Imagine a happy, classic American family: two parents, Reagan and Roosevelt(Rosy for short) Washington, two kids, Liberty and Unity, and a dog and maybe a cat. Let’s go ahead and put a goldfish and a guppy in a tank on the bar between the kitchen and dining room. One kid is in dance and the other in softball and the parents have a good marriage: not blissful everyday but not looking to make any trades either. Everybody is ok, content, and living their “best life now.” They know they’ve got it better than most families, and although they have their disagreements, in the end their love for one another and their common principles keep them together. Plus they have a nice car and an SUV with heated leather seats and power retractable running boards.
It’s September. The leaves are silently drifting to earth and the sugar maples are turning that glowing red/yellow/orange that they do after a not-too-dry summer. The family is wandering through Target, picking up healthy but tasty snacks for a fall Saturday of pumpkin carving at home before settling in with popcorn to watch “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.”Someone in a black head-covering seems to be showing up in each department,almost as if they were being followed. At first no one minds, but after this stealthy stranger quietly inspects the merchandise in three different departments at the same time the family does, Reagan begins to wonder. To avoid the disquieting effect such news would certainly have on the rest of the family though, the cautious dad guides them out of the store and home to pumpkins and safety from risks and dangers unknown.
Two weekends later, the stranger’s partner is wearing a hoodie in the clearance section of the same local Target, considering whether to buy the chocolate candy corn or the regular, when enters the family. Of course neither Reagan nor Rosy know who the hoodie person is, and they are a little suspicious of head coverings other than baseball caps or cowboy hats, but no one pays much mind as they all go about their way. Talking among themselves, they agree that one will go to the pharmacy, one will go to the grocery, one will go to the toys, and the other is going to the video games. Hoody overhears and texts Stranger, who is in the back of the store close to the holiday items, and Stranger casually heads for the video games. Taking a bandana soaked in propofol out of a ziplock bag in a pocket, Stranger finds one of the kids -Unity – at a back end cap in electronics, covers her mouth and nose with the bandana and walks her out the back door before the child slumps down into the back of a cargo truck. By this time, Hoody is there to help get the door shut and drive away.
About the time Stranger and Hoody are taking an on-ramp onto the interstate,the rest of the family meet up at the chips and soft drinks and begin to question where the fourth might be dawdling. After just a few minutes of looking down aisles, their pace picks up and panic begins to sprout. At first just seedlings in each member of the family, those seedlings quickly grow and pollinate through accusation and unintentional glances, and within 30 minutes they have become a forest of despair through which the family can hardly see one another with compassion.
After alerting security, who brings in law enforcement, a lock down and search of the store reveals nothing. The security monitors show a couple seconds of a cloaked figure putting something over Unity’s face and walking her out without much resistance, but the image was low quality and the other cameras weren’t recording. After an hour or so of the family being in a numb,dream-like state while law enforcement processes the crime scene, the family loads into a friend’s car to be driven home. Neither parent is in shape to drive, and they will hardly let go of Liberty long enough to open a door.
“I was carrying my glock, you know. I could have stopped this had I been back there,” says Reagan.
“But you weren’t. It’s not your fault. I shouldn’t have let her go by herself,” says Rosy.
“I’m supposed to protect my children. That’s my job. What else am I good for if I can’t even do that?” Reagan quips. Rosy, trying to find peace for both of them, reminds him that they’ve been there a hundred times and spread out the same way with no problem.
A week goes by in a daze. The story is on the news and people make every speculation in the book, including accusations against the parents for being everything from neglectful to deliberately criminal themselves. Reagan and Roosevelt, having never agreed on religion much before, are attending church together now in a desperate effort to gain God’s intervention. Church members and neighbors are astonished at how this tragedy has pulled the family together and to God, but Reagan’s prayers are bouncing off the ceiling and Roosevelt is questioning the existence of this God who would allow the kidnapping of her child.
At home, they are a mess. Rosy brings up the old questions of why they have guns in the house since Reagan was carrying a useless gun when it happened.Reagan won’t let Liberty play in the yard or go to her friends’ houses anymore for fear of strangers. Liberty is trying to hold on to them for her own sake and for theirs, but that’s hard to do when they are never in the same room anymore. So Liberty cries, because her sister, Unity, is gone.
They shared a room – Liberty and Unity. In a 2000 square foot white frame house on P Street in a northeastern U.S. neighborhood, they weren’t wealthy but they weren’t poor. Mom and Dad provided all they needed and a little more. Mom (Rosy) was always the generous one, giving them some of anything she had, and even sharing her own bed with them if they were too cold or frightened to sleep. Dad was a little different but in just as loving a way, in that he spent more time trying to teach them to provide for themselves and be resourceful, and often didn’t seem to appreciate Mom giving up his bed space when they could be warmer by simply turning the heater up a notch. Mom and Dad saw things differently, but the balance is what made the House run well. Back then.
Little Liberty was mostly oblivious to the family stressors. The Washingtons had a heavy student loan and credit card debt, and they couldn’t seem to agree on how to manage the budget. One insisted they should “spend money to make money” and the other would often exclaim that they should pay off the debt first, and then re-invest from a solid ground position. The funny thing was,they seemed to switch perspectives based on who wanted a new lawnmower or sewing machine, or boat, or fresh landscaping. So they paid the minimum principal payments and lots of interest, and only dealt with the budget once a year, often ending up with the electricity getting shut off around Thanksgiving each year while they argued and scraped up the money to pay the bill.
