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Authors: Kate Axelrod

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BOOK: The Law of Loving Others
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But this seemed so different. You either had herpes or you didn't, right? I googled the average onset age of schizophrenia for women and it was twenty-five, which left me feeling both relieved and more anxious; I had eight years left.


DANIEL was sorry, he said, really, really sorry. This was over the phone, and he wanted to come out to Westchester and talk. He said he hadn't realized the extent of this crisis with my mother. He took the train out early the next day, but for some reason I just didn't want him to come over, to be in my parents' home, which still felt like something of a crime scene.

I picked him up at the train station in White Plains, and when I saw him, I felt a brief flicker of tenderness. I'd been so cold and unloving toward him the past couple of days, but the warmth of his body, the faint smell of his breath as we kissed hello that morning, and I felt myself softening toward him. The tips of his hair were still slightly damp from his morning shower, and I squeezed a handful of it.

We went to a diner close to the station; it was one of those twenty-four-hour restaurants, but in the morning light the neon sign was faint and pale against the gray sky.

“Wanna do the sweet and savory combo?” Daniel asked, holding the tall, laminated menu in his hands. Sometimes when we went out for breakfast, I'd get eggs and turkey bacon and he'd order French toast or pancakes, and we'd split the food half and half.

But I shook my head.

“I'm just gonna have coffee,” I said. I
pretty hungry, and wouldn't have minded sharing breakfast the way we usually did, with some fluffy eggs and crispy bacon. But it just didn't feel right, and I didn't want Daniel to think that this was going to be an ordinary breakfast, a normal meal.

“So tell me,” he said. He pushed the menus to the side and held on to my hands. “Tell me what happened.”

And mostly I did. I told him the basics: that my mother had had a psychotic break, that she was suffering from paranoia and would be in the hospital for who knows how long. I didn't say that this had happened before, didn't reveal that sense of embarrassment and betrayal I felt at never having known this fact about my mother (a fact that seemed so crucial to her identity, so relevant to the very essence of her being). It was not precisely a lie, but a muddled, more comfortable version of the truth.

Daniel moved over and sat down next to me on my side of the booth. The vinyl was ripped and smoothed over with tape beneath us. He took one of my hands. “I'm so sorry, Emma.”

I knew he was; he must've been, but what else was he thinking? There were so many thoughts and anxieties circulating through my head, and I shut my eyes and started to fake a cough but really I began to sob. I let it all out, but tried to muffle my cries into Daniel's shoulder. He kissed the top of my head.

“It's okay,” he said. “Look. Emma, you know I love you, right?”

I nodded my head yes, said, “I think I do?” We both laughed a little at that.

“I do too,” I said. “I mean, I love you too.”

IN October, just a month after we'd started dating, we'd gone to his parents' house in the Berkshires for a long weekend. It was sixteen hours of driving, just to be there for a couple days, but we'd had Monday off for Columbus Day and decided to make the trip. It was the sort of thing both of us liked to do—to travel long distances to be somewhere for just a short period of time. It was also the sort of thing that my parents would've said was ridiculous, a waste of time and especially gas, but I didn't really care and had just told them I was staying at school for the weekend. I felt almost dizzy with excitement at the thought of us alone in the country house together—I would've driven twenty-four hours just to be there with him for a single night.

We left school after class on Friday afternoon and drove through much of the night. The roads were so empty it seemed we could go hours without seeing a car in the other direction, just the blank, dark sky, the horizon low around us. It was unseasonably cold and even in the car I wore a big knit sweater and plaid scarf beneath my coat. I loved fall, loved it even though it was chillier than expected. I loved the burnt and fiery smell in the air, the trees shedding their skin and piles of leaves ornamenting the street corners. That time of year always made me feel wistful, and there was something especially romantic about spending it with Daniel.

It was a big, old house with green-trimmed windows, set on two acres of land. Inside was all exposed wooden beams, and it had a sort of rugged but polished feel. The downstairs was a large open space; up above was a balcony that held all of the bedrooms. The furniture was spare, and there was no TV (this was on principle, Daniel had said—his parents were adamant about it), but there were lots of bookshelves, a long oak table, and a wide island in the center of the kitchen. In the living room was a mahogany baby grand piano, and I felt a pang of jealousy on my mother's behalf, knowing just how much she would have wanted this for herself.

