CLEMMIE and BUBBIE sit at the dinner table. CLEMMIE tries to help BUBBIE up, but she gets resistance.
BUBBIE: Wait. Wait.
CLEMMIE: Time to walk back now. You need to lie down.
BUBBIE: I’m too tired.
CLEMMIE: You’ll be all right. You walked in here, didn’t you? You can walk back.
BUBBIE: I told you it would be hard to go back.
CLEMMIE: This morning you came in here and went back fine. It’s the same distance now it was then.
BUBBIE: The morning is different. I have half a cup of coffee in the morning.
Enter CHARLIE and SANDY from the kitchen. They are clearing dishes.
CLEMMIE: Charlie will help you.
BUBBIE: Wait. What’s wrong with you?
CLEMMIE: Nothing’s wrong with me except you’re not listening to me. Charlie, help me get her up.
CHARLIE and CLEMMIE surround BUBBIE, but she stops them with a motion of her arm.
Enter JODIE, BETH, AND JERRY.
BUBBIE: Wait. I don’t want to go back now.
CLEMMIE: You can rest better in there.
BUBBIE: I’ll rest when I’m dead. I’ve lived too long. When people get to my age, they should die.
BUBBIE: Who needs people so old? Make room for others to get their turn.
JODIE: Others already get their turn.
JERRY: to CHARLIE
To her, life is a baseball game where everybody bats in order.
This isn’t a baseball game. Everybody bats at the same time.
BUBBIE: I’m too tired to live.
JERRY: If I listen to this much longer, I might jump off a bridge.
JODIE: Why, Dad? She’s just telling you how she feels.
JERRY: And I’m telling you what I feel.
It makes no sense for you people to listen to her when she’s this tired. Ignore what she says. Charlie, hold her other arm and help me get her to her room.
Just get on back here and take your nap.
CLEMMIE and CHARLIE take her arms and prepare to pull her to a standing position. BUBBIE draws her arms away.
BUBBIE: I don’t want a nap.
CLEMMIE: You’re tired. You need a nap.
BUBBIE: I’m not sleepy. I’m tired of living.
CLEMMIE: There ain’t a thing in the world wrong with you except you’re old – and that’s a lucky thing to be.
CLEMMIE takes her arm, lifts, and BUBBIE stands up. CLEMMIE holds her arm firmly and helps her walk.
BUBBIE: Ahhhhh. You don’t know.
CLEMMIE: I don’t? Honey, I’m eighty-three years old next month.
BUBBIE: I’m almost a hundred.
CLEMMIE: Something to be proud of.
JERRY: I’m seventy-five.
BETH: You’re seventy-six! Don’t lie to me. You can’t get away with it.
JERRY: I can to everybody else. Why can’t you let me?
BETH: You wouldn’t let me get away with it, would you?
JERRY: No, I wouldn’t.
BETH: The last few years feel like I’ve lived two for every one. I feel older than seventy-two.
JERRY: You’re seventy-three.
BETH: Not yet.
JERRY: Three months. Remember how we used to count the year before it got here? Or, for a while there – I guess it was when we were in our twenties – we allowed a few months of fudging in the other direction. We don’t do that anymore, do we?
BETH: No, we don’t.
CLEMMIE: Lordy, I gotta get out of here. Come on with me.
She pulls BUBBIE along. BUBBIE stops.
BUBBIE: You know? There could be a revolution tonight.
BUBBIE: A revolution. It’s coming.
BETH: Mother, what are you talking about?
BUBBIE: The soldiers. We should hide.
BETH: What have you two been watching?
CLEMMIE: Soap opera and news. News and soap opera. That’s all we watch.
JERRY: That’s it. She’s repeating the news.
BUBBIE: Hide. Soldiers.
JERRY: Not this year’s news, but news.
BETH: to CLEMMIE
Turn off the TV. If she won’t take a nap, give her a bath.
