I spent the better part of my morning sitting in my doctor's office waiting to have my blood drawn because I've been feeling a bit crummy lately. My hair is falling out, I'm tired all the time, I've eaten too many Nutty Bars gained a little bit of weight. You know, the usual happenings of a mother with a 5 and 3 year old.
My brain is fried, and I can't think past my overwhelming desire to go lay down right now (News Flash: Having four vials of blood drawn is not for the already tired and faint of heart!). On the bright side, I've decided to share a little excerpt of my book with you, dear reader. AREN'T YOU EXCITED? I know, try to contain yourself (I'm looking at YOU, MOM).
Feel free to tell me how much you LOVE it what you think. I promise, I won't retaliate if your response is negative. That's the beauty of critiquing someone who can't get out of bed! :)
And now, I give you a snippet of Jeannie and Her Bottles:
When I pull into Lexi’s driveway, she is sitting at the bottom of the front porch steps. Her wild, dark hair is pulled back into a ponytail, and she’s wearing a ripped neck, gray sweatshirt and spandex pants. However, it’s not her clothes that shock me – it's the fact that she’s smoking a cigarette. My sister, the portrait of health and champion of defying premature wrinkles, is smoking a cigarette.
“Alexis Anne Franklin, where did you get that?” I ask, jumping out of the car. Lexi’s middle name is our mother’s first name. Hearing myself say my mother’s name hurts, but I push the thought out of my head and continue reprimanding my older sister, who, at the moment, is acting like anything but. “Those things will kill you, and you don’t even smoke,” I say, slamming the door.
“I bummed it off some teenager,” she says, blowing out a puff of smoke.
“Seriously, Lex. If you don’t put that thing out, I’m going to kill you.”
“Fine.” She puts it out on the step, and flicks the butt at my sandaled feet. I have to jump to miss it.
“Come on, let’s go inside and have a chat,” I say, grabbing her by the arm and dragging her up the stairs. I get a closer look at what’s she’s wearing as I’m dragging, and can't believe it. Lexi prides herself on her appearance. She is always put together - she wears the latest fashion trends and never leaves the house without full makeup and perfectly done hair. To say that I am shocked to see her smoking is one thing; to see her in bad clothes is entirely another. “Love the outfit, Lex. Are you single-handedly trying to bring back the eighties?”
She shrugs and opens her door, and as I follow her in I notice a pathetic looking plant, what might have once been a fern. Lexi loves her plants – you might call her a green thumb – a trait she annoyingly inherited from our mother. Even though I’m the one who spent the most time in my mom’s garden, I still manage to kill every green thing I attempt to grow. If Lexi’s plants are dying, then I know things are getting bad.
I don’t fully realize how bad until I open the door to her apartment. If the cigarette, outfit, and dead fern didn't scare the crap out of me, this certainly does. The garbage can is nearly overflowing, her kitchen table is stacked high with unopened mail, magazine subscriptions, and what looks like…a bunch of mismatched socks? Her kitchen counter is littered with opened and half-eaten frozen dinners and their containers, empty wine bottles, and dirty glasses.
Lexi walks past it all and flops down on the couch, pulling a fuzzy blanket all the way up to her chin.
“Sooo, how was your day?” I ask from the kitchen, carefully prodding an open pizza box and trying to make sense of my surroundings. My sister is also a neat freak, so this is completely uncharacteristic of her. I reach into the cabinet and pull out two juice glasses – for lack of proper stemware – and pour us some wine.
“Oh, just peachy,” she says, mumbling beneath the blanket.
While surveying the wreckage around me, I notice her radio. The plug has been ripped from the electrical socket and is now dangling over the counter.
“I see you finally turned off our friend Delilah," I say, trying to hold back a giggle.
Smudge, Lexi’s huge, aptly-named black cat hops carefully up onto the counter, navigating his way through the debris and looking for someone to pay attention to the backs of his ears.
“Hey, Smudgy,” I say, indulging him for a moment. “At least I see she hasn’t forgotten to feed you.” Smudge looks like he could skip a meal – or ten – and be just fine.
“Yeah, after I turned off Delilah I decided to turn on the television, and guess what was on,” she says.
“Enlighten me,” I say, lifting Smudge off of the counter out of habit. Even with the mess, I can't stand cats on counters - you never know where those feet have been.
“One of those stupid depression medication commercials. You know, the ones that make you want to kill yourself they’re so sad?” she says, obviously irritated.
I laugh, knowing exactly what she's talking about. “Well, you know that’s how they make all their money, right? They depress you with their commercial so that you’ll call your doctor and he’ll prescribe you their medication,” I say, making my way into her living room, glasses of wine in hand.
“Well, it’s a very effective strategy."
I have to step over kicked off shoes and discarded clothing to hand Lexi her cup of wine. Smudge has followed me from the kitchen, hopping stealthily up onto the arm of Lexi’s soft leather couch – the only good thing that came from her marriage to Tom. It suddenly strikes me that the only good thing that came from my own previous relationship was a piece of furniture. What the heck is it with furniture?
