Born with a skin disease, Annie shows courage as her life travels a difficult road.
| Gasping for breath, someone was chasing Annie and death was moments away. The evil one reached for her neck closing his large hands around it. Along came the hero with kind brown eyes. In his strong gentle arms, Annie knew no one could ever hurt her. This was a recurrent dream.
Annie's childhood was a roller coaster of turbulence. She brought home stray animals with needy eyes and sparse hair like her own. She would cuddle them, whispering words of love in their ears. They were the accepting loving words that she wanted to hear from her own Ma.
"I will give it my share of food, Ma. Please?"
"There ain't no share of food, fool child."
She didn't understand her mother's cruelty. Putting those animals back outside just broke her heart.
'Why was the world so cruel?'
Jesus had taught people to be kind to each other. Annie already knew people judged you by how you looked on the outside. When she started school, children pointed and laughed at her.
They called her "Pig Eyes".
"Annie's a freak! Annie's a freak!"
"Stay away or her spots will jump on you."
"Join the circus, Pig Eyes. That's where you belong."
Tears would overflow and she would run to the bathroom to hide in shame. 'Why did God make her ugly? What had she done? '
She felt her strands of thin white hair, saw the pearl patches on her skin and pink eyes with a red circle around the black area she could barely see through. Other girls and boys didn't look anything like her. Some of them wore glasses and one boy had his arm amputated above the elbow but kids thought he was cool, like soldiers that came back from wars.
Her ma favored her sister, Susie. She would brush Susie's long red hair until it shone like a new copper penny. Susie had lovely jade green eyes and was sweet. Annie loved her sister but she longed to be lovely too.
Annie only knew heartbreaking words from her mother, June Garris."You was the ugliest kitten in the litter. You best be smart or nobody gonna ever want you."
"Are you going to give me away, ma?"
"Hell no child, I get government money for you."
"Then I won't get married."
"Well, you better be thinkin bout a place to settle. After eighteen, I don't get nothin' for you. No husband gonna want you."
"Do you hate me, ma?" Hot painful tears fell as Annie asked.
"No, I reckon not or you'd be in a state home. You'd be sleepin on a dirty floor, maybe jus bread and water to eat."
Annie remembered a short time of happiness with her ma. It was when ma was living with Jim Garris. Annie was nine and Susie was six. They lived in a rented trailer that was pretty new. It was a palace compared to public housing. The cabinets weren't crawling with roaches like other places.
They had a big color TV, a kitchen table without too many scratches, a soft stained green sofa and a couple of ugly brown fabric chairs. Jim bought Ma a sewing machine and she made covers for the furniture. It really was beautiful with matching curtains. Ma had talent when it came to making nice things from bargains on fabric or thrift store furniture and a coat of paint.
Ma was so very proud that she asked neighbor ladies over for coffee. She fixed a tray with cups and saucers that matched. She even made cookies and the girls got to lick the bowl.
Jim was the nicest step-dad. She hadn't known her own father or Susie's. She didn't know if her ma even knew who they were. Ma and Jim cuddled on the sofa at night while they all watched a favorite TV program. It was like a "normal" family, something she had prayed for.
Jim would cup her chin, "You're a beauty. Never let anyone tell you any different. You're my angel."
He even made a tree house for the girls.
They pretended to be fairies that fly through twinkling stars in a soft dark night. They collected miniatures from the woods. There were acorns for cups and soft green moss to sleep on. Different shapes of stones and sticks were put to use as furniture. A broken piece of glass became a pond, They made up a fairy named Starlight who lived in their fantasy land watching over them.
The girls were playing near their neighbor, Miss Emma Minivers', trailer one day.
"You girls want these dress up jewels?"
Annie thanked her. She found an old glass perfume bottle to grace their new home. She came up with an idea. She took the costume jewelry apart and along with tiny pieces of mirror, she glued them on the bottle. When you spun it around, sunlight acted like a prism to make it even more amazing.
Jeannie on TV Land lived in a place just like it with velvet pillows, tapestries and beautiful silk furniture. Annie decided this is where Starlight would live.
Jim was so proud when ma became pregnant. He said the sonogram made sure it was boy and named his son 'Todd'.
