Fly Away Page 15


Harriet takes my chart from Desmond.

“I’ve ordered an MRI. The paramedics say she hit the ground pretty hard.” He looks down at me, and again I see that he is judging me, finding me lacking, maybe. A white middle-aged woman in expensive clothes who face-plants for no good reason. “Be well, Ms. Hart.” The smile he gives me is irritatingly kind, and then he leaves.

“Thank God,” I say with a sigh.

“You had a panic attack,” Harriet says when we are alone.

“Says Dr. Granola.”

“You had a panic attack,” Harriet says, more gently this time. She puts down the chart and moves closer to the bed. Her angular face, too sharp to be quite beautiful, has a regal, detached coolness, but her eyes reveal a woman who, in spite of her austere face and buttoned-down demeanor, cares deeply about people.

“You’ve been depressed, I take it?” Harriet asks.

I want to lie, to smile, to laugh. Instead, I nod, humiliated by this weakness. In a way, I would rather have had a heart attack.

“I’m tired,” I say softly. “And I never sleep.”

“I am going to prescribe Xanax for your anxiety,” Harriet says. “We’ll start with point-five milligrams three times a day. And I think a few therapy sessions could really help. If you’re ready to do some work, maybe we can help you feel in more control of your life.”

“The Tully Hart life tour? Thanks, but no, thanks. Why think about what hurts? has always been my motto.”

“I know about depression,” she says, and in her voice I hear a poignant sadness. I think suddenly that Harriet Bloom knows about sorrow and despair and loneliness. “Depression is nothing to be ashamed of, Tully, and it’s nothing to ignore. It can get worse.”

“Worse than today? How is that possible?”

“Oh, it’s possible, believe me.”

I am too exhausted to question her, and honestly, I don’t want to know what she has to say. The pain in my neck is increasing.

Harriet writes two prescriptions and tears off the pages, handing them to me. I look down at them. Xanax for panic attacks, and Ambien for sleeping.

All of my life I have avoided narcotics. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know why. When you grow up watching your mother get high and stumble around and puke, you see the unglamorous side of drugs.

I look up at Harriet. “My mom—”

“I know,” Harriet says. It is one of the truths that come with life in the fishbowl of fame. Everyone knows my sad story. Poor Tully, abandoned and unloved by her hippie/addict mom. “Your mom has an issue with substance abuse. You’re right to be careful, but just follow the prescription.”

“It would be nice to sleep.”

“May I ask you something?”

“Sure.”

“How long have you been pretending not to be in pain?”

The question hits me hard. “Why do you ask me that?”

“Because, Tully, sometimes the well just fills up with our tears. And water starts to spill over.”

“My best friend died last month.”

“Ah,” Harriet says. Just that. Then she nods and says, “Come see me, Tully. Make an appointment. I can help.”

After she leaves, I sink back into the pillows and sigh. The truth of my circumstance climbs into the bed with me and takes up too much room.

A nice older woman takes me down for an MRI, and then a gorgeous young doctor calls me ma’am and tells me that at my age, falls like mine often cause neck trauma and that the pain will diminish. He writes me a prescription for pain pills and tells me that physical therapy will help.

By the time I am wheeled back into my room, I am beyond tired. I let the nurse tell me about how my show on autistic children saved her cousin’s best friend’s life, and even manage to smile and thank her when the long story finally ends. The nurse gives me Ambien. Afterward, I lie back in bed, closing my eyes.

For the first time in months, I sleep through the night.

Seven

The Xanax helps. On it, I feel less edgy and anxious. By the time Dr. Granola discharges me, I have come up with a plan. No more whining. No more waiting.

At home, I immediately start making phone calls. I have been in the business for decades; surely someone needs a prime-time anchor.

An old friend, Jane Rice, is my first call. “Of course,” she says. “Come in and see me.”

I almost laugh. That’s how relieved I feel. George was wrong. I am not Arsenio Hall. I am Tully Hart.

I prepare for my interview with care. I know how important first impressions are. I get my hair cut and colored.

“Oh, my,” Charles—my longtime hairdresser—says when I climb into his chair. “Someone has been going native.” He wraps the turquoise cape around my neck and gets to work.

On the day of my meeting with Jane, I dress carefully in conservative clothes—a black suit and pale lavender blouse. I have not been in the KING-TV building in years, but I immediately feel comfortable. This is my world. At the reception desk, I am greeted like a heroine and I don’t have to give my name and relief eases the tightness of my shoulders. Behind the receptionists are large photographs of Jean Enerson and Dennis Bounds, the nightly news anchors.

An assistant leads me up the stairs, past several closed doors, to a small office on the second floor, where Jane Rice is standing by the window, obviously waiting for me. “Tully,” she says, striding forward, her hand outstretched.

We shake hands. “Hello, Jane. Thanks for seeing me.”

