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The Legacy

 

     She sat nervously in the waiting area of the doctor’s office.  Her feet swung back and forth, lightly brushing the worn out carpeting. Alone in the waiting room, she picked up a magazine off the small table next to her, and carelessly flipped through the pages never really noticing the content of them.

     Suddenly, a nurse appeared at the door. “Eleanor,” she said.  Eleanor tossed the magazine aside and forced herself to stand.  Her palms were unusually sweaty and her face flushed as she approached the nurse. The nurse looked down at the pale, blond-hair, young woman who stood shyly before her. She smiled and then said, “Don’t worry Eleanor, it will be just fine.”  But the nurse’s words were not as comforting as they were meant to be.

     The nurse led Eleanor into a small, cold and sterile whitewashed examination room.  “Just sit down, he’ll be with you soon.”  The nurse left closing the door behind her. Eleanor abruptly felt closed in.  Her intakes of breath rapidly increased.  She could feel her heart straining to be released from its boundaries.  She began to pace from wall to wall.  She did this for a few minutes and then took a seat.  The chair was loosely uncomfortable. It was a flimsy plastic chair that allowed little support.  She tried to get comfortable by leaning as far back as she could toward the wall. It served little relief.  She shifted aimlessly.  Trying to keep her thoughts off current events she started humming, finally allowing herself to calm down. It was then the door opened and the doctor entered.

   Her eyes desperately searched his face but the stoic mien gave no answers. She stared at the ground before her.  Her breathing grew quietly short, sometimes stopping only to jaggedly start again.  The doctor confidently sat at a small wall-attached desk and laid a manila folder in front of him.

          “I wish I didn’t have to tell you this Eleanor, I hate to give bad news...”

          God, Eleanor thought, That’s so trite Then she added out loud, “I understand, you don’t have to go any farther. I kinda had a feeling I would be infected.”

          “There’s more though.”

She looked bitterly at the doctor.  Now what!

          “You’re pregnant as well.”

   She stared at the gray-haired man. A horrified look crossed her face; this was something she hadn’t prepared herself for.  She rolled her eyes and looked at the floor.  She began to shuffle her feet. She shook her head as if to make it all go away, then said, without looking up, “Shit.”

          “I would like to take some more test and check to see if the baby is all right and of course find out how far along the line you are....” The rest of the instructions and comments mumbled through the mixture of emotions Eleanor was feeling.  She was vaguely aware that the door had closed and she was starting to undress herself.

*                 *               *

     There wasn’t much action in the little twenty-four hour greasy spoon.  It was mostly empty except for a select few scattered throughout the booths.  The waitresses sat at the counter drinking coffee and smoking a cigarette.  No one cared to notice the quiet woman in the back corner table, staring at the silverware across from her and mindlessly stirring her coffee over and over again.  A high pitched “Ellen!” broke the serene scene.  The waitresses looked at the two women making their way through the front door, then returned to the topic of gossip and taking drags on their cigarettes.  The women wove their way around the maze of tables, and took a seat in the wooden chairs across and next to Eleanor.

          “Julie and I have been worried about you!” one of the women said looking carefully at Eleanor’s solemn face.  A waitress shuffled her way back to her new customers hoping this was going to be more than a coffee trip.  But both of the women looked at her and in unison sang “Coffee please.”  The waitress turned and shuffled back to the kitchen area.

          “Well what’s the verdict?” the second woman said, taking Eleanor’s hand into hers. All Eleanor could do was shake her head; the words were too hard to say. A gasp was heard from the first woman and the second unconsciously pulled her hand away, only to let out a timid laugh and take Eleanor’s hand once again.

     Eleanor continued to stare at the blue and white checkered tablecloth, she expected that reaction.  The waitress returned once again and placed two coffee-filled cups in front of the women and a gold pot in the middle of the table.

          “There’s more” Eleanor said once the waitress had gone.  “I’m pregnant.”

The first woman blinked and then slowly opened her mouth as if to say something but only continued to stare at Eleanor.  The second woman grasped Eleanor’s hand tighter then made a causal remark, “Carol you look like a wide-mouth bass that way.”  Carol shook her head, mumbled a quick sorry and then asked “How far along?”

          “Thirteen weeks,” Ellen laughed, “Thirteen unlucky weeks.”

          “Then its not too late,” Carol said.

          “For what?” the second woman asked.

          “For an abortion Julie, what else?”

          “I can’t believe you are suggesting such a thing!” Julie added to the appalling look on her face.

