Letters to Elliot Hawthorne Ep. 4

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In the spring of Gemma’s fourth year, Mrs. Lumley took it upon herself to attract a friend for her shy and timid daughter. The Welles family lived down the road from Reverend Lumley’s church house. Their youngest was a moody child whose attitudes regarding fire, hammers and destruction frightened Mrs. Lumley, so she was not the obvious choice. But the next year, Bridget was admitted into Gemma’s kindergarten class, and church picnic after school field trip after bus rides home with one another, the pair became inseparable.

Bridget’s father, Dale, blamed her daughter’s temperamental disposition on Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday because their soulful music was always playing in young Bridget’s room. He blames that on his wife’s sister giving Bridget a record player and a stack of vinyl for her sixth birthday. Bridget’s mother, Judy, blames Mr. Welles for letting her read On the Road at too young an age because ever since Bridget had been running around asking people if they’re one of the mad ones, ranting on about burning all the while. Gemma’s mother, Mrs. Lumley, thought that all too corrupting, and so Bridget was also a contributing factor for Gemma to be sentenced to an all-girl preparatory school some forty-five kilometres outside of St. David’s.

Gemma begged Mrs. Welles to enlist Bridget to Potter’s and she was delighted to give it a try. She said that it would be nice if Bridget had a class of well-mannered young women to look up to. But their plan did not succeed because when applying to Potter’s every girl must pass a psychology examination and as you may have guessed, Bridget did not pass.

RESULT OF EVALUATION:

Bridget Elizabeth Welles is a problem child. She is still very impulsive and under-socialized; and not able to harness the constant energy discharge observed in younger children. At the moment, she faces significant psychological problems because of her inability to see and accept boundaries. Her repressed and disrespectful attitudes toward all school learning will make academic progress very difficult. She needs to be seen in psychotherapy to address these developmental delays.

Mr. and Mrs. Welles were not happy about this. They said that Bridget should have tried harder. They said that if she were just herself, she would have liked Dr. Alma and Dr. Alma would have liked her. Bridget said in response: “I was being myself” and “I did like Dr. Alma; before she brought up, well, everything.”

Mr. Welles was put off by words like PSYCHOTHERAPY and DEVELOPMENTAL DELAYS and was moved to concern for his only daughter, suggesting to his wife they might better look into getting help for her after all. Yet reading further on down the report, his opinions of Dr. Alma shifted.

PURPOSE FOR EVALUATION:

This thirteen-year-old student BRIDGET E. WELLES from BOWER, ST. DAVID REGION of English descent was referred by her biological parents (DALE and JUDY WELLES) and MRS. GUTHRIE, DEAN OF STUDENTS POTTER’S SCHOOL FOR GIRLS, for assessment of her academic ability and mental status.

RESULTS OF THE MENTAL STATUS EXAMINATION:

The results of MSE revealed an alert, attentive individual who showed no evidence of excessive distractibility and tracked conversation well. The patient was casually dressed and groomed. Orientation was intact for person, time, and place. Eye contact was appropriate. There was no abnormality of gait or posture. Speech function was appropriate for rate, volume and fluency with no evidence of paraphrastic errors. Vocabulary and grammar skills were suggestive of intellectual functioning within the average range. However, when mentioning FAMILY LIFE, the patient’s disposition, demeanour, and overall attentive nature disappeared. She appeared aggravated, insulted, and unsure. She complained of her parents (DALE and JUDY WELLES) arguing when she was a child, which lead to their “unavoidable” divorce. They are surely to blame for Bridget’s unstable ideas which could lead to irrational actions, and in turn hurt herself or others.

It went on and Bridget soon had to defend herself to her outraged parents, saying: “I didn’t say that!” and “I didn’t do that!” Mr. Welles swiftly concluded that no child of his would ever set foot in an establishment that excused “ill-mannered head-shrinkers who know nothing of real people’s problems.” Later, adding, “She’s a crook! They just want our money! I’m not paying tuition to a school like that! I never in my life…”

Bridget was torn. To stay in Bower and attend the public high school across the road, which really only produced farmers and football players, was a fate she had always planned on, so it was of no deep disappointment, aside from losing her best friend that is.

