Jeanette and Maria Vandermeer were born fraternal twins. Even though they have the same birthday, they don't have anything else in common. They are night and day different, inside and out-most notably in that Jeanette is always happy, while Maria never seems to be. Growing up together, they learned many of the same lessons; even so, the way they look at the world is very different.
As an adult, Maria is kicked out of the family home for unruly behavior, and Jeanette moves away to marry her boyfriend. Despite their differences, they both find themselves settling for less than they're worth-in life and in love. Cheerful Jeanette finds that her sunny disposition is not enough to keep her marriage together, while Maria wanders in her own self-doubt and despair.
But where there's life, there's hope. Jeanette is given a second chance to find true love, while Maria makes the acquaintance of Leon Lanix, who offered her hope for her future. Despite challenges, the sisters do find ways to make life work. Different by birth, they do have something in common: Jeanette and Maria both know that no matter what happens, it's how we react that makes us who we really are. Sisters, one happy, one sad, each seeks her own place in paradise; they may be surprised where they find it.
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Paradise at Your Fingertips
By Joni Wood
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2012 Joni Wood
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Early Years
Being born a twin is most fascinating. My sister and I started off together in a tiny little room squished inside our mother's womb. We were born eight minutes apart, weighing four pounds, seven ounces and four pounds, one ounce each respectively. Together we weighed the same as one baby would and since Maria was born first, this made her the dominant one. She never let me forget the fact that she was older than me, even though it was by eight lousy minutes.
"Respect your elders," she said to me from the time she could first talk and point her finger at me. She seemed to like ordering me around and she always said that she had every right to do so just because she was older.
Even though Maria was dominant, I think you form a special bond being a twin that is always there no matter what happens in life. There were times throughout our lives when we were not physically together but the bond we had always remained strong. The joys and the sorrows of growing up with someone the same age was both a pleasure and a pain. I must say, I never felt lonely while growing up and I always had my best friend with me wherever I went. This made me feel good until the times when she would beat me up out of fits of jealousy and make me feel bad.
"He's no good for you," Maria said to me. "How can you kiss him in the woods?"
"I didn't kiss him, he kissed me," I explained to Maria. "He's actually a really good kisser."
"That's gross," she said. "You can do better than him. You should dump him."
"Okay, I will," I said reluctantly. I didn't want my sister to think that I was easy but I was only in grade five at the time and it was all innocent but who knew where it would lead to. Don Bentley had written all about me in his diary and brought it to school one day. I think he intended only to show me what he wrote but Mike Grave saw the book, took it out of his hands and started to read out loud all of the personal thoughts about me. It was a little embarrassing to have everyone in the hall snickering as Mike started to read from the diary in a high-pitched mocking type of voice.
Oh Jeanette Vandermeer, you are so beautiful. I think about you all the time. I want to be with you forever. I hope today is the day that you will say that you love me too.
When I heard these words spoken about me, I wanted to crawl under a rock. Everyone started to laugh as Don wrestled with Mike to get his diary back. I liked Don but felt a little sorry for him at the same time since he was new to our school and he didn't have many friends. When he asked me to meet him after school in the woods, I wasn't sure what to think but I went anyway. When I got there, all he wanted to do was kiss me. I wasn't sure how to react but I liked it so I didn't stop him. That's when Maria showed up. She had followed me into the woods, gave me a disgusted look and told Don to go home.
At the time, I thought that she was being protective of me but later on I realized that she was just jealous that I had a boyfriend who was interested in me and she did not. After that incident, I decided not to even acknowledge Don as my boyfriend in front of Maria so that I wouldn't make her feel bad.
My Mom and Dad used to say that we were like night and day. Even though we grew up in the same household and had the same values impressed upon us, we were so different. My parents dressed us in the same clothes when we were little since we were twins and it looked cute. Needless to say, we were fraternal twins so we physically looked different even though we were always dressed the same. I was taller with dark wavy brown hair with a slim build while she was shorter with blonde curly hair with a stocky build.
We were so different in many other ways as well. Maria was witty, "Quick on the trigger," my Dad always said and outgoing while I wasn't funny in the least. I was quiet and shy and didn't understand all the jokes that were told but laughed out loud anyway to make it seem like I did. I liked school and studying while Maria didn't always go to school and never studied so when it came time for our report cards to come home from school there was always the calm before the storm. My parents praised me for my good marks and then I heard my father ask Maria, "Why can't you be more like your sister and do better in school?"
"I can't help it if she's smarter than me," said Maria.
"She's not smarter than you," my mother stepped in to say. "You can do better if you just put in more of an effort Maria."
"I hate school," Maria shouted and then she ran to her room and slammed the door.
I went into our room to try to console her but as usual, Maria was in one of her moods and there was nothing I could do or say to make her feel better. She told me to get out as she belted me on my way out of our room.
We were both athletic but in different ways. When we played soccer, Maria was like a tank and kicked the ball hard and bulldozed her way down the field. I was more of a finesse player and I handled the ball with skill and precision. Maria was always jealous that I scored more goals than she ever did in a game. Again she would belt me in the arm when I wasn't looking.
