I’ve been so busy this semester, guys. I haven’t had time to do anything. Luckily that will be done in two days, so to celebrate I’m posting a short story I had to write for class. Yay personal works! Super nerve wracking actually. Let me know what you think!
When talking about memories, I started addressing times as B.E. and A.E. Before Ellie and After Ellie. Of course Ellie was the first born, so it wasn’t about her actual life or anything, it wasn’t even about when she started acting, doing commercials for cereal and tampons, it was when she finally got her “big break.” That one movie that put her on the cover of magazines like Glamour and Seventeen, the movie that made people ask for her autograph when she was walking down the street with me, and the movie that put her on the radar to date people like Zac Efron and Dave Franco. But that’s not where she got her start.
My sister got her first acting job when she was three-years-old. She was walking through the mall with my mom, whose belly was swollen seven-months pregnant with me, when she got stopped by a woman. Ellie said she didn’t remember it, which she wouldn’t because she was three, but my mom said it was awkward as all hell.
This woman was straight out of Hollywood, at least an hour and a half away from the mall in our hometown of Calimesa, California. She was a recruiter looking for kids to audition for a role in a commercial for Campbell’s soup. Apparently Ellie asked my mom the whole drive home when she was going to be on TV. My mom thought it was a scam at first, but after doing some research on the company printed on the woman’s business card, she found out it was a real, highly acclaimed recruiting company; she and my dad agreed to give it a shot. They assumed the odds were slim that Ellie would actually get the part, but with her curly blonde hair and big, brown eyes, she got the part the second she walked into the audition.
I was born right after the commercial started airing, so my parents didn’t have time to be looking up agents or auditions. Ellie was a born performer, though, so my parents tried getting her involved in Community Theater, and Ellie did great, but she just kept asking when she would get to be on TV again. By the time she was twelve, Ellie finally convinced my parents to let her try more auditions. Her goal was to be on a TV show, not just one single commercial that would play every single time a show was on commercial break.
The audition was for the lead role in a Disney sitcom about a girl who was normal by day and a spy by night. It was one of the most unrealistic plots I’d ever heard of; a thirteen-year-old spy? There’s no way. But Ellie wanted the role so bad, so we were all supposed to be supportive. She got callback after callback until she finally got the role. We were out to dinner for my grandma’s birthday when she got the phone call. She pushed back her chair and started jumping up and down, screaming right there in front of the whole restaurant. Ellie was now Caitlyn Mitchell in The Seattle Spy.
It was terrible. My parents knew every detail about when the show premiered, what day of the week new episodes aired, and what times reruns were on. To make me watch, my parents would order pizza and put the boxes in the living room, strategically at the exact same time as Ellie’s show came on. On more than one occasion I tried making a break for it and taking the pizza to my bedroom, but my dad threatened a grounding if I “didn’t sit my butt down and appreciate what Ellie was accomplishing.” I slowly sunk back into my seat and sulked for the next half hour of the torture that is cheesy Disney dialogue and predictable plot lines.
The show ran for three painful seasons before it finally ended. In interviews Ellie said she was “heartbroken to leave the amazing cast and crew.” I think there’s something in the contracts wannabe actors sign about having to say how great everyone is because back when she lived at home I heard her complaining on the phone about the director being a demanding asshole and one of the camera guys being a pervert.
After The Seattle Spy wrapped, she struggled to get another role. She was getting offered parts, but they were never what she wanted. Ellie had high hopes for herself and settling wasn’t an option. She started getting discouraged when she was out of work for a couple of months. One day we got into a fight because I borrowed a shirt without asking. We were never physical fighters, so when she told me I was just jealous that she was going to be famous, I told her she was a sixteen-year-old has-been who was turning back into a normal girl. She locked herself in the bathroom and cried for hours after I said that. Maybe I said it out of jealousy, maybe it was just because I knew that was her Achilles’ heel; either way, I felt awful as soon as I saw her face crumple and her brown eyes fill with tears before she turned and ran.
After that I wasn’t allowed to tell her anything negative that would “bring her down” and “stifle her creativity.” My parents drove her from audition to audition. They sat listening to her practice her monologue for auditions until she got it perfect. Then they would listen to her do it a hundred more times just to make sure, sitting supportively on the couch, smiling and offering words of encouragement. After a week of her pacing around the house reciting the words, even I knew her monologues. One day Ellie was practicing to my parents in the living room. I sat in the room over doing homework, mindlessly mouthing the words along with her.
