Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Gone

Today is the day! Mandy is finally coming back today!

Lara woke up and bounded out of bed. She rushed to get dressed, excited about her impending visitor. It had been years since Lara had seen her best friend Mandy; Mom had seen to that. Lara's Mom never seemed to approve of Mandy much. It's the kind of thing that Lara couldn't place. She simply knew that Mom didn't want her being friends with Mandy. For years, Mom had gotten her way. But today, Mandy was coming back. Or at least, she would try to.

The big dilemma is: will Mom catch on to Mandy's imminent arrival in time to stop her? And what will happen when Mandy shows up? Will Mom's inherent politeness stop her from sending Mandy away? Or will Mom's worries over Mandy's influence on me take precedence? Either way, I better watch my step. I will have to prove to Mom that Mandy has changed in the last couple of years, just as I have. We are no longer those two kids who hide frogs under her pillow. We are grown up now. I am sixteen already!

As Lara's socks slowly made their way onto her feet, Lara pondered the best course of action.

A grand welcome is in order for a friend as dear as Mandy, but on the other hand, if I make it obvious, Mom might catch on. Then she might stop Mandy from coming. I wonder if Mom remembers that Mandy and I love peanut butter cookies. If I bake them, will she take that as a sign Mandy is coming? Maybe I shouldn't.

Lara nixed the cookies. She figured that if she had enough savings, she would stop at the store and buy a box of them. Meanwhile, as she brushed her teeth, she schemed.

I should make a sign, so Mandy feels welcome. I don't want her to think I forgot about her, or about what a special friend she was to me. I can't write her name though, Mom might see it. Perhaps a simple "welcome back" will do it. I wonder if I have any posters left from last year's science fair.

Lara skipped down the stairs, and headed for the kitchen, where she met up with Mom.
"Good morning Lara dear," Mom chirped.
"Good morning Mom!" Lara beamed. She skipped to the pantry to get a box of cereal. Removing the frosted flakes, she called out, "hey, Mom, do you remember how me an-"

No! Don't discuss Mandy! Not today! Too dangerous.

"Sorry honey, what did you say?" Mom looked up from her coupon book. "I was a little distracted."
Lara shook her head. "Whatever Mom, forget it."
"Sorry sweetheart! Are you going to have milk with that?"

Lara poured milk over her cereal, Mom poured milk into her coffee, and there was a momentary lull in conversation.
"Do you have any plans for today?" Mom doesn't like lulls in conversation. It's too abnormal for her. "Are you doing anything exciting?"
Lara's face had alarm written all over it. "N-no. No mom. Why do you ask?"
"Well, for starters, its a sunny Sunday, and you should get out, visit some friends, enjoy the weather. It will start getting cold again soon, then you will wish you had taken advantage of days like these. Also, I think your room needs a cleaning. A thorough one."
"Ok Mom. I'll clean my room. Happy?" Lara suddenly seemed eager to get away from the breakfast table. "Uh, I think I will go clean my room now."
Mom, head back in her coupon book, didn't even look up. "Make sure to clear your bowl."

Gosh, I can't believe I didn't think of that. I better clean up my room if Mandy is coming back to stay. Good thing Mom thought of it first. I wouldn't want her getting suspicious.

Lara bounded up the stairs two at a time. She threw open the door to her room, and surveyed the scene. It wasn't pretty. Wanting to impress her old pal, Lara started systematically sorting through piles of laundry, throwing out garbage, and organizing her things.

It's a good thing Mom doesn't come in here more often. She would probably have a heart attack. Maybe I can sneak Mandy up here, and she can stay over without Mom noticing...No, too risky. That would make Mom blow her stack. Plus, she would think that means we are back to our old tricks. I want her to know that we are no longer those two kids that dug up her tomato garden in search of buried Indian treasure. We have matured! I mean, I did, Mandy must have matured too, right?

It was under the pile of last year's school books that Lara found the poster board. She immediately sat down, happy to plan a beautiful sign, one worthy of a great friend like Mandy. Suddenly, a noise at the door startled her. "Whose there?" she called.
Mom poked her head through the door. "Hi Lara, I just wanted to make sure that you are following through on your promise to clean your room."
Lara moved her old algebra notebook over her sign as she spoke. "Of course I am Mom! I promised you, didn't I?"
"Good. I'm proud of you Lara." Mom smiled. "I am going out now, I am volunteering at the charity book sale. There is lunch in the kitchen, you can eat it when you finish cleaning in here. I will call you from the sale to see how you are progressing."
"Gosh, Mom, I'm not a baby. You don't need to be so on top of me all the time."
Mom was already halfway down the hall by then. "Sure Lara, have a great day. Get together with some friends!"

