The mail was late today. Charlotte glared irritably at the back of the mail truck pulling away from her curb. The snow came up to her ankles, filling her slippers and dampening her socks, but Charlotte paid no attention. She pulled her housecoat close around her, picked up her mail, then headed back inside the house.
“I get anything, Momma?” her daughter, Cammy, asked, timidly peeking her head from the front door.
Charlotte ignored her and brushed past her on the way in. She flipped through the phone bill, sales papers, the car note, until finally she came to something she hadn’t expected. It was a letter, and the return address on the outside of the envelope read Denver, Colorado. Charlotte dropped the rest of the mail on the floor and stood frozen in the middle of the living room.
“Momma?” Cammy bent down to pick up the mail. “What is it?”
Charlotte fingered the envelope in disbelief. Denver, Colorado, was the place she’d come from. She’d been born there and, growing up, she dreaded she’d die there. It was the place she had left behind, and the one place she could never seem to get back to, no matter how hard she tried, and how badly she wanted to. But who in the world would be writing her from—
Charlotte sat down in her recliner, then slowly peeled the seal open, pulled out the letter, and unfolded it.
Cammy sat down on the floor next to her. “Who’s it from?”
To Whom It May Concern:
I pray that this letter find its way into the hands of Charlotte Rodgers. My name is Clarice Braxton. I was adopted when I was nine by a wonderful couple with the last name of Turner, but before that, my last name was Rodgers, and my birth mother nicknamed me Reesy. I say all of this because I’ve never been certain that you would remember my name, or me, for that matter. It’s a fear I’ve had ever since you left, when I was only eight-years-old.
Tears pooled in Charlotte’s eyes as she read the letter, and Charlotte took a deep breath and held it for a moment. Emotions tumbled over each other; panic, then joy, and finally heartache. She’d almost forgotten and let go the memories of her two oldest daughters. Charlotte had almost given up on her baby girls. So much had happened to her through the years. Memories dirty and foul had changed Charlotte into a different woman, too afraid to recall the many lives she’d lived until now.
I’ve spent a lot of money searching for you, Momma, but to me it’s all been worth the time and the money because in finding you, I’m hoping to fill in the missing pieces of my life, and maybe even find the closure I desperately need to move forward, once and for all. For the last twenty-seven years the first thought I have when I wake up in the morning is “Why did she leave us?”, and it’s the last question I ask myself before I finally fall asleep at night. As a mother myself now, I can’t fathom the thought of ever walking out of my children’s lives without a trace, and so, I can’t help but to wonder what was happening in your life back then, to make you leave me and Connie.
“Leave them?” She startled herself when she said it out loud. “No,” Charlotte covered her mouth with her hand. “I didn’t—it wasn’t like that.” Charlotte choked back tears. She closed her eyes and tried to remember that day.
“I’ve got to go.”
She told them that, but what else did she say? She made a promise to come back. She had to have made that promise, because Charlotte wouldn’t have just left them without telling them that. “Noooo,” she said out loud, pushing aside the truth. The girl had it all wrong, she thought frantically. Charlotte did leave them, but she never meant to be gone so long.
“Momma?” Camille, her youngest daughter, reached out to her mother. “Momma? What is it? What’s wrong?”
Charlotte swallowed and turned her attention back to the letter.
I managed to find my sister Connie almost eight years ago. She and I were separated not long after you left, and well, Connie had it so much harder than I did. In many ways, she’s still suffering from the hardship of your leaving. Connie wasn’t as fortunate as me, and she suffered terribly growing up. But if it gives you any solace, if you’ve ever wondered, we are both fine now. I haven’t told her yet that I’ve found you. I’m not really sure how she’ll take the news. In some ways I believe Connie took your leaving harder than she’ll ever admit. She’s too proud, and that’s sometimes her downfall.
Of course, we’ll be coming to Murphy to see you, Momma. I can’t say when exactly. That’ll depend on when Connie and I can decide on a time and when we can both get away. We need to finally see your face, and to look into your eyes, and find the answers from you that we both deserve. It’s time to put the heartache and disappointment to rest. Let us have this visit to close the door, once and for all, on the childhoods we lost when you left us.
Charlotte clutched the letter possessively to her bosom, and rocked her swollen frame back and forth in the chair. She pressed her lips together and cried quietly. A letter that started with so much promise ended in blame and disappointment. Charlotte was so young back then, and what happened to those children wasn’t her fault. If they knew what she’d been through since the last time she saw them, they wouldn’t point the finger at her. Reesy wrote that letter as if she’d forgotten who her mother was, and how much she’d adored Charlotte when she was a child. “Who does she think she is?” she said through clenched teeth, blinking back hot tears. She cut her eyes at Camille, sitting on the floor.
