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Finding Thornfield

by Renee Watley about a month ago in Young Adult
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An exercise in realistic fiction

Finding Thornfield
Photo by Keenan Constance on Unsplash

Part the First-

"What a consternation of soul was mine that dreary afternoon! How all my brain was in tumult, and all my heart in insurrection! Yet in what darkness, what dense ignorance, was the mental battle fought! I could not answer the ceaseless inward question--why I thus suffered; now at the distance of--I will not say how many years, I see it clearly." Chapter 2. Jane Eyre

I’ve always liked the smell of books. I think any red-blooded person should enjoy that new-book smell: the feeling of being the first reader to crease the spine, the first to turn the pages…In my opinion, it’s better than any drug I can fathom taking. I read research on it somewhere about the chemistry of what happens in our brains when we open a new book. I don’t remember why, but it is scientifically proven that opening a book is like a natural high. There’s an addiction I’m not ashamed to admit having.

“Virginia!” calls my mom from her room in the back of the house. Dutifully, I set down my brand new copy of Picture of Dorian Gray (a special edition copy with appendices featuring everything there was to know about Oscar Wilde and the original publication of the book) and walk down to the end of the hall to her room which carries the distinct miasma of alcohol and sheets that have not been washed in far too long. I used to gag, but I’ve developed a certain superhuman control over my olfactory senses to the point where I can’t even smell it anymore. Now if only I could get it to stop stinging my eyes…

“Yes, mom?” I say softly, gently pushing open the door to her room.

She is lying on her bed, legs flailed as if she had simply collapsed there the night before. Her clothes litter the brown shag carpet, which looks like it hasn’t been cleaned in a while in spite of the fact that I know I vacuumed her room the other day.

“Dinner?” she says in a voice I can barely hear as I approach her side of the bed.

“Not yet. Another forty minutes,” I say calmly, moving the hair out of her face. “Lasagna takes a while to cook.”

My mom turns to me with eyes so dolorous, you would have thought I had just told her that her entire family had died.

“Okay…”

She turns away from me and promptly drifts back to sleep. I kiss her head and cross the room to turn off the TV on her dresser, silencing the rerun of Dr. Phil.

My mother has been suffering from dementia for a long time. She says it’s because of the mental illness that runs in her family — and it is, in part — but I’m almost sure the majority of it was triggered when my estranged father left us in the middle of the night on my eighth birthday. Needless to say this has caused me to harbor a borderline Lady Macbeth level rage towards the man. How’s that for a grudge?

My mom’s older sister Stella comes over often to help me out with mom so I can live what Aunt Stella deems ‘a normal teenage life.’ What she doesn’t know and what I do not under any circumstances plan to tell her is that my own ‘normal teenage life’ consists of me having lunches with teachers as I talk with them more in depth about their subjects (Mr. Marcus nearly had a fit of excitement when I made parallels between Beowulf and Batman) then subsequently enduring at least four sessions of verbal abuse (with varying degrees of severity) from girls who think viewing all forms of reality television are good uses of their time, and then walking one and a half miles from school to my job at the local vintage bookstore, “Title Wave.” I might be the only person I know who really loves her part-time job more than anything else. None of this, however, seems like a ‘normal teenage life’ to me.

Closing my mother’s door, I walk down the hall to the kitchen to check on the lasagna. It’s still nowhere close to ready.

Part the Second-

“It is a very strange sensation to inexperienced youth to feel itself quite alone in the world, cut adrift from every connection, uncertain whether the port to which it is bound can be reached, and prevented by many impediments from returning to that it has quitted.” Ch. 11

School, as I’ve mentioned briefly, has never been easy for me. Not academically speaking, of course. The material itself makes me want to gouge my eyes out with boredom: it’s the students I can’t stand. On one level I don’t care that no one likes me: I don’t care about the glares I get in the lunch room when I look for a place to sit or about the whispers of ‘dyke’ or ‘lesbo’ that I hear as I traverse the cafeteria. Unfortunately, this level can only sustain me for so long. Much as I’d like to deny it, there’s another level where it tears me up inside. There’s another level where I sit in the bathroom crying because powerful senior girls made me feel worthless, a level where I dream of being beautiful and loved by everyone, a level where a fragile little girl can’t help but be hurt by all the verbal bullets she’s forced to take every day. Sadly, this level exists and my fellow students like to ensure that I can’t ever forget it.

