In honor my sister Carolyn’s birthday today (Happy Birthday, Car! :)), I am dedicating today’s post to a discussion of the sister characters in Water Signs.
Born under the sign sign of Cancer (another water sign), Carolyn and I share several traits, not the least of which are fierce loyalty to family and friends, emotional sensitivity, compassion for others and a drive to succeed. Five years my senior, physically speaking, she is quite different from me — standing at a stately five-feet, seven-inches, with big dark eyes, dimpled cheeks and a light-olive complexion. (I didn’t include this real-life fact in the novel, but during the summer of Flashdance, Carolyn was actually mistaken for Jennifer Beals at an upscale South Jersey Shore restaurant, where her then-boyfriend had taken her to celebrate her birthday).
With respect to academics, well — she kind of blew me away in school. Like her, I was smart and worked hard but oftentimes my best efforts would only result in achieving “Second Honors” instead of “First” in high school (although I did occasionally attain the pinnacle of quarterly Catholic school success). My sister on the other hand, never failed to make “First Honors” every grading period in high school after earning the coveted “plaque” (an elementary school phenomenon I describe at length in Water Signs) at eighth-grade graduation; in college, she achieved a perfect 4.0 every semester and graduated at the top of her class while maintaining an active social life.
To their great credit, my parents cheered us on and acknowledged each of us as individuals, granting every child his or her just recognition for a job well done, while avoiding confidence-killing admonitions like “Your sister (brother) achieved that. Why can’t you?”
Being very much a late-bloomer, I sometimes envied Carolyn’s confidence and her easy ability to make friends. She never seemed hampered by the slings and arrows of adolescence, although she was not immune from being on the receiving end of the typical cattiness of teenage girls, or the hormonally fueled arrogance of teenage boys. In fact, although she was quite attractive, to the best of my knowledge, she did not have a steady boyfriend in high school, which I suspect was partly due to my mom’s influence. Our mother really wanted us both to get a good education and make our mark on the world before settling into marital bliss. And let’s face it: knowing that society had dramatically changed since her own carefree high school days, I am fairly certain at least some of the motivation stemmed from a desire to keep us out of “trouble”, though my mother always had the utmost faith in us.
I honor of Carolyn, I created the character of Lori Rose, newly engaged, 30 year-old sibling to Madeline who has witnessed her little sister’s heartbreaks over the years and longs for her to find happiness with the right guy. As we learn in Chapter One, Maddy’s heart has recently been broken in two by the first man she’d ever really called a boyfriend, Jake Winston (based on a real man). Among other things and for reasons having nothing to do with Madeline herself, he has beaten down her self-esteem by being overly critical of her appearance and failing to appreciate her better qualities.
Having pretended to be asleep the night Jake cruelly ends things with Maddy over the phone, the second the gut-wrenching conversation ends, Lori jumps into Maddy’s bed and, with a warm hug and these reassuring words, “I know exactly how you feel”, offers the best medicine for her sobbing sister. This is exactly how it went down in real life. And to this day I’ll never forget my sister’s kindness and compassion.
In Chapter Two, Lori’s breathless announcement — in-between uncontrollable giggles — of Ken’s presence on the other end of the phone line, is another example of fact woven into fiction. The memory of that morning and its comedy of errors — “Ken” waiting for me at the beach while I was talking the long way to mass via the Ocean City boardwalk, then arriving home to discover “Carmen” had apprised everyone of the “new guy” I’d met — is one that will stay with me forever. Part of the upside of having a close family is that they take joy in your potential joys; part of the downside of having a close family is that it’s next to impossible to keep anything, no matter how personal, a secret for long.
In Water Signs (and in my own life), as Maddy nervously takes the call in her parents’ bedroom (where she’d mistakenly believed she’d have some privacy), it’s only a matter of seconds before her excited mother and sister appear at her side, with her mother mouthing the words, “invite him over for breakfast”. And yes, Ken’s reaction in the book is pretty much verbatim to “Ken’s”: In my bathing suit? Are you kidding? I can’t meet your family like that!
Later on, when Maddy is under pressure to end the relationship due to Ken’s lack of a college education, Lori (like Carolyn) takes her side, encouraging her to follow her heart and disregard their mother’s misguided, though well-intentioned, opinion on the matter.
Throughout Part One, Lori remains a loyal sister, a trusted confidant and a voice of reason. Though for dramatic purposes, we don’t see much of her in Part Two until the very end, my own sister continues to be a welcome presence in my life — another great gift from God I know I can depend on.
Happy Birthday, Carolyn! May all of your wishes come true! xoxo