My Life with Robin (Part 2)
Ch. 1 Ruthie Is Born
When Ruthie Ann was halfway out the birth canal, the doctor told Brenda to take a deep breath and prepare to push. When she did, Ruthie’s fragile, premature, little body slipped back into the birth canal, depriving her of precious oxygen for 45 seconds. In a panic, the doctor reached inside and pulled Ruthie into the world. It seemed as though the physician made a horrible mistake, which would ultimately lead to Ruth Ann’s physical disability, later diagnosed as Cerebral Palsy. However, because I am from the non-physical world and understand things from a higher perspective, I will tell you that this event was no accident caused by a doctor. In actuality, this act was the fulfillment of Ruthie’s own spiritual destiny. In a spiritual sense, she already knew the difficulties she was about to encounter in this lifetime. In a moment, her spirit hesitated as she tried to retreat to the warmth and comfort of her mother’s womb just one second before she was fully present in the physical world. It was in that second Ruthie questioned her resolve to fulfill her destiny. She did not feel ready to endure such hardships in the life that lay ahead. Understandably she tried to escape the difficulties that she would face by retreating back into her mother’s womb.
Brenda‘s aunt Blair was the first to arrive after Ruthie’s birth to lend her support. Blair appeared in church attire, which reflected her typical wardrobe choice whether she was planning to go to church or not. With her perfectly manicured nails she carried a matching handbag and wore a hat that accentuated the pattern of her yellow dress. Like Brenda, she would pass for a catalog ad model but she did not wear gloves because she felt they were not practical. Besides, she loved to get her hands dirty in the garden or when doing handiwork around the house. Aunt Blair was shocked by Ruthie’s little body and that she could fit Ruthie’s entire body in the palm of her hand. Blair recalled the descriptions that Rita had made about her new grandbaby, but from the moment she touched Ruthie, Blair felt a maternal connection that far exceeded what was typical of a great-aunt. She was a strong woman, but she found herself fighting to hold back her tears when she gazed at baby Ruthie, who was completely blue on the left side of her body. In fact, for about two weeks, the doctors were unsure Ruthie would survive. After Blair‘s marriage fell apart, Mabel and Blair moved in together. This was an extremely hard time for Blair because she was much more traditional in her dealings with the world.
Aunt Mabel, the oldest of the three girls was extremely maternal and protective over Blair and Rita. Like Rita, she possessed the good genes that made her look ten years younger than her actual age. When her sister Blair caught her husband cheating on her, it was Mabel who supportively encouraged Blair to end the marriage. The two women moved into Mabel‘s house together, which happened to be the same house Mabel had lived in for the last 25 years, since she moved from Texas to Washington DC. Thankfully, Mabel was much more progressive in her thinking about a woman’s place in the world. As an avenue to exercise her liberty, she chose to express herself through fashion. Unlike her sisters, Mabel was very fond of wearing pants in a time when women really didn't. It was quite shocking when she came out in a dress on any other day but Sunday. She, like her sister Rita, had jet black hair, and similar to her sister Blair, also had very fair skin and light blue eyes. Mable was very tall and slender. She did not worry about what she ate or her waistline. She was blessed with a very high metabolism that allowed her to maintain her weight regardless of her favorite ritualistic breakfast consisting of two scrambled eggs, two pieces of bacon, a biscuit with grape jelly, and cheese grits washed down with freshly squeezed orange juice. Mabel was known for coordinating her outfits, but more often than not, she selected shorts cut off below the knee with a matching polo shirt, accessorized by an occasional flamboyant hat. The funniest part about their home life was that, although Mabel often dressed in pants and was sporty, she was responsible for most domestic parts of the housework. She indulged in the art of cooking in which she reached a level of mastery. She made everything from scratch and provided a different meal every night as though she had a whole team of chefs assisting her in this accomplishment.
Aunt Mabel and Aunt Blair sat on pins and needles for weeks after Ruthie’s birth. A shot of terror ran through them at the sound of the phone ringing. They feared their sister Rita, Brenda’s mother, would call to tell them that the baby had died. During this stressful time, they became accustomed to living with knots in their stomachs.
