Twelve Seasons
Emily Jalloul

I could never be a doctor, is what I tell my students, because I’m not good at biology or math. But then I watch Meredith Grey get good margins on someone’s intestinal tumor, and I wonder, if I’d studied harder, if I hadn’t been homeschooled, where chunks of math and science skills were missing from the program … who could I have been?

Today, Meredith is twenty-eight weeks pregnant with her first-born child. Today, I’m twenty-eight years old, making brownies on a Tuesday morning.

*

Real chefs separate the eggs in their hands, not in the shells. My mother’s words in my ears as I separate them in the shell. It’s not that it’s gross; it’s just so cold, I reply to my empty kitchen, with the leaky faucet and permanently stained white walls. Keep the mixer going, scrape the sides, increase the speed, scrape the sides again. I pour the batter into tins and bang them on the counter, releasing air bubbles. Mom would be proud.

*

I don’t know what it’s like to have a father, but I do what it’s like to have a sister, and it’s good.

Meredith says this to her father, who was never a father to her, convincing him to take part of her liver, for Lexie’s sake; Lexie is the sister Meredith didn’t learn about until she was a surgical intern. Meredith didn’t grow up with a sister or a father, but I grew up with both. I was eleven when I learned Julie and I had different fathers. I was the only one who didn’t know. It was the first time my mother ever said she had something to confess to me alone; we were dropping off video rentals to Blockbuster. The car was parked, but she wouldn’t go inside until she explained.

I wish I could say it didn’t illuminate things, clarify the differences: she’s tall, pink-skinned, blond with blue eyes; she’s confrontational, daring, unafraid. Other things: memories of fights between parents, mother holding me because I’m still so small. She, Julie, and I in the doorway as my father, gesturing to Julie and me respectively, says, “You can take that one, but you aren’t taking this one.” Suddenly, it all made sense.

*

Meredith’s mother attempted suicide once, when Meredith was a small child. Just before she cut her wrists with a scalpel in the kitchen, she told Meredith to be an extraordinary woman. And so she became a surgeon, just like her mother.

*

I believe we can be extraordinary together, rather than ordinary apart.

*

On New Year’s Eve, Brandon and I take ’shrooms, and I have a premonition that we will break up by the end of the year. In the vision, we go on our summer trip, and we come home, and we end. It feels more real than my most vivid dreams. I step out of the shower, where I’ve been watching the bathroom tiles slither like snakes, red faced and alarmed, and wrap myself in my favorite raggedy towel. Are we okay? Are we? Are we okay? He’s calm, smiling. It’s the drugs. It’s just the drugs. I love you more than you know.

*

It’s one in the afternoon. I’ve been up since five, unable to fall back to sleep after a thunderstorm woke me. I’ve done nothing except watch Grey’s season five, my favorite season. Everyone just found out Izzie has cancer, and Derek is planning to propose to Meredith. I don’t know why I keep coming back to this show. Anne Carson has Emily Brontë. Eula Biss has Joan Didion. And I have Grey’s?

*

But long before Meredith even knew she had a sister, she had Cristina, her person, which—beyond her surgical skills, long slender body, and extraordinary love—was what I think I envied most. I wanted to be the person someone would call to help drag the corpse across the living room floor after they’d murdered someone. Not a lover or best friend, but a bond deeper and simpler than that. A person.

*

Meredith’s most consistent concern throughout the show is becoming her mother. Even long after her mother’s death, she never stops worrying. When she and Derek discuss children, when they adopt Zola and get pregnant with Bailey, she constantly needs reassurance that she is not her mother. She worries she won’t be able to bake and have tea parties because that’s not what surgeons do; she worries she’ll develop Alzheimer’s and won’t remember her children’s names because that’s what the Grey women do.

*

Lexie dies in season eight. It’s been six years since I’ve spoken to Julie, even though she lives only fifty-three miles away.

*

He holds my face like it’s the china we held in an antique store in Prague. He cups me like I’m the strange purple flower he reached for at the waterfall in Salzburg, climbing higher than tourists were supposed to, turning to face me, asking, do you want it? before plucking.