The girls had to settle for conversation through post. They sent letters when the days without one another became too long to suffer. They mailed postcards on special holidays; making doily-covered cards on Valentine’s Day and green-glittered shamrocks at St. Patrick’s Day. Gemma sent magazine advertisements of glamourous models, scribbling over the beauty’s flawless face: “THIS IS WHAT I LOOK LIKE NOW”. Bridget created mix-tapes of favourite songs on her stereo, speaking into the microphone before every new track, things like: “This one goes out to a very special friend all the way in Windsor,” and then “Unchained Melody” by the Righteous Brothers would play.

At the beginning of every new semester, Gemma sent a school photo of the entire class to Bridget. She would label each girl, not always according to their birth names. “CHARLENE CHEAPSTAKE” and “JESSICA CHUBSTER” some would say. Others would have a marker moustache or devil horns, especially the librarian Mrs. Wisner. In return, Bridget sent a month’s supply of chewing gum because Gemma was not allowed to chew gum at Potter’s, as well as a sample of the newest shade of lipstick her mother had thrown out.

They were reunited in the summer months and they spent the hot, breathless days wading the water at the Worthing Shore Boat Ramp and sleeping weekends at Bridget’s grandmother’s cottage on the far side of the Lake. But when September came with turning leaves, yellow school buses and a chill in the air, the innocent bonding of the two young women was put on hold. While Potter’s School for Girls was like something of her grandmother’s finishing school, Bridget was stuck in a white-walled, speckled-tiled, red-lockered ordinary secondary school; forced to attend spotlighted pep rallies in a stuffy gymnasium, eat cafeteria chilli fries, shun pastel-streamered dances, and listen to a very tired principal over a very scratchy PA system every morning before Mr. Horner played the national anthem on the trumpet.

It took her the entire four years, eight semesters and twenty-four compulsory credits, to ease into adulthood without the resentment she held toward her small-town narrow-minded classmates. She learned to let go of the snickering remarks made by the student council rep about her choice in sweaters or the drama department’s crude attitude about the way her hair looked in the summer time. (Bridget had such curly hair in the summertime when the air is humid; straightening with a flatiron was no use anymore, until she bought a new iron from the beauty store. Her hair has been straight ever since, but it did not come without strenuous hours before school after it had dried; clamping her long chestnut-coloured locks between the burning flat panels over and over to ensure security from waves all day through.) She even gave her teachers a break, but it wasn’t before getting detention for calling her music teacher the devil because she insistently refused not to know who Emmylou Harris was. It went like this:

Mrs. Horner: “Musical influences, anyone? Anyone?”

Bridget: “Emmylou Harris.”

Mrs. Horner: “I’m sorry?”

Bridget: “Emmylou Harris. She’s a singer.”

Mrs. Horner: “I’ve never heard of her before.”

Bridget: “You’ve never heard of Emmylou Harris? You’re a music teacher.”

Mrs. Horner: “I’ve never heard of her.”

Bridget: “You’re the devil.”

Bridget hated that music class until she noticed Philip Cespi began playing the drums. She devoted her time to loving him from afar, staring at him as he stared at the ceiling, bored mostly. Her crush on him only truly began after he mentioned liking her sweater one day when she was standing by her locker. The same sweater Evil Student Council Rep told her (well, it was to her back) that it was “the ugliest piece of fabric” she had ever seen.

Bridget figured Philip Cespi was the only person in the world who understood her or who respected that she wore what she wore; and she wore what she wore because those oversized men’s sweaters were knitted with love by her grandmother for her brother Jack when he and Mr. Welles went hunting in November. She didn’t stop loving him until suddenly Philip Cespi appeared to Bridget like a boy rather than a young man because he let his girlfriends (he had many) treat him badly and Bridget thought he should say something about it or stop making her fall in love with him.

