Most daughters didn’t have to beg to spend the night in their childhood bedrooms. I wasn’t one of them. No one would tell me why.
“Make sure you don’t move anything too much,” Dad said.
“Remember- it’s the guest bedroom now.”
We never had guests. Guests asked questions we hated to answer.
The misallocated bedroom I spent the night in looked almost exactly like it had when I left two years earlier, except that the desk was littered with medical journals that got lost on their way to my father’s study. The furniture was the same set that had been there since I could remember: pink and white and ambiguously sized to fit a child or an adult. No one ever offered me new furniture. I wouldn’t have accepted it anyway.
I lay on the twin bed and started to remember what it actually felt like to live in that bedroom.
Ten years had passed since I graduated from prep school, at age sixteen, and was no longer stuck to that bedroom. I was the youngest member of my class, one of the “regulars” or girls who had spent their entire academic lives in two local private schools. I got called much worse names, names I hoped I could erase from my memory, but after ten years, that didn’t seem likely.
To drown out the negative memories, I thought of Kira Ross, our valedictorian, the only other regular who hadn’t put in the same amount of time. She’d transferred in midway through first grade, a fact that most of our classmates forgot, while they never forgave me for being the youngest and fattest member of our class.
Kira got almost everything that adults promised to me. They’d made the same promises to her, or they hadn’t bothered. She was an executive at age twenty-eight, the youngest in the city and one of only a handful of women. She and Eric Turner, who graduated valedictorian from our sister school two years before she did, had been together for almost fourteen years. Engagement rumors swirled but Kira stayed evasive when people asked.
“Eric’s a great guy,” Kira would say. She had for years, when he got bullied in prep school and teachers told his bullies to back off, they could, after all, end up working for Eric, and again when she paid the rent on their opulent apartment so that Eric could scrape together enough money to start up a company.
Since the company had taken off, Kira no longer had to say that he was a great guy. She just said it was worth it and saw her name in a number of magazine articles as a great woman behind a great man.
The other regulars weren’t invisible. Some of them still modeled, some of them made it into engagement columns to men whose names linked to six-figure salaries and some of them were mentioned in smaller publications. But I wasn’t and Kira was the only other businesswoman. She’d beaten us all hands down and since there were only twelve of us in all, she probably didn’t consider it much of an accomplishment, like I would have. I had a good job and a good degree. No boyfriend, but the past few years had hardly been conducive to a social life.
Ten years ago, my mother checked into rehab and there was hope that she would finally come to term with issues from her childhood and solve the problems she created as an adult, but ten years later, it didn’t look like any of that would happen.
We’d probably lose her soon.
I tried not to think of that as sleep traversed my corpulent flesh, but at two o’clock in the morning, when I lay on my couch with junk food and a bad movie in front of me, I couldn’t avoid the bleakness that seemed to engulf me. As much as I hated mornings, I rarely got to bed before midnight.
At least in my childhood bedroom, I got to bed early. I had
incentive. A break was in sight, not like it had been after graduate from high school, but still a break. I had to get up early that morning so that I could get to work, which was a considerable distance from my childhood house and after work, I would attend a party with my father, who liked to keep up appearances to distract attention from my mother, dying in a hospital bed of complications to numerous addiction.
Nothing would come out of it. The other guests were people I’d known for years, who had heard everything about my life I was willing to divulge and who would only give me good news, but I had purchased a dress for the occasion. It was probably a discarded bridesmaid’s dress. I cited time and ordered it from the Internet. On and offline, it was ugly, so I purchased a cloth rose from a craft store and made plans to sew it on once I got home from work.
I eyed the clock and read eleven. Too early to sleep.
Good things happened after midnight, or so my coworkers and guests at parties I had left early said to me.
I stared at my reflection in the mirror.
I hated the face I saw staring back. Sallow skin, obvious signs of fatigue. Age ambiguous.
At least the dress looked nice, better with the white rose as ornamentation. I had sewn enough roses on to know that that one would look best because the center was bathed in glitter, which made it look only slightly cartoonish and reflected light. I’d stand out and maybe a stranger would wander in and appreciate the accent.
