Celia rocked back and forth in the recliner, her toe tapping the floor with each heave forward, a deep amorphous feeling of absentness within her chest.
She stared blankly into space, her mind flitting and floating from topic to topic, the grasshopper that jumped on her when she was seven years old, the family trip to the mountains to stay at a ski lodge, her brother’s negligence when it came to calling and keeping her from worrying. She hadn’t heard from him in well over two months, and it was nearing the longest stretch of time in their lives to go without contact.
Her cell phone let out a long, jarring warning tone: a tornado touched down in her area and she needed to seek safety as soon as possible. She switched her volume off, and continued rocking, tapping the floor and tapping the floor.
The roar of the storm passed her by, and she still didn’t hear from her brother.
Peter looks in the mirror; a stranger stares back at him. He reaches toward the face he’s never seen before and opens the medicine cabinet. Two should do it. He takes his medicine and goes back to bed, hoping to wake up in a familiar place.
Anxiety lies on his chest like a giant cat, crushing the breath from his lungs . He has to sit up, gasping for air. His hand shakes as it goes to his throat, half expecting to feel hands here choking his life away, but touches only the smooth bare skin of his own neck.
He counts breaths until he can lie down again and feign sleep for another six hours, until it’s time to get up for the day.
Letty hears Peter stir in his bathroom; she grips her pillow even more tightly, hoping against hope that he gets some rest tonight. She spent too many hours today reassuring him that the stove was off, the doors locked, and they had no appointments.
A phrase catches her mind, distracting her from thoughts of caretaking: secret emergencies. It tastes faintly of long-forgotten familiarity; perhaps something she learned in school. A poem, maybe? But it fits Peter so well, describing him to a T with only two words. Secret emergencies.
His anxiety wasn’t improving with the new medication. Letty remembers a day when they were children, playing together in the backyard that seemed to stretch for miles in every direction. As they ran through a patch of clover, Peter disturbed a bee, and it stung him on the tip of his finger. He clutched it, and they ran home together. Letty found their father, who doctored Peter’s finger.
And that was all. No panic, no days of hiding in his room. They were out playing again that same after noon. What happened to that Peter? Letty wonders, drowsing. He must have had a secret emergency that he never told me about.
In his room, Peter’s breathing slows, and soft snores escape his open mouth, free to wander the still house.
Thanks to poet William Stafford and today’s Listserve submission from Michael Brigham.
We conned my brother and his girlfriend into staying another night. He forgot his matches.
Today is my stepfather’s birthday. He and my mom are visiting this weekend so we could all go see my brother this afternoon.
This morning we got up and ready, and on our way to Monroe stopped at the best donut place ever, just down the road from our house. The donut lady gave Ian their card so he could call first next time to make sure they have some plain cake donuts ready for us because they never make many, even though they taste so good.
We traveled and arrived safely. Unfortunately, my brother can only have three visitors at a time, so my stepdad waited outside for the first two hours, then swapped out with my mom for the second half. Ian and I were very appreciative of that, since we hadn’t seen my brother in months.
It was so good to see him! He’s gained about twenty pounds since he’s been there, but he was underweight before. We all had to talk about the new fuzz he’s getting on cheeks and chin. We brought in a ton of snacks for him, and he ate most of it over the four hour visit.
We had a great time talking shit to each other and hearing about things that have happened, both before he got in trouble and more recently. He seems really optimistic about getting out sometime next year, and while I would love for that to happen, I can’t put a lot of faith in it. He’s screwed up and screwed up, and I don’t know if just a year will be enough to show his judge that he’s changed.
Ian and I are going to talk to his counselor to see about getting a weekday visit scheduled so we can bring Abby. She’s so cute carting his school picture around, showing her uncle to the cats. He’d love to see her again as well.
It was terribly hard for me not to cry when we hugged and said our goodbyes. He’s so close, but he might as well be so far.
We went home and made sure that our cats hadn’t killed my parents’ dog, then went to Olive Garden for dinner. Don’t they have the best salad? We had a nice grownup dinner, with wine and dessert, while laughing at the couple on a first date at the next table trying to impress each other. It was even funnier when a woman walked by with a newborn, who spit up on the floor. The waitstaff acted as though it was a toxic waste spill, getting a guy out with gloves, a broom, and cleaning solution to scrub the carpet for this tiny spot, even finishing up with a liberal application of Lysol.