"Hey, what was that for?" I asked as I rubbed my arm.
"That's for the next time you do something that bugs me," she said as she stomped away.
Even though we were so different, there was a certain connection that I had with Maria that gave us a special bond. I could feel her pain in her times of anguish and I always tried to help her out even after she was mean to me. I understood that although we were so different in our personality and style, the real difference between us was in the way we felt inside while growing up. I was happy and she never really seemed to be.
Even at a very young age, Maria showed signs of unhappiness. At our first birthday party, my mother had baked each of us our own cake. She had decorated each one with hearts around the edges and a smiley face in the middle but she personalized them by piping each of our own names onto our individual cakes. After Maria finished her slice of cake, she didn't seem to be satisfied with just one piece and she reached over from her high chair and grabbed my piece of cake. My Mom swiftly said, 'NO!' to Maria and strapped her in her seat. She was startled and began to cry which in turn made me cry also. Then Maria began to bang her fists on her high chair and she shouted, "NO, I want more!" My father was recording her tantrum on his video camera at the time and every year on our birthday they would show the same footage of the events. For years everyone laughed except for Maria who would just grumble every time they showed it.
While growing up, I noticed that Maria's irritability could be triggered by the smallest of things. In the morning she used to eat her bowl of corn flakes that she placed right in front of the cereal box so that no-one could look at her while she ate. When I peeked at her from behind the box while she was eating, she shouted, "What are you staring at?"
"Nothing," I said as I smiled at her. "Just wondered how you were doing this morning."
"Well, leave me the fuck alone," Maria said as she stomped away to her room to hide from the world for a while. Since we shared a room, it meant that every time while she was in one of her bad moods, I couldn't go in there. I never knew how long these moods would last. It could be for hours or even days.
Suddenly, as if nothing had ever been wrong, Maria came out of our room to ask me if I wanted to play a game of tennis. I simply responded with a nod and I was happy that she was in a better mood once again.
My little brother Ronald also seemed to get under Maria's skin about the smallest of things. I could see that he was too young to understand her mood swings and he would do things that would bother Maria. He used to call her names like Buster Brown and take her cigarettes from her and run away from her laughing. When she caught up to him though, she was so enraged that she beat him up him until he cried. I had to be the one to rescue him from her and physically pry her from hurting him any further.
"Why don't you leave him alone," I yelled at Maria. "He's only little and I think he's just trying to tell you to quit smoking."
"He's just a little shit and he should leave my stuff alone," she said.
I think my sister's attitude had a lot to do with these mood swings that grabbed a hold of her at a very young age. I found her shifts in mood to be difficult to deal with at times but it was the physical swings that followed that hurt the most. It always looked like she tried so hard to fight the evil moods that lurked inside but most of the time it seemed to me that she was losing the battle. If only my parents knew that these mood swings were not normal teenage behaviour and that she needed help, things could have turned out differently. There was a reason also why my oldest brother Matt left the house when he turned eighteen but at the time I was only ten years old and had no idea why.
It was my other brother Mark who introduced Maria to smoking pot when she was only twelve years old. He tried to get both of us to try it.
"Hey Rita Retards," said Mark. "Do you two want to try smoking some really good stuff?" I watched as he pulled out some rolling papers and a sandwich baggy full of weed from his pocket and skillfully started placing it on the paper. He then rolled it up into a spiff as he called it, licked it and then lit it.
"Not me! That stuff makes you crazy," I said to Mark.
"Don't be retarded Jeanette," said Mark. "It won't hurt you. Just have a toke."
I didn't want anything to do with drugs so I ran away from him but Maria stayed and tried a toke from the joint. Later she told me how great it made her feel and that I didn't know what I was missing.
Maria was always getting herself into deeper trouble with all the choices that she made and sometimes these choices got me into trouble as well. When we went together to Ontario Place in Toronto to see a Cheap Trick concert, she had brought some pot and smoked up before we entered the show. What I didn't realize was that the police were watching us from a distance and suddenly they approached us and escorted both of us down to the police station that night. When my father was called by the police to pick up his girls from the station, I could see that he was furious with us. He grabbed each of us by the scruff of the neck and directed us to get in the car. On our way home, all he did was swear at us over and over and told us not to say a word.
"God damn it! What's the matter with you two? You Maria I can understand but you Jeanette, I can't," he shouted at us. "All that your mother and I have done for you and this is how you repay us?"
This made me feel terrible. He had expected this type of behaviour from Maria but not from me. At that point, I didn't have the heart to tell him that it was just Maria who smoked the pot and that I was just there with her. I didn't mind taking some of the blame though if it meant that my father wouldn't be so hard on Maria.
"Why didn't you snitch on me and tell him that you didn't even smoke any dope Jeanette?" said Maria.
"I don't know. You know how Dad can be," I said. "I thought it would be better for you to be grounded with me so that way we can at least still hang out together."
"You're so retarded Jeanette but thanks for sticking by me," said Maria.
After that incident, Maria gravitated toward all the dope heads at school and she started to skip school on a regular basis. She got into fist fights with the boys and got suspended for fighting. This is when she got the nickname Butch.
