Originally posted 2012-9-19.
...different as night and day...
Rialto, California, 1983…
The man looked at himself in the mirror hanging over the sink in the bathroom. His graying hair was coming out in bunches now, and he wondered if he’d even survive long enough to manage even getting his affairs in order. The gentle invasion of crows’ feet at his eyes belied his young age; only thirty-seven and single, it was unfair that his best years were not in front of him, but lingered behind like a sad reminder of what could have been.
The voice came from behind. He turned to find his sister standing in the doorway of the bathroom. He went to close his robe and realized he wasn’t wearing a stitch save for his boxers. He saw that she had her face covered, but he still felt his face grow hot.
“Just a sec,” he gasped as he grabbed his robe off the hamper by the sink. He pulled the cord tight and spoke,
“It’s okay…you can look now.”
“You’ve got to save your strength.” She pointed back to the couch in the living room. He gazed over her shoulder.
“I’m not sure it’ll make much difference at this point, Sis, but okay…if you insist.” He trundled out to the couch and sat down, propping his feet up on a very worn ottoman.
“Please, Ger…” Susan put her head down, fearing that she wouldn’t have her brother around much longer.
“Sue? Face it. Barring a literal miracle, I’ve got very little time left.”
“You seem stronger today…maybe the meds are finally kicking in?” She frowned at her own lack of faith as her voice trailed off. He said nothing and she smiled.
“You’re the bravest man I know!” She winced at the words; more of a painful subject than the cancer itself was the lost opportunities; the faded faith and hope for a new future.
“Sorry, honey.” She rubbed her brother’s back, wishing she could unsay all the things she ever said and even all the other things anyone else had said to discourage him.
“It’s the nature of the illness. I’m just in a plateau… and I’m descending, hon.” His own levity did nothing to lighten the dark mood in the room, and Susan started sobbing.
“I just wish there was something….Ger….I don’t want you to die.” She plopped down on the couch next to him; almost comedic in appearance but for the tears and stuff running out of her nose.
“Me, too. I don’t know what else to do except hope and pray, but I’m not holding my breath.” He paused, realizing what he had just gasped out, and began to laugh and cough.
“You….I’ll be okay…today, Sue….you’ve got to get going, right?” He wasn’t so much trying to get rid of her as protect her; she needed to get to work since her boss wasn’t terribly sympathtic to her need to be with a brother who was dying…too slow to satisfy the demands on her own life and too fast to prepare her for the loss to come.
“I…” She protested even as he stood up and pulled her to her feet, ushering her toward the kitchen to retrieve her purse.
“I’m going to take a nap and catch up later with my reading time, okay?”
“Okay…I can take a hint,” she said as he shoved her playfully to the door. She kissed him lightly on the cheek and smiled.
“Do me a favor….” It was a lighthearted request that was laden with horribly sad overtones.
“I know….I promise I’ll still be here when you come by tonight. Okay?” He squeezed her hand weakly before gently ushering her out the door. He made his way back into the living room and lay down on the couch. Placing a pillow between his legs, he grabbed the airy crocheted blanket and held it like a stuffed animal; tightly with great expectations for comfort.
He hated that the pain had taken away much of his inner strength. He looked up at the ceiling and beyond into a gaping heaven and spoke softly.
“I want to be brave…God…please help me…..I wish my life mattered….”
Blinking out disappointed tears, he turned toward the back cushion of the couch; as ashamed as anyone who never deserved shame at all. But prayers can be an answer to questions never asked and expectations never expressed. As he fell asleep, he thought he heard some commotion off to his right….just what could be going on in his kitchen he would find out soon enough.
“Where'd you run off to?” The man seemed angry; he always seemed angry, since most of the time he was disappointed in someone or something, which almost always led back to the girl. She shuddered at the sound of his voice and gripped the teen magazine she was reading tightly enough to scrunch the cover.
“Ove…over here.” She said, raising her hand, as if she needed permission to breathe. He glared at her, but his look was the ‘business’ glare; an expression that while frustrating and demanding, still was so much better than his ‘other’ look. He motioned for her to ‘come’ as if he was beckoning a pet dog; benign on the surface, but with no kind intent. She quickly rose and scurried over to where he sat.
“There’s a change in the script. Learn it. You have to be in makeup early because we have a new member of our entourage you have to help.” He pointed to a figure standing off to one side. A girl about her age shrugged her shoulders and smiled.
She waved sheepishly; the deportment that says ‘I’m not worthy to be in your presence.’ If the girl had known Anna at all she would have realized that their age and resemblance was not nearly a coincidence, and that both girls had more than too much in common. And both, she would find out as well, were kin of a sort; brave and kind and loving and scared and sad….almost like cousins.
“They call me Patty, but my name is Anna…” She held out her hand and greeted the girl by pulling her into an embrace. Leaning close, she whispered.
“Run when you get the chance.” Pulling back, Anna smiled a very broad welcoming smile.
“What’s your name?” She had to ask, since the girl was too scared to say it without a request. The girl put her head down.
“Gerri.” A look of puzzlement crossed her face; it was almost as if she hadn’t recalled her own name until that moment. Anna nodded.
“That’s a nice name. Well, Gerri….just remember what I said and things will go just fine.”
“Gerri is going to do your back shots.” A woman’s voice came from behind.
