The last couple of weeks have been a little… weird. I’m not sure how else to explain it. I mean, everything’s just fine, but…
And the fact that it’s weird is weird in and of itself, if that makes any sense. I’m having a difficult time pinpointing what the problem is.
I’ve started communicating more, which can’t really be the problem. I mean, it bugged me at first, but then I noticed that I wasn’t getting screamed at all of the time, and that was plenty of incentive to continue. And as a result, Kyla and I aren’t fighting as much outside of the normal sibling shenanigans.
I also feel fine, physically at least. I went in for my tri-monthly check up, and Doctor Simpson says I’m still in remission, so that can’t be it.
Let’s see, what else…?
I haven’t found Sheezus in my bed again, which is good for her health. I’ll never admit it publically, but she and I have sort of… bonded. I mean, I don’t threaten her life anymore, if that’s what it means to bond.
So no, it’s not the rat…
The band is doing great. Cyn and Ethan have negotiated several shows for after the new year, which is only about two months away. So no issue there…
I’m still depressed, which is nothing new. In fact, it’s old hat, so that can’t be it either. The only difference is that I’m just not wallowing in it anymore.
It’s been great for my music too. I’ve been writing like a maniac.
And yet, things still feel weird…
I just don’t get it.
I can’t help but think that maybe the weirdness stems from the fact that a lot of things are changing. I’m anxious about the fact that I’m not anxious anymore. I don’t feel like I’m waiting for the world to end. I’m just kind of going with the flow.
Even with Spencer… which is the weirdest part of them all.
She sort of told me that she’d be unavailable for a while. I have no idea why, and I haven’t asked, but I have my suspicions. And I’m fairly certain that it has something to do with Carmen.
Part of me, that young part that will forever believe in Spencer as the Peter to my Wendy wants to scoff and posture about how she’s always stood up for herself, and always will. No one has ever been able to tame her and that just isn’t going to change.
But then this older part of me, the jaded part that left Neverland long ago to grow up too early and forget how to fly is just sort of reeling as she falls to the earth. I know it’s all a lie. Spencer doesn’t stick up for herself anymore. She’s not just tamed, she’s caged, and what’s worse is that she doesn’t even seem to know it.
Somehow, these two halves are coexisting, though they aren’t doing it very well.
What I’m left with is a confused jumble of thoughts and infinite frustration. I suppose that it’s a good thing that everything else has been so inordinately smooth, because I don’t think that I could juggle anything else.
Spencer is more than enough.
But I find that I want to hear her voice or hug her, or get mercilessly teased, or just something…
And both parts of me agree on one thing: she’s lost herself, just like I have. More than that, she’s signed her life over.
I just don’t get it.
It’s so sad…
So, as I sit here next to Kyla on the couch, watching reruns of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I mull over all of this information, but I still can’t figure out how to move forward.
Where does forward even go?
It also doesn’t help that Spencer isn’t answering her texts or calls.
And I can’t even get mad at her because she said that she’d be unreachable for a while.
Well, how long is a while?
It’s not fair of her to use my own tactics against me…
“Have you decided about Thanksgiving?”
I sigh. “Kyla, no pushing.”
“I’m not pushing,” she argues. “I’m asking.”
I glance over at her. “And if I say no?”
“Then, I guess, I’ll just… cook here.”
Man, she’s laying the guilt on thick. She’s in full pathetic pout mode. Well it doesn’t have the same effect now as it did when she was little.
“Hey, that’s not a bad idea.” I say. “We can invite the band, and Shirley and Sam.”
She frowns. “Everyone but Christine…”
I shove her on her shoulder. “Stop it.”
She pushes me back. “Stop what?”
“Stop trying to guilt me into a trip home.”
She feigns innocence. “I’m doing no such thing.”
I chuckle. “You’re full of shit, Kyla. Now, just drop it.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she faces forward and smirks. “I have no intention of trying to get you to Ohio.”
My field of vision narrows as I scrutinize her.
Something’s wrong with that statement and her body language… very wrong.
What could she possibly…
“You’re not bringing Christine out here either.”
