Based on a true story
by Alicia Beckwith
These special people include my now deceased husband, Albert H. Schultze, who encouraged me every day to work through the emotions when I stumbled. There were several wonderful other people I met with every other Monday night at the Webster Public Library: They are: Bonnie Frankenberger, Willow Kirchner, Rosalie Pullara, Elaine Ollson, Tom and Anna Barker, and Joe Callan. My friends, Faith Weldon, Robert Lewis, Marlene Green, James Inglis, Mary McGaffick, John Clapp, and my neighbor, Lisa Caramia, encouraged me. To complete this work, Mary Ellen Youtchas Hood, afriend from grade school, supplied some of the details. My thanks to all.
A special thank you goes out to Art Maurer and his sons, Sean and Rob, for helping put finishing touches on this story and getting it published.
Everyone has a story to tell,—and this is mine. This was a very difficult task for me, but one that I knew I had to accomplish at some point in my life. And now that it’s finished, I’m glad I did. I’ve learned a great deal about myself, and have grown through this process.
When I started, I had to use a different name to get through the difficult places and events. This lasted for three quarters of the way through the book until I realized I had reached a place where it wasn’t necessary. So, I changed to the name my biological parents gave me, and the name the Beckwiths gave me.
The name Alice was changed to Alicia when I belonged to a trio in my junior year in high school. My singing partners did that.
Some years later, I learned from a couple of friends that I was considered quiet and “stuck-up” in high school. But that wasn’t the case—just the opposite. I felt rejection, and thought no one liked me. Hence, the walls I built were misread.
I had a close friend when I was in second grade through fourth grade, but she moved on when I was held back a year. I tried to keep the friendship going, but she chose not to be involved. I often wondered what happened, but looking back now, maybe nothing. I found out from her mother that she never kept in touch with anyone from school after graduation.
I did change a couple of the names of students to avoid embarrassment of other students who may read this. Also, the exact timing of a couple of events may be a little “off
’.” I’ve written the best I can, given my memory of the past and things my adoptive mother told me. She also showed me some of the letters from Mary.
Three-and-a-half-year-old Alice’s brown eyes gazed up at her foster mother, Anna Beckwith, sitting next to her on the twin bed. She felt safe when she was close to Anna; calling her Momma felt just right. She lay in bed, brown wavy hair framing her small face against the pink pillowcase. The tungsten light showed off the pastel flowered wallpaper, onto the dresser and a bookshelf loaded with a variety of colorful books and toys.
“Would you like me to read The Little Sailboat?” Anna asked, holding the book up so Alice could see. The little white and red sailboat was looking right back at Alice, displaying a big smile as it skimmed the sparkling water. She nodded her head, popping up in bed, with her bangs bouncing as she looked at her foster mother’s gentle face. Anna started to read as Alice snuggled down under the covers. When Anna finished reading, Alice looked at her and said, “I like you to read. Nobody did afore.”
“I love to read to you. Now let’s say our prayer together.” Anna knew Alice wasn’t used to praying before coming to their home a couple of months prior, but knew she liked saying it.
“Ready?” Alice nodded, bowed her head and closed her eyes. Together they prayed. “‘Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.’”
“You remembered the whole prayer, Alice!” Anna clapped her hands. “I’m so proud of you. It’s time to go to sleep. Pleasant dreams honey.” Anna leaned down and kissed the child goodnight. Alice felt her mother brush the hair from her forehead. Anna saw Alice’s look change from sleepy to wakeful. Her eyes popped wide open, eyebrows raised high in warning, her face ablaze with anxiety. “I want Dickie! I ’fraid a da dark!” She turned to peer over at her brother’s empty bed then back to Anna as she stood up.
“Dickie will be up later, honey. You’re safe and sound. We’re all right here in the house, close to you.” Giving her a pat, Anna straightened her flowered dress and started to the door.
“Momma, what’s safe ’n’ sound?”
“It means you’re protected, loved and wanted with no worries. How does that sound?”
“Okay,” Alice paused, “I guess.” She curled up in a tight ball and stuck her thumb in her mouth. Turning around, leaning on her elbows, a worried look washed over her face. “Don’t outen da light, Momma! My blankie! Where it is?”
