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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

meet amanda, plus a little introduction by lou.


My name?  My name is a whisper of wind.  It’s a cool Irish mist.  It’s a baby’s first gurgle and a soldier’s last breath.  Don’t get me wrong, we angels have names.  It’s just that they vibrate so fast they’re impossible for humans to comprehend.  But let me make it easy on you.  For the sake of this story, call me Lou, short for Louise or Louis.  Take your pick.  A good androgynous name for a being that doesn’t answer to one gender or the other.  Though if I were a girl I think I’d like to be called “Roxy” – isn’t that a fun name?  So then.  Let’s get on with it, shall we?  

Here in heaven, we know peace and harmony.  Heck, we know pretty much everything.  I, if you can call me an “I”, because I am also a “you” and a “him” and an “it”, I serve the universe as a guardian spirit.  As a guardian, my job is to help my charges, the members of my soul family, figure out the best path to serve the highest good and keep them on that path – that sacred life path that indeed they chose for themselves before they were twinkles in the eyes of their parents.  I hold some other functions as well, but we can get into those things later.

So devising the best path can be tricky.  Time on earth is limited and heaven knows that we’ve got infinite souls lined up to take part in the earthly experience.  It is the finest learning place in the universe, you know.  Really, you should feel lucky to be there.  Anyway.  Universe = infinite.  Earth = limited to time and space.  Yadda, yadda, yadda…  you can do the math.  We’ve gotta crunch some numbers and work a little magic to get things done efficiently so the next group can slide in on the timeline. 

So we work together, my soul family and I, to figure out how many years it will take for us to evolve to the next of seven levels of heavenly bliss, with the ultimate goal of becoming masters.  A hundred years here, a couple of hours there.  We weave it all together so that the story ends just where it should.  Every life, no matter the length or earthly value, serves its purpose.  Lessons are learned sooner or later – age four or 104.  It doesn’t matter. 

You see, what’s good is bad.  What’s bad is good.  It’s all the same.  Neutrality rules here in heaven.  There is no right or wrong.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.  If you are new to this whole heaven thing, I’m probably talking gibberish.  So let’s get to the story and we’ll circle back a little later to connect the dots together.


Some survive the storm.  Some learn to weather it, maybe even splash in the puddles.  Others do not, cannot, will not, want not.  What I did was not my desire but my choice – my choice to keep a promise to one and turn over my most precious possessions to another.  Though I can barely stand the memory of my actions, I would not change what I did.  I see clearly now, I see the divine perfection in every passing moment.  I see a beautifully directed play on the most intricate of stages.  You may judge me harshly, but I have forgiven myself for my humanness. 

My story began in Harwich, a busy port city in England, not known for its polish or style, but warm in spirit and home to me.  My father was a self-made shipping magnate.   He concentrated his import/export business on trade with the Baltics with a few “local” trade ports in Rotterdam and Copenhagen.  I’m proud to say that Queen May has my father to thank for her impeccable rows of Dutch tulips every spring in her famous gardens at Holyroodhouse. 

My father worked hard but I had no worries.  I spent long afternoons by the sea, overlooking Dovercourt Bay, dancing with Nurse in father’s meticulous garden, dreaming of romance and fairy tales.  My golden curls bounced wildly as I explored the world outside my door, laughing and playing for hours on end.  Meanwhile my brother spent most afternoons indoors being trained and tutored by the best scholars money could buy.  My father treasured education above all and encouraged us to appreciate science, history and art.  I knew my turn would come to be whisked away into the darkness of the library to begin my studies, but until then I was treated like a princess and ran free like a fox.  And I loved it.  But my happiness did not come without sorrow. 

My mother and baby brother died in childbirth while I was still at the breast of my wet nurse.   My father, crushed by the loss of the love of his life, remained a lifelong widower and focused most of his energy on my brother Edward and me.  He loved us as much on his own as two parents could have loved their children. 

Oh, and how Edward doted on me.  The moment he completed his studies each day, he would scurry out to the garden to find me.  We would sneak into the kitchen to help Cook roll out pie crusts or gather stones from the brook and have contests to see how high we could stack them before they toppled into a messy heap.  He lifted me into tree branches so I could climb as high as the robin’s nest and peek in on her babies.  He held my hand and tucked flowers behind my ear.  He was extraordinary as far as big brothers go. 

But times change, as do people.  My long golden ringlet curls stretched and separated into frizzy light brown locks, a terrible curse when you live in the incessant mist of a seaside village.  That paired with my hazel eyes and flat white skin, I thought myself as quite mousy-looking.  But education gave me confidence and as I grew into a young lady I used my sharp mind and quick tongue to flirt with, and sometimes outwit, the young men who came to visit our beautiful, happy nest in the summertime.  While the boys amused me, none captured my heart. 

