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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group

Aftercare Instructions

A Novel

Bonnie Pipkin

Flatiron Books

MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK

PREPARATION


A Few Things They Tell You:

• No food or drink for six hours prior to appointment time.

• If you receive the IV conscious sedation, make sure to secure a ride home or have an escort for public transportation.

• Dress in loose, comfortable clothing, with socks and flat shoes. Bring an extra pair of underwear and a sweater or sweatshirt.

• Bring picture identification and your insurance card if you are planning to use insurance. Payment is collected in full at the time of the visit.

• One, and only one, escort may accompany you to the health center. Your escort will be asked to wait in the designated waiting room, and will not be allowed into the medical center with you.

The Thing I Wish I’d Known:

I love you doesn’t come with any guarantees.

CHOICES

Sometimes you make a choice that can save your life. You might make your choice for one reason, before the real reason even becomes clear. Like this morning when I refused the sedation. The reason was because I wanted to feel it. I wanted to feel my choice as it left my body. I didn’t know it would actually make all the difference in the world when my one, and only one, escort bailed mid-procedure, and I found out by walking into the waiting room, scanning a sea of hopeful eyes, and finding absolutely nowhere safe or familiar to land. In that moment, I was thrown into the deep, deep water. And in the deep, deep water, there is no way to breathe.

Yet somehow, something propels you forward. Survival mode, I think it’s called.

You can do this. Just get yourself to Port Authority. You’ve done this before, when Rose wanted to shop for stupid dance dresses in SoHo. You’ve done this when you’ve gone to visit Delilah. You can get yourself home. To get back, you have to move forward. Just move forward.

I cross the street and stop. Pull out my phone and find the screen black. Blank. I squeeze it like I could force out a text message from Peter. A text telling me he will be right back for me. That he just had to go get something real quick, some city errand he wanted to take the opportunity to do, and that he’s so sorry it seemed any other way. And that he loves me. And that maybe one day we’ll be ready, but we made the right choice for right now. And that he’s here for me no matter what. No matter that our lives are so different, and no matter that I don’t have anyone offering me guidance. That he’s here for me while I figure this shit out.

But nothing appears.

And I have to figure out how to get myself home now. No sedation, no escort. Just me and my extra pair of underwear.

This is what echoes in my brain: You don’t have to do this, Genesis. There are other choices.

But I push that away because he knows why I had to do this. I explained myself, didn’t I? And anyway, the choice was for us, not me. I push and push our conversation back back back into the grayest part of my brain, and remember I’m standing on Bleecker and Mott in Manhattan, across from the Planned Parenthood. And there is a hole in the leather of my boot I’m wishing more than ever I’d actually taken to the cobbler to get patched.

Voices stretch across the concrete and the speeding taxicabs fuzz and buzz into each other. Three lonely protestors smoke cigarettes through fingerless gloves, with their signs propped against the building. It’s a much different scene in Jersey. Which is partially why we came here this morning. More anonymous, I suppose. Easier to blend. No one to run into.

I watch a girl exit the building with her escort. She was in the recovery room with me. Where they sat us down and left us to bleed and ooze until we were ready to walk ourselves out. The girl and her escort have the same wild hair and deep-set eyes. This has to be her mother, and I try to imagine my own mother helping me out, escorting me. But I can’t conjure the faintest image of this. Not anymore.

“Are you okay?”

She’s standing right in front of me now. Do I look abandoned? Do I look lost? Do I look like I need help? I see my sock sticking out through my boot.

“I guess so.”

“Where’s your ride?”

I don’t answer.

“Where are you headed?”

“New Jersey, I guess.”

“Well, do you know your way?”

“I can figure it out. I’ll be fine.”

She wiggles out of her mom’s hold, and steps closer to me. I stare hard into the ground, not really sure why I’m refusing her help.

“Here,” she says. “Hold out your hands.”

I do as instructed while she reaches into her saggy black bag. I see the vinyl peeling off in patches.

“I’m fine from here,” I say.

“I know. I heard you. Just hold your horses.”

My hands are still out like an idiot, while she digs and digs.

“Ah, there we go.” And with that, she drops a handful of lollipops into my hands.

“They were free,” she says with her mouth half turned. Her escort-mother shakes her head and smiles while I hold back tears burning in my eye sockets. I say thank you and keep my head down while they walk away.

