Toni shields her eyes from a bright light. Slowly it fades away and she lowers her hands. What she sees astonishes her.
“Are you okay dear?”
Toni jumps at the sound of Mrs. Wiggin’s voice. She hadn’t realized she was still beside her.
“I think so. Where are we, Mrs. Wiggins?” Toni asks.
“Well Toni, we’ve gone back in time,” Mrs. Wiggins answers, “And you might as well call me Maude. We’re going to be here awhile.”
“Where is here?” Toni asks.
“Here is your past. I brought you back to see several ways you’ve made mistakes in the past. I’m hoping it will enable you to move forward in the future. You know, like A Christmas Carol.”
“Wow. Am I really as bad as Scrooge?”
“No… but you are definitely acting like no one cares. He didn’t think anyone cared. After he lost his partner, he hardened his heart. He didn’t let other people in to love him. You’ve done that too.”
Maude squeezes Toni’s hand reassuringly and smiles. Toni noticed that Maude (it sounded weird calling her that) was now dressed in more “traditional” clothes, but they seemed to be a bit dated.
“What year is this?” Toni asked staring at Maude’s bellbottomed pants and flower-print peasant top.
Toni realizes she is wearing similar clothes.
“Well… I was only 4 then,” she says, picking fuzzes off her own brown pants, “How could I have even made decisions?”
“It wasn’t your own decisions dear. But the decisions of those around us affect who we are; it teaches us how to behave – right or wrong. So… we’re here to see your mother and father.”
Toni’s knees almost buckle, but Maude holds tight to her hand and holds her up with her other arm. Toni has not seen her mother since she died two years ago. She misses her badly, but she had been difficult to live with. Her mother had always been depressed. She often accused Toni’s father of not loving her, and Toni had felt bad for her. Her parent’s relationship had always been tortured, but Toni had always felt loved.
Staring into what she realized was her parents’ kitchen; she was startled to see her father sitting at the table. He, too, had died several years ago, but here he looked younger, stronger.
“Can he see me?” she asks Maude.
Toni let go of Maude’s hand and moves closer. His head is in his hands. He appears to be sobbing and then she hears mumbling.
“I can’t keep doing this. Oh God, please help us.”
“What is he talking about?” Toni asks, looking to Maude with concern on her face.
Just then her mother walks into the room with little Toni in tow. It looks like they too have been crying, except her mother looks very angry as well.
“Bill, I will not go through this anymore. Toni and I deserve better. We deserve someone who loves us. We’re leaving,” her mother states and turns for the door.
Toni’s father leaps out of the chair and catches her mother by the arm.
“No! Please don’t go. You know I love both of you. How could you even think that I didn’t?” he pleads.
Toni’s mother yanks her arm from his grasp.
“You should have thought of that before you went out with the boys!” she spits into his face, then turns and leaves the room. The kitchen door swings wildly while Bill stands there, his hand still reaching forward as if to plead with her, giant tears rolling down his face.
Toni’s hand reaches out to touch him, but then she yanks it back and covers her mouth with it instead. She turns to Maude. Toni raises her eyebrows and tries to blink back her own giant tears.
“I don’t remember that,” she says through her fingers, shaking her head slightly.
“Thank God,” Maude replies, “She will come back in a few hours. But not before your father’s heart has been completely broken thinking that he had lost his wife and child over a simple men’s night out. You see, Toni, he loved you so much. He loved your mother so much. But she didn’t see that. Any small indiscretion or step he made, she jumped on and accused him of not loving her. It was like walking on eggshells. He never knew what was going to set her off. This isn’t the first time she left, or the last.”
Toni remembers other times she’d left, dragging little Toni with her each time. Hours spent in the car, driving towards nowhere, while her mother complained endlessly about how worthless her father was. Toni had grown to hate him over time, believing everything her mother had said. They had always ended up back home though. Mother hadn’t enough funds to go too far. And her father had always hugged them and welcomed them back.
She hadn’t remembered that part before now.
She turns back to her father, who has sunk to the floor. He is continuing to sob there, like a lost puppy without a friend. Her heart aches for him now, seeing him as he really is: hurt. Her mind screams hatred for her mother. How could she have treated him this way? Wasn’t it obvious he loved her? Why would she do this?
Then realization hits her.
“Oh my God,” she says, turning back to Maude, “I do that to Lou don’t I?”
“Yes,” Maude replies, stepping forward to once again take Toni’s hand, “But that’s why we’re here: to change all that.”