Two Weddings and a Funeral

It was time for Sullivan to go see Eva again. It had been a while since she went to a counseling session and the flashbacks were getting more intense lately. She thought a good sit down with her favorite counselor would do her some good. Plus if she didn’t take an hour to talk about herself the narcissist in her would lose her mind.

She was back in the hideous doctor’s office waiting room. Eva slid open the door and they headed back to her cozy office. She curled up in the chair next to Sullivan and Sulli just started to spill it. They had gotten to the point in their relationship Sullivan didn’t need a ‘hello, how are you doing?’ or any type of generic greeting. Eva sat listening as she always did, popping in with helpful hints and advice that Sullivan needed to hear. Gosh it felt so good to get things off her chest.

Being a caretaker to her Dad and a Mother to her son had become overwhelming over the last couple weeks. Her Dad was supposedly getting better but that was hard to believe considering the track record of other people in her life, or no longer in her life for that matter. He was learning to swallow again, trying to eat a little food everyday, and still getting feedings through his feeding tube. Despite all of this he was still losing weight. They were both naturally skinny but he was under 110 pounds. It was scary. It was easy to talk about with Eva, but the elephant in the room was that all this was very, painful. Sullivan didn’t acknowledge the aching and Eva didn’t make her. It made the trust between she and Eva that much more solid. It gave Eva a pass to give her the orphaned dog in the pound look. Sulli did not mind. They only had an hour and Sullivan never got to say everything of pertinence that was going on. There were some things that were left out of their conversation she didn’t think of until she left.

She didn’t get a chance to tell Eva about Matt’s girlfriend. Matt didn’t even get to tell Sulli about his girlfriend. Sullivan told Eva about the awful video’s she’s been sending. The GoFund me account she found online displaying his crushed car and crushed body, begging for money to pay for his medical bills. The sadness of Matt’s girlfriend sitting there talking to him. She was expecting a response but was only receiving slow nods or silent mouth movements. Sullivan felt he was already gone. Any part of him that may be left wasn’t him at all. Still she watched, kept in touch, and tried to be supportive. Sullivan’s experiences have jaded her, made her think death was inevitable in situations like Matt’s.

Maybe it’s better Sullivan didn’t get to tell that stuff to Eva this time around. One tragedy at a time, she was sure, was enough. Sullivan was definitely over run with her thoughts. That’s why she was isolating and getting lost in her memories. Cleaning and reorganizing her house over and over again to distract herself. It never worked.

Saturday afternoon Sulli was gazing out her ‘Rapunzel’ window. She had moved to the attic after Jude was born. The master bedroom was no longer big enough to harbor all her stuff and Jude’s too. Looking out the Rapunzel window, she could see three blocks away from her house.

The snow, sleet, rain mixture was falling fast and then melting, then falling sleet again, then turning to rain, then melting. The new typical Pittsburgh weather for this time of year. She daydreamed out the Rapunzel window, eyes glazing over. Opening the door to the back of her memory. The darkness cleared, and then she started to remember.

Sullivan settled back into her routine at Verdetto’s, with her tail between her legs. Things had gone back to normal. She left the swanky high life behind. Across the city, pushed it as far away as she could. A spot that was only a couple miles away became light years away in distance. It went into the black hole of her memory as if it never happened.

She picked up extra hours at a bar close to home. Right on Shiloh Street was a hole in the wall bar that became a home to Sullivan. It was comfortable, the people were nice, and Sullivan enjoyed working there. The name left something to be desired. Telling people she worked part time at Sloppy Joe’s was a lot different than saying the Ritz Carlton. Her guy friends thought it funny to ask her if she was working at ‘Sloppy Hoe’s’ this weekend. Sullivan didn’t answer them and just shook her head at their stupid humor.

Her guy friends were some of the best people in her life at the time. Although they had some bad humor, and usually at her expense, they were her best friends. They spent late nights playing Yahtzee for twenty bucks a game until all hours of the morning. Sullivan was probably invited at first because she would leave 120 dollars in the hole on bad nights. Never was able to actually achieve the elusive Yahtzee. That was true in life too. She didn’t laugh at Irony’s joke.

She worked at Sloppy Joe’s every weekend. Every Saturday and Sunday afternoon, no matter how late she stayed out the previous weekend nights. Winter turned to Spring and pretty soon summer was creeping up. It was May. That odd time of the year, when the weather wasn’t sure if it was going to be freezing or warm enough to wear a T-shirt and shorts. Sullivan looked at her calendar and there was another dreaded wedding coming up. Another wedding reminding her she was behind in life, working at two different bars. Another wedding she didn’t have the money to attend. Another wedding with a fancy dress, she didn’t have. Another wedding without a date.

It was the wedding of one of her best girl friends from childhood, Chanel. She was an over achiever. She was always able to make sure she got what she wanted and where she wanted. She wanted this groom for the rest of her life, and that he would be, starting Saturday. She had an elaborate wedding donning two wedding dresses. One beautiful traditional white dress and another representing her Vietnamese heritage. Sullivan thought the second dress was far more ravishing than the first. It was red and hand embroidered with beautiful flowers. Floor length with looped closures all the way down. No poofy underskirts, no lace and bedazzled bosom. It was authentic, with intricate detailing. The vermilion color looked beautiful against her black hair. She looked like a bride ready to start the rest of her life, and it brought Sulli to tears. She wasn’t sure if she was crying because one of her best friends from childhood was getting married or because she drank a half bottle of Jack Daniel’s before the wedding. Either way she ended up having a good time.

