Fly Away Page 29


“Are you ready for Monday?” I ask at last.

“For my appointment with Dr. Bloom?” she says. “No, not really.”

“I’ll be with you every step of the way,” I promise. I don’t know what else there is to say.

The next day, while Marah is in the meeting with Dr. Bloom, I move impatiently, pacing back and forth in the waiting room.

“You’re wearing a groove in the carpet. Take a Xanax.”

I stop dead in my tracks and turn.

A boy stands in the door. He is dressed all in black, with painted fingernails and enough macabre jewelry to fill a store on Bourbon Street. But he is strangely handsome beneath all the goth-ware. He moves forward in a gliding Richard-Gere-in-American-Gigolo way and slouches on the couch. He is holding a book of poetry.

I could use something to occupy my mind, so I go to him, sit down in the chair beside him. This close, I smell both marijuana and incense on him. “How long have you been seeing Dr. Bloom?”

He shrugs. “A while.”

“She helping you?”

He gives me a sly smile. “Who says I need help? ‘All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream.’”

“Poe,” I say. “Kind of cliché. I would have been really surprised if you’d quoted Rod McKuen.”

“Who?”

I can’t help smiling. It is a name I haven’t thought of in years. As girls, Kate and I had read a lot of lovey-dovey-feel-good poetry from people like Rod McKuen and Kahlil Gibran. We had memorized “Desiderata.” “Rod McKuen. Look him up.”

Before he can answer, the door opens and I lurch to my feet. Marah comes out of the office looking pale and shaken. How can Johnny not have noticed how thin she is? I rush toward her. “How was it?”

Before she answers, Dr. Bloom appears beside her and asks me to step aside with her.

“I’ll be right back,” I say to Marah, and go to the doctor.

“I’ll want to see her twice a week,” Dr. Bloom says quietly. “At least until she starts school in the fall. And I have a teen grief support group that might help her. It meets on Wednesdays. Seven P.M.”

“She’ll do whatever you suggest,” I promise.

“Will she?”

“Of course. So how did it go?” I ask. “Did she—”

“Marah’s an adult, Tully. Our sessions are private.”

“I know. I just wanted to know if she said—”

“Private.”

“Oh. Well, what should I tell her father? He’s expecting a report.”

Dr. Bloom thinks carefully and then says, “Marah is fragile, Tully. My advice to you and to her father would be to treat her as such.”

“What does that mean, fragile?”

“Webster’s would say damaged, delicate, brittle. Easily broken. Vulnerable. I would watch her carefully, very carefully. Be there for her. She could all too easily make a bad decision in her current state.”

“Worse than cutting herself?”

“As you can imagine, girls who cut themselves sometimes cut too deeply. As I said. Watch her carefully. Be there for her. She’s fragile.”

On the way home, I ask Marah how it went with Dr. Bloom.

What she says is, “Fine.”

That night, I call Johnny and tell him everything. He is worried—I can hear it in his voice—but I promise that I am taking care of her. I am watching her closely.

* * *

When Marah goes to her first teen grief therapy meeting, I decide to work on my book. At least, I try to. The blue screen bothers me so much, I walk away for a minute. I pour myself a glass of wine and stand at my window, staring out at the glittering nighttime cityscape.

The phone rings and I jump on it. George, my agent, is calling to tell me that he has had some interest in my book idea—no offers yet, but he thinks there’s hope. Also, Celebrity Apprentice wants me to be on the show.

As if.

I am telling George how offended I am by this offer when Marah comes home from her meeting. I make us two cups of hot cocoa and we sit together in bed, just as we used to when she was little. It takes a while for the truth to come out, but finally Marah says, “I can’t talk about my mom to her.”

I have no answer to that, and I can’t insult her with a lie. I have been urged to go to therapy several times in my life, and I am smart enough to know that my recent panic attacks are the result of more than a hormonal imbalance. There’s a river of sadness in me; it’s always been there, but now it is rising, spilling over its banks. I know there’s a possibility that if I’m not careful, it will become the biggest part of me and I will drown in it. But I don’t believe that words will make it back down; I don’t believe that swimming in my memories will save me. I believe in sucking up, in going on.

And look where it has gotten me.

I put an arm around Marah and pull her close. We talk quietly about what scares her; I tell her that her mother would want her to stay in therapy. In the end, I pray I have done some good, but what do I know about what a teenager needs to hear?

We sit there a long time, both of us thinking of the ghost in the room, the woman who brought us together and left us alone.

The next day, Johnny arrives and tries to get Marah to change her mind about Seattle, to come home to Los Angeles, but she is firm in her resolve to stay with me.

* * *

“Are you looking forward to the UW?” I say on the Friday afternoon after Marah’s second appointment with Dr. Bloom. I am leaning against Marah. We are on my sofa, tucked together under a cream-colored cashmere throw. Johnny has gone back to Los Angeles and she and I are alone again.

