For the next few weeks I will be sharing the first several chapters Tatia’s Tattoo. The link to the Preface and Chapter 1 is at the end of this post. Following is Chapter 2. Chapter 3 will be posted on Sunday.
CHAPTER 2: CAMP MEMORIES AND FAMILY GOOD-BYES
She made it through security in record time and, as always, Tatia breathed a prayer of thanks for Senator Porter’s administrative assistant. After Tatia almost missed her first opportunity to testify before the Senate subcommittee that was reviewing the Trafficking Act, the efficient young woman from the Texas Senator’s office walked her through the red tape of the TSA Pre-Checked Security System. Still, Tatia always arrived well before flight time, just in case.
Her frequent flyer status entitled her to lounge privileges, but since she didn’t drink, smoke, or flirt, she preferred to spend her pre-flight time with the regular folks. She did, however, drink coffee, so she picked up a decaf mocha before heading toward her gate. She paid no attention to the glances and outright stares she attracted as she walked down the concourse with a long-legged stride, her shoulder-length blonde hair swinging in rhythm with the tap of her heels. Her thoughts were focused instead on the two campers she would meet for the first time in a couple of days. She felt the same mix of emotions she always felt before camp – the excitement of almost unlimited possibilities and the dread of the heartbreak that would come when, after being together twenty-four hours a day for five days, the week came to an end.
For now, however, she had a plane to catch, and she suddenly realized she was beyond where she would find hers. Relieved that she had no traveling companion to notice her lack of concentration, she quickly turned around and made her way back to the correct gate. The waiting area was almost empty, so she had her pick of seats. She chose one with a view of both the tarmac beyond the window and the desk where the gate agent would deal with irate passengers who were certain their situation was the most important on the planet. She smiled, looking forward to a week free of irate politicians who were even more certain than the passengers that their situations were the most important on the planet.
She settled back in her seat and pulled the purple notebook out of her shoulder bag. She sipped her coffee and flipped to the first page: “Royal Children’s Camp, Counselor and Staff Manual, Preparing Yourself for Camp.” The familiar pages were highlighted and the edges were tattered from years of use. She knew most of the material by heart, but going through it again helped refocus her mind from the outside world to the children. She skipped over a couple of pages and read the camp’s mission statement. The last sentence was underlined, highlighted, and marked with a star in the margin: “We will create life-changing moments and extend loving hands to these children of abuse.” She closed her eyes and whispered, “Help me create life-changing moments and loving memories for Carmella and Amanda.”
Her thoughts were interrupted by the patter of little feet and the excited squeals of a dark-haired five-year-old with sparkling brown eyes. “Daddy,” shouted the little girl, running to the window and pointing toward the runway at a plane that was just touching down. “Is that our airplane?”
A tall, handsome man with a suitcase in each hand followed her to the window and knelt beside her. “I don’t know, Angel,” he said with a loving smile as he pointed toward the area directly in front of where they were kneeling. “It might be. Our airplane will pull up right there, and when it’s time to go, we’ll walk through a tunnel and get on the plane.”
A young woman joined the pair, putting her overnight case on the floor and kneeling on the other side of Angel. “Mommy, our airplane will park right there, and we’ll walk through a tunnel. Daddy said!”
Tatia felt like an intruder, watching the little group share a family moment, but she couldn’t look away. It wasn’t a life-changing moment, but it was one of many moments that would accumulate into a lifetime of loving memories for Angel. Tatia’s life might have been very different if there had been time for a few more family moments for her.
“My daddy died,” said five-year-old Tatia.
“I know, sweetie,” said the nice church lady. “Would you like another cookie?”
Tatia didn’t want another cookie. She’d had three already and a plateful of chicken strips, macaroni and cheese, and mashed potatoes. She didn’t want any more food. She wanted to talk about Daddy.
“He died over the seas somewhere. His car ran over a bomb, and he blew up. The preacher said he’s in his father’s house, but I saw him. He’s in a box and his face looked all painted.”
The church lady looked funny and her eyes got a little red.
“I’m so sorry, sweetie.”
She hugged Tatia and went to see if anybody else wanted another cookie. Tatia looked for her mama. She couldn’t find her, but she found her grandmother. She tried to climb up in her lap, but her grandmother pushed her away.
“Get down, Tatia. You’re too big to be sitting in my lap. Besides, your shoes are dirty, and you’ll ruin my dress.”
Tatia looked down at her black, patent-leather shoes. They had always been her favorites, the ones she was only allowed to wear to church or parties. They had straps, and she liked the special socks that went with them, the white ones with the pink lace around the edges. Now the shoes were splattered with sand from the graveyard. Bits of grass and several stray burrs clung to the lace on her socks.
“Now, go outside and clean yourself up.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Tatia said as she shuffled toward the door.
“Pick up your feet when you walk, and don’t slam the door on the way out.”
Tatia concentrated on being sure her shoes cleared the floor each time she took a step, and she slipped outside as quietly as she could.
