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The purple blanket
Megan covered her face with the purple blanket her Grandma knitted for her fifth birthday. The once soft blanket was ratted and frayed, and smelled like the filth she had been forced to live in the last six years. She didn’t want to wash it fearing it would fall apart and never be seen again. The blanket was the closest thing to comfort she knew at the moment. Outside her bedroom that she shared with her younger sister Addi, she heard the familiar sound of her parents yelling at each other. It happened every day since she turned six. They had been drinking all day. The blanket couldn’t cover their loud voices so she quickly curled up in the fetal position and plugged her ears. She kept telling herself it would be over eventually. She only hoped she wouldn’t be drug into their world of hate and cruelty tonight. It never worked that way. Addi was at her friend’s house leaving Megan at home by herself with only her blanket to comfort her.
As she curled even tighter, she heard her Mom call her name. “Megan! MEGAN?”
The apartment wasn’t big. Her parents couldn’t afford anything. What little her dad made doing whatever he did wasn’t enough to take care of their family, let alone pay the rent. They rented this two bedroom shack, from some old man who eyed Megan and made lewd sexual comments about her body every time he came to collect the rent. He reeked of alcohol and cigars. Megan hated answering the door when he knocked.
She again heard her mom yell, “MEGAN! MEGAN ELIZABETH! YOU GET INTO THIS KITCHEN RIGHT NOW!”
Megan kicked her purple blanket off and stumbled out of bed. She rushed down the dark hallway toward the kitchen. She past the living room where a sweet chemical haze filled the air and clothes and empty food bowls lay scattered. It was the smell she had noticed more frequently lately. It use to be just marijuana, but since the last move only four months ago from their previous apartment she smelled less of marijuana and more of the sweet chemical smell. Her parents were doing crack. There was never enough food in the apartment and when there was food, it seemed to be invaded by roaches that lined the cupboards. Her parents were awake for long hours at a time, yelling at each other, paranoid of what the other one was doing.
She reached the kitchen where her mom was standing with her arms crossed. Her Mom’s face was sunken. The once beautiful silky facial skin was covered with open sores and cracked dry lips. She had lost an enormous amount of weight. Megan knew it was the effects of the crack. She remembered when she was five how beautiful her mom was. She always had long silky hair and wore clothes that made her look like a movie star. Megan loved when her mom would call her to the kitchen to help make cookies. She loved on her and smothered her with kisses. On occasion, she would take her outside at night and they would look up at the stars.
“That star, is your Great Grandma’s star,” she would say as they lay in the fresh cut grass. “Grandpa has the bigger one, just a little to the right of Great Grandma’s. And you? You little lady are Mommy’s little star.”
Those were the best days. Stars didn’t shine very bright now.
“Yes Mom?” What did you want?” Megan asked cheerfully hoping her mom would respond with kindness.
“Where did you hide the cigarettes young lady? And don’t lie to me!” Her mom yelled.
“What cigarettes Mom? Megan said, struggling to put her words together. “I didn’t have or want any cigarettes.”
Just then her dad entered the kitchen from her parent’s bedroom and stood next to the stove. He looked thinner too. Megan remembered the days he would hold her in his arms and sing to her Hush Little Baby. Other days he would throw her in the air and her head would rush as she fell back down into his strong arms. He was her hero back then. But that had changed. Now she avoided him because he was always mean and yelling at her and her mom. She never knew when she came home from school if her dad was going to be passed out on the floor drunk or be bouncing off the walls high as a kite. No matter what his condition, he was mean and hateful. He had hit her on more than one occasion but each time it was either not enough to be seen the next day or it was hidden by the clothes that she layered her body. His abusiveness had become increasingly more severe and Megan was beginning to feared he might kill her from one of his strikes.
“WHERE THE HELLLL ARE MY CIGARETTES, ELIZABETH?!?!?!” he screamed at Megan’s mom, madder than Megan had ever seen him before.
“IF I COULD GET THIS LITTLE BRAT TO TELL ME WHAT SHE DID WITH THEM, I’D TELL YOU!!!!!” she snapped back.
Megan stood there speechless. She no more had those cigarettes then she had moon dust. She wanted to be on the moon right now because she knew what was next. It always happened like this; both parents yelling at the other, one of them blaming her and the next thing she knew she would be nursing a bruise somewhere on her body. Her father’s hand went up in the air. But this time he acted possessed. His hand contained the skillet that was on the greasy dirty stovetop.
