Another trip to Corriente with the girls, another afternoon spent at the bubble bar – which may be my personal version of heaven! Mmmm… Pineapple bubbles. The only times I think about Berjes now are when I’m doing something I know he wouldn’t approve of and since there’s so much that he doesn’t approve of, well, he’s on my mind a lot. He’s my Jiminy Cricket, but he’s really not very good at it. After a couple of hours of drinks, bubbles and dancing it’s time for me to say g’bye to my ladies and head home to get my homework done. See? I’m still responsible!When I arrive home the place seems silent. It’s disturbing to open the door and not hear a TV or radio going. “Hello?” I call as I close the door behind me and I’m surprised that mom’s response comes from the kitchen. I was guessing I was home alone. “Lee, come here.” Uh oh. I know that tone. All serious and on the verge of anger. It’s pretty typical for mom really but I hate to be on the receiving end. As I move into view of my parents – both of them at the table – I notice the familiar small blue bottle on the table. The one my father is fixated on. My heart sinks ’cause this is going to be bad. My mind is positively racing. I thought that I had hidden that bottle and it’s contents so well, thought I had hidden that I was taking those pills (2 a day since Berjes left) well enough that no one would ever find out. That no one would suspect. And now, here they are, sitting there with my parents. I am in so much trouble. Trying to stay calm (much easier with a bit of medication) I join them in the kitchen and take the seat mom is pointing to. Play it cool, Lee. Play it cool. “What’s up?”
“What’s up?! What’s UP?!” Mom is seething. “Why don’t you tell me, Lee, ‘what’s up?'” Of course that’s totally rhetorical. Mom’s gotten going and that means this is not a discussion. Neither dad nor I will have a say. “No, don’t say anything. We found your little stash, Lee. Found out why you’ve been acting so flighty, found out why you have all these new ‘friends.’ I know how to use the Google just as well as you do and I know what these are! And I bet I know where you got them!”
“They’re just pills mom! Relax! People get prescriptions for them all the time. It’s not like I’m a junkie or anything.”
Mom’s eyes narrow and dad puts a calming hand on her arm. She shakes it off and he sighs. There will be no voice of reason in this argument. “Oh Little Lee, people get prescriptions for them all the time, they sure do, but you, you don’t have a prescription for these. You have a dealer and that is not the same as a doctor and that makes you a junkie instead of a patient.”
Mom yells at me for the next hour, until her voice is hoarse and mine is too, from my feeble attempts to explain or protest but when Rose Clarke’s mind is made up and clouded with anger, there’s no getting through to her, she won’t listen. “Get out of my sight! Just go… Go to your room!” For the first time in my life I’ve been banished to my room and I practically run up the stairs, tears in my eyes. Mom continues to yell behind me.
“You are young, stupid, irresponsible, untrustworthy and grounded. You hear me? You’re grounded Lee, until you graduate! No more band practice, no more Corriente. No friends coming over, no parties, no sleepovers, no dates, no gigs. If I could ground you until the end of time I swear I would!”
Her words follow me up the stairs and my tears flow. My life is ruined! It’s over!
For the first time in my life my room is my prison, my house a jail and school is freedom. It doesn’t take me long to realize that there will be no appeal for good behaviour, I am grounded until graduation. I have no desire to be around my family, mom is furious, dad is disappointed and even Conrad and Troy are giving me looks. I have no friends left at school, no one to talk to now that I’m not hanging out with them after school. The Mighty Huge are holding auditions for a new keyboardist and me… I’m coming home after school, I’m doing my homework in my room, eating dinner and returning to my room. All I have is my music, my regrets and a broken heart. All the painful feelings I’ve been repressing and avoiding with pills are at the surface. Clawing at me. Tearing me apart. I’m so lonely, so angry, but part of me knows I asked for this.
I miss the band most of all, I had thought we were friends. Real friends. At least me and Jackson. He was teaching me to play guitar (we were a couple of lessons in) but now that I have no money of my own, no stake in the band, they don’t seem to want to even know me. I’m isolated at home, I’m isolated at school, and I’m constantly reminding myself how connected to everyone I used to feel when I performed my songs on stage with The Mighty Huge. Sure, I needed those pills to so much as mount the stage, nevermind play a note but on stage I was alive and now… Now I might as well be dead in my small, dreary bedroom, waiting to graduate. This is my bed, but the last thing I want to do is lie in it.
