More Precious Far Than Gold
“…All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
A Companion Piece to Where Dreams Are Born
Morris Plains, 2019...
The woman sat in the chair facing the empty love seat in her office as the sounds of Khatchaturian’s Adagio from Spartacus filled the air. She stared down at the paperback lying open face-down on the armrest; dog-eared and nearly falling apart. She bit her lip, tasting the last of her lip gloss; an absent-minded habit decades old. At nearly seventy, life had instilled in her wisdom that could only come from what people used to refer to as the ‘school of hard knocks.’ It was a difficult if rewarding education that brought her to the chair across from the love seat. A place of understanding and a place to impart hope.
She sighed deeply; a heavy but relieved sigh derived from being comfortable at last. She found herself staring at the slightly scuffed toes of her medium brown boots; not terribly attractive but hers nevertheless. She lifted up a cup and quickly finished her tea as she heard the bell bong loudly through the hallway leading to the front door of her home. She got up and walked slowly down the hall; humming a soft alto rendition of the music. She reached the door and smiled in rehearsal; the child at the door needed to know that no matter what they would discuss, it would be alright, because she knew and understood exactly how the girl felt; giving her the confidence to impart that same hope to the girl.
“Hi, Bonnie. Is your Mom here today?”
“She’s got an errand to run. Can she come in late?”
“Sure.” Delia reached into the pocket of her sweater and pulled out a bright pink Post-It pad. She grabbed the ever-present pen from behind her right ear and wrote a quick note and pasted on the glass of the storm-door as Bonnie stepped inside.
“I told her to ring the bell and I’d come get her, okay?” The girl nodded. At almost thirteen, she was fairly tall even for her age. She wore jeans and a grey Montclair State sweatshirt and white Reeboks; nothing to note, which Delia noted anyway with a half-frown hidden from the girl’s view. She would have sighed but for knowing something important that the day held.
“Let’s get a couple of bottles of water. I’m thirsty.” She smiled and the girl returned the expression. A few moments later the girl sat on the love seat, her legs crossed at the ankle. Delia had turned off the music and she nodded after taking a sip of water.
“Have you had a chance to talk with her?” Delia smiled again and patted her chest; a heart-gesture, they had agreed.
“You mean the seven-year-old?”
“Yes. I know we talked about her last time and I also remember how disappointed you felt she was with you.”
“Ummm….yes?” The answer was also a question; the girl seemed hesitant but bit her lip and continued.
“I think she understands.”
“That you did the best you could?” Delia nodded.
“She…she told me…” Bonnie nodded slowly as tears filled her eyes, but the growing smile on her face belied any of the guilt she had been feeling.
“She understands that we had to hide. She wasn’t… she isn’t angry.” Delia nodded with an understanding smile; not broad, but almost a relieved grin. The girl’s shoulders seemed to droop just a bit; not in the usual burdensome gesture but almost a relaxed posture. She leaned against the back of the love seat.
Delia recalled in an instant the same posture she herself had struck the first time she had also felt that same relief, remembering her ‘own’ seven-year old. She leaned closer; her left arm resting on her knee as she reached over and tapped the girl on the hand in encouragement. A gesture that brought more ease as the girl sat up and swung her legs under her as if she had turned on a favorite program and was settling in. Pulling into a place of comfort rather than drawing back in reluctance; a good sign even if the tears flowed freely.
“She knows that you didn’t have a choice, right?” Bonnie nodded and smiled; weakly from a release of tension rather than the usual reluctant agreeing expression.
“She…she….” The girl stammered, searching for words. Delia nodded and smiled again. The hesitancy was wrought from too-many years of wanting to say the ‘right’ thing when she really needed permission to speak the truth. Months of therapy had brought the girl to the place where the truth held no more fear and instead gave the girl the confidence to talk; even if old habits chopped up sentences into easier managed phrases.
“If…if I had said something we wouldn’t have survived.” Delia knew exactly what that meant, since her own survival had been preserved at the expense of what she needed as well.
“He would….” Bonnie sobbed but collected herself.
“He would have killed us….me.” She shook her head and her eyes flashed with a glimpse of anger.
“He would have?” Delia began; her question soft and welcoming rather than a static demand for an answer. She nodded and smiled again.
“I…I think that … I know that….” Bonnie hesitated.
“We didn’t have anyone to talk to except for Lisa….” Delia found herself thinking; an almost verbal memory that nudged insight into the moment.
“She talked with Rachael, right…just her?”
“I….we didn’t think anyone else would listen.”
“Would anyone have listened, Bonnie?” The girl looked at Delia and something inside came to the surface. She scrunched her face as her cheeks grew red and warm. The tears flowed freely as she shook her head no. It was times like these that Delia found so difficult if utterly rewarding. The feelings that virtually spilled out of the girls and boys she helped underlined exactly why she sat in the chair across from the loveseat, since she knew and understood all-too-well why they felt the way they did.
“You told someone, right?” Delia’s shoulders stiffened a bit in anticipation. The girl shook her head yes.
