Year 36: Wake-Up Call
I am dreaming. And, as usual, it is not a good dream.
I am late for work and can’t find any clean underwear. Frantically I search through drawers and baskets and under the bed. I know I just did the laundry, but each pair I find is inexplicably dirty. I hear the alarm screaming at me, unrelentingly, inciting absolute panic. I wake myself up to the realization that the noise is really just the phone ringing incessantly beside my head.
I don’t know how many rings it takes before my heart rate slows enough that I can even contemplate answering. I somehow remember that today is only Saturday and that I am entitled to two more lazy mornings before term break is over and school starts again on Monday. I open one eye and look at the clock. 6:45. It can only be my mother.
“Hello,” I say as groggily as I can, so she’ll know she woke me up. Again. She must know, as I’ve given her an hour-by-hour chart of the time difference between Canada and New Zealand. She just doesn’t get why I’m here and how I can live alone in a strange place. She tends to panic, I think, and calls just to make sure I’m not lying in a ditch somewhere, dying. I brace myself for the deluge of weekly questions that I find both annoying and oddly comforting.
“She did it again.”
It’s not my mother. The voice is too gruff, too edgy. It’s Melanie, my sister who still hasn’t forgiven me for moving so far away from her. From everything.
I sit up – so quickly that I pull the blankets off of Oliver’s head. He grumbles and scootches further down the bed, trying to burrow himself deeper under the covers. He is clearly ticked at being woken from his deeply satisfying, pre-alarm sleep.
I know Mel and her obsession with details. She wouldn’t normally call during my incoherent hours. I somehow know what she is going to say – but I ask anyway.
“Who? What did who do?”
“Who do you think? It’s Vanessa. She’s in the hospital again.”
Despite her attempt to sound angry, her voice cracks. Each time it happens she says she’s had enough. Each time she tells Vanessa, if you pull this shit again I won’t be there to bring you back. But she’s always there.
“Fuck! Why?” I ask her. Stupid question. “How is she? Where is she?”
“Vancouver General. She was in Emergency, but they are in the process of moving her to Psych.” This is where Melanie’s stony reserve breaks. I know that even though every muscle in her body is tensed, her chin is trembling because she is trying not to cry. I can hear the anguish in her voice. So familiar.
She tells me how Nessa called Mom to say goodbye. How she left everything ready. Her will. All of her legal documents. The dress.
“Is she going to be okay?” It’s the only question I can think to ask. I suppose it’s the only one I really need answered.
“She’ll live. But it was bad this time. I think she meant it. You have to come, Tori,” she tells me. “I can’t do this without you, not this time.”
I look around at my bedroom. Bare walls. Baskets of unfolded laundry on the floor. Piles of papers and bills gathering dust on my desk, still from that last attempt at organizing my life. New Zealand was supposed to be it. A new life. A new me. Besides the scenery, not much has changed. Oliver’s critical green eyes squint at me from under my duvet. “What do I do?” I mouth the question, needing – but not really expecting – an answer. He closes his eyes and rolls over.
“Thanks for your support,” I tell him, out loud.
“What are you talking about? Is someone there with you?” Melanie’s confused. I haven’t yet told her about Oliver. I’m sure she’d love to hear there’s an actual man in my bed. I ignore the question.
“I’d have to call my principal and request a leave. I’m supposed to go back to school on Monday. I’d have to get organized.” My head hurts, but probably not from the news that my fucked-up sister tried to end her life again. Most likely a result of too much red wine and the two packages of Tim Tams consumed during last night’s chick flick marathon.
An audible sigh comes from the other side of the world. She knows I’m avoiding. She knows I’m panicking. She knows I’d fake a bad connection if I thought I could get away with it. She has no patience for this.
“She needs you, Tori. I need you.”
Oliver has a change of heart and rolls his head around to face me. He gives me what looks like a half-smile and reaches his paw toward me. I lean over and bury my face in his soft, warm fur. He begins to purr softly. It’s good to be needed.
“I’ll book a flight,” I murmur, as I pick cat hair out of my mouth.