“I’m sorry,” Eric Turner said, champagne glass in one hand, free hand in his pocket in an effort to look casual. He approached my father, the most likely investor, first and hadn’t even looked at me, his daughter. The role daughters played at parties, or functions as they were generally referred to, since they served a function in the business lives of all present, was ambiguous. “I forgot your name.”
“I don’t blame you,” Dad said. “I don’t get out much. Frank DiChitto.”
They shook hands.
“So, remind me Frank, what do you do?”
He’d walk away once my father reminded him of his profession: doctor. He had earned invitations to numerous functions through making a number of investments to the right men and donations to the right organizations years ago, at my mother’s request. My mother had once loved wealth and social status almost as much as she loved drugs.
“I’m an OB/GYN.”
I looked at Eric for a moment, expecting him to look away or take a step back. He did neither.
“I heard that’s stressful.”
Dad laughed. “So is working as a CEO, I’m sure. And you’re so young.”
Eric Turner angled his face towards me. “Faye DiChitto. We haven’t spoken in a long time.”
I smiled. He proved he remembered my name- after we’d known each other since he’d started going out with Kira- and I became a thirteen-year-old girl. “I’ve been busy.”
“Is, um, everything all right? You look a bit under the weather.”
“Everything’s going great for Faye,” Dad said, falling into default party-guest mode. He was good at that, even stoned on the painkillers he’d taken for years to deal with stressful situations. Whether it was his job, his daughter or his wife I couldn’t tell. I couldn’t tell if he was stressed out sober. I checked for relapses by looking into his pupils every time I saw him. “She’s a Berkeley grad with a great job and-.”
“I know. Faye and I went to Berkeley together. Or really, she went with Kira. I’m five years older.”
“And already a CEO.”
Eric Turner looked annoyed.
I started to feel more comfortable. At times, my father annoyed me too.
“My mother’s really sick,” I said. “She spent the last few weeks in the hospital. She’s still there now, but we both have obligations.”
“How’s the prognosis?”
“Faye-.” Dad cut in.
“I would have found out anyway,” Eric Turner said. “And I’d rather find out before the funeral.”
“Her body just can’t take the abuse anymore,” I said.
Eric Turner nodded. “Addiction. It becomes a disease of its own.”
Even he knew. Gossip must have been swirling.
Eric Turner took a breath like he was about to say something but let it out as a soft, meaningless sigh. He’d probably seen addiction growing up dirt poor, but he’d pulled through as an adult, like I hadn’t. We didn’t have much in common.
I wasn’t surprised when Eric got pulled back into the crowd.
After a number of short, meaningless conversations, I hid myself in a stall because Delia and Estelle were talking about me, standing at a mirror.
Delia and Estelle were two regulars who had been best friends since elementary school. I had hoped for a falling out for years since they were easier to deal with as individuals than as a unit, but over the years, they clung to each other to the point where I had to admire them.
“How could she let herself go like that?” Delia asked.
I angled myself so that I could see what was going on through the door. Delia was applying lipstick. Delia and Estelle always did their makeup together, at least in public, where they hogged mirrors, gossiping and taking up more time than anyone could justify taking given the final product. In ten years, I had come to accept that they always looked better than me.
“Yeah,” Estelle said, looking up as she applied mascara. “I mean, she went to Berkeley. She should know better.”
“And she’s always with her dad.”
I heard Estelle push her mascara back into its tube as she laughed, awkwardly. “I’ve never seen her with a guy.”
“Do you think she’s still a virgin?”
I crossed my legs. I really was a virgin.
I heard the bathroom door open.
“Who would fuck Faye DiChitto anyway?” Estelle laughed again. “She’s gross.”
“You’re gross,” I heard Kira Ross’ voice somewhere. She was standing behind them. I could see her hand on her cell phone. “Grow up.”
Delia slapped her ass. “Want some? I’d never let you touch me.”
I saw Kira’s unpolished nails over Delia’s skirt. Kira had identified herself as bisexual for years, although I’d never seen her with a girl. Until her senior year, she was the only student in our prep school who wasn’t straight and seemed vaguely annoyed when a lesbian student showed up in the hallways on her first day of her last year at prep school. Kira didn’t need allies.