During their final year, Bridget and Gemma made a pact to strive their hardest to receive a position at St. David’s College so they could be united together for the next four years, at least making up for high school spent apart. And when the mail was delivered that spring week in March, one large envelope sent to Potter’s School for Girls Dormitory and one large envelope sent to The Welles Residence on Coach Street, the girls’ celebration could be heard simultaneously from Bower to Windsor. They were off to spend their next educational experience together, dressed in St. David’s navy blue and emerald green. Now, the only reason Mr. and Mrs. Lumley let Gemma attend St. David’s (assuming Bridget would follow) was because Gemma’s second cousin, Tom Doyle, was accepted into St. David’s on account of his musical genius.

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Letters to Elliot Hawthorne Ep. 3

[3]

Gemma Lumley, unlike Elliot Hawthorne, knew the year; she knew which day of the week it was and if you were to ask her at any given point during that day she’d tell you the exact time too. She, unlike Elliot Hawthorne, came from extraordinarily conventional people. You and I both know that for this is the same Gemma Lumley named after her grandmother who grew up in the Worthing and called her great-grandfather “Captain” and the trees in the yard “The Fort”, raised by Reverend Charles Lumley and his stylish wife, Katie Müller.

When Gemma Lumley heard the story of her grandparents’ first meeting, she expected, upon growing up, that her love story would have the same degree of whimsy. However, she did not take into account the times in which she now lived, a time seemingly plagued with everything opposed to simplicity. But she worked at the Worthing hoping she, too, would fall in love with the farmhand from down the road. Much to her luck, or lack of, every new farmhand since the resignation of Gareth Walsh, had been taken, aged or ugly; indicating no initial attraction and eliminating the likelihood of a long, romantic account to tell her grandchildren. And because this haunted her at a young age, her heart set on marriage as the end-all and be-all of growing up and becoming a woman, she set her sights on boys. She liked them. In preschool she teased them, hugged them, and tried to kiss them until one day she really did. She was eight and it was right on the lips; a boy whose mother was determined to leave the church after that. This hurt her in certain ways. So much so it called Reverend Lumley and his stylish wife Katie Müller to take action. Katie enrolled junior-sized Gemma into Potter’s School for Girls.

The revival Georgian house on campus was as historic as the college itself; an icon to the school and the name it carried. The Doll House, as it was so lovingly doted by the class of ’54, was new and vintage simultaneously. Its regal allure had attracted girls from every corner of the county ever since. The city girls found it charming and the country girls thought it sensationally dapper. But Potter’s charisma began and ended with its architecture. Gemma’s first years were plagued with hazing and bullying because Girls from Windsor considered Girls from Bower (who “should really go to public school”) the unofficial students of Potter’s. But even after four years with them, Gemma was still the “outcast of outcasts”. She would wear her snow boots inside the classrooms, chew on the end of her pen during Mr. Sherman’s geography lessons and wear her hair in two braids even at the age of seventeen. So, she outgrew her talkative nature (because she took after her name sake) and tapped into her mother’s gentle demeanour when growing into her looks; subscribing to Vogue and cutting out photographs of Dior and Chanel, hoping to blend in at last.

Through her adolescence she had a habit of making her own clothes and thought a life in the fashion industry might make her happy. But it was always replaced by the want to get dirty and to wear khaki and dig up bones in Egypt; which was replaced by the want to be studious and attend seminary like her father, hoping to become like C.S. Lewis; which was replaced by the attractiveness of the three-month course be become a stewardess (she thought she would look nice in the uniforms, but her father, as you can imagine, forbade it). It came down to art and music; Kathe Kollwitz her obsession and Michelangelo her genius, but without a role model, maybe only her mother, Gemma took to singing because it was the simplest. (To quote Colin Clark on Marilyn Monroe; “She is really happiest when she sings. Perhaps it is because it is a nice uncomplicated thing to do, something she often does when she is alone or frightened.”)

