Deprogramming in progress - please hold

Sherri Thomas-Bilodeau

My name is Sennie. I am 34 years old. It's 4:30 a.m. on a Tuesday morning. I have decided that from this day forth I will do only the things that make me happy.

I go to the kitchen and put the white ceramic cloud teapot on the stove. I know I'm going to need lots of tea to get through the day. I call my best friend Lydia in Manhattan to tell her.

"You're going to do what, Sennie?"

"Work in a bookstore part-time. I love books and I want to spend the rest of my time learning to write."

"A bookstore?"


"You already know how to write. I read your letters all the time."

"Professionally, Lydia. One day I want to write full-time from home."

"Yeah, okay."

Here it comes. I have to talk to myself about it. I'm in my thirties, single, with bills, loans, cars, and a hefty house note to pay.

"Lydia, I want to write, take dance lessons, herb-growing classes, paint..."

"Right, right," Lydia says. "You know what? I have a meeting to get to. Can we talk about this tonight? I'll call you."

I sip my tea out of a cracked jelly jar that I had been meaning to paint and stare at the girls skipping rope in the street. Then I cry for a little while.

Later that afternoon, my aunt Tia calls to discuss the "situation."

"Honey, is everything okay?"

"Yes, Tia, why?"

"I understand that you've decided upon a, um, a career change?"


"So, when do you plan on beginning this new life?"

"I already have. I quit my job yesterday afternoon."

"What! You quit your job at the firm? Honey, I know entering your thirties is hard but..."

I let her voice fade into the distance.

I'm thinking again. My thirties are hard? What about all the years leading up to them? Wear that label on your clothes. Wear those shoes. Eat this. Don't eat that. Date him . . . he'll bring in more money than that other one. Don't date him. He's ugly; think of what your kids might look like. Don't hang out with her. She has no morals or goals. Don't go there. It's a dive. Don't listen to that music. What will the girls say? You voted for whom? What were you thinking? You can't be seen there, people will talk.

"Sennie, did you just say that you're not going to vote any more? Have you lost your...?"

"Yes, Tia."

"You're putting off kids until when? Everyone knows that a child born after thirty-five is sure to have some sort of problem."

"I know, Tia."

"Honey, why don't you talk to your friend, Bibi? She has it all together."

"Tia, Bibi is getting lipo, permanent eyebrows, botox shots. I don't feel like she's going to understand this."

"Oh, well, never mind. Here, why you come by and watch some TV while I cook?"

"I'm not hungry yet. Don't cook anything. I don't even like TV half the damn time. Why don't we go for a walk?"

"A walk? On my street? The neighbors will see us."


"Honey, why don't I drive over so we can go to the park by your place?


Standing in my driveway, Tia frowns and looks up at me.

"Sennie, where is your Mercedes?"

"I sold it and got this."

"What? That?"

"It's called a flatbed truck."

"I know what it's called, young lady. Why did you get it?"

"Because I need it to haul all my stuff."

"What stuff?"

"Whatever stuff."

"Um, alright. Well as long as you have reliable transportation."

She gets in the truck. It's clean; an automatic. No cheap stick-shifts here. She nods approval.

The grass is soft and green and the cherry blossoms fly aloft on wild spring winds. We walk the concrete path that circles a child's merry go round.

"Baby, what are you going to do about your hair?"

My fingers trace the brown waves at my scalp and run down the length of my plaits.

"What about it?"

"When are you going to the shop?"

"I'm not."


"I'm not getting it relaxed anymore."

"Well, that's good honey. Twists are in now anyway."

"I'm not doing that either."

"Well, how are you going to style it?"

"Like this."

"Honey, your hair is in braids. You are thirty-four years old. You cannot go out in public like that. What about when you go somewhere special?"

"I'll unbraid it."

Tears come to her smoke colored eyes and she walks on without a word.

As I drive Tia home, the tears shimmer in my own dark eyes. I start thinking it through again. Is this all worth it? The drama, the looks, the whispering?

I think about my mother. Before a heart attack danced her into her next life she drank, smoked, ate too much. She always told me to be happy. That was her only wish for me. Happiness.

I drop Tia off at her doorstep and go home to lie down on the hammock in the back yard to dream the time away.

A few months later my friends and I are sitting at a table in a restaurant. Of course it has to be a Aqua in the city because Nina can't be seen anywhere else. We argue about whether to have the crab cakes, alderwood salmon, or prawns. Liz checks her dyed red hair in the huge black bordered mirrors that grace the wall. The floral patterned chairs and huge floral arrangements look like something my grandma would have in her living room. We decide on crab cakes and look at each other in silence. I drink a rum and coke and sigh. Liz speaks first. She always does.

