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Emmaline and Ellison Pt. 1
"Girls, we have some good and bad news. Which would you like first?” Mom said to me.
“I want the bad news first. It makes the good news seem even better,” Ellison says logically.
“Okay, Ellie, we’ll do the bad news first,” said mom, glaring at Dad. A couple of minutes earlier, he and mom had been fighting. Again.
I glare at mom and dad, but they are both looking at Ellie. For as long as I can remember, everyone has listened and cared about Ellie, and just because she was the twin with autism. It made me less important, even though I have leg disabilities. It’s like because autism affects your brain, that it matters more than my physical disability. It’s been like that forever, and I can’t seem to change that.
“What about me?” I say, but our new puppy, Wishtree, starts barking to go outside.
Wishtree was named by Ellie (no surprise there) and is trained to come to the name Wishtree. In my mind, I would’ve chosen something like Cocoa, or Oreo, because she is black, brown, and white. But Ellie named her after her favorite new book, Wishtree. Nobody heard me stand up for myself. I can’t speak loud, and some days I don’t even talk at all. It wouldn’t matter, because everyone cares more about Ellie than me, who hardly talks. Just because I can’t talk loud.
“Emma, go let out Wishtree,” Mom said, “we’ll wait to share the bad news until you are back.”
I went through the living room to the front door, where Oreo (what I call her in my head) was waiting to be let out.
“Common, Wishtree,” I said, getting her leash off the hanger, and clipping it to her collar. I tie the other end to my crutches I use to walk. Ellie had gone with Mom one time to Meijer, and they got it professionally printed onto the black and white pattern.
I put on my light coat and a hat, and walked into the whistling wind. It bit at my cheeks and nose, so I made Oreo do her business quickly. After she’d gotten exercise, I pulled her back into the house. I was surprised that it hadn’t snowed, because the ground was already frozen from the cold.
Inside, mom and dad were trying to get Ellie to talk about her day at school. When we were younger, Ellie had a special notebook, and aides that followed her around all day. They used to write all about her day, if anything out of the ordinary happened. Now that she’s older, she only has aides at lunch and recess, and in between classes. It’s only to make sure that she gets to the right class on time, and that she doesn’t try to get on her bike and ride home, like she does to get home everyday. (she did try to bike home during the school day once. That’s why she now has aides in between classes.)
“Ellie, did you have art today?” Mom asked.
“Ellie, did you have spanish today?” Dad asked a second later.
“John, don’t ask her too many things at once,” Mom tried to say quietly. I winked at Ellie, and she’d heard them.
“Anyway, now that Emma is back, it’s time for the bad news,” Dad said.
“Your father and I are divorcing,” Mom said, no smile in sight.
My stomach dropped, and my heart jumped into my throat. Ellie didn’t show any emotion. She never does anyway. Tears spring to my eyes. Ellie continues eating. For once, I wish she had feelings.
“The good news is your father is getting a promotion. They have to move him to a nice town in Connecticut.” Mom says. It isn’t as good if you knew what was happening because of it.
The worst news comes the next day. After Ellie and I went to bed, I stayed up for hours thinking about what could possibly come of this. I thought of almost a hundred ideas, and counting. When I finally fell asleep at midnight, it seemed as if 6:45am came in six minutes. Ellie has a schedule for everyday, and you have to warn her about things one week in advance. I tell her not to wake me until eight on Saturdays, but she still wakes me up at 6:50 everyday. That is after she has woken and gotten dressed.
“Emmaline,” she says, calling me by my hated first name.
“Call me Emma,” I say, like I do every morning at 6:51am.
She continues to shake me until I throw off the blankets, and clip my funny looking crutches to my special bracelets.
After I walk out of the room with her, she walks in one direction to our bathroom, and I head downstairs for breakfast. I am unclipping my crutches from my bracelets, when mom comes downstairs and asks for a word.
“You just told me a couple, actually,” I said. I am usually not this sassy, but I am still upset about last night.
“Don’t sass me, Emma. This makes it even better that you’re moving to Connecticut with your father,” she says snippily, and walks to the stove to make eggs.
“What! No, you can’t make me go to Connecticut and start a new school. Not in a million years, you can’t make me go,” I said.
“I’m sorry Emma, but the judge has already made a decision.”
I spend the rest of the day in my room, writing in my diary about how much I hate my mother. It’s like I wasn’t really her daughter, because I definitely wasn’t treated like one. God, I wish Ellie would just disappear. Then I’d get all the attention.
