The monotonous hum of the bathroom fan seemed intolerable at first, as I tried to complete the work I’d set out to do; yet, as time wore on, it became less noticeable. Thinking back to that inauspicious day, however, all I can hear is the droning sound of that fan.
Candice was showering. In fact she had been in there so long, I began to imagine how unattractively wrinkled her fingers must be. I considered several disparaging remarks about her “old-lady hands,” said with love, to hit her with when she appeared out her pleasant little spa. In reality, her hands were beautiful: soft, youthful, not an imperfection on them, save for a tiny freckle in between her right forefinger and her thumb. God, how I had once been so infatuated with that diminutive marking.
But I needed to focus.
The finance world was abuzz with talks of mergers among several important companies. This could mean big money, or huge losses; I had to play my cards right.
A crash coming from the other end of the house interrupted my concentration. I leapt up, a feeling of inexplicable foreboding suddenly running rampant at the base of my stomach. “Hun? Candice? Everything okay in there?” I could not hide the urgency or panic in my voice. There was no answer. There would never be an answer.
The most difficult part about losing someone is the knowledge that you will no longer share in the memories to come. When Candice left me, however, she took with her the memories we had once enjoyed in the past as well.
I don’t hate her, I just don’t understand what happened, which is the feeling that the doctors at the hospital say I need to suppress. “There is nothing to understand,” they incessantly, yet patiently, explain.
I recall the exact moment when I knew my life would never be the same. The door to the bathroom was unlocked. Always demure and extremely modest, Candice secured any entry, as though we may be under attack from an army of peeping toms. As I opened the door, the sound hit me right away: the dull hum that would never escape my psyche. I called to her again, my voice echoing in the small, windowless room. Pushing the shower curtain to one side revealed a torrent of lukewarm water being consumed by the ravenous drainpipe. Unsure of my next move, I called out to her again, shutting the water off. Moving through the hallway of the small ranch in a matter of steps, I scanned the bedroom. Empty. The other rooms in the house were unchanged also. How could this be? To this day, I wonder the same thing.
The rest of the experience is somewhat a blur to me. That phrase, “Who is Candice?” repeated by people who I thought were my friends, the skepticism in my parents’ faces as I tried to explain my hurt and confusion, and, finally, my admission into the hospital that I now call home.
Although everyone persists that Candice was never more than a figment of my over-active imagination, I know that she is real, and she’ll come back for me. We will prove them all wrong.
If only that damn humming would stop.
Close-up on a girl: blond hair, blue and frightened eyes, nervous grin. About five feet tall, small-boned (weak) frame, fourteen years old.
Pan out: a sea of teenagers, all of which walk hastily in groups of friends and other cohorts, talking excitedly about summer adventures spent vacationing in Europe, lazy days at the beach, and night-time keg parties at what's-his-name's place.
When the bus had pulled up to her new high school for the first time, it seemed surreal. Though she had passed the immense building a million times, she had never thought this day would actually come.
But here it was.
The girl looks up at her peers. How did they all get so tall? She decides that more milk was the only solution. Looking quizzically at the numbers emblazoned on the classroom doors, she quickens her pace. She wouldn't want to be tardy for class on the first day.
After climbing the stairs, then going back down again in a fruitless attempt to locate Global Studies I, she bumps into a tall, dark-haired girl with large, unblinking eyes and an out-going disposition that seems the exact opposite of our protagonist.
“Hi! I'm Jackie! Are you a new tenth grader too?”
“Umm, yeah. I'm Kirsten,” she says hesitantly to the new girl.
“I totally don't know my way around this place yet, but I'll help you out if you need it- you look a little lost.”
“Is it that obvious? I'm looking for room 223. Sorry, I don't recognize anyone right now and I just don't know where I'm going and...”
“Hey! Global? I'm going there too! I think it's up stairs!”
So the two girls, unmatched in appearance, stature, and personality, made their way back up the stairs and enter the history classroom just as the bell rings. The teacher slams the door.
