I remember nodding, and seeing my sisters doing the same. But how to do this was another thing entirely. I had no idea how to make things easier, or even if I'd done something to make them difficult in the first place. What I did get was that it was paramount that we protect my mom from anything that might upset her, even if I wasn't sure what those things were. So I learned another system: When in doubt, keep it out—out of earshot, out of the house—even if this meant, really, just keeping it in.
My mother's depression, or episode, or whatever it was—I never got a concrete term, which made it all the more hard to define—had been going on for about three months when my dad convinced her to go see a therapist. At first she went reluctantly, quitting after a couple of sessions, but then she started up again, and this time she stuck with it, continuing for the next year. Still, there wasn't some sudden change—one particular day that I came into the kitchen at ten thirty and there she was, bright and cheerful, like she'd been waiting for me to appear. Instead, it was a slow process, little increments, like moving a half a millimeter a day so that you only really notice progress from a distance. First she stopped sleeping all day, then she began to get up midmorning, then finally she started to cook breakfast every once in a while. Her silences, so noticeable at the dinner table and everywhere else, slowly became less extended, a little conversation here, a comment there.
In the end it was the modeling, though, that convinced me we were over the worst of it. Since my mom had been the one who got us to jobs and dealt with Lindy as far as scheduling and auditions, we'd all been working a lot less while she was sick. My dad had taken Whitney to a couple of jobs, and I'd had one shoot that was booked way in advance, but things had definitely slowed down—enough so that when Lindy called one day during dinner about a go-see, even she was assuming we'd take a pass.
"That's probably best," my dad said, glancing back at all of us at the table before taking the phone farther into the kitchen. "I just don't think the time's right."
Kirsten, who was chewing on a piece of bread, said, "Right for what?"
"A job," Whitney told her, her voice flat. "Why else would Lindy call during dinner?"
My dad was rummaging in the drawer by the phone now, finally digging out a pencil. "Well, okay," he said, grabbing a nearby notepad. "I'll just take down the info, but most likely… right. What was that address, again?"
My sisters were both watching him as he scribbled it down, probably wondering what the job was for, and for whom. But I was looking at my mom, who had her eyes on my dad as well, even as she drew her napkin out of her lap, dabbing the corners of her mouth. When he came back in, settling into his chair and picking up his fork, I waited for my sisters to ask for details. But instead, my mom spoke first.
"So what was that about?"
My dad looked at her. "Oh," he said, "just an audition tomorrow. Lindy thought we might be interested."
"We?" Kirsten said.
"You," my dad told her, scooping some beans onto his fork. "I told her it probably isn't a good time. It's in the morning, and I've got to be at the office…"
He trailed off, not bothering to finish—not that he had to. My dad was an architect and busy enough with his own work, plus taking care of my mom and keeping up the house, without having to deal with running us all over town. Kirsten knew this, even though it was obvious she was disappointed. But then, in the quiet as we all went back to eating, I heard my mom take in a breath.
"I could take her," she said. We all looked at her. "I mean, if she wanted to go."
"Really?" Kirsten asked. "Because that would be—"
"Grace," my dad said, his voice concerned. Kirsten sat back in her chair, now quiet. "You don't have to."
"I know." My mom smiled, a wan smile, but a smile just the same. "It's just one day, though. One thing. I'd like to."
So the next day, my mom was up for breakfast—I remember that, clearly—and when Whitney and I left for school, she and Kirsten headed off to an audition for a local bowling alley commercial. Kirsten got the job. It was by no means her first ad, and not a very big one, as things went. But every time it ran afterwards, and I saw her bowl that perfect strike (edited in, as my sister was a terrible bowler, the queen of the gutter ball), I thought about that night at the table and how, finally, it seemed like things might be getting back to normal.
And they did, more or less. My mom started taking us around to auditions again, and while she wasn't always cheerful and perky, maybe she actually never had been in the first place. Maybe that, like so much else, I'd only imagined, or assumed. Still, as that year went on, I had trouble trusting that things were really getting better. As hopeful as I wanted to be, I always felt like I was holding my breath, sure that it wouldn't last. And even when it did, the fact that what had happened to my mom had come on so suddenly, with no beginning or true end, made it seem that much more likely to reappear in the same fashion. Back then, I always felt like it would take only one bad event, one disappointment, for her to leave us again. Maybe I felt that way still.
This was one reason why I hadn't yet told my mom I wanted to quit modeling. The truth was that all summer, when I went to go-sees, I felt strange, nervous in a way I never had before. I didn't like the scrutiny, having to walk in front of people, strangers staring at me. At one fitting for a swimsuit shoot in June, I'd kept cringing when the stylist tried to adjust my bathing suit, a lump rising in my throat even as I apologized and said I was fine.
Each time I got close to telling my mom about this, though, something would happen to stop me. I was the only one left modeling now. And while it is hard enough to take away something that makes a person happy, it's even more difficult when it seems like it's the only thing.
Which was why, when I got to Mayor's Village fifteen minutes later, I was not surprised to find my mother waiting for me. As I turned in, I was struck, as always, by how small she was. Then again, my perspective was a bit skewed, as I was five-eight, and even at that the shortest of my sisters: Kirsten had a half inch on me and Whitney was five-ten. My father loomed above all of us at six-two, leaving my mother to always look sort of odd when we were all together, like one of those which-one-of-these-is-not-like-the-other puzzles we used to do in elementary school.
As I pulled in beside her car, I saw Whitney was in the passenger seat, her arms crossed over her chest. She looked irritated, which was neither surprising nor new, so I didn't dwell on it as I grabbed my makeup bag from my purse and went around to meet my mother, who was standing by her bumper, the hatch open.