So while in the middle of a strange, hormone-fueled rage sometime in 2013, I wrote a short story one evening while sitting on the couch in our living room, not getting up and not pausing in my vicious scribbling (yep, I wrote in longhand in a spiral notebook like it was 1992) until I was finished, which was around 3 that morning. Riiight? It was bizarre. I still don’t get it. But hey, inspiration is inspiration, I suppose. I’ve longed believed that my creative muse needs medication.
In simplistic terms, the story is about family. The different roles and expectations within that dynamic, the ties between siblings and parents, husbands and wives, so on. Basically what I always write about, but quite personal in ways that I’ll save for a sighing, beleaguered therapist one day. Anyway, since This Square Peg is all about sharing, I’ve decided to share my story with you. Each day, I’ll post brief excerpts of The Wedding and the Web for your reading (and psychoanalyzing?) pleasure. Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments as you go. Without further ado, Part 1 begins below.
The Wedding and the Web
We had coddled her from the beginning. She was born “fragile”, which was a tender, childproof way of telling us what we couldn’t yet understand, that Charlotte had come into the world several weeks premature. After days of staring at our fragile baby sister through a curious glass partition in a hospital room, covered in tubes, she finally came home to us. We were always to be careful around her; this meant traipsing through the house quietly, donning masks at the onset of colds or coughs, and holding our sister only after thoroughly washing and sanitizing our hands. By the time Charlotte was 10 years old and seemingly less fragile but still being treated like a sickly infant, the three of us—ages 13, 15, and 16—were right sick of her. While my older sisters halted their coddling, I certainly had no choice, as I was too terrified of my parents to imitate the aloof disregard that my sisters now had for Charlotte. Nevertheless, our parents were fine with continuing to take up the lion’s share of babying her, which they did heartily. As a result, Charlotte grew up in the kind of gilded cage the rest of us had barely known: eternally pampered and her every whim funded by our parents. Don’t get me wrong; the three of us were hardly paupers, but there was a marked difference nonetheless.
Naturally, when we learned that Mom and Dad were paying nearly $100,000 for Charlotte’s upcoming wedding, we were stunned. Specifically, Caroline vomited; Carmen uttered words no human being should ever be forced to hear; and I recalled a time when my parents refused to pay for a college trip I wanted to take to France, while three years later, Charlotte was studying a year abroad in Paris. As we continued to digest this information, however, I couldn’t help but reason away my shock. It was impossible to be that surprised, wasn’t it? How did an expensive wedding differ from all the other things our sister had benefited from?
“I swear,” Carmen muttered repeatedly as she paced the living room. Our weekly dinner had taken place in her apartment that evening.
Caroline returned again from the bathroom, wiping her ashen face with a towel. Tears sprang to her eyes as she looked at Carmen and me. “How can they do this? What about the two of you?” she questioned.
Carmen laughed mirthlessly. “Please, when have the three of us ever mattered to Bob and Irene Vine? Especially for a wedding? You didn’t count, Caroline, when you were getting married. I’m too mean to deserve a husband, according to Mom, so I don’t count. And, well—” She cast a glance in my direction.
“What?” I demanded.
“Do I really have to say it, Cath?” she sighed.
“Say it,” I retorted, despite the painful thumping that now commenced in my chest.
“Don’t,” Caroline interjected, sitting down next to me on the sofa. She put an arm around my shoulder. “There’s no need to discuss what we already know.”
A part of me was thankful for Caroline’s constant need, as the oldest sibling, to protect us from each other. The other part of me wanted to vomit, too, based solely on the truth she would not allow Carmen to say.
“Fine,” Carmen replied, shrugging. “My point is that we are afterthoughts to our parents. And that royally stinks. But it’s not news, girls. It never was.”
And so there we were, striking the customary poses we were used to as the older siblings of Charlotte Vine: tearful, angry, and utterly lost.
As usual, I was tasked with assisting Charlotte with the wedding planning. However, since my parents had also retained the services of one of San Diego’s top wedding planners (whatever that meant), my job essentially meant sitting quietly while Charlotte and the planner discussed the merits of having an ecru and powder blue color scheme. This was the conversation at hand as we sat in the massive grand ballroom of the Hotel del Coronado, more than likely the venue for the wedding.
“Cath, do you like these?” Charlotte asked as she showed me a bevy of blue and white color swatches.
As if my opinion mattered. Short of shuttling her around town and making sure she was warm and well-fed, my thoughts about anything else were fairly inconsequential. I simply nodded.
“They are lovely, aren’t they?” she replied, gently caressing the swatches. “This shade of blue reminds me of Sanford. His eyes are exactly this color, like the afternoon sky.”
The wedding planner, Mindy or Marni or something, cooed over Charlotte’s statement, going on and on about the “romance of it all.” As I imagined the blue ocean of dollar signs she likely dreamt about in her sleep thanks to the impending Vine/Bailey nuptials, the sudden vibrating of my cell phone brought me back to reality. I excused myself and took the call outside in the lobby. It was Carmen.
“Are you with the baby?” she asked.
“Why, Catherine? Why didn’t you say no to Bob and Irene?”
“Because I didn’t feel like being lectured about family responsibilities and being supportive.”
“You know they bring up ‘family togetherness’ when it suits their needs. You know that, Catherine. You should have spoken up. You need to speak up.”
I closed my eyes. She would push me off the nearest cliff if I told her that she was as demanding and controlling as our mother. Furthermore, it was easy to criticize when she was rarely in the role of Charlotte’s caretaker. “Did you want something, Carmen?” I asked, unable to keep the weariness from my voice.
“Just checking if you had a backbone. I have my answer.”
“Fine. Goodbye.” All the same, upon returning to the ballroom, I couldn’t stomach another moment with color swatches and the exciting cooing of Mindy or Marni or something. Feigning a migraine, I beat a hasty retreat from the hotel and was soon in my car. Later, while I waited at a stoplight, I gazed up at the brilliant afternoon sky through my windshield. Yes—precisely the color of Sanford’s eyes.