Actually, Mom’s errand gives me time to devote my total attention to Vie, her nickname earned, considering she demands nothing less. And today’s anger, supposedly directed at her mom, would be typical. As a teen-ager she nurtured it; and now it swells huge.
She going to give blow! Give birth. In her state she threatens to eject something inhuman . . . Yeah! She’s going to eject a squid!
A squid, since Vie’s emotional needs are tentacles sucking at you, all-consuming, until you, the contorted shriveled up prey become frayed, like the insides of a golf ball.
Who can survive that? I wonder, amused. Though, why do I really feel that her anger includes me? I just got here. My bet is that Vie’s edginess involves me more than this fight with her mom.
Then again, I think, hardly repressing a persistent smile: What’s changed? Grateful for a counterfeit calm, since. . . the storm will come.
“So Vie, what do you think?. . . Isn't this soothing?” I ask, alluding to Calumet River’s delicate swaying of the rowboat. The oars lie idle and we drift through muted-colored leaves, which sprinkle the rivers surface barely concealing the dark green waters beneath. The backyards along the riverbank house oak and maple trees that shed those leaves.
The sound? Wonderful, since she—the river—plays us these sweet rippling tunes. Listening it encourages, “Let go of daily problems if just for a moment. Cherish life and its simple pleasures.” She’s today’s chosen therapy for Vie.
“Soothing? It stinks out here.”
“No it doesn’t.”
It rained earlier. How does she expect wet leaves and dirt to smell? It smells of nature, not stink.
“And don’t you hear the cars, the lawn mower, the screaming kid?” she asks incredulous, the small hoop-earring in her eyebrow stretching for her bottled reddish-blond hairline.
I giggle. “Oh Vie! You exaggerate. It isn't that bad. What kids? One. The rest are in school and the bridge is far away. . . Okay, there are some cars in the distance, but you really hear them?”
“Yeah!” she barks, leaning smugly back on her elbows.
Her physical appearance changed drastically since I left. Her haircut—short, spiked and flipped—is really cute. More becoming than her wispy shoulder-length do of yesteryears.
She knows it too. . . .Look at her; that pose. But her attitude is definitely the same.
Still lounging, she exposes a once overly thin awkward body, which exploded into a fantastic figure—artificially grown?—scantily clad in a tight red-cropped sweater and blue jeans, her jacket tossed aside.
I wore jeans and a sweater too, but under my leather bomber jacket. But her body language spoke confidence; challenged “Compete;” asking, “Cold? You've got to be kidding. No. Hot! How you like me now?”
“Okay, okay. Can't you just block them out?—the cars. . . .Try this.” I reach forward to massage her temples. “Close your eyes,” I say as I close mine. “Focus on the profound serenity of drifting . . .the tranquility.” I use my most therapeutic tone. “You might also try trimming those side-locks,” I suggest, one eye peeking.
Laughing she knocks away my hands.
“You're whacked!” says a playful Vie—the one appearing occasionally. “And I don’t have ‘side-locks’, as you call them.”
“Oh. So sorry. I get carried away. You know. Maybe thoughts of a previous client,” I say leaning over the side of the boat, trailing my fingers in the river, trying to catch hold of a leaf, yet conscious of Vie watching.
“So Diamond, why'd you come back?” she asks, now a trial lawyer.
Successful, with a leaf’s stem in hand, I flick drops of river into my lap by twirling it quickly; wondering, how long would I have to spin this before it dries?
“You hear me.”
I glance up to steely brown eyes and say simply, “I missed home.”
That’s all she needs to know. I toss the leaf back into the water.
“Hey, Vie, . . . have you seen any of the girls from school? I wonder what they're doing.”
“How should I know? They weren't my friends,” she glares. “Too good for me. Freaking witches; all of them.”
“They were your friends too,” sometimes. Were you theirs? “Anyway, I thought your mother got information from their moms. You might have heard something—she’s still a home attendant isn't she?”
