Music: “We Are Family” by Sister Sledge, “Bad Reputation” by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, “Cherry Bomb” by the Runaways, “Knock on Wood” by Eddie Floyd
Sunday, January 28, 1979
Rebecca Thomas Dunne was in a decidedly bad mood.
She’d had a backache the entire week previous, and her husband Griffin had been a total asshole about everything. What she truly wanted was an ice pack and a foot rub. Instead, what she received was reproach in the name of breakfast–poached eggs to be precise. Rebecca just could not get them right this morning. Griffin was unhappy, as he had been for the past six months.
“Para el Amor del Dios,” Rebecca muttered in her native language as Griffin stormed the kitchen petulantly.
“Dammit, Rebecca,” Griffin griped. “It’s the only thing I ask—that you give me fairly adequate meals.” He shoved his plate aside. “As it is, I’m late for my tennis match. I’ll never hear the end of it.”
Too tired to argue, Rebecca sighed and muttered something about making him something different. He huffed and refused her offer, leaving without his coveted breakfast.
The door slammed, shaking the house. She was left with Sister Sledge singing their sibling empowerment anthem on the LP and a growing sense of ineffectuality. She had never felt so low in her life.
Then, without any warning, she found herself standing in a puddle of liquid.
“Shit,” Rebecca found herself saying. Then, mortified that she had sworn so viciously, she covered her face. “Did I just say that?” Another contraction buckled her and her focus was shifted as she clutched her belly. “Oh wow. I’ve gotta call Irene.” Not once did she think about calling Griffin. This labor business had already started off badly.
She hoped the child came out all right or she would never forgive herself.
Of course, several hours later, the child dubbed Samantha Brittany came out angrily–and when she was cradled in her father’s dubious arms (Elizabeth and Irene suspected he was merely there because the tennis courts didn’t have reliable lighting at night and he had nothing else better to do), she screeched like a wild monkey trapped in gilt.
That probably should have been a warning. Oh well.
Being Jennifer’s big sister dominated Samantha’s early years. Jennifer had come along a little less than eighteen months after Samantha, and she was softer, kinder, and gentler than her predecessor. At first, she followed Samantha like a shadow, mimicking anything she did. It was empowering to have a permanent copycat, and thus was the state to which Samantha had become accustomed. However, as Jennifer grew up, and the sisters started socializing outward (particularly with their cousins—Irene’s daughters), she had begun to change. She preferred Barbies and My Little Pony to the jungle gym. She took pride in her E-Z-Bake and her gang of Cabbage Patch dolls.
To Samantha, that posed a bit of a problem.
Samantha, perhaps molded by those early moments in her mother’s womb, hated anything frilly or domestic. She had more scabs and scars than hair bows. And the word dress made her break out into hives all over. Nowadays Jennifer wore them all the time!
Ack! Gag her with a spoon! She couldn’t stand it.
It was a rainy Saturday morning, and Rebecca was depositing Samantha and Jennifer with her older sister so that she could take care of some important business. Samantha and Jennifer were too young to understand what was going on, and Rebecca didn’t have the heart to tell them about the impending breakup of their parents. If she had been more frank, she would have found that her girls would have been more acceptant of the severance.
Samantha used to enjoy being at her Aunt Irene’s house. She was a fan of the bigger space and of the camaraderie she shared with her female cousins, particularly Jessica and to a lesser degree her little sisters. Well, except one.
Irene had set the girls up in the living room while she did some work on a criminal case in the other room. The girls (their brother Eric was over a friend’s house for the weekend) were fairly self-sufficient, especially with Jessica supervising. Jessica was not a pushover, but she was hardly a tyrant either. Samantha admired her older cousin and hope that she grew up exuding that same amount of power.
It was nearing nine that morning. Irene had produced a sizable amount of pancakes, eggs, and bacon for the girls to consume, and then let them loose to watch some TV. Jessica had originally wanted to watch the VHS of Wildcats (Irene knew nothing of this, however) and no one had openly protested.
That is, until someone had turned it on Muppet Babies, and Samantha felt her heart sink.
Jessica, not quite eleven, sighed in exasperation as she tucked her legs under her on the couch. “Muppet Babies? Really?” She looked over the rumpled masses like an irritated general. “All right, pipsqueaks—who turned it on the Muppet Babies?”
There was a chorus of juvenile denials. Jessica groaned and waved a hand. The voices stopped.
Suddenly, the tallest of Jessica’s little sisters stood and spoke.
“I turned it on Muppet Babies,” announced Daniella Thomas defiantly.
Samantha rolled her eyes. She didn’t like her cousin Danie, with her hair flips and bright nail polish and fluorescent hair scrunchies that somehow ended up at the Dunne house and in her way. But even more—and she would not understand this until she was much older—she didn’t like Danie because she was stealing her baby sister away.
Jessica’s reaction was much like Samantha’s would have been. “You little brat! No one wants to watch that.”
Jennifer fidgeted. “Actually, I—”
“Maybe we should pick something that everyone can enjoy,” Moira-Selene offered, being the eternal peacemaker.
“I think everyone would enjoy the Muppet Babies!” Danie countered.
“I personally wanted to watch PBS,” nine-year-old Claudia-Michelle revealed, flipping through her music maestro book.
Danie rolled her eyes. “You’re such a bore, Claudia-Michelle.”
“Better than being an idiot,” Claudia-Michelle shot back. Danie’s eyes widened then narrowed. Samantha snickered. Claudia-Michelle, even though she was a bit too prim (especially in her lace-trimmed pajamas), had some redeeming moments as well.
“Hey!” Jessica exclaimed. Everyone went quiet again. “We’re gonna watch the movie. Anyone who doesn’t want to watch can go play somewhere else.”
Danie gave a defiant hair toss. “Well I am playing somewhere else. I have a makeup session with Barbie. Anyone else want to come be beautiful with me?”
“Go away, Danie,” Samantha snapped. “You’re just being a show-off. No one wants to play with your stupid girly toy.”
In her French braid and long-sleeved PJs barely hiding her surgery scar, Moira-Selene sighed. “Danie… Sam…”
“You don’t want to play with it,” Danie said, “but Jennifer does.” With smugness in her eyes, she turned to look at Jennifer, who fidgeted in her place as if she had shot J.R.
Samantha gazed at her little sister, cornflower blue stare intense. “Well? What are you gonna do?”
Pause. “I want to play with the makeup,” Jennifer said softly. The smug satisfaction on Danie’s face was enough to turn Samantha’s stomach. Guiltily, Jennifer bit her lip and followed Danie out of the room.
As Samantha watched the opening credits of Wildcats, fuming, little Gretchen Thomas plopped down next to her.
Gretchen was the youngest of her cousins. She had been attached to Jessica much like Jennifer had been attached to her. Jessica, however, was six years older than Gretchen, so the attachment was slightly awkward and short-lived. Jessica had found better entertainment than hanging out with her four-year-old sister.
“You know,” Gretchen began, pigtails swinging, “she is my sister but I really don’t like her.”
Samantha, a little surprised, looked at the little girl sidelong. Gretchen, big green eyes filled with boldness, stared back. After a moment, she leaned as if sharing a secret.
“I know where Eric keeps his spiders,” Gretchen whispered, eyes twinkling with evil. “We could put one in her bed.”
She was small, but she had spunk.
Samantha’s mouth twisted into a grin. She would do. Yeah, she would definitely do.