This is the story of a father who is estranged from his daughter.
|Jessica woke up in the middle of the night. She had set her alarm for 6am, but now it was only 4am and she was wide awake. She lay still, listening to her straying thoughts, thinking about this and about that. She had read once that if you wake up in the middle of the night and don’t fall asleep again within the next ten minutes, it was a lost cause. But knowing that she had to fall asleep within a certain time frame made her even more antsy and alert. She remembered a quote from this German writer, Georg Bucher or something, who had said that the tired body finds its resting place anywhere, but that a tired mind has nowhere to go to. And her tired mind, she thought, hadn’t gone to bed at all. If anything at all, it had woken her. Be that as it may, had she found herself in a situation like this five or six years ago, she probably would have cried herself back to sleep. Now she just accepted it and used the time to investigate her own mind.
She started by describing her situation: I’m a young female on Planet Earth, I’m lost in space, but I stick to a routine that makes no sense to me. I live inside a cage of brick walls, the white wallpaper makes it more pleasant and accommodating, but it is still and always will be a tiny cage in a megalopolis of cages. I spend my life running around, going nowhere. I change rooms, but my mind stays at the same place all the time, it doesn’t budge. I’m stifled by the force of peer pressure, I wake up, because that’s what the people around me do, I eat and drink, because that’s what people around me do, I go to school, sit in closed cages called classrooms, pretend to listen to human beings that call themselves teachers, because that’s what peers my age do. I was born or rather thrown into this world of routine, custom and mimicry. I never stop wondering who or what I might have become if I had been born or thrown into a deserted place. I’m unable to find out who or what I really am because at birth I was released into water, along with fish, forced to swim with the current, go with the flow. But deep down inside me, something tells me that I am not a fish. I am an undefined creature that, if only it were free, would possess the power to define itself.
At 5:59am that undefined creature with the eyes of a zombie, stared at the alarm as the LED- display changed to 6:00am. But before the alarm went off, she hit the snooze button and sat up in her bed. She felt absolutely wasted, but she knew that a hot and cold shower could freshen her up in a way that would enable her to make it through the day, to make it trough the goddamn day.
How people manage to get up every morning at age 80 or older is completely beyond me, she thought. I’m happy if I last until I’m 30.
Forty-five minutes later, she was sitting in the subway again, on her way to school. The nocturnal thoughts of living in a land of zombies were intensified by the people around her. Men and women of all ages, from all walks of life, were sitting around her, staring into the void or being literally absorbed by the electronic devices they were carrying around with them.
Madness, Jessica thought. Madness.
Again, the night started to take its toll on her, the world that she had accepted as normalcy seemed utterly strange and bizarre to her now.
What is it, Jessica, what is it? Why does your mind stray?
Walking on to the school campus, she caught herself looking out for Hannah. Almost a whole week had gone by without any word from her. It was strange, because at the outset it was Hannah who had come up to her, trying to establish a connection. Now it seemed as if all of this had never happened, as if Hannah had decided to treat her like a boyfriend you keep on tenterhooks. WTF?
But there was no chance for Hannah to avoid Jessica now. Hannah had been sick for their last chemistry lesson, but now, according to her online status, she was back to school again and she was bound to show up for their class with Mr. Rearden. And when Jessica walked into the classroom she noticed Hannah sitting on a chair in the back of the class. Hannah wasn’t looking up so it would have been Jessica’s job to go to her and drum up a conversation. But she hesitated for a moment. She was unable to explain her reluctance, especially since their last encounter had been joyful and relaxed. Just when she was about to give herself a little push, it was Mr. Rearden who, from the front of the class, called her name.
Jessica turned around and looked at her teacher, inexplicably puzzled by the fact that he knew her name.
“Mrs. Arnold wishes to see you in her office!”
Mrs. Arnold, the guidance counselor? Whatever for?
“Okay”, Jessica replied, smiling faintly at Mr. Rearden. “Right now?”
“Yes, I believe so.”
Jessica nodded her head. She tried one last time to make eye contact with Hannah, but to no avail. Without further ado, Jessica shouldered her school bag and was out the door.
“Ahh, Miss Hill, come right in”, Mrs. Arnold said after Jessica had knocked at and, upon permission from inside, opened the door.
“Sit down. I’ll be there for you in a moment.”
Jessica sat down and watched Mrs. Arnold typing something into her computer. Jessica hated moments like these, probably because she was largely used to the typical, overtly friendly American customer service where any employee would drop anything in fractions of a second just to make her feel comfortable. She wasn’t a big fan of that either, but she was a human being that thought it deserved more attention than a computer. Besides, whatever Mrs. Arnold was doing, it could wait, because a computer had no concept of time, it was impossible for this inanimate object to grow impatient with Mrs. Arnold. Jessica however, in general more alive than a PC, was. But Jessica understood the message behind Mrs. Arnold’s behavior. She was conveying the message that she was an awfully busy woman with a whole lot of things that she had to tend to and that Jessica should instead feel glad that Mrs. Arnold had made room for her in a busy schedule.
