by KD Miller
Millen reflects on the years since being adopted by a wealthy family. (Millen - 1910)
|Warning - The trigger warnings for this chapter are "suicide attempt" and "depression." Please don't read if these events upset you. |
An Act in V Parts
Millen Tuscano’s Diary –
“For Adrian on his Sixteenth Birthday”
Sherwood & Sicily
August 1910 - February 1911
My story has many ups and downs, trials and tribulations, victories and sadness, and a tragedy that resulted in my grandfather being reunited with his long-lost brother. Looking back on it that cool, autumn day was the day our family began to change for the better.
Dylan and I raced home from our first day of junior year at Sherwood Academy, while Francis and Anna took the trolley home from college. Anna was studying art culture, and Francis was beginning his long, personal journey to becoming a doctor. Mother and Father met us on the veranda with a professional photographer, a man named Mr. Lymin.
We gathered on the steps, all six of us dressed in early Edwardian finery. Our mother wore a beautiful dress of pure silk and lace with a matching hat perched upon her head – while she clutched a parasol in her gloved hand. Father stood beside her wearing a tan suit and matching bowler hat. I remember laying my books on our porch swing and moving to stand in front of Anna. I was the youngest. The photographer’s brow turned down in a frown and suggested something that would start me on my journey of self-discovery.
“Millen, since you’re quite tall would you mind standing in the back beside your parents?” Mr. Lymin gestured toward the far step. “I’ll have Anna, Francis, and Dylan in the front since they’re the shorter.”
A nervous laugh escaped my throat as Dylan and I awkwardly maneuvered around one another. “But, we’re twins,” I remarked. “How can I be taller than him?”
“You’ve been growing since we returned from abroad,” Anna smirked, as she rolled her eyes. “I think your body is trying to catch-up with all the months you’ve been lacking behind Dylan.”
I cast my sister a dirty look, as I felt my father’s hand on my back. Last year, Dylan came of age and I patiently waited my turn, and to my disappointment, nothing happened. Despite the months of looking in the mirror and still seeing a child staring back, something remarkable happened to Dylan- he began to shave. The O’Connor curse had skipped him! To Anna’s and Francis’s disbelief, Dylan began following our father to the barbershop every morning before school. Francis was quite jealous, for he inherited the “so-called” curse.
After a grueling school year, Dylan and I passed our sophomore year at the top of our class. A note was mailed to my father’s office saying if I kept my grades, and extracurricular activities up for the following two years, I would be Valedictorian! Me, a child born in extreme poverty, not expected to amount to much in Brooklyn, was suddenly at the top of my class in Sherwood! My real parents would be proud.
To celebrate, father took us on a summer trip to Ireland. Francis used his early two-hundred and fifty dollar inheritance from grandfather and enrolled at a prestigious college for a summer course in natural cures - another step to becoming a well-educated doctor.
Dylan and Anna were excited for another reason; Ireland was the home of mama’s ancestors! We had relatives living there who never knew about us. We were all giddy on the boat ride. Our parents rented a grand, remodeled estate on one of the islands, and every morning we were awakened to the far off sounds of the monks singing as they cared for their animals in the mountains.
One day, I walked down the wooden steps and entered the kitchen. Mother stood in front of the stove and removed a tray of homemade blueberry biscuits. Taking a tea towel, I reached for one, careful not to burn my fingers.
“Thank you, mother,” my voice squeaked. I remember her eyelashes fluttering in amusement.
I turned my head and spotted Dylan sitting at the hand-carved, wooden table, listlessly clapping his hands. “About time you caught up with me,” he smirked. “I was worried we weren’t related.”
Smiling at the memory, I turned back to Anna who stood in front of mother. I caught her transferring her weight from one foot to another. The hem of her dress blew in the breeze, but the fabric strained against her stomach. Our sister had gained a noticeable amount of weight in Ireland.
“I’m not the only one growing, little brother,” I whispered using her old nickname.
Francis and Dylan muffled laughter, as Anna placed her hands on her hips and turned to glare.
“Millen, be nice to your sister,” mother hissed. “We all gained weight in Ireland, and now that we’ve returned I think we should all start watching what we eat, including you.”
Ignoring my sister’s glare, I looked down at Mr. Lymin who kept fiddling with the fancy equipment. A family tradition – first-day-of-school photos. I loved and hated them.
“Anna, did you get to see Conrad before we left for Ireland,” father asked, obviously trying to cheer her up. “He’ll be spending the next four years at Cornell studying chemistry and medicine.”
A look of pure disgust flashed over my sister’s face, as she turned from us.
“Yes, I called upon him before we both went our separate ways.”
Mother reached out to straighten the droopy bow in Anna’s hair.
“I still find it quite odd the boy is spending his entire college years up north, and not returning home for the holidays,” She frowned. “Then again, my brothers and I never returned home for the holidays during our years in boarding school.”
I noticed how my sister’s face turned down in a grimace as mother’s nimble fingers tightened the lace bow. Anna loathed hair ribbons, but unfortunately, it was part of her university dress code – unmarried women between the ages of eighteen and thirty are to have ribbons in their hair at all times. Spinster women over thirty and married women of any age must have their hair up in elegant Gibson Girl buns.