“God damn it, I dropped my lipstick!” Delia yelled. “You shouldn’t do that, ever, but your investors are out there waiting to judge you.”
“I’m a female executive. People judge me no matter what, but they see my personality and my accomplishments. I have collateral, whereas both of you are single with dead-end jobs. If you don’t pull together soon, it won’t look right at all.”
I closed my eyes and heard two sets of high heels and the door swing. Once I heard it swing back then forward, I opened my eyes and saw Kira standing, alone a few steps closer to the mirror and opened the door.
My legs felt unsteady as I stood up and walked towards a vacant sink.
Kira looked up. “Faye- you heard that?”
“It’s fine,” I replied. “I’ve heard worse.”
Worse than she’d ever had to hear.
“We’re not in prep school anymore,” Kira said.
I turned on the cold water and ran my hands under the tap. As opulent as the venue was, I felt filthy.
“I had a great conversation with Eric,” I said. “You’re so lucky.”
Kira shrugged. “He cares about everyone but me. At the end of the day, I can’t really complain about that.”
“I’ve heard it just seems like that in long-term relationships. Sometimes. But if you stick it out…”
“Those are functional relationships. Not mine with Eric. I’ve been cheating for years. Most recently through escort services.”
Kira looked down at her cell phone then up at me.
“Does Eric know?”
Had she told me before Eric because after years of silence, she knew she could trust me? Did she actually consider me an ally or even a friend?
“Yeah. He knows. So does most of my family,” Kira sighed. “Just about everyone around me knows I’m cheating and miserable and I only have myself to blame.”
“But you’ve made so many accomplishments already.”
I pulled a paper towel out of the dispenser. Most venues had cloth.
“I can’t get through to Eric, despite that,” Kira said. “I haven’t been a good girlfriend since his mother died.”
“His mother died? When?”
“Three years ago. Cirrhosis of the liver took her down pretty fast. His business was just getting started, so his business partner asked us to keep it quiet. It was total bullshit, but I was the only one he had to talk to. And now- he won’t even open his mouth. I really need to make this call.”
Kira dialed a number and confirmed her reservations for two the next morning for an appointment with Pepe, who was probably a male escort. After she’d confessed, I was left with no questions and she didn’t lower her voice.
I stormed out. Kira awed and horrified me yet again.
The party had started winding down while I hid in the restroom. No one spoke to me as I made my way to a vacant table, sat down and reflected on the hectic weekend I had in front of me, with work both days and extended visits to my mother, who hated it when I left her bedside and hated it when I came.
Eric Turner suddenly sat across from me.
“I’m sorry,” Eric Turner said. “I got pulled away while we were talking about your mother.”
‘That’s fine. You barely know me and you’ve got your job-.”
“Haven’t you heard? I’ll be unemployed soon, in all likelihood.”
“I’m sure you’ll find something.”
Eric shrugged. “This might be my last function. I’m Kira’s plus-one without my job and I can’t stay with her unemployed.”
“I don’t think she’ll leave you for money.”
“I can’t deal with her that much anymore. We barely spoke tonight. If I’m not in her office, she’s in hers. Otherwise, we have separate bedrooms.” Eric looked up. “I know I’ll miss that apartment. But I don’t want to sit around and think of the terrible relationship I ended up stuck in.”
“Well, you have options.”
Eric nodded. “Of course. Tons. That’s really not important. What’s going on with your mother?”
“It’s her heart. It’s shutting down and she’s not a good candidate for a transplant.”
“I’m so sorry.”
“Kira told me- about your mother.”
“That was hard.” Eric Turner pulled his cell phone out of his pocket and stared at the screen. “She stayed with me through that crisis and I’m about to hit another.”
“Well, yours is worse.”
He smiled at me.
For a moment, I hated Eric Turner.
I didn’t deserve the truth
About the Author:
Kaye Branch lives in Massachusetts. She has been published in Troubadour 21; Children, Churches and Daddies; The Legendary; Danse Macabre; Fear of Monkeys; Conceit; The Fringe Magazine; All Things Girl; Della Donna; Pens on Fire and on http://scars.tv.