The baby received her name Ruthie because according to her grandmother, Rita, the name Ruth stood for hope in the Hebrew language, and from the Bible, Ruth stood out as a very strong female figure.
Brenda and Rita decided Ruth was an appropriate name for the baby and they hoped the name would inspire her to survive. After two months' time, Aunt Mabel visited Ruthie in the hospital; the baby had turned the corner for the better, and she learned that Ruthie’s prognosis was for a strong chance for survival. Mabel was in awe over the tiny “little fighter” and she was touched by what she saw in the neonatal intensive care unit at Holy Cross Hospital in Washington DC, where Ruthie had been transferred after her birth. The facility there was better equipped to care for a premature baby with special needs, rather than Sibley’s hospital across town where she was born. When Mable arrived, she looked in on the tiny baby who had grown to a staggering six and and a half pounds, but was still enveloped in an incubator due to her small size. Brenda sat beside the incubator with her hands reaching inside to touch the baby, virtually ignoring the tubes and monitors that recorded the infant’s every breath and heartbeat. As Brenda sat there, she sang softly “People” by Barbra Streisand. Brenda was a huge Barbra Streisand fan and always turned to music during emotionally difficult times to soothe herself. It was one of the few comforts that she felt qualified to offer her new, tiny, infant. When she finished singing, Mabel gently tapped on the window to get Brenda’s attention. She quickly removed herself from beside Ruthie and met her Aunt Mabel in the hallway with a concerned look.
“You’re singing was beautiful,” Aunt Mabel said, as Brenda came out the door.
“Thank you,” said Brenda. “It’s about time you got here! Why have you waited so long to come and see the baby?”
“Well, Blair has been driving me crazy ever since she saw the baby the day after her birth. She told me that every time the phone rang, she would jump out of her skin, worrying that someone was calling to tell her that, just maybe, Ruthie died. So, I couldn’t bring myself to come see her if she wasn’t going to live. It was hard enough just to imagine what she looked like. I knew the second I laid eyes on her I would fall in love with her and then it would be twice as hard to accept if something bad were to happen. When the doctor told your mother that Ruthie had a pretty good chance of survival and that she had put on weight and she lived this long, I felt like it was safer to come and see her. How are you doing? You look pretty well,” Aunt Mabel said.
Quickly changing her demeanor to one of aggression, Brenda snapped, “How do you think I’m doing? I just had a baby a few weeks ago that will probably be permanently disabled, I don’t even know what the results are going to be, and I can’t even really hold her properly yet. That was a stupid question.”
Taking two steps back, Aunt Mabel touched Brenda’s shoulder and said, "I didn’t mean to upset you, I just wanted to see how you were doing today, not necessarily overall. I know this must be difficult."
“First of all, you have no idea how difficult it’s been, and second of all if you really wanted to help me out you would’ve brought me something to eat; I haven’t had anything substantial since the baby was born.”
Knowing how Brenda would respond, Aunt Mabel reached into her oversized bag and pulled out a tunafish sandwich with tiny chopped up pieces of apple and onion, just the way Brenda liked it, and said, ”I had a feeling you’d say something along those lines; therefore, I brought you a sandwich.“
Looking surprised, Brenda said, “Oh, thank you.” As she unwrapped the sandwich, she asked, “What kind is it?”
With a big smile on her face Aunt Mabel said, "Oh, it’s tunafish with apples, just the way you like.”
Taking a huge bite of the sandwich, nearly devouring the first half as though she hadn’t eaten in years, Brenda said, with her mouth half-full, “It’s delicious.”
With half a smile and a sigh, Aunt Mabel said, “Well, you need some substance to keep your strength up. If you get sick, you cannot be of any use to the baby.”
With her mouth still half-full, Brenda said, "Well, really the baby is better off in here than she will be when released to me, because I don’t even have a place to live.”
