THE WEDNESDAY SISTERS by Meg Waite Clayton
WEDNESDAY SISTERS started as an empty file in my computer, just a title
that came to me while I was reading an article about which I remember
nothing. Not a word of the story came with it.
The story itself started more than a year later, with a single nameless,
faceless, character, just a character trait, really: white
gloves—without any idea who wore them or why she might be a “Wednesday
Sister.” But even before that, there was an ending to a children’s story
I’ve never written, about a child who, like my own son, has a scar
across the top of his head. There was a line in a
Christmas letter from a friend of my mom’s, about the mysterious corner
house in our old neighborhood that sat empty twenty years after we’d all
moved away. There were the Hutchins Hall photographs of the nearly
womanless Michigan Law School classes that came frighteningly few years
before my own law school days. And another law school photo, me sitting
on our balcony after my last second-year final, raising a wine glass to Jenn, who poured it for me and who is not hesitating to capture me at my
worst on film.
My first journal entry for “The Wednesday Sisters”—the day after the
white gloves attached themselves to the title without explaining
themselves—begins: “Feeling incredibly well-run-dry today ... I don’t
have anything ... Not a character yet. Not any idea where it will go, or
even where it will start.” Which makes me laugh every time I read it,
because a minute later a woman with a long blond braid sticking out of
her Stanford cap walked across the patio where I sat, and though she was
gone in seconds, pushed through the door to buy coffee or a Subway
sandwich, I suppose (I never even saw her face), already that braid was
not a real braid in my mind, and the character who would be Linda was
bearing down on me, wondering if I could possibly get her story into
words before it was lost. By the time I looked up a second time, I had
the guts of Linda’s story—and of Kath’s, Ally’s, Frankie’s and Brett’s.
I had the idea for the first paragraph, which turns out to be two
paragraphs, and the last line of them. And I knew the story would be
about their friendship, about getting each other through the bad times,
and celebrating the good.
To be honest, Linda was wearing Brett’s white gloves at first, and the
ending for the children’s story I’d never written, which was now the
ending to her story, involved her husband rather than her friends.
Frankie, who was named Bernie at first, wrote, but I wasn’t even
imagining anyone else would, and though none of the five friends was
much older than I was, those few years made a world of difference: they
came of age and were married with children when the women’s movement
began, while I came of age just on the other side, when women could
apply to Harvard and Yale even if we couldn’t run Olympic marathons yet
and didn’t sit on the Supreme Court. It’s something that has fascinated
me since the day I saw the photographs of those nearly womenless law
school classes, something I knew from very early on that I wanted to
explore in this novel: how the women’s movement changed the world even
for women of my mom’s generation who were committed to what is now
called “the mommy track” before there was much of any other track at
all. As was another issue the women’s movement addressed, one on which
progress is still thin: the ideal of womanhood as Virgin Mary perfection
that no real person can live up to. From the beginning, all the
Wednesday Sisters loved to watch Miss America be crowned.
I’d like to pin the Wednesday Sister’s shortcomings on someone else, but
the truth is they all represent some aspect of me. Linda’s fear—for her
children and for herself—is definitely my fear: my mom is a breast
cancer survivor; my grandmother did not survive. Brett’s tortured
relationship with her “unfeminine intellect” draws its emotional roots
from my own discomfort as a girl who was talented at math when girls
weren’t supposed to be. Kath’s darkest moments draw from a relationship
of mine that had not ended well. Frankie’s self-doubt and her chubby
phases are mine, as is her experience with her first novel. Even
Ally—whose story was inspired by that Christmas letter line about our
old neighbor—is me in her middle-of-the-night journey back to the
neonatal intensive care unit, where her daughter Hope is tethered to
life by the same tubes and wires my own son once was.
The heart of the story, though? True, my friend Jenn doesn’t write. My
friend Brenda does, but she’s quick to point out that she’s a Tuesday
Sister, which was the day our writing group in Nashville met, and she
swears she wouldn’t ever do what the Wednesday Sisters did for Linda,
not even for me. My husband Mac, also a part of that Tuesday group,
would, and he was very Linda-like in his pushing me to write, too, but
he is ... well ... male. “Two Wednesday Sisters and one Husband”?
Not such a good title, right? But the story behind the “The Wednesday
Sisters” is those “Wednesday Sisters” of mine. It’s meant to be a
hallelujah to them.
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