Crazy, Psycho, Irrational, Neurotic, Obsessive

Billiard’s Pick
Molly Each


When my sister calls me up and tells me that she’s moving to Spain, I don’t believe her. She’s mostly all talk, so I figure this idea will be forgotten by tomorrow, just like her unfinished novel (all three pages), her house in the Hamptons, her marriage to George Clooney, her reality television show idea, and her invention that allows one to apply sunscreen on their back with no outside assistance. And even when we sit side by side at my kitchen table looking at pictures of the flat she’s renting near Plaza Espana in central Madrid, I don’t believe her. And even when we share a bottle of champagne to celebrate her job at Telemundo, a Madrid television station, and even when she shows me a printout of her e-ticket, which was a steal on Priceline, and even when I see her name on caller ID, yet only hear a voice that sounds like hers in a loud stream of one long Spanish sentence through the receiver, I still don’t believe her. And I lie in bed at night, tossing and turning and trying to figure out why she would leave. Her family is here, her friends are here, she has a beautiful house and a nice job, and she’s never even been to Spain! But the biggest thing, the thing that keeps me up through almost a whole night of Nick at Nite reruns, is that she knows there is no way I’ll be able to function without her, so why is she leaving me?

Granted we’ve had our fights, like the time we got in a brawl backstage during our dance recital because she blurted the contents of my diary to our fellow ballerinas, and the time that she yanked the kitchen chair out from under me and cracked my tailbone and laughed so hard she cried, and even now tears come to her eyes at the memory. And the time that she ratted on me the night that I drank for the first time and I got in major trouble, and I mean major trouble, trouble like my mother’s lips still purse when that memory comes up kind of trouble. But Sis and I can laugh about all that now (although the laughs don’t come as easily when my tailbone aches right before it starts raining) because we’re close as can be.

I help her pack up her gorgeous Pottery Barn home, and store what can fit in the basement of what my mother calls my “starter home” (which is just a nice way of saying it is very small and not much to speak of) and what can’t fit (most of it) we put it into one of those enormous storage buildings with the orange doors off the highway. After, we drive to my house and I put the tea kettle on, and we sit on my couch, careful to avoid the giant tear in the upholstery, and stare at my stark white walls, listening to the water bubble against the metal louder and louder until the piercing whistle echoes through my house. We sit facing one another, sharing a blanket and sipping grapefruit green tea, and cry. Well, I cry.

“But what I am going to do without you?”

“You’ll be fine,” she bows her chin but raises her eyes in the stop-being-ridiculous-look that she and my mother love to give me. “You’ll do lots of cool things- hey! You should ask out your crush at Caribou! That’d be fun!”

“But I can’t do it if you’re not here! How will I know what to do? And who else will I talk to a hundred times a day? Who else can I tell everything to? And how am I supposed to let the crazy, psycho, irrational, neurotic, obsessive part of me emerge every once in a while and still feel loved? Huh? How!?”

She listens to me with a teary, sympathetic look in her green eyes, but she is remarkably calm.

“We’ll get you some calling cards, and you can call whenever you want,” she says.

“What if they don’t work? What if I can’t get a hold of you? What if I call the wrong number and I can’t understand what they are saying?”

“Email! You can email all the time, and I promise I’ll check it every day.”

“But what if they don’t go through? Email doesn’t always work! Sometimes they get lost!”

“You can come visit me, too! Won’t that be fun? Spain?” I shake my head very fast and very long. I’ll never go to Spain because I’m very bitter at it for stealing my sister.

“But (hic) it’s (hic) not (hic) the (hic) saaaammmmeeee!” I can’t catch my breath and I give myself a wicked case of hiccups. We stand up and walk across the plastic liners to the front door. We hug for a few moments before she says she needs to get home because Airport Taxi will be there in an hour. She kisses me on the cheek and promises she’ll call when she’s settled but to definitely email whenever I can, and I hate her for saying that because she knows that I think email is only appropriate when you hardly know the person or haven’t seen them since high school, or you only have one or two things to say and definitely inappropriate for keeping in touch with the person who knows you best in the entire world.

But she leaves, and I collapse onto the couch, hearing the upholstery tear as I land, and I hold my knees to my chest and cry, and after the top of my coffee table is covered in a sea of used tissues, I pop in Beaches, and Steel Magnolias, and when I just can’t even handle another wave of tears, I throw in Ghostbusters and Mallrats to laugh instead, but they’re not as funny as I remember. And then I glance at the clock on my VCR and it’s been 8 hours that we haven’t spoken, and I realize that this is what it’s going to be like except that it’s going to be 24 and 48 and 72 and even more and another wave of tears wells quickly.

