Escaping the Confines

My mind can empower me at any given moment.  I set my sights on something – and I obtain that ultimate goal no matter what the obstacle, because my mind empowers me with knowledge and memory of past experience.  I do it, I get it, I go it, because I know I can.

And then all at once, my mind can entrap me, and paralyze me.  One “unknown” lies before me on the path to that ultimate goal, and my uncertainty turns to fear that devours me in an instant.  I become afraid and unwilling, and as a result, I don’t even bother to try.

And then there is depression.  I can sink into the depths, or I can dance around the edges, toying with the thought of plunging in.  Once I jump in, I struggle to climb back out.

My husband sank, about a month ago.

They tell you that happiness is contagious.  So is every other emotion.

His life before me has come crashing into us, flooding our current life like a tsunami.  Things are not settled, and have never been, for some five years now.  His ex-wife is holding back, and seeming to grasp every last straw she can, to prevent the final, official declaration of the dissolution of their marriage.

I used to vent and rage about her.  I used to carry a bitter grudge, for all the spiteful, hurtful things she’d ever said or done to or about me.  I used to resent my husband for having been married to her, of all women on this planet, for as long as he had been.  I thought that she was the only woman on this earth capable of inflicting the mental and physical wounds she has, in five long years.

The good times in our home were great.  The bad times were the worst I have ever seen.

And in my mind, it was all thanks to this “fucking psychopath” that my husband moronically chose to be with so many years before I ever entered his life.

It’s taken a long time.

I broke down in tears one afternoon, in the summertime last year.  Confused, sad, frightened.  His life is still not over with his ex-wife.  She’s become even worse to deal with.  It feels as though there’s no place for me in this life.  Maybe I need to move on.  Maybe they want to reconcile.  Maybe he and I were never meant to be.

I continued on with the destructive thoughts of how much I hated her.

And finally one day, I decided to stop reading the stepmom forums.  I started looking for bio moms, and what they had to say.  I wanted, more than anything, to find some way to understand this woman, rather than hate her, even if I knew she was never going to stop hating me.

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The thing is, no two bio moms are the same.  No two stepmoms are the same.  No two divorces are the same.

But when I finally got to read full disclosure comments, stories, or novels written by bio moms about their experiences with divorce and new girlfriends, etc., I realized that if that shoe was on my foot, I don’t know if I would have handled any of it differently, myself.

I walked into my husband’s life during the first year of his separation from his ex-wife.  I didn’t know that his ex-wife had the intentions of returning to him, after a trial separation.  What she told him versus what she actually wanted, were two different things.

He wasn’t treating her the way she wanted him to.  She tried everything to get through to him, and nothing seemed to work, so she decided to tell him she wanted a divorce.  She left, with big hopes that her absence would be enough for him to come out of his shell and finally treat her the way she so desperately wanted him to.

She made the choice on her own, to begin dating other men at first, and that deterred my husband greatly from wanting to reconcile.  But when I entered his life some six months after they separated, things took an even bigger nose dive for her.

She made the attempt in the first month of our relationship, to reconcile with him.  She opened up to him about her feelings – and he shut her down coldly, still burnt from her leaving, and made the mistake of rubbing salt in her wound by comparing her to me.

And thus, the hatred and jealousy began.

Not by my doing, and not by hers.  The circumstances, the timing, and worst of all, my husband, were all to blame.

I never entered my husband’s life to spite his ex-wife.  She never married him and conceived children with him to spite me.  She wasn’t trying to reconcile with him to spite me.

And neither of us knew it.

Her feelings about me, and her words and actions became worse and worse with time, no matter how much I tried not to anger her.  My kids were told by their mother to deliberately disobey me, because I was the reason that they couldn’t be a family again.

By God, it has been a rough ride over the last five years.  I’ve withstood singular attacks from every child, one by one, and many attacks from her.  Never understanding why.  Never appreciating their perspective or attempting to understand why they did the things they did to me.  I became the lightening rod of the family thunderstorm.

But somehow, I remained on my own two feet.  I remained by my husband’s side.  I helped my oldest daughter.  I rescued my younger daughter from a gripping drug addiction and one of the most inescapable phases of mental anguish that I believe I have ever seen.  I’m still here after each of my sons took their turn with me.  I’m still here after she took her turn with me.

I stood with pride, and sometimes acted smugly about it.

But the attacks didn’t stop.  The criticizing.  The ultimate invasion of privacy – constant spying.  None of it stopped.  And slowly but surely, I grew weak, and uncertain.

My life with my husband suddenly felt unnatural, and overwhelming.

I began to dread coming home after work.  The knot in my stomach would start as soon as I started my car to head home, and it would remain there, until I was finally lying down for the night and no drama had taken place.

Just as beautifully as we had risen to be a strong, happy couple and family, we were suddenly spiraling downward into a frightening and dark abyss of uncertainty.

I got caught in a gripping fear of his ex-wife, and what she could possibly do to me/us next.

Flashback to New Years 2016.

My younger daughter had been living with us for two months already since her distress call to me in late October.

She had nothing to do on the weekend of New Years, and I had plans to make a five hour trip North to pick up my dear friend who I commonly go on summer road trips with.  So I invited her along.  Up to that point, we’d hardly spoken two words to one another besides the constant “I love you”s and “I’m here for you”s.

She agreed to my pleasant surprise, and accompanied me on my drive to retrieve my friend.

A sixteen year old girl began to talk to me that afternoon, and by the time she finished telling me her story, and where she went wrong, and how she really felt, I was sitting next to a forty-something.

Where did her childhood go?  Why did this all sound so familiar?  Oh, right.  Because that was my story, too.  Lost and wounded teenage runaway, uncertain of life itself, struggling to find meaning and purpose in what seemed like a cruel, uncaring world full of evil.

I feared the consequences of opening my heart to her and telling her for the first time that I wasn’t little Miss Perfect when I was her age.  But I chose to tell her anyway.

I’ve never seen a more astonished look.

I related to her.  I understood her.  And that was when I took it a step further, and told her, “You know, all the fights we’ve had – all the times you thought your dad was picking me over you – all the times I had to bring the hammer down and hear you tell me ‘I hate you!’ or ‘You’re not my mom!’ – I get it.  I don’t blame you, one bit.  I can’t imagine I would have acted any differently had it been me in your shoes.  I can’t imagine what you or your sister and brothers must go through, with your parents apart.  My parents are still together.  But I think if my parents ever separated, I would hate seeing them with other people.  It would hurt.  And I know I would make life hard for the new partners.  I hope that eventually you guys can overcome the hurt, and accept me, and whoever your mom ever chooses to date, into your lives.  It can’t be easy.”

I am an “on the fly” kind of speaker, and thinker for that matter.  I don’t practice what I am going to say to someone.  I don’t always think it through good enough, either.  But lots of times, as I speak, I realize new things as I say them.  And that day when I told her I didn’t blame her, I began to realize on the spot that she wasn’t the only one with an entire perspective to consider – her mother and her siblings were, too, and even my husband for that matter.