“Take your seats immediately. I don't take well to late-comers, you should know that about me. We're here to learn about history, a history that is augmented exponentially with each passing day. It is vital that you come to class each day prepared to learn, to complete your readings, and to finish all homework and projects on time. Are there any questions at this juncture?” Barely pausing to catch his breath he goes on, “Great. Let's begin.”
Kirsten looked about at the other students scribbling furiously in their new notebooks, remembering instantly that she has yet to pull hers out of her backpack.
“Is there a problem?” Mr. H questions her as she unzips the bag and grabs the red spiral notebook out.
“Uh... no... I...umm...”
He promptly ignors her attempt at a response and continues on with his lecture.
The remainder of the morning classes move more rapidly- math (where Kirsten forgets her scientific calculator at home and has to borrow from the teacher's supply), English (where she drops her text on the floor creating a booming slam, resulting in the stifled giggles of the other kids), then lunch.
Thankfully, most of her grade level were also in the cafeteria at this time. Recognizing Jackie right away, she exhales. “Hi. Is anyone sitting here?” Kirsten motions toward an empty seat at the table.
“No, go right ahead. Global was crazy, huh?”
“Yeah.” Kirsten sighs as she takes her seat next to her new friend.
“Mr. H seems like he's all business, but I heard he's only like that the first couple weeks, then he calms down a bit. I heard that from some buddies of mine that I know from theatre.”
“Oh- you're in the theatre arts program?”
“Well, not here... yet. But I do some community stuff where I met some people. You should join the Players Club here. I heard it's pretty great.”
“Cool. I think I will.”
The afternoon seems to fly by in a haze of Kirsten's clumsy blunders, strict teachers, and racing to classes. Though Jackie isn't in any more of her classes, Kirsten feels more confident in herself now that she's made a new friend.
When the day is over, she walks into her house with a bit more pep than she'd left with.
“So, how was your first day of school?” Her mom asked, smiling.
“Great,” Kirsten responded. “I'm going to be an actress.”
The crisp autumn air hit the blond ponytail at the base of my neck, and I smiled at the array of bright orange orbs that lay before me- ready to be plucked up from their mucky plots and placed lovingly on my doorstep.
Crunching the amber-colored leaves that carpeted the ground, I traipsed excitedly over to the pumpkin patch to select the perfect one to inspire thoughts of this new, fantastic season to each person who passed by our house.
Looking out amongst the masses, I saw it. As though a spotlight shone upon the twisted stem, it sat there, waiting for me: the perfect pumpkin.
Completely circular with flawless skin, my breath became entangled in my throat. Could this be it? Calling my family over to see (after all, I couldn't pick up such a heavy object by myself), I got closer to examine my spectacular find.
My dad lifted it off the ground with a soft grunt (that he thought no one had heard), and it sat there in the center of the wagon. There was no amount of hot apple cider or roasted corn that could fill me up with the pride I felt from locating that perfect pumpkin.
The truth is, perhaps a vacation at this time was just too extravagant for a newly married couple. This would be our last time, however, sans responsibility, kids, everything. So we went.
Turks and Caicos is a glorious tropical island- white sand beaches, clear azure water, magenta and golden flora. The day was hot, and my sunburned shoulders begged for a respite from the scorching rays. Feeling adventurous, Kyle and I chose to head down to the ocean, masks and snorkels in hand. Everything that we wanted to see, the hotel tour employee alleged, was a quick walk down the beach…just over a mile. Feeling no desire to further distress our sweltering skin, we both dove in right there. I blinked under the water, the mask jammed on my face, squeezing at my cheeks and forehead. I saw the submerged granules of sand first. Just as above the sea, they were colorless. The pallid slivers of coral and shells blended in with the naturally ashen underwater landscape. No fish swam by; no seaweed grazed my thighs as I kicked at the waves ferociously, trying to find something, anything to grab my interest.
