The Pink Pack

By on May 30, 2011 in Contest Winners

Page 1 Page 2 Page 3

Pink backpack with green kittens

Today, as I studied my daughter, my daughter, I knew I’d made the right decision.  My universe had shifted, and I was looking at its new center.  After three years of adoption gestation, here I was, enduring the bitter cold of a January day in Minot, North Dakota.  Amy Grace was mine, and I was thrilled.  She was anything but, and who could blame her?

My new daughter’s biography read like a Shakespearean tragedy on steroids.  How could a child with the lovely name of Amy Grace have come from such a torrid background?  Paula Edmunds, an aide at one of Minot’s few nursing homes, swore that she did not know who Amy Grace’s father was.  So many choices, so little sense.  Consequently, she never pursued child support for the girl, even though her meager salary barely put food on the table in their grimy apartment.  No way did it cover health care, particularly for the simple eye surgery Amy Grace needed to correct her mild strabismus.

I knew about the problem, of course, commonly known as “cross-eyed syndrome.”  Actually, I was delighted, because it was this easily-correctable defect that made my daughter difficult to place.  Difficult for some, perhaps, but not for me.  I had already lined up the best children’s eye surgeon in Denver.  Amy Grace and I would consult with her in two weeks.

The next few years of Amy Grace’s life raised the bar on tragedy. Her mother was imprisoned for stealing money and jewels from many of the elderly residents entrusted to her care.  Amy was uprooted from the slum-like apartment — the only home she had known — and placed in foster care.  Her mother refused to give her up, insisting that once she served her sentence, she would be a new person and a good mother.

Unfortunate for the mother but good for me, Paula met a man at a half-way house.  I wasn’t clear on whether he was also an ex-con or one of the staff.  Regardless, children were not in his plan.  Obviously, prison had not increased Paula Edmunds’ common sense.  Love-struck, she signed the adoption consent.  By this time, tiny Amy Grace had been in six different foster homes.  It had been a bad situation for the child from the start.  One of my smarter moves was to seek counseling to help me heal this child’s traumatized psyche.  I drove to North Dakota fully confident in my ability to right the wrongs of Amy Grace’s early years.  Or, so I thought, until I was confronted by a security detail masquerading as a neon pink backpack.

I knelt down on the floor, feeling every one of my 43 years, and began to explore my own voluminous handbag.  I was hoping to find something that would capture Amy Grace’s attention, a talisman that would get her to take one step, then another, away from the protective legs of her foster mother toward my waiting heart. 

Keys, while great at entertaining a babe in arms, meant nothing to this 4-year-old.  Ditto for the pen, comb, and mirror I held up for her inspection.  I was still digging through my bag when my eyes picked up the slightest movement.  Amy didn’t come toward me.  Instead, she plopped herself down — still behind the screen of Sarah’s legs — and began to remove her treasures from the pink pack, a mirror imitation of my handbag excavation.  She kept her arms looped through the pack’s straps, which seemed to me to be a difficult operation, but she dug into the pack with such ease that I knew she’d done it this way many times before.

A tiny teddy bear, outfitted for hiking with boots, hat and kerchief, came first.  A silver carabiner hung from the bear’s fuzzy back.  It was an odd toy for a small child, but Amy Grace handled it with the care a mother reserves for a newborn.

Next came a plastic sandwich bag containing several — maybe six — crayons in varying shades of blue and green.  She dropped the baggie onto her lap and reached in for a well-worn coloring book, or better said, about ten loose pages from what had once been a coloring book.  The sheets were wrinkled and torn.  It looked like each picture had been colored and re-colored a multitude of times.  I shot Sarah a questioning look.

“She won’t accept a new book, or more crayons,” she said.  “I don’t know the story behind the bear, but where she goes, it goes.”

As Sarah joined us on the floor, she nodded her head toward Amy Grace’s odd footwear arrangement. “In case you were wondering, she likes to dress herself, too.” 

She turned her attention back to Amy Grace. 

“Show your new mother what else you have in there,” she encouraged.

Amy nodded.  Wordlessly, one little arm reached into the pack, disappearing into the sea of pink.  She rummaged through her treasure trove, and I could hear the clang of something metallic and the crunch of cellophane.  What she extracted, however, was neither.  It was a scruffy feather, mottled brown, large enough to have come from an eagle or a hawk.  Not being a card-carrying member of the Audubon Society, I had no idea of its origin.  Its presence in the backpack of a small child puzzled me.

I tried to engage my new daughter by commenting, enthusiastically, over these treasures.  She gave me one or two curious glances but said not a word.  Then, instead of emptying the backpack, she began to put everything back inside.  She handled each item with great care.  I half-expected her to kiss the bear, but she did not.  Once everything was stashed away, she tugged at the zipper, which refused to budge.  A look of panic crossed her face.

“Here, sweetheart, let me help you.”  I bent over to retrieve the pack.  Instantly she drew the pink canvas to her chest like a life preserver, and I had learned enough about Amy Grace in the past thirty minutes to know how accurate that description was.

“We’d best get this over with,” Sarah whispered. 

I nodded, not trusting my voice.

Page 1 Page 2 Page 3

Pages: 1 2 3


Susan Tornga lives and writes in Southern Arizona, surrounded by her beloved Sonoran Desert. Her short stories and articles have been published locally, as well as in such anthologies as Patchwork Path and Chicken Soup for the Soul. Her debut novel, ,i>Seashells in the Desert, an historical mystery set in Arizona in 1895, was published by Trebleheart Books in 2010.