“And….” Not the demanding ‘and’ that tries to push the process but rather a gentle tug like helping someone to their feet after a hard fall.
“She didn’t listen to her…to me.” The pronouns always seemed to get jumbled at this point since ‘her’ and ‘me’ were the same person. The younger self and the present self acting finally in concert as the guilt and shame of inexorable choices were laid bare. Bonnie’s seven-year-old had no choice.
“And you had no one?” Bonnie’s eyes widened in almost horror at the memory and she shook her head no; dually denying both any help and the huge hole in her life from all that was taken. And whom.
“Rachael…..” Just the name withdrew a very long sobbing sigh. The seven-year-old feeling both abandoned and ashamed that she couldn’t protect her sister. The loss and the guilt co-mingled into accusations that only now were falling away; separate and stored safely.
“Bonnie and Rachael had no one….” Delia almost sighed as well as the words came out slowly; that permission Bonnie didn’t need but sought anyway arrived along with Delia’s welcoming smile.
“But….Bobby….” One last argument from the past. The seven-year-old girl really had no choice or help to save her sister, but somehow the seven-year-old boy should have?
“Were you really Bobby?” A rapid head-shake was followed by more sobs; lips quickly pursed as the girl recalled the conflicts that went beyond the abuse she and Rachael endured. The sobbing began to subside but the tears flowed freely. Bonnie grabbed a tissue from the box on the table beside the love seat and snuffled a bit after wiping her eyes.
“Bonnie and Rachael had no one.” Delia’s words were met with another head-shake; slower and more deliberate. Bonnie looked away and down, thinking and feeling jammed together in one moment as emotion and reason finally agreed.
“We…..Rachael and I…..we….no….nope….” The last word was almost playful, but it signaled a restful return to the present as Bonnie skipped the tissue; wiping her eyes with the backs of both hands. She sighed and half-smiled.
“We….” She hesitated.
“You…” Delia raised her left eye-brow slightly in anticipation.
“Bobby and me…. We’ve….we’ve been me all along…. And I didn’t have anyone but Rachael, right?” Like a child seeking affirmation for a good grade in math or spelling, Bonnie’s eyes widened and she smiled.
“Yes, you’re the same person…. And you and Rachael didn’t have anyone.”
“Does Rachael …. Does she know about us….me?”
“About your name….no. I thought you’d want to tell her next week when we meet together.” Bonnie nodded almost reluctantly. Delia smiled and tilted her head slightly to the side, blinking a bit.
“But?” Delia raised her eyebrow again.
“She already knows me We…we talked about my being…me…”
“The last time we all talked together…you and Rachael. Yes…she knows you’re a girl.”
“So….so it’s just the name, right?” The need for affirmation was accompanied by that feeling of calm that often follows insight, since what she said was because she realized it instead of being told. She had arrived at her own truth in her own time.
“But…” Bonnie put her head down and sighed as looked at her clothing; the jeans and sweatshirt practically shouting out the same old accusations that tried to belie her truth. Tears began to spill again; falling on the worn denim of her jeans. She lifted her head just as a loud bong from down the hallway announced her mother’s return. It almost seemed intrusive, but the arrival was timely.
“Why don’t you drink, honey. Okay?” Delia stood up and pointed to the bottles of water on the table next to the love seat. “
That’s probably your mom. We’ll be right back.” Bonnie nodded and grabbed her bottle of water as Delia walked down the hall. A few moments later she returned along with Bonnie’s mother; foster care was so hard on kids, but Bonnie and Rachael were blessed to have their Aunt Lara step in when they needed a home.
“I hope you don’t mind? Rachael and you and I are about the same size.” The woman placed two Kohl’s bags on the floor in front of Bonnie.
“I’ve got the receipt if you want to exchange, okay?” She pointed at the bag; a frosted violet Henley shirt sat on top of more clothes in one bag and a pair of pink Sketchers peeked out of the other. Bonnie’s eyes widened and she put her hand to her mouth in surprise. She stared at the bags and shook her head in disbelief before a voice came from the office door.
“I helped pick ‘em out.” Rachael rushed past the two women and sat down on the love seat besides Bonnie. Bonnie turned to her sister and pursed her lips and shook her head; the tears returned and Rachael leaned closer and hugged her. She turned and looked at Lara and Delia before speaking.
“Lara says that’s just for starters since you can always borrow some of my stuff,” Rachael practically giggled and hugged Bonnie again.
“Just one condition, okay? What do I call you?” Rachael asked and turned to Delia and her namesake before turning back to Bonnie; her eyes wide in anticipation. Bonnie looked up at Delia. Her expression was greeted with yet another arch of the eye brow and a half-smile that once again granted permission that wasn’t really required.
“BBB….Bonnie?” Her words were accompanied by more tears and a half-frown of embarrassment until she saw the widening smile on Rachael’s face along with her sister’s own tears; happy and relieved. Rachael nodded and mouthed ‘Bonnie’ as her smile grew broader.
And Delia nodded, trying without any success at all to keep her own tears from falling. She sighed; knowing that somewhere Lisa must be smiling down on her as well.
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