Where I Want to Beby Adele Griffin
Two teenaged sisters, separated by death but still connected, work through their feelings of loss over the closeness they shared as children that was later destroyed by one's mental illness, and finally make peace with each other. See more details below
Two teenaged sisters, separated by death but still connected, work through their feelings of loss over the closeness they shared as children that was later destroyed by one's mental illness, and finally make peace with each other.
Myrna Dee Marler
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where i want to be
By ADELE GRIFFIN
G. P. PUTNAM'S SONSCopyright © 2005 Adele Griffin
All right reserved.
"Augusta! Granpa!" Jane shouted. "I'm here!"
No lights lined the driveway.
The ancient maples blocked Jane's view of the house. She could hardly see a step ahead.
She started to run.
A soft wind hushed in her ears as she sprinted up the lawn. She smelled the verbena that grew in tangles on either side of the porch stairs. On her way up the steps, she lost her balance, stumbling against the front door and shifting the welcome mat so that the watermark showed underneath.
"Let me in!" She rapped the brass pineapple knocker, then made a fist and pounded the door. "It's Jane!"
The door opened. Light spilled onto the porch.
"Jane!" Her grandmother had grown up in North Carolina, and her accent pulled long on Jane's name. But she was not angry. She never was. Not even when Jane might have deserved it.
Like the time she'd smashed Augusta's crystal vase into a thousand needles all over the front hall.
Or when she let her grandparents' parakeet, Piccolo, out of his cage and watched him fly away into the woods, never to return.
Or when she'd taken a paring knife from the kitchen rack and stabbed it through the soft skin between her thumb and finger. Just to change something. Just to feel something.
Even then, stanching the blood with a clean dishcloth, her grandmother had looked maybe shocked, maybe fierce. But not angry.
It might have been the thing Jane loved most about her.
"I didn't know where else to go ..." Jane stopped. She had been alone for so long, stretched across the blackness, terrified that she would not find Orchard Way at the end of this journey. Now here she was, at the only place where she'd always belonged.
She sagged into the door frame. She was out of breath and strength. "I need to rest," she admitted.
Augusta pulled her close. Jane shut her eyes and let herself be hugged, although hugs made her queasy. But it had been more than two years since she had seen her grandmother. The familiar smells wrapped themselves around her. Augusta's lavender hand cream, the pine soap in the floorboards, the mushroomy dampness and smoke in the wallpaper. Tears prickled at the edges of Jane's eyelids as she gently pushed her grandmother away. Hadn't she been upset with Augusta for something?
The reason escaped her. It didn't matter. She was through with reasons, and she was home.
Chapter TwoALMOST SEVENTEEN
Jane died this past spring, but we can't talk about it. In fact, we kind of give up on talking. It's not some kind of eloquent, dramatic decision. It just happens. An eighteen-year-old girl crosses a two-way street on a changing light. A moving car hits and kills her instantly. The Metro section of the paper reports that services for Jane Ellen Calvert will be held on Saturday morning at St. Thomas, and to please make a donation to Child Haven in place of flowers.
She's gone. What else is there to say?
We use work to cope, or maybe to hide. The college grants Dad's request to teach a summer chemistry course. Mom goes back to selling houses for Payne-Hazard Realty. I start my job at Small Farms. We meet at home for dinner. Sometimes Caleb joins us.
It's strange how so much life can be lived without speaking. By the end of summer, the silence has grown up as thick as weeds around our days. But at unexpected moments, I can feel Jane with me. Silence can't keep her away. She might be here when I'm stuck in traffic, or eating a sandwich, or brushing my hair. Or she's inside my sleep, in a waking dream where I kick the sheets and feel sweat stick cold under my arms and at the backs of my knees. Memories of every time I ever hurt Jane swoop like bats in my brain. I am a monster. I hate myself.
At the end of August, Mom and Dad decide to take a weeklong trip to Maine to visit Aunt Gwen and Uncle Dean. They invite me along, but I can't go.
"You won't be too lonely?"
"I'd feel worse without Caleb."
Dad doesn't like that. He isn't the kind of dad who wants to discuss guys or romance. He's proper, I guess. A mix of Granpa's Yankee reserve and Augusta's Southern gentility. "Look out for Mr. Wild and Crazy," Mom will tease if Dad pours himself a second glass of wine or retells a joke he heard in the faculty room.
When it comes to Caleb, Dad is not Mr. Wild and Crazy as much as Mr. Frowning and Protective. But that's just Dad. He'll never be totally at ease with my boyfriends-in concept or reality. For the most part, though, both of my parents are cool about Caleb. They know what Caleb means to me.
And they agree to let me stay at the house by myself. Jane never would have been given this privilege.
"You're almost seventeen," Mom assures herself, doing a final contents-of-pocketbook check as Dad hauls their suitcases out to the car. "You're responsible" Her cucumber green shirt clashes with her hair. She's just started tinting it to cover the gray that's been creeping in. Mom has-and passed down-what Jane once called our spicy coloring. Cinnamon red hair and nutmeg brown eyes and skin cayenne-peppered with freckles. But Jane had a way of describing things so that they seemed better or worse than they really are. Other people would just call us redheads.
