I wake up to the sound of shouting voices the next morning.
“Well, I don’t care what you think Pam, you do what a good wife and mother is supposed to do and come home to your family,” I hear my father’s stern voice rise up from the first floor.
I immediately close my eyes. There it was. The confirmation of what I already knew. My mom had no intentions of coming home anytime soon. And the confirmation hit so strongly that I felt nothing. The truth was that I remained an insignificant girl living in an insignificant town with an insignificant story to tell to absolutely no one.
“I don’t care if my financial status no longer acquires to your taste, Pam,” I hear my father practically spit, and the mention of money causes me to sit straight up. With my father, money meant work, and I was still curious about these political conventions of the City Councilman.
I quickly jump out of my bed, and in my bare feet, I silently move down the hallway to the top of the stairs. I peek around the corner, but my father isn’t standing anywhere near the bottom of the stairs. I reach for the banister, and slowly begin to work my way down the staircase.
“Just because I ran into some trouble at work doesn’t mean we’re going to lose everything. And I don’t want to lose my wife either,” my father pleads.
I freeze, my foot halfway down another step. Ice runs through my veins, freezing my body in its place. I feel my heart pause in its rhythm, and then make one large thump as it maintains a steady beat again.
“Well, Mexico may have all the alcoholic beverages in the world, Pam, but when you run out of money it won’t matter. You need to come home.”
I begin to feel my body thaw, and start to move back the way I came. But then I hear the phone get slammed back onto the receiver, and suddenly I’m filled with a sense of confidence. Confidence and rage at my father for refusing to tell me anything about how our family was falling apart.
“Dad,” I say loudly, making it to the landing and then finding him standing in one of his business suits in the living room. He has the bridge of his nose pinched between his thumb and index finger, and his eyes are squeezed shut.
“Dad,” I say again, and this time his eyes open.
“Jackie – ” he starts.
“Mom is in Mexico?” I say. “And you didn’t have the nerve to tell me?” I say accusingly. “Something that I have the right to know – that I should know?”
“Your mother didn’t want you to know. Jackie, she will come home,” my father says soothingly.
“That’s bullshit,” I feel my face get hot, and I know tears are coming. “You said so yourself. Mexico has the alcohol, and that’s all she’s ever cared about. Not you. Not me. Just your money and all the booze she can get. And you had no right keeping that information from me.”
“I have every right, I’m your father,” he roars, his cheeks turning red as he looks at me.
“And she’s my mother,” I yell even louder. “I have no choice in who my parents are, but she – and you – had a choice in whether or not you had kids. Both of you chose yes and now it is your responsibility to be there for me despite whatever ditch you’ve dug yourself into. You’ve neglected me my entire life.”
“You have a car, and a home, and a maid,” my father ticks off on his fingers.
“And if you’d paid a little more attention, then you’d know that all that doesn’t even matter if you don’t have parents who look after you. You have no idea who I am.”
“Jackie, that’s not true,” my father says.
“Really?” I can’t make out anything anymore, the tears are flowing so fast into my eyes. “Then what have I been doing all summer?”
“You’ve been hanging out with Leslie. And that Donna girl you insist on being friends with.”
“You see?” I say. “I’m not even friends with Leslie. And Donna…I haven’t seen her in almost a month. She’s been in California.”
Realizing he’s been caught, my father’s voice softens slightly. “Now that’s not fair, you said you’ve been hanging out with her.”
I lower the volume of my voice slightly as well. “But a good parent would take initiative to make sure that their child is safe and doing what they’ve said.”
“But I trust you Jackie,” he says.
“God, you’re so full of it. You and mom, both. It’s not because you trust me. It’s because you don’t care. You both are always so worried about yourselves. And look where that’s got you. Mom is in Mexico, and now you’re worried about losing everything.”
My father opens his mouth to speak, but just then the phone rings. I immediately make a leap for it, ready to give my mom a piece of my mind, if it’s her on the line.
