Categories > Original > Drama0 Reviews
An enigma. She is the woman you walk past but do not see, she is the woman who asks for spare change but you ignore. Will you ignore her after this? Please R&R. Possibly part of a larger story.
/CHURCHBELLS AND SUNRISES/
Church-bells rang the day I was born, but they did not ring for me. Instead, they rang for my mother, who had committed suicide within ten minutes of the beginning of my life. That was what created me, that was what made me, and that would be what would forever define me.
I grew up in the traditional strings of foster homes and similar situations; never staying more than six months here and there. I had family, but because of my mother's mistake, they would never take me in. Nor would I want to live with any of them, even if given the chance.
My father was a rapist; he was the one who raped my mother to create me out of a night of too much drinking. He was the one that put my mother to shame and made her the black sheep of the family. He was the one that would forever control my actions through a prison cell, whether he knew I existed or not.
My aunt and her family never accepted my unruly hair that was a result of what my father gave me via my fated life. I went to her house once when I was in high school, and she spat on me. She yelled at me, called me the spawn of a whore, blamed me for my mother's death, and then she spat on me, forever closing the door of love and acceptance in my face without hope or promise of being allowed near ever again. I sat on the steps of her front porch for half an hour after that, trying to cry, but I couldn't. Instead, I just allowed myself to pretend the saliva from her act of hatred were instead my tears streaming down my face. When that did not work, I instead accepted it as a kiss from the devil, welcoming me into his lair after my eventual death. It comforted me, and then I had to flee from his grasp.
That is somewhat the story of my life. Without love, without family, and without gifts, save one. A box from my grandmother with the note: Do not open unless you are ready for your life to change.
I never believed that note.
A normal individual, one who would accept the fact that he or she was the outcast of his or her respected family, would take the box, throw it away, burn it, destroy it, or do whatever it takes to move on away from his or her family. A normal individual would seek counseling and try to find solace in the few rare acts of good that strangers with a kind heart had bestowed upon her in hope of saving her.
But not me, the church-bells that rang on the day of my birth announced how different my life would be from that moment on. Nineteen bells tolled on the hour of my birth, signaling my mother's death at her young age, signaling that she finally bore the fruits of the labor of hatred and evil. An hour later, my grandmother came to identify the body of my mother, and was asked if she wanted me to succeed her lost daughter in life. She looked at me with a tearless look, and gave the social worker holding me the small box and the note, telling her that if the child ever questioned where she came from then she was to have the child open the box.
I questioned and questioned, but have never had the courage to open it, until one day late last autumn.
I was nineteen, the same age to the day exactly that my mother gave birth to me. I have always chosen to think of that day as just my birthday and not the anniversary of her death, as it somehow still gives me hope that maybe one day, my life will change. I was living in the slums in Chicago, in a cardboard box in a back alley. Though I had finished high school, I was never yet able to hold down a job steadily. I wanted to go to college, major in art, but I will never be able to afford it. I started smoking when I was eleven, drinking at age thirteen, and quickly transitioned into drugs by my fifteenth birthday. I tried everything, and yet survived it all. I was pregnant twice, the first child miscarried and the second died from an abortion that I performed on myself with a coat hanger thrown away from the store I live behind. That almost killed me. But it didn't.
I have always survived, and the way my life is taking me, I figured that I always will. Then I saw the box, sitting near me in my damp home of cardboard and old mattresses that stunk of mold and fungus festering in its decay in the shadowed alleyway. I picked it up and held it in my hands, the water in the fibers bore cold pinpricks into my fingers and I winced from the sensations of feeling running through my nerves to my brain again. Another fix would change all that, another fix and I cannot feel again for thirty, maybe forty minutes. Anything to not feel.
I looked at the box, and looked at the note again, beginning to wonder what it contained. All I knew about the box was that I was told not to open it unless I wanted to completely change my life. Did I really want to change? Was I ready to change? No. I enjoyed living from fix to fix, sleeping with random men to earn money for drugs and my next high.