But Liberty knew nothing of this, because they didn’t bother her with such adult matters. And though it sounds silly, they convinced themselves that these”adult matters” didn’t affect her. But they did.
Liberty and Unity also shared a birthday each year. They weren’t twins -Unity was just a couple of years older than Liberty – but they were both born in the first week of July, so they celebrated together each year. And they were happy to do so. Mom and Dad Washington had always made that day a big deal,almost to the embarrassment of the girls, because for all their differences,they loved their girls. There would be streamers, and gifts, and a party with friends, and fireworks. Liberty especially loved the fireworks, because they reminded her of the stories Grandpa would tell about the fights he had fought to keep their land safe from strangers. To Liberty and Unity, and even Dad and Mom, those stories seemed like fairy tales sometimes, because they had never seen anything like the stories in real life, but Liberty had an especially close relationship with Grandpa, and she believed what he said about the old times, and how scary it was, and she was thankful for him as only a little grand daughter could be.
Preceding each birthday, Dad would spend a day cleaning his gun and mumbling about “keeping the neighborhood boys away from his pretty daughters,”while Mom would be preparing party favor bags and inviting all the kids to the house. This never created much of a scene, thankfully, but Liberty sensed the tension and Unity wished they could just enjoy the day.
But that was before Unity was taken. They laughed off their differences and made the best of things then, but ever since that September day, well, they just haven’t been able to laugh things off like they could before. Dad is more serious now about his guns, and protecting Liberty, and he has become a little paranoid about Mom wanting to get rid of them, and Mom is still inviting the neighborhood over and rescuing stray animals out of her love for living things to the point that Dad complains about where their income is going and who it is benefiting.
It’s affecting Liberty.
And not just because she misses her sister, which she most certainly does.It’s because Reagan’s efforts to protect her, while well meaning, can sometimes be stifling. And because Rosy’s generosity and love for people of all sorts can sometimes expose her to threats or dangers, though unintentionally. It seems that since Unity has been gone, instead of mom and dad balancing each other out for the benefit of Liberty, they have been so singularly focused on her and their own way of protecting her that they have forgotten to maintain their marriage, for her best interest.
And that is what’s tearing her up.
In order to truly grasp the effect of that September Day when Unity was taken away, a deeper understanding of the Washingtons is essential. Perhaps a good starting place would be to put the Rolling Stones’ song “Sympathy for the Devil,”in a mashup with “Life in the Fast Lane” by the Eagles. Who knows how it would sound, but it would look like the in laws and out laws of the Washingtons.
Take Rosy, for example. She comes from an old family in the States, and they have been involved in the history of the nation in such a way that would make Forrest Gump envious. One of the things that caught Reagan’s attention in college was the humanitarian tendencies she had in common with her great grand-uncle John Kennedy, who started the Peace Corps. She seemed to love everyone and have a glow about her to which people (him included) were simply attracted. He didn’t know until several years into the marriage that Jack Ruby and John Wilkes Booth were also distantly related to her, and that the three had some common characteristics.
Reagan may have been most bothered by this because while they were on a weekend trip a few years ago in Baltimore, he suggested they find the grave of Booth. They were both enthusiastic to find it, but only upon standing over it did he mention that he can trace his family to Lincoln but oddly, no further,to which she responded “Booth was related to me – I can’t remember how.” They found this funny. Back then. Reagan also claimed relation to Gen. MacArthur, but because Reagan lived in the northeast he didn’t talk about that much because he was afraid people might know that the great general was born in Arkansas. He often points out the Christian missionaries in his family,and jabs Rosy about the assassins in her family, until she reminds him that his great great uncle Oppenheimer wasn’t too inspirational either in terms of holding life sacred.
Regardless, the Washingtons are a veritable Romeo & Juliet story, except that teenage suicide isn’t their tragedy.
Liberty is their pride and joy. One thing they can usually agree on is that no other family has a child like Liberty. She is one of a kind. They sometimes even flatter her by saying “There may be other kids named Liberty but they can’t hold a candle to OUR Liberty.” And she always giggles and blushes.Liberty seems to have the positive traits of her parents without the negative.Funny how DNA works that way sometimes: her mother’s “girl next door”freckly good looks, her father’s discipline, her mother’s heart and her father’s drive. She is mature for her age, and surprised her teachers once by explaining that sometimes the rules and boundaries imposed by her parents make her feel safe and secure, as opposed to restricted, as it keeps her mind free from worry about possible dangers. Wisdom from the mouths of babes. She makes her parents proud, and they are honored to be called her guardians. Her drawings of eagles flying are always posted in the hallways of the school.
Unity though. She doesn’t like the idea of “school spirit” because she rejects the idea that she should call her school better than some other,just because she attends this one. The family sometimes goes to First Protestant Church, but she says “we are all part of the body of Christ,” and refuses to call herself a member of a particular church. Mom likes to point out that Unity gets her humanitarian inclinations from her side of the family, until Liberty points out that Unity is adopted. Both parents hush Liberty at this point every time, but Unity knows it, accepts it, and takes no offense at Liberty, as she honestly connects with her sister more than her parents. As a matter of fact, she’s hardly ever met someone to whom she didn’t relate. Like a sixth sense, she has an almost overwhelming sense of empathy,often causing pain for her when others don’t, or can’t, reciprocate this insight. She has some understanding of the “can’t” but she has no patience for the “don’t” people. Some of her schoolmates have questioned why a girl named “Unity” sharply rejects people, and she explains that even Jesus rejects those who reject Him.
