Authors: Louise Krug
to my family
Published by Black Balloon Publishing
Copyright Â© 2012 by Louise Krug
All rights reserved
LOUISE: AMENDED eBook: 978-1-936787-04-3
Black Balloon Publishing titles are distributed to the trade by
Consortium Book Sales and Distribution
Phone: 800-283-3572 / SAN 631-760X
Library of Congress Control Number: 2011938591
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BLACK BALLOON PUBLISHING
wo weeks before it happened, my boyfriend Claude hooked me up with the West Coast editor of
. The editor said she might have some work for me. Britney Spears and her husband Kevin Federline were rumored to be on their way to Santa Barbara. Could I meet a reporter from the magazine, Evan, at the Four Seasons resort in one hour?
I wore a red dress. I'd coated my long, blond hair with a silicone sheen, and worn the heels everyone was wearing that year: pointy, naked on the sides, ankle straps. Evan said Wow when I walked up to him in the lobby. He gave me my mission as we sat at the hotel bar: Follow Britney around for two days, gather any information I could, and don't get caught. I would be paid $300 a day, $500 a day on weekends, to answer a list of questions. Was she pregnant? Did she smoke? What did she eat? Any cellulite? etc. Evan had been covering Britney for years and couldn't get too close without being recognized. I was a pretty girl with an unknown faceânot unusual for the Four Seasons resort in Santa Barbara. I would not stand out.
Evan and I stood on the lawn beneath the lit window of her suite. We could see the blue light from a TV.
“They're probably fucking. See you tomorrow,” he said.
Early the next morning I was back at the hotel with everything Evan had told me to bring: a few changes of
clothes to minimize recognition; sunglasses and a bikini; a notepad and pen. I was more nervous than I'd ever been. I coached myself during the drive there. I wanted to hear it said out loud, that this was really happening. That I had gotten this chance.
I was twenty-two. I'd just moved to Santa Barbara from Kansas. This opportunity was as big as I'd known how to dream at the time.
I went to the salon where Britney had received a pedicure the afternoon before. I got one too, and pretended to be a starstruck fan. I pumped the manicurist for insights. Instead I got talked into an expensive eyebrow wax.
I overheard someone say that Britney was at a nearby wig shop, so I ran there, slowed down at the door, and walked casually inside. She was trying a few on: a red bob with bangs; a black Elvira wig that went halfway down her back. Later I found myself sneaking into the resort pool and stretching out on a towel several cabanas away. She was tanning and, I noted, fanning herself with a little red Kabbalah book. My triumph was to be seated one table over at lunch. I watched her eat a salad with ranch dressing, smoke many cigarettes, and drink six lemonades. I watched a waiter ask her to please put a shirt over her bikini top. I watched her talk on the phone and belch loudly. Evan ran back and forth across the street on the sidewalk giving me a thumb's up.
I had Claude meet me at the Four Seasons restaurant for a $200 dinner we couldn't afford, hoping Britney would show up. She didn't. The next morning I sat on a bench and watched the bellboys load up her white Lexus, telling myself to ask a question, any question, to run up and tug on her ponytail to see if it came off. I couldn't speak or move.
That afternoon I typed up all of my notes and emailed them to the magazine editor. I never got paid but my name is there, in the February 7, 2005 edition of
tiny, practically invisible, at the end.
If I believed in God, I might say that what happened next saved me from a trivial life of empty goals and frivolous dreams. But I don't believe in God, so there goes that.
nurse calls my name from the waiting list. My right leg is completely numb. Claude has to help me out of my chair. I shakily tell her my symptoms, even though she can plainly see what is wrong:
1) Leg drags behind me
2) Hand cannot lift a cup to my lips
3) Eyes won't look at the same thing at the same time
While recounting these problems I begin to cry and cannot stop, even after she cradles me for a second, after she lifts me onto a bed to wait for the doctor. This isn't supposed to be happening, I think. I've only been in California for two months. Right now I'm supposed to be at my first day of work, as a reporter for a local paper, my first job out of college. For the interview I'd bought a form-fitting striped pantsuit and crocodile stilettos. On the way to the interview I'd stopped for a latte and a business magazine and felt smart and adult. My answers had come out of my mouth like someone had pressed a button. The editor had sports analogies for me. He wanted a reporter who would hit home runs and catch fly balls with the sun shining in their eyes. I said I could. I'd spent a hundred dollars on makeup and learned how to apply it on a department store stool and it had obviously been worth it.
The doctor starts giving me reflex tests, tapping my knees with a little hammer. I can see that my right side is not reacting as it should. He tells the nurse to order an MRI. I tell myself I will soon be out of this emergency room and on my way to work. After all, it is a sunny Monday in California. Nothing bad can happen here, the weather is too good, the people, too rich.
he night before it happens they are at a movie premiere. Claude is a reporter for a local paper and has been assigned to cover the Santa Barbara Film Festival. Louise has a reporting job as wellâshe will cover gardens, weddings, and pets for another publicationâbut her job doesn't start until the next day.