Unlike me, Edward was a strong and handsome young man with thick curly hair the color of raven’s feathers, wide-set blue eyes and the most perfect nose you’ve ever seen in your life.  Much to my father’s pride, he also proved a worthy inheritor of the family shipping fortune and thrived, growing the company through creative investments and honest dealings.  Though labeled as new money, he attracted many high-born girls and eventually married a lovely girl named Mary, the second daughter of a blue blood.  She was just a few months older than me and I was thrilled to pieces to finally have a sister. 

Edward and Mary planned to marry in June on the grounds of her family’s estate in Oxford.  We journeyed three long days to get there and arrived late on the evening before the wedding feast.  Exhausted and weary from travel, I stumbled a bit as I stepped from our carriage and ripped my petticoat on the iron step.  I spun around to assess the damage and my hat fell onto the drive, releasing a flurry of matted, frizzy curls, at which time I may have let out a wee expletive.  Hearing the sound of hands clapping, I quickly recovered, maybe not a bit awkwardly, and twisted my accessories back into place.

“Well done, young lady!  Quite a show.  Thank you for that bit of entertainment, the best display I’ve seen at this stuffy place all night.  Let’s hope you are not in the wedding party tomorrow.  I’d hate to see you pull that act before a bigger crowd.”  I saw a man smiling broadly, still applauding my clumsy arrival. 

How angry I was!  “My dear sir, how silly of you to think I did this to amuse you.  As a matter of fact I will be witnessing the bride tomorrow as her maid of honor and would be delighted if I never had to witness your smug visage again.  Good night.”  I swept past him quickly with my shoulders pushed back and nose in the air and hoped that he didn’t notice that I’d lost a heel when I fell out of the carriage and was therefore walking a bit lopsided. 

The following morning was bustling with activity.  I spent the earliest hours in Mary’s mother’s rooms, primping and preening for her walk down the aisle to meet my brother.  How lovely she looked, how merry.  She eagerly told me of the weeks she and her staff had spent preparing the home’s huge salons for the reception, selecting flowers and menus and guest lists – only the best of everything, of course.  “And you will be thrilled to know that I have paired you with my dear big brother Henry.  He will escort you down the aisle before me and stand witness next to Edward.  He’s just a doll, you’ll absolutely adore him.”

Well, I’m sure you can imagine where this is going.   I was formally introduced to Mary’s big brother Henry just moments before the ceremony began.  I offered him my hand stiffly.  “But, sister, now that we are family we should meet with an embrace.”  With that he scooped me up and twirled me around, whispering in my ear, "I hope you didn't weep upon reaching your rooms last night.  I was only playing with you." 

I squirmed from his arms and shot him my coldest stare while clueless Mary giggled fitfully.  “Isn’t he just divine, Mandy?  I’m sure you two will have much to talk about.  This is all so exciting!  Now let’s go see Edward.” 

I rode in the bridal carriage with Mary and Henry, mercifully, found his own means to get to the family chapel.  Mary continued to chirp on and on about the reception and honeymoon plans but I found it hard to pay attention.  My mind was on Henry.  He was not so fine in the face.  Certainly he did not behave like the son of a noble.  More like the son of a king’s fool, if that.  I replayed our two brief encounters over and over again in my mind until I’d completely exhausted the scenario and had to force myself to change the subject of my inner conversation. 

We somehow made it through the wedding ceremony without any further incident and began to celebrate the happy union.  Over lunch, I found that I could not carry on a conversation without darting my eyes in Henry’s direction.  He was like a magnet.  He, on the other hand, spent every breathing moment chatting with young socialites.  He danced with flair throughout the day and into the evening, ignoring me completely.  A short time after the bride and groom departed, I started for the door and felt a warm hand fall onto my shoulder.  “I’ve been waiting for you to sign my dance card all night.  Why have you ignored me so?”  My face spoke volumes of repulsion, or so I thought.  Henry apparently read me differently and before I could refuse he quickly spun me onto the dance floor for one last waltz.  I may have blushed, he was a terrific dancer and his gaze was heavy on my face.  For the first time in my life I was speechless.  I felt insecure under his intense gaze.  I mistakenly thought it was love.    

Henry and I married soon after, much to his parents’ delight (haha).  We enjoyed a lengthy honeymoon in Sainte Maxime, a quaint little town in the South of France, then returned to England to play house.  He was the third born son so his professional options were to serve the sovereign in battle or serve the lord in Essex County.  Henry, not being much of a soldier, decided the church better suited his style.  So we moved together into a large cottage a few hours inland from our brother and sister and we were happy.  That is, until we weren’t happy anymore. 