          “What do you expect her to do?” Carol inquired.

          “Have the child!” Julie interjected.

          “Sure and put herself at risk, why don’t we think about that one shall we? And who’s gonna take care of it when she is sick and afterwards and also how do we know the baby isn’t infected as well? It could be doomed anyways.”

          “That’s not necessarily true.” Eleanor objected.  “I took a test today that will determine if the baby is infected, I’ll know the results tomorrow.”

     There was silence as the three women sat in the dingy, smoke-filled restaurant. Carol took a sip of her coffee and contemplated the information she just received.

          “OK,” Carol continued, “What if you have it? There is no way you would be able to keep it.”

Eleanor abruptly took offense as if her ability to be a good mother was being attacked, “Why not?” she asked harshly.

          “It goes back to the question, what happens when you get sick?  You are stuck with a kid who can’t rely on you anymore, is that fair to that kid?”

Eleanor looked down into her coffee cup, she felt for a brief moment she was looking into her future, dismal and black.  She knew deep down inside Carol was right and she resented it. Then Julie offered a solution. “She can place it for adoption!”

          “For what? To carry the child nine months putting her health at risk, only to give the child up in the end? No an abortion is the easiest thing for her to do. It’s quick, painless, she be done and over with it, nothing more.” That was Carol’s solution.

          “I can’t believe you are so stuck on abortion! It’s not as easy as you make it out to sound, you know!”

Eleanor sunk into her seat and continued to stare at the tablecloth. She flicked a crumb across the table watching it fly off the edge.  Carol and Julie continued to debate around her.

          “Yes it is!” continued Carol, “Look, she has the abortion, puts the whole situation behind her and then she can concentrate all her energy on fighting this disease, not splitting her efforts between keeping herself healthy and trying to have a baby. I mean, let’s say she does decide to carry to term, when then can she begin treatment? Six months from now? Six months could mean life and death at this point!”

          “She will be just fine in six months!” Julie contradicted.  “Many people are living longer and having normal lives!”

          “Yeah and I know other people who have died suddenly for a simple cold! It’s a two way street, you know.”

Julie opened her mouth to say something but couldn’t form the words that were tangled in her brain. She knows she is losing the battle. Eleanor thought, then asked the other two, “Why ruin two lives when I have already ruined mine? Carol’s right, it’s not fair to make it suffer just cause I wanted to be selfish.”

          “Exactly,” agreed Carol, thinking she had won the argument.

          “Exactly,” said Julie.  Eleanor and Carol stared at Julie in disbelief. “What?” came out of both women’s mouths?

          “Why make the child suffer for your mistakes, Ellen?  By aborting the child you are condemning that child to the same consequence you will suffer because of your mistakes.  Why not allow this child a chance to make up for you mistakes, a chance to have a family the cares and loves him or her and that child can love as well.  Let him or her have a chance at life, a chance maybe you can have as well through your child.”

     Eleanor raised her eyebrows, then said, “I don’t have the strength.”

          “Yes, you do. There is someone who you can turn to be your strength, and I think its about time.”

Eleanor sat straight up, leaned forward and started shuffling her feet back and forth. She continued to stare at her coffee.

*                      *                     *

        She laid in bed staring at the ceiling, listening to the fans going full blast, achieving a hot stuffy atmospahere.  Her restless mind would not permit her exhausted body to sleep.   The darkness of the dismal loft apartment surrounded her.  She could hear her mind’s interpretation of Julie’s last words -There is someone you can turn to. The words invoked images that appear on the discolored pages of her memories.  The first image to appear clearly was that of a faded yellow couch. On the couch, sat a person who sparked emotion buried so long ago. The person was her mother, hands drawn obscuring her face, crying uncontrollably. Her father stood over his wife, a hand on her shoulder in comfort. His face showed a mixture of hurt and disbelief.  This was the last time Eleanor was with her parents.  She had just declared, mostly out of frustration and arrogance, that she was going to move in with her boyfriend; a young man several years her senior. She was 16; he was 24.  Her parents disapproved of and tried to discourage her relationship with him, out of love for their daughter, for they could see the path of destruction this man was paving.  But Eleanor in a blind, teen-age fury saw her parents being oppressive and controlling, a dictatorship she wasn’t going to live under.  “If you leave this house, so be it, but know this, you cannot take anything with you but the clothes you wear. We have provided you with everything and now you are his responsibility, let him provide what you need.” Her father’s face showed the pain the words did not. Ignoring his pain and anguish Eleanor was even more determined to prove herself in defiance of her father.  Eleanor took one last look at her parents then turned around exited the front door and closed it on her life with her parents forever.