The theater is outdoors with roaming spotlights and palm trees. Louise is tall with long, blond hair and big eyes. Claude wears gel in his hair and leaves his shirt mostly unbuttoned. People look at them. They like to be photographed together. Their refrigerator is covered with pictures that fall down every time someone walks by.
The movie ends and as they walk up the aisle, Louise falls on a woman behind her. Claude helps Louise out of the way so the annoyed woman can get by. Louise takes off a spiky shoe and stares at her toes. She has bought a new outfit for the occasion, tight black pants and a sleeveless, lacy top.
“I can't feel anything,” she says.
On the way to the parking garage Louise drags her right foot as if a child were hanging on her leg. People stare. Claude thinks it is a bit much.
They agree that she must have sat the wrong way during the movie. Claude needs to write his review of the premiere and file before dawn. They drive back to their apartment, eat a frozen pizza, and try not to think too much.
In the morning Louise is too dizzy to stand. The noise of the shower is so loud against the plastic curtain she cannot
go inside. She hangs on the towel rack, and Claude tries to hold her up so the rod doesn't snap. On the way to the emergency room Louise is crying that the sound of horns and tires against pavement is killing her, but the windows are already rolled up. He pulls her against his chest, and covers her ear with one hand as he drives.
Claude is anxious. He is anxious about Louise and anxious about work. He writes for the Montecito paper, covering neighborhood-watch programs, charity functions, and clubhouse rules. His boss, who used to be in the pornography business, is his best friend's father. He trusts Claude to tell him which letters to the editor are worthy of a response. Most concern the lack of good security guards in the village. Montecito is a tiny village near Santa Barbara where only the very rich can afford to live. It is on the coast with gated mansions and golf carts. The inventor of Beanie Babies lives there, as do Oprah and Michael Douglas. Couples sit in restaurant gardens with their big dogs and drink tequila served on beds of ice. Personal chefs and nutritionists keep their insides clean. The women wear gold, ropy jewelry with giant stones that absorb the sun. The paper is free, available in metal containers around the town, by the bakery or gelato shop.
They have been sitting in the ER for hours with no word. Louise keeps telling him to go. His boss is waiting. It is a good job, she says.
My uncle Charlie is here. He lives close by, and the rest of my family is a plane ride away. The nurses had said the MRI results would take hours, so I told Claude he could go to work, that I'd feel more carefree without him here.
I didn't think he'd believe me.
My uncle is wearing a dove-colored suit. His smooth blue
tie is cool to the touch. He covers his nose at the smell of the hospital, at the odor coming from the other side of the curtain where someone is screaming. “Let's get out of here,” he says, looking around for an exit.
We are called into the doctor's office. The doctor turns off the lights and shows us the MRI results on a lit screen. He points to a marble-sized white spot at the base of my brain, near the neck. The white spot is blood, he says.
This is sounding familiar. When I was nine a blood vessel burst in the pons region of my brain stem, but there had been few side effects, and the blood had reabsorbed after a couple of months. The doctor says it has happened again, and this time it is more severe. The blood is putting pressure on the pons, which controls functions like breathing and swallowing. The reason I have not died is that the cavernous angioma has only bled a little bit. Not enough to stop my functions totally. Everything may reabsorb again, he says. Who knows, I could wake up tomorrow and feel all better. He refers me to a team of doctors in a Los Angeles hospital, which is more equipped to deal with this kind of thing. For now, he says, I should just go home. He gives me some painkillers from his pocket.
Uncle Charlie and I go to the hospital cafeteria before we leave. We make fun of the doctor. We eat sticky carrot salad and turkey on whole wheat. My uncle calls my father, and I call my mother, who says she will board the first plane. I tell her not to worry, but she says she is my mother, of course she is coming. My uncle drives me home in his elegant car and I feel calm. From the pills, mostly.
Claude is stuck in late-morning traffic on the highway. He watches the ocean and thinks about how much he likes Louise, and how much he hopes that whatever's wrong with her isn't serious, because he has never helped anyone
through anything, not really. Most people haven't, he guesses. He wonders if he will know what to do when the time comes, and if it will be enough.
The next day everything is worse. I try to get ready for work in a white skirt and a silky top that glows like lava, but the numbness has spread to my right hand and I can't button anything. I go back to bed and lie down. Claude is still sleeping. I cannot miss another day of work. I cannot spend another day at the ER when I'm supposed to be outside on the sand with a tape recorder, covering Japanese teenagers out surfing for the first time. Or in the farmers' market, trailing Spaniards and Germans, asking them what they think of American hot dogs. Delicious, yes? We are all Californian now!