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"Every little girl wants to believe that her parents are deeply in love. If mine were not, they were fabulous actors."

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01 – Déjà Vu





Every little girl wants to believe that her parents are deeply in love. If mine were not, they were fabulous actors.

 I always thought of myself as a fairly good actress too—at least when it came to putting on a brave and grown up face in trialing times. But now my skills were being pushed beyond their limits. Though I would be turning eighteen in a few months, I felt like a child as I sat captive while my hair was being braided for me, my carefully crafted mask of stoicism slipping with every yank.


 What on earth was she doing? Ripping out the strands that hadn’t made it into the twist?

“Mom, are you finished? That really hurts! Wait, are you starting over?” The overtones of whining and exasperation competed for dominance as the vigorous brushing at the top of my scalp began anew.

“Please relax and sit still, Ellery. I’m almost finished. You were moving too much and the braid turned out lopsided. The more you fidget and complain, the longer this will take. Just be calm,” said my hair stylist captor from above and behind me.

My poor, sweet, obsessive compulsive mother. I used to be convinced that she would never marry again. I was also concerned that she might die of a broken heart, and then I would too. That’s what I thought the last time we had both been wearing black dresses on a Saturday morning like this. Soon we would be heading to the same funeral home as the first time. Had it only been seven years ago? It seemed like a lifetime.

That time was for my dad. He had been a commercial aviator in charge of training new pilots for UPS at the time of the crash that claimed his life: a midair collision off the southern coast of Norway, near Bergen. Parts of the plane were eventually recovered—but no bodies.

At ten years of age I had been old enough understand the enormity and horror of our loss. I felt so helpless and sorry for my mom. I certainly felt sorry for myself too, but my mom…she was going to be so lost without him. He had taken such good care of her—of us both; we absolutely adored him. Dad was chivalrous, humorous, sometimes mischievous, and suddenly he was gone forever. His absence felt like a black hole, sucking all thoughts of a happy life now or in the future into a timeless, lifeless void. But unlike the coldness of space, it burned me over and over again every time I looked into the mirror of my mom’s big brown eyes. Time passed and we both adjusted, but now the pain had returned in full force.

“Uh, did you remember to put on a slip, Sweetie?” she asked after a particularly painful tug, perhaps in an effort to divert my attention.

I sighed before answering. Then I just dropped it, deciding not to respond in words. She knew the answer already or she wouldn’t have asked the question.

“You’ll need one with that dress. I think it’s in your top right drawer. And your black sweater is on the chair,” she informed me, trying to sound soothing and helpful. Mom was stressed to the extreme and worried sick about me. The result was a strange and unexpected air of calm and collectedness, dressing me and doing my hair in an almost exact repeat of the events on the morning of Dad’s funeral.

Despite her recent surge of motherly over-protectiveness and momentary loss of her normally gentle hair styling technique, I still adored the woman. I really needed to be strong and brave like her if I was going to survive to the end of this day.

She seemed to have become a favorite target for the ironic twists of tragedy. Her parents had died young in a plane crash when she was in college. Somehow she managed to pull herself together and graduate with her Master’s of Library Science a year later. Then she began working at the main branch of the Louisville Free Public Library, where she first met my dad, Matthew Mayne, who was the ideal in Scandinavian male physical attributes: thick blond hair in a crew cut, tall and muscular, handsomely squared features with piercing blue eyes that were glued to her while she assisted him with his quickly improvised research project.

Newly settled in Louisville in order to transition from his military career into commercial piloting, he had spotted her weeks earlier at the Kentucky State Fair. After observing and trailing her all across the fairgrounds, he gave up the pursuit when he mistook one of her cousins for her date. When chance brought her to his attention again a month later at a downtown café, he followed her back to the library to investigate and engage her further. I would love to have a stalker like that.

Monica Herron was petite and very fair skinned with lovely, expressive brown eyes and long, smooth, dark brown hair. It was way down her back when my parents first met. I could certainly understand his interest in her, especially as it relates to the attraction of opposites. Plus, she was extremely shy, which, if you didn’t know her, might make you think she was just unavailable. Exceptionally beautiful, highly intelligent, and seemingly off-limits: is there any greater appeal?

Though her frequent use of unusual words and obscure literary references didn’t faze him one bit, her extreme aversion to all things aeronautic was unquestionably a complication for my dad. He managed to keep his true occupation at UPS concealed from her for several months while they dated. He even wore the brown uniform a few times early on, not sharing the detail that it was borrowed from one of his buddies in the ground transportation division.

When he finally came clean in preparation for a proposal of marriage and explained rather than confessed the truth (he had never actually lied; she just had never pressed him for a more detailed explanation of “air loads expeditor”) she nearly broke things off. But it didn’t take her long to realize that she couldn’t live without him, no matter how fearful she was about his profession. Fortunately, he soon moved into the training department, which kept him on the ground most of the time. They were married soon after. I was born a few years after that, and the program to foster my love of words, books, and minutia was commenced within moments of my arrival home from the hospital. I enjoyed a warm and wonderful childhood in the company of parents who were crazy about each other and their little girl.

