You're not my homeland anymore
So what am I defending now?
You were my town, now I'm in exile, seein' you out
- Exile, Taylor Swift
Jackie, 18, heartbroken over a boy that, let’s be honest, she’s wildly too good for and definitely better looking than, and hasn’t got nearly enough upward trajectory to appease a lifetime of Pam Burkhart’s life lesson of marrying rich. Jackie, sad and lonely with no one to turn to because she knows, deep down, that the basement gang don’t really care about her. Jackie, scraping the last shred of dignity she has, leaves Point Place behind.
After she managed to carve out a somewhat stable life consisting of a shitty waitressing job and the only apartment she could afford, Jackie did what Jackie did best. Or, like, did one of the things she does best (because obviously what Jackie does best is matching her shoes to her manicure, or making sure there is a good amount of volume to her hair, or coming up with a suitably self-esteem destroying insult). She proved that she is hot, and boys want her, and Steven is stupid for not seeing all that.
And so what if that meant that the moment she realized Steven didn’t really love her and didn’t really ever want to spend the rest of his life with her, she went and found the first guy she could find that did. So what if she just wanted to prove to herself that someone would be willing to put up with her forever (and, maybe, just a little because she was heartbroken and didn’t know what else to do).
(Perhaps marriage based on proving a point is not exactly the right way to start a relationship, but honestly, it’s not like she’s seen a whole lot of healthy relationships in her time. Blame her parents.)
And so what if now, aged 26, she drinks a little too much and cries herself to sleep 3 days a week (Monday, Wednesday and Friday. She’s Jackie bloody Fitzgerald – previously Burkhart – she’s not going to wallow more than that. How undignified.) And yeah, okay, her husband sometimes comes home smelling like someone else’s perfume and there was that one time (only once. He promised her that) she ended up with a fat lip just in time for a charity gala because she dared bring up the lipstick smudge on the underside of his jaw (in that whorey red color they sell at grocery stores). And, shit, even Jackie can’t style a bruised lip.
(Jackie admits, late at night when she’s staring at the empty side of the bed next to her after another night Edward didn’t make it home, that this isn’t the win 18 year old Jackie – dreamy and naïve – was hoping for, because now she’s even lonelier than she was then.)
Now she’s stuck waiting every day with a meal on the table for a guy she’s never fully sure will come home. She doesn’t love him, not really, but what else is she supposed to do? Who else would want her now? She’s never been good enough, not for Michael or Steven, not even for her boring, stuck up (and that’s coming from her) husband. And now she’s a mom and a wife and this was everything she was supposed to want, but just. Just not like this. Honestly, just fuck, really.
She loves her kids. Tries every day to be the type of mom she wanted when she was little; she makes sure they never feel alone in this big, cold, empty fucking house. She makes sure they know she loves them and desperately tries to make up for everything Edward doesn’t do. She’s there at parents’ evenings and school productions, there to always watch Melissa’s ballet performances and James’ soccer matches and even his really bad attempts at skateboarding in the driveway (because, while she loves her son, he’s really not got his sister’s balance). She puts them to bed each night and reads them stories with all the silly voices. She makes sure Lissa always has the best dress for school dances and James has the best Superman costume for Halloween.
She would die for her kids; could never, ever regret them. But she can’t deny that she’s also so, so sad sometimes.
But it’s fine. She deals with it. It’s okay.
Edward increasingly makes it more obvious that he’s sleeping with his PA and while she hates cheaters, she can’t help but be kind of glad. The more her husband isn’t home, the more she realizes she kind of prefers it that way.
He doesn’t give the kids any attention (one time he called their daughter Melanie), he’s always angry and whenever he’s around he always finds ways to pick her apart (or worse, the children apart). It was one morning, when he hadn’t even bothered to come home to pretend like he wasn’t spending nights in a hotel room he’d bought for someone else, that she realized she was spread over both sides of the bed. And she cried, there in her big bed with the stupidly overpriced white sheets, because a wife shouldn’t like the way that a mattress has forgotten the shape of her husband, shouldn’t like the feeling of being able to lie across two pillows.
He still gives her access to his bank account and once every month she gets to dress up all fancy to go to some event he wants to take her to (these events may be completely awful, with women who gossip about her because they know her marriage is hanging on by a thread, but they usually have a decent free bar and she can spend three hours getting ready when she’s used to having a solid 10 minutes tops to look suitable for leaving the house.)
Which, obviously, is when life throws her a bit of a curveball.
