Anne has been a bit nervous to share what’s happening next in her journey through our NaNoWriMo novel draft ”Letters of a Lifetime”. She’s felt very vulnerable and has resisted me posting it. However, after careful consideration, she’s decided to be brave and take the plunge. We hope you enjoy it.
If you’d like to know what happened with Anne in Excerpt #1, please click here.
The three-hour drive home from Ruth’s house in Lexington was uneventful, so Anne’s mind had time to drift. She absent-mindedly admired the heavily blossomed apple and cherry trees, and they reminded her of the cycle of life. It was odd knowing someone somewhere was rejoicing at new life with the birth of a baby, while she was grieving loss at the death of her mother.
Her weary mind eventually wandered to the peculiar phone conversation she’d had with Ruth’s favorite hospice nurse earlier. June had called and said “I have something for you. It’s a note; something your mom asked me to write down for you. She wanted you to read it yourself, and I promised her I wouldn’t just tell you.” June had taken down Anne’s address and promised to drop it in the mail promptly.
Replaying the conversation reminded her Ruth was really gone, and fresh pain washed over Anne’s entire body. She fought the tears back while wishing she’d made the trip between Lexington and Omaha more often. Driving through Nebraska wasn’t the most exciting way to spend her time, but regret for not doing so weighed heavily on her shoulders. Prior to the cancer diagnosis, it had been nearly three months since she’d spent a weekend with her mother. Anne made a mental note to slow down and enjoy life a bit more; to say ‘I love you’ to her husband and daughter more often, and be a little more patient, too.
Anne thought about the special relationship her mom and daughter enjoyed. Ruth and Abby had adored each other with such an unusual connection. They’d had fun tea dates when she was little and Grandma never hesitated to sit on the floor and play dolls. As Abby grew older, Ruth was always eager to listen to the escapades of this puzzling, yet entertaining generation. The texting, FaceBooking, and fast-paced life Abby led always intrigued Grandma. She’d always told her, “I wish I knew how to work all those gadgets like you do!” But when Abby tried to teach her, Grandma admitted maybe it was all just too much for her. “I still like a pen and paper”, she said.
The day dreaming helped the trip home go quickly, and before long Anne was parked in the driveway. She opened the garage door and Charlie came bounding out to greet her with slobbery kisses and a wild tail wagging. He leaped and circled as if he hadn’t seen her in weeks. She knew the neighbor would have taken good care of Charlie, but he acted as if he’d been ignored the entire time. She laughed and rubbed his ears and baby-talked to him. He loved it, and roo-rooed at her; professing love and adoration in his own canine language.
She grabbed her suitcase from the trunk and walked in the house with Charlie prancing between her legs. In the chaos, the bundle of letters lay forgotten on the floor in the back.
Derek was in the kitchen staring in the fridge.
She chuckled and said “I hope you haven’t been standing there since you got home this morning!” He smiled and admitted he was hungry, but too tired to cook. She said “We’re all too tired to cook. We could get take-out, or maybe call for pizza.” Abby joined them in the kitchen and voted for pizza. They decided on a large, thin crust, Hawaiian special. Anne smiled faintly to herself, relieved by the simple, familiar routine.
Anne’s boss had told her to take as much time as she needed off, but Anne was fully aware there were some serious deadlines to be met. The marketing team had an important new client that was very demanding. She’d been one of the main members on the original team and the client was pushing to have Anne back on board. She knew it would feel good to be back in the office. Having to meet with people and accomplish goals would help push some of her emotions aside for a few hours. She’d offered to come back part-time for the first week or so and it had turned out to be the perfect solution, especially since it was already midweek.
She stopped by the dry cleaner’s on her way home Thursday afternoon and picked up Derek’s shirts. He liked them starched a certain way she’d never gotten the hang of. She and Derek were both happier when she’d discovered the Whiskers Dry Cleaning shop near their house. She loved how he looked in his dark jacket and white shirt and she reminded herself to tell him so.
As she walked into the house with the shirts, she realized she’d forgotten to sort the mail the last few days. It had been piling up on the entryway table. In her numbed state of exhaustion, she’d been ignoring all but the very basics. She hung up Derek’s shirts and headed back to the mail. There was a thin envelope postmarked from Cozad, NE.
She didn’t recognize the handwriting but knew immediately it was from June.
Innately, she knew to sit down before reading this letter, so she went into the living room and sank into the couch. Charlie came and set his slobbery chin on her lap, staring up at her adoringly. “Oh Charlie, you’re such a goof!” Anne rubbed his snout and ears before telling him, “Now, I’m going to read. Go get your toy!” He bounded off looking for his beloved squeaky toy, barely giving Anne enough time to open the envelope uninterrupted.