A few weeks ago, Anna received the strict dress code in the mail and promptly stormed over to our grandfather’s house. The town of Sherwood might have been named after our adopted great-great-grandparents, but grandfather had no control over the college or the dress code. Anna was expected to show up for class wearing dresses that reached below her ankle, and a neckline that hugged her throat. Under the heavy dress, she was expected to wear camisoles, bloomers, and black stockings, and her hair was to be pulled back and secured with a ribbon at all times.
Standing below me, Dylan and Francis had been enjoying the conversation.
“It’s a good thing Conrad has already left for college?” A slight laugh escaped Francis’s mouth, as he reached up to brush his hair from his eyes.
“Why’s that,” Anna asked, as she folded her arms over her stomach as if to hide it.
I watched my brother’s gaze travel over the front of her dress. “He might not recognize you because of the large amount of weight you gained in Ireland.”
On instinct, father reached out to restrain Anna, as she leaped forward to hit our brother.
“I said that’s enough,” mother snapped. “Mrs. Coffey is preparing a small salad and baked chicken tonight. I’m also quite positive athletics is part of your entire curriculum this year, so you four will be back in shape by Christmas.”
“I’m going to...” Anna started but was cut off by Mr. Lymin.
“Places everyone,” he chirped. “The camera is ready!”
I straightened myself and clasped my gloved hands behind my back. Grandfather always lectured on the importance of a well-dressed man from an elite household wearing silk gloves. I loved my weekend visits to my grandfather’s house, as he told us our new family history, and taught us basic etiquette.
My childhood friends in Brooklyn wouldn’t recognize the person I’ve become.
Over the years, my memory of living in that cramped, freezing apartment slipped further and further away, replaced by the realization of feather pillows, silk sheets, tailored clothing, and plenty of wood in the fireplaces during the winter.
Francis and Anna were the only two who remembered our past life. I’m ashamed to say the journal mother and father gifted us during our first Christmas has stayed empty. I wrote about my last memory of mama singing to me the day she was taken away to the sanatorium. I didn’t want to remember the cruel poverty, so I stopped writing. I hid the tiny book under my bed and promptly forgot about it. I wonder if my siblings finished writing their memories down?
I wasn’t stupid. I knew if our real parents hadn’t died, the four of us would be working in factories, wearing old clothing, with absolutely no chance of an education. Francis wouldn’t have the opportunity to go to medical school; instead, he might have moved down to Coney Island, married a large woman, and be the father of several unruly children by now. Instead, he is standing beside Anna wearing a beautiful, tailored suit that grandfather purchased him, his hair freshly washed, and on his way to becoming a doctor.
Dylan and I would probably be working at a shoe factory making ten cents a day while living together in a flat. One of the horrible memories I had of papa was his yelling that when we turned sixteen, Dylan and I would be out the door. A shudder raced through me at the memory. I rubbed my hands together, feeling the softness from the gloves. I had become the pampered, but not spoiled, son of Frank and Catrina Mueller. Cleo Woodrow, the richest man in Grayson County is my grandfather and he loves me, he loves us. I am safe. I am educated. I am not a peasant rat living in Brooklyn. Those days are over.
I have worked hard to become the person I am. I’m the top student at my school. After mastering proper English, I began studying Latin and Greek. Our family friend, Mr. Tuscano wishes for us to study Italian, and I will begin my Senior Year. I read two books a week. I have yet to figure out what I wish to study in college, but I know I will never work at a factory. I will never become the person I once was.
A bright light flashed over my face, and we all sighed with relief. Standing still for so long had taken its toll, especially on Anna.
“Are we done,” she huffed, her hands went to her plump stomach. “I’m exhausted.”
“Yes, dear,” mother responded. “Go inside, tea and scones are waiting in the parlor.”
Anna seemed to stumble up the stairs, before pausing. I reached for my books on the swing and turned. My siblings were also gathering their bags. I watched my father wander down to chat with Mr. Lymin. Mother seemed genuinely concerned with Anna’s changing appearance and sour tone.
Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed Anna’s gloved hand reach out and wrap around the doorknob. Dark smudges rested under her eyes. Perhaps she was ill and didn’t sleep well before her first day of junior year in college?
“Is there anything wrong?” Mother asked. “Do you wish to take a nap before dinner? I’ll have Mrs. Coffey bring your tea and scones upstairs.”
We all turned to Anna, only our father kept chatting with the photographer. I watched my sister’s two front teeth bite down on her lower lip. She closed her eyes and let out a sigh.
“I’ll take my tea upstairs,” she whispered and pulled open the heavy door.
“Of course,” mother responded, and we followed one another into the brightly-lit front parlor. The same room we enjoyed our first Christmas after being informed we had been adopted. Over the years, we’ve had several more Christmas mornings, birthday parties, and fireside chats with grandfather in the parlor. I didn’t know it at the time, but the best was yet to come.
I plopped down on the red velvet sofa beside Dylan and took a cup and saucer of herbal tea from the serving cart. Across from us, Francis spread out his medical books on the coffee table. I felt sorry for my brother. Since being accepted into the prestigious medical school, all he did was study. He had put his life on hold to become a doctor.
