Fly Away Page 36


“I’ll be right there,” he says, and I feel hot tears slide down my cheeks.

“Thanks.”

I clear my throat and hang up.

“This way,” the woman says. She prods me a little, just to remind me that I need to move. I follow her to another room; this one is big and busy, even on this holiday night.

I sit in a chair by the wall, ignoring the stream of drunks and hookers and street kids who are brought in every few minutes.

Finally the door opens and I see Desmond walk in; snow swirls in behind him. His long hair is grayed by melting snowflakes, his shoulders are blotched with moisture, and his sharp nose is red.

I stand, unsteady on my feet, feeling vulnerable and stupid and ashamed.

He crosses the room toward me, his long black coat flapping open like wings at the movement of his strides. “Are you okay?”

I look up. “I’ve been better. I’m sorry to call you so late. And on Christmas Eve. And for this.” Shame tightens my throat until I can barely swallow.

“My shift ended in ten minutes anyway.”

“You were working?”

“I cover for people who have families,” he says. “Where can I take you?”

“Home,” I say. All I want is to be in my own bed. I want to fall into a sleep so deep I forget about this entire night.

He takes me by the arm and leads me to his car, which is illegally parked out front. I tell him the address and we drive the few blocks to my building in silence.

He pulls up in front of the building. A liveried valet appears almost instantly at his door.

Desmond turns to me.

I see the question in his gaze when he looks at me. The truth is that I don’t want to invite him up. I don’t want to have to smile and make small talk and pretend to be fine, but how can I turn him away now, after he came for me?

“Would you like to come up for a drink?”

His gaze is questioning; unnerving. “Okay,” he says at last.

I open my car door and get out so fast I almost fall. The doorman is there in an instant to steady me. “Thanks,” I mutter, pulling away. Without waiting for Desmond, I walk across the lobby, my heels clicking on the stone floor, and press the up button at the elevator. In more silence, we ride up together, our images thrown back at us by the mirrored walls.

At my condo, I open the door and let him inside. He follows me down the hallway to the living room, with its outstanding view of the city at night, snow falling from the black sky, flakes turned colors by the muted city lights. “Wine?”

“How about some coffee for both of us?”

Do I hate him for the reminder of my night? Yes, a little, I do.

I go into the kitchen and make coffee. While it’s brewing, I excuse myself. In the bathroom, I am appalled by my appearance—hair flattened and frizzed by the snow, face pale and tired, no makeup.

Good God.

I open the medicine cabinet, find my Xanax, and take one. Then I return to the living room. He has found my CD player and put on Christmas music.

“I’m surprised you called me,” he says.

The answer to that is so pathetic, I remain quiet. I sit on my sofa, kind of collapse. The full impact of this night is hitting me now; I am not strong enough to stand. The Xanax isn’t working. I feel panic coming on. “Desmond Grant,” I say. Anything to break the silence. “I slept with a guy named Grant for a few years.”

“Wow.” He comes over to me, sits down. He is so close I can smell the faintly metallic scent of melting snow on wool, and the aroma of coffee on his breath.

“Wow, what?” I say, unnerved by the way he is studying me.

“Most people would phrase it differently, use words like love or dating or boyfriend or relationship to describe someone you slept with for years.”

“I’m a journalist. I pick words carefully. I slept with him. I neither dated him nor loved him.”

“You said you’d been in love once. Maybe.”

I do not like the turn this conversation has taken. Don’t I already look pathetic enough with the DUI? I shrug. “I was nineteen. A kid.”

“What happened?”

“I didn’t realize I loved him until I was almost forty.” I try to smile. “Story of my life. He married a woman named DeeAnna about six years ago.”

“That must have been hard. So what was the other Grant like?”

“Flashy, I guess. I got a lot of flowers and jewelry, but not…”

“Not what?”

“Not the kind of present you give a woman you want to grow old with.”

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“What would that be?”

I shrug. How would I know? “Slippers, maybe, or a flannel nightgown.” I sigh. “Look, Desmond, I’m really tired.” It’s been a terrible day. “Thanks for coming, though.”

I see him set his cup down on the coffee table and turn slowly toward me. He takes me by the hand and pulls me to my feet. The way he looks at me makes it hard to breathe. He sees me somehow, impossibly, sees my vulnerability and my fear. “You’re like the Lady of Shalott, Tully, watching the world from the safety of your high-rise tower. You’ve done it all, succeeded beyond most people’s wildest dreams. So why don’t you have anyone to call on Christmas Eve or anywhere to be?”

“Leave,” I say tiredly. I hate him for his question, for exposing my loneliness and my fear, and for acting like I could do something differently. “Please.” My voice breaks a little, cracks. All I want to do is crawl into bed and sleep.

Tomorrow will be a better day.