So lately, I took the time to consider his ex-wife’s perspective.  I made the effort to attempt to understand her, knowing full well that it may not change anything as far as her behavior and attitude toward me is concerned.

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I feel empathy toward this woman, and have freed myself from the anger and the fear, after closing my eyes enough times to imagine what I would feel like in her shoes.  I can’t speak for her directly, but I think it’s enough that I know how I would act in her shoes – and I realized quite quickly that it was not that much different than how she has acted.

I’ve opened my eyes to the triggers and the emotional wounds, if even just a little bit more than before, and am consciously making the effort not to do more damage.

I can’t take away her pain.  I can’t make her hate me any less than she does.  But I can free myself by accepting that she has valid reasons for her feelings, and I can pray that one day she might take the opportunity to imagine herself in my shoes, and learn to understand me and my feelings, too.

My husband struggles more than I do, with his emotions.  He closes himself off and as a result, cannot understand others and their feelings.  I can’t make him understand his ex-wife.  I can’t make him understand me.  I have to hold out faith that eventually, he too will free himself and come to realize that this situation is not comprised of only his perspective.

Empathy and patience.

Life is what we make of it.  I choose to break out of the confines of my own mind, and step into the unknown.  I can get through anything if I put my mind to it.  No matter where this goes, I know I’m going to be alright.

 

 

 

Stepmonster

I joke with my daughter all the time, telling her that I am a ruthless, meanest of the mean, stepmonster.

She smiles back at me.  She laughs and says, “Yeah, right.  Far from.”

She’s only nine years younger than I.

My husband is twenty years my senior.  I met him at twenty-one years old.  I was just a lost kid.  Some days, I still am that same lost kid.

When I came into his life, his oldest daughter was sixteen, his next daughter twelve, his son ten, and his younger son eight.

They are now twenty-one, seventeen, fifteen, and thirteen.

I’ve been to my oldest daughter’s graduation, I bought her her second vehicle.  I helped my younger daughter out of a very dark place in her life at a time that all of us felt helpless to do anything but watch her slip away.  I share Yu-gi-oh! cards with my sons.  I let them teach me about their favorite video games.

I share a unique bond with my stepchildren, and it’s due to the very thing that so many people swore would curse my ability to blend with this family – my age.

I greatly lacked the maturity to “parent” these kids – and am well aware that I still do.  Having had none of my own children creates for a lack of experience that leads, quite often, to mistakes and over-stepping.  There are many times I preach to my husband about how he should have, could have or would have raised his children.  Then I realize immediately afterward – it’s not my place.  I don’t know anything about raising kids, besides the experience I am taking in right now.  I angered the kids’ biological mother many times with my choices of handling certain situations.

It wasn’t until I made the choice to be me, and only me, regardless of judgement or acceptance, that things began to fall into place.  I became someone in the middle.  Capable of stepping up to nurture and protect my kids when needed, and also capable of relating to them on a personal level due to the closeness of our age.

Suddenly my younger daughter was able to tell me the things happening in her life that she was horrified to tell her mother and father.  Things that I would understand, because I’d been there, I’d done that.  And as a result, I could tell her honestly, just how bad her life was about to get – and she listened, and asked for help.  She asked for a way out.  My sons could tell me about video games, and even let me play them, and I knew how to already, without needing to be taught and then expressing frustration and giving up right away.  Our interests are common – they are interests of youth.  Things we do know about, things we don’t know about.  We relate to one another, and we share our experiences.  I am not an authority, unless I have to be.  I am just a bonus member of the family for these kids.

We are five years strong as a family unit.  There are days that the kids don’t want me around, and there’s days that I certainly don’t want to be around.  But then there’s more often days that we spend together, that we have fun, and we make memories that we may forever cherish.  Life is not over for these children because their mother and father did not stay together.  I believe that things happen for a reason.

This entry is not of any particular purpose.  If anything, it is for me to accept myself as I am, stepmother or not.  I am of value in this family, and I belong here.

My trial has been far from perfect.  I have so much respect for all the fellow stepmothers out there, who support each other, and offer so many different words and phrases of encouragement.

There is no guidebook to parenting.  There will never be a guidebook to step-parenting.  No one’s trial as a step parent can be compared to another, or ever called “the same”.  To tell you other step parents out there that I have a method and I have my sh*t under control would be a blatant, far-fetched lie.  The only thing I can tell you that got me this far, and will (I pray) get me through for the rest of my life, was just choosing not to give up.  And I came close to giving up, believe me.  On more than just a few occasions.

I could walk away and never look back, and no one would blame me.  Or I could stay, and keep getting back up every time I get knocked down, building a stronger and stronger foundation with the family I have become a part of.

Don’t waste your time trying to please the ex.  You either get along or you don’t.  She will always have her reasons for feeling the way she does, as you will have yours, so don’t blame her, either.  She may manipulate, lie, and sabotage when she feels vulnerable.  She may try to win her ex, your partner, back at what seems to you, completely random moments.  Some days, she might surprise you with a polite “thank-you” for something you did for the kids, or even for her, despite all your previous grievances with her.  It is not in any way your obligation to do right by her accord.  Your very existence within her broken family is not right by her accord.  Be polite to her.  Don’t talk bad about her.  Shut your partner down if he begins talking bad about her to or in front of the kids.  And lastly, pray for her.  Or hope.  Hope that she overcomes her struggles, and moves past her pain, to let go of her ex and live her own life.

And pray for yourself.  Stand tall, and smile into the storm.  The sun always rises after every nightfall.  Don’t play games.  Be the woman you are, love the man you’re with, do the best you can, and know that you are NOT in control of his kids, his ex, or their ultimate outcomes as people.  You CAN be an influence, and guide them down the right path if they let you.  But don’t blame yourself if they don’t.

Keep your stress levels down no matter what.  I have fallen victim to myself.  Too many times, in an absolute stress storm after a disagreement with one of the kids, or a pileup of “to-do”s all heaped into one weekend that Super Man himself couldn’t get done with his powers of lightning speed.  Flying off the handle with unreasonable anger and impulsive demands, in the heat of the moment.  Makes for an ugly experience, and sometimes words got said that I couldn’t take back.  I try my best to learn from my mistakes and improve as I move forward.

Go for a walk when you’re upset.  Ten minutes, twenty minutes, then come back with a cool head.  Spend time with your friends.  They will save your life in your darkest moments.  Make time for yourself and remind yourself that you are doing your best, and your best IS good enough.  Be proud of yourself and everything that you are capable of doing.  Not everyone can handle the load you are under.  And remember that not everyone has any idea of the load you’re under.

Ten percent of life is what you make of it.  The other ninety percent is how you take it.

To all fellow stepmothers out there, I wish you all the best.  I have much respect for each and every one of you.  Please pray for me along my path.  This journey is far from over.