     Regret hung heavy in Eleanor’s heart.  She tried to push the images away, bury them deep within like the many times before, but the memories would not be silent.  It took a long time of abuse and neglect to realize how foolish she truly had been. It was the second time Eleanor left with only the clothes on her back. And yet she refused to go back home, she believed in a childlike foolishness that it would be giving in to, what she believed was the oppressive ideas and rules of her parents, telling them they were right, something she refused to admit.  Instead she took to the streets to earn quick money and learn how to survive in the savage world. She physically hardened against her situation but inside each step she took made a deep wound.

     Before long she was able to pick herself up again and start over.  She saved enough money for an apartment.  She held a minimum wage job, and worked many hours to cover the bills. A few months past and she started talking to one member of her family that she didn’t feel threatened by, someone whom she looked up too, a protector as much as Eleanor would permit. It was her older sister, who now led her own life, away from the family.  They talked on the phone for hours, talking as though the distance and troubles between them never existed. Consequently, it would be one single conversation that would shatter their relationship.  Eleanor received a phone call from her on a cold winter day, informing Eleanor her parents had died suddenly in a car accident.

     There were arrangements to be made and Eleanor was deeply needed at home and was asked to come back.  At first Eleanor could not respond, for this was the first time her parents were mentioned and it was to be the last.  Once again blind and egotistical, Eleanor made a decision that would the door on her family once more, she said no, she would not return.

     Tears welled up in Eleanor’s eyes as she replayed her life in her solitude of darkness. She knew the pain and the hurt she would suffer because of that decision and the emptiness she still felt.  It was because of the emptiness she slipped so easily down the spiral staircase into hell.  She tried to fill the empty void with meaningless items, thinking it would help her escape.  She bounced from relationship to relationship, all abusive.  And when men were not abusing her, she was abusing herself through drugs and alcohol.

     It has only been a year and with the help of friends like Carol and Julie that Eleanor pulled herself out of that rut.  And yet now, she could not help but think she was being shot down once again.  All she could feel was despair and ugliness.  Ashamed of all the chance she took with life and now the painful consequences she must bare.  Her last image was one of a young headstrong woman, so much like herself, yet stable and successful. Eleanor eventually cried herself to sleep.

*                        *                           *

             It was well past one in the afternoon when Eleanor awoke.  She forced herself out of bed.  Without taking a shower or combing through her hair, Eleanor proceeded to put on a pair of sweats and tennis shoes, without socks.  She grabbed her keys, left the small cluttered apartment and went for a walk.  After passing hordes of people on the street and listening to endless beep, honks and screeches, Eleanor found herself at a nearby park.  She sat down on a swing and took off her shoes.  She ran her toes through the cold, wet sand. 

   As she mulled over past events from the day before, she slowly realized what her life now entailed.  She knew that was the word spread there would be a mixture of reactions. Some people will be horrified with her and avoid her, like Julie suddenly pulling her hand away. However there will be others waiting for her with open arms ready to accept her with all her faults.  But the hardest thing for Eleanor to accept was not the fact that she was sick or that she was pregnant but that she was going to go through this alone.  No family, but then again that’s my fault, she will never forgive me for what I have done, she’ll hold too much against me for that, Eleanor thought idly.  She found herself lost in a world of confusion, darkness and uncertainty. 

   And then something grabbed Eleanor out of despair and back into the fresh sunlight of the day.  Before her stood a young girl with strawberry blond hair and sparkling blue eyes.  In her sand and dirt stained hands she held a bunch of dandelions.  “Here these are for you,” she said shoving the flowers up to Eleanor’s face, almost smearing her nose in the yellow powder. Eleanor couldn’t help but laugh as she took the flowers from the child’s hand.  “So what are these for?” she asked the little girl who couldn’t be more than five.        “Cause you looked sad,” she replied then added “Mommy says they are weeds but I tink they’re purty!” Then smiling the little girl promptly spun herself around and wondered back to the sandbox which held other children, laughing and playing in the warm afternoon sun.  Eleanor looked down at the dandelions and stated rubbing her fingers across the pedals making her fingertips yellow with the powder.  Eleanor staring at the child, now playing in the sandbox knew what she had to do. “Julie’s right,” she said to herself, “It’s about time. And I got nothing to lose that is not already lost in the first place.”  She jumped up from the swing pushing her feet clumsily back into her shoes and ran up to the strawberry blond, sparklingly blue eyed little girl and with a brief  “Thank you” she kissed the child cheek.  Eleanor could hear the child giggling as she started running, actually more like skipping back to her apartment.