These are the Washingtons. Not the simplest family, but no more complicated than the Smiths, or the Jones, or any other American family. Regardless of what some of the neighbors say, they love each other, and in spite of how they present in public, they don’t always like each other. This is their story.
“Adopted.” Some people ignorantly attach a stigma to that word. Unity doesn’t though.
She was born at an early age to her natural mom and mom’s boyfriend at the time. One August day when she was around 5 years old, her mom dropped her off in the morning at the Playworld to be picked up by her dad (boyfriend – no paternity test ever done). The problem is that when dad came, late, with his new girlfriend, they decided not to pick her up because they wanted to see a concert that night. They left Unity there, in favor of their own freedom. She never saw her dad and his girlfriend that day, and that’s where Unity reckoned out that she was no one’s priority. Ok, a five year may not use those words,but she showed her trauma and her understanding by being nonverbal for the next three months.
That was the beginning of a pattern inflicted upon her. The local Child Protective Service picked her up and placed her in foster care, but in foster care she was moved often, every time other children needed to stay together in a home, and a couple of times when her foster parents had personal or marital problems. Up until she was placed with the Washingtons, it seems people always chose convenience over Unity.
Through this process and due to the absence of a stable nuclear family, she sought and found companionship and commonality in others that “didn’t fit in,” and sometimes even complete strangers, more than those usually around her. Over the next few years she grew to embody her own name, but in a larger sense than most ever do. Just as her fellow students feel oneness at school, she feels oneness with students everywhere. When people speak of helping fellow Americans to the exclusion of foreigners, she thinks of fellow humans without excluding Americans. Unity has compassion for not just the family that adopted her but the family she adopts: the bullied, the refugees, the hurricane survivors. Unity feels a common bond with every religion, even while being taught the differences and suspicion toward the others.
But Unity also feels very misunderstood. Because she is. Friends see her inclusive attitude as a rejection of those closest, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Sometimes Rosy and Reagan saw her interest in people of other families as a lack of loyalty to them, and this has caused slight friction at times, but they can usually overlook it. Probably the best example of this was the time at one of the birthday parties when she refused to sing”Happy Birthday” with the rest of the family because she felt like Reagan (adoptive dad) wasn’t being fair to the neighborhood kids. Dad never did understand that, even though Mom thought it was thoughtful, and they finally just stopped talking about it.
The one person that Unity always felt understood her, really “got” her, was Liberty, her adoptive sister. It was like they spoke the same language, that no one else understood, even though they both knew that Liberty was the favorite. Oddly, none of them understood the extent to which Liberty was favored over Unity.
One of the, if not the, greatest days of any of the Washingtons’ lives was the day the adoption was finalized. It was two days after Easter. The air was still cool in the mornings but the warmth of the sun was beginning to show up in the afternoons. The trees and the grasses were budding and sprouting in that bright yellow green of fresh new growth. The daffodils were still in bloom and Rosy was beaming as Reagan drove the family of three plus one to the courthouse.
The sights, smells and sounds of the courthouse were things both parents would have preferred to shield their children from, regardless of their ideological differences. As Rosy grabbed the hand of little Unity to keep her from running off into the crowded lobby, she whispered, “It’s much easier to love people when they’re a continent away, isn’t it?” Unity didn’t respond. Reagan found one of the lawyers he knew, and asked where Courtroom 3A might be. The hurried attorney pointed him toward the old marbled staircase at the north end of the lobby and directed him to Room A on the third floor.Rather than walking up the stairs with two kiddos, they found an elevator and after letting one go because it was too crowded with the wrong people, they stepped into one that they had to themselves and enjoyed the 1 minute of quiet. The elevator was obviously built, like the rest of the courthouse, in a time when architecture was more distinguished and the government was willing and able to spend the money on it. A marbled floor with real brass rails and wood-paneled walls suggested a level of decorum that more modern structures simply didn’t. The thing is, those who respect the place did so regardless of the accoutrements and those who didn’t, well, didn’t. The elevator stopped on the second floor to pick up a mom with five children in dirty clothes and runny noses who had just seen their dad taken out of a courtroom in cuffs and shackles and were, shockingly, still talking about how he didn’t get angry this time. They seemed to expect to see him at home again in six months, or at least by Christmas. That family realized they were going the wrong way when the Washingtons exited on the third floor and found their caseworker and their attorney there to meet them. The other mom, pushing the elevator buttons with a vengeance, said a few choice words (in front of all the kids) as the Washingtons greeted their friends. They were beginning to move toward Courtroom 3A when Liberty stopped at the balcony in amazement to watch a line of men in orange suits and chains being lead by an officer across the lower floor. “Why are they chained up like that, dad? That seems awful!”
Reagan calmly explained, “There are two types of people in the world,princess, the good, and the bad. All it takes for the bad to succeed is for the good men to do nothing. Those men are in chains because they are bad. You’ll never be chained, because you are good.”
Liberty smiled and Unity seemed to grimace, though she was surely too young to understand the errant theology or philosophy of what her Dad had just said.
The children and their entourage were escorted by a police officer into a grand courtroom with a woman in a black gown sitting at a high desk. She smiled at the children and motioned for the lawyer to come forward. After saying several things that surely only the judge, lawyer, and caseworker understood, the judge looked at the the subject child, declared her independence from her natural parents, terminated the uncertainty of foster care, Unity was finally a part of the family. Everyone clapped and cheered, and the judge came down from her desk and took a selfie with the new family.
