I’m not sure. Because I don’t think I was “fine” before I met you. I was lame. I was limited. I want to be better for you.
Oh, my God, I’m becoming Jack Nicholson in As Good As It Gets.
(Can we agree by the way that Helen Hunt was way too hot for him? My god. Ew!)
From: Millie M.
Sent: 9:14 pm, May 9
I ran into Alex today while getting lunch, and I swear we both had the guiltiest looks on our faces after we hugged, like I’m not supposed to get the guy friends in this divorce—and we both know it. So, I wanted to tell you that I saw Alex, but I promise not to make plans with any of them without your permission.
It was so good to see him, though. I miss you, of course, but I miss them, too. I’ve never had friends like this, and I swear I am this close to getting a cat because I am so fucking lonely.
I want you to know that Ed and Alex really wanted no part of the secret Catherine situation. Ed was a basket case, and Alex seemed mostly perplexed by the whole thing. If you’re mad at anyone, of course, be mad at me. Those guys are good, and you deserve good.
I’m sorry I ever let you believe otherwise.
Usually she writes at night. I’ve come to expect it, and I wonder what will happen if, one day, I check the IRL app when I head to bed, or when I first wake up in the morning, and there isn’t a note there.
I look forward to them, even if I’m not sure how I want to reply yet. I find that by around four in the afternoon, my stomach feels like it’s risen to my chest, my hands are restless, and I feel the same way I used to feel before starting a race: excited, but also a little queasy.
Millie’s honesty is refreshing, but it’s also disorienting. It makes me feel famished—I want more—and it’s also frustrating to continue to read it, knowing that it’s so much harder for her to do it in person.
But she is trying. Maybe it’s a start.
I read last night’s message again, and then get to work early to help Shaylene practice a presentation she’s giving to the department at eleven. Since she’s finishing up her first year of graduate studies, she has to present the work she’s done so far. It’s a big milestone for the first-year students, and Shaylene—who is much like my father, which is to say not a natural orator—has been dreading this for weeks.
So it is both nice and surprising to find Ed already there, going through it with her. It looks like they’ve been here for some time already: notes are scattered across the conference room table, the slide projector is on, and Shaylene is bent over her laptop, editing a slide.
Perhaps not surprisingly, things are still weird with Ed. Mostly what’s weird is treating him like any other employee in the lab, rather than my right hand and one of my best friends. He’s been nothing but professional since all the crap with Millie and Cat went down, but it stings a little when we both go to make an old inside joke then abruptly stop. Or when I see him leaving to go meet Chris and Alex for lunch and he no longer asks if I want to come.
Ed looks up when I come into the conference room, and with a quiet “Hey, Reid,” he bends to collect his notebook and pen, like he’s going to gather his things and leave me to help Shaylene prep solo.
“Stay, Ed,” I say. “I was just coming to make sure everything was going okay.”
We’ve spoken; it’s not like there’s a complete silent treatment happening in the lab, but I’m sure everyone notices that something has changed. Shaylene looks back and forth between the two of us, concerned.
“She’s good,” Ed says. “I pretended to be Scott and grilled her about all the experimental minutiae, and she seems pretty firm on everything.”
Shaylene confirms this with a nod. “He was really helpful.” She glances at Ed and gives him a shy flash of a smile. “Thanks, Ed.”
“Good; good job.” I hesitate, unsure whether either of them needs me there. I am increasingly aware of having become The Boss in the past year or so—especially after procuring tenure. With that awareness comes the next one—that I am somewhat scary, and therefore not always a grad student’s first choice to work out practice talks. “Okay, I’ll be down in my office if anyone needs me.”
I turn to leave, but Shaylene stops me. “Dr. Campbell? Would you like to go get coffee with us?”
She looks at Ed and nods, like she’s prompting him. He wordlessly scrutinizes her for a few beats before quickly nodding, too.
“Yes. Coffee,” he says. “Right.”
I check my watch. I’ve generally avoided spending much time with Ed if I don’t need to, but right now I don’t have any good reason to decline. “Sure.”
But as soon as we get out in the hall, Shaylene pulls up short. “You know what? I think I want to go tinker with my transition slides a little. You guys go on ahead. I’ll catch you in a bit.”
Ed and I stand there, aware that we’ve been set up by a wily twenty-two-year-old. We watch her walk down the hall toward the stairwell leading to our lab.
Ed growls, and then silence descends. I feel him turn to look at me. “We don’t have to go grab coffee, you know.”
“Did Shaylene really just set us up?” I ask.
“Yup.” He reaches up, and his fingers disappear in his mop of hair as he scratches his scalp. “The joke in the lab is that Mom and Dad are fighting.”
I stare at him, somewhat speechless.
“I think I’m the mom,” he clarifies. “Which is pretty rad.”
And I don’t know what it is about this in particular, but I just burst out laughing. At first unsure, Ed finally grins. And then he throws his arms around me, pressing his face to my shoulder. “I missed you so much. I’ve felt like complete shit. I’m so, so sorry, man.”
I reach up and pat his back. Forgiveness is so fucking freeing. I feel immediately like I can relax my shoulders for the first time in weeks. I feel the tiniest bit closer to not only the freedom of forgiving Millie, but the relief of being near her again, too.
From: Millie M.
Sent: 1:11 am, May 10
I guess you need an update on the Elly/Dad situation if you’re going to understand the rest of this ramble, so here goes.
Dad was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease about a year and a half ago. I should have told you, I know. We hadn’t known each other long, and diseased parents turn conversations serious, real fast. I’m shitty at talking about personal stuff not only because I feel awkward talking about myself, but also because I don’t like turning a conversation into a downer.
Anyway. From the start, they started Dad on a medication called Sinemet, which I’m sure you know all about. So, for a while it was okay—it helped.
But as the dopamine cells in his brain continue to die, the Sinemet is less effective, right? Because it relies on the remaining healthy cells in order to work? I’m trying to understand the science behind all of it. Anyway, his neurologist is recommending deep brain stimulation, and he’s resisting, even though Elly really wants him to try it.
Elly has been managing whatever he needs help with, but with the twins she’s exhausted. She’s asked me to come home a few times, and I have—for a weekend here and there—but she wants me home for a good month so that she and Jared can take a vacation, and probably also just so that Dad has some time with me.
I’d been resisting because I hate being home. Do you remember that time we went to Hendry’s Beach to watch the dogs in the water? You knew something was off, and you didn’t push me to tell you what was going on, but I’d just found out about the diagnosis. I lasted maybe four hours after I found out, and then flew back here. I felt so guilty, but I hate being there, and hearing that Dad was sick was like getting Mom’s diagnosis all over again.
So, there are two things I’m telling you. One, I started therapy two weeks ago. I’m going twice a week and so far it’s been really great. I’m actually talking. Her name is Anna, and she’s funny and seems to get me, and is helping me fix my stupid emotional brain.
Two, I’m going home for three and a half weeks in July. Dad’s having the surgery on June 22, and I’ll be there when he gets out of the physical rehabilitation facility on July 2 until the 25th.