What would you do if you found a book, a journal hidden away, filled with secrets—things you weren’t meant to know; things you should’ve known from the beginning?
So the question remains, how well does anyone really know his or her own spouse, sister, brother, mother, or father?
You could be living under the same roof for five, ten, even twenty years, and not really know one another. Even before they became your significant other, did their parents or siblings know them better than anyone else did? Did your family keep things hidden?
Siblings don’t always share their secrets with each other. They are not close. They most likely won’t get along with one another until they become adults, and still maybe even then, not see eye to eye!
What if you’re an only child, no one with which to share anything? What if one-day you stumble across a secret journal that your so-called loved ones have been hiding from you? What would you do? Of course, you would read it. You wouldn’t be able to help yourself. You would be too curious the moment you opened the book and read the first line. Especially, if you saw your name written as one of the words.
What if everything you thought you knew about your family, your spouse, your lover were all lies? Something they thought was better kept hidden from the one person they supposedly loved the most.
Even then, no one really knows anyone, do they?
I opened the rear door of my grey Infiniti Sedan and grabbed my briefcase. I decided this morning I’d have my second graders work on an art project about what they did over their long weekend. I, on the other hand, had spent most of my time on the sofa with my feet elevated.
I was nearly six months pregnant and feeling the fatigue in my legs and feet. My job as a schoolteacher had me standing for long periods at a time. I knew I’d eventually have to start teaching my pupils from my chair, as much as possible.
A strong breeze ruffled my light brown shoulder-length hair. I brushed the hair away from my eyes, tucking several strands behind my ear. I closed the rear car door and made my way inside the school.
Every morning, I’d stop at the front office to gather papers from my mailbox and chat with my friend, Veronica Rowan.
Veronica was a secretary in the front office. She answered the phones and assisted anyone that came into the office needing help or advice about school-related issues. She also helped with daily tasks, when needed.
When my husband Tim and I moved from Florida to Illinois after college, I didn’t know anyone in town. The first time I had met Veronica was when I started teaching at Haven Elementary—ten years ago.
I considered Veronica a good friend. Not a best friend, like my two friends Alexis and Ashley, but still a friend no less. I am a person with trust issues, dating back to my teens. Once I made the choice of trusting you and accepting you into my life, you became someone dear to me. The worst mistake anyone could make was to betray that trust, break that bond! A cheating boyfriend with your best friend would do that to you. As I got older, I knew who my friends really were. Too many times, I was burned and left to pick up the pieces.
Once a month, Veronica and I would accompany each other to the library for our mystery book club. On occasion, we’d get together for dinner at my house or sometimes, Veronica’s. Veronica’s boyfriend Pat Atkins, who worked with Tim at a law firm they both leased and shared, would play pool downstairs in the man cave, while the two of us sat and talked about the latest fashion, school, and the next book we were going to read.
“Good morning, Carla,” Veronica sang.
“Good morning,” I replied, smiling back at her.
“Oh!” Veronica shrieked. “I love your dress. It’s perfect for the weather we’ve been having.” Her blue eyes sparkled in the fluorescent light.
“Thank you. I’ve been wanting to wear it before I got too big.” This morning I had chosen a maternity dress with a floral design that flowed past my knees. I usually wore maternity pants, but with the temperatures reaching the mid-seventies to eighties these past few days in February, of all months, I wanted to stay as comfortable as possible.
“Yes. A little too warm for this time of year, but I won’t complain,” I expressed. Even though I was from Ohio, I honestly missed living in Florida where the days are always warm; the thought lingered in my mind.
The phone rang before Veronica could reply. She raised her pointer finger to me, indicating to give her a minute. As Veronica talked on the phone, I whispered that I’d see her later and waved goodbye. Veronica nodded and continued her conversation on the phone, while twisting her finger in a lock of sandy blonde hair, resting on her shoulder.
I left the office and walked down the hall towards my classroom. My eyes sketched over the drawings that were hung on the wall between each classroom. The pictures taped to the wall told me what was taught in that specific class. The science room, where the third graders were taught, had poster boards with different types of weather on them.
Social Studies, also done by third graders, had photos of every president that had served in the United States, and on the other side of the door hung the Declaration of Independence.
