In preparation for the launch of When We Were Sisters on May 31, join me for brief excerpts from the autobiographies of the three major characters, Robin, Kris and Cecilia.
Cecilia: We’ve heard from Robin Lenhart and her husband Kris. Today Cecilia tells a little of her story. Cecilia clawed her way to the top of the music scene to become an internationally famous singer-songwriter. But neither fame nor fortune have been enough. She’s close to only one person, Robin, her foster sister, and now, after a very private breakdown, she realizes she must go back into her past with the one person who shared it with her, and put an end to secrets before she can finally heal.
In Cecilia’s Own Words:
Childhood Memories: Until I was nine the names of my mother’s “boyfriends” changed regularly, along with the dirty little towns with their dirty little rooms where we lived. So did the amount of time I was left to fend for myself until the day that the cops removed me from a rat infested apartment in Tampa where my mother had been shacked up with her dealer and pimp.
I say “had been” because by then I hadn’t seen either of them in days. There was no food in the apartment and after two hungry days the lady next door–no great shakes herself–had the decency to call the cops when she saw me drinking rainwater from a saucepan I’d put outside to catch it.
I never saw my mother again. Of course given Maribeth’s record with men, that boyfriend probably left her not long after that, either. By that point she was too far gone to keep men who wouldn’t support her voracious drug habit. I suspect he abandoned her right after they both abandoned me.
When she was still around and happier, she often hung out at bars. She took me with her, always finding a way to get me. At age five I started my career in one of them. Maribeth told me to sing, so I sang something I’d heard on the radio–no matter how miserable the places we lived were, we always had music blaring. Everyone applauded and a couple of men gave me dollar bills. Maribeth figured she was raising a little gold mine, and we repeated this performance any time we could.
I liked the attention, and she liked the money. These days I like both.
Robin Enters My Life: I had my first and best lessons in the intricate art of survival from Maribeth, but somehow I remained hopeful.
I’m not sure why. God knows I had no reason to hope during those early years. But even when I stopped believing Maribeth would change, I still believed that life might.
Before we left the coal patch where I was born, my grandparents told me that God wanted me to be happy and would help. I held on to that for a long time until I figured too much time had gone by, and God had simply lost track.
I’m not sure how I would have turned out if Robin hadn’t entered my life. I was thirteen, but she was just nine, the age I was when I entered foster care. She was pathetic. Robin had lived with her grandmother since birth–her mother having deserted her at a young age, too–and the old woman had been cruel and calculating.
Just as I didn’t miss Maribeth, Robin admits she never missed Olive. We are walking, talking examples why foster children should never be put in boxes. One size does not fit all. Both of us learned early that love would never be returned by the women responsible for us, and so we guarded against feeling anything for them. When they disappeared, we had our first real chances to be taken care of.
Nobody had ever really needed me except Maribeth. This sad little sparrow of a girl, this colorless, quiet-to-the-point-of-disability child, needed somebody to help jump start her life. I figured I could do that.
Moving On: In a rare personal moment after I fell to pieces during an international tour, I told Donny, my manager and friend, about my past, about the foster homes I had been in and the awful predicament some foster children face.
I’ve always given heavily to children’s charities. I’ve always dropped everything to help children when I could. Not all of this was news.
When Mick Bollard, one of the best documentary filmmakers in the business, asked me to participate in a documentary about foster care, Donny, in his grave, thoughtful way, suggested I not only do it, that I let Mick follow my personal story, the good, bad and ugly. Was it time to face my past and put it behind me?
Donny helped me free my schedule, and now the documentary is about to become reality. Donny has promised to be with me every step of the way. I just hope Robin will leave Kris in charge at home and come on board, too, because this was her life, as well. Maybe the trip will help us both.
Or maybe it will destroy us.
I hope you’ve enjoyed these peeks into the lives of the characters of When We Were Sisters. Writing autobiographies helps me know my characters, and since they speak directly to me, I learn their voices, too. Of course I’ve only shared what amounts to “prequels” to the novel here, because the book begins where these excerpts end.
Next week, in honor of Cecilia, fewer words and lots of music! Come back Wednesday to see what I mean.