1. If given the task of styling yourself, what would you choose as the accoutrements?
2. Who’s the most interesting person you’ve ever been worn by?
First off, it’s not so much a person as it is persons. With that, the whole thing started with the reclusive heiress who hadn’t stepped a solitary foot outside of her august, Sutton Place home in over ten years and her nurse, Pam. Pam looked on as her boss held the phone to her ear, spindly hand lightly shaking, blue veins reminiscent of petrified lightning darting through. The heiress was currently lodged in a nasty conversation with her seventy-one-year-old, cad of a son currently residing gratis in what was once her Gramercy Park pied-à-terre. “What is that noise, Carol?” she asked in a powdery quaver. “I’m eating Pop Rocks! And that’s not the point! What do you care if I’m here?! I’m here! You haven’t left the house in over ten years! You haven’t even seen half of it in over five,” he yelled. “And you have not done an honest day’s work in all your life,” Ethel replied. Although measured and with grace, Ethel immediately regretted the rejoinder. After all, this was her child. Mothers weren’t supposed to speak to their children in such a manner. Had you told her as she was staring lovingly into Carol’s eyes of Guinness-Mitford blue, gently pulling his tiny, malleable arm through the Ayrshire christening gown that this is what their relationship would devolve into she would have laughed in your face. The brief, elegiac look back was proof that all she did was love him, her prodigal son who could do no wrong; that is until around the age of seventeen when wrong started to follow him everywhere he went. She had no idea who this person was screaming back at her, a virtual stranger, but a part of her still. Is it possible to love a child too much? Where were the boundaries during those formative years, the parameters that guaranteed he would grow into a well-formed member of society? With the sound of weird porn and the son’s girlfriend telling him to tell her to go fuck herself, Ethel could only end the call, “Carol, I love you dearly but I would prefer it if you were out of my home by the end of the month. If you are not out by then, I will be forced to have you removed.” Ethel placed the phone in the cradle, bringing to a close a barrage of things one should never say to a stranger let alone their mother. Pam looked on, trying to maintain a supportive stance while internally passing judgment on the sorry excuse Carol turned out to be. She asked Ethel, “Are you okay?” Ethel swallowed hard and gave Pam a single nod. And there it was. Pam realized all too well that Ethel had encased herself in the Teflon exterior of a class so moneyed, with ways so staid, so regimented, a history so emotionally rooted, happiness was standing on the shores and gazing out over the exact path their ancestors took when arriving on this land. Pam returned to reading her book, giving Ethel the needed space but periodically glancing up to make sure she was, in fact, okay. Ethel made a sudden move toward a nearby side table and plucked from it a small paper bag. “I almost forgot,” she said as she handed the bag to Pam, “I had these delivered for Sabrina. Growing up, Carol couldn’t get enough.” Pam peeked inside the bag to find three pieces of Bonomo Turkish Taffy. Pam smiled, “She’ll love it. Thank you.” Ethel returned the smile then turned her attention outside to passing foot traffic: A maid walking three fanning-tail Cavaliers. A young mother in a cashmere cape and tortoise shell sunglasses pushing a pram. Three little boys racing down the street as their father trailed behind, holding remnants of school uniforms. Ethel smiled and moved closer to the window, “Pamela, look.” Pam looked out the window, “What am I looking at?” Ethel pointed, “That jumpsuit. I think I want it.” There, gliding down the street was a young, professional woman in me. “You think or you know?” Pam asked. A grey, toothy grin spread across Ethel’s face, deepening the fleshy tributaries on either side of her mouth and beyond. “I know,” Ethel said. “Okay then. I’ll be right back,” Pam replied as she hoisted herself up and out of the Paul Evans lounger. “Thank you,” Ethel said with a smile as Pam stood and exited the room. On her way down the stairs, two, simple words raced through Pam’s head, “Wealthy. People.” Pam would never truly understand the ilk, the ones of this caliber to be more specific. The kind that would rather die than announce even a hint of flash. The kind who produced seventy-one-year-old men with twenty-eight-year-old girlfriends who fed them Pop Rocks as they watched porn and raced side by side on ellipticals inside the finest piece of real-estate the isle of Manhattan had to offer without having worked a day in their lives. This all ventured far beyond money, beyond fortunes héréditaires to a place too complicated to put into words. However, Pam stopped short of casting full judgment for she was sure her socioeconomic group had their own healthy share of foibles and quirks. But all of that aside, one thing she did know was that she loved Ethel. In the last few years, Ethel had taken to finishing Pam’s thoughts. This old woman was inside of her head. The truth is, Pam had worked for plenty of people who treated her as if being kind to the help was some sort of cross to bear. She had never felt more other than when in their presence. But none of this happened with Ethel. Ethel was the only person who referred to Pam as “Pamela.” Prior to that, Pam’s mother was the only person who’d ever done such a thing.
