Summers 10A

For the first time in a week and a half, Jane Summers sat alone at her desk during working hours in the CAD room of Crasob Engineering. She felt good being among her co-workers again, despite the discomfort she felt in telling her lie (a stress-induced backache) that explained her extended absence. She also felt relief that Arjie wasn’t there, explaining the fundamentals of drafting on the computer, and now had time to re-acquaint herself with the familiar surroundings of her work area. The picture of her parents, in the same relative place as she remembered. The Van Gogh desk calender that Brad had gotten her for Christmas. Her certificate for bowling a 600 series from the spring.

Even the stacks of paper, lying unevenly on her desk like a mountain range, were comforting to her, as she found that she recognized most by their content if not their format. It was a mess, but it was her mess. A mess she remembered from before that morning a week ago Monday, when she woke up to find her world had radically changed. She found evidence of that change even on her desk — the laptop in her docking station, the computer monitor, the desk phone with far more buttons than she ever remembered — but there was enough there that she did remember to ease her mind, reassure her that she had some place she could call her own in this strange new reality.

Build

Results from this week’s tournaments were about the same as before. Won just a single bout in my pool, once again defeating That Guy I Always Beat from my club. The flow of our bout this time was different than before, in that he actually scored the first three touches. Down 3-0 to the person I had my best chance of defeating . . . panic and frustration came for a visit, but I walked those feelings back down to the end of the strip, exhaled, told those feelings that I’d get back to them later, and decided to make an adjustment. He was getting me with simple beat attacks — all right, keep distance and lunge. Landed off target more often than on, but I was able to get five of the final six touches and eek out my one victory for the day.

Was also pleased with the number of touches I scored in most of my other bouts. I tied two bouts at four against opponents who routinely beat me, quite handily, during practice. All I had going for me was my game of rapid varying footwork, with a jab when I saw I’d drawn my opponent in too close. (My lunges are still too slow and predictable to be effective against anyone above the novice level.) Couldn’t close the deal either time, but getting to four both times was a significant accomplishment. Got a couple touches in two other bouts against very skilled opponents, but only one in the only pool bout where I was disappointed with myself. My footwork/jab game only works when I demonstrate patience, only attack when I see the moment’s right. In this bout, I forced myself to attack out of nervous energy — a bad tactic for me, or anyone for that matter. Scoring only one touch in that bout was a direct result of bad tactics.

Only scored three touches in my DE, facing one of the skilled opponents from my pool. He was faster and more experienced — tried a couple different approaches, but my opponent already had figured out that I didn’t have an effective parry, and used that weakness against me. Tactics do no good if you can’t eliminate what your opponent wants to do.

Feel like I can build off my results from Saturday (especially since, thank you very much, I did manage to recover quite nicely, thanks to extensive stretching, several ice packs, and some assistance from Doctor Advil). Need a parry/riposte game — during practice, I want to make two parry/ripostes for every attack I make. Second, make my lunges more efficient — I’m not going to get any faster, but I can be more precise. And above all, be patient — only a fool rushes in to trouble, and if there’s one thing I don’t want to do when fencing, it’s looking foolish.

Summers 9H

Literary analysis was not one of Sumeet’s strengths or even interests — in just two sentences, he had already stated all he could remember from his college Comparative Literature lectures on Kafka — but it was evident that Jane’s interest in the story was significant. “Please, go on.”

Jane walked over to his desk, her face coming in then out of the fading light from the autumnal sun angling through the windows. She stared down at the amber ball in her hands, at the mosquito trapped inside. “I was reading the story again last night, and I remembered what struck me the first time I read it, about a decade ago.” She looked up at Sumeet. “Do you ever wonder why Gregor Samsa stays so calm after he turns into a bug?”

“Hmmm.” Sumeet actually had never wondered, in fact hardly remembered anything about the story after its memorable opening sentence. Perhaps a conversational white lie (it is an odd reaction, isn’t it?) — no, he sensed his patient would not appreciate that gesture. “It’s been a long time since my undergraduate days, Jane. Could you refresh my memory?”

“He never complains.” Jane placed the amber ball on Sumeet’s desk. “Never asks, why is this happening to me? Doesn’t try to figure out a cure. What he worries about, is how he’ll keep his job, and take care of his family, and keep all the furniture in his room.” She spread her arms wide. “Now that he’s this giant cockroach.”

Sumeet twitched his head in agreement. “All right, you’ve identified some kind of theme in ‘The Metamorphosis.’ May I ask — ” he extended his right arm towards Jane — “why do you find Gregor’s reaction so interesting.”

Jane lowered her arms, then loooked down at the amber ball she had left on Sumeet’s desk. She picked up the ball, walked back to the shelf where she had found it. “Gregor remains calm — because he thinks he’s normal.” She placed the ball back on the shelf, turned suddenly to Dr. Patel. “The only thing that’s wrong, is that everyone else doesn’t realize that they’re just like him. That we’re all just a bunch of bugs.”