Mom’s birthday is the first time in months that I feel connected to anyone. Adam and Jess show up, they’ve left their daughter (who is definitely Adam’s, I’m told she has his hair) with a babysitter so I still haven’t met my toddling niece. Auntie Vi shows up, Millie brings her husband and kids, Oliver comes and Kaitlin surprises me in her maternity wear – I still haven’t met her husband. The house feels alive and welcoming and I feel normal as I cheer with the rest of the family while mom ponders her wishes. I’ve been furious with her since she grounded me, we’ve hardly said a word to one another (I’ve hardly said a word to anyone) but today I can at least wish her one, happy day. A happy birthday.
Despite my intentions to have nothing but best wishes for mom, I can’t help but feel a smug satisfaction at how displeased she seems to be with aging. She didn’t want a party, she didn’t want anyone around at all and as she finishes sparkling I can see the scowl on her face. She’s gotten old and she’s feeling it and a terrible part of me feels like she deserves it. I know, obviously, that we all get old but I feel a little vindicated.. And hopeful for my future. She looks OK with all those wrinkles, maybe I will too… One day. Maybe I’ll be ungrounded by then.I’m not the only one who thinks mom looks good. Everyone’s complimented her (what choice do we have?) but dad’s captivated and making all sorts of ridiculous faces at her. I guess that’s good for the self-esteem…
I’m so glad that Kaitlin is here for the party. She’s the only one who’s treating me like I’m a normal person that didn’t screw up majorly. She still treats me like I’m her little sister, full of hugs and worldly advice. I make sure that she apologizes for not inviting anyone to her wedding but, she explains with a wink, that it was sort of a shotgun wedding. She hasn’t told that to mom or dad I bet! Her new hubby is a firefighter, off being a hero and that why he’s not here but I’m more interested in my little niece or nephew growing in her belly. I wish this party would never end, I so miss feeling like a real person.Alone in my room my music is suffering as much as I am. I had hoped that the forced solitude, reflection and time would be good for my creativity. That all my emotions could burst forth into wordless art and that I could soothe myself by playing my feelings but I’m lucky if I can play a note, nevermind write a concerto. The keys beneath my fingers feel alien and every note is forced. All I have for company is the music from my radio, an old doll house and my thoughts. I’ve been grounded from my life, the television and internet and my siblings aren’t ever around. Conrad works and sees Laurie and for the longest time I’ve had no idea where Troy has begun disappearing to…
It’s late at night when I find out. Everyone is asleep but me, I don’t sleep well anymore. I stare out the window and watch the light from the lighthouse scanning the ocean, waiting for the birds to awake to let me know the long, dull night is over. Tonight though, there’s something more interesting to watch than light on water. A couple embraces in the window – it’s not mom and dad or Conrad and Laurie – one figure I know, it’s my brother Troy the other, the masculine one that takes me by surprise, is familiar but I can’t place him from this distance. Feeling guilty for watching and for intruding on a private moment I flip my light off and put myself to bed but my head is reeling. Troy. And another guy.
A knock rouses me before the sun rises. “Lee? Can I come in?” Before I can respond, before I can even wipe the sleep from my eyes Troy is sitting on the edge of my bed, looking nervous. “You saw?” he asks, his voice quivering, and I just nod dumbly. Something that looks like relief floods his face and he starts to talk. “I’m so so sorry Lee. So sorry! I’ve been such an ass to you for so long but I was so mad at you. So jealous. I’ve tried to hide who I am from myself and everyone else for so long and I was hoping I’d be the heir so I could just keep hiding. I just wanted an excuse to be anything but what I am. Pretend I’m not gay forever and have a wife and kids ’cause I’d have to but then David… Oh David and I got talking and then… Well…” He turns bright red and looks so… In love. “Please Lee, don’t be mad at me? I’m really sorry and I know David’s a friend of yours but he’s been so good for me and to me and he’s taught me to accept myself and… Can you forgive me?”
