When Holly Hurt Her Head Nothing Was Ever The Same
Holly's parents never talked to Holly about the childhood accident that caused her permanent brain damage. Her mother racked with guilt, tries to explain to her 18 year old daughter that she must now face facts; Holly will have none of it.
Ducks were happy with so little.
O.K., here's the thing. I'm eighteen. An adult. At least that's what mom tell me. "Rita," she says, you're out of high school now. It's time you assumed some responsibility. Get a job or something. You're an adult."
Assume, she says. A big word, but then Rita's mother, Wanda, knew a lot of things. She'd been to college and everything. And Wanda was beautiful, O.K.? She had long hair and a terrific figure. While she (Rita) had gained a little weight in the last year. "A little weight!," her younger sister Lisa quipped, "You're fat, Rita."
She wasn't fat, O.K.? She didn't know why Lisa was always picking on her. Overweight, O.K., but not fat. Fat was Shelly Winters, and the lady on "The Gong Show", but she didn't look like them. No way.
If it weren't for t.v., Rita wouldn't know what to do all day. Her job was part-time, and she only got that because Wanda demanded that she work there. The job was under a special program, Wanda explained, and it was "designed to help people with problems like hers."
Whenever mother or "Wanda" as she'd been trained to call her, began to talk like that, Rita would get one of her gigantic headaches. She had no problems!, she told Wanda. She was healthy; the doctor told her that: everything "checked out". Over-weight, he said, but she would just have to diet. But he couldn't make her do it, not if she didn't want to. And she did want to, she told him. Very much, but it would take too long, and in the meantime she was bored. She wanted a car so she could drive to Monte Carlo and wear clingy dresses like Cher and dance in night clubs until three o'clock in the morning, and have Warren Beatty shampoo her hair, and she wanted to live in a mansion on the hill with servants who served her champagne in crystal goblets, but in the meantime there were the soaps and fast food places just a few feet from her door....
Rita got of the bed and walked over to the t.v. "Days of our Lives" had just begun. "Like sands through the hour glass, so are the days of our lives...."
"Turn that thing off, Rita. How you can stand looking at that stuff all day is beyond me." Wanda was at the doorway. "Get a move on, Kid. I don't have all day."
Rita's stomach began to growl on the way to the shopping mall. Could they stop for a hamburger?
No! Wanda snapped. It wasn't even noon yet. There was more to life than eating all day.
Rita stole a look at her mother as she maneuvered the Jag through the city traffic. She looked so perfect. If she just looked like Wanda, she wouldn't have to go to that dumb old job where all she did all day was stamp travel brochures. She could be driving to meetings and doing exciting things like her mother. She couldn't understand why her mother didn't spend more time with her. She was gone 24 hours a day. She was gone when Rita got up in the morning, and she didn't get back until Rita was in bed.
It made Daddy mad, her frequent absences. He called them AWOLs. Absent Without Leaves. But he never said anything to Wanda. He just looked at her, kind of helpless, and told Rita, in a voice that didn't seem to belong to a Marine, that "your mother" has a right to live her life as she pleased. She was her "own person," and her life belonged to her.
Rita didn't understand what an "own person" meant exactly, but since she graduated from high school, there were many things she didn't understand. And she had graduated, she reminded herself. Even though Wanda said she was "pushed through" and that she didn't attend regular classes. They were regular, OK? They were regular classes!
Rita's head began to pound when she began to think about herself. She felt dizzy and a bit nauseated. If Wanda would just stop for a hamburger and a Coke, she would feel better. A Coke was the only thing that would help her headache.
"Here we are," Wanda parked the red Jaguar on the far side of the parking lot. She would just die, Wanda said, if anyone backs into her car. "Do you realize how much it would cost to fix a classic car?"
Rita didn't know and she didn't care. All she knew was her mother wouldn't take her out and practice driving in the Jag. Rita had taken two driver's Ed classes and hadn't got a certificate in either one. She just couldn't keep her mind on it. There were so many things to remember.
The mall was crowded. Wanda pulled her over to the Jean Shop and grabbed a couple of pants off the rack.
"Take these and try them on."
"Wanda, they're size 18!"
"They'll fit. Put them on."
Rita felt her cheeks burn. "No they won't. I want Gloria Vanderbilt jeans."
Wanda frowned. When she frowned, her eyes got small and Rita could see wrinkles around her mouth. Kate Jackson didn't have those wrinkles, and Kate was the same age as her mother. At least that's what Wanda said. And she believed everything Wanda told her. "I won't," Rita repeated. "You can't make me."
Wanda stared at Rita, her eyes boring through each layer of fat. Rita longed to crawl under the pile of clearance tops on the table in front of them. Why are you always picking on me?, she wanted to know. Why couldn't she just leave her alone?