Summers 9G

Sumeet sat behind his desk without speaking as Jane walked over to the shelves on his right. He decided now was not the tim to press her further on her father. She stopped, reached to the amber ball, lifted it to her face. “The mosquito — ” she pointed to the winged insect trapped inside — “looks so much bigger than the ones we have today.”

“I guess I had never noticed that before.” Sumeet had already learned that continuing with polite banter was the best strategy for having Jane open up.

She turned to him, held the ball up in his direction. “I’ve been thinking a lot about another bug lately — ever since I woke up that Monday morning, and the world had changed.” She lowered the ball, looked directly at Dr. Patel. “Have you ever read the story called ‘Metamorphosis’?”

Sumeet’s eyes widened, his head tilted back in recognition. “Ah, yes! Kafka.” Comparative Literature, junior year, completed his humanities requirement. “Perhaps the greatest first line of any work of literature.”

Jane smiled. “When Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from unsettling dreams . . .

Sumeet took the hint from her trailing voice. “. . . he realized he had turned into a giant dungbettle.”

“Cockroach, actually.”

“My professor explained that the actual German word he uses is best translated as vermin.” Sumeet was pleased at how the story and his professor’s lectures came back to him so quickly. “Kafka never does say exactly what type of creature Gregor turns into.”

“Or how he got that way.”

Sumeet tilted his head back again. “So you’re saying that Gregor’s experience is a lot like your own.” There was no hint of a question in his voice.

Jane snorted. “Well I don’t remember having bad dreams Sunday night, but the part about waking up and everything being different and you can’t figure out why — yeah.”

“But Gregor turns into a cockroach. Is that how you feel?”

Jane snorted again, smiled derisively as she waved a hand in dismissal. “See, that’s what everybody gets wrong about the story.”

Summers 9F

“If I may be so bold — ” Sumeet made sure to use his best professional tone — “both you and your mother are still grieving over your father.”

Jane stared back at him intently. “And is that bad? Is two years too long?”

Dr. Patel closed his eyes, shook his head. “There is no timetable for these things, Jane. Some people never get beyond the grieving stage, because they don’t deal honestly with their emotions. What you told me just now — shows me that you’re at least aware of why you’re so reluctant to have your mother come up here. You seem like a very honest person, Jane.”

She nodded. “Like to think so.”

“Was your father also an honest person? In your estimation, anyway?”

Jane closed her eyes, tilted her head down towards the hands folded in her lap. “He was — the best.” She looked up at Dr. Patel. “He was the one man who never lied to me, in my entire life. He never wanted to disappoint me, but he never let that desire prevent him from telling me the truth. It was something I loved about him. And it’s what I miss about him most.”

Jane stood up quickly. “I just wish — ” she walked over to the shelf with the amber ball — “I had told him that while he was alive.”

Curiosity

Another tournament tomorrow. This one’s an “E and Under” event, so I shouldn’t get smoked like I did last month.

Asked my coach at practice last night whether I should continue going into these things without any expectations. She challenged me to think a bit differently, to go in with the idea of seeing how well I can do. Make adjustments, learn from mistakes, work on getting that next touch. It’s not about setting a goal, judging success on whether I reach a certain result; it’s about being curious, eager to see how far I can get.

Still a bit amorphous, perhaps, but still far more helpful than “just go and have fun.”

There is one concrete goal I have for myself — not have this tournament waste me. I battled back spasms for over a week after the last tournament, and my physical discomfort prevented me from practicing like I know I should. When I get home tomorrow, I’m going to ice down my back, legs, and neck, and do a couple rounds of stretching before bed.

Summers 9E

“Because.” Sumeet refrained from responding, sensing Jane had more to say. He was correct. “Because, whenever I see her now, it brings up — bad memories.”

Sumeet was pretty certain, based on the information Gary had told him, which memories she was referencing. But he knew it was best for her to explain. He waved an upturned palm at her, as if he was holding a platter for her to take. “Go on.”

Jane blinked several times, shifted uncomfortably in her chair. Then she flicked her head, as if dismissing the wave of darkness that had descended on her. “Two years ago — well it was more than two. More like four, that’s when my father was diagnosed.” Sumeet nodded. “The cancer, it was already stage 4. They operated, did chemo — for a while it looked like he was going to beat it, but then it came back, and when it did he was too weak to fight it any more. All the treatments had just drained him.

“I came downstate as much as I could, but to be honest, the more times I went the more I dreaded thinking about the next time. He tried so hard to put on a brave face, but it was obvious just how much pain he was in, how uncomfortable he was, how embarassed he was to look . . . so weak.”