How could this day get any better? How could life get any better? This is what Unity had been hoping for and dreaming of for over a year, and she and Liberty and Rosy shed tears of joy, while Dad and the lawyer shook hands and patted each other on the back.
On the way out of the courthouse, Reagan and Rosy looked at each other lovingly, and knew that they had made the right choice to revive their frail marriage and keep the family together. The Washingtons stopped for ice cream on the way home, and all was well.
A home is a wonderful thing. A family is even better. Armistice, when needed, is from God Himself. Put the three together and you have a miracle that many people never experience and that many who experience it take for granted.
The Washingtons had hit a sweet spot in life. Reagan was rising early each morning with a spring in his step, Rosy was feeling empowered and enthusiastic about both work and family, Liberty was energized by her parents’ positivity and Unity was in a state of euphoria as she felt a healthy connection within a family and outside the family. It is truly amazing what can happen when things work as they should. As a family, they were sitting down to home cooked meals together, taking family vacations that they all actually enjoyed, and they had each other’s backs against the rest of the world – if needed. But then nobody made trouble with the Washingtons because they knew they would have to deal with 4 if they were hostile to 1 – because everyone knew that for them, the family was more important than any one member, and that was precisely what secured each individual member.
Individually, Reagan was making strides at his job, earning the respect of coworkers and competitors for his ingenuity and work ethic. Rosy was a pioneer in her field, coming up with new ideas and methods to improve her company’s productivity. Liberty was making good grades, mostly because of the security she felt at home, but also due to her own studying and diligence, and finally,Unity was progressing nicely in elementary school, finding that she had some natural skill in sports and team-building among her peers.
When everyone works together as a family, the Washingtons are the envy of the neighborhood. The house stays tidy, the lawn stays clipped, and neither the pets nor the kids nor the spouses run astray. And during those months after the adoption, that’s how it was. Not that this family was more important than others, but that the members of this family understood that by each one serving the interests of the other, the whole family was stronger.
Speaking of strength and peace, this was the day that Grandpa Hope came to the Washington’s home and told the story of Armistice Day, passed down through a few generations now. It just so happened that a Hope was in the French forest at the railroad near Compiegne when the shooting of World War I came to an end.”He heard it – the last shot of the War. It came from an artillery gun called Calamity Jane. Northern France was a disaster. The way he described it,its nothing I would ever want you kids to see. Grandpa Hope was an Admiral to them – a great man – I only met him once when I was a kid. Anyway, he was thereon the train, and that’s where they worked it out. World Peace, at least for awhile.” There was much more to the story, and everyone in the room, except for Unity, had heard the story before, but but it sent chills down their spines even still. The thought of what life would be like had that day not happened as it did; the magnitude of a family member being there, the thought for them that Liberty would not be here had Admiral Hope not played his part with the other leaders to secure Peace. This was something everyone in the family could treasure, regardless of current views of current events, if they would sit down and think about it, and others, and for just a moment, release their self interest and instant gratification.
The problem with people, though – even Washingtons, maybe especially Washingtons – is that self-interest is hard to suppress.
Over time, as the parents aged and the kids matured, the groove became more of a rut. They never felt it change though. Reagan found himself feeling less apart of the family, as the girls seemed to do their own thing so often and have more of a connection with Rosy. Rosy was receiving praise at work that she didn’t get at home, and was more engaged there than ever, even after hours.Liberty had discovered cell phones and the internet and the mental and emotional freedom there. And Unity learned how to ride a bicycle and was becoming fast friends with the other neighborhood kids, connecting with their families and spending time at their homes as much as her own.
One dark, rainy, cold November evening, Rosy came home from work, and plopped down into her overstuffed chair beside Reagan in his. No greetings were made, no words were said. The girls were in their rooms. The room was silent except for the sound of the blonde on Fox News explaining why and how the latest tweet from President Trump was reasonable. Rosy reached over,grasped the remote, hit “mute,” and then after taking a breath, broke the silence:
“I missed my period.”
“I was listening to that! What period? You know I’m not good with grammar . . .” Reagan grabbed the remote back.
“My cycle, dummy. I think I’m pregnant.”
A wash of mixed emotions flow over them both – exuberance becomes anxiety becomes anger becomes curiosity.
“How did THAT happen?” he snorts, already wishing he hadn’t said it.
“What do you mean, ‘how did that happen’ – you know as well as I do how that happens!”
Already in the hole he regretted digging, he felt he had little choice:”I mean I don’t think it happened in THIS house, and you’ve been working late . . . jus’ sayin.”
Feeling like she had been sucker punched, she walked out of the room, mumbling a word that rhymes with his favorite fish, too hurt to respond.
Days that seemed like months passed, with Reagan and Rosy avoiding eye contact, speaking few words, and trying to put on a good show in front of the kids and coworkers. But anyone could tell there was an issue. The tension was palpable, like a cold war. Until Reagan woke up one morning and said, “How about Courtesy?”
No response. He shuddered at the cold silence that came from the north side of the bed.
“What are you talking about?” she finally questioned.
He took a breath and let it out: “Look I’m sorry for what I said – I know better than to think you’ve been with someone else – I just, well, I was surprised and that’s what came out. I’m an idiot.”
“got that one right.”
“thanks. that helps. . .What about the name Courtesy?” he suggested.
“Not bad. It could work. Gender neutral, people know how to spell it, the world needs it,” she reasoned.
“It certainly sounds better than “Political Correctness,”he joked. She wasn’t interested in his humor just yet. “Apology accepted,” she responded, “I’ve thought about Mercy, or Patience, or Charity. Maybe Grace.”