Everyone else was staying for the duration of the evening and waking up for breakfast the next morning. Sullivan didn’t like staying away from Mount Washington. Didn’t have the money for a hotel room, and definitely wasn’t sleeping on the floor in someone else’s room. She said her goodbyes to those who noticed she was leaving, and exited the party early.

There was a little after hours bar near Sulli’s house, and she was ready for a nightcap. She had already changed out of her tight dress and tall heels. As soon as she walked in the door of the after hours club she was greeted with open arms by another childhood friend, Meagan Yeager. She and her brother had attended a different wedding that evening and also left the party early. What are the chances? Megan and her went way back, the way she and Beth did. They were once the three musketeers, inseparable in elementary school, until they all parted ways in sixth grade. Megan’s brother Gary was Sullivan’s first kiss on a dare. That was always the greeting they gave each other.

‘Gare!! My first kiss!!’ Sulli announced.

He gave her a large hug and three of them did too many shots and reminisced about the good ole days, growing up in Mount Washington. She and Megan talked about weddings and college and life. Megan had been married young. A fireman and they lived a happy life, it played out the way you daydream about when you’re a little girl. Megan was one of those people that had it all, and had it all figured it out. She was alluring and fun, interesting and loving. She was bright light at all times, never dimming. The three of them hung out that night, being the early wedding leavers. They made memories that Sullivan would enjoy for years. Megan talked privately to Sulli at the end of the night, told her deep and difficult secrets. Megan was having trouble conceiving. Sullivan realized even those that have it all have troubles of their own. Megan explained she was having so much trouble getting pregnant, she was considering in vitro. She wanted nothing more than her own baby.

‘It will happen Meg. You’ll be the best mom ever.’

Sullivan, Gary, and Megan ended the night with pictures and hugs and laughter. It turned out to be one of the best nights Sulli had in a long time. It was the early morning hours before they parted ways and went home.

The next afternoon Sulli opened the bar and started her shift up at ‘Sloppy Hoe’s’ . The regulars started rolling in around noon and Sulli was a little hungover but nothing she hadn’t handled before. Soon the bar was full and everyone was buzzing with talks of Saturday night antics and upcoming football games. Suddenly one of the regulars called out, said words that sounded like poison to Sullivan’s ears.

‘Did you hear one of the Yeager sister’s died last night? Yeah! I think it was Megan.’

‘What?! No SIR!!!! I was just with her last night! Look!!!’ Sullivan whipped out her digital camera and showed the last picture in her camera. It was a smiling picture of her and Megan. She looked gorgeous.

‘No. She died last night.’ He repeated.

Sullivan wanted to punch him in the face. She jumped on the bar phone and called Gary. He answered, surprisingly, he was crying. Sullivan knew immediately the obnoxious bar client was right. Gary couldn’t talk but he confirmed what Sulli dreaded. Her stomach did nineteen flips, she looked at her camera, ran to the bathroom, and threw up.

A week later Sulli attended Megan’s funeral. It was now June. The end of May was the end of Megan. She had a headache, laid down, and never woke back up. It was a brain aneurysm. Sullivan was given a gift that night, given one more chance to hang out with an Angel on Earth.

When she saw Gary at the funeral, all they did was squeeze each other tight and wipe their unending tears on each others shoulders. Sullivan never wanted to smell lily’s again. Megan was too good for this Earth. She was too good to walk among us flawed humans.

Sullivan couldn’t help but attend her self pity party, for a long time, after that. It happened again. How could it have happened again? What was she going to do?

Sullivan snapped out of it. Jude jumped on her bed and interrupted her mind time machine. She was crying. She wiped her tears before he could see.

‘Mummy!! You wanna play?’

Yes. Yes she did. Megan would have. She would have been the best mother.

Manicotti and Marriage

There are certain quotes that have no choice but to be permanently processed in perpetuity through Sulli’s plain life. They inevitably produce a heavy sigh or give goosebumps even on hot summer days.

They were collected over years of failing spectacularly. Life laughing at her, making her the punchline again. Leaving her with a quote memorized by her membrane. Reminding her to get back up one more time. Bloody lipped, swollen eyes, broken heart. Sullivan stupidly got back up and lived another day in the ring.

However in life’s all too familiar quirky sense of humor, the words still inspire Sulli to get out of bed to this day. It was Monday morning. It was for sure Monday morning because it felt that certain Monday feeling. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, they didn’t have a feeling. Sulli couldn’t tell them apart from each other, but Mondays, they rang clear as a bell. They came charging in after the weekends and were cold even on summer days. She could always tell when it was Monday. She often wished they wouldn’t exist anymore but then guessed Tuesdays would just become Mondays.

She woke up at 4am on this Monday morning, ready for a meeting that didn’t start until 9am. For the first time in twenty-five years, she would potentially be making plans for her future.

She was meeting with a woman who ran a program that was free for anyone who graduated in Pennsylvania. Some how Sullivan managed to squeak by with at least a high honors high school diploma. Thanks Beth. As she sat with her headphones on she thought of some of the quotes she’s heard throughout the years, the years of loss, the years of pain, all the years that seemed so wasted. But maybe they weren’t, maybe they were all just very slow learning lessons.