3. In the end, did she catch up to the young professional in you?
Of course. Why else am I here telling the tale? Anyway, back in the manse, Pam sat at a Les Lalanne, that had nestled in it a computer so old it possessed the air of a Luddite, and typed, “West… wood.” “There it is,” Ethel rejoiced. “What size are you?” Pam asked. “The smallest one they have. And order one for yourself,” Ethel answered. “I don’t want one,” Pam replied. “That is too, too bad because you’re getting one,” said Ethel. It was in that moment Pam could feel a tiny, imaginary Sabrina take a seat on her shoulder and tiny, imaginary Sabrina was not happy. “Who’s Sabrina?” you ask because I know you were about to; it’s your job. I get it. Anyway, Sabrina was seventeen and the apple of Pam’s eye. Her everything. It was just the two of them. The child came into the world with aplomb and has only amassed more as the years have rolled on. If Pam could put money on it, Sabrina would definitely classify this moment as both patronizing and cliche, “How are we supposed to be taken seriously if we keep playing the role of subordinate? Overjoyed by the scraps we’re given? A jumpsuit? Really?!” And it’s not as if Sabrina, on her way to Yale, wasn’t aware of the fact that it was because of Ethel and her connections that she was able to place high up on the list at said institution that will, God willing and the creek don’t rise, lead to Oxbridge – she’s fine with either just so we’re clear. Sabrina hated that her tie to the very echelon she abhorred so was the reason she received the jumping off point, “Exactly! The thought of it’s nauseating! The thought that I needed that extra push that I actually didn’t need at all to get to where I am! The thought that you alone couldn’t walk into the registrar’s office and say, ‘My very capable child would like to attend this school!’ The fact that no matter how smart I am there’s a portion of this world that’ll always perceive my success the result of a handout! And why?! Why?! The whole thing’s vile! And it’s not true but that’s an entirely different conversation!” Imaginary Sabrina made a very strong point and that, in turn, made Pam very sad. Imaginary or not, Sabrina was far too young to know the mechanics of this society. “Emerson was right,” imaginary Sabrina exclaimed as she paced back and forth between Pam’s shoulders. “Wilde was right! ‘Selfishness is not living as one wishes to live; it’s asking others to live as one wishes to live.'” Pam remembered the days of her young life, the days when the world felt surmountable. You didn’t know exactly how it would happen but you knew somehow, some way your voice would be heard. Where did that portion of life disappear to for Sabrina? Why hadn’t she tasted at least a tiny sliver of the levity? Even if in the end it all turned out to be a lie, at least give her the look back so she could at least remember what it felt like to be so optimistically naive. And what a priceless gift it is, for it’s only in those moments greatness is born, the moments when neither side, the one for you nor the one against you, has a voice. Pam had tasted it. As a child of course as most children do. Then again, Pam could be completely wrong about Sabrina’s reaction. After all, she was only tiny and imaginary.
