Biographical Non-Fiction posted October 19, 2015 Chapters:  ...39 40 -41- 

This work has reached the exceptional level
My heart had been holding its breath

A chapter in the book My Almost Cashmere Life

Epilogue--No Stone Unturned

by maggieadams

Throughout my life, I have been a victim of date-rape, a pioneer of surrogacy and a recipient of medical marvels, all three resulting in children. I did not face life square-on until I was forced...
Six years have passed since I began writing my story and now it's done. I've had it professionally edited, bound and distributed among friends. It's been a catharsis---a gift to myself. The power of telling my story and reclaiming my past has helped me move from shame to acceptance and from chaos to serenity. I no longer feel like I'm walking on a tight-rope, trying to keep my balance...

But (there's always a 'but' in life, isn't there), I still had another leg to finish before reaching the end of my rope. My journey had stalled, and I teetered because of my inability (lack of courage, really) to share my past with my daughter, Paxton. The secret sat like a stone in the pit of my stomach.
It was a day meant for renewal---and simultaneously, a day meant for completion. It was a Saturday in late July; the hot weather was upon us, but the cool morning air had invited me to the garden. I stood in awe of the abundant, colorful landscape that I had helped create. Fragrant jasmine vines with their delicate white flowers climbed up wooden trellises and filled the air with a hint of sweet perfume. Twenty-five-year-old giant hostas, which I had saved from the Glenhaven house, hung like elephant ears over a stone pathway in my courtyard. Blood-red climbing roses in full bloom sprawled over the roof of a bench swing. Better tame these, I thought as I plucked a few dried, spent flowers. The feathery plumes of Astilbes, the sword-like arms of mature ferns and the ruffled circular leaves of Ladies Mantel all stood like sentinels, fighting for their turf. I had brought them from Glenhaven, so they were aliens in my new world called Foxglove Place.

The sky, a baby-blanket blue, was filled with puffy animal-shaped clouds. Bees buzzed, flitting from one nectar-filled flower to another. Birds chirped, flying from one high branch of my cherry tree to a neighboring maple. I sat for a moment on my bench swing, marveling at nature's handiwork. A small sparrow swooped down from its perch and landed on the lip of my pedestal bird bath. Soon, it was splashing around with delight in the tepid bathwater. A garden with all its complexity, I surmised, unlocks the fullness of life---carries endless possibilities. It's a healing place---my sanctuary.

In this garden I should find peace...I have 'but' I need to live more gratefully, I told myself... Paxton'll be home soon. I've missed her...

Paxton was coming home for a week in between pet-sitting jobs. Over the past year, she had built her business, so that she was only home a few days a month. I had grown accustomed to our arrangement, and truthfully, her absence allowed me to finish writing my book--sometimes, working into the wee hours of the morning with country western music blaring. Her absence also allowed me to avoid the inevitable: sharing my past.

Procrastination had seeped into my skin, lingering like an itchy soap. Every time she walked into our home, my stomach did flip-flops.

While I sat on the swing, engaging in nature's intricacy, the sun had climbed higher in the sky, chasing the puffy clouds away. A hush (except for an occasional croak from a frog under the deck) had settled over the garden as the heat drove the birds and bees into hiding. I sat facing my designer deck waiting for Paxton. Lime green potato vines and variegated coleus spilled out of my planters. In one corner pot, fragrant basil plants surrounded a tall sunflower, which was bursting with yellow blooms. In the other corner pot, blue hydrangeas, which were supposed to be white, hung heavily on their stems, showing the surprise of nature. My handiwork, coupled with nature's wonders, lay before me in summer splendor.

My two cats had sought out their shady retreats in the courtyard where I sat gently rocking. One lay sleeping curled in a ball, hidden under the cascading Japanese maple that stood in the center of the garden. The other was sprawled on top of the deck table under a neon green umbrella. She squinted at me with her lemon-yellow eyes. Every once in a while, she would flick her tail and change poses, stopping to lick herself in contented pleasure. Why can't I just enjoy and be in the moment? I sigh. Because you've let this've fallen into your old ways, letting fear control you. How do I begin? What will she think of me? Will she be angry like her sister had? Will I lose her admiration and love? But...I can't go forward with...

All of a sudden, Tom, the slumbering male cat, jumped onto my lap, startling me from my thoughts. "Okay, okay, I'll pay attention to you," I said when he nipped my arm.

At that moment, Paxton appeared on the deck.

