It has been two years since Nathan’s death. To me it still feels like it happened yesterday. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t still haunted by the image of my only sibling taking his own life. After Nathan died it seemed like my life ended too. Ambitions, dreams, everything that I had hoped to accomplish in life didn’t seem to matter anymore.
They say that time heals all wounds yet they never say exactly how long it takes for the healing process to finish. The problem with this concept is that time can be never-ending.
I would love to eventually be able to accept his death to the point where I don’t think about it every day, but Nathan raised me. He was the only one who really took care of me while I was growing up. That’s why when I found out he had gotten a scholarship to some prestigious college across the country I didn’t take it lightly. He would be leaving our hometown of Boulder to live out his dreams. To me the more obvious fact was that he was leaving behind his family. Without Nathan there for support and guidance I had no one.
Our father left us when I was five, Nathan was only eight, and he involuntarily became the man of the house. I knew at times he hated this, always having to be there for my mother and I when he was still a kid himself. I could tell by his tired expressions that sometimes he wished he could be carefree but he never complained.
He was an amazing brother and extremely intelligent. I didn’t protest when he expressed interest in attending a university in New York City, because I knew he deserved it. I just didn’t think it would really happen. For my own selfish reasons I didn’t even go to his going away party before he left for school. Now I wish I had.
I’ve been seeing a therapist for a few weeks now. Her name is Dr. Virginia Bloom. I’m sitting in her office in an overstuffed brown leather chair, staring at a framed picture on the wall of silver fish swimming upstream. The fish all seem to have smirks on their faces. I wonder if the picture is strategically placed there to provoke a certain emotion from her patients. You never know with shrinks. They’re judging you at all times which is why I was so hesitant to start these sessions.
It was Sharon, my mother, who made me come here. She’s never been there for me but now thinks it’s appropriate to start stepping into my life by forcing me to see a therapist even though she may be more damaged than I am. I know she’s only paying for this because it saves her the time of talking to me and also makes her look like she is making an effort to be a good parent. Well played, mother.
I hear the office door click and turn in my chair to see Dr. Bloom walk in carrying a small, black notebook.
“Hello Zenny, how are you today?” she asks while making her way to her desk to get settled.
“I’m great thanks. How are you Dr. Bloom?”
“Well that’s good to hear. I am doing well, and please call me Virginia,” she says while smiling. She starts fumbling through the papers on her desk; she’s lost her glasses again. This happens every time. But who am I to take a crack at her memory, I always forget to call her by her first name even though she insists repeatedly.
“They’re on top of your head,” I say patiently.
“Oh yes,” Virginia giggles and begins feeling around the top of her head, “this happens every time, does it not?” She chuckles again and this makes me laugh.
Although I haven’t known Virginia for very long I feel comfortable with her which is very relieving and surprising. Perhaps it’s her kind face that is so welcoming. Her cheeks are plump and she has a long slanted nose that rests closely to her upper lip. Her hair is bright red and full of tendrils. The color reflects off her green eyes, transforming them into a hue of brown that I’ve never seen before. She reminds me of a cartoon character on a show my mother used to make us watch while she was blending her morning cocktail, maybe that’s why I feel like I know her.
“So,” starts Virginia as she rests her glasses onto her nose, “last time we met I think we made some progress.” Her tone is always so chipper and enthusiastic, the opposite of my intentionally pessimistic demeanor. I still can’t understand why she doesn’t annoy me.
“Sure,” I say. I’m unable to remember what we even talked about during the last session. I’ve been somewhat detached during the last year.
“Well, we only have a few sessions left. I did want to ask you if things have gotten any better between you and your mother. Have you been able to sit down and talk to her like I suggested?”
“Oh…yeeeah…about that…” I say. Now I remember what we discussed last time.
From day one Virginia has been very insistent about me providing her some insight to my family life, although there is not much to tell which I try to explain to her.
My mother spends most of her time working and going out to bars while preying on younger men like a rabid cougar. My father is… indefinitely absent. After she realized that I was telling the truth she seemed worried, but before she made any reports to Child Protection Services I assured her that I was able to take care of myself by now. I’m not in danger and when I turn eighteen in six months I will be free of any stress my mother puts on me.
Virginia began focusing on helping me forgive my mother before I moved on to adulthood.
“Zenny I thought we agreed that you would at least try to talk to her,” she says already seeming to know I had not fulfilled her request.
“I know but she’s such a ---,” I pause. Oh boy. I don't know how to end this sentence without sounding completely insensitive towards the woman that gave me life.