4. This Sabrina sounds like a real pistol. Curious… What did the real Sabrina think of you?
Slow down, you move too fast, pal. I’ll get to that. In any case, Ethel, deep in a daydream, was knocked out of the waking slumber by a gavel-like rap on the door. Christine, the great-great-granddaughter of the family’s original interior designer had arrived in all of her patrician, militant-bob glory. After a brief explanation from Ethel, Christine popped to her feet, “Don’t worry, Mrs. Crane. I’ll make it happen. After all, it was right here in this very home that my great-great grandfather made it happen. After that, my great grandmother made it happen and after that, my grandfather made it happen and after that, my mother. Now, it’s my turn.” “I was here at every turn save for the first, dear,” Ethel replied rather curtly as she took Christine’s hand. “So very true, Mrs. Crane,” Christine replied with a snort. Pam tried to focus on the conversation but her mind was consumed by the previous evening’s events. She was sitting at the kitchen table, skimming the newspaper when Sabrina came charging through the door and just as it slammed the poor thing seemed to lurch into a fit of tears. Through the sobs, Sabrina was able to relay that she had just gotten into a fight with her best friend, Ceci. On what seemed like just another casual walk home from school, Ceci had given to Sabrina the death knell of their friendship. It had something to do with race, who’s here and who’s there, who wants to work, who doesn’t want to work mixed in with some subconscious thought stuff that’s hard to police because the poor person doesn’t even realize they’re thinking it. The specifics will only be polarizing and so I’ll say this, you, humans, as a race won’t be colonizing anything save for copious amounts of Op-Eds for the foreseeable future. Gutted is the only word to describe the feeling consuming Sabrina in the moment following Ceci’s statement. Sabrina picked her head up from Pam’s shoulder and asked, “What does that even mean? What?!” Pam tried to tell her that Ceci didn’t mean anything by it. Pam, of course, was lying for she knew you say things like that to only mean something by it. It might not at all mean the thing spilling from your mouth but there is a healthy splattering of stinging intent there. It’s a clear punch to the gut, a poke to the eye, a way of telling a person exactly where you think they stand in this game called life without saying the actual words. Pam couldn’t believe such tropes were being dusted off and passive-aggressively suggested once again to an entirely new generation but not just any generation. This was the post-racial generation, Gen-Z to be exact, the saviors next up at bat. Sidenote. Is “Gen-Z” honestly the best you could come up with? No shade but it just feels so… eh. In any case, it was supposed to be the generation that would embody “I’d like to buy the world a Coke” beyond the commercial gimmick of gradated skin tones singing together on a hillside. The fact that the ways of yore hadn’t been laughed out of town by the supposed Benneton ad come to life spoke volumes. Pam instantly felt like an idiot for ever believing these nuggets of ignorance had all but been snuffed out. Painfully young and dimwitted Ceci was here to make sure of that. The question had to be asked and so, yes, as a jumpsuit with nary a cat at this dish, I’ll ask it. Does this utopia you all seem to be working so tirelessly to reach, or achieve, rather, does it exist? Sometimes I think you all need that particular chum in order to feel as if it all has meaning, however, maybe this seemingly attainable thing is nothing more than the stuffed bunny on the race track. Unfortunately, the biggest problem with this particular idea is that you have too many groups and each group is chasing after a different stuffed bunny. My point? The case can be made that you’ll never hive-mindedly know utopia because utopia is different for everyone. Leading me to make the further case for maybe, just maybe too many utopias equal hell. Huh… something to ponder, right?
5. Listen– and I’m not knocking this particular situation you’ve found yourself smack in the middle of but my next assignment had better be a choker of some sort. Now they know how to have a good time. All of ’em. Wanna know the sum total of the issues being bandied about with their crew? They’re leaving Aspen and going directly to whiling the days away on the sun-soaked shores of Saint-Barthélemy, winter breaking it in Tulum, shouting out squads on the Snap, shoving goals and inspirational word salads in your face on the gram, losing their minds over a new lip stain craze, swimming in a vat of active wear as day wear, eating organic, and sure, they might’ve eased up on the documenting of avo-toast consumption but they’re more than making up for it with poured over coffee while taking subdued action shots in front of Levitated Mass, a wall, on the High Line, ol’ Eiffel, a Google sign! What Google sign you ask?! Any Google sign while accenting it all with non-threatening, high-wasted, loose-fitting, strategically ripped denim that dudes do not find sexy nor hot! And how do I know this?! The dudes won’t shut up about it but that doesn’t stop the ladies from wearing them! And again, not that I’m knocking this particular story and all Sabrina’s going through but this is what I get for taking a nice, well-intentioned hiatus! I couldn’t simply return to fun, start-of-winter shenanigans could I?
