“Okay, Midge,” Ellowyne sighed. “So far we’ve seen Freddy become a criminal, Prudence become a jerk, and Amber become the next Mother Teresa. Does anyone have, uh, a less eventful life?”
Midge thought for a moment and then whisked Ellowyne back in time to Lizette’s first day at Briermier Academy. Lizette walked nervously through the door of the school. Having to move from a place she loved was awful but having to move in high school was just the worst. She tried valiantly to greet everyone she saw. First, Lizette said hello to a girl with purple streaks in her hair; the girl, who was Prudence, looked rather sour but Lizette thought her leopard-print tights were cute and she wanted to compliment her. Pru grumbled, “Thanks” and stormed off.
In the school cafeteria, Lizette saw a pretty girl with short hair who was sitting by herself. “Hi, I’m Lizette,” she began. “May I join you?”
Amber looked up from her textbook. “Sure. But I might not be the best company. I’m trying to cram for this advanced placement biochemistry class and I need to keep studying.”
Lizette looked confused. “But that class just started, right?”
“Yes, but I don’t want to get behind,” Amber explained. “I’m trying to get into college for nursing, which is so competitive. I can’t afford to be lazy in this class!”
Lizette sat in silence with Amber, lazily skimming her textbooks, for the rest of the lunch period.
In the afternoon, Lizette went to her AP English class. She was mildly excited because the class would be studying Shakespeare works. A tall boy who sat in front of her seemed knowledgeable and enthusiastic about plays. As class ended, he turned to her and introduced himself. “Hi, I’m Rufus. You’re new here, right?”
Lizette sighed with relief. Finally, someone nice who noticed her existence! “Hi! I’m Lizette. I just moved here from New Orleans.”
“Oh, wow. What brought you up here?” Rufus asked kindly. However, before Lizette could answer, some of Rufus’ friends from the drama club crowded around him.
“Hey, dude! I hear we’re putting on Harvey this fall,” a boy shouted. “Is it true that they’re just gonna give you the Jimmy Stewart part and you don’t even have to audition?”
“It’s Elwood P. Dowd and nah, I have to audition like everybody else,” Rufus insisted. Then he grinned. “But I can give you my autograph now if you’d like.”
His friends howled with laughter. Someone retorted, “Yeah, I’ll go sell it on eBay for big bucks.” Everyone chortled.
Just as Rufus started to leave with his friends, he turned to Lizette. “ I’m sorry. I gotta go. Drama Club is my thing and I don’t have a lot of free time. Maybe we can talk again after class later this week.”
Lizette shrugged. Popular people don’t need new friends, she sighed glumly to herself.
Ellowyne and Midge watched as Lizette trudged home from school and into the house.
“Hi, sweetheart,” called out Lizette’s mother, Sasha. “How was school?”
Lizette made a face, and then slunk into the kitchen for a snack. “Blech,” she grumbled as she stuffed a couple of Oreos into her mouth. “It was terrible. The classes are boring. I only met a couple of kids. One was freaking out over AP biochem and the other was a popular boy too busy to make new friends.”
“Popular people are popular for a reason.”
Lizette shook her head. Parents and their platitudes! “But I’m not comfortable trying to break into a whole new crowd. Besides, he’s into the drama club and those guys usually aren’t interested in girls.”
“Lizette! You know you shouldn’t stereotype! Look, honey, this is just the first day of school. You’ll make friends here just like you did in New Orleans.”
Lizette rolled her eyes. “You don’t get it. This isn’t New Orleans. People are different here. I hate San Francisco!” Lizette ran to her room to talk to her pet birds.
Sasha sighed. She wasn’t terribly fond of San Francisco, either. Her political career had tanked. Her political career had tanked. She hated missing Mardi Gras and watching the tourists at the French Quarter. And there were so many earthquakes in San Francisco! And yes, sourdough bread was delicious and she and Julian, Lizette’s father, certainly enjoyed California wine. But San Francisco didn’t feel like home. Maybe it never would. And Lizette was so unhappy.
Ellowyne turned to Midge. “I know Lizette hated San Francisco at first but one day, soon after she moved, we took her to Madam Tussands. Oh, that was fun! We all pretended to be wax figures when we got done with the museum. Rufus was Steve Jobs, Pru was Janis Joplin, I was Kate Winslet, and Lizette was Serena Williams. We all pretended we’d met at a big party and tried to stay in character—while we ate dinner at a Chinatown restaurant. Lizette kept pretending to play tennis during dinner. People looked at us like we were crazy but it was awesome!