"Todd" had a football, baseball, and pennants for Jim's favorite teams. Jim even made a cradle for him. He whistled and sang but he also drank "to celebrate". Empty liquor bottles piled up under the sink and beer cans overflowed the trash cans. Having a boy seemed to make everyone in her house happy. Annie was ecstatic since smiles had been brief in her short life time.
Ma worked at a greasy luncheonette and Jim worked in construction when he could. Ma had missed her last couple of baby appointments at the clinic because she had to work. She knew her blood pressure was high.
Dr. Waters was one of the volunteer Obstetricians and he had given her medication. She was instructed to stop by the office or go to a pharmacy to check her pressure. The nurse wrote down the numbers she needed to call their office about. June woke up two mornings with severe headaches, so she went in to the clinic.
The Physician's Assistant was worried. She checked June's urine for protein and it was high plus she had swollen ankles.
"You need to stay off your feet for the rest of your pregnancy. These tests mean your kidneys are working overtime. The high blood pressure means you could have a stroke. We would lose both of you. Do you understand?"
June said, "Yes, mam."
"This is so serious. I should put you in the hospital but you don't have insurance. Please go home and go to bed."
June felt like she had no choice so she laid down at home. Jim came in, slamming the door. Looking at him was all June needed to know, he had a six pack in him already.
He questioned her. "What ya doing at home? I got laid off so ya gotta work, babe."
"Honey, my blood is way up. They told me at the clinic if I don't take off work, both me and the boy could die."
"Well now, ain't that just real nice for you? Just being lazy, reading movie magazines and watchin' TV on my money." His face was blood red and he threw a heavy phone book across the room.
He was pouring sweat. "You know I ain't cooking or cleaning!"
Annie heard Ma and Jim fighting that night while she tried to sleep. Life was changing and the girls had no control over it. Jim was drinking more and Ma didn't look good. Her face was really round and pale. She was supposed to be relaxing but Jim's ranting made that impossible.
Annie felt deep within her belly that something bad was going to happen.
The next day, Ma was dressed for work. She came home after a half shift and laid down.
"I got a cripplin headache and I'm seein stars."
It was within the next hour that Ma grabbed both sides of her head and fell to the floor. Ma's legs were jerking, her mouth had foam coming from it and she was gurgling. Annie then caught the smell of pee and saw Ma had wet all over the rug. Annie called 911 and turned Ma to her side so she wouldn't choke.
Help came. They started IV's and explained they were giving drugs to stop "seizures" and bring Ma's pressure down.
Annie and Susie went to the hospital with Jim in his truck. He cussed all the way.
"'Damn you, June, if you lose my boy; I am going to kill you!!"
He kept beating the steering wheel. Annie was frightened. She had never seen Jim this way.
A code was called just like TV and many people rushed to her Ma's room. Jim was crying in the hallway. Annie heard the doctor tell Jim their little brother had died and Ma had to have surgery.
After a long time, they brought Ma back and hooked her up to all kinds of tubes including blood.
Jim screamed at their poor Ma and then plummeted her with his fists.
"What good are ya? Can't have a boy for me. Now you just blubber and act stupid!"
The girls watched Security men pull him away. Annie prayed her Ma wasn't able to feel the pain or hear his cruel words. She was so groggy from drugs and blood loss, she didn't seem to be in the real world. Jim was told not to come back or he would be arrested.
At first, the girls walked the halls. Then the hospital Social Director, Ms. Walker, took them into a comfortable room and covered them with blankets. She arranged for lunch and dinner trays.
Annie comforted Susie in every way she could. Ms. Walker assured them that Jim wouldn't be back and that "arrangements were being made for their care".
Social Services came. Their Ma had given them a number to call Grandma Rainey, June's mother.
The girls stayed with Rainey for two weeks and then Ma came home. Rainey could barely care for herself.
Annie was trying to take care of everyone by cleaning and helping to cook.
Rainey said, "Your ma was sick in her insides, had to have her womb removed so no more babies for her."
Ma cried for Jim who was nowhere to be seen. Ma didn't get better. She didn't bathe, comb her hair or eat. She cried all the time and walked around with a blanket like she was holding a baby. She would even sing lullabies to an empty blanket in her arms. She was pitiful.
Annie believed Ma had lost her mind.