“Hello?” I answer the phone, moving to sit on the couch, turning away from my father.
“Jackie?” I hear Donna’s voice.
“Donna!” I say, wiping the tears from my eyes.
“Jackie,” she says slowly. “Look, I have to tell you something. Something that you’re probably not going to like.”
I hear the front door shut behind me. I turn around and see that my father is gone. I feel a shock of electricity course through my body, and then the tears well up in my eyes again, causing the front door to melt away in my vision.
He left me.
“Donna, I can’t take any more bad news right now, okay?” I sniff. “I just can’t.”
“Jackie, but I – you need to know,” Donna starts. I’m about to protest again, when she delivers her news, despite all I’ve said. “I’m staying in California. I’ve enrolled in the local high school here in the town my mom lives in in California.”
I don’t say anything. This was all just too much.
When Donna realizes I’m not going to respond, she adds, “Jackie, I need you to tell Eric for me.”
“No. No way,” I say immediately, shocked that she would even ask such a thing. “I’ve already been through enough Hell in the last five minutes. In fact, this whole summer has just gone to Hell. This is your mess Donna. If you want Eric to know, stop being such a coward and dial his number and tell him yourself.”
Then I slam the phone. I wipe the tears from my eyes once more, vowing that those would be that least tears I shed this summer. I spent my whole life without my parents, I didn’t need them now. And I’d made it four weeks without Donna, and was just fine. I didn’t need anybody. I wasn’t sad anymore.
Now I was mad.
“God this summer has been so long,” I mutter, standing up and walking over to the TV. Another episode of the Wheel of Fortune was on. I couldn’t watch another whole hour of that spinning, colorful wheel.
“It’s the middle of July,” Steven says incredulously.
“Exactly,” I flop myself back on the couch.
Steven kicks his feet up onto the coffee table, pushing back and lifting the front legs of his chair off the floor.
“You’re in an exceptionally bad mood today,” he observes. “Even for you,” he adds in the jab.
“Thanks, doc. I had no idea,” I shoot him a look.
“Hey, I don’t know who your pissed off at, but don’t take it out on me, I haven’t done anything,” Steven holds up his hands in innocence.
“Fine, then where’s Fez?” I ask.
“So you’ll take it out on him instead? Figures,” he shakes his head.
“I hope you fall out of your chair,” I snap at him. He was still leaning back on the back two legs.
“I’m not going to – ”
And just as he’s going to say it, he does it. He falls backward in his chair.
Or, correction, first the seat detaches from the legs, throwing him off balance. Then he falls backwards.
“Oh my God, Steven, are you alright?” I stand up and look at him on the ground.
Steven stands, unfazed. “I think the question is if my chair’s alright?” he says, picking up the detached seat cushion. “Crap.”
I begin to laugh hysterically. I fall back into the couch and laugh until my stomach hurts and tears sting my eyes. When I look back at Steven, he’s just standing there staring at me like I’m crazy, holding his seat cushion. That sends me into another fit of laughter.
“I’m sorry, but that’s the best thing to have happened to me all day,” I apologize.
“Wow, then you must have had a pretty crappy day,” Steven says.
“I have,” I shrug, trying unsuccessfully to stifle a laugh.
Steven nudges me to the side with his seat cushion and sits down on the couch. “Well, glad that my falling on my ass has brightened your day.”
My laughter falls short, suddenly. “Donna’s staying in California.”
Steven turns his head to look at me. “What?”
“She’s going to finish high school there. And she didn’t say if she would even come back after that.”
“Crap,” he holds up his seat cushion and looks at it. “Crap,” he says again. “I have tell Forman.”
“What? What, no you don’t,” I turn on the couch and face Steven. “No. I told Donna that this is her mess and she’s responsible for telling Eric.”
“She won’t though. And Forman’s like, my brother. So I better tell him,” Steven smiles wryly.
