When Sylvia was first diagnosed with cancer, she wisely insisted on having a will prepared to set me up as Melissa’s legal guardian after she died. It wasn’t a subject I wanted to think about, but I realized it was necessary, no matter how distasteful it might be.
Now the time was approaching when I would have to take over those responsibilities. I had to admit, though only to myself and with no small amount of guilt, that even while being heartbroken at the thought of losing Sylvia, I would be happy to become Melissa’s guardian.
I had been with Melissa throughout her entire childhood so far. I had experienced her first smiles, steps, words, and misdeeds. I knew her as well as Sylvia did, and I certainly loved her just as much. I knew nothing could replace a mother’s love, but I hoped, with time, Melissa would come to love me as much as I did her, and she would think of me as her mother. I planned to legally adopt her as soon as possible.
I was aware motherhood had its ups and downs, but from what I had seen and experienced so far, there seemed to be a lot more laughter than tears. Melissa was a bright, loving, and beautiful child. She could also be stubborn, hard-headed and tough as nails. No matter what, I was determined to love her through the good and the bad.
Therefore, it came as quite a shock when Sylvia decided to broach a difficult subject with me.
It was Sylvia’s third day home. We had started to establish a routine. I had temporarily moved in with her. Again. It seemed we were always temporarily moving in with each other. When she was a struggling artist, trying to get by on odd jobs and make money with her paintings on the side, we had lived together in a small apartment.
Afterwards, she took on a steady, well-paying job with a commercial art firm and was able to save enough money to buy her own home. At that point, I was going to university, was broke, and needed a place to stay. She, of course, took me in.
Later, I moved into my own apartment. Now I was back with her again, albeit with a heavy heart, knowing this would be the last time we would live together.
Every morning, I would get Melissa off to school. Then, a neighbor, Ellen McDonald, would stay with Sylvia for a few hours. There was also a nurse who would come by every day to administer medication and check her vital signs and progress.
During this time, I would go to the office to hurriedly review the jobs in progress, meet with my employees, sign checks, and return any calls that absolutely needed to be handled by me personally. Luckily, I had two extremely competent employees.
Charlotte was twenty-five and worked as my receptionist, secretary and all-around gofer. She was a good worker and never hesitated to jump in wherever she was required, which was exactly what I needed.
Sandra was thirty, the same age as I, and she had even more experience in the field of interior design than I had. She was also a workhorse. I thanked my lucky stars that she preferred being an employee to being self-employed, because I would much rather have her working for me than competing against me.
I was able to rest assured that my business was in good hands and, if they needed to, anyone could contact me at Sylvia’s house or on my cell phone.
By late morning, I would return home and lunch with Sylvia, although my friend hardly ate anything. Afterwards I’d spend the afternoon by her bedside, keeping her company, the two of us chatting all the while. There had never been a shortage of conversation between Sylvia and I.
One afternoon, Sylvia told me she had something very important to discuss with me.
“I’m sorry, Becca, but I have to ask you to promise me something.”
“Anything,” I replied, earnestly. “You know that.”
“Well, you may not feel that way about this promise.”
“What is it?” I was certain it was about Melissa, and I couldn’t blame Sylvia for being concerned.
She sighed deeply. “I’ve had a lot of time to think lately and I realize there’s something which has to be done, in an attempt to make things right.”
She was making me feel uneasy, but I didn’t speak. I could see she was agitated, so I let her gather her strength before she continued.
“Becca, after I’m gone, I want you to contact Melissa’s father and tell him he has a daughter.”
I was stunned. Of all the things I could imagine her asking me that was not one of them.
“What! You said you never wanted him to know. You were adamant.”
“I know that. I’ve changed my mind. He should know, and Melissa may someday want to know who her father is. I can’t take this secret to my grave.”
I couldn’t speak. So many thoughts were racing through my head but I couldn’t get them into any logical order. I just stared at Sylvia, dumbfounded.
She took a deep breath and went on, “I can’t leave this earth without revealing who he is. And I now believe he has the right to know. He can decide if he wants to acknowledge Melissa as his or not.”
“But you said he didn’t deserve to know. You said he wouldn’t want her. You said she was better off without him. Don’t you remember?”
“Of course, I remember, and he probably won’t want her, but I think he should be given the choice.”
“Why?” I said. “What made you change your mind? Why now? Why can’t we just leave well enough alone? Melissa will have me. If she didn’t need him before, why should she need him now?”
The irony of the situation was not lost on me. Years ago, I had tried to convince Sylvia to contact the father, telling her he had a right to know. Now, I desperately wanted to have Melissa to myself. I didn’t want to lose her too. Suddenly, I had a terrible thought.
“You don’t trust me to take care of her. That’s it, isn’t it?”
I spoke slowly, unable to hide my feelings of betrayal and devastation.
Sylvia’s eyes immediately filled with tears. She reached out and grabbed my hand, clutching it with a surprising amount of strength.
“No, Becca, I swear that’s not it. Believe me. I know, without a doubt, that you’re the best person on the face of this earth to keep her safe and happy. You’ll give her exactly the kind of upbringing she needs.”
I leaned forward and stared intently into her eyes.
“Then why?” I asked softly.
“Like I said, I think it’s the right thing to do.”
She had moved her gaze away from me as she spoke.
“Sylvia,” I continued, in a controlled voice. “What if he wants to take her away from me? What will I do? Don’t you realize what could happen here?”
“I realize the possibilities, but I don’t think the probability is very high. I don’t think he will want to acknowledge her. He probably won’t even believe you.”
“Then why?” I answered quickly, “Why can’t we just leave well enough alone?”
“Because my conscience won’t allow it. Please Becca, I’ve thought long and hard about it and you have to do this for me,” she pleaded.
“Why me? Why didn’t you do it yourself, years ago?”
“Because I just made my final decision a couple of days ago and I don’t have the strength to go see him now.”
I crossed over to the window and stared outside, unseeingly. My mind was racing. After several moments of silence, I forced myself to say the words.
“I’ll bring him to you.”
“No,” she said. “I want you to wait until I’m gone.”
I turned to look at her. Again, I said, “Why?”
“Because I’m going to take the coward’s way out. I can’t face him. I don’t want to face him. I’m not strong enough.”
“Sylvia, you’re the strongest person I know,” I replied, gently.
“Not when it comes to him, Becca. I never had control when I was with him. That’s how this whole mess happened in the first place. Not that I regret having Melissa, never that, but…”
“But what, Sylvia?”
“I guess my real reason for not wanting to see him is that I never completely got over him and, at this point in time, I’m having enough trouble dealing with never seeing you or Melissa again. I don’t need to be reminded of what I lost when I lost him.”
I slumped into my chair dejectedly and let my head fall into my hands. This whole conversation had come out of left field. There were too many emotions crowding into my head. I couldn’t sort them out.
“I don’t understand.”
“I hope you will someday. For now, just let me explain.”
She went on to tell me the story of Michael Alexander Walters.