“Your mom is very sick.” After five years of marriage, I can read the tension on Eric’s face and feel it across the kitchen table in the grasp of his hands.
“And?” I ask. I know there is bad news to come. News that I don’t want to hear.
“Maybe you would like a cool drink. It’s been a hot day,” Eric stalls. We are in the middle of a heatwave and yet I feel a chill run down my spine.
“No. I think I know what you’re going to say.” I had been visiting Mom at Letterman Army Medical Center at Presidio of San Francisco for months, watching her fade away. Dad had mentioned a week before that Mom would be going to Stanford University Hospital to be evaluated by Dr. Shumway, a pioneer of heart surgery.
“Your dad called earlier and asked me to tell you something. Dr. Shumway says there is nothing more that they can do.”
Eric moves his chair back as I shift around the table and fall into his tender hug.
Don’t cry, I think. I’m twenty-four years old and can’t dodge the recurrent reminder of Dad’s words, “Big girls don’t cry.”
“How long?” I ask, trying to maintain composure. My temples pulse.
“Maybe a few weeks.” His words trail off as the tears come. His tears. Not mine. There’s a swift kick in my belly as I try to digest the pain. My mother will not live to see this baby, I realize.
Is Dad crying now? Is that why Eric is the one to break this news? Only Eric will witness my tears.
Four months later I sit in stoic silence at the memorial service as Rev. Boring offers words of comfort at Carmel Valley Community Church. It feels odd to have someone other than my father at the pulpit. My sister, a blossoming teenager nine years younger than me, buries her tears in a lump of tissues. I see my older brother brush his tears away on his coat sleeve. My head pounds with backed up tears. Did I imagine Dad’s gasps and sniffles?
After the service, we gather at the house. It was Mom’s dream come true, this house on the hillside above Carmel Valley. With a glass of wine propped on my growing belly, I feel the touch of my mother’s sister. Her hand is on my belly. “You are so strong,” she says. “You will make a good mom.”
I wake with confusion and then I begin to understand. I know what this dream means and it has a lot to do with my lack progress on the memoir lately. I suppose it could be rewritten as a short horror story:
I’m on some sort of campus and I can’t find my classroom. I walk in circles around the buildings and finally find the room on the second floor of an old brick building. I sit in the chair – the kind we had in high school – single seats for right handed students with a cubby underneath for our books. Eric squeezes in next to me.
The teacher gives us an assignment to write. I have no paper or pen. I ask the lady next to me for a piece of paper. The pudgy lady with long black disheveled hair says, “I can’t give you this. It’s special paper,” as she grasps her notebook.
“Can I have just one piece of your special paper?”
Reluctantly she hands me one sheet of lined notebook paper. “But I have no pen,” I say. “Can I borrow one of your pens.”
“You don’t need a pen for the special paper. Just write it in your head.”
Ten minutes later the instructor interrupts our writing. “Times up. Put your pencils down. Who wants to share first?”
Eric nudges me. I whisper, “SHH, you can see I have nothing. Hopefully she won’t call me on it.”
The woman a couple of rows up stands. She speaks an unfamiliar language. The instructor with a knowing nod says “it’s okay. You will understand this one.”
The woman walks out of the classroom. We wait in silence for the door to open. She reappears with a stroller. She removes her wig and clothes down to a Speedo swimsuit – It turns “she” is a man. He has tattoos all over his body including his bald head, speaks the strange language, and begins to perform acrobatic tricks. As he goes by my desk, I gasp at the infant in the stroller. He is wearing only a diaper and has tattoos all over his body, matching the mans. Looking closer, I see the tattoos on the baby are painted on with markers.
The class sits in silence, mesmerized by the magic of his act. Who could follow that?
The instructor calls on me. I tell her I have no paper.
The woman next to me says, “You have the story. Put this in some water and drink it. Then go to that copier in the corner and press the green button.” She hands me a one ounce travel container filled with pink powder. I pour it into a glass and add water, drinking down the sweet liquid. Like a robot, I go to the copier and push the print button. Two pages come out with scattered blocks of writing, as if someone tore up my piece and glued it into a mosaic. I try to make sense of it as I head to the front of the classroom.
But wait. The copier is not finished. I watch in horror as a ream full of colorful pictures print out on 11×17 paper. When I think the copier is finished, I gather up the paper, apologizing to the instructor for using all the paper. I try to explain but she looks at me with frustration.
The lady with the special paper is gone. I’m looking through the paper we have now spread out on the teacher’s desk. It seems to be distorted pictures of my life. Red hats, mom, dad, friends, cars. The copier starts up again. When it shuts down we have a carton of 11×17 paper.
“I’ll call in our science teacher and see what she thinks,” the teacher says.
“No, let me piece this all together. Let me take it home and work on it. How much do I owe the school for the paper?” I ask.
“Nothing. This is impossible. She dismisses the class. But no one wants to leave. Instead they gather around a long table where we have begun to spread out the papers. Everyone is grabbing at pieces of my distorted life, mixing it up. Frantically I try to keep them in order. “Please don’t mess with them. I need to figure this out.” I catch one lady walking away with one of the papers. “Bring that back,” I stammer. “That could be the missing piece.”
“It is,” she says. When she turns, l see It’s the lady who gave me the potion. She crinkles up the paper and I grab it from her.
I look for a box to put the paper in. There is a huge stack of boxes by the wall but none of them fit the amount of paper I have. Near the copier I find a bigger box. I’ll take it all home, paper the walls with it, I’m thinking.
The class returns to their seats. The teacher stands at her podium “We still have 10 minutes left. I guess I’ll share my story.” She begins to read and stops after only a few indecipherable words. She brings out some glasses and a tissue. “I can’t get through this without crying.” Her short blond hair begins to grow. Moments later she stands in front of us with a crop of spikey green hair a foot long. She crumples to the floor.