April is three.
When she closes her eyes, she can see Daddy. Mama tells her that she can't, that it's been three years since she even saw Daddy, but April knows that who she sees has to be her father. She sees a tall man with her own celery-colored eyes, his hands greasy and scratched with calluses from the way he strokes his guitar strings every night. His eyes are slightly dim from gazing into shiny colored lights every night, but he has a way of holding someone's gaze that April doubts her own imagination could have conjured. And in these visualizations, Daddy has fair hair tied in a long ponytail and leather boots as shiny as the tiny leather jacket Mama bought April for Christmas last year.
April tells Mama how she visualizes Daddy, how she pictures his exotic, lavishly-decorated tour bus. Mama tells April that she's wrong, that Daddy lives nowhere special, that he has an awful life and misses his family all the time. April doesn't understand why Mama doesn't see what she sees, why she doesn't know what April knows, why she doesn't understand how wonderful it is that Daddy sees new, exciting places and performs his terrific music nightly to an appreciative audience. Mama doesn't understand, and April wants to just grab Mama and explain it all to her, can explain that she knows why Daddy doesn't want to stay in boring old Scarsdale when there are places to see and songs to perform.
But she doesn't, because some things, even a three-year-old can grasp. And April knows better than to make Mama cry.
April is four.
It is strange, but after the passage of a single year, she has somehow forgotten her determination to never ask Mama about Daddy. One day, she does. She is curled up on the sofa of her suburban castle, her scarlet hair splayed out around her head. "Mama?" she asks softly to the maternal figure busily preparing breakfast in the kitchen. "When does he get back?"
Without missing a beat, without asking April who she means or why she's asking, Mama responds, "You'll be seven, April baby."
"But how many days?" she whines, because days are the sole and favored measurement of those who can neither tell time nor understand the exact length of a year. In fact, at four, April cannot recall incidents having happened a year or more ago. (Except, of course, Daddy, who she may or may not actually remember. After all, there is such a thing as creativity to the extent of drawing up nonexistent memories.)
Mama sighs. While April whines loudly about how she needs to know, her mother gazes out the window as if using her own imagination to conjure up her husband's tour bus. After several long moments, she answers dully, "You'll be in second grade."
"That's not days," April mumbles irritably, but Mama is already in her room, puffing desperately on a cigarette as though it is the only friend she will ever have.
April is five.
In kindergarten, the teacher establishes rules and goals on the first day. On the second day, all rules are broken, goals shattered, and ideals destroyed. Five-year-olds cannot be forced to do anything, it seems, unless that something involves stealing cookies and juice and trying to set the playground on fire by kicking sticks together.
Within a month, it is shocking, but some form of order is established. The students, April included, develop a modicum of respect for their teacher; the teacher, therefore, learns that students must be treated with respect as well. So crafts and games are brought out without much of an argument from either party, teacher or class, and are well-received among the students.
April, against her contrary nature, finds herself enjoying kindergarten more than she ever enjoyed long days at home with Mama and cigarette smoke. Here, the air is clean, which is a definite bonus; in addition, April has unlimited access to paints and crayons and markers and anything she might ever need to make a beautiful picture. She draws everything – Mama, her class, her teacher, her house, her school, her father. She draws smiling faces on everyone, particularly herself in self-portraits… even if her own face does not always reflect that.
April is six.
First grade means work. First grade means that crayon distributions are few and far between, that instead, April has to hold a fat pencil between her thumb and forefinger, practicing the penmanship she thinks is idiotic. Why do people need to write things anyway? she wonders. Aren't drawings so much more detailed, more informative? Not least of all, they are more colorful.
On holidays, however, April's teacher carries out the bucket of crayons and markers and allows the students to create arts and crafts. For Halloween, masks are made. For any single student's birthday, drawings are created and distributed to that one student. For Christmas and, more commonly in Scarsdale, Hanukkah, construction paper is strewn out on the crafts table, along with sequins and glitter to make holiday cards.
Mother's Day is observed like the second coming of Jesus. Cards and tiny books are created, telling the story of "Why I Love Mommy" for every student in the entire class. When, a month later, Father's Day comes up, April doesn't miss a beat when asked to draw a picture of herself and her father. Expertly utilizing her wild imagination, April draws herself, asleep in bed, with a tiny dream cloud connecting her to her father.
She shows it to her mother, and Mama cries.
April is seven.
Tensions are running high in the days prior to Daddy's scheduled return. Mama invites lots of people to the house and tells April to be quiet, be good, be on her best behavior. April listens, changing into her favorite skirt and shirt so that Daddy can see how pretty she is. She even washes her hair in the shower every night for a week, even though she prefers baths and hates spending all that time getting clean when she'll just get dirty again anyway. She hates washing her hair, but she does it thoroughly, wanting to look her best for Daddy.