The first few weeks are hard. I reach for my cell phone a ridiculous number of times before remembering that she isn’t going to pick up. I make a thousand mental notes a day of things to tell or ask her but they vanish each morning when I stare at my work computer, trying to remember my Yahoo! password, and typing in every name and number that has ever been important to me, until my boss passes by and reminds me that people are actually in the library and may need help. My mom calls and demands I get out of the house more, or she’ll call Dr. Maxwell, so I spend more time at the Caribou on my corner and I almost ask my crush to go to a movie, but know that I won’t know what to say or what to wear without my sister around. But mostly I just walk around all day feeling as though something is missing, or that I have forgotten something. But everything is in place.

After a month, and then another month, I am used to the way things are. I buy calling cards to contact her in Spain. Sometimes she answers, “Hola!” and doesn’t speak English until I yell in frustration, “These cards cost a lot of money!” But secretly I’m very proud of her for learning a new language. I finally figure out my Yahoo! password and tape it to my computer screen, and send her an email every single day, and though she doesn’t email back very often, I still get to tell her little and big things, which I write as they happen in a notebook that is both cute and practical, and it conveniently fits into all of my purses. Then after three months, I’m used to the way things are, and the biggest problem left is that the crazy, psycho, irrational, neurotic, obsessive part of me has not emerged for three months because it fears it will not be loved after its appearance, and I fear for its repression. But eventually I have become supportive and am proud to have a sister who lives abroad, and I think that I might actually go and visit Spain because I’m not so bitter toward it for stealing my sister anymore.

After my sister has been gone for almost exactly six months, I’m standing at the counter, and my Caribou crush asks me if I’d like to go out sometime. I don’t know how it happened, since when I order my jasmine green tea my conversation is stunned silent by his beautiful brown eyes, and his shaggy brown hair that he always moves out of his face by a quick backwards jerk of his neck, which may sound lame but in reality is very cute. So I’m not sure why he asked me, but I say yes. We plan to meet for coffee at Starbucks that night, but I can’t find anything to wear. I pose in front of the three-way mirror in my bedroom for hours in 57 different outfits: shirts with jeans, sweaters with skirts, all of which are very early nineties or make my legs look stubby. I mess my brown hair into 118 different hairstyles, all of which make my face look fat. My forehead falls against the mirror in an, “I wish sis was here” moment and then my neck jerks back as I remember the boxes of my sister’s beautiful wardrobe that are chilling out in the storage room in my basement. I figure that she would want her clothes to run around and breathe, and it is my responsibility to do so.

So I venture down the creaky, unpainted wooden stairs to my basement, which is basically just a small, dark, dirty room with brick walls and a concrete floor that makes my toes curl up when they reach it. Aside from the boxes, all that is down there is an emergency food supply (at the insistence of my mother, who ensures we are prepared for any end-of-the-world-type occurrences through monthly outings to Costco), and a few things I don’t use but can’t yet part with, like my old dehumidifier and some broken dishes, thus I have only been down there one or two times in my life because I am pretty sure it’s full of mice or squirrels or something equally as eager to give me rabies. I sweep the dying beam of a flashlight across the floor, flinching at the pile of mouse droppings in the corner. The dim light, along with the one ray of sun creeping in from the small window near the ceiling, helps me see the cord for the light hanging in the exact middle of the room. I shuffle over, feel the cord, wrap it around my hand several times and pull. My sister is sitting Indian-style on her blue puffy ski jacket, almost directly in front of me.

“I thought you were in Spain!” I say at the same time that she says, “I wondered when you would come to raid my clothes!”

“I have a date with the Caribou guy.”

“Well, it’s about time!” she says, standing up and opening her boxes of clothes. She rummages for a moment, and the rustle of wool against denim, denim against cotton, back and forth, is loud in the quiet basement. She holds up a shirt in each hand—a wool black v-neck shirt in the right, and a deep orange turtleneck sweater in the left, which are the exact same shirts I would have chosen.

I start to cry, and then my knees kind of give out on me, and I fall down onto my butt, hitting the concrete floor hard, and I feel it in my tailbone.

“It’s okay, there’s a lot more in here!” And she looks through the box again, and the rustle begins again, her shoulders and head bent over.

“No, I’m just so glad to see you!” I cry into my lap, my body bent over into what is probably some sort of yoga position, and my arched back shakes.

She kneels down to give me a hug.

“Everyone thinks you are living in Spain!” I bury my head in my hands and she rubs my back with her palm, sitting down next to me.

“Well, the day after I got to Madrid I discovered that I forgot my day planner, and we both know how lost I am without my day planner.”

I nod, wiping my cheeks, because my sister is one of those people who can’t make a single move without consulting her day planner.