A flash of color caught my eye and I spun around sharply. Kyle, a broad smile on his masked face, tried to pinch me under the water. We both surfaced, and agreed to go back to shore momentarily. I watched him swim away, diving deep to the bottom, then popping up, blowing the water out of his snorkel, remarkably like a narwhal.
Trying to kill a little time before my infantile husband finished playing, I looked around a little further. The sight of my wrinkled fingers in front of my face prompted me to stand- definitely time to go. I scanned the surface of the water for any sight of Kyle, and instantly saw his yellow snorkel gliding along, cutting through the sapphire waves. Suddenly, I was speechless.
People have told me that when something awful is about to occur, it is difficult to find the words or actions that would be appropriate for the situation. So was the case when I looked upon the ten-foot-long shadow that crept alongside my husband. Frozen in a state of complete panic, I wanted to warn Kyle of the monster directly next to him. I wanted to protect him from impending doom, but to no avail. Hell, I just wanted to move. However, I just stood there, my feet buried in the sand, like some sculpture, bronzed in fear.
Kyle must have seen the colossal fish just after I set my eyes upon it. I observed the two: nose-to-nose, man and beast, predator and undersea victim. I watched my husband struggle to the surface, gagging on the rubbery mouthpiece. His mask covered in a cascade of water, he kicked and hurtled himself away from the creature in his midst. I saw one of his flippers take to the air toward where I was standing, a gull soaring through the cobalt heavens. I was astonished by the sudden agility of this football-player-sized man. How he was able to nearly run atop the water, I’ll never know- they say that when one’s life is in danger, unbelievable phenomena are far more likely to occur.
The screaming man running into the water finally stole my attention away from the dire scene transpiring only a few feet away. Sprinting and waving his arms wildly, I could barely understand the words that this gentleman was shouting. As he ran closer to where Kyle was, his words became more clear. “It’s JoJo! It’s JoJo!” My eyes shifted upward from the sight directly in front of me. All of the children, as well as their parents, workers, and even the lazy beach-goers had happily run to the waters edge, trying to get a glimpse at Kyle’s “monster”: JoJo, the beloved dolphin, famous in all of Turks and Caicos for his playful and friendly disposition.
Before an orchestra can inaugurate the sublime beauty of a symphony, one that swells and ebbs through our souls, dances upon our hearts, and fills us with a grand prodigious emotion, it must prepare: tune, warm-up, and practice. The sound that is emanated from the ensemble before the conductor taps his baton on the podium can be rather, um, unharmonious. And, with one dog scrambling in a frenzy over a squirrel outside, the other yapping ceaselessly at a neighbor who (gasp!) dared to walk past the house, the dryer's emphatic banging, and a toddler's joyful squeals, I am reminded of this cacophonous moment. In truth, I never thought I'd be a stay-at-home mom. Although I've been known to don an apron to avoid the inevitable flour spill in the kitchen, I do not vacuum the carpet daily, nor do I iron the bedsheets, and if my husband has been waiting for me to lay out his work suits each day, he's going to be showing up to the office in the nude.
I have always had an image of the stay-at-home mom as a woman who anticipated and tended to every need of her family with a smile on her face and a twinkle in her eye. She wore sensible shoes, oven mitts, and a perfectly coifed bob, and she listened to Tony Bennett while frosting a chocolate cake. This could NEVER be me: uncomfortably high heels, chipped purple fingernail polish, and long hair piled in a wet knot at the back of my head. Led Zeppelin (and, at times, Tony Bennett) roars out of the ipod speakers, and there are no sweet confections displayed lovingly on the countertop. Not exactly the image of June Cleaver, yet here I am. Mom. Everyday. Every minute.
That's not to say that being a stay-at-home mother is not rewarding- it is actually the most gratifying, worthwhile adventure on which I have ever embarked- it's just a situation that I never thought I would experience. Having had jobs from the time I was able, going to college and graduate school, working as a teacher for several years, nothing could prepare me for this anomalous, yet magnificent, journey.
