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On my occasional visits back home, I would make a point of surprising my sisters and my mother by waiting for them in their favourite café. electricity generation by source by country Since this was a regular happening, we would joke about the surprise that wasn’t, really, a surprise, and then talk about things we would do together but, probably, wouldn’t. That was the game – and we played it well for over sixteen years. We would pretend, for instance, that I’d never been away, and then resume the ritual of counting the heads on the up and down escalators, a ziggurat for pilgrims much reduced by searching. On my last visit, I waited in the same spot and tried not to meet the punchdrunk gaze of a stranger quartered by competing mirrors. Soon, I said, my three sisters would be walking towards me, a little slower now, their faces flushed with age, holding on to Mum who was now very old and showing the first signs of what would turn into dementia. And they would walk towards me, their arms full of things bought in the Sale, not caring what was lost along the way or what made them repeat these meetings time and time again.

At seventeen, my sister, Alicia, began to hate food. Sometimes my mother’s paella, with its mix of dark and unidentifiable ingredients, so disturbed her she wouldn’t eat at all; other times, she would eat an entire marble cake and immediately run into the bathroom to throw it up. Nowadays, anyone would recognize these disorders as, respectively, anorexia and bulimia, but in 1976 they mystified the doctors who examined her. Karen Carpenter’s death from wanting to be skinny was seven years away. Losing weight steadily, Alicia went from Queens General Hospital near our house in Jamaica to Booth Memorial to Long Island Jewish, having tubes stuck down her throat and snapshots taken of her intestines, and when after a year the gastroenterologists could find no somatic cause, they referred her to a psychotherapist.

I had never told Ally of her insanity, or otherwise insulted her. She was my older sister and the second most powerful person in the household, and insults went down, not up. She called me a snot, a jerk, a spastic, a weirdo. Inwardly, I called her a bitch, but I couldn’t let her know that. I acted as if I liked her, talked calmly with her even as my heart rate rose, and hid my hatred, dreaming of the day when I would punch in the nuclear launch codes and let her have all my ICBMs at once.

The night she started seeing her shrink, she came into my room and sat on my bed under, fittingly, my poster of The Exorcist. Plump as a child, she now resembled a skeleton with a coat of Ecuadorian paint applied. Below the line of her black hair, her shoulder bones protruded through her thin pink nightgown; her hawk nose, inherited from my father, joined with her cheekbones and jaw to look as hard as a maraca. I would have pitied her if not for my tradition of hating her.

I puffed my pipe thoughtfully, filling the narrow room with the honey smell of Cavendish. We had both just started college, me at Columbia, she across the street at Barnard, in the same class because I had skipped a grade long ago, for which she had never forgiven me. Now an Ivy Leaguer, I had adopted pipe smoking to make me look more scholarly. Sitting in a swiveling office chair my father had donated to me when he got himself a new one, I felt I cut a good figure, humble yet authoritative. “What did he say?” I asked.

“He said, ‘Tell me about your parents,’” she whispered conspiratorially. “And I told him Pop is a tyrant, and we’re always fighting and he won’t let me do anything. And he said, ‘What about your mother?’ And I said, ‘Oh, my mother’s a saint.’ And he said, ‘Don’t you think it’s possible she has some negative qualities too?’” Her brown eyes widened at the memory of his insight. “I never thought of that before.”

I didn’t know anybody. I felt I had outgrown my high school friends, so I didn’t see them anymore, but because I was commuting to Columbia, where friendships were made in dorm rooms, I hadn’t made friends there either. I spent my days and nights alone, riding the three subway trains back and forth from Manhattan, sitting in my converted back porch in Jamaica, reading, puffing my pipe, masturbating, and thinking the great thoughts that I knew would someday make me famous. “I haven’t told anyone,” I said.

As I said, Ally at that time held the second most powerful position in the house, but she was working hard to upset the balance. In those days, my father still dominated. The order of power could be seen most plainly at dinner, when my mother served her husband first, then my sister, then me, then the dog, and finally herself. Even the dog, Max, ate from his supper dish in the same dining alcove as the rest of us, but my mother sat outside on a stool by the stove, eating burned rice from the bottom of the pot, or leftovers from the previous few nights dumped together on one plate. My sister hated my mother’s self-sacrifice, and yelled at her, “Eat with the rest of us!” But Mom had to be ready to jump up and serve the next course, a task at which neither Ally nor the rest of us helped.

Dinner raised the tension higher than at any other part of the day, as all five of us had to assemble and attempt to get along. It loomed particularly hard for me, because I found the whole idea of food degrading. I hated the smell of grease, the way it snapped in the pan, the oiliness on the fingers. Though not skeletal like Ally, I was skinny, and would have preferred to be pure mind, unbeholden to biological functions. As it was, I rushed through dinner while reading my father’s Daily News, hoping to avoid the kind of trouble conversation could bring. The black-and-white TV on the shelf helped: Pop had it tuned to Carol Burnett Show reruns, eliminating any need for talk. gas nozzle prank But even the television could spark an argument. One Thursday night, shortly after her therapy had begun, Ally stared dreamily at a commercial for a Caribbean getaway and said, “I wish somebody would offer to take me away. I’d go in a minute.”

And now we were on the tone part of the battle, when the very quality of our voices became objectionable to the old man. I had learned long ago to stop resisting at this point, as a dog might curl into a ball while a bear mauls it, but Alicia had never learned this trick. Instead she kept fighting with him, both their voices raised to their highest volume, and when she was little he would have struck her but she was too big now, altogether too big, and all they could achieve was a draw. She muttered “ Gracias y buen provecho” and left the table, while he turned his glare back to Carol Burnett.