Teachers love me. They’re all sure I’ll go on to college with every prestigious scholarship one could possibly imagine and be famous one day. I can’t tell you how badly I would love to go away to school — leave all these immature children behind — if it weren’t for the metaphorical demon sitting on my shoulder telling me that my leaving would send my mother into an irreversible catatonic state. I can’t help but believe it.

I can usually pass unnoticed in the crowded hallways. I’ve done so for most of my academic career. There’s a certain art to zipping quickly through a hallway crowded full of students who find it prudent to stop and chat at their lockers during the seven minutes between classes. One has to learn this art when any dawdling at all could mean the other students force you from the metaphorical level of apathy down to the level with the scared little girl with a simple whisper of “No one likes you” or “Seriously, just kill yourself already.” I’m the Mr. Miyagi of crowd dodging. Step left, step right; wax on, wax off…

“Ginny!”

I turn at the sound of my preferred nickname (which no one uses) and see my best friend, Douglas Keller, walking towards me from the library with three large books in hand.

“Hey Doug,” I say, opening my locker as he approaches. He clumsily shifts the weight of the large books in his arms, causing them to topple to the floor with a rather tumultuous crash. Sadly, Doug’s hand-eye coordination was not sharp enough to save him from tripping over the books and falling on his face. Even in the hallway packed with over two thousand students, the noise was enough to draw every eye.

“Smooth move, faggot. Trip over those ugly ass clown feet?”

The taunt came from a rather large basketball player known by most of the student body only as Kink. His comment garners laughter, particularly from his posse of basketball players. They high-five each other, proud of themselves, while I help Doug stand up.

“It’s okay, just ignore them,” I urge, gathering the books.

Doug nods, but I see the hurt in his eyes. His feet were a little pigeon-toed and it was a source of great embarrassment for him. I feel for him and I try to draw his attentions.

“Whacha studying?” I ask casually, looking at the books in his hand. Glancing at the covers, I see A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zin. Looking to the other two books, I see Brave New World by Aldous Huxley and 1984 by George Orwell.

“Bit pessimistic about the country’s future?” I tease, handing the book back to him.

He smirks at me and runs his hand through his short curly red hair, as he often did when recovering from a rather large social faux pas. He hated his hair. He says it makes him look like a leprechaun. I think it makes him look like a droog of Alex’s from A Clockwork Orange. He hates when I tell him that. Come to think of it, I hate when I tell him that too…

“No, just interested in perusing the opinions of fellow anti-communist/dystopian writers,” he says casually. “The history book is for Hammond’s paper on the implications of slavery on the Civil War.”

I frown, casting him a dubious glance.

“Doug, I wrote that paper in fifteen minutes. Why do you need a book on the entire history of the U.S to write about one obvious aspect of one event?”

Doug paused and pretended to dramatically stroke a non-existent beard in thought. As if Doug could ever grow a beard…I’m pretty sure he’s been trying since puberty and has only ever managed a measly tuft of nearly invisible curly hairs on his neck: impressive, considering the fiery shade of hair on his head.

“Well, Ginny,” he says in a dramatic voice. I giggle at his antics. “There are some who could say that I enjoy reading about the history of our fair country…” He takes a dramatic pause as we ascend the stairway to the second floor before continuing his sentence. “...and those people would be right.”

I laugh aloud as we enter Mr. Marcus’s English class.

Mr. Marcus was one of those teachers who was simply born to teach. He literally can’t do anything else. If he did, I’m fairly certain he’d wither away and die a worse death than Roderick Usher. He simply lived and breathed literature. I sometimes wonder if that’s why his hair is so long (his black locks almost fall past his shoulder, but not so much so that he looks like an extra from the movie Deliverance, just enough to make him borderline attractive) or why he chose such old school 1950’s glasses one would expect to see on characters of the show Mad Men. I’m pretty sure it was a contributing factor to his purchasing a 1958 Plymouth Fury to restore, though.

His ties were often the best part of class. He’d travelled to almost every place worth travelling to and had an exotic and often hysterical tie from each location. Today, apparently, was globe bow tie from Paris day.