When I came to the next room, I stopped and admired the drawings on the wall. My second graders drew the pictures. I couldn’t get over how imaginative they were at such a young age. Their dreams expressed and painted on paper.
For a moment, my thoughts went to my unborn child. Him or her, what would they grow up to be? There were many possibilities, of course. Every day that I’d spent teaching the next generation gave my life meaning. I smiled, unlocked the door to the room, and flipped on the lights.
Before leaving for the long weekend, I’d written, “Good morning second graders,” on the blackboard. I always thought of my students as my own and wanted them to feel comfortable and not overwhelmed in my class.
I made my way to the desk in front of me and opened the bottom drawer. Taking the straps of my purse off my shoulder, I set the bag inside and closed it. I laid my briefcase on the desk and pushed the buttons, until I heard a click. I took out the graded papers I did over the weekend and closed the lid, setting the case under the desk.
Within a few minutes, all of the students would arrive at school. I walked to the back of the room, grabbed a handful of colored drawing paper, and started placing one sheet on each desk.
The desks were placed four in a group so the children could interact with one another. Each desk had the student’s name written on colored paper and taped neatly at the top. When I finished, I stood at the chalkboard, writing five new words for my students to learn.
The room was quiet, except for the clacking of the chalk hitting the chalkboard. My mind focused only on what I was doing and nothing else. At peace with myself before my students were to arrive and fill the empty room.
I was so engrossed in my work that I didn’t hear or see the little girl standing in the doorway. I jumped, my heart pounding beneath my dress, when I heard the young voice speak to me.
“Good morning, Mrs. Michaels,” the little girl greeted.
I quickly turned, grabbing the ledge of the blackboard. Once I saw who it was, I smiled and exhaled the breath I was holding. Ever since my pregnancy, I’d become easier to scare. Something I’d have to get accustomed to.
“Good morning to you too, Samantha. How was your weekend?”
The smile on Samantha’s face turned to a frown from what I’d asked. Samantha with her wavy dirty-blonde hair, shrugged her shoulders, and without saying another word, turned and walked to the back of the room. She placed her paper bag lunch in a bin at the back of the class and took her seat.
I wasn’t surprised that Samantha was the first to arrive. In fact, I’d be more concerned if she weren’t here.
I watched as Samantha took her seat, looked at her hands, and then a single tear slid down her face. This wasn’t the first time I’d seen her cry, but I wished it was the last. Something inside me told me things were not going well at home. I’d noticed bruises on her arms and legs. When I had asked Samantha what had happened, she had replied that she fell off her bike or tripped over her toys that she’d left in the middle of the floor.
Of course, I thought for sure Samantha was lying to me. That she didn’t want me as her teacher to know what really happened to her. I felt certain that Samantha was being abused. When I confronted Principal Steve Clapton, he said he’d look into the situation and get back to me, but that had been weeks ago.
I walked up behind Samantha and combed my fingers gently over the girl’s soft waves. I placed a tissue in Samantha’s hand, and then whispered in her ear that everything would be all right and that I was here, if she needed someone to talk to. Samantha smiled, wiped the tears from her face and shoved the Kleenex in the pocket of her shorts.
Throughout the day as I taught my students, I kept my eye on Samantha. I wished with all my heart I could protect her from whomever was hurting her.
A thought came to me while I was at lunch. I’d send a note home with Samantha, requesting that her parents meet with me. I would start with how well Samantha was doing in my class, and then finesse in some questions about the bruises I’d noticed. If their story matched Samantha’s, then I’d try to believe that they weren’t abusing her.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The bell rang and I quickly glanced up at the clock. I couldn’t believe how fast the day had flown by. It felt like the students had just arrived, and now they were going home for the day.
Mrs. Larson from across the hall came over and gathered up the students. I was relieved it was Mrs. Larson’s day to take the kids to the buses. I was feeling extremely tired and was looking forward to putting my feet up when I got home.
Before the children left, I handed Samantha an envelope and requested that she give it to her parents when she arrived home from school. Samantha’s face clouded over with fear, but I reassured her that it was nothing to worry about. That I just wanted to meet with her mom and dad, and inform them of Samantha’s accomplishments and how proud I was of her and her artwork. Samantha then smiled and hurried out of the room with the other children to catch their bus.