“And another time all of us girls went to Ghirardelli Square during the Chocolate Festival. None of us had ever seen so much chocolate in our lives. Even Amber was impressed! And Lizette won the ice cream eating contest! On the way home, we all got kinda queasy in the cable car but once we were back to my house, we all felt good enough to scarf the chocolate we’d brought back for Rufus. Lizette told us later how much fun she had and that she’d been so homesick for New Orleans but changed her mind after that day. San Francisco was her home! But she didn’t want to eat ice cream for months!”
Ellowyne stopped giggling about her memories of the first days of her friendship with Lizette. Somberly, she asked, “So what happened to Lizette? I know Pru was kind of antisocial but did Lizette make friends with either Amber or Rufus?”
“Sadly, no. She wrote off both of them and she didn’t pursue a friendship with either one. She gave up trying to meet new people in her school and spent all of her time alone, wallowing in her misery. She didn’t have fun like she did with you and your other friends and she never learned to love San Francisco. Would you like to see how Lizette is now?”
Ellowyne nodded and in a blink she and Midge were in the French Quarter. Lizette and her mother were headed back to their apartment after an unusually quiet Christmastime evening spent with old friends. Ellowyne noticed that they both looked sad, and she asked Midge, “What happened? Why are they back in New Orleans?”
“Lizette was so miserable in San Francisco that she begged her parents to let her return to New Orleans. Originally, she had intended to move in with friends of the family while she finished high school but Sasha told Julian that she, too, was unhappy. Since he liked San Francisco, the two decided to get a legal separation and Sasha moved back to New Orleans with Lizette. Let’s visit Lizette four years later.”
Ellowyne and Midge found themselves in a tiny, dingy apartment near the campus of Tulane. Sasha was yelling at Lizette. “How can you live like this?” she screamed as Lizette’s forty caged birds chirped and squawked.
Lizette crept into the room. Ellowyne was shocked at her appearance. Lively Lizette had become disheveled; she wore no makeup and was dressed in an oversized, stained man’s sweatshirt and ill-fitting jeans. Worse, the spark was gone from her eyes. Lizette looked as if she simply did not care about anything or anyone, least of all herself. “Hey, Sasha. You know the birds are the only things that make my life worth living.”
“But Lizette—there are so many of them! And don’t you care about your schoolwork? About your future?”
“Eh,” Lizette grunted. She was in what should have been her last year at Tulane but she had changed majors four times in four years, flitting from anthropology to psychology to African studies to linguistics. Nothing seemed to hold her interest for very long. Graduate school, something to which Lizette once aspired, was out of the question. “I dunno,” she shrugged. “Maybe I should just quit school and go work in one of the restaurants. Maybe Emeril Lagasse will hire me.”
“On the basis of what?” Sasha shouted. “You’ve never had a job, much less worked in a restaurant! And look at you! You used to be so pretty and now you just don’t care!”
“Why should I bother?” Lizette whined. “Life here stinks. I am so bored and I wish I could get out of here. I’m bored with beignets and morose over Mardi Gras. We have crocodiles and cemeteries and voodoo shops everywhere. Wooo-hooo. And we have ignorant tourists who hear some hack over on the street corner playing clichéd jazz, visit a cathedral, and gorge themselves on hurricanes, pralines, and some warmed over jambalaya and think they’ve seen this town. I seriously want to punch people like that in the face! Really, New Orleans is just the most hackneyed, banal, overdone place on earth!”
“Are you serious? Your father and I divorced because you wanted to come back here! And you hated San Francisco!”
Lizette crawled back into her bedroom and slammed the door. Shaking with frustration, Sasha left the apartment and called her ex-husband. “I know what the therapist said, Julian. Lizette doesn’t quite meet the clinical criteria for depression. Yes, the therapist called it ‘ennui’. It’s chronic boredom. I don’t know how to snap her out of it. Julian, quit yelling at me. This isn’t my fault!”
Midge looked thoughtfully at Ellowyne. “Wow, so Lizette has ennui. What do you think about that?”
Ellowyne considered Midge’s question for a moment. “Hmmmm. I really don’t get it. New Orleans seems like an amazing, vibrant place to live and I can’t imagine anyone developing ennui living there.”
Midge bit her tongue. She had become very fond of Ellowyne during her stint as her guardian angel but sometimes she wondered if Ellowyne’s synapses fired a little too slowly. Ellowyne, you live in San Francisco, truly one of the greatest places on Earth and yet YOU complain of ennui, Midge thought to herself. Do you not get it? Then Midge realized that maybe Ellowyne just wasn’t quite ready to confront her own despair and world-weariness.
But Midge had saved the most dramatic fate of one of Ellowyne’s friends for last. If this didn’t shake her into wanting to live—truly live and work on overcoming her ennui—nothing would.
“Ellowyne, are you ready to find out what happened to Rufus if you don’t exist?”
Reluctantly, Ellowyne nodded.