In high school, Francis wanted to be a photographer, but after grandfather told us the story of how he had to sign his name to save our mother’s life when she was only sixteen and dying of an ovarian cyst, Francis decided to make photography a hobby and reinstate his dream of being a doctor. The world needed more Liberal doctors like Dr. Alexander, and Francis knew he could become one.
Raising the cup of tea to my lips, I saw Anna absentmindedly pick-up a scone dripping with fresh strawberries and a cup of tea. She started for the stairs but turned around.
“I want to tell everyone something,” she announced. I swiftly swallowed the liquid in my mouth. It was quite rare our sister wanted to be the center of attention.
“Yes, Anna,” mother called out from the entranceway to the kitchen. I could see lines of worry appearing on her petite face.
“Well, I…” Anna paused and tugged at her baggy dress. She seemed at a loss for words. I watched her hand press against her stomach, as her face twisted in a snarl. “I want everyone to know I love you all.”
I placed my cup back in its saucer. We heard Anna’s footsteps up the wooden stairs, followed by the faint sound of her door closing. Or, should we say slamming!
“What on Earth,” mother stammered. “Perhaps I should go upstairs to see if she’s alright.”
Francis closed his heavy textbook with a thud. “She sounds depressed to me.” He picked up a pencil and twirled it in his fingers. “Usually people eat a lot when they’re not feeling good.”
“Why would she be sad,” Dylan asked. “She seemed happy on the trip, despite her constantly eating.”
“Perhaps you three shouldn’t have made fun of her.” I watched mother place her hands on her hips. “If your sister is going through a difficult time, we should be supportive. I’m quite positive she misses Conrad. The two of them have been close since our Christmas party in this very room several years ago. Upon realizing your sister is a girl, and not a boy named Theodore, he became smitten with her. Your father and I wouldn’t be surprised if Conrad proposes to Anna after he finishes his four years of college.”
Theodore! Marriage proposal! I felt my throat contract, as a wave of nostalgia raced through my body. Lord, how I missed Theodore. I know that Anna is Theodore, but it was different back then. Theodore was in charge. Theodore made sure we didn’t starve to death in Brooklyn. Theodore would beat-up anyone at the orphanage who made fun of us. Theodore made sure on adoption day we wouldn’t be picked and separated. Theodore saved my life when Mr. Tuscano’s ex-wife tried to kidnap me all those years ago.
Anna was different. Anna was a sullen girl who despised her fancy clothing. She had a melancholy look on her face and never bothered to make friends in school. Conrad and Benjamin were the only two people she talked to outside of school and church.
“Lord,” Dylan whispered beside me, careful not to let mother hear him using the Lord’s name in vain. “That’s a powerful flashback.”
Despite my brother’s soft tone, we heard our mother calling from the kitchen, “Dylan Jakob O’Connor-Mueller did you just use the Lord’s name in Vain?”
Francis snorted and settled down on the floor for a long evening of studying.
“No, mother,” Dylan stood up, grabbed my hand, and together the two of us flew up the stairs. I was laughing and out of breath by the time I reached our shared bedroom. The same room we’d been in since mother took us from the train station that freezing December morning.
“Mother’s right,” Dylan took the key from the fireplace mantle and locked the door. “We’re out of shape. You’re huffing and puffing.”
With a giggle, I tossed my books on my bed. “That reminds me,” I sighed in disgust. “We have to pick our athletics course for this year. I’d rather fail.”
Dylan plopped down on his bed that used to be Anna and Francis’s during our first month living in Sherwood.
“You can’t fail, remember?” He reached down to unlace his boots. “The school board believes you will be Valedictorian and you don’t want to disappoint Mr. Tuscano when he comes down for our sixteenth birthday party in February.”
“I know,” I snapped open my bookbag and rummaged around the papers. I found what I was looking for and held it out, reading aloud to Dylan.
“Millen Roberto O’Connor-Mueller,
Congratulations on being one of the top students at Sherwood Academy. At the rate you’re excelling, it is no doubt that you will represent our school as Valedictorian. To achieve this prestigious award certain criteria must be met. Attached you will find your course of study, extra-curricular activities, mandatory volunteer work, and reading guide that must be completed one month prior to senior year graduation. You must read and write a minimum five-paragraph essay on all one-hundred Ivy League College approved books starting your sophomore year and ending your senior year. Also starting this year you must choose a sport and stay with it until graduation. The choices are football, baseball, rowing, track, and field, or swim team“
“Ooh, football!” Dylan’s eyes enlarged. “Francis took football in high school and he loved it!”
“Ugh,” I perched on the edge of my bed, careful not to wrinkle the quilt that mother made for me last Christmas. Grandfather had given her one of the childhood quilts that his mother sewed for him during the Civil War. Mother repaired all the decaying stitch work and re-stuffed it full of cotton while I was at school. Second, to being adopted, it was the best Christmas present I’d ever received. I had no memory of our scant Christmas mornings in Brooklyn.
“I’m surprised Francis didn’t snap his neck.” I rolled my eyes at my brother’s two years of being the quarterback. He loved it.
A snort escaped Dylan’s mouth, as he stretched out on his bed. “Well, whatever sport you choose, I’ll do it with you. I can’t have my little brother all alone on the team for three years.” He buried his face in his pillows and turned back around, “Hey, I’ve always wondered why your middle name is Roberto? Mama never explained it.”