She slams the remote down on the coffee table and faces me. “I resent your accusations, Ashley.”
“You’re not bringing her out here, Kyla.”
She tries to stare me down but it doesn’t work.
“Kyla… why can’t you just stop,” I moan.
“Because she’s my mom and I’m not going to alienate her. If you don’t want to know her, fine. But I want her in my life.”
“I’m not ready, Kyla.”
“Fine,” she says again, this time with a shrug. “Then you can stay here and I’ll go home. I’m not going to force her to spend her holidays alone because you’re a selfish, little…”
My eyes dare her to finish that sentence and she takes a deep breath. “What I mean is: do you really want her to spend Thanksgiving and Christmas alone?”
Fuck, I hadn’t even considered it that way.
Of course, it’s hard to think of things reasonably when you’re completely absorbed in your own drama.
“No, I don’t want that. You’re right…” She brightens. “You should spend them with her.”
Her face falls and her voice turns pleading. “Why can’t we just all get together?”
I lean my head back and stare at the ceiling. “If I see her, it’s just going to ruin the holidays, Kyla.”
She snorts. “You can’t be serious. You’d be the best gift ever…”
I roll my head towards her. “If we do this, the holiday will be reduced to family drama, arguments, tears, and apologies.”
“So…? Maybe that’s what we need: a blubbery holiday intervention.”
“Okay, you’ve got to lay off the yoga,” I deadpan, quite seriously.
She just laughs. “Come on, Ash. What’s wrong with a little zen?”
I sigh. “I just don’t want to deal with it, Kyla.”
“Oh my God, Ash…” She shakes her head. “You’re really just… stupid.”
“Thanks,” I say incredulously.
“Well you are…” She pins me with a harsh look. “And I mean, really, really, ridiculously stupid. It’s…”
She shakes her head yet again. Apparently my stupidity is awe inspiring.
“It’s just mindboggling…,” she finishes.
About this time she starts to laugh at my indignation, and I decide to leave her on the couch and retreat to my room. But, wouldn’t you know it, she has to follow me. We make it about midway between her door and mine before she starts again.
“Ash, I’m sorry…,” She keeps chortling while she apologizes. “But come on! Haven’t you learned anything in four years?”
God, I want to shout, ‘yes,’ at her, but I’m afraid she’ll ask what. And the truth is: I don’t know what the fucking fuck she’s talking about. So, I just scowl dumbly at her and try not to let her know that I don’t know what it is that I’m supposed to already know.
God, my mind is such a fucking mess…
“You really don’t get it, do you?”
“Obviously not,” I snap.
“You can’t run away from it or even avoid it, Ash. You’ve sort of managed to for four years, but stuff will always catch up to you eventually. Can’t you see that by now? Things aren’t going to go back to the way they were…”
“Because of you…”
She cocks her head at me. “Well, yeah… I guess.” She starts to frown. “Do you wish that I hadn’t found you?”
Right now, I honestly don’t know the answer to that.
“Do you,” she asks again more forcefully.
I exhale. “I don’t regret that I have you now, Kyla. But my life was simpler before you showed up.”
She laughs mockingly. “Everything would have caught up with you anyway, and you didn’t really have a life, Ash. You were just… there.”
“I did have a life, Kyla. I had friends and my band just like I do now; it just wasn’t as grand as you want it to be.”
“Sure, you had friends and your band, but you were just… empty. You were depressed and alone, and I could see that the minute you opened your door.”
It’s my turn to laugh. “I’m still depressed and alone, Kyla, and that’s not going to change.”
She grins mockingly. “You think that, but you’re so wrong. I know it’s not easy opening up to let people in and emotions out. And I know that you have a hard time admitting when you’re wrong, but it’s happening, Ash. And you can’t stop it.”
“Nothing’s happening to me, Kyla. And there was nothing wrong with my life when you showed up. In fact, I think I’ve done pretty well for myself considering.”
“Yes, yes, you almost died. It’s been so hard, blah, blah, blah.” She rolls her eyes. “I love you, Ash, but you need a new tune.”
Okay, I’m really starting to get pissed.
