The Little Green Dress

I held her close and cradled her head.

Soft, velvety cheeks. A round rosy nose. Dark hair like mine, but curly. Eyes, blue, that sparkled like the ocean I’d seen in storybooks. I kissed her sweet-smelling face. Her soft, pudgy hand with tiny fingers, curled inside mine. My new baby sister, Anna, melted my heart. I won’t be alone anymore and she won’t be alone. I caressed her face and whispered, “I’ll stay by your side for always.”

Soon left with the responsibility in caring for her, I became my sister’s substitute momma. I loved her and took care of her as best as a seven-year-old could.

The day we ran out of baby formula and diapers, I didn’t know what to do. I waited until Anna stopped fussing and fell asleep in her carriage (we didn’t have a crib for her). Then I ran to the corner to a hole-in-the-wall where I knew my mama and step-dad Jimmy were.

A blinking neon beer sign over the door clattered when I pushed it open. Dimmed lights hung from the ceiling. The hazy, smoke-filled room from cigarettes made my eyes water and nose run. Loud music played on the jukebox. Boisterous men and women engaged in a game of shuffleboard, others threw darts. Still others sloshing their drinks perched themselves on bar stools, carrying on like screaming peacocks.

“Whataya have?” yelled the bartender. I jumped at his voice, thinking he meant me.

“Hey Charlie, whose girl is this?” a man grinning with a silver tooth asked.

“She’s Ruthie’s little girl,” Charlie answered, pointing in the direction where Mama sat.

The all too familiar rowdy voices of my parents’ cursing at each other reached my ears. I ran toward them. When I told Mama about Anna, she and Jimmy started arguing over money.

I waited, feeling forgotten, wishing Mama would hurry and come home with me. Then someone handed me a nickel to play the jukebox. I remembered my manners, thanked him, put my coin in the slot, and punched in the numbers to Spanish Eyes.

At last, Jimmy gave Mama what she wanted, but he remained roosted on his stool.

When we returned home, we never imagined that someone had called the law. They met us at our front door holding my naked sister, wrapped in a soiled blanket.

“Is this your baby?” an officer demanded of Mama.

“Yes . . . yes . . .” her voice cracked.

“Ma’am, have you been drinking?” The other cop asked in a gruff voice. But before Mama answered, he stepped forward and said, “Turn around and put your hands behind your back. You’re under arrest for child abandonment.”

“Ma—?” I choked back the burn in my throat.

To my horror, the police officer put handcuffs on Mama and started telling her something about “remaining silent.”

Why can’t she talk? “Tell him, Mama,” I insisted and started to cry. I turned to the officer to explain, “We were going to buy milk and diapers for my sister . . .”

He didn’t hear me and shoved Mama in his police car. She looked at me; her face glistened with tears running down as they drove away.

“Where . . . is he taking my mama?” I choked, sobbing. I hovered close to Anna, ready to grab my sister, to run fast and hide before he took us to jail, too. In my confusion, I don’t recall what he said except that they were there to help and to take us to protective custody. I protect my sister, I thought. I begged him not to separate us.

The cop drove us to a children’s hospital for routine examination and to remain there for safekeeping until a suitable family member claimed us.

(TWO YEARS LATER):

A siren blared nearby.

I turned to Mama and asked, “Where’s Anna?”

“That drunken louse came by to bother me again,” she huffed.

“Mama, you said you were finished with him.”

She swatted the air with her hand as if shooing a mosquito. “He insisted on taking his little girl for a short walk.”

A neighbor came running and whispered breathlessly with Mama. Right then, a police car pulled up, its radio static coming from within. An officer climbed out of his cruiser and walked toward them. Within seconds, someone let out a cry, her voice sounded familiar. In shock, I witnessed my hysterical Mama sprinting down the street. I stifled a scream. My heart pounded in my chest. I didn’t know what happened, where she was going or why.

I don’t remember who drove us to the hospital. But once we arrived, a nurse pointed down the hall to where they cared for her. Except I couldn’t go to see her because I was too young.

I had to see her.

My legs trembled as I crept to her room and peered through the glass-paned door on my tiptoes. First, I saw a blinking monitor. Then I saw her—my baby sister—with soiled feet still in her favorite, green denim dress, tattered and torn. On her back Anna lay motionless, her curly brown hair matted with blood. Her face bruised and swollen, her baby blues closed tight.

I felt light-headed as I slumped on the floor, pulling my knees to my chest, crying.

That night, we returned to the scene of the accident. I will never forget the puddles of congealed blood that saturated the street. I wanted to scream. To run. To hide. Blood-soaked rags from my sister littered the pavement.

Others offered shallow words of comfort. “Don’t cry,” they said. “Think positive thoughts,” they chimed. “The doctors are doing everything they can for your little sister.” But all I heard was my sister’s blood calling out to me, along with my broken promises: “I’ll protect you,” pounding in my head.

A couple of days after, I awakened to the sound of rain and a car door slamming. I peeped out my window and saw a taxi pulling away from the curb. My grandparents, their faces grim and eyes downcast, walked to our doorstep. A shiver ran down my spine and a horrible dread washed over me. I threw myself on the bed, a knot lodged in my throat. Then I heard my mother’s wails. I curled up in a ball and covered my ears. God, it hurts! I cried. Make the pain go away.