We came home and chatted a bit, and now it’s time for bed. Oh yeah, that’s two, count ’em, two nights in a row of nothing but plain old regular insomnia. Time to try for three! Maybe I’ll dream about those leftovers I’m having for lunch tomorrow.
Last week we faxed our applications to the facility in Monroe for background checks so we could visit my brother. Wednesday we were approved, and since the restaurant was closed this morning and Ian had off, we left to make the 90 minute drive to visit.
I had no idea how hard that drive would be.
I was working in West Monroe when we were having problems, and I made this very drive almost every day. Always before, I’d dreaded having a job that required a long commute, but this was when I learned to love it. I appreciated having three hours all to myself every day, time to think and hash through my thoughts and feelings, and especially time to relax and let the stressors of the workday go.
We had a good car and a crappy car, so I’d take the good car since I was going three times as far. If I was heading home while it was still daytime and Ian had to close, I’d stop by his store on the way home and swap out vehicles.
It was one of those days that I stopped that I knew in my heart what was happening. Ian wasn’t in the store; his employees told me he was doing a ride along. I had just given up waiting and was headed to the car when he showed back up. With her. And I knew. I saw his face, and I saw her face, and I knew. But I still couldn’t admit it to myself.
I relived every single bit of that pain this morning. I tried to think of other things, any other things, but I couldn’t. I tried to just avoid looking at the signs, to pretend we were on some other stretch of road. Then I tried to watch the truck in front of us. Then a tiny patch of interstate directly in front of us. I ended up not letting my eyes stray from the reflection of the dashboard on the windshield, holding onto Ian, the occasional tear making its way from my eye.
And then the tread came off the front driver’s side tire. Neither one of us knew what had happened at first, we both thought something must have fallen from the 18 wheeler we were passing. Ian pulled over, and we surveyed the damage. Quite a bit, to say the least. Bumper, headlight, wheel well, quarter panel, door.
He’d pulled over a few dozen feet from an old packed dirt road, so we limped up there to change the tire. I called the insurance company to see if we could make a claim, and sure, it’s made, but we can’t afford the deductible right now, especially not knowing if we’ll have to pay another counselor in three weeks.
Ian got the tire changed, and of course the spare was low. I let him take a break while I walked down to see what mile marker we were near, and he called the state police to see if anyone was nearby, but we were fifty miles from each of them. I waited on hold for a few minutes trying to call the insurance company back for roadside assistance, but I gave up.
While we moseyed on down a few miles to a tiny town at the next exit, I called my stepfather to see if there was any way we could get a message to my brother. Understandably, he wasn’t optimistic, but he tried, and sent me a text later that he was able to leave a message, but doesn’t know if or when my brother will get it.
The only gas station on Main Street was long closed, with no air pump anyway. We went to the police station, which I was surprised to find locked, but someone came out and gave directions to another gas station a few blocks away. Where the air didn’t work. Ian came out of the store with an employee who punched the machine to get it working, and we headed back home.
This time I looked at the floor, and read the upside down Johnny’s Pizza coupon over and over, until Ian put his arm around me and pulled me to his shoulder. I finally asked, ‘if we go see my brother, can we go another way?’
And Ian promised me that we’d never come this way again.
My parents visited my brother yesterday and got some details of his escape. First of all, he and the other boy walked out the open door. What kind of place is this, anyway? Nobody even missed them for hours.
They ran through fields and ended up falling into a ten foot deep hole, where they had to dig steps into the side to climb out. They walked until they found a motel, where they told a guy who asked if they were okay that some girls ditched them, and they didn’t even know where they were. They got a ride to the nearest large city, where they went to a store and stole clothes, changing in an aisle and then walking out.
Then began their stay with some hobos, who shared their liquor and pot. They spent the night under a bridge and tagged along to a soup kitchen in the morning, where they were caught, unfortunately, before they got to eat.
It’s easy to laugh about it now. It’s easy to hear the story and marvel at their luck. It’s also easy to imagine the many forms their death or serious injury could have taken.
My brother knows I write, and he’s told me several times that I should write a book about him. I hope that’s not the reason he has such adventures.