Once upon a time I met a couple who, earlier in life, both had children out of wedlock. Wonderfully, they were deeply in love, although they had decidedly different attitudes toward those children, one of whom had been adopted. I was doing some work for an adoption agency at the time, where I ran into dozens of fascinating stories about adoption and identity, about how people give up what they love and then, mostly, never do.
All stories begin with "what if?" really, as does this one. What if these two sweethearts, both of them lugging along some fairly significant life experience, were to honestly face their own stories together?--that's what I was thinking. How might they react?
Those questions triggered the story "Denial," a story written at least a decade ago, at a time when people rather inexplicably stuck big butterflies on their front doors :).
Rachel knew it was dangerous to bring it along, but since no one was home she sneaked the wisp of Ashley's perfectly white hair out of her billfold and held it softly between her fingers, bright and shiny as angel feathers. Ashley was her baby, after all--she'd carried her, brought her into this world. She pressed the cellophane packet to her lips and imagined once again how incredible it would be, just once, to kiss her softly on the temple, on the cheek, on the top of her head.
Around her, Brian's house was silent--Brian at work, his mother at the store, and his father's road construction outfit somewhere in Chicago. She had taken the wisp of hair along because it was so slight she could hide it between her credit cards and it reminded her of the last letter, where Mark and Carolyn explained how Ashley would meet Mark every day when he came home from work, run to the stairway of their split-foyer the moment he walked up the stairs. "She's so darling, Rachel," he wrote, Mark the lawyer. "She puts her face between the balusters, every one of them--and I have to kiss her between every last one. She's so cute." That's what he wrote. That Mark had written the letter--that he would take the time, Ashley's father--that meant a lot, too.
The cat jumped up on the table and sniffed at the angel hair. She picked him up and dropped him softly back to the floor as she had a half dozen times before, the pest. But Grinch had taught her something really great: Brian was a cat lover too--in addition to everything else the two of them shared: macaroni-and-cheese, Emmy Lou Harris, When a Man Loves A Woman, wild vests, and so much more. He was so, well, perfect. When she thought about where she'd been and what she'd already come through, she knew Brian was a gift from God.
She was writing Mark and Carolyn and telling them about her and Brian, and thanking them for the little wisp of hair, the pictures, and the news that the little sweetheart was getting a head start on the "terrible twos." She'd left everything else at home. Her having had Ashley was no big secret to Brian's folks, but not bringing the letter and the pictures along was probably for the best, she'd thought.
On one of those pictures Ashley sat plopped in a kitchen drawer, towels and hot pads strewn all over, that naughty little smile over her face. At least twice a day, Mark said, the little stinker would head to the kitchen, empty the dishtowels from that drawer, then sit inside as if it were a bathtub.
She put the angel hair down and picked up her pen. Brian's high school graduation picture stared at her in silence from the buffet across the room. She had found his family's quiet nature difficult since she'd come, in the same way Brian's silences made her anxious sometimes. The circle of their lives seemed very small, and joyless. The house was tiny--narrow hallways, a stairway upstairs steep as a ladder--and the town looked like the set of Little House, a bunch of square-cut buildings on a bare prairie.
But Brian was an answer to prayer, she told Mark and Carolyn, a miracle. They had so much in common--both social work majors too, so they'd had classes together. My goodness, they shared so much.
Tomorrow: the kids across the street.