Six hours in the emergency waiting room at St. Jude’s and she had absolutely nothing to show for it, save for the aching pain in her arm from where they shoved her booster needle – “Oops, looks like you aren’t up-to-date on your Tetanus. We better do that while you’re here.”
“Are you sure you’re okay, Sweetie?” her mother asked, gently stroking her hair away from her eyes as she tried to fight the urge to scoop her daughter up into her arms and cradle her like a baby.
“I’m fine, Mom,” Julie reassured her. “It was just a dizzy spell. I’ve had them before. The MRI showed no problems and they said there’s no concussion from when I fell, so just relax.”
Her mom giggled.
“What’s so funny?”
Trying to wipe the smirk off her face and darting her eyes from Julie’s to the floor, she answered, “It’s just odd to hear you tell me to relax.”
Julie couldn’t help but laugh. It was true. She’d been in the throes of panic many times and had her mother come to her rescue with her soft and soothing voice. The role reversal was strange, but felt nice.
“Wanna’ watch a movie?” her Mom asked, trying to look as nonchalant as possible. The untrained eye wouldn’t have seen. The unopened soul wouldn’t have felt. The closed-in mind would not have known. But Julie knew. She knew all too well how much her mother longed to be close to her – to have, even if only for the duration of a film – a normal mother-daughter relationship, free of anxiety, angst and confusion. She wanted to oblige her on many occasions, but the very sensation of her mother’s anxiety and fear of disappointment was enough to overwhelm her (especially once coupled with all the other things she’d soaked up throughout the day). She inevitably declined every offer to go shopping or strawberry picking; to play a board game or do some gardening. Today, however, something was different. She could sense her mother’s anticipation and fear but didn’t feel it gripping her throat or running like lava through her veins. She just, sort of, felt it. It was just kind of mellow, settling subtly below the surface.
“Sure, Mom. What do you wanna’ watch?”
Her mother beamed with excitement at the thought of spending some actual quality time together. “Hmm…” she said, searching around the living room for the television remote. She looked on the coffee table, under the coffee table. She looked on the leather-topped accent tables perched beside the low-rise, 1970s-style sofa. She looked under the sofa, nearly upending it with Julie onboard. Perplexed, she turned her attention to less obvious places – digging around in the plant pots as if some mischievous squirrel had made his way into their home with the sole intention of burying television remotes. Finally, Julie pulled the remote out from behind her back and the two had a good chuckle, just like old times.
“Alright, smart ass,” her mother said playfully, snatching the remote from her clutch. “Let’s see what we’ve got here.” She plunked herself down on the sofa and quickly found Julie burrowing her head beneath the crook of her arm.
Julie relished in the moment. A moment where, for the first time in a very long time, she was able to be physically close to someone without the overwhelming urge to run away. She didn’t feel waves of nausea ebbing and flowing in her stomach. She didn’t feel the dull pulse of migraine migrating from the base of her skull to the backs of her eyes. She didn’t feel confused, frustrated of scared. She simply felt loved. She felt warm and safe and happy.
“I’m not really all that familiar with this television,” her mother said, slightly embarrassed. “I really haven’t watched T.V. since you were a kid and these new plasma, 4K, on-demand, sun-ray, blue-disc, USB, tethery things have me all confused.”
Julie laughed. “Mom,” she said, “the T.V. we watched before had most of those things. Well – the things that were actually real things. In all honesty, this one really isn’t all that different from the old one. It still accesses the satellite channels and all the apps we had installed before. It’s really just the interface that’s changed. Let me show you,” she said, taking the remote back. She proceeded to flip through channels and apps, showing her mother the various ways she could access her favorite shows or movies, including the oldies station which played re-runs of television shows and movies form the 1990s and early 2000s. She even helped her set up the machine so it would recognize her voice.
“Okay, now try it out,” she said.
Her mother gave her a sideways glance as if to say, Are you kidding me? But went ahead and directed a voice command at the screen. “TV find news channel,” she said in a flat tone.
“You don’t have to talk as if you are a computer for the thing to understand you, Mom,” Julie joked.
“Oh wow,” her mom said, hopping into the air with excitement as the news channels began to whiz past. “But, they’re going too fast. I just wanted one,” she said.
“That’s fine. You just have to be more specific,” Julie answered. “Like this: TV find local news channel.” The screen blackened momentarily before popping up the Sequoya Beach news station came onto the screen.
“Cool!” her Mom proclaimed. “Though, I’m not sure there’s really much sense in watch this news channel. Nothing interesting ever happens here. TV find San Francisco news channel.”
“And in weather news, tomorrow night will be an historic night in the southern states. For the first time since 1859 we will catch of glimpse of the Aurora Borealis, otherwise known as the Northern Lights,” the weatherman said as he stood in front of a cartoonish map of California.
“How is that…” Julie began.
“Shh!” her mother cut her off.
“…flares and storms seem to be to blame for this interesting electrical event. Looking at Saturday and Sunday, we see that a few showers are expected in the Bay Area with a slight chance…”
“So cool!” Julie exclaimed, looking awestruck.