CLEMMIE: She’s had her bath.
BETH: Another bath. It’ll help her sleep.
CLEMMIE and BUBBIE exit.
JODIE: Ma, tell Charlie.
BETH: Tell what?
JODIE: Tell him.
CHARLIE: Tell me what?
JODIE: What we talked about. Tell him, Ma.
BETH: warning her
JODIE: I’ll tell him if I have to.
BETH: No you won’t.
JODIE: Oh, I won’t?
JERRY: Jodie, try to think about what you’re doing. Try.
JODIE: Let’s assume I always think about what I’m doing. Let’s also assume that I’m being assertive…instead of reacting…and it’s about time…if you know what I mean.
JERRY: Do you realize what time it is?
JODIE: That’s irrelevant.
JERRY: Not when you sleep at night. Not when you need a place to sleep. Most people are sleeping right now. In bed. Peacefully sleeping. Can’t we have an ordinary night? Remember, it’s our anniversary. You fixed us dinner. Give us another present: peace.
JODIE: That’s what I’m trying to do.
CHARLIE: Ma, what is she talking about?
JODIE: Tell him, Ma.
JODIE: Then I’ll be more than happy to tell him.
BETH: Don’t, Jodie. It’s too late. You’ll destroy everything.
JODIE: Huh uh.
BETH: Sweetheart. Sweetheart. Please.
JODIE: Charlie, I want you to leave.
JODIE: If you don’t leave here I think I’ll have to go somewhere else tonight.
BETH: You’re not going anywhere.
JODIE: I know I won’t sleep here while Charlie’s in the house.
CHARLIE: What’s the problem?
CHARLIE: I’ve been fine.
SANDY: You have, dear.
JODIE: I’ll hyperventilate. I’ll think too fast. I’ll grind my teeth. The pain in my joints will flair up. I’ll be too angry to relax. I could get a migraine.
CHARLIE: What does that have to do with me?
BETH: Jodie, you’re trying to talk yourself into this.
JODIE: to CHARLIE
You’ll be the cause, if you’re in the same house. That’s what will happen if you stay here. I know that.
CHARLIE: That’s ridiculous.
JODIE: When I don’t get my sleep, things can go crazy around here.
CHARLIE: Then get your sleep. I thought this was supposed to be a reconciliation. Are you trying to make it into insanity?
BETH: It’s okay, Charlie. She missed some doses.
CHARLIE: Then what can you do about it?
BETH: She’ll calm down. It’s a phase.
JODIE: It’s not a phase! Don’t talk about me like I’m not here! You do that a lot.
BETH: No I don’t.
JODIE: More than you realize. This has nothing to do with medicine.
BETH: Jodie, please. Look. You and I. Let’s the two of us finish doing the dishes together. We can focus on that. Just the two of us. We’ll use it as a way to calm down.
JODIE: No! I’ll do the dishes, myself! After they leave here!
BETH: Together. Just the two of us – and we can talk about this.
JERRY: Jodie, it’s late. They’re staying. If you don’t sleep, then don’t sleep. But if you have to talk all night then you can walk around the block and talk to yourself.
BETH: Jerry, let’s not gang up on anybody.
JERRY: I’m just giving it to her straight. It’s my house.
referring to CHARLIE and SANDY
They are staying.
BETH: That approach won’t work.
JERRY: It could work if you’d let it.
Is that really what you want, Dad? You want them to stay?
JERRY: I’m not a psychiatrist. I don’t know the right strategy. But they are staying.
SANDY: We can leave now, if that will help.
CHARLIE: We don’t have to leave. We drove four hundred and fifty miles for this anniversary party.
SANDY: I could call and see about a room in a motel.
CHARLIE: We don’t need to do that.
SANDY: It might help.
CHARLIE: It’s not necessary. I grew up here. I could call a motel if I wanted to. I could have booked a room before we came. I thought about it.
BETH: I could call a motel.
JODIE: I could call.
