All She Ever WantedBy: Rosalind Noonan
For my sisters.
You share your gifts
and work your magic
to make things right for everyone else.
I’m so happy you’re my sisters.
The first time Chelsea Maynard saved a person’s life, she was seven years old. The sunny day marked her extended family’s Easter celebration, an occasion for all the cousins to gather, nibble on chocolate bunnies, and hunt for Easter eggs over and over again. Chelsea prided herself on being a good finder of lost things. She was a lot better at it than her male cousins, who were always whining for Mom to help them. The boys had decided to stage the next egg hunt down by the creek on her grandparents’ property, and Chelsea had gone along with the idea until it had all dwindled into a hunt for toads and lizards and water snakes. Boy stuff.
She jiggled her stash of candy eggs in her basket as she climbed back up to the house. There was no way she would eat them, but they were a sign of status nonetheless.
She was humming a song about a rabbit when a cry peeled from up the hill. A car was coming down the driveway, rolling faster and faster down the straight lane.
With the glare on the windows, she couldn’t see who was driving, but she started running like the wind. She had to get to the turnaround first.
That driver wasn’t going to see the little cousins riding their Big Wheels around and around on the flat part of the driveway.
Chelsea dropped her basket and ran.
When she looked back on that day, she remembered a pulse pounding in her ears and a weird energy that made her feel like she was zooming over the land. She made it to the little ones, snatched Katie from her pink tricycle where she sat probing the pavement with a stick, and yelled at Max to get over in the trees.
Just as they dove into the ferns under the tall pines, the car swooshed down to the turnaround. Like a beast, it groaned and sparked as it bottomed out on the pavement and lurched forward, crunching over Katie’s bicycle.
Such a sickening sound.
After the car had rolled to a stop with two wheels hanging over the pavement and buried in dirt, there was a moment of quiet. As if the earth has stopped spinning.
Chelsea looked down at Kate and Max, all safe, and hugged them close. She didn’t know why she was shaking and she couldn’t get that horrible crunching sound out of her head.
“Let me go!” Max complained. “You’re squeezing the stuffing out of me.”
Afterward, Easter dinner had been punctuated by tears and grateful prayer, laughter and endless recollections of who saw what from where. Dad and the uncles had spent an hour hoisting the car out of the dirt, using Grandpa’s riding mower to give it a good pull. Uncle Steve was now parked at the bottom of the hill, and he planned to get his brakes checked first thing tomorrow.
“I am really sorry,” he kept saying, but no matter how much he apologized, Aunt Paige was still mad at him.
“Everyone is fine,” Mom pointed out. “All safe.”
Chelsea had known Mom would say that.
“You’re a hero, Chelsea.” Dad beamed as he handed her an extra-big piece of Grandma’s Easter cake with coconut dyed green to make a nest for the candy eggs.
She had giggled, the image of that smashed tricycle pushed from her mind by all the fuss. So much attention for something anyone would have done. Batman was a hero; she was just a girl glad to have extra cake.
A decade later, it happened again, with far less drama and a smaller audience. Chelsea had come home after school to find her mother handing out snacks to her kids. Judith Maynard ran a home day care center at their house, which Chelsea secretly enjoyed. As the youngest child, she had hated watching her older sisters leave the house for college and jobs and life. The day care meant having lots of kids around—always.
While her mother took one of the kids to the sink to wash off some yogurt, Chelsea circled their little table, hoping to grab some snacks for herself. One of the kids started to get up from the table, looking confused.
“You’re supposed to stay in your seat, Jason,” a little girl at the table told him.
The boy seemed confused. He bumped into the table, and then swung toward Chelsea.
“Are you okay?” she asked.
When he didn’t answer, she scanned the food on the table. Crackers and mini-carrots.
“Are you choking?”
When she saw the faint blue tint around his panicked lips, she quickly knelt behind him and placed her fist to his belly—just above the navel.
Two pushes, and it was out—a nubby piece of carrot.
By that time, Judith had rushed over from the sink. She sank down in front of the kid to touch his face and smooth back his hair.
“Oh, dear Lord! Jason, are you all right?”
“It hurt my throat,” he whimpered. “The carrot did it.”
“I’ll bet. You poor thing.” Mom hugged him close. “You’ll be fine. You just need to chew your food before you swallow.”