“Nancy called me and John this morning; her mother is very ill, and she’s moving back to San Bernardino to be with family. Gerri will fill in and maybe we’ll keep her on if we like her.”
Anna cringed at the last few words out of Ethel’s mouth. She could only hope for the girl’s sake that they hated Gerri. She would be mistaken, but it was probably the best mistake she would ever make in her life.
A few weeks later...
“Now, Gerri, you’ve got to listen.” Ethel said as she combed the girl’s hair. Gerri turned around slightly and smiled; wanting to please. She had this strange strong sense of wanting to matter, and she hoped that she could please John and Ethel for her sake as well as for Anna.
“She can’t be in two places at once, so you’ll have to fill in for her here.”
Gerri nodded without a hint of understanding. Anna was going to do a publicity shoot; how would they explain her being ‘here’ as well? Ethel reached into the closet and pulled out a cocktail dress that was more suited for a young woman in her late twenties than for a girl who was barely seventeen. Gerri went to protest but though better of it. Somewhere in the back of her memory she felt a tug….a recollection of a dream of a hope of something just like the pretty dress her manager held.
She stood up at Ethel’s motion and stepped into the dress. The close of the zipper signaled that she was ready for the task at hand. Ethel sprayed some perfume on Gerri’s wrists and neck. Clipping on some faux diamond earrings, Ethel whispered,
“Just do whatever he tells you, okay?”
She put her hand on the small of Gerri’s back and ushered her to the inner door of the suite and let her in; the room on the other side of the door was dark save for a candle on the dresser, which reflected off of the mirror, filling the room with a dim and eerie glow. She turned to notice a man standing next to her. John smiled and closed the door slowly.
A few hours later...
Anna stood at the door. Jean Byron was talking with Elizabeth Montgomery and she only then noticed the frail figure on the couch.
“What did you do?”
Anna slammed her purse down on the coffee table and looked at the girl. She was wearing nothing but disheveled lingerie. Her nylons had bunched up at her ankles. Gerri looked up and smiled weakly; her face was stained with the tracks of makeup diluted by tears. Anna shook her head and bit her lip.
“He…he won’t hurt you any more.” She put her head down and began to cry.
“He…” Anna went to protest.
“After….after he….” Gerri spoke between sobs.
“I called Mr. Asher when ….I got alone. He came over with Miss Montgomery and Mr. Sweeney and Miss Byron, and they got….”
Anna bit her lip and began to cry; relief and sadness and anger and regret and shame mixed equally in her own tears as she opened her arms to plead for forgiveness that wasn’t necessary.
“They brought the police, Anna. They….Ethel and John won’t hurt you any more!”
Gerri began to sob. Anna ran to the girl and sat down beside her, hugging her like a mother would hug a hurt child….but both of them were hurt, and both of them would comfort each other like mothers do as well. Anna choked back sobs as quickly as they came before finally speaking.
“Why….why???” The question for actions that cannot be reversed; no conceivable reason on earth for anyone to be hurt like that or to allow themselves to be hurt.
“Had to….you…..they won’t hurt you any more.”
Gerri was both devastated and elated at the same time; a sacrifice of almost Biblical proportions that would have an impact that went, not only beyond the moment, but beyond the realm of existence. Anna pulled her close again and rocked her softly.’
“You…you’re the bravest girl I’ve ever known.” She repeated it as things seemed to fade into a gray haze....
“Honey? I’m back!” Susan walked into the kitchen and put on the kettle for tea. She looked into the living room and spotted a figure resting quietly on the couch.
“Patty came along; I hope you don’t mind some extra company, but I thought you might want to see an old dear friend, okay?”
“OH!” The voice came from the living room as the figure arose from the couch. A frail but courageous figure that was always destined for great things; even if they were things that few would recognize nor acknowledge. But an old friend would….a life-long friend who knew how much was sacrificed on her behalf.
“Hi, honey.” The two women embraced; one not nearly as frail as she appeared and the other strengthed beyond understanding by the gift of hope given to her when they both were much younger.
“Oh Ger…Patty is in town for the week to promote her new book. Maybe if you’re up to it, we can go out and celebrate.” Ger might not have much to eat, but she would certainly be up for a nice evening out with her sister and her best friend.
“I think that’s a great idea,” the woman said as she turned to Susan.
“But please, if you don’t mind?” She smiled a whimsical smile and gripped Gerri’s hand before saying at last,
“Call me Anna?”
Still, they're cousins,
Identical cousins and you'll find,
They laugh alike, they walk alike,
At times they even talk alike –
You can lose your mind,
When cousins are two of a kind.
I pray I did not impose by republishing this story. I learned today that one of my childhood 'crushes' died today. .I re-discovered my fascination with this precious soul as I wrote this story; realizing that my connection went far beyond what we endured in so many ways as children, and our own psychological struggles as well. the real connection was between the two of us as individuals; who we were...who I am. I do hope this blesses her memory...
Patty Duke, the teen who won an Oscar for The Miracle Worker and later played "identical cousins" in her own TV sitcom, has died. She was 69.
The news was confirmed Tuesday by one of her representatives, Mitchell Stubbs.
"Anna 'Patty Duke' Pearce passed away this morning March 29, 2016 at 1:20 am," his statement read. "She was a wife, a mother, a grandmother, a friend, a mental health advocate and a cultural icon. She will be missed."
Anna Marie 'Patty' Duke Pierce
1946 - 2016
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