“I had forgotten about that.”
“About what your grandmother said?” Dr. Davenport asked.
“Why do you think you forgot?”
“That was the only time Grandma Betty said his name…I don’t think we even realized…Sage didn’t say anything to me…I always looked to her to see how I should respond. And she didn’t say anything about it.”
“Did your grandmother ever say anything else about Sebastian?”
“I don’t think so,” I sat back in the chair and thought. “Grandma Betty made sure we thought about other things.”
“Let’s get ready for bed,” Sage said, pulling me into her room.
I sat on her bed while she rummaged through her closet for a white shirt to go with the plaid skirt. She hung both together on top of her closet door.
“Your turn,” she said as we moved down the hall to my room. She lay a red, plaid jumper and white blouse on my bed. “Let’s brush our teeth.”
“Don’t forget to say your prayers,” Grandma Betty shouted up the stairs.
We didn’t forget, not even once.
Grandma Betty brought order and we devoured it. Our hearts had a new lining, a new way to beat. What we thought we’d miss disappeared from our minds as time introduced new things. And our bond thickened as the space between us grew.
We loved school. Sage went to St. Mary’s High about two miles from my school, Sacred Heart Elementary. I was in Mrs. Peterson’s fourth grade class. She was a small woman, short with puffy gray hair. She was amazed at how well I could read.
“Where’d you learn to read like that?” she asked me.
“My sister taught me.”
To distract ourselves while Mother was gone, sometimes Sage and I went upstairs into Father’s study. She pulled a dusty book off the shelf and let words take us back in time through five wars, through the imaginations of Swift, Thoreau, Dickens, and Fielding. Reading was fuel, proof that life could change for the better.
“Take these and bring them back when you’re done.” Mrs. Peterson filled my backpack with books.
I read them in my room while Sage sat on the porch with her friends. Grandma Betty made sure I gave Sage space to be a teenager.
“You come in here with me,” Grandma Betty said when I started for the door. “You can help me with dinner.”
“I was just trying to see what they were doing.” I pouted.
“Exactly. That’s none of your business,” she brushed her hand across my face. “She’ll be back inside in a little while. She’ll play with you then.”
And she did. She always found time for me, but now somehow we were defined by age not condition. She knew what she wanted; I still thought of her as an extension of myself. Steven’s arrival deepened the distance between us. He was a senior, on the basketball team, every teenage girl’s dream. He came by the house in his blue truck to take Sage to the basketball game so she could see him play. Some nights Grandma Betty insisted that he stay for dinner. She told me later, “If you want to know if someone is a decent person, invite them over for dinner.”
I didn’t like him. He was hairy and sweaty, and consumed with Sage. I used my night time prayer to pray him away. Then one day I heard his truck roaring down our street, country music pouring out the windows and sitting next to him were two girls my age, Lily and Ava.
“I thought you could use some friends,” he said. “These are my sisters, Lily and Ava…say hi, girls.”
While Sage and Steven talked and giggled on the porch, I entertained Lily and Ava. A year apart they looked almost identical—the same ringlets, the same eyes, the same laugh. We were fast friends absorbing life’s goodness as we ran through the yard, collected flowers, played house, did each other’s hair and nails. I asked Grandma Betty if Lily and Ava could come for dinner too.
“I want to really get to know them, see if their decent people,” I told her.
“That’s fine…but I was thinking…why don’t we have ourselves a party?” Grandma Betty smiled. “What do you say?”
I jumped up and down and squealed.
And just like that, for no other reason than happiness, we had a party. Grandma Betty hired party planners. They arrived five hours early to set up.
“I want to see what they’re doing,” I pleaded.
“We’re going to wait…be surprised,” Sage said. “Let’s go ready.”
Sage did my hair, gave me thick curls she then pulled into a ponytail. We wore the dresses Aunt Mary dropped off—mine a pink, floral dress with lace, Sage’s a baby blue maxi dress.
By the time we stepped out onto the porch, our yard had been transformed into a carnival. Balloons, cotton candy, and games were arranged along the perimeter; in the middle were long tables with servers ready to fill our plates with hotdogs or hamburgers. Sage had her friends—Steven, Marly and Chris, Joanne and Robert, Rachel and Michael, Michelle and Joshua, Liza and Chuck. I had mine—Janet, Nicole, and Alexandra from school, and Lily and Ava. Music blared and we danced. We threw beanbags at empty bottles, squirted water at red targets, tossed balls into square holes and collected our prizes. We ate until we were stuffed but didn’t dare pass up ice cream or a slice of Grandma Betty’s chocolate cake. And while the party crew packed up, we sat watching, sipping pink lemonade through curly straws. One by one parents arrived for their children and we waved long and hard as they disappeared down the road.
“Did you have fun?” Grandma Betty asked us.
“I had a lot of fun,” I said.
“Thank you so much, Grandma Betty,” Sage said.
“Yeah, thank you for the party.” I wrapped my arms around her. “I’m so happy.”
“Good, that’s all that matters to me right now.”
“Oh…there was one other time that I can remember.”
“When was that?” Dr. Davenport probed.
“It was after our party…the hospital called.”
Dr. Davenport crossed his leg and waited for me to continue.
“We were getting ready for bed. I was in the living room with Grandma Betty. She was braiding my hair,” I paused.
“Sage was upstairs putting curlers in hers.”
“And what happened?” Dr. Davenport nudged.
“The phone rang. Grandma Betty answered. It was quiet for a few minutes. I sat at her feet as her fingers gripped strands of my hair.”
“I couldn’t understand what was going on.”
“Then I heard her say, ‘Sebastian Margolis told her to? That’s impossible.”
“What did she say next?”
“She told me to go upstairs and get Sage to finish my hair. The next day, after we got home from school, Grandma Betty sat us down at the kitchen table and told us that Mother had tried to kill herself.”
“What did you do?”
“First I cried, I tried to at least, because it felt like the right thing to do.”
“What do you mean by the “right” thing to do?”
“She was my mother. I should cry if she tried to hurt herself. But she had been gone eight months then and thoughts of her seemed more like interruptions than anything else. What we had experienced at the party meant more in that moment. We had freedom and she was a harness to that freedom.”