I could risk running myself ragged these days. When I'm not pretending as Anne-Marie, doing chores, running personal errands, conversing with Bryan, asleep or simply trying not to go insane, I'm poring over the archives of this blog and writing bits and pieces of my own entries. I want to tell as much of my story as I can manage, both because I'm a storyteller by nature, and because, mortifying as it has been, it's the kind of life experience that can't go unexpressed. I have this theory: the first thing our minds forget are routines. I know the saying goes "old habits die hard" - two and a half months later I still unzip my jeans standing in front of the toilet but routines are different. Every time I had a new schedule in school, I would find it hard, after a few months, to remember what it was like only the semester before. We evolve, and we adjust.
That, of course, won't stop me from working toward my ultimate goal of getting MY life back. I would like to adjust OUT of this life as easily as I evolved INTO it. and when that happens, all this will be like some long ago ghost story. SO I want it all on record.
In reading some of the early posts on this site - back when Art and Jake became Liz and Ashlyn - I've been noting some of the distinctions between their situations and mine. They were, like, older than me, but became younger. I went the opposite direction. They were kinda lucky and frankly I don't blame them for taking the hands they were dealt. The idea of restaging a transformation seems like it leaves a lot of room for error and even thinking about going back there gives me the willies. Look at what happened to Art. I'm a little lucky I guess because I've met the new Todd - not in person but we've spoken - and unless I'm being lied to, the new Todd and Bryan as eager to leave our lives as we are to reclaim them. That doesn't mean it's foolproof though, and we have a lot of time to just hurry up and wait. I'm stuck in the life of Anne-Marie Adkisson for however many months. Could be worse, but could be better...
The house was empty when we got home. It was a relief and kind of a nightmare since I knew I'd have to meet Hal and the kids sooner or later and I didn't want to just sit alone in this big empty place. So I invited Bryan in. We rang up Ellie's parents - the McClays - and told them we were home and that "Ellie" would be spending the night here. They wanted to know why and I just kinda fumbled my way around a vague excuse involving travel weariness. They accepted it - it was nearly midnight - and told me to have her home as soon as I could. Your daughter disappearing for two weeks is probably going to put you on edge, so I didn't hold their curt tone against them.
We went around turning on light switches, opening doors, trying to get a feel for the place. The basement is partitioned into a living room/TV area, a game room with a pool hall, dart board and beer fridge, a computer room and laundry room. Upstairs there is a very dainty living room with lots of, like, fine china in glass cases, a fully stocked practically gourmet kitchen, another TV room, and the big foyer. There are five rooms upstairs, one each for the kids, the master bedroom, guest room and Hal's office. I did a few laps around the house so that when people started coming home, I didn't look like this was the first time I'd seen the place.
After surveying the whole place, Bry and I settled in the basement. She started channel-surfing. "We got anything to drink?"
I shrugged, "There's probably some Coke or Sprite around here."
She glares at me, "Yeah, but, like... how about an MGD?"
I flopped down on the couch and rubbed my temples. "I don't know about that, dude. You're like, 14." She rolled her eyes, "You know that's not really true." I told her how irresponsible it was for me to just grab a beer and hand it to a little girl and she kinda flipped out on me. "What are you, my mom? You were all too happy to smoke up with me in Maine, now you won't even let me have one beer?" Well, the effect of that one joint I mentioned was way more drastic than I'd ever seen. I wasn't eager to repeat it. 14-year-old girls do not have strong constitutions.
"Look," she stood up, "I just want to relax. I'm not going to drink a whole case, I'm not even going to make this a regular thing. Tomorrow I have to start acting like a little girl. Just let me have this one thing."
She walked over to the fridge and grabbed a bottle. She held the twist-top in her hand. I said nothing. Fsst. She opened it.
"Wait," I sighed.
"...grab me one while you're over there."
This is why I should not be allowed to be a parent. I remember when I was 14, out at parties with the older kids, getting lit for the first time on Captain Morgan. And I don't even have any regrets about the shit I got up to. So how can I tell this comparatively mature, reasonable person she can't have one beer? In good conscience, I mean.
It didn't really matter, because she took one sip and got this sour look on her face. "Oh, man. I forgot how bad beer tastes when you first start drinking." I laughed. There was nothing wrong with Annie's tongue. Bry sipped along anyway.
"This is gonna be a long trip," she groaned.
We fell asleep on the couch in the basement. I woke up a few hours later and draped a blanket over her. It was kind of adorable, since, while asleep, you'd never guess that just a few hours earlier she'd been reminiscing about the time in high school when she nailed Cindy Cortez behind a Petro Canada.