Yet, there were occasional things that somehow told me that life could be different, better. The look of the sunrise after a long, hard night of misery and self-hatred. It's, beautiful, breathtaking. I couldn't imagine going a day without it. The beauty of the colors is better than any fix I've found on the streets, and living there has afforded me the opportunity to find the freedom to see the secret beauties in our world. Though I saw these things every so often, they still were never enough to convince me to fully give up the life I had learned to live on the streets.
I looked at the box again that I held in my bony, dirty hands. I remembered the day I finally had received it. I was ten, and I had finally convinced my social worker to convince my grandmother to see me, just for once, so I could take an opportunity to convince her that I was worthy to be her granddaughter and I was worthy enough to come live with her.
It was a hot spring day, far warmer than it should normally have been for the middle of March; the high for the day was 96 degrees Fahrenheit. It was sunny, breezy, and though it was almost unbearably warm, the day was perfect. My social worker had found an old sundress in the community cupboard for me to wear that day, as I was living at the center at that point in time and did not have a foster family to support me.
When the social worker first took me from my family, she had been given the box to hold for safekeeping along with a few vital documents such as my birth certificate and health records. Nothing much. She had opened it at some point but not told me, as one day she came to see me with the box in her hands and a new look of wisdom in her eyes. She told me that all was going to be okay, and that she was going to take me to finally see my grandmother. She brought me the dress, a clip for my hair, and even some new shampoo that smelled like the lilacs in the community garden in front of the facility where I lived at the time. I love lilacs; because of that day, they still remind me of the promise of hope and new beginnings.
She had me pile into her car that day and gave me the box to hold onto, telling me to be careful not to drop it as my grandmother had given me a precious gift. I asked her what it was, and she would not tell me, but instead, just smiled a worried smile and looked back onto the road ahead of us. I looked at the box, and read the note attached to the top, but I did not want to open it; I was going to see my grandmother and she was going to take me in that day. It was already a day that would change my life.
When we arrived at the restaurant (for some reason, my grandmother refused to meet us at her family home), she was sitting at a table in the window drinking coffee silently and alone. She took a sip, with a kind smile on her face, and looked over. When she saw me, kindness turned to concern and bitterness. I pretended it was just worry over how short and thin I was.
My social worker and I went into the restaurant and my grandmother motioned for the waitress not to come over to take our order, but instead, told me she had one thing to say to me. No amount of drugs in my body will erase the feeling or the memory of hearing those words come from her mouth, "As long as you have that box, you possess a greater gift than you could ever receive from living with anyone from your family. Cherish it, we all wish we still had it, but it's yours."
I remember looking at her and wanting to scream, yell, anything to get her attention as she stood up from the booth at that moment, leaving a tip of twenty-three cents for the waitress next to her half-finished coffee. My social worker saw the concern on my face and went to catch my grandmother and ask her something, but both backs were turned in the busy, crowded restaurant, and I was unable to hear either talk.
The social worker came back to the table alone and sat across from me, ordering a piece of pie a la mode for each of us, digging into her purse to find any extra change she could leave for the nice waitress. "Always tip at least ten percent," she told me, trying to hide a tear in her eye. I knew at that moment that I would never be able to speak to my grandmother again.
I asked the social worker what my grandmother had said, and she wouldn't tell me. However, she told me about the box. If I was to ever have such a bad day in my life that I wanted to have the opportunity to change my life, then I was to open the box. But, I had to be forewarned first. Should I open the box and not be prepared for my life to change, then I would not only waste the opportunity for myself, but I would also waste the opportunity for the generations to come after me. I had to be able to know when I wanted to change my life completely, and I had to know how much I cherished every moment I lived.
I really liked her, my social worker. She always went out of her way to make me feel special, loved even. She was an older woman, a kind woman, with long graying hair worn back in a bun high atop her head with two pencils holding it in place. I told myself that I one day would wear my hair like that. She was comfort, a calm, in the stormy cacophony of my life.
The next day at the center, a young man came and woke me up early and handed the box to me. My social worker had died that night from terminal cancer, or so he told me. He told me to pack my things, that I was going to be placed in a new foster home in two hours time. I missed her. She embodied the possibility of hope in my life as opposed to the viciousness of my grandmother.