The way Mama says it is going to work is that a bus will pull up in front of their house and Daddy and the other people in his band will get out, escort him to the door, say their hellos and goodbyes, and leave. Only Daddy will remain afterwards, and will be hounded by Mama, these strange people who are here, and of course April. That is the only moment April cares about, and she is plotting meticulously in her head the exact way she will run forth and leap into Daddy's arms. She wants to hold him tightly around the neck and kiss him and tell him that she loves him and she misses him and she knows they're going to be best friends.
Mama's twenty-year-old sister (whom April is explicitly forbidden to call "Aunt"), Jennifer, frowns upon this idea. She tells April it might be a better idea to be calm, be mellow, to approach Daddy with caution and smile shyly and let him direct the proceedings. April, however, is adamant that things must go according to her own plan, that Daddy needs to see who she is, not who she is in church on Sundays. Jennifer sighs, but does not push the matter, and instead leaves to go occupy herself with the cooking and decorations. Mama wants everything to be perfect for Daddy.
When the doorbell rings, April is already beside the door, her smile already plastered onto her head. Mama and her friends and relatives are close behind her, but it is April who wrestles the door open and gazes up into the celery eyes of Theodore ("Theo" or "Rock God," never "Theodore" or "Daddy") Ericcson.
"I'm April," she says in the tiniest whisper she can possibly muster. Expecting a hug, she throws her arms out.
Daddy sidesteps his daughter and places his bags down on the floor beside the door. "Donna," he says to Mama in astonishment, "This place hasn't changed a bit." As his bandmates flow in through the open door, it takes Daddy several minutes to ask casually, "Who's the kid?"
April dashes up the stairs, tears running down her face, and it is hours upon hours before there is Mama's hand on her back, gently stroking her to sleep.
April is eight.
Defying her predictions in every way possible, Daddy's presence is infrequent and daunting. Never in the Ericcson household has it ever been unusual to find April hunched over the living room table, legs twisted beneath her as she sketches something in pencil, charcoal, or watercolor. However, when Daddy comes across April's art one Saturday morning in early August, he shakes the hair out of his eyes and demands, "What in god's name are you doing?" April, rather than giving Daddy the blunt answer she would give Mama if ever Mama asked so ridiculous a question, merely gathers her paint and paper and flees, running until she reaches her room. She closes the door behind her and sets up her art supplies at a tiny table by the window, letting sunlight flow in.
While Friday nights were practically sacred prior to Daddy's arrival, often featuring board games or movies, April now finds these evenings to be as gray and dull as every other night. She is instructed to remain in her room at all times, in spite of the blasting music coming from downstairs and the creaking of springs all throughout the house. She grows used to the lights finally dimming at four in the morning on weekends, and when she awakens at around eleven, she finds her path to the kitchen blocked by sleeping bodies scattered all over the floor.
"I've had parties before, too," Mama tells April, but the child knows that this is not true. While Mama was not unknown to go to a party or two every month or so, never had a party ever been hosted by the Ericcson family before Daddy arrived. Even on Christmas, Mama and April used to pack up their belongings and go to Grandma's house the morning directly after Mama's office party. The Ericcsons were never a family for the hardcore lifestyle Daddy seems to like – while he enjoys parties, drinking, and stupid card games, April and Mama prefer ice cream cake, cuddling on the couch, and wistful fantasies of a better life that is never to be lived.
April is nine.
Thanksgiving rolls around, with Daddy and his friends arriving late because "practice ran late, sorry, Donna." Mama isn't stupid, and neither is April. They know that there was no practice going on, and that Daddy was probably out with That Girl again, the one with the velvety dark hair and the slightly squinty greenish-blue eyes. She's tiny – too skinny for April too look at her for too long without wincing – and April has only seen her once, only peered through the bars of the stairway to see who was making that shrill squeal of delight the moment Daddy finally wrestled the cork out of the wine bottle with his teeth.
At Thanksgiving, Mama is somber and quiet, letting Daddy's praise of her cooking roll over her like ocean waves rushing over anything in their path. April lays the compliments on thickly, her mouth full, proclaiming to Daddy's friends that "saying that Mama cooks well is like saying that merry-go-rounds are kinda fun. It says a little bit, but not enough." She is very pleased with her own analogy, and uses it repeatedly over the course of the night.
When everyone is told to share their what-I'm-thankful-fors, Daddy hesitates and says he will go last. Mama says she is thankful for her daughter, which April thinks is slightly strange because every other year she's said she was thankful for her entire family. But this is disregarded in Daddy's friends' haste to exchange their thankful-fors. It takes seven long minutes for it to be April's turn, and she says primly that she is thankful for her family.