As if she really cares about me having friends. If she did, she wouldn't have made me break all contact with my only true friend. It's not my fault that none of the kids in school like me. I wish Mandy and I could have stayed friends. She is the only one who ever really understood me.

Lara hummed as she worked. As she finished the sign, she started feeling squirmy.

I don't know when Mandy will get here. Maybe she will come before Mom gets back. That would be convenient. I better get my room looking good, then I will head over to Pathmark to see if they sell peanut butter cookies. I want to show Mandy that despite the years of separation, I haven't forgotten her, and I still miss her.

Meanwhile, at the book sale, Mom was feeling nervous. Something about Lara's behavior that morning had disturbed her. "Perhaps it was her willingness to clean her room," she mused. "Normally, I have to beg and plead before she agrees."

Mom decided to call home. When the answering machine picked up, Mom's unease increased one notch. "Hi Lara, it's Mommy calling. I just want to make sure you are ok, and that you are cleaning your room nicely. There are some kids from your school here, volunteering. Maybe you should come too? Give me a call back, thanks."

Lara returned from buying the cookies and saw the machine blinking. She listened to her mother's message in disgust.

Mom never gives me any space. Why doesn't she get it? I don't like the kids from my school! They all think I am weird. Oh, I forgot to clear my lunch dishes. All I need now is for Mom to get angry about that too. Gosh. I wish she weren't so on top of me all the time. I wish she could accept Mandy for who she is. I wish she would stop trying to turn me into a copy of her.

Back in the security of her room, Lara surveyed the scene. This time, she liked what she saw. The bed was made, the clothes were hanging in the closet, and last year's schoolbooks had even been dragged down to the basement storage room. The sign looked great, hanging over the desk, and the plate of peanut butter cookies provided the finishing touch.

I hope Mandy realizes how hard I worked to prepare for this reunion. And I hope she still likes peanut butter cookies, or I might have to eat the whole box of them myself! Oh, sounds like Mom is home. Strange, she wasn't there very long.

"Lara?" Mom called as she walked in to the house. "Lara, are you here?" The solid red light on the answering machine told her that Lara had heard her message, and chose to ignore it.
"What Mom?" Lara called down the stairs. "Whadaya want?"
"Oh, hi Lara, how come you didn't call me back? You listened to my message, didn't you?"
"Mo-om!" Lara's frustration was apparent in her voice. "Do you have to act like some detective? I got home a few minutes ago, listened to your message, and was going to call you back in a couple of minutes. I was just taking care of something first. Is that a crime, Detective Mom?"
"No, of course it isn't silly. I'm coming up to check on your room. Did you finish cleaning it?"

No, she can't come in here! She will ask me who the sign in for. And I will get a yelling for taking food out of the kitchen. I must stop her. I must-

"Oh wow, this room looks great Lara! I'm proud that you've cleaned it so nicely." If Lara's face had a slightly ashen tinge to it, Mom was oblivious. "But who is that sign for Lara? Who is coming back?" Mom glanced at her speechless daughter, then at the sign, and once more, at her daughter. "Is it Mandy?"

NONONONONO! She isn't going to let her come! After all my work! I can't believe this is happening. Why is Mom looking at me like that? Why can't she bug out of my life already? Oh gosh, that's the doorbell. I'll bet it's Mandy now. What is Mom gonna do? Yikes!

"Erm, she is here already Mom. I am going to get the door now, ok?"
"L-Lara, I don't know what to say. I mean, you know I don't approve of Mandy. You know I don't let her come here anymore. You know-"
But Lara was already down the stairs. She no longer cared what her Mom said. She had waited too long for this moment to let an overbearing mother spoil it. She yanked open the front door, face wreathed in smiles. "MANDY! I'm so glad you've come!"
The two embraced, as only a pair of long lost, and inseparable best friends can.

Mandy hardly changed at all! I can't wait to catch up, to hear what she has been up to for the last couple of years.

"Mandy, we must catch up! C'mon up to my room, I have a surprise waiting for you." Lara was nervous. The moment of truth was imminent. What would Mom do when she sees their guest?
"Lara old pal! It's been so long, I missed you so much. Forfour years - nothing. No calls, no letters, not even a birthday card or anything. But it's ok, we can still have a ball together." Mandy was the same old Mandy. "But why do you look so nervous?" Lara looked down. Mandy shook her head sympathetically. "It's your Mom, isn't it?"
Lara just nodded. "C'mon upstairs, let's see what she says."

