A Life Apart

Chapter 3: Billy Paxton (pg. 19)


“Mr. Paxton, your sister will see you in the common area. She will be out shortly.” The attendant pointed to the large open space at the center of the surrounding private rooms. Billy rose and walked towards the various couches, tables and side chairs dispersed around this common area. Before he could find a place apart from others, he saw his sister emerging from one of the private rooms. It seemed odd to Billy that another attendant accompanied his sister, who motioned him to join her at a table against the far wall.

The attendant spoke softly to Mirabelle. “I will be at the front desk if you need me.”

Billy watched with curiosity as the woman excused herself. Then he sat down across from his sister. She seemed amused by something and said, “I guess you can call her part of my suicide watch.”

Billy could think of nothing to say. He fidgeted in his seat. Mirabelle stared at him. She was not going to make it easy for him. Finally, he asked her, “Do you know what happened to you?”

Mirabelle smiled. Obviously, she did not find his uneasiness discomforting to her. “Do you think I tried to kill myself?”

“I only know what they told me.”

“Do you always believe what you’re told?” Her expression changed: she had that big sister frown of disapproval that he hated so much. After a disquieting moment, she continued. “Well, I have no memory of the dire act. The doctors think I have some kind of self-induced memory loss, the result of ‘post-traumatic stress’ they call it. You see, they’re expected to diagnose every symptom they think they recognize. I think they’re quite happy that I present them with the opportunity to do so.”

Billy stopped squirming. Perhaps, he thought, this might be a good time to ask her. “Are you going to tell mom about the cocaine?”

“Is that why you came, to ask that question?”

“No, I came because mom asked me to.”

“I see.” Once again, Jill showed that knowing smile that Billy hated so much.

“You think I would come on my own accord?”

“No, I have learned you do very little these days—perhaps nothing—‘on your own accord.’ If you could see that about yourself, you wouldn’t be into drugs or any of the other unproductive activities you and your sycophantic friends engage in.”

Billy rose brusquely from his chair, which slammed into the vacant table behind them. “I knew I shouldn’t have come here. All I get from you is shit!” He glared at his sister. “You can’t judge me. You know nothing about me. I do what I want!”

“Rather than what you should. What does it mean to you to act ‘on your own accord’? With whom are you in agreement? You self, your social persona, or more likely any need or want that suits your fancy in the moment.” She paused, arresting her brother with a steady gaze. “Billy, I wouldn’t say these things if I didn’t care about you. You’re my little brother and . . .”

“Right! I’m the ‘little’ brother. When is my family going to see me for who I am?”

“When you begin to see who you are.”

“What the fuck does that mean, big sister?” Billy turned to leave.

But Mirabelle quickly reached out and grabbed his arm. “Billy, I told you I wouldn’t say anything about your use of cocaine if you promised me you would give it up.”

Billy tried to pull away from her grasp, but she held on, even though her chair slid partly away from the table. “Let go, dammit!” On the periphery of his vision, Billy could see attendants stirring at the front desk. One of them appeared to be heading towards their table. “Ok, I promise. Now let go.”

Mirabelle released him. At the same time, she raised a hand and waved the attendant away. There was an aura of calm about her: her facial expression revealed an underlying detachment from this confrontation with her brother.

Billy stared as if hypnotized by her. She was truly a mystery to him. Somehow, he felt an urge to apologize. Instead, he said, “This,” with the wave of his arm he encompassed the whole Ward, “should not have happened to you.” Resolutely, he turned his back on his sister and walked away. Mirabelle, meanwhile, did not remove her eyes from the place Billy had occupied just moments before.

Billy did not have to reflect on the matter: intuitively he knew she would not follow his exit with that penetrating gaze of hers. Maybe she does belong here, he told himself as he fumbled with the unyielding door knob. Finally, the woman behind the front desk buzzed the door open. Without acknowledging her action, he yanked the door open and gladly left the premises.

Now that the last game of the season, the regional championship, was just a week away, he had already decided to stay clean for at least this last week of practice. So, he rationalized, his promise to his sister was not a lie. It was just not quite what she wanted of him. But, then, that was the problem with women, at least in Billy’s estimate. They always seemed to want more of Billy. He could never do enough for his mother. Mirabelle had her expectations—the only word that came to his mind to describe his sister’s weird interest in him. And Jane . . . well, she just left him breathless half of the time.

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