Then I put my cousin’s address into the map function on my phone. I don’t think I’m far from her dorm. I should have had her meet me here in the first place. Or Rose. But how could I have known he’d just leave me?

I followed his conditions. I didn’t tell anyone. Not a single person. Even when that broke me apart. Even when I started to feel sick, and started to bloat, and had to make up excuses to the people who would notice. I kept it inside. Held it tight. Like he wanted.

Directions:

14 min.

Route overview: 0.7 miles

Walk 0.5 miles, then take a right on Macdougal St.

Walk 0.2 miles, then arrive at the destination.

Sounds easy enough. No hidden turns. No secret passages. Just walk straight, turn once, and arrive. Those are the kind of instructions I can handle. If I have to think any more, I might just melt into a puddle and freeze into the cracks in the sidewalk.

The wind whips between buildings and slices into me as I walk. I pass by the hole-in-the-wall falafel place where Del took me once before, and the smell of fried food and onions makes my stomach twirl. The line is out the door and down the street. Even in the dead of winter. Finally, I see the building on Washington Square Park with the purple NYU flag hanging like my beacon of light.

In the lobby of Delilah’s dorm, a tired, grayish doorman in uniform with the name Hunnigan on his badge sits on a stool at a podium. He’s doing a crossword puzzle and listening to low, bopping jazz music on the radio. He looks up when I approach, but doesn’t say anything.

“I’m here to see Delilah Reese.”

He plucks his glasses off and they drop to his belly, dangling by the string around his neck. “She has to sign you in.”

He points to a sign behind his head telling me this very thing. Also telling me I have to leave my ID at the desk, and I’m once again thankful for today’s preparation instructions. I set it down in front of him.

“She’s got to come down, darlin’. I can’t let no one up without a resident.”

His words blur as my head lightens and my feet grow heavy. It’s as if all my blood is spilling through me and down to the ground. The music sputters and spits. I grab his podium for balance.

“Are you okay?”

That question again. And how to answer it? I know I should not be alone right now. That I need someone.

I nod. And move to a seat on the window ledge.

I call Delilah, but it goes to her voice mail.

I’m about to drown in my stomach bile. Where is she?

Where is he?

I call him. Peter.

Voice mail.

But my voice doesn’t come to me, so I hang up without leaving a message.

Then I call him again.

Voice mail.

Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Did he just disappear? Did he leave this planet? Did he leave the Genesis and Peter planet we set up camp on and inhabited for a happy little while? Where we built our own atmosphere and were working on making a beautiful place? I liked our planet. Now I’m lost in space. No sound. No air.

I call him one more time. You know where it gets me. But as I’m listening to his outgoing message, the phone vibrates in my ear. A text.

Delilah: What’s up? In class. Can’t answer.

It makes me smile to imagine her sneaking a text message in some philosophy class or history of street poetry or wherever she might be.

Me: At your dorm. I need you.

Delilah: Out in 10. Then 10 min walk. Can you wait that long?

Me: Yes.

I think.

I’ve made it this far without collapsing. She doesn’t ask me what’s going on. If she did, I wouldn’t know how to take this knot inside me and untangle it into words.

I curl up into the cushion and lean against the cold condensation on the window, tucking my knees up into my chest.

Two girls dressed alike in black-rimmed glasses and striped sweaters stop by the door to arm themselves up with winter layers. The shorter girl is louder than the other and she’s talking about an audition. The other, with the static hair, is assuring her she did an amazing job, and she for sure has the part, and the loud girl is whining about how she’s a total fraud and one day someone is going to realize.

Actors. Once upon a time I called myself an actor too.

The pair gets distracted by a boy in a brown hat with animal ears and rubber boots. The whining girl strokes his fake ears, and purrs into the real ones. Hunnigan asks them to move away from his podium.

I was in my first play when I was twelve. It was a big deal because I was the only kid in the show. Not that it was a big part or anything. I was in two dream-sequence scenes. The director was a real alcoholic maniac and the highlight of his career was when he was in an action-adventure movie with Jean-Claude Van Damme where he gets stabbed in the neck with a chicken bone. I don’t know if I was actually supposed to watch that movie, but there have never been too many boundaries in my home. I guess that’s why my dad let me be in this play, with a washed-up movie villain at a community theater downtown. No boundaries. Dad would take me to rehearsals and wait for me in a coffee shop down the street. He knew Brad, the director, probably from meetings, but didn’t interfere. Didn’t play the dad role. He was so proud, though. He really wanted one of his daughters to be into theater or art or music. His excitement would pulse whenever I’d get into the car after rehearsal. He’d hold back on asking me questions, but tap his fingers against the wheel, waiting for my report.