The pair walked into Lara's room. Mom was waiting on the bed. "Lara, will you please explain what is going on?"

Trust Mom to mess this whole thing up. All her nagging that I should make friends, and when my real friend comes, she doesn't even allow her to stay. Some Mom I have.

"Mom, can't Mandy just stay here for one night?" Lara looked at Mandy, then back to her Mom. "Please?"
Mom just gave her daughter a look. "Ok, Lara, promise me that it's just for tonight, ok?"
Lara nodded, beaming. She threw her hands around her mother. "Thanks Mom, your the best!"

Wow, I can't believe she lets. Maybe Mandy and I can stay friends this time around.

Lara waited for her Mom to make her way downstairs before taking out the carefully concealed peanut butter cookies. "Look Mandy, our favorite!"
Mandy took the plate. "Wow, Lara, you remembered! I am so excited! Me and you, together again- just like in the old days!"
"I better get some milk to go with these, huh?" Lara's mother would be proud of such hostessing skills. "Wait right here, I'll be back in a minute."

Lara raced down the stairs, and stopped just short of the kitchen door.

Mom is on the phone. I hear my name. I should probably listen and find out what she is saying about me.

"Clarissa Graber, calling for my daughter, Lara Graber. Yes, I'll hold." The voice streaming under the crack in the kitchen door was poised, yet nervous. For a minute, Lara debated barging into the kitchen for the milk, but something held her back. Then her Mom continued talking. "Thank you for taking my call Dr. Walker. I am nervous about my daughter, Lara. It seems like her medications are not working properly. She is back to hearing and seeing things. And her imaginary friend is back."

Lara stood next to the door for a few seconds, stunned. Then she turned around and ran back to her room. Panting, she threw the door open. But it was no use. Mandy was gone.


14 comments:

  1. Oh how sad! Totally did not expect the ending. Great story, written well too.

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  2. interesting ending. i like it though

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  3. This is ABSOLUTELY brilliant!

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  4. Incredible story and freaky ending. You are really good at this; ya know?

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  5. Oh gosh...
    Incredible.
    Is that really what it's like?

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  6. DOTL- thank G-d, I have never experienced it, but I wrote this story based on a conversation I had with a schizophrenic young woman I know. I think, though it wasn't clear from the story, Lara knows in the back of her mind that Mandy is a product of her imagination, but that she seems so real that she can't reconcile the whole thing in her head.
    I actually considered turning this into a longer story, possibly a novel, with this as the first chapter, but I have to research my plot and see of it makes sense.

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  7. Well apparently true schizophrenics can't even make that distinction.
    Have you ever seen the movie A Beautiful Mind?
    It depicts that life so glaringly and frighteningly real.

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  8. I meant tar she knows that Mandy is fake because of instances like the one at the end of the story, but she sees her as so real that she doesn't know what to believe.

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  9. Am I the only one who assumed the ending at the beginning? Maybe I've read too many psychological thrillers.

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  10. Oh...wow....I totally did not expect that ending!
    Wow...

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  11. Brilliant! That is magnificent. You should enter it into a competition for some money.

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  12. Very well written story. I like how your portray the Lara's frustration at her mother, not understanding why she didn't approve of Mandy, and how she was slightly paranoid of her mother finding out.

    My only criticism would be that when you are trying to depict a real topic such as a struggle with a disease, it will be better to research the etiology of the disease. While schizophrenics may understand in the back of their minds that the hallucinations (false sensory perceptions) are not really there, that isn't always the case.

    Also average onset for men is about 21, and for women 27. That isn't to say that onset couldn't happen at age 12 (as your character develops it) but it is extremely rare for such early onset.

    David on the lake- the movie is hardly a true depiction of his life. Nash never experienced anything but auditory hallucinations, and never had an imaginary roommate in Princeton, in fact he only developed schizophrenia when he was in his 30s.(see Comer, Abnormal Psychology 6th edition, p. 415 for a list of differences between the dramatization of John Nash's life)

    Although his work on Game Theory has been applied in so many areas, from economics to dating (bad4 has a post using game theory for shidduchim from over a year ago)

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  13. It's funny that you say that, because I wrote this story based on real experience with a person who has severe schizophrenia. I didn't mean for this to be a documentary or anything, but rather a struggle of a person trying to understand what is real and what isn't.

    Also, I think (I don't know for sure though) Lara only knew that Mandy was of questionable reality because she had heard things like that before.

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