slender tree. It was the first good omen in ages.
Anna had been locked up there all summer. I don't remember what the last straw was. I know my parents drove her to the center without me, I know I stayed home and sat
in front of the tv, numb, trying not to think about it
. Sitcoms are the great American blessing when it comes to times of grief.
Anna was trouble, they said. Everybody said it. But I was the one who screamed, who threw an orange at her one time so hard it left a bruise on her collarbone. An orange. I made that purple shadow underneath her skin with an orange. She never told our parents about it. If she had, I might have been glared at but I would not have been punished. I was younger. I was better in school.
None of it made any sense. None of us knew what we were doing.
I don't blame my parents
they were so tired that year
. My mom's job. My dad's back. It all turned into this monster that hulked over our house, made up of all the little insults we could not wish away. Anna got locked up and I got idolized but it hurt my little brother the most. Again I find myself wanting to apologize to him or to take him to dinner, to try and talk about what that year was, how differently we all saw the same hideous time. But we can't talk about it, not really, our eyes go elsewhere, we turn to our plates or the tv.
So on the third one-on-one visit, Dr. Feinman asked me what I was looking at. I had just been thinking how difficult it must be to have his job. He had to sort through all the garbage and decide what parts mattered. He had to listen to all the stories of who got hurt and whose fault it was, and he never even got to make a facial expression about it. It must be so hard on him, I thought. But at least he gets to have these trees outside. They must be a comfort.
He asked, and I turned to him. I was smiling, it seems. I was going to say
Aren't your trees lovely. Do you know what kind they are?
I bet they even make
good skeletons in the wintertime
Dr. Feinman said Well? Are you going to tell me, or do I have to guess, like you've kept me guessing these three weeks?
He kept going, I didn't have to say anything. He was done listening, I saw. And I knew what he was.
When I went home that day my mom was on the couch in front of the tv but not watching it, not really, I could tell. She had the blankness she had gotten very good at. My dad was
on the sunporch muttering
. Through various quick lies I got them both at the kitchen table. We are getting Anna out of there, I said. And we are doing it tonight. I'll drive.
I think all they needed was a direct command, after so many maybes and learn-to-see-it-my-ways. We had grown so adept at play-doh logic, we'd thrown out the concept of truth. If you don't know which way is up, you can hardly complain when the center wants to keep your oldest daughter a little longer For Her Own Good. You can't complain when they shut the double-sealed doors in between you and your daughter, or when, the next time you see her,
her face is puffy from crying and her eyes are drug-dead.
When she shuffles in slippers down the hall. When she says They are treating me really well here. Dr. Feinman really knows what he's doing. But she cannot meet your eyes to say it. When your daughter is locked up by strangers who shush and soothe you at every turn,
whose voices are honey and velvet
, who assure you they're doing all that can be done But We Just Need More Time. Who keep dropping the word Breakthrough. Any Day Now. If all that is happening to your daughter and you were the ones who drove her to the center, wordless and unresisting in the back seat - your sanity finds solace in the safety net of fuzzy logic. Maybe it IS all for the best. Maybe this IS what she needs.
What my parents needed was me, telling them it was not so.
So, I did it. I faked a giant bravery. I had the keys in my hand. I had my shoes on.
It was after hours which meant we were not supposed to be there. The receptionist on duty was the worst one, the thin mean carrothead. My father pounded the counter (I had never seen him pound anything but bread dough) and demanded and cursed - my father cursed at a stranger. My mother didn't say anything but her hands were curling and uncurling. I like to think she was aching for an orderly to lay out on the floor with one smooth unrehearsed uppercut which would leave her bemused and him bleeding.
Why did carrothead open the double-sealed door?
But she did. We were through and striding, eyes up, we knew the way. The night nurse rose from behind the desk as we sailed past. Sputtering, pressing buttons. We strode past untouchable.
Anna was asleep, her hair was matted on her neck. We did not get a tender waking-her-up moment because her roommate woke up and freaked out.
Anna was bleary from the night drugs, she was mostly still in sleep but my parents got her out of bed and between them, in her nightgown, she was so thin. Past the nurses and orderlies - one grabbed my father's arm and he yelled - my father
- something about LAWSUIT, MOTHERFUCKER! - to my credit I did not laugh - and back to the double-sealed doors, me following in a hurry, afraid someone was going to grab me too, terrified they would take me in my sister's place, like goblins after any human their claws could catch. It took no persuasion at all to be let out, my mother walked up to carrothead and looked her levelly in the eye, so cool and dangerous, and the button was pressed without question. I am telling you, we were invincible.
In the car nobody talked. My mother cried a little bit, just a little, then she was done.
My father put the windows down and drove slow, it was summer and all the summer smells came in.
In the back seat Anna lay down with her head in my lap. I smoothed her hair. Later she would not remember this part at all, the drugs would not fade until halfway through the next day, when she would wake in her own bed with the sun on her face, knowing some improbable miracle had brought her back home.
I like it!
The point at which your carefully woven story falls to pieces
In front of the tv, numb, trying not to think about it
I worked at summer camp, and all I got was this lousy case of gangrene
I'm out; I'm free. Down here the night air is purple. What do I do with it all?
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