Anna found the treasure and gave Alice the rather bedraggled blue and white blanket with white squares. It meant a great deal to the child, since it had come with her to the Beckwith’s house. It was the only thing she still had from her old world with her biological parents and brother.
“Night night, sweet one.” Anna bent down and kissed Alice, then tucked her in again.
Alice watched Anna turn on the night light and leave the door ajar. She loved to wiggle her toes across the smooth sheets. It offered comfort in troubling times. Soon she drifted off to sleep.
Alice let out a shrill scream that woke most everyone in the house. Her daddy was hitting her, shouting at her. His face full of rage as he took another swing, slapping her little face. “Eat, damn it!” He slammed his huge fist on the table, making everything on it jump, even his half-full beer bottle. Then he reached over and grabbed her leg, yanking it hard before grinding something very hot into the sole of her bare foot.
“No! Hot!” she screamed, kicking her legs. She could smell the foul, horrid odor. A familiar sickening feeling rushed in her as her chest tightened. Alice could see her mother, Mary, watching silently, eyes cast down on the table, sipping her coffee and smoking her cigarette. Mary, make him stop! Mary sat silent, just like always.
Dickie, Alice’s eight-year-old brother, woke to her terror again. He leaped out of bed and raced to his little sister, taking his usual place beside her when she had a nightmare.
“No! Don’! Stop!” cried Alice still asleep, her legs flailing in the air. Her face contorted while enduring the agonies and smelling the foul odor.
Dickie took her in his arms and rocked her. “It’s all right. No one else is here. It’s okay. It’s just us.” She kept sobbing even after she awoke. “Nobody’s gonna hurt you.”
Anna pushed the bedroom door open, rushing toward the two children. She gently patted Dickie’s shoulder as she sat down on the bed. “Thank you, honey, I’m here. She’ll be okay. You can go back to bed. Try to go back to sleep.”
He went over to his twin bed, crawled in and covered up with the blue blanket, but kept his eyes open to watch his sister. Still shaking, Alice slowly stopped crying and leaned against Anna’s side, only to suddenly pop up again. “Mommy! A man! In da corner! Over dare! Look! Look!” Alice begged, her small voice getting louder.
“Alice, honey, you had a bad dream. There’s no one else here but you, Dickie and me. I’ll turn the light on so you can see.” She reached over to the night table and switched on the lamp. The warm glow over the room revealed the open closet door with the children’s clothes hanging inside. “There now. See? It was just the shadows from the closet. There’s nothing to be afraid of,” Anna said as she gently rubbed Alice’s back.
Alice put her thumb in her mouth, one eyebrow pulled down; the other one raised up. She continued watching her foster mother as she was picked up. Anna felt the wet pajamas. More tears streamed down the child’s face. She’d wet the bed again.
“I din’t do it. Florine done it! I din’t do it.” She hung her head and cried more tears. Looking up at Anna she asked, “Are you gonna send me back? Please, not dat stuff. It burns,” she said, with lips trembling. Her anguished face pleaded with fresh tears coursing their way down her cheeks.
Anna cuddled Alice closer, continuing to rock her. “No, Alice. Don’t you worry. We aren’t sending you anywhere. We want you here with us. We love you very much. What’s this you’re worried about my giving you?” Alice didn’t answer, just shook her head and kept her eyes on the floor.
Anna gave her a kiss and held her close. Taking Alice to the bathroom, she washed and dried her, then put on dry pink bunny pajamas. She remade the bed with pink sheets before tucking Alice in for the remainder of the night.
Anna continued to rock the child. I’m glad we changed her name from Florine to Alice when she came to us. I hope, in time, these horrible dreams will stop. I can’t imagine what she’s been through. When she climbed into bed, she looked over at her husband noting Bill was still sound asleep. How could he possibly have slept through this? I wish he were awake so I could talk with him. It’s so frustrating going through these episodes all alone. I wish I knew what was going on in Alice’s head. I’d like to wake Bill up, but he needs his sleep.
Anna laid in the stillness of the night, wondering what demons had been in Alice and Dickie’s lives before they’d come to live with them. Even though she turned out the light, she didn’t sleep for a long time.
Alicia Beckwith is a local poet and author and has been writing for four decades. Her poems have been published in book collections and magazines.