"Hi, Mom." She smiled, taking a seat in one of the Adirondacks. "So happy to be home and to sleep in my own bed. Come sit-down and let's catch-up."

Always so positive, a bright light in my life. How am I ever going to tell her?

"Hi, honey," I rose from the swing, knocking Tom-the-cat from my lap. "I'm glad you're home, too. I've really missed you."

I took a seat in the other Adirondack and an hour flew by as we shared details from our month apart. We chatted about our lives like mothers and daughters do---and like roommates and best friends do; we discussed family, friends, food, tennis, our jobs, her dogs (loved the Standard poodle she had just cared for), our pets, news (depressing), politics (Donald Trump?), hair (to bleach or not to bleach), weather (hot!), manicures, pedicures, carbs (I always harped on eating fewer), movies and books...

"Hey, Mom, you were right. I loved the book The Girl on the Train; I couldn't put it down. I stayed up really late finishing it, like 'til three in the about dysfunction."

I laughed. "Yeah. I knew you'd love it. What d'ya gonna read next?"

"Your book."

"Uh, um," I stumbled to find the right words--the right tone. "I'm not sure I'm ready..."

She peered over the top of her black-rimmed glasses. "What d'ya mean? You've given it to all your friends. I've lived it...nothing I don't know about you and Dad." She paused. "You let me read some of the chapters, so I don't understand."

A jolt shot through my body. "I, just...well, something happened in my past that I'm not sure I want to share. I don't know, Paxton, maybe..." my words trailed off.

Her face turned beet red. "What? What happened? Did you have an abortion?"

A wave of nausea washed over me. I was stunned by her bluntness. "No, Paxton, I had, uh, um... a baby when I was seventeen--a baby boy. You have to realize it was over forty-five years ago. Abortion wasn't even in my wasn't legal."

Her face creased in confusion. "How? What d'ya tellin' me. It doesn't seem like you..."

"I wasn't like...I was date-raped. But, that wasn't in my vocabulary either. He was my boyfriend, so..." I paused and took a deep breath... "I shouldered all the blame."

"Why, didn't you turn him in? I would've."

"Honestly," I explained, "it never crossed my mind. You've watched too much modern television--too many episodes of Teen Mom and that one with all the victims, uh..."

She interrupted, "Special Victims Unit, SVU."

"Yeah, that one." I glanced sideways, not knowing how to proceed.

"So," she asked. "Does that mean I have a half-brother? Is he alive? Do you know him?" She bent down and roughed up the cat. "This is a shocker, Mom."

"I know, I know. That's why, uh...well I just didn't want to burden you, but now it's out..." I hesitated, "Probably a good thing. I've agonized over telling you. You'll see when you read the book, but I'm scared...I don't want to lose you." I softened my voice. "I love you, and the last thing I want is to overwhelm you." I took another deep breath. "I went to a home for unwed mothers and gave my baby up for adoption. I did what I had to do. I've made peace with never knowing..."

"How?" she flipped up her palms, questioning. "What did Nonna and Papa do? And Aunt Sue? And JW? And..."

I jumped up from my Adirondack, ran in the house and grabbed one of my books. "Here, please read it, and all your questions will be answered, I think. After you read it, promise me that you'll keep the communication and questions coming. In the end, this'll be really important for both of us, but it'll kill me if you clam-up."

"Jeez, Mom, I'm almost thirty. I can handle it, though I wish you'd told me sooner--it's a big secret you've kept from me." She took the book and walked up the stairs to her room.

I stayed on the deck as the shadows lengthened and the cool and kindly breath of evening surrounded me. I sat waiting and worrying-- waiting for the next set of questions; worrying about her responses to my responses. It would prove to be a long night; dinner sat uneaten on the 'back-burner'.

Before too long, Paxton came running down the stairs. "I knew it...I just knew it. I knew Dad had a secret child."

'Ah, shit', a jagged shard of guilt sliced through me. "Oh, Gawd, Paxton, I never wanted you to know that. I forgot about the first chapter...I was so transfixed on my own secret. Please forgive me and don't hate your dad. It was so long ago..."

Tears welled-up in her eyes. "So, I have two half-brothers? Does Dad know him? Um, this is unbelievable...really, so much to process. But I've always known somehow..."

I sighed. "Remember how you always said you wished you had a big brother? It used to cut me to the core..." I hesitated and hung my head, afraid of her reaction. "In one fell swoop you have been exposed to our secrets, forced to see our flaws...and now you have to reconcile yourself with the fact you have two half-brothers, and you'll never know 'em."

