“He sounds wonderful. I see why you think so.”
“I’m sorry that you’re sick.”
“It’s not your fault.”
“I know, but I wish that I could give you more than this.”
“Can I have my Internet privileges back?” I have to try.
She shakes her head. “Ask me for something else, honey.”
“It’s better this way. I don’t want you to have a broken heart.”
“Love can’t kill me,” I say, parroting Carla’s words.
“That’s not true,” she says. “Whoever told you that?”
My new nurse is an unsmiling despot with a nursing degree. Her name is Janet Pritchert. “You may call me Nurse Janet,” she says. Her voice is unnaturally high, like an alarm.
She emphasizes the word Nurse so that I understand that simply calling her Janet will not do. Her handshake is too firm, as if she’s more used to crushing things than caring for them.
It’s possible that my view of her is biased.
All I see when I look at her is how much she’s not Carla. She’s thin where Carla was stout. Her speech is not peppered with Spanish words. She has no accent at all. Compared with Carla, she’s altogether less.
By the afternoon I’ve decided to adjust my attitude, but that’s when the first of her notes appears stickied to my laptop.
My mom has reinstated my Internet access but only during the school day. She says I’m only supposed to be using it for schoolwork, but I’m sure the fact that Olly has started school and only gets home after 3 p.m. has something to do with it.
I check the time. It’s 2:30 p.m. I decide not to adjust my attitude. Nurse Janet could’ve at least given me a chance to break the rule before assuming that I would be a rule breaker.
Things don’t improve the next day:
Over the next week, I give up any hope I had that she could be persuaded to my cause. Her mission is clear—monitor, contain, and control.
Olly and I settle into a new rhythm. We IM in short bursts during the day in between my Skype classes. At 3 p.m., Nurse Evil turns off the router and our communication ends. At night, after dinner and after my mom and I spend time with each other, Olly and I stare at each other out the window.
I plead with my mom about the rule, but she refuses to budge. She says it’s for my own protection.
The next day Nurse Evil finds another reason to leave me a note:
I stare at the note, remembering that Carla had said the same thing as she was leaving: Life is a gift. Am I wasting mine?
Neighborhood Watch #2
6:55 AM – Stands at window. Writes on the glass.
7:20 AM – Waits for Kara to finish her cigarette.
7:25 AM – Leaves for school.
3:45 PM – Returns home from school.
3:50 PM – Stands at window. Erases and writes on glass.
9:05 PM – Stands at window. Writes a few questions.
10:00 PM – Writes on the glass.
6:50 AM – Waits for Olly to appear at window.
6:55 AM – Is joyful.
7:25 AM – Despairs.
8:00 AM–3:00 PM - Ignores Nurse Evil. Attends classes. Does homework. Reads. Compulsively checks for IM messages. Reads some more.
3:40 PM – Watches for Olly’s car to arrive.
3:50 PM – Is joyful.
4:00 PM – More homework. More reading.
6:00 PM–9:00 PM – Dinner/hang out with Mom.
9:01 PM – Waits for Olly to appear at window.
9:05 PM – Is joyful. Pantomimes answers to questions.
10:01 PM – Despair, cont’d.
With Olly back in school, our IM sessions are even more limited. He IMs when he can—in between classes or, sometimes, right in the middle of one. During his first week back he does his best to make me feel as if I’m right there with him. He sends pictures of his locker (#23), his class schedule, the library and the librarian who looks exactly as I imagine a high school librarian would, which is to say bookish and wonderful. He sends pictures of math proofs from his AP math class, his AP English required reading list, pictures of beakers and petri dishes from his biology and chemistry classes.
I spend that first week—and it does feel like spending, like not seeing him is costing me something—doing all my normal things: reading, learning, not dying. I write alternate titles for the books on his reading list. A Tale of Two Kisses. To Kiss a Mockingbird. As I Lay Kissing. And so on.
Nurse Evil and I settle into a grudging routine where I pretend she doesn’t exist and she leaves ever more obnoxious sticky notes to let me know that she does.
But it’s not just about missing him. I’m also jealous of his life, of his world that expands beyond his front door.
He tells me that high school is no utopia, but I’m not convinced. What else would you call a place that exists solely to teach you about the world? What do you call a place with friends and teachers and libraries and book club and math club and debate club and any other kind of club and after school activities and endless possibilities?
By the third week it becomes harder to sustain our relationship in this new form. I miss talking to him. You can only pantomime so much. I miss being in the same room with him, his physical presence. I miss the way my body was always aware of his. I miss getting to know him. I miss getting to know the Maddy that I am when I’m with him.
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