Little Jennifer Lipton fought a daily battle against two demons: her father and mother. The reason that she saw her parents as demons was because every night after she went to bed, her parents would get drunk and argue. Jennifer’s defense against them was to hide under her bedsheets, close her eyes tightly and say to herself: “Please stop it! Please stop it!” until she managed to finally fall asleep. Because these fights between her parents would sometimes go on for hours, when Jennifer woke up to go to school, she would have to fend for herself by making her own breakfast, which was usually cold cereal, and her own lunch. Before she left to catch the school bus, she would go into her parents’ bedroom to make sure that they were awake and getting ready for work. If they were not, then instead of trying to wake them, she would turn on the alarm clock and leave the room.
Jennifer would sometimes have problems at school because she would fall asleep in class. Whenever one of her teachers asked if everything was alright at home, Jennifer would tell the teacher that everything was OK. Jennifer hated to lie to them but, she had seen what had happened to other children who were in her same situation. She did not want to get her parents in trouble because she did not want to be put in foster care. Even though she did not have any siblings, Jennifer had been told by her best friend, Tanya Wilmington, about her cousin whose parents beat him and who had been put into a foster home. She told Jennifer that he had been put in a home where the parents had four other children and he had been treated like a servant. The other kids had told the parents lies about him so that he would get in trouble for the bad things that they had done. He eventually ran away from the home and accepted a ride from a stranger who had molested him and then threw his body into an icy river. This story was the main reason that Jennifer decided to fight off the demons on her own and why she never turned her parents into the authorities. Jennifer decided that since she was on her own in this battle, that she would fight it her way and, since, thankfully, her parents didn’t beat her, then she would find a way to stay strong.
By the time that Jennifer had reached puberty, she had quit hiding under her covers and quit praying for her parents to stop. She, in essence, accepted her life for what it was: a child having to became the adult of the family. Jennifer was the one who, when she got home from school, would clean the house, wash the dishes, do the laundry, and take out the trash. She never joined any after school activities and she eventually lost her friendship with Tanya Wilmington. When Tanya had threatened to tell the school principal about Jennifer’s parents, the two girls had got into a big fight and Jennifer told Tanya to never speak to her again. And she didn’t. She also did not tell the principal about Jennifer’s parents since she felt that Jennifer got what she deserved. In the back of her mind, Jennifer felt the same way, but she never complained.
One New Year’s Eve, as Jennifer was was watching Dick Clark on TV, her parents came down the stairs dressed to go to a New Years party. Her mother came into the living room and said,
“Happy New Year, darling. Now, don’t stay up too late. Your father and I will probably be home by one o’clock and…”
“Christ! Joyce, come on, we don’t have all night!”
“Give me a moment, Henry, I’m just talking to our daughter for Christ’s sake!”
“Well, make it quick! I want to make a good impression on my boss by showing up on time.”
“Don’t worry, we’ll be on time! Now, Jen darling, be a good girl and don’t have any boys over.”
“Moooom, don’t worry, just go.”
“Alright, darling. There’s a frozen dinner in the fridge if you get hungry.”
“ALRIGHT, ALRIGHT!!! I’m coming!!!”
Her mother gave Jennifer a small smile, kissed her on her forehead and left. Jennifer gave her mother a small wave and then returned her attention back to the television. During a commercial break, she went into the kitchen and put one of the frozen dinners into the microwave. It was one of her favorites: Turkey, stuffing, peas, and cranberry sauce. After finishing her dinner and throwing away the aluminum tray, Jennifer grabbed another soda and, deciding that they was nothing really worth watching on TV, went up to her room and started to read a book. Around 10:30, Jennifer fell asleep.
The door bell woke Jennifer up and she groggily went downstairs to see who was at the front door. Because of the late hour, before she opened the door, Jennifer asked who was it. A man’s voice asked if her name was Jennifer Lipton, she said it was and he said that he was Officer Garcia and that he had come to speak to her about her parents. Jennifer unlocked the door and unlatched the hatch and opened the door about an inch to make sure that it wasn’t some psycho trying to trick her. She looked at the officer and saw his police car with the red flashing light parked in the street. A couple of their neighbors were standing on their lawns, talking among themselves.