“Now”, Mrs. Arnold eventually said, turning her gaze from the computer screen to Jessica’s face, “what can I do for you?”
“I don’t know”, Jessica replied, “Mr. Rearden told me to come and see you.”
Mrs. Arnold laughed.
“Oh, yes, that’s right. Sorry, my mistake. Well, I just looked at my schedule, and, as you know, we are supposed to have semiannual meetings with the students we are in charge of, so I looked into my files and your name came up. That’s it, basically. So, how are you?”
Jessica immediately realized that something was very fishy about this. It was true that the counselors were held to talk to their students twice a year, but usually the students got an e-mail from their counselor in which they were asked whether they wanted to meet or not. And usually the students wrote back that there was no need. It was a win-win situation, really. The counselors and the students didn’t have to waste their time with stupid chitchat. Everybody was happy. The only time that Jessica had talked to Mrs. Arnold was when she had questions in regards to her syllabus. Organizational stuff, nothing private.
“I’m fine, thank you.”
“I looked into your grades and everything seems more or less okay, except maybe for Sports, Spanish, Chemistry and Biology.”
Jessica had to grin. That’s like half of my classes, she thought.
“I’m okay, really. I know what I have to do to not get a fail grade, and so far I’ve usually managed to do that.”
“That might be right, but I also consider it my job to ask what is keeping you from exploiting your full potential.”
“Maybe what I’m doing right now already is my full potential.”
“I find that hard to believe, Jessica. Your English teacher and your German teacher tell me that you have a knack for languages and that your one of their most level-headed students, so why these poor results in the other subjects?”
“Lack of interest I guess.”
“Sure there’s nothing else?”
Jessica paused for a moment. Obviously Mrs. Arnold was trying to segue into the real topic but Jessica still couldn’t fathom what the real topic was.
“Yep. Nothing else. Quite sure.”
Now it was Mrs. Arnold who paused for a moment.
“How do you get along with your dad?”
Jessica’s radar went up. Private questions?
“Great, I guess.”
“We get along just fine.”
Mrs. Arnold nodded and momentarily looked at the file in front of her. Then she looked up again.
“You have a boyfriend?”
This conversation was starting to get really uncomfortable. Why the inquisition about her private life? Why these questions from a counselor she had only met once in her life and who had to look at a file to be able to ask personal questions? Jessica decided to get straight to the point.
“Excuse me, Mrs. Arnold, but what is this about?”
Mrs. Arnold was hesitant, but it was quite clear that she had neither the time nor the nerve to beat about the bush any longer.
“Well, a few people on campus have raised concern about your well-being. They think.. or they’re afraid that something might be wrong and have asked me to talk to you.”
Jessica was puzzled. Who of the two or three people she knew on campus would do such a thing?
“Who?” Jessica asked consequently.
“Well”, Mrs. Arnold hastened to say, “let’s not focus on the sources, for now, let’s focus on the content of the concern. Are you okay? Are you well, I mean both physically and psychologically?”
Who ever is? Jessica thought, but didn’t say so. Of course, the relationship with her dad was not the best, of course she could have more friends on and outside of campus, of course she could focus more on school and of course there were times where she felt a little lost in space, but other than that she still considered herself to be a normal or normally frightened-of-life teenage girl. So what the heck was this all about?
“I’m well, Mrs. Arnold, really.”
“Well, do you have a boyfriend?”
“No, but as far as I know, a boyfriend is not necessarily a prerequisite to be well.”
Mrs. Arnold smiled.
“Of course not. Well, the people who have raised concern said that you might be having trouble with your boyfriend and that you don’t have anyone to talk to because there is no woman in your house and so I thought I’d ask. I know we haven’t met very often but I thought it might be easier for you to open up about female problems to a woman rather than to your father.”
Female problems? Jessica thought for a moment. Then it hit her like lightning. Of course: the letter, Mrs. Fronto.
“Is this about the letter I wrote in my Ethics class with Mrs. Fronto?”
Mrs. Arnold hesitated again.
“What if it was?” she eventually said.
Jessica gave off an angry laugh.
“Then this meeting is completely ludicrous. I’m not pregnant and I don’t want to have an abortion!” Jessica vomited out, feeling both relieved and furious.
Mrs. Arnold paused again. The outburst had surprised her a little. She felt inclined to reprimand the young lady for her inappropriate behavior but finally decided to just let it slide.
“So why the letter?” she asked instead.
Jessica felt so angry that she no longer had the will to hold back.
“Why the letter? Why the letter, you ask? Well, maybe because Mrs. Fronto is a bigot who pretends to be this open-minded, tolerant, love-thy-neighbor, born again Christian, when in fact she really is a die-hard Puritan who doesn’t accept any opinion that doesn’t fit her so called religious beliefs. Maybe I wrote the letter because I thought that school, or more specifically, an Ethics class is a place where you exchange and discuss different ideas and assess the validity of those ideas. Maybe, just maybe, I think it’s good to provoke new thoughts from time to time and maybe I do believe that women have the right to abort a child if the circumstances are difficult.”