I was probably the most excited when Ellie finally got a part in Capellis, a sitcom about a family who has to join the witness protection program because the mob boss father got into a lot of trouble. Ellie was Rose Capelli, the stereotypical boy-crazed teenage daughter. I would never tell Ellie, but I watched every single episode of the show. I loved Rose Capelli; the role was probably what Ellie would have been like had she not devoted her life to acting. In the midst of that show she scored the lead role in a movie adaptation of the newest young adult dystopian novel, Dust to Dust. It was complete with futuristic technology, three other movies, some type of rebellion against the government, and a love triangle in which she was the center and had to choose between two extremely hot, perfectly unattainable guys. From there she became the girl on every magazine cover and every talk show. My sister was a superstar at nineteen.
Ellie had this agent since her B.E. days. His name was Eric Orind and he was one of the worst people I’ve met in my entire life. He was a short man, with dark balding hair and wire frame glasses over his beady little eyes. On more than one occasion he tried to sign me as well. I didn’t miss Ellie’s expression, a mix of jealous and hurt, when someone tried to pull her out of the limelight. Anyway, there’s a saying Eric told her every day about “make the boys want to be with you and the girls want to be you,” which I think is shallow, but I’m not an agent so no one listens to me. She was good at what she did, though. Not just the acting, which improved immensely from her Disney days. She was good at the PR stuff, too. She was likeable in interviews, she was overly nice to her fans, and she had a team of stylists and make-up artists that made her look amazing even when she was just making a stop at the grocery store. Little girls looked up to her, teenage girls tried to copy her style, boys of all ages had undying unrequited crushes on her; she became that girl that everyone wanted to be or be with, just like Eric wanted.
Ellie always complained about never knowing how genuine people are about wanting to be her friend. I told her never to trust anybody.
“When did you get so pessimistic?” She asked.
“When you were on the cover of Seventeen Magazine and everyone started to wish I was you,” I said. She laughed, patted my shoulder, and walked away. I watched her go wondering if she would ever realize I was serious.
When I was nineteen Ellie tried to set me up with her costar from Dust to Dust, Josh Jackson. He was the Hollywood heartthrob of the time. I was convinced he was in love with my sister and was just going out with me as a pity date to make himself seem like such a good guy to her. Ellie assured me they were just friends and he was open to dating fans. Not only that, but she was dating the other point in the movie’s love triangle, Daniel Murphy. I don’t know if Josh realized I wasn’t especially a fan, but I figured that was his nice way of saying he didn’t mind dating someone not famous.
I was staying at a hotel visiting Ellie for the weekend of our date. He picked me up in a limo and took me to a fancy restaurant with spotless white tablecloths, extravagant center pieces, and so many candles I was convinced the place would burn down by the end of the night. We sat in a secluded room in back, of course. Josh was polite, as good looking as his pictures in magazines, and he was actually giving me, the average little sister of his costar, the time of day. Me. A famous person was on a date with me. It could have been one the greatest dates of my life, but I couldn’t think of words to say except for “yeah,” “okay,” and “good.” I’m not usually a nervous person; hell, I can talk for hours about any simple topic, but the fact that I was with someone famous was enough for my vocabulary to not expand past three words. I’m not the most graceful person either, but I was especially clumsy that night as well. I managed dropped my fork at least three times, knocked over my glass, got pasta sauce all over my chin, and I don’t think the red hue ever left my cheeks. Needless to say there was not a second date.
My sister called me bright and early from set the next morning to talk about the success, or lack thereof, of my date.
“What the hell happened? He said you wouldn’t stop talking about school.”
“Well he must have been lying because I couldn’t talk at all.”
“Claire,” she sighed through the phone so loud I pulled it away from my ear. “You really need to get out more.”
“I’m perfectly fine with my life, Ellie.” I balanced the phone between my ear and my shoulder so I could try to clean my room before I got grounded again.
“I know, I’m just trying to help.”
“And I love you for it, really, I do. I’m just not overly eager to be the anonymous girl whose picture is plastered all over the internet hanging on Josh Jackson’s arm. I’m perfectly comfortable remaining a nobody hiding away in the shadows.”
“You’re not a nobody, Claire.” There was a loud commotion on the other end of the phone and then a male voice. “I have to go film. I’ll call you later, though, okay?”
That’s when I realized how different our lives were. I was in Calimesa cleaning my room and filling out college applications and my sister was getting her hair and make-up done professionally and making out with hot guys for a living. But I was content being average just as Ellie was content being known across the world.
Ellie moving to Los Angeles actually strengthened our relationship. Not being in the same house to steal clothes and eavesdrop on phone calls made us really appreciate the good in each other instead of the assumed hatred sisters sometimes have. For my twenty-first birthday Ellie threw me a huge, upscale party at her L.A. beach house. She went all-out. She invited my closest friends, my classmates, her costars, Josh Jackson, and a big slew of celebrities. It was overwhelming having so many of these amazing people turn up to celebrate my birthday. I’m sure they only came for the party or to see my sister, but it was still an unforgettable feeling having Taylor Swift singing “happy birthday” to me.