“Jennifer, may we come in?” Officer Garcia said. Jennifer noticed that there was a female office standing slightly behind him.
“Yes. What’s the matter? Is it about my parents? Did they get arrested again?”
“I’m afraid that it’s more serious that that.”
Jennifer opened the door wider so that the two officers could enter and led them to the living room. Jennifer’s manners took hold of her and she asked the officers would care for a soda. They both declined and Officer Garcia asked Jennifer to have a seat.
“This is my partner, Officer Morris. I’m afraid that we have come to let you know that your parents were killed in a car crash. They were, apparently, returning from a party, ran a red light, and were broadsided by a drunk driver. We need to know, is there anyone else who lives here?”
“No, just me. Will I have to go identify their bodies, like they do on TV?” she calmly asked.
“No, you won’t. We need to know if you have any other family members who live in town that you can stay with.”
Jennifer was conflicted at this point since the only near-by relative she had was her grandmother on her father’s side, and how she found herself not breaking down in tears. Jennifer told the officers that her grandmother lived two miles away but did not have a car. She gave Officer Morris her grandmother’s address and phone number and the officer told her that she would have her grandmother brought over to stay with her. Jennifer just nodded her head in understanding. The two officers told Jennifer that they were sorry for her loss and left. Jennifer closed the door and automatically locked it and latched it. She then went back to the living room, sat on the sofa, and turned on the television. She didn’t really pay attention to what was on; she thought only about the fact that now she was an orphan. All thoughts about her parents were forgotten.
Four years later, Jennifer was graduating from high school and preparing to go to college. Her grandmother had been a big comfort to Jennifer when her parents had died, but now she was in the beginning throes of Alzheimer’s. Before her memories started to leave her, Jennifer’s grandmother had changed her will, so that Jennifer would be well-provided for after her death. Jennifer did not like to think about all of that and she had almost decided against going to college, but her grandmother insisted that she go. With all of these considerations taken care of, Jennifer wheeled her grandmother’s wheelchair to the front of the auditorium and stayed to talk and reassure her while the nurse brought the old woman’s blanket from the car. When the nurse came up to them, Jennifer kissed her grandmother on her forehead and went to get in line.
“So, Jenny, will you be able to come to my party tonight? Jeff Dalton will be there.” Tanya asked her.
“Well, it depends on how well my grandmother is doing. If the nurse says that she will be able to handle her by herself, then I’ll stop by for a little while.”
“Good, and don’t worry. I am only allowing sodas at the party.”
“Thank you, Tanya. I appreciate that.”
“No prob. My mom is going to be there to enforce the ‘No drinking’ rule. Not that I don’t appreciate it but I would like to think that since I’m 18 she would trust me, but I guess that’s what moms are for; to limit their kid’s fun.”
“Now, Tanya. Don’t be like that. At least your mother isn’t a drunk like mine was.”
“Oh, Jen, I didn’t mean to…”
“I know you didn’t Tanya. I was just…”
“Jennifer Tipton!” The principal called her name and Jennifer turned her head around and mounted the stairs up to the stage in order to get her diploma. The principal shook her hand, handed her the diploma, and Jennifer walked offstage.
Four hours later, Jennifer drove up to Tanya Wilmington’s house. She had told the nurse where she would be and given her Tanya’s phone number just as a precaution. When she rang the doorbell, Tanya’s mother answered the door.
“Oh, Jenny, it’s so nice to see you. How is your grandmother?”
“She’s doing alright for now. Thank you for asking, Mrs. Wilmington.”
“I’m glad to hear it. Tanya is out in the backyard, helping her father with the bar-b-q. There’s two coolers in the back with bottled water and soda, so help yourself.”
“Thank you.” Jennifer made her way through the crowd of her classmates who were talking and dancing in the living room. The sliding glass door was open and Jennifer walked out onto the patio. A few feet away to the left, she saw Tanya and her father organizing hamburgers and hot dogs on some plates. Jennifer walked up to them.
“Do you need any help?” she asked.
“Oh, Jen, good, you’re here. No thanks, we’re doing fine. Help yourself to a soda.” Tanya said and then, pretending to show her where the coolers were, whispered,
“Have you seen Jeff yet?”