Wow, Jessica thought of her own diatribe. That came out just right.
“Okay, okay”, Mrs. Arnold said conciliatorily. “I think there is some misunderstanding here. Nobody questions your right to voice your opinion. In fact, Mrs. Fronto was worried about you and when she told me what had happened and when she showed me the letter I figured there is no harm in talking to you. This is just an informal meeting that we’re having and now I know that you are fine and that you are not pregnant and don’t want to get an abortion, so that’s great. It doesn’t hurt to ask, does it?”
Jessica refused to answer the rhetorical question.
“Can I go?” she asked after pursing her lips for almost half a minute.
Mrs. Arnold felt like she had to share some final thoughts with Jessica in order to end the discussion on a good note. She understood what had upset Jessica and she wasn’t all that fond of Mrs. Fronto either. But the attitude on Jessica seemed so hostile that she was sure she wouldn’t be able to reach her, no matter how carefully she chose her words. And she had a lot of other stuff on her plate, so she was eager to end this, too.
“Yes, of course you can go”.
When Jessica left Mrs. Arnolds office to go back to Mr. Rearden’s chemistry class, she was still angry. She thought of all the questions and accusations that she would have liked to throw into Mrs. Arnold’s face but simply couldn’t think of when she was still in her office. If I really was expecting a baby and thought about abortion, would you try to stop me from doing it? If Mrs. Fronto was so concerned, why didn’t she speak to me directly? Did she wonder if Samantha Spalding was pregnant, too? Or would her teenage pregnancy be no problem because she was willing to have the baby?
As Jessica had reached and sat down again in Mr. Rearden’s class, she kept brooding about the issue for the remainder of the lesson. She only looked up once into Hannah’s direction, but it seemed as if Hannah was making an effort to not look into her direction.
News travels fast! Had she heard about the letter, too? Was she pissed because it was against her Catholic ethics? Only one way to find out.
When the lesson had ended and people were packing their bags, Jessica walked over to Hannah.
“Hey, how are you? Haven’t heard from you in a while” she asked as casually as possible. “I’d still like to got to that Vivian Maier exhibition you talked about.”
The look from Hannah said it all. There was no need to put it into words. But Hannah chose to do it anyway.
“I heard what you did. My parents are friends with Mrs. Fronto. Shame on you. And just so you know, I’m pro-life” Hannah spat out.
Really? Who would have thought? Jessica thought, trying not to chuckle. She felt like saying that the letter had been a joke, nothing more, and that, surely, their blossoming friendship wouldn’t and couldn’t be destroyed by something so insignificant. But Jessica was through with apologies. She was in no mood to eat crow.
“Okay”, she just said, acknowledging the discord.
There was silence, there was a last look, then Hannah was on her way out the door.
Good riddance, Jessica thought, as she watched Hannah storming off, but there was already some deep disappointment in the mix of feelings: another possible friend had gone AWOL.
The rest of Jessica’s school was pretty standard BS. There was no Ethics class with Mrs. Fronto because she was at a conference and the substitute teacher decided to show a film instead of actually teaching. He just popped in a DVD of The Truman Show and left the room only to come back in ever-widening intervals. Since Jessica had already seen The Truman Show but was too scared to just leave, she decided to draw one of her favorite Manga characters. Doodling away, she thought about shoichiyokoi and how she would tell him about her crappy day at school later on. Oh, shoichiyokoi, she whispered to herself, you’re my only friend now. It was meant to sound ironic, but there was a big pile of truth stashed underneath this rather thin layer of irony.
When school was out, she couldn’t wait to get home. Now this tiny cage called home was an eagerly anticipated refuge, a shelter for lost souls without any real friends. Jessica knew that her father wouldn’t be there and this allowed her even more to give in to her urge to hide from the outside world. As she got off the subway, she hastily walked to her apartment, opened the door and virtually ran into the darkest corner of her room to crouch and cover herself with a blanket. In the darkness, she felt a relief. The outside world didn’t exist and she was completely alone and happy. The impossibility of human interaction was so uplifting that Jessica silently shed tears of joy. For a moment, she wished to stay inside this feeling, but, as always, it slowly oozed away and there she was again, conscious and incarcerated in the real world. The only other escape she could think of now was virtual reality. She lifted the blanket, threw it onto her bed and then sat down at her desk. She booted her computer and once again logged into the Sailor Moon Room. There were a few avatars chatting away, but there was no sight of shoichiyokoi.
Jessica couldn’t wait any longer. She made use of the option to send private messages, clicked onto shoichiyokoi’s account and started to write:
Shoichiyokoi, are you there? Where are you? Come and find me!
She felt that that was everything she had to say. It was only when she looked back at her day at school that she finally decided to add a link to a Youtube video of Nick Cave’s song People just ain’t no good.
She clicked the Send button and heard the sound of the virtual letter flying to its destination. Jessica was communicating again.