When she got the lead in an action movie opposite Hollywood’s biggest douche bag, Alexander Mitchel, that’s when everything went wrong. I don’t know if anyone expected it, because Ellie was always such a good kid, but the temptations of the dark side of stardom began calling to her. She started going out a lot more, calling a lot less, and would show up on the covers of magazines on the arm the biggest tools in the state.
Pictures surfaced of her smoking a joint at a party and my parents were not pleased. I tried calling her, but she sent me to voicemail. After my parents filled up her voicemail box, she finally drove back to Calimesa to have the dreadful talk she tried so desperately to avoid. I was home for the weekend from my senior year of college when she stopped in, but she didn’t bother to come to my room to say hello before my parents laid into her. I abandoned my fifteen page paper for my capstone project to eavesdrop as soon as I heard her voice carry up the stairs.
She sat stone-faced while they lectured her about how they gave her everything for this opportunity and she was throwing it all away. She didn’t even look mentally present; she just stared at the wall over their heads as they tried getting her attention. After a dramatic eye roll and a dismissive wave of her hand, she left the house without saying anything to my parents or saying goodbye to me. She didn’t show a hint of remorse as she wordlessly got off the couch, slammed the front door, hopped in her Bugatti, and drove off. I stayed hidden, watching perched on the stairs as my mom broke down crying and my dad held her, stroking her hair as she kept repeating “I’m losing my baby” and “what have we done to her?” She genuinely believed it was her fault Ellie changed. Maybe in a way it was for helping her get this far, but this was what Ellie wanted and my sister was never one to give up on her dreams.
Instead of taking roles as the ditsy cheerleader or the shy bookworm in a rom-com, she shifted into more dramatic, mature roles. In a Sundance film, Ellie played a girl in a mental hospital with schizophrenia. She then took on a horror movie as a psychopathic murderer. In another movie, she got cast as a girl who dropped out of college and got mixed up in selling cocaine. It was more of a car chasing, gun shooting action movie, but it was still an unpredictable foreshadowing of her life.
Ellie still called me occasionally, but the calls didn’t last quite as long and she didn’t sound as invested as she used to. She sounded so out of it every time I talked to her and I knew she was either drunk or smoking something. She stopped talking to my parents altogether. My mom started slipping into a depression every time someone brought up Ellie, so we didn’t bring her up. In Calimesa, Ellie no longer existed. It was hard to avoid her, though, when her transition was all over the place, demanding to be seen. She stopped talking to fans if they asked for her autograph, she became less likeable in interviews, and if she was photographed she looked hung over or high. She wasn’t my bubbly, annoyingly happy, put together big sister anymore.
I was praying that Ellie dating Alexander was for publicity, but after the movie premiered and they were still together, I knew it was the real deal, at least to her. I had been trying to tell her to break up with him ever since TMZ reported that he was seen leaving clubs on more than one occasion with girls who were not Ellie. I hated him. I hated how he treated her. I hated how she blindly stayed with him. Ellie called me crying at least once a week about how she caught him in bed with some other girl. At first I couldn’t figure out what about this loser made her hang around for so long. It wasn’t until he made the news that I made an assumption I didn’t even want to believe.
I got nervous about her when it was in the news that her asshole boyfriend was arrested for selling cocaine. I was amazed that someone had the nerve to arrest a celebrity; I was thankful to get them separated, don’t get me wrong, but it just seemed like law enforcement bent over backwards to please the people in the public eye, even if what they were doing was illegal and dangerous.
That’s when I realized she had probably graduated from the carefree smoking of marijuana to the high intensity of snorting cocaine, and Alexander was the reason she had started. Not only that, he was her supplier. So when he got locked up, she got even more distant than she had been.
I got a letter from her in the mail three weeks later that she checked herself into rehab. That was the first of two stints she spent in Bella Vista Rehabilitation Center. I visited her a couple of times, but she was coming down so bad, it was hard to talk to her. It was a swanky rehabilitation center, though. The nurses all smiled and said hello to me when I walked past; they actually seemed like they cared about their patients, which made me feel a little better.
It was hard to look at her when I came to visit. Her blonde hair was usually so shiny and bouncy and now it was dull and dirty, hanging in her face. She had bags under her brown eyes that kept shifting around the room while her hands shook. Her cheekbones protruded from her face like a protractor. She looked terrible.
We tried to take a walk around the facilities a couple of times, but she didn’t talk much. I bored her with stories about college, about the job offer I had lined up at a PR firm in Sacramento, about my new boyfriend. I caught the ghost of a smile on her lips a couple of times, but it never blossomed into that wide one where her eyes crinkled and her small giggle escaped. I didn’t realize how much I liked that smile until it stopped coming around.
