“We live in a dump
Admit it’s a dump
Our friends are all nuts
And half of ’em drunks
And if they’re not nuts
Then they’re retired nuts
And that might be the hardest nut.”
Excerpt from “We Live In a Dump” by TMBG
I’ve always thought of myself as the kind of girl who is considerate of the environment. I recycle. I don’t purchase overpriced coffee house beverages. OK, that’s because I don’t like to order and I’m not a fan of coffee.
Also, I’m cheap. I’m from old money. It’s a thing.
Anyway, as I sat in my childhood bedroom, packing up a year’s worth of junk, I seriously considered just chucking it all. Too much stuff. I felt bad about not wanting or needing it, and I felt bad about wanting to get rid of it. Books had been stacked on every surface; they collected dust as I found others that needed to be read right away. Which ones should I keep; the ones I actually read or the ones I failed to crack open?
Clothes strewn about made me smile for a moment, thinking it looked like I had a lot of impromptu sex…or that I was visited nightly by a maid from the Island of Misfit Toys. Guess which was the truth. I didn’t need all of these clothes. I hated picking through them, deciding which ones were worthy of the time it would take to fold them and place them in a box.
Surely getting rid of all this stuff would be contributing to poor water supply…loss of fisheries or dead zones. It settled on me; a weight, a burden; throwing things away was supposed to clear my head and make me feel better. But this ocean of guilt made me hesitate to throw out moldy food, old books with broken spines and missing pages, clothes that had holes or stains, and even those shoes of Alice’s that I ruined on the date-that-wasn’t with Edward.
I had a washer box full of shit I didn’t need, but I couldn’t subjecting the homeless and needy to it, could I?
As I sat in the middle of an entitled upper middle-class dump feeling sorry for myself, I should have been thinking, Gee, I’m so grateful that I have not one, but two rooves (rooves? roofs? roofuses?) over my head, plenty of food, a job, family and a boyfriend who is almost emotionally stable and is probably financially solvent, but all I want is to build a fort under my bed and read back issues of National Geographic for a month, and then, once I’ve rested, just start fresh with new clothes and everything and just leave all this junk here.
Compounding my inappropriate and misplaced despair, was Alice.
Alice, who had decided to take the moral high ground. She’d smoothed things over with Edward’s boss and had promised to keep him on as IT consultant for the firm. She was also being apocalyptically nice to me.
Something had to be up with that.
I eyed her carefully as she glided in with a mug of tea in one hand and some cookies in the other.
“Here ya go,” she said, her voice infused with the dulcet tones of polite evil.
When our fingers touched, as I took the tea from her hands, I met her eyes. It was a mirror, one of the few twin things we shared, and for a second, she felt like my sister again. After that, all I felt were my prints melting off as I steadied the rim of the cup. The the plate of cookies she brought ended up on the floor since every other available space was covered in useless junk.
Holding the it gingerly, I brought the cup of boiling hot liquid to my lips and blew. The steam carried the smell of jasmine to my nose, and I closed my eyes to enjoy the moment, a small respite in the disaster of my room.
All it took to disturb that moment was a reverberating “OH!” and I instinctively jerked and spilled the tea down my chin and all over my hands and clothes, screaming silently in pain. “You need a coaster.”
Like I said: Evil.
Dripping jasmine and raw red anger, I got up, sloshing a bit more on myself, and took the Manchurian tea to the bathroom and set it on the counter.
For fucks sake. A Greenland shaped splotch covered my chin. It started to tingle as I stared at it. I turned the water on cold and splashed my face repeatedly. Alice’s voice in the bedroom warned me of her approach, so I could take care to stand away from the sink, smartly avoiding knocking the mug onto the tile floor.
“What the FUCK happened to your chin?!”
I pointed to the cup instead of the Satan who triggered it.
“Oh. My. Gawd. You stopped spilling randomly years ago! What is it? Are you nervous about moving? You know, it’s not too late to change your mind!”
Her smile was a bit sheepish but it looked sincere.
This would be a great opportunity to set some boundaries and find out why she seemed so guilty.
