Summers 14C

There was a sadness to Wings’ sigh, almost a resignation. Jane knew her friend had liked Brad, thought he was good for her. But Jane sensed that Wings was not going to change her mind about not accepting his proposal.

“How’s work?” Jane was glad to hear her friend change the subject. “You going to do that promotion?”

“it’s not a promotion.” Jane raised the bottle to her lips again, before remembering that she had just emptied it. “It would be a job change, from CAD to engineer.” She ran her hand back over her scalp, her thin hair parting from her face. “There’s these classes Gary keeps wanting me to take, on drainage. Always told him that my days of sitting in a classroom were done, listening to some professor who doesn’t know anything about how the world really works try to tell me how to do my job.” She put the bottle down on a plastic table. “But now that I can do my course work online — I don’t know, been thinking about it more.”

“See?” Wings had turned to her, a smile on her face as broad and bright as a crescent moon on a cloudless night. “This world we got, with our computers and the Internet and everything, it’s not so bad after all, is it?”

Jane rose from her chair. “Never said this was a bad world, just different.” She swept her right arm across the balcony, her reach extending out past the alleway onto the bright lights of the Chicago skyline. “The world I remember, it wasn’t a bad world neither. You could get around easier than we do here. Didn’t have to spend all this money on cars — gas, the maintenance, all that. Streets were cleaner, so was the air.” She turned back to Wings, pulled her smart phone out of her pocket. “But no, we didn’t have these things. And they are pretty cool. Anything you want to know — like how to sign up for that class Gary wants me take — using this, I can find that out in a couple minutes.” She put her phone back into her pocket. “But what I don’t understand is, why can’t there be both? If we can be all space-age with telecom, why can’t we get all sci-fi with our transportation too? And in the world I remember — guess I should say used to remember, or think I remembered — just because we had stuff like Unirail, that shouldn’t mean we had to be stuck with rotary phones. I mean we didn’t think about stuff like that, but now that I’m here — I just don’t see why it has to be one or the other.”

Summers 14B

Jane drank again from her beer bottle, stared ahead of her. “Brad and I weren’t going to work out. I’d known that for a while — just hadn’t admitted it. To Brad, or myself.” Another drink. “So I gave him back the ring.”

“So, this . . . thing that happened to you.” This was typically how Wings referred to that morning now several months ago, when Jane had woken to find that the world around her had suddenly changed. “Did that have anything to do with you pushing Brad away?”

Jane rose swiftly, her momentum temporarily lifting her plastic chair off the wooden balcony landing. “I wasn’t the one doing the pushing.” She drank quickly from her bottle, began pacing in front of Wings. “The thing I couldn’t admit was that the two of us couldn’t go on like we were. It was either take the next step, or call it off. Brad knew it too, but at least he had the guts to make us face up to that fact.” She lifted the bottle to her lips again, and when she realized the bottle was empty tilted her head back and upended the bottle anyway. “But for us to take the next step would mean becoming something I’m not ready to be, a person Brad wants me to become. And I just couldn’t do that.”

“But that’s what people do.” Jane turned her attention back to Wings, but this time saw the face not of a hesitant young girl from the country, but rather a woman full confident of her words. “Any relationship you’re in, that changes you, even if just a little. Yeah, getting married’s probably the thing that changes you the most.” Wings now rose from her chair. “Brad wasn’t try to force something on you. He was going to have to change, as much as you were going to have to change.”

Jane smiled weakly. “I don’t think Brad’s changed a bit in the three years I’ve known him. And I have a feeling he wasn’t about to change if we’d gotten married.”

Summers 14A

[Author’s note: This will be the final scene in this story. If you’re relatively new to this blog, you can read a synopsis of the story here.]

A cold April breeze swept up the alley, causing Jane to close up her jacket. She was sitting on the wooden balcony outside the kitchen of Wings’ apartment. A few months later, the evening chill would have kept Jane inside, but after several months of Chicago winter, she enjoyed the opportunity to feel the outside air.

She turned at the sound of the kitchen door opening. Wings appeared behind the screen door, the sound of the younger girl’s stereo emanating from within. Wings tilted her head, a curious look on her face. “You OK, girl?”

Jane looked up, smiled. “Just needed some air. Be back in a minute.”

Wings pushed the screen door open, walked onto the balcony, sat in the empty plastic chair next to Jane’s. “How long’s it been?”

Jane shrugged. “Since when?”

“Since you — you know, thought we all changed the world on you?”

“Ah.” Jane took a quick drink from the beer bottle in her hand. “Couple months. Maybe three. Lost track a while ago.” She turned to Wings. “Why do you ask?”

“Just — I don’t know. You’ve been acting kind of quiet tonight, like you were those first few weeks. But when you started seeing that doctor, you got to being your old self again.” She half-turned to Jane, placed a hand on her shoulder. “But I know you still believe that story you told me that first day. And you still haven’t taken that medicine the doctor said you should take.” Wings blinked. “And Brad . . . ” Her voice trailed off.