“Well, I know my issues might seem insignificant to someone like you, since you’ve had it so hard…”
“Oh, I’m not denying that you’ve had it a lot harder than I have, Ash. You’re the one denying that it’s just not a good excuse anymore.”
“I don’t need excuses.”
She smiles like the cat that ate the canary, and I find myself instinctively preparing for a sneak attack of catastrophic proportions.
“Okay,” she says sweetly. “Since you’re so confident, I’ll make you a deal…”
Oh fuck. I just find myself in these situations, I swear. I don’t do anything to deserve it!
“If you can give me one,” She lifts a finger. “Just one good reason why we can’t spend Thanksgiving and Christmas at home, I’ll not only drop it, but I’ll stay here with you. If you can’t though, you come home with me.”
And assume crash positions. My mind whirs. The answer is that I’m not ready, but that’s not going to be good enough.
In fact… “No reason I give you will ever be enough for you, Kyla. You just have to get your way in everything. Nothing else matters to you.”
“Not always, but it just so happens that my way on this one is the best for everyone. The offer still stands. Just give me one good reason, and I’ll let you off the hook.”
My mouth is opening, as if by doing so something will magically come out and satisfy her. But then it closes, and I’m left feeling as stupid as she claims I am.
“I’m not ready, Kyla,” I finally get out, and then I groan, because I know that I’ve lost.
I always seem to lose, even when I should win. And it’s getting really old really fast.
She crosses her arms over her chest. “Is that all you’ve got?”
“Yes, and it’s a good enough reason.”
“How do you figure?”
“Because if I have to do it, I should be able to do it in my own time.”
“Yeah, well, it doesn’t work that way. Besides, for someone so obsessed with time – or the lack thereof – I’d think you’d get a move on. I mean, you’re gonna die any day now, right?”
Wow, that strikes a chord in me. Not just because of the cold way that she delivered it, but because she’s right. There are a lot of things that I’ve been putting off, a whole list of them in fact. I made it while I was in the hospital but I knew that I’d never get to do any of it. So, I just never tried.
That was about three and a half years ago…
Why haven’t I done any of it?
I only have a year left before I know if the transplant’s stable…
Why aren’t I doing any of it, like, right now?!
“Okay,” I say in defeated panic. “We’ll go home for the holidays.”
Kyla squeals and throws her arms around my neck, jumping up and down and thanking me profusely. And I suppose that I should thank her too, because now I know what to do. And it might just help both me and Spencer.
I’m going to fight for her, but not in the way that Kyla wants me to. I’m not going to try and break them up or steal the girl, but I am going to try and remind the girl of who she is and what she’s about.
I want her to remember how fearless she is; I want to live an entire life in a single year, and I want her to do it with me. And maybe, hopefully, along the way, Spencer and I will both remember how to fly.
I need to find that list first. But I can’t remember what happened to it or what was really on it. That time of my life is so… blurry.
Kyla releases me and starts planning our itineraries out loud while she heads to her room, and I walk to mine and head straight for the closet.
Somewhere in here is a box…
Ah, there, on the top shelf all the way in the back and covered with dust, is a large, square bootbox that I purposefully avoid. I stretch up on my tip-toes and pull it down to the floor, afraid to open it.
This box contains all of the things that I tried to forget and none of the things that I ever could: old photos, trinkets, memories, my very heart, all of it neatly stored away to collect dust in some abandoned corner.
I know that I’ll need to make this quick to avoid the internal struggle, so I fling the lid back.
The first thing that I see is a crumpled up green hoodie. It’s stained and threadbare, and there are a few tears and frayed edges, but already my heart is in my toes.
I pull it out and start to rummage through the contents, refusing to really notice the pictures and mementos until I finally see a folded piece of yellow paper.
Before I can get any deeper in this mire, I shut the box harshly and quickly shove it out of site. I can’t help but release a shaky breath.
With trembling hands, the paper is unfolded, and I find a short, but succinct list:
Fuck, I’d forgotten most of this, and it’s no wonder; I knew that it would be impossible. Most of the stuff on here that really matters will never happen.
But some of it can.
I pull out my cell phone and start typing. I need to get started.