The letter was dated two weeks before her mother’s death, just before Ruth had gone into her coma.
My dear, sweet Anne,
I know my time is short and I have something important to tell you. I’ve asked June to write this for me because I’ve waited too long to write it myself. There’s something I’m not proud of and you’ll find out soon enough what it is. I just want you to know I’m so sorry I never had the nerve to tell you myself. I’ve been too ashamed and didn’t know how to even bring it up. The years went by and there was never a good time. I never even told your dad. Please don’t be angry with me, honey. I have loved you more than life itself and would never purposely hurt you, but I know this will hurt. For that I am very sorry. I did what I thought was best at the time, and have always wondered what I could have done differently. Your forgiveness is all I ask.
My love always and forever,
Anne shook her head in confusion and disbelief. Was this what Ruth had been referring to when she’d said “Please don’t be mad at me” at the nursing home? Nothing else came to mind, and it obviously had to be something pretty big. Her mom knew she’d find out after her death, so how was that supposed to happen? There were no answers, only new questions.
She absent-mindedly tossed Charlie’s toy for him until she realized she was tired of the game. “Charlie, there’s something amiss here, big boy.” He dropped his toy and stared at her expectantly. She said “This makes my head hurt,” and headed to the kitchen to start dinner. He followed her hopefully, but when he realized she was chopping vegetables for a salad he lost interest. “Mom! What are you doing?” Abby asked as she joined Anne in the kitchen. Anne looked at the ridiculously large pile of salad ingredients and sheepishly admitted, “I kinda lost track of what I was doing. I got a letter from Grandma today and it sort of fried my brain.”
“What? From Grandma? That’s kinda creepy, mom. What do you mean?” Abby asked with a grimace.
Anne explained, then handed the letter over to her daughter. “Grandma left us a mystery? I never would have guessed she had a double life or something. Wow! What do you think she did? Rob a bank? Pop someone over the head?”
“Abby! For crying out loud! No, I don’t think she popped someone over the head!” Anne exclaimed. Truthfully, she’d been wondering the same thing, but would never admit it to her daughter. They were still talking about it when Derek arrived home from work and they filled him in, too.
The dinner table conversation grew more ridiculous with imagined explanations for Ruth’s letter, and Anne’s fatigue finally dictated it was bedtime.
While undressing, she rummaged through the suitcase she’d brought home and suddenly remembered the letters. “Oh my God! That’s it!” she exclaimed loudly, startling Derek into a double take. “Geez, what’s gotten your panties in a knot? You scared the crap out of me!” he said, shaking his head. She ran downstairs pulling her robe on while she said “Just wait ‘til you see what I have!” The bundle had slid under the passenger seat, and it took her a minute to find it. Anne pulled it out knowing without a doubt she was about to find out what her mom’s mystery was.
Derek was waiting for her downstairs when she came in with the bundle. “What was that all about?” he asked. She explained where she’d found them and that one stack had never even been mailed. Anne carefully unwrapped the smallest bundle and opened an envelope. It was postmarked in her mom’s hometown of Alexandria, MN without a return address; and it was addressed to her mom in Fergus Falls. Anne grew increasingly confused.
I miss you so much! Everyone asks me about you and I have gotten really good at telling the story about you living with your aunt and helping with your very sick uncle. I’ve added onto your chore list every time I tell the story. Now you’re milking the cows, repairing the fence and even learning to shoe horses. Sorry, but I figured if I’ve got to lie, I might as well make a good time of it. Is your belly getting big yet? Can you feel it kicking? Do your parents know who the daddy is? I have a hard time imagining you getting fat. It’s really strange knowing you’re so close, but I can’t come see you. I miss you terribly. It’s just not the same around here without you. I haven’t even gotten in any trouble yet since you left. I’m just plain and boring without you.
All my love, Shirley”
Anne’s jaw dropped lower with each sentence. “No. Way.” she whispered. Abby came into the room about then and saw the pile of letters. “What’s going on, Mom? More letters?” Anne just shook her head in disbelief and silently handed the letter over. Derek reached out to hug Anne, knowing she was on the verge of tears. She nuzzled into his chest quietly while Abby read the letter. “What the hell, Mom? This is crazy! Grandma?! Really? Do you have some big dark secrets, too? Is my whole family a lie?” She threw the letter down in a dramatic display of anger and stomped down the hall.