“How long are you staying?”
“Oh, Vie! I don't know; I just got here. . . Two weeks maybe.” I throw in, “Depends on Mom. Okay?”
I sit forward, elbows on knees, when I glimpse Mom’s yard.
“Hey look! We've drifted back to the house. . . There’s the weeping willow.”
Boy, it looks eerie. Once a sanctuary; now it’s sinister. When a kid, I often squatted at its base knotted into a ball underneath its dangling branches. I believed in those branches shielding me until the shouting and bitter words of adults dissipated. Sometimes I actually fell asleep. After an extended stay beneath its limbs strong arms would come and lift me up.
My goodness! again the willow dips me; my middle. Maybe it’s the weather cloaking the tree in a shadow of gloom. The sky darkens while the wind brandishes the branches like withered octopus arms grasping menacingly for. . .
“Hey, Diamond! Night-mares in the daytime, huh? . . . Well, forgot about them and remember this. . . . our years ago, . . . what did you promise me?” Vie asks, like I promised this morning.
Glad for the distraction, I lightly shake my head to clear it. It takes a couple of seconds.
Ah, I remember.
I picture the day Vie is talking about. My classmates in a huddle around me donned in dark brown caps and gowns—some of us wearing medallions connected to orange and brown ribbons dangling from our necks. National Honor Society Members—screamed future plans at each other. Their shrieks and yells, professing jealousy, echoed off the acoustical walls of Orchestra Hall when I told them about my plans to relocate to New York.
Funny. The future the girls envisioned for me I hadn't considered. A future full of glamour and excitement.
My head buzzed, as they cried:
“You’ll model, won’t you Diamond?”
“No girl! She'll open a boutique,” another interrupted.
Then one said, “I think you should go into acting; I bet you'd be good.”
I mentioned my grandmother’s illness and they offered sympathy; but that day nothing could harness their excitement.
“Isn't she the one who gave you the apartment five years rent-free in New York? You’re set. . . not having to worry about a place to live. You can concentrate on your career,” the first girl continued.
Even though my heart bled for Madame and me, I didn't push for compassion; it was their graduation day too. So I sidelined their enthusiasm, while they spouted assumptions about my life.
Outside the circle in the background stood Vie—‘Teeny-weenie Vie, so mean she'll wish you'd die’, the girls used to chant about our friend. Behind her back of course. Swallowed up by her gown with her cap perched awkwardly on the back of her head, Vie, uncharacteristically silent, waited for my undivided attention. So I broke away from the crowd and went to her, ignoring the girl’s annoyance and their grumbles of contempt for her aloofness. I didn't want to leave her out.
“Hey, Vie. What’s the matter?”
“New York, huh?”
“Yeah. Well, it wasn't my decision. But, I’ll write, . . . .or call,” I promised, my arm about her shoulder.
And I tried.
“You'll make it,” she said. “But don’t forget me when you do, okay?” She actually asked politely.
I looked at her, but her gaze was unblinking and sober; so I promised I wouldn't forget.
I think about that past request, but finally say, “Look Vie, I haven't made it yet. I’m not successful.”
“Obviously, if you go for that interview.”
How did she know about that? I wonder, pretending not to hear.
“You've been gone four years. What’cha been doing?”
“Trying to be successful,” I smiled, grateful for the change in topic; thinking, but our definitions of success are different. For now, success to me means fulfilling some part of Madame’s wishes before she actually dies. Maybe make some family connections at the same time regain my maturity and hold on to my independence.
“Come on, Vie. You know you're glad I'm back. Admit it. Who listens to you gripe about your mother, hum?” I ask, poking her in the small dragon on her arm.
“Ouch, that hurts!” she howls grabbing her arm with a halfhearted smile. Her crooked grin is actually endearing. It’s normal now, not “wanna be” sexy; and it conceals the stud in her tongue.
“Yeah. I still can’t take her smothering, so I'm kinda glad you're back. But not to talk about her.”
