Rebecca, a sweet, mild-mannered 32 year old mentally challenged woman, falls in love with prince charming, Andrew Watkins. Do these two challenged individuals really understand the meaning of love.
An Unsung Angel“Rebecca, breathe in and out slowly. Relax and enjoy your special day. After all, honey, this is the most important day of your life.” Aunt Liza didn’t want to admit it but she was just as nervous as Rebecca. “After all, it’s not everyday a girl gets to meet, fall in love and then marry the prince of her dreams, now is it?” Rebecca slowly nodded her head up and down in agreement. She looked as radiant as the sunlight piercing through the crisp, pristine white curtains in the church parlor. She looked around anxiously for her favorite cousin and Maid of Honor, Steph. “Steph! Where are you, ‘Cuz?” Rebecca had given Steph the nickname, ‘Cuz’ when they were little girls running around their granny Duey’s stale smelling, three bedroom, framed house on Cincinnati Avenue. The quiet, lower middle class area of town was known as Calvary HeightsRebecca was a simple-looking, gray-eyed, mentally challenged woman of thirty-two. She had naturally curly, brown locks of hair that flowed gracefully around her plump neck, complimenting her flawless mahogany skin. She was never seen without a bright, shiny smile on her face and a somewhat overly pleasant, “Hello, how are you” cascading from her thin lips. She had been born with Williams Syndrome, a disease that left her mildly retarded. Rebecca’s mom, had difficulty throughout her pregnancy; so it was a blessing, indeed miraculous, that Rebecca had survived at all! “Steph!” Rebecca cried out again. “Where are you?” Family and friends called Steph Rebecca’s guardian angel because the two of them stuck together like peas in a pod. Steph had a special way of caring for Rebecca like no one else. The funny thing about their relationship is that no one had any idea how right they were when they called her Rebecca’s guardian angel. Now Steph wasn’t what some might think of as the typical guardian angel. After all, weren’t angels supposed to appear and disappear in the twinkling moments of an eye? At least that’s what the everyday world always seemed to believe. Steph had been placed on special assignment to guard and direct Rebecca years before Rebecca was even born! Even though Steph was an angel, she had been conceived by earthly parents, which was all part of her “Master’s perfect plan.” So, of course, no one ever suspected that Steph Elmore was anything but human. After all who would think such a ridiculous thing as that! Only Rebecca knew Steph’s true identity.Steph thought back to that winter night twenty-two years ago, when she first revealed to Rebecca who and what she really was. Rebecca was a frail, frightened and ostracized little girl of ten. They were laying on their grandmother’s huge king-sized bed, draped in one of her warm, thick and cuddly homemade quilts. About six inches of snow had fallen in the course of the day, so the girls were confined to the house. The air was cold and dank in that old, run down house, but the two girls carried on, laughing and jumping around all over the place like it was a bright spring day. “Rebecca, what if I told you that I’m not really your cousin, but your very own special angel?”“An angel?” Rebecca asked with eyes showing bright like the sun. “Yes, an angel, Rebecca. I was sent by God to protect you, to love you and to always be here for you. That is, until you don’t need me anymore. Then, who knows, maybe I’ll be sent to help some other girl or boy.”“But Steph,” Rebecca said with such innocence and curiosity. “I don’t want you to ever leave me. I knew there was something extra, extra special about you, Steph. I just knew it!” Rebecca let out a loud laugh! “I always prayed to God for my very own angel and now I have you!” I knew he would answer me. I just knew it. God, thank you, thank you, thank you!” Rebecca starting bouncing all over the bed.“Hush up in there you two! Grandma Duey’s voice resonated throughout the house until the girls thought they could feel the floors shaking. .”Steph you know you are too old to be keeping up all that ruckus in there. I don’t know why you always wannin ta be hangin roun’ Rebecca anyhow. You should be hangin roun’ with girls yo own age. Now both of y’all better hush up in there, you hear?” Grandma yelled again. “Yes, grandma, we hear you.”Steph made no response to the remarks her grandmother made. If only her grandma knew. She didn’t care how much older she was in earth years. She loved Rebecca and no one was going to change that. She placed one finger to her lips. “Shhh, we don’t wanna get her mad, Becky.”