Mom is reapplying her lipstick when I open the car door. She startles at the sound and shoves the tube of Tutti Frutti Pink up her nose. I don’t even try to cover my laugh. Really, that could not have worked any better if I’d planned it. I wish I could say this chronic primping started after the divorce, but sadly, no. I wouldn’t be surprised to find dividend checks from all the major cosmetics companies in our mailbox.
“Don’t sneak up on me like that!” she says, examining the mess in the mirror.
“Sorry.” As I slide into the front seat, I move her makeup bag to the armrest and hand her a tissue to wipe the lipstick off her nose. Then I flip open the mirror in the visor to check my own face. Yep, it’s still there behind my geek-chic specs. My glasses are top, but it would be nice if my eyes didn’t have that mopey puppy look. I slam the visor back in place. Aarf.
“Don’t do that to my car,” Mom says, completing her retouch with a mist of Christian Dior Poison, which sticks to the back of my throat. I give a little hairball cough.
“Sorry,” I say again, and then wonder why I’m the one apologizing when she just tried to asphyxiate me with a poison cloud. I hate that the word sorry comes out of my mouth more than any other in my vocabulary when I’m around her. It’s only one of a jillion reasons I’d rather be with my dad. The problem is I haven’t yet come up with a clever plan for bringing Dad back from all his business trips. And it seems like some corporate emergency always interrupts my weekends with him. Not that I would ever admit that to Mom.
I talk to Dad more often when he’s out of town than I do when he’s here. We use that walkie-talkie thing on our cell phones all the time. I give him the lowdown on Mom’s most recent embarrassing moment, and he tells me the latest factoids he picked up from watching CNN in his hotel room. I’ve blocked Mom’s number from mine so that she doesn’t have that same instant access to me; she has to use my phone number like everyone else. What’s funny is she still hasn’t figured out what I did. She keeps calling the company to complain about it, and she even exchanged her phone once. I felt kind of bad after that, but I refuse to unblock her. I have my boundaries.
“So what did you talk about?” Mom says as soon as we pull out of the parking lot.
GRRRR. This is exactly the reason she can’t know about my panic attacks. Not only is she prying, she’s also taking it for granted that I’m going to spill. I open my mouth to deflect her nosiness with some clever bit of sarcasm, but then I feel the first warning: a tightening in my chest.
Oh, come on. Not now.
I close my mouth and try to breathe normally through my nose. If I can keep from hyperventilating, maybe it won’t happen this time. Okay, so maybe I wasn’t being entirely truthful with Dr. Henry. The number of attacks has decreased. What I didn’t share was that the intensity of the ones I do have has increased. Exponentially.
“Kelsee, what did Dr. Henry say?” I hear Mom speaking, but her voice is hollow and it echoes in my ears in a pitch that’s too high, even for her. It amazes me that with all this weirdness going on inside my head, she can’t see that anything is wrong. I try to answer her in an attempt to keep reality in focus, but my jaw locks and a vibration hums through my teeth. The cars in front of us streak away on ribbons of silver, blue, and gold. Buildings and trees fly past our car in a muddy blur as if they’ve turned to liquid and smeared across the windows. Centrifugal force anchors my body in the seat, like I’m at the top of a rollercoaster loop, and the only movement I can manage is closing my eyes.
Oh Gilda, I pray, invoking the spirit of my favorite comedian. Help me now.