Rainey couldn't care for all of them, so she called Social Services.
A Case Manager was sent out to the filthy house. The food was spoiled milk, crackers and two cans of soup.
It was decided that Rainey was too old to raise the girls.
Annie pleaded with the woman that she would help. The words fell on deaf ears.
The girls were told to pack two suitcases of clothes.
Ma was sent to a "special hospital".
Annie found out later that Elwood was "crowded, understaffed and a dirty Regional Hospital for the Mentally Challenged"
Arrangements were made. Susie was sent to a foster family that very evening.
She and Annie hugged so tight the Social Worker had to pry them apart.
"I'll get them to come get you," Susie cried out.
Annie smiled but she didn't believe it.
Because Susie was young, sweet and pretty, she was wanted and that is how things were.
Annie was going to miss her sister but loss was a theme in her life these days.
The group home that Annie was sent to was an old house in need of paint and new wood. She was shown to a room with four cots.
The woman that was the house mother was about fifty, a big lady that walked with a limp. Alice Warren didn't smile much. Her job was a hard one with twelve girls under her care, each with special needs. She was overworked and burnt out. There was another woman, Ellen, that helped with the cooking and cleaning.
Annie soon found out she was sharing the room with three other girls with deep mental problems.
Annie thought, 'Susie would have broke down in here so God did the right thing'.
Karen was eleven and the first thing she said was a brag.
"Zeke, my step-dad, love me. He say I tighter then my Ma."
Suellen was retarded and no one wanted a "stupid kid."
She said her "Mama been doin lotsa drugs."
Tiny would sit on her cot rocking back and forth with a baby blanket singing, "Hush little baby, don't you cry."
She had soft thin blond hair and her eyes looked different. Annie felt a bond between the two of them.
The non-stop singing gave Annie headaches but she couldn't bring herself to dislike the poor kid..
Karen would hit Suellen, she would stop for a while before she went back to the singing. Hitting her was like striking a baby.
Later Annie discovered Suellen had Down's Syndrome.
Annie knew that Susie was okay because on Sundays they could talk on the phone.
Susie was with a married couple that kept children until someone could take them. Right now she was the only child there.
Susie missed Annie but had lots to do with school and gymnastics.
When Annie was twelve, she heard the word Albino on a TV game show. It described how she looked. She found the word in Webster's Dictionary.
Albino: a human being that is congenitally deficient in pigment and usually has a milky or translucent skin, white or colorless hair, and eyes with a pink or blue iris and deep-red pupils.
Soon Annie was taken to a specialist to get corrective lenses. If the children had medical problems, a grant had been set aside to help them. Annie rode the bus to a public school where she tried to ignore the other students.
Annie worked so hard to learn, she gave 200% for what others gave 35% to 75%. She was a sponge and knew education was her way out to a much better life where she had control. Reading biographies and history books opened a new world.
Annie's teacher, Ms. Craig, was so encouraging. She told Annie,
"I want to give you extra lessons because you are so bright. You could be a doctor or lawyer."
Ms. Craig confirmed doors of opportunity open with education.
Ms Craig also told Annie, "I look into your lovely eyes and see faraway places and exciting experiences."
When Annie was fourteen, a biracial couple came to see her. The lady, Maryann, had gray hair and gentle green eyes that crinkled when she laughed. She had been a schoolteacher and her husband Dean, was a musician in the city orchestra. He was quiet but had brought a packet of paper called Origami. With it, he made animals and taught Annie how. She was a natural, picking up the craft easily.
Annie loved his soft smile and brown eyes. They seemed to dance watching her as she spoke.
He listened as if he cared about what she said.
"Annie, I don't want to rush this but I think we have a positive current going here."
She smiled and said, "You look like the man in my dreams that carried me away from a fire."
Maryann had a laugh that sounded like jingle bells. They all sat at a table outside with cookies and lemonade. Maryann said she was forty now and they had tried so hard to have children. She had to have her uterus removed.
Annie said, "Just like our Mom."
Then, "I miss my little sister so very much."
"I know you do, honey. Maybe we can arrange something," said Maryann.
One thing Annie had brought from her childhood was the jeweled bottle. She would open it each night and hope that Susie was thinking about her.
Maryann complimented Annie.