Time proved that my husband enjoyed neither the solitude of the country, nor the simplicity of the good shepherd's lifestyle.  I always knew him as a jovial and exciting man, but I soon learned that his highs were high and his lows were low.  Very low.  He could put on a beautiful show before his adoring public, but at home he would melt into his chair and stare at the fire for hours or slump wordlessly behind his stew at supper.  

The first few months of co-habitation with this new version of my husband were exasperating.  I’d attempt to engage him in conversation, easy chatter about current events or gossip I’d heard in town.  I thought it was just the change of environment that saddened him and was sure he would break free of his melancholy.  Alas, he did not.  I began to pick fights with him, hoping that I could stimulate him through arguments, find out why he was so unhappy.  

"Let's have a party, darling!  That would surely lift your spirits," I suggested, thinking the idea of entertaining would appeal to him.

"Why would I want to spend an evening with the foolish sheep who live in this village?"  

"Henry, I think we need to find a way to make friends and to build a life for our -"

"My father won't allow us to leave.  He threatened to cut me off," he said, cutting through the back-and-forth completely.  I was bewildered that he had already communicated with his blue blood Papa about relocating.  "A punishment for marrying you, or for disappointing him for a lifetime.  Who could say?"  Though this was not news to me I cringed at the words.  "I despise this muddy little place."

We spent hours talking about what was happening but not about his condition.  And when our conversation ended, we stopped speaking altogether.  For days.  I thought I was not enough for him.  Maybe a son would improve his outlook. 

And a son we had.  Joseph, or Joey as I preferred to call him, was born on our first wedding anniversary.  A dreamy little boy with my brother’s wide-set blue eyes and perfect little nose.  How I worshipped that tiny baby.  I read him poetry and rocked his bassinette and stripped off his swaddling to lie with him with arms spread wide in the grass.  I dreamed of his future and prayed for his health.  I kissed him and stared at him and traced the chubby lines of his face with my finger.  But Joey did not have the same effect on my husband.  Henry instead disappeared all together.  “I’m going to visit my brother in London,” he said.  I asked to join him to show off Baby Joey but he refused me with an excuse not worthy of remembering. 

I imagine Henry considered Whiskey to be the best way to trick his sorrowful mind into some version of happiness.  When he came home, he opened the first bottle upon finishing his work then his second at bedtime.  "A new sport you picked up from your brother in London?" I jibed. 

That chilly winter night, I was snuggling with Baby Joey, something I did regularly since my husband had little interest in joining me in bed.  Plus Joey no longer needed the wet nurse for midnight feedings.  The bedroom door thrust open and there was Henry, stumbling and stinking.  He said nothing as he climbed onto me and pushed Baby Joey off the bed.  The baby hit the floor screaming while Henry flipped me on my belly and raped me from behind. 

We’ve all heard these stories before so I will not go into great detail and I will not let you feel sorry for me.  I am an educated woman, which means I know enough about the world to understand that these things have always happened to my gender.  Don’t get me wrong, at the time I hated him for his actions.  But honestly, I pushed most of it out of my mind.  All except for the memory of my tiny baby boy wailing helplessly on the floor.  That I will never forget.  

While Henry grunted and stabbed at me sloppily I reached down towards the floor with my free hand and searched frantically for Joey’s hand in hopes to soothe him while he screeched.  Henry finished his business and fell asleep on top of me.  I waited a few minutes then squeezed out from under him, swept up the baby then spent the rest of the night in the nursery.  When I saw Henry the next day it was as if nothing happened.  Proof that this wasn’t a horrible nightmare came nine months later when I gave birth to a baby girl.  I named her Jessica. 

The years passed quickly.  My husband would spend a week with us in the country then leave abruptly, sometimes without even a goodbye, for a month.  He would typically arrive at the cottage after an outing cheerful and happy but within a day or two he would revert to his drunken, angry counterpart.  If he offered a destination before leaving, he would often say he was looking into a business opportunity.  I never really knew what he was doing.  These blue bloods made their business in being noble, so I was surprised to hear he was venturing into the territory of the self-made man.  His other favorite destination was his brother's in London, and we all know nothing good every happened in London.

