Chapter Nine: Lake Forest
"Did you see this?”
Rachel handed me the front page section of the Orange County Register. I usually didn’t read that section. By the time I got to read the paper in the evening, the stories were already old news. But something caught Rachel’s attention. She tapped a story on the front page with her index finger. I gave it a quick read and set the paper aside.
“I thought you would be more interested.”
“It’s not my problem.” I noticed more bitterness in my voice than I expected.
"I’d stay away from her. She’s just looking for doctor cock.”
That was how Dr. Yvette Kim described Teresa Llewelyn. Yvette and I started our internship at UCI Medical Center in Orange in the fall of 1994. We were friends, nothing more. Not that I didn’t want something more with her. She was sexy and brilliant. She was also Korean, and I knew Grandma Dinah would never accept that. But Yvette had just gotten engaged, so we could safely remain just friends.
Teresa worked as a receptionist. I’d see her every morning as I walked into the hospital. I didn’t give her a second glance, but she looked different at that holiday party. She wore a short and form-fitting slip dress with black sequins and spaghetti straps. They were clearly designer, and there was no way Teresa could have afforded that dress on a receptionist’s salary.
I headed back to the buffet table. I never felt comfortable at parties, especially work parties. We had to come up with small talk when we already knew more about each other than we probably should. The only thing good about parties was the free food, which was better than the late-night Cup of Noodles I’d have to get from the vending machine after the cafeteria closed.
“You like sushi?”
I looked up. Teresa stood next to me. Her blond-tipped bangs arched over her smooth brow. Her eyes had the right amount of shadow, her cheeks the right amount of blush. Gazing into her gray-blue eyes, I forgot about Yvette’s warning.
“Yeah.” I nodded awkwardly.
“Do you like it with wasabi?”
I had no idea where she was going with this. Especially when she took a plate, picked up a couple California rolls, and scooped up a large green mound of the spicy stuff.
I stammered, “That’s a lot of...”
Before I could answer, she sheared off half of the mound with the top of a California roll. She held it up towards me so that she could show me the green pile on top. She then popped it in her mouth. I expected her to gag and beg for a glass of water. But I just watched as her jaw muscles shifted. Her metallic red lips unfurled into a wide smile.
“I like things spicy.”
For a moment, I could only answer with uh’s and um’s. Then, I started to blurt out an introduction.
“Oliver Glass.” She smiled. “I see you every day.”
“And...” I realized that although I saw her every day too, I didn’t know her name.
She opened her Yves Sant-Laurent clutch and took out a piece of paper and a Mont Blanc pen. Things she also couldn’t afford on a receptionist’s salary. I found myself presented a name and a phone number.
“Call me.” Teresa smiled and walked into the crowd.
And I did.
I soon found out how Teresa was able to afford all of those expensive things on a receptionist’s salary. She lived with her parents, and her parents were loaded. Her father John was the fourth generation of a family that owned large tracts of land throughout Southern California that they sold off to build planned communities. Her mother Genevieve was an actress. She mostly played damsels in distress on TV detective shows. She got paid a lot of money to wear hot pants and get tied up. She gave Teresa her good looks.
I told Teresa that I wanted to keep our relationship low-key. But soon, the whole hospital was abuzz about it. The male doctors would rib me and ask how good she was. And she was good. As she said, she liked things spicy.
Yvette became very quiet with me. During our rounds, we wouldn’t talk about anything besides medical charts. Afterwards, she kept her distance. Late one evening, we had finished assisting with a ureteroscopy. Yvette and I were washing our hands.
“I think that went well,” I said.
“I agree. I think he’ll be better in no time.” She finished drying her hands and turned to me. “But you, you’re suffering from cranial rectosis.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“You’re a fucking idiot.” She crumpled up the paper towels and tossed them hard into the trash.
"Have you written to Muriel?” Rachel put her arms around my shoulders.
I had been staring at the same blank mail message on my MacBook Pro for the past five minutes. I had composed the email in my mind, but I couldn’t bring my fingers to the keyboard.
Rachel rested her chin on my shoulder. “What’s wrong?”
I exhaled. “What if Dylan doesn’t want us to look for him?”
“Don’t you want to know if he’s OK?”
“Of course I do. It’s just...”
“What?” She turned her head slightly towards me.
I exhaled again. “He needs to grow up. He’s 18. He’s supposed to be able to take care of himself, right?”
Rachel let go of my shoulders. She moved out from behind the chair and leaned against the desk. I turned in my chair towards her. She was still in her shorts and tank top from our evening workout.
“In Israel, kids had to grow up. The way things are there, you had to be tough.”
“You’re definitely tough.”
I spoke with a smile and a low, soft voice that showed her I was interested. She wasn’t taking it. In fact, she folded her arms.