She felt it happening again and started thinking back to when she was twenty-five. Thirteen years ago. Life was, is, complicated. Sullivan got lost in the music of her headphones and her eyes started to glaze over, just as Maggie Rogers sang ‘Fallingwater’, through her earbuds.

Thirteen years ago she was a very young, very stupid, very green, and still, bartending in the Northside. Sulli started working two and three jobs, addicted to work and alcohol. She was struck with insomnia and depression. What seemed like a good solution at the time was working and drinking so much that exhaustion would take over and she wouldn’t have time to think and over think. She started a new part time job on the east side of town. It was swanky, sexy, lush, popular, and lured her away from the comfy beer and shot bar over in Northside. She stepped into this new world with high hopes and a clean slate, cutting hours back at Verdetto’s.

There was the undeniable fact that Sullivan had also become boy crazy in her late twenties. She remembered fondly, sometimes, being boy ludicrous. It had been some years and she was finally getting over Jake. Sullivan started to notice all the different shapes, sizes, and sexiness of all the men that just, caught her attention.

As if she were the main character in a young adult novel she found the fondness of an Executive Chef in this swanky high end new restaurant. Places like this had titles like, Executive Chef, Sous Chef, there was no such title of line cook. Executive Chef Ethan Entrist was tall, had a great smile, and made these incredibly delicious Butternut Squash Manicottis. Red Velvet Cakes, Kobe Beef Sliders, sensuality oozed from him and onto the plates he created. Executive Chef Ethan electrified and enlivened Sullivan’s emerald eyes.

She ended up spending more time in the kitchen than behind the bar. The nightclub and dinner crowd didn’t come in until late in this expensive part of town. And she arrived at work at three, sometimes earlier, for her own agenda.

It wasn’t long before she and Ethan were bringing heat into the walk in cooler.

It was about three months in, working two jobs, hot weekends spent with Chef Ethan. Awake all hours of the night, they went for drinks, dinners, dancing. Then Sullivan, as fast as she fell into love, she fell into hate. Chef Ethan dropped a bomb in between his amorous appeal and midnight moves. Casually without thought he mentioned his wife. And the uppercut in the ring caught Sulli in the chin. Married?! When? How? Why?!

That same day Sullivan was crushed with the truth, the bitter, biting truth that tasted nothing like Butternut Squash Manicotti’s, she punched Ethan in the gut. He left a Red Velvet Cake on the edge of the bar, an apology Sullivan supposed. There’s not a cake in the world that would make Sullivan forget a marriage, another woman, a lifetime promise, a huge commitment. She threw it in the garbage and walked out the back door of the swanky high end nightclub/restaurant.

The illusion of a better life, a beautiful life on the other side of town, far from the neighborhood with the highway through the middle, was shattered. She thought of the book her mother read to her when she was young, ‘Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very bad Day’. They have bad days, even in Australia. Sullivan laughed to herself at the book from her youth. She had become Alexander.

She went back to hardscrabble farm, the safety of Straub’s beer and Fish and her far simpler home. Picked up a part time job in Mount Washington, her home turf, a simple beer and shot bar on Shiloh Street. If Ethan left her with anything besides bitterness it was this one quote that has stuck with her thirteen years later.

‘The days are long, but the years are short.’ He said with his slick, cute, selfish, talented self.

Sullivan snapped out of her memory. It was time to go. Ethan was right. The days are long and the years are short. Time to go, plan, prepare, live.

Sullivan put down her headphones and put on her boxing gloves. It was, Monday morning after all.

Drinks Like Fish

Sullivan had been driving around on a complete mission to find a charger for her laptop. It died and somehow the little plug thingies flicked off. And no more laptop. Since she wasn’t quite ready to be mobile for all her information. She needed her laptop. She was jonesing for her laptop like an opiate victim who ran out of Vicodin.

Sull felt herself being pulled into the dark memories of her mind again. She drove through the North Hills. Battling to stay in the present while the memories of the past were starting to haunt her again.

It was just beginning to be winter in Pittsburgh. We were well into January and still having the occasional fifty to seventy degree days. People cheered for the nice weather during this time. Sulli longed for the days winter started at the end of October. Winter would whisper in on Halloween, beginning of November at the latest. Those were the days, winter wonderlands and white Christmas’s.

‘The Blizzard of ’93’ was the last time Sullivan could remember still feeling like a child. Making snow chairs just by flopping into the snow butt first. It was such a large snow it shut down the whole city. Sulli longed for a day like that. For the snow. For the smell. For a moment everybody stopped and had no where to go. Sulli is stuck in the nostalgia of her memory. Those were the days, the days of sweet bliss and ignorance. 1993 is pretty far back, Sulli started thinking about 2003… then 2004….

It was right around the time Dawn Marie died and Jake had broken up with Sullivan and her whole world was thrown into a tizzy again. Just like that the two people she was closest with blown away with just a small gust of wind. Her bosses words whispered to her again, ‘Everything changes but change itself, Sullivan. Get used to it.’