“Lis, don’t just kick off your shoes. You know we put them in the shoe rack, sweetie,” Jackie calls to the little girl who is currently taking her shoes off by pressing down on the back of the heel and flinging them up into the air. She turns to look at her mother as she flings her other shoe off. Jackie huffs out a sigh but doesn’t comment on it because in the next second her daughter picks her shoes back up and places them dutifully on the rack.
Melissa then skips off in the direction of the kitchen, no doubt to grab her after school snack, and Jackie hangs back to help James with his shoes. Her younger child hasn’t yet managed to get the hang of laces even though he had been very confident in his ability when he’d chosen them out in the shoe shop. She places his shoes on the rack next to Melissa’s as James gets up from the bottom step of the stairs.
It’s then when she notices the stack of letters she’d stacked on the hallway cabinet on the way out of the house that morning, still unopened, and picks them up before following James down the corridor to the kitchen.
She shuffles through the pile as she enters the kitchen, glancing up to see Melissa already say at the kitchen table, glass of milk and her chosen fruit snack (apple, like 90% of the time). She fills a glass of juice up for James as he gets onto his tiptoes to reach the fruit bowl, taking a banana and the juice Jackie hands him before hopping over to sit at the table next to his sister. They’re always remarkably well behaved for the first half an hour they get home from school before going absolutely berserk just before they have their dinner.
“Any homework?” She asks as she goes back to her pile of letters.
Bills, bills, advertisement, her magazine (she puts that aside), envelope addressed to Miss Jackie Burkhart, bills. Wait. Jackie Burkhart. She moves the rest of the pile aside, taking her (week old) manicured finger along the seam to open it up.
“We have an art project but it’s not due until next week,” Melissa says around a bite of apple.
“No talking with your mouth open, Melissa.”
“But you asked a question.”
Jackie snaps her eyes across to her daughter, the warning look that only being a mother for six years gives you the ability to pull off, and her daughter automatically falls silent, an apologetic look crossing over her features instead.
“Mmhm,” Jackie hums, looking back at the letter as she pulls it out of the envelope, “James? Homework?”
She scans the letter, not immediately taking any of it in, assuming it to be junk mail because of the numerous magazines she’s subscribed to these days. It’s only as her eyes drop from the flower decorative border down to start reading the actual letter that it starts to register, her mouth automatically falling open the further she reads.
You are cordially invited to celebrate the wedding of
Eric Albert Forman
Donna Marie Pinciotti
Jackie stops reading after that, her eyes blurring so she can no longer read the rest of the loopy, italic print. Distantly, she can hear her son babbling on about something – a times tables test? Spelling test?, she honestly isn’t sure – but everything has faded out except for those words. Her heart feels like it’s made its way to lodge in the back of her throat, leaving her only mildly winded, and she can hear her blood pulsing through her ears. (If she was in her right mind, she’d wonder how this can still affect her like this, all these years later.)
The last time she’d felt like this was when she was standing just before the church doors opened, hands clammy and heart feeling like an explosion behind her ribcage, knowing that she shouldn’t marry Edward in that bone-deep, aching way you do when you’re making a very bad decision.
She lowers the letter, looking up at her children, now looking like they’re arguing about something, except she can’t tune in enough to hear what they’re actually saying. It’s only reflex that she manages to choke out a “James, don’t shove your sister,” when the boy reaches across the table to, no doubt, try to push Melissa off her seat.
She’s not entirely sure how they got her address, she hasn’t spoken to either of them since she left. Maybe from her mom. She isn’t entirely sure what Pam is doing these days, last saw her when it was Melissa’s birthday five months ago, although she’s pretty sure that she’d met some guy on a cruise and Jackie knows what that means. Pam hadn’t mentioned anything about Point Place, but then again, her mother didn’t talk about much of anything except the boob job she’d got some poor guy to fork out for her. It’s entirely possible, however, that despite Jackie not setting foot in the state of Wisconsin, her mother might not have done the same. Especially if a man or money took her there.
It might be funny that after everything that happened back then, that Jackie’s the one already married, and Donna and Eric are the ones that ended up leaving it eight years. Although it’s also easier for Jackie to get down the aisle when she’s not trying to drag Steven down it with her.
“Mommy? Are you okay?” She looks down, which shows exactly how zoned out she’d been, to see Melissa wrapped around one of her legs, big, blue eyes (the one thing she’d inherited from her father because the thick, dark hair was all her) looking up at her.
“Yes, darling. I’m okay, baby,” Jackie strokes the hair back from her daughter’s face, long gone is the braid she’d tidied it into that morning, wisps of hair more out of the plait than it, “What game do you fancy playing tonight? I can manage an hour before I have to start making dinner?”
