When I wasn’t sitting by Charlotte’s side during the wedding preparations, I was a litigation assistant for a law firm in the city. The world of lawsuits and trials was a significant diversion from frilly dresses and color swatches, and far more interesting. Nevertheless, my busy job didn’t necessarily mean I could escape from my family.
“Sweetheart,” my mother began when I answered the call on my desk phone that morning, “there’s a potential change in venue. Your sister heard about a lovely banquet hall on Catalina Island. You know how special Catalina is to her.” The island was where Charlotte and Sanford had their first date.
I sighed inwardly. “When is she planning to take a look at it?”
Oh, God. “Mom, I can’t go. I need to be in court this afternoon. There’s a case, and—”
“Catherine.” Her voice had dipped into that lower register reserved for mothers ready to remind older sisters about miracle babies and providing them all the support they needed. I knew it well. “Your sister needs you.”
“Maybe Carmen can go. I know she’ll be free this after—”
“Carmen cannot possibly go. You know that.”
True, it was a silly suggestion. Carmen tended to get physically and verbally combative with Charlotte. Despite being largely incensed with our parents about, well, everything, this didn’t preclude her from taking it out on the baby. “Ok,” I replied. “I can check with Caroline, then.”
Mom breathed into my ear.
“Catherine, it is important that you go. You know how easily turned around your sister gets, even with that GPS thing. She probably won’t find the harbor. And Sanford is in Sacramento today, so he’s unavailable. Can’t these lawyers understand that your little sister needs you?”
It was the typical guilt-trip triumvirate: Charlotte being alone, her well-being, and how those two things superseded everything. I held my breath and closed my eyes, hoping the phone would somehow disconnect. A slight tapping on my desk caused them to open. Andy Flood, one of the attorneys I supported, stood before my desk. “It’s ok; you can go,” he said softly.
“Are you sure?” I whispered, placing my hand over the phone’s speaker.
“Mom,” I said, “I’ll meet her.” I could practically hear my mother’s lips widening in a smile.
“Wonderful. Pick her up around 1pm, sweetie. ‘Bye.”
“Thank you,” I said to Andy after hanging up the phone. Having supported him for almost three years now, he had become well-versed in my family’s antics.
“I couldn’t help but overhear. Duties for the royal wedding, I presume,” he replied.
I laughed. “Exactly. But is it really ok? I’ve finalized most of the briefs, but there are few more left to finish.”
Andy waved his hand. “It’s 10:15. If you can finish the rest, Marta can take over and come to court with us. No worries.”
I thanked him again and got to work. I dreaded going to Catalina, but in the meantime, anything to take my mind off the island was welcome.
After Catalina and touring the banquet room (“it’s a possibility,” Charlotte had decided), I returned to the office a bit after 6 that evening. All in all, the excursion had taken a whopping five hours; my mother and sister failed to comprehend things like the hour it took just to get from the city to the harbor, where a boat took travelers to the island and back.
I turned around, having walked past Andy’s office toward my desk without realizing he was inside. I approached his office.
“You didn’t have to come back,” he said.
“It’s fine. I have a ton of things to do.”
Andy smiled. “Be honest with me, Cath, really. Do you ever feel like saying no to your family?”
“All the time.”
“But you won’t. Or can’t?”
“Hey, are you a lawyer or a therapist?” I joked.
He chuckled. “I just kind of marvel sometimes, at your dedication to them.”
“You and me both.”
“Believe me, I love my family, too. But your patience is extraordinary. I respect that.”
“Thank you.” Later, the ideas that Andy “marveled” at my dedication and respected me struck me. I wasn’t sure why.
By and large, Caroline’s husband, Danny, didn’t interact with our parents. Their tense relationship started when our parents disagreed with their oldest daughter marrying an auto mechanic. It didn’t matter that, at the time, Danny already owned two successful shops. They still objected. In the end, only my father chose to attend their wedding in order to walk his weeping daughter down the aisle. Five years later and a few weeks ago, learning about the price tag of Charlotte’s wedding and their eager support of her marriage was all it took for Danny; Caroline and I had been forced to restrain him from getting into a car and driving to our parents’ home for a confrontation. (Carmen had cheered on his plans.)
The next morning, I sat adjacent to Danny in their kitchen as he sipped a cup of coffee and peered at me over the lid. “I heard you drove to Catalina yesterday,” he said.
I understood Caroline telling her husband everything, but I questioned the wisdom of informing Danny about these types of things, being that he was usually minutes away from burning down my parents’ house. And, along with everything else, my adventures with Charlotte, as dictated by my parents, didn’t rank high on his list of favorite things. I merely nodded in reply.
“What was that, like a six-hour drive?” he asked.
“About five hours,” I said, not meeting his eyes.
“And is she booking the venue for sure?”
“Don’t worry about it, Cath. After breakfast, I’ll check out your car. I’m sure you’ve been logging more than a few miles on it lately.”
“Thanks, Danny.” I breathed a quiet sigh of relief.
Caroline entered the kitchen then, armed with a basket of oranges, strawberries, and other assorted fruits from their garden. “Fruit salad, anyone?” she asked, smiling at us. She playfully ruffled Danny’s hair.
He gazed up at her, beaming. Parental objections or not, not one of us doubted their love and affection for each other. It was another web, wasn’t it? I thought. Tested and challenged, but no less solid.
The person you want this kind of love with loves your little sister, a voice then reminded me.
Things need to change, Catherine.