Anyway, this director was way into meditation. We’d warm up with a breathing exercise and half the cast would fall asleep, but I always liked turning my mind off. I haven’t meditated since. And I stopped with the theater thing after my dad died. I couldn’t imagine performing without his face in the audience.

I might feel like a fraud too.

Trying to remember the meditation techniques Brad gave us, I tell myself I am not in a steamed-up dormitory lobby. I am alone with my thoughts. No. No thoughts. I am on a mountaintop. All I hear is the steady and constant sound of wind.

Except on this mountaintop, I can’t stop thinking about how I ended up here.

All the way up here.

And who is not here with me.

Exactly twenty minutes later, Delilah stands in front of me in the lobby. I hold on to her as she signs me in and takes me up in the elevator to the eighteenth floor. Without asking any questions, she tucks me into her bed and I fall asleep, black and dreamless.

Safe place.

Mind off.



ACT I

SCENE 1

(This scene takes place in the Morning Thunder Café, a popular after-school hangout.

At rise, two teenage girls can be seen in a booth. The décor has a vague fifties vibe. The girls are stylish in an alternative kind of way. Not over the top, but not mainstream. GENESIS has a slightly darker vibe to her. ROSE has a more sexual edge.)

GENESIS

Do you know Peter Sage?

ROSE

What do you mean? Of course, dummy. Everybody does.

GENESIS

Yeah, but, like, do you know him? Have you ever talked to him?

ROSE

What do you want to know about him?

GENESIS

Well, I mean, uhhhh …

ROSE

You mean, “uhhhh”?

GENESIS

Never mind. Forget it.

ROSE

What?

GENESIS

Okay, well, does he have a … girlfriend?

ROSE

Peter Sage? With a girlfriend? You think his nutso religo-freak parents would let him even talk to a girl? Much less slip his hand up her blouse?

GENESIS

He talks to girls.

ROSE

Yeah, at Bible study. And that creepy morning prayer circle in front of the school.

GENESIS

He’s not in the prayer circle.

ROSE

(Raising eyebrows)

What? You looked?

GENESIS

He’s not like that. I mean, not like Mitch Jennings or Hannah and all those people.

ROSE

Why are you paying such close attention, young lady? Does someone have a little crush?

GENESIS

No! Come on. Get real. Peter doesn’t like girls like me.

(SERVER dressed in a vintage waitress dress drops off a mountain of cheese fries and two Cokes. ROSE digs in. GENESIS plays with her straw.)

ROSE

(With her mouth full of fries)

Girls like you? You’re the best girl there is. Perfectly respectable.

GENESIS

With some pretty heavy baggage.

ROSE

Are you kidding me? Guys love baggage. Besides, your baggage is, like, totally mysterious. I need some baggage.

GENESIS

(Picks up a fry, but doesn’t eat it)

Do you think he only likes girls who are … Christian?

ROSE

I don’t know. Probably.

GENESIS

Yeah.

ROSE

Seriously, do you like him or something?

GENESIS

Me?

ROSE

No, your imaginary friend next to you.

GENESIS

We come from different worlds.

ROSE

That’s not an answer.

GENESIS

I don’t know.

ROSE

Oh my God! You do! You like him! Hark, the herald angels sing! You finally don’t like Will, the stoner creepster loser!

GENESIS

Will’s not a loser.

ROSE

Okay, just a stoner creepster, then. Give me a break.

GENESIS

He’s not!

ROSE

He’s not even hot. Oh, this is excellent news! You’re finally over William Fontaine!

GENESIS

Not “over.” You have to be “into” to be “over.”

ROSE

You were.

GENESIS

No I wasn’t. We’re old friends. It was just easy.

ROSE

That makes it grosser.

GENESIS

Why gross?

ROSE

Because he’s like a brother, then.

GENESIS

I wouldn’t know. What do you do with your brother, Rose?

