“I thought we’d go to the river today for a little R&R,” John said before swallowing the last of his coffee.
“Sounds good, honey,” Rachael looked at me. “What do you say, June?” she asked, sensing my rejection. “This will help you take your mind off of things,” she added with an animated nod.
“Oh, okay,” I agreed, standing to take my cup to the sink.
“Let me get that for you,” Rachael grabbed her cup, John’s and then mine and headed for the kitchen.
“I’ll go get ready,” I said, leaning in to give John a hug.
“Bring it in,” he joked. “But before the river we need to go and pick up…”
“I know,” I smiled. “My mother’s things.” The psychiatrist, Dr. Arnold Davenport, convinced me to come and collect her things rather than him mail them, or toss them as I had suggested. He said he needed to talk to me, show me some things that may make understanding her easier.
I started down the hallway. The walls were lined with my school pictures and the pictures of nieces and nephews in the same stiff pose smiling on cue. The third room on the left was mine, still mine after being away at college for a year. I sat down at the foot of the canopy bed and let out a long breath. The same white, lace bedding covered the bed. The same lavender butterfly ornaments sat on the dresser. And in the closet there was still the trunk we called Prosper Road, home to some old clothes, shoes, pictures, and a journal I kept to chart my feelings, something my counselor, who I met with for a year, suggested. On the wall across from my bed was an old tattered quilt, started by my Grandma Betty and finished by Sage, her hands unskilled but eager to create a portrait of our lives through scraps of old clothes. I touched the yellow and blue patch in the upper right corner; it was a piece of Sage’s dress, the one she wore to Aunt Mary’s wedding. In the upper left corner was an all green patch, a piece of father’s coat, and next to it a black and white polka dot patch from mother’s dress, the one she danced in on warm summer nights, Sage and I joining her in the yard until the sun retreated and darkness filled the sky, twinkling stars collecting our wishes. It now rested on the wall, keeping memory in tack, but I remembered a time when it covered me during the long nights at A Place Called Home, a residential for wayward, or otherwise, abandoned girls.
Debbie maneuvered her car through the crowd of police officers busy running yellow tape around the property, the coroner and his staff preparing to slip the body into a bag and haul it up the basement stairs, and reporters aiming their lenses hoping to get just the right pictures they could use to write a story no one would ever imagine was true. I stared out the back window at the house with the sinking roof surrounded by wild grass, overgrown and engulfing, until there was nothing to look at but the dust of our tracks.
“Everything will be okay,” Debbie offered, peering at me through the rear-view mirror. “I pray that you get through this one day,” she said under her breath.
I had no idea of what the future held and couldn’t bear to let myself wonder about “one day.” The present was heavy, suffocating. I closed my eyes and curled myself into a ball. Tears puddled on the vinyl seat as flashes of memory, framed and perfect, flowed through my mind keeping it from collapsing, keeping pain, in its most destructive state, from destroying me.
“You might as well get comfortable,” Lucinda said as she checked me in. “Kids your age don’t leave this place.”
“Did they call my Aunt Mary?” my voice quivered. I knew she didn’t want to take me in but thought that maybe a feeling of obligation would overtake her and she’d allow me to live in her garage as long as I promised to never bother her.
“Sorry kid…I don’t think that’s going to be an option for you.”
She led me to a room with twelve beds. Mine was bed eleven, between Samantha Denton, whose parents died in a fire, and Lily Henderson, whose parents left her at the supermarket with a note explaining why—there was no room for her and not enough money to feed her. Lucinda set the bag Debbie had packed for me on the bed. It had a few pairs of clothes, an extra pair of shoes—that actually belonged to Sage—a jacket, a photo album, and the quilt.
“This is it for now, kid,” Lucinda popped her gum. “The social worker said she’d go back and get some more stuff for you after the investigation is over. For now this is all you own so keep up with it.”
Debbie never came back. And I never received any more of my belongings. I learned later that Aunt Mary had the house torn down and sold the property for a quarter million.
Night after night I lay under that quilt on bed eleven fully dressed, wearing Sage’s shoes. I imagined the patches were her hands holding me, soothing me, telling me, “You don’t have to be scared because you got me.”
Besides an occasional disobedience, life in residential was routine. Lights were turned off at 8pm and they came back on at 6:00am, giving us just enough time to do our morning chores and get ready for school. They asked nothing more from us than our compliance. We settled into a silent detachment, letting our pasts ebb and numbness cover us. We swept our room, scrubbed the showers, scoured dishes, set the table—fork on the left, spoon and knife on the right–made our beds—corners tucked in, not out. And when we learned that prospective parents had agreed to take us in their homes, we waited in the garden ready to trade in this life for a real family.
I was placed with John and Rachael in September, five months after Debbie dropped me off. Judy Jamison, the onsite social worker drove me to their home, a suburb of Patterson called Arcadia: a community of Tudor-style residences with two chimneys, one on each end, three levels of Dormer windows, brick siding, and a steep, pitched roof I marveled.
“Come on in,” John and Rachael met us at the door. “Welcome, home,” Rachael reached for my bag. “We are so happy you are going to be staying with us…let me show you your room,” she put her arm around my shoulders. “Do you like butterflies?”
“Yes,” I whispered.
“Oh, good. Then you will love what I’ve done to your room.”
We arrived at Meadowview State Hospital just before Dr. Davenport left for lunch.
“I’m so glad you made it,” he greeted me, John and Rachael waited in the car. “Let’s go into my office.”
I sat in a plush chair and waited as he picked up a file and a small box from his desk.
“Ok…” he started, shuffling through his papers. “How are you?” he asked as he plopped down in the chair next to me. “I’m so glad you made it,” he repeated, nerves and disorganization getting the best of him.
“Thanks,” I couldn’t think of anything else to say. “What did you want to show me?”
“Well, the staff found this notebook under Marcy’s bed while they were cleaning.” He flipped through the pages. “It‘s not all coherent, but writings and sketches suggest that she did have moments of lucidity and was able to capture real events and people in her life.”
I sunk in my seat a little.
“Now, I know that the last time you were here your mother didn’t recognize you, but I’m certain that she still remembered you. Many of these entries were done after you stopped visiting.”
“Hmmm,” I grew impatient. “She told me I was dead to her. That’s pretty lucid.”
“I understand you’re angry…”
“I’m not angry. I had put all of that behind me and now that she’s dead I’m supposed to just…care. I gave that up, doc.”
“Let me show you something,” he opened the first page of the blue spiral notebook.
It was a sketch, half of a face. And underneath it, in tiny writing it read: Sebastian, thank you for protecting me. I looked on unimpressed. Then he turned to the last page in the notebook, another half face; its inscription “Margolis, you hurt me. One day I will hurt you back.”
“So?” I said.
“I think these two halves belong together,” his excitement poured through his face.
“Do you mind if I rip these pages out and put them side by side?”
“Nope,” I feigned disinterest, but part of me was as curious.
Together the two faces made one: a bearded man with deep set eyes, big ears, thin hair, and a smirk that sent chills through my body.
“There’s more,” he said.