“This is just such a surprise,” he said. “We’re not as young as we were. It seems we just got out of the diaper years a few years ago. I just didn’t expect it.”
Rosy responded: “Well I sure didn’t either. Honestly, I’m conflicted. I’m not sure what I want to do about it.”
Reagan, with a bewildered look on his face, sits up in bed, looks at her, then looks away. “I’m afraid to ask what you mean by that.”
“I mean I’m not sure whether I want to pick a name or quietly find a clinic.”
“I can’t believe you’re even saying this. You know what I think about that, and there’s no way I’m agreeing to it.” Reagan’s pulse was quickening as he spoke.
Rosy, still calm, said,”I was just saying I’m conflicted. It’s a surprise to both of us, and this is not a time that’s right. I haven’t made a decision. I’m just not sure. I’m confused.”
“Well I’m not. That can’t happen. We’re in this together. Courtesy. I think we should name her Courtesy – Curt if it’s a boy.” – Reagan.
“You did your part already. Mine goes on for the next nine months. You can say we’re in this together all you want, but the truth is it’s my body.”
Reagan, speechless at this, walks out into the garage and goes for a ride.
After a long therapeutic ride, Reagan returned home to find that everyone had gone to bed. The kids were asleep and Rosy may as well have been. He climbed into his side of the bed and drifted off into a fitful, restless sleep.
The next afternoon Rosy texted him and invited him to dinner. She said the kids were taken care of and she had a coupon for Cheesecake Factory, so he agreed. They met at the hostess station after work:
“Strange how we convince ourselves we have control, huh?” She broke the ice.
“Yeah. We don’t,” he responds, both of them avoiding the issue of the last conversation.
“You’re saying we don’t convince ourselves, or we don’t have control?”
He explains: “We don’t have control. I’m actually agreeing with you for once. No control. At all, over anything. We have no idea whether we will live or die in the next minute. We are so fragile and yet we pretend to be so secure with our future. We don’t even know if our kids are safe as we speak . . . “
“Don’t say that! Even if it is true.”
“So do we keep grasping desperately to control what little we can, or do we just trust God, or fate, or coincidence, or whatever, to have its way with us?” He asked the question,not expecting an answer.
“I can accept that we can’t control most things, but we can control some. That’s not unrealistic. We just convince ourselves we are more in charge than we are,” Rosy said, hanging on.
“Does this knife look clean?” Reagan was unwrapping his silverware and placing his napkin is his lap.
“Nope. But I bet you can get a clean one,” Rosy said in an “I rest my case” sort of tone.
While Reagan and Rosy were enjoying their meal and sharing a decadent layered chocolate cake with chocolate mousse and whipped cream, Unity & Liberty were at the house three doors down from their own. Rosy had set them up to stay with the Harhash family for the evening. The Harhashes were a family from the middle east. The wife was of Syrian descent and the husband was of Jewish descent, and they had a daughter several years older than Unity, but Unity had become friends with her lately.Reagan and Rosy pulled into the Harhash driveway and the girls came out and climbed into the Washington-mobile, delighted to see both of their parents together and in a good mood. They had decided to come home in one car for exactly that reason, and it worked.
Later that night, in their respective chairs with the kids deposited into bed, the old problem came backup, but without the element of surprise and with the buffer of more consideration from both sides. They both agreed that it was not as easy an issue as either extreme side of the political spectrum present it to be:
“I know it’s a bad time for us, but this is already a life,” he said.
“I’ve been pregnant before, and I remember feeling life inside of me. I’m just not convinced this is yet. As long as it is still tissue that may be a life, it doesn’t bother me any more than an appendectomy.” Rosy deliberately avoided the “you’ve never been pregnant” point, out of politeness.
“Ok, let me ask you this, then: When do you think life starts?” Reagan asked.
“I don’t know – honestly – but I don’t think it happens as soon as your swimmer finds a home. I think it is definitely after that. I guess you think its conception?” – Rosy
Reagan – “I can’t say I’ve studied the science of it enough to know, but I’ve always been taught that the Bible says God knows us in the womb . . .”
“It doesn’t say WHEN in the womb, though. I think its still just tissue.”
“It? IT is Courtesy,” he stiffened up.
“It is a bad time. We have enough problems without a new set of diapers.”
A long pause was had, as the couple watched the weather on the 10:00 news. Finally: “How soon could you get it done?” he asked, just before Liberty walked in to get some water.
“Get what done? she asked, as Unity followed her.
“Have you been listening to us? – Mom
Unity did not say a word, and Liberty quietly muttered “no.”
They filled their cups, gulped it down, and scuttled back to bed.
“I’ll check tomorrow,” Rosy stated, wondering what the kids heard.
Not another word was said in the house, as Reagan went to bed still wondering when Courtesy would be alive or feel pain, as Rosy fell asleep hoping she was right, as Liberty was pleased that her parents were in agreement, and as Unity felt like she was losing a sister.
She hardly caught an ounce of sleep the night before her alarm awakened her for her appointment. Reagan had taken the kids to school so that she could sleep in a little, both of them knowing sleep would be difficult due to nerves. After he returned home to pick her up,they loaded and got on the road pretty quickly. Nothing much to say. The drive to the clinic seemed infinite, but they finally pulled into the parking lot of a brick building with several store fronts, one of which was the clinic. Inside they found a cordial lady at the front desk who signed Rosy in, and they sat down to wait. other than a twenty something year old girl and her friend, the lobby was empty. When a nurse called her back, Reagan was advised to wait while Rosy disappeared behind a door and Reagan’s breathing became a little more labored. As he tried to control his feeling of panic, Rosy came back out and said there was a 48 hour waiting period, so they would need to come back in two days. “We have to do this all over again?” “I guess so.”