Daddy comes next, and says the same thing, but April doubts that he means it.
April is ten.
For some people, being ten means that they can count their age in double digits.
For April, it means that she can use her age as a way to remember the number of antidepressant pills Mama is, according to her prescription, supposed to consume in a week.
And still, the number is wrong. Mama consumes twelve sometimes, maybe fourteen. But still, April thinks she is depressed, because Mama never smiles.
April takes one of the pills once. Still, she doesn't smile or laugh. As she contemplates taking another one, she recalls the messy slurping sounds Mama makes when she cries, drugged on antidepressants. Rather than swallowing another pill, April collapses against her mattress, suddenly more tired than she has ever been before in her life.
April is eleven.
These are her days of preadolescent rebellion. Her hair and eyes wild, April takes to vandalizing and cursing. Mama looks on in horror, having known her daughter for the girl's entire life (unlike Daddy), startled. April was never like this when she was younger – always, she was quiet and contemplative, wildly ambitious and very engrossed in her fantasies. Now, it seems that April has abandoned her happy, childish dreams in favor of more entertaining pastimes – which usually, if not always, either fall under the category of "illegal" or "immoral".
Daddy, in an attempt to seem fatherly and authorative, storms into April's room one eleven-thirty p.m., mere hours after April returned home from her adventure spray-painting the back wall of her school. Though Daddy is high and probably drunk as well, he does his best to uphold a mask of anger and power. "Girl," he says firmly, "you stop this behavior at once." His words slur together, syllables falling into one another like slush trickling into a ditch. April, amused and annoyed all at once, snickers and comments dryly, "You'd better get to bed, Dad – either that, or over to that girl's house."
The problem with April's saying this is that, as soon as Dad leaves and slams the door, her face falls into her pillow and, within minutes, teardrops are trickling from her eyes, and her pillow is soaked.
Before she sleeps, April merely flips her pillow over and, softly, sings herself a lullaby.
April is twelve.
For any child, this is bound to be an awkward age. For April, it is even worse. For April, it means that Mama has decided that her daughter ought to be taught about that which she has already known for years. It means lectures and unhelpful donations of tampons she has been using for a year already. It means that Daddy is not ashamed to walk around the house naked, already under the impression that April has "seen it all on other boys already." Whether or not this is true is debatable – while April cannot quite remember it, she has been drunk a few times by this age, once being at a Bat Mitzvah. She has no idea what happened, and does not really want to know.
But being twelve means something else, too.
It means that in some people's eyes, she is an adult. In some people's eyes, she can go to the store and get cigarettes for her parents and herself. In some people's eyes, it means she can baby-sit that kid who lives a few blocks down, walk the neighborhood dogs, or even, as she personally believes, get drunk.
In other people's eyes, she can't do any of those things. She can, however, squeeze into the baby swings on a playground and see-saw with toddlers. According to certain people, it would be well within the rights of a twelve-year-old for April to throw a temper tantrum over a candy bar.
April, however, isn't picky. She takes advantages from both categories, leaving behind the negative aspects. Or so she thinks, anyway.
April is thirteen.
As anti-social as she is or can be, a bizarre twist of fate leads her to befriend a girl in her class. Her name is Cindy Cohen, and with her long blond hair and permanently ditzy expression, April would never initiate a friendship with this girl. Therefore, it is Cindy who does the initiating, commenting on April's "unusual choice in books," which so happens to follow the pattern of being either horror or tragedy depending on the day of the week and Daddy's mood at home. On this particular day, it is horror, because Daddy has taken to bringing That Girl home again and April is tired of tragedy and of Mama's squeaks when she tries to avoid the subject and refrain from saying how miserable she is. Misery grows tiring after awhile.
So, when tedious, attention-seeking Cindy comments on the book, April makes a noncommittal grunting noise. Cindy persists, however, by complimenting April's hair. Self-conscious, April raises a hand to her tangled mess, but Cindy laughs and says that she was kidding. April returns to her book, annoyed, but after awhile she begins to sense Cindy's eyes on her. "What?" April demands.
Cindy shrugs. "You want to come over after school?" she offers tentatively. "I have a pool. And Jacuzzi. And a little brother, but he'll stay out of our way."
"Do you're think we're five?" April wants to ask, but doesn't, because she really wants any excuse to not be at home with Mama, Daddy, the band and That Girl.
She shrugs. "Sure."
And the rest of the day, surprisingly, is enjoyable.
April is fourteen.
Although April has been going to Cindy's house regularly for nearly a year, it still comes to a shock to her when, for the first time, she meets Mark.