She hesitates a moment.
“So, Diamond. What happened? You did promise. . ..”
To do what? How could I help you? I wonder, now slightly irritated.
“You knew I wanted out of here. I asked for your help and you said you would.”
I said I wouldn't forget. I’d write. . . . Call. . . .I tried.
“What? You didn't think we could work together? she asked.
Actually no. . . .Uh oh. Here it comes.
She sits forward, now a force in my face, hands on her knees, elbows akimbo. Not to close, but close enough to distract me with the gold ball on her tongue bobbing around in her mouth.
“I embarrass you?”
“What?. . .No. . .of course not. That’s your thing.”
“What?” she asks confused.
Uh oh; play it off.
“ ‘What,’ back at cha'.”
Diamond, focus, I coach. She wasn't talking about the tongue ring.
Rolling her eyes; disregarding my comment, she continues, “Actually, Diamond, I could help you. . . . I know you're doing something with the way you stepped up in here,” she says, a sharp glint in her eyes, “sporting those expensive clothes like you’re Jay Diddy.”
She saw me arrive?
“Yeah, I saw you. The . . .what’s her name? . . .Princess who, . . . you know who I’m talking about. What? You think you're some sort of P-Di of fashion? . . . Anyway, if you weren't successful you’d have been back.” She keeps going, “So what? What is it? You don't want to help me?” like beads from a pellet gun the force and speed of her questions and comments hit me.
“No Vie. I mean, . . . yeah.”
What am I saying?
“Yes I want to help you, but I've been trying to help myself. . .Why are you making this personal?”
“I’m making it personal? What? Promises don't mean anything to you anymore?” she asks, looking at me in disbelief.
Her anger and attitude continue to escalate, rocks the boat; but I hold on.
“Fine, Diamond. Don’t worry about it,” she says rolling her eyes, looking off. “I got it. You don’t think I’m gonna be stuck here, do you?” she asks, swinging both arms wide to encompass our suburban riverbank area, one eyebrow arched.
Wow, I'd love to do that thing with the eyebrow, I think, also recognizing, she’s still dramatic.
“I’m out. . . I’m gonna get paid and I’m out. Nobody’s gonna think I’m a failure.”
“Who does, Vie?”
Again her stare of disgust.
“Look at you . . .Everybody in school—the principal, counselors, everybody—believed in you. Wrapped around your little finger. Diamond’s gonna be somebody. She’s gonna do this and she’s gonna do that. . . Everybody wanted Diamond’s styles for the prom. Teachers and principals askin, beggin. . . Now look at you. Humph. . . Going for an interview, huh? . . . .In an insurance office. Why? What’s that all about? That’s not you.”
How did she know that? Mom? She really keeps in touch with Mom?
“So what? You planning on staying here? . . . And about that interview? . . . Surprised I know about it, huh? Mom’s idea, right? . . . Miss Independent. Yeah, right. All that talk about hating to see people m.a.n.i.p.u.l.a.t.e.d,” she spelled, and I'm impressed. “You're being manipulated,” her mouth distorted by ugly sarcasm when stretching out the word.
My eyes focused on her mouth, and they grew into large red lips; tongue slithering in and out like a beaded reptile.
I giggle again.
“You're laughing?” she asked, her eyes huge. “What’s funny, huh? What’s funny?” leaning into my face like a boxer.
Extremely tight with anger her words become launched missiles of contempt. I think, duck, Diamond; giggling again, visualizing these scathing words and phrases as a flame thrower, it’s extreme heat and velocity attempting to strip off my protective pride, leaving my emotions raw, bare, vulnerable; but I say, “Vie, you're crazy.”
Drama is actually her forte.
Since childhood Vie sensationalized everything. People were either patient with her or ignored her. Problem was most people chose the latter. Now she wasn't to be ignored.
