The following story is for the __picture it & write blogging challenge…
“Ring around the roses, a pocket full of posies. Ashes, ashes, we all fall down!”
“London Bridge is falling down, falling down, falling down.
London Bridge is falling down, my fair lady.”
“See, see, my playmate,
Won’t you come play with me?
And bring your dollies, three?
Climb up my apple tree?
Slide down my rainbow,
Into my cellar door,
And we’ll be jolly friends,
Forevermore, 1, 2, 3, 4!”
Tears slid down her cheeks as she walked into the yard of her childhood, hearing and seeing the children playing again in her mind’s eye. Was it possible that she had once been so innocent and carefree or was it all only a dream, a wish for what could have — no, for what should have been? Nostalgically, she walked over to the swing that was still tied to the old oak tree, fingering its chains and testing the wooden seat before easing her weight onto it. Someone had obviously taken great pains to care for this swing, to ensure that the ravages of time wouldn’t render it a danger to other children who might use this swing, or in this case, so this now middle-aged woman could sit here, close her eyes, and remember…
She remembered playing with her neighborhood friends and her cousins until well past dark on those steamy summer days and nights, and then rising early the next morning, to do it all again. The year was 1971, and things were different back then. This was an era where you’d better be on your best behavior, because the neighborhood mothers kept watch on all of the children as if they were their own, and if you acted up, Suzy’s mommy would spank you for misbehaving, and then she would call your mommy, and she would spank you too! She smiled, remembering that Suzy’s mommy had indeed spanked her on more than one occasion, for her mischievousness.
She smiled as she gazed at the steps leading to the upper level of the yard, envisioning the little girl with her little purple hotpants under the cute little mini dress, wielding her brush as though it was a microphone, as she put a record on her record player and prepared her one-woman stage show, imagining the audience below, which sometimes included neighborhood children, and other times was completely imaginary. A lone tear slid down her cheek as she remembered that little girl standing right there, with her imaginary audience applauding as she softly sang Donny Osmond’s, “Go Away Little Girl.”
She remembered staying up late on hot summer nights, catching lightening bugs with her cousins and her friends. Life up until then was so carefree, as it should be for a little girl of ten, but that all changed one dreadful night when she was playing a game with her cousins. It was a dark, moonless night, and they were playing one of their favorite games, “Midnight in the Graveyard.” She was “It”, the “Ghost in the Graveyard,” and she had to find a hiding place, where her cousins wouldn’t be able to find her, but if they did find her, she still had a chance of winning, if she could escape without them tagging her and run to the empty swing, which was “home base.”
She remembered finding the perfect hiding place. She shuddered now, as she remembered that night, hearing the voices of her cousins, as they counted the hours until they could go and look for her… “It’s One O’Clock in the graveyard, and I see no ghosts,” they counted. “It’s Two O’Clock in the graveyard, and I see no ghosts,” they continued, as she softly giggled, crawling towards the big bushes on the left side of the house. The other kids were scared of bugs and spiders, so they would never try to find her in the middle of these bushes, she thought, when suddenly, from behind, someone grabbed her foot and clamped a hand over her mouth.
“That’s not fair!” she thought angrily, as she squirmed to get away and tell whichever cousin had cheated, but as hard as she wiggled and tried to escape, he wouldn’t let her go. And then she realized that whoever it was that held her was much too big to be one of her cousins. This person had strong, hairy arms, like a man, and he smelled too — like he needed a bath and some deodorant. She kept trying to wiggle away and get his hand off her face, because she couldn’t breathe. What was wrong with him? Didn’t he know he was too big to play this game? “He doesn’t even know the rules!” she thought angrily. “Just wait till I tell my daddy about this,” she thought. “I bet he’ll straighten him out.”
She wasn’t frightened until he opened the door of a dark van, and threw her down in the back, while ripping a piece of duct tape from a roll, and placing it on her mouth. Her daddy and mommy liked to watch “The F.B.I.”, and her heart started pounding rapidly, as it suddenly dawned on her that she was being kidnapped by a stranger. “Oh God,” she prayed silently, as tears began to fall rapidly, and her struggling ceased as fear paralyzed her. “Please help me. Please don’t let him kill me, Lord.”
The back door of the windowless van slammed shut, as her kidnapper opened the front door and climbed in, starting the van and turning the radio up loudly, as The Doors sang, “Riders in the Storm.” As she lay weeping on the hard, dirty floor in the back of the van, Shelley suddenly realized that her life had just changed drastically, and there was nothing she could do about it, but pray and try to survive. Her mommy and daddy had always said she was headstrong, and that trait would prove to be necessary for her survival.
Her husband quietly walked up to her, as she sat on the swing, reminiscing, softly speaking, “Are you ready to meet them, Shelley?” before he touched her. In their more than thirty years of marriage, he had learned to never walk up behind her and touch her or grab her, without first announcing his presence, lest he trigger a traumatic episode. He looked at his wife of many years with deep love and admiration for her courage. Over the years, she had fought her way past many obstacles that might have stopped anyone else, but she was determined to be whole, for her own sake, as well as for his sake, their children’s sake, and now for their grandchildren as well.
It had taken her many years of prayer and counseling to work past the painful memories that she had locked deep within her mind, as she allowed each one to surface. Sometimes, only one memory would surface periodically, and other times, she would be brutalized by an onslaught of many memories. Sometimes, they came in broken, hazy fragments, while other times, vivid, sharp memories bombarded her soul.
Still, with the help of her loving Savior, she had continued to press through those memories, which had led her here, to this place, her childhood home, that she hadn’t seen since that dreadful night in 1971, when her idyllic life had been ripped away from her. And God, in His infinite mercy and kindness, had kept her parents alive. She hadn’t seen them since that horrible night either, and she nervously stood up from the swing, and lifted her hand to her hair, to smooth it, glancing up at her husband uncertainly. “Do I look okay?” she asked him worriedly, and he smiled warmly, cupping her chin in his hand as he replied, “You look beautiful.”