*                      *                  *

   It was early evening and Eleanor sat at the same corner table as the night before.  This time it was the dinner rush and the restaurant was alive with action.  The waitresses were swirling around tables to the kitchen to give orders and back again with trays of food in their arms.  The conversations of the customers collided in sharp contrast with the scraping of silverware with plates.  Eleanor sat way back in her chair, her feet swung back and forth as she played with a charm on her necklace. She took a sip of coffee.  Her eyes never left the main entrance. It was ten minutes past the appointed time and she was still alone.  She began to question if this meeting was going to take place.  She looked down into her cup of coffee, again she felt lost in the darkness of the liquid.

          “Eleanor.”

Eleanor looked up and was greeted by a strawberry blonde, blue eyed woman, and was struck by how much she resembled her mother.  “Beverly,” she managed to get out of her throat, “Please take a seat. I am glad you came, would you like something, I can get the waitress over here if you wish.”  Her sister pulled out the chair and stiffly sat down. “No, that’s all right, I am not hungry,” was Beverly’s answer to Eleanor’s rambling. Eleanor shifted in her seat. “I am glad you came really.” A nod was her sister’s only response.  Eleanor glanced down looking at the blue and white tablecloth. “I guess I have a lot to explain.” At first there was no response but she could feel her sister’s cold defense penetrating stare, and then her sister softly asked, “Why weren’t you there? Why did you say no?”

     Eleanor didn’t answer right away.  She kept her eyes drawn to the table. She could hear the restaurant starting to die down from the evening’s rush.  Eleanor shuffled her feet, shifted in her seat and finally looked up at her sister.  Beverly’s light gray-blue met Eleanor’s brown ones. Eleanor could see the hurt and anger behind those eyes. “ I don’t understand, Eleanor,” her sister continued, “It was their funeral, what could they have done?”  Tears welled up in Eleanor’s eyes. “I don’t know Bev. Stubbornness, arrogance, foolishness?” Eleanor voice sounded desperate and defensive shook her head. She then added, “I can understand if you just want to yell at me and then leave.”

          Beverly took Eleanor’s hands in hers and carefully looked at her little sister. Beverly’s faced showed the pain and hurt from the past years still in her heart but as she continued to stare at her fragile looking sister, it also showed an understanding that her sister was crying out for help and needed her but didn’t know how. “Eleanor, tell me, why did you ask me to come here tonight?” Beverly asked emphasizing you.  Eleanor looked at her sister’s hands wrapped so gently and loving around her own.  The words stuck themselves to the dry walls of Eleanor’s throat. She took a sip of water, looked carefully into Beverly’s eyes and said, “I need you Beverly, I have come to a cross road in my life and you are the only one to help me with what I am about to do.”

                   “All you have to do is ask. After all these years of pain and anguish, I still love you. Nothing, nothing will change that.”

                   “I always knew that Bev, but was too childish to admit it.” Eleanor continued, “I am pregnant.”

Beverly looked lovingly at her sister, eyes shinning. “If you need anything El, you know I’ll be there. And I know Joseph will be happy to have a new cousin to play with.”

Eleanor dropped her eyes to the table. The following words would be the most difficult to say for she had not even spoken them herself.  “Bev, there’s more, she paused, “the past has finally caught up with me, I have AIDS.”

     Tears filled Beverly’s eyes, she tried to blink them back with no avail. She said no words to her sister, just gave her a hug and held Eleanor tight in her arms.

*                    *                *

  

 

Washington D.C.

   A young woman with blonde hair, red-highlights glistened in the afternoon sun, stood on the ground before the Washington Monument.  She stood in front of a 3 by 3-foot panel of cloth, which was surrounded, by other larger panels decorated in various patterns and designs. Sitting on the ground, curiously looking at the drawings and designs of the panel was a five year old, blond hair, brown eyed little girl.  She looked up at the older woman and squinted from the glaring sun. “Is that mommy?” she asked pointing to a picture woven into the cloth.

          “Yes honey, it is,” the woman said in a soft loving voice.

          “What’s da dandelion for?” she asked running her hand over the embroidered flower.

The older woman sat down besides the little girl placing her on her lap.  She smiled as the child looked up innocently waiting for an answer.  “Well Eleanor, let me tell you a story that starts about five years ago in late summer at small doctor’s office...”