And as if I’d said some magical password, the heavens open and Spencer finally responds.
“Hey,” she says, looking indescribably beautiful as she walks toward the table in jeans and sweater.
I stand and smile as she joins me and we both take a seat. I would be lying if I said that I didn’t arrange this rendezvous for a knowingly Carmen free moment in the day: Spencer’s lunch break.
“Thanks for coming,” I say.
“Hey, that’s what friends are for,” she replies.
“Can I get you both set up with drinks?”
We both look to the waitress and Spencer goes first. “I’ll have a water with lemon.”
She turns to me. “I’ll take another Bloody Mary.”
Spencer scrunches up her nose. “I needed something to take the edge off.”
She nods, her body language turning inward. “Is it bad?”
And I feel like an ass. “No, no, nothing like that, Spence. I just need your help. It’s not life or death. I mean, not mostly…”
She frowns at me and I start. “Okay, so, I told you that I have a year.”
The waitress shows up with our drinks. “Are you ready to order?”
“I’m not that hungry,” Spencer mumbles.
“Me neither,” I agree.
“Okay,” the waitress replies. “Just call out if you need anything.”
I give her a tight-lipped smile and then blow out a breath when she leaves. Spencer looks like she’s going to be sick with the place I left our discussion, so I hasten to reassure her.
“Listen, the reason I asked you here is because I want your help with my list.”
Her brows furrow cutely. “Your list?”
I nod, pulling the list from my pocket and setting it on the table in front of her before tossing the celery from my cup and taking a huge gulp. I had considered trimming the list down before giving it to her so that she wouldn’t know the most intimate details, but then, I decided not to. She needs to know what my first priority was when I left her.
This is why I’m drinking. There’s no way I’d get through allowing her to see that without a little liquid courage.
She unfolds the paper and I watch as she reads the first line.
Her eyes snap to mine and again, I find myself hastening to explain things that really defy explanation. “I wrote that when I was first in the hospital, almost four years ago.”
Spencer sniffles and holds the back of her hand to her lips as she continues to read. I can tell that she’s fighting tears, and I’m beginning to think that I have handled this whole thing rather poorly.
“Hey, Spence, I wasn’t trying to upset you…”
She shakes her head and sets the paper down. “I know,” she murmurs. “I just…” She gestures to the paper. “I had no idea, and I hate that you had to go through that alone, and I hate that you had to go through it at all. It’s just…” She shakes her head again, this time wiping at her tears. “It’s just not fair.”
I smile ruefully and take one of her hands in my own. “I know, but I have a year, and I want to do this… I mean, as much of it as I can…”
I feel myself blush and she smiles a smile that reaches her eyes.
I hate it when she cries.
“I want to live an entire lifetime in a year, and I want you to do it with me,” I say matter-of-factly.
She leans back in her chair and just stares at me for several long minutes. She’s twitching nervously, and I can almost hear the wheel in her mind squeak as she looks for an excuse.
“Ash, I don’t…” Here comes the rejection. I release her hand. “I mean, I have a job and I don’t make a lot of money. I’m a PA. I don’t know how I could fit this in and I definitely know I can’t afford it.”
I mirror her pose. “You can’t seriously be worried about money…”
She shrugs anxiously. “Yeah, I know you’re loaded… but I’m not.”
“Spence, you’d be doing this for me. Why on earth would I make you pay for it?”
“It’s not so much that, Ash… although, I don’t like people paying my way; it’s not right.”
“What about this situation is right, Spence? What’s one more thing that isn’t the way it should be?”
She sighs. “Look, even without that, I can’t leave my job, my career, for a year. I have bills and responsibilities – commitments.”
“I’ll buy you a house, anything you want after we’re done. You’ll never have to work again.”
“No, Ash. I couldn’t let you do that.”
“You couldn’t stop me.”
“So now you resort to idle threats.”
I take another sip of Mary’s Blood, or… whatever it’s called. “It’s not idle. When I die, you’ll be my sole beneficiary.”
Her eyes harden a little bit. “Well it’s a good thing that you’re not going to die for a very long time.”