“Look, Rebecca you cannot tell a soul. Nobody. Do you hear me, girl?” Steph said softly.“Yeah, I hear you. I won’t tell a soul. I cross my heart and hope to die, stick a needle in my eye. I promise I’ll never tell.” They both laughed and laughed underneath the quilt. Steph held Rebecca close to her heart that night as they drifted off into a deep sleep. And up until this very day, her wedding day, Rebecca had kept her promise by never breathing a word to anyone.Steph was swiftly jerked back to reality by the sound of Rebecca’s voice calling out her name. “Steph, where are you? Steepphhh, answer me!” Rebecca screamed out anxiously. “Here I am, Becky! I was in the bathroom girl trying to get in this dress. What are you yelling so loud for? I hope you don’t be doing that when you become an old married woman.” This time Steph couldn’t control her laughter. “Andrew won’t like it one bit.” Rebecca thought Steph was such a funny girl.“Cuz, you know I won’t be mistreating my man. I love Andrew Watkins. And I’m gonna be a good wife too, Cuz. You’ll see. Everybody will see.”“I know you will, Rebecca. I know you will. But still, I want you to remember what I told you. Don’t you take no mess off him now, you hear?”“Oh, you don’t have to worry bout that,” Rebecca replied. “I got him right here in the palm of my hands.” Rebecca cupped the palms of her small hands together in the shape of a small saucer. They both laughed out loud and hard at this gesture.Steph watched Rebecca at that moment with sparks of love flashing through her eyes and thought to herself how beautiful she looked. Her dress was white organza with oyster-colored lace pellets of tiny flowers delicately placed all over her gown. Her sandy brown hair hugged gracefully in tiny ring curls against the round cheeks of her face. The smile that enveloped Rebecca made her look even lovelier. Steph continued to watch her cousin with intensity. She had waited for such a day as this for Rebecca for a long, long time. Steph thought of how God blesses even those with such difficulties, mentally and physically like Rebecca with a knowledge of understanding, of giving and receiving love unconditionally. She thought of how awesome God is and how good His works are. Tears began to fill her eyes as she moved slowly toward Rebecca. “What’s wrong, Cuz? Why are you crying?”“Oh, its nothing, Rebecca. It’s just that I’m so happy for you and Andrew. I’m glad you’re finally beginning to live your life the way you always wanted to and the way I always prayed that you would. You’re actually doing it, girl. You’re going for the prize. Aren’t you something?” She reached out and gave Rebecca a great big hug. “Cuz, get control of yourself. You’re gonna mess up your makeup and you might make me start crying. And, and then if you make me start crying, my makeup is gonna get all over me and all over my pretty wedding dress,” Rebecca said, with that sweet, childlike look she always wore. “You’re right, Rebecca. I better pull myself together, huh?”“Yeah, cause I don’t like it when you cry, Cuz. I don’t like it one bit.” A look of sadness was quickly taking the place of Rebecca’s smile. Oh, okay. If you say so. I’ll just save my tears for after you two say your I do’s. How about that?”“That’ll be just fine cuz.”Without warning, Aunt Liza burst through the door. She had a look of excitement, nervousness and happiness all heaped up together on her wrinkled, mole-filled face. “Now look here the two of you. Stop all this fiddle-faddling around and let’s get on with this. Y’all ain’t got no time to be boohooing and all that stuff. We got to get you married, girl,”“You’re right about that, Aunt Liza,” Rebecca answered. “I don’t want to keep Andrew waiting. What time is it anyway, Aunt Liza? Is it time for my wedding?”“Yes, it is Rebecca. It’s almost 4:00 o’clock. Now, let’s go. I know you don’t want Andrew to think you’ve chickened out on him, now do you?” Aunt Liza asked.“Oh, no, I sure don’t want that. Not in a million, zillion years would I want that, Aunt Liza,” Rebecca said seriously. They scurried out of the church parlor, heading for the entrance to the sanctuary.“”Cuz.” “What’s up Becky?”