I pull her feet up into my lap and cover them with a blanket. Smudge looks at Lexi’s feet, then back at me with his yellow-green eyes, as if I’ve committed a crime. Obviously perturbed, he hops down and finds a comfy place at my feet.
“So what’s up with the landfill in the kitchen?” I ask, taking a sip of my wine.
“Oh, that? I just haven’t gotten around to it,” she says, waving her hand dismissively.
“Well, I think you’d better get to it before it gets to you.” I see one eyebrow twitch, the only proof that she’s heard me at all.
“Are you going to tell me what this is all about or what?” I press, even though I’m pretty sure I already know. She stares blankly at the wall before finally giving in with a sigh.
“I’m just lonely, Pea,” she says, taking a gulp of her wine.
“Pea”, short for Peanut, was my nickname growing up. My initials just happen to be J.I.F. – yes, like the peanut butter – for Jean Irene Franklin. Lexi is the only one in my family who is still allowed to call me by my nickname. My dad started using it a little too frequently in public, so I had to put him on restrictions.
“I hate coming home after a long day of work to this empty apartment,” she continues, laying her head down on the armrest of the couch, her wild curls spilling all over her face. “I hate cooking meals for one,” she says through them. I don’t have the heart to tell her that microwaving doesn’t exactly count as cooking. I rub her feet in an effort to calm her down before she hits full crisis mode. She sits straight up all of a sudden and glares down at my hands, causing me to stop rubbing immediately.
“What?” I ask, putting my hands up like I’m under arrest.
“I hate that my sister has to be the one to rub my feet at the end of the day,” she says, and slumps dramatically back down onto the armrest. I give a little laugh and resume rubbing as she continues in her downward spiral. “I hate that I know he’s out there with that stupid girl, or some stupid girl like her. I hate that he’s not here.” With this last statement, she begins to cry uncontrollably.
I stand up to hand her a box of tissues from the kitchen counter. For a moment, I allow myself to imagine that I might have been a therapist in a previous life. I don’t technically believe in reincarnation, but if I did I would’ve totally been a therapist. Random strangers approach me all the time and tell me their life stories, like I have some sign on my forehead that says TALK TO ME. It’s not that I really mind listening, unless I’m in a hurry to get somewhere. I know that simply listening won’t work on Lexi tonight, so I reach deep into my arsenal of encouraging sentiments. I swear I could write a book with all the material I’ve used to calm my sister down. I’d call it Chicken Soup for a Psychotic Sister’s Soul.
“Sweetie, you know you were too good for him to begin with. He wasn’t right for you.”
“Yeah,” she sniffs. “I know that. It’s just that I can’t…forget him. I try – I really do, but every time I meet a guy, I end up comparing him with Tom…the way he was before he became the guy who cheated on me. I thought everything was great between us. How did this happen?”
I think it over before speaking. Now is definitely not a “told you so” moment.
“I don’t know, Lex,” I say, choosing my words carefully. “Sometimes we can’t see the forest for the trees.”
“I have never understood what that means.” She sighs, taking another big gulp of her wine. I find myself relieved that I didn’t bring over the Cabernet I’ve been saving, because I’m pretty sure my sister isn’t even tasting the wine at this point.
“It means,” I say slowly, “that sometimes we are rendered so incapacitated by our feelings, that we can’t really be objective about reality. You had him up on a pedestal. You cared about him so much that you chose to ignore the truth about who he really was…like the fact that he had cheated on his previous girlfriend with you.” I take a sip of my wine, fully appreciating the taste merely out of principle.
“It’s better you found out after two years instead of twenty, right? I mean, what if you’d had kids or something.”
This is not really new news to Lexi, but for some reason it seems to be sinking in tonight. She finishes her wine and reaches for the bottle, pouring herself another glass and swirling it around. “Yeah, what if we had.” She looks at me and shakes her head, and I can see fresh tears welling in her eyes.
“What is it, Lex?” I ask, suddenly worried that I’ve said something to upset her.
“After I took Tom back. I got…pregnant a month later. I…I had a miscarriage.” With this she collapses into my lap.
After finally registering what my sister has just confided to me, I find myself fighting back tears. I certainly don’t want to make this worse for her, so I stiffen my resolve not to cry. We sit in silence for a moment as she cries and I struggle to get past the shock of her revelation.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” I ask, gently smoothing the wily curls away from her tear-stained face.
“You were so upset when I took him back, and it was just so soon after. I thought you would be angry with me. I’m sorry – I should’ve told you.”
“Listen to me,” I say, pulling her chin up so that she can look me in the face. Her hazel eyes – just like our mother’s – are swollen and red. “There is nothing you could do or say that would make me stop loving you. Nothing.”
“Really?” she asks sniffling, finally sitting upright next to me.
“Sister’s honor,” I say, crossing my heart. I put my arm around her shoulder and shake my head. “Well…unless you tell Dad that I’m a registered Democrat, because we both know that information would get me written right out of the will.”
We share a laugh so deep that I can actually feel it healing us from the inside out.