Summers 13R

“But your father isn’t here.” There was a coldness to Dr. Patel’s voice that Jane hadn’t ever felt, not that evening, not during any of their meetings. “You can’t ask him whether you’re delusional, can’t get his opinion about Brad. If you’re looking for help, you have many resources available to you — ” he swept his arm across the circle — “so my question to you is, how can we help you?”

Jane rose from her chair. “You can help me by continuing to do what you’ve all been doing.” She scanned the faces sitting in the circle of chairs — her mother, Wings, Arjie and Gary, Dr. Patel. “Keep asking me questions. Keep listening to my stories, no matter how bizarre they seem. Even if you don’t believe me, just listen to me.”

She ran her hand back through her scalp. First the right hand, then the left. “I don’t care if you think I’m crazy. So long as you still treat me like a human being, not like I’ve been turned into a giant bug or anything. Because I’d rather be a crazy person, than an insane bug.”

Hilda Summers rose from her chair, and approached her daughter with eyes filled with compassion. Their embrace was warm, as was the conversation in the room for the remainder of that evening. And several hours later, as she left in the front passenger seat of her mother’s car, Jane silently thanked whatever force had been behind the sudden transformation of her world, for not leaving her stranded in this strange new world.

Summers 13Q

“This is going to sound terrible.” Jane had turned to her mother. “It’s going to be easy to take this very personally, because it’s going to sound like — like I don’t trust you.”

Hilda’s eyes blinked behind her horn-rimmed glasses. She looked down at the floor. “It’s about your father, isn’t it?” She looked up, saw her daughter nod. “That’s OK. You two had a special relationship. As do we — but in a different way.”

“He never lied to me.” Jane grabbed her mother’s hand. “I’m not saying you’re different — you’ve never deceived me, either. But with Dad, it was more about just telling the truth. He was the person I’d bounce ideas off of, in situations where I had a difference of opinion from a professor at school, or a co-worker.” She looked up quickly at Arjie and Gary. “I’d tell him my point of view, and what the other people were saying. He’d ask questions, force me to lay bare all the facts, those details which weren’t subject to interpretation but were just the way things were. I’d exhaust myself providing him with information, and at the end of it all he’d tell me what he thought the right point of view was. He’d accounce his decision immediately, with no equivocation, wouldn’t allow any more debate. In that way he’d act like an all-powerful judge, but it was different, he’d explain how and why he came to his decision. He was absolute, but fair.”

She now turned to Dr. Patel. “These drugs that you’re talking about — part of the therapy that you’re recommending, to cure my condition. If I take them, then I’m accepting that what I’ve been saying these last few weeks, about the world suddenly changing around me — that I’m wrong, that I am delusional.” She shook her head. “But they won’t tell me why I’m delusional. And if I don’t know why, if I don’t have that explanation — then how can I truly know that I’m wrong?”

Summers 13P

Jane cast her glance over at Dr. Patel. “You asked me the other day how often I thought about my father, and I said, pretty much every day. And when you asked me how long it was since he passed — I did what I always do, because I don’t have the date or year committed to memory. I have to think about that quarterback for the Bears, who played his first game on the day he died. I remember his rookie season, because the Bears made it to the Super Bowl that year. That’s what I have to do, to remember the year my father died.”

She ran her hand over her scalp again, to pull back the long strands of dirty blonde hair that had swept onto her face. She caught a glimpse of Arjie, his goateed face staring at her, eyes filled with a combination of understanding and impatience. She could read his thoughts — whatever you want to say is OK, but it would really help if you explained why this is important, because we’re all pretty confused right now.

“So what does this have to do with my — ” she stared back at Dr. Patel — “condition? About this delusion you all think I’m having, about waking up one morning and realizing the world around me has changed completely? About not knowing how to use a computer, or that a phone could be used for something other than talking to someone? About wondering why there’s so many cars on the road, why transportation technology has barely changed in half a century?”

She saw Arjie nod slowly.

“Because every time I insist I’m still in my right mind — or hear someone like Dr. Patel — ”

“Sam.”

Jane smiled. “Yes, thank you. Every time someone like Sam says I seem to be OK — even though I agree with them — I think about how I remember the year my father died. How I have to think about that stupid quarterback of the Bears. And I think, why do I have to think about something so trivial in order to remember something so important. And when I have those thoughts — that’s when I begin to wonder how truly sane I am.”

Summers 13O

Jane heard the sound of a car door slamming outside. But she no longer found humor in the silence that had descended on the room.