Either Bella Vista put on a damn good act and didn’t actually care enough or Ellie was a phenomenal actress, because both times she got released she should have been locked away for so much longer than she was. She stopped acting for a little bit, but the paparazzi were still all over her. She may have tried hiding, but she never got away from the spotlight. It was the first time my sister had ever tried to not be seen; she didn’t know how to do it.
Ellie was out of her second stint in rehab for a month before we got the phone call. She had picked up her first role since she’d been released and was shooting a movie on location in Vancouver when a maid found her dead in her hotel room. It was a heroin overdose. I didn’t even realize she had moved on to heroin. I was mad at myself for not noticing. I was mad at the rehab center for not forcing her to stay when she clearly needed the help. I was mad at her for turning into one of those whacked out celebrities who thought they could get away with whatever they wanted because they were famous. I was mad at the world.
I read in a book once that the word “devastated” should only be used to describe a parent who lost a child. That seemed really selfish to me because what about the siblings or grandparents or aunts and uncles and cousins? They all faced the same loss. But I changed my mind about that the second I saw my mom fall to her knees and wail. I had never seen my dad cry in my entire life until that day. He was so good at being the strong one in the family; he was our rock and I had to watch him crumble. My whole world just crumbled at the hands on one phone call from police in Vancouver. My mom wasn’t mentally present for weeks after Ellie died. She became this shell of a woman, just going through the motions of daily life without actually concentrating on anything. My dad worked a lot more. I didn’t see as much of him and when I did he would come home and try to bring my mom back to reality.
It was all over the news, which really pissed me off. Things like that should really be the family’s decision to release. Now the world would see her reruns or watch her movies and all they would think was “that was the girl who died of a drug overdose.” They would look at their friends while they flipped channels and say “so sad. She was so young.” They would say “yeah, you know it was heroin, right?” That was how she would be remembered now. But she was so much more than that.
Ellie was still writing me letters after she got out of rehab. She told me it was a good outlet for her because she could really concentrate on her thoughts when she had to put them down on a page. It was like a diary entry to her, but better because she got feedback back from me that told her she was going through normal things in life and I was still there for her no matter what.
I got one in the mail the day of her funeral. When I saw my name on the envelope in her loopy script, just like my mom, I collapsed. I fell to the ground right there on the sidewalk in broad daylight, holding the pile of envelopes addressed to my parents. I tossed the rest of the mail to the side and tore the envelope open, ignoring the looks of pity from people jogging past or my neighbor walking his dog.
I think I need help again. But I don’t want to have to go back to rehab. People are so condescending. The nurses, the other patients, the people who report on my life. I don’t want to be judged anymore. I don’t want to be in the spotlight anymore. I just want to come home and be normal for a while.
I called mom and dad last week. I apologized to them for my behavior and for getting mixed up in all this shit. Dad almost wouldn’t talk to me, but he had to take the phone from mom when she broke down crying. She was near hysterics, she couldn’t even talk. I told him I wanted to quit acting and come home. He was hesitant, but he agreed it would be for the best. I think I’m finally going to get my life back in order.
I’m sorry I wasn’t talking when you came to visit me. I’m so happy for you and Owen. Hopefully I can meet him soon and give you my sisterly approval. I know you probably don’t need it, you’ve always been extremely independent. You’re a really great sister. You know that, right? I’m glad you stuck by me through all of this. I’m sorry I tried to pull you into my life so much when you were comfortable where you were. I should’ve tried to take a lesson from you instead of making you take one from me. I guess I’ll have to start doing that when I come home.
I met this guy. I don’t know if he was being polite or if he actually had no idea who I was, but I just felt like being a real person, so I went to the store. I tried to disguise myself, so I took off all my make-up and I put on my glasses and a ball cap. Maybe people were just pretending it wasn’t me, I don’t know, but no one stopped me. I didn’t get asked for my picture or an autograph or anything. It was so nice. But I went into the store and I got all this stuff and I was feeling so successful until I walked outside and my bag ripped. Of course it did, right? So all my shit is laying there on the concrete and I bend down to pick it up and this guy just comes over and starts helping me. He was so nice and so cute. And he was normal. He talked about the weather. The weather. God, I forgot what it was like to be worried about something so trivial as driving home in a rain storm.
He asked for my number and I gave it to him. It wasn’t until he picked me up for our first date that he realized it was me but he didn’t treat me any different. He just said “I didn’t even realize it was you.” I don’t know if I should’ve been offended by that or not, but he smiled when he said it and it was a great smile, so I went. We’ll be going on our fourth date next week. I think you’d really like him. I think I can do this with him, be a normal person. A better one. He makes me want to be a better person. You make me want to be a better person.
I just wanted to catch up. I hope to hear from you soon. I’ll be home when this film wraps up. I love you, Claire.