After collecting the drawings from each desk, I made my way towards the front of the classroom. This morning I’d thought I felt a twinge, maybe a little pain. But, I had stopped worrying or at least I’d tried. I didn’t want to be one of those emotional pregnant women, filled with uneasiness. Even though I had reason to worry, this being my fifth pregnancy and the only one I’d carried this far into term.
Before I could reach the desk, I grabbed my belly as pain shot up through my mid-section, feeling like I’d been stabbed with a knife. Not that I’d ever been stabbed before, but this had to be the sensation.
My knees buckled from under me and I fell to the floor. Kneeling on all fours, I lifted my right hand to my belly. Warmth rolled down the length of my inner thigh. Using the hand that held my bulging belly, I maneuvered my body just enough to lift the floral print maternity dress and reached a hand underneath. When I brought my hand back in front of me, I saw red blood covering my fair skin.
My thoughts hazed over and returned to the children I taught. Class had ended and my students had left, just mere minutes ago. Second graders with all the other tragedies they would witness as they aged, shouldn’t have to see their teacher like this.
“No!” I gasped, as shooting pain spiraled through me. “This can’t be happening! Not now, not again!”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
As my mind desperately fought against what I knew my body was doing—trying to reject my baby—I couldn’t help but remember all I had been through. It flashed through my thoughts in quick, jagged scenes that showed the heartbreak I had been through that I was so sure this was a thing of the past. Was the past coming back to haunt me again?
Dr. Shaffer, my OB/GYN, had told me that everything was moving along as planned. I wasn’t having any morning sickness or complications. I was told the baby was fine, that everything seemed fine. My past pregnancies, I’d never made it to the second trimester.
When I asked about being tested, the doctor had first told me that since it was my first miscarriage, he couldn’t test me unless I continued to have them. The doctor assured me that many women had miscarriages; it was just the body’s way of rejecting the fetus, if there was something wrong with the fetus or the pregnancy. The doctor explained that sometimes a healthy embryo could be rejected if it had adhered to an area in the womb, which wouldn’t allow the fetus to develop correctly.
“This doesn’t happen often,” Dr. Shaffer had explained, “and usually it’s only with a first pregnancy. If you continue to miscarry then we will run tests to determine if there is something wrong with your embryotic eggs or the health of the womb itself.”
After the second miscarriage, the doctor ran a few tests, but every time he’d found nothing wrong. As time went by, I started having abdominal pain. Sometimes the pain was so intense, I had to crawl on my hands and knees to get from one room to the other. That’s when the doctor requested a laparoscopy to be performed.
After the surgery, the doctor informed me and my husband that I had Endometriosis and scar tissue throughout my abdominal area. He concluded that he removed all of the Endometriosis and scar tissue, and that I should be fine now and would be able to get pregnant without any more complications. Three-months later, I got pregnant, but lost that baby as well. Eight years of trying and five pregnancies later, I’d made it to my sixth month, almost to the third trimester.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Holding one hand on my belly, I inched my way to the front of the classroom. I reached for the corner of the desk and pulled myself up. The school phone lay just out of my reach.
I slowly made my way around the left side of the desk and slid my hand across the top towards the phone, while the right hand hugged the life inside me. Shooting pains came and went, but I could feel that the blood continued to seep.
A sharp cramp caused me to knock the phone out of its cradle as I screamed out in pain. I didn’t know if I had time to call my husband Tim and tell him what was happening. I knew I needed to get to the hospital, now—before it was too late. I pressed the speaker button and dialed the front office, waiting for Veronica to answer.
“Hey, I was just about to call you and see if you wanted to go to the bookstore with me,” Veronica said, her voice high and perky.
“Veronica, I need help,” I cried out. “Something’s wrong with the baby!”
“Oh, my God! Are you going into labor? Oh, my God, oh, my God,” Veronica kept shouting into the phone.
“I don’t know. There’s so much blood. Hurry, please!” I shouted.
Another contraction ripped through my abdomen, making me scream out in pain. My legs went weak and I took a step forward. My right foot caught the edge of the briefcase sticking out from under the desk. I went down, my head whacked the corner of the desk, and I fell to the floor. All went black…