The one thing Gemma did accomplish during her years at Potter’s, much to her parents’ approval, was lose her infatuation with boys in some nature. Surrounded by hoards of pesky young girls for hours on end, she was able to put her mind someplace else, devote whatever spare time she had between classes into whatever her hobby was at the time. So, Potter’s did, in fact, do some good; she was educated, well-mannered and prepared to work, live and contribute to society; and with that in mind, Potter’s School for Girls was a happy memory for Gemma Lumley and to this day she is still known to put on her navy sweater, the white school crest stamped over her heart, just as ill-fitting and unflattering. The only true trouble, the only colossal problem in Gemma’s eyes about going to Potter’s was dealing with the sudden absence of her friend, Bridget Welles.

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Letters to Elliot Hawthorne Ep. 2

[2]

Elliot Hawthorne was a man of many faces. Multifaceted, complex—sure. Schizophrenic, crazy—no. He went through life smoothly in some matter of speaking because Elliot was a simple kind of man in some matter of speaking. During his school years his presence in class was rarely noticed, though he held a perfect attendance record. He was never outspoken, flashy or rude. No team held his company. He excelled in philosophy, mathematics and chemistry. Yet upon graduating, Elliot, in fact all his life, was rumoured to have been in rebellion. “Attitudes issues,” one of his teachers claimed. They said his post-modern ideas and cynicism were the root causes to his so-called depression. Anger and bitterness toward a person he never met, but soon desired to, was more or less like it.

He came from relatively normal people and they were out there somewhere, alive and kicking. “Such an awful and lonesome idea,” Elliot used to tell people, “to be the one and only offspring of two unfortunate people who had wanted nothing to do with you since your first day outside the womb.”

Angela was Elliot’s mother and she was a pretty girl with heart and soul and a way with words and singing and laughing and dancing that made everyone fall in love with her. So was the case with Richard Hawthorne. He came into her life as fast as he was taken out. They lived, loved and their passion resulted in a child whom, of course, was named Elliot.

Richard Hawthorne was a pitiable creature; a man who you could have some compassion toward. He was born with a capacity for great joy, but so harboured the tendency to wallow in giant grief. He was raised by a single mother who tried her hardest but had no luck with money, men or society. Her efforts to provide for and love her only son were something to admire and esteem, and Richard could have taken after his mother if it weren’t for his itching desire to run, kicking free and wild like a newborn calf out of the stall. If he were smart, he’d blame his nature on the absence of a father, for that was the reason for his inability to nurture things, human or not. He had only known abandonment and so abandonment was all he chose to offer.

Everyone expected Richard to propose to Angela, but he didn’t. Angela was nineteen and wouldn’t have let him go through with it because she didn’t love him, though she loved her unborn child. Richard left the St. David region, the county where everyone knew everything about everyone, and wasn’t seen again for many years.

Angela lived with her parents until her son was born and loved and cared for him for the first two years of his life. She was twenty-one and wanted an education, but there was no way of getting one where she was from; no college near St. David would be the school for her. She needed a new life in some far-away town where no one knew her. So, her father allowed her to go East to study and get a job; he’d taken care of a child before and he could do it again.

Julia and Samuel Weal loved Elliot like grandparents, not as parents for they believed that to be a very sacred love, an irreplaceable love; one they were sure Elliot would be able to sense counterfeit of. Angela wrote letters and sent pictures and assured phone calls home about her success and failures alike, but when the communication dwindled, when the mail was dispersed, long months spent with nothing but anxious days waiting and hoping, her mother and father were moved to disapproval. They wanted to protect Elliot from the false promise, the wavering devotion shown by his mother, to ensure his heart would never grow sick. Because, of course, you and I both know that hope deferred makes the heart grow sick, and deceit and separation lack all good things. And the hope felt by a child to know their parents was deep-rooted whether that child knew his or her parents were out there in the world or not.