“Mom? Are people going to ask me questions about what happened, because I just don’t think I can—“

“Of course not, Honey! People will be coming to pay their respects and to comfort us. No one is going to interrogate you about what happened,” she said reassuringly as she wrapped the band at the end of my braid, securing it tightly.

Wrapping her arms around me from behind, she rested her chin on my shoulder. A soft sniff escaped her and she tried to disguise the sound with a forced cough.

“I know this is difficult for you, but you owe it to Grandpa and everyone who cares about him to be there today. Try to be strong for him, okay? I won’t leave your side, and you don’t have say anything if you don’t want to, but I do hope you’ll try and be polite. People are naturally interested in you,” she encouraged sweetly, kissing the top of my head.

“It might help if you try to think of the good times you had with Grandpa and some of the funny things he used to do and say. That’s what I’m going to try to do today.”

Before my dad died, Grandpa had always seemed like more of a legend than a real person to me. I only saw him very briefly around the holidays, while the rest of the time he was travelling the globe; an emailed image of a hero in some exotic place and not someone I was truly close to, though I was disposed to liked him very much. Once I asked my dad if we saw each other so little because he didn’t like us. Dad assured me that he loved us, and me in particular, more than anything else, but that in addition to his very busy travel schedule, they also had trouble getting along, and it was better if we just had short visits every once in a while.

After the crash Grandpa dropped everything, retired from his career in geology, and came to Louisville to be with my mom and me. He bought a new house for us along with the one behind ours for himself so that he could be close if we needed anything. He cut the grass, shoveled the snow, fixed things that broke and took care of mom’s car. He took us on driving trips (my mom refused to fly anywhere) and faithfully attended every one of my school functions, piano recitals and parent teacher conferences with my mom. He was fun, enthusiastic and affectionate. I came to adore him nearly as much as I had his son. My mom’s second husband would eventually take over most of those duties, but by the time he became a part of our lives, I was inseparably attached to my grandpa.

Though Grandpa’s funeral was traumatic for my mom, it wasn’t nearly the searing and disastrous lightning strike the death of my father had been. She had certainly grown close to her father-in-law over the past seven years, but his death, even as sudden and heartbreaking as it was, did not leave her cut in two like after the last funeral we had attended together.

I felt the loss more acutely. I had lost another father figure and that hole in my universe had been torn wide open again. It was an extremely painful kind of déjà vu, and my heart ached with an echo.

Dr. Samuel Mayne was seventy-eight years old and had died in his sleep. The autopsy report said that he had simply stopped breathing.

I was the one who found him, peaceful and still. It was not an altogether bad way to go. It’s just bad for the people left behind who miss you terribly and regret not getting to say good-bye.

I did not panic that morning, and no one was more surprised about that than I was. Perhaps the reason was because I knew Grandpa wouldn’t have liked that. Though that was possible, and the explanation I preferred, my calmness probably had more to do with a defect in my fight-or-flight instinct, which included a third option: cataplexy, which is a brief attack of muscle weakness or immobility usually triggered by strong emotion. A related word that gives a feel for this state would be catatonic. So after a fairly brief session as a terrified statue, I went next door, informed my mom of my discovery, and assisted her through the worst nervous breakdown I had ever witnessed. It was quite a contrast to the calm, comforting demeanor she possessed this morning.

“You poor thing. Look at those dark circles under your eyes! Did you have that bad dream again?” she asked as she came around to face me with a makeup bag in her hands.

Oh great. Do I look that bad?

I nodded in reply to her query. Her red rimmed eyes were already filled with concern. Now they flashed with pity and pain. I should have said no.

Since my terrible, heartbreaking discovery, I’d been haunted by the most disturbing recurring dream. It was always the same; I worked in a hospital where Grandpa was a patient and two doctors arguing in a foreign language were working on him while he lay unconscious in his hospital bed. I wanted to go to him, but I couldn’t get past the doctors. It felt like a betrayal on the part of my subconscious. Why couldn’t my mind dream about happy times with Grandpa instead of repeating a vision so bizarre and upsetting?

With one hand holding a tube of mascara and an eyeliner pencil, she dabbed a finger from her free hand in the concealing cream, moving in closer to begin the cover-up procedure.

I huffed in disapproval.

“Mom, tears and make-up don’t go together very well. I know I’m going to cry a river. Can’t we just skip this part?” I pleaded, even as new tears began to gather involuntarily, helping to make my case.

“Nobody cares what I look like any way,” I said with a sniff and a wipe.