Home was an uncomfortably quiet place. Mom and Dad did their best to act normal, but as usual, kids can see through fake cheer. Nobody let the other know what was happening though, as each lived in their illusion of the other side not knowing what they knew.Unity spent most of her waking hours with the families of Samah or Douglass,and Liberty spent her time on the phone with friends.
The second trip was no easier than the first. They thought it might be, but it wasn’t. This time when they arrived, though, Reagan took a seat and Rosy was ushered in and on to the back.Reagan again worked to fight panic while Rosy listened to explanations of how quick and easy this would be and got set up on a table. The nurse performed an exam and a sonogram and explained that now, at six weeks, the “pregnancy tissue” did have a barely detectable heartbeat, but all this should be over in about 10 minutes. Rosy’s ensuing anxiety was artificially calmed with a sedative, and the doctor entered the room. He used a suction tube to accomplish the procedure in three quick efforts, and she was cleaned up.
She never heard anything that was said in the “therapy session” that followed. The thought”Courtesy had a heartbeat” was the only thing echoing through her mind.As casually as if she had just had an oil change, the nurses wheeled her out the rear exit where Reagan was waiting with the car. With tears streaming down her face, she did her best getting into the car with help, and the nurses assured Reagan “it’s just the after effect of the sedation – she’ll be fine,” as he went around to the driver’s side.
The following days and weeks were as difficult as the Washingtons had ever seen. Fall decorations and translucent autumn leaves were all over town, but Rosy never saw them, because she couldn’t get herself to leave the house. She stayed in bed most of the time and cried so much she kept towels over her pillow so she could change them out for dry ones.Reagan convinced the kids that she had a bad cold and was contagious, so they gave her space, slipping “get well” notes under the door every couple of days.
Due to Rosy shutting down and shutting others out, Reagan spent more time at work, letting the Harhashes shuttle the kids to school, even though he was a little uncomfortable and suspicious of their culture. He was oblivious, just like the rest of the family, to the fact that Unity had started attending a house church at the Harhash home on Wednesday evenings. They and Douglass’ family gathered as a Christian group each week, as none of them felt like they were accepted at the local churches, due to their backgrounds. Douglass was the teen son in a mixed family with a black father and white mother. He was named after Frederick Douglass. His mom was an anesthetist and dad an engineer. The Harhashes were raised on the Qur’an and the Torah and Talmud, but had become Christians just a few years ago. Unity had learned more about “her beliefs” here than anywhere else.
As a matter of fact, the group had been thinking about doing a live nativity for Christmas, to show the local public what the scene might have reallylooked like.
The friendships formed in the house church, through the intimacy of the small group and the openness and sincerity of its members, allowed the group to learn about the history of Unity. They learned of all the people who have abandoned Unity in favor of their own convenience, including her natural parents, and they saw the effect this had on her. More importantly, perhaps, they saw the effect the present situation with the Washingtons was having on her. Neither she nor her friends wanted this pattern of her life to be repeated again.
Meanwhile, though, Rosy was coming out of her post-mortem depression, and returning to life. Reagan and she were resolving their issues and making sure Liberty was happy and that she made it to all her dance events. Unity seemed to be, and certainly felt that she was,being neglected in favor of Liberty, maybe because of her closeness with the church or maybe the closeness with the church was because of the neglect.
In an effort to have some quality family time, Reagan and Rosy took the kids to Target to find the supplies for some pumpkin carving. As they were picking up some cashews for snacks, Reagan noticed someone in a burqa at the end of the aisle and moved them along to the carving tools. In the halloween section though, there was the burqa again, and based on the fact that he couldn’t tell anything about the identity of the person except that they were likely Muslim, his suspicion and honestly, bias,was aroused. Unity thought she recognized the eyes but wasn’t sure.
Samah just happened to be in the store, wearing her mother’s burqa to see how many suspicious looks she would get by wearing it in a public place. When she spotted the Washingtons, she followed them to see how they were treating Unity, as she had never seen them interact although she had heard so much from Unity.
Reagan finally let his suspicion get the best of him and took his family out of the store, having had his fill of drama lately and wanting to avoid any confrontations with strangers.
For Unity though, the family night was a little too little, a little too late. The next day when she saw Samah, Samah commented on how Reagan, Rosy and Liberty seemed to walk together, often leaving Unity behind, as though they were the family and Unity was just an addition. Unity explained that was the story of her life, but that when the parents weren’t around Liberty and she were very close. They agreed that Unity deserved better, and certainly that Unity deserved as much attention as Liberty.
So they called Douglass over and devised a plan. There are few things that bond people together more than being victimized, misunderstood, ignored, and neglected, and this foster child,middle eastern girl, and black boy from a mixed family certainly had just that bond. They decided to “save” Unity from what was sure to come. They called the plan “Operation Extraction.”
In order to acknowledge their unique bond, they decided that Samah would wear the burqa again, which would keep most people away from her, giving her room to play her role, and that Douglass would wear a hoodie, knowing that many white people would keep their distance from a black guy in a hoodie as well. They decided that the next time the Washingtons were on their way to Target, Unity would send a text and Samah and Douglass would get there first to be in place. Douglass was in charge of procuring just enough sedative from his mom’s office to put Unity to sleep, and Samah would be in charge of administering it, as she would be less recognizable but no one would blame Unity or call her a runaway. She could stay in the Harhash’s camper in the shop behind their house. No one would know anything other than that she was kidnapped, and the three of them figured the Washingtons would hardly miss her, being more interested in their Liberty than Unity anyway.