There's a pinch between Mom's eyebrows as she looks at me.
"Mom, I'll be fine."
She doesn't look convinced. "You'll check on Mrs. Orndorff? And you'll set the alarms at night?"
"You have enough gas in the car?"
"Filled the tank yesterday"
"If you change your mind, you'll just hop the next train? It's less than four hours from Providence. We'll keep our phones on. Just let us know when you need us to pick you up." Mom bites her bottom lip and her whole body seems to soften from the pressure. "Oh, honestly, Lily. You've been working hard all summer. You could use some time off before school starts. You can swim in the lake...." Her fingers are like rubber bands as she snaps them around my wrist. The urgency in her eyes reminds me of my sister. "I worry about you sleeping alone here."
"Mom, please. I've slept here my whole life."
"But never alone."
True. But I have no intention of sleeping alone. Not if I've got Caleb. Some part of Mom has to have figured that one out by now. She's not clueless. Or maybe this is why she's letting me stay? Because she knows that Caleb and I have each other?
After I hug them both and wave good-bye, I make a bowl of cereal and watch the news on TV. Then I eat an Italian ice and read one of Mom's gardening magazines. Then I pour a glass of iced tea and sit on the patio stoop and stare at the sunset.
Once it gets dark, I pad through the house. Inspecting it. From the outside, 47 Clearview Circle is nothing much, one of a dozen white-painted, black-shuttered, single-story homes set on a quarter acre. It's the trees that make our house special. The ming fern, the twin red Japanese maples, the towering buttonwood-once the site of Peace Dale's coolest tree house. Mom's trees are the pride of the neighborhood, like movie stars who've shown up at a backyard barbecue.
Inside, our house looks shabby. Mom and Dad will save for college funds or retirement funds or rainy-day funds, but never for something as wasteful as a redecorating fund. Everywhere, I see thumbprints of Jane. Here's the butterfly-shaped stain on the carpet where Jane spilled cranberry juice. On the wall, a picture hanger minus its picture of Block Island harbor that Jane had made for our parents' fifteenth wedding anniversary, but then yanked down and ripped up because of the "stupid amateur mistakes."
My own bedroom tries too hard to be cheerful. Rainbow pillows are heaped on my polka-dot bedspread, and daisy-chain lights are strung along the windows. A watercolor poster from Peace Dale's Hot Air Balloon Festival is tacked to my door. But my room is Jane damaged, too. Not from what's there, but from what's missing. Like books Jane "borrowed" out of my bookshelf and clothes on loan from my closet. Or the empty corner that held my green frog beanbag chair, thrown out after Jane plunged through it with a pair of garden shears.
I walk to the end of the hall and open the door to Jane's room. As soon as I switch on the light, I see something new. A pile of freshly folded clothes rests on Jane's bed. As if any minute she'll come bounding in to put them away. Must have been Mom. Dad shares laundry duty, but only Mom would cling to the hope that Jane might come back.
Most of Jane's belongings are secondhand. Mom's old stuffed-animal horses, Rags and Patches, slump side by side on her dusty dresser. Dad's desktop model of the solar system is also fluffed with dust, and so is the seat on Granpa's rocking chair that my grandmother gave Jane after he died. Jane liked to surround herself with other people's things. They comforted her, I guess, when people themselves could not.
I snap off the light and the fuse blows, and I scream softly as my fingers zap. That's when I feel it again. It grips me, like two hands squeezing me around the waist, cutting off the air from my diaphragm and knocking me from my feet. I sit at the foot of Jane's bed, my arms cradled at my middle, working to breathe.
"Jane?" I speak her name into the dark. The room holds the word.
All through that morning, throughout the plump-cheeked minister's sermon about shy, gentle Jane, I'd wanted to laugh. Shy Jane? Gentle Jane? Selfish, wild, thoughtless, brave-I'd start with those words, but even they aren't right.
I worry that I'm already forgetting pieces of her.
"Jane," I say, louder, "you'd laugh to see your room like this, so clean. I'll mess it up a little, if you want. Just give me the signal."
I sound like an idiot. I know I do. But I jump up from her bed and tug the wrinkles from her bedspread. Then I force myself to leave Jane's room. Careful to shut the door on my way out.
In the kitchen, Jane ate her special foods. Her grandfather shuffled back and forth from the counter to the table. He heaped her plate.
"All your favorites"
Jane clapped her hands. A banquet. Buttered, warm rolls. Sliced ruby tomatoes. Perfect spheres of vanilla ice cream. Cantaloupe. Pale, cold milk. Pinks and whites and reds, too good to be true, and Jane knew that it wasn't true. Not exactly. The food was here because she needed it to be here. The rules were different now. Now everything was as real as she made it. Even her happiness felt too good. Like she'd borrowed it from somebody else.
And she knew that she was too old to eat with her fingers, but Augusta let her. Then she let Jane spoon-scrape melted ice cream from the bottom of her dish.