Suddenly her world went black. Her lifeless body fell to the floor in a pile.
Megan opened her eyes in an unfamiliar room. The lights were bright and stainless steel cabinets filled the walls. People were putting needles in her arm and looking at her head. She tried to cry out for her Mom and Dad, but they told her to lie still and relax. She was going to be fine.
Fine? Where was her Mom and Dad? What was she doing here? How had she gotten here? Why did her head feel like it was pounding out of it’s skull? Her head raced to remember what had happened. She remembered lying in her bed with her purple blanket. Where was her purple blanket?!? Where was her Mom and Dad?!? Someone stuck her with another needle.
“Where’s my Mo…?”. She blacked out from the sedative they gave her.
Megan woke to find an older lady, probably her grandma’s age, sitting beside her. A monitor beeped quietly beside her. She was in a hospital.
Megan whispered with a tear streaming down her eyes. “Where’s my Mom and Dad?”
“It’s ok honey. Mom and Dad can’t be here right now. My name is Mrs. Dorinadoblavintich, but most people just call me Mrs. D. That can be D for delightful, ding-a-ling or Did I tell you I love you today? When you feel like it, I need to ask you a few questions.
“I,” Megan spoke softly, “ I guess you can ask me now.”
‘Ok then,” Mrs. D cheerfully replied, “First question. Did I tell you I love you today?
Mrs. D asked Megan about herself, Addi, her Mom and Dad and her Grandma. Grandma was in a nursing home because of a stroke that severely damaged her ability to do anything. Megan started to cry. As silly as it was, she wanted her purple blanket.
Mrs D continued, “I’ll see if I can get you your blanket this afternoon, but sweetie, I really need to finish with my questions. Did I tell you I love you?”
Megan nodded and Mrs. D continued questioning her. Megan told her about her parents drinking, the marijuana, and the hardest thing to tell was the beatings she would receive when the two people who were supposed to love her the most, let her down and she ended up with bruises all over her body. Megan sobbed.
Mrs. D held her tight and once again asked, “Did I tell you I love you today?”
Megan cried herself to sleep in Mrs. D’s arms.
The next morning, Megan felt better. Her head had a bandage on it that covered the stitches on her forehead. She had suffered a severe concussion from the blow of the skillet. Mrs. D showed up shortly after Megan woke with paperwork in her hands.
“Did I…” Mrs. D started to say
Megan abruptly interrupted her. “..tell you that I love you today?
Mrs. D and Megan smiled.
“You are a brave eleven year old young lady.” Mrs. D started. “Megan, we need to talk seriously. The hospital is wanting to release you today.
“Are my Mom and Dad going to be here to get me?” Megan sprang to attention.
“No sweetie. That’s what I have to talk to you about. Your Mom and Dad are very sick from the alcohol and drugs. They are in a hospital too. They want to get better and to stop using the drugs and alcohol. Isn’t that a good thing?”
Megan had tears welling in both eyes. She was fighting back the flood gate knowing at any moment if she allowed even one tear to fall that there might not be an end.
Mrs. D could see she was upset. “Oh, my, I almost forgot! Look what I brought for you today!!” Out came her purple blanket. Megan smiled and once again, Mrs. D said, “Did I tell you I love you today?” and they both laughed.
Mrs. D continued to talk to Megan explaining that while her Mom and Dad were in the hospital that she would need to stay with some other kids for a short while until they could arrange for her to live with a foster family. When her parents were better, she and her sister could go live with them again. But her Mom and Dad had to work very hard and this wasn’t going to happen overnight. Addi would be right alongside of her. She needed to be strong and brave. There was going to be lots of changes in her life, but all of them would be the beginning of a new life.
Megan heard her say changes in life... Changes in life? Hadn't she had enough changes in life already? She tried hard to focus on what Mrs. D was saying but all she could think about were the words...changes in life. When she was five and a half, the day began like any other day; Mom fixing the family's breakfast, Dad upstairs in their two story suburban house getting ready to go to work downtown in the high rise. He would kiss all three of his girls on the cheeks and then plant a big one on Elizabeth’s lips. He would say something quietly to her Mom and she would giggle and smile a sheepish grin as he walked out the door. Then she would blow him a kiss as he walked down the sidewalk past the kitchen window. They were so in love and had the perfect family. Megan quickly returned her attention to Mrs. D when she heard her repeating her name.
“Megan? Megan honey, how does that sound? Megan?” Mrs. D seemed concerned.