Aunt Mabel said, “Brenda, what are you talking about?”
Brenda took a deep breath and said, “Well, I don’t know if my mother told you, but Jeff left a week ago and I haven’t heard from him. Without his help financially, there’s no way I can pay for rent, which means I’m going to lose the apartment.”
Taking a deep breath in, Aunt Mabel said, “Nonsense, you don’t need that apartment anyway. You and the baby will move in with your Aunt Blair and me. You can stay with us as long as you need. I’m sure the baby is going to need a lot of extra care and you will have many doctors appointments. You’re going to need some help as it is, and it’s just better if you are close and at-hand, under our roof.”
”How does Aunt Blair feel about that?” Brenda asked.
“She was the one who suggested it, apparently your mother called to tell her about Jeff a couple of hours after he left. You know, maybe he just couldn’t handle the fact that something was wrong with the baby. I mean, you know it was very difficult for him to even talk about his younger sister who passed away, and she had been disabled. Maybe it brought back all that pain for him.”
Standing, looking angry like a lion who has to defend its honor, Brenda’s eyes turned red like a burner underneath a boiling pot, and she said, in a rather loud voice, “Of course you’re always going to take the man’s side before even asking me what happened. It’s already not his fault. Poor Jeff, he couldn’t handle the stress of having a premature baby because of all the pain he had to endure when his sister Sara was born and later passed away from complications with pneumonia. Poor, poor him!”
Taking another step backwards, Aunt Mabel said, “Listen, Brenda; I wasn’t saying he was right, I wasn’t even saying I agree with it, I was just trying to rationalize why he possibly deserted you like that at such a difficult time. You know that your Aunt Blair and I will always take your side. We will always be there for you and the baby.”
Five months later, when the baby was seven months old, the doctors decided that Ruthie was healthy enough to be discharged. On the day that she was released, Brenda was wearing bellbottom jeans with a pretty pink and white peasant shirt and matching pink platform shoes. The nurses carefully wrapped the baby in a pink blanket with a yellow hat, and Brenda carried her outside to Aunt Blair‘s 10-year-old blue and brown station wagon, which was well-maintained. Upon entering the car, there was still the slightest hint of the new car scent that lingers in a car that has not been used. The car got used but Blair took great care of all things because of her respect for a dollar. Surprisingly, her tendency to focus on money did not in any way make her miser or selfish. If she were down to her last 10 cents she would divide it into two nickels and give you half. She never worried about having money, she was resolute in her belief that whatever was needed would be provided for by those with a generous heart.
On the way home, Aunt Blair explained to Brenda that they had remodeled the guest room in their house and fashioned the room for her and Ruthie. In the room, Aunt Blair had proudly placed a new crib with matching Holly Hobby bedding she had bought on sale at Sears and Roebuck, remembering that Holly Hobby was one of Brenda’s favorite childhood characters. For Brenda’s comfort, Blair, with the help of Mabel, had also prepared the old bed that Brenda had often slept on during her preteen years when she lived with her aunts while her mother, Rita, had fallen into a whirlwind of drunken numbness as she slowly became a full-time alcoholic.
When they got home, Mabel stood on the front porch waiting for them to arrive in her red and white checkered apron with a dishcloth in her hand. When Brenda reached the top of the stairs she said, “You have a girl,” handing the baby to her aunt.
Looking down at the baby, Mabel‘s heart filled up with love and hope, as though she was given a new lease on life. She noticed the baby was staring right into her eyes, as if to say I’m here now, with a sacred secret that she was not ready to share. Ruthie had only a small amount of peach fuzz spread across the top of her tiny head, and it was clear that she was going to have light hair. She also clearly had hazel eyes that, early on, looked as though they focused on what she was looking at. For a baby, everyone was surprised at how rosy Ruthie’s lips were in color, and they looked as though they would be full, as she continued to grow. Much like her mother, Ruthie was very fair-skinned, and Rita would lovingly tell Brenda that the baby had the same “diamond eyes“ that she had as a baby.