"I'm going to stay with you forever." She used to say this a lot when she was younger. "I'll sleep in Dad's old room. I'll watch movies and eat ice cream. I don't need anything else. I never did."
Augusta had Choctaw Indian in her blood, which gave her bones their sensible shape. She had looked the same for as long as Jane could remember. Tall and heavyset, a rugged tree of a grandmother who wove her hair into a silver cable down her back and dressed in pastel pants and denim shirts, or vice versa.
"Let's get you to bed," she said. "I'll lend you one of my nightshirts."
"I'll wash up here," said Granpa.
Her father's room was off the second-floor landing. Part of his childhood was left behind here. A prism decal shimmered in the window, and a paint-chipped bookshelf was filled with weary hardcovers about Galileo and Einstein and Crick. As a boy, her father had loved science, and he still did. He was a chemistry professor at Providence Community College, where students called him Ray instead of Dr. Calvert and dedicated the yearbook to him an average of once every three and a half years.
When she was younger, Jane used to imagine that her father's room belonged to her instead. "Let's pretend," she'd coax Lily. "Pretend I'm Granpa and Augusta's daughter instead of their granddaughter. Pretend that you're visiting me and it's olden days from when Dad was little. You start. Say, 'Hi, Aunt Jane!' Then ask my permission to unpack your suitcase"
"But you're not my aunt! We're sisters," Lily would wail. "One hundred percent sisters. I hate your stupid pretending away of the truth! And I hate olden days!"
"If you can't pretend to be in other times and places, you'll be stuck in the real world forever," Jane would warn. "And the real world isn't half as good."
But Lily seemed to get along just fine in the real world.
Her grandparents were different. They liked olden days. Granpa knew the whole history of Peace Dale. Before he'd retired, he'd worked at the Rhode Island Historical Center. It was Granpa who showed Jane the home of Mary Butterworth, the sneaky counterfeiter who bought a mansion in Providence with money she'd made herself, using a quill pen and copperplates. Granpa who showed Jane the Old Stone Mill that had been built a thousand years ago by Norse Vikings.
Augusta was not much for field trips or stories. But her presence was like a lullaby.
"Don't go yet," Jane said now, reaching out her hand.
Augusta did not leave. She stayed at the edge of the bed and skimmed her fingertips up and down the length of Jane's arm. The sheets were as crisp as a tablecloth against Jane's skin, and the sink of the mattress molded to the shape of her body. She closed her eyes and pulled the edge of the linsey-woolsey blanket so that it brushed her chin. A linsey-woolsey blanket was folded at the edge of every bed at Orchard Way. They were famous blankets, knit by Peace Dale's own textile mills and dyed with walnut shells to mossy greens and browns. During the Civil War, thousands of these blankets had been distributed to Union soldiers.
"Pretend I'm a soldier," Jane used to suggest to Lily, "and I'm about to die from frostbite on the battlefield, and you're a poor factory girl named Hepsbeth, and you find me and cover me with a blanket just in time."
Lily had liked that game better. Lily liked to rescue people.
"How long can I stay?" Jane asked Augusta sleepily.
"Until you want to go." Her grandmother's voice sounded far away.
Yes, that was a nice answer. Sleep was falling softly over her. "Orchard Way is my only place," she mumbled. She burrowed deeper, darker, safer.
Her grandmother didn't answer, but her fingers continued to trace the length of Jane's arm. Up and down, up and down. She would not stop until Jane was asleep.
Caleb drops by late. After his own day at the Pool & Paddle Youth Club, he had to work a shift at the Co-op for a friend. But he bangs through the door with his dimpled smile locked in place. His guitar is in one hand, and a bag of something that smells yummy is in the other.
"You could have called," I say, wrapping my arms around his neck. My lips touch his throat, his chin, and the tip of his nose. "I'da picked you up. I hate thinking of you walking all this way."
"The fastest journey is achieved on foot," Caleb answers grandly. Thoreau, most likely. Caleb is something of a Thoreau fiend. He lets me reclaim him a few seconds longer. Then he shakes the bag. "You eaten?"
"No." The cereal was hours ago. I'm hungry again.
We set up for a nighttime feast at the picnic table out back. I even light the tea candles and get out the coasters, self-consciously adult without Mom and Dad around. We talk about next month and the start of my senior year at North Peace Dale High. I've gotten expert at dodging around the subject of what Caleb is planning to do this fall. My standing policy on that is to wait for him to bring it up.
Instead, I ask him what happened today at the Pool & Paddle, where Caleb teaches swimming. It's the right job for him, mixing his love of kids with his near-perfect patience.
"Nothing much. Actually, one of my tadpoles drew me a picture."
"Oh, cute! Do you have it? Let me see!"
Sheepish, Caleb pulls it from his wallet, unfolding it with care, and passes it over. But he knows I'll like it.
The picture is of two stick figures. Same height, squiggly spider hands joined and wearing shoes that look like flowerpots. Behind them is a blue blob, which I guess is the pool
For Coach Caleb love Sophie marches in painstaking print across the bottom.
Excerpted from where i want to be by ADELE GRIFFIN Copyright © 2005 by Adele Griffin. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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