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Four in the Attic, One in the Kitchen

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The age of fifteen is a strange time to have changes come upon a young girl. In that same notion, any drastic ones should shatter reality for a young child. I had four siblings, a mother and father, and a quiet enough suburban home, given the circumstances. We weren't overwhelmingly rich, living in luxury, but we certainly weren't poor. No, we were the prime example of middle class suburbia, just the way we liked it. Momma was the prime example of what the matron of the household should be - she was beautiful, never quite needing makeup but choosing to apply it, a homemaker who could cook, clean, and care for her children and husband. By that time, I was active in helping her with chores, being shaped into a little housewife by the woman who seemed to be the master mould.

Daddy oh, was he wonderful. Two years our mother's senior, he held a youth and spirit of a man never past twenty. It's one of the things that made him to be the perfect P.R. man for his job, plus the charisma that even had his boss squeezing into our dining room for dinner on occasion. However, each profession comes with a price, and his involved constant travel to all parts of America and the world, but never more than five days could pass before he dashed home Friday afternoon, showering us with the missed affection and a few gifts from his travels. Even at fifteen, I would hide with my siblings, always in the most predictable spots, and run into his arms, peppering him with kisses and news from the week. He would return every kiss, and match every scrap of information with something grandiose that we knew was a little exaggerated and spiced to make his job seem a little more interesting. Nevertheless, Fridays were the second Christmas for us, for they became days of rest and celebration.

Once he passed around each trinket from his adventures, he would finally stand again, making his way to Momma. Never had I seen a couple so in love, and I haven't seen another since. Their looks could melt hearts, and when they were near, they looked years younger. In my deepest of hearts, I wished for a romance like that.

On those days, Momma would prepare herself as if she were getting ready to meet a prince. I wouldn't blame her; our father was as close to a prince as they came.

My sister Cathy was twelve at the time, the most impressionable age. She followed Momma and me like a puppy, soaking in all that there was to be a young woman. She begged to borrow my perfume, or Momma's makeup, or try on our dresses. She asked me about boys at school, what homecoming was like; if I thought I'd have a date to prom. She lived for love stories, seeking that Romeo to her tragic Juliet. Of course I'd oblige her a little bit, always giving less of an answer while filling her head with more. I'd describe the dashing boys of my dreams, giving fictionalized accounts of secret meetings underneath the football bleachers or in the courtyard. One detail I'd always give stuck with her, until she could almost finish the story herself; the boy would lean in for a kiss, and I'd deny him like a proper girl.

Momma knew that my stories were made up, but whenever I told them, she'd get this look in the eye, almost like she remembered something similar. She'd chide me in an exaggerated way, but wink and smile when Cathy wasn't looking. It was strange, then.

Christopher, his namesake our father, was fourteen, just a little under a year younger than I. It was a silent bonding force between us, always having each other's backs. Daddy said that when siblings were that close in age, it was like they were twins. Seeing our youngest siblings, he was nearly right. Carrie and Cory were twins as well, and they held the same mentality of mutual benefit. Christopher and I kept eyes on them as they grew. At eleven years younger than me and eight younger than Cathy, the age gap was considerable.

 

The odd thing about our family, the thing that most people noticed, was that we all looked a bit alike, barring me. My parents and siblings had wheat blonde hair, creamy skin, and had the same eyes. It was the eyes in my opinion that got them. All the same shape, all about the same color. In my case, I had darker hair, different eyes. We were often asked if I was a relative's child or adopted, but it was proven thick and thin I was my parent's. I shared just enough resemblance to them. Momma told me I looked like our grandmother who, for a reason she never seemed to state, I resembled. After age ten or so, I stopped asking.

Nevertheless, even with my striking lack of resemblance, we were dubbed the Dresden Dolls, which was much easier compared to our mammoth of a surname. Dollanganger. It rolled off the tongue in a way, yet was always a struggle for others to spell or say. Year after year of attendance, teachers would cross the threshold of 'D' in the roll call, and find themselves stuck upon ourselves. Dollar-granger was my favorite mispronunciation, I believe.

There was a Friday; happening around the time I was fifteen that happened to be Daddy's thirty-sixth birthday. Of course it was a special celebration. We had his closest friends attending a surprise party, one that we spent hours preparing for. Momma spent extra long in her oiled bath smelling of flowers, spending the time to apply the lightest makeup, to choose the perfect gown. She allowed me to watch, and even partake in some of her beauty rituals. It felt like a coming of age to smell of roses and lavender, to put on the layers of cream and powder, to try on an old negligee that she passed down to me. I was a woman. As much as it was a celebration for Daddy, it was the first time I could let Cathy and Chris do the washing up for the twins and pretty myself up. My hair was tightly curled, a freshly pressed spring green dress that contrasted against my brown curls. Momma bought it for herself, but when it looked dull against her blonde hair, she made sure it was tailored to my fittings. I was grown up.

Then the hours passed. The food was drying by seven, but we wouldn't eat without the man of the hour. Carrie and Cory, four years old, had such sensitive internal clocks, and were whining to eat and sleep. Not being able to stomach their cries, I quickly snuck each one some crackers. I wouldn't eat anything, though. Not until Daddy got home, smile on his face, wind tousled hair, explaining some traffic or incident at work to explain his lateness. Then we'd pull out dinner, by some miracle good again, then the cake and presents. We'd have a grand night, all of us playing party games and enjoying one another's company.

Most of the rest of the night was a blur.

The state police came, explaining that… an accident occurred. I remember flashes - Momma's makeup dripping down her face along with tears. The disbelief. They brought in his belongings, which only proved the fact that he was gone and it wasn't some mistaken identity. Cathy ran out, Christopher in shock, Carrie and Cory had no idea what was happening. The guests at the party gave condolences of all varieties. I felt numb. I made the twins peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on white bread, the crusts cut off. Chris later explained my seemingly emotionless state as shock, but I can't be sure for myself.

I don't remember much of the night. Sometimes people say that your brain chooses what's important to remember, and puts that away for safekeeping. The rest is thrown away when you sleep, or at least buried so far that you can dig and dig but never find it. I think my brain decided to toss that night into the furthest reaches of beyond, so far that no matter of probing on a shrink's sofa could pull it from the oceans of subconscious.

Following that night, I was more than just the look of a woman. I had to be one. Cathy and I took care of chores, of raising the twins when Momma was busy. Swarms of neighbors came with condolences as the news traveled down the block. Stacks of casseroles, of roasts filled our fridge alongside cans of food in the pantry. With every bit of food, we were given uplifting words of hope, of sorrow, of memories.

We all coped in our own ways, the five forms of grief. Cathy, denial, pretending that he was still around, always a little late to come home from a long day. Carrie and Cory were almost angry - where were their toys, their beloved father who would weekly shower them with every bit of love a four year old needs? Their state was short lived, though, and soon the memory was simply wisps in their short attention span. Depression hit Christopher early on. He didn't know how to vocalize it all. Nobody did. He kept to himself, already a half recluse, nose in his books. I watched Momma bargain in letters, our funds slipping. I had the silent understanding that she had no real job skills, and therefore no job. She just kept writing and writing, until finally we received a reply in the form of a thick, creamy colored envelope that sent her to tears.

If only, I think to this day, we hadn't received that letter.