"Things have changed," Wanda said. "You're out of high school now, and you've got to be responsible."
Rita felt as if a bubble had burst inside her head. If she used that word responsible one more time, she'd do something drastic. Maybe hit her. She was responsible, OK? She got out of high school, hadn't she? With passing grades. Well, Ds, but Ds were passing, weren't they?
And she had gone up in front of all those people and picked up her diploma, just like everyone else. And everyone had clapped when they called her name, and that night she had opened her presents and drank some Beefeaters gin just like everyone else, and even got a little smashed just like everyone else.
Rita's head hurt where the bubble burst. "Let's go," she told Wanda. "I'm tired and the lights make my eyes hurt." She couldn't stand bright lights and noise.
Wanda threw the jeans on the sale table and walked toward the exit. She teetered a bit on her heels. God! but Rita would love to wear those sexy high shoes with ankle straps. But she couldn't even walk in them. If she could just get in those strapless tops with the tie bows in front and the short-shorts, she could have her pick of any boy in the world. She could be like her mother. Men were always staring at Wanda. Wanda couldn't walk down the street without some man whistling and calling out to her.
"You're so lucky, Wanda. You don't have to worry about being fat or poor or...."
"Shut up Rita. Please. I can't take much more of this."
Of what?, she wanted to know. What had she said now?
They were driving toward the house, and Wanda was staring straight ahead. She had on her dark glasses. Rita couldn't see her eyes.
"You've got to face reality, Rita. It's time you started doing something with your life. I can't support you. I've got a life, too."
There she goes again. Her life, too. As if her life was something separate from Rita's. It wasn't. Wanda was the only thing Rita had in the world. Maybe Wanda would get mad at Daddy and leave him. Go AWOL. Rita never had more fun in her life than when they were living together in that small apartment near Richmond Beach.
They were like sisters then. They drank Cokes, told each other secrets, and walked along the beach holding hands. Wanda told Rita all about her dates and showed her all her new clothes and sexy swim suits. But now they were living together again, and Wanda and Dad fought all the time. He was beginning to question Wanda, follow her around at night. Wanda didn't like that. Maybe she was getting ready to leave him.
"As you know, your father and I are not getting along...."
Rita's heart beat expectantly. Leave him, she wanted to scream. Leave him!
"And I'm trying to get my feet on the ground so I'll be able to support myself. I'm only working part time, but I'm buildng up a little work experience. So far, there isn't enough money for a major change, but...."
"I want to live with you, Wanda," Rita interrupted. "Just like the last time."
"No!", Wanda spoke so loudly that Rita jumped. "It'll never be that way again. That was a mistake."
What was the mistake? Leaving Daddy, or living with her? Rita felt as if she might throw up.
"You must understand, Rita, that you need special help. Ever since the accident...."
Rita began to hum. She would block out that dreaded word. She wanted it out of her brain before it filled up her head and there wouldn't be room for anything else. She beat time on the car dashboard with the palm of her hand.
"Hummmmm, hummmmmmmm, hummmmmmmm!"
Wanda turned the car in the little park below the house. She shut the car off and turned to Rita. "Now, listen to me! I was wrong not dealing with it sooner, but you must face reality now. You were in an accident when you were five years old. You suffered a cerebral contusion. You were knocked down by a man on a motorcycle. The impact caused your brain to bruise when it was pushed against the cranium."
Rita looked at the pond. She saw some little kids throwing pieces of bread on the water for the ducks. Duck bread. She loved to watch the birds dip their beaks into the water for crumbs. They looked so happy. Ducks were happy with so little.
"You were unconscious three days, Rita. Three days. The neurologist explained that there might be a slight impairment of intellectual functions, but he couldn't be sure. It could take three years, he said, to fully assess the damage.
A duck with a blue and green head picked up a piece of bread that one of the ugly ducks had dropped. He gobbled it up before the ugly duck knew what hit him. Rita laughed. Boy, it would be fun to swim around in the summer sun and have food drop in the water right next to you. Rita bet hat duck bread would be very tasty to a duck. Kind of like double cheeseburgers and chocolate milkshakes would be to a kid. Or french fries with ketchup on them. She just loved french fries with ketchup.
"You haven't heard a word I've said, have you?"
"I'm hungry, Wanda. Why don't you feed me when I'm hungry."
"Feed you! You're 18 years old. Oh, God." Wanda put her head in her hands. "What did I do to deserve this."
"I would like something to eat, OK? You're never home, and there's nothing in the house to eat. You've gone 24 hours a day. If I don't get a hamburger now,
I'll get sick. Do you hear me, Wanda.?"
