Category Archives: Story

The Teddy Bear

Teddy Bear

A woman I’ll call Ana was tried for the murder of her 18-month-old son in Sacramento, California. A teddy bear should have been the least of her concerns, but it was always somewhere in the back of her mind.

Ana was the breadwinner of her household. She supported her infant son, the boy’s twin sister, their older sibling, and her boyfriend who was the children’s father. Ana worked in a restaurant in San Francisco where the minimum wage was higher. Because she didn’t own a car, commuting from Sacramento to San Francisco would have entailed a costly, twice-daily, six-hour ordeal involving the Sacramento light rail, a commuter bus, BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit), and walking. Ana made the difficult decision to sleep on friends’ couches and commute home to Sacramento only when she had days off – two to three times per month.

The coroner determined that when he died, Ana’s infant son had pneumonia, sepsis, and broken ribs that had healed. The infant was also malnourished. Police investigated for almost one year before prosecutors charged Ana and her boyfriend with murder.

After Ana and her boyfriend were arrested, social workers from children’s protective services removed the two remaining children from the home. As often happened with abandoned units, Ana’s apartment became an easy target for break-ins.

At trial, the prosecutor argued that Ana and her boyfriend were negligent in failing to get their son medical care that would have prevented the malnutrition and infection that led to his death. Ana’s attorney presented evidence that Ana saw the baby for only a few days each month, pointing the finger of neglect toward Ana’s boyfriend as the primary caretaker.

There was also testimony from experts that Ana was a battered woman who was not psychologically capable of standing up to her boyfriend’s decisions regarding the care of their children. Like most battered women, Ana had unconsciously recreated her past; her boyfriend was not the first man to abuse her.

Ana and her boyfriend were ultimately acquitted of murder, but her boyfriend was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and sent to prison. Ana was released from jail but would not be reunited with her two young children who were now living with a relative in another state.

Weeks later Ana was at a store and saw a man and a woman who were her neighbors at the apartment complex where she lived in Sacramento. She approached them and asked if they recognized her. Not only did they recognize her, they were excited to see her. “We have your bear!” they told her.

What this couple really had was the urn containing the ashes of Ana’s son. Knowing that the urn was inside the teddy bear, the couple had taken it from Ana’s abandoned apartment for safekeeping. These neighbors never visited Ana in jail and never took time off from work to attend her trial, but they managed to perform an important act of kindness that brought someone who had been through hell a needed dose of comfort and happiness.

Long after Ana’s pain, anguish, excitement, and joy have faded, she will need hope to rebuild her life. Whenever Ana looks at her teddy bear, she will think of her son. She will also be reminded that goodness and kindness endured as she went through hell. And she will remember to hope.

 

©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2017.

 

 

 

Red Padlock in Paris, Part 2

Red Padlock Part2

My favorite photos are those that tell a story. Copyright: Writing Wahine, 2016. 

Fantasies of a dramatic reunion melted away as they stood frozen at the sight of one another. The stillness belied their racing minds as they wondered what to do. An embrace might be presumptuous. A cold handshake seemed equally wrong.

He spoke first and breached the awkwardness between them. Although she felt a rush of infatuation as he spoke her name, she did nothing to give herself away. He leaned toward her, and they managed a stiff hug and polite pecks on both cheeks.

Looking to put their clumsy start behind them, they waded into the preliminaries. How nice it was to see one another… How well they looked… How long ago she moved to Paris… The assignment that brought him back… Aided by wine, they gradually became more comfortable, and for the rest of that evening, they journeyed back through the last eight years of their lives.

Trading stories about universities, jobs, moves, romances, travels, families, highs, and lows, they never noticed the parties of friends and lovers that came and went at the tables around them. Their server knew it was safe to ignore them after he brought their second bottle of wine.

As they talked, each made a conscious effort not to get caught staring. They studied each other secretly.

     Her hair, darker and shorter. Her face, still exquisite. Her hands, still so small and delicate…

     From cute to handsome. Not as shy, now more poised. That smile, still boyish…

It was risky to be so preoccupied. One nonsensical response or question could amount to a tacit confession: I’m sorry, I wasn’t listening. I was too busy adoring everything about you.

By the time they noticed that chairs were stacked on the tables around them, the only question left unasked was the one that mattered most. Not daring enough to venture down that road, they were relieved that it was time to go.

Outside the cafe a taxi pulled up quickly, and the driver’s gaze made them self-conscious. Robbed of their private moment, they hurriedly exchanged polite kisses on both cheeks and said goodnight.

As she sat alone in the back seat of the taxi that he watched drive away, they both felt a familiar twinge of heartache. But there were no tears this time, just thoughts of the red padlock on Pont d’Arcole and the promise they made that day.

 

©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2016.

Red Padlock in Paris

IMG_3311

My favorite photos are those that tell a story. Copyright Writing Wahine, 2016.

They met as teenagers spending a summer in Paris, he with his grandparents, she with her father and stepmother. What each dreaded at the start turned out to be a summer of first love. Sweet innocence. Desperate pining. Carefree afternoons on the lawns of Sacre Coeur. Strolls along the Seine. In those long days of summer, they had magic before they even knew what magic was.

But as summer drew to a close, a quiet came over them. A careful avoidance of the subject, a purposeful attempt to stretch out time. Moments of childlike laughter became punctuated with uneasiness, each trying not to upset the other. Their hearts were breaking, and they did not have words for the pain.

On their last afternoon together, he held her hand as they walked to the Pont d’Arcole. His other hand was clenched in his pocket, wrapped around the summer, holding fast to her. They promised to love each other forever the way young lovers do, then he reached into his pocket for the red padlock with a white heart. Wiping the tears from her eyes, she smiled and laughed softly when he held it out to her. They fastened the padlock on the bridge where they shared their first and last kiss and said goodbye.

Years later he sat in a quiet corner of a cafe, nervously tapping the empty glass in front of him. Life and distance had made it easy to leave her in the past, but now he was back in Paris. Suddenly he glimpsed a figure making its way past the crowded bar. The figure hesitated before it started walking toward his table. Gradually the flickering candlelight revealed the girl from that summer who frequented his dreams, and he was once again the boy clenching a red padlock in his pocket.

 

©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2016.