“Going with the bow tie with the globes on it, huh Mr. M?” Doug says with an approving head nod as we enter the classroom and take our usual seats at the front.

“Oh you know, I keep it real,” Mr. Marcus says before swinging both of his arms in front of him in a display meant to show his ‘street cred.’ It doesn’t work and Doug and I laugh with much gusto.

“Hey, you won’t be laughing when you hear what I’ve got for you today!” he says, rubbing his hands together maniacally.

“Bring it, teach!” I say with theatrical toughness.

“Oh you just attempt to wade through some Sir Thomas More. Then we’ll see whose laughing!”

“I’m not afraid of you!” I challenge in a playful tone.

Mr. Marcus laughs as the last of the straggling hallway chatterers enter the room. He then remembers something.

“Oh! Ginny, that reminds me,” he says, diving into his desk drawer with the precision of Nimrod’s arrows. “I have something for you.”

Doug frowns, eyeing me in confusion. I laugh, playing up his bewilderment.

“Oh we have a special sort of relationship: Mr. Marcus and I. I help him out when he’s swamped and has papers to grade, and he gets me stuff,” I say with a distinct air of sarcasm. Doug laughs aloud.

“Wow, quite snippy this morning, eh?” he quips.

“Winter must be coming.”

Doug and I both laugh right as Mr. Marcus pulls out an old book from his drawer. It is an ancient copy of Jane Eyre. One thing I like better than a special edition book is an early edition book. Mr. Marcus had promised me something awesome when I had helped him grade those papers, but this was beyond the boundaries of the word ‘awesome’…

“Wow…” I say, running my fingers over the leather cover and the gold inlay letters. I feel as though he had just given me the Holy Grail.

“You know it opens too, right? There’s like, words inside,” Doug remarks in a playfully sarcastic voice. I punch him in the shoulder without taking my eyes off the book. He buckles with hyperbolic theatricality.

“Thank you, Mr. Marcus!” I say with breathless surprise.

“I know Jane Eyre is one of your favorites,” he says. “I bought it last week at ‘Title Wave’, but it has too much writing in the margins for me. And I think we know how I feel about writing in the margins of novels right?”

Doug and I had echoed his final sentence, this fact having been burned into our brains all year like so much Big Brother propaganda.

“Well,” he says, pretending to sniffle with theatrical wounded pride. “I suppose I’ll just go back to teaching then, huh? If you know everything I’m going to say already, I’ll just move on to teaching everyone else hmm?”

I give him another smile of gratitude, which he accepts with a gracious nod.

“…Teacher’s pet…”

“…I’ll bet she’s sleeping with him too…”

“That’s why she gets straight A’s…”

“…bet she’s pregnant before graduation…”

I turn around and see Grace Miller, one of the many seniors who often sought to put me in my place: that place being on the dark level with the fragile little girl. She glares at me, having just been talking about me with her friends. She raises her eyebrows challengingly.

“Grow up, Grace,” I snap defensively.

“Watch your tone, slut, or the entire school will know how you manage all those good grades.”

Doug jumps in.

“Shut up Grace. You sleep with teachers and still only manage a C average.”

Grace’s triumphant smile fades and she reluctantly turns back to her toady friend Alyssa. My stomach clenches at the name ‘slut’ and I turn back to the early edition copy, trying to drown out Grace’s sharp whispers.

“Thanks,” I say to Doug.

“No problem. I got your back, you got mine.”

I smile at him appreciatively and turn to the early edition copy. I flip it open and note that Mr. Marcus was right: it does have a lot of writing in the margins. Nearly every other sentence was circled or underlined somehow with a running commentary in the margins as the previous reader had strikes of inspiration and sudden realizations. I also find little notes and pieces of paper tucked into random parts of the book as well. I leave them alone, however, resolving to embark on this adventure with the previous owner later in the day.

Mr. Marcus’ reasoning for hating annotations in novels he read for pleasure was understandable: he felt it would cloud his opinion of the book and hinder his own creative thoughts. I feel exactly the opposite: I thought it could only broaden my thought process and open me up to the thoughts of other people. There’s a certain brand of nerd that just has to write in the margins and that brand just so happens to be my favorite.

