Sean was clean and he had a job he enjoyed and was good at. He worked at a moving company in town and he quickly moved up and became a supervisor. He said packing was like putting together puzzles. The only thing he didn’t really care for was moving in the dead of the North Dakota winter. Going into the cold from a warm house over and over could really wear you out.
Sean was in love again. He’d started bringing a new lady to Sunday dinners. Amy was pretty with wide eyes and long blond hair. Sean said Amy kept him on the straight and narrow and I told him I didn’t know how she did that; I’d never heard her say more than three words in a row. He told me Amy never stopped talking at home.
I admitted it could be hard to get a word in edgewise with our family. I said talking to Joyce made me feel like a fish out of water. Not out of place, just gasping for air. I felt like every time I opened my mouth to say something, Joyce would start a new sentence and drown me out. Even if the group had reached that moment of silence that comes over groups at intervals, if I opened my mouth to speak, Joyce spoke over me and I closed my mouth. When I’d get tired of opening and closing my mouth, I could either stop talking and get accused of being sullen or I could raise my voice to speak over her and get accused of being angry. This is how I learned to pitch my voice low and quiet to speak UNDER Joyce, instead of OVER her.
I thought maybe I should fill Amy in on my new trick, but if she was shy, my advice could just make her more self-conscious and silent. One winter evening Amy and Sean arrived in separate cars because she needed to leave early to go to work. When she finally got up to leave after another evening of near-silence on her part, Sean used my trick to speak to me. He leaned over and quietly told me to ask Amy about Beanie Babies and sat back to watch, smiling.
Amy was at the door, getting ready to walk out, so I turned around in my chair and called out over everyone, “Hey Amy! Sean tells me you want a Beanie Baby for Christmas. What kind do you want?” Before I could even finish my question, Amy erupted. “SEAN! NO!” She turned to me. “I HATE those fuckin things! So goddam stupid! Everyone acts like they’re gonna be worth millions–” the rest couldn’t be heard of the roars of laughter coming from me, Tonia, and Sean. It didn’t stop Amy. She came back to the dining room, talking over Joyce and bitching about the stupidity of the Beanie Baby fad.
Then Amy realized she was shouting and swearing and Joyce and Jerome and a bunch of kids were there and she stopped mid-sentence. I jumped in and told her I agreed; people are so fucking stupid and then Tonia was talking over me and Amy stayed to bitch about Beanie Babies with us until she was late to work.
Amy never shut up after that. I don’t mean to say she talked constantly; just that the ice was broken. I found out how hysterically funny she was. She could match me swear for swear when it came to cussing, and she was one of the few people I knew who could shout down Joyce without seeming like she was shouting. I loved her as much as Sean did. Ok maybe not that much, but I loved Amy. She made Sunday night dinners bearable.
And better than that? She was GOOD for Sean. She wasn’t above partying, but she watched Sean like a hawk and if he got out of line, that mouth got him right back in line. She was like me and Tonia always had been toward Sean: nagging and bitching at him to keep him headed where he needed to be, but crazy protective of him at the same time. I knew no one was going to hurt Sean if she could help it.
When I watched Sean watching Amy, I could tell he was over the moon in love with her. He was smiling real smiles for the first time in years. He would tease her and laugh and he was calm in a way I hadn’t seen him in forever. Maybe since Florida. I was so happy for him. I was happy for her, too. I was happy to have someone in the family who could cuss as hard as I do, who could match Tonia’s barbed wit, and who could talk over Joyce. I’d already decided that Amy was family, and if Sean didn’t marry her, I’d kick his ass.
Not to worry, before long Amy and Sean had moved in together and were talking marriage. Amy refused to live in any of the trashy places Sean thought it was acceptable to live in. She cleaned house like she had a grudge against dirt. She loved cats, but Sean wanted a dog. Sean and Amy were so much fun to be around, and with Sean clean and sober, I had my baby brother back.
I didn’t have a lot of time to spend with Sean and Amy because I’d auditioned for MSU Summer Theatre. I’d been cast in 3 of the 4 shows and was hired onto the costume crew. When school started up again, I plunged completely into the theatre department, eventually running the costume shop. I designed one show a year and my crew and I built every show. Beyond the 3 mainstage shows every year, there was an annual Christmas production, student-produced Black Box productions, and class projects.
I kept my psychology major, too, so I was a double major and an Honors concentration. One of my professors tried to convince me I needed her Children’s Theatre minor but I figured I had enough to do, carrying up to 20 credits, running the costume shop, acting, designing, sewing. And let’s not forget I was still a single mother to two very bright and active children. I barely had time for Sunday dinners and I rarely went out with Tonia and Ruth anymore. I was finally getting my life together and on track, but it was taking most of my time and energy.
Sean was doing well, I was doing well. Tonia even seemed to be doing well. She was dating a traveling insurance salesman, and while he was away on the road she had time to figure her life out, spend time with her kids, and just take some time to breathe.