I begin to fall asleep at work. I am the in-house Fashion Coordinator and Personal Shopper/Public Relations Specialist at Robinson's in Santa Barbara. I have a huge office and private fitting room with a generous closet and storage area for the private needs of my famous and/or very wealthy clients. I begin to try to schedule long hours of uninterrupted time so I can lock my door and curl up on the soft mauve carpet in the farthest corner of the fitting room behind my office. I can lock the outer office door, put the answering machine on first ring pick-up, turn off the lights and lock myself in the fitting room. Like being in a carpeted vault. I can feel the comforting hum of the refrigeration unit in the fur storage vault right behind my back. There I am, decked out in a black wool crepe Armani suit and I just flop down on the floor in a disheveled heap and sleep like the dead, dreamlessly for hours.
The first week it happens, it is only a couple of lucky, light afternoons--no heavy schedule of speaking engagements, no special deliveries, no celebrities in town with desperate requests, no mini-shows at the Biltmore. It's so easy. And I'm so very tired. It feels like the air becomes thick, resistant, oxygen depleted, as if someone else got here first, sucked out all the good stuff and left nothing but this thick, oily stuff like sludge behind. I sink like a stone. It is like losing consciousness, not simply falling asleep. And there is no waking from it. It becomes an Alice in Wonderland tunnel. Down, down, down I go.
As I'm leaving the store late on Thursday afternoon, a mere hour after my long nap, Maggy's waiting by my car. "Where have you been? I've been calling you for two weeks. I come to the store and they tell me you aren't around. Nobody can find you. I've left you messages at home and at work and you don't return my calls. I'm worried sick. I haven't seen you since I came back from UCSB to find a pool of vomit beside my table. How could you do that and not clean it up?"
"I'm sorry I didn't clean it up but I was too sick."
"Well, obviously. Have you been to a doctor?"
"Not yet. It must be a virus. I don't have a fever. But I'm fatigued." Now she worries about me, now that I'm in my forties she's worried about me. She treats me like I'm either her employee or a baby.
"That doesn't answer the question of why you don't return my calls."
"I'm not returning anyone's calls." What I leave unspoken is, I'm never returning your calls ever again.
"What the fuck's the matter with you!"
"I'm just so tired. I can't seem to wake up."
"Maybe you're sleeping too much. You used to do that when you were a kid. It drove me crazy. I thought you were the world's laziest child. And then you'd finally snap out of it." This is news to me. I have no idea I'd done this kind of thing before.
"Did you take me to a doctor?"
"Robert checked you out and he couldn't find anything wrong with you."
"How old was I when this happened?"
"Ten or twelve."
"And did I just get over it?"
"You'd go to school but come home and sleep after school until dinner time. You'd eat, wash the dishes, and then go back to bed. We finally sent you to Texas to visit your grandparents. I asked them if you slept all the time there and they said they couldn't get you to go to bed. But none of this answers the question of why you didn't clean up your vomit at my place."
"I was just too sick. It hit so fast I didn't have a chance to make it to the toilet until after the first time. Then I just kept vomiting until I had the dry heaves. I left after that. I stayed home from work one day, but turned off the ringer on my phone so I could sleep. Since then I haven't vomited again, but I just can't wake up."
"Why is your office door locked?"
"I always lock my office door if I go to the toilet or leave for a break or lunch. You must have just missed me."
"Well, I'm here to invite you to dinner at my place and we can finish organizing the photos."
"Actually I'm starting to remember things from way back then. I wanted to ask you about a couple of things."
"Okay, I'll meet you at Lucinda's."
I've been dreading seeing her. I have to ask her about my memory, but I'm afraid she'll tell me it didn't happen. And then I'll want to kill her because I know it did. When I pull into Lucinda's circular driveway Maggy's standing beside one of the palms, waiting for me with her hands on her hips. "I thought you were right behind me. What took you so long?"
"Must have been a red light or traffic. You drive like a bat out of hell. I just couldn't keep up."
"You used to."
"I was younger then, more reckless."
"I liked you better when you drove fast but were less thoughtless, less careless." I decide not to take this poisoned bate. I follow her down the path beside the main house and into the gardens at the back where Maggy's cottage is located near the pool house. The smell of chemicals hits my nose and nearly makes me gag. "What's that smell?"
"The pool guys drained and cleaned the pool today. It's fresh water and new chlorine."
"Doesn't it bother you?"
"No. And I've never known you to have a finicky nose."
"Must be this virus."
When we're seated at her table in her living room I find the little stack of pictures I want to ask her about. The one on top is of me in the swing on the porch. I pick it up and start to tremble. "You've got the shakes. Maybe you are sick."
For a moment I think, 'Let it be, don't ask,' and then my mouth opens and the words pour out, "I remember being raped by a friend of JR's when I was three. I remember you taking me to Lindsey Gardens for a picnic and having to pee. I remember you telling me, "That's what you get when you let boys do that to you." Do you remember this?
She blanches. I have never seen color drain from her face like this. For a moment I'm afraid she's going to have a stroke. She's starting to tear up. How I hate my mother's tears. I'm about to take it all back when she says, "Yes, I did tell you that. I wanted to empower you. I wanted you to be tough. It's a tough damn world. I wanted you to survive. But I never thought you would remember the molestation."
"That wasn't 'molestation.' That was rape. He didn't just fondle me. He raped me. He hurt me. And you gave me responsibility for it. How could you do that to a child? Did you tell Chuck? Did you call the police?"
"I didn't want to make a big deal about it because I thought that would just make it worse for you. I thought you were too little to remember." Now I wonder if my mother hasn't always been insane. How is it possible to know a nineteen-year-old raped your three year old and do nothing?
"Did you tell his parents?"
"If I'd told anyone in our family they'd have killed that boy. I couldn't tell his parents without telling JR. Everyone would have found out."
"Maybe he should have been killed. Did you take me to a doctor?"
"What for?" She says this with too much irritation as if I'm asking a really stupid question.
"I was injured." I'm trying very hard not to scream at her.
"No you weren't. It burned when you peed. That's all. It wasn't that bad. A doctor would have asked all sorts of questions."
"Like why I never had a real babysitter? This sounds like you were protecting yourself, Maggy."
"Your brothers were your babysitters. Don't you dare accuse me of neglecting you."
"And they were never around. I ran around that neighborhood alone at three years old. Nobody was with me. I remember some lady coming out on her porch and yelling at me because I was peeing on her lawn. I remember running off pulling my pants up. I remember hiding under my bed. I remember being left in that big house alone at night. I was terrified all the time. What was the matter with you? I remember you calling me and me running toward you, across a street and getting hit by a car. I remember getting a spanking for running in front of a car."
"I was so relieved you weren't hurt, I spanked you so you'd look next time."
"Jesus, how did I survive my childhood?"
"You were a tough little cookie."
"Holy Christ, you are insane." I grab a handful of photographs and stuff them in my purse as I push my chair back. I'm running as fast as I can for my car as I watch myself from a distance like I've split in two. Like I'm me and not me.