While my marriage was disastrous, my life wasn’t all sadness.  In the weeks Henry disappeared I wrapped myself completely in my children's worlds.  Jessica lived for my colorful stories of the highly dramatic English monarchs.  Though a year younger than Joey, she carried on like a miniature version of me, imploring him to mind his manners and chasing him down with a comb for his unruly curls.  She was such fun, orchestrating endless games of hide and seek and drawing pictures of messy little bunnies after observing a family of rabbits in our small garden.  We celebrated every day that we had each other.

When Henry was home we carried on the same for the most part.  He wasn’t hateful, he was just miserable.  I prayed for some way to help him, but he seemed impossible to reach.  There were times, however, when Henry broke free from the demons that tormented him.  And during those days, I tried my best to push aside my bitterness to allow the children a sliver of a healthy family life, through which we could all enjoy a bit of harmless ribbing and laughter. 

It was during those times we added several more lives to our family of four.  First came Lizzie, born with her cord wrapped tightly round her neck.  Though the midwives frantically worked to untangle her, the damage was done.  By the time she reached 4 years old we knew that she would never grow to be a normal adult.  Neighbors suggested that we send her to an institution for the feeble minded but I balked.  To my great surprise, Henry agreed with me.  He had a soft spot for her and would allow her to sit in his study and play while he…  well, while he did whatever it was he did in there all day. 

Sometimes I think he secreted her away to tell her unsavory stories about me – she never responded to me like the others, never seemed to have much of a taste for me.  I tried to engage her but she always pulled away.  The only time she would come to me was when I visited the kitchen.  She’d sneak in the pantry and stuff food into her mouth when she thought I wasn’t looking.  She was a hefty child, always crying for extra cakes at tea and snatching bits of food off her sister’s plate at supper.  I once saw her sitting in the garden eating clover for heaven’s sake.  I could see her there, gorging in the pantry, but I was tired from trying to force her to be a lady and I could barely lift her to discipline her anymore.  Plus, she’d been prone to dramatic, explosive fits when Henry was away so I fed into her addiction because I knew it placated her.  So I ignored her binge and called her to me when I left the kitchen.  As usual, she came racing out of the pantry with sugar in her hair and sticky strawberry jam at the corners of her mouth.

A year after Lizzie came twins – Emanuel and Grace.  Emanuel, you could say, was all boy.  A thick layer of black dirt lived deep within his nail beds.  If there was a frog in the cupboard or a muddy footprint on the parlor rug, I always knew who needed a whipping.  Emanuel longed for his father's attention and I believe some of his naughtiest behavior was simply a ploy to catch his father's eye.  Unfortunately, during the few weeks Henry was home, he had little patience for Emanuel's antics and would beat him for the slightest misbehavior.  But even after the beatings, Emanuel would beg his father to stay home longer, "Papa, I promise that I'll be better if you stay just a few more days!  Will you teach me archery?  I built a target in the garden - come see!"  Oh, poor boy.  Henry barely noticed him.  Always consumed with his own demons.  Come time for formal schooling, Emanuel, while friendly and well-liked by most, was famous for his right hook and would never back down to a school yard challenge.  May have been the one thing he learned from his Papa.

If Emanuel was the storm, Grace was the calm before it.  She was beautiful, quiet and painfully shy.  Her pale white skin was never in need of protection from the sun, as she scarcely ventured outdoors to play with the others.  I called her my little shadow; she was so often under my feet.  I taught her to embroider pillows and mend clothes.  We sang little french songs and picked berries on the way home from church on Sundays.  Occasionally we would accompany Cook in the kitchen to roll out pie crusts like I did with Edward when I was a small girl.  I loved having her by my side.  She was my little companion.

It was one of Henry’s better moods that led us to visit Harwich at Christmas time in 1909.  The children and I were thrilled for a visit with Edward and Mary and to see the home where I grew up.  My elderly father rambled around the house, a stroke left him unable to continue running his business, so he spent hours at home exploring books and offering lessons in history and culture to anyone who passed by his library doors.  Even the footmen and maids were no exception.  

It was a happy holiday for us.  So happy we extended our stay by a month.  All of us except for Henry, that is.  He was quite jovial for a week or so but the wind shifted and he was no longer able to conceal his depressed condition.  So he offered his apologies to his sister and bade us goodbye after just a week.  I could only imagine what sort of activity he was involved in.  When Mary asked me point blank about his condition I feigned surprise. 

“Amanda, I am his sister.  I have known of his broody tendencies all my life.”

“How could you not warn me?  Why encourage our relationship as you did?”

“Oh, dear sister.  I thought that if anyone could jerk him out of his cry-baby state it would be you.  Plus, I had hoped that, you being Edward’s sister and I being Henry’s sister, I would have more opportunities to keep an eye on him.  And how could you complain about a little moodiness when you are blessed with so many beautiful children? ”

“Mmm,” I said, needing time to think this through.  As quick as I can be to respond, this was not a time to engage in frisky banter.