You would think Vie were watching an episode of Fright Factor with the disgust in her eyes. But since she doesn't know of my career in New York, this isn't the time to tell her. Especially, must I remain mute on this recent plan of mine to travel back and forth between Chicago and New York for a little while—to help Mom out? She'd flip. Try to hold down two jobs in different cities? Vie will think I'm bonkers.
I don't explain anything; I just reassure her—try to.
“First off, Vie, neither of us are failures. We're too young to be,” again bending over and trailing my hand in the river.
Thank goodness it’s cool.
“We need time to develop our skills. . . Someday I'll open a storefront boutique; and we’ll find an agent for that great voice of yours.”
I have a brainstorm.
Sitting up I scream, “Hey, Vie! I haven’t heard you sing in a long time, do you still?”
“What?” she asks; shocked.
“Well? . . . Sing for me. . . Something lively,” I say, drying my hands on my jeans, then leaning my elbows on my knees in anticipation.
The old Vie would bite.
“Something lively,” she mimics. But it doesn't take much coaching.
Still the same.
Without further ado she does. She sits up straight and belts out a song bestowing chills, her voice projecting power; yet, sultry; wonderful over the water. Whenever, Vie sings people take notice; and now with her new body, all she needs is a contact.
Maybe she can try American Idol.
Midway through another song she stops.
“Hey! . . .Let’s sing like we did at the school talent shows,” she suggests.
“Alright.” I’m game, though Vie knows this is her field; but I still enjoy singing backup and duets.
First we sing old school songs.
As we sing I think, not bad. Harmony’s still there.
After that success we're motivated to belt out a variety of songs, girl groups old and new and solo artists—Whitney, Celine, the Supremes, Britney, and Chaka?—rocking and swaying the boat we almost capsize. Tears stream down our faces as we laugh, holding our sides—mine aching.
Finally we stop laughing and Vie starts another song. A blues song. Another one that I enjoy singing.
I start it, but those steely brown eyes stop me cold.
I get the message as she sings, “I'm gonna make it on my own.”
She finishes and we sit in thoughtful silence.
The temperature’s dropped and traffic’s picking up on the bridge.
I figure, Mom should be home now, wondering what we should do tonight, until Vie tries to resume her tirade. But I break in.
“Look, Vie. I’m back to visit Mom and to help her out. Since Steve’s death she’s lonely. I want to stay with her for a little while at least. Make sure she’s alright.”
“She looks fine. She’s alright,” Vie says. “I see her places, Diamond. She’s okay,” she says with meaning.
Actually, I don't care to know, at least not from Vie.
“Yeah, I know you love Mummy, Diamond,” her voice dripping bee-infested honey, “but don't you think she’s selfish to ask you to stay?”
Now I drum the side of the boat.
Vie’s bitter with her mother, my guess is for her lack of a prestigious and lucrative career. I don’t know why she feels I should be bitter with mine, but when we were kids my relationship with everyone in my family she challenged.
I see times haven't changed.
She doesn't wait for me to answer before she continues. “Seems to me, Diamond, that you do all the sacrificing. When she married Steve wasn't it you who had to move? Yeah, I know you think I blow off my mother, but sometimes I listen. Once she told me that your mother thought you too pretty to keep around. That’s why she sent you away. Remember that?”
“When you were twelve? Now he dies and she sends for you? How do you feel? Like a yo-yo? . . . I would. What are you, Diamond? Some foster child? The way you’re booted around you might as well be.”
The chill leaves the air since my mind explodes with blazing negativity. My brainwaves search for an arsenal of verbal machetes to rip her to pieces, expose her naked emotions to extreme criticism so that she feels the same searing pain she inflicts.
But amazingly I say nothing.
I remember how word wounds can leave deep scars knowing this pain firsthand. Growing up we had that in common; although, I finally learned to tune them out. Well, actually Madame removed me from my situation.
But Vie, she became a cutter. Criticism from teachers, peers, and strangers filled her existence. But, come on, Vie. One woman eventually cared enough. Cared so much Vie constantly broke her heart. Her surrogate mother would do anything for her. And all you need is one person to care.
