Dreamland

Author: P Hana

Page 53

   

Finally I was making some real progress. With every Jolly Rancher-?filled trip to Dr. Marshall's, every stupid craft project I completed (one lopsided ashtray, a passable bird feeder, two lanyards, and an impressive bead necklace), and each visitors' day, I added another piece to both of the girls I was rebuilding. I tried to write Cass back several times, but I just couldn't figure out where to start. I pulled out my dream journal and reread all I'd written there to her, when the words came easy. And I crumpled up page after page of notebook paper before finally giving up altogether. Maybe I just wasn't ready to tell that story, even to her, since I didn't know yet how it ended. I'd finally loaded my camera and tentatively taken a few pictures, just objects and still lifes, no faces yet. Boo developed them for me at the Arts Center and brought them to me when she visited. We'd sit in the good, bright fight of the solarium, critiquing technique and squinting over contact sheets. I liked the solidness of objects: the cracked concrete inside the scoop of the fountain, the bright hallway leading up to a flat black door, the blurry view of the trees through the square blocks of thick glass bordering the cafeteria. My mother and I took longer walks, talking about everything. My childhood, hers, how much we missed Cass and how her leaving changed both of us, for good.

I began to see her more as a person, a woman, not just the queen of bake sales and lemon puffs. And when I was finally ready to take a picture of a face, it was hers I chose, sitting on the green grass on a blanket where we'd just finished a picnic of grapes and chocolate chips. She had her legs crossed, shoes off, her hair blowing in the mild near-?summer wind, and she was laughing, her head thrown back, eyes squinting shut, one hand blurry as it moved up to cover her mouth. My father and I had worked our way through a vicious round of Rummy and now were into Hearts, for which we recruited two guys from my floora former heroin addict and an obsessive-?compulsive, who played for cigarettes while we played for money. My father and I, as a team, were practically unbeatable.

I took his picture, too, his brow furrowed intently as he contemplated his cards, with the obsessive-?compulsive blurred in the back frame, a cigarette curling smoke out of his hand. The last game in the book was Five Card Draw, but I hoped I'd be home before we got to it. And finally, when Rina came, I got to just be a high school girl again, forgetting the hospital and therapy and all the talking I was constantly doing about My Issues. She brought Cosmo and bags of chocolate and a tiny radio she smuggled in and kept turned down low. We'd go outside to the grass and spread a blanket, then give ourselves manicures while she caught me up on all the gossip about cheerleading and school and Jeff (who was on again, at least until her newest interesta foreign exchange student/basketball standout named Helmut began to heat up). She'd heard a little bit about Rogerson, here and there. His lawyer had brokered a deal for the charges against him for hitting me, so he was spending the weekends in jail and doing a lot of community service at the animal shelter, cleaning out cages. Apparently he was staying with Dave and Mingus at the little yellow house and keeping a low profile. She'd bumped into him at the Quik Zip one night and he'd brushed right past, not even looking her in the eye. I knew I might see him again, but Dr. Marshall kept telling me that I was safe, and would be safe. Even after I left Evergreen I'd have what she called “a system of checks and balances” group therapy once a week and therapy with my parents as well as without them, for at least the next year to make sure I didn't get in over my head again. This was reassuring, but the thought of starting over for real was a little scary, still. The fall before, everyone at school had talked about Cass. Now it would be me. And it wouldn't be easy. But I had my family, my checks and balances. And what I'd been through already had been much, much worse.

Sometimes I thought about what would happen when I finally did see Rogerson. Did I think he would hit me? No. I'd slipped too far from him now. But I imagined all kinds of possibilities: We bumped into each other at the Quik Zip, at a party, or just passed on the street. In some of these scenarios, he was angry with me, or so nice that I felt my strength wavering, if only slightly. In others, he passed right by me, as if I didn't exist and never had, and that hurt the most. But I made myself see it, again and again, so I'd be prepared. No matter what happened. I'd spent so many months feeling like I was underwater, half in dreamland with those mermaids, hearing all the voices from up above. And since I'd been at Evergreen I felt like I'd been swimming so hard, the water growing warmer and warmer the closer I got to the top. I wasn't there yet, but now I could see the surface, rippling just beyond my fingers. And every time I got scared, I pulled out that picture I was still assembling and took a long look at it. The top half was almost done, with the bottom filled in here and there: you could see the dark of my hair, one eye, a bit of nose, the shape of my neck. And when it was done, I planned to hang it, patchworked and pieced together, on my wall at home. I'd put it with every other one I'd collected, including that girl, finally, with all the faces of the people I loved.

Chapter 15

“Caitlin?” my mother asked, turning around in front of my stripped bed and hoisting my bag over my shoulder. I was looking out the window, over the fountain, taking in the tiny square of the world that had been my view for the last few months. “Yes?”

“Are you ready to go?”

“Almost,” I said. I had just about everything I needed. My lopsided ashtray, my bird feeder, and all my pictures: me and Ginger, Dr. Marshall with a mouthful of Jolly Ranchers, and the one I'd pieced together, the crazy mosaic, stuck in my dream journal which I held against my chest. “I'll meet you outside.” She smiled, nodding, and went out the door. I could hear her heels clacking down that long hallway, into the light, as I slipped my camera out of the bag on my shoulder and popped off the lens cap. The sun was streaming in the window, bright, as I stepped up to my mirror and lifted the camera to my face, adjusting the focus until I could see myself clearly. I looked so different from the day I'd arrived. I'd gained weight, my hair was longer, my skin clear. I was wearing a red, short- sleeved T-?shirt and my arms were tan from all those outside walks, clean and unbruised, like any other girl's. I lowered the camera to my waist, tilting it upward. Then I put my finger on the shutter, swallowed, and smiled at the girl in the mirror. She smiled back, her head cocked to the side, and I knew she understood it all: trivia, time, our shared sandbox history, Cass, cheerleading, Rogerson, everything. So I kept my eyes on hers, steady, as I pressed down on the button, catching this final face for my collection. Click.

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