James sounds delighted at that, used to having to wait until after dinner for any mom time, having to make do with his sister, “Dinosaurs?”
“Ew, no,” His sister scrunches up her nose, “You never let me be the T-Rex.”
Later, when they’re both tucked into bed (after having to nearly force feed Melissa her peas, mopping up the flood that was the bathroom after bath time and four bedtime stories – three of which she had to read James), she finds herself back in the kitchen. She’s had a bath too, got into her pajamas, and poured herself a glass of wine. She’s got the phone pressed to her ear, but she hasn’t made much effort to dial a number.
She wraps the cord around her finger, not entirely sure who she wants to call. Her mom, maybe? Although she’s not sure whether the number her mom left for her the last time she visited even still works for her. She used to know the Forman’s number off by heart, still does, probably, if she tried, but she isn’t sure that’s the number still. Probably not. She picks up the invitation, still sitting on the counter from where she left it earlier and studies it. There’s a number to RSVP to, as well as an address, that she assumes to be the Pinciotti-Forman residence. She starts dialing the number before she’s even thought it through fully.
It’s 11 o’clock. They probably won’t even answer, she tells herself, panic already steadily rising in her chest, the feeling of tightness starting as if her heart is swelling up. She listens to it ring and before she has time to back out and slam the phone down, she hears the phone get picked up on the other end.
“Hello?” It’s weird, maybe. It’s been 8 years (and 5 months, 2 weeks) since she last heard that voice, but she still recognizes it down the phone line.
She can’t breathe all of a sudden, motionless, unable to put the phone down but also completely unable to say anything.
She must take too long to reply because she hears Donna huff, “Kelso, if this is you, stop prank calling us.”
It feels like it’s 1978 all over again. Tears somehow prick her eyes and what the fuck? She’s not that girl anymore. She’s grown up. She’s moved on, for God’s sake. She hasn’t missed them (except she had. She knows she has.)
She closes her eyes tight, holds the phone closer to her ear, the plastic hard against her cheekbone (now more pronounced because the rest of her teenage baby fat has gone and she’s been living off the scraps off her kids’ plates ever since she started having to eat alone). It shouldn’t feel so nice, so warm, so safe hearing Donna’s voice. It does, though. It really, really does. She closes her eyes tighter to stop from crying, her hand going up to her lips.
“I’m hanging up now –,”
“No, don’t,” Spills over her lips before Jackie can even try and stop it.
The other line falls silent and she half expects Donna not to recognize her voice, to think this is a junk call and slam the phone down, but after a half-beat of silence, “Jackie?”
“I got your wedding invitation. Should I be worried that you’re stalking me? I know that I’m more interesting than you, but you should probably find a new hobby.”
She doesn’t really know where it came from, hadn’t thought through what she was going to say. But it’s Donna. Her Donna.
Donna lets out a surprised laugh, “Jackie,” Donna repeats, except this time like maybe she’s got tears in her eyes too, the name sounding watery.
“Congratulations. I can’t believe Eric managed to keep hold of you for so long.”
Donna is definitely crying now. Jackie can’t really remember her crying much. Remembers how shaken up she was to see her crying after Eric had ditched her before the wedding, big, ugly cries, and how Jackie knew she wanted to rip Eric’s tiny balls off the next time she saw him.
“Shit, it’s really you. I, uh, didn’t really expect to hear from you.”
“I needed to know whether I have a stalker and whether I should change address.”
“You’re still the same,” Donna lets out a surprised laugh, “I’ve missed you, Jackie Burkhart.”
“Erm… Fitzgerald actually,” She cuts in awkwardly. Well aware that while she may have gotten an invite for Donna’s wedding, she didn’t quite provide the same courtesy.
“Fuck,” Donna breathes, “Jackie Beulah Fitzgerald, huh?”
“Nearly 7 years… Look, Donna, I’m sorry I didn’t invite you to –,”
“No, no. I get it,” Donna cuts her off, “7 years… Shit.”
It’s quiet for a moment.
“I got your address from my dad. Pam passed it along a while ago when she stopped into Point Place. I think she was half trying to see if there was any way she could get him back. I didn’t know whether the address would still be the same, but, uh… I guess it was? Eric said he didn’t think it’d be the same, said there was no point in trying, but I guess I had to?”
“He probably just didn’t want me there.”
Donna laughs, “Yeah, maybe. I’m glad though. That I tried.”
Jackie’s silent for a second. Her eyes feel wet still. She looks down at the bare toes, “Me too.”