She was working as a bartender downtown in what was known as the Cultural District. It was a swanky, higher end restaurant called The 7th Street Grille. It wasn’t fine dining but it wasn’t a ‘diner apparel’ restaurant either. During the day everyone wore suits or what was referred to as ‘business casual dress’, whatever the fuck that meant. Sullivan wore all black. From the age of twenty-two until thirty, she wore all black. It was appropriate for work as well as her decade long depression and mania.

At night 7th Street became more social. They weren’t doing business deals over salads and soup. Now it was martinis and filet with Au Poirve sauce. It was all about social class at this point in the evening. You could tell where the folks sat in the fancy theater across the street, by what they ordered on the menu.

Sulli had trained under, Robert, one of the best bartenders in the city, voted two years in a row. She was behind the bar with a spunky, out spoken, tell it like it is, crazy, lovable, red head. Her name was Kerry. She became one of her best friends. Sulli felt pulled towards other red heads. They had a bond. As if their hair color meant forever friendship, and it usually did. Sullivan could rely on the thoughts of her hair follicles more than she could rely on her own clouded judgement.

She met many friends through the years in the service industry. During the days she cares for her father she doesn’t hear from many of them anymore but she still has people like Kerry close to her. They spent many nights washing dirty glasses and laughing at inside jokes together behind the close quarters of the bar on 7th street. She was also in Kerry’s wedding. She married a marine. It was this relationship with Kerry that opened Sullivan’s eyes to the 2003 Invasion of Iraq. Getting to see a soldier come home from war after a tour of duty. Just a minute ago they were all kids drinking Jager bombs and Yuengling and now this. It made her realize the war her generation was battling, it felt comparable to the viciousness of Vietnam. Kerry was a strong woman and Sullivan loved her for her strength and spunk and ability to drop some witty one liners. As well as take care of a family, a marriage, a marine, tour after tour.

As Sullivan trained to become an accurate, fancy, fun bartender she also trained to drink. She watched as the older gentleman who worked in the theaters come in after a shift and order Makers Mark on the rocks, Stoli and sodas, hold the fruit. The younger theater crowd ordered Grey Goose dirty martinis, French Martinis with Stoli Vanilla, One Eyed Samuri’s with muddled sage and Absolute Pear.

But Sulli became infatuated with studying the older gentleman. She took notes on how they drank, she already knew why they drank. They were snide, snarky, and didn’t accept just anyone into their own personal social circle, you had to be invited. Talking to any of them without an invitation would just garner a dirty look and absolute silence. Sulli liked this about them. She got good at acting like she didn’t care. Just like that, she became just like them.

Sullivan’s favorite gentleman was Kenny, AKA Fish. A nickname that was so common no one knew his real name, because he drank like a fish, he was Fish. Slay me with creativity why don’t you.

Fish enjoyed bottle after bottle of Rolling Rock until the distillery sold to a larger beer company. Once Rolling Rock stopped brewing in the Lancaster area Fish put down the Rolling Rock bottle faster than he dumped his second wife. He was fiercely loyal, twice as stubborn, and completely enamored with Sullivan. He was cranky, cantankerous, and she did admit to herself, he was her favorite that came into the 7th Street Grille.

Over time as Sullivan set down Straub’s beer after beer in front of Fish they got to know each other very well. They spent time having drinks together when her shift was done. She helped him take care of all the football pools he distributed around the theater workers union, as well as other local bars downtown. Sullivan would often tease Fish about getting busted for running his gambling games out from under his Fedora. But he ran the best sports pools including football, horse races, hell, even golf made it’s way into the famous Fish pools.

Fish was Sullivan’s ticket into the boys club. When 7th Street closed he got her a job at Verdetto’s. It was a well liked, privately owned, nostalgic bar in the middle of Northside. Sulli never thought about what would happen to a neighborhood if someone were to build a highway right through the middle of it. But she witnessed it herself when she plopped down for seven years of employment at Verdetto’s, right next to heroin alley and hardscrabble farm.

It would be at Verdetto’s Sulli didn’t engulf herself in drugs or fall in love or even advance her career. But it did provide years of blackouts from too much whiskey and too little sleep. She counted on the old men at her bar to keep money in her pocket daily as she flopped down in her bed every night at 2AM and passed out.

She didn’t need any love, any heartache, any death. She found the bottom of the bottle. But somehow death would find her again. No matter how much she drank.

‘This will fit my computer right?’

‘Sure it’s a universal charger!’ Spunky little twenty something.


Sulli was well on her way home now. She text Fish on her way home, she was fondly remembering their first years together. She laughed about her Dad asking her Did you know Fish had a twenty something girlfriend?!!’

No he did not! Sulli busted a chuckle.

Fish and the bottle. It did fill her up for a while.

And then one night, after another fucking wedding, Sullivan ran into a childhood friend. Megan Yeager. And death found her again.

Regurgitation Road

Ah yes, 2004, another fantastic fucking year, family disappearing, dropping dead, leaving Sullivan alone….aaaaagain. Shit, even her dog died that year, the all powerful Zeus. She couldn’t help but get lost in the dark thoughts of that year, wandering around in her own corroded and confusing, cognizance. Thoughts put away with lock and key in the back of her blurred and bleary brain.

She waded through the cobwebs and the rants of jumbled words flying past her. Finally there it was, the attic door of her own house, she opened it, and like Pandora’s box, everything came flying out.