Living with his grandparents and his grandparents alone was all Elliot had ever known and it did him just fine. Although, Grandma Julia died too young, too soon and without any warning. Her death hit Samuel in his heart, in his very soul, but young Elliot’s face forced him out of depression and into forward motion, saving him from a life drenched in misery.

Grandpa Samuel, one of Elliot’s only living relatives, roomed his grandson in his one-man cabin built, lonely, in the center of a wheat field on a never-ending paved parkway in the county where everyone knew everything about everyone. And he taught Elliot everything he needed to know about how to be a human. He sang to him, he cradled him, hugged him and fed him. He let him pet giant horses and drive his truck when he was still much too small. He told him he could drink beer and smoke cigarettes when he was old enough and Elliot tried it; his common sense told him he hated it even if a part of his flesh told him he loved it. Grandpa Samuel taught him about God and how to appreciate the water and the sun and the springtime and the sound of a round neck wood-bodied resonator guitar. He gave him a job at the Cheese Factory where he had worked since he was a teenager and paid him to mop the floors at the downtown office. But most of all he loved Elliot and Elliot loved him back and that is what it feels like to be a human he used to say.

They spent summers making blackberry preserves. They grew the berries themselves, picked them, boiled them, added sugar, crushed and sold them at local fairs. They began bright July afternoons practicing their skills with Grandpa Samuel’s new hunting rifle and at night took trips to the Town’s bowling alley. And lest we forget the daily trips to the Lake to catch the night’s dinner. There at the Lake they had many deep discussions, tossing many cosmic questions into the air.

Someone once said that Elliot Hawthorne walked around looking like he knew something the rest of us didn’t. The way he quoted poets; the way he looked at sunsets as if they meant something. He could have for all they knew; Elliot Hawthorne could have been a prophet. But he wasn’t. You and I both know that, but prophet or not Elliot puzzled people. “Oh, Elliot?” some would declare, “He holds his guitar like Johnny Cash.” Others would claim: “He’s a whiz kid, real smart, you know the type?” Of course, the girls secretly loved him, saying: “Who Elliot? He’s a cutie, a total sweetheart.” And, of course, the jocks scoffed: “Hawthorne? If I ever see him in a dark alley at night…” He wore black P.F Flyers, had a habit of wearing wrinkled button-front shirts, and skinny black ties when the occasion called for it, and he had one old blazer made of herringbone which belonged to Grandpa Samuel and oh, how it smelled of him.

One thing was true and it was this. Elliot’s mind was forever winding, constantly turning, switching like a radio scanner with too many stations. And the thoughts channelling through his mind always spoke of a cold war. On that radio inside his head, in between the twang of a guitar and a pull of a violin, voices rang out to him, telling him of this war; a war that would soon come to a head or an end, whichever came first.

The world around them would say it was a life of grief and sorrow that killed Samuel Weal and some even said it was Elliot himself who did it. It happened in the summer, and in that summer when he was alone for the very first time, Elliot decided that he would start a new kind of life, something along the lines of what his mother had done once.

Now, Grandpa Samuel believed solely in the school of life. There’s nothing you can learn in some fancy classroom in some fancy school that you can’t learn out in a field, he always said. And I’ll tell you, Elliot always esteemed his grandfather’s ideas, though he had a disrespectful impulse to refute them every once and a while. This once and a while being this moment exactly, for Elliot had been accepted into St. David’s College on the Lake and was preparing to travel toward it in hopes of securing some intimate relationship with the land and the school and maybe the people around it. And even though it pained him to do it, Elliot liked to think Grandpa Samuel was laughing about it anyway.

His story begins in September when summer isn’t ready to die and autumn isn’t ready to be born. It was about the same time three students were singing in a choir at St. David’s College; they were like this: Bridget Welles, Gemma Lumley and Tom Doyle; and I only mention them because they are of some grave importance to the story.

Returns next Tuesday

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