No, Alice, I’m not nervous about moving. It’s just that I’m tired of you trying to control everything like Willow in season 6, and I know there’s stuff you aren’t telling me about that day Edward went apeshit at work. And you KNOW that I want to move, I’ve told you over and over. You just can’t help it. You just have to be a rude bitch.
But then I reminded myself she wasn’t trying to be rude. I turned back to the mirror and observed myself dabbing at the mark with a towel. “No. I’m still moving back to my apartment. Just…someone yelled bloody murder as I was blowing on my tea to cool it.”
“Jeez, what an asshole,” she replied, opening the medicine cabinet to look for ointment.
“Yeah,” I agreed.
Dr. Cullen sat back and steepled his fingers in that way he does to collect his thoughts. “So, you know what the problem is, but because you don’t know how to solve it, you feel like you’re back at square one.”
Cue nod intended to convey thoughts I’d rather not say aloud. Only, this was when I needed to start speaking, or waste my hour. “Yeah, I think of things to say, to tell her, or whatever, but…um.” I shrugged, then looked up at the clock.
The second hand ticked slowly just to fuck with me.
“Can’t I just say, ‘Hey, Alice, I think it’s your fault that my b…Edward…had a nervous breakdown, but it’s OK, so don’t be super-nice, just don’t take over my life.’ Or…something?”
“You have to do the work with setting boundaries with Alice. You have to decide where you want that line to be and communicate that to her. And you don’t have to do it all at once.
“Let’s get back to the packing day and the cup of tea. You said that you wished she’d stop trying to help you all the time. That’s an opportunity to set a boundary with her.”
“Yeah, I know,” I said rolling my eyes.
I studied the scalloped edge of my shirt, then looked around, wasting time.
He was waiting patiently again. I felt his eyes move off of me followed by the sounds of ballpoint scratching lined paper. Was he only pretending to write something because he felt sorry for me? Or maybe he was doing it to give me space.
If that was it, I really appreciated it.
A deep breath caught in my chest as I silently coached myself. This is where you practice. This is the safe place, where no one will interrupt you, and you can work on getting it just right.
“So, I could say,” I blew out what felt like extra air and tried to sound sincere and not condescending or robotic, or both: “Hey, Alice, I appreciate what you’re trying to do, but I need for you to…back the fuck off, and let me make my own tea, and get my own coasters—without your suggestion or input. You know? Maybe I don’t even want any tea, and…you know, I like leaving rings on the furniture! You make me feel like a small stupid child when you do these things. And you do it on purpose! You like to be the adult and make me into your child to take care of!”
Realizing what I said, I hurried to correct it, “I feel like a small child, and I worry that you want me to feel that way. That you like it.”
I looked up at Dr. Cullen and he smiled back at me. “Good work. You let her know your boundaries.”
“I just feel…really silly saying it like that.”
Suddenly it felt like all my clothes were made to fit someone else. I fidgeted with my shirt, tugging it to get it into a better position. I heard the threads in the seam at the empire waist rip a little. I felt under my breasts for a hole. Gladly there was none.
When I looked up, Dr. Cullen was writing in my file.
“That’s normal. Anytime you word something differently than you usually would, it feels artificial…and it sort of is.” He looked up and smiled at me. If he saw me fondling myself, he was playing it cool. “But that’s OK. Your goal is to show Alice that you are willing to meet her halfway. From what you’ve told me, she’s working on it, too. It’s awkward—”
“That’s an understatement.”
“OK. And maybe it’s always been awkward. So, then, what do you have to lose?”
Why did he have to be right all the damn time? I frowned and nodded. Alice was trying to give me room to speak my mind, and I would be foolish not to stretch out, just because it made me want to vomit.
“OK?” His pen was poised to write something as he peered at me over his glasses.
He smiled at me, and I…just smiled right back.
The something turned out to be an appointment. He held it out to me, between two fingers. “This has the date and time of Edward’s next session with me. He’s asked that you come, if you can.”
After glancing at the information, I flipped it over. There was the hospital logo and Dr. Cullen’s office information. Were those birds? Or was it a sunset? I furrowed my brow.