Part the Third

“She bit me. She worried me like a tigress, when Rochester got the knife from her...She sucked the blood: she said she'd drain my heart.” ch 20

Doug and I part ways after English: the last class of the day. He boards bus 119 to take him to his family’s nice suburban townhome in West Valley while I begin the trek five blocks to my small brick ranch house on Fifth Avenue. I wave goodbye to Doug as he boards the bus. That’s when I see him.

Walking out of the back entrance of the school and towards his black ‘67 Chevy Impala is Jude Wyatt: a true testament to the fact that there is a God and oh my, is He good.

In almost thirteen years of public school I had never seen a boy with such an easy intelligence and cool yet humble confidence about himself. Everything came naturally to Jude: I had been in three English classes and one Philosophy class over the last three years with him and he never ceased to spark up an interesting discussion, which teachers either loved or loathed. Jude once spent half of fifth period dissecting the better part of John Donne’s most powerful sonnets with Mrs. Walker, our sophomore Lit teacher. I distinctly remember laughing for days because Jude had called Donne an ‘egomaniacal, metrically challenged nympho’, which made Mrs. Walker faint in horror. It was probably even more hilarious than it should have because Jude’s voice was so deep and that he had the most attractive English accent I had heard since Sir Patrick Stewart himself. If Jude ever graced the stage to recite Hamlet, I’d probably faint like so many movie heroines of the Golden Age of film. You think Scarlett O’Hara was dramatic? I’d giver her a run for her money if Jude ever performed any Shakespeare…

He notices me and waves. I casually wave back, trying not to stare too awkwardly at his large bespectacled brown eyes, perfectly styled dark hair or his red bow tie and matching suspenders. Normally this would be a huge turn-off for most of the senior girls, but I knew it was because Jude flaunted his love of Doctor Who with unabashed pride. What girl wouldn’t go for a British guy who wore thick sweaters, old school 50’s glasses and was a proudly avid watcher of Doctor Who?

Just as I filter through all of my imaginings of him on stage reciting The Faerie Queene with skilled theatricality, she comes out of the school and races after him.

Much to my irritation and dismay, Jude has a girlfriend. Melissa Moyer is tall, thin and looks like Grace Kelly. As captain of the volleyball team and vice president of the senior class, she commanded a good deal of attention from the student body. It was no surprise that Jude had gravitated towards her: she was beautiful, athletic, smart, and by far the coolest person I’d ever met in my life. She knew almost everyone in the school and took the time to say “hi” to everyone she passed in the halls, regardless of social status. This made it very difficult to hate her for dating the one guy I could not seem to get out of my head.

She sees me and waves cordially. I give her a polite smile and a wave of my hand before watching them walk towards Jude’s car. I would give anything to trade places with her and be the one sitting in that Impala with him, and there are very few things in life that would cause me to do anything even remotely Faustian so you can take my word on that all the way to the grave.

Our house is nothing special: red 1980’s style ranch house with a large tree in the front yard and a singular gnome statue I had felt the need to christen as Richard the Third when I was six years old. Inside, it is equally as unappealing in construction and setup. Our two large armchairs sit next to two reading lamps in the front living room adjacent to one very large window looking out over the street. We don’t own a TV for the living room, but we have enough books to last even the most meticulous bibliophile decades. I prefer it that way. Aunt Stella approves as well.

I enter the house and deposit my things in my room. My cat, Professor Xavier, is seated neatly on my bed, right under my framed Metropolis poster.

“Don’t get up, X,” I say with theatrical sarcasm. “I’m just putting my stuff down.”

Professor X obeys: he opens one eye and gives me a glance of pretentious regality, not unlike most cats do once you’ve interrupted their afternoon sleep session.

I throw my bag near one of my four bookcases each placed in each corner of the room, taking care to step around Hugo, my acoustic guitar, before I leave the room to check on my mother.

I can hear her before I open the door. She is moving around furiously, throwing things around as she looks for something. I take a moment to brace myself. My mother’s tantrums of fury usually involved broken glass. I had to approach this cautiously….

“Mom?” I ask gently as I open the door.

She is kneeling under the bed, digging through boxes. She says something, but all I hear are several inaudible grunts.