Brenda spent the next eight months trying to forget that her child had special needs by going to bars and clubs with various men and fighting with Ruthie’s father, Jeff, who wanted to see the baby as soon as he learned that she had survived. Brenda could not be reasoned with and so Jeff made arrangements to see the baby with Aunt Blair and Aunt Mabel’s blessing. Ruthie’s great aunts took her to all the specialists and doctors appointments. Jeff was also giving them money once a week for Ruthie. He knew if he gave it to Brenda, the baby would never get it put toward her care. So every Friday night, when it was pretty safe to assume that Brenda would be starting her crusade into oblivion with the help of Jack Daniels or Captain Morgan at the local bar of choice, Jeff would come over to Brenda‘s aunts’ house, hold the baby, hear the latest about her diagnosis, development, and gain motivation to apply for law school to someday give her the life his little angel deserved. Jeff was also able to sing as well, and although he did not reveal it very often, he also adored Barbra Streisand’s music and would sing, “Send in the Clowns” or something else from her collection. Jeff was convinced that Ruthie’s color improved whenever he sang to her, and he knew he was put on the planet to give Ruthie life so that she may do great things no matter what her prognosis was. He felt sure of this every time he laid eyes on her. Jeff could not wait until his next Friday night date with his little girl. Things were uneventful until Ruthie was a year and a half and evaluated by the practitioners at Easter Seals.
It was eight o’clock in the morning; Blair knew the chances of getting Brenda to answer the phone was slim unless she had not yet gone to bed the night before. As luck would have it, Brenda answered the phone, sounding as though she was on top of the world.
“Hello,” said Blair a bit taken aback.
“Hi, Aunt Blair, how are you?” said Brenda.
“Well, I know you’ve been busy working, but Ruthie has her evaluation results appointment tomorrow, and I think it is important that you try to make it if you can,” replied Blair.
Now with a completely different tone of anger, Brenda said, “You don’t really want me there because if you did, why would you wait until the day before to tell me about it?”
“Brenda, Mabel, your mother, and I have been trying to contact you for a week now.”
Before Blair could finish, Brenda said, “That’s bullshit! Because I told you I would be staying with Mary for a while and surprise, surprise, you got me here this morning the day before the baby’s appointment.”
Trying to appease Brenda in her sweetest voice, Aunt Blair said, “You are right, we did not try hard enough to reach you and I am sorry. It won’t happen again, can you please meet us at the appointment?“
“Damn right I’ll be there, and after the appointment, I am taking the baby home with me to our new apartment on 43rd St in DC,” answered Brenda with satisfaction in her voice and hung up the phone.
That night, Blair filled Mabel in about the conversation with Brenda, and her plans to move downtown with the baby. Blair was very upset because she was not able to have children and she loved Ruthie as her own; and even though the baby was so young, she felt like Ruthie really listened to her and there was an uncanny sense of peace that washed over her as she cared for the baby who rarely cried, loved to be cuddled, and loved music of any kind, including Aunt Blair‘s tone-deaf rendition of “Three Blind Mice.” Blair decided to call Rita to try and get some emotional support from her other sister. It was not long before Blair realize that calling Rita was a mistake.
“Listen, Blair,” Rita said five minutes into the conversation. “I know how badly you wanted a baby and how you blamed John’s affair primarily on your inability to have his child, but, you cannot be Ruthie’s mother, you are her great aunt. That is it, and if Brenda wants to do right by the baby and care for her, maybe this is a blessing God sent to help Brenda finally straighten up and fly right." Without taking a breath, Rita continued, "I’ve been praying ever since Brenda‘s father left, that God would do something to help Brenda be the happy person she was before Jeff left and alcohol moved in and took over my life. Now that AA has saved her from that demon, maybe Ruthie is the missing piece to heal the fragments of what we have left, after all of this pain that sometimes resembles our family.”
