“No one is as capable of gratitude as one who has emerged from the kingdom of night.” ~Elie Wiesel
“THE OLDER PEOPLE GET, the more like themselves they become.” My mother told me this when I was a little girl. I did not understand what she meant at the time. But now that I am in my early sixties and she is eighty, I believe my mother was right.
The following is part of a journal entry I wrote several months ago.
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August 11, 2014
I found a baby swallow dangling from the side of his mud nest this morning, about to fall headfirst onto the cement floor of our back porch. When I reached up and gently disentangled his foot from the clump of mud that had kept him from falling, his tiny body was so cold that I thought he was dead.
Then I realized he was still breathing, so I held him between my cupped hands until he warmed, lightly rubbing his bony back with my finger. He finally made a small chirping sound and opened his mouth wide. Satisfied that the tiny bird was healthy enough to ask for food, I climbed up on a metal crate and returned him to the nest, snuggled in with his four siblings.
As soon as I left the porch, the adult birds resumed their endless rounds of feeding. “He will be all right,” I thought.
But an hour later I found him dangling off the side of the nest again. Unlike the first time when he was cold and still, the fragile baby was now struggling and chirping wildly, his tiny wings flapping ineffectually.
Once again I came to the rescue, pushing him further into the nest this time. I noticed he was the smallest of the swallow family and I was concerned he might not get enough food from the middle position. But I did not want to risk him falling over the edge again.
A few hours later when I let our two dogs out into the yard, I found the baby bird lying on the porch floor – still alive, but barely. Then I knew that his parents must have ejected him from the nest. I cried as I held his dying body in my hands. “I’m so sorry I couldn’t save you,” I whispered.
Scrappy, the poodle pup my husband and I found abandoned and starving on the highway last April, tried to lick-kiss away my tears.
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From the time I was a little girl I have been drawn to small, innocent, dependent creatures. Kittens, puppies, and the soft white rabbits my dad kept in a wire cage behind the shed filled my heart with love and maternal longing. (I’m glad I was nearly grown before I understood the connection between my mother’s fried chicken dinners and the dwindling number of rabbits in the cage.)
Although I was often called a Tomboy because I loved being outdoors, soaking up the sunshine and climbing trees, I was All Girl when it came to my precious doll-babies. When the rabbits vanished and the cat grew too big to allow me to dress him in a baby bonnet and rock him to sleep, I lavished my maternal love on my collection of dolls, dreaming of the day when I would grow up to be a mommy with real live babies to love.
I was not quite seven when my twin sisters were born, ending my lonely, only-child status. Contrary to our mother’s prediction that I would be consumed with sibling rivalry, I reveled in my role as “Big Sister/Second Mother.”
My baby siblings were alive only because I prayed them into existence. I truly believed this when I was a child! Some time after I was born, my mother had one ovary and part of her uterus removed due to a condition called endometriosis. The surgeon told my parents that my mother would never be able to have another child.
But my preacher father taught from the pulpit of his small country church that if we “pray without ceasing, pray without doubting, pray with faith the size of a tiny mustard seed,” our prayers will be answered.
I believed everything my parents said in those days. So night after night I prayed myself hoarse, begging God to send me a baby sister or brother.
Soon after I started first grade, my mother announced that she was pregnant. When she surprised everyone, including her doctor, by delivering twins, and again when she gave birth to a boy just fifteen months later, I was beyond ecstatic. My blond-haired, blue-eyed sisters and brother were living proof, to my young mind, that God was real and He really answers prayer. Jesus loved me, this I knew, for He had answered my prayers in triplicate!
When I did not have to be in school I was alongside my mother, happily feeding, diapering, and rocking one baby or another. I was never more content than when I had something small, sweet, and cuddly to nurture and love.
This was my nature as a young girl and this is my nature today.
FOR THIS REASON, it is beyond my ability to comprehend the inhuman monsters among us who neglect, abuse, and sometimes kill their own precious children. Every few days, it seems, another heart-wrenching horror story hits the news: a father who leaves his toddler son to die in a hot car, allegedly because he wants a “child-free life.” A mother who, over a period of years, disposes of her newborn infants in bags of garbage left out in the garage, because she doesn’t want anything to get in the way of her meth habit. Another mother who shoots and kills her teenage son and daughter for being “mouthy.”
The infamous “not guilty” young mom who partied night and day while the body of her three-year-old daughter rotted in a garbage bag in the woods near her parents’ home. The pastor’s wife who, furious after a marital argument, exacts her revenge by drowning their five children, one at a time, in the bathtub. A father who throws his little girl to her death off a bridge. A mother who does the same to her son. Other parents who shake their children to death, beat and kick their children to death, starve their children, or leave them languishing for years locked in the prison of a windowless closet or an airless basement.
Mothers who drive their children into the ocean or a river or a lake, in one case because a potential boyfriend wasn’t interested in dating someone with children. A father who sets fire to the house with his children inside because he doesn’t want his estranged wife to get custody.
When I hear these horror stories, I know. I know there are many more stories just like these that are never discovered and never make the news.
I also know how it feels to be a child whose mother or father is trying to murder you.
After years of not being able to talk about the worst horrors that happened in my childhood, I finally worked up the courage to tell my story to a handful of people when I was in my thirties. But most of the people I told did not want to believe me, especially if they happened to know either of my parents.
Isn’t that the way it always is? Neighbors, coworkers, friends, and even close relatives of the murdering mom or death-dealing dad “cannot believe” that they could ever have done such an unthinkable thing, because they are “so nice.”
It hurts not being believed, but I really can’t blame the doubters. You see, I don’t want to believe my story, either. I would give anything for it not to be true.
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ABOUT COMMENTS: I have disabled comments to focus on writing my memoir. In the meantime, you may contact me on Twitter via @LadyQuixote.
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