“What are you looking for?” I try gently. I duck as she throws a shoe towards me in rage. It misses me by inches.

“Where is it?!” she shouts with fury, proceeding to tear apart the closet.

“Where is what?” I ask, attempting to tidy up a small portion of the room. It does very little to improve the typhoon of a mess.

“My dress! MY WEDDING DRESS! It was just here! I’m going to be late for the ceremony! Henry will NOT be happy if I’m late for our wedding!”

I observe my mother as she shouts at me. She is truly panicked: she actually thinks this is her wedding day. How do I tell her it was actually 20 years ago?

“Um, Mom, why don’t you come take a shower and…”

She stops her frantic searching and looks at me like I’ve just admitted to stealing her dress. Taking several large steps, she climbs over the bed, keeping her fierce gaze fixed on me and gets very close to my face. I keep my demeanor as calm as possible, trying not to feed into the fires of her fury.

“You know where it is, don’t you?”

“No, I don’t know where your dress is.”

“You took it, didn’t you?!”

“No I didn’t.”

She punches the doorframe next to my head and begins clawing at the wall, crying out in frustration before sinking to the floor, sobbing. I cover my gaping mouth in horror, unable to maintain my composed demeanor any longer. I had seen her angry before but this was a new level of fury, something I wasn’t sure I could handle on my own…

“Oh Ginny, I’m so sorry!”

My heart breaks as she looks up at me with tired eyes. Every so often, her impending dementia would subside and a caring, loving mother would emerge. I lived for these moments.

I crouch next to my mother as she calms herself down.

“It’s okay, Mom. It’ll be alright.”

I wrap my arms around her and we sit together on the floor as she cries.

Several thoughts plague me as I sit with her. I think about how many years she has lived with the knowledge that her mental illness is hereditary. I think about the stories of verbal and psychological abuse she tells me she suffered at the hands of her mother as she suffered the same fate. I think about how brave she had to be to get out of bed every morning and raise me for as long as she did before the strain became too much. I remember the mother who took me on shopping trips, to the zoo, and to the bookstore. I remember the first book she bought for me: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. She read it to me every night for three straight months, after I begged her to, of course.

As I think about how courageous she had to have been to get up every day knowing that she might one day lose me to her own psychosis, I wonder how much longer I can avoid a similar fate. Did I have a choice in the matter? Would my genes eventually attack me and leave me a crying husk in my daughter’s arms?

“Virginia?”

Aunt Stella arrives at the front door, breaking my train of thought. I hear rustling of plastic bags so I assume she has brought groceries.

“Back here, Aunt Stella,” I call gently, pushing the door open. My mother starts to calm down and pull herself together as Aunt Stella comes around the corner and gapes at the scene.

“Oh Amy,” Aunt Stella whispers, kneeling in front of us. She takes my mother’s hands into her own and brushes away my mother’s unkempt auburn hair, hair the exact shade as mine.

“What happened?” Aunt Stella asks my mother.

“I thought I was late for the wedding…Henry was always angry when I was late for things…I couldn’t be late to the wedding…”

Aunt Stella bites her lip. She wraps her arms around my mother and helps her stand.

“Let’s go get you cleaned up and then we can talk about it, alright?”

My mother nods, her eyes slightly glazed from days in front of the television in her room. Aunt Stella then turns to me.

“Virginia, will you wait for me in the living room?”

Aunt Stella’s expression is unnerving. I know she has something of dire importance to tell me and I have a sinking feeling I know what it is. I nod sheepishly and go to the living room, waiting with bated breath as I hear Aunt Stella draw a bath for my mother. About ten minutes later she comes out to the living room and sits next to me.

“Do you know what I need to talk to you about?” she asks with a stern expression.

“Mom,” I say in a small voice. I knew it, I knew this was coming…

“Yes. She’s been getting worse lately and I don’t want her here where she could hurt you or herself.”

“I’ve made it this long, haven’t I?” I say with a fighting, stubborn tone. “She’s made it this long…”

“I’m not discrediting you. You’ve done a fine job taking care of her, but that shouldn’t have to be your job. This will soon be beyond what you are capable of handling and I want to take her where she can get professional help.”

