I know I’ve been MIA for a while and I have a wonderful explanation for that, which I will post about shortly. 🙂
But right now, I want to share a short story I wrote for the Central PA Magazine Writing Contest at the beginning of the year. Out of 164 entries, I was honored to be one of 16 finalists. I attended the awards ceremony and I was so very happy for the gentleman that won. His story was wonderful and once it’s published, I’ll link to it.
Anyway, I was very proud of what I wrote and thought I’d share it here! It’s just as short story, less than 1,500 words, so it won’t take long to read. Enjoy!
DECISIONS AND WHITE LIES
I waited for the green-flecked amber eyes, identical to the ones I saw in the mirror every day, to look in my direction.
They finally did, boring into mine over the rim of a recyclable cardboard coffee cup. The last time I saw those eyes, they were covered in greasy newborn eye ointment. The owner of those eyes then lowered her latte to the round, artfully-distressed table between us. With a shaky index finger, she wiped the froth from her upper lip.
“So, what do you do?” Her gaze darted nervously around my face and over my shoulder-length dyed brown hair. I self-consciously fingered my temple, where I knew the gray hair always showed first.
My lips moved but the words crashed and mashed in my throat, like a traffic jam. I cleared it and tried again. “I’m a rape crisis counselor.” I sounded the a as a short vowel sound, as if it would ease the impact of the short a in rape.
Her head tilted an inch to the right. “Wow, that’s an important job, but I’m sure it can be hard.”
I lifted one shoulder. “There are days.”
Silence fell, and the chatter of the coffee shop surrounded me. Customers ordering caffeine-laden treats. The barista hollering orders. The hiss of the expresso machine steaming milk.
My 31-year-old daughter tapping a booted heel on the leg of her wrought-iron chair.
I broke the silence between us. “So, you…you like your parents?”
“Yes, very much. My mom is funny and likes to crochet. The worse thing about her is that she makes me wear her creations.” She fluffed out her scarf, a mess of purple, brown and tan yarn. “Dad worked a lot and still does, but he made sure we had plenty of family time on the weekends. I was the only kid they adopted, so I received a lot of attention.”
I swallowed in reflex, but my mouth was dry. “I’m happy to hear that.”
She kept her eyes on me, fingering a loose thread on her scarf.
“So,” I said, “you wanted to meet with me for a reason?”
Her head bobbed in a curt nod. Fumbling in her beige, worn-leather purse, she pulled out an envelope. She ran her finger under the seal, pulled out a photograph, and slid it in front of me.
For the second time that day, I stared into my own eyes, but now they were set in the face of a little girl. Her light brown hair was pulled into a messy ponytail on the side of her head with a hot pink scrunchie. Her grin showed a gap where two front teeth had been. Behind her, a man with thick-rimmed glasses bore a dimpled smile, his hand on the little girl’s shoulder.
I looked up at my daughter, whose eyes were on the picture. She raised them, blinking rapidly as they glistened. “My husband and I have a daughter. Her name is Cara and she is seven. She likes pink, purple, ponies and-” she barked a short laugh, “-fire trucks.”
I took stock of my expression. My lips were frozen into an open-mouthed smile. I puckered them to test their mobility. “She’s beautiful.”
My daughter smiled then, a crooked smile that I didn’t recognize. It wasn’t my smile.
“Thank you.” She gestured to the picture. “You can keep it if you want.”
A hot flash roared through my head and then down in the pit of my stomach. “Really?”
I picked up the picture as if it was made of whisker-thin glass, slipping it carefully inside the envelope she handed me. I tucked it into the zipper portion of my messenger bag, nestled among tampons, sugar-free mints, and a dried-up tube of medicated lip balm.
“Thank you,” I said.
She gave a brief nod. “You’re welcome.” She paused and took a deep breath. “The reason I…wanted to find you is because I wanted to know a little about my family medical history. For Cara. Just so I’m aware of whether she is at risk for anything.”
I watched my daughter don her mom-hat and a swell of happiness threatened to rush out of my mouth in a delighted shriek.
I tamped it down and focused on her question.
“Well, I have high blood pressure. My father had diabetes, but that was Type 2, because of his weight. Fortunately, there isn’t much to tell you.”
My daughter’s face relaxed. “Well, I’m glad to hear that.”
I hated to ask the next question, but I wanted to know. “Do you like being a mom?”
Her chin snapped into her neck in surprise and her eyes widened. Then she neutralized her face. “I love it. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done in my life.”
I fingered my coarse napkin. “That’s good. I’m happy for you.”
Her boot began tapping again. “I also…wanted to meet you. I know I waited thirty-one years, but I needed that time.”
“I’m glad you reached out.”
We finished our coffees and exchanged phone numbers, addresses and emails. No promises were made beyond Christmas card list additions.
Because she had a mother and father. Good ones.
As we left the coffee shop, I focused on the ground ahead of me, counting down the yards to my car, counting down the minutes until I was free from further questions.
It was the first time she had said my name, and her voice cracked on the second syllable. When I looked up, she was biting her lip.
She released her lip and I watched as the blood rushed back to the abused area. “My birth certificate didn’t list a father. Can you…tell me anything about him?”
This was the question. The question I avoided my whole life. The reason I named my six-pound-seven-ounce baby Hope and handed her over to a young couple to adopt mere hours after her birth. I had replayed this moment in my head many times. It kept me awake at night. It would sometimes sneak up on me while I was doing simple tasks, like vacuuming my floor or cleaning my sink, and it would almost bring me to my knees.
I had wavered back and forth constantly on what I would do if this moment ever became a reality.
And now it was.
It was the moment I had to decide whether I’d tell Hope I was raped at nineteen by a stranger in a dark corridor in my apartment complex. A stranger whose face remained in shadow. A stranger who retreated into the dark as quickly as he’d come. And that she’d been born eight months and three weeks later.
My lips moved, my body and heart making the decision for me. It took my brain a minute to catch up.
“I only met him once. I don’t even know his name. I’m sorry.”
Judgment flashed over her face for a second, and then she sighed in resolution, gazing at the sky over my shoulder.
For the first time since I was twenty years old, huddled over a plastic stick showing two pink lines, my chest lightened. My lungs cleared. My skin slithered over muscles eased of tension.
The decision was made. The truth omitted. The white lie told. I still had no idea if it was the right thing to do.
As she looked back at me and smiled sadly, but with acceptance, I decided I didn’t care.
I nodded at her. She nodded at me. And I watched my Hope walk away.