ROSE

Certainly not what you did with Will down the shore!

GENESIS

We just kissed!

ROSE

(Holding hands to ears)

La-la-la-la-la. Didn’t happen if I can’t hear you.

GENESIS

Why is it gross when I kiss a boy and not you?

ROSE

I don’t just kiss, my friend.

GENESIS

Yeah, I know. Stop bragging.

ROSE

You know it’s true. Anyway, you can do a lot better than Will Fontaine. I’m surprised he didn’t make a dishonest woman out of you.

GENESIS

He tried.

ROSE

Yeah, I know. Gross.

GENESIS

You should talk. Andy Santos?

ROSE

La-la-la-la. Didn’t happen!

(They both laugh.)

GENESIS

Peter pulled me aside this morning to tell me he was glad I’m back at school.

ROSE

I’m glad you’re back at school. I had to fend for myself for two weeks amongst the dimwits and yo-yos.

GENESIS

Of course you’re glad. But why would Peter be glad? We’re not even friends.

ROSE

Maybe he feels bad for you.

GENESIS

Gee, thanks.

ROSE

Well?

GENESIS

Ugh. I’m so sick of that.

ROSE

People are idiots. Just ignore them. You know who your real friends are.

GENESIS

I haven’t been gone that long. They’re all looking at me like I’ve sprouted an extra eyeball or appendage or something.

ROSE

Ignoramuses.

GENESIS

Yeah, well, it felt different when Peter said something. It seemed like he really cared.

ROSE

Maybe he’ll pray for you.

GENESIS

Oh, shut up, Rose.

ROSE

You’ll probably have to wait until marriage to lose your virginity if you go for that.

GENESIS

(Throws french fry)

Shut up.

ROSE

Shut up? Okay.

(She stuffs the rest of the fries into her mouth, including the one GENESIS threw at her.)

GENESIS

Save some for the starving children.

(ROSE covers her mouth and mutters something like “I’m shutting up.”)

GENESIS (CONTINUED)

Okay, okay. Forget I brought it up. I don’t know why he said anything to me. He’s probably just a nice person.

(VANESSA enters stage left and walks up to their table. She sits down next to GENESIS and immediately starts crying. The other girls sit, awkwardly.)

ROSE

Uhhh, is something the matter, Vanessa?

VANESSA

I just feel so sorry for you, Gen. I can’t imagine.

ROSE

Relax about it, okay? Jesus Christ. Gen doesn’t need other people losing their shit.

VANESSA

(Straightening up)

You guys got cheese fries?

(Neither answers.)

I am really sorry for your loss, Genesis. I don’t know what else to say. I’m sorry.

GENESIS

Thanks.

VANESSA

I tried to call you and text you and stuff.

GENESIS

I know. I saw. And I appreciate that.

VANESSA

Will you please just tell me if you need anything?

ROSE

She’s going to be fine.

GENESIS

Sure, Vanessa. Thanks.

(Beat)

I think your friends are staring at you.

VANESSA

Okay, well, I should probably get back to them.

ROSE

You do that.

VANESSA

I know we haven’t been, like, close for a while, but you’re still a really important friend.

GENESIS

I know, V. Don’t worry about me. Rose has got me.

ROSE

Damn straight.

VANESSA

(Gesturing toward her friends)

They’re waiting for me, and we’re going to the game. Are you guys going?

ROSE

No chance in hell.

VANESSA

You don’t have to be nasty about it.

ROSE

Proud to be a nasty woman!

VANESSA

My mom wants to bring by food for you and your mom and sister if you need it.

GENESIS

Yeah, Ally isn’t staying with us right now.

VANESSA

Oh yeah. Sorry. I did hear that.

ROSE

Anything else?

GENESIS

Thank you. That would be nice.

VANESSA

(Lingering a beat longer than comfortable)

Bye, guys.

(Exit stage right.)

GENESIS

You were kind of rude.

ROSE

I’m sick of fake pity too.

GENESIS

At least she knows my family.

ROSE

Yeah, but no one really knows.

GENESIS

That’s right. And that’s the way it needs to stay.

ROSE

Oh, shit. It’s five already? Where’s my stupid brother?

(ROSE throws money down on the table and GENESIS follows her offstage.)

(Lights fade.)


Copyright © 2017 by Bonnie Pipkin