I sit silently for a moment, processing the fact that this had really happened: the moment I had feared for so long has finally happened.

“Where?” I choke finally.

“I’ve been speaking with an institution upstate—”

“St. Christina’s?!”

I stand, a sudden furious terror welling within me. Agamemnon would’ve cowered in his Greek boots if he could’ve seen me. Aunt Stella was less moved.

“What do you want me to do, Virginia? Keep her here where you and I work to pacify her mood swings and keep her quiet inside this dusty old house? Honey, she is suffering! She needs help!”

“She needs us!” I fight, working to keep my voice even. “We need each other!”

“I know this is hard to hear, but the best thing we can do for her is to send her to a place where she can get the best help possible. Neither of us can give her that.”

I stare at Aunt Stella. I had been around 12 when my mother really started to deteriorate. Aunt Stella had done her best to raise me and take care of my mother: I knew this was a difficult decision for her, but why didn’t it look like it was?

“How come you’re not as torn up about this as I am?” I ask, wiping an escaped tear away from my cheek.

The expression that comes across Aunt Stella’s face is one I hope no one ever has the displeasure of seeing on a loved one. I can read streaks of horror, shock and so great a level of disgust at my words that I think for a split second she’ll disown me. Instead, she just takes my hands into hers and kisses them, a tear escaping from her eye.

“Honey, it’s killing me. I was your age when I watched this happen to our mother before she took a shotgun to her temple to make the voices stop. Now that’s my little sister and she is suffering in the same way. If the only way I can help her is to take her away to a place where she can get medicine and psychiatric help, then I’m going to do that and I will do it with a smile on my face because I’ve done all I can. And you’ve done all you can too, okay?”

She strokes my face and wipes away several more tears that have fought their way out of my eyes. I curl up into her arms and release the rest of my tears, crying into her shoulder. I’d been preparing for years for the moment I’d have to take my mother to an institution, but it still hurt so much more than I expected.

Part the Fourth-

“Happiness quite unshared can scarcely be called happiness; it has no taste.”

Charlotte Bronte

The rest of the afternoon passes by without much excitement. Aunt Stella helps my mother dress herself and the three of us gather on the bed to watch my mother’s favorite movie, Gone With the Wind. Aunt Stella has to leave about an hour before the end of the movie, but my mother is in a good enough mood that this does not upset her as it has in the past. I settle back into the pillows on her bed and my mother leans against my shoulder. We sit quietly and watch the rest of the movie together, me trying fruitlessly to ignore my panicked thoughts of my mother perishing slowly in St. Christina’s.

It’s almost two in the morning when I wake up. My mother is fast asleep and the TV screen is blue, the VHS having reached the end of the tape. I carefully slide out from under my mother and gently tuck her into bed before turning off the TV.

I leave her room silently, noting that I’m not tired in the slightest. My usual routine when I woke up in the early morning without the slightest of soporific urgings was to call Doug. He was usually up either furiously playing an online game or reading a book. If it were the former, he would ignore me until he ran out of lives. If it were the latter, he would answer within milliseconds.

I pick up my phone from the kitchen counter, make a glass of chocolate milk with a giant, bendy Silly Straw and go outside to my overgrown backyard. Once upon a time, I’m sure the yard was nice, but neither Aunt Stella nor I knew anything much about yard upkeep and it had kind of gone to hell. I liked it, though: the grass was about three feet tall and looked very much like something from a wildlife documentary. Professor Xavier enjoyed it too during his rare moments where he acted like a cat as opposed to a throw pillow.

I step off our concrete slab of a ‘patio’ and walk barefoot through the grass. Halfway through, I lay down on my back and stare up at the stars, my eyes tracing the outline of Orion as I dial Doug’s number.

He answers before the first ring is complete.

“Hey Gin.”

“Wow, tonight’s read must be really boring,” I laugh, taking a sip through my Silly Straw.

“Well, one can only read so much of Aldous Huxley in one sitting.” I can hear him give a relaxed exhale and sit back in his chair. “So, whacha doing?”

“I’m laying on the grass in my backyard staring at Orion with my blue Silly Straw drinking chocolate milk,” I state with little enthusiasm, my energy and wit spent from an emotional afternoon.