She handed me a tissue and waited silently while I dabbed and dried the leaks, smiling sadly but not backing off an inch.

“I care. I’m proud of you, and I want you to look your best, under the circumstances. Besides, these are waterproof.”

I groaned and turned away, hoping she’d give up first. She gently pulled my face back around with the fingers that didn’t have makeup on them.

“Honey, please do it for me, for your Grandpa and especially for yourself.”

I didn’t have it in me to argue any more. I nodded and she made quick work of it.

“Girls? We need to get going,” said a deep but smooth and pleasant voice coming from the opening of my bedroom into the upstairs hallway. “I’m heading downstairs to warm up the car for you,” informed Hoyt, my step-father.

“Oh, okay. Thanks Honey. We’ll be right down,” Mom replied, slightly ruffled as she checked her watch and realized the time.

Thinking about who might await us at the funeral home I figured it would be very same group of family, friends, and coworkers who consoled us before. Even the same folks from UPS would probably be there, though not because they had kept in touch with their former UPS colleague Matt Mayne’s widow, but because of a death in the family of their coworker, Hoyt Montgomery, my mom’s new but much older husband. Mom and Hoyt came together after the crash because they had both been widowed that day. Hoyt’s fiancée, Amanda, had been the flight engineer on that trip. Their shared tragedy blossomed into comfort and love and marriage about three years later. Hoyt could never take the place of my dad, but he loved my mom, and helped to balance her out, sort of the way my dad had done. Making my mom happy and reining in her obsessive tendencies were his chief virtues, and I loved him for them, though there was a lot to appreciate about Hoyt, particularly the fact that he was a man of few words, which were always nice. He was also in the flight operations department at UPS but close to retirement, thank goodness.

As much as I had wanted to resist and flee from all this useless primping, I relaxed and submitted when it occurred to me that it must be something Mom needed, something that was helping her cope. There was no such therapy available for me.

I just really wanted to be sad by myself. It was intensely uncomfortable for me to be the object of so much sympathetic attention the first time around and I knew that today wouldn’t be any different—probably even worse. Like my mom, I too was very shy by nature, and though I always had a lot to say in my mind, my thoughts very rarely crossed over into spoken form in mixed company. Sometimes a comment would manage to break free, and everybody would be shocked and then be overly encouraging, which was still more embarrassing. Consequently, I would go for consecutively longer stretches between public editorializing. I didn’t like being this way, but the louder I beat myself up about it on the inside, the quieter I seemed to get on the outside.

As we made our way through the large group of friends and acquaintances at the funeral, I thought about how the only two people who truly knew the sound of my voice in sentences were my mom and my grandpa. So now there was just the one.

Musical inspiration for this chapter:

‘No Sunlight’
by Death Cab for Cutie

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Chapter Index | 6 Comments

6 Comments (Leave a comment »)

  1. This book is amazing!!!!!!!! I have read it several times and each time I can’t put it down til I have finished it. I love the humor in it. I also love that I have learned things by reading it. I do admit that had to use the dictionary a few times but I really do feel smarter after finishing the book. So thank you very much for putting bigger words in mayne attraction than I am use to using. It was so much better than most of the books I have read. It should be made into a movie even though a movie couldn’t do it justice. The anticipation for the next book is killing me!!!

    Comment by amanda — January 3, 2013 at 12:46 am

  2. Really enjoyed this because I know that, generally speaking, the easier something is to read, the harder it was to write. This was effortless and interesting reading, to me, the best kind. Nicely done.

    Comment by everysandwich — March 26, 2011 at 10:29 pm

  3. I’m curious to know more about the main character. Interesting to see how she felt about her grandfather’s death. Will definitely be reading on!

    Comment by Krista O — September 13, 2010 at 1:31 am

  4. From the beginning the reader is pulled into the life of the family. I want to keep reading to find out what will happen next. I love the line describing the main character’s feelings following the death of her father and the subsequent death of her grandfather, “Being here was an extremely painful kind of déjà vu. It was like an ache with an echo.” Anyone who has experienced the death of a close loved one can relate to this line.

    Comment by Tanya — July 25, 2010 at 7:58 pm

  5. Hey – I like what I am reading so far. I have an eclectic taste in books, and your writing reminds me of Stephenie Meyer and S.E. Hinton. Good psychological depth to the characters, which, I presume, will be built on as the novel progresses. Cool – I will read more….

    I really love modern American fiction, especially Fitsgerald, Miller, Ken Kesey, and fave of all time Sylvia Plath.xx

    Comment by kay w — July 3, 2010 at 12:16 pm

  6. Wonderful! The main character is interesting. I want to get to know her. The telling of the past flowed seamlessly with her current situation. I love the paragraph about how her mom was dealing with it and how the main character didn’t have that. Really great psychological thoughts there. Loving it!

    Comment by Cristy — July 1, 2010 at 10:11 pm

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