“Just look at me. I’m really fixin to get married. Today is my wedding day. Cuz, thank you for all you’ve done for me. I don’t know what I would do without you,” Rebecca looked deep into Steph’s eyes. “You always told me that I deserved to live my life in my own way. You were the one who told me that I could do anything I wanted to do in life, no matter what. You never teased me or put me down. You’ll always be my favorite Cuz, and my angel too. I’m so happy, Cuz. So very, very happy,” Rebecca whispered softly.“I know you are, Rebecca. I’m happy too. I’m happy for you, Rebecca,” Steph reached out to push the lock of hair from Rebecca’s face. “Rebecca, remember what I told you about love Rebecca. “Love means sacrificing, giving, reaching and hoping. Love means sharing and caring, Rebecca. Love is a good thing and to have that special someone to share that love with is even better. You are the walking, breathing, talking example of love. I don’t want you to ever forget it. I’ll always be here for you, Rebecca - always. I must say I was worried about you there for a minute, girl. I didn’t think you would ever find the courage and strength to go for the dreams you’ve always dreamed, to find your lot in life. I only prayed that someday you would break free from all the restrictions that were placed around you. You know, Rebecca, all the times Aunt Liza kept you tucked away in the house, kept you from venturing out and meeting people and going places? Well, it wasn’t because she didn’t love you, Rebecca. It was because she loved you so much. It was because she just didn’t understand. All she knew was that she had promised Grandma before she died that she would always take care of you and provide for you. You know that don’t you, Rebecca?”“Yeah, I know that, Steph. You’ve told me a hundred times.”“Well, I’m telling you a hundred and one times, Rebecca. There are a lot of people just like Aunt Liza who just don’t understand that people with disabilities have feelings, dreams and desires just like anybody else. They sometimes don’t realize that you yearn and deserve happiness and the freedom to make your own mistakes in life just like anyone else. Life is a journey for every person, Rebecca and every person has his or her own personal road to travel. And you must travel yours. Aunt Liza did her best in her own way. But you’re all grown up now. Shucks, you’re almost an old woman now, girl,” Steph laughed out, breaking off her serious tone.“Wait a minute there, Cuz,” Rebecca laughed. “I’m not that old. Well, I guess not anyway.”“Well, I’m not one to talk now, am I?” Steph replied.“You can talk, Steph. You can say whatever you want to say and it’s all right with me. And whatever you tell me, I’ll listen to you, Cuz. Even when you tell me to not take no mess off Andrew just ‘cause I love him and he loves me.”Andrew and Rebecca first met thirteen years ago. Rebecca still remembered the first time she met Andrew Watkins. She allowed herself to think back to that day that would change the course of her entire life. They were both attending “Freedom School for Special Needs Children.” When he was born the umbilical chord wrapped around his neck and cut off his oxygen supply causing brain damage. The two of them were entering their senior year of high school. When Andrew came to Freedom, his family had just moved to Memphis from a small suburb of Atlanta. After the teacher introduced him to the class, he took a seat in the chair right next to Rebecca’s. When he sat down next to her, her heart began to flutter and beat wildly! She could hardly stand it. She thought he was so cute and he had the biggest brown eyes she had ever seen.“Hi, my name is Rebecca Bell,” she said smiling. “How are you?” Rebecca said in her usual polite and cheerful manner.“I’m okay,” Andrew whispered. I don’t have to tell you my name ‘cause the teacher just told everybody, right?”“Yeah, you’re right. Your name is Andrew,” Rebecca replied.When it was time for lunch, instead of Andrew going to the cafeteria with some of the other boys in the class, he asked Rebecca if she would show him to the cafeteria. “Yeah, of course I’ll show you. Sometimes I bring my lunch but today I didn’t because my Aunt Liza told me that she had to go to the grocery store first,” she carefully explained.