It all came together on the 11th day of September. A day that changed the lives of the Washingtons forever, at least for a little while.
After the ride from Target in the back of a truck, Unity awakened in a comfortable bed in an Airstream camper,just as she expected. As much as the camper was a brilliant shiny metal shell,her senses and emotions were dulled and numb. According to the plan, she was well set up to live in the camper indefinitely, with a space heater and and an ipad with wifi from the Harhash home, and with Douglass and Samah taking turns bringing her food. She assured them that she had lived in much worse conditions before.
As soon as she saw the facebook posts and local news stories about the girl “kidnapped by terrorists in Target,” the gravity of what they had done sank in. She heard the prosecutor on television make a statement about “bringing the evil kidnappers to justice” in front of a background of a “Vote for me” sign, as she saw her adoptive parents crying beside him, and she knew that there were no “evil kidnappers” and certainly no terrorists, but she didn’t want to hurt the Washingtons. She didn’t know what to do and now felt just as trapped and isolated by her own actions as she did in any previous home.
Meanwhile, Liberty was becoming a shell of what she had been. The Washington home felt like a compound, with Dad building a fence around the property and tightly controlling ingress and egress. She missed Unity horribly, to the point that she stopped dancing and her grades were dropping. Without Unity, Liberty – the pride of the Washingtons – just wasn’t shining as the star of the neighborhood anymore. Rosy got her into see a therapist, and the counseling and medications seemed to help a little,but they simply didn’t make up for Unity.
Things seemed to reach their lowest point, for Liberty, anyway, when Reagan and Rosy separated.
When the people in control become entrenched in blaming one another with sharp words for everything that is wrong, those who have little say in the mess are left feeling helpless and angry.
But they wondered why Liberty had changed so much. Rosy criticized Reagan for the fence, saying it kept Liberty’s friends from coming over; Reagan called Rosy a “bleeding heart,” saying those kids have homes of their own, and he didn’t trust those Harhashes and their kind anyway. Rosy suggested maybe Reagan was getting carried away with his “tools of self defense” so he started accusing her of stealing his guns and taking them to pawn shops, even though he knew they were all in the cabinet where they belonged. They were so busy stabbing one another in the back, figuratively, that they simply didn’t enjoy Liberty at all anymore,literally, and practically forgot about Unity, assuming she was gone. This pushed both of the children further away emotionally. The searched for Liberty finally stopped, and about the time Liberty was at her darkest point, Rosy moved out, taking her along, where they lived in a small apartment, Rosy in the bed and Liberty on a fold out sofa.
Both parents spent whatever Christmas money they had on lawyers, and began to formalize the fight. Reagan’s attorney repeatedly threatened to “lock Rosy up” for some things that showed up in her emails, and Rosy’s attorney would respond with a trite”When they go low, we’ll go high” in spite of the fact that she had hired people to try to bring out the worst in Reagan in public while others were videoing for use in court. Unity was watching on the internet and Liberty was watching in person.
After pleadings were filed, the main point of contention became “Who is the better caretaker of Liberty?”They rehashed all the same arguments, both arguing that they were morally superior to the other, when the truth was both were more loyal to themselves and their personal interests than they had ever been to Liberty. In an effort to convince the Court that they were each the more responsible parent, they began to accuse one another of guilt in Unity’s disappearance. Liberty couldn’t take it, and began to sincerely wish she had been taken along with Unity, back in September. At the first court hearing, the judge threatened to put Liberty in state custody.
Christmas always comes like a thief in the night for some and is dragged in and propped up around halloween by others. The difference may be the need or willingness or reluctance to express whatever joy, or lack thereof, that accompanies the holiday. That said, the Washingtons were not not feeling it but the members of the house church were. By this time, the Harhashes were aware of the guest living in their camper, and because they were convinced that Unity was neglected by Rosy and Reagan, they helped protect her.
One day, shortly after Thanksgiving, Douglass and Samah and their families, along with Unity, were sitting in the Harhash living room, discussing the plans for the upcoming live Nativity.
This created an interesting discussion:
While all agreed on what happened that day, and that dark skinned people were in the Holy Manger, rather than light skinned people, Unity and Doug politely questioned how a Jew and a Muslim might come to agree on the Sacredness of the Nativity. For the Harhashes, there was a simple explanation. Ms. Harhash began: “Although I was always taught that Jesus was a prophet and nothing more, as I matured and read the Qur’an for myself, I found things that made me question that. For example, in Surah 3 Verse 47, Mary how she could have a baby even though no man has touched her – that seems to affirm the virgin birth to me, which distinguishes Jesus from other prophets. And again in Surah 67 Verse 12, I found this:
And Mary the daughter of ‘Imran, who guarded her chastity; and We breathed into her Our Spirit; and she testified to the Truth of the Words of her Lord and of His Revelations, and was one of the devout.
I found the same story of the virgin birth, conceived by Allah Himself, in Surah 19 starting at Verse 19.”
Unity then questioned: “Why do you still call God “Allah” if you are a Christian? Isn’t that the Muslim God?”
Mr. Harhash perked up at this and said “I can get this this one! Allah is simply the Arabic word for God. The word itself is no more a part of any one religion than the word dinero, or franc, or dollar is the word for money. Allah is more a language thing than a religion thing.”