She still does, doesn't she? Or did she tire out?
Maybe so, for it seems Vie repeats the same sins. So I sit speechless, realizing; actually I really know nothing about her anymore, her recent past or her present. I don't even know if her mother still does homecare. I couldn't retaliate effectively if I wanted to; I have no real ammo.
While her words whiz on, I continue to sit defenseless and silent, though bleeding from the words cutting too close to the truth. I can’t blow off her scathing words because I do sometimes feel like a foster child, reasoning, just give it time; everyone eventually deserts me.
I bite my lip for another pain, trying to rationalize; her life must be pretty bad. I tell myself to, be patient, as I try to defend and justify my life, mainly to myself.
“You forget, Vie, that I first left when I was twelve because my grandmother wanted me to stay with her,” I say, speaking slow and deliberate. “Madame was great; is great. Mom couldn't give me the kind of attention and guidance that my grandmother has. I was very fortunate; am very fortunate. I have no regrets.”
“Hum. . . .Madame? That’s what you still call her? . . .Sounds like you're fortunate, . . .being that close.”
What’s with her? A gladiator. That’s what she is. She wants to demoralize and pulverize me.
“Look, Vie. If she wants to be called Madame, what’s it to you? If I like it you should love it; it’s my business. And, if you must know, the title ‘Madame’ was for her job. It was best; the name gave her confidence in a new field,” I guess, disgusted by my weak rebuttal.
“So ‘Grandmother’ wasn't allowed even for you, huh?. . . Well, anyway,” Vie continues, “This is my point. Watch it, Diamond. Your mother’s gonna yank your strings forever if you let her and you won't be happy.”
What’s she talking about?
“I’m happy now, Vie. . . .Right now. . . .Right here.” I point out. “It’s the choice I’ve made. Come on, you've heard, ‘happiness comes from within.’ Maybe you should start there. You know, . . . we make that choice for ourselves.”
Why do I even bother?
I try one last statement; “Vie, you should be happy. Look at you. You're beautiful, you’ve got a great voice. Do something with it. Start making plans today, okay? Let’s have some fun.”
She could make that decision. Look how often I had to make that choice—happiness. Lately it has become a daily personal mission.
“You make it sound so easy, ‘let’s have some fun;’ ‘choose to be happy,’” she parrots, stretching with boredom. “It’s not, Diamond. Grow up. Sometimes, you have no choice. You're just unhappy. So,” she says shrugging her shoulders nonchalantly, “you live life best you can.”
“Yeah, you say you're happy now; still singin and smilin like a kid. . . . .That’s what everyone loved about Diamond,” she says in a mocking singsong voice standing up in the boat. “But can you stay happy putting your plans on hold, Diamond; putting off your life?
There’s a wide world out there, Diamond.”
I think, cliché Vie, but it doesn't matter, because again she rocks the boat throwing her arms wide above her head not caring if she tips us over. “Don't get cooped up here. And don't worry about me. I've got plans. But my advice to you? Just this. Just once put your happiness before your mother’s, or your grandmother’s,” she says as if daring me.
“But Vie, I don't have to push ahead. Mom and Madame want me to enjoy my life and I do. I’m living my goals already. . . And really, Vie. . . What’s wrong with putting others before yourself?” I ask exasperated. “Anyway, I'm still first, because Mom’s and Madame’s goals are mine.”
“Shut up, Diamond; only you think so. . . One day you'll find out their plans, and believe you me, you won't like them. They're not the same as yours. Then you'll wish you put yourself first, if it’s not too late,” Vie predicts. “Then!” she says as she stoops before me, her face distorted in self-satisfaction, “you'll be just like me.”
After her prophecy, she winks. “Yeah. The tables will turn,” she ends, sitting back self-satisfied.
Vie, a prophetess? I wonder.
Not!—since I don't believe in modern-day prophets.