"So, Sennie, how's your job going? You meet a lot of interesting people?"

Nina giggles from her side of the table.

"Yep, I do."

"We're going to New York City to shop and party. Want to go? Oh, I'm sorry, Sennie, I guess you probably can't afford it."

I hear another chuckle from Nina. Why do I hang out with these bitches?

"No, I can afford it. As a matter of fact I sold a few stories and have a little extra cash, so I'm going on a trip of my own."

"Yeah, where?"






"For how long?"

"A month. To get material for my book."

"What book?"

"My agent found a publisher for my book about hot vacation spots."

They look at each other and then back at me.

"So I won't be here for August. I'll be back in September though."

"What about your bills?"

"I paid them with my advance. I have a few things hanging here and there but I'll deal with them when I get back."

"Oh okay, well so..."

"Yeah. Have fun in NYC."

They stare at me for a bit. Then they start talking about the sexy men at their jobs. As usual, I sit silently until lunch is served.

After lunch, Nina and Liz occupy themselves by talking trash about the woman sitting at the table across from us.

Liz rolls her eyes and laughs. "Nordstrom's must be having a blowout sale. Do you see that?" Nina giggles and throws a hand in the air. "I know she is not wearing white shoes with that."

The talking stops as a beautiful blonde walks up to our table in an expensive green suit, Valentino pumps, and emeralds that match her eyes. Her hair is gathered in a bun at the back of her neck. She removes her gloves and slides into a chair next to mine.

"Hey, Sennie."

"Hey, Lisa."

"Everybody - this is my agent, Lisa."

Liz and Nina stare at her.

"Hi, Lisa," in unison.

"Hello, ladies."

Nina clears her throat and throws a knowing glance at Liz.

"Well, I guess we better get going. You must have, um, things to discuss."

I sigh and try to think back to the time when I accepted these women as friends.

"Well, yeah, see you later."

As usual, they walk off whispering.

Two years pass. We do not have lunch together again. We do not talk again. Lydia never calls back either. Twenty years is a long time to know someone only to have her never return your call and avoid you when she comes home to visit.

Friday and it's 7 a.m. I'm sitting at my computer red-eyed because I can't find the words I want and my head hurts.

My aunt Tia grabs the knob to the bedroom door and flings it open wide. She is standing there looking like vengeance and smelling like cinnamon.

"Sennie, are you up? When are you going to leave the house?"

"Later, Tia." She's at the front door.

"I heard that you haven't been out of the house in days and that all you wear is your jammies. I know being a writer is casual but this is ridiculous."

"Yes, Tia."

I get up, shower, dress, and walk to BART because I need to save gas. In the city, I get $40 from the ATM and go sit on a bench to people-watch. I wonder what the hell I'm doing and the tears start. I haven't had an idea in three days. I'm almost out of money, the bills are piling up, and everyone is talking shit about my mid-life crisis. How can this be worth it?

Dirty newspapers flutter by and I think about snatching one up and looking for a job in an office somewhere. Back on BART, the graffiti speeds by and I have the sudden urge to be near water. When I get out of the station I hop a bus and listen to boys in the baggy jeans curse.

I get off the bus and walk to the lake to think. Around and around I go, arguing with myself about what I should do next. The lake is calm and blue. A child drops her sweater. It floats away in the water and a woman runs over to fish it out.

Then I go to little shops to check out all the things I can't have. I talk with a clerk in a clothing shop, a homeless man, and a nun.

I use ten dollars to buy flowers at the small corner stand and head back to BART.

Finally, I come home to my quiet house. I check the answering machine and play five messages requesting that I call a toll-free number about my account.

Then I start dinner.

I turn on the flame to cook the pot of pinto beans I started soaking last night for flour tortillas. I pick, clean, and dice tomatoes and onions from the garden. I cut cilantro with tiny scissors and grind cumin with a mortar and pestle. Then I start to make rice. I sing to the music playing on the radio I got at Goodwill and dance the Merengue, solo.

Is it worth it? I ask myself again.


© Sherri Thomas-Bilodeau

Sherri Thomas-Bilodeau is 34, multiracial, married, and works as a clerk at a holistic wellness store. She has an AA in Early Childhood Development and a Bachelors in Humanities. She decided a year ago that she wanted to write.

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