Sullivan still wasn’t comfortable staying in this damned, dreary, depressing, dark dwelling again. She had to get out of this house. She was running around with Beth everyday since her and Jake were dunzo.

Jake and Sulli never liked to drink alcohol like the rest of their friends. They never took an interest in it and were just happy hanging out and drinking a ton of Pepsi and watching movies. Having fun playing house and living together they developed a routine like an old married couple. It was when they ended up working in the same restaurant, that quickly led to ending up ending everything all together. Crazy, stupid, love, only no Ryan Gosling.

Sulli had become a top notch server and was well on her way to being an excellent bartender. She knew working together was a bad idea, but they probably would’ve broken up eventually anyway. In her generation it was unlikely two people who lost their virginity to each other would stay in it for the long haul. She wished they would have, even nowadays sometimes, but rarely admitted that to herself.

Jake was now married with children and Sullivan somehow managed to always keep a guy at arms length and call him boyfriend. She hadn’t realized it yet but she had already become really good at pushing people away and making sure they thought she was an asshole. She was, but only because she was very good at acting like she didn’t care.

As many people as she disappointed, disengaged, dropped, and detached, they did not suffer more than Sullivan.

She did care, the little voice inside her would say, she cared a lot, but don’t let anyone know, the little voice would whisper at the end. After Jake it was nothing but heartache and tragedy for Sulli. She was smart enough to make people run, dumb enough to be surprised when they did.

Sullivan believed in Hell on Earth. There had to be a reason for all of it. Sulli had definitely not figured it out yet. And even in present day, still hadn’t got the whole puzzle together.

Beth, on the other hand, always seemed to have her puzzle together. She was currently juggling two men. She wasn’t sure about her boyfriend anymore and was hanging out with this guy Cooper on the side. We called him Coop. Sulli liked him a lot, she was rooting for him to sweep Beth off her feet. He was a big, cuddly bear. He always had nice shoes and a freshly washed and ironed matching outfit. He could wear white all day, eat a bowl of spaghetti, and not get a single slop of sauce on his spotless suit. He had no problem carting Beth and Sulli around, picking them up in Mount Washington, being the designated driver all the time, paying for meals and drinks and cigarettes. Since Sullivan’s Mom died she had taken up smoking a pack a day. Now that her and Jake were broken up she had taken up drinking too. She hated it, and her stomach hated it more, but it was something to take her mind off the loneliness.

‘Where we headed?’ Coop asked the girls.

‘Up to you.’ answered Beth.

Sulli was squashed in the back of his pickup truck. The third wheel for sure. They ended up going back to Cooper’s house. They made cheeseburgers and drank Coronas. Sulli drank enough Corona to make her pass out in the sleeping bag on Coop’s floor. Beth and Cooper had retreated to the back room of his loft. Sulli slept hard from the beer. The next morning she woke with the sun. It complimented her piercing headache and cramps from vomiting ten Corona’s and two cheeseburgers. She couldn’t eat a cheeseburger for years after that and never ever had another Corona.

Sulli’s phone died sometime last night. She got some juice from a quick charge at Cooper’s house before they left for lunch. She never bothered to tell her Dad where she was going or when she would be back so she expected the usual voicemail from her father. ‘Sullivan, this is your Dad, you should’ve called and told me you wouldn’t be home last night.’

It happened while they sat in the restaurant they went to for brunch. It was a regular spot for Beth and Sulli. It was a one of those chain restaurants with all the crap on the walls and random, arbitrary items like the rocking horse in the foyer. They didn’t have to look at menus and were known as regulars to the bar staff.

Sulli ordered a simple soup and salad, specifically, a third street salad and french onion soup.

Moments like these were snapshots. It’s like when 9/11 happened. You remember exactly where you were, what you were wearing, what it smelled like, who you were with. Everything locked in your memory, a mental snapshot. This was one of those moments for Sulli. She recalled it as vivid as the day it happened.

‘My phone is finally able to turn on again guys!’ As soon as Sulli said the words and turned on her phone it was machine gun notifications, bing, bing, bing, bing, bing. Her Dad and brother had left so many messages. She listened to the first one. Sulli expected one voicemail and feared they would all be from her father getting more and more pissed that she hadn’t called all night. She slipped out of the booth and around the corner, Coop and Beth out of earshot. She was now standing in front of a small bathtub turned into a serve yourself ‘all you can eat ice cream bar’ for the kiddies. This place was nuts. And there were nuts on the bathtub ice cream bar ironically.

‘Hey Sull, this is your Dad, call me as soon as you get this.’ Sulli thought it was funny, every voicemail her Dad ever left her from past to present he announced who he was on the recording as if she would get him confused with someone else.

The next message, her brother. He never called, never, ever left a message. He urged her to call either him or Sulli’s father immediately. Sulli crept out of the booth, unnoticed, as Beth and Cooper carried on, laughing at their inside jokes.

‘Dad, what’s up? I got ninety five voicemails from you AND Roger.’

‘Sullivan. Where are you? You gotta come home right now. Dawn Marie passed away last night.’

The words rang through her ears and screamed through her brain and landed her right back where she started that morning. She ran to the bathroom and regurgitated her lunch as if she could expel the words that kept running through her head.