Anne’s emotions bubbled up and she began to cry, softly at first then the sobs began. She felt a huge sense of betrayal and anger as well. Her mother had another baby? She had a sibling somewhere? Who was that baby’s dad? Now that her mom’s mystery was revealed, Anne’s head reeled with the new questions it brought up.
Derek nudged her up and said “Honey, you need some rest. The rest of these letters can wait. They’ve been unread this long, one more night isn’t going to matter.” She wanted to resist, but was too exhausted to put up much of a fight. She let him lead her upstairs and tuck her in. He went back downstairs and put the shocking letter back into the envelope where it had been successfully keeping its secret for all those years.
Anne didn’t sleep well; she tossed and turned most of the night, her mind swirling with questions and discord. She felt betrayed by the very mother she had a deep trust with her whole life. She felt shattered inside and wondered who she really was. Abby’s question was like a spike in Anne’s heart. Was their whole family a lie?
She threw herself into work Friday morning with so much extra zeal her co-workers noticed. “Hey, Anne…are you okay?” Steve asked cautiously. “No!” she snapped and walked away. They all gave her plenty of space until she finally decided to call it a day and headed home. Derek had put the letters under the coffee table. He’d texted her earlier telling her not to read any more until he got home. It comforted her to realize how well he knew her, but she had decided not to read any more until after Abby left the next day.
Abby was heading back to school the following morning and Anne wanted a chance to talk with her about the intense week they’d just had. It was hard enough to lose grandma, but now there was the shock of family secrets adding to the emotional upheaval. Anne decided to be as honest as she could with her daughter, vowing at that moment not to give any cause for Abby to doubt her. Anne shared her own doubts and anger, saying she didn’t know what to make of the entire thing either. She reassured Abby she didn’t have any deep dark secrets to be discovered when she died. It was comforting for them both to talk openly about their anger and surprise.
The next morning, Charlie sensed the change of mood around the house, and when Abby’s bags came down the stairs he grew morose. He loved Abby and had been very depressed when she’d left for school in the fall. He’d moped around for days, sleeping in her room, and sighing often when he couldn’t find her. Just when he’d gotten used to her being gone, she’d come home for Christmas. They’d gone through the whole routine again this week and Anne was just too worn out to comfort him this time. “Charlie, you’re going to have to deal with it just like Dad and me.” she told him.
After dinner Saturday night, Anne told Derek “I’m going to read some more letters. I know I’ll be depressed, but I can’t help myself. I need to know the truth.” He sighed and shook his head. “Are you sure? Maybe it will be worse to know more.” Anne said resolutely “Nothing could be worse than only knowing a little. I’ll stay stuck being angry forever if I don’t know more. Her letter said she made the best decision she could at the time. Does she mean at the time she had the baby or over the time she decided not to tell Dad or me? Derek, I can’t live like this. I have to know.”
He recognized the resolute tone in her voice and put his hands up in the air in a display of surrender. “Okay,” he said and walked away. He really couldn’t understand the need to want more. He’d spent most of his adult life keeping his own family at a distance and he preferred it that way. Anne’s incessant drive to have family close both confounded and endeared him.
Anne pulled the letters out and put them on the coffee table. She grabbed the slender stack and counted; seven letters from Shirley in Alexandria. Who was Ruth living with in Fergus Falls? Oh, how she hoped there were more answers than mysteries in these letters.
As you already know, I miss you terribly. It pains me deeply not to hear from you, even though I know it’s complicated for you to write me. Jack’s mom still refuses to come out of the house ever since the funeral. Word around town is his dad goes to work every day but doesn’t really talk with anyone. I don’t think they’ll ever recover from Jack being killed so soon after he left for war. My dear sweet Ruth, are you going to recover? I worry about you. You must be getting big by now. I remember when Mrs. Olson next door was pregnant and started to show. It must be an amazing feeling to have Jack’s baby growing inside you.
School is such a bore without you. I’m passing all my subjects, but it’s just no fun anymore. Maggie has asked me to a few parties and I’ve gone twice. Well, you must know that they always ask about you. At first I really made up the stories with gusto, but now the fun’s gone out of it, knowing how miserable you must be. It’s easier to just not hang out anymore. They tell me I act as if you died instead of left for a few months.
Blackie misses you, too, and sends kitty kisses your way.
Who was Jack, and what became of his parents? Did they know about the baby? Did Ruth give the baby up for adoption, or did she keep it? Anne’s hunger for answers and truth intensified as she reread the letter.