“Well, I’m not going to bring my lunch. I’m going to eat in the cafeteria every single day,” Andrew said with proudness. And that was the beginning of their relationship. A few weeks after they met, Andrew asked Rebecca to be his girlfriend. They had been boyfriend and girlfriend ever since. When they graduated from high school, Aunt Liza decided with some reservations, however, to let Rebecca go out to McDonald’s with Andrew in his brother’s blue two-door Chevy Nova. This made Rebecca extremely happy because her Aunt Liza never allowed her to go anywhere with anyone except Steph or maybe Rebecca’s best friend, Tammy and her mother. “Andrew you sure know how to do a lot of things that I don’t know how to do. You can go wherever you wanna go, whenever you wanna go,” Rebecca told him that evening. “Well, it’s ‘cause my brother shows me how to do a lotta stuff. He even showed me how to drive and took me to get my driver’s license! See, look at my license Rebecca! This means I can drive all over the world." Andrew beamed proudly.“Wow, that’s really, really great Andrew. Do you think your brother can teach me how to drive one day?”“Sure, when I get home, I’ll tell him. Okay?”“Okay.” When they arrived at McDonald’s, Rebecca ordered her favorite; two regular cheeseburgers, a medium fry and an apple pie. Andrew ordered two Big Macs, two large fries and a large Coke. “Boy, do you eat a lot,” Rebecca said when she saw the tray of food Andrew had. “Don’t’ you know men are supposed to eat a lot, Rebecca? My brother said that’s the way a man gets strong you know. Don’t you know anything, Rebecca?” Andrew replied.“Well, not a whole lot, Andrew. But I guess I’m starting to,” After they finished eating, Andrew told her he wanted to take her to see his brother’s apartment.When they arrived at his brother’s place, Andrew and Rebecca rushed inside. “You like the apartment, Rebecca?” Andrew asked. “Yeah, I like it, Andrew. I like it a lot. I sure wish I could get my own apartment too,” Rebecca replied.“I’m going to be moving in with my brother, Rebecca. That’s because I’m a man now. I got me a job at the Camelot Skating Rink cleaning up and stuff,” he said with his chest sticking out.Suddenly, Andrew turned to Rebecca and spurted out, “Rebecca, I want to kiss you. All right?” I guess you know a boyfriend is supposed to kiss his girlfriend,” he said, acting as if he knew everything there was to know about relationships.“Well, okay. I guess it’ll be all right since we are boyfriend and girlfriend,” Andrew moved closer to Rebecca. He took his huge hands and placed them on her shoulders and held her steady as if to keep her from falling. “Close your eyes, Rebecca.” Rebecca did as she was told. Andrew moved his head closer to Rebecca, puckered his lips and then kissed her. They awkwardly kissed for what seemed to Rebecca like a long, long time. She remembered feeling all tingly inside. Andrew moved his head away. “Now you can open your eyes back up, Rebecca.”“Now, how did that feel?” Andrew asked when their lips parted.“I guess it felt all right but it made me feel sorta funny on the inside too. Like a worm was crawling around in my stomach,” Rebecca explained.“Well, I guess that’s okay. I’ll have to ask my brother about it though and let you know.” Andrew replied.“Okay, Andrew,” Rebecca said.When Rebecca arrived home that evening, she felt sure her Aunt Liza would know that she had let Andrew kiss her on the mouth. But to Rebecca’s surprise, her Aunt Liza never said a thing.Andrew and Rebecca never broke up, not one, single time. They rarely disagreed about anything. And when they did, it was usually about whether to go to McDonald’s or Wendy’s or to watch Channel 3 Wrestling or USA Wrestling. Aunt Liza even began to accept Andrew in her own cautious way. And now, twelve years later, they were about to commit themselves to spend the rest of their lives together.Rebecca smiled, stopped her daydreaming and began to concentrate once again on the issue at hand - getting married. Just then the heavy oak church doors swung open. The organ music resonated throughout the sanctuary, carried by the high ceilings of the church. Tiny streams of sunlight filtered through the stained-glassed windows. And there stood Rebecca. She moved gracefully forward with her daddy, Bill escorting her down the aisle. The small chapel was filled to overflowing. Her nine-year-old cousin, Mikey walked ahead with the rings on a satin pillow. Her Cousin Jay’s four-year-old daughter, Kimberly, carefully and proudly threw rose petals along the aisle. And there, looking like he had seen the most beautiful of God’s creations stood Andrew. He looked rather handsome in his white tuxedo. His skin was dark as charcoal and his eyes sparkled like deep brown rays of stars shining at night. His smile was encased in love, as he waited to receive his beautiful, dear, sweet Rebecca. Andrew was a stock clerk at the JC Penny department store in East Memphis. He had been working there for five years now, never