Sullivan snapped back to life. Realized she was lost in thought again. She was gripping her stomach thinking about ever eating a Third Street Salad or French Onion Soup again. She looked at her watch. It was time to go pick up Jude. Bathtub icecream, she thought, what a weirdo place to eat.


Sulli was sitting in floor two of Hillman Center. It’s funny how things that seem so out of the ordinary become so normal after doing them for so long. Suppose that’s how people learn to juggle, tame lions, date losers. We adapt, part of the human spirit. Sulli’s human spirit was as adaptable as fuck, for lack of a better term. Dad was hooked up to receive fluids and the nurse had just come by to draw blood. Sulli remembered how just three months ago it was shocking to think he would ever need a feeding tube or that the nurse would have trouble finding a vein. Once again, something so strange, so far from believable just months ago, was now as routine as taking Jude to school.

‘You brought your laptop huh? What are you writing about?’ He croaked. His voice was different after all his radiation. Everything was different after all the radiation. Head and neck cancer was something that never existed until it poisoned Dad’s body and mind.

Sulli shrugged. Best not to tell him the grim thoughts flowing through her mind and laptop everyday.

Not a second later and Dad had already fallen asleep. He was such a light sleeper now, just looking at him too long would wake him up. In her twenties she could come and go as she pleased, all hours of the night and morning, he never budged. Hell, she even threw a couple after hours parties while he was dreaming.

She had stopped typing and watched the young nurses buzz around the other patients. She knew the chemotherapy treatment the unlucky patients endured were gruesome. Looking around, some of them looked on the edge of death, bodies showing collateral damage from the war in their bodies. Others had no idea what was ahead of them, still carrying a normal weight, color in their faces, chatting away, one patient still even able to eat soup.

Sulli thought about Jude’s inquiry about her sister. He wasn’t going to let up and she was glad. It gave her a reason to remember. She locked memories away so tightly she wasn’t sure she even had the key anymore.

Dawn Marie, her only sister, her older sister, was a wild child. A hard act to follow. Thirteen years older, she was reckless, rebellious, and the coolest woman Sulli ever had the privilege of knowing, and loving. All those years Sulli lived with Jake she was right around the corner from Dawn Marie. She saw sweet Sulli fall in love for the first time and provided plenty of ribbing. Dawn showing her love by teasing the dreamy eyed teenagers in love. Sulli would stop at Dawn Marie’s work. She was a bartender at a strip club. A seedy strip club with see through heels and teddies as normal, everyday work attire. Except for Dawn Marie. She was regularly in glasses, oversized flannel shirts, and Levi’s.

‘If I ever see you up there I will kick your little ass!!’ She would yell, pointing to the disco dance floor. Three gold poles were strategically placed on the stage and electronic dance music played loudly.

The show will always go on.

Sulli would never be a stripper. Saturated in sweaters and layered t-shirts, Sulli was uncomfortable in a tank top or sandals. She was introverted, always smiling, the crazy fox. The layers of clothing hung from her small, skinny frame.

The friends of Dawn Marie’s, especially the strippers, always had the darkness in their eyes. It was hard for them to smile. They distracted and hid it by taking all their clothes off for strangers. Sulli understood them in a strange way.

She never wondered what they had been through and how they ended up dancing for men to bad music and bad lighting. Money, broken hearts, broken families, to name a few reasons. Life and it’s good friend Irony making stripping an appealing option somehow.

Dawn Marie was a tough on the outside, mushy on the inside person. The outer layer wasn’t broken easily but Sulli never had a problem, and neither did all the girls at the club. She was brazen, bold, outlandish, and didn’t take shit from anyone. They were a lot alike, Sulli and Dawn Marie, scarily so. She became sort of a mother to Sulli but stayed a sister first. Closer than ever after their mother died, Dawn Marie showed her how much she had to live up to, strength, tough as nails, but loving, unabashedly, even after a dark day.

Sulli smiled thinking about all the things Dawn Marie did while they were growing up. Drove her Dad nuts. It wasn’t just her rebellious wandering ways and difficult domination and drama. Dawn Marie had epilepsy, severe epilepsy. It required heavy medication, it effected who she was, how she felt, and she absolutely hated it. She would rather have a grand maul seizure everyday than keep taking the medications.

Sulli thought of the similarity between epilepsy and head and neck cancer. Draping her family with information about torturous health issues, plaguing Sulli, Dad, Dawn Marie. Hurt them, even worse, killed them.

The seizures Dawn Marie endured were severe. Sulli didn’t learn that until she was older. She didn’t really understand everything that went on with Dawn and her parents. She was only Jude’s age at the time. She could remember a hazy scene of her mother shoving Dawn to the ground while sticking a pillow underneath her to soften the fall. She didn’t remember the tremors Dawn Marie would suffer. Violently shaking while Mom and Dad supported her and helped her until another Grand Maul’s violation passed.

She wouldn’t tell Jude about the tremors, the seizures, the suffering. She would tell him….Dawn Marie introduced her to the Rolling Stones and 80’s hair bands. Taught her how to pin her hair back, take care of records, play them carefully on the record player. Loudly. How to enjoy life, sleep in whenever she could, enjoy everyday. She had all her friends sign their names on her walls in her bedroom. She lived in the attic and to this day Sulli recalls it being a teenager’s dream room.

