So many of us think life ought to be fair. It is the cry of the oppressed masses-- us! It is the wail of we who feel powerless against mighty forces pulling us this way and that. It usually takes years of living to understand that life does not necessarily treat us fair, not that there is obligation ... but still it gets used as an excuse, for how long is entirely up to the individual. Some catch on early, others take the long road. The Blame Game is part of the universe, and must be played.
Sometimes some of us even have angels with us if only for short moments
It was the biggest box under the Christmas tree, and it was hers, a beautiful set of clear Pyrex dishes, some nesting, some with lids, more pieces than she could count. Four-year-old Katie had several times taken each piece out, then carefully settled them back into their nests of soft wood shavings. She would have a tea party.
The very next morning, Katie, bathed and dressed, was at last ready to play with her new dishes. She set up the table and chairs. She brought Saggy Dog, a long-eared cloth dog made for her by Gram, placing him in the seat just opposite to her. He brought wisdom to her table. She decided to bring Teddy, seating him just to her right. He wasn't a real teddy bear but was one of her best tea party people because he ate everything in front of him without complaint. She saved the best chair on her left for her friend Ellen, a tall beautiful lady who often came to her tea parties and often told the most wondrous stories and tales of worlds far beyond the stone wall of their rented farmhouse.
Carefully she set out the new dishes. They were perfect, she thought, even improving the look of the old wooden spoons and measuring cups. She wished she had a pretty colored tablecloth instead of the old worn blanket piece, but it was comfortable and no one seemed to mind. She was sitting quietly, waiting for Ellen to arrive, when her mother rushed into the room. "May I see your new dishes?" Proudly, Katie handed her the very best piece, an oval shallow dish with perfectly fitted lid. She'd placed some of her pretty colored stones inside. Mom held it up, opened the lid. "What're these?", she asked. "Special rocks," answered Katie.
Picking stones out of the dish, Katie's mother handed them back to her. "Keep them someplace special," she said, "...someplace where you won't lose them." And she turned away, carrying Katie's precious dish with her to the kitchen. "I need this dish for awhile," she said over her shoulder. "You don't mind, do you?"
Katie did mind, but was too young to be able to speak what she was feeling, a deep futile anger that burned in her stomach.
As the days passed, and her dish became the obvious property of general family use, being taken into service as the new butter dish, her inner disquiet became a distinct grumble about something over which she had no power.
"It isn't fair." Katie's eyes filled with tears whenever she thought of her lost Christmas present.
"Never mind," said Ellen, who always knew things. "It doesn't matter."
But it did matter to Katie, even so, and she blamed her mother.
She skipped happily, holding her mother's hand, pleased with her new school clothes. Katie was five, almost six, and she was going to school! At last she would learn to read all the words, just like her mother. She wanted to read everything! And today was the first day of school for her. The joy in her life seemed to increase the sun's intensity, only beginning to pale after the wane of summer days.
At last they arrived at a big square brick building. Just inside the door was a long table with lots of people milling about on one side and a couple of angry-looking ladies with tightly curled grey hair on the other side, haplessly facing the mob of women and children. "Sign Your Child In Here" read one sign. "Get Gowns Here, "read another. Finally she and her mother were in a small sheeted cubicle.
"Take off your clothes, you can leave your panties on, put on this gown, here, it ties in back, I'll get it." Her mother's monolog kept them busy with action before she fully gathered her wits about her. This was not ‘school'-- Why did she have to change her clothes? The gown didn't close in the back all the way. She was cold, and she definitely would not sit on the metal chair in the cubicle. She was certain her mother would fix everything quickly, --get her into a room with a teacher and the books so she could learn to read-- Her thoughts were growing frantic as she struggled to keep the gown closed.
"Come this way!" The curtain was roughly pulled back, tearing away the pin holding it to a makeshift rod. There stood the tallest, meanest lady Katie had ever seen. The eyes looked at her but didn't see her. She looked into those eyes and felt fear. "Mom?" she questioned. "Mom, tell her we are in the wrong place.--"
But her mother was turning away, looking for a seat among the mothers, where they could wait while their children were being 'examined' for disease and level of intelligence. Katie was being herded by a not very gentle push on her head.