Gary had told Sumeet about Jane’s father, so little of the information he was hearing now was new to him. Yet it was important for him to see its impact on his patient. He remained silent, hands tented under his chin.

“It was two years ago, this September. The funeral.” She laughed, the sound dry as kindling. “Two years. You think we’d be over it by now, but every time I see my mother — not when we talk on the phone, that’s different — but when we get together, I feel like we’re getting ready to go back to the funeral home. And I can tell, by the look on her face, that she feels the same way.”

Sumeet remained silently immobile. “So no, I’m not looking forward to her coming up tomorrow. Yes I need her — but to be honest, I also need her to be distant.”

Summers 9D

“OK, let’s start with my mother.” Sumeet tented his hands under his chin, and nodded. “She’s coming up tomorrow, ‘cuz of my condition.”

Sumeet waved a hand in Jane’s direction. “So you’ve told her . . . ” and let his voice trail off.

“Of course.” Jane’s steady face reflected the certainty in her voice. “The waking up one morning and finding out the world’s all different around me — yeah, I told her.”

“You obviously must trust her.”

Jane looked confused. “I have to. Not trusting her would be — crazy.”

Sumeet placed his hands down on the desk. “Interesting.” Jane stared back at him blankly. “But if I judged the tone of your voice just now, you’re not particularly thrilled about her upcoming visit.”

Jane shook her head. “It’s just not a good time. I’m trying to figure out what’s going on, I need some space.”

Sumeet put his hands together, lightly. “Allow me to make an observation, Jane. You say you trust your mother, so much so that you’re able to confide in her — am I correct in assuming you haven’t told many people about your condition?”

“No. I mean yes — you’re right, I’m not going out to streetcorners or posting online about what’s happened.”

“I understand.” Sumeet contorted his face inquisitively, as if he were being pinched. “But here’s what I don’t understand. If you trust your mother, why don’t you want her nearby during this very troubling period for you?”

Summers 9C

Sumeet motioned for Jane to return to her chair, as he walked back behind his desk. “If I may be so bold, I’m not the only person in this room who’s not a native of this city.” His statement was a calculated risk on his part, to further his investigation into her psyche. He knew there was a chance she would take offense, or feel threatened, by his observation.

Instead, Jane smiled, pointing to her mouth. “It’s the accent, isn’t it?” Sumeet sat, and nodded. Gary had already given him much information about Jane’s family so he actually hadn’t needed to pick up on her accent, but since her mentioning it had caused recognition rather than revelation within him, he felt his nod was truthful. “I’ve done a pretty good job of losing it since moving here from downstate, but every once in a while I still sound like a hick.”

“Does that bother you, Jane?”

She shrugged. “Not really. It’s like, I don’t know, a birthmark or something. You’re not happy to have it, but it’s part of who you are, so you just, I don’t know — live your life.”

Sumeet was encouraged by her response. “A healthy attitude.” He leaned forward, over his desk. “Jane, part of my routine when working with . . . people like yourself — ” he had almost said patients — “is to find out what they remember most about their childhood. Specifically, their parents. Hearing what they have have to say can be very illuminating, I find.” Sumeet leaned back and waited for a response to his invitation.

Jane arched an eyebrow, stared back inquisitively at Dr. Patel. “That’s a lot of memories to sort through. Tell you what — how about we start from the present, and work our way back?”

“Certainly!”

Jane rubbed her chin. “Well, there’s my mother. She’s coming up tomorrow — didn’t want her to, but when she heard about — ” her voice trailed off.

Sumeet leaned forward. “Your — condition?”

Jane quickly raised her palms to her sides, then lowered them down to her lap. “That’s about as good a way of describing what’s going on with me as anything else I could think of.”

Summers 9B

Jane examined the amber ball in her hand. The mosquito trapped inside it looked larger than the pesty flying insects she remembered. She noticed a change in Dr. Patel’s voice as he resumed speaking.

“My family comes from the state of Gujarat, in India.” He sounded pleasantly distant. “My people, the Gujarati — some people call us Guji — were some of humanity’s first explorers. Before the Greeks, before the Persians, Guji merchants traded from China to the Mediterranean. And to this day, people raised in Gujarat go to all corners of the earth — to conduct business, to find a place to earn a living, or just to see the world.”

He folded his arms behind his back, nodded in the direction of the amber ball in Jane’s hands. “We have a joke, in Gujarat. We are so accustomed to travelling such great distances, we say that no matter where you go, you can find the Guji — even places where there are no mosquitos.”

Jane looked up at Dr. Patel, a smile of recognition on her face. “So your father gave you this — ”

“To remind me of where I am from. Yes.”

Jane hummed pleasantly, placed the amber ball back on the shelf where she’d found it. She turned to the window. “Well here in Chicago, you certainly don’t have to worry about finding mosquitos. They find you.”