“So I paced around my new apartment very confused for two days straight, unsure of what I was supposed to do, since it was all in my planner. Finally, after doing nothing for two days, I thought maybe I accidentally packed it away in a box with my shoes.”

I look at her pile of boxes, noticing the word “shoes” scrawled in big black marker. I didn’t even know she left her shoes here, or I may have been down sooner.

“So I flew back and took a taxi to your house, but you weren’t home, so I climbed in the basement window. You really should keep that locked, you know. Well, I dug through my shoes and there was my planner! So I sat down to see what I had missed, and before I knew it I had been down here for something like, nine hours!”

“Wow, that’s a long time!” I sniffle.

“Tell me about it! The longer I was down here, the more I enjoyed the peace and quiet, so I decided to stay for a while. I hardly ever get a moment to think, you know?” She wrinkled her nose a bit. “That metallicy-dirt smell kind of bothered me at first, but I got used to it. It’s quite comfortable down here. You really should do something with this room.”

I look around. Against the wall is a comfortable-looking homemade mattress composed of her winter jackets. “Nice bed,” I say, as my sister digs her hand into my armpit to help raise my shocked body. I survey the boxes of Corn Flakes, cans of tomato soup, canned corn, peas, and green beans, bottles of water, bowl and can opener that have been organized on top of and around a box with “purses” scrawled in black ink, and they are neater and tidier than my own kitchen upstairs. I pick up the cell phone that sits on her bed. “So do you still have a Spanish number?”

“Yeah, but it’s probably going to be turned off any day now. I’ve just been too busy to pay my bill for the last few months.”

I nod understandingly, since I rarely pay my bills either.

“Hey, do you have any ice cream? I’ve had a mad craving for months now.”

I climb upstairs and she follows after securing the lock on the window, and she heads right to the freezer, throwing it open and letting a gust of cool air into the room. In the bright kitchen light, I notice that my sister looks great. She’s lost a bit of her baby fat, and her arms look much more toned. She’s a bit pale, but still looks great, a lot more like our mom.

“Have you been working out?”

“Yeah. Thanks for noticing! Push-ups and sit-ups, really. We can go through my routine later, if you want.”

I nod excitedly.

She digs out two pints of Ben and Jerry’s Half-Baked and we park on the ripped couch in front of the television and watch Beaches and Steel Magnolias and cry, but this time it’s more of a happy cry for me. And then we watch Ghostbusters and Mallrats and once again they are absolutely hilarious, and I’m having so much fun that I forget that I left the hot Caribou guy sitting at Starbucks, thus probably ruining my chances for good. But I don’t care because I am happy and life is back to normal.

My sis decides she’ll stay with me for a few days before venturing outside, citing a need to gradually reconnect with the outside world, and I completely understand because sometimes I feel like that even when I wake up in the morning. So I call in sick for a few days, and we wrap ourselves in blankets on my couch and watch movies and cheesy television shows like Full House and take Cosmo quizzes and I fill her in on Aunt Jodie’s awful new Tina Turner/mullet haircut and how much the family hates cousin Stacey’s new boyfriend because he came to a family birthday party drunk and fell into the cake, and six months’ worth of gossip that she has missed. And I get to show her the three new porcelain birds that I’ve added to my collection, and the new Britney Spears dance that I taught myself from watching MTV. She loves it. And finally the crazy, psycho, irrational, neurotic, obsessive part of me that has started to rumble and shake breaks the seams and bursts forth uncontrollably, and my sister assures me that I’m not weird and that she still loves me. And that feeling that something is missing has disappeared for good.

One morning, I walk down from my room and the house is very quiet. The TV is black and silent, the coffee maker isn’t dripping and steaming, and I can’t hear the tick-tick-tick of typing coming from the computer room. On the kitchen table I find a note from my sister.

Hey! I’m feeling ready to conquer the world. I’m going to head over to Mom’s house to say hello. Talk to you later!

So I call my mom to see if the three of us should go out to lunch or something, but she has no idea what I am talking about.

“Honey, it says here in my planner that I have bridge this afternoon, so lunch is out.” And I can see her pulling her head back to see over her glasses into her green leather planner that is always by her side. “What is the matter with you, anyway? Your sister is in Spain.”

“No, Mom, everyone just thought she was in Spain, but she’s been in my basement spending some time by herself! She’s back!” I am so excited my voice is shaking a little.

“Honey, are you feeling all right?”

“Mom, I’m the best I’ve been in forever since she came back!”

“Honey, I think you should start seeing Dr. Maxwell again.”

“Mom, I’m fine. Seriously. Sis probably just stopped for a venti caramel macchiato at Starbucks, you know how she loves those.”

