<br><h3> Chapter One </h3> The clock stared back. The floating red numbers taunted my insomnia. My restless body ached as my mind accelerated. As my thoughts began to pick up speed, I struggled to connect them. Half my mind was turned off, in particular, the part of my mind that produces insight and solutions. Fragmented parts frantically raced in small tight circles with no finish line in sight. <p> Craig was back. He had returned late last night without a word to anyone. I crept out of bed and went downstairs to escape the firm clutches of sleeplessness and its cohort, anxiety. I turned on a small lamp in the office and fell slowly into the desk chair. I looked around the room, hoping for some direction, some place to put my thoughts. I suddenly remembered the place where I used to put them all: my journal. <p> I reached into the bottom desk drawer and pulled out the many papers and books that kept my old thoughts, my old self. I opened the yellow-covered book with the fancy white bow that had begun to discolor. As I read the words from my journal, my stomach began to tighten. Why did I write that? I couldn't remember. <p> <i>I have become a pretender. Pretending to be anything, no, everything except me. The art of pretending has become my identity. It used to feel safe. Yet now, there is something inside of me that won't let me hide anymore. Why? It won't let me sleep anymore. What is it? I guess I'm more ... what's the word ... empty. Indifferent. Indifferent to my emptiness? Can that be right? What about sad? Did I say that I felt sad? Do I? There's nothing there ...</i> <p> The pen fell down onto the paper. It became clear my words would find a way. The truth would find a way to me. My mind said one thing as my hand wrote another. This battle within me had been going on for quite some time, maybe longer than I care to admit, but the door had been opened and the pen was now in control. Backward ... I wrote. Someone once told me that in order to move forward, you must look behind to what follows you. I conceded. <p> I grew up in a small, suburban town in the Midwest. With two sisters, I always felt the need to prove myself and gain my parents' attention. I suppose I felt that I was the divide in the middle. Molly, the oldest, was the athlete, and not just a casual player. She did it all, and did it all well: swimming, diving, baseball, even field hockey, but basketball was her calling. State titles in both high school and college, and she was named MVP almost every game. Admittedly, Molly was amazing to watch. She wore competition like a jacket in the springtime; it went everywhere with her, and she wore it very well. <p> Dad was Molly's biggest fan. He always wanted a boy yet made do with what he was given. She may have come home from the hospital wrapped in pink, but Molly defied all the feminine rules, and Dad helped to manipulate and nurture that unbalancing act. <p> She is definitely one of a kind. Yes, the kind you wish you could somehow defeat, but that never did happen. She earned a scholarship for athletics at the University of Wisconsin, and today she is the women's basketball coach for the Badgers. <p> Then there is Marcia. She's the baby of the family and came into this world slightly deficient of wit and intellect but insatiably full of natural beauty and elegance. Similar to Molly in her art of balance, I also saw this performance work within Marcia's life. It seems to me that when one is given an excess of one quality, there seems to be a peculiar void that sits at the other end of their gift. She was beautiful, but compassion and empathy were obvious deficits. <p> Mom was Marcia's biggest fan and, just like Dad, found ways to manipulate and nurture these qualities. I can remember Mom always telling Marcia that she was different from others, especially me and Molly, and because of this difference, she would get the kind of opportunities that only the beautiful people get. And for once, Mom was right. Marcia had the kind of luck that would make the Irish envious. Luck and beauty-what a combination. <p> This luck began at birth. Marcia had the kind of skin you see in those airbrushed photos, except hers was in the flesh. It had natural warmth of color that required no additional tanning to temper, its tone already exquisite. It was smooth, unblemished silk that she wore as skin, and though her hair was dark enough to be dramatic, it didn't wash out its even tone. A woman's secret enemy and a sister's worst nightmare. <p> Then there's me: the divide in the middle. Not athletic, not beautiful, not even lucky on my birthday. I am straight down the middle in every regard. Somehow my definition of middle has come to mean average. Like with my sisters, my parents manipulated and nurtured my mediocrity. But average isn't so bad, right? Yes, average, but who exactly is the judge of that? <p> It escalated from there and became a family tradition. Who was better, who did better, who achieved the most. It suddenly became a competition to just <i>be</i>. See me, hear me, love me, please. <p> As I set the pen down, a familiar fear settled in my chest. <p> <i>No, he has nothing to do with this</i>, I thought. This burning heat began to rise in my chest, working its way up my throat and emptying its message through my eyes. <p> <i>The truth? The truth ... the sacrifice. The sacrifice for him. He's been getting worse and I know it. I can fix it though. I will fix it, and no one will ever know.