“But here -- I see it all the time with the parents in school and sports -- they treat their children like they’re precious porcelain dolls. From the moment they’re born, their parents record everything. They videotape every second of their first years on tapes they can’t even play anymore.”
I remembered the VHS tapes of Muriel and Dylan as babies that I had stashed somewhere in storage.
“And parents do everything for them.” Rachel unfolded her arms and started gesturing them in front of me. I knew she was getting upset when she started talking with her hands. “They organize play dates. They put pressure on the schools to put them with the right teachers. They sign up to be playground supervisors, room parents, and PTA officers. Not because they want to help, mind you, but because they can make sure their kids get the best treatment.”
Now, I was getting upset. It was if Rachel had found videotapes of Teresa and me when our kids were young and critiqued everything we did.
“And sports,” she sighed angrily, “It’s the worst! Parents yell at the umpire if he calls their kid out or gives him a yellow card. They yell at the coaches if they don’t give them a good position or enough playing time. They threaten to sue the board if their child isn’t picked for the All-Star team!”
Teresa came close to doing that when Muriel was left off the U10 All-Star team. Muriel cried about that for days. Not because she was left off the team. She didn’t have a good season that year, so she understood why she wasn’t picked. She cried because she thought we would embarrass her by complaining.
Rachel’s hands trembled in front of me. “Parents overprotect their children, and then they can’t understand why they’re irresponsible and won’t act like adults.”
“You don’t think Teresa and I overprotected our kids, do you?”
Rachel stared at me for a moment.
“If you don’t know the answer to that, you probably have.”
She stood up and left the study.
"We found these.” The sheriff’s deputy opened his hand and revealed several candy bars.
I was 13. My younger brother Maury was 10. He was the one outside the doorway standing next to the deputy. His head was down. His whole body trembled.
Mom and Grandma Dinah stood on the small tile entryway just inside the door. I stood in the living room, close enough to see, but far enough to get away from what I knew would happen.
“We’re letting him off with a warning, but I made it clear that if this happens again, there will be consequences.” The deputy nudged Maury towards the door. “I release him to you.”
Mom nodded. “Thank you, officer.”
“This will not happen again,” Grandma Dinah interjected angrily.
“I’m sure that it won’t.” He gave a small smile. “Have a good afternoon.”
Mom watched nervously as the deputy turned from the doorway. Maury remained outside, slump-shouldered and trembling.
“Well, go on!” Grandma Dinah screeched at him.
Maury dragged his feet over the threshold of the doorway and shuffled into the house. Mom closed the door behind him. We all stood frozen and silent. I didn’t know what to say to him. If I did, I was afraid to speak up.
Outside, the squad car’s engine churned. We stood silently as the grinding of tires over asphalt faded in the distance.
Grandma Dinah smacked Maury so fast, I didn’t even see her hand move. Maury bent over, clutching his cheek.
Maury’s hands covered his whole face. He started to sob.
“Mother Dinah, please!” Mom’s soft voice pleaded.
Grandma Dinah kept her trembling hand high above her head. “The boy has to learn, Josephine!”
Maury collapsed face down into a fetal ball on the floor. He clutched his hands over his head, like in an earthquake drill.
I couldn’t move or talk. I had been spared from Grandma Dinah’s hand, but she had threatened me with it plenty of times. Maury had felt it before. The first time she hit him, I was doing my homework. I heard his cries, but stuck to my work in fear of what Grandma Dinah would do to me. The second time, I was in choir practice at school. I only knew about it because he refused to let me look at his face. There may have been other times I didn’t know about. This was the first time I saw it for myself. The weird thing was that I didn’t feel bad for my brother. I just felt grateful that it wasn’t me. And ashamed of myself for feeling that way.
Grandma Dinah raised her trembling hand up high again.
“Mother Dinah, stop it!”
Mom’s shout made Grandma Dinah’s hand freeze in place. Then, Grandma Dinah turned her fury-filled face towards her.
“Do you want to spoil the boy, Josephine!? Do you want to make him weak and immoral?”
“He learned his lesson,” Mom snarled. She then knelt next to Maury and put an arm around his shoulders. “Let’s get you cleaned up.”
She helped Maury to his feet. He kept his hands over his face, sobs seeped between his fingers. Mom shot Grandma Dinah a hateful glance as she led Maury down the hallway. Grandma Dinah stayed fixed in place as she watched them. I didn’t dare move, fearing I’d draw Grandma Dinah’s attention and her wrath. But she knew I was there. She turned slowly towards me, giving the same hateful glare she gave Maury and Mom.
“If anyone at school asks you about this, tell them it’s a lie. And if you say anything.” She jutted out her open hand, “You’ll get twice what he got.”
She turned and walked down the hallway.
I reeled back and collapsed on the sofa. I was finally able to breathe, but my body was still shaking.