It was nice outside. The fellowship hall of the little country church was too warm, and there were so many people that it was hard to breathe. Everyone in town knew her daddy, and they all came to pay their respects to a local war hero. They also turned out for the lunch afterward – the ladies at the First Baptist Church were famous for their cooking.
Tatia walked on the curb that ran along the edge of the driveway that looped from the parking lot to the front door and back toward the street. She balanced carefully until she came to the intersection of the cement and the grass, and then she sat down. She began gingerly pulling the burrs from her socks and brushing away the sand and grass. When they were as clean as she could get them, she stood and shook the way she’d seen her friend’s dog do after his bath, hoping to get rid of anything she missed.
She jumped when Aunt Sheila called her name. She had been so intent on her task she hadn’t heard the door open. Sheila wasn’t really her aunt, but she was Grandma’s best friend and acted like a surrogate aunt sometimes.
“Yes, ma’am?” she said quickly.
“You’d better get in here. Your grandma has been looking everywhere for you.”
Tatia sighed and hurried inside. No matter how hard she tried, it seemed like Grandma was always mad at her. Sometimes Tatia saw her whispering with Aunt Sheila and other ladies, and they all looked at her funny. One day she was outside playing, and she could hear what they were saying. She hadn’t meant to listen, but the window was open, and Grandma had a pretty loud voice.
“Steve would never have married her if she hadn’t been expecting Tatia. Sometimes I wonder if Steve is even her father, but he was determined to do the honorable thing. She and that baby ruined his life, and I’ll never forgive either of them for that.”
Tatia didn’t know what all that meant, but she knew it wasn’t good and that somehow it was her fault. Tatia wondered if Daddy liked it in his father’s house. She wondered if he had to stay in that box or if he could get out and walk around. She didn’t want to have to get her face all painted up and lie in a box, but if there was another way to get to where Daddy was, she’d sure like to go. She was still in Springdale, though, where he’d left her, and now Grandma was mad at her again. Mama was really sad, and tonight she would probably drink too much of that brown stuff that made her act funny. She wished her Daddy hadn’t run over that bomb.
Tatia had put on her pajamas and had been playing on the floor for a long time, but Mama hadn’t come in to help her say her prayers, tuck her in, and kiss her goodnight. She stood up, put all her dolls to bed, and kissed them. Then, clutching her favorite bear under her arm, she quietly opened her bedroom door. She peeked out into the hallway, and seeing no one, she tip-toed toward the living room and peered around the door jamb. Mama was lying down with one arm covering her eyes and the other hanging off the edge of the couch. She had a half-empty bottle of brown liquid clutched in her hand.
“Mama, I’m ready for bed.”
“Honey, this one time can you be a big girl and put yourself to bed? Mama doesn’t feel well.”
Tatia could always tell when Mama had been drinking a lot. Her words got all fuzzy and mashed up together.
“But, Mama, aren’t you going to help me with my prayers?”
“Why bother? He doesn’t hear them anyway, or if He does, he ignores them. We prayed for your daddy every night, and look how that turned out.”
Tatia was a little bit scared. She had never heard Mama’s voice sound like it sounded now – like somebody else was using Mama’s voice – like Mama wasn’t really there.
“Tatia, I can’t! I have to think. I have to figure out what to do, how I’ll feed you, where we’ll live. I can’t do this by myself!”
As Mama began to sob, tears escaped from Tatia’s clear, blue eyes, rolling down her pink cheeks, dripping onto the blonde curls that fell across her shoulders as she stared at the floor. She thought about what she had heard outside the church before they left. Grandma was yelling at Mama.
“You think you’re all set now, don’t you? Well, I have an appointment with my lawyer tomorrow morning, and I will personally see to it that you and your daughter don’t get a cent of my son’s money, no survivor benefits, nothing. And that’s my house you’re living in. You have thirty days to be out.”
“But where will we go?” Mama had asked. “How will we live?”
“You’ll think of something. You managed to trap my son into marrying you. I’m sure there is a market somewhere for your skill set.”
Tatia didn’t understand what Grandma meant, but she knew it made Mama cry.
“Mama, please don’t cry. You’re not by yourself – I’m here. The preacher said Daddy is in his father’s house. Maybe we can go live with him.”
Mama’s sobs gradually slowed down, and she finally spoke again, so quietly that Tatia almost couldn’t hear her.
“Maybe.” She was quiet for a minute or two. “Yes, maybe I can. You go on to bed now, honey. I’ll be in to kiss you goodnight in a few minutes.”
Clutching her bear to her chest, Tatia slowly went back to her room and climbed into bed. She lay very still, listening for Mama. She was half asleep when she finally heard footsteps headed toward the bathroom. She heard Mama open the medicine cabinet door and turn on the water. Tatia imagined her taking an aspirin – she did that sometimes when she drank a lot of that stuff. Then, she heard Mama coming toward her room. The door opened and Mama came over and sat on the edge of the bed.
