Her childhood had been sweet, filled with marshmallow hugs & chocolate kisses, of butterfly, angel, & Eskimo kisses, of kisses that flew from her hands like cosmic dust to decorate the sky, & of kisses from Grandma from that gold-paved paradise over the rainbow; of stork bites & tales from the Cabbage Patch, & monsters in the closet & under the bed that disappeared with the always precise aim of Mom’s crafty glue gun; of make-believe games & make-it-yourself puzzles; of art class with junk mail scraps & broken crayons, & a refrigerator that had become a museum gallery, with Lego magnets holding up hodgepodge collages; of music class with the laminated lyrics of hymns, folk songs, & Christmas carols; of PE in the park, field trips to everyday places, & lunch where cookie butter & Nutella sandwiches were always on the menu; of science class on the beach & Sunday school under the trees; of math class with numbers that had special significance— in her life or the lives of others or the history of the world; of a 24/7 library with fairy tales, folk tales, & tall tales, & thick scrapbooks that told the family history— the history she would end up repeating— that of happy marriages & childhoods, with written instructions & real-life examples on how to make them happen.
The frazzled, second-time mama, whose nerve endings were frayed, grieved for the time she robbed from Penny to spend on Polly, for the times she snapped at Penny because of Polly, & for the times she did not even hear Penny because of Polly, whose color of hangry ranged from tomato red to beet purple. As the principal of Sally Jane Richards’ Homeschool for the Housebound (& wife of the dean) cradled her colicky cuddlebug, her other hand reached out to reassure her doodlebug— this shiny new piece of change who had come into her life without a heads-up & put her into a temporary tailspin— that Book Club & Reading Club, Math with Monopoly Money, A.M. & P.M. Bingo, Wheel of Fortune-inspired Hangman, & Alphabet Soup & Word Salad with Bananagrams, had to wait for the not-so-secret formula to do its disappearing noise magic trick.
Her somewhat purpose-driven life had been collaged in snapshots, headshots, & group shots— in publicity poses, private portraits, & random selfies; in the stories she told about herself & about those who had known her before she had lost her name upon marrying & after she had found herself in Jesus’ name— these stories to which she bore false witness of herself, friendly witness to those who had righted her, & hostile witness to those who had wronged her; in the texts— sober & slightly tipsy— that she had sent to friends, enemies, & frenemies; in the filtered & unfiltered social media posts & comments everyone saw; in the footage that had captured this vain weather girl, this false prophetess who wore rain boots on sunny days, & this sometimes-misinformed meteorologist. Her life had been cataloged in the memories others had of her— from the barroom & the college of her twenties to the breakroom & the church of her thirties. And the patchwork life of Summer Storm was pieced together after her mysterious disappearance— when she could no longer defend herself— becoming a legend only because, like a hurricane, she had done her damage & vanished.
Since reaching late thirtysomething, Anne had wanted to know what it was like to have a child who would tell her she loved her without prompting, & the awareness she saw in the weeks-old bundle was sometimes more than she had seen in the years-old bundle who was crawling towards the age of accountability. As she looked at her children, one cradled in one arm, the other, snuggled under the arm that had yet to fall asleep, she knew there was not one daughter she preferred over the other, for how could one choose a right eye over a left? This mother— a family tree whose feminine, blue-eyed branches reached for the sun in opposite directions— brought the fruits of her labours closer to Solomon’s twin fawns. When Anne of the 1000-plus days looked to her husband, the king of her 900-square foot castle, she saw confirmation & absolution of her beliefs, reflected & shining from within the deep green pond, for to this ageing former head-banger now headmaster, they had the best of both worlds: a child who may never leave them & a child who may know well enough to do so.
The little blind child, who cannot touch Santa’s beard; the little deaf child, who cannot read Santa’s lips; the unborn child, who exists because two people were under lockdown but who may never see his or her grandparents except through a screen or glass; the lonely child, from whom kindness and touch is denied him— like the Romanian babies of Communism; the poor child, whose needs remain at the bottom of the pyramid; the special needs child, isolated from others like her but loved without pre-existing conditions— who sees Santa in a way no one else does, sensing his spirit in her parents, if not his presence in strangers.
Since coming of legal age, she had voted her conscience, though this time, she knew it wasn’t so important that others knew why she voted the way she did, but that she knew why, & she needed to justify to no one of her reasons, which were her own. In remembrance of a life well-lived, she recalled her grandpa’s words when someone had asked who he was voting for, & he had said, without apology & without hesitation, “None of your damn business.” She realized then that just as everyone had a right to their opinion, no one had a right to hers.
She didn’t yet have a name, but she had a job— to someday watch over the sister, whom she would never outpace in age, after their parents had returned to Heaven; to watch over the sister who some saw as a cute little dot on a wide spectrum— this blitheful child who wrote in smileys & spoke in echoes & laughed at movement, not jokes, & whose dreamlike gaze noticed the page numbers but not the words. But as the mother looked at her rapidly expanding belly that contained an entire universe of being, she wondered if this unknown quantity would outpace the one outside her body; for every parent’s worry about their child whose needs were different than most was Who will love them when I am gone?
A bottle of White Diamonds perfume next to the last paperback you were reading, left on your crowded nightstand with something as completely random as a piece of junk mail serving as a bookmark; a Coca-Cola in the fridge, half-full— “an accident waiting to happen,” as Dad would say; a half a pack of cigarettes with the lighter inside, every book written by Lori Copeland and Kathleen Woodiwiss, a hutch filled with Coca-Cola memorabilia. So many reminders of the things you enjoyed in life remain, their disuse telling the story that even though you don’t live here anymore, your memory does, for it is protected from the elements of decay, even as it is preserved in the minds of those who knew you best.
Raised on God & with the 2-parent privilege, she recognized that she was who she was, not just because of the choices she had made but because of the choices those before her had made— a birthright she sought to pass down to her children: a stable home in an unstable world. She had been given a set of rules, of precious metals, that became more polished with every use. She was limited not by her integuments, varying in color & texture, nor had she profited from them, for the grades she had gotten, the stories she had written, & the job she had been offered, she had earned. In a world that was surviving a natural disaster, only to be thrust into a man-made one, where order & change could not coexist, living in 1984 36 years hence, & in a world that sought to gaslight her into hating how God had made her, demanding that she atone for other people’s sins, she looked inside herself & saw it was possible to be neither the oppressed nor the oppressor.