“Difficult person?” Virginia asks quizzically.
“Yeah, let’s go with that description.”
“It is never going to be simple. Remember I have met your mother and I know she is not the easiest person to communicate with but if you are the one who tries to improve your relationship then at least you can say you tried and you will not have any regrets. Do not forget she is only human and makes mistakes just like the rest of us. Among her responsibilities as a parent she also has worries, insecurities, and problems just like everyone else. There will be a time when she needs you more than you have ever needed her.” Her empathetic tone makes me believe she’s saying this from experience.
“Fine I’ll try again,” I say in a promising voice, even though I’m not entirely sure I want to make the effort. She doesn’t know how truly frustrating it is dealing with my mother.
“Okay,” she continues without pressing. “Is there anything that you would like to talk to me about today?”
I breathe in deeply and adjust myself uncomfortably in the leather chair and it makes noises that sound like passing flatulence every time I move. Virginia is mature enough to not laugh, I struggle to contain myself. I almost wish we could just talk about the gassy chair and avoid any other topic about my life.
I sit in silence with my head down staring at the unpleasantly green shag carpet underneath us that is heavily stained with what looks like the remnants of dark coffee, at least I hope that’s all it is.
Virginia starts flipping through her papers again; she seems to be reviewing my file once more. “Well it looks like there is plenty to talk about,” she says. The pages seem to be endless. Am I one of her more troubled patients?
“Would you like to talk about why you were expelled from your last school? We have never discussed this,” she says calmly. “Why did they call you…“The Embellisher” is that even a word?”
“It is today,” I say, “but I wasn’t officially expelled.”
If I really had to give her something today then I guess I would be willing to talk about the unjust ridiculousness of why I was kicked out of high school.
Despite not having influential role models in our lives my brother and I had developed very interesting personalities. Having to fend for yourself at a young age definitely builds character. We were weird, sarcastic, curious, stubborn, cynical, but grateful for the simple things in life. We were also willing to accept the fact that we had imaginations that were wildly out of control, especially me.
This brings me to my next problem. Oh yes, I’m a complicated woman on the brink of becoming a full-fledged disaster.
I learned early in life that I don’t see things the same way as other people do. It’s not like I see dead people or anything, but in my own time I began to think everything was fascinating and magnificently complex to the point where I seemed crazy when I talked about anything.
For instance, I think trees are amazing. I mean c'mon they provide us with oxygen, they're full of life, and even change colors with every season.
When we were young the city had decided to tear down a one hundred year old oak tree resting near the public library so that a statue of one of the city founders could sit in its place. I had convinced Nathan to stage a protest with me since we both had believed that this tree was also a part of the town’s history. Consider the events that it had lived through, the secrets that it knew.
But when the city officials saw two kids tied around the oak tree with a jump rope holding up hand painted posters, they distracted us by having an ice cream truck pull up a block away. We couldn’t resist. As soon as we ran towards the truck they had the arborists come in and remove the tree. What a cheap shot.
Now every time I go to the library I glare at the copper statue of the giant man smiling back at me. The sun gleams off his bald head blinding nearby drivers, it’s very dangerous. And in the winter the snow collects around his pot belly making it appear to stick out even more. I like to tell winter visitors that the statue honors the memory of Boulder’s first pregnant man.
After this incident I was called a tree hugger many times, but it’s not just trees that I’m passionate about. I happen to have an avid appreciation for all things not created by man. While some would say the statue had the right to be there, I say the tree was meant to be there.
Even though I acknowledge fate I don’t consider myself religious. According to my mother she used to take us to Catholic mass when we were still babies. However, she and my father were asked to not return because one day when they took communion they got in line a second time for another sip of wine.
Regardless of our lack of spiritual upbringing I know there has to be a master maker who should be acknowledged for the infinite masterpieces that surround us. Nothing in this world is insignificant so why make something seem less amazing than what it really is? Details create images and images create visions of extraordinary things.
Eventually I started to enhance everything so that overlooked magnificence was no longer a problem. Although, I have learned that applying this to everything and everyone doesn’t always work. I do my best to keep my elaborating at mid-level; but there are times when I take it to the extreme. My bad I guess.
Needless to say at my last school once word got out that I was an “embellisher” as the teachers referred to me as, the faculty became cautious. I could name a few details I’ve added to stories where my teachers overheard and overreacted but they were all harmless.
Like the time in fifth grade when I yelled at a classmate for smashing a bee with his binder. The jerk was obviously unaware of their importance in our ecosystem. So I told him that in ancient times bees were considered to be a sacred insect with many powers and anyone who caused harm to them would be cursed with facial deformities. Who knew he would take me seriously and run home crying to his mother?
