With The Granddaughter on my mind I forget to be careful on my way to class. Molly Johnston, who was once my best friend and is now my worst nightmare, shoves me, and my unzipped backpack goes flying, my books and homework sliding out onto to the sidewalk in front of the school. Her bimbo friends laugh as I bend over and begin shuffling papers into a pile.
“Ooh, sorry about that Jess. Don’t kill yourself over it.”
I remember what Michael says about counting to ten to control my deepening anger as I shoulder my backpack. One, two, three . . . my homework is covered in chalky white grime from the shoe bottoms of the entire Hollywood High population . . . four, five, six, seven . . . I grit my teeth and taste dirt as I wipe it off and shove my papers back into the notebook . . . eight, nine, ten . . .
“Oh, hi Moll. Klutz much?” I ask sweetly. Molly’s posse, the same girls we both went to Girl Scout camp with years ago, giggle. Molly turns as red as her hair. I am calmer now, and I need to remember to tell my shrink Michael about this little victory: Here my arch nemesis and the most popular girl in school just got in my face, and I let it slide. I glare at her, wondering how it’s possible that she could have been my friend once, and how can she still be friends with my boyfriend? The people at this school are crazier than the ones in the mental ward I lived in last year.
“Be careful, Jess,” Molly says in a fakey-friendly way. “Jimmy doesn’t want to date a girl who embarrasses herself in front of everybody.”
“I’m not embarrassed,” I say as I zip up my backpack.
“You should be,” she whispers, and she brushes her fingertips across the faded scars on my left wrist. She and her best buddy Cristabelle Jenners, the bitch who turned Molly against me in the eighth grade, whisper as they slither away. I cringe but hold in the outburst that roils inside of me. Jimmy comes to the rescue, sweeping his arm across my middle.
“Hey babe,” he says. He holds me up as I’m about to crumble and I feel relief. “I saw that whole thing. Molly’s such a bitch.”
“Can’t you do anything about them?” I ask uselessly, but I know the rules even before he shakes his head. Jimmy’s a jock, dating “The Freak” on campus (me). The only girl with dyed black hair and attempted suicide scars. And while I used to be a part of their group until our last year of middle school, when our dance classes turned into gagglefest cheerleading squads, and I thought it was lame and said so, then I became The Target. Now the cheerleading and jock crowd think I’m just a phase Jimmy’s going through, and I can tell they’re just waiting for me to disappear. But this time, I won’t disappear. I smile up at Jimmy. He kisses me slowly on the lips as the bell rings. My nightmare of a morning melts away. We go our own ways, me to science, and him to social studies, and I realize that in the confusion I forgot to tell him about The Granddaughter and show him the welts on my upper arm. When I put on my jacket in biology class I notice the marks are fading and hard to make out.
My shrink Michael is wearing his usual geeky Bill Cosby-inspired sweater, and once again I wonder who does his shopping. I suspect his mother but I’ve got more pressing issues at hand as I sit in his office after school. Coming here twice a week is the only way the school would take me back after what happened last spring.
“She did it on purpose,” I mutter, and Michael nods knowingly. “But I counted to ten. I didn’t get pissed off, I mean, lose my temper, or turn on myself. Just like you ordered.”
“We have discussed the strong feelings Molly has about you regarding the person you’ve become, and how she cannot disassociate herself from you and it frightens her, so she acts out violently against you. Knowing that, how do you feel about maintaining control?” Michael asks in that light monotone way of his that, by now, feels really comforting.
I pause. Michael’s trained me not to answer a question without thinking it through.
“I feel like I wish I’d hit her, because if I could just hit her once, she’d probably leave me alone and then I wouldn’t have a problem.” The honest answer.
Michael’s disappointed by it, I can tell. He breathes in this nasally way when he’s disappointed. When he’s pleased, he licks his lips.
“Well, maybe that would solve that small portion of the problem. But you’d have a bigger problem, ultimately, wouldn’t you? You’d be in trouble with the school, probably get detention or suspended, and then you’d have a lot of people angry with you.”
“A lot of people are already angry with me,” I say.
“Let’s talk about that, then. What makes you feel as if people are angry with you?”
It’s like a game we play, I think. I say this, you say that, I say this until I say the thing you want me to say, and then we stop, until next time. I’m a little tired so I try to think of something to say that he wants me to say.
“Well, aren’t they angry, Michael? Didn’t I break all the rules by trying to leave everything behind? It’s like I ditched class and they all had to stay, and they’re jealous. They didn’t want to get left behind. They’re curious, you know, but not brave enough to try it or anything like that. So they’re mad at me. They can’t relate to me any more because I broke the rules of the game.”
There, I think. Chew on that for awhile. Michael licks his lips. I suppress my smile.
“So you think that people are angry with you because you made a move–trying to kill yourself–that they only wish they could make? Is that your feeling?” The monotone raises slightly at the end, and I know the session is nearly over. “And you relate suicide with ditching a class . . . that’s a fascinating perspective, Jessie. And a very real response to your past history. I appreciate it when you share with me on that level. Your feelings about how others view you may be valid, Jessie, but that doesn’t mean that their feelings are accurately portraying you. You are not their feelings. You are your own person. You don’t need to get caught up in other people’s opinions of you.”
“I know,” I say, and I mean it but I’m bored with the Michael Game now. What I really want to say is that I was visited by an alien last night, Michael, only she wasn’t really an alien but my great-great-great-great-great infinity time-traveling granddaughter from eons in the future! And there really are no aliens, just these humanoids from her time, and I’m some sort of genetic marker for this future race of humans and my relationship with Jimmy Becker has something to do with it, isn’t that beyond cool? But I know, by now, exactly what will and won’t get me thrown back into the Not-So-Funny-Farm. I shut down, pull my energy inward. Michael studies me a moment and recognizes that it’s time to stop.
“That’s enough for today, Jessie. Except before we go I want to talk to you more about your brother . . . that look you gave the knives this morning was an immature step backward, don’t you agree?”
“Mother called you?”
“Yes, as I have asked her to do when you regress to this level. However your standing up to Molly Johnston was a step forward, and I applaud you. These are all the tiny steps toward recovery, Jessie. I’m proud of you.”
Michael gives me his usual little impersonal sideways shoulder squeeze, and pats me on the arm, right where The Granddaughter touched me. The spot burns a bit after he touches it but I still have my hoodie on so I can’t tell if the welts are there. I’m tempted to check but decide it would be too hard to explain if they are there.
“I’ll see you at our next scheduled appointment, then,” Michael says and I pick up my backpack and leave. I rush to the bathroom at the end of the hallway. Once inside I slip my jacket off my shoulder. The welts are there, and I’m surprised. They look even more glowy than before. I’m even more surprised when I look in the mirror, and there beyond my tired face and messy Ebony-Midnight Number Three hair stands The Granddaughter, shimmering in that wavy blue way and looking down on me with the wisdom of the ages shining in her huge black eyes. I turn around and there is no one there, no tall alien-like being standing behind me with those knowing eyes, but when I look in the bathroom mirror again I see that blue sparkling light that I saw the night before when The Granddaughter disappeared, and suddenly I feel woozy. The floor beneath me is rubbery and coming closer, closer. I surrender to it.