"Over there, first. We begin over there," said the tall mean lady."This isn't school. I hate this! It isn't fair," raged Katie to herself. "This is not Fair!"
But she was a kid, with only a burning stomach anger and no power. She had to do as she was told.
She blamed her mother. Ellen no longer visited with her to say it didn't matter.
It was Katie's second year of college. She hunched over her sewing machine, creating a beautiful soft blue woolen suit, her wedding suit. There was to be no white dress, no fancy occasion with all the families present. They were going to have a quiet, private service at their church, with only two friends present.
Katie's mind shied away from all the reasons why she was lately doing everything wrong, everything against hers and her family's plans for her. She, who had so much potential! The one looming fact remained: she was pregnant.
There was nothing else to do –it was only honorable, they both agreed, he the more so. And now here she was, joylessly placing one careful seam after another.Thinking about how she'd been ‘caught', mostly through her own ignorance and lack of proper concern for details, Katie raged inwardly, mostly to herself this time.
"It's not fair!", she wept. "Not fair at all!"
She blamed herself but figured her mother must have had something to do with it anyway.
One day Katie found herself deathly ill, with two small children just as ill lying beside her. She knew the children were sick, because she'd been tending them for days, but how did she get here in bed with them, tucked between their feverish faces? She felt her own head, it was warm and felt as though it was pulsing, long slow deep ....
She woke again, struggled to the phone to call her mother who lived about fifteen miles away over the mountain. She didn't remember much of the conversation, except to tell her it was getting cold and she could not get the heater re-started.
The next image she had was looking up at winter sky through bare branches of the tree in their driveway. She was being wheeled into an ambulance. Where were her children? She saw her mother's worried face looking down at her. "We'll meet you at the hospital!" she thought she heard her say, although it was already getting dizzy, blurred. She wanted to hear the sirens scream but there was too much grey to hear.
She was in a very short bed with her feet hanging over the edge.
"Easy, you are safe, you are all right", she heard her mother's voice. "You were all so sick, and we brought you here to the Children's Hospital– it was closest-- you were all in danger..."
Mom's eyes were soft but hard inside with remembered fear. That, and anger, too, at her absent husband. "Where is he?" Mom demanded to know. "He should have been there with you."
This time Katie blamed her husband, and it was okay because for once her mother agreed with her.
She didn't even remember Ellen.
Katie was looking at some old pictures one day after her mother died. There was she was, a small happy child squinting at the camera, sitting at a small tea table with her old toys. The empty chair beside her had the name Ellen! heavily inked by her mother's pen.
Ellen. The name was familiar. Who was Ellen to her? Just for a moment, a face flashed at her from the photo; a blue dress, a smile, and then she had it. Of course!
It was Ellen, a tall pretty lady who helped her on so many occasions when she was very little. Her mother called her The Imaginary Friend, but Katie knew Ellen was real. It was supposed to be their special secret, but how else could she explain the extra chair at the table?
Anyway, her mother hadn't seemed to mind, as long as she didn't talk too much about her in front of anyone else. "She'll grow out of it," was what the ladies always told her mother.
Katie sat there looking at the picture with an aching hurt inside her at the loss of this beautiful friend.
When had she gone away? More importantly, why had she gone away?
Katie's mind began playing the pictures of her history. She thought of all the times her friend could have helped her, had she stayed, especially now, with her mother gone.
"It's not fair," she thought, "It's just not fair!"
This time Katie did not know who to blame. But for the first time she didn't mind at all. Suddenly she understood that nothing was either fair or unfair. It just IS.
One has to learn to deal with it, best way. Taking one last look at the picture before tucking it into her purse, she laughed at herself. "Besides all that, what is 'Fair' anyway?"
"It's always a choice, dear Katrine!" Blue flash of movement at picture level, was gone.
But only for a Moment.
Copyright January 2002
Revision December 2003
by Judith Leigh Bailey
All Rights Reserved