When I finally confronted my mother about the scant thirteen months between my older sister’s birth and mine, my goal was to pop her life-is-better-when-it’s-orderly bubble. She was berating me about my general air of moving through life by happenstance, and I’d been holding this card in my back pocket for a while. Mom admitted that I wasn’t a planned pregnancy and that she’d been on a new form of birth control that flat-out failed. She was actively intending to stop at two kids.
“You mean, with all your good planning, something went horribly wrong.”
“It wasn’t horrible! It was a surprise.”
“Sure, everybody loves surprises.”
“I always thought you were a good surprise, but now I’m wondering.” Mom never knew when a joke was not a joke.
I hung up and stomped into the bathroom. I was not convinced by her Pollyanna words. My very existence was troublesome, unwieldy. I was tossed out into this straight path family, this world that was not prepared to receive and make use of me. The videos I made so far in school focused on people abandoned by society: the dying, the homeless, and the orphans. I could relate.
I drew in eyeliner too dark and harsh for what I would someday embrace as my sensitive nature. I put on layers of black borrowed from my much cooler housemates. I booted myself out of the house.
On the way to school I bumped into a spry, grandfatherly man with a blue cardigan the color of trouble-free days.
“Oh my god, you’re Mister Rogers!”
“Why, yes I am. Hi, neighbor!” His eyes twinkled at me and smile lines creased his face.
“I’m having a crap day, so it’s really strange to meet you. But very nice too.” Despite my desire to continue brooding, my inner kindergartner was perking up, wanting to impress the nice man from the TV.
“What’s your name?” We fell into step, headed towards the expensive university down the hill. I remembered then that the TV studio that held his miniature neighborhood was very close to campus.
“Claude. Short for Claudine.”
He eyed my ill-advised penchant for black and said, “You could spell it C-L-A-W-E-D.”
“I sometimes feel that way,” I admitted.
“You can call me Fred.”
“No way! You’ll always be Mister Rogers. Aren’t you a minister or something?”
“I am, but nobody calls me Reverend. Whatever makes you comfortable.”
We had reached the top of the golf course and he paused, as if knowing I might want to veer off the busy main street. I started to cut across the shorn fresh green, and he followed gamely. He broke the companionable silence after a bit.
“Why are you having a crap day?”
“I got my mother to admit that I was a mistake. She is a control freak, except for this. She only really wanted my brother and sister. It all makes sense now!”
“What makes sense?”
“They are so easy for her, engineering and finance. She never knew what to do with me. I have to figure everything out myself. Scholarship, work study, the whole thing.”
He considered me and my vortex of sad story. “Art student? Drama?” Living and working near campus, Mister Rogers had seen it all. The goth light look was a giant clue, this void of color and hue. Plus he detected my addiction to the habit of doom.
“Art. Video arts, actually.”
“Video? Maybe you’d like to visit the studio sometime. I could introduce you to our director. He’d let you see how we put things together for our show.”
I stopped and stared at him. My mouth may have gaped. That patient voice gently made its way to meaning in my brain. The cardigan, the easy-tie sneakers, and the silvered hair, all here now. “But you don’t even know me. Why would you do that?”
He shrugged. “Why not? You seem like a good person, Claude. Our studio likes visits from the college students.” He oozed kindness with no agenda.
I nodded, accepting, thanking him. Why not indeed? We made a plan for Wednesday morning.
“Did you know that most people on the planet are ‘accidents’?”
“Think about it. Most of us are not planned for, but here we are anyway.”
I considered my brother, so wanted, the first grandchild, a prized prince. Even my sister, completing the boy-girl set. And then me, the unexpected spare.
“Were you intended?” As soon as it was out of my mouth, I wanted to take the question back. It seemed too personal for Mister Rogers.
“On one level, no. But in the bigger scheme of things, yes. Very much so.”
“How do you know?”
“My faith tells me so. That’s the only difference between you and me. I choose to believe that the world wants me here. And I act accordingly.”
The sycamores rustled, the birdsong increased, and I felt a gong had been struck inside me. In that reverberation, we shook hands, and Mister Rogers continued down through the park to the studio. I walked on to campus and climbed up three flights of worn marble stairs to Bruce’s class in the Fine Arts building. As the rest of the class gathered, I felt a glow deep in my belly. Bruce reminded us of the topic of the day: lighting and the importance of the right kind of illumination.
# # #
Carol Harada is a somatic healing practitioner at Deep River Healing and a member of the Laguna Writers community in San Francisco. She incorporates awareness of healing and creative processes into her short stories and novel-in-progress. She has been published in Gravel; Fickle Muses; Still Point Arts Quarterly; The Saturday Evening Post; Bryant Literary Review and others. And she has read at the esteemed literary series Why There Are Words and Bay Area Generations. www.carolharadacreates.com
Photo credit: Dirk Dreyer www.dreyerpictures.com