Welcome back, friend. It’s a pretty bleak scene as of late and so a few tokes or a robust tincture might do you good. In any case, Pam sought solace in the fact that Sabrina’s precipice-life crisis was happening under her watch so she could at least be there to comfort Sabrina in the way only a loving mother could. The thought instantly traveled to what would happen once Sabrina was out there in the world where she would have to be both ward and caretaker. What Ceci had said was only the tip of the iceberg; there were plenty more teachable moments out in the world to be had at Sabrina’s expense. Would the child be grounded before she stepped out of the gate? Would she become so bitter, so resentful before anyone could see all she had to offer? Pam really did like Ceci, however misguided her opinions were, and was disappointed she wouldn’t be seeing her around anymore. She would especially miss the pocket-made-warm orange slice candies Ceci was sure to have on hand anytime she popped round. And Pam knew it wasn’t what Ceci had said that was so intensely galling to Sabrina. After all, what did Ceci know really? She was just a child regurgitating something told to her. It was the fact that upon hearing the statement, it hit Sabrina hard that this person she had called a “best friend” didn’t see her, didn’t see all the moving parts that made her. Ten years, a bond formed in the first grade, and Ceci had no idea who Sabrina was — that, or she never too much cared. “An ignorant little, pea brain who walks through life blithely passing on nonsense without digging one inch beneath the surface. No hunt for greater subtext! A mere learner by rote! Which happens to be the most dangerous kind in existence. Societies crumble at the very hands of this craggy think tank. She’s a cog in someone else’s wheel! Inept in the purest sense! But why am I surprised? After all, we’re all just made out of meat, right?” Sabrina said. Pam was exhausted and had barely uttered a word. She also had no idea how to respond simply because she had no clue what the meat reference meant. Instead, she sat down next to Sabrina, supplying her with a cushioned lap to crash into. Pam stroked her daughter’s back, a movement that had calmed Sabrina since toddlerhood. Inside of Pam was the requisite pain, despair and anger a parent felt when all they wanted to do was snap a finger and make everything right while realizing they were completely powerless. The least she could do, she felt, was hold back on the classics: “You have to be stronger.” “You can’t let it get to you.” “Life isn’t always going to be easy.” “People are going to disappoint you.” In this moment the classics felt trite, like things one says only to make themselves feel better while bringing to an end a conversation they have no meaningful nor helpful way out of.
6. And so did Sabrina ever find you?
You’re annoying and yes, she did. It was early in the morning, dawn about, when Sabrina heard the door click closed; without fail, the door knew no other way but to announce a stealth exit or cautious arrival. Sabrina remained in bed for a moment then sat up. She eventually made it out and over to the closet where she began to riffle through. Not finding what she was looking for, she traveled into Pam’s room and opened the closet. As she shifted from Chicos to hand-me-downs, her eye caught a crisp black bag, poorly hidden behind a neatly folded pile of sweaters. She pushed the sweaters aside and pulled the bag down from the shelf. Back in her room, Sabrina, now bedecked in me, stood in front of the mirror scrutinizing herself. Intrigued by the reflection, she traveled into the kitchen, made herself a cup of hot cocoa then settled in at the table to continue a calligraphy assignment. It was only when she sat down at the table did she notice the Bonobos Turkish Taffy with a note: “Have a wonderful day, love.” Sabrina smiled and reached for the hot cocoa. As she brought the mug toward her mouth she knocked over her tablet, reaching to keep the tablet from crashing to the ground, she knocked over a bottle of ink, sending it crashing onto her lap, causing me to release a germane, blood-curdling “AAAAHHHHHHHHHH,” then I fainted. Meanwhile, over in the pied-à-terre of horrors, Carol slipped out of bed, leaving his girlfriend to sleep off whatever they had done to make her pass out mid-morning. Carol, now fully dressed, stood at the kitchen counter, drumming his fingers, looking down at a black bag with “BARNEYS NEW YORK” obstinately written across it. Inside the bag sat a black box held closed by a ribbon letting you know that it too came from Barneys New York and inside the box sat me but Carol didn’t know that. You see, I was supposed to be UES bound but a little mix-up had the label read