When I was fifteen, I lost my mother to a psychiatric hospital and shortly thereafter, started reimagining the scenes of my life that I didn’t particularly like as a way to cope. I often feel compelled to narrate my reality as if it were a screenplay, the script to a movie that nobody came to see, in order to make life seem less like reality and much easier to control. It helps with the anxiety attacks that overwhelm me every time something isn’t going the way I want it to.
EXT. BACKYARD GARDEN – EVENING
The pretentious elite mill about the perfectly manicured garden lawn; rich sixty-something old women and their ugly, hairy husbands speak haughtily of the event that they have gathered to celebrate. Shadows disguise the unimpressed expression of the celebrated graduate, VALENCIA SPENCER, 23.
INT. GARDEN PATIO – SUNSET
WOMAN NUMBER ONE
She’s such a wonderful young woman. Isn’t she?
WOMAN NUMBER TWO
(sipping her champagne)
Ellis, you’ve brought up such a lady.
WOMAN NUMBER THREE
And smart! She’s graduated with honors you know.
Magna-something-or-other. And in psychology, no less.
Oh, yes. Such a lovely girl. And with what she’s been through in her life,
you’d think she would have given up a long time ago. She’s come so far.
WOMAN NUMBER ONE
You must be so proud.
As if she were my own.
Valencia scoffs and pivots quickly, exiting stage left.
Away from the suffocating pressure of their lofty expectations and my Aunt Ellis’ ridiculous façade of pseudo-parenthood, I am able to see straight and my life becomes reality, no longer a screenplay in my head. I’m in attendance at my college graduation party and I don’t know anyone. My aunt has invited her friends but where are mine? Getting wasted on Long Island ice tea and jello shots at The Rose and Crown, most likely. My boyfriend, Caleb, he’s here somewhere but I haven’t seen him in over an hour. He wanted to go downtown but I told him to wait it out, we could leave soon. Maybe he left without me.
This party doesn’t make any sense. This isn’t where I’m supposed to be. These people aren’t my friends. These women speak of me as if I am heir to some golden fortune of opportunity but it all feels so unfinished. It feels wrong without my mother here. I can’t be proud of anything that I’ve done if she’s not here to validate me. My aunt is trying to take all the credit for my proper upbringing. She’s such a fake. This is all such a joke.
My older sister, Hadley, finds me seething, my knuckles white as I grip the edge of the island in Ellis’ designer kitchen.
“Cia? What’s wrong?” I feel her hand against my back, a gentle pressure. She comes in close to me, her red hair falling over her shoulder and onto mine. She’s comforting to me and her swollen, pregnant stomach proves that someone in our family has turned out normal. She leans in close to me, brushing my hair from my eyes. Hadley, sweet perfect Hadley. Always the true mother to me. Her scent is reminiscent of a memory I’d long forgotten; Hadley cradling me in her arms, my face buried in her sweater, our sister, June, crying out from somewhere in the house, my mother howling hysterically behind the locked bathroom door.
“I need to get out of here,” I say, my cheeks burning. I look up at her. Her blue eyes are piercing into mine. She’s always trying to figure me out. This time, I don’t think she can.
“Cia, this is your graduation party,” she reminds me.
“I’m going to meet my friends downtown,” I tell her, pulling away from her. “And Caleb. I’ll go meet Caleb.”
“Cia, Caleb is downstairs watching the game with Sam,” she says, raising her eyebrows. My head starts to pound.
“I’m going without him,” I say, brushing past her. She reaches out for me but she grasps thin air.
“You can’t go, Cia,” she says.
“Watch me,” I say, as I reach the foyer and grab my purse. I fumble for my keys, my hands shaking.
“What is going on, Cia? What happened?” she asks, exasperated as she watches me open the door and barrel down the front steps.
“I just need to get away. This is all wrong,” I tell her, as I cross the lawn.
I can feel her eyes on me, waiting for me to give up my charade and return to her. But I’m not going to. I don’t.
One hour, forty-three minutes, and four cigarettes later, I am stopped at a diner just outside of our small coastal town and I’m dialing Hadley’s cell phone number as I sip from a mug of lukewarm coffee. My entire life savings is shoved inside the glove box of my car, there’s a full suitcase in my front seat, and my dog, Charlie, stares anxiously from the driver’s side, wondering where I’ve gone and if there’s something in it for him.
“Cia!” Hadley cries, answering on the first ring. “Where are you?”
“I’m going home, Hadley,” I tell her. She hesitates and I can tell that she’s confused.
“What are you talking about?”
“I’m going back to where we started. Back to mom.”
“Cia… you can’t go back there. She’s… You have nowhere to stay. What is wrong with you? This is ridiculous.”
“I’ll find some old friends. I’ll call dad. It’s been eight years since we left. Someone will remember me, Haddie.”
“What about Caleb?” she asks.
Oh yeah. Caleb. “Will you break up with him for me, Haddie?” I ask her.
I hear her sigh but she doesn’t answer me.
“I’ll call you when I get there,” I tell her.
I don’t wait for her response; I hang up and take a deep breath. Right about then, I’m sure that my sister’s contemplating my sanity and my aunt is probably taking back all of the nice things that she said about me. But as I lay a five dollar bill on the table and head towards the door, I realize that I don’t give a shit what either of them thinks. I have to go back.
Valencia opens her car door, nudges the dog to the backseat, climbs inside, and slams the car door shut. She turns on the ignition and reverses from the parking lot. The blazing red tail lights of her Rav4 recede into the dark night.