She has met Cindy's parents before. They are frequent presences, always hovering and governing and laying down their rules, reminding Cindy to behave and bring this, this and this to school tomorrow, to not forget to do her homework and set the table. They nag and insist and frustrate their victims, opening Cindy's bedroom door to pay her a visit and leaving it open as they leave. They are as far from Mama and Daddy as possible, and Cindy loves them.
However, in spite of the outgoing, ambitious daughter and nagging, irritating parents, there is a silent member of the Cohen family. He is quiet, never playing music in his room the way Cindy does in hers, never objecting to her volume and never, above all, making his presence known to anyone. April vaguely recalls being told by Cindy that she had a brother, but it is nearly a year before April sees him.
He has his sister's blue eyes and blond hair, pale skin and tiny frame. He averts his eyes from everyone, staring at his own feet, and walks briskly as though to escape any potential followers.
"Who was that?" April asks as he passes by her for the first time.
Cindy shrugs. "My brother," she says, and cranks up the volume on her radio. "He's a total freakazoid. Anyway, you want to get some ice cream?"
April is fifteen.
She decides that some things simply do not need to be known by anyone.
For example, people don't need to know other people's business. It seems obvious, but apparently it isn't. In the Ericcson household, it isn't quite so bad as it must be at other people's houses – Cindy's, for example – but, still, invasions of privacy are frequent and infuriating. When April is lying in bed with a boy from school, naked and sweaty, Mama chooses that moment to poke her head into her daughter's bedroom without knocking. She leaves, of course, and apologizes later, but the memory haunts April, and from that point forward, she spends the night at boys' houses instead.
Something else that people don't need to know is who is sleeping with whom. It seems to be common knowledge at Scarsdale High and, while Cindy does not attend this school, April always ends up finding out the details of Cindy's sex life as well. (It is, April is amused to discover, remarkably uneventful, in contrast to her own.)
It is this last fact that is completely defied one day (in, mockingly, the month of April) when April knocks tentatively on Mama and Daddy's bedroom door, opens it when she hears no response, and comes across Daddy and That Girl.
April makes a dash for the bathroom, and is on her knees ready to vomit before she remembers the school lecture on not making oneself throw up, even just for drama's sake. She considers this momentarily, then sticks her finger down her throat anyway.
April is sixteen.
After a tedious three-year-long attempt at friendship, April and Cindy at last decide to permanently end their friendship. For Cindy, this is an opportunity for drama; she takes to placing rude phone calls to April and openly mocking the outcast in the presence of pretty, popular girls and the select few boys in Scarsdale whose tempers are mild enough to tolerate the frustrating girl that is Cindy. For April, however, the end of their friendship is merely another end, and nothing more. She is aggravated by Cindy's persistence, but shrugs it off as a stupid girl just being immature. There are a lot of those. April hates them.
What's strange is that, as Cindy drifts out of April's life, some teenage rebellion bubbles up inside her. It is a subconscious reaction to being "friend-dumped," but nonetheless, it is powerful. April, for all her maturity and being wise beyond her years, is drawn toward Mark, Cindy's underappreciated younger brother, a pale, scrawny boy with not enough confidence and definitely, definitely not enough fun. So April, being the loving, curious girl that she is, takes Mark under her wing and resolves to expose him to the world as she sees it, through wild eyes.
It is practically a given that Mark resists at first. April, however, is smoothly persuasive in terms of making Mark feel that he needs this friendship. She knows that he is lonely and bored; with that in mind, April warps him into an entirely different person without even having to do much. From her pocket she will draw car keys, and Mark is immediately compelled to touch all that is shiny, to learn how to drive; similarly, when she slides a packet of some drug out of her pocket, Mark wants to touch it and use it and try it, to see and know all that there is to see and know in the world.
April is seventeen.
It's enough. Daddy is sleeping with That Girl. Mark is alone, facing the brunt of Cindy's wrath now that her friends don't like her. Mama is taking way, way too many sleeping pills. A boy in Mark's class is harassing him, writing nasty songs about him. All of these things fuel April's hatred for this world, for this suburban hell, for the metaphoric walls surrounding Scarsdale and all the people in it. In a burst of rage, one day, when she draws the car keys from her pocket, a thought strikes April.
She wants to leave. A voice in her head insists that it would never work, that she would get caught, that Daddy needs his car and would probably hunt her down to get it back.
But April loves adventure, and she hates this loathsome land of Suburbia. It's decided.
"Mark?" she asks, her voice cool and composed. "I'm leaving. Come with?"
It isn't long before the best friends are in the car, alternating between being depressed and being delighted as they let the wind whip their hair. The city is their destination, the sparkling realm of Manhattan, but April is not above making pit stops along the way.
There are bars she's never been to and clubs where she's always wanted to dance.
She's seventeen and beautiful, wild and adventurous. She wants to do everything, and she has all the time in the world.