This story is by Melvia Zeigler and was part of our 2016 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the Winter Writing Contest stories here.
At the dinner table, I sent out sparks like a brush fire when I mentioned I wanted to know more about our family history. Mom quickly spoke, “Sweetie, some things are better left alone.” In an overly loud and gruff voice Dad said, “You’re only 17 and so I understand this family better and longer than you. Don’t shake the family tree. You don’t know what may fall out!
Their stern words didn’t sit right with me. All families probably have hidden skeletons. But should family secrets remain buried? And should those secrets be let out of the tomb?
Later that day, I trekked up to our dusty attic hoping to find old photos, postcards or letters for clues about our ancestor’s lives. Hidden in a corner was a box of old newspapers. My blood began to boil when I saw the headline on the top newspaper:
“Baby found in garbage. Nicknamed “Dumpster Babe.” Wayne News–April 14, 1995.
“At 2500 Sunny Estates a couple heard a whimpering sound coming from inside the apartment complex dumpster. When they opened it, they were shocked to find a naked newborn wrapped in a bloody towel with the umbilical cord still attached. There was no note left on the baby. 911 was called and the baby was rushed to the hospital. The premature baby girl, weighing 3 ½ pounds is being cared for in an incubator.”
The whole stack of newspapers had articles about the ‘Dumpster Babe.’ Each paper became a page turner. Sitting on the dirty floor, I stared at the dumpster picture and wondered what happened to that baby. And where is the mother? After the fourth article I stopped.
The headline read: “Dumpster Babe has a new home.” Wayne News–June 17, 995.
“Dumpster Babe’ was adopted by Mark and Susan Thomas. They named her, ‘Anita’ which means full of grace, mercy and favor…”
Sweat began to bead up on my forehead. I inhaled only a shallow breath and then struggled for another. As I made my way down the attic steps, I paused, and then sat down on the bottom step. Tears flowed freely. The truth was so weird, it defied understanding. I’m the ‘Dumpster Babe.’
The image of a blood-spattered baby wrapped in a towel and placed in a dumpster played over and over in my mind. I stepped into the hot shower and scrubbed my skin for nearly an hour attempting to wash away the stains of abandonment.
Facing my family required courage and strength. I was fresh out of both. I walked slowly, step by step to my car. My hand trembled as I reached for the doorknob. My mission was to find where I was found.
Black clouds gathered above. Suddenly heavy rain began pounding down like angry fists on the roof of the VW. I pressed my fingers deeper into the steering wheel hoping to gain control of my fears. The dumpster address was like a continuous neon sign strolling across the windshield.
The deafening thunder and howling wind had no effect on me. I got out of the car and in a few seconds I was soaked to the skin. But like a moth, I was drawn to the bright street light beaming down on the five foot tall green dumpster.
Lightning flashed dangerously close. My blurred vision felt as if I was looking down a toilet roll tube. I stood up on a box crate, picked up the slanted plastic lid of the dumpster, climbed over the side and slid myself down into the dumpster. The lid slammed shut. The split second darkness, neither the sickening smell of rotten garbage, or the roar of thunder could stop me from lying down on top of trash, wet garbage bags, shit, and sheet-rock. A warm dizzying trance-like sensation overcame me. I became completely removed from myself as though I were separated from my body.
My cries were muffled beneath the thunder that rolled overhead. Headline flashbacks kept flashing, ‘Dumpster Babe…Dumpster Babe.’ My eyes began to burn and hurt. The pain stemmed from seeing what I wished I never saw. I closed them and watched the back of my eyelids. The bare blackness, the nothingness canvas was soothing. I remained still.
I drifted into a dream state, and remained conscious within my dream. I felt a warm hand on top of mine. My mother’s voice floated in.
“I want you to know my story. I was sexually abused and mistreated most of my life. My drug addict mother sold me to a sex trader. I was 11. He gave me pretty clothes, attention and drugs that made me feel good. He owned me and I wanted to make him happy. I had to sleep with many men for money. I closed my eyes so that that I wouldn’t see what they were doing to me. I’ve been beaten, spit on, and badly treated.
“At 15, you came to rest in my belly. I was afraid for you and me. The traffickers would have taken you away. Your life would have been a life sentence of slow death, just like mine. I abandoned you for your own good. God had other plans. My ugly sin turned around to be a beautiful blessing to you and your parents. Go home Anita and know that you are loved.”
Suddenly, the dumpster cover opened. A large bag smashed against my head. My eyes popped open. Loud music was blasting. My mother disappeared, but the vivid dream happened.
After awhile, I was able to sit up, lift the cover, grab hold of the side of the dumpster, hoist myself up, swing my legs over the side and slide down onto the asphalt. The tick-tock of my heart was like a clock in my ears. I staggered to the car as though I were drunk. A blast of cold wind blew against my body. It was a stinging, icy slap in the face. Gradually, the chill helped realign my senses.
I drove home and slowly shuffled into the house. I looked like a scared, wild-eyed lost child looking for its mother.
Mom immediately started crying. “Anita what’s wrong? You stink. Talk to me.”
“You’re liars, liars! Why didn’t you tell me you found me in the garbage? Where are my real parents?”
“Anita, we didn’t know how to tell you.”
Fighting back tears, Dad began pleading, “Please forgive us. It’s understandable that you feel betrayed. It was too painful to talk about the adoption and how it came about. Some things are too difficult to put into words.”
Dad, where is my mother?”
“Three weeks after your birth the police found her unconscious on a park bench bleeding profusely. It was not far from where she left you. She was taken to the hospital. The police got a full confession from her.
“Sitting at her bedside, ‘Vernita,’ that’s your mother’s name, looked ghost white and bone thin. We told her you were doing well and we want to adopt you. She managed a faint smile.”
We had to move in close to hear her, “Tell her, I don’t know who the father is. I didn’t want her to live in hell. Please, take care of her. Tell her I cared. I’m sorry.”
Fighting back tears, Dad continued. “Your mother was only 15. She died of an acute infection later that evening.”
Mom chimed in. “This is hard for you Anita, but we are your parents. Nothing has changed.”
“Mom, you’re wrong. Everything has changed!”
“We love you!” But Mom’s words fell on deaf ears.
I ran out of the room. Feeling unbearable sadness, I collapsed on my bedroom floor.
My dream encounter was real. My mother was there. She kept pushing her long stringy hair around the sides of her face, as if she was wanted to hide behind it. She pressed her soft lips on my cheek.
I believe she loved me, but felt I would be better off dead. She didn’t want me to suffer as she had. Somewhere deep down I understood why she left me to die. Compassion crept into my heart and coldness marched out.
My thoughts drifted to Mom and Dad. Deep down I wanted to comfort them. I’m in pain, but they’re suffering too. They’re all I’ve got. Until this moment, the strange mixture of shock and truth temporarily suffocated the thought.
I soon drifted off to sleep. It felt good to wake up to the familiar smell of coffee and bacon. I washed up, got dressed and headed downstairs.
“Good morning Mom.”
“ Good morning Dad.”
“ We have so much to talk about. But right now, I’m starving. Let’s sit and eat. I’ll say grace.”
“Thank you God for this meal…and for my loving family. They chose me, a motherless newborn, to love, and to have a chance at happiness. I’m so blessed. And God, tell my birth mother, I understand. Amen!