From Chapter 14 in the novel “Where I Laid Me Down To Sleep” — this chapter is Death of Dreams
Chapter 14 — death of dreams
Twenty two is a girl standing on the cusp of her life, only she is trapped in an octagon made of invisible glass and she stands there, at work, in the scrollwork cage waiting for the phone to ring because this is her job. She’s pulled a typewriter into the space because she has papers she has to write and homework and school stretching before her endlessly for that BA degree she wants, the one that she transferred here for, the one that she left John Sandman behind for, because he wasn’t concerned with that part of her life at all. He wasn’t concerned with anything about her except the photographs he could make of the two of them. She doesn’t realize this yet, standing there, waiting, and the first rains of the Fall have begun, and it pours outside, she can hear the downpour beating against the pavement. The phone rings, finally, and it’s his voice asking her what her decision is again, and she says nothing except that she is all right when she really isn’t at all, because she is a girl, and girls are trained not to want much. His voice is the cold thread of truth, and she knows there is nowhere to turn and no one to depend on except herself, and she’s going to have to do something that she doesn’t want to do, and the thing she has to do, the thing that everyone outside of herself is so sure she should do, will be the thing that almost kills her, because it is a death of dreams.
Natasha Evergreen had believed in him, and she had believed everything he had ever said, because that is how we go through life isn’t it? We have to believe in other people.
“Have you decided?” he said, his voice cool on the line. Like ice.
“I’m glad to hear that.”
She stands in the silence of the glass octagon, a trapped bird, wings fluttering.
“I have to go,” she says.
“I’m not ready to hang up.”
“I have to go now or I will cry,” she says.
“I want to come up there.”
“No, I’ll be okay.”
“I’m coming up.”
“No. I don’t want to see you.”
“I’m coming anyway.”
“You can’t stop me.”
“I have to get off the phone.”
She clicks it down knowing that he’s going to call back or that he will call again that night, and that he’s going to keep on calling, because that is what happens later.
She calls her mother, and all she can talk about are the plans for Christmas, and that the 25th is so close, that three weeks from now they will all be together again, and the reservations she’s made, and Tasha’s grandparents, and that her brother will be coming up on the train, and that the two of them will have this long ride together, and won’t it all be fun, and Tasha’s appointment is in two days with the doctor and her mother never even asks about that.
Rosie has given her a referral, and made the arrangements for her to take the three days off, and if Natasha thinks too much about this she is going to go insane, so she shuts off the part of her brain that can think, and she makes the call to the clinic, and she says thank you to Rosie, and she tells her the days, and it’s in three days, they have a slot for her, amidst all the other slots where the other girls will be, and Becca tries to cheer her up by telling her that she’s going to be fine, but she won’t be.
They don’t say anything when she is at the clinic in tears, saying she doesn’t want to and she has no other choice. They are simply marking down that a twenty two year old is hysterical, without even knowing the circumstances, and they lead her into a room, where they tell her to get dressed in a gown, and they are putting her feet into cold metal stirrups, and they are giving her something that is going to put her out and she can feel it dripping into her, and she says:
“Don’t wake me up. Let me die.”
And just before she goes under she has that thought. That she never has to wake up again because God is going to take her, and she prays for that, she prays not to wake up ever again.
They are shaking her by the shoulders, and she says, “No, don’t let me be alive,” and “No, you didn’t really do it,” and she is half comatose as they lead her to a little room with two beds in it and there is another girl lying in there, and a pad with all the names that will be there today, and names that have been crossed off, and there must be one hundred names on that list, and Natasha thinks to herself, *they run them through here like cattle* and it’s in a small fetal shape that she curls on that little bed and she looks at the other girl, and the other girl is crying a little too, and they both just lie there.
And they are nothing.
They mean nothing to whoever it was that loved them.
They mean nothing to the clinic, except that they were girls in trouble.
Natasha was one week late on her period, and all of this happens the following week, and it all moved so fast that she is in a blur, and she can’t think, and the nurse says to her, “Try and rest for the next half hour.”
“How do you feel?” she asks Natasha.
“Can you drive home now?”
The other girl is already gone, and a new girl is coming in. One more girl who is going to be nothing but a statistic and Natasha is given her clothes back, and she stands unsteadily, and she puts them on, saying, “I think so.”
But she is not okay. Not at all.
She will never be okay again.
* * *
The train arcs up the coast and she’s traveling and her little brother is with her for the trip, just eighteen years old, and they are moving slowly up the coast along the clattering tracks because it’s Christmas, and they are going to be with their grandparents and their mom, and they are going out to a really great restaurant and everyone is having a cocktail by the fire, and only Natasha Evergreen is sad, but nobody asks why. Nobody even knows except her mother, who expects her to pull herself together, because that is what she says when Natasha goes into the bathroom and she comes after her and closes the door behind them.
“You are not going to ruin this Christmas, Natasha.”
“I’m not Mom.”
“Pull yourself together, for christ’s sake.”
She hands her a cold compress for her eyes, and Natasha tries to stop crying, but she can’t.
Her mother grabs her by the shoulders and says, “Snap out of it.”
“Drink this champagne, and stop it.”