“No, I just got here. Where is he?”
Tanya looked around and, not seeing Jeff Dalton, said,
“Maybe he went back in the house. Why don’t you go check?”
Jennifer knew that Tanya was trying to get her and Jeff together because Jeff was her favorite cousin and she felt that it was only right that her best friend and favorite cousin should be together. Jennifer was not averse to the idea since she did think that Jeff was cute. Just as she walked back into the house, she saw Jeff coming down the stairs. She shyly walked up to her and said, “hello.”.
“Jen, great to see you! Have you been here long?”
“No, just about five minutes.”
“Great! So do you have anything planned for the summer?”
“Not really. Everything depends on how my grandmother is doing.”
“Oh, geez, I’m sorry! I forgot about your grandmother, my bad.”
“That’s alright. Do you have any plans for the summer?”
“Well, some of my friends and I have been talking about going to Palm Beach, but I’m a little short of cash. I may end up having to get a summer job instead if I can’t get my parents to help me out.”
“Palm Beach sounds nice.”
Just at that moment, one of Jeff’s friends walked up to them and said something to Jeff.
“Will you excuse me for a moment, Jen? Dave needs me to help him with something.”
“No, that’s fine. I’ll catch you later.”
Jeff gave her a beautiful smile and a nod and walked away with his friend, Dave. Jennifer picked up her soda can and walked back out to the patio and towards Tanya, who was putting plastic plates on a picnic table. Her father was working on a second batch of hamburgers and her mother was letting some of the kids know that the food was ready when they were. Tanya walked over to Jennifer and said,
“So, did you find Jeff?”
“Yes, I did. We just talked about what we were going to do for the summer. Did you know that he was thinking about going to Palm Beach with his friends?”
“He won’t. His parents won’t give him the money for the trip.”
“How do you know?”
“Because they don’t think that it’s a good idea for him and his friends to be unsupervised. They’ve heard all the stories about Spring Break and think that he’ll get into trouble. Grab a plate and some food and let’s sit down.”
Jennifer and Tanya sat down and talked. Jennifer had just finished a hamburger, when Mrs. Wilmington walked up to her.
“Dear, your grandmother’s nurse just called. She said that your grandmother is on her way to Green Commons Hospital. It appears that she may have had a stroke.”
Jennifer stood up from the table and ran through the house. She had been so shocked by the news that she forgot to thank the Wilmingtons. Tanya ran after her so that she could console her. She found her by her car, trying to get the key into the lock.
“Jennifer! Do you want me to drive you to the hospital?”
“Yes. I think that you better.”
Tanya took the keys from Jennifer’s shaking hand, led her to the passenger side and put her in the seat, buckled her in and went around to the driver’s side. Tanya drove quickly but carefully and they were at the hospital within fifteen minutes. When they ran into the emergency room, Tanya asked the nurse at the desk about Jennifer’s grandmother’s condition. The nurse looked up the information and told Tanya that the doctor would be down in a few minutes to talk to Jennifer. Before the doctor arrived, Jennifer saw the nurse/caretaker sitting stunned in a chair in the corner of the room. Jennifer got up and walked over to the woman, who went she heard Jennifer approaching, looked up and, seeing the girl, stood up and walked over to her.
“Oh, Jennifer, I’m so glad to see you! I’m sorry that I had to interrupt your fun.”
“No, don’t worry about that, Mrs. Laramie. Do you know how she’s doing?”
“No, the doctor hasn’t spoken to me yet.”
“Come over and sit with me and my friend Tanya. We’ll all find out together.”
