“You’re a risk taker,” said my therapist, staring at me, the eraser end of her pencil pressed to her cheek.
“I don’t think so,” I said.
“Yes you are,” she countered. “Look at the things you used to do before your husband’s accident: climbing up Mt. Rainier, skiing across the Sierra, bicycling in Tasmania. You are definitely a risk taker.”
“Hundreds of people climb Mt. Rainier every year,” I argued. “Lots of people ski across the Sierra. Tasmania is about the safest place on earth. I think it’s all relative.”
“That’s true,” she said. “But look how you’re living your new life since your husband became a quadriplegic. You’re a risk taker.”
“And you’re full of baloney,” I thought to myself. “I’m taking my risqué self home and I’m not coming back.” But instead I made an appointment for the following week. I needed help.
Back home I readied myself for the weekend. My friend Jernae was coming to visit. The daughter of my husband’s live-in attendant, she had entered my life just when I needed someone young, innocent and optimistic to restore my faith in the future.
“What are we doing this weekend,” she asked as she bounced through the front door.
“I don’t know,” I answered. “What do you want to do?”
“I wanna go swimming, rollerblading, ice skating and fishin’,” she said. “Then I wanna go to the movies and eat ice cream.”
“You know your mom won’t let you go swimming,” I said. “She’ll be mad if we mess up your hair.”
I took a long look at this week’s hairdo. Every visit it was different. Some days she appeared at our house with two braids tightly attached to her head; other weeks she sported plaits that resembled racing stripes zigzagging behind her ears.
Sometimes she had six strategically placed ponytails and other times she had hundreds of thin, intricate braids ending with seven heart-shaped pink beads and a small piece of tinfoil.
On those days I looked forward to the melodic sound of her beads making noise as she moved her head back and forth, but not to the leftovers. After she went home I would find beads all over the house: under the mattress, on the bathroom floor, behind the sofa cushions, out on the porch and buried in the garden.
“Look,” she said. “If I wear a bathing cap, nobody’s gonna know I went swimming, you dig?”
“Okay,” I said, “but we’ve got to be careful. I don’t want to get caught.”
We went to the Willard Pool in Berkeley. She wore a bright yellow bathing cap pulled low over her forehead and a pair of lime green swimming goggles that made her look like a gigantic insect.
As soon as she jumped in the water the bathing cap flew off. Hundreds of pink beads floated to the bottom of the pool.
“Uh oh,” she said. “You’re in trouble.”
“I’m in trouble? What about you?”
“You’re the one who brought me here. Momma is gonna be mad.”
We climbed out of the pool and rushed to Walgreens. She told me what to buy and I bought it: special combs and brushes; a big jar of hair goup; tiny black rubber bands and a bag of plastic knockers. We sped home in a panic.
“Turn on the TV,” she shouted. “Throw some popcorn in the microwave. I gotta be able to watch television and eat while we do my hair.”
Somehow we managed to put the braids back together, although it was clear that we had messed with something we shouldn’t have. When her mother came to pick her up she screamed. “What’s with the hair? You went swimming after I told you not to. Girl,” she said turning to me, “you’re in trouble now.”
“I know,” I said. “It’s my fault. It won’t happen again.”
Jernae and her mother went home. I went back to my therapist.
“My name is Suzy,” I said when my session began, “and I’m a risk taker.”