Life quote

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Pride and Joy – From One Moment to Another

I don’t understand.  I keep thinking that I do understand.  But I don’t.  And I never will.  We each see from our own eyes.  We each act and feel and respond according to our individual experiences in our own lives.  There is no way possible to assume that the person next to me is feeling a certain way, or will respond to a certain thing I do with or to them, without me having lived their life and understanding exactly why they are the way they are.

I can’t grasp why I feel, act and respond the way I do, sometimes, and I am me.

Everyone in my life has taken a turn casting a judgement on me, at one point or another.  There is not one person I know who can deny this.

I am so used to getting knocked down hard, and then kicked while I’m down, every single time I open my heart and reach out to help someone.  Several times I have gone too far with my attempts to help – resulting in a major miscommunication of some form, that ended up making the person who I was trying to help, suffer even more than when I started trying to help.  And of course, then the poor person who I reached out to, looked at me with bewilderment and anger, for making their life worse instead of better.  That’s where I took the biggest beatings.  “You should have kept your mouth shut and stayed out of it.”  “It was none of your business.”  I don’t think those two sentences will ever stop repeating in my head each night.  I’m not kidding.  Every, single, night, as I lay down to sleep.

A situation arose in August, all too familiar, with a young soul reaching out for help from behind closed doors where the abuse was nearly reaching its violent peak.  Something had to be done.  He needed help.  He was asking for help.

Uncertain as ever, I would carefully reach out and help.  Sure enough, it would make his life worse, with his abuser catching onto my attempts to help him, and then punishing him for it.  But he would ask again, weeks later, for me to try again to help him.  He didn’t want to give up trying to escape that house.  The abuse got worse.  I truly didn’t know what to do at that point.  Until his abuser turned its anger onto my daughter, and abused her right in front of me over the phone.

I went to the police, and then I went to a care agency who was dealing with the victim through another matter already.  I insisted he was in danger, and I begged them to help him.  I told his care representative that I didn’t know if I was doing the right thing.  She had been well persuaded by his abuser that he was in very good hands, being well cared for and well disciplined – so she had a hard time taking me seriously, I could tell.  That, and my age compared to that of his abuser’s, made it even harder for her to take me seriously.

They took my urgency into consideration, and gave the victim enough freedom to choose whether he wanted to leave the abuser’s home or not, after forcing him to remain where he was for the rest of that weekend, during which he was taken on a camping trip.  He chose to leave.  Our home was the only place he could go, so he since came to stay with us.  I thought for a brief moment, “My god.  I did it right.  I succeeded in helping him!”

A week later I was set to go on a vacation with my two best friends.  I left on a Thursday afternoon, after the victim and myself checked in with his care representative earlier that morning, at eleven.  I was forty-five minutes into the trip, and his care rep was calling me, and demanding that he and I return to her office immediately, since some disturbing information had been brought to her attention.  She told me we needed to have a meeting as soon as possible, this time with the abuser present.

I rushed home and picked him up and together we headed back to his care rep’s office, shaky and scared of what was on the horizon this time.

His abuser walked into the door immediately after us, into the waiting area.  The look on its face was a smug one.  It spoke a couple quiet words to the victim, taunting him.  “You have no idea just how much shit you’re in.” it hissed at him.  It let out a loud laugh and shook its head, feigning disbelief.

I gently reminded him to stay calm and ignore.  Just ignore it.  Everything will be okay.  He looked at me with trust in his eyes.  I was so terrified of letting him down.

The care representative appeared moments later, leading us into a large conference room, where he and I took two seats next to one another, and as far away from the abuser as possible.  The care representative took her seat at the end, facing the three of us.

She directed her attention to the victim first and foremost, putting him on the spot and asking what really happened between himself and his abuser.  He stammered, prompting a gentle prod from the care rep.  She asked him, “So you got kicked out on Monday, then what?”

To which his abuser immediately denied, and began the onslaught of him right there, in front of myself and the care representative.  The abuser looked him in the eyes and insisted several times that it never threw him out.

He looked back at it, and the second time it denied it, he yelled, “Fuck off!  You threw me out right there and you left me!”

The abuser pulled back with a very fake shocked look, before screaming out loud, “I dropped you off, and was going to pick you up an hour later, and you weren’t there!

The care representative quickly hushed the abuser and changed the topic, not allowing the victim to defend himself and clarify the miscommunication with the abuser about whether or not he’d been thrown out, or dropped off to be picked up again an hour later, as the abuser had alleged.

The victim had taken to lying about several different things, all of which he’d cleanly made me aware of when I’d first opened up my doors to him, so I knew, as his care representative picked him apart, that his abuser had gone through the cell phone that it had once allowed him to have, and had become aware itself of what had really been taking place with his desires to stay or go.  Between the abuser and his care representative, they tore him to shreds, and completely reduced his appearance to that of a lying, thieving, backstabbing user.  Then they looked at me and asked me, “Do you still open your doors to him, knowing he is a liar and cannot be trusted?”

I didn’t waiver.  I nodded and I told them that I knew already of the truth.  They both looked aggravated and disappointed by my answer.  Now it was my turn to take a beating.

The abuser looked at the care rep in disbelief and shouted, “I’ve told you about her!  You can’t be serious – she can’t actually be fit to take him in!”

The care rep looked back at the abuser and made to answer, but the abuser turned its attention to the victim, leaning in toward him and whispering, “Don’t you remember what we talked about this weekend?  Huh?  Don’t you remember telling me how you don’t really like her?  You like her Step daughter, but you don’t like her, after the way she’s acted on several different occasions when you’ve been around?  Go on, say it – you had no problem complaining to me this weekend, about her groping you!  And touching her younger step son in front of everyone in inappropriate places while she was so drunk she couldn’t even stand straight?  And what about her cheating with the dad’s buddy there, while we were camping?  SAY it!

When I first met the abuser, some four months before all this took place, I found it to be a quite open, seemingly helpful person, with wisdom that I felt I could look up to.  Actually, I did look up to the abuser, as someone older than me, with way more experience with kids and relationships.  I thought I could trust it.  So I began a friendship with it, trusting it more and more and confiding in it about things that had taken place with my kids.  Not one of my kids are mine biologically.  They are biologically from their father, my husband, who I call my husband but am not yet married to (I consider it a stronger term of endearment, since I love him so), and their mother, who separated from my husband some four and a half years ago.  To date, I have been with my husband for merely a couple days more than four years.  I was accused of doing something I can’t even speak of, to my older son, back in April.  I nearly left my husband, fearing at that time that I could end up spending the rest of my life in prison for a crime I never committed.  Not just that – the accusation itself, left me feeling filthy and low, as a human being.  I felt disgusting, despite not being guilty of the accusation.  I confided in the abuser about this story, and the abuser comforted me and encouraged me.  It made me trust the abuser more.  And that day at the care rep’s office, when the abuser needed ammunition, it dug deep and found the sharpest daggers it could, to throw at me.

It hurt even more, when I watched the victim slump in his seat and hang his head in shame, mumbling his confession that yes, he had indeed said those things about me over the weekend.  He followed that with, “I said whatever I had to, to get you off my back!”