Just as they had all gotten settled down in their seats, the doctor came through the door and walked up to the trio. Recognizing Jennifer, the doctor looked at her and told her that, for now, her grandmother was doing good, but that she would have to stay in the ICU for a few days. He told Jennifer that he would call her if there was any major changes and that she should go home and get some rest. Jennifer agreed and she said good-bye to Mrs. Laramie as Tanya guided her out of the hospital. As they were walking back to the car, a light rain started to come down. Tanya drove Jennifer home and, after making sure that it was alright to leave her friend alone, told her to call her if she wanted to talk or if she heard any news about her grandmother. Jennifer told her that she would and Tanya left. Jennifer went to the bathroom, got a towel and dried out her hair. She turned out the bathroom light and went to the kitchen to make some coffee. When the coffee was ready, Jennifer looked in the fridge for some cream, but there wasn’t any. There was, however, a small bottle of whiskey that her grandmother liked to have an occasional sip of and, Jennifer who normally did not touch alcohol, took out the bottle and added some to her coffee. She went to the living room, put her legs up on the couch and turned on the television. She managed to find an old black-and-white movie on and watched the flickering images. She tried to follow the story and occasionally took a sip of her coffee. She thought back to when she first started to live with her grandmother; the old woman would sometimes ask Jennifer to watch old 30’s and 40’s movies with her when she was feeling sad. Jennifer really didn’t mind watching the movies with her grandmother because it renewed her sense of having a normal family which she had always dreamed of having. Around midnight, when most of the good programs went off the air for the day, Jennifer finished her coffee and laid down on the couch and fell asleep.
Sometime in the early morning hours, the telephone was ringing and Jennifer woke up in a fog. She felt some pain in her head, but managed to pick up the phone without screaming. It took her a moment to gather her senses and realize where she was, but she croaked out a “hello”. Jennifer listened for a moment to the voice on the phone and then shot up to her feet. The pain in her head felt worse. The hospital had called to notify her that her grandmother had suffered a massive heart attack and died.
Jennifer did not hear anything else because she dropped the phone to the floor, plopped down on the couch and began to sob.
The sun was shining through a herd of clouds. It’s rays were lighting the black dresses and solemn-colored suits of the mourners. Jennifer held a red rose that she had planned to toss into her grandmother’s grave just before they buried her. Tanya and her mother stood by Jennifer’s side and tried to comfort her. The priest had just finished his prayer and walked over to give his condolences. Jennifer gave him a slight smile and a “thank you” and then tossed her rose onto her grandmother’s
casket. Jennifer had no other relatives, so most of the mourners were either her friends or people that her grandmother had met at the Senior Recreational Center. Tanya walked together with Jennifer over to the limousine that would take everyone to the reception.
The two girls had settled in their seats when Jennifer, finally, broke her silence.
“I’m responsible for her death.”
“What are you talking about, Jen? How can you say that?”
“Because when I got home from the hospital, I put some whiskey in my cup of coffee and when the hospital notified me that she had died, I had a hangover.”
At first, Tanya was unsure about how to respond to this revelation. She took Jennifer’s hand in hers and said, “That’s ridiculous! That makes no sense. How could having a little whiskey cause you to kill your grandmother?”
“Because alcohol always takes away the ones that I love! If I hadn’t put that whiskey in my cup, my grandmother might have still been alive. My family is cursed!”
“Jen, whether you had the whiskey or not, I hate to say this but, your grandmother would have still died.”
“Maybe, but from now on, I don’t want to see alcohol, smell it, or even be around anyone who drinks.”
“I totally agree with you on this, but don’t let it get out of hand, alright?”
Jennifer didn’t answer her. She simply laid her head on the back of the car seat, closed her eyes, and in silence. The limo pulled up to the reception area and the two friends got out of the car. As the entered the room, Jennifer saw the waiters bringing in bottles of wine. She went stiff, then walked out of the room. Tanya saw the reason for Jennifer’s odd behavior, went up to the head waiter and told him to remove all of the wine. She requested that they bring in only bottled water or soda. The head waiter was puzzled, but did as she requested. When all of the wine had been removed and replaced with bottled water, Tanya went outside and told Jennifer that the wine had been removed. With her friend’s assurance, Jennifer went back inside with her. None of the other guests remarked about the change out of respect for Jennifer.
After returning home, the first thing that Jennifer did was to go to the kitchen and looked through the fridge and the cabinets and threw away anything that had alcohol in it. She then went to the bathroom and threw away the mouthwash, a bottle of rubbing alcohol, and any creams that had an alcohol base. Only when she was satisfied that every alcohol-based product was out of the house, did she finally go to her bedroom and change her clothes. This was how she felt that she could not bring any more death to those that she loved.