Hand in hand, as the two of them climbed the steps to the upper yard, she glanced to the left at the bushes that were supposed to have been her hiding place on that dreadful night, so long ago, and shuddered, as the door opened and she saw the aged faces of her mother and father. Though time had left its toll on their faces, in the forty-two years since she had last seen them, she recognized them immediately, as they fell into one another’s arms, weeping for joy. “I thought we’d never see you again,” her mother cried, as she held her tightly, as though afraid to let go, for fear that she’d vanish again.
“My little princess,” her daddy choked out as she was engulfed in his arms. “I’m so sorry I didn’t protect you better,” he groaned helplessly.
“Don’t say that, Daddy,” Shelley gently replied, as they made their way into the living room. “You were wonderful parents, and you had no way of knowing that such horrible predators lurked about.” It was a joyful reunion, as Shelley introduced her parents to her husband of more than thirty years and showed them pictures of their grandchildren as well as their great-grandchildren.
Their conversation soon took a more serious tone when her mother asked, “Can you tell us what happened, Shelley? Why did it take you so long to come back to us? There hasn’t been one day that we haven’t cried out to God to bring you back home to us,” she said, as she sat on the faded green sofa, leaning against her husband, who periodically swiped at his nose and his eyes with a wrinkled white handkerchief.
“It was awful, Mommy,” she said softly, as she shared the story of her abduction while playing with her cousins on that fateful night. She told her parents how he raped her repeatedly, and then forced her to prostitute herself in the city, against her will. She told her parents that she had tried to escape numerous times, and how he would find her and beat her each time, until she finally stopped trying to run away from her captor.
She told them of her arrest at the age of fifteen, and how it had changed her life. When the police had picked her up, she told them of her abduction and her forced prostitution, and how they arrested her kidnapper, charging him as a rapist and a pedophile and locking him away for a very long time. The one thing she didn’t share with the police was her real name.
The truth of her identity was locked somewhere deep within the recesses of her mind, but the years of repeated abuse and rape had wreaked havoc on the child’s fragile mind, and it would take years to unlock some of the secrets within. Because times were different then, there was no computer database for kidnapped children, and no DNA testing, which made it nearly impossible for the police to locate her family. By God’s grace, the courts were very kind to the broken teen, placing her into the home of a Christian couple who lavished her with love. They loved her when she acted out in anger and rebellion, and they loved her when she cried herself to sleep each night.
It was this loving couple who introduced her to Jesus, and demonstrated His unconditional love to her in so many ways. They took her to Christian counseling, several times a week at first, then, as she began to heal, less and less. Throughout the years, she and her foster parents had prayed for Shelley to be reunited with her parents, especially when she married Gabe, and again, when each of their three children were born, but though she saw their faces in her dreams, she couldn’t remember their names. She wasn’t even sure if Shelley was her true name, until two weeks ago, when after more than forty years, there had been a breakthrough, and she suddenly remembered her name, her parents’ names, and even her former address. “I was surprised to discover that you still live here,” she finished amid the tears.
“Shelley,” her father said gently, “we thought of moving many times over the years, but we just couldn’t bring ourselves to leave, in case you escaped and came looking for us. We had to stay here so you could find us, and I’m so glad we did,” he cried, getting up and throwing his arms around her and her husband.
“Shelley,” her mother said softly, “Would you like to see your old bedroom or would it be too traumatic?”
“Mommy, I have longed to see you and Daddy, and my old room for so many years,” she responded, standing up, and grabbing her husband’s hand, as the four of them headed up the wooden staircase with the gold shag carpet. She laughed delightedly, as she saw pictures of herself as a child hanging on the wall to the left, as they ascended the stairs, running her hand along the oak banister. Sadly, the wall seemed incomplete, as the pictures went from infancy until the age of ten, and then they just stopped. There were no prom pictures, no sweet sixteen pictures, no graduation pictures.
It suddenly dawned on Shelley just how ghastly this must have been for her parents, who never got to experience the joys so many other parents enjoyed. Her mother never got to share with her about the changes that happen when a little girl becomes a woman. Certainly, she had been deprived of these joys, but so too, had her parents.
Waves of compassion swept over Shelley as she, her husband and her parents stood in the hallway outside of her bedroom, and impulsively, before they opened the door to her bedroom, Shelley turned to her mother and whispered, “Mommy, I’m so sorry for all of the joy that you and Daddy missed out on. I’m so sorry for the pain this has caused you, and both of you need to know this was not your fault. You did all that you could do, and what that horrible man intended for evil, God has turned into something good. You see, if none of these horrible things had happened to me, I might not be working with teenage prostitutes and rape victims. This has all worked out for good, because I love God, and He has called me for this purpose.”
After comforting her parents, Shelley turned and opened the door to her bedroom, which had remained unchanged for forty-two years. The bright purple bedspread on the white for poster bed, and lavender walls covered with posters of Donny Osmond brought a smile to her face. There were her old record albums and her record player. She smiled as she saw her collection of stuffed animals neatly arranged on her bed, just as she liked them. She picked up Mr. Bean, a fat fluffy golden stuffed cat, cradling him in her arms as she had done as a child, and walked to the window overlooking the trees and her swing.
“I’m home now, Mr. Bean,” she whispered quietly, as she turned around to look at her family, and with tears brimming from her eyes, she fell to her knees, as her husband joined her, and reaching for her parents hands, they all joined hands and prayed, giving thanks to the Almighty God, Creator of heaven and earth, who in His infinite love and mercy, had reunited this broken family, and restored the years that the enemy had stolen from them.
Cheryl A. Showers