“Will you come? To the wedding? You can have a plus one, bring Mr Jackie Fitzgerald.”
There’s about a 90% chance that any weekend Donna’s chosen for her wedding happens to fall on a weekend when Edward has a ‘business trip’. She can’t actually remember the last time he was home at a weekend, and even when he has been, he’s normally been in his office until the early hours of the morning before finally dragging himself to bed just a few hours before Jackie would inevitably have to wake up to prevent James from bounding into their bedroom and bouncing up and down on the bed like he does every morning (Edward’s never actually hurt the children, mainly goes the route of ignoring their existence, but she’s always a little worried on those mornings. Edward isn’t great on less than 6 hours of sleep).
“Uh… Donna? Is there any chance I could have a plus two instead?”
“You got a second boyfriend? How progressive.”
Jackie forces out a laugh, “I wish. No, uh, Edward is busy that weekend,” She twirls the phone cord around her finger again, pulling tight enough to cut off her circulation, “No, I have two children. So, just two tiny plus ones.”
Donna gasps, sounding excited, “Baby Burkharts?” Her voice sounds delighted, kind of like how it used to when Eric had done something she deemed stupidly endearing, or when Kelso had just done something plain stupid, “Of course you can bring them! Does this mean you’re coming?”
“I guess so.”
Fuck. Guess so.
“Shit, everyone’s going to be so excited to see you.”
Jackie highly doubts that, but she doesn’t comment. It’s been eight years, maybe some things do change (she certainly has). Maybe Kelso’s a genius now and Eric’s gained sixty pounds, “Uh… Yeah, I’m excited to see everyone.”
They continue small talk for a bit, although it’s difficult to catch up on eight years of life in the space of a ten-minute phone conversation. Donna sounds the same. Jackie’s not sure what she was expecting, not that she was expecting anything really because this is not how she planned her day ending. But she thought, maybe, if she ever did speak to Donna again, something would be different. Maybe that she’d have finally ditched Eric. Become a page 3 model in aid of advancing feminism by becoming the object to defeat objectification, or something. She wasn’t entirely sure, but it felt the same as it did calling her about whatever problem of the week she was having back then (some cheerleader she hated, Kelso, and later, Steven, a pair of shoes that she’d liked that weren’t in her size at the mall), and Jackie guesses the most surprising thing about it all was how normal it all felt, even now, after everything that’s happened. Jackie half regrets all those years she spent avoiding the 100-mile radius around Wisconsin because maybe she could have had it all or, at least, a little bit of it. A new life with traces of her old one.
But, she supposes, Donna is perhaps the easiest part of her life in Point Place, so maybe she doesn’t regret it after all.
Donna catches her up on herself, although it does appear that she carefully avoids everything else. She’s living in her dad’s old house with Eric after he decided to move to Florida to follow some woman half his age a few years back. She spent the first few years after Jackie left travelling around the world, sometimes with Eric and sometimes not. Now she works as a journalist for some column in the local newspaper, settled, finally, after working for bigger newspapers that took her everywhere. She supposes that makes sense, and it also makes sense that Eric waited for her through it all because even he knew that he was never going to find anything better. Eric’s a teacher at the local high school. He both hates and loves the kids there in equal measure.
“So yeah, we got engaged two years back, just after we moved into our house. Long engagement, I guess. Funny, huh? After that whirlwind back then… But, yeah. Mrs Forman probably wanted us to be married and have a billion kids by now, but luckily Laurie’s got three now. It’s insane, actually. She really popped them out for a bit there. Only two dads, mind. The dad of the two youngest looks like he’s sticking around.”
Jackie lets Donna talk about Point Place, and something deep within her, the itch beneath the surface of her skin that’s she’s not been able to scratch since she left Wisconsin, finally feels like it’s been eased a little the more she talks.
Jackie knows, thought about it on nights too dark and too lonely, when she could finally start thinking in truths (because, somehow, truth always seems to be allergic to light), that while she’d ran away from Wisconsin, she’d also ran away from herself. When she’s had too much wine and the kids are asleep and Edward’s on the other side of the bed with cheap perfume clinging to his skin that she’d never buy, she thinks about the fact that she was happy back then. And that maybe she’d turned herself inside out trying to get away from the heartbreak that being happy can bring, and how much easier it is when she doesn’t have to worry about that. (Except. She also knows that she left something of herself behind back in a basement in 1979.)
She feels calm now, listening to Donna's strangely still-familar voice over the static phone lines, deafeningly calm, her stomach no longer a torrid of waves, but she knows that a storm is coming.