</i> <p> <p> <h3> Chapter Two </h3> The light had returned. I stood on my back porch with my hands on the railing as I took a deep breath of the morning air. <p> I suddenly heard little footsteps inside, the rustling of the family awakening. <p> The sliding glass door begrudgingly slid ajar. <p> "Mom, what are you doing out here?" asked Max, proudly donning his new Power Ranger pajamas. <p> "Oh, I'm just getting some fresh air," I said, feeling a peculiar shame pass over me. Shame. Shame that I am not okay. Shame that I feel sadness. Shame that I feel. <p> "How about some breakfast?" I asked as I shut the door behind me, closing out the night, the morning, and the memories. <p> The hustle and bustle of the morning was a welcome distraction. Kids are exceptional at shifting your thoughts onto them. They are masters of self involvement. Somehow, kids can get away with it all being about them. It's really the only window of time when this is socially acceptable. Granted, some people never pass through this narcissistic phase. My husband for example-I think he's still stuck in that window. <p> Refocus, redirect, let me turn my attention to the needs of the three of you. Time to get busy. Personal chef, nurse, fashion coordinator, teacher, referee, policeman, drill sergeant, counselor, dental hygienist, maid, on-call physician, private taxi service, all duties performed with ease before 7:00 am <p> I walked quietly up the stairs after returning from another successful morning drop-off regiment. Quickly shifting gears, I prepared for my next morning ritual: dealing with Craig. The familiar uneasiness increased with each step as the staircase began to melt away and the footsteps of my husband grew closer. <p> "Where the hell is my red paisley tie? You know I have an important meeting today with the Tyson people. Do you want me to be late? Do you not know how important this is to me?" Craig yelled. His brown eyes began to narrow and he took a step toward me. <p> "Oh, yeah, that's right, Meg doesn't think about small things like where all of this money comes from. Meg only worries about spending it! Isn't that right?" he said as he moved into my personal space. I could feel his breath on my face. I kept my eyes locked onto the ground. <p> "Well, are you going to just stand there looking like an idiot or are you going to move your fat ass and find my goddamn tie!" he shouted as sprays of spittle landed haphazardly on my eyelids and brow. <p> Without a sound, I quickly moved to the hall closet, retrieved his clothes, and scurried to remove the wrapping, unveiling a crisp, white oxford with a red paisley tie. <p> Craig snatched the shirt and tie without a sound and went upstairs. In an instant, my panic had been converted to shame. I did remember that the meeting was today but had forgotten to put the dry cleaning away. <i>How could I forget that? Why am I so stupid? No excuse, no excuse, you idiot</i>, I thought. <p> Yes, all people change, yet Craig's transformation was rapid, unexpected, and fueled by an unknown powerful rage. His anger scared me and the kids, so we treated him like one would treat a sleeping giant-never provoking, never disturbing, never defying, always in fear. <p> When Craig was home, the house would vibrate from the inside out because of the deafening silence. If fear had a voice, the decibels within this household would reach that of a primal scream, yet no one dared. <p> I methodically wiped the tear that had trespassed across my cheek. I was not about to remember what happened years ago, yesterday, last night, or five minutes ago. I don't have time to look behind me. There's no one there. <p> <i>Get it together and prepare his breakfast, I thought. <p> Can't go back in time, won't go back, he didn't mean it ... he has that problem ... he can't help it. What has happened to me? What is happening to me? I am ... lost.</i> <p> All these fragmented thoughts raced through my frantic mind. My autopilot button was just outside my reach as I began to cry. <p> Like clockwork, as the tear fell on my cheek, I redirected. I opened the refrigerator and pulled out eggs, bread, and a bag of grapes. I grabbed a pan and by the time I lifted my head, it was gone. This emotional intrusion had been averted. I was back on my way. <p> Craig quietly ate, and without a word, left for work. I quickly found many of life's details that needed attention. There was always something to fix, clean, mend, cook, bake, or prepare. I took great pride in my ability to multitask and multi-think. While baking cupcakes for Matthew, I sewed his ripped pants and listened to the weather to determine if the kids needed to be picked up after school and planned the night's menu in between each stitch. <p> <i>Is it a half a cup of milk or a quarter cup?</i> I questioned myself as the needle instinctively went through the fabric only to be interrupted by the phone. <p> "Hello?" <p> While the word "hello" came out, multi-thought ensued. How odd it is that more than one hundred years since the telephone's invention, we always answer the phone with a sense of surprise or a question mark in our voice; the very fact that one word can have so many meanings based on the way it is expressed. A meek child quietly uttering "hewo?"; a grumpy old man loudly declaring his disdain for the annoying device: "Yello!"; a perky, hopeful teen praying it's her undiscovered boyfriend, frantically answering on the first ring in her high-pitched, well-rehearsed purr, "hellow"; the elderly woman who is grateful just to be able to hear the phone ring has a tonal quality all her own: "Helloouuu." <p> "Meg, are you there?" A familiar voice rang in my ears and broke the fun I was having in my head. <p> "I'm sorry, Marcia. Yeah, I'm here. I am just doing a million things right now, and my mind is all over the place," I said. <p> "How's my favorite sister?" she asked. <p> "Living the dream," I jokingly sneered. <p> "Hey, I was wondering what you were doing on the weekend of the eighth," Marcia inquired. <p> "Oh, that's the weekend that I'll be in the Fiji Islands right