What? I'm sorry. What were you saying? I heard you say changes in life...and I...thought about...the day when...my...never mind...can you please repeat what you said after changes in life? Megan muttered.
“I was saying we’re going to go to the HillTop Center this afternoon to meet Mrs. Right. “You and Addi will be there for a few days. Maybe weeks until we…”
Again, Megan's mind wandered away to that day. That day seemed like weeks. It was the longest day any five and a half year old will ever experience. Megan had just finished pulling her new purple blanket up on her bed. Even though it was almost six months old now, it still smelled of the sweet floral perfume her Grandma bathed in everyday. She loved that perfume. Grandma would let Megan put some on her wrists when she came to visit and Megan would sniff it all day long. She loved her Grandma dearly. As Megan pulled the last corner straight on the blanket the horrible shrill of her Mom's scream came rushing through the house.
“Emmy, NO...NO...NO...please dear God NOOOOOO! SOMEONE PLEASE...PLEASE HELP ME!!!” Her Mom pleaded.
Megan came running down the hall to the bathroom the girls all shared. Emmy, Megan's older sister was ten and was excited about using her new curling iron Grandma had found on sale. Emmy was all girly and Grandma knew she would love to curl her hair by herself. Emmy had washed her hair in the sink that morning in anticipation of curling it for school. She dried it and was setting her first curl when the curling iron slipped from her hands landing in the sink of water. Emmy’s lifeless body lay on the floor with one loan curl covering her face, her mom screaming in agony. Megan could do nothing but stare at her sister's body. When the paramedics arrived, it was determined she had been lying there for twenty minutes. Lifeless.
The police investigators suspected that Emmy tried grabbing the curling iron and as it hit the water, Emmy’s hand hit the water too. Emmy was electrocuted.
The funeral came in the days to follow. Just a few days after they had buried Emmy, the phone rang. Megan's mom answered it.
“Hello,” Megan's mom softly spoke. “She what? How? Where is she now? I'll be there shortly.”
Megan's Mom hung up the phone. “It's Grandma. She had a stroke they think. It's not good. I've got to go. They aren't sure she's going to make it.
It indeed was a severe stroke that left Megan's Grandma unable to talk, walk, or feed herself. She wasn't able to knit purple blankets ever again. The doctors thought perhaps she was so distraught over the curling iron gift that she had the stroke. They placed her in the nursing home and she had been there ever since. Her daughter and son-in-law refused to visit her because they blamed her for Emmy’s death. Megan not only lost her sister, she lost her connection with her beloved Grandma. Her life had indeed changed.
Mrs. D spoke with the doctors and soon Megan was released from the hospital. The only thing familiar to her was her purple blanket. Her cloths she had on when she came to the hospital had been cut off in the emergency room. Mrs. D brought a pair of clothes for her to change into. The green shirt was too big and the green pants too short. She looked like Megan the martian!
She just wanted to hide in a corner somewhere. What were the other kids at the HillTop Center going to think of her dressed this way? She wanted to sneak out of Mrs D’s hand and go back to the filthy apartment. Even if it meant answering the door for the landlord.
Mrs. D entered through the HillTop door first. The children were sitting at a table with papers in front of them painting. Some looked up from their papers and greeted Megan with a smile and wave. Others seemed intent in what they were doing and didn't give her the time of day. Megan loved to paint.
“Megan, how about if you go over to the table and join the other kids. I believe they may be doing some artwork. I need to join the ladies in the office and get your paperwork started. Addi will be joining us in the next hour or so. Try to meet some of the kids so you can introduce her to them when she gets here.” Mrs. D spoke encouraging her toward the table.
Megan, in her green martian suit slowly walked over to the table. The lady standing around the table greeted her telling her she was Mrs. Right and she proceeded to introduce her to the group. No one seemed to judge her. No one seems to be concerned about her green martian suit. They were intent on their pictures in front of them.
“ Megan do you like to paint?” Mrs. Right asked.
“Well I do like to paint with watercolors.” Megan replied.
“Have a seat here with the kids. Grab a piece of paper and the watercolors. I'd like to you to paint something special for me. Something that makes you happy,” Mrs. Right requested.
Happy. Megan thought about that word. Happy….she hadn't been truly happy for years. She watched her family crumble after Emmy died. She watched as her Dad lost the job in the high rise downtown because he stumbled in late day after day from drinking himself to sleep the night before. After he lost that job, he gained employment again only to be fired or quit time after time. They lost the two story house to foreclosure. Her mom said it was all her Grandma’s fault they were going through this. It wouldn't be the last time she would go through the eviction process. Each time Megan clung tight to her purple blanket so it wouldn't be taken too.