“Honey, are you taking your medicine? You don’t sound okay. What if I just stop over later today?”

“No, no, no, no, no, I’m fine. I’m fine!” I hang up, knowing my mom will call back and apologize as soon as my sister gets there. I head downstairs for the fourth time in my life to bring up some of her boxes and unpack them for her, but when I pull the cord of the light, her bed of coats isn’t there. “Hmm, that’s thoughtful of her to have cleaned up the basement,” I think. Then I look at the end-of-the-world provisions and see that they are all in their original packaging. “Hmm, that was nice of her to restock them in case of emergency.” Then I hear this tiny squeak, and a small scratching sound, so I sprint up the stairs without turning off the light. I go to the living room to clean up all the blankets and empty pints of Ben and Jerry’s but the blankets are in their normal place, and the pints of Half-Baked are still full and tucked away in the freezer.

So I grab one of my unused phone cards out of my desk drawer, and turn it around in my hand in confusion when the operator says choppily, “You have 10 minutes remaining” because when would I have used it? She answers, “Hola!

“Sis! Where are you? Why aren’t you over at mom’s yet? I was thinking we could all go out to lunch.”

“I’m in Madrid, silly. What is the matter with you?” And she sounds just like my mother when she says this, and I can hear the clinking of dishes and the blinging of a cash register and a collective cloud of voices in the background as she shouts away from the phone, “Senor! Puedo tener un cafĂ© con leche,” and he shouts, “Algo mas?” and she says, “Nada mas, gracias.

“Why are you speaking Spanish?”

“Because they speak Spanish in Spain. Are you okay? Oh, can you do me a favor? I think I left my day planner in one of the boxes in your basement. Could you mail it here?”

“But you were just here! You just got it, remember? You came back for it!”

“What are you talking about? Are you okay? Should I call Mom? Did you stop taking your meds again?”

“I’m fine. I’m fine!” And I decide to just wait for her at home, and in the meantime I unpack her boxes in the guest bedroom so she will be more comfortable when she returns. I pace around my house, picking at my cuticles, worried that something has happened to her, or that she’s gotten lost because she’s been away for so long. I hear a knock on the door and I run, excited that she has made it home. But it’s my mom. We hug and she comes in and I ask, “Where’s Sis?”

“Honey, you know your sister is in Spain,” and she bows her chin but looks up with her eyes in the stop-being-ridiculous look.

“Yeah, but Mom, she was here,” and I get that anxiety in my gut, the same anxiety that I got the first time they took me to Dr. Maxwell. “She forgot her planner and had to come back.” Why doesn’t she believe me?

“Okay honey.”

“You believe me?” I start to cry because I’m so happy, and I bury my head in my mom’s shoulder, but when I look up, Dr. Maxwell is standing in my doorway.

“Hi there, Jane. How are you today?” He’s kneeling down like he’s talking to a child, and he says, “Looks like you forgot to take your medication, eh?” And he holds out a full orange pill bottle, which is identical to all the other full orange pill bottles that are buried and tucked in the plants around my house so nobody can find them. He shakes it like a maraca. And the doctor is on one side and my mom is on the other, both holding a hand an inch above my arms, like if I decide to take off they’ll catch me, which they wouldn’t. But I take the medicine anyway, if it will make them happy. But I know it doesn’t do anything. Once again I walk around feeling as though I have forgotten something, or that something is missing, and repress the crazy, psycho, irrational, neurotic, obsessive part of me and resume emailing my sister, although I am quite confused as to where she is responding from. I miss her like crazy again.

But the good news is that I spend time at Caribou again, and the hot Caribou guy’s beautiful brown eyes are very understanding about standing him up. When I explain that I had “family issues,” he smiles kindly and moves his hair with a backwards jerk of his neck, and my crush on him is definitely increased. And when we go out we talk for hours, and I let it slip about my sister’s return and he listens with his eyes wide and lips slightly open, and he says, “I can’t believe it,” and I say, “I know, I couldn’t believe it either!” But I know he does believe me, and now I really like him.

After the date I try to call my sister but must dial the wrong number because someone just keeps speaking Spanish while I say, “um, um, mi hermana?” Which I thankfully remember from 2nd grade Spanish. After they hang up on me, I creep into the basement where the light is still on, and stretch on my tiptoes to reach the window and I unlock it. Just in case she wants to come back.

pencil

“I am currently a Creative Writing MFA student at Columbia College in Chicago. I’ve been published in the Evergreen Park Reporter, the Columbia College Story Week Reader 2005 and the upcoming 2006 edition, and was recently chosen as a featured reader at Columbia’s 2005 Creative Non-Fiction week.” E-mail: mollyeach[at]yahoo.com.