My grandmother is still alive; pity really, as seeing her grave would be a comfort for me. Not a comfort in the way that revenge can sooth the beast within, but a comfort that family members of cancer victims feel when they finally succumb to the beast within. A new kind of beast, the beast of the body revolting against itself, and a new kind of comfort: the acceptance of peace within the life of the victim.
I would never have that, and neither would my mother who lay in her grave, nineteen years of bones turning to ashes and dust under six feet of sodden earth, her grave barely marked save the small silver cross necklace placed there every year on my birthday by my aunt and the single pink rose place there a few minutes after by my grandmother. They miss her dearly.
I looked back at the weathered, damp box in my hands, stained from years of dirt accumulated from living in the streets, and stained with the few drops of blood spilt from my arm in the occasional failed attempt to inject myself with the sweet salvation of chemical salvation. I asked myself, what did I really have left other than the few images of beauty I see every day? Then, I realized that the power of the drugs that often coursed through my system was far more beneficial to my psyche, or so I thought, than what could possibly be in that box.
However, I wanted to know what exactly I held in my hands. It was light, and must have survived for years. I knew I needed to open it up to figure out how to use it to score my next hit, I was fast going into withdrawal from the chemicals dwindling in my bloodstream but needed money to buy drugs.
I slowly and carefully opened the lid, and to my surprise, saw a silver cross necklace identical to the one on my mother's grave.
"This is it?" I asked aloud, earning strange glances from the other homeless druggies living in and near my alleyway. I looked at it closer and noticed that it was not the normal cross; it was equal on all sides and had strange markings on each arm, the middle bore a small rose in an almost pink tone. I thought back to my mother's grave and remember seeing the gifts left for her on my birthday each year, and noting, even in my drugged state, how they bore resemblance to this trinket.
I wanted to sell it, but, on the memory of my mother, realized that I could not. I looked at it closer and realized that I wanted to wear it, cherish it, and keep it forever against my skin and my heart, hoping that some sense of the love my mother may have once felt, despite her tough life, would transfer into me and save me from my current life.
Was this the gift? A small token to remember the hope and promise of a better day? A small token to remember what my mother did to herself when I was born? A token to remember her grave? Some sick joke my grandmother played on me.
Looking at it, I was drawn to it, and somehow, spellbindingly, I realized I could not part with this necklace. I didn't want to change my life, but I also realized that if I continued on my current path of destruction, I would join my mother at her grave within the next few months, not that I really had anything to live for. Yet, there was always the promise of tomorrow's sunrise.
I looked at it closer and briefly remembered seeing this before. My grandmother wore one the day I met her at the restaurant, and my aunt wore one the day she spat on me. Was I to now wear one too? Was this my gift? A remembrance of my family despite the years of hardships they forced me to endure?
I did not know why, but I felt a strange impulse to put the necklace on.
So I did.
And nothing happened.
I guess part of me expected something magic to happen at that moment; secrets revealed to my as to why the last nineteen years of my life were full of tragedy and horror, answers to why I was in the streets and why the rest of my family were in warm and comfortable houses, or at least some semblance of familial hope and love.
None of that happened though. I instead threw the box and note away, erasing all ties to my family save for the necklace now encircling my neck. I turned around and realized that my life there in the alleyway was now behind me, the moments leading up to that one were gone replaced with the hope of a brand new day. Familial love come true?
I decided at that moment to start anew, run from the forgotten alleyways of the weak and try to find anything that would help me. I heard church-bells toll and a chill ran down my spine, partially telling me where I could go for help and partially warning me of what was to happen next in my life. I wanted to get clean, get a job, raise a family.
Nineteen bells tolled the day I was born.
Nineteen bells tolled the day I put on that necklace.
As I stepped off the curb to cross the street to follow the hopeful sound of the bells from afar, a driver of a car lost control of the brakes. The car hit me, crushing my womb, terminating any chance that I had to eventually giving birth and ending the legacy of the women in my family, the legacy of the necklace. Yet I was not worried, I had the necklace to protect me.
I lay on the pavement, bleeding internally, pain and pressure gathering throughout my body waiting to besiege every speck of my existence. I waited for pain and death to overtake me, ease the suffering of my life, and remind me that yes, I was human. I was alive. Instead, I saw the image of a woman materialize in front of me, kneeling over me, gently caressing my bloody, broken forehead.