The abuser’s eyes met mine with glee.

“Will you still take him in?” his care rep asked me.

“Yes.”

The abuser went off a third time.  About me again.  This time, about drinking too much, and allowing my kids to drink as minors and do drugs and leave them unattended to their own demise.  Anything to make me unfit again.

I looked over the abuser to the care rep.

“I went to the police before I came here.  I took all the necessary steps to help this boy.  You called me on Monday evening, if I remember correctly, asking me to take him in.  I took him in.  I’m feeding him.  I’m clothing him.  I’m trying to help him, not hurt him.  You don’t want him in my house because you’re not sure I’m fit to care for him?  Fine – just get him the hell out of the house he has been in, because he’s being abused there and my husband and I have witnessed it with our own eyes right on our property!  What relevance does any of this hostility have to helping him?  None of these accusations are proven, in fact, they’re slander at best, and they have nothing to do with helping this boy.  I don’t think I need to be cut down and accused of cheating on my husband because I am trying to help someone who I know is being abused!”

His abuser cut the care rep off before she could speak, for something like the fifth time already.

Don’t call him your Husband.  Slut.  You will never be worthy of becoming his wife.  You’re not married to him, so don’t ever call him your husband.  That’s an absolute insult to loyal, loving wives and husbands everywhere.  I’ve been married twenty years.  That’s worthy.  Not you.” it hissed venomously at me.

Finally, the care rep addressed the abuser.  She ordered it to back off, and “shut up”.  Then she asked me one last time if I was still okay with the victim staying in my home.  I nodded.  So she adjourned the meeting and told the three of us that we would be meeting again, the following week on the same day.

The abuser gave me the same smug smile and laugh.

“My dad told me that you were nothing more than a homewrecker.  I’m bringing my mom and dad with me next week.  Be ready.  Because they weren’t too impressed with your behavior when we went camping, either.” was its warning as we left the room.

I dropped the victim at home, having said nothing to him the whole drive.  I got out of the truck myself, and took a walk into the field, bursting into tears.  I didn’t know that he’d gone into the house and told my daughter that she should go find me.  She was trailing behind me, calling out, but I couldn’t hear her with the wind blowing around me.  It wasn’t until I looked back toward the house that I saw her walking up the hill toward me.

I told her what had taken place.  I told her about the rotten accusations.  The things that the abuser had said about me cheating on my husband, her dad.  With the dad of one of her best friends.  She reacted with shock.

She talked with me for a while out in the field, coaxing me back to the house and urging me to resume my vacation, three hours later than I’d tried to leave.

So I went on vacation with my two best friends, and returned several days later, to deal with a new reality.

I contacted the care representative’s supervisor after some digging into the victim’s rights.  We had a right to refuse meeting with the abuser in the room again.  So I spoke with the supervisor and explained how I felt after what had taken place, and told her that I, nor he, were willing to be held in the same room as the abuser again after the last time.  She understood my request and assured me it was not going to happen again.

We met with his care representative later that week, shocked and terrified to see his abuser waiting outside the building.  We were both so frightened that we were trembling.  But his care rep came and retrieved us, and we didn’t see the abuser again after that.

We were promptly informed that his care rep did not approve of his stay at my residence, for several reasons, including possible break up with my daughter, which I completely understood.  She claimed she didn’t want to divulge the other reasons for her feelings.  I am certain I know what they are.

I have met the care rep with the victim some four or five times since the explosive meeting with the abuser present.  I can tell that this woman took a lot of the things that the abuser said about me, into consideration and as such treats me with remarkably less respect than anyone else I have ever dealt with in situations such as this.

It hurts.  They say words don’t hurt you if you don’t let them.  They do.  I despise the abuser for the things it said to and about me that day at the care rep’s office.  And I can’t comfortably seat myself in the same room as the victim without someone else present.  Much the same as with my older son.  Things will never return to normal.  I will never be able to touch either one again in this lifetime.  It’s just too awkward and too terrifying for me.

I’ve had to put distance and awkwardness between myself and my husband’s best friend since that day, also.  It’s been so hard on me.

I look at this boy who I helped.  I helped him.  And everyone else destroyed me for doing so.  No one looks at me and says, “You took a hell of a beating for that kid.  You’re a kind person, going through all that for him.  I can’t imagine.”

I look at this boy who I helped.  Sometimes I feel resentful, knowing that things like that came out of his mouth about me.  It takes constantly reminding myself that he only did what he had to, to get his tormentor to abuse him even a little bit less.  It was at my expense.  His care rep hasn’t offered me any sort of compensation, be it financial, emotional, or anything at all, for my efforts and for the abuse I took in helping him escape.  I feel bitter some days.  I wonder if he will remember my efforts ten years from now.

I wonder if anyone ever went through this much pain just to see me get out alive.  Or if anyone would go through it all, for my sake.

The more I reach out to help others, the harder the beatings I take.  I’ve helped more than just this boy.  I have helped past roommates escape poverty, by sympathizing for them and letting them go months without paying rent, or lowering their rent so that I thought they could utilize the most of their income to get started in life.  They wasted my efforts, and deserted me when I needed help the most.

No one understands why I help them.  No one understands that I would help my worst enemy, if it meant sparing them from some of the suffering I have gone through in my lifetime so far.  I keep getting hurt for helping people.  I keep growing more hateful of myself as a person, whenever I fail my mission to help someone obtain their ultimate goal.  I stand back and watch others suffer more than I step in to help anymore.

The boy has lived with us two months now.  My daughter has been in our home for a year.  She seemed to understand.  I pray that she still does understand.

I don’t need a pat on the back for everything I’ve done for others.  I just want to express the hurt, I suppose.  Because it does hurt.  I give everything to help.  I don’t ask for anything back.  Well maybe I would ask for something in return.  And that request would be, if I help you, with anything, or if I try to help and I fail, please don’t hurt me for it.  I will never stop trying to help.

*****

This document was originally created on the fifth of October, in 2016.  It is now March 7th, 2017.  The victim has lived with us for more than seven months at this point.

My daughter returned to school on the first of February this year.  The victim took a full time job where my husband works, perhaps two weeks following my daughter’s return to school.  He earns a guideline income thirty percent higher than my own now.  He is clean.  He is healthy.  He is happy.  My daughter is clean, and healthy, and happy.  Neither of the two made the choice to abandon my husband and I, as I had originally feared out of my own insecurities.

The victim calls my husband “Dad”.  He treats me with respect, obeys my requests and rules, and works hard at his new job.  I consider him my son, though he may never hear me utter the words, out of my own uncontrollable fears of frightening him or making things awkward, now that I have surprisingly found a suitable level of comfort with him despite the abuse and accusations I endured from his tormentor in the summer of 2016.