Ms. Harhash smiled and continued:”The confusion comes in the fact that the Qur’an also says that ‘It is not befitting the majesty of God that He should beget a son,’ in Surah 19 Verse 35.Well this got awfully confusing, and to make a long story short, I reconciled the problems with the Christian Bible, which the Qur’an recognizes as Scripture- in Surah 5 Verse 46 – and discovered that there are contradictions in the Qur’an with the rest of Scripture. That’s when I became a Christian.”
“Wow,” said Douglass,”I had no idea the Qur’an recognizes the Bible or the Virgin Birth.”
“Yes! Even if I were still a Muslim, I would respect the Nativity!” said Ms. Harhash.
“What about you, Mr. Harhash?” Unity prompted, “How did you arrive at Christianity?”
“Well mine is shorter. I studied the Torah enough – specifically Isaiah – that once someone convinced me to study the newer books I found that Jesus actually fulfilled the prophecies about the Messiah. That’s when I felt Yahweh telling me the to accept the Truth. The rest is history.”
“And now you guys are a happy family,” said Unity, “in spite of your differences. I wish I could make it work with the Washingtons like that. But I’m afraid to show my face at this point.”
“We will pray that this will work out,” encouraged Ms. Harhash, “God may have a plan in all this after all. In the meantime, who will be who in our Nativity, and where can we find some sheep?”
Douglass answers: “I don’t know about sheep, but Mr. and Mrs. Harhash can be Mary and Joseph, and Samah and I can be wise men coming from somewhere in the East, and Unity could be an Angel.She could sit on top of the manger and with the lights, no one will recognize who she really is.”
“Good thinking Douglass! This will be the authentic looking nativity this town has ever seen!” exclaimed Samah.
“I don’t know why people are always making Jesus white . . . maybe it’s because they would rather have Jesus be like them than deal with them not being like Jesus.” – Douglass
Christmas Eve arrived as suddenly as did the Christmas season.
The Washingtons had spent substantial amounts of money in an effort to buy good cheer for themselves and for Liberty, and the Harhashes, though they spent very little on decorations or gifts, were feeling the cheer of their fellowship with God and Douglass’ family and Unity.
The group had found a small cave just outside of town, borrowed a few sheep, and after doing some research regarding the Church of the Nativity, set up a”manger” and publicized it among the local churches. They had enjoyed good crowds but on Christmas Eve there was a line to come down the trail to the cave. It was a clear and cold evening that night, but the members of the Nativity could see in the faces and eyes of the visitors that they were making an impact.
In a last ditch effort to catch the spirit of the season, Reagan and Liberty loaded up and drove out to see the”show.” After driving through some neighborhoods to enjoy the Christmas lights, they parked on the side of the road at the trailhead to walk down to the cave. Just after they went into the woods, Rosy happened by on her way back into town from visiting a relative, and spotted Reagan’s suv. She pulled over and turned off her car, but then sat still, wondering whether to go talk to them or not. After an emotional struggle, she gathered up some courage, buttoned her coat, and started down the trail.
Reagan and Liberty saw the silhouette of an angel silently greeting them as they entered the cave and beheld the re-enactment. The smell of livestock, the dank cave, the small but warm fire and the smoke from it, and finally, a dark skinned mother and father cradling an dark skinned infant wrapped tightly for warmth and security. For all the chatter that was happening outside, their was a definite hush within,as the “pilgrims” felt like they were in the real thing. For each group that entered the cave, the story from Luke was read as they gazed upon the scene, and then another group was let in. Reagan and Liberty’s group were ushered out the same way they came in, but were directed to take a different path back up to the road, so they could meet the wise men on the way.
Rosy was coming down the path about the time that Reagan and Liberty were exiting, and as she saw the silhouette of the angel, Reagan and Liberty saw her, paused, and looked up at the lighted side of the Angel, whose head was just then turned, and in unison shouted”UNITY!” Rosy, hearing this, began climbing up the hill as Unity was half sliding down, and they all collided in the trail in a messy ball of twigs and leaves and tears and hugs.
The apologies were flying in every direction. Forgiveness was in the air like the scent of the cold cedars and pines around them. Given the reunion in the trail, other visitors soon realized that this was the lost Unity they had heard about, and they began to celebrate with the Washingtons, to the point that “Mary and Joseph” and the”wise men” came to see what was happening. Unity introduced them, and once the Washingtons understood the saving intentions behind the original plan,and Unity’s cooperative role in it, more forgiveness was doled out and apologies accepted.
Reagan and Roosevelt went home together that night, along with Liberty and Unity. The family had dinner with the Harhashes and Douglass’ family, enjoying their common bonds and thanking God for Unity as much as Liberty.
From that day, though Christmas and the New Year, the Washingtons treasured Unity as well as Liberty, stopped attacking one another in such ways as to offend the children, and opened their hearts to people of darker skin instead of being victimized by their own stereotypes.
What is Christmas about, if not Forgiveness? What is the Nativity about, if not the Unity and Liberty found in the Gospel? Christmas can’t be about things that weren’t present in the original story, so it is not about the lights or the politics or the political correctness of the manner by which we greet one another. Christ came as a human infant to offer forgiveness and unity among men, if they would simply accept Him. In this story, people of different skin tones and backgrounds and cultures, with different levels of guilt and sin in their past or in their hearts, found the forgiveness and fellowship that He offers. My hope is that the real culture would do likewise,but for now I guess I’ll settle for fiction.