I staggered up to the bedroom. It's a big bedroom, it's got a big bed. And a nice bathroom. I took off my top and shorts and tossed them in the hamper. I changed into one of Anne-Marie's nightgowns. Putting on an item of someone else's clothing for the first time is a weird feeling, especially when you've never worn such a garment. So I changed out of it and into some cotton PJ's - it was hot, so I used a light shirt and short shorts. Then I got under the covers, and...
Some of you probably get it when I say how hard it is to fall asleep when you're TRYING to. I couldn't get comfortable, I couldn't stop thinking, after three days, about my anatomy, and when I wasn't thinking about that, I was thinking about Anne-Marie's life and how messed up my situation was. I started to sweat and shake and feel the pressure and get paranoid. Every moment brought me further from sleep. So I got up and found the answer in the medicine cabinet. There was half a thing of Ambien in there. I don't like pills - that's a long story - but I just needed to zonk out.
And zonk I did. After a while, I fell into the deepest sleep I'd had since that last night before the change, after the concert. I woke up the next morning feeling so mellow, which meant miraculously I had outslept the effects of the drug... which meant it was about 11:00. And something was burning.
I sprang out of bed and flew down the stairs and found Bry - hair stringy and wet, dressed in a bathrobe, working on what appeared to be a pan of scrambled eggs.
"Mornin' Auntie Anne," she chirped. "Breakfast?"
I grumbled, "Don't call me that.... and I could eat, yeah."
She passed me a plate. "Good timing. Nice PJ's."
I looked down to see my nipples standing up straight under my top. "Christ, these things. You're lucky you don't have to deal with 'em. I could hardly sleep."
"Yeah, I'd like to get home before I start having to think about that... they're all ready kind of... never mind." She took a seat across from me. "So what's the deal? Why's the house empty?"
I explained that Anne-Marie's letter had told me the kids were at soccer camp all summer. That was why she had taken Elyssa to Maine for her birthday, because she didn't have her own kids to worry about at the time. I found out later Hal was on a camping (or fishing or something) trip with old frat buddies. Whatever. At the time his absence unnerved me, but it came to nothing.
We ate in silence a while, forks ringing on plates in the quiet house. Finally, she said, "So this is it, huh?"
I nodded sternly, "Guess so." I finished up. "I guess I'll have a shower and then figure out how to get you home. Get dressed."
I walked back upstairs. She called after me, "Have fun in there!" I wanted to smack her. It was her stupid little running joke about how we should be taking advantage of these bodies. I found it particularly unnerving given how young she is, (although when I was 14...)
Once we were all ready to go, we piled into Anne-Marie's SUV. I felt pretty overwhelmed there. I hadn't driven in a while, and at the time, it was a little Toyota, not a big thing like this. Still, we plugged Ellie's address into the GPS (and thank God for that!) and I drove cautiously through the curves of this little suburban nowhere place.
Bry and I went up to the door. She gave me a pat on the shoulder to say goodbye, and got into character for the first time, bounding up to Ellie's room heedlessly.
Standing in the doorway, I was ambushed by Mrs. McClay, Hal's sister. "So are you going to tell me what happened?"
I felt like a deer in the headlights, man. Trying to remember the cover story, I stammered, "We, uh, got our luggage, uh, lost. There was a mix-up. The inn let us stay until, um, they found it."
"You couldn't call?" She sneered. "We were worried sick."
I averted my eyes. "My, uh, cell charger was in the, uh, in the luggage." I felt like I was in the principal's office. Mrs. McClay - Trudy - was quite a few years older than Anne-Marie and seemed gravely displeased with what had happened. I can't say I blamed her, either.
She just stared at me for a while until finally she said, "Well, it sounds like you had a very rough few weeks. Still, you should be more responsible than that, Anne."
I couldn't feel the guilt she was trying to make me feel, since it wasn't my fault at all. Attempting to level with her would be utterly fruitless, and in the best case scenario, if she DID believe me, I am then dealing with a mother whose child is missing. So I just swallowed all her ill will, nodded and said, "Yep. Well, I gotta go..." I've never wanted to leave someplace quicker in my life.
She just kept glaring at me. I got the feeling this was not the beginning of tensions between Anne and Trudy. I had no desire to make it worse - or even try to fix it. I just wanted to leave. She didn't stop me, but I had to fight some kind of invisible force field to do so, because of how unfinished that confrontation was. I felt sick.
I walked, shell-shocked, to the car. I got in and followed the GPS back to the Adkisson place. Then, once I was in the garage, I turned the key, unbuckled the seat-belt, and... cried.
I'm tempted - believe me - to blame it on PMS or some other female chicanery, but the fact is it's just what I wanted to do. Not that I was a cryer as a man, but in a situation like this... nobody's watching, nobody sees you as a man, your entire life has gone to hell in very short order... shit man, you've just gotta let the tears come.
I straightened myself back up and went back inside. I had no idea when Hal would be back. It was time to start playing my part.