*

There’s a famous story in my family, one that both my parents tell differently. The full version: years ago, when my parents still shared the same bed, my father wouldn’t wake up one time when my mother wanted to have sex. She became enraged; she went to the kitchen and filled the largest bowl she could find with ice water and dumped it on his head. It’s a funny story, true. Everyone always laughs, but I see my own reflection in it: the need to be wanted, the hurt expressed as anger when rejection is sensed.

*

I’ve had three dreams this week about Grey’s Anatomy.

*

It took Meredith years before she realized her mother had never wanted to die. She was in therapy when it finally became clear:

She was a surgeon, an excellent surgeon. If she was really trying to kill herself, she wouldn’t have slit her wrists. She knew better. She would’ve taken the scalpel, cut her carotid artery. Would’ve taken seconds to die. She didn’t really want to die. She was an excellent, gifted, extraordinary surgeon. She didn’t want to die.

*

There are nights when I lie in his arms, and I know everything ends. Meredith didn’t know the last time she’d sleep next to Derek was the last—no one ever does, I guess.

I make a mental note to be nicer in the mornings, kiss back when he’s leaving, let my hand linger on his cheek for a second longer.

*

I went to a therapist earlier this year. When she asked why I was there, I said, I’m afraid I’m becoming my mother, or rather, I’m afraid I might be, and I want to be proactive. The therapist then asked about my religious beliefs, and when I said I believed in the equality of all living beings rather than any god, she looked displeased. I never went back.

*

Dr. Weber is refusing to allow Meredith into the first elevator, ensuring she gets into the one Derek has decorated with their case files: the fifteen-year-old with the aneurysm, the clinical trial success story, the seven-hour craniotomy, the cerebral cyst. They exit the elevator engaged.

*

At times, I forget I have a sister. I forget what it is I’m missing, or what I’m supposed to be missing, until I see Lexie babysitting Zola and Bailey, or Meredith staying by Lexie’s side for fifty-five hours during her season-seven-post-hospital-shooting-meltdown.

*

My mother and I don’t have much to talk about. Like two people lost in a forest, passing the same tree over and over, our conversations make circles. She tells me about the cases of blueberries she’s purchased, about the salmon and peas she’s made for dinner, about the neighbor voting for Trump. She tells me about her doctors’ appointments, how the dentist is always late, how the gastroenterologist is so good looking, how the neurologist is Egyptian so he and Dad speak in Arabic. I try not to say, you told me all this last week, Mom. I try to listen.


She’s rewatching Grey’s, after hearing me talk about it. This gives us something to talk about. Wait until season six, I tell her. I don’t like Owen! she says. I agree.

*

Recently, I watched as a hospice van unloaded a bed and special wheelchair for an elderly man who lives in my building. Then last night I dreamed I was riding in a very bright elevator with him as both his heart and the elevator stopped simultaneously. I was trying to remember CPR from all the times I’ve watched Grey’s, trying to remember the beat to the Bee Gee’s Staying Alive as I pressed on his chest. He died before I woke up.

*

So many of the ways that make me like my mother make me a writer. Everything is heavy, nothing without meaning, nothing goes unnoticed. My lover tells me I read too much into things, my brain goes too fast, asks me why can’t you just stop? And I say, how do I apply the brakes?

*

So what did her mother want, if not to die? Her lover to come back to her. But he didn’t, because he never knew she’d slit her wrists.

What does that mean? Meredith’s therapist asks her.

Well, that part I don’t know. Could you just tell me that part for once?

I can. It means that you are a gifted, talented, extraordinary surgeon, exactly like your mother, but the difference is that you get to learn from her mistakes. Be extraordinary.

She wasn’t talking about surgery.

No, she wasn’t.

She wasn’t talking about surgery at all.

Emily Jalloul is a Lebanese-American poet who earned her MFA from Florida International University. Her previous work has been published or is forthcoming in Pittsburgh Poetry Review, Gravel, Juked, Origins, The FEM, as well as others. She lives in Miami, Florida.