Reckless, rebellious Dawn Marie. She was kicked out of three highschools before earning her GED and moving out of the house. Sulli’s parents just couldn’t take her wild ways anymore and Dawn Marie was ready to get on her own. Sulli still thinks she is the coolest person ever. A woman no one would want to cross, but everyone loved. That’s what she’d tell Jude.

Sulli looked over and her Dad was still sleeping. She started to daydream about Dawn Marie again. Her eyes glazed over and she wasn’t in Hillman anymore, it was 2004, she had just broken up with Jake and knew her sister would help her get through this.

Smell of Sunshine

Sulli felt it happening again. She was hypnotized and her eyes glazed over. Remembering the summer after she barely graduated high school, it was ’99 … just turned 18.

She rolled over in bed. Hate this bed. Hate this house. Hate this quiet, darkness. It took over every empty corner, neglected room. Dad had become a ghost just like her mother. She never saw him. When she did he was rushing around somewhere, grumbling about something, frowning. The lines on his face had grown deeper. Two strangers thrown living together, her family had fallen apart in just months. Her brother was at college, she never knew him anyway. Her sister moved out years ago, across two rivers, may as well have been two states. A once bustling and lively household was now cold, empty, lifeless. The happy memories were stuffed in a box and shoved in the dark basement.

Sulli’s phone rang. It was Beth, she knew it was Beth, it was always Beth. She had a plan for today, and she was break of day early, always.

She was a stickler for plans and timeliness, rarely swayed from her routine, and was always ready to make the most of a day off. Sulli counted on her for all of the above, as long as she could anyway. She slowly learned Beth was not the only mastermind. All of her peers had prepared a projection of sorts. Short term strategies, long term timelines, intentions arranged, formulating futures.

Sulli found somewhere between closely counted college credits and detailed designs for downtime and drinks, decisions grew larger with age.

Each year was a higher ante in the pot, poker faces all around. Agendas were crafted carefully by each of Sulli’s friends. College, career, family. Sulli always thought them fools, even Beth, for making so many plans. Laughing to herself, how much faith they put in the future, how little credit they gave to life’s surprises. Life and it’s good friend Irony, making you the punchline to their inside jokes. Had nobody heard of Oedipus?

As they got older Sulli’s friends pulled it off, plots and plans of all kinds. Houses turned to homes, precious paper proving perfect performance. And then came the weddings. Sulli felt like the Grinch of grooms and gowns. Watching from the sidelines while her friends won the game. Maybe it was because Sulli’s future failed before she even envisioned one. Maybe it was because she couldn’t commit to dinner at breakfast, the future was now, right? Maybe it was because her heart shrunk three sizes that dreaded day of death and derailment.Whatever it was, Sulli was stuck sulking attending her own carefully crafted pity party… one please.

Beth called or showed up at Sulli’s house every morning. If it wasn’t for Beth Sulli would never have graduated high school. She was like a bodyguard for Sulli throughout their senior year. She shielded Sulli from almost all the looks. The sad eyes that made Sulli feel like a three legged dog, missing an eye, orphaned, left at the pound.

‘Hello!!!!! Sulli!!!! Wake up!!!!’ Beth screamed at Sulli through the phone.

There was no arguing with Beth. She was a go-getter, certain to be the CEO of a company one day. She was bossy, controlling, smart, and beautiful. Sulli would’ve loathed her with jealousy if they hadn’t met when they were five. Her long blonde hair was shiny and straight, she had big blue eyes, and a perfect smile. The boys were wild for Beth and approached Sulli to be their advocate. But she never wanted for any of the boys that solicited Sulli for her love and affection. Beth always was attached to someone, always had an exclusive boyfriend. Although Sulli joked about loathing Beth for her looks she wasn’t just another fancy face. She loved Beth for being mature, loyal, loving, forgiving, and fiery. They rarely had a fight due to the damage they were both capable of doing. Secrets remained such and respect was utmost, it was tough to have other friends after Beth. The standard was high.

She picked Beth up at her house only two blocks away. Beth played co-pilot and deejay switching out Cd’s and blasting music all the way to the wave pool. She always knew how to have a good time and always snapped Sulli out of what she cleverly called, ‘The Sulli Sulk’. She taught Sulli how to do her make up, got her out of bed, and always guarenteed fun. She looked over as Beth started dancing and they both laughed. She loved how Beth made her remember she was a teenager, without a care in the world. She considered her family and Beth’s family took Sulli right in, anytime, and all the time.

Sulli to this day was close with Beth. She doesn’t know if Beth really understands how much she means to Sulli and how much she had helped her in the past but she always tells Beth ‘I love you’ and rambles on to Beth about the deepness of their relationship. Beth has become the CEO Sulli always knew she would be, and in her adulthood has put up many cold walls herself. The men that always were by Beth’s side made her that way. She was happy now but a shadow of darkness was in her eyes too. Life threw out Beth’s big plans too but that didn’t deter Beth the way it had Sulli. She really was something, a beautiful anomaly, no doubt.

They parked and went into the wave pool to set up shop. It was the perfect summer day, smelled of sunscreen and sunshine. Today ended up being one of those days that changed Sulli’s world, like the warm breeze, it wasn’t death stepping into Sulli’s heart this time.