“And it’s all worked out well so far, hasn’t it?  Edward loves you so and is always happy to help with your growing family’s financial needs.  Oh, I wasn’t supposed to tell you that.  I’m so sorry, Amanda, please do keep that a secret.”

“What do you mean?  How much money has Edward given us?” I demanded sharply.


“Mary, you must tell me.  I feel like you have left me in the dark for so many years, you must now help to shed some light on my own life!”  I was breathing a bit heavy now, trying to figure out what financial trouble we were in and why on God’s green earth we would be taking funds from my brother.

“Well, I don’t know if I should say,” but I stared her down only for a moment before she caved.  “Henry said he needed 2,000 pounds to cover doctor’s bills and such.  He said that Lizzie’s condition has put an enormous strain on the family coffers and asked Edward if he would help.  Of course Edward agreed immediately.  You know, not having any children of our own, we think of your family as the next best thing.  I’ll never forgive myself for not giving Edward a son,” Mary began to sob uncontrollably as I mechanically pulled her wet cheeks to my breast and patted her shoulder. 
“There, there, Mary.  You are a blessing to Edward and to us all.  With or without children.”  My mind was elsewhere as her fat tears began to soak my collar.  Lizzie’s medical expenses?  I’d like to think that Mary was mistaken but surely Henry was lying.  What could Henry need with 2,000 pounds?  Well, we soon found out. 

A rough-looking debt collector appeared at my brother’s door on the day after New Year’s.  He reported that Henry listed Edward as next of kin and was currently detained in an undisclosed location until his bill was repaid.  When Edward demanded to know how this debt was accumulated, the thug at his doorstep snickered, “Ya see, sir, yer brother likes to roll the dice...” he continued on for several minutes about drunkenness and brawling and adultery.  

I was hiding behind a door just beyond the entry way and sunk down to the floor as Edward asked the collector to wait while he retrieved the notes required to settle his debt.  When he returned, he handed him an envelope and requested that the thug deliver a message imploring Henry to return to Harwich immediately.  Needless to say, Henry did not come.

I rode by carriage inland to our cottage in the country.  I needed to return the children to the normalcy of school while I considered my options, which were nonexistent.  My only option, as a woman with five young children, was to stay put.  Which I did.  Henry, however, did not.  Or at least not with us. 

Three months had passed when I met Antonio, an Italian mason whom Henry had hired to rebuild part of the church after a rogue advent candle had burned down the entire west side of the building.  Since repair work was necessary, the grounds committee decided it would be a good time to add a small rectory.  The village was growing and it was time to expand.  In my husband’s absence, I often visited the church to take notes, which I would share with him upon his return.  And though I was unsure he would ever come back, I continued to check in on things while the kids were at school and Lizzy at home with Cook.

When my eyes met Antonio’s eyes for the first time I felt a rush of energy surge through my body.  He held my gaze and introduced himself confidently.  His voice was smooth and melodic.  He almost sounded like he was singing when he spoke.  I loved him right away.  I visited the building site daily, sometimes bringing small treats from Cook or a book of poetry I thought he might enjoy.  He always thanked me with a genuine and perfect smile, his round black eyes whispering everything I wished to hear from his soft full lips. 

We continued on like this for many months, getting to know each other as best we could under the scrutiny of townspeople.  That my husband was a drunk was no secret, and his current extended hiatus wasn’t either.  Speculation was only natural and Antonio and I did our best to keep a respectable distance.  Until one day in May of 1911. 

A heavy spring downpour began just as I was reaching the church with a basket of bread from Cook.  I scrunched up my shoulders with the first dollop of rain and inhaled a little squeal, lifting my skirts and darting for shelter under the scaffolding.  People in the village scattered into their shops and homes to avoid the drenching rain but Antonio rushed out to pull me inside rectory. 

I ran through the door, dripping wet, and found myself nose to nose with the man who would become my lover that afternoon.  We rendezvoused as often as we could.  Sometimes making love on the mossy beds in the forest, other times sneaking dangerously into the bell tower of the church.  Antonio even snuck into my bedroom on several nights, up the trellis and in through the widow, where we lay together all night, waking up in each other’s arms.  There was nothing we left unsaid or undone that summer. 

It was in August that I knew for sure I was carrying Antonio’s child.  I told no one but Edward.  Poor Edward.  He wanted more than anything to have a family of his own, meanwhile his sister was as fertile as the Crescent.  He sent for the children and me immediately and I arrived on his doorstep one humid day on the last day of August of 1911. 