Ethel Crane, however the address was that of the Gramercy Park residence. Now, Carol could’ve just made a call to have me picked up and sent up to his mother but instead he scooped me up, took a shallow breath, releasing a kaleidoscope of butterflies into his belly, and moved to exit. Forty minutes and a cab down to the Lower East Side later, there Carol stood in a cramped candy store with me in one hand and clinging to five packs of Bonomo Turkish Taffy with the other while searching for Pop Rocks. Funnily enough, Ceci stood two bins over, dropping orange slices into a bag. Carol didn’t know the child and so the moment just fizzled pretty much on the spot. Carol, passing Ceci, exited the store and set out down the street. He looked up to see a jagged stratocumulus rolling over the city as if casting judgment on the island. He was torn away from the meditation by a sniffle. He looked over to see a girl sitting on a stoop, wiping her nose with a tissue.”Are you okay?” Carol inquired. She looked at him, then her eyes locked on the bag he was holding – it was the same one she had. There I was. Us two. Pristine and adrift in one bag while soiled and shrouded in uncertainty in the other. Somehow the stranger’s concern caused Sabrina to dissolve into a deluge of explaining just how she had arrived at this place. Moments later, Carol found himself sitting next to the girl, intently listening to every detail she had to offer while periodically glancing at the black bag, “I found it while looking for my shirt and I have no idea how she got it. I mean, I have somewhat of an idea. I’m pretty sure it’s from her boss and if she finds out I ruined it she’s gonna be sad. Not angry, she won’t dare do that but she’ll be sad and that’s worse. You can at least fight anger with a cocktail of defiance and pride. You can only fight sadness with shame and I can’t handle that particular emotion right now.” “Come with me,” Carol said, hoisting himself up from the stoop. Sabrina gave him a glare and leaned back as if attempting to cement herself where she sat, “Clearly, you never got the memo, but men your age should never say that to girls my age.” Carol opened his mouth to defend himself but thought better of it, “Fine. Take a look at the label and–” Sabrina didn’t need to see the label, “It’s Vivianne Westwood.” “Great,” Carol replied. He then took out his phone, pecked at the screen then waited for the magic to happen, “Great. There’s a store in Hawaii and one in L.A.” Sabrina scowled, “You’re not funny.” Carol smiled, “And you’re probably right but technically, I’m so rich I can fly us to either place and have you home in time with a new jumpsuit in hand.” Sabrina said nothing, rather, she just stared at him. He added, “I was going to suggest we check out Barneys uptown. They have to have it.” “And once we arrive how am I affording it?” she asked. “I’ll pay,” was his simple response. “You’re getting nothing in return,” she said. “How am I getting this particular rap I’d like to know? I’m simply trying to be a nice person. There are plenty of people on this island and beyond who know for a fact that I’m incapable. Selfish and entitled I do with my eyes closed but nice? It’s unheard of,” he said. Sabrina sighed and dropped her gaze, “How are any of us getting lumped into any rap? Society. That’s your answer. We’re all in a box. All in a lane. All being judged on things outside of our control. Even you, the seemingly top of the food chain, has a lane.” Carol appeared taken aback by the observation, “You’re right. It’s sad really but true.” Sabrina nodded, “It is.” The last thing Carol felt like doing was dipping a toe into self-introspection. For people like him this tended to be no fun at all and so he steered the conversation back toward the solution to Sabrina’s problem, “660 Madison. That’s where the store’s located. I’ll be there waiting to buy the jumpsuit that looks exactly like the one you destroyed. If I don’t see you within the hour then I’ll know the plan’s dead. Deal?” She said nothing and instead narrowed yet another glare in some weird attempt to telepathically decipher his motives. “Deal,” he replied to what he could only assume was a yes. And with the commencement of his plan, Carol hailed a cab, hopped in and headed uptown. Moments later, Sabrina hailed a cab and off we all went. Along the way, the cabs did this sort of dance up Broadway. Sometimes Sabrina was in the lead, only to have Carol’s cab swoop in and take it. There were moments when we were neck and neck, Carol and Sabrina looking at each other and laughing — although Sabrina reluctantly and Carol sort of taking his laughter back when noticing the reluctance and the “this guy’s a creep” look on her face — at the strange place they had found themselves in