I shrug. “Could be decades, could be days. I only know that money’s not an object, I have a year, and I have a list. Now I just need a best friend.”
“Ash, you know that I’d do this with you in a heartbeat, right?”
I think about that for a moment, and then realize that the other two Marys I drank earlier might have loosened me up a little too much.
“The Spencer I fell in love with? Hell yes, without a doubt. But you…?” I shake my head. “I don’t know. I mean, will Carmen let you?”
Wait? What did I just say?
And why doesn’t she seem offended?
“Carmen won’t like it, but I’ll decide for myself.” She says carefully. “That’s actually where I’ve been for the last two weeks. She and I went on a couples retreat in Idlewylde to try and work through some things. She’s coming to terms with the fact that you and I are friends and that she can’t control my choices or interactions. Besides, she’s only like that with you…”
“Great,” I say, taking another hardy draft from the glass.
I mean, the last thing I want to hear is how she and Carmen are reconnecting. In fact, I think I need another drink seeing as how this one is empty. I raise my hand to the waitress and hold up the glass. She nods and Spencer seems worried.
“Ash, you don’t normally day drink. Are you okay?”
I giggle because it makes my face feel weird. “I don’t normally spill my guts to the love of my life only to have her tell me that my dying wishes are too expensive.”
The giggle becomes a laugh. “Actually, it’s kind of funny when I think about it in those terms.”
She’s not laughing.
In fact, she looks stunned.
Why isn’t she laughing?
“Ash, I- I mean, I wasn’t-”
I wave a dismissive hand. “No, it’s okay. I get it.”
The waitress shows up and I down the drink before throwing some bills on the table.
“Thanks for coming, Spence.”
I grab the list and shove it into my pocket before turning to leave. My car is in the paid parking garage across the street, but I think I’m going to walk and try to clear my head.
It’s feeling murky…
I start walking, not really paying attention to which direction I should be going, but I only get a couple of feet when Spencer shows up again.
“You know, I’m getting really tired of chasing you, Ashley.”
I stare straight ahead. “Then don’t, Spencer. I’m not twisting your arm.”
She’s indignant with that. “You know, Carmen’s just worried that I’m going to get hurt with you, and I have to say, everything you’ve been doing to push me away only validates her theory.”
That stops me dead in my tracks.
Pardon the pun…
“Yeah, I’ve been pushing you away, Spence. I only just asked you to spend a year with me, quite possibly my last one, and the best lie you could come up with was money.”
“I’m scared,” she says.
I frown. “Of what, the bungee jumping?
She chuckles. “No… well, yes, but that’s not what I mean.” She tucks a lock of hair behind her ear. “I’m scared that Carmen’s right, that you’ll hurt me. And I’m also scared that if I push too much with her right now, I’ll lose her.”
I sigh and nod. “At least that makes sense. That money shit was going to give me hives.”
She laughs. “I think it’s the alcohol that’s giving you hives.”
“Nah…” I step closer to her and lean in. “I may be a lightweight, but I’m a happy drunk.”
There’s a slightly chilled, California-winter breeze that moves thin tendrils of honey-hued gold around her head where they catch the sunlight like a halo, and I find myself licking my lips as I stare at hers. Even over the sounds of traffic and commuters, I can hear her breath hitch.
But she steps back and I sigh, the moment as gone as it was perfect.
I feel more clear-headed though.
“Look, Spence, talk to Carmen and think it over. I don’t plan to start until after the New Year, so…” I shrug. “Just let me know…”
She agrees. “Okay, thanks for understanding.”
I sigh. “I don’t understand, Spence. Like I said, this version of you isn’t like the old one. You’ve lost your passion and your fire. And what’s really tragic about that, is if you hadn’t, you, right now, would be even better than either version, maybe both put together.”
She seems speechless and I’m all out of words for the day. I feel like I’ve overspent my quota, at least of the overly honest ones.
“Later,” she says, and I continue walking, leaving her there on any street corner in LA and hoping that she doesn’t think about it too much.
I know that being rash and impulsive is generally a bad thing, and even harder for her specifically, but sometimes, you just have to jump in with both feet.
And with or without her, that’s what I plan to do.