I had left like a thief in the night, as they say.  I could not say goodbye to Antonio.  I did not want the tears or the finality of it all.  The only person I told of my mysterious departure was Cook, saying that I wasn’t feeling well and the sea air would do me good, promising I’d be back in the spring to chase her around in the kitchen again.

Antonia was born in March.  What a beautiful baby she was.  She was the last I birthed but the first I nursed from my own breast.  We did this for the sake of secrecy, but I genuinely loved the experience.  As painful as it was when the baby latched on, the cutting sensation paled in comparison to the tightness from wrapping engorged breasts to stop the flow altogether. 

I laid in bed with my baby girl for hours, falling in love.  Antonio would have fallen in love with her, to be sure.  But Edward and Mary would make wonderful parents.  As much as I wanted her to remain all mine, it was impossible.   And my brother so badly longed for a family of his own.

Father didn’t ask any questions.  I think he knew what was happening but turned a blind eye.  His love for both Edward and me ran too deep to be angry or embarrassed.  But to save us any embarrassment, he played the old fool perfectly. 
The younger children did not understand that the baby was not born of their same father.  I simply told them that we had this baby to give to Uncle and Aunt as a special gift.  That is wasn’t fair for us to have six children and them to have none.  No more questions were asked. 

The older ones, on the other hand, understood completely.  Joey, forever my first true love, accepted the baby easily and kissed her forehead the day he was born.  “I love her already,” he said to me.  Jessica was only moderately receptive to me after Antonia arrived.  Though unimpressed by my scandalous behavior, I think the baby’s sweetness helped to win her back over to me.  The natural little mother in her prevailed and I was pleased.

The Sunday after Antonia was born, I awoke to horrible nightmare.  I was sitting in a little boat with all of the children, rowing downriver.  The boat tipped and I frantically searched to rescue the little ones from drowning.  They were nowhere to be found.  From under the water I saw Antonio looking over the edge of the boat, doing nothing to help me.   I kicked my legs hard to force my nose above the surface.  When I gasped into the air, Antonio was gone and Henry was waiting for me.  He grabbed my head and forced it back under and I awoke out of breath and terrified.

The nightmare recurred every night for a week.  I confided in Mary.  For once she listened and concocted a plan that might give me an opportunity for a brighter future.  “Edward invested in a little pleasure ship company called White Star Line.  They are launching a new ship.  Some kind of unsinkable vessel called Gigantic or something.  We have cabins reserved for us as special guests of the Captain to thank Edward for his generous support of the development of the construction of, well, blah blah blah.  We don’t need to get into details here, do we?  Because I could find out if you’d like…” 

“It’s okay, Mary, get to the point.”

“The point is, the ship is sailing for America next month.  You can’t go home, there are too many questions to answer.  And Henry is undoubtedly a lost cause.  It’s been over a year since any of us have heard from him.  But if he does come back you’ll just be a miserable wretch for the rest of your life.  Come with us.  When we arrive in New York Edward and I can set you up in a nice home.  He’s been talking about investing in American property and what better caretaker could he have than his own darling sister?  Maybe you could even send a letter to Antonio and have him come to America, too.  Happily every after, darling!  Wouldn’t it be grand?  Should we run it past Edward?”

My mind was rattled.  Mary’s words shot from her mouth top speed but they churned slowly in my mind.  What other options did I have?  “Yes.  Yes.  Yes, let’s talk it through with Edward and see if he doesn’t think this is a foolish plan.”

Mary’s gigantic ship was scheduled to set sail from Southampton so my brother took advantage of his business connections to charter a beautiful sailing yacht that carried us from Harwich to the south coast. 

There was a huge swell of people lined up to see off the Titanic.  Quite exciting, actually.  As tentative as I was to begin this new life for my family in America, the festivities that commenced the journey were certainly enough to garner some confidence in our decision.

Though eager to start he journey, before embarking, we stopped to shop a bit.  Edward purchased appropriate clothing for each of my children and for me, as we came under-prepared for formal dining on an ocean liner.  Brother assured us there was a tailor on board who could quickly make adjustments.  We handed off our bags to the valets at the pier then climbed up the gang plank, first greeting Captain Smith, a salty looking man with a full white beard, followed by the hotel manager and the team of men who designed the vessel.  Everyone was very proud and la-di-da, happy to greet my rich brother whose investment helped make this endeavor possible. 

We settled into our rooms.  Edward and Amanda took their stateroom in first class.  Edward smartly negotiated to swap his extra first class cabin for two in second class, two floors down and toward the stern, so my children and I could fit relatively comfortably during our trans-Atlantic voyage. 