7. How did the return process go?
Like most, not very thrilling which is why I’ll skip all that. Carol and Sabrina exited Barneys. Her overall demeanor was now flecked with levity, signaling all had been righted with me at last. Now it was us three: 1. still hidden in the box. 2. Soiled. Carol thought Sabrina should keep me for posterity’s sake and she agreed. 3. New to the group and perfect. Sabrina had just enough babysitting money to treat Carol to tea and pie. As we sat in the diner, all the requisite “thank yous” and “you’re welcomes” out of the way, the heady conversation continued between the two with Sabrina declaring, “It’s not that I don’t see color. Of course I see it. It’s there. How can you not see it? It’s just that I always saw it as the characteristic you took in while traveling to a person’s core, their soul, ya know?” “Well, you’re a lot better than most,” Carol replied. Sabrina shook her head, “Not anymore I’m not. I’m just like everyone else now. Selfish. My bubble. That’s all that matters. If it doesn’t have to do with me then I don’t care. I’ll fight for a cause just as long as it directly affects me.” It was Carol’s turn to shake his head, “Don’t do that. You do that and you’re only adding to all that’s wrong with the big picture.” Sabrina took a deep breath, “My mom doesn’t understand me. It’s not her fault really. We were born in two different galaxies. She wants to know how to help but the truth is she can’t. I’d imagine that’s the hardest thing for a parent to hear. Have you ever seen a tadpole just before it kicks through the sack? It’s the most frustrating thing you’ll ever witness. And that’s exactly how I feel. Just kicking. But then I look at my mom and she’s just so content, so calm, almost elegantly so. But she should be the farthest thing from it.” Staring into a steaming cup of Earl Grey, Carol replied, “My mom doesn’t get me either.” Sabrina looked at him, lips pursed to the side. As if feeling her questioning eyes on him, he looked to her, “What?” She shrugged, “Sorry, it’s just that you don’t strike me as someone still in the business of having their mother ‘get them.'” He chuckled, “Well then this is gonna blow your mind. You’re forever the child. Doesn’t matter the relationship, good, bad, absentee… you’re forever the child no matter how old you are.” Sabrina could only squint at the statement; it was going to take a while to actually let that one connect up. Carol continued, “Contrary to whatever you’re thinking, I wanted to be my own man. But there was nowhere for me to go. Colonizing Mars I guess was an option. No school in the world I couldn’t attend. They wanted at the family booty and all that came with having people like us on the roster.” Sabrina pursed her lips to the side and replied, “That’s a little sad.” Carol responded, “I know but money aside, don’t you see it? We’re the same. The world defined us before we ever had a say. I fell for the okey-doke, walked right into the jackpot but that doesn’t mean you have to. You still have time to put your stamp on the thing whatever it is.” Sabrina shrugged, “I guess I see your point.” Carol said, “A wise man once said when talking about my kind, ‘The first generation makes it. The second generation exploits it. The third generation squanders it away,'” with a nod he went on to say, “I can definitely see myself in that third category. Wait a minute. Maybe it’s not my fault after all. Wait a minute! I was simply following script!” Sabrina rolled her eyes, “Nice try.” Carol smiled then held up a finger, “A story.” Sabrina replied, “I’m here for it.” And so Carol started in, “It was a perfect spring day and I didn’t want to go but my mom insisted I make the trek all the way to Cambridge to attend my cousin’s birthday party. What no one in the family knew was that my cousin, Sam, in his last year at Harvard, had fallen in with Timothy Leary and his cabal.” Sabrina raised both hands in the air, “Hold up. Don’t tell me you did drugs with Timothy Leary.” “Okay, I won’t,” Carol said then took a sip of tea.” Sabrina leaned in, “You didn’t?!” Carol leaned in, ecstatic she was finally impressed by something he had done, “Of course I did. You’re hanging out with Timothy Leary and disciples during the early sixties, you’re doing your fair share of whatever they put in front of you.” Sabrina shook her head in disbelief, “You’re one lucky bastard. Do you know this?” “I guess I am,” he proudly responded.” “I hate myself for busting my ass to get into a ‘good’ school,” Sabrina said. Carol’s response was odd at first, “The juice from the stinging nettle’s the very thing that cures the pain and irritation caused by the stinging nettle?” “Meaning?” she asked. “Meaning you go to Yale and fuck how people think you got in. You go on to use that jumping off, use it to beat the very voices who think they’re better than you based on nothing but their own insecure need to feel superior. Do you know the biggest power grab there is in existence?” Sabrina shrugged, “A forceful takeover?” Carol smiled, shook his head, “To pity. You pity a person and they let you? They’re all but putty in your hand and they don’t realize because they’re too busy being grateful.” Sabrina looked on wide-eyed, “I’ve never thought about it like that. Shit.” Carol added, “Maybe an armistice with your mother’s in order. Stop fighting it all. I would’ve killed for someone to have shared that with me when I was your age. You’d be looking at a different man right now.” “Maybe you’re right,” Sabrina said. A lull in the conversation was broken by Carol, “Confession time.” She looked at him, curious. A sheepish smile spread across his face, “This bag? Well, whatever’s in it… It belongs to my mom. It was delivered to the wrong house.” “What are you gonna do with it?” she asked. “Don’t know. I was set to hand deliver it but I don’t know anymore,” he replied. “Are you nervous?” she asked. He nodded, “I just might be.” Sabrina looked on, expression full of pity. He went on, “But how? Seventy-one and I can’t face my own mother.”
