Raspberries and Romeo Days
Young Sophie Morton did not know what the events of a particular summer in the 1970s would have on her life much later. Down the street in an old Victorian mansion, Evie Barrington was uncovering truths that would finally give her closure. In the wake of it all, a circle of women - young and old - would have to move forward, face struggles, and learn to heal.
Sophie Morton, 1990s, New York
"Those were our Romeo days," she said as she lay on the couch in Dr. Weinstein's office overlooking Manhattan.
"Romeo days?" Dr. Weinstein questioned. He did this at every session when she mentioned something, described it in some abstract manner, and did not elaborate any further. This was Dr. Weinstein's technique for further discussion.
"My Aunt Hattie called them that. She loved Will Shakespeare," the young woman explained. She put her arms behind her head as if she were relaxing beneath a tree on a summer's day. "It was about being young and naive, believing anything was possible. That obstacles could be met and..." She went silent. Dr. Weinstein looked up from his notepad. He was a fine looking man in his forties with a successful practice that catered to the rich and famous and all their real and imaginary problems. Sophie Morton was an exception in that she had real problems.
"Yes?" he said, again prying elaboration from this young, talented woman.
"Obstacles -- much like the conflict between Romeo and Juliet's families -- could be met or resolved, no matter what price. You know, doctor, that only children or adults who see themselves as children, those are the only ones who look at obstacles in that fashion. Adults have sense enough to be afraid of things."
"And what way do you see yourself?"
Sophie thought on this a moment. "I suppose I'm a child verging on adulthood. And I don't like the sight in front of me."
Dr. Weinstein made a note on his pad, glanced at his watch, then slipped his glasses off.
"I'm afraid our time is up. And just when we were getting into an area you've tried very carefully to avoid. We'll pick up here a week from Thursday," he said, rising.
Sophie sat up, her elbows on her knees in a relaxed posture. "No. I can't Thursday. I'm going home. That's why I kept this appointment. Remember?" she asked. He nodded. "Because of the funeral."
"I do. Forgive me. I get into a pattern at times. Yes, I remember. But Sophie, take my residential phone number in case you need to talk to me while your there." He scribbled the number down.
"You've never offered your home phone number before, not even when I was going out on the road," she said as she crossed over to his desk and he handed her the sheet of paper.
"Let's just say I think were at a crucial point in your therapy and I don't won't you to stumble upon thoughts or feelings and feel you haven't anyone to reveal them to. Have a safe journey," he said. She smiled that charming, innocent smile that made so many people fall in love with her.
Little did they know what that smile was hiding.
A few hours later, she waded through the paparazzi outside her apartment building to the waiting car.
You've got to be selfish and crazy to a certain extent to go into this business. Really, truly selfish. If you aren't selfish, you won't be really big. The people who do make it but give parts of themselves to a spouse and children, they're never really huge. I suppose that's why I don't want any strings to pull me down like sandbags on a hot air balloon. I want to go up, up, up, till I can't breathe.
It never ceases to amaze me how people with money seem to have the oddest worries. I guess I'll never get used to it, having money. I can just remember that money was the sole source of frustration in our home. Making the rent, the car payment, the car insurance, the doctor bills, the utilities, buying groceries, the list goes on. And whenever a little extra cash flowed toward Mother's bank account, surely something would come up requiring it not hasten in the bank but be spent to buy one of us kids a new pair of shoes, some pants to replace several old pairs that resembled capri pants they were so short, or something to that effect.
She pulled an envelope from her bag and read the old article, again,that her mother had sent:
"Sophie Morton, discovered while singing torch songs in a dive in the Village, rose to the top of the charts with such hits as "Never Nevermind", "You Crash My Emotions", and "Gifted Thoughts on An Underprivileged Life", entered the Betty Ford Clinic today, November 8, 1989, at the tender age of twenty-something, for treatment of alcohol addiction. Ms. Morton suffered a recent slump as her third album went out to oblivion before it could rate radio air time. Her publicist said 'Ms. Morton freely made this decision to face this crisis before she spent ten years of her career trying to deny and hide the fact that she had a serious dependency.' "
Next, she unfolded the last letter she had received from Mary Ann. The driver was well en route to delivering her to the airport.