Wanda's face was a summer storm: all lightning and thunder but no rain. Had she gone too far? If Wanda got mad, she would hide the television like she did the last time. Rita would go crazy without something to take her mind off things. She held her breath.
Wanda started the car. "Alright, you win. It's not worth the fighting."
Rita waved at the ducks as they pulled out of the parking lot. They didn't even bother to look up.
Two double cheeseburgers, large fries and a chocolate milkshake later, they pulled in front of the house. The For Sale sign was up. Rita couldn't remember how many times they had moved. There would be a series of "fixer-uppers. Dad would buy a house, fix it up and sell it. He did this until they had worked their way to the top of the hill. They now lived in a big house overlooking Lake Washington.
Her mother had not spoken all the time Rita was eating. The car smelled of french fries and Wanda's perfume. It was beginning to get hot. Rita flung open the door and ran into the house to escape the suffocating silence of the car.
Rita clicked the television. Good. "General Hospital" was just starting. She hadn't missed any of it. She sat down, kicked off her shoes, and lay down on the couch.
"My God, you look like a beached whale!" Her dad's laughter cut into the lazy afternoon. "She's here, isn't she?" his voice drowned out what nurse Jessie Brewer was saying to Leslie Falkner.
And then it happened. All the little bubbles exploded at once inside her head.
Rita told time by what television program paraded before her. The 8 o'clock movie had just come on. She had settled down on the couch with a bowl of popcorn and a can of coke. She heard her name mentioned. She better listen to this! She got up heavily from the sofa and turned the volume down. Her mother's voice was lower than usual, but it carried into the living room. She could hear almost every word they were saying. The word "trust fund" and then something about "reopening the case."
"Rita hasn't progressed the way she should have after the accident," Wanda's voice penetrated like a bullet in the soft tissue of her brain. Accident! The dreaded word again! Wanda told her that would never discuss it, and she lied. She lied when she told a teacher at school, and she lied to the man who had Rita come into his office and showed her some stupid ink blots and asked her dumb questions. And now Wanda was getting Dad worked up about ...it...and Dad would make Rita go to some school where people drooled and stuttered when they talked.
Wanda's voice got louder. She couldn't handle it anymore, she said. She was at her wits end. Handle what? Wanda had never handled her. Rita was sure that her mother had never taken her in her arms when she was little like she'd seen the other mothers on television do. She couldn't remember being hugged or kissed. Hugging and kissing was for the old TV shows like "Beaver", "Father Knows Best" and "The Brady Bunch."
Dad's voice got louder. He had to pay the bills, someone had to pay them. And Rita was her responsibility. After all it was she who....
Wanda's voice seemed to break the sound barrier.
"Say it, damn it. Say it!"
Dad began to yell. "If you had been watching her, she would have never got in the way of the motorcycle!"
The house became very quiet. Rita could hear the beating of her heart. Or was it Wanda's heart? She couldn't be sure. Wanda's voice came back so loud, Rita put her hands to her ears. "She's your responsibility, too! I took care of her all my life!"
No she hadn't. Taken care. Taking care was being home nights and telling bedtime stories and cooking meals and washing clothes and helping her with her school work. "Please don't fight, she said under her breath. "Please...please...." And then Rita heard someone scream. A scream that came out of the hidden place inside her head.
Wanda came running into the room, with Dad close behind. "What's the matter with you? Why are you screaming like that!" Wanda had her hands on her hips and was looking at her with angry eyes. They moved Toward her---threatening her with upraised arms. She backed away and in her fear, knocked over Wanda's antique vase. It fell to the slate tile floor next to the fireplace and broke into tiny pieces. Wanda gasped as if struck, and ran over to the vase. She bent down over the broken porcelain, her hair falling into her face. "Oh, my God, my Peachblow vase! I'll never be able to replace it. Do you know what I paid for this. Do you? Do you!"
Rita saw the wrought iron candelabrum on the mantle. Now, why hadn't she knock that over instead? The candelabrum was so heavy it wouldn't break into tiny pieces on the floor. Pieces that her mother was trying to put together on the slate tile.
Dad was staring at Wanda. Wanda looked as if she was going to cry. Dad's face turned a deep red, and he raised his fist to Rita.
And then it happened. All the little bubbles exploded at once inside her head. Orange colored melons floated in front of her eyes and shaped themselves into stars. Bright red, blue and silver stars that glistened in front of her eyes until Dad disappeared behind them. And then the stars moved toward Wanda and covered her like a blanket.
And she was lying under the blanket until only her head was visible; her head seemed to be wreathed in a red halo. Rita dropped the candelabrum and knelt down beside the woman on the floor.
"Mother," she said.