Noticing What is True
Growing up, help always came with strings. Big ones. An entire sticky web made up of Fear, Obligation and Guilt. Betsy learned early not to ask for help and to be wary when it was offered. She was always being teased.
Would that glass of iced tea have hot sauce in it? Had someone put salt all over that last serving of fresh raspberries, sending her retching to the toilet? Funny how someone else’s practical jokes can drive nails into the coffin of a sensitive spirit.
Shy and inward drawn, Betsy was always being prodded out of her dreaming places. Why are you hiding? What’s the matter? Are you afraid?
One day the cousins were playing softball in Grandaddy’s garden, when Betsy wandered out to find the little brown paper bag that had her treasures in it. Nothing much, really, it contained a few stones, feathers, a tuft of fur from what might have been a squirrel’s tail, two tiny cowrie shells and a real, un-hatched, robin’s egg. She had left it in a special place, alongside the steps next to the screen door.
The bag was gone. “Has anyone seen my little bag?” Betsy called across the lawn.
“Come and play ball with us!” shouted Uncle Bill. The cousins all knew Betsy would rather read under the big maple tree or wander down to the lake shore to talk to the turtles. They knew Betsy had her own games and would play with them when she felt like joining in.
“Have you seen my little bag?” Betsy persisted.
“Is this it?” little Billy answered, waving something brown and squashed-looking. They had been using the bag for third base. Hadn’t anyone noticed there were treasures inside? Hadn’t anyone bothered to look?
“Oh no!” Betsy exclaimed, as Billy ran over to hand it to her, then sprinted back to the game.
Carefully waiting until no one was looking, she held her breath and shook the contents into her hands. Stones and shells rolled out immediately, whole and unharmed. The feathers were a bit mangled and the perfect little round tuft of fur was perfect no more. The robin’s egg? Nothing left of it but tiny bits of blue-white mess.
Betsy turned toward the house to hide her tears. Maybe she could straighten out the fur and feathers. The egg would have to go in the garbage along with the ruined bag.
“Come on and play!” shouted Uncle Bill. Betsy shook her head as she walked away, knowing she could make it to the door without crying if she just put one foot in front of the other.
“What’s the matter?” he called to her retreating back. “ Oh I know… Betsy’s too good to play with us.”
It hit her like a ton of wet cement. The disdain. The put-down meant to prod her into action.
“Oh, our Betsy must think she’s special.”
“That’s not true!” Betsy heard herself say. She hadn’t meant to say a word. Uncle Bill’s temper was legendary and his face had already begun to turn red.
The game had stalled. The cousins were shuffling their feet, looking down at the ground and up at the sky. It was a bright, sunny afternoon and suddenly everyone wished it would rain.
“Maybe you’re just scared! Scare-baby! Look at that funny face!”
Name-calling, Betsy thought. Name-calling from a grown-up! Are grown-ups allowed to name-call? I’m not!
Little Billy was waving frantically, making faces and mouthing words like ‘run!’ behind Uncle Bill’s back.
Reminded, all of a sudden, of the bee sting that had swelled one eye shut, Betsy thought her face probably did look funny. The cousins had all laughed about it while she held the witch-hazel-soaked pad to her face all morning. Two of them had been so impressed at the size of the lump they had returned with pieces of candy purloined from the pantry.
This was different. Uncle Bill had called her afraid!
Truth be told, she was, a little. Afraid of the hot, hurtful energy hitting her full-on. Afraid of someone who wanted to hurt and shame her without care or reason.
“No,” she said softly, as she slowly turned to face her towering, laughing, taunter.
“Oh, did you say something, scare-baby?” he turned toward the cousins, expecting encouragement. Finding none, he took a breath to tease harder.
“I said NO.” Betsy stood up to her full four-foot height. It was now or never.
“NO! I do NOT want to play with a name-caller!” Her scathing tone stopped Uncle Bill in his tracks.
Some of the cousins smirked. One of the oldest boys hid behind the garage, where his barely-muffled howls of laughter rocked the bushes.
Betsy stalked indoors, cradling her treasures closely for safe-keeping.
As the screen door slammed, muffling the hoots and whistles of derisive laughter from outside, Betsy almost bumped into a tall pair of sharply-creased dark grey trouser legs.
“Do you need something for that eye?” Grandaddy asked, softly.
Betsy shook her head and shrugged.
“Well, now, why don’t you go on upstairs,” he soothed. “ We’ll bring you a fresh poultice and some tea.”
Betsy nodded, ducking through the kitchen and around the back way to the stairs, avoiding the main part of the house. She didn’t want to talk to anyone. She wanted to be quiet and think about what was true.
One of the Aunties met her at the top of the stairs. Putting an arm around Betsy’s little shoulders, she kissed the top of her head and whispered “Well he can just go to hell can’t he?”
Betsy gasped, staring up at her Auntie, whose face bespoke mischievous murder. Betsy wasn’t allowed to say that word. It occurred to her, as Auntie helped her into the comfy chair with World’s Best Fairy Tales open to her favorite story, and adjusted the new poultice on her eye, that there must be lots of things like that. Things she had been told were true that seemed not to be. Things she knew were true that no one else could see.
What else was true? Did no one else notice? Why were some things true for some and not for others?
Betsy decided she would notice and choose for herself, thank you very much.
Auntie brought Betsy’s dinner up on a tray not long after. And when Grandaddy knocked on the door to say good night, he held out a fresh brown paper bag, exactly the right size, with all its proper folds and creases just so. How had he known?
“Thank you!” she cried, as he winked at her in a conspiratorial way.
“Keep your treasures close to your heart,” he whispered, looking over his shoulder slightly. “You’ll know who your friends are by how they treat the things you love.”
Have you ever noticed that that’s true?
~ Namaste ~