Alicia visited her therapist twice a week, which gave me two extra hours a week without her in the house. I came home from school and walked up and down our cramped, sinuous apartment in the three-family house my father owned, talking aloud about the post-Nietzschean ideas I was developing, confusing my dog. But after two months the therapist decided that twice a week with Ally was not enough—although I would have thought twice a week with Ally would have been enough to drive him insane. He needed to see all of us in a family therapy session. He scheduled the event for a Saturday in late November. Alicia was bringing home her shrink.

Mom prepared for the visit as she would for any guest, mopping, vacuuming, polishing things in the living room—the lamp with the wooden Chinese sages, the oval, glass coffee table, the golden statue of a basset hound with a bobbing head. She didn’t want the therapist to think we lived like pigs. Pop looked annoyed at having his weekend interrupted, after putting in a hard week as an export clerk at the World Trade Center. He smoked cigarettes in the living room and watched bullfights while he waited, rubbing Max’s white chest with his foot while the dog sat at attention in front of him. Max had started out as my dog, but he had quickly learned where the power lay in the pack, and devoted himself to my father.

At two p.m. the doorbell rang and Daniel Jorgenson, Alicia’s therapist, walked in. I had expected someone dark and craggy, like Father Karras in The Exorcist, but the young man had long blond hair, a blond beard, and round spectacles. He looked like a wood-elf in a Tolkien story. My parents had chosen him to take care of Ally because he was the son-in-law of a friend of my mother’s and gave us a cut rate. Clad in jeans and sports jacket, Daniel (as we were told to call him) was appropriately dressed for a casual exchange. My father wore shirtsleeves, my mother a comfortable dress, I a navy sweatshirt. Daniel gathered us all in the living room and commenced the attention-fest for Ally.

True. hp gas online booking hyderabad I hated commuting too, but I never complained. Daniel shot me a glance, as if he had just detected a potential new link in the causal chain behind his patient’s illness. But he turned his attention back to bigger targets. “You’ve never faced the same situation as Ally,” he told Pop. “Ally tells me you never went to college. In fact, she says you have no formal education past the sixth grade.”

My father looked like he had just taken a punch. This was a dark family secret. Whenever it came up, Mom always made up for it by saying, “Oh, but he taught himself after that. He reads so much.” I looked down on Pop for his lack of education, but was nevertheless angered to hear a stranger raise the issue. “That’s right,” said my father, his voice subdued. “I’m pretty ignorant.”

Max got up, extended his legs, and stretched his long, black, brown, and white body. He left my father’s side and trotted out of the room. He was always good at discerning power relations. My parents sat somberly, unable to respond. The session lasted a while longer, but nothing anyone said changed what had just been determined. My parents and I were killing Alicia slowly. We were to blame for her illness. The only way to save her was to let her move away to college. My father conceded she could do so starting next semester. The family would break up.

His comment lacked energy. He didn’t even raise his voice. The force had been knocked out of him by the counterforce of psychotherapy. This stranger, this gringo, had come into our house and altered the power structure. Ally was on top now, Ally ruled. k electric company duplicate bill Never before had she talked to my father that way without a fight. House Wraca was destroyed. The only thing Pop could do was creep away. And he did, downstairs to his garage, to rearrange his tools and fume.

My mother sat on the sofa and I next to her. The pain in her face, under her graying black hair, was written in lines: wrinkles on her forehead, furrows between her eyebrows, her lips sloped downward. Her eyes bulged larger than ever, as if trying to see where she had gone wrong, and her mouth hung open as if someone had stuffed it with a gag. “We loved her too much,” Mom said. “That’s all I can figure it out. We loved her too much.”

I put my arm around her, but she wouldn’t be consoled. She cried for the loss of her daughter—not just that her daughter would be leaving, but that her daughter hated her, condemned her motherhood, blamed her for her miserable life. Mom was old now, fifty-three, and I judged it a crime that anyone that old should suffer like that. Ally was eighteen; she had her whole life to live. But for Mom, most of her life was over, and to discover it meant nothing was more than she could bear. Tears ran down her round cheeks, and I took out my handkerchief and patted them ineffectually.

My mother tried to argue, but I had grown hard. She left my room, and after a moment I left too. I put on my brown corduroy coat and took a walk up 164th Street, my legs pumping quickly with the energy of youth. I had just turned seventeen, and the world was all before me. November clouds raced in a strong north wind. I would never apologize. Alicia would regret what she had done. I would become famous and she would shrink. I passed the Greek deli, the wooded entry to Sri Chinmoy’s meditation and jogging center, the little houses, the orange hulk of Queens General Hospital where Alicia’s illness had first been treated. She would leave soon to live at Barnard. I would stay home, of course, commuting every day just like my parents. I was the good son. I would never live on campus, never make friends, be alone, sit at dinner and read the Daily News in silence while my father watched his Carol Burnett and my mother fed the dog. That’s what it meant to be good. Suddenly I envied Ally her freedom, wished I had had the nerve for it, regretted what I had chosen. I walked all the way to the Hilltop Coach diner on Union Turnpike, looked in the windows at surly working-class people, decided there was no point in waiting for the light to change, turned around and started back. Alicia was no longer in the world, but it was not a better place.

George Ochoa’s short stories have been published in North American Review, Absinthe Literary Review, Eureka Literary Magazine, and Spider. His poetry has appeared in Chicago Literary Review and his personal essays in the Catholic Worker.He is the author or coauthor of 35 nonfiction books, including the New York Public Library Book of Answers and several books related to his Hispanic heritage. wikipedia electricity consumption He received his BA from Columbia University and his MA in English from the University of Chicago. He is the director of communications at a Manhattan nonprofit.