“What’s so cool?” Fox inquired, moving swiftly through the entranceway from the kitchen toward the door.
“We’re gonna be able to see the Northern Lights tomorrow night!” Julie called out.
Fox smirked as his sister’s excitement and exuberance escaped her. “Yeah I know,” he said. “The guys and I are going up to the lookout to watch it.”
Their mother frowned, “Be careful up there. I don’t like you guys up there. It’s dangerous, you know. And you best not be drinking. Those cliffs are dangerous enough in the dark, you don’t need to throw your equilibrium off any further.”
“Mom, cool it. It’s fine,” he said in that nonchalant way that always seemed to put people at ease. “No one will be drinking. The guys might smoke a little herb, but I’ll be driving so I’ll stay sober, I promise. Plus, with the Northern Lights and all, it shouldn’t be too dark up there.”
“I wanna’ go see the lights!” Julie called out. Even she was surprised at her enthusiasm.
“Can we go somewhere to look at them?” she asked, facing her mother.
“Dad and I have parent-teacher meetings tomorrow and we promised the Ellis’ we would go out for cocktails right after. I’m not sure we’ll be home before you’ll be in bed.” Her heart broke as she spoke. After months of silent treatment, panic attacks, and hiding out in her room, her daughter was nearly begging to spend time with her and here she was saying “no.”
Julie’s excitement deflated like a balloon popped at the close of a 5-year-old’s birthday party. Her shoulders slumped and she shifted awkwardly in her seat. “It’s okay,” she said, trying to be as understanding as possible.
“Why don’t you tag along with us?” Fox asked. He picked up his skateboard and threw a reassuring glance in his mother’s direction.
“Are you sure?” their mom asked. “Won’t she be the only girl? Will the guys mind? I’m not so sure she’ll have fun.”
“Mom, seriously,” he said. “You need to relax. I used to tell people that I got my easy-going attitude from you. Please don’t make have to tell people it was really from Dad.”
She laughed. “You’re joking right? God bless your father, but he’s more tightly wound than a new wristwatch!”
“Okay, Mom. First of all, no one winds wristwatches anymore. They haven’t for, like, 75 years,” he said. “I’ll look out for her. She’ll have fun. It’ll be great, right kid?” he asked, looking toward his sister.
“Yup,” she replied.
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Emerald pulled her down the corridor, squeezing their bodies through tiny gaps in the massive, panicked conglomeration that was their friends and neighbours. She tried to slow her mind as she let Emerald guide her through the crowd. She tried to hone in on something, anything that would tell her what was going on or why. She tried, but all she could grasp was the fear and panic. The voices, internal and otherwise, calling out for answers of their own, trying to find their loved ones, desperately trying to reach their designated pods before it was too late.
She knew, from the moment it all began, that it was not a drill. Something in the panic of the crowd said that she wasn’t the only one who felt it. She knew it wasn’t a drill because she had chaired every single evacuation drill since the day they climbed through the hatch. As safety captain, that was one her major responsibilities.
Knowing she hadn’t planned this should have sent its own shockwave of fear through her mind, just as it appeared to be doing for the others. But something else was off. Aside from the panic slowly settling into the crowd around her, she hadn’t sensed any urgency. There were no signs that something was to come. She’d had no hint that anything untoward was to come. So, what was going on?
Julie sat in the back of her brother’s Jeep, stuffed between a duffle bag and one of the cutest guys in Sequoia Beach High’s soon-to-be junior class. Or, at least, that’s what all the other girls said. Since she started as a freshman last year she’d been too caught up with panic attacks and therapist appointments to really notice any of the guys. One thing she did know, though, was that even though he may be pleasing to look at from afar, Bryce had a ripe odor which made her wonder why any of the girls would want to snuggle up close to him.
Julie stayed quiet throughout the short drive through town and up the back roads to the lookout. She’d been feeling a little off-center again, a feeling that crept in on her more and more since she’d awoken that morning. Instead of engaging in any conversation with the guys around her, she homed in on the sounds of the reggae-ska mix filtering out through her brother’s enhanced speaker system. She let the music make its way through her ears and settle into the back of her brain and focused on trying to connect to its chill vibe. Tiny waves of fear and apprehension made their way into her mind and began to send pulses from her brain out toward her limbs, but she was able to stop them – breathing deeply and thinking to herself, I am calm. I am calm. I am calm.
The lights from town faded away behind the Redwood trees as Fox steered the Jeep up the hill, through the thickest part of the forest. Julie hadn’t been through the forest in years. Before she became plagued with panic life had simply gotten too busy for family hikes and outings. She’d been busy with school, 4H club, and keeping up with her friends. Her parents were busy trying to get the business started without losing the house in the process. And Fox’s goth-wannabe phase in his sophomore year had pulled him away from the rest of them for a while.
Looking up at the trees now, she somehow felt even smaller among them than she had as a child. Their thick trunks stood like pillars of time, stretching toward the sky. As the Jeep paused at a stop sign, she followed the sightline from the ground, straight up the trunk toward the sky. And then she saw it – the most magnificent dance of colors, greens and purples, like ribbons in the sky.