As plans often do, ours had changed at the last possible instant. The map of our lives was to take my requisite maternity leave, and then return to the classroom that I so loved- filled with literature, grammar manuals, posters, and punctuation texts. This plan was thwarted, however, the moment I gazed upon my baby's tiny, purple feet. Skinny and delicate, her diminutive toes were perfectly formed, and her little toenails flawless. These were the feet on which she would stand for the very first time, jump up-and-down in excitement when she got her driver's license, and the feet that would eventually carry her down the aisle. Perhaps I was weak, maybe a trifle selfish, but I could not bear to miss out on some of these extraordinary milestones.
So each day my objective is to absorb as much about my little girl as I can, such as the fact that she discovers countless information about an object by tasting, explores each meal by touching and mashing it with her hands, and listens intently to the wind when she plays outside. She relies so often on senses that we, as adults, have determined are useless in many scenarios. Therefore, short of squishing the spaghetti between my fingers in a restaurant, I have begun to slow down in my daily activities, to immerse myself in the world by truly recognizing it through taste, touch, smell, sight, and listening. Who knew that a one-year old could be such an outstanding teacher? I always suspected she was a genius.
Now, there are definitely times that I long to go off to my own workplace, to wear some of the suit pants that hang, dejected, in my closet, to come home to my family, who beam because they haven't seen me all day. Unmistakeably, there are several monetary benefits to working outside the home, as well, and communicating with more adults prevents one from replying in goo-goos to the grocery store clerk. Nevertheless, I enjoy where I am right now: jeans-clad, broke, speaking in gibberish to members of the community, happy.
So here I sit, amid the loud, raucous chaos. Barking dogs, buzzing appliances, screeching child- all of these sounds are a precursor to the beautiful symphony that comes with the knowledge that this is the life that I have created and am privileged to be a part of every day.
On Day One
“I bet this is what heaven looks like.”
The statement is received with a standard rolling of the eyes that I would expect from the boy sitting next to me. My nonsensical outburst is meant to sound sweet- childlike; however, I can tell that my literal-minded fiancé finds it extremely morbid. I look up again at the unusually violet sky, riddled with impossibly opaque puffs of white cotton. Unreal. This whole day has seemed different than most…a beginning.
Like any other Tuesday, I awoke to my clock radio belting out the sounds of the “70s, 80s, 90s, and today!” Gruesome. I flipped the knob to off, unconsciously swinging my bare toes onto the cold wood floor. The sudden departure from my cozy feather comforter sent a chill up to my earlobes. It was as though my feet had never before experienced a change in temperature. Eerie.
A mediocre day ensued, yet each experience- a dull “good morning” from an even duller coworker, the smell of my microwaved, “gourmet” lunch, even the spectacular view of the dumpster out my peephole of a window seemed, impossibly, new.
Even currently, as I peer out the passenger side of my fiancé’s Civic, at the smattering of shadows created by oversized and un-manicured pine trees, I sigh loudly. The boy turns to me with half a smile.
“Yeah, it’s probably something like this.”
Never one for creating such abundant drama, the choice to act on her true feelings forged a milieu that was awkward and uncomfortable. Nevertheless, she continued on with her distressing monologue. “I... I just feel like it would,” she gulped, “uh, be better for BOTH of us if I, uh, was moved to a different classroom.” Mrs. Chester stared at her with squinting eyes. They crinkled unpleasantly as her thin lips smacked together deliberately. “What I mean is...” Emmy stammered as the older teacher leaned back against her desk, her arms crossed haughtily across her chest. Mrs. Chester had decided to show no mercy for Emmy.
Fresh out of the education department at Glenola college in upstate New York, Emmy had some definite beliefs about how a classroom should be run. Her position as a teacher's aide for Mrs. Lynlee Chester, however, illustrated the opposite of these contemporary philosophies. Stubborn and inflexible, Mrs. Chester insisted that an atmosphere of terror and the general unease of her students were a necessary component in their education. The eight pupils that comprised Mrs. Chester's seventh grade special education class took to this method by evading her questions and attempting to stay out of her line of vision as often as possible. Emmy tried to reassure the kids when working one on one with them, but the truth was that she was scared of Mrs. Chester as well. Emmy continued, “It's just, uh, not a good fit.”