I shrugged my shoulder and dug out a copy of Alice in Wonderland that I purchased at Ferguson’s Bookshop during my lunch period. I might as well start this enormous reading list tonight.
“I’m guessing that was one of our ancestor’s names. It doesn’t sound Irish or Scottish to me.”
Dylan folded his arms over his pillow and lay his head down. “It sounds Italian.”
A funny sensation hit my stomach, and I swiftly passed it off as the custard-filled scone I’d eaten downstairs. My eyes skimmed over the sports choices. The only one that interested me in the slightest was swimming. I didn’t wish to change clothing in front of my classmates for the upcoming three years, but I had no choice. I had to become Valedictorian. It would be another step from leaving my peasant past behind me forever. Perhaps, our father would give me money to rent a private locker?
I remember the first year we were adopted. After returning from spending New Year’s Eve in Brooklyn with Mr. Tuscano, a private tutor was brought in to test all four of us to determine what level we were on. The tutor would then go on to teach Francis and Anna, while our mother taught Dylan and me.
The man sat before me and asked questions like, “Count as far as you can.” “Who was George Washington?” “If Mary picked ten apples, ate three, gave two away, how many does she have left?” “Do you know your multiplication tables?” “Here, open this book and read the first paragraph.”
Dylan and I never made it past the George Washington question. The tutor excused himself from the room, and I noticed Anna’s face flush. We could hear the man talking to our mother in the kitchen.
“Anna and Francis have a fifth-grade education, but alas, the twins can’t count past twenty, they don’t know who George Washington is, and when I asked them to recite the multiplication tables, Millen looked at me quite odd. I believe they have an extremely poor education resembling a five-year-old.”
That night, I locked myself in the bathroom and cried. My little ten-year-old self sat in the bathtub and commanded me to become the smartest person in the room. I felt incredibly stupid and foolish. Dylan and I attended school in Brooklyn, but we didn’t learn much from bored teachers. We were the children of factory workers, not the children of men living on 5th Avenue. It would be unnecessary to teach children who would probably drop out at fourteen to work at factories.
At that moment, I made the vow to escape my past. I was no longer the son of “Alcoholic Theodore O’Connor” I was the son of Frank and Catrina Mueller, and I had to become the person God wanted me to be.
“I suppose I’ll swim,” I shook my head at the memory, rolled my eyes at Dylan, and dropped the paper on the night table, along with Alice in Wonderland. “I’m not looking forward to it; the thought of undressing in those nasty locker rooms disgusts me.”
Dylan let out a laugh. “I’ll go with you Friday to Dr. Alexander’s office for our physical. Remember? We have to pass an exam and physical before joining any sports team.”
“Double yuck.” I let out a huge sigh and fell backward on the feather pillows. There was another reason I didn’t want to share a locker room with all the boys from my class. Underneath my mattress and box-springs was another journal tucked-up beside my Christmas one. The only difference was that I had been writing in this one. Every night while Dylan took his bath, I carefully dug the journal out and wrote down my daily observations.
Since coming of age, I’d noticed a few things different from my brothers. At first, I brushed it off, but after Mr. Lymin announced that I was taller than everyone, including my parents, and the look of disbelief on his face when I announced I was Dylan’s younger twin, I knew I had to write it down.
“Hey,” I pulled my legs up to my chest. “Did you know that I…” I started to tell Dylan about my differences when a sharp knock echoed through the room.
“Boys, can I come in?” Father asked behind the door. “I need to speak to you two.”
“Of course,” Dylan yelled back and straightened himself up. With a huff, I forgot about the journal for the time being and hauled myself off my bed to unlock the door.
“Thank you,” Father entered the room. I noticed he had removed his jacket and vest. “So,” he clasped his hands together and sat down in the rocking chair beside the fireplace. “How was your first day?”
A bit of nostalgia raced through me. My real papa never in his entire life asked us how our day went. He came home from work, slurped down his dinner, and went to bed. I shook my head at the disgusting memory. Part of me wanted to write it down in case I forgot. Another part of me said to forget it. The man was gone, and his ashes transported to Sherwood Cemetery. I could see him when I wished, but his cruel words could never harm me again. Father and grandfather were the number one men in my life. I had learned more from them in the short time I had been adopted, then the ten years I lived with papa.
“We chose the swim team for our athletic course.” I sat down back on the bed. “It’s the only sport that I care to join.”
I couldn’t help but notice the teasing smile on my father’s face. “You mean, you don’t want to try out for the football squad like Francis? He enjoyed his two years on the team, and was quite good at it.”
“Ugh,” I fell backward on the mound of pillows while ignoring father and Dylan’s laughter.
“If only shopping were a sport,” Dylan’s voice piped up. “Millen would be the best in the State of Texas.”
Picking up a small pillow, I threw it at my brother, who easily caught it. Perhaps, Dylan should join the baseball team instead?
“You seem to have taken after Jasper Woodrow’s love of shopping.” Father raised an eyebrow. “According to your grandfather, his brother loved spending money at all of the stores in Sherwood, and being fitted by the local tailors.”
I inwardly rolled my eyes and crossed my legs. “Well, grandfather takes me shopping every time I see him, so I don’t see what the big deal is,” I remarked. “I love spending time with him.”
