Avalon Sisters by Scott Peeler


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Four women gather one afternoon on the rooftop patio of a hotel/spa
on a hill high above Catalina Island. The women wear spa robes and
sandals. Wine, cheese, and light spa fare are available at a table
attended by a young man.

Seventy, Forty, and Thirty are enjoying the sun and refreshments.
Fifty enters and joins Seventy.

Seventy: How was your massage, dear?

Fifty: Heaven! I'm glad I chose a male technician. They're never
afraid to apply a little extra pressure, to go a little deeper. I find
the pain to be therapeutic. The females are too gentle for me.

Forty: Can I ask if either of you got any excursions in today?

Fifty: I rode the zipline above Descanso bay. I've never done a
zipline before. That was a rush and a half.

Seventy: I took the backstage tour of the Avalon casino. My God, what
a gorgeous building. I love art deco. That ballroom So much
history. I could just envision the big band, the couples on the floor,
the cigarette smoke It's like I'd stepped out of a time
machine.

Forty: We rented a golf cart and putt-putted around the island. We
really got to know the terrain. It was lots of fun. You should try
it.

Fifty: Oh, yes. We should do that tomorrow, Mom.

Forty: (Her wine glass empty) I think I'll switch to the white. (She
walks to the table and the young man refills her glass. She returns to
her chaise, sips, and grimaces.)

Seventy: How's the wine?

Forty: Erm. Not sure I recognize the label.

Fifty: Manischewitz? Franzia? Boone's Farm? What's the varietal?
Is it a varietal?

Forty: According to the young man, it's a "foom."

Fifty: I'm sorry. A what?

Forty: (Laughing) He said it's a "foom."

Fifty: (Cackling) Oh my God, that's hysterical. I'll have to ask
for some. "Could I please have a glass of the foom blank?"

Seventy: Pardon her. We're from the Bay Area, so that automatically
makes us wine snobs. We're not, really. But we do have access to
lots of wines.

Forty: I'm from Philadelphia. Not many wineries, but we've got a
bunch of breweries there, and an interesting thing is happening there
now. New local ordinances are allowing breweries to convert to
distilleries, so they're developing artisan whiskies and gins.

Thirty: (Piping up out of nowhere) I'm from Philadelphia, too. What
part of Philly are you from?

Forty: Wash West. Do you know it?

Thirty: I know Wash West. I went to Bryn Mawr.

Forty: Oh, yes? What did you study?

Thirty: Suicide. Specifically, I analyzed data about childhood
suicides.

Fifty: Well, that just brought the conversation down a notch or
seven.

Forty: You know, I volunteered for a suicide hotline when I was in
college. It was the kind of thing you did back then.

Fifty: In my day, the thing to do at college was to snort coke and run
naked through the library.

Seventy: What?!

Fifty: Relax, Mom. It's what the frat pledges did during Hell Week.

Thirty: (To Forty, earnestly) I mean, how do you how to respond to
someone who is ready to kill themselves? I mean, have you read The
Four Questions?

(No one has read it.)

Forty: It sounds familiar.

Thirty: Oh, come on. It's Tolstoy! When's the time to act? Who's
the person to focus on? What's the right thing to do?

Fifty: What's the fourth question?

Thirty: The data is conclusive. Children who commit suicide have
higher IQ scores than others. It makes sense, right? All the great
artists and thinkers are fucked up in some way. Byron, Michelangelo,
Tesla. The smarter you are, the more aware you are about how pointless
life is, so great minds are more in touch with their inner pain. Have
you read R.D. Laing? "The Divided Self?" He says that
schizophrenics are the sane ones: they see life as it is without any
defense mechanisms, and it makes life for them unbearable. It's the
so-called 'normal people' who've developed a neurosis that
allows them to block out the truth. It's so much easier to be
stupid. Stupid people are happy. Intelligent people are depressed.
Artists are more apt to kill themselves, and their agony is what
inspires their art. It's why they drink so much.

Seventy: (Raising her glass to Fifty) Well, dear, it looks like you'll
have to stop writing.

Fifty: (Raising her glass) Cheers.

Thirty: And then there's social media. People use social media to
unload their worst feelings. They troll sites to make others feel bad
and to bully them. They lurk and attack under the guise of debate, and
always anonymously. This is especially damaging to children, who
aren't adequately prepared to deal with such treatment. But the
worst is the slut-shaming. Some kid with a cell phone manages to get a
pic of a girl changing in a locker room, posts it, and makes her life
a living hell. Or worse: remember Tyler Clementi?

Fifty: Will there be a quiz after this?

Thirty: And what about our men and women in uniform returning from
combat? They live in constant fear of the triggers that can
immediately bring them back to a traumatic experience. In a moment,
they can be transported to a horrible accident or a violent sexual
assault.

Forty: Our hotline had a 'Press 3' option for vets.

Fifty: Say, can a member of ISIS experience PTSD? Can they come back
depressed at not having killed themselves?

Forty: Well, I suppose so. Why would they be any different from any
other war veterans?

Thirty: Well, you need to take into account the economic motives.
People enlist with ISIS because they lack any other opportunities.

Seventy: (To Fifty) Dear, is it just me, or are we attending a
post-graduate seminar?

Fifty: (To Seventy) If we are, we're getting an F for "fuck this
shit."

Seventy: (To Fifty) Well, we can hardly be blamed.

Thirty: Dire economic conditions and a lack of opportunities would
lead someone to do desperate things. And people in desperate times
need to believe in something, even if it makes no sense. You know, you
have to see things through their lenses, even if it contradicts your
own lens. Whether an ISIS member would experience PTSD if she/he
failed to commit suicide, I think it would be instructive to examine
the experiences of World War II and Vietnam vets. We're finding that
many ISIS recruits sign up thinking they're doing something to make
a difference, then finding out they're spending most of their time
cleaning toilets, and becoming disillusioned. This isn't what they
signed up for. World War II vets believed in the war they were
fighting, and accepted that there would be dirty work. Vietnam vets
were not so sure how committed they were to that war.

Seventy is beginning to show visible signs of discomfort.

Fifty: Does she ever come up for air?

Thirty: But the ISIS recruits were drawn to what they thought was a
cause that gave them answers, something to believe in. They are drawn
to these "solutions." And they are promised rewards for their
sacrifice, rewards that will take care of their families.

Forty: But what about the recruits themselves? What do they get?

Thirty: They're promised rewards in the afterlife.

Fifty: Seventy virgins? Really?

Thirty: You could argue they're not so different from the World War
II vets in that they are engaged in a war they think must be fought.
As opposed to Vietnam, whose purpose and chance of success was so
doubtful.

Forty: It strikes me that the World War II vets have been so mum about
the horrors they witnessed, while the Nam vets have been much more
vocal about their experiences. And yet the suicide rates among Vietnam
veterans have far outpaced the rate among World War II vets. Isn't
it healthier to discuss trauma? The data seems to contradict that
idea, but you'd think opening up about one's experiences would be
therapeutic.

Fifty begins to show concern about her mother's response to the
conversation.

Fifty: Mom? Mom! OK. We need to leave now.

Seventy is clearly uncomfortable. She looks to Fifty for affirmation.
Fifty nods. Seventy and Fifty get up to leave.

Thirty: (Can't believe they're leaving) Wait! Don't you have any
more questions for me?

Fifty: As a matter of fact, I do. What makes you think you know the
first thing about suicide? Some textbooks you read? A data set you
collected and wrote about in a dissertation? Who died and granted you
tenure?

Fifty and Seventy leave.

[end of extract]



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