Dr. Cullen tilted his head. “How do you feel about going to his session?”
I squeezed the card into a crumpled cylinder, then slid both hands between my legs. My hands warmed and and I breathed easier. I shrugged. This is one of the things we talked about, being able to communicate my feelings to others instead of making non-committal gestures and facial expressions. My eyes met his, and he waited.
“I don’t know. I guess I feel…good? Nervous. Excited. Worried…because it didn’t go so well last time.”
“I disagree. I think that it went quite well,” he said.
I barked a laugh. “Yeah, sure. Edward stormed out after I sort of,” I rolled my eyes and mumbled, “attacked him.”
“Yes, but he took a walk. You and I talked, and we worked some things out in the session. Surely you know that—”
“He had a nervous breakdown!” I yelled, then cupped my mouth.
“That had nothing to do with you, Bella,” Dr. Cullen said, setting the file aside and leaning forward. He had that look; the one that said that he knew what I was thinking, and it was going to be OK.
“Sometimes things have to get a little worse before they can get better.”
“Yes, I know that sounds trite. It is, and it isn’t. I’m not saying it to make your fears go away or to just smooth things over. I’m saying it because, in his case, I think it needed to happen. It had to happen if he was going to make significant progress. Sure, he was trying to get better, and you are a great motivation for him; but he needed to be on medication, and he wasn’t willing to accept that. Now he is, and he’s making huge strides. You’ve seen it.”
He balanced his pen between two fingers, and peered at me over it. “What happened? Whose fault was it? I think we can all take a little responsibility. Me, I had a lot of confidence in him. I hoped he could do it without meds. I was wrong. Alice, sure, she could have done more to make sure Marcus didn’t touch him. Marcus? Well, clearly his failure to read his email was the main culprit. Edward…that boy is constantly putting himself in impossible situations. He’s very brave. You? I don’t know what you could have done differently, Bella.”
My finger moved in swirls as I traced the blue and orange arches in the logo, while I mulled over what he said.
“I should have never called him in the first place.”
“Oh, Bella, I really have to disagree with you. Maybe it wasn’t the right choice for you. I can’t say if it was or wasn’t. But I’ve been working with Edward for years. He was in a rut. He wasn’t content. I don’t think it’s good for people to pin all their happiness on another person, but I don’t think that’s what happened with you two. I think you reminded him of all the things he was missing. I think you motivated him to try—for himself. You gave him a gift. Something his family and I were just unable to give him.”
I almost laughed out loud. Surely he wasn’t thinking about sex.
Fuck. I’m such a pervert.
My mouth watered as I remembered the latex glove in my pocket, and Edward whispering that he had touched himself with it in his room.
I wiggled on the couch. That was a far cry from our first conversation after he was hospitalized. How long had it been? Jeez, it felt like…a year or more, at least, when Edward told me he was afraid that he’d never want to have sex again. But once they got his meds Goldilocksed, the desire started coming back.
At first, I failed to notice that the Persian rug went out of focus. Swirls of salmon pink and blue faded into the background of my vision as the edge of the couch moved to high-def. Edward’s couch was more what I imagined would be in a therapy appointment than this overstuffed red chenille number. Edward’s couch. Not the best choice for sexy fun-times. Sticking to the black leather may be the stuff of romance novels, but it’s impractical as hell. Then I blinked.
I cleared my throat.
“So. No regrets?” he asked.
Still admiring the soft fabric with the tips of my fingers, I shook my head.
I cleared my throat, again, and finally met his gaze.
“No. Your end out first.” Alice dropped her end, then came around on my side so she could show me why.
“Alice. It’s a fucking headboard. The right’s the same size as the left.”
“Bella is correct,” Jasper added.
“You’re taking her side?” I flinched when she stuck her knobby finger in my face.
“No, pumpkin, I’m taking the side of reality. Why don’t you come join the rest of us.”
Alice’s eyes flashed and her fists balled up. But before her head exploded all over the stacked boxes and waiting furniture, she collected herself and took several deep breaths.
“Fine. But her side should go down first.”