We actually began to enjoy the adventure as a family.  The kids created stories about the new life ahead of them in Boston.  Yes, Boston was the city Edward and I decided would best suit us.  How exciting it would be to explore a real city; we’d never even been to London.  Joey was intrigued by the Custom House, the city’s first skyscraper set amid the bustle of local markets and shops. 

Emanuel couldn’t wait to see a real American baseball game.  The Red Sox were gearing up for a winning season and he wished to be first in line at the city’s new baseball stadium called Fenway.  The ship was docking in New York on the 17th.  Emanuel had his fingers crossed that by some miracle they’d make it to Boston by the 20th when the park opened its gates for the first time ever. 

Jessica had been reading about Isabella Stewart Gardner in her French magazines and hoped to visit Fenway Court to see the collection of artwork she assembled there.  She also enjoyed the works of Henry David Thoreau and was imagining herself making trips to the woods that he wrote about so vividly.

While the children explored the ship and conjured new worlds for themselves in America, Mary and I enjoyed Antonia.  Edward, too, popped in to coo to the baby between visits to the Smoking Room and tours of the ship’s navigational and engineering areas.  Oh, how I would miss her, my love child. 

As I explained, before our international travel plans came about, we had planned for Mary and Edward to keep the baby.  She was thrilled to have a baby of her own and Edward, of course, was also elated.  Antonia seemed to be the answer to their prayers.  Now that we had redirected our lives, I could not insist on reclaiming my beautiful baby girl.  So with mixed emotions, joy for them and emptiness for me, I relinquished her care.  And this was not the time for sadness, anyway.  We were safe and happy and starting fresh. 

I am so glad that we made the best of those days at sea, for they would be our last together.   On the fourth night of our voyage I was jostled awake.  I would later discover that we hit an iceberg in the middle of the Atlantic, the irony of it all did not escape me in the moment I learned the unsinkable ship was the greatest advertising blunder of all time.  The three hours that followed my rude awakening could only be described as visions from a horrible watery nightmare. 

I jumped out of bed at the same time Jessica sat up in a daze.  Without speaking, we tossed on our warmest clothing then rummaged through our bags for Grace and Lizzie’s winter dresses and cloaks.  I handled little Grace, knowing she’d be confused and insist on my assistance anyway and Jessica, the angel, prepared Lizzie, who was not happy about being woken up in such a frenzied manner.  We dashed out the door to wake up the boys and were relieved to see that Joey had already dressed himself as well as Emanuel.

“Thank God.  Let’s go,”  I sighed.  “Wait, I need something to put the baby in.  A sling or something.”  We all looked around and Joey retreated to his cabin, emerging a in a flash with a swag of cotton torn from his bed linens.  He tied it around my shoulder and waist and I gently placed Antonia inside.  She stirred, her eyes fluttering dreamily, then settled back to sleep.

“What’s happening, Mama?” whined Grace, “I’m scared!”

“I’m not scared, Mother,” declared Emmanuel charging ahead of us.  Joey grabbed him by the scruff and held him securely to his side.  Barely 13, Joey already had the build of his uncle.  Emanuel collapsed briefly under his big brother’s urgent grasp and dared not to lead the troops again.

“Let’s just get to Uncle’s stateroom,” said Joey.  We walked briskly to the forward staircase and up two flights to find valets and stewards racing around hefting huge trunks and fur coats.  It was madness.

“Be careful with that, young man!” called a woman from her door, still dressed in her evening gown, “I don’t want to see any patches of wet, matted fur on that mink!” 
Jessica rolled her eyes and held tight to Lizzie’s arm, “Stop squeezing me, Jessie!” she complained.

Upon arriving to Edward’s stateroom, we were surprised to find Mary and Edward sitting at the end of their bed together with their heads down.  They were praying.  I let a moment pass but the chaos outside the room was causing the children, and me, much angst.  “Please tell me what’s going on and where we need to be right now,” I interrupted. 

Edward looked up with eyes full of tears.  Mary stood and turned her back to us.  “We are in a dire situation, dear sister.  I am going to be frank so send the children into the bath if you do not wish them to hear.”  With a look, I told Jessica to take the children away and Edward continued, “We struck an iceberg about 20 minutes ago.  This ship is not equipped to handle a disaster of this magnitude.”

“But I thought –“

“We were all mistaken.  All of us.  Bloody hell.  There are only 20 lifeboats onboard, four of them are just collapsible rigs – barely usable.  The commanders can squeeze about 70 people on the remaining boats so I want you to follow me now and secure your positions on those vessels.”