I am beyond proud of my daughter.  I am beyond proud of the victim.  My son.  I do not need a pat on the back for helping them.  Watching them do what they are both doing now, is more rewarding than anything that anyone could give me, or say to me now.  I pray to the highest heaven that they both succeed with their lives, and that they go where most have never gone before. success

I don’t doubt either child.  I have faith in each of them individually, and I know they will succeed in life.  They will make mistakes, like anyone, but they are both mature enough.  They will learn from their mistakes and they will rise again and keep moving forward.  And I will be here.  I will be right beside them.  In life.  In death.  I will help them and I will rescue them.  And I will never stop being proud of them.

I am not much older than either child.  I have lots to learn as a human being.  I have made many mistakes.  Countless, probably.  I have hurt both children emotionally at some point, with words or actions that I chose on my own.  I’ve never mothered my own children.  If anything, I am nowhere near qualified to be considered a parent, or even a “guardian”, to either one.

But they have both taught me so much.  Especially that I don’t need validation, from anyone, for helping someone.  I don’t even need it from them.  If they chose never to say “Thank-you”, it wouldn’t matter.  What matters is they made it.  And they are making it now.

If ever I could be a mother, or considered a mother, and God gave me the choice of all the children on this Earth that I could say were mine, I would choose the same children that I “mother” now. Proud

Neither of you will ever know of this document’s existence.  There will come days where you will each wonder if I care about you at all.  But I know, here and now, I love you both and I could not be happier or more proud of anyone.  You are my children.  And you both will always be my children.  I’ll never leave your side.  I will protect you until my last breath on this earth.  And I will thank God for every moment I have with you, and ask him to always watch over each of you, and I will pray for you both to live the best lives you can live.

Most of all, I pray you both learn love and happiness, and adoption.  Adoption may be a funny term to throw in.  But I could not have known this level of love, happiness, or belonging, had I never met Dad and adopted his family as my own.

 

Whiskey Excerpt

He was just finishing dinner later that afternoon when he felt his phone vibrating.  It was Dan phoning him.

“Hey Dan,” he answered.

“Hey.  What are you doing right now?” Dan asked.

“Just finishing dinner.” he answered.

“How’d the appraisal go?”

“Better than I figured,” he replied.  He walked out onto the deck and lit a smoke as he continued.  “Worth five hundred and forty-eight thousand she figures, so we’re advertising it for five hundred ninety-nine and take whatever offer is closest.”

“Holy crap!” Dan exclaimed.  “Well good thing Sarah signed off on it finally then!” he laughed into the phone.  “Anyway, that’s not what I wanted to talk to you about.”

“Okay,” responded Darryl, “what’s going on then?”

“Oh nothing,” Dan answered coolly, “I’m just at the auction mart here and we figured out where the goats went when they got sold.”

Darryl’s smoke fell from his mouth and he began to choke.  He almost dropped his phone too while he coughed and hacked and grabbed his cigarette from the ground.

“Jesus man, hold it together!” said Dan.  “It’s just your goats.”

“Well what the hell are you even doing-”  Darryl stopped himself.  He took a long breath.  “Okay, where did they go?  A slaughter house probably, right?”

“Wrong.” answered Dan.  Darryl’s heart skipped a beat.  “It was that friend of hers.  Marilyn.”

“What!?”  He thought he was going to fall over.  “Why would she – How in the hell did she even know I sent them to the auction?  Honoria never found out until the next day!”

“Do you think she still has em?” Dan asked.

“I don’t know,” replied Darryl.  “I gotta let you go.  I’m going to phone her right now and find out.  Maybe she can tell me who she’s sold them to if she doesn’t have them still.”

“Okay, let me know what you figure out.”

Darryl hung up and stared at his phone.  His heart was pounding so hard that he could feel the pressure in his head.  He could only hope that Marilyn hadn’t sold the goats to anyone else.  He looked through the contacts on his list, uncertain that he would be able to remember Marilyn’s or her parents’ phone number without having to ask Honoria.

After several moments of nervously scrolling through several hundred contacts, he was beyond relieved to find Marilyn’s home phone number among the list.

He dialed the number and waited.  He could feel his stomach rising to his throat in anticipation.

The phone rang several times before Marilyn’s mother Charlene answered.

“Hello?” came her voice.

“Hello!  How are you?” Darryl choked out.  He struggled to stay calm.

“I’m good.  Who am I speaking with?” she asked, seemingly confused.

“It’s – it’s uh, Darryl.” he stammered.

“Oh.” she replied stoutly.  He heard some shuffling, then he heard her call for Marilyn.

A few moments went by, until finally Marilyn’s voice came into the phone.  “Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t hang up on you right now, you bastard.” she said.

His heart sank.

“I know.” he answered.  “I know you probably don’t want to talk to me of all people, but please hear me out-” he got cut off.

“No, I quite frankly don’t want to talk to an asshole, thanks.  You have some nerve phoning me.  What is it that you want?” she demanded.  “I have no respect at all for what you did to my best friend.  I may not know the whole situation but I know that you completely deserted her.  And getting rid of her animals?  She was trying to work things out to take them, you know.”

Darryl could hardly hold his temper.  “I’m not calling you to talk about why I threw her out – but you’re right when you say you don’t fucking know the whole situation,” he growled through the phone.  “I’m trying to make things right.  I’m going to fix the damages I did to her.  I’m no fucking expert but give me a damn break.”

“Then why are you calling?  Are you telling me that you made a mistake?  You mean you finally figured out that she never actually molested your son, you dumbass?” she threw back.  “I can hang up anytime I like, so keep getting mad if you want.  You have nothing to be angry about compared to what you’ve done to that girl.”

Darryl drew back, taken by surprise.  Did Honoria tell Marilyn the truth?

“How did you…” he whispered.  “Did she- did she tell you that?”

“You don’t know her as well as I thought you did.” she said.  “I knew from the start that it wasn’t true.  It took her a long time to admit it, probably out of fear that I would throw it in your face and tell you what a piece of shit you are for what you put her through.  I could slap you right across the face right now, you know that?”

His eyes filled with tears as he listened.  She broke him down.

“Hello?” she asked.  “Did you hang up or did I leave you speechless?”

“I fucked up.  Believe me, I get it.” he muttered in misery.

“I know about her depression.  I know that I hurt her.  I hurt her on purpose to get revenge on her for hurting my son.  I know the truth now.  My – my own kids set this up, with their mother, and had one of their little friends try to blackmail Honoria into this bull shit situation.  They were pretending Janelle had been kidnapped and that she would be returned safely if Honoria cheated on me with that kid.  But Honoria wouldn’t fall for their shit, and so they resorted to something even worse, roping my fifteen year old son into framing her for molesting him.  I caught my daughter – I found her in Toronto.  She’s alive, and safe – and I need to tell Honoria this, so that she knows.  I swear to you I only want to fix this!” he yelled.

Marilyn fell silent.

Darryl took a deep breath.

“You bought her goats from the auction mart.” he murmured finally.  “I was trying to track them down and get them back.”

“Honoria’s not getting her goats back until she has a place of her own.” Marilyn answered.

“So you do have all of them.” he murmured.  “Does she know?”

“No.  She doesn’t need to know right now.  She needs to get better.  I looked for her cat too but I couldn’t find him.” she replied.

