In preparation for the launch of When We Were Sisters on May 31, join me for the next three Wednesdays for snippets from the autobiographies of three major characters.
Robin Lenhart: Robin is thirty-eight, married to Kris Lenhart and the mother of two children. She gave up a promising career as a photojournalist to become a wife and mother, but as the book begins her life takes an unexpected turn when she is nearly killed in an accident. Robin was a foster child for ten years, and Cecilia–a superstar singer-songwriter–is her beloved foster sister. Now Cecilia wants Robin to travel with her to help film a documentary about Cecilia’s childhood in the foster care system.
In Robin’s own words:
Meeting Cecilia: After my grandmother’s death the county struggled to find the right placement for me. They looked for mature, experienced parents and thought a home with at least one other child would be helpful. The other child was Cecilia Ceglinski, thirteen. When I met Cecilia she demanded I call her CeCe, but even then she had decided she would be famous enough someday to jettison her last name.
On the day I walked into the two bedroom concrete tract house in an older neighborhood near Tampa, Florida, where we would share a room for the next two years, my life and my emotions were topsy turvy. Cecilia isn’t prone to downplay anything. In the retelling a casual date becomes a marriage proposal. Polite applause becomes a standing ovation. I’m one of the few parts she doesn’t have to exaggerate. She saw something in me that convinced her I needed her. No one but Maribeth, her drug-addicted mother, had ever needed her, and at thirteen Cecilia had figured out that Maribeth would never have accepted real help anyway. I was not as far gone. Cecilia looked at me and saw a project that might have a happy ending. That was enough.
Meeting Kris: The summer before my senior year in college Cecilia, already on her way to the top, arranged an internship for me with Max Filstein a famous celebrity photographer. With those credentials after graduation I was hired to document a charity’s work throughout the Caribbean. In between assignments I free-lanced.
During one of those weeks, I traveled to my home state, where Palm Beach was suddenly the focus of activity after the disputed presidential election. More important, I met Kristoff Lenhart as I took photos of an argument between attorneys from the two different camps. He asked me not to record what was turning into a juicy spat, and I took them anyway. We met for drinks that night and months later I moved to DC to be near him.
Despite the way our lives quickly meshed, Kris failed one important test. Cecilia came to town. I could have arranged a meeting earlier, but Kris was like a special gift I didn’t want to share with my more popular big sister. Even more important I was afraid Cecilia wouldn’t like anybody I loved, that the competition for my affection and attention would annoy her. I was almost sure the two wouldn’t like each other, and they didn’t.
After she left I realized that in the years to come Kris would never criticize Cecilia to my face, but he would still make his opinions known. Cecilia, in turn, would find ways to come between us.
Marriage: When did I begin to feel unhappy? I’m not sure I can pinpoint it. I was so busy at first I didn’t realize anything was missing. The children weren’t difficult and they were healthy. Still, I missed Kris. Each year he seemed to spend less time at home. Kris was determined to be the man his father was not, a great provider and a steady fixture in our lives. He was proving himself invaluable at his firm, and he swiftly made partner.
Kris and I talked about his absences, the long business trips, the late night client dinners, but he insisted that was the price we paid. We drifted apart. I filled in by being both mother and father to Nik and Pet.
I made it through those years because of Cecilia and my friends. Cecilia was a constant presence, too constant for Kris’s tastes but perfect for my own. She breezed in whenever she could with expensive gifts for our children, who adored her. When she was with them she was totally present, as she had always been with me.
Kris wasn’t happy, but Kris and Cecilia are always polite to each other. Their psuedo-tolerance comes down to insecurity. Neither of them is sure who will win if I am forced to choose.
An Uncertain Future: I realize it’s past time for me to take my future into my own hands. Kris doesn’t understand. He thinks I only want to work on the foster care documentary so I can tag along to photograph Cecilia’s life. He forgets it was my life, too. Cecilia’s life and mine intersected for years. She says she needs to go back and confront her demons. I’m not sure I don’t, as well. This life with Kris and the kids isn’t the only one I’ve had. And even if I can’t remember the accident that nearly killed me, I bet that life was flashing in front of my eyes as the SUV got closer.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this peek into the lives of the characters of When We Were Sisters. While I write these for myself, I’ll enjoy sharing excerpts with you over the next few weeks.
Next Wednesday: Kris, Robin’s husband.