Ann-b’yond has always seemed to like me best: I was the one she would always give a second hug to before she left, the one she gave a cute nickname to, the one she would ask for over the phone, the one she would always ask for. When she would do these things, my heart would swell. I felt as if someone counted on me to be my happy –sometimes goofy– self. I didn’t have to worry about what she would think of me singing to Disney songs or dancing around randomly.
I was one of the few aunts that could put up with her crying enough to distract her enough from whatever was bothering her. I was the aunt that could get her to stop crying.
Her cry would cut through the house drawing all attention to her. She was always laying on the ground crying. She was hungry. She would barely start when the others had had enough. They rush to make her a bottle but it can never get warm quick enough. She would want it now and would keep getting louder and angrier. She would get so angry that she would not even drink it once you made it. She would just keep crying. There was only one thing that can calm her down so she can eat.
The Sizzle cheer. I pick her up and begin.
“Hey warriors! Hey what? Hey warriors! Hey what?”
“Can you show me, show me how you sizzle, sizzle.” The crying has stopped for the moment.
“First you roll it, roll it.” I swing my hips around in a circle like I am trying to keep a hula hoop up. I get a grin of approval from my little niece.
“Then you tick it, tick it.” Now I quick change which foot my weight rest on “ticking back and forth.” This pushes a laugh from the little cutie.
“Then you bounce it, bounce it.” Finally I lift up my feet like a march and set them down fast enough so she bounces in my arms. She grips onto my shirt with a tiny tight fist. She is bubbling over with laughter now, she can’t stop.
Once she catches her breath, she turns her attention to the bottle. Her bottle is finally done. She will not be crying anymore tonight
The hardest part for me, when I got a niece and then, later, a nephew, was not to smother them. I always want to hug them, squeeze them, kiss them, and play with them. I never had this feeling before with other kids. They might have been cute but I didn’t feel the same way about my own family. They came and opened a part in my heart that was waiting for them. A part I didn’t even know that was empty. This could have been due to the fact that I thought my sister wasn’t going to love AB and then, later, Lane.
When Jessica told us she was pregnant, I had mixed emotions. I hated that she had decided to do such actions outside of marriage but I knew it wasn’t the baby’s fault. I didn’t like the guy either. He seemed to get her in trouble and didn’t respect my parents. We all tried to loved him though because Jessie did. This guy gave off a vibe that I did not like. He seemed like bad news to me.
She started doing things that I didn’t dream she would do. Or, after she met this guy, she didn’t care if we knew about them or not. She had started smoking which I thought was too stupid for someone as smart as she was to do. The car would smell so bad after she had used it, we would have to stand outside of it with all the doors open and the windows down. I still didn’t want to believe it was her though. I just thought it was her boyfriend until I had to face the truth.
It was a Saturday. Megan and I were home alone when she arrived back from the work or something. We were not expecting her so soon. I was startled when the door started to open, I wasn’t expecting anyone to be home until dinner. We asked her if she wanted to play Skipbo –a card game Megan and I had been about to start playing– with us. As she sat down onto the floor, cigarettes and a lighter fell out onto the floor. Jessica shoved it back into her pocket like it was a piece of paper, and not something that could harm her. Megan and I ignored it, so we finished out the game. After the first game, Jessica said she had to make a phone call and went outside. I told Megan I was going to call mom. When the phone was picked up it was Kristen. I don’t entirely know why, but I started crying when I told them what I saw. Maybe because out of all my sisters, Jessica and I were the most alike. We had the same brown hair and brown eyes while other three sisters were blonde and fairer. When we played pretend, it would always be the brown hair against the blondes –Megan had blonde hair when she was younger.
We used to play war when we were all younger. The game was to “take control” of our different rooms throughout the house. Bethany, Kristen, and Megan were behind the door making their battle plans while Jessica and I made our own. Jessica was the one that came up with the idea to scare them out of the room, then we could take control of it. My younger self would have never come up with a great idea like that. I would have just waited them out. She was the brains of the operation and I knew it. She would lead the way and I would follow wherever she went. When Jessica started to change, I couldn’t imagine what she was doing because all I saw was my older sister leading me to win a game against the others.
Even my dad was in denial. I couldn’t tell you if he was just trying to get her to admit to it herself or he never believed that one of his little girls would do that. But this night will always be burned in my memory. He had had enough of the car smelling like smoke and something else must have been getting on his nerves. Maybe he and mom were doing the check book because emotions always seem to get tense when they turn to do that. Whatever happened to lead to this moment, my dad exploded and yelled at my mom.
“Why don’t you tell us about your guilty pleasure?” I was shocked, my mom was shocked, even, I believe, my dad was shocked. My mom only looked back with confusion. After he started though, it was like he couldn’t stop.