It was the first time she would ever feel butterflies in her stomach. The first time she would look at a man and think of the excitement of lip locking and love. It was her first. And she met him as he hung, soaking wet, battered by the man made waves of the pool. Like a bad romantic movie he came up from the water and carelessly brushed his wet hair out of his eyes. They were huge brown eyes with glints of yellow and green as the sun shone in them. He smiled and laughed as he hung on through the end of the waves. Sulli let him and as the waves stopped took her chance to introduce herself.

His name was Jake. Not Jacob. Not Jacoby. Just Jake. And she loved him right then and there in the sunshine and the sweet smell of summer and sun tan oil. His brother who was older, more handsome by mainstream standards, and far more confident, was already making the moves on Beth. She didn’t seem to mind either. They were invited to a party at their house that weekend.

From that weekend sprouted years of love between Sulli and Jake. He took the place of Beth, of Sulli’s father, and became Sulli’s entire life. They lived together eventually. She moved in with his brother and his Dad. They accepted her as part of the family. Sulli and Jake were sure to get married but love doesn’t work that way in real life. They were too young, Sulli was too curious, and one day it all came to a bitter end. He wanted nothing to do with Sulli anymore. After five years of love and a life Sulli thought was going to last forever. It was gone. Just like her mother.


Sulli snapped out of it. Jude was dressed in his reindeer pajamas.

‘Tell me more about your siiiiiiister….’ Jude not having any siblings filled him with more questions on what it was like to have one.

Sulli remembers how she passed away two weeks after she and Jake broke up. It was the finality of their break up. He refused to come to the viewing, funeral, wake, anything. She was back into the house of darkness and that blow in the ring hit Sulli with an uppercut. Almost a knock out.

‘I’ll tell you tomorrow Jude, it’s time for bed.’

Christmas was just a few days away. Sulli was back in the house she once hated, hearing Irony snickering at her again. But raising her son created a whole new feeling to it. Jude brought light to the dark house. Sulli couldn’t do it without him. Her Dad lay downstairs recovering from his own battle, cancer and equally difficult, cancer treatment. She could here him silently praying every night that the cancer was gone.

She fell asleep quickly after Jude and had trippy dreams of ancient, haunting love. Awake at dawn, she stepped outside to enjoy the crisp December quiet. Shaking off her strange sleep Sulli took a deep breath, it smelled of nothing but sunshine and tanning oil.


Sulli stared over at Jude. Sleeping like a little angel, quiet, innocent, pure. She didn’t often feel like ‘mother’ was a title she loudly proclaimed as other women did. She often times felt like ‘mother f*****’ was a more obvious title and at times a title she proudly embraced. Sulli quietly giggled at her self deprecating joke. It was another reminder that Sulli was different. There were mothers her age that carefully planned and worked so hard to gain the title. They looked forward to the day they would become ‘mother’ and could give their mothers the gift of ‘grandmother’. The acknowledgement of mothers and grandmothers would just remind Sulli of what she was missing. There are enough reminders of that. Sulli, the motherless mother who never planned for anything and just let life kick her around like a soccer ball. Sulli decided long ago making plans was not her forte. What’s the point in making big plans? It’s like setting up dominoes. Tediously, assembling one little rectangle after another, creating a long, intricate path of carefully placed game pieces. Only to have one wrong move, a large gust of wind, a jerk of the elbow, knock each and every domino down in mere seconds. Big plans, big disappointments.

As she sat staring at Jude the television was quietly on in the background. Sulli tuned in when she heard the term ‘inner fitness’. What the hell was inner fitness? A woman named Tina Lifford was on doing an interview about a book she had written.

‘So many of us have been living our lives in survival mode. And survival mode has you just dealing with whats in front of you. But to actually live your best life. To make sure you don’t leave your life on the table. You have to be pro-active. Inner fitness is being fit on the inside. Developing mental, emotional, and spirtual skills and practices that support you. So you can strive instead of survive.’ ,Tina Lifford spoke. ‘Anytime we tell ourselves we aren’t good enough, that’s a lie. Anytime a person, event, or experience left you feeling not good enough, disconnected from yourself and your sense of what’s possible for your life. They left us with a dark spot. You are bigger than any experience, it does not define you. It lifts you up.’

Experiences did define Sulli. Maybe Tina Lifford never experienced loss that was as devastating as a natural disaster. Those losses changed Sulli and shaped her into the person she was today. Maybe Tina Lifford was right and Sulli just never learned ‘inner fitness’. If that was true why did valuable and helpful information always reach Sulli just a little too late? Perhaps it was Irony again. Irony! Life’s best friend and most trusted teacher. Sulli laughed. Once again vital, valuable information that Sulli learned through another knock out in her theoretical boxing ring. How to maintain , navigate through negativity, sail safely back to sanity. There it was, right in front of her on the television, right in Tina Lifford’s book.

But then again, Sulli liked who she had become, she had ‘inner fitness’. She went round after round. She keeps getting back up. Sulli now embraces her too big smile, it’s plastered on her face all the time.

‘How are you always smiling?’ People ask.

‘It’s because I’m crazy.’ They laugh at Sulli’s answer. But she’s serious. Crazy, crazy like an old man who tripped out too much in the seventies. Crazy like someone in love. Crazy like a fox.

Sulli smiled widely, Tina Lifford had one less person in the world that would be purchasing her book. Without ‘inner fitness’ this crazy fox would still smile, everyday.