"Your hair is like spun gold. The lights shimmer in it, like angels live there. It says in the Bible a woman's hair is worth her weight in rubies."
Annie brought her a baby's brush, she loved having her hair brushed. Maryann instinctively knew she ached for a mother's touch. As Maryann brushed her fragile hair, she also told her the fairy tale story of Rapunzel. Annie had found someone who loved books and fairy tales.
Annie knew her hair was thin and Maryann was so gentle. She brushed it like a baby's hair.
Maryann told her of one book that she might like about a girl that loved books and was poor, "A Tree grows in Brooklyn". She brought the book with her the next time.
They had three more visits with gifts of art materials and books. They also told Annie they loved her and gave her a hug.
On the fourth visit, they were late and Annie was frightened they had changed their minds.
When they showed up, they had Susie with a suitcase.
They went home to a house with a real white picket fence and flowers in sky blue window boxes.
That night as Annie laid in her bed, she felt the cool breeze over her face. There was the clean crisp smell of sheets hung to dry and the sound of crickets.
They celebrated their first Sunday together as a family with a roast and mashed potatoes. It was everyone's favorite meal and the finishing touch was cupcakes with angel frosting.
They had been living there for one month and all was going well.
Then one night, Annie had a sudden sharp pain in the pit of her stomach. She was terrified. She whispered to Susie and no sound was heard. Susie was sleeping. They had canopy beds in their room with quilts Maryann had made and many pillows. All was quiet so she said a prayer and finally drifted off to sleep.
The next morning Annie woke to the smell of maple syrup and thought blueberry pancakes, Susie's favorite.
Annie jumped up and ran to the kitchen.
"Where's Susie, dear?"
"I thought she would be in here eating pancakes already."
A worried look came across Maryann's face. She raised her voice as she circled the house and Annie joined her.
"Susie, Susie, where are you?"
Without thinking, Maryann threw back the sheets and comforter, moving pillows and touching evidence.
The window next to the bed had a large slash in the screen. The window had been down but unlocked due to the neighborhood. No dangerous crime had ever happened there before.
Soon local police and officers from the nearby town were swarming all over.
An investigation found Jim Garris in jail. Their Ma, June, was in a drugged condition in the mental hospital. She was unable to walk, much less plan a kidnapping or worse.
Everyone was terrified. Annie couldn't stop crying. The police were very reassuring but Annie knew the first few hours were so important. The neighbors and church members put up posters and led searches.
There was a child molester loose in the state of Iowa and the National News Service tried to connect the two crimes.
A small amount of Susie's blood was found outside the window.
After an anxious week, a woman that lived in the house next to Rainey's heard noise in the shed outside. She called the police.
Susie was found in there wrapped in a blanket. She was bound up with a baby bottle beside her. Susie had managed to kick at a metal bucket. Rainey was asleep beside her.
The police had questioned Rainey right after the incident in her house and spoke with neighbors. No one had noticed anything. Rainey appeared fairly lucid so, they wrote it off.
Susie knew Rainey was just confused but was afraid of the time going by and no one finding her. She was afraid to get away on her own. She didn't think Rainey would hurt her. Susie was supposed to be our Grandmother's baby with a diaper, bottle and pacifier.
No one pressed charges and both Rainey and Susie were ordered court ordered therapy.
When Susie was tucked in bed the night she was returned, the whole family got on the bed. All took turns telling Susie how much she meant to them.
As a teenager, Annie began a support organization for people without pigment in their skin. It branched out to include people with other skin diseases. A very special man helped her with that. He had walked into her support group filled with people that were classified as "albino."
Greg Simmons had very extensive psoriasis. He walked in and said, "Does this group discriminate?"
Annie walked up to him and said, "Not discriminating is what we're about."
Greg explained about his disorder. Psoriasis is a chronic skin disease characterized by circumscribed red patches covered with white scales. It gets more severe with stress, itches and can be painful.
Greg told stories of what he had told people was wrong with him, like an allergy to snakes or he was kissed by a frog.
He was so personable, everyone loved him from the beginning.
He came up to Annie afterwards and said, "Has anyone ever told you how beautiful you are?"
Annie looked deeply into his copper soulful eyes and her heart opened.
By Kathie Stehr