Father nodded and let out a small sigh. “He’s making amends for the cruel way he treated the four of you in the beginning. I wish he would let the past stay in the past. The four of you have forgiven the man, as well as Catrina and me, and her brothers. I know it’s difficult for him. As the years swiftly pass by, he realizes that his brother will never return, and it makes him sad.”
“Hmm,” Dylan said, as I watched my brother straighten himself up. “I bet the secret to Jasper’s disappearance is in the attic. Why doesn’t grandfather bust the door down?” He asked. “Great Grandfather Alex is trapped in his mind at the hospital, and will never return home. If our grandfather is that concerned over his missing brother, perhaps being reunited with the boy’s belongings will cheer him up? Grandfather has told us that his brother kept many journals…” Dylan trailed off.
Father shook his head. “Catrina and I have mentioned this to Cleo many times, and the man refuses. Something is holding him back, it’s like he doesn’t want to know.”
I was about to ask my father why grandfather would be frightened of the truth at his advanced stage in life when the conversation was abruptly changed.
“Do the two of you know what’s on Anna’s mind lately?” Father asked, his brow narrowing in a frown. “I questioned Francis and all he responded with was possible depression over a topic we wouldn’t understand. Is she melancholy over Conrad leaving? I hope she won't be.”
Dylan and I turned to stare at one another. Something didn’t feel right about our sister.
“She seemed normal in Ireland,” I shrugged. “She ate a lot, but we all did. It wasn’t until we returned home and grandfather took us to Dallas for school clothing and she realized she couldn’t fit into her old size.”
“Hmm,” father leaned back as the old chair rocked forward. “Something is wrong, and your mother senses it more than I. Has she ever been sad in the past? In your Brooklyn days, did she have days of extreme sadness over nothing?”
Dylan and I turned toward one another. Theodore was never sad, always on the go. Always alert, and in control. He could tell us to pack up our belongings and we would be gone in five minutes.
“I don’t remember much of our childhood,” Dylan said. “But, I remember Theodore as being in control. He never cried, not even when our parents died. It was odd, then again, he told us not to be upset either.”
“You mean, Anna?”
I noticed the way father’s tone changed in bewilderment. I wanted to scream, Anna and Theodore are not the same people! But, I couldn’t. How could I explain?
“Yes, Anna…” Dylan muttered his eyes downcast. “She was Theodore then. She was always Theodore, even when our real parents were alive. Our real papa was an alcoholic, and mama a kitchen wife who never left the flat for any reason. It was as if she were frightened to leave as if someone might harm her. Theodore did all the daily chores and bought groceries from the markets after school. He woke us up in the morning and made sure we went to school. He was always in control. This new “Anna” is confusing. It’s like she’s putting on a play, and Theodore is pretending to be Anna.”
I felt my mouth drop in shock. Dylan had taken the words right out of my mouth.
“She shouldn’t feel the need to pretend to be someone else?” Father scrunched his face as he digested Dylan’s theory. “The person she was in the past… There is no reason for her to feel as if she has to hide her true personality.”
“I think the lifestyle change shocked her,” I whispered. “Dylan and I are too young to remember our past life in Brooklyn. Francis remembers but has adjusted to his new status in society. He joined the football squad, made friends, and made an easy transition. I don’t think Anna cares too much for the frilly clothing and proper manners all young women are supposed to have. She was sixteen when the two of you adopted us.”
Father shook his head. “I grew up in poverty as well. The only difference is that I was on a farm and the four of you in Brooklyn. I easily adjusted. Your grandfather gifted me the nursery as a wedding present because he knows I enjoy working outside. I don’t understand why your sister feels it difficult to adjust? She’s always welcome to talk to your mother, or me.”
“But, you’re not a girl.” I closed my eyes as the words shot out of my mouth. I caught Dylan raising his eyebrow, a smile creeping over his face. He understood.
“Women in Brooklyn work as the men do,” I continued. “Anna enjoyed working and being in control. Here in Sherwood she is the adopted granddaughter of Cleo Woodrow, and is expected to marry soon, and have children. I think it scares her since everyone is betting on Conrad to propose when he graduates university.”
“Oh?” Father asked. “Anna is always welcome to join me at the nursery after—“
Father was cut off as the sounds of footsteps rushing down the hallway grew closer and louder, coming to an abrupt stop in front of the bedroom door. A heavy pounding echoed through the room.
“Mr. Mueller, are you in there?” Mr. Coffey’s hysterical voice called out. “Your wife asked me to come to fetch you. She went to call upon Anna, and the girl was unresponsive in her bed. We think she overdosed on headache medicine!”
We flew into Anna’s bedroom and found Francis sitting beside her on the bed.
“She’s breathing slowly, which is a good thing.” He yelled at us. “Mother is on the kitchen telephone with Dr. Alexander.”
“Oh, my God,” I heard myself use the Lord’s name in vain. “What happened?”
I tried to maneuver myself over to the bed, but felt father’s hand on my arm, gently pulling me back to sit on the sofa in front of the fireplace.
“Let your brother handle the situation.” He whispered. “All we can do is sit and wait until the doctor arrives.”