after my trip to the Orient," I sarcastically retorted. <p> Marcia did her best to laugh, all the while multi-thinking herself as to how to get her way diplomatically. Getting her way, that was her specialty. <p> "You really gotta take more time for yourself, Meg. You never do anything fun or anything that is just for you." <p> "Well, a job, three kids, a husband, a dog, and a house; your wishes melt into their wishes. You'll understand when you have a family of your own. Responsibilities change and part of my responsibility, now, is to give up a part of myself to help them," I said in a detached, lecture-driven style. <p> I flashed back to my journal and saw the letters again. The letters on the paper that formed the words "self-sacrifice." I felt a pang of anxiety, yet I quickly pushed it away. <p> Marcia's diplomacy had faded. "Okay, whatever, Meg. Anyway, to get to my point, I don't know if this is a bad time to ask, but I'm really in a bind. I need your help, Meggy," Marcia said in her helpless baby voice. <p> "What is it?" I replied resignedly with a deep sigh. <p> "Well, here's the thing. You know Michael and I have been planning our ski trip to Vail for like, God, for like weeks now, right?" <p> "Uh-huh," I said. <p> "Well, <i>now</i>, the worst thing ever! I'm having my apartment repainted, and I finally got a call back from Vincent Interiors, you know, the best designers around. Well, they could actually squeeze me in! Fantastic, I know. But the bad news: they can only come out on the eighth and that's when ..." <p> "When you'll be in Vail," I said trying to speed up this drawn-out drama. <p> "Exactly. So here's the deal: I need to go over the palate of colors with you so you make sure they don't paint my bedroom something awful like Mojave Sunset, when I want Southwest Summer. And then of course I would need you to be here while they are painting, a supervisor kind of position. You would be so totally good at that," Marcia said as her voice went up and down like the valleys in Shenandoah. She was desperately trying to make babysitting painters sound like an elitist opportunity. <p> "How long did they say it would take them?" I asked, shocking myself that I was considering this. <p> "Honestly, not that long. Two days max!" she said. <p> "Marcia! You want <i>me</i> to sit at your apartment for <i>two</i> days and watch paint dry? Do you realize what you're asking me?" I said outraged. <p> "Hon, it's not all day and night. Probably a few hours each day, that's it," Marcia said. <p> "And I know you don't work on Thursdays or Fridays, and as our luck would have it, those are the days they can come! Can you believe it?" she said. <p> "I don't think my luck has anything to do with this. Yours maybe, but definitely not mine," I said, shaking my head. <p> "Please, Meggy Poo Poo, bring a good book and some of your favorite treats. It'll be like a little retreat! You were just saying how you never get away. Well, look at this, here's a chance to take some time just for you! You do deserve it, you know," she said. Marcia's manipulation was in high gear. <p> "Fine, Marcia. I'll help you out," I said, defeated. <p> A squeal came through the phone and I had to pull the receiver away from my ear. <p> "Yeah! Oh, my God! Yeah! Who's got the best sister? Who's got the very best sister? I am like the luckiest ever to have you, Meg!" Marcia rejoiced. <p> "Yes, your luck, once again," I said. <p> "Listen, hon, I gotta call Michael and let him know we're still on," she said. <p> "What about Vincent Interiors. Aren't you gonna call them first?" I asked. <p> "Silly, Meg. I knew you'd say yes. I wasn't going to make them wait! Are you serious? My God, no, I told them to mark me down! It's already set up. Don't worry about it. Don't you worry about a thing," she said. <p> I realized in that moment that Craig was not the only one stuck in the window of self involvement, Marcia was wedged in right beside him, both of them completely oblivious that anyone else in the world existed. <p> Marcia has always been like a whirlwind. By the time you realize what happened, she's gone. She has always gotten her way. <p> <p> <h3> Chapter Three </h3> I looked at the clock and saw my window of time being squeezed shut. I had an appointment at 10:00 am with Sally Frost, and Sally never missed her appointments. I quickly finished the last stitches in Matthew's miniature-man pants, carefully placed the vanilla cupcakes in the appropriate cupcake Tupperware, and raced to the shower. <p> My reflection caught my eye in a peculiar way. A medium-sized woman with shoulder-length, chocolate-colored hair with splashes of artificial auburn stared back. I took a step toward the mirror and studied the newly formed wrinkles around each eye. <p> <i>Crow's feet, what a ridiculous name</i>, I thought. <i>How the term "crow's feet" somehow softens the blow of realizing you have wrinkles around your eyes is beyond me</i>. <p> My gaze became transfixed upon my once shapely figure that had grown a few unwelcome sags. <i>I believe the softer term for unwelcome sags is "love handles." I do agree, that does lighten the blow</i>, I silently bemused myself. <p> My hazel eyes caught my attention-not the color but the emptiness that resided behind them. I softly put my hand up to my cheek with a touch of sympathy and wonder. Quickly turning away, I told her, "No time for midlife meltdown-a premature one at that!" <p> <i>(Continues...)</i> <p> <p> <!-- copyright notice --> <br></pre> <blockquote><hr noshade size='1'><font size='-2'> Excerpted from <b>The Awakening</b> by <b>Lisa Anne</b> Copyright © 2010 by Lisa Anne. Excerpted by permission.<br> All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.<br>Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.