missing a day of work. They would be living in a recently opened apartment high rise in Whitehaven. It was only three blocks from her Aunt Liza’s house, and of course Aunt Liza was thrilled about that. The high rise was built especially for persons who had mental or physical challenges. The only stipulation was that the tenants had to be capable of managing their own affairs and taking care of themselves. Aunt Liza was tickled pink that she was able to secure a spot for Andrew and Rebecca. She had called everyday for almost a year checking to make sure that their names were on the registration list. Andrew and Rebecca already knew quite a number of their soon to be neighbors because they attended some of the same programs for persons with special needs. Plus, the church they attended had a special outreach program that was on site at the complex. Everyone knew Andrew and Rebecca and promised Liza that they would look after the both of them. That made Aunt Liza feel even better. Steph took her place on the opposite side of Andrew’s best man and brother, Troy. When she thought of what was about to happen, her angelic spirit began to thank God for the miracle of love. Love that has no boundaries, sees no shortcomings, knows no disabilities. Love that reaches out without asking for anything in return. Love that lasts from eternity to eternity. Love that was - Rebecca’s lot.Steph knew her assignment was coming to an end, yet she was not prepared. Somehow she hoped she would always be a part of Rebecca’s life. That she would always be her personal, guardian angel. She had no idea where would she be sent next. . She looked up toward heaven. “Father, where am I to go? I’ve been with Rebecca all of her 32 earthly years. What are you going to do with me? Where are you going to send me?” Sadness began to enshroud he like a tomb.“Steph, my angel, you will always be a part of Rebecca spiritually.” A heavenly beam of light embraced and enveloped Steph’s small frame and the voice that spoke was radiant. Soon Rebecca and Andrew will take another course in their lives.”“Tell me dear Master what you are talking about. I don’t understand.” She looked at him longingly. “Once Rebecca and Andrew say the words ‘I do,’ the memory of you will disappear. No one, not even your earthly parents, family or friends will have any recollection of you whatsoever. But don’t worry, my angel. Have no fear. I am with you always and I will be with Rebecca. Since you have done so remarkably well on this assignment, you will go on to other assignments, perhaps not as long, but you will continue to touch people’s lives and hearts. You will continue to steer them in my direction.”“Oh, Father, please forgive me for ever doubting your plans for me. I know your plans are always for our good. Thank you for reminding me that you love Rebecca more than I ever could. Lord, all I ever want to do is to carry out your will.” “My child, that you have done; that you have done.” No one had any idea that Steph had been in deep conversation with her heavenly Father. All they could see before them was Steph standing proudly beside Rebecca. Suddenly, Steph heard the minister. “Do you, Rebecca Bell take thee, Andrew Watkins, to be your wedded husband….?”“I do,” Rebecca answered beaming with pride and joy. “And do you, Andrew Watkins, take thee, Rebecca Bell to be your wedded wife…?”“I do,” Andrew quickly answered. “Then by the power vested in me, I now pronounce you husband and wife. “After shyly planting a sweet, innocent kiss upon Rebecca’s lips, the two of them proceeded to turn and walk down the church aisle wearing huge smiles that spread across their faces. And there where Steph once stood was Rebecca’s friend, Tammy. No one remembered that just seconds earlier, it was Steph who was standing in Tammy’s place as the Maid of Honor. How could they? She no longer existed in Rebecca’s world. Her assignment was complete.Steph peered down from the heavens above. She watched tenderly as Rebecca held on to Andrew, her prince charming. They raced down the church steps toward the limousine awaiting Mr. and Mrs. Andrew Watkins. All at once, Rebecca stopped and lifted her eyes up. She looked toward the heavens as if she sensed the presence of someone, something - perhaps even an angel. She felt the tug of Andrew’s gentle hand around her waist, pulling her toward the waiting limousine, but before turning to climb inside, she smiled and without knowing why, she heard her lips whisper softly, “goodbye.”
(c) 2000 Copyright by Shelia E. Lipsey