If sisters were free to express how they really feel, parents would hear this: “Give me all the attention and all the toys and send Rebecca to live with Grandma.” — Linda Sunshine
David staggered out of bed at 7:30 a.m., half-asleep, to placate the ringing phone. I pulled the comforter over my head and almost slipped back into unconsciousness when I heard David’s voice through the haze of down and cotton: “Yes, Maria, she’s right here.” I instinctively clutched the phone as it was pressed into my hand. “Hi, Mom,” I croaked.
“My hand is sore, it’s killing me,” she said.
“What? Why?” I remained horizontal as the fog of sleep began to clear.
“It’s sore from signing autographs,” she joked, prompting us both to laugh. The previous morning, Mom had joined me for a short spot on the news to highlight some local Mother’s Day events. This sore-hand bit was an continuation of her kidding sentiments the evening before her big television debut, when she’d called to say, in an exaggerated Old Hollywood drawl, “I’m ready for my close up, Mr. De Mille.”
When our chuckles had tapered off and our vocal chords were fully awake, Mom got down to business: “Can you and Jenny drive up to Heather’s together? Everyone can meet there at noon and we’ll leave from there in Heather’s car.”
“Sure, no problem,” I said. “Now I think I’ll go back to sleep for a bit.”
“Okay, honey, I’ll see you soon,” said Mom. I was about to doze off again when a potential problem occurred to me. Without looking at the keypad, I dialed Jane’s number.
“Yo,” Jane answered.
“Yo,” I said. “Hey, we’re all going up in Heather’s car? Do you think we’ll fit?”
“Her car is a lot cleaner than mine,” said Jane. “So, yeah, we should be fine.”
“Do you think you guys are really going to be there by noon?”
“Mom and I are going straight to Heather’s from Bella’s dance class, so we shouldn’t be held up.”
“Awesome. See you soon,” I said, and ended the call.
I then called Jenny to determine what time I should pick her up. Over the next two hours, Jenny called Heather, Mom called Jenny, Mom called Jane, Mom called Heather, Jane called Heather, and I called Jane, Jenny, and Mom once again for good measure. “Jesus,” David said between calls. “A simple trip to a store in Irvine and your family places more calls and makes more plans than preceded the invasion of Iraq.”
I only smiled in response; it’s not like any reason I gave was going to make sense to the über-logical man in my life. David looked like he was about to say something else, but the high-pitched trill of my cell phone silenced him. I laughed as I answered; David rolled his eyes and returned to his desk.
At 1:30 p.m., seven females (five adults, a four-year-old, and a one-year-old) packed into one minivan in San Marcos. The next day was Mother’s Day, and Mom decided she’d like to celebrate by having the women of the family go to Irvine to pick up Jenny’s wedding dress from a specialty bridal store. Jenny, the clan’s token blonde, is to be married to her longtime boyfriend, Brad, in July. I was looking forward to a day with my sisters, mother, and nieces, but I was also glad for the opportunity to see how normal women like my sisters go about the whole wedding thing — picking up the dress is one in a series of momentous events to occur over the next few months. I was either too young or living out of town to be involved in the hubbub preceding both Heather’s and Jane’s weddings. For my own nuptials (at the county courthouse, squeezed between errands on a Wednesday morning exactly one year ago), I wore jeans.
Jane, Jenny, and I sat hip to hip in the very back of the van. In front of us, Bella and Olivia were strapped into those kiddie safety seats, and in front of them, Schoolhouse Rock played on a flip-down screen; “Conjunction Junction” blasted from speakers on either side of us in the back. Heather drove, and Mom rode shotgun. Bella craned her neck to take inventory of the vehicle and then squealed, “Nana! All of your daughters are here, Nana!” The child’s astuteness and truth of her comment seemed to please my mother, who smiled and said, “That’s right, Bella. All my daughters are here. And all my granddaughters.”
“Bella, you’re a big girl now,” Jane said to her daughter. “And you’re on a big-girl outing.” Bella beamed in response.
A moment later, Jane slapped my arm, pointed to the truck passing by on my left, particularly to the creepy-looking guy in the passenger seat, and said, “TYB!”
“Really, Jane?” Jenny said. “Let’s pretend we’re back in college, and I’ll lift my shirt and flash the guys in the next car.”
“You used to do that?” I asked, and Jenny’s entire face answered no.
“Yo,” said Jane. “TYC,” and she gestured to the driver of another truck, who was wearing a cowboy hat.
She looked so pleased with herself, I couldn’t help but play along: “Yup. There’s my cowboy, right there, come to rescue me, his damsel in domestic distress, from this here minivan.”
The moment Heather pulled onto the freeway, the controlling women in the car — that is to say, all of them — scrummed for the role of backseat driver. “You’re too close to that car,” “Why are you braking so hard?,” “Didn’t you say you wanted to take a nap; are you too tired to drive?” “Why don’t you pull over and let Mom/Jane/Barb/Jenny drive?”
“Mom,” Heather whined in exasperation, “Make them stop!”
“Settle down back there,” said Mom, as if she still held dominion over her brood.
When torturing Heather got old, Jane opened one of the bridal magazines on her lap; Jenny and I looked on from either side as she slowly flipped through the pages. The magazine was filled with pictures of gown-adorned models barely old enough to marry in the red states, and first-time brides’ questions answered by self-proclaimed wedding experts. “Oh, here’s a good one,” said Jane, pointing to a question at the bottom of one page. “‘How and when do I distribute the gifts I purchase for my bridal party?’ Huh. Jenny? Do you want to read the answer?”
“It’s funny you find that one question out of all the others to emphasize,” Jenny snapped.
Ignoring her youngest sister’s comment, Jane raised her voice so she could be heard over “I’m Just a Bill” to the front of the car and said, “Hey! You guys have any gum up there? Their breath back here really stinks.” Jenny and I each poked Jane with an elbow, but not before breathing into our hands, just to check. All of the women in my family are excessively horrified at the prospect of smelling badly. Jane had already asked ten times if anyone had deodorant on them. Both she and Jenny are compulsive users of nice-smelling lotions and sprays, and they reapply the stuff as frequently as I touch up my red lipstick.
Irritated that she couldn’t hear the lyrics to “Naughty Number Nine” over our clamor, Bella squirmed around in her seat and said, “Could you please be quiet.” Mom and Heather laughed in the front while Jane, Jenny, and I gushed our apologies to the girl who proved to be bigger than the rest of us, and then we promptly shut up.