“The car that you drive smells like smoke.” My mom shook her head, that wasn’t her. I hate when my family fights. It’s like a cannonball through my chest. And Jessica just sat there. My mom must have not told dad about what Megan and I saw. My parents sat eyes locked, a pair tear-filled, another full of a crushing weight. Jessica continued to sit and watch passively. She finally spoke up and admitted that it was her. There was not night that I remember my dad so mad. The other fights involving Jessica, my mom got mad while my dad was supporting.
One day, I was home from school because the night before I was sick and my mom is very strict about staying home when we are sick. Megan went to school without me that day. At this time, Jessica was living with us, along with a 4 month old baby because she had a fight with her boyfriend. Ann-b’yond was crying so I was trying to comfort her when my mom got a call. It was Jessica.
She said she had had enough of us and told my mom to have her baby packed up and ready to leave with her boyfriend. She would not tell my mom where she was going just that she had to get away from us. That is when everything became a blur. My mom called pastor Tooman to baptize AB before she was taken. She then called her sisters to come over, she was going to need their support. And as my dad was out of town, he told her to call the cops if her boyfriend showed up. He had threatened to run over my parents with his car. Adam also had a warrant out for his arrest and I think my dad was holding out hope that if Adam was arrested, Jessica would stay.
Pastor finally came and did the quick emergency baptism. I always wanted to be her god parent but I didn’t want it like this. I wanted be chosen and stand before the whole church to say that I will help this child. AB was tired when she was receiving the water on her head. I took her back to rock her to sleep. My aunts had come in sometime during the baptism. I didn’t notice they were there until the end.
Jessica finally showed up in a car we had never seen before. Adam was not with her this time but his mom was. Jessica walked straight up to the door and demanded her baby. We were not keeping her from her baby, they lived with us. My mom had been doing all the work of taking care of Jessica’s baby and now without even a thought about what she was about to do to her child’s grandmother and aunts, was going to rip her way.
My aunt Connie was questioning her while my mom was too angry to speak. She kept asking her where she was going. All Jessica would answer was that she was going with Adam. Connie was asking what she wanted to do with her life, if that was what she wanted. Jessica would just ignore her.
“Jessica, we are the ones that care about you and your baby. Adam didn’t even visit you in the hospital. You would be leaving the only people who support you and can help you accomplish your dreams.” Jessica kept yelling at Connie saying she was wrong and the only people who were holding her back were her family.
“Jessica! He doesn’t love you, he loves that power that he has over you. He likes that he can control you. Why can’t you see that.” Jessica didn’t say anything after that just waited until my mom came out.
My mom had packed all the the things that AB would need if she was leaving. She asked Jessica if was what she really wanted. She said yes. There was no way we could lay a claim on AB and say she was living in unhealthy and a dangerous environment because Jessica was her mom and nothing has been said against her. To law enforcement, she was a perfectly fine mom. They couldn’t see that she smoked around AB every second they were together, that her living environment was messy and not baby proof, that Adam was emotionally abusing her. But we couldn’t stop her so we gave our love to AB and took one more picture with the fear we might never see her again. I helped put her in the new car with a giant dog. As I was walking away, Jessica pulled me into a hug and told me that I need to do what I want, not what mom and dad want me to do. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that what I wanted lined up with what mom and dad wanted for me.
Christmas that year we received a calendar full of pictures of AB grown up and running around. Jessica would come down saying she was never going to go back and then a week later, she would disappear. Then my mom got a call one day.
Jessica was pregnant again and she wanted my mom with her because Adam had been arrested. There was no apology when she called. She only demanded my mom to be there for her. My mom went right away with my dad, because he was not going to let mom go alone. They needed to be two strong to convince Jessica to come back home. My mom and dad succeed in their task of getting her to come back. I missed them both so much and I was excited to meet Lane. When they finally walked through the door, a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders. I no longer had to fear what had happened to them. I didn’t have to worry about them, I could just go downstairs and check on them myself. It was such a relief when AB came in and yelled my name. The hole that had opened when they left was finally filled when Ann-b’yond came running through the door yelling my name. I couldn’t have been happier that they were back.
AB rides on my back as I crawl on my hands and knees; I am her horse. We prance around the room together. Lane is playing on the floor by himself. He keeps climbing on a soft pillow chair. I race back around to where Lane is playing. I hide behind the edge of the chair, so Lane can’t see me. He peeks around the corner and smiles. I get really close to him and try to kiss him on the cheek. Lane pulls his face again and cracks up laughing. AB is barely holding onto my back because she is laughing just as hard. I will not let these moments be taken for granted in case they are ripped away from me. I can not shake the fear that Jessica will leave again without saying a word. There is not a day that goes by that the thought of them being gone when I get home does not enter my mind. I have a feeling that that fear will never leave me. I will always fear that I won’t be a part of their lives, but more importantly, that they won’t be a part of mine.