"You have a choice. A free choice."
I looked at the woman, and whether it be the drugs or the injury, it took a moment for me to realize she was speaking to me and me alone.
"What?" I somehow managed to ask.
I saw a man come running out of the car and look at me with a panicked look in his face. "Oh God!" he yelled, screamed, and went running for his cell-phone; the homeless men and women gathering around me to see what might happen to them one day.
Yet, the gaze of the woman above me overtook any pain or fear that should have been coursing through my veins. She repeated her words from before, "You have a choice. A free choice. Do you understand me?" she added.
I didn't understand anything at that moment.
I looked into the woman's eyes and was starting to feel better. I looked over at the driver of the car and saw him kneeling over me with a first aid kit and bandages, not that it would do me any good. I was thirsty and only wanted water at that moment.
I looked back at the woman, and the feeling of thirst dissipated. She explained to me that I was given a choice the moment I put on that necklace. I could either sell it and go back to the slum that I was living in, or I could start my life anew. That was my choice. She thought it was an easy one, she would choose to go back to the old life, yet she explained to me that when many people are given the choice, they choose to start anew. The last person to put on this specific necklace chose to do so and died of cancer within a few days. That was her gift to her. That was her gift to my first social worker.
Suddenly, I realized who this woman was and what she was offering me. She was offering me a free opportunity to choose between life and death. I suddenly held the cards in my hand, and as I lay on the pavement dying, I had to choose if I would live or die.
I looked up at the sky and noticed that the sun was setting, the nineteen bells I heard toll were not for me, but for evening vespers. I looked over at the woman, who was now calming the driver of the car, despite the fact he could not see her. No one could see her, only I could as she was the guardian angel of the women in my family, the guardian angel whose symbol was a silver cross with a pink rose.
As I lay on the pavement, I realized that my mother had made that choice nineteen years earlier, and she had chosen to start anew. Yet, what did anew really mean? I had the promise of going back to my old ways, resorting to the sacrifices the chemical savior made on my body, resorting to the highs and lows of the drugs, resorting to a life filled with syringes and poverty, and everything else I did not want for whatever future children I wanted to bear, if I could still bear them.
I realized though, that starting life anew did not mean having to die though. I realized that not only did I have a choice, but I could choose to live and start my life anew. Immediately I knew what I wanted to tell the angel. I wanted to tell her that I choose life.
She came back over to me, and knelt down in front of me again. I was about to tell her, yet she told me that she already knew my decision, I did not have to tell her. She also asked if I wanted to know more. I did.
I asked her about my family, and most importantly, my mother. I knew my mother did make this choice but chose differently. I asked what happened to her?
The angel responded with a surprise: my mother, even though she had died, was given the choice of heaven or starting life anew on earth. She chose the second and came back as the daughter I had aborted. She is now in heaven. The angel told me that the necklace grants the wearer to die without punishment, almost like being baptized.
I asked why.
My ancestor only loved her children and their children as well.
The daughters of my ancestor were granted the gift of a painless, guilt-free death if they chose it, and thus, were give the necklace. The angel explained to me that I could die whenever I wanted without consequence. She then looked over into the darkened alley next to where I lay one the ground, the car still pushing on my womb. She asked me if I truly wanted to go back to that life.
I thought harder, and realized even more so that I wanted to see another sunrise and continue to hear the church-bells ring. I chose life.
The angel above me understood as she put her hands above my womb, and in a flash of light, I was sitting back in my cardboard shack, the box in my hands and the necklace around my neck. I felt awake, refreshed, and ready to go where I needed to go. Never has a chemical high given me that much hope or promise. Yet, I was sure it was real. As I stood up, I heard the sound of nineteen church-bells ring. Time was repeating itself.
I looked forward to the front of the alleyway and saw a car, the same car that had hit me, drive past and then turn the corner to a brand new day awaiting it and its driver at sunrise tomorrow.
I then stopped and looked around at my fellow junkies living around me. Had they seen the woman? Did they know what this symbol around my neck meant? I looked down at it and along with the necklace saw a fresh track mark on my left arm. Surely the angel was real. Wasn't it?