“The Emergency” by Karen Moulding
I walked quickly over the bridge. It wasn’t as cold out today. In the forties, and the air was still, smelling unusually crisp, the sky not as yellow as it usually was on still winter days in Missoula. The paper mill must not have run that morning, or maybe the breeze the night before had swept the soot away. I jogged up the steps of the warehouse on Alder Street.
I took off my parka as I walked down the hall to the room. I recognized everyone now, the same four, five with me, from the week before.
“Welcome back,” said Nancy.
“Good to see you here again,” said Juliet.
Ed, in the chair next to me, patted me twice on the back.
I rose my hand first after the introduction. “Hi. I’m Grace.”
“I, um, I guess I had what you call a relapse, um, a slip, trying to 'force a solution.' I kind of...exaggerated to my boyfriend something that happened to his daughter, something it was probably not my job to snoop about at all. And all my meddling did, was make everything worse. This man at her mom’s church spanked her, uh, my boyfriend’s daughter. And I thought if I told him, he’d stop being passive and go get her, and work on his custody case. I kind of...lied, or like implied it was worse than it was. But it seemed like an emergency to me!”
The woman across the table from me nodded, chuckled.
“Instead of spurring him into action, like I’d hoped, what happened was he got so freaked out, he became, like, paralyzed, like mortified, and could hardly move at all. So, I guess that’s what you call, um, 'creating a crisis.'”
“And I guess I know now that that doesn’t work.”
“But I did get right back on track after that, reading the literature every day, not reacting when my boyfriend tried to get me to nag him about picking up his daughter, or about his custody case. I just... focused on my own school work. Since I was kind of...behind before.”
“Oh!” said Ed.
And everyone clapped.
I went to the library, as usual, after the meeting. At three I wanted to go home, see if Eugene had gotten Courtney from school. But he hadn’t told me he was getting her. If anything, he’d implied the opposite. I took out a pamphlet. I skimmed the parts I’d underlined. “...When we concentrate on our own needs and shortcomings, we may find others in the family do the same. ...We learn not to create a crisis, or do for another what he could do for himself. ...As we focus on ourselves, improvements in the home environment may encourage others to seek help.”
I forced myself to stick to my thesis.
At eight I came to a good stopping place in the advanced, more conscious, stages of despair as reflected in Hamlet. And I packed up to go home.
“Grace!” Courtney plowed into me when I opened the door.
I dropped my backpack and grabbed her in my arms.
“I saw the card you gave me,” she said into my jacket. “It’s purple! Dad’s gonna make macaroni since you’re here cause you love it. And guess what, Grace!”
“I talked to my grandma.”
“Oh, really?” Eugene had used his mother in an argument, claimed she’d said it was my job to keep working on the case.
Just then Eugene called out from the living room. “Hi!” He sounded buoyant.
Courtney pulled me by the hand into the next room. Eugene sat on the sofa. The blue-backed custody Decision rested on his lap. An uncapped ball point pen was in his hand, and my calendars and notes and both sets of motion papers, ours and Marion’s, were spread out on the coffee table.
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