“Uh oh,” he remarks. “Hold on, let me get in position.”

I smile as I hear him move through his house, make his own glass of chocolate milk, seek out his own blue Silly Straw and proceed into his perfectly manicured backyard.

Stargazing in the grass with chocolate milk and Silly Straws had been his idea back when my mother’s condition really started getting bad. Whenever I felt like I couldn’t handle it or when things just sucked all around, we’d both take the cordless phones from inside, call each other and go lay out on the ground outside, staring at the stars with our Silly Straw concoctions. He’d suggested it because he said staring at the stars was like staring at God himself and that chocolate milk was like the nectar of the gods. I’d agreed (marveling at his ability to fuse two theologies into one therapeutic practice so easily) and now it was the only thing that relaxed me.

I hear him settle into the grass and take a sip.

“Okay, I’m ready. Tell me what happened.”

I pause before telling him, taking a long drink from my Silly Straw.

“My mom has to go to an institution.”

Doug gives me a heavy exhale.

“Wow…that’s intense…”

“You’re telling me.”

“What happened?”

I recount the incidents of the afternoon to him in great detail. I was surprised at how much calmer I was with the idea of my mother leaving now than I was earlier. I still didn’t like it, but the idea didn’t make me so gut-wrenchingly sick to my stomach that I couldn’t talk about it.

“Oh my god,” marvels Doug. “Aunt Stella’s orders?”

“Yeah,” I say with a nod, focusing on the point of Orion’s arrow. “I don’t know when, but she says sometime soon it’s got to happen. I know she’s right, but it still sucks.”

“No kidding. Where will she go? Do you know?”

“St. Christina’s.”

Doug chokes on his chocolate milk.

“The place upstate?!”

“Yeah.”

“But…that place is rumored to be haunted! And corrupt! And potentially a breeding ground for a future horror movie! You can’t send your mom there, you’ll never see her again!”

I laugh lightly. I had thought the same things earlier when Aunt Stella had suggested it. St. Christina’s was named after Christina the Astonishing, famous for her strange ‘miracles’ as well as her steadfast faith. Look her up, she’s an interesting read; but the institution itself was said to only provoke that sort of madness within people, not treat it. Rumors had flown for years about Christina herself haunting the place as well as stories of conspiracy theories amongst the hierarchy of doctors within. Hearing it from Doug’s mouth made it sound that much more ridiculous. I suddenly felt better about things.

“I know, but now I’m thinking I’ll take my chances. There isn’t much more I can do for my mom here, so I think it might be the next best thing to do.”

“Wow…” Doug marvels. “That’s crazy. Pun not intended.”

There is a brief pause before we both start laughing. This was the reason Doug was my best friend: he could always take a crappy situation and have me laughing in spite of it.

“Thanks Doug,” I remark after at least two full minutes of laughter.

“For what?” he asks, taking a drink.

“For always making things better. For being my friend.”

He sniggers.

“Well, it’s a dirty job, but someone has to do it.”

We laugh again for another solid minute.

“So, how far into Jane Eyre did you get?”

My heart stopped. In all the chaos of the afternoon, I had completely forgotten about the old copy of Jane Eyre sitting in my backpack. Doug interprets my silence perfectly.

“You completely forgot about it, didn’t you?”

“I completely forgot about it!”

I stand quickly and race back inside. Moving with stealth I have never before exercised, I maneuver quickly through the house and into my room. Still clutching my chocolate milk, I drape myself across the bed and pull out the old book, marveling once again at just how awesome it is in its antiquity.

“Read to me,” Doug offers.

I laugh aloud.

“You hate Jane Eyre!”

“You’ve had a bad day and I can’t sleep. Charlotte Bronte’s boring, Victorian prose will put me to sleep and I’m sure reading it aloud will help you feel better about things. So no arguing: just read. And tell me any interesting comments you see in the side margins. If Mr. Marcus hates it, it has to be good.”

I laugh again. I don’t think I’d ever appreciated Doug’s friendship quite so much as in this moment.

“Okay, here it goes.”

Young Adult

About the author

Renee Watley

I am a storyteller. Music, novels, theater, any way I can create a story the better. Hopefully there's someone out there who likes what I have to say.

Thank you for reading.

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