JERRY: If that’s what you want, it wouldn’t bother me to call.
BETH: I could call and check the price.
JERRY: She could. Wouldn’t take but a second.
CHARLIE: That’s not the point. I know how to use the phone.
JODIE: You’re the reason nobody came to this party!
CHARLIE: Don’t be crazy.
JODIE: Don’t call me that! I’m not crazy. People don’t want to come to this house because they’re humiliated to be here, and it’s your fault!
CHARLIE: You invited me.
JODIE: I didn’t want to. I had to.
CHARLIE: But it was a good thing. And, when I first walked in, I thought it would be good. It still could, don’t you think?
JODIE: You destroyed this family twenty years ago and everybody knows it.
JERRY: Who knows it?
JODIE: Everybody in town.
JERRY: Nobody knows anything.
JODIE: Nobody wants to be at a party here. You’ve ruined our standing in this town.
JODIE grabs an object made of glass and breaks it.
Now that you’ve done the permanent damage, just get out!
JERRY: Oh, Lord.
BETH: I should I call the doctor.
JODIE: The doctor? Why?
BETH: Dear, you know why.
JODIE: I’m fine. I can call the doctor, if I need to.
JERRY: But you won’t.
JODIE: I don’t need to.
JERRY: Your mother doesn’t mind calling.
JODIE: There’s no need to call.
BETH: I’ll call.
JODIE’S anger diminishes. She’s now talking very rapidly, almost in a different voice, thinking faster than she talks. She’s not speaking to anyone; she’s listening to her own voice.
JODIE: Oh, so it’s me? Well, maybe it is. Call the doctor because it’s my fault. It is, probably. People don’t want to be around me. I’m the one who sent the invitations. That’s why. That’s why they didn’t come. It’s the way I said it. Cover dish was stupid. I used those informal cards instead of real invitations. Entertainment was stupid. It could have been RSVP. I put them off with the way I invited them. With RSVP, they would have made a decision. People don’t make decisions unless you make them. Unless you back them up against a wall and demand a commitment. Commitments ask people to make too many decisions. They all hate me because I made a big deal about the celebration. I should have just invited people over. They would have come. People don’t like to be around me because I’m not comfortable around them and then they’re not comfortable around me.
It’s a paradox, isn’t it? If I would feel better, they would feel better. If they would feel better, I would feel better. I create the feelings other people experience. But it’s easier to just avoid all contact.
CHARLIE: Ma, I’m not convinced she needs a doctor. There’s a such thing as maneuvering for position.
JERRY: And there’s both, at the same time.
CHARLIE: to JODIE
I’m successful and independent. That’s why you hate me.
CHARLIE: to SANDY
Why should I be blamed for all bad things, when really, all I do wrong is function like a normal human being?
SANDY: Nobody said anything like that.
CHARLIE: There’s no need to say it. She’s a big baby, unemployed, unmarried, and still living at home.
SANDY: Have some understanding.
CHARLIE: She’s always hated me.
SANDY: She doesn’t hate you.
BETH: Charlie, she can’t help it.
CHARLIE: I think she can. You coddle her with this illness. You always have.
BETH: Coddle? What are you supposed to do?
CHARLIE: Maybe see the bigger picture? She wants to hold me responsible for everything that happened. Maybe she needs to realize that she causes certain things to happen. Maybe she needs to hear some straight talk, and maybe I’m the only one who will give it to her. Maybe I should do that while I’m here, to keep the trip from being a total waste. Maybe I won’t be back for another twenty years.
BETH: No, she needs to calm down. The big picture is wonderful if you like to think. But if you’re responsible for doing things, for taking care of a person – you’ve got to do a certain amount of coddling, or whatever you want to call it. Whatever it takes to survive.
CHARLIE: She gets more attention for that illness, for having a problem, than I got for anything I ever did.
JERRY: She sure does. I guess that’s human nature.