My sister was gone. Forever. A month earlier, we celebrated her birthday. She had just turned two. I was nine, but felt ancient. Empty. And heavy. The weight of the world on my thin shoulders.

Like a fuzzy video tape, fragments of blurred images and sounds played across my mind: Anna’s dancing blue eyes, laughter like the morning sun, vibrant flowers . . . Mama’s primal screams, hushed voices, muffled sobs.

At the funeral, I held my breath and willed my feet toward the small white casket. Grandma squeezed my hand. I took my finger and stroked my sister’s face that reminded me of a doll made of plastic, stiff and cold to the touch. Heavy make-up could not conceal her bruises. Her grotesque head cradled by a bonnet, much too small. She wore a new green dress, cleaned and pressed, with no stains. Or blood.

I glanced up at Grandma. “Your sister’s in a better place now,” she choked. Then I placed a small cross under Anna’s tiny, rigid hands. My tears blinded me.

“. . . If I should die before I wake, I pray thee, Lord, my soul to take.”

Why, God? Why? Why did you have to take her?

Anna, I’ll love you for always.

Mama sat by the farthest wall away from people, away from the coffin. Her eyes were swollen and red. She didn’t seem so tough then. I went to sit by her.

The year 1968 was a year of deaths that shocked and changed history. But the girl in her little green dress was the one who mattered to me. She was my sister. My best friend. She lay in an unmarked grave.

(FOUR DECADES LATER – a flight to Miami):

The area was a lowly, plain grass-field devoid of even a tombstone for my sister. No headrest. No name written. Or flowers anywhere. Just hard soil. Plenty of weeds. I crumbled to my knees and sobbed.

Anna, I’m sorry. Sorry I couldn’t do better. Sorry I failed you. I promised, “for always,” yet fell so short. If I could hold you now, I would.

Closer.

Tighter.

Never let you go.

If only I’d done more, fought more, loved more. I see myself holding you. Holding you so tight, that time stands still. Darkness cannot swallow us. Pain cannot touch us. Death cannot rip you from my arms. Sorrow cannot engulf us.

God, it still hurts . . . bring healing.

Before I left the cemetery, my brother and I purchased a tombstone and had it engraved.

Por fin,” I imagined my grandma saying.

Yes, Grandma, finally,” I whispered. “At last and long overdue.”

sister's tombstone

In memory of my sister, Anna R. Molloy, who was struck down by a hit-and-run driver.

InMyArmsPicture

© M.A. Perez 2013, All Rights Reserved

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37 Comments

September 21, 2013 · 5:50 PM

37 responses to “The Little Green Dress

  1. You should not have had to carry that pain, that weight of responsibility, being so young. I hope that your writing brings healing and hope to you.

    • Hindsight says that’s true, Timi, but the little girl took up the gauntlet out of love and never thought about anything else. For the two years that she embraced this role, she felt needed and her emotional tank fulfilled. As an adult, she has discovered that writing can be therapeutic while keeping the memories of loss loved ones alive 🙂

  2. Mary, I am sitting here with tears streaming down my face. I am so, so sorry for your loss. I am sorry that you blame yourself for this tragedy also.
    The pain never goes away but as you said on my blog, writing about it helps.
    Blessings to you.

  3. Wow! Your writing is captivating. I can’t imagine the pain of losing a sibling so young. But I do understand your loss. Be blessed!

  4. Dear sister Mary, I’m so sorry for your intense pain. May this be the year the Lord’s favor rests on you concerning this matter and your broken heart healed in ways you never imagined. That was how Jesus introduced His ministry in Luke 4, you know!

    My youngest brother only lived three days – he was born premature. As a result, our family moved from Wisconsin to California. Life would have been very different had he lived, my lifestyle very different as well. (My dad played CW music in bars until the year of his death. No doubt, I would have joined him. What a thought!).

    While I don’t believe that God took him away to make my life better, I know that He used my brother’s death to bring the greatest good to the most people. I got to be one of the beneficiaries.

    Hugs to you.

    \o/

    • Thank you so much, Tami. God can turn anything around for our good! Besides, we have that Blessed Hope that we will see our loved ones gone to Glory again one day.

      A Big Hug from Texas to you 🙂

  5. Your story left me breathless. I cannot fathom the pain of the loss that you experienced as a nine year-old child. Thank you for sharing your story and visiting our blog. May God continue to comfort and give you peace as each passing day brings us closer to the glorious reunion.

  6. The description of Anna’s short life so beautifully written by you is so sad. I felt your pain when reading this. Maryann, It’s good you can get these situations out when you write about them. I wish I had your talent because I,too have many real stories that need to be told.

    • Josie, I appreciate your comment. May I encourage you to commit it to the Lord and just start writing? Let the words flow from your heart to the pages on paper or typing on the computer (I do both). When you read your own words back – you’ll even be amazed.