Jasper and I traded brief glances and concurred in a buddy-cop movie kind of way that it was time to move on and just get the fucking thing through the door.
“Fine, but you have to take this end, Alice. It will be a death worthy of the Darwin Awards if I lead this outfit going backwards down a dark scary stairwell.”
Cue epic eye roll from Alice.
We were almost to the bottom, as I held the lower end with Jasper holding the middle so that my dominating sister could descend safely, when I realized why she didn’t want to descend first.
I would have power over her.
OK. Time to be brave. This is it.
“Alice, did you know that Marcus hadn’t read that email?”
Her foot slipped, but she regained her composure.
She also deftly avoided answering.
After a few more steps, I decided to take her lack of response as a yes, so I asked, “What did I ever do to you?”
“Here?” she asked, stopping and setting her end down. “Here? You want to do this right the fuck now?”
I set mine down, then grabbed a handrail for moral support while I waited for the echo to die down.
“Yeah, I do.”
“Fuck it.” Jasper, having already set the middle down when Alice and I dropped the ends, turned and ran back up the stairs, presumably to get another load.
“Alice, he cares about me and he actually gets me. Do you realize how big that is? I finally found someone who doesn’t want to fix me.”
“But he has serious emotional problems, Bella.”
I felt my face flush. I moved my hand to an untouched part of the handrail in an attempt to cool myself.
“I know that. And…believe me, it’s not easy to be with him sometimes. But he tries, Alice, and he inspires me to try.”
She looked down at her barely-worn pink sneakers. “I can see that,” she said with a voice that fit her size.
“Listen, Alice…” I took a breath. “I can see, now that…that it’s better. No. That, Edward…needed an impetus…Even though that was clearly not your intent. But…there’s still a part of me that really…hates that you—”
“I’m SORRY. OK? I’m fucking sorry. I fucked up. I did you wrong, little sis,” she said, throwing her hands in the air. “I fixed it, though. I did all that stuff, and I’m playing nice and leaving you alone. Why can’t you just be happy?”
I had to lean in to hear the next thing she said. “On top of that you single-handedly ruined my marriage and then you pushed me away. You don’t need me, and who would? I’m a useless idiot.”
She slumped down on the stairs and rested against the frame.
The bait just sat there.
“We need to get this bed frame down to the truck, sis. Come on; I can’t do it alone.”
The shadows under her eyes darkened when she looked up from this position. Vulnerable.
“You…don’t you even care anymore?”
“Of course I do.”
Before she could argue, I held out my hand. “You know I do. And we both know your marriage isn’t ruined. That’s the most pathetic lie I’ve ever heard.”
She scoffed, but in an uncharacteristic show of good humor, grabbed my hand and stood. Her smile was an awkward thanks, but I would accept it.
It was hard with just the two of us, but we managed the frame. It was the vice that held us together until the glue had set. And when we reached the bottom of the stairs and handed the frame to Emmett and Rose, our eyes met again. And I was in her arms, her smell familiar and warm. For just a moment, we clung to each other. And when we parted, I could still feel her arms around me.
It felt nice.
“So, tell me how the move went.”
“Alice still has a head.”
I related what happened with minimal spitting and gyrating. Near the end, Dr. Cullen’s head was down as he wrote.
“This is excellent work, Bella. Are you satisfied with the confrontation? I know it couldn’t have been easy.”
“It wasn’t. And…” I sighed remembering that this truce with Alice was tenuous at best, and nonexistent at worst. “I know there will be more to say…to, um, work through.”
“Yes, you two have a lot to sort out, I imagine. And based on all the things you’ve told me about your childhood, I think it’s safe to say that Alice didn’t have an easy time of it either.”
“Well, she’s the one who toes the line so you can cross it, Bella.”
While he let that sink in, I remembered one afternoon. It had to be over a decade ago, because we were both living at home.
“Mother called. She will be home in fifteen minutes!” Alice screamed from her bedroom. “Did you finish the dishes?”
Pride and Prejudice hit the floor as I threw myself off of the couch and into the kitchen, falling twice in socked feet on the freshly waxed parquet. Two bruised knees and a scraped elbow later, I was in the kitchen, yanking the dishwasher door open and almost pulling the bottom drawer onto the floor.