“I got Whiskey back.  I tracked him down, he’s back with me safe and sound and he’s not going anywhere except back to her when she’s able to have him.” Darryl explained.

“I’m relieved to hear that.  I thought that he was gone for good.  She’s actually living in a house in Tomahawk now that my parents bought.  They would let her have him there.  You should give him back to her sooner than later, it might help her a lot.  She’s not doing well at all lately.  As for her goats, I’m not letting them go back to your farm.  They are hers to take back when she’s on a place of her own, that no asshole will be able to just toss them out without her being able to prevent it.  You may be trying to do the right thing now, but you lost my trust and respect when you handled things the way that you did.  I will look after the goats until she can take them back.  You don’t need to worry about them.” she replied.

He was not sure what to say anymore.  It crushed his heart that he couldn’t take the herd back for Honoria – it made him feel pathetic.  But he understood Marilyn’s reasoning.

“I’m selling this farm.” he said finally.  “The realtor assessed it today.  Sarah signed off; she’s no longer involved with any part of this property, nor any other property I ever buy.  I am going to tell Honoria everything.  I want to fix this.  I really do.  I don’t care what it takes.”

He heard Marilyn let out a short breath.  It sounded like a sigh of relief.

“I wondered if you would ever,” she murmured.  “Honoria gave up so much for you, and to be with you.  I really wondered if you would ever open up your eyes and give up that damned farm to be with her.  She would have stayed even if you hadn’t.  But you and your family and ex-wife put that girl through Hell.”

“I know.” he replied sadly.  “I know.  I’m going to make things right.”

“Her art show is tonight.” Marilyn said.  “Will you be there?”

“I wouldn’t miss it for the world.” he replied.  “Of course I’ll be there.”

“Good then, I’ll be seeing you there.” she answered.  He could hear the tone of threatening in her voice.  She was warning him not to let her dearest friend get hurt again.  She hung up before he could say any more.

Chapter Twenty-Five

      When he’d finished his conversation with Marilyn, he was horrified to see that it was already a quarter after four, so he hurriedly showered and prepared himself for the event that evening.  He put on only the sharpest clothing he owned; a pair of black dress slacks, his finest shoes, and his favorite black Harley Davidson dress shirt.  If he wanted to get her back, he wanted to look his best for her.

His palms were sweating and he was beginning to feel dizzy by the time Dan arrived at his home to retrieve him.

“Good lord, Man.” huffed Dan.  “You need some of this.  Drink up.”  He handed Darryl a small silver flask.

“What’s this?  Why do I need to drink it?” asked Darryl dumbly.

“Whiskey.  Drink up.  You look like shit.” he answered.

Darryl pouted at the comment, but took a long burning swig from the flask.  It seared all the way down his throat.  He nearly gagged.  Then he took another swig.  And one more before Dan grabbed the flask back from him.

“Have you eaten anything since dinner time today?” he asked.

“Sure I have.  You’re not my mother.” Darryl retorted.

“You’re right.  Let’s go before we’re late for the show.”

It was close to two hours before they arrived in the city of Edmonton.  It was just getting dark out and a large orange half -moon hung low in the night sky.  It made him think of her even more.  His dreams of her.  Touching her.  Hugging her.  Kissing her.  The smell of her hair when he held her.

The memory wrenched his heart.  He wanted that again.  He wanted her again.  He had to get her back.  It didn’t matter what it was going to take.  He wanted his beloved back in his arms, and he would never, ever, let her go again.

He was pulled out of thought and back down to earth when they finally rolled into the parking lot of the gallery.

“We’re here,” Dan murmured as they pulled up beside Bailey’s car.  Dale’s pickup sat on the other side of her car.

Darryl could feel his stomach rising to his throat as he stepped out of Dan’s diesel.  Dan came around to his side as well as Dale.

“Well don’t you look fine this evening.” Dale commented.  “Anyone ever tell you that you don’t look so bad when you clean up a little?”

“I know, he looks so handsome!” added Bailey with a giggle as she stepped out of her car to join the three men.

Darryl could barely open his mouth he was so nervous.  He simply nodded at the others with a terribly fraud grin.

Dan handed him a cigarette.  He gladly took it, lighting it with a shaking hand.  Dale, Dan and Bailey all joined him, each lighting up their own cigarettes as well.

They smoked in silence for several moments.  It felt to Darryl as though his friends were almost as nervous as he was.

“It’ll all be fine,” he mumbled finally.  His friends all looked at him.  “Thanks for coming in with me.  Let’s get in there and have ourselves a good night.”

And with that, the four turned together, and walked through the swinging doors into the Emerald Art Gala, not sure of what lay waiting for them that late September evening.

A slim young man stood behind a podium positioned in the entry way, gathering names and collecting tickets from guests as they entered the show.

“Welcome to Emerald Art Gala,” he greeted kindly, “names and tickets please.  Also, there is a guest book that the artist would be delighted to have her guests sign this evening.”  He waived his arm toward a table behind him where a large white book lay open with a classic ink pen sitting in a holder beside it.

Dan and Bailey were the first to give the young man their names and slips.  Then Darryl stepped forward.  He handed the young man his ticket and said his name, and the boy’s head shot up and his eyes narrowed as he inspected him.

“What?” asked Darryl, terrified.  “Is my name black listed?”

“No,” replied the young man.  “Just think I’ve heard of you.”

“Oh great.” he muttered.  “Musta been a lot of good things then.”

Dale stepped forward, interrupting the tension.  “Dale Kerrick.” he said, handing in his ticket.

The young man nodded to them and began addressing the next guests in line.

The four made their way to the guest book at the next table, awed by the size of the event.  A small band was set up on a stage in the center of the large showroom, while several waiters and waitresses scurried about with platters of fruits and glasses of drinks.  Tables were set up to one half of the area, the chairs all facing a second stage, larger than the one in the center of the room that the band had been playing at.  Darryl could only imagine when he would see the beautiful artist he once called his, emerge onto that stage to address her audience.

“We’re going this way,” Dan said, pointing toward the right side of the show room.  There were three general sections of art work for the guests to observe.

“I’ll check out this end.  Meet you guys in the middle.” Darryl replied.

“I’ll go with him.” Dale added, striding after Darryl.

They made their way to the first painting they could see at the beginning of the left wall.  It was one that Darryl remembered well, since Honoria had painted it while sitting outside on the farm one sunny fall afternoon.  It was two ravens sitting together in a tree branch, sharing hold of a yellow leaf in their beaks.

“Girl really had some talent,” Dale murmured, looking closely at the picture.

Darryl nodded, and the two men proceeded on to the next painting.  This one was of a mother moose and baby touching noses while submerged under water.  It was incredibly soft and tasteful, and it reminded Darryl so much of the bond between mother and child.  He’d not seen this one before.