Connie had put these bad thoughts in Reesy’s head. Connie was the spiteful and ungrateful one, and she whispered terrible lies to Reesy when they were children, trying to turn her against their mother. Charlotte felt relieved all of a sudden. Yes. She did leave, but it was Connie she told that she was only going to be gone for a little while. Connie had been the one, and she’d never told Reesy the truth. Connie had been such a hateful child.
“Lemme see it, Momma.” Cammy reached out, but Charlotte shrugged away.
It was hard not to cry. Charlotte’s bottom lip quivered, and she gave in to twenty-seven years of living without her two oldest children.
Cammy tugged gently on the letter. “No, Cammy!” Charlotte screamed. “This ain’t yours,” she said, clenching her teeth.
Cammy stared sadly at her mother, then lowered her head.
Charlotte glared at her. “My babies,” she said, through her mouth that never opened wide enough anymore; bones and tissue had fused together, healing and leaving her face horribly disfigured. “My babies found me, Cammy. And I’m glad they did. I’m so happy they did.”
She squeezed her eyes shut to help her remember their faces. Charlotte saw a blank space where her children’s faces should’ve been. Lord! How could she ever forget what they looked like? Sadness crept up on her, stealing the joy that Reesy’s letter had brought her, because she could no longer see them, or hear their voices as vividly as she once had. Charlotte had forgotten what they looked like, but then, why shouldn’t she? After all, she had long since forgotten the image of her own face.
Oh, but wait a minute. She breathed a sigh of relief. There. Charlotte smiled crookedly. There, in one dark corner of her mind, she’d found them, beautiful, golden, precious little girls, like angels, like dolls, and like the kind of dreams she prayed she’d never wake up from.
She lovingly patted the letter to her chest, and watched in awe as Connie’s pretty face came into view first, looking so much like Charlotte’s, or at least, the way Charlotte used to look. A soft, honey-colored girl, with sandy brown hair and amber-brown eyes.
“We looked like sisters,” she muttered, forgetting Cammy was nearby. Charlotte felt so proud. And she stared through the window across the room to the snow falling outside. “Like sisters.” People used to tell her that all the time, and sometimes Charlotte would pretend they were sisters. Sometimes it was easier believing Connie was her sister instead of her daughter, because Charlotte had been so young when she’d had her, only fifteen. And Connie . . . Charlotte sat back and remembered how unappreciative and cold Connie could be. The way she turned up her nose at Charlotte, and rolled her eyes when she thought her mother wasn’t looking.
She used to hate Connie sometimes back then, but time had brought forgiveness and acceptance of her oldest daughter. It was time for them to put their differences aside, she thought hopefully. Charlotte loved Connie, and it was long past time that Connie let go of ill feelings, embraced her mother, and admitted that she loved her, too.
Cammy’s sweet voice was like music. Charlotte looked at her and tried to smile. She was dark, like her father had been, but even so, Charlotte could see the strong resemblance between Cammy and Reesy.
Reesy, her baby. Her lovebug, she used to call her. Small, round, with full, soft cheeks that glowed like suns when she smiled, and Reesy smiled all the time, enough to light up a room, a house, a heart. In Reesy’s eyes, Charlotte was the world. Nobody loved her the way Reesy had loved her. She was so much like Cammy, always there for her momma, doing everything in her small way to make Charlotte happy.
Despite the way her letter sounded, Reesy still believed in her mother’s love, in her devotion, and she just needed to hear the truth, that Charlotte meant to come back. And that every day, she swore to herself that she would go get her girls, and they’d be together again, like she’d never left.
“I love you, Mommy.”
“How much, Reesy? How much do you love your Mommy?”
Reesy spread her arms wide, then sidestepped to one side of the room, touched the wall with her fingertips, and sidestepped to the other side of the room to touch the other wall. “This much, Mommy. I love you as big as this room.”
Love like that was intoxicating, and Charlotte smiled, recalling the way that child’s eyes lit up every time her momma walked into the room. Too many years had passed, and Charlotte struggled to recall how she could’ve ever left them behind. So much had happened, but she had always meant to go back for them. Of course she did. They needed to know that. After all this time, needed to tell them that.
“They found me, Cammy,” Charlotte sighed, relieved, and she stared glassy-eyed at Camille. “They found me, baby.” Her crooked smile was more brilliant than Cammy had ever seen before. “And everything is going to be just fine. You’ll see. My babies are coming to get me and take me back home.”
Copyright © 2008 by Jaclyn Meridy. All rights reserved.