After staying silent for what seemed like ages, Blair answered, with a heavy heart, “I think you’re right about Ruthie. She is just what we needed and not a minute too soon. I don’t want to step on Brenda’s toes as Ruthie’s mother, it’s just that the baby still needs a lot of care and I’m worried about her being in an apartment in the middle of DC.”
Taking a minute to think before speaking, Rita let out a big sigh and said, “I hear what you’re saying but I know there’s more to it than that. I remember how you took over as Brenda’s mother when I was busy getting drunk. Don’t get me wrong, I love you for it because I cannot imagine what would’ve happened if you and Mabel hadn’t stepped in back then, but Brenda needs to have some direction and purpose to help her put her life in perspective. Maybe the baby will help ground her and it is our job to serve as a support system on Brenda’s terms to make our family more stable.”
Hearing Ruthie crying, Blair said, “Alright I will step back, but the baby is crying so I will call you after the appointment tomorrow.”
“OK, good night. Give Ruthie a kiss,” replied Rita.
“Will do, good night,” said Blair before hanging up the phone and rushing to where Ruthie lay on her stomach crying. As she picked up the baby, she thought how strange, she never wakes up during the night anymore. “Is it your teeth?” Blair quietly and calmly asked the baby. Blair tried to soothe Ruthie by putting Belladonna drops on her gums, but she wailed in pain. Nothing seemed to help.
It wasn’t long before aunt Mabel stood before them and asked, “What’s the matter?”
“I think it’s her gums that are hurting but the usual remedies are not helping. If I didn’t know better, I might think she was worried about the appointment tomorrow,” Blair said with a slight grin.
“Oh, sure,” answered Mabel chuckling as she continued, “if that is the case, then you had better let me comfort her because she probably can pick up on your concerns about tomorrow also.” With a huge grin on her face, Mabel reached for the baby.
In a matter of seconds, Ruthie stopped crying. Blair and Mabel looked at each other confused as to why the crying had stopped, because the baby just stared up at the two of them as though to silently confirm the little joke that had just taken place between the women about the appointment the next day.
Mabel and Blair were silent almost the whole way to the medical center where the Easter Seals office was located. Reaching into the car to get Ruthie, Blair noticed Brenda stepping out of her beat-up, golden-brown station wagon, clearly dressed in last night’s bar-hopping outfit.
“Oh my,” Mabel said when she saw Brenda approaching in last night’s cocktail dress.
With that, Blair shot Mabel a look and said, “Brenda does the best she can, I suppose, and at least she made it here.”
“I know, I know, I wasn’t going to say a thing,” responded Mabel, just before Brenda reach their car.
“Hi,” Brenda replied, “let me have my beautiful baby girl.” Once Ruthie was in Brenda’s arms, the three women marched into the medical building as though they were preparing for battle.
The hallways were long with plain white walls except for the occasional re-print painting, complete with expensive frames. The three ladies finally reached a wooden door with a gold metal sign that read Children’s Center. Aunt Mabel reached out and opened the door to find a receptionist in a space very different from the cold hallways. The walls were filled with cartoon character murals in every primary color. A young woman dressed in scrubs covered in smiling sunflowers came out from behind the receptionist window and said, “Please go have a seat. The doctor is running a bit behind, but you are the next ones to go in.”
The three ladies sat down in the next three seats available and after 20 minutes passed, Brenda got up and begin pacing with Ruthie in her arms until she said, "The baby is getting fussy, how the hell can they expect people to just sit here and wait as though we have nothing to do in this world?”
Mabel and Blair looked at Ruthie who was being bounced up and down in Brenda’s arms although; She appeared to be quite content as they all waited to be called back to hear the doctor’s evaluation.
Then, turning towards Brenda, Blair said, “I know it is difficult to sit here and wait, but it’s only been about 20 minutes and I’m sure they’ll be calling us back there to speak with the doctor very soon.”
Ten minutes later, the receptionist with the sunflower scrubs walked over to where they were and said, “The doctor will see you now.”
Upon hearing that, all three women got up almost at the same time and headed down the small hallway this time, to the second door on the right while Ruthie still remained in her mother’s arms.