Daniel brought me upstairs to the attic, which his parents had turned into a library. The walls were lined with built-in shelves, filled with medical books and journals, and some old fiction as well, lots of dusty brown spines and yellowed paperbacks. I thought of my parents' house, which was filled with books too, though I couldn't ever imagine my parents being able to refer—with a straight face—to a room in their house as a library. But in a way my mother's books
a library to me. I loved combing through them—all the old Russian fiction, and whole collections of contemporary writers: John Updike, Philip Roth, Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro. Sometimes I would take books down from the shelves, not always for the sake of reading, but to skim through my mother's penciled marginalia, which were always there. I just loved the idea of it—being able to trace back her thoughts, her little comments—some as simple and benign as “
” or an underlined sentence here or there.

THE pantry had been stocked with lots of basic, non-perishable food, so we mostly cooked soups and pasta (lots of mac and cheese), and made sandwiches with peanut butter and a loaf of sourdough bread that had been packed into the freezer. We shared a bottle of red wine and sat on the living room floor and played cards: rounds of spit and bullshit and gin and rummy. By the end of the night, we were drunk and my fingertips were pink and numb.

We slept together in Daniel's old twin bed, beneath a bright orange-and-blue Mets comforter. We were still learning about each other's bodies, what worked and what didn't, but that night I felt aglow with pleasure each time Daniel moved his hands or his mouth; every subtle gesture brought me closer to coming. And eventually, we both did, just at the same time, and once that rush of feeling subsided, I'd wanted so badly to tell him that I loved him. The urge snuck up on me so unexpectedly I literally had to cover my mouth in fear that the words would slip out. Over the next few days, I'd been waiting for one of us to say it; even though I knew we hadn't been together long—just over a month—it seemed as though we might be ready.

But that morning, at the diner, as my hands rested on the table sticky with syrup, all of that waiting somehow felt like forever ago. When Daniel said that he loved me for the first time, I didn't feel giddy or light-headed as I might have felt that weekend in the Berkshires. All I felt was tired, and sad, and just a little relieved.

IT was clear and cool on the Monday afternoon when we had driven back to school from the Berkshires. Somewhere near the Connecticut border, we'd gotten off the highway to stop for gas and get a quick bite to eat. We were at a big intersection, with a handful of fast food restaurants to the east and a sprawling K-Mart to the west. We were stopped at a light when we were abruptly jolted forward, hit from behind by a bulky SUV. And then we had slammed into the car in front of us, too. The SUV hadn't been moving that quickly, but still there was enough force for the rear bumper of Daniel's Subaru to detach and hang limply from its base, and for me to smack my forehead hard against the dashboard.

“Fuck!” Daniel said. “Fuck! Are you okay?”

“I'm fine, I'm fine.” I touched my fingers to the spot above my right eyebrow, discovered it was damp with blood.

“Shit, Emma!”

Daniel got out of the car to examine the damage. A stout, dark-skinned woman in a sari rushed over from the SUV, apologizing profusely.

“I'm so sorry!” she said. “I got a call from my sister that she's in the hospital and I just got distracted! I'm just so worked up and worried and I just wasn't paying attention!”

“It's okay,” Daniel said to her. “It happens. Everyone's fine, don't worry, let's just call 911 and exchange our information.”

I needed three stitches but was otherwise fine. The emergency room was nearly empty, and Daniel sat in the plastic seat beside me, resting his hand on my leg as the doctor closed the slit above my eyebrow, still caked with blood.

“Wait until my dad hears that we got into an accident because you were giving me road head! He'll be pretty pissed!”

“Shut up,” I said. I could feel myself blushing. I tried not to move, careful not to disrupt the doctor's hands. “You aren't funny.”

“Well, I'm
a little
funny,” Daniel said.

BOOK: The Law of Loving Others
7.3Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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