Today’s story idea came from Tanya Glanzman. Tanya’s blog is My Father’s Daughter. You can “like” her Facebook Page here. She also blogs for Circle of Friends Ministries. And she’s a mom. And she’s a teacher. And she’s a student. Somehow she balances it all. Here’s Tanya’s idea…
Anna is driven. She lives where it never snows :). She just found out that she has a sister 16 years younger than she – by her deceased mother who abandoned her.
My mother dropped me off at daycare one day when I was four. It was a Thursday just before Christmas. I played all day with my friends. Ate lunch and took a nap there. Waited in the evening for her to come pick me up. She always came to get me at 5:30.
But not that night.
And never again.
Off through the foster care system I went. I was lucky. Only four homes before I was adopted. And that family has been amazing. They made me who I am. They pushed me to do my best.
“Don’t let your mother ruin your life,” my adoptive mom would say. “She’s nothing. If anything, you should go for the big things in life just to show her how stupid she was to abandon you. You matter. You matter so much.”
And so, from that day on, I lived just to prove my mother wrong. Straight A’s. Valedictorian. Ivy league college. Hired into the corporate world right after graduation. Moved up to the executive level at 24. All of it to let the world know that my mother had no idea what kind of quality person she was turning her back on.
I was someone.
Someone of value.
To be completely honest, I avoided relationships. Never allowed myself to grow attached to the family that adopted me. I wouldn’t let a guy have a second date. Friends were out of the question. Alone I could accomplish. People would just get in the way of my success.
I was lonely.
But I was doing great things. So, it didn’t matter.
Until I got that phone call. In the middle of the night.
“Ms. Sledge? This is Helman Rodgers,” the man on the other line said.
I wondered who he could be. And I wondered why he called me by my birth mother’s last name.
“That is an outdated last name, Mr. Rodgers,” I said. “You need to fire your fact checker.”
“I’m terribly sorry.” He cleared his throat. “Do you mind telling me your current last name?”
“I do mind. I don’t know who you are or the nature of your call.”
“As I said, I’m Helman Rodgers. I’m the attorney in charge of your mother’s estate.” He cleared that throat again. “Excuse me, your birth mother’s estate.”
“She’s dead?” I asked, trying so hard to cover any emotion that might have come up with the little bit of bile in the back of my throat.
“She is.” He paused, I think he was expecting me to cry or ask what happened or something. “We have some matters to discuss, ma’am.”
“What is there to discuss? She’d dead. I moved on twenty years ago. End of story.”
“It isn’t that simple. There’s a more pressing and, uh, sensitive matter.” He waited for me to respond. I didn’t. “I’d like for you to come to my office tomorrow at your convenience.”
“Tomorrow isn’t good for me.”
“Then when would you be able to meet with me?”
“I’m a very busy woman.”
“You have some responsibilities that are being handed down to you. I know that you don’t want to deal with all of this, but it’s important that you at least know what you’re letting fall through some cracks.”
“And what would that be?”
“Oh, great. Then she can arrange the funeral and settle the estate.”
“She’s eight. She has no where to go. We didn’t want to put her in foster care.”
I couldn’t breathe. Couldn’t move. The room became far too hot.
“I’ll be there tomorrow first thing.”
“My office opens at 8 am.”
“I’ll be there.”
His office was in his home. The sweetest, warmest woman welcomed me in.
“I’m Mrs. Rodgers,” she said. “Helmie will be with you in just a second. Can I get you some coffee, dear?”
“Yes. Thank you,” I answered. “Black, please.”
“Oh.” She curled her upper lip. “Honey, you should try it with a little cream. It takes that hard edge off. Soften things up a bit.”
“I’m watching my weight.”
“What are you watching it do? Cause I just can’t see any fat on you.” She started toward the kitchen. “The coffee’s not the only thing that needs a softer edge.”
She returned with the cup of coffee and left me to wait for her husband. He stepped out of a small office. He wasn’t what I expected. A short, round, bald man.
“Hello, would you please come in?” he asked.
His office smelled of old books and cigar smoke. He pointed me toward a chair and I sat.
“I’m sorry that I had to call so late last night,” he said. “I’d hoped to find a place for Crystal to stay.”
“Crystal. Is that my sister?”
“Yes. And she’s quite the little sweetie. My wife would love to have her live with us. But we’re old. At most, this would be a temporary situation.”
“Are there any other family members that can take her?”
“Not without felonies.”
“And you want me to adopt her.”
“Well, I don’t know about that. We have a lead on a family in Montana that are hoping to adopt an older child.”
“Montana? But that’s so far. What, six states away?”
“Seven.” He rubbed his smooth head with one of his hands. “Your mother wasn’t a very good person. She didn’t do right by Crystal. Child Protective Services was constantly called to the house. They wouldn’t take the girl away because they didn’t want to ‘break up the family’. I represented your mother on several occasions. She always refused to plead guilty. She couldn’t accept responsibility. And the system didn’t ever seem to have enough to convict her.”
“Or they didn’t want to spend the money…”
“I’m not trying to criticize the system here. Just telling you what happened.”
“Crystal has nightmares. And scars. Something horrible happened to her. She’s terrified of everything.”
I hadn’t thought about my early childhood in so long. The memory of fear surprised me. My mother’s angry screams. Frantic beatings. Days without dinner.
“How did my mother die?”
“She hung herself. Her note said she hated life. That she didn’t know how to take care of everything. She didn’t say anything about you or Crystal.”
Of course she didn’t. Because she didn’t care about us. Only herself. Only her selfish little, worthless existence. Worthless only because she made it that way.
“Can I meet her? My sister?”
Herman’s wife led the little girl into the living room. I walked out of the office. Crystal was so small. Far smaller than I expected. Her dark brown hair was pulled into a long, thick braid down her back. Blue eyes that looked so much like mine.
She didn’t smile.
“Crystal, this is your sister. Her name is Anne,” Mrs. Rodgers said. “Why don’t you say ‘hello’ to your sister?”
The girl looked at me. She shook her head. Whispered into the ear of the old lady.
“No, honey, she’s nice. She isn’t a thing like your mama.”
“Hey there,” I said. I took slow steps toward her. I put out my hand. “It’s nice to meet you.”
I knelt down next to her. Our eyes met. There was more in that look than I would have expected. She wasn’t like the little children I’d met before. There was a sameness in our gaze. A belonging.
She leaned into me. I put my arms around her. She was so thin.
“Everything’s going to be okay,” I said. “I’m going to make sure that everything is okay for you.”
She shook. I felt her tears on my shoulder through my shirt.
“We’ll show her,” I said. “We’ll show her that we matter.”