“There’s no time!” she screamed, following me into the room. “Go fold the towels! I’ll wash these by hand.”
The memories of all those times our mother would pick over Alice for hours to make sure her hair was perfect and that her dress draped correctly ran like a vacation slideshow in my head.
While I never got more than an eye roll and a snide comment about being sloppy, Alice took the full strength of our mother’s constant criticism. My sister was perfect to me, but never good enough for her. Her dress, her grades, her attitude, even her feelings were constantly analyzed and picked apart.
“Cut that out, Alice. You can do better. You don’t feel stupid, you just won’t take responsibility for this grade. I won’t accept it. Fix it. And stop frowning.”
All those hours she spent during her summers off college working alongside our mother while I read or wrote, Alice was protecting me. I don’t know if she did it intentionally or not, but in the end, I she protected me more often than she threw me under the bus.
“How do you think she felt when she saw that you didn’t need her as much anymore?”
I swallowed as I seriously considered her point of view for the first time. I wasn’t used to empathizing with Alice, but I couldn’t cover my eyes and run away from it.
“Hey, I know she smothers you.”
“Understatement,” I muttered.
Dr. Cullen nodded, “Well, she has some serious problems. I’d venture—and this is not an official diagnosis,” he said, pointing his finger at me, “so I can’t really say without a proper evaluation—but, I think she’s definitely got some underlying psychological trauma, and may even have borderline personality disorder. She’s high-functioning, to be sure, but…” he paused as he wrote more on my chart.
“What’s…um, what did you say? Borderline…?” I suddenly remembered that Winona Ryder film.
“Borderline personality,” he said again, eyes flashing up to me for a moment before returning to his notes. “Basically, it means she is unable to see things, people, in shades of gray. She either loves and idolizes or hates and reviles. Alice may even be aware, on some level, that she does this…but she’s compelled…the patterns are set in her brain.” He pointed to his head as if I needed reminding where it was. “She’d have to work very hard to change her behavior, Bella.”
“Wait…you’re saying that she knows?”
Dr. Cullen nodded. “Possibly, but…OK. Let’s consider. You have these carefully constructed ways of dealing with situations: avoiding social situations that are normal and unproblematic for others. You continue those patterns, even to your detriment. For Alice, it is likely the same.”
It never occurred to me that Alice had trouble controlling anything. But I ran through memories of her again, recalling the events of the past few months in particular, and I began to see what Dr. Cullen saw.
“What can I do?”
Dr. Cullen stopped writing. He closed my file and set it to his right. Then, he carefully laid the pen down on top.
Taking a breath, he leveled his gaze on my face.
“You can be understanding. Don’t take things personally that really may not be about you. Your primary focus needs to be you. Try to help Alice understand reality when you can.”
I remembered Jasper in the stairwell. Did he already know?
“OK. I understand.”
“Good. Please, if you have more questions, I’m happy to answer them. Especially if it will help you deal with Alice in the future.”
I nodded. I could tell our session was almost over because my mouth was dry, like I’d been talking for hours. My head ached, and I just wanted to go home and hide under the covers.
My arms stood in for my blanket as they wound around my shoulders. I avoided assuming a crash position. No need to look like I was ready for a padded cell.
Then I thought of Edward.
I wouldn’t say things went well when we had our joint session, but we managed to avoid disaster.
“Do you think Edward sounded good in the appointment yesterday?”
“Yes, I do. He’s been making some impressive strides. Is there…anything from that session you need to talk about?”
I turned beet red, thinking of the paintings and my humiliation, anger flaring for a moment, but shook my head no. That was in the past, and I was ready to move on.
My mind drifted to other things, and I flushed again, for a different reason.
“He seems…” sexy and I want to fuck his brains out, “more like himself again, but…better, somehow.”
Dr. Cullen nodded.
“He’s getting out next week, you know. Are you ready for that?”
Remembering him whispering about the things he’d been thinking about focused the question in my mind. Was I ready for sex with Edward?
“Yes. I’m ready.”