“Of course. Of course. Sit down.”

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I take the seat she has indicated.

She sits behind her desk and scoots in close, looking at me.

And I know. Just like that. “You can’t hire me.” It isn’t even a question, not the way I say it. I may have been a talk show host for the last few years, but I am still a journalist. I read people well. That’s one of my skills.

She sighs heavily. “I tried. I guess you really burned some bridges.”

“Nothing?” I say quietly, hoping my voice doesn’t betray my desperation. “How about a reporting job, not on camera? I’m no stranger to hard work.”

“I’m sorry, Tully.”

“Why did you agree to see me?”

“You were a hero to me,” she says. “I used to dream of being like you.”

Were a hero.

Suddenly I feel old. I get to my feet. “Thank you, Jane,” I say quietly as I leave her office.

A Xanax calms me down. I know I shouldn’t take it—not an extra one—but I need it.

* * *

At home, I ignore my mounting panic and get to work. I sit down at my desk and start making calls to everyone I know in the business, especially anyone for whom I have ever done a favor.

By six o’clock, I am exhausted and defeated. I have called all my contacts in the top ten markets and on the major cable channels, and my agent. No one has an offer for me. I don’t get it: six months ago I was on top of the world. How can I have fallen so far so fast?

My condo suddenly feels smaller than a shoe box and I am starting to hyperventilate again. I dress in whatever I can find—jeans that are too tight and a tunic-length sweater that hides my strained waistband.

It is past six-thirty when I leave my building. The streets and sidewalks are full of commuters coming home from work. I blend into the Gore-Tex garbed crowd, ignoring the rain that spits down on us. I don’t even know where I’m going until I see the outdoor seating area in front of the Virginia Inn restaurant and bar.

I sidle through the outdoor tables and go inside. The dark interior is exactly what I need right now. I can disappear in here. I go to the bar and order a dirty martini.

“Tallulah, right?”

I glance sideways. Dr. Granola is beside me. Just my luck to run into a man who has seen me at my worst. In the gloom, his face looks sharp, maybe a little angry. His long hair is unbound and falls forward. Cufflike tattoos cover his forearm. “Tully,” I say. “What are you doing in a place like this?”

“Collecting for the widows and orphans fund.”

It figures.

He laughs. “I’m having a drink, Tully. Same as you. How are you doing?”

I know what he is asking and I don’t like it. I certainly don’t want to talk about how vulnerable I feel. “Fine. Thanks.”

The bartender hands me my drink. It is all I can do not to pounce on it. “Later, Doc,” I say, carrying my drink to a small table in the back corner of the bar. I slump onto the hard seat.

“May I join you?”

I look up. “Would it make an impact if I said no?”

“An impact? Of course.” He sits down in the chair opposite me. “I thought about calling you,” he says after a long, awkward silence.

“And?”

“I hadn’t decided.”

“Be still my heart.”

Through speakers hidden somewhere in the walls, Norah Jones’s husky, jazzy voice urges people to come away with me.

“Do you date much?”

It surprises me enough that I laugh. Apparently he’s a man who says what is on his mind. “No. Do you?”

“I’m a single doctor. I get set up more often than a set of bowling pins. You want me to tell you how it works these days?”

“Blood tests and background checks? Condoms by Rubbermaid?”

He stares at me as if I belong in a display case for Ripley’s Believe It or Not.

“Fine,” I say. “How does the dating game work these days?”

“At our age, we all have stories. They matter more than you’d think. Sharing them and hearing them is the start of it. The way I see it, there are two ways to go: tell your story up front and let the chips fall where they may, or stretch them out over a bunch of dinners. Wine helps in this second tack, especially if one’s story is long and boring and self-aggrandizing.”

“Why do I think you put me in the last category?”

“Should I?”

I smile, surprising myself. “Maybe.”

“So, here’s my plan. Why don’t you tell me your story, and I’ll tell you mine, and we’ll see if this is a date or if we’re ships passing in the night?”

“It’s not a date. I bought my own drink and I didn’t shave my legs.”

He smiles and leans back in his chair.

There is something about him that intrigues me, a charm I didn’t see the first time. And really, what better thing do I have to do? “You first.”

“My story is simple. I was born in Maine, in a farmhouse, on land that had been in my family for generations. Janie Traynor was my neighbor down the road. We fell in love somewhere around eighth grade, right after she stopped throwing spitballs at me. For twenty- some years, we did everything together. We went to NYU, got married in the church in town, and had a beautiful daughter.” His smile starts to fall, but he hikes it back up and squares his shoulders. “Drunk driver,” he says. “Crossed the median and hit the car. Janie and Emily died at the scene. That’s when my story veers west, you might say. Since then, it’s just me. I moved to Seattle, thinking a new view would help. I’m forty-three, in case you were wondering. You seem like a woman who wants details.” He leans forward. “Your turn.”

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