I suppose I could have been a little less daunting, we were only ten years old when it happened. I was only trying to prove a point. It’s not like any of it was true even though I found it possible. I still think that patchy mustache he grew on his face when we got to high school was only a coincidence.
The final straw for my last principal came about when one of the school’s janitors, named Paulo, got fired when he was caught smoking a joint near my high school’s campus during his lunch break. Everyone was appalled and quick to label him a degenerate. I however felt bad for him because he seemed like such a nice old man, always smiling…well I guess I know why now.
I decided to defend his sanitation honor and told everyone that the reason he turned to drugs was because he was a single father who was left by his manly, Puerto Rican wife who used to beat him. She left him by himself to raise two kids Peter and Guadalupe (both who somewhere throughout my story became kids with speech impediments). With his struggle to make ends meet all Paulo could do was persevere. He was endlessly working to support his kids, raising them on his own, hoping that for five minutes out of the week he could take some time for himself and partake in an herbal pick-me-up.
Unexpectedly my plan actually worked as word spread of Paulo’s heroic parenting and his evident depression that he was trying to treat with marijuana.
Of course leave it to my friends to take it to the next level. They started wearing t-shirts that said “Praises for Paulo” and then began writing complaint letters to the principal demanding that this struggling father be given a second chance. Only days went by before my principal retaliated and tracked down the sole producer of these Paulo raves, which was me.
I ended up in the principal’s office again sitting next to the man of the hour, Paulo. I was fully prepared to stand up for his medicinal rights because I knew there had to be something more to him than what my Principal had made him out to be. But as my Principal revealed the truth it turned out that Paulo had never been married and he didn’t have any kids. In fact, he flat out said that he hated kids and the reason he was smoking on his lunch break was so he could tolerate cleaning up after the “Little demons.”
Yes, he compared the students to tiny, evil beings. Then right before leaving the office he gave my principal the finger.
This wasn’t so great for me because once everyone found out what type of person Paulo really was the Principal made me publicly retract my statements. It came as no surprise that all my classmates and most of my friends shunned me for the rest of the year.
“And so…” I continue explaining to Virginia, “I was given the option of either completing daily detention after school for the remainder of the year plus visits to the schools counselor or leaving the school completely. The only reason they didn’t expel me was because they felt sorry for me. They knew I was dealing with my brother’s death and a crazy mother.”
She begins to take notes on a piece of bright pink notepad paper. I wish she would wait until I left to start writing about me.
“So technically I didn’t get expelled even though all the teachers wanted me gone. I chose to leave,” I finish.
I stop talking as she finishes scribbling her notes.
“Do you feel that you have made the right choice?” she asks without lifting her head and adjusts her eyes to peak at me over the brim of her glasses.
“Well yeah,” I say, “everyone hated me in the end, it got really awkward. They spent a lot of their Christmas money on those Paulo t-shirts. But either way I felt like I needed a new start. The only bad thing is now my mother is making me go to a Catholic high school for the last four months of my senior year and we’re not even religious. Plus now I have to come to these ridiculous therapy sessions,” I pause. “No offense.”
“You do not believe in God?” she asks ignoring my remark.
“I don’t believe in anything these days.”
Her expression turns from curious to one of disappointment. “Well you seem to be passionate about the creations in this world,” says Virginia. “You believe in the wonders of nature and the world’s miracles.” She smiles and I can tell she’s being genuine.
“I do not see embellishing as being your biggest problem. Do you feel that it is?” she asks.
“No I can control that,” I say truthfully. I know my storytelling isn’t the reason I can’t sleep at night, although it’s hard to admit this to a stranger. We both sit quietly for a moment.
“I know you said you were not ready to talk about your brother and that is fine.” She sounds nervous whenever she brings up Nathan. “But last time you were here you mentioned a dream that you had about him.”
“Yes,” I say.
I feel my throat tighten when she says this. I knew I never should’ve said anything. Why did I tell her about it? And it wasn't a dream; it was more like a nightmare. I remember now that the only reason I had told her was because I was hoping she could prescribe me some heavy sedatives that would help me sleep.
Virginia glances down at the papers on her desk and flips one piece over to see the notes on the other side.
“You said that in your dream you saw Nathan sitting on a rock near a beach somewhere,” she starts, “but when you approach him his face begins to change. His eyes become black and his face becomes distorted.” She was sugar coating it. Last time I had gone into more detail about what I saw.