“No. No. Give her a few weeks. She might just do it,” I say.
“I doubt it, but we’ll see,” Steven shrugs.
That somehow ends the conversation. I turn back to face the TV, and for the next hour, we watch a wheel spin over and over again until it all becomes a blur.
Fez saves us ten minutes into the next episode of The Wheel of Fortune when he arrives at Eric’s after work. I glance at Steven’s watch and see that it’s just past three o’clock. Fez must have had the early shift today.
“The day is still young,” Fez nods as he walks in the door. “What are we going to do?” Fez sits in the lawn chair, thinking. “We could go bowling?”
Steven shakes his head. “Can’t. We don’t have Forman or Kelso. Plus, we have this one,” he points to me.
I don’t say anything. I know that bowling was the guys’ thing. But I still feel like making a jab at Steven for calling me ‘this one.’
I look to Fez. “Steven is in a bad mood because he broke his chair.”
Steven looks at me. “You’re the one in the bad mood.”
I point to his still tipped over, cushion-less chair. “And you’re the one with a broken chair.”
“Let’s go to the water tower,” Fez suggests, completely ignoring mine and Steven’s argument. “Without Kelso, we don’t have to worry about anyone falling.”
Eager to do something shrouded in memories by Michael in order to replace them with new, better memories, I turn back toward Fez. “Yes! Let’s go,” I clap my hands together and stand up.
It’s hot outside for Wisconsin, and very humid. I begin to wonder if going to the water tower was such a good idea, but I quickly squelch that idea when we finish climbing to the top and I see that Steven brought with him a six pack.
Steven gives Fez and I an impish grin once we’ve all settled on the top. “Beer and heights. Who’s up for it?” he asks.
Fez and I both take a beer, and then Steven does as well. We all pop open then cans and then Fez holds out his.
“A toast,” he says. “To Stephanie Hilt.”
“Hey, what about us?” I say, waving my hand back and forth between Steven and myself. “We’re the ones who played matchmaker for you.”
Fez rolls his eyes. “Fine. And also to Hyde and Jackie for their help. Not that I needed it.”
“Yeah, right,” Steven says, disbelieving.
We all grow quiet and just drink our beer. I walk to the edge where the railing is and turn to look at the tower. The pot leaf that we had painted a few years ago wasn’t chipping or even fading, but rather was just covered in dirt from time passing. I turn and look back out at the view from the tower. From the top, the woods appeared to be very thick, with dark green leaves creating a solid canopy over the top. It looked as though you could jump onto it without falling through. The green leaves starkly contrasted with the pale, gray sky that had grown thick with clouds. They covered the sun, removing the heat, but leaving the extreme humidity.
I glance down at my beer can. Even that was sweating from the humidity. I walk over to the water tower as well. I run my finger across the surface, and it comes away wet and slicked with dirt, and leaving a clean line on the tower.
“You guys, I think it might rain,” I say, indicating to the clouds.
“Oh, fun,” Fez grins.
“No, Fez. That’s bad. We’re up high and standing on a large metal platform above the trees. We’re basically asking to get electrocuted.”
“I don’t want to get fried,” Fez’s smile falls.
“Don’t worry man. Jackie’s just overreacting. That’s what chicks do,” Steven says. “Oh, and Forman.”
And it begins to rain. And we just stand there. The three of us staring at each other. I grin. I was right.
“Don’t give me that,” Steven points at me when he sees I’m smiling. “Don’t say it.”
I say it anyway. “I told you so.”
Then the rain turns into a torrential storm, and suddenly we are all soaked. We still just stand there. None of us says anything until we can no longer see our own hands in front of our face and we begin to hear thunder in the distance.
“Now can we get out of here before we have a story about the water tower that’s worse than Michael falling off of it?” I ask.
“Whatever, let’s go,” Steven says, clearly in a mood for having to admit that I was right. He shoves past Fez and me and starts to climb down the ladder. Fez follows him, quickly running back to grab the rest of Steven’s six pack.