CHARLIE: No, it’s not. It’s manipulation. Look at yourself. What are you going to do? Race off to the hospital in the middle of the night? Cause me to go to check into a hotel after I drove all this way for a visit? Ruin this whole thing? Because she’s having a tantrum?
BETH: It’s an episode.
CHARLIE: Maybe it is. But maybe she’s not sick right now. Have you considered that?
JODIE: screaming, out of control, at CHARLIE
Have you considered I hate your stinking guts!
They ignore her the best they can. Beth answers CHARLIE.
CHARLIE: She might just be acting like a baby to get her way.
BETH: She’s sick. You don’t know what you’re talking about. All the episodes affect her personality. They change the chemicals, the receptors in her brain.
CHARLIE: The receptors in my brain have changed too! And yours!
BETH: I know. Charlie, please. We’re speaking a different language.
CHARLIE: fighting for his point
I don’t think so. At her age, she knows how to take a pill. She’s not stupid. She didn’t take the pills, intentionally, so she could get her courage worked up, so she could stir a little wildfire in her eyes, because she knew I would be here. I always worked, did okay – in school, in sports. I have a family. I have a good job and work my ass off. And what did you ever say about any of that?
BETH: We were proud of you.
CHARLIE: No you weren’t.
BETH: You never said much to us.
JERRY: You knew we were proud of you.
CHARLIE: All I heard about was her. The illness. The danger. Why do you think I left here and never came back?
BETH: That’s not the reason and you know it.
CHARLIE: It’s a big part of the reason, even though nobody said it.
BETH: We were so scared, Charlie. Back then, these things were more frightening than they are now.
CHARLIE: She’s gotten her money’s worth out of it. Listen to me: You remember that day I left? That Thanksgiving?
BETH: Not now. I don’t want to talk about that.
JODIE: You should be ashamed of yourself. You’ve given your own parents twenty years of misery, leaving me to try and keep them happy. People should go to jail for that.
CHARLIE: to BETH, ignoring JODIE
All because of one stupid phone call.
It wasn’t the phone call. You know it was more than that.
CHARLIE: It was the phone call! We were sitting here at dinner, and I got up to make the phone call. I stood right over here and picked up the phone.
He picks up the phone
You told me to sit back down, and I didn’t. Then you stabbed that big knife into the turkey and told me that if I made that phone call, not to come back. So I didn’t.
BETH: mumbling, with regret, as in a confession
I said don’t come back.
CHARLIE: You did. And I didn’t.
JERRY: confirming the history
That is what you said.
BETH: I know I said it. We all say things. Did I mean never to come back, to stay away for twenty years? Did anybody think that’s what I meant?
Who has ever paid that kind of price for saying the wrong thing?
JERRY: A lot of people have. Even your own father had the same argument with his father. It’s fairly common, really. Families have fights, and people wander off.
BETH: Before the dinner, you, you…
JERRY: He acted like an ass.
CHARLIE: I remember it. I wanted Cheryl to come here for Thanksgiving. What was so wrong with that?
BETH: We wanted just family.
BETH: Because it was a family occasion.
CHARLIE: She had nowhere to go! She stayed in her dorm room, alone, over Thanksgiving.
BETH: She was free do go wherever she wanted.
CHARLIE: She wanted to come here! With me. She was my girlfriend. She was alone for Thanksgiving. What was the big deal?
BETH: It started before that.
CHARLIE: What started before that?
BETH: I don’t know. What was it, Jerry?
JERRY: I don’t know. I’ve forgotten.
BETH: You knew he wasn’t right. Are you saying you’ve forgotten?
JERRY: A lot of the kids weren’t right back then.
BETH: You’ve changed. At the time, you were worried, and angry.
JERRY: It was a long time ago. Kids are stupid.
BETH: Did they all quit speaking to their mothers? And tell their mothers to quit speaking to them?
I’m sure they didn’t.
