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02.15.03 12:43 a.m.

The more severe the pain or illness, the more severe will be the necessary changes. These may involve breaking bad habits, or acquiring some new and better ones.

 -Peter McWilliams  

Previously in Xenology: Emily has a mother and I care deeply for Emily.

Dismantle the Sun
Tuesday, as my dramatic writing class was mercifully cancelled and I attend class in an area where college is a synonym for commerce, I embarked to procure Emily Valentine's Day Gifts. The intent was to produce the greatest variety and quantity of gifts for $30. However, this is not the story but merely its vague background.
Around 3:30, I was possessed of a feeling that began with slight sadness and confusion with my surroundings and ended with such total despair that I only went to my next class out of an urge to remove myself from the bitter cold that had infected the valley. Call it pathetic fallacy, if you must. I prefer "high pressure system."
I could not trace why I felt so very empty and achingly sad. I took a mental stock of my life, though every slight emotional debt was thusly compounded with the disinterest in existing. Intellectually, I knew that I was fine, lacking nothing. However, my emotions had me on the very brink of tears without giving me the courtesy of any reason. Even my occasional seasonal affective disorder reported that it had not a whit to do with my state. I ate a quick dinner, hoping like every hormonal teenage girl that food could fill the growing emptiness. Yet this just made me half-full and silently maudlin.
I sat in my creative writing class, my only reason for enduring this semester thus far, and dared not to open my mouth for fear that a banshee's wail should issue forth and knock the insecure punk girl in the seat beside mine onto the butt of her cartoonishly large jeans. After a few quarters of the hours scrolled by, I abruptly got up from my seat and sought refuge. I needed a private place where I could call Emily and cry in peace.
Unfortunately, I found the dark corners filled with angry souls studying and the bathrooms a bit too inclined to echo and make my tears too like a teen melodrama. I discovered that the stairwells of the building ascended finally to a small, empty platform. It was very cold, but no one seems to think to see how high up the stairs go.
I called Emily and asked her to reconsider visiting me this night for fear that I would become upset with her. She assured me that this made her feel as though she was more needed. In my state, small fissures seemed like chasms, so I lamented that I fell I do not love her nearly as much as she deserves. This, too, she assuaged as I sing to her on the phone and am generally a very sweet companion. I then confessed that I was not sure I wanted to move in with her next year when she moves to Stony Brook for the year. She was not happy to hear this, but defused with point as well. Switching tactics, I began to weep over the fact that I have nearly no friends on campus because I do not live in the area. I bit back tears that no one will speak to me or if they did, as was the case this night, they ask as they would a freak if I was the member of a band owing to my hair. These were not rational arguments by any stretch, but my mind wanted so to possess a lamentable thought with would provoke cathartic tears that it latch onto any insecurity.
Getting off the phone with Emily after she conceded that she would visit me but leave if I so needed, I let out a pure wail. For what cause, I still cannot say. It felt as though my face was dripping away. I paced and sobbed, sobbed and paced until I had achieved a sort of emotional equilibrium. I then called my house and asked my mother if everything was okay. She inquired as to why I asked. I merely confessed that it was an unexplainable feeling, in which she places stock. She asked if I knew who it was about, but I did not. I just wanted to know why I was feeling this way.
I returned to class after twenty minutes of this and tried to pay attention until break, at which point I packed up and decided to leave. I couldn't deal with this any longer and not whither. A boy who sits near me was disappointed to see me go and hoped that I felt better. I managed a smile and thanked him.
Passing my teacher as I exited, he asked if I was suffering from the stomach flu. I looked at my feet and mumbled, "Something like that, yeah."
I arrived home just before Emily and was fairly calmly watching Buffy when she arrived. My emptiness had trickled away and I was suggesting she and I make brownies to banish the rest, so it is certain I wasn't about to snuff out my being. The mere suggestion of brownies excludes that. We laughed and hugged and teased, growling at the television when it suggested that we relax in the Caribbean because this is precisely what Emily's parents were going to be doing in a few weeks (allowing us to have a party in their home, somewhat unbeknownst to them).