Mom makes me start packing after lunch. Dad’s promotional people want him in Connecticut next week, so Mom and Dad spend the whole afternoon searching for apartments while I pack up our stuff. There’s very little bags for me. Most of the stuff I use are things that Ellie and I share, but it’s mostly in Ellie’s possession.
I take one little thing from Ellie’s nightstand drawer. She has this coin from our grandmother who passed away, kept in a velvet cinch bag. It means a lot to her, but she hasn’t looked at it in months. It was buried under lots of books and papers, so I assume she forgot. Although I mostly hated my sister, I wanted a reminder of it.
I put the little velvet bag in my backpack, and went to load the rest of our stuff into the car.
Dad and I drive from New Jersey to Connecticut three days later. It was only a two hour drive, yet it felt like a million miles. Dad and I had never been close, but he never hated me like Mom did. The awkward silence was enough to make me vomit, just to have something to talk about with him.
The apartment is small. Dad described it as ‘cozy’ but it’s much smaller than cozy. At least we didn’t bring much stuff.
We move in for the rest of the week, and then go shopping for my school supplies on Saturday. On Sunday, Dad and I have to attend a meeting with the principal of my new school. He explains how I’ll be let out of class three minutes early to get to my next class on time, due to my crutches, and how I’ll most likely get stares. However, they have warned all the teachers and the teachers have permission to tell the students. I walk around the building, meeting all the teachers, and then saying goodbye for now. I’d be seeing them all again tomorrow.
I haven’t had a first day of school in so many years. I’d attended preschool and kindergarten in New York, our first apartment, but then 1-6 grade in New Jersey. I’d started 7th grade in New Jersey, but now I was in 7th grade in Connecticut.
Dad helps me out of the car, gives me a hug goodbye, and then rushes off to work before I even get in the door. I wonder how long it will take before we can have natural conversations, not forced small-talk.
The first day goes by smoothly. As Principal Trenton had said, most of the teachers had warned the students of my physical disabilities. Sure, there was staring, but not as many questions. Academically, everything was fine. Most of the curriculums here in Connecticut were the same as the ones in New Jersey.
When I get home, Dad isn’t home from work yet. It’s strangely quiet. Only now do I break down and cry.
I don’t understand the word ‘divorce’ and why it means that Daddy and Emmaline have to leave. Mother says they are two hours away, but she lied. I looked it up on the internet, it is actually two hours and eleven minutes, but traffic could add up to forty seven and a half minutes to that.
Before they left, I also looked up the word ‘divorce’ in the Merriam Webster Dictionary. The official meaning is ‘the legal dissolution of a marriage by a court or other competent body’. So Mother isn’t married to Daddy anymore. But why does Emmaline have to leave? She isn’t married to Mother or Daddy, is she?
The days go by as they would, just without Emmaline. It makes me mad. They have thrown off my schedule. I like schedules. I like structure. I like to know that I have my special coin from Grandmama, hidden beneath my papers and books in case I miss her. She understood me because she was what they call ‘Special Education Teachers’ who work with kids like me. Kids with ‘autism’.
When I was old enough, mother explained autism to me. But it didn’t make sense, so I looked it up. The official definition of Autism is ‘a developmental disorder of variable severity that is characterized by difficulty in social interaction and communication and by restricted or repetitive patterns of thought and behavior.’ I am disabled. Some kids at school call me a ‘retard’ and that doesn’t sound good. They always get chastised by the teacher when they overhear the other children saying those things about me. But I don’t understand.
So I looked it up on the internet. The official definition of retard is ‘delay or hold back in terms of progress, development, or accomplishment.’ But I don’t understand why it is a cruel word. It just suggests I’m behind.
Once a week, Mother and I talk to Daddy and Emmaline on the phone. Daddy sounds stressed. Emmaline sounds happy. It makes me sad, I think. She’s happy without me and mother. I couldn’t be happy without Mother. Mother is my foundation, the only thing that keeps me grounded.
I feel more sad now, knowing that Emmaline is okay without me. Mother signs me up to go see someone called a ‘therapist’. Mother says that they will help me sort out what I’m feeling.
My therapist’s name is Lorelai. She’s pretty, with long strawberry-blonde hair that she puts in a long dutch braid down her back. She asks about Emmaline, so I tell her everything I know about her.
“You are close to your sister,” she observes.
“Well, we used to be.”
“Not anymore? Why not?”
“My mother and father got a divorce. Daddy took Emmaline with him to Connecticut.”
