I am facing a fork in the road; to continue down a well-worn road of predictability where I can step sure-footed on every man-made concrete brick; or down a wooded and rocky path where rocks become slippery with rain and snow and tree roots criss-cross the dirt patches which increase the risk that I will stumble. In the woods, nothing is certain.
I'm a five year old girl with brown hair pulled forward in pig-tails, red-rimmed glasses, freckles and bucked teeth. I sit at a table with Grandma Emmie. I can smell chocolate chip cookies from the oven. I smack my lips in anticipation of the hot, gooey goodness.
Granny Emmie. She was a short woman, plump, wore glasses and had long, grey, wavy hair. Her hair was loose except when she was cooking a meal or baking; during these times she would pull her hair back in a tight ponytail. Her warmth came from food but also from affection that she showered on me.
One day Granny Emmie touched my hand while I sat at the table with her as I drooled and wiped back tears. When I cried, I had no control over my bodily functions. I leaked snot from my nose, drooled from my mouth and both of these fluids became crusted on my glasses blurring the world around me. I confided in Grandma that Jane Rotcheson pulled my hair, knocked the books out of my hands and said I was a fat little girl that no one had ever loved - and no one ever would. Not even my dead parents. Jane and her friends all laughed at me.
Jane and I started off as friends but she became more popular with the other girls after she joined Brownies. I overheard the other girls say that Mrs. Kendall, the leader of Brownies, told the other little troopers that Jane was a natural leader. Overnight Jane changed and she led – leading the other girls in name-calling and bullying.
Once the cookies were done Granny Emmie put them on a plate, pulled me onto her lap, and with the warm, sweet smell created by the oven lingering around us - we indulged in the fresh baked goods. We washed the sweetness away with a fat-loaded cold glass of homogenized milk. I knew everything would be fine.
And everything was. The next day I went to school Jane told me she was, very sorry and hoped that we could still be friends. We were never friends but she no longer discussed my weight and never mentioned my dead parents again.
When I got home from school I asked Grandma if she knew why Jane apologized to me. Grandma, in her soft whisper of a voice, stuttered away, blinked at me and assured me she had said nothing. Then she said: I'm sure your teacher, Ms. Brandon noticed what Jane did to you and talked to her on her own. In the six months leading up to my conversation with Gran, obtuse Ms. Brandon never noticed a thing. Coincidence? I think not. I never believed Grannie Emmie.
Later, Grandma explained she knew something was wrong because I stopped talking. The incessant questions that I asked combined with my chirping on about the leaves, grass and flowers meant her house was never quiet. When it was quiet I was on the run, chasing poor old Rex, Grandma's black lab. Inevitably, sound came from me again as giggles bubbled out of me when I finally caught Rex. That poor dog knew I would climb up on his back for a ride. Smart dog that he was he always ran from me.
My parents were killed in a car accident when I was four years old. I was buckled in my car seat with them when it happened. I remember some aspects of the accident sprinkled with profound lasting impressions. I remember Momma with her head turned to the left as blood dripped down her face. She stared blankly at me in the back seat. My father slumped forward in the driver's seat with his head resting on the steering wheel. To me, it seemed like he had taken a nap. It was dark, soft snow flakes fell and covered the trees and ground. The headlights of the car were on. I was cold. I was never certain if it was just the weather or if it was because death surrounded me.
When the accident happened, I remember screaming and crying. Then, the car stopped. I was silent. As I looked at my mother I softly repeated, Momma, Momma, Momma… Then, I turned my head when I saw a man at my window. He was a passerby. He pushed down the window of the car and unlocked the back door. I was free from the mangled car and unhurt. The man lifted me from the car and ran with me as I thrashed around in his arms screaming, Mommy, Daddy! Mommy, Daddy! Then, the car exploded in flames.
My parents were still in the car. Grandma told me the man from the accident came to see her about six months later when I was at school. He told Grandma my mother was alive in the car and when he tried to check her vitals Mom whispered to him - SAVE MY DAUGHTER.
I don't remember that. But now that I am older I understand the word shock. You play back some parts of a traumatic life event over and over, and forget other pieces of the puzzle.
Granny Emmie was a widower when I came to live with her. Grandpa died at fifty six years old. Or so Grandma told me. I never met him. Neither of my parents had siblings so that left only Grandma to take care of me. Granny Emmie raised me as a widower on a fixed income and yet, I never felt deprived. I was very much loved. She died ten years ago living to the age of ninety four.
I am a recently divorced, thirty five year old woman. Our divorce situation is like this: we drifted apart. No affairs, no fights over money, no large explosive episode. We both stopped trying. We wanted different things.
On a bench overlooking a pond, I wear a black coat and hat as I clasp a piece of paper which says, Abigail. Abigail is my goddaughter’s name. My friends, David and Marisa were married seven years ago. A few years later little, scrumptious, Abigail was born. She is a three year old, brown haired, brown eyed, chubby-cheeked, inquisitive little girl. When I visited her at Dave and Marisa's her favorite question was why. Why is the sky blue? Why is the grass green? From what I remember Grandma Emmie saying she sounds like me but, smarter.
David was diagnosed with a brain tumor about a year after Abigail was born. He lived for a few months and left. He has checked out on this thing called life. Poor Abigail's Momma Marisa, was diagnosed with breast cancer a few months before David died. It was found in the advanced stages. I blink back tears remembering Marisa. She was my best friend.
According to Joseph Rothstead, David and Marisa's lawyer, they wanted me to be Abigail's guardian. The will was recently updated in the last few months before Marisa left. Now, I sit on a bench considering if this is the best option for Abigail.
I am divorced, income of forty thousand dollars per year and no house. Both David and Marisa had life insurance that will pay off the mortgage on their house. But, will it be enough? And more importantly - is this best for Abigail? Can I give her everything she needs when I've never had children myself? Granny Emmie was a grandmother when I came to live with her. She had experience on how to raise a child. If I were married I would argue, I would be a better candidate. After all, two brains are better than one. But me alone, I don’t know.
As I sit on the bench, I remember another conversation with Grannie Emmie. It's a cliché that is often repeated but I can see a thin-lipped smile on her wrinkled face and a twinkle in her eye, nostrils flaring with pride, when I told her I was considering my Master's degree. She said, My Natasha can do anything she sets her mind to. She's a fighter.
I stand up from the bench and watch the swans swim two by two in the pond. I turn my head and see a squirrel a few metres away. He stands on his hind legs staring at me holding a nut as if he's waiting on my decision. I stare back at him. Then, I turn on my heel striding across the park with my hands swinging at my side.
Granny Emmie's words ring in my ears.