by Karen Essex

Published in Issue No. 6 ~ January, 1997
I have not spoken with you in a while and I feel guilty. I joke with you on the phone. I am trying to make light of your brain tumor. Tomorrow, a neurosurgeon will remove the growth that has made you dizzy and unwell. I will sit 3000 miles away and wait for the results. I remind you that we used to want to shave our heads, and that you were always the first to try things.

We laugh about the cult we wanted to start when we moved to California. Everyone would wear tight jeans, black leather jackets, and pictures of Bruce Springsteen in wooden lockets around their necks – a parody of the guru worshippers surrounding us.

I remind you of the nights we used to drive to the beach, having no money for anything else, windows rolled down, “Born To Run” on the tape deck. We didn’t know what we were doing in this garish city, two girls with useless genteel upbringings, and nothing between us but a mixed bag of vague dreams. But Bruce’s anthem sanctified our escape to a place where nothing is old.

I remember the messages we used to leave on our answering machine when we would go on these forets. We sounded like we were doing something dangerous. It was the most creative work I did in those days.

The last few years I have been angry with you. I have asked myself twice if it is permissible to be angry with someone who is having her brain cut open. I am still not certain. Yet I feel the anger rise in my throat and I ask myself why? Why anger over someone else’s misspent youth, over another person’s broken dreams?

You always had more talent than me, though I do not remind you of that. Not now. It’s a little late in the game for that one. A little late to demand once and for all restitution for your incessant chant that I was the lucky one. Do you think I believe in luck? I thought you would have to slit your throat to deny your talent. It was the only way you could have silenced your voice that is so beautiful. I am happy you did not have to go that far. But a brain tumor? Isn’t that just as good?

You spent years waiting for a reason to get on with things. You thought you had to have a reason to get out of bed. You would tell me that sometimes a shower felt like too much trouble. You were waiting for this all along.

You talk of hot summer days when we would lie around wearing matching moo-moo gowns I had made us to suit our new California lives. I recall them as days lost to wandering thoughts, and the fear that we did not understand what we were doing, but I do not say that.

You remind me of our `Bruce Fests’, which I had forgotten. When we lost all purpose, we would bring out his records and pictures and memorabilia, and talk about how he made us feel when we first heard him sing in a small club on the East Coast. Somehow, it would help us get back on track.

I remind you of the one-size-fits-all jungle pants we mail ordered, despite the fifty pound disparity in our weight. You declared us “THE ROOMMATES…THEIR BODIES ARE DIFFERENT BUT THEIR PANTS ARE THE SAME”. Then you drove us to the beach once again so we could listen to the “Nebraska” album. We ended up in a bar in Santa Monica, dressed in matching jungle fatigues, not understanding the dirty looks from macho surfer boys, until we heard that it was Gay Pride Day.

You remind me that we both slept with an actor we hated just to confuse him. I remind you that only you could remember his name.

We are painfully aware that we are not the same as we were, yet we are.

I remember worrying that you would get discovered and leave me behind. Instead, you made me grow up alone. You made me feel like it would always be this way. Me here. You there. Me sticking it out. You selling out. Trust fund runs out, funds low, grow a new excuse. Right inside the old brain. The locus of your discontent. The parent of your confusion.

I miss you. I want to come to you now, with a shaved head and a moo-moo gown and retrieve those lost days. But there is no hope of that.

I have listened to your nostalgia. Now, I want to ask: where is the girl who sang “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” while roomful of people dropped their cocktail chatter and held their breath like little children before a Christmas tree until you sang the last note and released them from your thrall? You’ve let her give way to this sick thing, this freakish person who will always have a jagged part to her hair. How could you let her go so easily, like ice melting on a hot day, losing its chilly definition and seeping, unnoticed, into the ordinary. Did she mean so little to you? Did she mean so much to me? Is she who I loved all along?

Why am I so convinced that this is all your fault? Not your fault. Your plan. Your plan to leave me to it while you waste away.

I want to say “I love you” before I hang up the phone, but do not. Now, I am 3000 miles away and a doctor is going to incise your skull, and I think I may have made the wrong decision.

A man whom you do not know waits for me, impatient, in the other room. I cannot cry in front of him. An old friend is sick, I will say, while I choke back old memories and future fears. Open the wine. Slice the cheese. The girl you knew is alone – abandoned. The woman I have become is not. Who is better off I do not know. I do not listen to Bruce Springsteen anymore.

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Karen Essex is an award-winning journalist, biographer, and fiction writer. She teaches writing workshops at Vanderbilt University's Women's Center.