Patting Jason’s back, Mom looked up at Chelsea and mouthed, “Thank you!”
“Sure,” she said, still stunned. No longer hungry, and definitely not in the mood for carrots.
Today, Chelsea was going for save number three, and she wasn’t thinking about her high school softball career.
Today, she needed to save herself.
All through the morning, hope had pulled her ahead, a warm orange light beckoning her across this valley of endless winter. Chelsea had kept her eye on the prize from the minute she slid from her warm bed that morning to begin the mind-numbing routine of motherhood. The predawn alarm of Annabelle’s whimper. The cold wood floor underfoot. The soggy diaper. The clang of the radiator in the bathroom. The holding pattern of exhaustion as she sat with the baby in her arms, waiting for Annabelle to finish nursing.
Hurry up and wait. Hurry up and wait.
Each day she couldn’t wait for the relief of sundown. Each night a sour gloom convinced her that the sun would never rise, and when it did she dragged herself from bed wondering how she was going to survive another maddening day of servitude to the schedule. “Baby jail,” as her older sister called it. Melanie always said it with a smile, but Chelsea thought it was dead-on, except that jail implied that there were other inmates to commiserate with. Here, in the house that Chelsea had once considered her dream home, she spent most days alone with her baby, alone with her dark thoughts.
But today, she was going to peel away the gloom and lift herself from the bed of clouds. Today, she was being proactive, facing her problem . . . going for it.
She was going to get help from her doctor.
Annabelle had dozed off, much to Chelsea’s relief. The only good baby was a sleeping baby. She shifted the weight of the baby in her arms, pulled her shirt closed, and nestled into the corner of the sofa as the gentle voices from the television washed over her. The movement jostled Annie’s little pink mouth open, sending milk dribbling from the crescent of her lips. Chelsea caught it with a soft diaper and dabbed it away. Got to ward off the stains for her appointment with Dr. Volmer. This wasn’t one of those sweatpants-and-nightgown sort of days.
Today she had showered and dressed with time to spare.
Annie sucked at the air, and then dozed off again.
Such a sweet baby. Her downy hair clung to the flannel receiving blanket, a halo around her little head. Her hair was so transparent, it was almost invisible. In stark light Annabelle still resembled a cute little old man. “Lady Baldy,” as Leo sometimes called her. Then he would soften the insult by nudging her belly and teasing that his hair was starting to thin, too. Leo had a way of talking to their baby that made it seem as if they had a dialogue going.
Chelsea had no words for Annabelle.
Somewhere in her logical mind, Chelsea knew she had a good baby. But since the day Annabelle was born, she couldn’t avoid the feeling that her heart was being squeezed in a fist. A fierce, relentless grip.
It wasn’t something she wanted to talk about; she tried to ignore it, thinking it would go away. But Leo seemed to be on it from day one, watching her with an odd curiosity, and Leo wasn’t one to mince words.
“What the hell’s going on, hon?” he’d been asking her lately. “This is not you. What’s the deal?”
She closed her eyes, not wanting to think about how many times she had dodged that question. How many times she had lied to her sisters, insisting that everything was fine. Here in the little house she had begun to rebuild with her own hands, she and Leo finally had their angel baby. This was all she’d ever wanted.
The perfect life.
So what did she have to complain about? Nothing. Nothing at all.
The actress on television bit her lips to keep from crying as she looked at the plastic stick of the pregnancy test kit. She gasped and her big round eyes flooded with tears.
“Negative?” her actor husband said. “I’m so sorry.”
“No, no! It’s positive!” The woman’s voice squeaked with emotion as she looked up at her husband. “Plus is positive! It’s a yes. We’re going to have a baby!”
Tears stung Chelsea’s eyes as the couple embraced. That was her story. That was exactly the way it had been with Leo and her! They had yearned for this baby. Not so long ago they both knew that their lives would not be complete until they had a family of their own. Whenever Chelsea’s sister Melanie visited with her four kids, they had come alive. Leo got down on the floor to push a truck behind Sam and help him build a bridge, while Chelsea enjoyed seven-year-old Nora’s help in the kitchen. “You can’t flip the pancake until there are bubbles around the edge,” Nora would say, holding the spatula over the griddle from her place on the step stool.