Authors: Adrienne Stoltz,Ron Bass
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To my dear wife Christine, who creates the happiness and peace
within which all other creation is possible. And to my precious
daughters Jennifer and Sasha, for teaching me the most essential
truth in human experience: that unconditional love exists.
For Flutter and B.
ight now I’m Maggie. Actually Sloane Margaret Jameson, but I’ve been Maggie since that afternoon when my kindergarten teacher called my mom, Nicole, to tell her that Sloane punched Devin Cruikshank in the mouth. When confronted, I readily confirmed that Sloane had indeed done that, despite the fact that I had warned her not to and was completely disapproving of her antisocial behavior. Although if anyone ever deserved a punch in the mouth, Devin Cruikshank makes my lifetime top ten. Nicole said she didn’t know there were two Sloanes in my class. I informed her that Sloane was my usually invisible best friend who often mischievously appeared to get me in trouble. My name, as of that day and forever after, was exclusively Maggie. And for all my reservations about Nicole’s parenting skills, she totally went along with this like a little lamb.
Among these reservations is the fact that Nicole is rarely around to do any parenting at all. This was less of a problem when my dad
was living with us. Despite his dedication to the short stories he wrote and the students he taught at Columbia, he never once failed to show up for whatever my sister, Jade, or I needed. Nicole tries her best, but as a mid-level editor at
with a spectacular bitch as a boss and no control over her schedule, it gets hard.
My schedule, meanwhile, is unpredictable. I don’t go to school so that I can be free to go to auditions. Which explains why at 11:34 on a Tuesday morning, I’m lying on the floor of our West Village apartment, alone of course, listening to the absolute silence. Nicole had these windows installed that I swear are constructed of magic glass, which makes all life in the outside world mute. In the quiet, I can imagine what everyone else alive is actually doing: my friends from my old high school going to class, people hailing cabs on Houston, chefs prepping starters at trendy downtown restaurants for the lunch crowd, women going into labor, brokers trading commodity futures at Goldman Sachs, shoppers sliding credit cards at Barneys, hot dog guys slopping onions on dogs at a Sabrett’s wagon, dog walkers walking dogs on Hudson River Greenery, truck drivers double-parking to deliver tulips.
And instead of being out in the action, I’m the one lying on the floor, counting all the things I’m not doing—instead of what I
be doing, like studying the scene for my audition tomorrow or the GED materials stacked up beside me. I love the chance to be alone with myself, even if Emma says I’m really a lonely girl and just don’t want to face it. Being alone allows me to procrastinate with my rambling thoughts for as long as I want.
Until my phone rings.
It’s Mrs. Manoti, the nurse at Jade’s Montessori school, anxiously
explaining that Nicole is at a photo shoot somewhere with no cell service and her assistant gave the nurse my cell number. Once she gets over the seemingly incomprehensible fact that I don’t go to school and am therefore available to answer my cell in the middle of the day, she tells me that my seven-year-old sister “passed out” in class.
Most girls my age are sort of addicted to drama, but I’m blessed to have inherited both my father’s eyelashes and his ability to be calm in a crisis. The nurse, however, is clearly terrified that any serious illness might conceivably take place on her watch. I feel her throwing my sister like a hot potato into my arms through the receiver, thrusting responsibility on me. What else is new?
I dig my shoes out from under the GED workbooks scattered on the floor around me and bolt out the door. Once I’m on the street, the world comes to life as I’m hit with the noise outside my windows: a jackhammer, the subway beneath me, cars ignoring the anti-honking laws. The day is bright and crisp. Still, as I focus on getting to my little sister, I don’t feel like I’m a part of any of it.
The stocky nurse whispers to me that Jade is asleep in the next room. But I hear curious scurrying sounds from behind the door. I open it slowly and catch a glimpse of my sister quickly reclining on the vinyl table, the sanitary paper crinkling loudly beneath her. She pretends she’s asleep. I sit next to her and put my hand on her forehead. No fever. She doesn’t stir. She’s actually giving a great performance. I give her a wet willy.
That gets her to peek one eye open.