I watched Francis pick up a paper bottle of medicine from the nightstand, and shake it. He tossed the bottle to father.
“It’s empty. She swallowed all six pills, and I don’t have the syrup to pour down her throat to help her vomit the medicine up. I hope Dr. Alexander arrives soon.”
Why would Anna swallow that many pills? I closed my eyes as the room began to swarm. Perhaps, she had a terrible migraine headache or stomach pains? It was no secret in our family that Anna inherited our real mama’s uncomfortable monthly pain. Francis inherited papa’s inability to grow facial hair, and Anna took after our mama.
Dr. Alexander examined her in the beginning and found nothing to be wrong. Unlike Catrina, there was no tumor or cyst. He called it “bad blood” descending from a woman in Ireland. A distant, distant great grandmother of ours had the “curse” and passed it down. Dr. Alexander also said Anna would be prone to miscarriages when she married. We spoke openly about such things. There was nothing to be ashamed of.
I could hear Francis talking to father and mother, but couldn’t understand the sentences. My breathing increased rapidly. Someone, possibly Dylan, had their arm around my shoulder and I felt fingers rubbing my upper arm. A vision of myself as a child stepping off the train and into the cold crept into my mind. I remember Anna yelling at the old man, who would later be a loving grandfather. The coldness swept over my tiny body and I began to tremble as the man shouted cruel things to me. In my memory, I burst out crying. I didn’t know I had begun crying in real life until my father came and sat beside me.
Over the years, grandfather purchased for me and my siblings anything we wanted, but we never demanded. He spent fortunes on toys, food, expensive clothing, and trips to visit historical places all over Texas. Not once did he apologize for his cruel words, but I knew he was sorry. I could see it on his face and in his actions.
That first year living in Sherwood, Dylan and I sat in his lap many times, as he skimmed over his family history and childhood books, excitingly telling us about our new family. Sometimes he would pause, and I felt a small shudder race through his body. He seemed to cover it up by tightening the grip around mine and Dylan’s shoulders, pulling us closer to him. At that moment I knew he was remembering the way he treated us on the train platform and was feeling guilty.
Sitting beside my father and brother on Anna’s couch, it all made sense. My body was strangely reacting to Anna’s overdose the same way it reacted when realization dawned on my younger self that I might die of an ear infection and the old man didn’t care. A deep feeling of emptiness entered my stomach, and I felt vomit race up my throat. The room grew dizzy; the same way the platform grew dizzy. My feet and arms felt numb. Was I dying? Impossible.
“Millen, it will be fine.” Father’s voice whispered in my ear. “Dr. Alexander is here, and he’s giving Anna a syrup medicine to help her body throw-up.”
I felt myself pulling away from Dylan as the sound of Anna throwing-up filled the room.
“It’s alright, baby,” father whispered. “Anna probably had a terrible headache, and took too many thinking it would help.”
Dr. Alexander’s laughter filled the room. “She’ll be fine! Mrs. Mueller, you found her right in the nick of time!”
“Thank God.” I overheard father whisper.
A smile crept over my face, as tears continued to cascade down my face. Anna was truly invincible. Accidently swallowing too many pills couldn’t harm her.
A few moments later, we stumbled from the room and down the stairs into the parlor. Dr. Alexander wished to talk and examine Anna in private.
“My dear,” father came up behind mother, wrapped his arms around her petite waist, and pulled her onto the couch. “I’m thankful your intuition acted up, or it might have been too late.”
I watched mother lay her head on father’s shoulder, as I sunk into the opposite couch beside my brothers.
“I know all of my children.” She whispered. “I knew the four of you before you came to me. I thought about you and prayed for you, and God delivered you through my father.”
I felt the tears threatening to once again fall. During the dark days of my adopted mother’s depression, she would think of the children she wished to have. She told us that she had decorated a spare bedroom for the daughter she wanted, and eventually, it became Anna’s room. Even though my mother's body couldn’t physically create children, she still thought and prayed about the children she wanted. Mother was correct. God took the four of us from Brooklyn and sent us to Texas to be with our new parents.
I turned to lay my head on Dylan’s shoulder, which was no easy task since I was quite taller than him. Placing my hand on my knee, I noticed the tiny mole on my thumb. It had been there all my life.
The first time I noticed it was when grandfather pointed it out. The summer after we were adopted, he invited us to spend the night at his house. To the delight of Dylan and me, grandfather allowed us to sleep in Jasper’s old remodeled room. Francis had Grandpa Alex’s room, and Anna slept in our mother’s childhood room. Uncle Jasper and Uncle Clinton were back to living with their father and moved into their old room downstairs.
During the night, I awoke to use the bathroom and got lost on the second floor. Grandfather’s childhood home was a castle compared to our house across town. It was one of the first ten homes built in Sherwood, and nobody in town knew the locks, doorknobs and secret hallways were created by Heather Woodrow.
I remember spying an arc of light coming from a semi-open door and believing it to be the recently built bathroom I pushed the door open and found myself in my grandfather’s room, which had been his childhood room. He sat in a chair in front of the fireplace, writing in a journal. When he spotted me he smiled, placed the book on the table, and gestured for me to come forward. After using his private bathroom, I slipped into his lap, and we ate cookies, drank lemon tea, and chatted.