“I see.” The older woman glared diabolically into her core, and Emmy's stomach seemed to be doing hurdles over her heart. “Did you speak to Mr. Bell yet?”
Breathing deeply to assuage her fidgety organs, Emmy nodded. “I spoke to the principal earlier. I just wanted to go over it with you.”
“Go over what? You've made your decision. See you in the hallway.” Mrs. Chester ushered her out the door with her acrid voice. Emmy stood in the empty corridor of Addams Middle School. It was good to be alone.
Downstairs was a bit more enlivened. The excitement of Friday afternoon created a rather jubilant mood among her coworkers, of which there were many. There were only 15 classes in this school, each with between six and eight students, but since each classroom was teeming with adults (teacher, assistant, aides), in addition to hallway administrators, there was a lot of staff, all of which had apparently convened in the lobby area of Addams. “So... did you talk to the demon lady?” Theresa had sidled up to her.
“Yeah. Shh- I'll tell you about it later.”
“I think people are going to find out about the transfer when you're assigned to another class on Monday. Come to happy hour at Ty's and we can chat.”
Emmy looked at her watch. “It's 3:00. Do you really think it's wise to begin drinking now?”
“Yes. Stop being so old.”
“Fine, but I'm leaving at a decent hour. I'm still in work clothes.”
Ty's was empty but for a couple of people from work perched on barstools and prattling animatedly to each other. The old tavern was dark and kind of musty. When Emmy breathed in through her nose, the odor of stale beer, dust, and french fries filled her nostrils. “Remind me to refrain from inhaling,” she remarked covertly to her friend. Pulling up stools to the mahogany bar, the girls ordered their drinks then turned toward one another.
“Okay.” Theresa said. “I'm ready.”
“You're ready? For what?”
“For you to tell me everything that happened upstairs. Did she yell? Did she breathe fire? You don't seem at all charred.” Her chubby fingers grabbed at Emmy's shirt, pretending to look for signs of burns on her skin.
“Oh, stop. It was fine. I just clearly explained that my pedagogical ideas were different than hers; that I needed to use this T.A. position as a learning experience that I can one day transfer into my own classroom.” Wistfully, Emmy thought about how these were the things she had wanted to say, had rehearsed in her head over and over, to Mrs. Chester.
“Right. Clear and simple. Did she take it well?” Theresa inquired.
“It was fine. Can we please talk about something else?” They both turned to accept the bottles of beer from the waitress. “I got this round,” Emmy said, pulling her purple wallet out of her purse and retrieving the cash. “You can get the next one.”
“Ah- so you are staying. I thought you were 'leaving at a decent hour.'”
“Yeah, well, I didn't realize how much I needed this until I got here. I'm gonna throw some songs on the juke box.” Emmy walked toward the front of the bar as a group of acquaintances from work came in the door. She smiled at the three guys, who offered her quick nods in greeting. Watching them approach Theresa's stool, she let a sigh of contentment escape her lips. If they stayed for a while, the conversation would surely turn around. She walked over to the group, exceedingly aware of her steps on the wood floor. They all turned as she moved in on their little circle. “Hey, what's up?”
“What did ya put in?” Pete asked, accusingly.
“I played all love songs. I thought that would be a good idea.” Everyone, except Pete, chuckled. Along with Mike, Pete was one of the gym teachers at Addams Middle School. Often he would take a situation way too seriously (such as this particular moment), but Emmy still liked him. He was sweet. She looked over the rest of crew: Theresa, of course, with her long brown hair, paunchy little belly, and warm, inviting smile; Mike and Pete, both fit, both wearing identical athletic pants that swished loudly every time they moved; and Paul- older, more experienced as a person. And seemingly knowledgable of everything before their occurrence.