“Are you still awake, Tatia.”
“Give me a hug, sweetheart.”
Tatia hugged her, and Mama squeezed her so tight she could hardly breathe. Then, she kissed her on top of the head and Tatia could feel Mama’s tears dripping onto her hair. She almost giggled, but then Mama began to whisper, almost like she was talking to herself.
“Tatia, you are the best thing that ever happened to me. The only good thing I ever did was bring you into this world, and now I can’t even take care of you. But you’re so beautiful, so special – they’ll grow to love you as much as I do. I miss you already.”
“But I’m right here, Mama.”
“Of course you are, my darling. I just hate to be away from you even when you’re asleep. I love you more than anything. You know that, don’t you?”
“Yes, Mama, I know – to the moon and back. And I love you, too.”
Mama kissed her one more time and then tucked her in. She walked to the door and paused. Without turning around she spoke again, so quietly Tatia wasn’t sure she heard right.
“I’m so sorry, Tatia. Good-bye.”
When Tatia woke up the next morning, the sun was peeking through the cracks between the blinds. She stretched and listened for the familiar morning sounds of Mama taking a shower or fixing breakfast, but she heard nothing. She strained to hear the talk show Mama watched every morning, but there was nothing but silence. She sniffed for the smell of coffee, but that was missing, too. Maybe Mama was still in bed with a headache from the stuff she drank. Tatia would have to be very quiet this morning.
She slipped out of bed, dragging her bear and her blanket with her. She opened the door of her room as quietly as she could and tip-toed down the hall.
“Mama?” she whispered.
There was no answer – Mama must still be in bed. She went into the living room and saw Mama lying on the couch like she was last night – one arm was covering her eyes and the other one was hanging off, touching the floor. She wasn’t holding the bottle, though. It was on the floor on its side with a little dribble of brown liquid forming a small puddle under its mouth. Tatia went over and carefully picked up the bottle, but she accidentally brushed Mama’s hand. She froze, afraid Mama would wake up and be mad, but she didn’t move. In fact, her hand was cold – really cold – and it felt kind of funny, not really like skin. Tatia put down the bottle and her bear and gently covered Mama with her blanket. Now she would get warm and feel better when she woke up. Tatia picked up her bear and laid him on Mama’s tummy. That was sure to make Mama smile when she woke up. Then, Tatia picked up the bottle and took it into the kitchen to throw it away.
She was getting hungry, so she pulled a juice box out of the refrigerator and a Pop Tart out of the cabinet. She sat down at the kitchen table to eat so she wouldn’t make a mess. When she was finished, she threw away her trash and went into her room to get dressed. She stayed there and played for a while, but she checked on Mama every once in a while to see if she was awake yet. She wasn’t. After a long while, Tatia was growing bored playing by herself, so she ventured all the way into the living room.
“Mama,” she whispered. When she got no response, she spoke a little louder. “Mama, it’s time to wake up.”
She put her hand on Mama’s cheek. Her face was really cold, and Tatia was getting a little scared. She patted Mama’s cheek, but nothing happened. Then, she laid her head on Mama’s chest. Sometimes she went to sleep that way at night while Mama watched TV. She liked the sound of Mama’s heart beating and of her breath going in and out. Now she heard nothing. Tears began to form in the corners of her eyes, and she grabbed Mama’s shoulders and shook her gently.
“Mama, please wake up. I’m scared. Please wake up.”
She didn’t know what to do. Then she remembered what Mama taught her about the telephone.
“Tatia, if anything bad ever happens and you need help, just pick up the handset and hit this button that has a “1” on it. I have it programmed to automatically dial some nice people who will come and help you.”
Tatia, picked up the handset and pushed the button. In a minute she heard a nice lady talking.
“911. What’s your emergency, please?”
Tatia began to cry. “My mama won’t wake up, and she’s really cold.”
“What’s your name, sweetheart? And how old are you?”
“My name is Tatia and I’m five years old.”
“Is anyone else in the house with you?”
“No, just Mama.”
“Okay, Tatia. You did the right thing. Don’t hang up the phone. I’m sending someone to help you.”
The calm voice on the phone had a soothing effect on Tatia, and her tears began to dry.
“Tatia, is your door locked?”
“Can you unlock it?”
“If I stand on a stool.”
“Okay. Go get your stool and unlock the door so the helpers can get in.”
Tatia did as she was told. While she was putting the stool back, she heard sirens. Then, she went back and picked up the phone.
“Okay. I did it.”
“That’s great, Tatia. The helpers should be there any minute.”
Tatia took the phone and went back to the couch where she sat on the floor. Her bear had fallen off Mama’s chest, so she picked him up with her free hand and hugged him to her own chest.
“Mama,” she said quietly. “The helpers will be here in a minute. They’ll help you and make you warm.” Her tears were flowing again. “Dear God, please don’t let Mama be dead. Please don’t make her be in a box like Daddy.”
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