BETH: to JERRY
He did. He wanted to come here, for Thanksgiving, and bring his girlfriend, and not speak to his mother. I couldn’t allow that. I will not allow my own son to show off to his girlfriend by humiliating his own mother. Not in my own house.
CHARLIE: Who said I wouldn’t speak?
BETH: Before that Thanksgiving, you had not spoken to me – at all – for months.
CHARLIE: I don’t remember that.
JERRY: It’s true.
BETH: Now you’ve decided not to remember it.
CHARLIE: If you had let her come here, it would have been fine. Even if you had let me call her, nothing would have happened.
BETH: You had to call her right in the middle of dinner. Thanksgiving dinner? That I had fixed? You could have called her before, or after.
CHARLIE: I forgot.
BETH: very angry
Why did you have to call her in the middle of dinner?
CHARLIE pauses. The memory is painful.
CHARLIE: I don’t know, Ma. I don’t know. Why couldn’t she come here?
BETH: looking at JODIE
I don’t know.
JODIE: You know what happened, Charlie? You left, and then we lived with it. Everywhere we went, people asked about Charlie. In the grocery store: “How’s Charlie?” In the store, “How’s Charlie? Haven’t seen him in a long time. Where’s is he?” Do you realize how hard that was? All those years of explaining, lying – telling people that you were so busy that you couldn’t ever visit – when we didn’t even know? It humiliated us. It caused your father’s business to fail.
JERRY: That is not what happened.
CHARLIE: Malls made the business close. All the downtown stores went dead.
JODIE: Not all of them.
BETH: Yes they did.
JODIE: It might have survived without the stress from Charlie. It turned us into recluses.
JERRY: We’ve never been recluses.
JODIE: You don’t go anywhere.
JERRY: We go plenty of places.
JERRY: The grocery store. We walk around the block. We go…wherever else we need to go. We’re old, dammit! Where are we supposed to go?
CHARLIE: CHARLIE points at JODIE.
She’s the one who didn’t want Cheryl here. She said if she came here for Thanksgiving, she would go somewhere else. Just like tonight. Right? Isn’t that the truth?
BETH: That’s not true. That’s all mixed up.
CHARLIE: She told me! She kept Cheryl from coming here and she was proud of it!
SANDY: Charlie, please.
BETH: Even if it were true, it’s no excuse for what you did.
CHARLIE: I couldn’t come home, really. What should I come home for? To be criticized? And what about me? Did you think about what I had to tell people? I had to always have a reason. I had to always be too busy to ever go home. Then, after a while, I couldn’t come here because it was too far, too much to do. When others talk about their family, I have to come up with explanations, or say nothing.
JERRY: So you got to keep a little pride, and you lost twenty years of your life.
CHARLIE: No loss. I’ve been living the whole time.
BETH: Well, we did. A portion is gone, and yours too.
CHARLIE: It’s your fault as much as mine.
CHARLIE: It’s really all their fault.
SANDY: You knew the way to get here, Charlie. You didn’t need a map. You never stopped to ask directions.
CHARLIE: Nobody invited me. You’re supposed to be on my side. Remember?
SANDY: I’m trying.
JERRY: Your side? I didn’t know there were teams.
BETH: Your father talked to you on the phone every week.
CHARLIE: Well, he never invited me.
BETH: Charlie, maybe you should go now.
CHARLIE: You’re saying it again?
BETH: Maybe I am. For now, I think it’s best.
CHARLIE: Sandy, c’mon.
As CHARLIE and SANDY exit, JODIE opens a drawer and pulls out a video.
I guess you’ll never get to see the video. It traces their lives, with narration. It’s amazing.
SANDY: Maybe you could make a copy and send it to us.
JODIE: Charlie’s not in it.
CHARLIE: Let’s go.
CHARLIE and SANDY exit. Enter CLEMMIE
CLEMMIE: I think you should come back here. Your mamma’s not making a bit of sense.