All of the air seemed to suck out of the room.

Mary suggested that we all sit for a moment as a family and pray for our safety, so we called the children back to the bedroom where we huddled together in a circle and held hands. 

We stood there for a moment, just looking at each other.  Disbelief and fear but also determination and love graced every pair of eyes.  Edward led us.  “Please, Lord, have mercy on our family in our greatest time of need.  In your name we pray.  Amen.” 

Without hesitation we began to move as a unit.  As we progressed down the hall to the stairwell, Mary began sobbing desperately and Edward carried her with her bushy fur coat like a new bride out to the deck. 

At first we lined up civilly to board the lifeboat.  Very orderly and calm.  No one spoke.  When we finally reached the front of the line, the sailor refused my brother’s entry, “Women and children only, sir, I’m sorry.  I cannot let you on.”  The world stood still. 

“But kind sir, my brother Edward is an investor.  And he is a new father on top of that.  His baby is here in my arms and his wife is distraught.  I’m afraid neither will survive without his presence.  Please consider letting this gentleman - ” I thought I was starting to win him over when I was cut off by a huge flux of passengers swarming the deck. 

It was utter chaos.  Joey hoisted Lizzie into his arms to keep her from being trampled by the crowd.  She started into a tantrum, shaking and wriggling in effort to escape Joey’s arms. 

Edward whispered into my ear, “Don’t worry about me.  You climb on.  I’ll pull some strings and find my way onto a raft.”  And with that he disappeared into the crowd. 
“Women and children only!” a row of sailors repeated as the mob swarmed the deck rails.  Immediately wails and moans of women tumbled over the crowd.  At hearing the fate imposed upon them, some men looked confused, shocked, wide-eyed and lost.  Others raged and immediately rushed the life boat commanders to board the small vessels. 

The sound of gunfire caused a collective panicked gasp as the single bullet pierced the air and disappeared into the black of night.  The crowd stopped shifting.  I turned quickly back to the lifeboat and helped to heave Edward’s bride aboard and passed her to a sailor who dragged her to a seat on the starboard side.  Next climbed Jessica with Emanuel.  I pushed Joey forward but the agitated gun-wielding boat commander thrust his body in front of my boy, “Women and children only!” 

“Is that all you know how to say?  Can’t you see he is merely a child?  This is my baby boy!  He’s only just turned 13!  Of course he deserves a spot on your raft!”

“Lady, there’s no time to argue.  The boy has no seat aboard this vessel,” he paused and surveyed his arms.  Lizzie was in full-on rage, climbing over his back in attempt to escape his grip.  “And neither does that wailing eedjit he’s holding.  Now get on or move aside!” 

I stumbled back in shock, then moved back in to slug him in the mouth for insulting my son and daughter.  Joey pulled me back, “Let’s try another boat, Mother.”  He waved to Jessica and pointed to the next boat.  When we got there it was already being lowered into the water.  We pushed through the crowd frantically, trying to reach the aft boats but were getting squeezed out.  So we crossed to the port side of the creaking ship to see what we could find there...  and discovered much of the same. 

It was at this time that I realize something.  I was still holding baby Antonia and little Grace was still clinging desperately to my hand.  I swear my heart stopped beating for a minute.  Is this happening?  Am I here?  I suppose I was so used to Grace hanging off the end of my arm that I didn’t realize she was with me, not safe aboard the starboard side raft with Jessica and Emanuel.  How could I have forgotten?  What did I do?

Sweet Jesus, help me.           

I looked at my four doomed children.   I had not yet shed a tear but defeat was settling in.  My eyes watered and Joey grabbed my face.  “I’ll find Uncle.  He’ll help us.  Stay right here and I’ll come back for you in no time.  Chin up, dear Mother.  There’s got to be a way.”  He grabbed my free hand and pulled me into the aft staircase.  “Wait here!  I’ll be back!”

Minutes later the ship listed dramatically, tossing our huddled bodies down the stairs.  I scrambled to my feet and threw my arms around the girls to usher them to safety in the hallway lined by first class cabins.  The hall was empty, yet I heard screaming from all directions.  The ship’s bones were creaking and moaning loudly.  It was freezing cold and the kids were terrified.  As much as Lizzie cried and hollered, Grace turned inward.  She barely took her eyes off her shoes. 

(continued below)

1 comment:

  1. Love intro by Lou.
    Everything about it.
    Made me want to
    No time at present but I can't wait to read the next part...
    I'm so curious as to where you will go with this!
    Love you lots. Keep it flowing!!