I wonder how you are in all your celebrated splendor and your dark secrets. I'm sure that the time you've taken to cure your ill will be well worth it for you weren't meant to suffer..."the sins of the father" as they say. This will bring you to a better place in time and mind and soul.
I was thinking of Evie the other day. Have you seen her? Mother said she's pretty much just a matter-of-fact figure in Blue Creek now. Do you remember when she first came back and everyone was in such a stir? How old Mrs. Eldridge (God rest her soul) was always jumping to conclusions as to what mystery Evie carried with her? Those were fun times. Times when we thought a great many things were mysterious. I know what you're thinking now -- about my cave adventure. Don't remind me. I was a foolish child but that foolishness did take me to things far from Blue Creek. I never had a talent like you though I would have loved to have your voice (Who wouldn't?). Anyway, it's time I tell you something about this mysterious Jack.
You know I lust for him. And he is wonderful. It's hard to describe him and yet, I think you understand who he is. I just think we have that mindset in common as we did when foolish barefooted girls on the creek bank. And you know what happened the other morning? I was awake lying beside Jack, watching him sleep, and this soft rain began to fall. I got the wildest notion in my head and waked him. I told him to come dance in the rain with me, back in the courtyard (so we wouldn't embarrass any of the natives, not that you could if you tried). And he thought me quite the lune but he followed me out and I tossed off my nightgown and began to dance in the rain. We were absent of raspberries but I don't know that they were ever all that relevant to the procedure. Jack followed my lead. We danced wildly and then, we slow danced. It was wondrous!
And I think I know what it all meant to Evie. And what it meant to us though we were a little young to comprehend the dynamics of it all. It was about finding a bit of forbidden (yet harmless) freedom and happiness. It's about sharing nature in the rarest way and opening your spirit to a sort of cleansing. The rain is cleansing in the sense that it's pelting your body with a new energy, an acknowledgement that you are alive and blessed with breath and a limitless mind. It was wonderful! Jack and I made love all morning after that. Raspberries, rain dancing -- the secrets that make life bearable, and the stuff that enriches the few priceless moments we find along the way.
I miss you dearly and that's why I resort to ranting on in letters. Promise me that when you are well, we'll get together. Maybe even in Blue Creek. See Evie, your mother, my parents. It would be swell to go down to the creek bank once again. I want you to meet my Jack. Write soon. All best wishes my famous friend.
With much love,
Before the Funeral
She had sat there since noon on the edge of the precipice that was part of Smith’s Mountain. It overlooked the town of Blue Creek. Soon, it would be dark. It had been hours. Hours that she searched her mind and wondered about so very much. Then it happened, and she began to cry. Slowly at first, then sobbing, the tears came from over years and years. They came from her mother’s suffering. Her father’s anger. They came from Aunt Hattie’s loneliness filled by caring for everyone else. They came from her struggle in New York. They came from her time in rehab. They came from the loss of her childhood best friend, Mary Ann.
Why was the world so cruel? Why do we all have to be so harsh? she begged her mind, her soul to answer. She had prayed for answers. She had journaled and talked to her therapist. She had taken long walks and read philosophy and the Bible. Why? she begged within herself. Sobbing uncontrollably, her knees pulled into her chest, she gripped the folded letter in her hand with great anger and sadness. Would it be easier? She questioned in her mind. Would it all go away? The questions in her mind? The stark grief in her heart? What was out there? What was beyond this?