Megan laid her purple blanket on the chair next to her. She picked up the paintbrush and began to paint with the watercolors. The day she got her purple blanket was her happy time. She began to paint memories of the day she received it from her Grandma. She painted her unicorn birthday cake with five candles on top, purple balloons, presents and the purple blanket in the center of the paper. As she looked at the picture she smiled. Happy. She was indeed happy that day.
Addi came rushing up to the table, “Megan! My Megan!” her voice sparkling.
They embraced for what seemed forever and both sobbed on each other's shoulder.
Day turned into night and the girls settled into their beds for the night. Mrs. D tucked them both in together and proceeded to read the entire group of kids a story. Before she turned off the lights she glanced back at the group.
“Did I tell you I love you today?” she spoke quietly those eight special words.
Megan nodded off to sleep quickly. Mrs. D entered the room at nine o’clock in the morning and asked Megan and Addi to come with her.
“Girls, I have good news for you.” She spoke with a brightness in her voice. “We have a wonderful family that has been chosen just for you, that would like you to come stay with them until your Mom and Dad are well. Their names are Julie and John and they have two little girls. Taylor is Megan's age and Erin is your age Addi,” Mrs. D grinned as she spoke.
Mrs. D held each of the girls hands as they entered John and Julie’s house. The other girls were at school so it would just be the two of them there for now. Julie bent down to Addi’s level and greeted her with a lovely welcome.
She then looked into Megan’s eyes and said, “Dear, I want you to know that we know life hasn’t been rainbows for you, but John and I are here to help you find a pot of gold. We want the two of you to know we are here for you both. Our home is your home and we want you to know we won’t let you down. There’s lots of love around this house and we intend to show you both lots of it!”
Mrs. D smiled and looked at Julie. She knew Julie and John on a personal level because they had fostered many children with her over the years. Their two girls were adopted through fostering. Their reason for becoming foster children was a different story then Megan and Emmi’s as is the five hundred thousand children in foster care.
They discussed getting the girls enrolled in school that afternoon so they could begin the next day. It seemed all too surreal to Megan. One day she was tucked in a fetal position hiding under her blanket and now she was going to be entering a new school. Julie grabbed their hands and said, “Let’s go take a look at your new bedroom. Shall we? I think you two are going to love it!”
They proceeded to walk up the staircase where photos of different kids adorned the wall. Julie explained that those photos were foster blessings placed in their home over the years. There must have been over fifty photos. Each child was smiling. There were no frowns on their faces. Smiling. Megan couldn’t really remember the last time she had smiled for a camera. Then she recalled her mom snapping a photo of her with her new purple blanket standing next to Grandma at her birthday party. Smiles seemed a thing of the past.
They continued up the stairs and turned right to go down a long hallway. They stopped at the third door on the right. Julie opened the door and Megan stood there speechless. Unicorns jumped on the purple walls and purple balloons danced on the ceiling. Megan stood there with her mouth open.
“We heard you love purple and we hope you still like unicorns,” Julie whispered.
Megan threw her arms around Julie and thanked her over and over. She was beginning to believe that there really would be rainbows in the days to come. Mrs. D was following behind them towing the purple blanket.
She laid the purple blanket on the bed and spoke. “I hope it’s ok Megan, but I took the liberty of hand washing and drying your blanket this morning. Oh, and I darned a few of the frayed edges. I also spritzed it with some pretty perfume I had laying around my house.”
Megan ran over to her new bed and flopped herself down on her blanket. She took a deep breath of the sweet scent. It was her Grandma’s perfume! She looked at Mrs. D with what seemed like a question of how could she possibly know that was Grandma’s perfume.
Mrs. D knew what she meant and spoke softly, “God blesses me dear. He knew what my blessing for today needed to be and that was perfume. Did I tell you I love you today?”
Megan laid her head on the blanket and sobbed.
Mrs. D left shortly after. Julie and John showed the girls around the house and explained that every child they foster gets their bedroom made over, by both of them, the night before the child arrives. They paint the walls and add special touches to make each child feel at home the minute they enter their home. They finished their tour and then John and Julie told the girls to go explore. Nothing was off limits to them. Their home was now the girls home. Megan smiled and trotted off with Addi.
