Kill Your Darlings
You've heard the phrase "Kill your darlings." There's no rule against sharing them before we send them off to the dusty bottom drawer, is there?
A Woman's Name
Beth. That's what my mother called me, in a voice and tone so sweet it was a song wrapping around my heart. Sip.
Bet. It made for easy brother jokes – "Bet she did it!" and a lot of "You better you betta you Bet" from my Who-loving daddy. Sip.
Elizabeth. That's what the reverend called me. And my gran. And Mrs. De Jong, my ninth-grade English teacher. And mom when she was really angry, like the time I went to Chicago with Nancy and Lois and didn't tell anyone. Back then when people addressed me as 'Elizabeth' I automatically sat with ankles crossed, knees together, shoulders back. Sip.
Bitty. That's what my high school boyfriend, and probably the one true love of my life, called me. I wish I'd listened when he called me, instead of being lured by the excitement of a "famous" life. Sip.
Iza. That's what they called me when I crossed the stage in Atlantic City. "Iza Andress is named Miss United States 1972." That's what they called me when I traveled the world representing our country. And that's what the hotshot senator from Michigan called me when he cornered me in his office during a tour of the Capitol. And when he shoved his hand under my dress. And later when he took me to dinner. And when he proposed. And when I foolishly said, "I do." Sip.
After that, he only called me Elizabeth. In a polite, slightly distant tone. The tone you'd use to speak to a clerk at your favorite boutique, or the police officer who had just arrested your twelve-year-old son. Again. Sip.
This wall of photos tells my life story. I am a picture book, not a novel. The details of my life are represented by captured moments in time, not real stories with layers. Not that there aren't feelings - they are kept locked up, not shared. Sip. Sip. Pour.
Help me remember to ask the housekeeper to restock the bar cabinet, will you?
This first photo is me draped in the Miss Wyoming banner. My hair! It's piled so high a bird should be living in it. My dress is appropriate for the time and the place – figure-hugging, but elegant. Not like the girls wear now. Sip.
The second photo is the stage in Atlantic City the night I won Miss US. This is my favorite of all the dresses, even bigger hair, practiced smile, blue eyes glistening with unshed tears. Sip. Sip.
The third photo is of my wedding to your father. Dory. Dorance Stanhope. Handsome, respected, intelligent, sophisticated, influential. The junior senator from Michigan. The sole heir to a candy company fortune, the candy having been sold to a giant conglomerate in the 1960s. Thanks to Dory's brilliant investment strategies, the Stanhope family is one of the wealthiest in the world. The Stanhope family, not our family. I don't feel a part of it. Except on paper. Sip.
That day, my wedding, was a day I will never forget. I was so nervous when your grandparents flew to Michigan from Wyoming to see their only daughter change her life forever. They both taught at the University of Wyoming and were highly respected in their fields, but they were more Mother Earth News than Town & Country. Sip.
Most of the 300 guests came to see Dory. Politicians, socialites, celebrities, international dignitaries. They wanted to see the woman who "captured" him, who dissuaded their favorite Senator from continuing his beloved bachelor lifestyle. Of course, they wanted to curry favor for present and future requests. The gifts were ridiculous. Rare china, even rarer booze, promises of time on enormous yachts and private islands and exclusive hunting expeditions. Sip.
And you and your sister. Felicity Jennifer Stanhope. Firstborn child to Elizabeth and Dory. A blonde-haired, blue-eyed doll in her bassinette, in one of the rare moments she wasn't howling her demands to the world. Dressed as a gray kitty for Halloween when she was seven. In a pale pink skirt and matching sweater visiting Daddy at work on a sixth-grade field trip. Junior prom, looking grown-up and beautiful with her beau in his tux. Sip. Sip.
Then there's you. A sandy-haired, true angel baby, never cried, never fussed. Grinning cowboy with a wooden pony for your 5th Halloween. Looking handsome and proud in a dark navy suit and crisp red tie when your sixth-grade class visited the capitol. Your hair started to darken and your features were sharpening so that you looked a bit European - less Midwest American than me or Felicity. Sip.
Your military academy photo from this year. You are slimmer than the other boys in the class photo, somewhat delicate for your age. Is that what had caused you to change? Being smaller than your friends? I promise you'll have a growth spurt. You will! And you’ll get away from this place, and these people! Sip. Sip. Pour.
Dory demanded a paternity test, do you remember...He was so angry and disappointed when science confirmed you are, in fact, all his. Siiiip.
I was angry and disappointed too, to be honest. If I'd had an affair, Dory would have been furious and no doubt you and I would be living in Wyoming, "poor" and reviled. Perhaps it would've been the best thing that could have happened to us. Sip. Spill. Swear. Pour.
Happy 40th birthday to me.
Dory hasn't mentioned it. No word from Felicity. Just you and me, hiding here in my dressing room. Thank you for letting me reminisce. I suppose it's necessary to examine your life on momentous occasions like this.
The bottle is almost empty. It was just full, wasn't it? Never mind, there is another in the handbag cabinet. Just a few feet away. Well worth the effort of pushing myself out of this dressing table chair and waddling across the room.
Waddling. That's what I do, now. No more beauty for me. No one wants me now. Now I am a soft, fat, jelly roll of a woman with three chins and eyes that disappeared long ago into the flesh of my face. And how many chins do I have these days? Two? Three? Four?
Why am I carrying this crystal glass? I should have just left it on the table ...
Oh, dear. Look at what I've done. There's a universe of shattered glass, sparkling under the light from the chandelier. Pretty. Difficult to see on the marble floor, though, mixed with bits of ice melting in the wreckage. An invisible pool of death.
Ouch. That’s my blood streaking the white marble. A shard has gone into my bare foot, and now my foot is sliding. More glass is piercing my body. My nose and forehead hit the marble. The pain is drifting away and I rest, with one bent forearm pressing hard into my throat.
I see you, my beautiful, terrible boy, sitting cross-legged in the corner, watching. Not moving. Not speaking. Not calling for someone to come.
And that's all right. I love you, Freddy. I love you.
Happy birthday to me.