A quiet breeze of early fall slid past her. The sobbing continued with small deep breaths as she attempted to grasp some kind of composure. When she thought she had herself under control, another wave of deep regret and lost hope would pour over her. It was not okay to cry. There was no time and no place for this. Yet, she cried harder and harder till she let out a scream that strained her vocal cords.
Silence fell. She looked out in a daze, knees still drawn up to her chest, arms wrapped around her, folded letter crushed in her hand. She was fragile. She was too empathetic. She felt way too much. That was the difference in her and the father she never really knew except for his absent presence. Sophie had not cried like this since she sat in the lukewarm bath of her crappy apartment in the Bronx all those years ago. She did that several times, a bottle of wine by her always. Then she could become numb. Then she would sing. Then she would climb out of the then cold water and into a robe and fall asleep on her foldout.
Breathing deeply, she wiped her face with her sleeves, sniffled a few times, and rested her chin on her knees. Letter now crumpled in her left hand. It would go in her pocket. She would stand and feel all the elements of that day. Then she would swan dive as hard and as beautifully as she could. The letter would be on her. They would know that she mourned for so much. That she requested her passing be a release, not a time of mourning. She mourned for all the women who took abuse, punches to the face, pushes down the stairs, backhands to the cheek. The women who protected their children or their survival. All to stay where they were not valued.
She mourned for all the gay friends she had who struggled with coming forth then losing parents and siblings, and dignity. All because they wanted love, companionship, to be accepted. She mourned for the kids who had no good friends. They had strangers who made fun of them or ridiculed them or taunted them, made them feel unworthy and sad and scared. She mourned for those who were addicted, who chose feeling numb over feeling at all. She chose to drink. But she was alone. Did that make it okay? No. She could not function like that. She mourned for those who could not function without some stimulant or depressant, all so that they could function. Yet they were not functioning. They. Were. Merely. There.
She mourned for all the victims who would not speak. The women who were touched, violated, manipulated emotionally, threatened, afraid to walk alone. Speaking would mean another attack, though distant, it would be an attack. Her heart ached. Her heart broke. She mourned for all the simple people who struggled daily to feed their children, pay their rent, keep their job, and find their way in a world that was harder and harder and full on against the regular person and all about the “big” people.
She felt too much, her therapist had said. And while it was good to be empathetic, she had to find perspective. She overthought and studied on all things that were out of her control. Sophie Morton needed perspective. Maybe that perspective was in this return home for the funeral. Maybe saying good bye to Mary Ann, an only child so protected in those early years who then ventured into the world without fear, was going to provide answers. That little auburn-haired friend of hers with the thick glasses loved everything about life. Everything. Maybe being sheltered made her fearless. Maybe believing that life was an adventure, like Mary Ann, made it possible for her to be. Sophie smiled at the thought of Mary Ann that day they watched Evie Barrington in the back yard of the Barrington house. She smiled big. Then she raised up her head and sighed deeply.
What strange creatures we all are, she thought. Why are humans so complicated? Mary Ann had said about the dancing in the rain and eating those raspberries that day along the creek bank, that it was harmless. That it was living. She didn’t know then truly what it meant. It was living. Finding that bit of forbidden freedom and a breath for life. A breath for life and a love for living. How many times people forget to love living? How many times does the weight of the world crush us beneath its grimy coldness and keep us from knowing all the little things that feel right? She thought. And she sat. She sat for a very long time as the sun began to dim and seek a place to sleep behind the horizon.
Looking at the crumpled letter in her hand, she smoothed it out. Then she started to tear it in small bits, placing them in her lap as her legs now dangled over the precipice. Once finished, she scooped up the pieces cupped in her hands, took a deep breath, and released the torn paper into the air. She knew that she had to return as the darkness grew. She had to sing at the service tomorrow. For Mary Ann. She was singing her friend’s favorite song from the days they listened to their transistor radios. Mary Ann loved Elton John. She loved “Your Song.” Yes, Mary Ann. I will sing for you.
Debra Tabor Brewster
Raspberries and Romeo Days