They continued onto another one after several moments.  It was another that Darryl recognized immediately – a Mountie on his horse in front of the Edmonton police headquarters.  She’d made the painting years ago, in tribute of a fallen Mountie that she knew personally.  The RCMP never accepted it from her for some reason, so she had kept it, and presented it wherever she showed, despite how poorly she thought the quality of it was.  Even now, seeing the number of people observing it, Darryl knew it was still one of her strongest pieces.

The music flowed softly throughout the showroom.  It was truly a peaceful event, the lights dimmed down and people speaking in whisper to one another as they inspected each piece.  Spotlights were placed strategically, illuminating each piece of work on its own, making them stand out so much more.  Darryl strayed from the consecutive line of paintings along the wall – and caught sight of one down at the end that struck him.  He gently slid through the gatherings of people until he stood right in front of it.

It was a painting of herself.  In one of her favorite summer dresses, the white one.  She was sitting in the rocking chair he’d bought her with Whiskey sleeping on her lap.  Her hand was on Whiskey’s head, petting him.  The sunlight was specifically shining on Whiskey in this painting.  Then he noticed the tears coming from her eyes.  She’d painted them so delicately small, and transparent, likely hoping to “hide” this particular detail as she’d done in previous works.  He winced when he read the caption.  “For Whiskey”

“Darryl,” he heard someone say.  He turned his head and came face to face with Marilyn.  She spread her arms and stepped forward, hugging him.  “I’m glad you could make it!”

They stepped back and he opened his mouth to say something but was abruptly interrupted by a hard slap across the face.  Marilyn slapped him so hard his head was spinning.  He put his hand on the cheek she’d hit and looked back at her in shock.  Several people around them had stopped talking and were now staring intently at the two.

“That’s for everything you did to Honoria.” she announced stoutly.  “You deserved it.”

Before Darryl could say anything back to her, Bailey was right in between the two.

“Hey what the hell did you do that for?  Who do you think you are!” she demanded, shoving Marilyn back.

Darryl grabbed Bailey by her shoulder, making her turn her head to look at him.

“Don’t.” he said.  He pulled her back and she relented, stepping out of the way.

He looked around at all the people now crowded around them.  “Nothing to see here,” he announced.  “Keep moving.”  Then he returned his attention to Marilyn.  “This is Bailey, Dan’s girlfriend.  Bailey, this is – this is Marilyn, Honoria’s best friend.”

Dale and Dan were stepping up beside Darryl now as Bailey reacted with shock.  Darryl promptly extended the introductions to Dan and Dale, who also were shocked.

Marilyn smiled warmly at them all.  “Good to see you again.  It’s been a long time.” she greeted.  “Anyway, sorry about that, Bailey.  It’s something a little personal between Darryl and I.  Don’t worry though, that’s the only one he gets!”

She looked right into Darryl’s eyes.

“Good to see you again,” he said finally.  His cheek was still stinging.

“Anyway, I have to get back.  I am helping with set up and take down and I saw you walk in so I had to come say hi for a minute.  Honoria doesn’t know that any of you are here.  Should I let her know?” she asked.

Darryl shook his head.  “No.  Don’t ruin her night.  She’ll see us.” he replied.

Marilyn smiled and nodded before turning and sauntering off toward the large stage.

“The hell is she slapping you for?” Bailey asked, dumbfounded.  “Chick is a fucking psycho.  What was that about?”

“It was for everything that I put Honoria through.  And for not knowing her well enough to see through the lies and know that she never actually did what everyone had accused her of.” he muttered.  “It’s good now.  Don’t worry about it.”

Bailey just shook her head in response.

Dan looked at Darryl’s cheek and let out a laugh.

“She got ya pretty good!” he snorted, smacking Darryl on the back.

Darryl didn’t say anything.  He was entirely lost in his thoughts of Honoria.  All of this artwork hanging in this showroom was created by her.  He wanted to see more.  So he started walking, and the three trailed behind him.

There was over two hundred pieces to view.

They had seen a good half of the pieces when the music quieted down and a voice boomed out through the large speakers by the second stage.

“Good evening everyone, and welcome to the first annual Emerald Art Gala!  Please find yourselves seats in the next few moments as our lovely Miss Honoria Barton will be on stage very soon to talk about her life and journey in art, and the things that inspire her, as well as showing everyone her newest piece!” announced the young man.  It was the same young man that had been accepting tickets at the door.  The crowd applauded.

“Where’s the booze at?” Dale asked.  “I want a drink if I get to sit down now.”

They looked around, and Bailey spotted the bar in the far corner.  She pointed and announced, “Over there.  I want something to drink too.”

They made their way over and each grabbed themselves something to sip on.  Darryl waited off to the side while the three of them ordered their drinks first.  He was looking around the showroom, lost in thought.

But then his eyes came to rest on the slender figure beside the second stage, and his heart nearly exploded in his chest.  Honoria stood next to the stage in a long silk navy blue evening gown, talking with Marilyn and the young man who’d just announced her presence.  Her bright blonde hair hung carelessly down her shoulders and back, flowing as naturally and beautifully as he’d always so fondly remembered.  But even from this distance he could see how terribly thin she’d become.  She didn’t look healthy at all.

“Darryl?  Did you grab yourself a drink?” Bailey asked, gently grabbing him by the arm.  “Are you okay?”

He shook his head and turned toward the bar.  “Double rye and coke.  Two of ’em please.” He requested.  The young lady behind the bar nodded and prepared his drinks for him, while Bailey and Dan and Dale looked over their friend with concern.

“Are you sure you’re okay?” Bailey asked him.  “You’re pale.”

He nodded to Bailey, but couldn’t bring himself to say anything.  Even though he was looking right at Bailey, he could still see Honoria in the background, and it was shaking him to his core.

“Here you are, sir.” he heard the young woman behind the bar counter say.  He turned and gladly accepted his drinks from her.

“Let’s go sit down somewhere,” he choked out.  He looked toward the stage and saw that Honoria was not there anymore.

Dan and Bailey walked up front and led the way to a table toward the center, not too far from the stage.  Darryl hesitated to sit down, so they all looked over at him.

“What’s up?” Dan asked casually.  “Wanna sit closer to the stage?”

“Farther.” Darryl mumbled nervously.  “She’ll see us for sure if we sit here.”

“Isn’t that what you want?” Dale cut in.  “Quit being so nervous man, everything will be fine!”

Bailey nodded in agreement, and pulled out a chair for Darryl.

“Sit down, it’ll all be okay.” she urged gently.

Darryl let out a long, shaking breath and relented.  He plopped down onto the chair and lowered himself as much as he could.  He was terrified that he would choke up and distract Honoria if she caught sight of him, and end up the cause of her gala being ruined.

More people slowly gathered from all corners of the showroom, taking seats and whispering amongst themselves.  He could hear the comments and critiques they had about some of the artwork.

One conversation in particular caught Darryl’s ear.  It was the people at the table next to him.  Three men and two women sat discussing Honoria, and her potential as an artist.

“She has some incredible skill,” commented one of the ladies, “Some of her artwork looks like photographs!”