After lunch the four of them gathered in the SUV to register for school. As they pulled into the school parking lot, Megan realized that she had never been to this school. Perhaps that would be a good thing. No one had preconceived notions about her and she might actually make a friend or two. But as they entered the doors, heart racing, she again slipped back to fear of rejection. Waiting in the office was the principal and his secretary who greeted Megan and Addi. Shortly after, there was a knock at his office door.
He motioned with a welcoming wave to enter and said, “Come on in girls.”
Two girls who looked the same age as Megan and Addi came bouncing into his office.
The older one extended her hand wrapping it around Megan and said, “Hi! I’m Taylor. You must be Megan!” She then looked toward Addi and said, “Hi Addi, this is Erin!”
The four girls smiled at each other and quickly started chatting about the school and teachers. The principal, Julie and John filled out paperwork and the girls chatted quietly in the background.
The next morning, Megan opened her eyes to find Julie hovering over her bed with a smile on her face.
“Good morning sweet girls!” she almost sang. “It’s time to wake up and get ready for your first day at your new school!”
Megan pulled her purple blanket over her head. She loved how it smelled now. She squeezed it closer imagining it was her Grandma squeezing her tight. She wondered what her Mom and Dad would think about her purple blanket smelling like Grandma. She began to quietly cry. Julie peaked back in the room. Addi was in the bathroom getting ready, but Megan rested quietly under the purple blanket trying to hold back the tears. She missed her Mom and Dad terribly.
Julie pealed the purple blanket back and stooped down whispering in Megan’s ear, “Rainbows sweet girl, rainbows. Rainbows have showers associated with them, and I think I see some showers coming out of your eyes. What’s the matter?”
Megan tears turned into gully washers. She sobbed in Julie’s arms and between the heartbreaking gasps of uncontrolled crying she managed to say, “I miss my Mom and Dad.”
Julie held her tight and assured her that her Mom and Dad missed her too. They are working very hard to be back with her as soon as they could. Megan held her even tighter. Somehow, she knew she was right.
Taylor and Erin were the best sisters the girls could ever hope to have. Days passed into months. Julie and John followed through on their promise to the girls. Both girls loved staying with them and felt loved all the time. Megan was settling into the rainbow and actually beginning to believe she was experiencing her pot of gold. Almost six months to the day they had come to live with Julie and John the doorbell rang. Mrs. D stood poised at the door. It wasn’t the first visit Mrs. D had made, but it was going to be a special one.
“Girls,” Mrs. D began, “I have some wonderful news for you today.”
“Your Mom and Dad have been working very hard to get well these past eleven months. They had a lot of healing to do and we are confident they are ready to be good parents to you both again. Your Dad is working at a wonderful job and your Mom has started volunteering her time at a local shelter for women. They have a very nice three bedroom apartment and it happens to be very close to here, so you won’t have to leave your school friends. Taylor and Erin will be close by and I’m sure Julie and John would love for you to come visit if your Mom and Dad agree to it. Your Mom and Dad realize that your Grandma is not to be blamed for Emmy’s death. It was a terrible accident, but God is working to make good things come from it. They have started to heal from their pain and it’s evident to everyone around them. It’s time to go home now. What do you think about that?”
Megan’s eyes were wide. She loved living with Julie and John, but she dearly missed her Mom and Dad. She jumped up from the table.
“Julie,” Megan said with a smile “I love you, but I need to go pack my bag so I can go home.” Is that ok?”
Julie nodded as she once again wiped a tear, this time from her own cheek. So many times she had watched this play out. Children loving her home but each anxious to return to their own parents. She knew the importance of her role in that and it always brought tears to her eyes. It was a mixture of sorrow and joy knowing that one more smiling photo would be added to the stairway wall. Once more a pot of gold filled with love.
Megan raced down the hall with Addi to pack her belongings. They returned a short time later with a bag full of items. Megan dropped her bag at the door.
“Oh no! I almost forgot one thing Julie!” Megan gasped. She ran quickly back to the room returning shortly after. “My purple blanket!”
“Oh, that reminds me Megan, I almost forgot. This is for you,” Mrs. D announced.
Megan opened a small box. Inside was the bottle of perfume Mrs. D had used on her blanket. It had been a perfume a dear friend had given her years before. She had never worn it, but knew her friend would be so happy to know she gave it to this little girl. She explained to Megan that the friend just happened to be Megan’s Grandma. Megan sobbed.
Mrs. D smiled and softly whispered, “Did I tell you I love you today? Let’s take you home where two other people love you too!”