“It’s been four years. You know how I remember?” She looked up, quickly scanned the eyes in the room. “He loved football. Even when he was lying there in the hospital bed, with all these tubes sticking in him, attached to all these devices that made noises he couldn’t stand — when he’d wasted down to less than 100 pounds — he wanted to know about the Bears. Who they playing this week? What does that idiot coach decide about the starting quarterback? And I hate football, but I knew enough about it to answer his questions. And at that time, they had this rookie quarterback, some guy they’d drafted that spring, and the plan was they weren’t going to play him the first year, make him sit on the bench, watch and learn how the professional game was played.”

She shifted in her seat. “But that fall, when my father went in to the hospital for the last time — the Bears, they had been having good seasons for like forever, but that fall they were losing a lot of games, and fans were really upset and disappointed. Some people said it was the coach’s fault, but other people were like, no no, we need a new quarterback, let the rookie play. And when they lost to the Packers by three touchdowns, the coach was like, you could tell the coach was like, either I change quarterbacks or get fired, so he says the rookie’s going to start next week.”

She was now staring down at the carpeted dining room floor. “Dad thought it was a bad move, didn’t think the rookie was ready. I saw him — ” she couldn’t help pausing — “that Saturday night. He was barely strong enough to speak, I had to lean over the bed. I could feel the warmth of his breath in my ear drum. He said, you watch that game tomorrow, see how bad that kid plays. He knew he didn’t have the strength to stay awake long enough to watch. ” She nodded her head in Hilda’s direction. “Mom was staying with him the next day, so for the first time since I’d lived at home, I watched the Bears play on TV.”

She looked up. “And they won. The rookie threw two touchdowns, ran for another. I knew he’d be excited, so I went to the hospital that evening. But when I approached his room, I sensed something was different. It wasn’t until I entered — saw my mother leaning over him, tears in her eyes — then I realized, there was no sound. Because he didn’t need those devices any longer.”

Summers 13N

“I don’t understand.” Hilda’s voice sounded genuinely confused. “Every time we talk, you say how great Brad is. Over the summer, when you came down to visit — I asked when the two of you were going to get engaged, and you gave me this smile. What — what happened?”

Jane turned to her mother, laid a gentle hand on her cheek. “Brad is wonderful. He hasn’t changed. Problem is, I’ve changed.” She glanced quickly at Dr. Patel. “And it’s not just — you know, the waking up one morning and noticing that the whole world’s different. I mean, it was that — it was, I guess you could call it a catalyst, an event that forced me to think about . . . I don’t know, who I am, what the hell I’m doing in this world. And it made me realize something really important.”

She felt everyone’s eyes follow her as she rose from her chair, walked away from her mother. But her own eyes were fixed on the empty chair in the circle, which she approached and grabbed by its back. With a swift turn of her body, Jane swung the chair into the center of the circle, then adjusted it so that it faced all of the room’s occupants. She stood behind the chair, placed a hand on its back. “It made me realize there was somebody else on my mind. Another person who isn’t here tonight.” She sighed, walked out from behind the chair. And sat. “Because he can’t be here.”

Grateful

Back in Rittman OH for another tournament. And on the drive here, I thought about how grateful I am to be able to do what I’m about to do.

I’m 51, and while I’ve taken good care of myself I’ve also been blessed with good health (first colonoscopy completed this week — two small polyps, both benign). I don’t take either my health or good fortune for granted.

I’m on the other side of a half-century, and I’m able to compete with people a third my age. No matter what my results are today, life is very good.

Summers 13M

Jane heard a car pass outside, and nearly laughed aloud. Her words had silenced the room so thoroughly that the incidental sounds from a sleepy suburban street could now echo off the walls. She decided not to wait for the questions that would certainly come once the wave of surprise had subsumed.

“I almost told him. That Friday, after the Monday I woke up and the world had changed. Brad was in St. Louis again that week, on business — there was no way I was going to tell him what had happened over the phone. He got tickets to a concert that Friday, and I wanted us to enjoy the show, so I thought, we’ll go to my place after the show, then I’ll tell him. And I was going to tell him, really I was — had the words on my lips — ” Brad I don’t recognize computers or smart phones, I don’t remember owning a car, and you probably won’t know what I mean when I say Unirail doesn’t exist anymore but believe me it’s a big deal — “and then he pulls this little white box out of his pocket, and all of a sudden . . .”

Jane ran her right hand back over her scalp, her dirty-blonde hair flying back from her face. “All I could think was, this isn’t the right time. Not for his proposal, not for me to give him an answer — not for me to tell him what happened to me.” She slapped her hands down onto her thighs. “It didn’t seem the right time for anything.”

Gary shifted forward in his chair. “Have you made a decision? About Brad?”

Jane laughed. “I’ve been so busy trying to get my life back to normal — that I’ve avoided thinking about it. Brad, he’s been great, really patient, but I can tell he’s getting tired of waiting. Waiting for me to decide when I can make a decision.” She blinked, turned to Dr. Patel. “Which I guess tells me which answer I want to give him.”