Sulli cleaned up her face and finished her meeting with Eva. They scheduled a meeting for the following week. There wasn’t much discussion after Sulli left her heart on the floor and the box of tissues empty. She was glad to have a safe place to show her vulnerability. She sat in the car for a few minutes, not starting the engine, not ready to drive yet. Her mind was slowly remembering the embarrassment she felt when her vulnerability wasn’t controllable. When it was so surprising and overwhelming it spilled out all over the floor in public and there was a spotlight on Sulli. Her mind started to race.
Time had become a distant acquaintance. Never noticing how swiftly it was passing until everything was different and there had only been a blink of the eyes. Sulli had always heard of this kind of thing from other people. Parents, geriatrics who longed for the days of their youth. Her old life was coming into focus, right there sitting in a parking spot outside of the doctors office. Focus on today, focus on today, the present. Before it disappears and like a magic trick and tomorrow becomes today.
She couldn’t. Her eyes glazed over.
She thought back to the time her life derailed. The first time she met the now familiar frienemy who tied sailors knots in her stomach. She was seventeen. She was seventeen again, and as if someone hypnotized her, Sulli was transported in time. It was another life, light years away, not just two decades. Sulli was naive to the absolute guarantee the next twenty years would throw her into the boxing ring and pummel her like Tyson. Every time she’d stupidly get back up she’d get hit harder. Eventually she’d be left on the floor, bleeding, out of breath, and no energy to get back up.
Back in 1999 Sulli was working at the little grocery store after school. It was her first job, minimum wage, ringing groceries and selling lottery tickets. She wore an ugly maroon smock over her stylish ’90’s gear she spent her whole paycheck on every Friday. Sulli was in her senior year of high school. Her parents provided a car to her last year when her mom got sick. It made the travels from school, to work, to the hospital, and home again, easier. No one had to take care of Sulli or worry about driving her anywhere. She was more of a burden at this time. The youngest of the family and not quite grown up yet. She didn’t know that though.
Sulli’s Mom had made it out of the hospital. Made it home with a live in nurse and all the accoutrements that come with a nine month battle in ICU. Sulli didn’t know how she got sick, or even how threatening it was, she just thought it was normal. Sulli didn’t think it was odd for her mother to be sick at a young age, especially that sick. She didn’t know other families would have both parents and even grandparents for years and years. Sulli would get a swift punch to the ribs, while guarding her face in that boxing ring, eventually. She never worried about anything but what she was going to wear under her ugly maroon smock the next day. It was nice to have Mom home, but was there really anything to worry about anyway? Sure, she looked different, skinny, older, and a little humble. Sulli’s Mom had always been a strong boss lady. She worked in downtown Pittsburgh, one of the tall buildings Sulli could see from Grandview Avenue. They lived atop the city and Sulli grew up looking down at the beautiful and mesmerizing lights, the hustle and bustle of cars and people. The operation of small metropolis, which from high atop Mt. Washington, made everything look so simple. It certainly was a grand view.
Sulli picked up her best friend Beth before school every morning. They would stop for coffee and smoke cigarettes. They were always late for first period but in their minds they were grown ups. Sulli often got detention for being late to first period. She hated it and it made her late for work but she hated not stopping for coffee and cigarettes even more. Priorities were straight for sure.
Over the weekend Sulli and Mom went to the mall, as they did all the time before she was sick. Everything was back to normal. Almost anyway. Sulli had to drive the car, which made her mother more than a little nervous. She proudly showed her mom the new drivers license she had gotten while her mother was in the hospital. Sulli was pictured with her larger than life smile, beaming with pride. Her green eyes looking small and squinted in comparison. Sulli hated that her smile was larger than her face. She also hated her curly, frizzy hair taking over the small rectangle of her license picture. She had braces twice to fix her buck teeth but nothing worked, her smile still took over every picture. Every time Sulli laughed out loud all thirty two of her teeth showed. Her mother laughed until she cried looking at Sulli’s new drivers license. Sulli snatched it up and didn’t see what was so funny. Her mother couldn’t stop laughing.
Once they arrived at the mall Sulli was the driver of the wheelchair. She wheeled her mother around to all their favorite stores, Mom picked out a new red sweater with a hood that zipped up for Sulli. She got a matching tank to go underneath too. Sulli still wears the hoodie twenty years later, it’s tattered and fraying, she doesn’t care. They cruised all around the mall that day, shopping and laughing. It was the last time Sulli would feel normal, it was the last time she would feel happy, it’s the last time she would feel anything really.
Eventually over the next few weeks Sulli’s mom became stronger. The live in nurse was now only there a couple days a week. Sulli started her senior year and they talked about colleges and prom and the future. One day when Sulli was late to school, she got detention. She wanted to run home before work so she skipped it and took the suspension. She ran home and grabbed her ugly maroon smock. Right before she left she went to her mom who was curled up with her knees to her chin, sitting on the couch. For the first time Sulli saw her mom as a human being, instead of a super woman. She looked so small, she noticed her glasses were too big for her face now that she had lost so much weight from being ill. She leaned in and kissed her on the cheek.
‘I gotta go to work. I’ll see you when I get home around eleven. I love you.’
Those were the last words Sulli said to her mother.
That night Sulli was in the zone quickly scanning canned corn, gallons of milk, white bread. They were crushed at the grocery store. It was about 9:00 and the lines were down the freezer aisle. Sulli’s cranky manager with the bad make up had to come out of the office and open an extra lane. When Sulli turned around to bag someone’s food her cousin was standing at the end of the register.
‘Sullivan, your mom had to to go to the hospital again.’
Sulli didn’t flinch. Her mom had so many frequent trips to the hospital, she’d go after work and see her.
‘Um, I think you should come now.’
Sulli glanced at her manager. She nodded at Sulli and waved her hand. Wait. Her cranky, mean, manager with the bad make up, was letting Sulli leave work early, with the customers backed up down the freezer aisle? Something was wrong. It just clicked. Something was very wrong.
By the time Sulli arrived at the hospital everyone was waiting for her. They gathered into a small white room with white couches and they laid it on her. She was the only one sitting on the white couch now, it was the first time she unknowingly blocked everyone else out. Her mother had a heart attack, in front of Eat n Park, a small diner down the street from Sulli’s work. She was right down the street? She collapsed in Sulli’s dad’s arms, while someone called 911. She collapsed? She had gone so long without oxygen to the brain she was now in a coma.
She was in a coma.
When Sulli drove home from the hospital that night she drove all over the city. Finally she pulled over on a dark street. She sat on the curb next to a mailbox and cried.
The next week Sulli buried her mother.
She was back in her car, she was 38 again. She started the engine and headed straight home.