I follow last, having to pull back my soaked hair from my face. I grab the rungs of the ladder tightly, afraid to slip. I am able to gage my distance from the ground by following the trees as I descend. First I drop below the canopy and then I’m at the level of the leaves. Finally I reach the trunk and its just a matter of getting close to the bottom.
It happens when I get to be about five rungs from the bottom of the ladder. My foot slips on a slippery rung, and I begin to fall of the ladder. I twist my body so that I won’t land on my back. Instead I land on my wrist. There is an audible and distinct snap.
I feel hands reach around my elbows that help to pull me to my feet.
“Leave me alone, I’m fine,” I say embarrassed, and then I see that it was Steven who had helped me to my feet. When he sees I’m fine, however, any traces of concern vanish as his face works into a smile. “What?” I ask, annoyed. “What’s so funny?”
“You fell off the water tower,” is all he says.
“No, no I did not,” I say sternly, not wanting to be associated with Michael in anyway.
I climb into the Camino, glad to be out of the rain. Fez is already in the passenger seat. “What happened?” he asks.
“Nothing,” I say quickly as Steven slams the door to the driver’s seat.
“Jackie, shut your door, I don’t want the interior to get soaked,” Steven says.
I grab the handle and pull. “Ouch, oh my God, what the hell?” I look down at my hand. I forgot how I landed on it. I remember how I had heard a snap.
“What’s wrong?” Steven asks.
I use my other hand to shut the door. “Nothing, I just hurt my hand a little when I fell,” I shrug.
Steven laughs again. “Wow, you really are like Kelso. Do you need to go to the hospital like him too?”
“You’re not funny,” I say sternly. And it really wasn’t. “You’re being a complete ass. And no, I don’t need the hospital. I’m fine.”
Steven takes my word for it and doesn’t drive us to the hospital. However, once the three of us walk into the Forman house, soaked and shivering, he tells Kitty.
“Look at her hand,” he points to me. “She’s being stubborn,” then he heads down to the basement and Fez follows.
“Jackie, what happened to the three of you?” Kitty looks concerned as she drags me over to the chair by the telephone in the kitchen. She sits me down and begins to rifle through the drawer where she keeps her emergency medical supplies.
“We got caught in the rain,” I leave out the water tower. “I tripped…on the sidewalk, and landed on my hand.”
Kitty takes my injured hand – my right hand – and begins to examine it carefully. “Well the good news is, its not broken, or even sprained” Kitty says in her nurse voice. “But you did bruise your wrist. Let me just wrap it up for you.”
Kitty grabs an ACE bandage from her supplies and begins to wrap it tightly around my wrist. She falls silent, so I take the opportunity to speak up.
“Mrs. Forman, I have something I need to tell you. I need your advice,” I say hesitantly.
“What’s the matter, sweetie?” she asks, glancing up from her work.
I sigh, and think about how to approach it. I decide head on. “My mom is in Mexico. I don’t think she’s coming home.”
“I see,” Kitty says calmly, although, she pauses momentarily in wrapping my hand before starting again. “What do you need my advice on?”
I wasn’t really sure. I just thought she might have some advice on how to look at things. “I don’t know,” I admit. “It’s just…it just seems like I keep losing people. First Donna and Michael. Now my own mother.”
“I don’t know about that,” Kitty finishes wrapping and then uses the little clips to hold the bandage in place. “I can’t say much for your mother, but I do know that there is nothing like a mother’s love. And as for Donna and Michael – well it seems like you’ve made some new close friends in their absence. And you can’t forget about them either. Because they’re still here for you, even with the others gone.”
I don’t say anything. I just look down at my hand.
“Go be with your friends, Jackie.”
I know just who she is talking about. Without another word, I stand up and give her a hug. Then I head toward the basement to be with Steven and Fez.