As I reached for the last cookie, grandfather let out a startled gasp and gently took a hold of my hand and held it out to compare it with his own. Both of us had the same mole on our thumb! I remember him kissing the top of my head, and saying, “Perhaps we’re related down the line! Your real mama came from Ireland and my family came from England. There is a good possibility they intermingled during the Era of King Henry VIII before going their separate ways!”
A warm aura swept over my tiny body. How wonderful it would be to be related to my adopted grandfather! His family descended from British royalty. Mama knew nothing of her Irish family. Before returning to bed, grandfather told me his two sons, brother Jasper, his father Alex, Uncle William, and Great Grandfather Diez Woodrow all had a mysterious mole on their thumb. They called it the “Woodrow birthmark.”
Grandfather joked that my mole must have appeared the day Frank and Catrina adopted us. I agreed with him and kept silent. The mole had been on my thumb all my life. Surprisingly, nobody else in my family had it.
Back on the couch, I felt Dylan running his fingers through my hair. Mother was correct. She must have commanded us to come to her. After all, I had the Woodrow birthmark.
“Mr. and Mrs. Mueller, can I speak to the two of you with your children present?”
I turned my head at Dr. Alexander’s somber tone. The man looked disheveled and composed at the same time. I could tell by the worry lines on his forehead that something was the matter.
“Of course,” mother straightened herself up. “I think I know what you wish to tell us.”
“If only it were that easy.” Dr. Alexander let out a sigh and sat before us.
When the doctor felt all eyes on him, he let out another sigh.
“This won’t be easy, but Anna wishes for her secret to be revealed.”
“Oh,” mother said. “I believe I…” she started to say, but Dr. Alexander gently interrupted her.
It’s not what you think.” He closed his eyes and continued. “I examined and talked to your daughter. I couldn’t find anything that could have caused her to take an entire, unopened bottle of pills. She confessed that she didn’t have a head or stomach ache.”
“Your daughter misses being a boy.” Dr. Alexander continued. “These past few years have been quite difficult on her. She loathes everything there is to being a well-to-do young lady in Texas. I told her she doesn’t have to join Texas society, she can apply for a job, and with Frank and Cleo’s connections can easily be hired. She told me that wasn’t it.”
I felt Dylan tense up beside me. We turned to stare at one another. It was if the conversation we had with our father was coming true.
“As I told Millen and Dylan,” father said from across the room. “If Anna wishes to work for a living, Catrina and I have no problem with that. We do understand that young women in a wealthy society rarely have a job. We have no problem if Anna wishes to become an art teacher or join me at the nursery. I wish she would have told me this.”
Dr. Alexander shook his head. “That’s not what she wants.”
“Then what is the problem?” Mother asked. “Is it?”
I watched the doctor clasp his hands to his knees. “What I’m about to tell you will be kept a secret. You have no worries about me informing anyone in my office, my wife, or my family. Nobody in Sherwood will know about this. If Anna wishes for her grandfather, her two uncles, or her cousins in Oklahoma to know, she will inform them herself.”
By now all eyes were on Dr. Alexander. What could it be? Why was Anna eating herself in depression? Why did she absentmindedly swallow six pills knowing it could harm her?
“Anna wants to be a boy again, and I think she should.” Dr. Alexander announced.
I heard my mother give a startled gasp. I noticed the look of surprise on my father's face. His eyebrows rose, he fluttered his eyelashes. How in the world could our sister become a boy again? Everyone in town knew her to be Anna. If she walked out in public dressed in men’s clothing, there would be trouble. The local policemen would go to our father’s nursery or grandfather’s law office. There would be gossip of Anna going to jail if she wasn’t Cleo Woodrow’s adopted granddaughter.
“What I mean.” Dr. Alexander continued. “She is beyond depressed. I believe in something that the majority of doctors believe to be foolish. I believe a person can be born in the wrong body. I believe Anna was meant to be a boy, and she believes it as well. Any other doctor would believe her to be insane and taken to an institution. Those are horrible places that do more harm than good. I have personally seen patients with Anna’s condition locked in chains to the wall, beaten, starved, and given electricity treatment. They believe what she has is the devil’s work, but I don’t believe that at all.”
The room grew so silent you could hear the children playing across the street. Mother seemed at a loss for words. Of course, she was. Anna was the daughter she’d always wanted. Mother decorated Anna’s room before our grandfather adopted us. Mother always wanted a girl.
“I-I-I,” mother stammered. Father wrapped his arm around her and pulled her close. I noticed Dylan’s lips moving. Francis kept staring at Dr. Alexander. Did he believe the man to be correct? Or, was Francis going to be one of the doctors that would send Anna to an institution?
“I will be happy to take her away for two months for surgery.” Dr. Alexander reached up to brush the hair out of his eyes. “She told me she saved up the money she was given on her eighteenth birthday as an early inheritance. I told her I would do it for free. I believe she needs this operation. She can be Theodore again at home, and naturally Anna in public.”
Theodore! The name whispered in my head, and I closed my eyes as the memory came pounding back. Mama died and the Polish couple threw us out on the streets like garbage. Theodore told us to grab our belongings. He was in charge now. We marched through the early October slush, down the streets of Brooklyn, and to the docks. We passed the pauper’s cemetery and made our way to the bridge. Patiently we waited in the alleyway until the workers left for the day. Our papa was somewhere in the water. His body had never been recovered. I felt nothing for the man.