Of course I can forgive him, and I do. I wish that he’d been able to talk to me (or anyone else for that matter) about this years ago, but he’s talking now and he’s got a smile on his face instead of a scowl. We spend the rest of the morning chatting on my bed, catching up with one another as if we live in different countries, not the same house. He tells me about the girls he tried to date and his relationship with ‘David.’ I tell him about what happened with Berjes and for the first time I’m telling someone the whole story, the true story, start to finish. We discuss school and the future, Adam and Kaitlin (who is apparently just about bursting now), Conrad and Laurie… It feels so good to have my brother back that we’re nearly late for school. I actually have a smile on my face as I get on the bus and head to class.
I don’t confine myself to my room anymore, not now that I have a friend and ally in the house. I have a partner to do my homework with now, someone to hang out with and to keep me from feeling so alone. I know it’s not for long but my last couple of weeks of ‘captivity’ aren’t really all that bad. Troy comes out to our family and no one gives him a hard time, just dad gives him a hard look. Kaitlin gives birth and now I’m the only one who hasn’t met either her husband or her little boy but that’ll change soon. Graduation is coming, handily coinciding with our birthday, and then I’m free. Just a couple more weeks!
It’s hardly a shindig, just family and friends surrounding me and my brothers as we blow out our candles. Conrad goes first, he always does, and Laurie is at his side, already having aged up. We shout and cheer (obviously) while Conrad pretends to consider his wish. “I wish… I wish… I wish Laurie would be by wife!” He finally declares before blowing out his candles and beginning the whole process. For once, there is silence in the backyard as we consider Conrad’s words. He’s never really been one for joking…
“Laurie, I love you and I wasn’t kidding with my wish either.” He proves it by pulling a blue velvet box from his pocket and falling to one knee. “I have been head over heels in love with you for years, you know that. Please Laurie, be my wife, be my everything. I will be so good to you babe, we’ll be so happy. Say yes? Please?” Well of course she says yes! The only thing that gleams as brightly as our candles is the rock on her finger, Conrad must have been saving his money for more than a year to have been able to afford that thing.
I manage to convince Troy to go up next, I know it’s supposed to be me but despite the freedom I’ll be offered I’m terrified to grow up myself. I push him to his cake and we all sing the song and pull out our noise makers. No one is more excited for Troy than I am. No one sings or shouts louder. He’s my brother and my best friend and I can’t wait to see how he grows, who he becomes and what the future has in store for him. Unlike Conrad, there are no surprises from Troy, no impromptu marriage proposals, no telling us his wish or refusing to blow out the candles. He thinks, he grins, he blows out his candles and then we wait to see just how handsome he turns out.
To be honest, I don’t even notice ‘how he turns out’ until I’m at my own cake, staring fearfully down at the flickering candles. Surrounded by my family I feel all alone ’cause I don’t have someone here with me. Not a boyfriend, not a friend, not a soul to call my own at this celebration. Just family and extended family. Troy has brought DC, but he and I were never close, we just played music together. It turns out I never knew him, not a bit, but he’s been good for my little brother so I can be happy for that. I am happy for that. How can I not be when he’s finally himself again, thanks to his new boyfriend?
Laurie stands tall beside my brother, her fiance. She’s so happy and so is he. They both have this glow that’s turning me green with envy. I can’t help but feel as though I should have Berjes here with me, or Myron or someone, but I threw away all my relationships for a high. I got caught. It’s my fault. I got what I deserved, I guess… But don’t I deserve someone to love? Someone who loves me and wants to be with me? Adam and Kaitlin both found that, and they’ve always had each other as well. Thick as thieves since day one. What have I got to show for my high school career? Honour roll and no date to prom.
Looking to mom and dad gives me hope though. They weren’t exactly young when they got together and they’re still going strong… That was supposed to be Berjes and I. Happy together forever but I screwed that up really quickly. Like with supernatural speed. Maybe my future still holds that? I hope.
At least I have a wish for my candles, I have too many wishes. I can wish for love and for happiness. For bravery instead of taking the easy way out like I’ve done in the past. I can wish for success and companionship. For friends or romance or even a good acquaintance would do for me right now. I can’t choose between all the things I want for tomorrow so I greedily wish for them all. I have seagulls in my stomach and my heart is racing, the last time I was this nervous I had to go on stage with a pill that hadn’t kicked in yet.
My fingers grip the table as sparkles shower around me. I am so scared for my future. I’m scared of failing and I’m scared of being alone and right now I’m scared that that’s just what’s in store for me.