“Don’t worry Beth. Your secret is safe with me. No one ever will ever find out what happened back then. We are the last two who know, and I’m taking it to the grave with me just as I promised our folks I would. You know it’s a miracle that nothing ever came out all those years,” whispered Ruth in a barely audible voice to her younger and only sibling Beth.
“Ruth how can you be thinking about me at a time like this of all times. The only miracle we should be thinking about and praying for here is a miracle for you to get better. It can still happen you know.”
“Be realistic little sister. Miracles don’t happen to someone with terminal cancer. If I was going to have a miracle, it should have happened long before now. And don’t put in my obituary, ‘She fought a long courageous battle with cancer.’ I’m not courageous. I’m giving up. I’m ready to go. I pray each night to pass away peacefully in my sleep. That’s the miracle that I pray for,” replied Ruth as she lay in her hospice bed.
Silence engulfed the stale-aired room. Tears welled up in Beth’s eyes. She was well aware of her secret that was going to the grave with her sister and glad for it. Glad knowing that she Beth would be the last one to take it with her when she went.
“I was lucky,” reflected Ruth. “I had a full and wonderful life. I had a good loyal adoring husband in Mark; God rest his soul. We had a long, happy, wonderful, joyous, prosperous life together. Got that beautiful home on the lake that we always wanted. I got a college education, got a good job teaching, got a good pension and benefits. Finally got that little girl I wanted, after those three little rascal boys of ours. I was truly blessed, and I’m not afraid of dying. I’m ready to check out. So you can stop worrying about me and get back to your normal life.” She coughed and gagged a little and then sucked in some deep heavy breaths.
Beth reflected on her own life in comparison to that of her older sister’s. She had an associate degree, not a B.A., still worked at the same small accounting office with no pension and no benefits, had had a husband and had gotten rid of him, had remained single ever after, and worst of all, she had no children.
“Yes, you were lucky Ruth. I wish that I had been as fortunate as you. Your daughter was so cute when she was little. Looks just like you. And as for those little rascal boys of yours as you call them, well they all turned out to be fine young gentleman. I wish that I could have had a family like that.”
Beth stared out the window into another world, the world of her past, thinking about her life.
“Bruce had a little girl you know. Looks just like him I heard.”
“Quit thinking about all that,” commanded Ruth. “Let it go, that ended years ago. Like I said no one will ever know after I go except you.”
But Beth wouldn’t drop it, couldn’t let it go.
“I heard when he moved away, that he moved in with his mother in law after his father in law died and that she supported him and her daughter while he went to college and got his engineering degree. Then he got that good government job with the Corps of Engineers and started his family.”
Beth’s bitterness was palpable.
“Let it go Beth please,” begged Ruth again. “When you were going with him he was working at cement factory driving a truck. Mom and Dad thought that he had no future. They didn’t want you married to someone with no future. In their own weird perverted way, they did what they thought best for you.” Ruth gulped air, caught her breath.
But Beth kept on dinging on the same subject.
“Yes, he wasn’t good enough for our folks. That’s why they broke us up. They never saw his potential. I always knew that he had potential. Sure he was just a kid then, but he had plans to go to junior college at night and work during the day to get enough money for his last two years and get his degree. But our folks were so sure that he was a loser, that he would never amount to anything. He wasn’t good enough for their precious darling little daughter. But I continued to date him anyway didn’t I ? And then after I got pregnant, well you know the rest of the story.”
“Enough. Drop it please,” demanded Ruth.
But Beth once again paid no attention to her sister’s plea; she was all worked up now.
“Worked out great for Bruce, didn’t it? Him marrying Mindy, Mindy’s father dying, and then moving out of town to live with his mother in law so she could support them while he went to college.”
“You’re repeating yourself Beth, and that’s not fair to Mindy’s mother. She was lonely and grieving after her husband died. She was glad to have them move in with her into that big old empty house of hers for the companionship. So what if her son in law got an education. She was glad to help. There’s nothing wrong with that,” Ruth stopped to catch her breath one more time. Her skeletal body ached all over. She was in slight numbing pain. The meds were wearing off.
“Let me rest for a minute please, I don’t want to argue with you anymore Beth,” she whispered.
Besides Beth’s secret, there was another secret that Ruth was taking to the grave with her. Something that was hers and hers alone. Something Beth never knew about Ruth. Something that happened to her when she was away at college in California.
Ruth had planned to tell Beth before she died so that Beth wouldn’t feel so alone. That she wouldn’t feel like she was the only one in the world who had a tragedy in her life. But what’s the point now she thought. Even her husband never knew and if she didn’t tell him, why should she tell her sister.
“You were indeed blessed Ruth to have those four children of yours. I wish I had a family,” Beth reiterated as she closed her eyes and tried to suppress her emotions.
Ruth said nothing in response out loud. To herself, she said, “I wish that I had kept my first daughter. Oh, how I wish that I had had both my daughters so that they could have known each other.”
“Bruce passed away last year you know. Had a heart attack way too young. Mindy, a widow just like her mother at age fifty-six. I should have kept in touch with Bruce. Why did I have to listen to my folks and do what they wanted me to do? Why? Why?” Beth was rambling incoherently now.
Ruth wasn’t listening anyway, just lying there motionless with her eyes shut thinking back to her college days. It was just one of those stupid things college kids did back in the sixties, free love. But she had paid the price for free love then and paid the price for it ever since.
“Ruth you okay?” panicked Beth. “You asleep?”
“I’m fine dear just resting a little,” she rasped, opening her eyes slightly and stared at the ceiling above, continuing to think of the daughter she never kept.
Maybe one day the two girls would meet. The internet now has lots of sites to help an adoptee find their bio people. If that’s what fate wanted, so be it. Maybe both sisters would know each other after all. Who was she to decide? Now she would never know anyway. But if it did happen, at least she would be spared all those embarrassing questions. Little comfort that was.
“Ruth just nod your head if you can hear me. Don’t answer out loud. Save your strength. I just want to thank you for not saying anything all these years. You’re the best sister I ever could have had.”
Ruth through a closed mouth gargled, “You’re welcome.”
“I hate our folks for what they did to me,” stormed on Beth. “They should have never had me fixed at the same time they had me have that abortion. They knew that would end it for sure with Bruce since he was Catholic and would want a large family. I’ll never forgive them for that till the day that I die, never never never! I hated them for that then, and I still hate them now. It’s not wrong to hate them for that? Is it Sis?”
Ruth never moved her head. No answer came to Beth.
Ruth had decided not to burden her sister with her own regrets. Her sister would be grieving enough with her passing. Promising to her that she would find her first daughter was way too much to ask as a dying request.
Perhaps the girl didn’t even want to be found anyway. Perhaps she was perfectly happy with the family that she had and to subject her to a new dysfunctional family might the wrong thing to do, maybe even cruel. Perhaps. Perhaps this. Perhaps that. Perhaps it was best that all of this die with her.
“I’ll let you rest now sweetie. Gotta go. See ya tomorrow. Your kids will stop again tomorrow sometime too,” said Beth bending over and kissing Ruth on her dry cold forehead.
Again her sister’s mouth remained closed. No response came from her crusted over lips.
As Beth left, Ruth regained her thoughts for the last time. She would take to her grave two secrets, one of which one would be known only to her.