As the sun began to set, we gathered under the bridge, and like a dream, the lost and abandoned children of Brooklyn appeared. They came to escape the wind and rain. Theodore made Dylan and I sleep on the bottom of the pile, while he and Francis were on top. A thin blanket wrapped securely around us. The other children wouldn’t bother us for we had nothing to steal, and Theodore had a knife he’d snatched from a street butcher. We were safe. We felt protected. We didn’t need our parents. We had Theodore, and he was going to make sure we survived.
“He needs to have the operation.” I opened my eyes and everyone was staring at me. “Anna doesn’t exist.”
Mother kept staring in bewilderment, while my father was at a loss for words.
“I agree.” Dylan chimed in.
“Me too,” Francis added. “I incorrectly diagnosed Anna. I believed she was overeating because she was depressed at Conrad moving away. I was wrong, and if I’m going to be a well-educated doctor like you, I need to know how to listen to my patients. So, I agree. Let Anna have the operations.”
“You mean, Theodore.” Mother whispered.
We all turned to her, and she let out a laugh. “Oh, my gosh,” she whispered. “I feel so horrible. How could I have not known? I thought she was… I was ready to hunt down Conrad and…”
I felt myself fall back on the couch as it hit me. Mother believed Anna to be with Conrad’s child! A tiny laugh escaped my throat, then another, and another until tears started to fall.
“Millen it’s going to be alright.” Dr. Alexander’s voice called out. “I will take Anna, I mean Theodore away for two months and she should, I mean he will be ready to come home before Christmas. Mrs. Mueller, I know how much you want the children around you during that time.”
“Yes,” mother answered. She seemed to have composed herself. Her handkerchief balled in her fist. I noticed the water streaks on her face. Hopefully, she was crying from laughter, and not upset over her daughter’s abrupt gender change.
Theodore should have never been forced to become Anna. The past years had been awkward for us. I silently watched my sister, I mean brother, wear clothing he hated, grow his hair down to his waist, apply make-up powder, and learn to become a proper young lady. It was foolish.
On the other hand, I slipped into my world with my brothers and pushed away my peasant past. I wanted this new lifestyle and identity. I craved it. It seemed Theodore wanted it too. He didn’t want to be a proper young lady. He wanted the new lifestyle my brothers and I had because Anna didn’t exist.
“Well now,” Dr. Alexander said. “Does everyone feel better? Theodore is upstairs scared to death that the five of you will reject the new change.”
“What,” father shot a look of disbelief. “Theodore should have informed us on his eighteenth birthday. We would have allowed you to give him the operations then.”
“I love that you’re already using proper gender pronouns.” Dr. Alexander smiled, as he reached into his vest pocket.
Father let out a chuckle and gestured toward Dylan, Francis, and me. “Of course, I am using proper gender pronouns. I have four sons.”
Dylan bounced beside me, while mother continued to pat her face dry. Lord, I hope she was crying happy tears.
“Boys,” Dr. Alexander announced. “Your older brother is waiting upstairs. Don’t be fooled by the nightgown and long hair. When he returns from surgery in November, you won’t recognize him anymore. Theodore wishes for the three of you to sleep in his bedroom tonight. I will be taking him to a private hospital in Oklahoma tomorrow. We already discussed this. Theodore is of an age where he doesn’t need his parent’s permission to have a life-changing operation. I’m well aware that the rules state a woman must have a man’s signature before undergoing a major operation. I’m also well aware that the Mueller-O’Connor household is extremely Liberal. That being said, Theodore will be leaving with me tomorrow after dinner.”
“So soon,” mother pulled herself up. “She – I mean, he has never been by himself before. Can’t we wait a week, or two?”
Dr. Alexander gave a slight shake of his head. “I’m sorry. If you want Theodore to return home by Christmas the operation must be done by next week. Hysterectomy and breast removal are major surgeries that require weeks of recovery.”
A look of discomfort passed over my mother's face. “Yes, I remember my hysterectomy. I was drugged up on morphine at the hospital for almost a month afterward.”
Slowly I stood from the couch, as my father tried to comfort our mother. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed Dr. Alexander remove a piece of paper from his vest pocket. I glanced at my brothers and rolled my eyes. He was waiting for the three of us to leave the room before showing our parents.
We galloped up the stairs and down the hallway. Standing in front of Anna – I mean Theodore’s bedroom door, I reached out and knocked several times.
“Little brother,” I called out. “Let us in.”
“It’s unlocked. Can’t you open the door yourself? I’m in the middle of something important.” I heard him spat.
I felt my mouth stretch into a smile at my brother’s bossy tone. I reached out to turn the doorknob and spotted him sitting on the edge of his bed wearing what looked to be men’s pajamas. A pair of scissors clutched in his hand, while a pile of hair cascaded to his feet. A blanket had been wrapped around his body to hide his stomach. Memories of him cutting his hair off in Mr. Tuscano’s attic entered my mind, and I knew I had to write it down in my journal. Theodore was truly back to stay.
END PART ONE OF FIVE