rachelleneveu: ("Some days the body count will)
[personal profile] rachelleneveu
Title: family portrait
Summary: "When her grandson is three, Megan White goes to a support group."
Word Count: 913
Warning(s): None
A/N: For my a prompt in my Creative Writing class, "I've never told this to anyone before."


When her grandson is three, Megan White goes to a support group.

The walls of the waiting room are beige tile and none of the five women in the cramped chairs looks at each other, let alone speaks. Megan has never been to therapy before; she’s never been an exceptionally troubled person, and something about it has always seemed dangerous, almost. People who enter therapy are seriously hurting – they can’t fix themselves on their own, and need professionals to help them overcome their issues.

This group meets three towns over from her own. No one knows her here.

The doctor leading the meeting is a woman in her thirties, sandy hair pulled back into a severe bun and eyes hidden behind rimless glasses. She’s warm as she meets them at the doorway, welcoming them to the first meeting in her office. They line up like children, Megan thinks, led like ducklings into the next room and asked to pick from the circle of chairs at the center of it. There’s coffee on the table that no one touches, stale-looking cookies on a paper plate. Megan sheds her coat and doesn’t look at anyone straight-on, quietly appraising the others while they all settle in: they’re all around her age, only one is exceptionally pretty. She feels a momentary pang of internal revulsion at the thought, the rudeness of it, but pushes it away.

They’re all there for the same reason, the doctor says. They all have troubled children, and this is the moment where Megan thinks of getting up and leaving: her daughter wasn’t – isn’t – troubled, not the way these boys and girls must be. She and Zach never had to lock the liquor cabinet, never found marijuana in her sock drawer. Not their daughter, so compliant, safe, who always made sure to be home before eleven without even being asked. Not the sweet girl with ribbons in her hair, dancing in the kitchen, who never gave them any trouble. Not her Polly.

“The first thing I’d like to do is just start a conversation.” The doctor flattens her notepad against her lap, crossing her legs at the ankle. “Does anyone have anything they’d like to talk about?”

The group shifts uncomfortably in their narrow chairs. After a heavy pause, the woman next to her speaks haltingly of her own daughter’s issues with alcohol. Megan tries to listen and instead thinks of Polly and her boyfriend in their living room an hour before prom, the two of them posing in front of the fireplace, his hands on her hips. Her dress was green, his tie matched it perfectly. She thinks of Polly at seven, dancing at her first recital, and it bleeds into Polly at seventeen, hugely pregnant and crying in the garage at her ballet barre because she couldn’t get her leg extended high enough for a proper allegro. Polly who wanted to be Odette, Juliet, each and every lead. Polly, whose first word was “no,” who refused to hold her baby.

“They carried her out on a stretcher from the dance,” the woman continues, “They had – they had to pump her stomach. Alcohol poisoning. She’s…she’s fifteen, and I – I –”

The woman breaks off, upset, and the woman on her other side leans over, rubs her back gently. Megan grabs her a tissue from the table and it’s taken from her with trembling fingers. “I’ve never told this to anyone before,” the woman says, twisting her wedding ring, and the doctor nods. “My husband…we wanted to keep it quiet. We didn’t want people to judge her.”

Megan understands that; they live in a small town, market gossip is lifeblood there. It was easy for Polly to pretend the baby wasn’t hers: she never touched Sam after he was born, not unless someone made her. Megan remembers late nights when he was a newborn, Polly locking her door from the inside and letting him scream his lungs raw in the nursery until Megan dragged herself out of bed. How Sam curled up against her, calmed down immediately when she held him; he always squirmed in Polly’s arms, eager to get away. “A late surprise,” she’d told people in the pharmacy, at the bank. “We weren’t even trying.”

Megan stares at her lap as the doctor talks to the woman beside her, calmly explaining options, possibilities for treatment. She links her hands together, the diamond on her ring cutting into the palm covering it, and she thinks of the letter they found from Polly three nights ago, the crisp words on white paper unsmudged by tears, by regret. Zach had cried in the kitchen when he read it, Sam oblivious on his lap, and Megan had leant back against the sink, feeling the sharp edge of the countertop digging hard into her lower back. Their Polly ran off, and for what? An audition, an opportunity – her reasoning wasn’t clear. All they knew was that she was gone, maybe for good, and Megan had never hated her daughter before that moment, not when she crashed the car into a ditch at fourteen, not even when she told them she was pregnant. She had never felt such anger, such disappointment; she wondered where she might have went wrong, how she could have raised someone so unbearably selfish.

The doctor asks the room, “Who else would like to speak?” and Megan clenches and unclenches her fists in her lap. She raises her head. Her mouth stays closed.
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