She turned and ran back up the stairs to her room, quietly shutting the door.

Chips of stars, glittering in the night sky, appeared, and a cacophony of frogs, croaking in the distance, serenaded me as I sat on the deck awash with guilt. What have I done?

Reluctantly, I pulled myself out of the Adirondack, turned out the downstairs' lights and climbed the stairs to my bedroom, which was across the landing from Paxton's room. Yellow light slithered like a hissing snake from underneath her door. My heart thumped and I stifled cries because I knew my daughter's life was being torn asunder behind that closed door.

Traumatic events beyond her control would now alter her emotional landscape forever---and that's a long, long time.

Hoisting my shih tzu up on the bed next to Tom, who had already turned-in for the night, I plumped my pillows, pulled back the covers and climbed between the silken sheets. Slivers of moonlight filtered through the shutters as I lay waiting-- my heart was holding its breath. I have wanted this to happen. I stared through the blinds at the night sky, feeling conflicted and alone but, strangely, hopeful because I had dislodged a heavy burden---I was leaving no stone unturned in my landscape. The long-kept secret that had crawled under my skin and lodged in my soul had been pried loose--my grief at losing so much, at keeping so much hidden, had been freed. I rolled over and drifted off to sleep, allowing the 'fates' to guide Paxton's journey...

Long before the first gray streaks of dawn pushed away the inky black night, Paxton appeared in my room, full of questions. I was expecting her and snapped to attention.

"Mom, you told Laurel? Why didn't you tell me? Were you ever going to..."

"Yes, Paxton, I was going to tell you, but I...I was waiting for the right time." I winced. "Didn't you read how sharing with Laurel was the worst timing possible and a mistake of monumental proportions. One of the biggest regrets in my life." I shot up in bed. "In fact, it destroyed our relationship for several years. Timing is everything. She hated that I dumped that burden on her...she feels it wrecked her college years."

"I guess you're right." She sat on the edge of my bed and began to pet the dog. "I wouldn't have hated you, Mom, it wasn't your fault. And I don't hate Dad. How will that help any of us? I do feel sad that I'll never get closure with him, though." A few tears slid down her cheek. "I'm sorry, Mom, that you had so many miscarriages and felt so alone."

"You and Laurel wouldn't be here if I didn't have them. You certainly weren't going to be the fourteenth and fifteenth child, so I'm glad I had the miscarriages. Small price to pay for you guys. I can't imagine life without you."

"I finally read my birth story..."

"I've been hoping you'd do that...jeez, I gave it to you two years ago. See, you are a miracle and a survivor..."

"Don't want to talk about it, but it does explain why I'm so fearful of doctors."

Tom had made his way from the foot of the bed and began to rub his head against mine. Paxton rested her head on the pillow and snuggled up with Verdel.

She sighed. "Um, that must have been so hard not to have Papa talk to you. He was, well, he was just my favorite person, I don't know why, I just loved him so. Can't imagine what you two went through. In the end, him asking about..." she stumbled on the words. "The...the baby, that really got me, Mom."

"Remember it was the 1960's, Paxton. Just how it was. I never held it against him. Just accepted the silence. And, yeah, he remained silent about it all for over forty-five years. So sad."

The empathy poured from my daughter like a fine wine. Who has a daughter with so much compassion? She is an old soul, my sunshine, I reflected as the sun cast its earliest rays through the spaces in the blinds.

"I know this seems weird, Mom, but knowing all this helps me understand. Everything in my life, well, it just makes so much more sense. Dad's gambling, your crazy weak ways, Laurel's anger...all just..."

"Family dynamics," I laughed. "We're not the first screwed-up family, and we won't be the last."

"I have one last thought and then I'd better get a few hours' sleep. Or try to anyway. It may take me awhile and maybe things will hit me, but anyway, I have to ask. If you'd kept, kept your..." she rolled her hands, again stumbling on her words. "Your son...would I be here?"

"Oh, Paxton, think about it. I would never have left Eastern Oregon or met your dad. You wouldn't be on this Earth. You being here because of my choices is all part of the grand design of life. We can never look back to the future. You, me, Tom...Verdel...we're all meant to be here, on this bed--right now."

She smiled.

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To those who followed my book and already reviewed, thank you.

To new readers of my book, hope this epilogue peaks your interest and you can read my book at your leisure. fanstory friends were/are my inspiration. I'm working the process towards publishing, but it is like the Wild West out there in the publishing world.
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