Eighteen

By June of 2010, I know I am in trouble, but I don’t know how to care. Depression has descended like a bell jar around me. I feel detached from everything and everyone. Even my weekly Wednesday night phone calls from Margie fail to lift my spirits.

I climb wearily out of bed and find that I’m lethargic as I walk to my bathroom. How many sleeping pills did I take last night? It scares me that I can’t remember.

I take a Xanax to calm my nerves and get in the shower. Honestly, the Xanax isn’t working so well anymore; I need to take more and more to get the same calming effect. I know this should bother me, and it does, in a distant, intellectual way.

Afterward, I pull my wet hair into a ponytail and dress in a pair of sweats. My head is throbbing now.

I try to eat something—it will be good for me—but my stomach is in such a knot I’m afraid I’ll throw it back up.

The morning crawls by slowly. I try reading a book and watching TV and even vacuuming. Nothing diverts my attention from how bad I feel.

Maybe a glass of wine will help. Just one. And it is past noon.

It does help, a little. So does the second.

I am deciding—again—to quit drinking when my cell phone rings. I see the caller ID and dive for the phone as if it is Jesus Christ calling.

“Margie!”

“Hello, Tully.”

I sink down to the sofa, realizing how much I needed to hear from a friend. “It’s so good to hear from you!”

“I’m in the city. I thought I’d drop by. I’ll be there in ten minutes. Let me in.”

I lurch to my feet, almost crying at how much this means to me. I really am a mess. I will talk to Margie—my almost-mom. Maybe she can help me. “I’d love that.”

I disconnect the call and rush into the bathroom, where I dry my hair quickly and put on enough product to bend steel. Then I put on makeup and dress in jeans and a short-sleeved top. I am pathetically eager to see someone who loves me, to be welcomed and wanted. I slip into a pair of flats. (I shouldn’t have had those two glasses of wine; my balance isn’t quite good enough for heels.)

The doorbell rings and I run for it, opening the door.

There stands my mother, looking as thin and ragged as a piece of twine. She is dressed like a refugee from a seventies commune: baggy pants, Birkenstock sandals, and one of those embroidered Mexican tunic tops that I haven’t seen in years. Her gray hair is fighting the leather strap she’s pulled it into; wisps float around her narrow, wrinkled face. I am so bewildered by the sight of her that I don’t know what to say.

“Margie sent me,” she says. “But it was my idea. I wanted to see you.”

“Where is she?”

“She’s not coming. I’m the one who wanted to see you. I knew you wouldn’t open the door for me.”

“Why are you here?”

She walks past me, comes into my home as if she has a right to be here.

In the living room, she turns to me. In a hesitant, gravelly voice, she says, “You have a drug or alcohol problem.”

For a second, my mind goes utterly, terribly blank. I think, I’ve been caught. It’s horrifying and humiliating and I feel stripped bare and vulnerable and broken. I back away, shaking my head. “No,” I say. “No. My medications are prescribed for me. You make it sound like I’m a drug addict.” I laugh at the idea of that. Does she think I hang around street corners and score drugs and inject them into my veins and slump to the street? I go to a doctor. I buy my drugs at Walmart, for God’s sake. And then I consider the source of this accusation.

My mother steps forward. She looks out of place in my designer room. I can see all the disappointments of my life in her wrinkles, in the sun spots on her cheeks. I cannot remember a single time she held me or kissed me or told me she loved me. But now she’s going to call me an addict and help me.

“I’ve been through rehab,” she says in a timid, uncertain voice. “I think—”

“You have no right to say anything to me,” I yell at her. “Not a thing, you understand me? How dare you come to judge me?”

“Tully,” my mother says. “Margie says your voice has been slurred the last few times she’s talked to you. I saw your mug shot on TV. I know what you’re going through.”

“Go away,” I say, my voice breaking.

“Why did you come to see me in Snohomish?”

“I’m writing a book about my life. Not that you know anything about it.”

“You had questions.”

I laugh and feel the start of tears, which makes me angry. “Yeah. A lot of good it did me.”

“Tully, maybe—”

“No maybes. Not from you. Not again. I can’t take it.” I grab her by the arm and drag her out of the condo—she weighs nothing. Before she can say anything, I shove her out into the hall and slam the door shut. Then I go into my bedroom and climb into bed, pulling the covers over my head. I hear my own breathing in the dark.

She is wrong. I don’t have a problem. So what if I need Xanax to keep the panic attacks at bay and Ambien to sleep? So what if I like a few glasses of wine at night? I can control all of it, stop whenever I want to.

But, damn, I have a headache now. It’s her fault I’m in pain. My mother. She and Margie have betrayed me. That is the cruelest part of all. I expect nothing from my mother, less than nothing, but Margie has been one of the few safe harbors of my life. To have her betray me like this is a blow I can’t handle. At the thought, my anger dissolves into a bleak despair.

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