“And how does this make you feel?”
“Good,” Lorelai says, writing some stuff down in a 1” binder with my name on it.
“How is that good? I’m feeling upset because my sister is two hours and eleven minutes away, but could add forty-six and a half minutes due to traffic during rush hour,” I said, feeling offended.
“It’s good because we are starting to put your feelings into words. What do you do when you are upset?”
“I go into my nightstand drawer, and under all of my papers and books, I have a coin in a velvet cinch bag from my dead grandmama. I take it out and rub it when I miss her, or my sister. They have the same name.”
“Do you miss your grandmother?”
“My recent loss gives me a sense of longing,” I said.
“I suggest you go home and look at that coin, Ellie,” Lorelai said, “it obviously makes you feel good.”
“I’ll see you next week, Lorelai,’’ I said, and went out to the car.
The minute we’re home, I run upstairs. I carefully remove my books and papers, stacking them in piles. I reach down for the coin-
But it’s not there. Someone has taken it. And I think I know exactly who.
“Mother! We need to go to Connecticut. Right now!”
Connecticut has been great so far. All of those things you see in books and movies about the new kid are totally not true. Everyone at my new school was so welcoming. I made friends right away. I have a study group every week, and I’ve made the school volleyball A team. The first couple of weeks have been wonderful. It’s been nearly two months, and I don’t miss Ellie or Mom. I’m finally getting one-on-one attention from Dad.
I’m at my desk doing homework when Dad comes in, looking worried.
“I need to tell you something, Emma.”
“Tell me what?”
“Emma, there’s been an accident,” Dad said.
“What kind of accident? Is everything alright? Tell me, Dad, is everything all right?!” I nearly yelled.
“Your mother and Ellie were in a car accident. On the way here,” Dad said, “I was on the phone with them when it happened.”
“Oh my god. That must’ve been horrible,” I said, tears brimming my eyes.
“Right-right before it happened, Ellie was screaming something about a coin,” he said, “I’m being silly.”
My stomach dropped. Ellie had realized the coin was missing, and insisted that they come to Connecticut. Ellie had probably been saying that mom needed to drive faster, she needs the coin, and distracted Mom…
The crash was all my fault.
“Is everyone okay?”
“Your mother and the car are pretty banged up. Car will probably be totaled, your mother has some serious injuries, but she’ll be fine. Hopefully”
“What about Ellie?”
“Ellie was the best of all of them,” Dad said, “she hit her wrist on the dashboard, broke two different bones, but that’s it.”
“And there’s one another thing,” Dad said, “once Ellie gets her cast, she’s coming to live here.”
“What!” I said, “no! I just got away from her! She’ll ruin everything!”
“Emma!” he scolded, “your mother is in no condition to take care of a teenager with Autism, she’s coming to live here for now and you’re acting like this is the worst thing ever! Your mother nearly died today, Emma. So you better suck it up because it’s happening whether you like it or not.”
Dad left before I could say anything. I broke down and cried after he left.
Dad took the day off work, and called me in sick at school the next morning. We drove back home. Mom was in the hospital closest to our house, and Ellie just spent the night at Aunt Abigail’s until we came to get her.
She stopped at Aunt Abigail’s first before heading to the hospital. Ellie was all ready with a bag when we got there. We barely said hello and goodbye to Aunt Abigail and Ellie was already in the car.
“Ellie, Emma, I know this is going to be hard. Your mother is pretty banged up.”
“We know,” I said, staring out the window.
“What are her injuries?” Ellie asked.
“She has some damage in her spinal cord, and a pretty serious concussion. She isn’t conscious right now, but she hopefully will be.”
Mom is covered in wires. She has 3 IVs, and hooked up to an oxygen machine. It makes her look so small, in that giant hospital bed. I can’t imagine what is going through Ellie’s head. It probably doesn’t make sense.
Ellie kneels next to Mom’s bed and takes her hand. “I’m sorry,” she whispers, “it’s all my fault.”
But it’s not Ellie’s fault, not really. She just doesn’t want to fight with me in front of Dad, and Mom, and all of the nurses and doctors who were watching us.
I couldn’t take it anymore. It’s too much, the guilt. Tears start leaking from my eyes, and I run out of the hospital room. I just need to get out of there. I run around the hospital, ignoring the people telling me to stop, until the find the entrance and I’m outside. It’s cold, there’s snow falling, and my coat is inside. I don’t dare go back in and get it.
End of pt 1 of 3.