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“Scared, I’d say.”

“Yeah, your mom was, too. But we loved it, and so will you.”

“I am looking forward to my creative writing class.”

“Like mother, like daughter.”

“What do you mean?”

“Your mom was a talented writer. If you’d read her journal—”

“No,” Marah says sharply. It is what she says to me each time I broach this tender subject. She is not ready to read the words her dying mother wrote. I can hardly blame her. It is like choosing to stab your own heart. But there’s comfort there, too. Someday she will be ready.

Beside me, the cell phone rings. I lean over, check the caller ID. “Hi, George,” I say. “I hope this isn’t about some shitty reality show.”

“And hello to you, too. I’m calling about your book deal. We have an offer.”

My relief is staggering. I hadn’t even known how much I was counting on this. I pull away from Marah and straighten. “Thank God.”

“It’s the only offer we got. And it’s a good one.”

I get up and begin to pace. When your agent starts to sell you, it’s trouble. “How much, George?”

“Remember, Tully—”

“How much?”

“Fifty thousand dollars.”

I stop. “Did you say fifty thousand?”

“I did. In advance. Against royalties.”

I sit down so quickly it is almost like collapsing. Fortunately, there’s a chair beneath me. “Oh.” I know it is a lot of money in the ordinary world. I was hardly born with a silver spoon in my mouth. But I have spent so many years in an extraordinary world that it hits me hard, this proof that I have lost so much of my fame. You work like a dog for thirty years and think what you’ve built will last.

“It is what it is, Tully. But it can be your comeback. Yours is a Cinderella story. Make the world yours again.”

I am feeling unsteady. My breathing is bottoming out. I want to scream or cry or snap or yell at the unfairness of everything. But I have only one choice and I know it. “I’ll take it,” I say.

* * *

That night, I am too wired to sleep. At eleven o’clock, I give up on the pretense of it. For at least ten minutes I roam through my darkened condo. Once, I almost go to Marah’s room and waken her, but I know that would be selfish of me, so I resist the urge to open her door. Finally, at about 11:20, I decide to work. Maybe writing will help.

I crawl back into bed and pull my computer into my lap, opening my most recent document. There it is: Second Act. And a blue screen. I stare at it, concentrating so intently I begin to imagine things. I think I hear footsteps in the hallway, a door opening and closing, but then it’s quiet again.

Research. That’s what I need. I have to go through the boxes in my storage unit.

I can’t put it off anymore. After pouring myself a glass of wine, I go downstairs. Kneeling in front of the box, I tell myself to be strong. I remind myself that Random House has bought this memoir and paid for it. All I need to do is write down my life story. Certainly I can find the words.

I go to the Queen Anne box and open it. I pull the scrapbook out and place it on the floor beside me. I am not ready for it yet. I will work up to that collection of my dreams and heartaches.

I lean over and peer into the dark interior. The first thing I see is a ratty-looking stuffed rabbit.

Mathilda.

She is missing one shiny black eye and her whiskers look as if they’ve been cut off. This gift from my grandmother had been my best friend growing up.

I put Mathilda aside and reach in again. This time, I feel something soft and pull out a small gray Magilla Gorilla T-shirt.

My hand trembles just a little.

Why did I keep this?

But even as I ask the question, I know the answer. My mom bought it for me. It’s the only thing I remember her giving to me.

A memory sears away everything else.

I am young—maybe four or five. I am in my chair at the kitchen table, playing with my spoon instead of eating my breakfast, when she comes in. A stranger.

My Tallulah, she says, lurching unsteadily toward me. She smells funny. Like sweet smoke. Did you miss your mommy?

Upstairs, a bell rings. That’s Grandpa, I say.

The next thing I know, I am in the stranger’s arms and she is running out of the house.

Gran is behind us, yelling, “Stop! Dorothy—”

The woman says something about him and adds a bunch of words I don’t understand. Then she stumbles. I fall out of her arms and crack my head on the floor. My grandmother screams; I cry; the woman scoops me back into her arms. After that, the memory darkens, turns murky.

I remember her asking me to call her Mom. And I remember how hard the seat was in her car and how I was supposed to pee by the side of the road. I remember the smell of smoke in the car and her friends. They scared me.

I remember the brownies. She gave them to me and I ate them and she thought it was funny when I lost my balance and started throwing up.

I remember waking up in a hospital bed, with my name, TALLULAH ROSE, pinned to my chest.

Who was that lady? I asked Gran later when she came to pick me up.

Your mama, Gran said. I remember those two words as if I heard them yesterday.

“I don’t like living in a car, Gran.”

“Of course you don’t.”

I sigh and put the T-shirt back in the box. Maybe this memoir thing is a bad idea. I back away from the box and leave the storage unit, remembering to lock it this time.

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