8. Actually, I can see that. Parents do have a pretty tight grip no matter how they appear in your life. Interesting story about my mom actually. Care to hear it?
No, and that’s because this about me and the experiences of those who purchase me. Okay? Okay. And so, Sabrina and Carol had moved on from the diner and found themselves somewhere in Harlem, perched on a stoop. “I like to people-watch in the most anthropological sense,” said Sabrina. “What kind of people?” Carol asked. “All of them. Nice ones, mean ones, pretentious ones, successful ones, lay-lumpy ones, kind ones, grifty ones, ignorant ones, confused ones, arrested developed ones,” she said as she gave Carol a wink. “It’s not so much arrested development as it is what else is there for me to do really? I’ll leave this earth having done absolutely nothing. I will have left my mark by making a dent in Pop Rock consumption and that’s about it. But where is it written that we have to leave behind a mark in the first place? And anyway, I was born at the finish line with trophy in hand and the stadium chanting my name.” “Go on,” Sabrina said, feeling his need to purge. Carol proceeded, “I really loved my father. He was tough but he was a good man, just. He had this funny way of speaking, as if a tiny village lived under his tongue and his tongue did everything it could to not disturb the goings-on.” Sabrina giggled, envisioning the village under the tongue. Carol went on, “Dear mumsy on the other hand… She’s on my back for having never worked a day in my life. I’m five years past the age of retirement. And what about her? A woman who mastered the art of scheduling meaningless events revolving around her tony life and had the nerve to do it with the hubris only a coal miner should have. An entire line of people living off of the good fortune of one man who came up with the right thing at the right time in 1897. That’s it. That’s all we are, up and down the family tree. At least I’m honest about it. I don’t work because I don’t have to because in our sleep money’s spilling over into our lives and I won’t put myself on thirty-seven boards to avoid feeling guilty about it either. My girlfriend? Twenty-eight and probably the only person I’ve ever truly respected in my life.” “Does she happen to be a stripper?” Sabrina asked. Carol looked at her with brow properly knitted, “How’d you know that?” “I’m great at deduction. Always have been. My second guess was gonna be gallerist,” Sabrina said. “Don’t judge her,” Carol said almost pleadingly so. Sabrina looked surprised by the request, “Why would I? It’s a noble profession. No one’s signing up for that life for fun. Well, maybe some are but not a lot.” “Are you judging me?” he asked. She smiled, “Weirdly, no. You’re painfully honest. That gets nothing but respect too. Always have to tip my hat to the ones not asking you to believe the sham no matter what it is.” Carol smiled, appreciative, then looked away down the street, “This world could be so great. A few tweaks and it could be an amazing ride for all from start to finish.” There Carol and Sabrina sat, eating their taffy, me in all my iterations between them. To some they might’ve simply appeared as two, spoiled brats, too caught up in their own stuff to see the bigger picture but to me? I understood them. “Every one of us is an Amway of characters. Wouldn’t it be great if we changed colors each time we made the switch to another version? At least then all of our cards would be on the table and we’d know what we were dealing with. Okay, she’s coming at me red. I’m about to get a complete and total dick. Or this guy just turned chartreuse. I can relax because he’s as about to be as magnanimous as it gets. As it stands now, we’re all in the dark, taking chances on the person standing in front of us, hoping they truly do have our best interests at heart. Even if you know a person you still don’t truly know the color you’re getting and that’s fact,” Sabrina mused. “The problem?” Carol said. “Huh?” Sabrina asked. “I should preface this by telling you that I spent three years at an ashram in Tamul Nadu,” Carol said. “Shocker,” Sabrina responded with a smirk. Carol could only smirk in return, “In any case, the problem is absolutely everything we do in this world has attached to it ego. Everything. The only two things that don’t are birth all the time and death most of the time.” “Hmmm,” is all Sabrina could muster. She and Carol looked to each other. “You have pretty eyes,” she said with a pointed tone. He smiled, truly touched, “Thank you.”