  7. Thank you for sharing your story. It is beautifully written. We all have a story, but not everyone has the gift you have to express. I’m sorry for the loss of your little sister it’s especially hard to understand when you are a child yourself. My dad was murdered when I was 6 yrs old and it has been a challenge to understand, except and move forward. For me it was a process and I would have never made it, if it weren’t for God and my Faith. I know you understand. May God continue to Bless you and your family!! I hope you are writing a book, I would read it. 🙂

    • Linda, I appreciate your kind words. I am sorry to hear about your own loss! It’s true, when you’re so young there are many things you can’t process, yet the memories are there. Many things I didn’t talk about then either. But I too, am thankful that I was able to reach out to the God of my grandparents and my faith and trust in Him has kept me in good stead along the way. Still there are many things we do not understand. It wasn’t until later on in life (and my second marriage) that when my husband heard my stories, he encouraged me by saying that others needed to hear them. Everyone has their own journey and can share many experiences and heartaches. I think there’s a book in all of us! I have written my memoirs and seeking representation for publication. Blessings to you and thank you again.

  8. Deeply moving story. Thank you for sharing.

  9. Jessica Maree

    A truly touching story… so well written and with such courage! Happy Birthday for little Anna.

  10. Mary, you write with deep emotion and with excellent description. I related to your childhood experiences…protecting your little sister, running out of necessities (diapers and food), and finding mama in the “hole-in-the-wall.” Thank you for sharing this part of your life with all of us. Your courage is commendable. Pamela Koefoed, author “JoyRide: Life, Death & Forgiveness.”

  11. I can hardly type these words for the tears that are blurring my vision and piercing my heart. What a wonderful gift God has given you to write. I thank you for being obedient to God and sharing your pain and your life’s hardships with us. This much I know, “HE makes all things beautiful in its time”. Your time has come and the words you share will change lives forever. I am already changing just reading these stories. I look forward to reading them all. It’s like a good novel that I just can’t put down. Praying the good Lord will continue to strengthen you as you open up your history and share God’s faithfulness to you throughout your life! All I can say is WOW! You truly are a testament to the glory of God working behind the scene of your life. Blessing galore my friend. I count it a privilege to call you that. You are not only a friend of God’s, but you are a godly friend to many!

    • Sandy, thank you so much. Yes, I feel the time is here to share the heart and struggles of the child as well as into her adulthood. It hasn’t been an easy ride, but it has been worth it. Someone said, no test no testimony. Pray that I land an agent and get this published in book form. In the meantime, I am encouraged when readers like you take time to comment on how they felt when reading any of my posts. Love you!

  12. Gut wrenching! Cannot hug you in person but know that my heart swells with compassion for you; yet I don’t pity you but rather, stand in awe of the awesomeness that the mighty Lord that held and equipped you throughout your life. It is truly a testament to His power that you remain steadfast in your faith and possess the strength to tell your story. He has also given you an undeniable ability to effectively articulate. God bless you dear sister in Christ.

    • Thank you, Tina. I am not without my share of flaws. But I am in my right mind and know I have a purpose because of God Almighty in my life (and I had grandparents who prayed too).

  13. My heart goes out to you as I read your story and just cry for your loss and your pain for what you have been through. May God bless you and your family…

  14. I felt unbearable sadness as I read your story. Knowing you now, I would never guess all the pain you have been through. Only with God’s help ….

  15. Mary, your story is so powerful. You are a very gifted writer–I cannot speak right now for the tears clogging my throat. I am so sorry for this loss that is still felt after so long a time. Keep telling your stories, for those who can relate to know they are not alone–and for those of us who were raised in love and security, that we may understand and have empathy. Even in the face of such pain, may I say, what a joy it will be when you two are together again in the presence of our Lord! Grace and peace to you.

  16. Janie Urbano

    Your story brought me to tears and then came the sobbing. What an amazing gift you have my precious sister. After hearing your story I admire and look up to you deeper and greater than ever. I always knew there was something really special about you and also I knew you had a story to tell that would/could change lives. Your heart wrenching story about the loss of your sister has melted my heart and I believe you have a great future as an author and look forward to future postings. Abundant Blessings, Janie

    Date: Sat, 21 Sep 2013 22:50:33 +0000 To: jurbano45@hotmail.com

    • I am humbled by your words, Janie. I believe I didn’t go through any of this for nothing. I covet your prayers in this endeavor. Many blessings to you, friend.

  17. So very sorry you had to lose your sister. And so sorry you felt responsible for her when the grown ups who should have been caring for you both left you down.

    • Thank you Louise for stopping by and sharing your comment. It is no secret that sometimes we feel life isn’t fair and we sometimes ask why. But I know I am stronger today for some of the things I endured, and have determined to become a better person and not a bitter one. 🙂

  18. Skye

    Oh, my dear friend…..I am so very sorry you had to go something like this. There are no words to offer….only tears for you and your precious sister. Sending you huge hugs and much love……Skye

    • Skye, I appreciate the friendships and support such as yours. I can look at my life today and see how God has replaced my pain with joy, my losses with gain … He has placed many mother figures and sisters in my life. He makes all things new.

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