“Yes, but these artists nowadays cheat by using projectors and tracing the lines and colors onto their canvases from original photographs.  In my opinion, that’s not genuine artistic skill.” answered one of the gentlemen snobbishly.

“Did you read the pamphlet about her?  It specifically mentions that she doesn’t use a projector – all of her work is free hand, and some of it didn’t even have photos for her to reference!” exclaimed another one of the men.  “I’ve been hearing her name more and more in the last two years.  The girl is becoming a rising star.”

Darryl could feel his heart pounding harder and harder as they continued.

“I don’t like any of it.” commented the other lady at the table.  Darryl peeked over and saw her sticking her nose in the air.  “I am a painter, I’ve gone to university for it.  I know artwork like the back of my hand.  And this – this stuff is just mindless expressions of things that everyone likes.  There’s nothing original about her work.  I could out-paint her in five minutes!”

Every hair was standing up on the back of his neck.  He wanted to jump up and scream at the lady for calling down Honoria’s artwork.  He knew for a fact that Honoria’s work was original, and took days, sometimes months for her to complete.

He was ready to open his mouth when one of the other gentlemen at the table spoke up.

“For goodness sake, Jill!” he exclaimed, exasperated.  “I’ve heard this from you at every show we have ever attended!  You cut down all these amazing artists and their hard work, and act like you can do it better!  When did you last have a show?  How many outstanding pieces have you ever painted?  Your jealousy defeats you, truly.  Be more appreciative of good quality work, or else don’t come to these shows!  I won’t hear another word of it.”

The lady dropped her head in embarrassment at her partner’s response.  The others at the table fell awkwardly silent and gazed about, avoiding further conversation.

“The heck are you looking at?”

Dale’s question caught Darryl off guard, and he turned his head to see his three friends eyeing him curiously.

“Oh.  Nothing,” he answered.  “Just listening to them talk about what they thought of the artwork.”

Bailey opened her mouth to say something but stopped when the young man’s voice boomed through the speakers again.

“I see everyone has found themselves a seat,” he announced, “That is wonderful!  We hope you have all been enjoying your experience on this fine September evening!  If everyone would please turn off their cell phones and quiet down, it would be greatly appreciated.”

Lots of shuffling could be heard as people pulled cell phones from their pockets and purses and switched them to silent or turned them off.  The announcer remained silent for a moment, giving everyone time to quiet down again.

“Now could everyone please join me in welcoming our lovely Miss Honoria Barton to the stage?” he asked.

The crowd applauded.  Darryl’s heart stopped.  Honoria walked onto the stage, waiving a slender arm to the crowd.

“Thank-you,” she said into the microphone.  Her melodic voice hadn’t changed at all.  “I’m so happy that so many of you made it to the show this evening.  This is my first solo show, and the turnout is so much greater than I’d hoped for!  I want to begin by telling you all a little about myself, …”

Darryl could hardly breathe.  He watched her mouth move as she talked, but all sound drifted away from him as he lost himself to his feelings.  He’d caught sight of the long gloves she was wearing.  They stretched to the crooks of her elbows.  But when she moved her arms just right, he could see the bandaging poking out of the ends of her gloves – the bandaging that had been covering the long gashes on her wrists.

He felt an elbow to his rib – it was Dan.

“You gonna pass out?” he murmured.  Honoria had stopped speaking for a moment and was just pulling a cover off of something farther back on the stage.

Darryl looked over at him.  He shook his head and tried to smile, then he looked back at the stage.  Honoria had just pulled the cover off her latest piece, and the crowd had fallen into an awed hush as they looked at it.

He craned his neck to see what it was.

Tears began to cloud his vision as he got a clear view of the thirty-six by forty-eight painting of himself holding up his daughter in the sunlight.  He recognized it immediately.  It was from a photo that was taken when Janelle was only six years old, out in the front field.  He’d been chasing after her playfully and caught her, scooping her up and swirling her through the air.  The game had delighted the little girl to no end, so they had to snap a photo of the beautiful moment.  And here it was, painted bold and beautiful, filled to the brim with the happiness that he so dearly missed.

The guilt crushed him as he looked at the painting.  It was one of the best ones Honoria had made yet.  Honoria stood beside it and remained silent for a moment longer, letting everyone get a good look at it before she started talking again.

“This here,” she began.  Darryl could tell her voice was shaky with her own emotions.  “This is a painting of two people who I care a lot about.  One of them went missing in the last six months, and has since been presumed dead.  We spent many sleepless nights worrying for her, waiting for her, hoping that somehow she would come back safe and sound.”

Darryl’s three friends worriedly looked at each other before looking over at Darryl, who was now beginning to shake.

“We tried anything that we could think of, to try and get this little girl back home.” she explained sadly.  “But all our efforts failed.  This painting is a tribute to her, Janelle Bowden, and any other missing child on our Earth.  She was so special, and I still struggle with the loss of her.  I am placing this painting up for auction with an opening bid of two thousand dollars.  The money paid for this painting is being donated to Canada’s Missing Children Foundation, in the hopes that maybe my efforts weren’t for nothing.  I want to help the foundation grow, and prevent tragedies such as this, and tonight I ask for your help.  Besides this painting, there are nearly a hundred others up for sale, and fifty percent of each of their proceeds will also be donated to the foundation.  I thank all of you for attending the gala this evening, and I would like to give a big thanks to the staff at Edmonton Art Gallery for helping me set up this most beautiful event and making it as special as it could be.  I couldn’t have accomplished this without all the support.  Thank you all.”

The crowd erupted into applause.  Honoria took a step to the side and handed the microphone off to the young man, who stepped up to address the crowd one more time.

“Looks like everyone is happy with her newest piece!” he exclaimed brightly.  “At the base of the stage on the little desk there,” he motioned below himself to the small table, “is a setup where you can write your bid and place it in the box, anonymously.  I will be sitting at the desk observing your bid and updating the amount for the rest of the guests.  Please remember this is a silent auction, so if you see who put the last bid in, please do keep it to yourself!  Thanks again everyone, please enjoy the rest of your night!”

The young man turned to Honoria and held the microphone out to her, asking if she had anything more to say.

Darryl stood up and his chair almost flipped onto its back.  The noise was enough to catch her attention and for the first time that evening, their eyes locked.  Her gasp was audible from where he stood.  She had reached out for the microphone at first but then retracted her hand immediately.

“Hey,” Dan said to Darryl, but he didn’t hear him.  He stepped away from his chair and began moving through the mess of tables and people, toward the stage.  His eyes stayed locked with hers.

People noticed Darryl as he walked through.  He could hear them whispering at their tables, recognizing him from the painting.

He stopped at the edge of the stage.  He didn’t know what to say.  But he refused to take his eyes off hers.  He hadn’t realized that a single tear had escaped his own, as he watched tears begin to form in hers.

“You, you came,” she murmured.  “You’re here.  I thought – I thought-”  She let out a short breath, and tried to walk toward him.  But the walk turned to a stumble, and the stumble turned into a hard fall.  She came crashing down on her knees first, and Darryl knew right then that she’d fainted.