9. In the meantime, how were things faring with Pam and Ethel?
Well, Ethel was at the same impasse as Carol therefore instead of calling him to inquire about the misguided me she opted to simply purchase a new me. Four of us were now caught up in this thing. Like curious chameleons, there Pam and Ethel sat, both wearing me and each lost in a book inside the dizzying room drenched in a variation of my print. As promised, Christina had come through in spades and somewhere beyond, all of her elders were very proud. Ethel looked up from her book and watched Pam as she read. Pam had a slight smile on her face which made Ethel smile. “Pamela, I’m very old,” Ethel rasped. Pam put her book down and looked to Ethel, “I know that.” Ethel cleared her throat, “And I won’t be here for much longer.” Pam shook her head and said, “You’ll outlive us all. How many times do I have to tell you that?” “I’m giving the Beekman house to Griffin, Tyler and Claudine,” Ethel said. Pam replied with a smile, “I like that. They deserve it.” Ethel held out an envelope to her, “For you, my kind friend.” “What’s this?” Pam asked. “The deed to the home in Newport. It’s yours now, complete with maintenance and staff salaries paid for the next thirty-five years if you should choose to keep it. You don’t have to. It’s yours after all,” Ethel said. Pam started to feel hot around the temples, unable to conjure up a proper response. Ethel went on, “It is a thank you that will never repay all that you’ve done for me.” Pushing the envelope toward Ethel, Pam said, “I do my job, Ethel. I do only what you pay me to do.” Ethel replied, “But you do it with love. There isn’t much that possesses that additive anymore. It’s a priceless gift. With the legions of people in my life, you’re the only person who cares to actually see me.” Ethel looked out the window, “As I sit here, I really have no idea what the purpose of my life was. It’s a strange place to be actually. This force that pulled you through close to 100 years and you feel it gently starting to let you go. If I could, I’d ask it, ‘Why me? Why, when there were so many others with actual things to do and contribute that you could’ve carried through instead? Lives that you cut short for no reason at all. Lives that you filled with pain and hardship when all they wanted to do was thrive.'” Tears streamed down Pam’s face. There Ethel was, back inside of Pam’s head for the same thoughts had passed through her own mind not so long ago. Like Ethel’s Carol, Sabrina was also a stranger. At a certain point, her little girl who once looked at her as if she were the most important person on earth, had splintered off and became a stranger, ashamed possibly. Pam’s existence was a blight. She wasn’t one of the greats. She often thought what it would feel like to be them: Michelle Obama or Susan Rice or Oprah or Tony Morrison or Alice Walker or Kara Walker or Mrs. Hamer. No golden ticket for Pam. Instead, she was shouted down by Wonka. Then she thought if not for her how would the greats know just how great they were or how far they had traveled? The greats aren’t great without someone to measure them against. The hardest thing to do in this world, thought Pam, was to hide for necessity’s sake. Pam knew this all too well. And maybe that’s why Pam felt connected to Ethel, connected beyond all of the details that should’ve separated the two. Pam responded, “And I don’t really know why it stuck with me but Sabrina said something a little while back. She was quoting someone who had quoted someone else. The names I can’t remember. Anyway, they said, ‘The greatest luck is–‘” Ethel holds up a hand, cutting her off, “‘Is to never have been born.’ It’s Sophocles. My god, the last time I heard that I was just a child, seventeen I think.” The two women stared at each other, both realizing what life becomes after the most significant relationships slip away.
And somewhere in Manhattan on a stoop — having transformed their random run-in into a weekly thing — Carol and Sabrina sat in silence, watching as life passed to and fro until Sabrina interrupted the moment, “Can I keep this up or will I just simply get in line and conform? Like a star burning out, they shine the brightest just before dying. That’s what adults do, right? Tamp it all down and just conform?” “I never really thought about it like that but I guess,” he replied. I was still there between them, still in the box inside the bag, still waiting for Carol to decide if he was going to face his mother. Without turning to Carol, Sabrina asked, “What are we to do?” Ethel looked to Pam and her reply was simple, “Not a clue. No clue at all.”