She brings her one of the gold-rimmed glasses of her grandmother’s and Natasha takes a sip, and then another sip and she tries to breathe through it. But she can hardly breathe because there is no one to tell, and nowhere to put the pain, or the loss or the hurt or the consequences. Her mother has expected her to be strong, and she certainly can’t say anything to her grandparents because they would never understand. She can’t really tell her little brother either, because she doesn’t want to ruin Christmas for him, so she stays silent, through the unwrapping of the presents, through Christmas Eve, and into Christmas Day at the gorgeous restaurant over the traditional Prime Rib and the Yorkshire pudding and she can barely get anything down and no one notices.
It’s later when her mother says to her, because she is crying again, “Well, I would never have been able to have an abortion.”
And Natasha looks at her because, why didn’t she help her, then? Why did she only talk about her friend and the Nazis and World War II, and how it would be nothing to go through?
It’s in the car, the following day, when her mother is driving them back down the coast that Natasha really can’t breathe, and mysteriously a bee flies into the car on the freeway, and she is afraid of bees, afraid of being stung, and she begins to take short little puffs of breath, and she looks down at her hands and they have turned into two little curled versions of themselves like blue claws in her lap. It’s the shock of it.
“I can’t breathe, Mom.”
“I don’t know. I can’t breathe.”
“Stop being so dramatic.”
“I’m not, look at my hands.”
And Natasha can’t recognize her own hands anymore, they are blue, as if they have turned blue, in her lap.
“You had better see a doctor,” her mother says.
Her brother says, “Do you always have to wreck everything?”
And Natasha can’t speak, so she looks out to sea as they drive to the south, and there isn’t any breath, only the sea, and the bee finds its way out eventually, and so the fear is gone, and they get to town, and they drop Natasha off at her place on Red Rose, and her mother is continuing south, with her brother, and she waves goodbye as they drive off into the last of the sunset.
She hadn’t even taken her presents from the trunk.
* * *
The counselor admits her to the dusty room, full of dusty houseplants like spears in the half-light, and tells Natasha that she did the right thing.
“You have one more appointment,” she says.
Natasha nods. She never wants to see her, ever again.
“How are you doing?”
“Sometimes it’s hard to breathe.”
“Well, you better go to the doctor then. Have the nurse at the front desk make you an appointment.”
“Okay,” she says.
The thirty minute appointment goes by very fast, with the counselor talking about her Ph.D and how hard it was to get through school and that she’s really happy because she’s in the graduating class that year, and that she’s about to start her practice in town.
“You are going to get your BA, Natasha.”
“Yes,” Tasha nods.
She looks at her hands, and her feet, and the desk, and the ceiling. Everywhere but to meet the eyes of the counselor.
“Do you need next week, or do you just want to see the doctor instead?”
“I’ll see the doctor.”
“All right then.”
“Goodbye,” Natasha says, as she stands to go. “Thank you.”
“It’s nothing,” says the counselor. “Take care.”
The doctor takes her history and she tells him about the breathing and her hands and that they are little blue claws sometimes and that she has this feeling that crawls up her spine when the attacks come on. She can be anywhere and this happens.
“It’s a panic attack,” he says.
“I want you to take this brown paper bag and breathe into it.”
So she does while he explains the rest about the fight or flight response to her, and the paper puffs out, and back, and out again like a lung. “Don’t be without these bags,” he says. “Ever.”
She breathes for a long time and she feels better. He tells her that she has depleted all the carbon dioxide in her blood, and that she has something like post-trauma stress, and she tells him the whole story and it comes out in very big tears and all he can say at the end of it is, “I’m sorry.”
“I’m sorry that this happened to you,” he says.
She doesn’t tell him about the part where she doesn’t want to live anymore, or that John Sandman is still calling her every night and that he’s still coming up, and that she tried to lock him out, but that he scaled the balcony and broke in and he was waiting for her inside Red Rose Way when she came home from school.
She doesn’t tell him about how she told him that she couldn’t because of the procedure and that he didn’t even care about that, he just wanted to, and he pushed her down under the tree again, when she hadn’t even healed yet.
Natasha Evergreen doesn’t tell this doctor everything, because if she did?
She doesn’t say how she is failing her grades that first quarter, and she has gotten D’s for the first time, or how she can’t sleep, and how when she drives to school over that big overpass a voice tells her to ram into one of the concrete pilings and just end it, because she doesn’t know how to go on anymore.
It’s in the Arts Library that she gets a referral to a real therapist, by accident, and she goes, and he says, “You have to end the relationship with this man.”
And she takes that in, inside herself, and she tells him that she is going to try, because she knows that, and he says “Good.”
“You have to end this right away.”
And Natasha Evergreen nods through her tears, at him. He’s one of the kindest people she will ever meet in her life, and it’s years later that she can admit that he saved her life that January, because he gave her the strength, the ego strength, when the second spray of four dozen red roses were delivered to the glass octagon where she worked. The birthday where there was another of his postcards attached, that birthday that everyone in the office cooed and cawed looking at them for hours, telling her what a lucky girl she was.
He gave her the strength to fight to stay alive.
* * *