“Oh. I thought you were Nurse Manatee,” she says, and sits up. Mrs. Manoti does resemble a manatee now that I think of it.
“Would she give you a wet willy?”
“You never know with that lady,” she says.
Jade looks chipper. Her freckled cheeks are rosy; her skinny arms hug my neck as tight and fierce as always. She tosses her thick russet-colored hair, rolls her eyes, and whispers, “I fell asleep for like maybe ten seconds. I don’t get why everyone is freaking out.”
She pulls a fistful of tongue dispensers out of her jacket pocket and starts fiddling with them.
“Are you stealing those?”
She nods matter-of-factly. I wait patiently for the why.
She jumps from the table and grabs her backpack. “I want to make popsicles. And maybe a log cabin. Let’s blow this fruit stand.” And heads out the door.
An hour later, I’m in the pediatrician’s waiting room, visions of brain tumors dancing through my head, heart pounding like someone who is not actually so calm in a real crisis, when the doc and the kid emerge smiling. Dr. Edelstein was my pediatrician as well and I have puked on him many times.
“It’s only a blood sugar thing,” he informs me. “It can happen when kids go through growth spurts.” He hands me a prescription. On it is scrawled something I can’t for the life of me read, but I think underneath, it says
He nods, confirming the diagnosis. “Yep. Doctor’s orders, Jade is to carry an emergency Snickers with her at all times.”
Amazingly, she agrees.
I don’t take Jade back to school after the doctor. All afternoon, we lie on the grass by the river and make dandelion chains while Jade’s minuscule Yorkie, Boris, terrorizes the larger dogs. Jade fills
every single second of this perfect afternoon with her delightfully boring chatter. This includes her irrational fear of snails, behavior and hygiene secrets of assorted classmates, reaction to last night’s
The Daily Show
, which she somehow seems to sort of understand and which clearly explains why she fell asleep in class, speculation about my love life (colorful and unfounded), and an enthusiastic and completely public rendition of her latest original booty dance. She turns and looks at her skinny butt bouncing.
“It’s got a mind of its own. You can’t teach this stuff, Maggie. I was just born this way!”
At around seven, the sky turns a rose gold over the river. On my way to acting class, I drop Jade at Nicole’s office for dinner so that they can go eat Indian. Meaning tandoori, not cannibalism.
is on the forty-third floor of the Time-Life building. The office is less glamorous than a girl would dream: dreary, fluorescent-lit halls lined with the ghostly photos of cover girls past.
“Hello, sunshine,” Jerome greets me ironically, air-kissing both cheeks. He mimics my concerned face with a scowl before he sweeps Jade up into a salsa dance. I can’t help but smile.
Jerome is my mom’s prematurely balding, insanely beautiful assistant. The man has no pores, and the shape of his lips looks like some mountain range I don’t know the name of. He has the slight body of a dancer and escaped the small-town small-mindedness of Podunk, Oklahoma, to Chelsea, where he’s gotten more boyfriends strutting the aisles at Whole Foods than I have in my whole life. We have a complicated relationship because I worship him, but when push comes to shove, his loyalties lie with my mom (a boy’s gotta pay for those Prada shoes), ever the guard dog of her annoying
schedule. My mom once suggested she and I do a couples session with Emma. I brought Jerome because I talk to him more often.
While Jade tries on shoes twelve sizes too big, Nicole and I debrief on our separate conversations with the doctor. She, of course, pretends to be completely reassured and already sent Jerome to buy the Duane Reade out of Snickers. I’m relieved to see that she has been silently scared to death and in her unspoken way is grateful to me for having stepped in to play Mom again.
It’s funny all that lies between the lines. As an actress, I wonder if an audience would understand what’s actually being said between my mom and me without dialogue. The way she takes off her glasses when we come in, how she lifts her shoulders and sighs when she greets me, the extra beat in the hug she wraps around Jade. I take note of the small crinkle lines on her eyes and the pinch of her eyebrows, her thin voice. I know from all this the complexity of how she feels. And I guess in my ability to get inside her, as her true understudy, I find some compassion and lose my irritation. For the moment.