It’s been two weeks since the showdown with my parents. Two long weeks of house arrest whilst my parents decide what to do with me. Perhaps they’ll send me to another wellness centre in the hopes this will curb my partying. Maybe they’ll cover their shame by tell their friends that I’ve gone back backing during my summer break, again.
I spend my days in the solitude of my room or in the garden. I’ve deactivated my social media accounts, so I occupy my time with reading and yoga, unless I’m being dragged off to another doctors appointment to top up my medication. The trips seem to be more and more frequent and the doses become stronger and stronger. I don’t complain because it helps to numb the storm of emotions inside me and I’m no longer haunted by odd dreams.
I stare at the ceiling, mentally preparing myself for an uncomfortable night sat around the dining table with my family. Another night taking part in stilted conversations and pushing the food around my plate. Tonight however, we have guests and therefore we each have our role to play in order to portray the perfection that is expected from the Parker family.
My clock displays it’s now five-thirty. Our guest will be arriving in the next hour and my Mother will expect me downstairs and ready to greet our guests in the hall. Muttering to myself I stomp over to my vanity table, I begin pasting on the perfect mask of makeup, covering up the dark circles under my eyes and smothering my pale lips in a coat of colour. I brush through my blonde hair and pull it up into a French plait, readying myself for battle. When I’m convinced my Mother will be pleased with my efforts to appear more human, I discard my leggings and t-shirt and slide into a navy dress and nude heels, my battle armour for the evening.
Over dinner, my Father talks business and my Mother discusses her social calendar. I nod and smile in all the right places, a well-rehearsed routine. My Aunt Penny and Uncle Levi are visiting from the United States, a welcome relief from our usual family dinner. They’re politely engaging in the conversations, but I can feel something is off. Like myself, I’m sure they would rather be anywhere else but here.
When Aunt Penny walks into the room you can’t help but feel captivated by her aura. She’s warm, confident and definitely the life and soul of a party. Uncle Levi is calm and collected. He’s intelligent and fascinating to talk with. They both hate the formal titles of Aunt and Uncle, so I call them by their first names.
Our families spent a lot of time together when I was a child, we would stay with them at their home in Wyoming, or they would stay with us in London, often for the whole summer. I had a great relationship with their daughter Melissa, who was around the same age, but I hadn’t had a real conversation with her or seen her in a long time, other than a brief chat over social media.
When I was in my early teens, things changed between our families and I never really understood why. The visit to Wyoming stopped and my Mothers relationship with her sister became strained for a long time. It took years before they came to visit us again.
As our main course is cleared from the table, conversation turns to me. With Helena away for the weekend, there isn’t much left to talk about.
“So Ellis, what are your plans now that university is over? You studied business, is that right?” Penny’s soft American twang snaps me out of my daze. Her eyes are filled with warmth and remind me of sunshine and honey. I swear the warmth from her gaze reaches me across the table. She couldn’t be any more different that my Mother.
My throat runs dry as I realise, I have no plans. I grasp the cold glass of water in front of me and take a long sip, trying to prepare an answer. The water does little to quench my thirst.
“Yes, I studied Business Management.” I avert my eyes and begin running my finger down the condensation on my class. “I haven’t finalised my plans just yet, I’m working through my options at the moment.” I try not to choke on the lie. I wish I could turn water into wine right now, but I’ve been placed on an involuntary detox by my parents. No alcohol, so parties and certainly no drugs.
I can feel my parents’ stares burning into the sides of my head. It’s clear that was the wrong answer. I should be successful and ambitious, ready to start working for a huge corporation in the autumn. The only success I’ve had this last year is filling my body by so much poison I can’t think or see straight most days of the week. I don’t even think my family reputation will scrape me an interview in London now.
Penny’s voice brings me back to the table. “Well that’s no matter, you’ve just finished all that studying. You should be out having fun, you’re only twenty-one!” She takes a long sip of her red wine “Even Levi has come to realise this. It’s only taken twenty years, but he’s finally taken an extended vacation with me. Whatever you do, don’t become a doctor’s wife, they’re married to you and the job!” Her laugh is melodic, and it’s bounces around the room. She smiles and puts her hand on her husband’s shoulder.
Before I can respond, my Father cuts in and takes command of the conversation. I’ve heard his opinion enough over the years, so I automatically tune him out. I know my Mother will be in agreement, like the dutiful wife she is. I catch Penny’s subtle eye roll and smirk.
Levi shoots me a smile as he reaches forward for his wine. “If you ever fancy a change, my boss is thinking of taking on an intern to help with the business side of things. I can put in a good word if you like. It would be a good opportunity to gain some experience.”
“What a great idea! You could stay with us!” Penny gushes, her face glowing. I think the wine has finally kicked in. “We could take you hiking, just like we used to when you were little. Melissa would be thrilled.” She looks at me, eyes shining with excitement and hope.
I’m stunned by the offer. I open my mouth to speak but the words won’t come out. I must look like a floundering fish.
“I’m not too sure that’s a good idea Penelope.” My Father cuts in again, before I have the chance to speak. “Ellis has gone through a rather, irresponsible and reckless phase of late and I’m not sure that packing up and gallivanting off halfway across the world is the right thing for her.” His words sting. He looks me dead in the eye, his eyes devoid of emotion. I avert my gaze, disappointment setting heavily in my stomach.
“It certainly would look good on future job applications. Ellis is a smart girl and she would do very well. The company run a lot of community projects that she could become involved with.” Levi turns to face my Father as he speaks. His demeanour is almost challenging and My Father looks a little taken aback. “I’m sure she would thrive with the responsibility.”
“The change of scenery and the outdoors might do her the world of good, don’t you agree Camilla?” Penny chimes in. I can see her eyes pleading with my Mother, although I’m not sure what reaction she’s expecting to get from her when my Father has already made his point.
It’s a kind offer, but I’m just not sure that Ellis is in the right frame of mind at the moment. She’s under review of our doctor and has been taking medications to help regulate her moods and help with her anxiety for a few years now without improvement. Things have been more difficult lately and don’t feel it’s appropriate for you to take on this kind of responsibility.” My Mother sneers, as though she’s talking about something unclean and shameful.
Before any more can be said, we’re interrupted by the chef to announce our dessert options. Our plates are taken away and my Father swiftly changes the subject. I sit quietly, trying to hide my embarrassment as I sip away on my water.
I swallow the lump building in my throat as I realise, I’m never going to be able to escape this. My life is destined to be the same as my Mothers, filled with uncomfortable family dinners, stuffy social events and constant criticism over ever choice I make. I must try to achieve unattainable perfection in every aspect of my life, climb the corporate ladder, find the right husband, make sure I have six figures in my bank account, a town house in Kensington and a holiday home somewhere warm and exotic while maintaining the perfect body and producing the perfect heirs to the family name. I’ll perfect making every emotion and keeping myself in check so that I don’t bring any further shame or embarrassment on the family until I’m suffocated by it all and I can’t take it anymore.