My mother knocked on my wall just after Buffy ended and informed us it was Emily's father. I switched the phone on and greeted him with a gregarious, "Emily? No one named Emily lives here." I was greeted with a stony silence, so I handed Emily the phone. As quickly and tragically as a butterfly catching fire, her face crumpled and she began to weep the tears I had hours earlier. I knew in my heart that I had been weeping for... whatever was occurring on the other end of that phone. I just held her tightly, trying to be her anchor on this sea of despair. I imagined that someone was dead, most likely her near centennially aged grandfather or her beloved greyhound.
After a period of just holding her and feeling her wordless sobs wrack her frame, she revealed to me that her mother was the sort of sick about which Lifetime movies are made with breast cancer. I had no way of helping her, other than to hold onto her. I consoled her and told her that her mother would be okay, that this was not going to stop her mother who is tenaciously alive. I asked when they found this all out and she told me the appointment began at 3:15. She sobbed after the call, "five minutes ago, everything in the world was okay..."
Emily wanted to return to her home to be with her family, though her father preferred that she remain at my house and allow me to give her distance, comfort, and perspective. However, Emily would not hear of this and, after canceling the party with a terse letter that frightened many of the guests, we departed.
I was concerned that Emily would be unable to drive, which was likely another reason Emily's father wished her to remain at my home. However, she was calmed enough that she could take my request for McDonalds food in the nature in which is was intended. Immensely unhealthy food has a soothing and numbing effect on the soul.
Brave Toaster
On the trip, we discussed our fond memories and associations. How fireworks made us feel in the summer and the places we have seen them. We planned adventures for the spring and summer. I really felt closer to Emily during this conversation that I had with anyone in months.
When we arrive at her house, her parents were already in their bedroom. I tiptoed into Emily bedroom, fearing having to confront them tonight. It was just too much and too emotional. I just wanted to get Emily into her bed and safe. I didn't want her to have to look this in the face until she had a few good hours of sleep. And, evidently, a Carebears' video.
I awoke the next morning and was disoriented as to my surroundings. Emily was standing over me and eating all the pretzels out of my Chex Mix. She had gotten up three hours earlier and refused to indulge in further unconsciousness, no matter how appealing. She had decided that she needed to take a statistics test and couldn't skip it just because she had been near inconsolably convinced her mother was on her deathbed the night prior.
She made me pancakes as I showered. I think baking may be one of her comfort activities. Her mother was in the kitchen sorting through mail when I came to breakfast. She would not look at me, except out of the corner of her eyes. She was still in her terrycloth bathrobe, but look like the woman I had known for years. I think I half expected her to be pallid with an edge of fear in her eyes. But she was just the woman I had known for so long, albeit in a terrycloth robe.
The footdog bit her
I couldn't really fit my mind around the idea that she was ill. She looked so casually vital, as she always does. She and I both spoke to Emily, but didn't share a word between us. I suppose we didn't know what was the appropriate thing to say.
After Emily's class, where there was no test to be taken, we returned. Emily again needed to be comforted, so she ordered a pepperoni, mushroom, and broccoli pizza and we baked brownies. See above, regarding baking.
Over a meal of pizza and brownies, we talked of unrelated subjects such as the impending war and flipped through magazines. I found stickers of dogs in one, so Emily affixed one to her very bruised foot. The dog has a funny name, but I forgot to transcribe it at the time. Thus, it is a footdog.
In the end, it looks as though Emily will have to become the mothering figure in her household for a while. At least six months. She will have to drive her mother to the doctor several times a week and take care of her father, who seems lost without her mother. Emily will have to sacrifice for her family, but she is the sort that does such things without much thought. I do fear that it will interfere with her plans for continued education and getting a career.
Of course, I will be there trying to support her while she is trying to support her family.

Soon in Xenology: Valentine's Day. Waitresses who are amused. Zack.

last watched: Short Circuit 2
reading: Report from Ground Zero
listening: Bree Sharp
wanting: Emily's world to be as she planned it.
interesting thought: Five minutes ago, the world was okay.
moment of zen: Seeing Emily's depth through her pain.
someday I must: welcome Emily's mother back to health

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.

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