I was so embarrassed that she was my sister so I started hanging out with different friends at school. At home, I tried to advise Maria that I thought she was getting out of control and that she should think about the consequences of her actions. She didn't seem to care about what I had to say to her. It was when I saw her steal money from my mother's purse that I told her that she had crossed the line.
"How can you do that Maria?" I asked her. "You had better put that money back."
"Shut up Jeanette," answered Maria. "I just need some extra cash to buy an ounce. It's no big deal. She won't miss it."
"How can you say that?" I asked her in disbelief.
"Shut up and leave me alone," said Maria as she tackled me to the ground and started throwing punches at me. Suddenly, I felt a sharp pain in my left cheek and I screamed out so loud that Maria stopped and looked at me in horror. In her hand was a pen dripping with blood that she had stabbed me with.
I don't think Maria even felt sorry at the time for what she did to me that day. When I came back from the hospital and tried to show her the stitches, she didn't even look up at me. She had an expressionless look on her face that said it all. I couldn't help but think that she needed something. She looked so lost.
When we turned fifteen, our family moved from Mississauga, Ontario to London, Ontario to start a new business. Our parents moved for economic reasons but they didn't even seem to consider how we may have felt about moving away from all of our friends at that age. Friends meant everything to a fifteen year old. I thought that somehow the move would be a good change for Maria though. Just maybe she would make some new friends and make a fresh start.
Chapter TwoThe summer of 1981
Maria and I each made our own new friends at our new high school in London but she was up to her same old habits of smoking pot and skipping school in no time at all. We didn't hang around each other very much at school since our interests were so different. The only time we spent together was when we had to work on the weekends at a deli-market in downtown London. After work Maria was always off to a party while I went home to relax after a long day at work. She did finally come up to me four years after she had hurt me though and said that she was sorry.
"Sorry for what?" I asked.
"For stabbing you in the face that day," she said. "I really didn't mean to do that. I don't know what got into me then. I can't explain it other than I feel just like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde sometimes."
"That's okay, I've forgotten all about that," I lied. Although the scar that was left on my face was minimal now, I was self-conscience about it being there in the middle of my cheek. Luckily, I could cover it up with make-up although I didn't like wearing a lot of it. "I'm just glad you didn't poke my eye out that day!"
As we finished high school, the summer of 1981 would prove to be the most adventurous summer that I ever had. Maria and I started planning a camping trip out west with our cousin, John deValk. For me, it was all about acting grown up and being free of school and parents for the first time in my life. For Maria, it was all about partying. Maria and I had just turned nineteen years old and our cousin was nineteen and a half. We were all young, confident and somewhat unattached. I thought I knew what life was all about but I would soon learn some life lessons along the way.
"So what else do you think we need to bring Maria?" I asked. "I have our camping supplies, a good map and money. I can't wait to go. There's only nine more weeks until we get to leave."
"I don't have any money left Jeanette," replied Maria.
"What have you done with all your money?" I asked.
"I fucking spent it all. Now I have to bag apples full time for eight weeks straight. I should be able to make enough money for the trip by then," said Maria.
"You don't have anything to show for all the money that you made at the deli this year Maria?" I asked. "I saved a thousand dollars for our trip and you went and spent all your money on drugs didn't you?"
"Shut up miss goody-two shoes," said Maria. "You know I like to party, besides I'll make it up by working full-time for the next eight weeks."
"Well, I hope you go crazy bagging apples for eight hours a day," I said. "That's the price you have to pay for being stupid and smoking all that dope."
Maria just gave me an evil eye look and grumbled as she didn't seem to have much to say at that point. The next day, she went off to work and had to start bagging apples while I was able to be at home, have fun playing tennis and making all the plans for our trip. That is when I met Richard Reinhardt and Maria met Larry Borden.
After work, Maria said to me, "Hey, Jeanette, you've been hanging around with Richard a lot lately."
"We're just friends. He is a good tennis player and since you're stuck bagging all those apples, I had to find a new tennis partner," I said. "What is it with you and that long-haired Larry guy? He seems a bit creepy to me."
"I met him at work. He's twenty-two and has an ex-wife and two year old daughter out west. He's here bagging apples just long enough to get enough money to travel back out there. I'm not dating him if that's what you're thinking Jeanette," answered Maria.
"He's used baggage Maria. You need to meet someone better than him," I said.
Excerpted from Paradise at Your Fingertips by Joni Wood Copyright © 2012 by Joni Wood. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
1. The Early Years....................1
2. The summer of 1981....................9
3. Lake Superior Provincial Park—Old Woman's Bay....................19
4. Spruce Woods Provincial Park....................25
5. Saskatchewan Landing Provincial Park....................30
6. Banff National Park....................33
7. Jasper National Park....................36
10. The Betrayal....................58
11. To Love Again....................63
12. You Can't Hurry Love....................69
13. The Fun Years....................78
18. Lucky Man....................125
19. Seth & Emily....................134
21. Turning Fifty....................149
23. Temper Control....................159
27. Jennie's Wedding....................186
28. Saying Good-bye....................192
29. Spreading the Ashes....................200