Rings of Time by Renee Veillet by Renee Veillet - Read Online

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Rings of Time - Renee Veillet

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Copyrights

Dedication

To my mom and dad, thank you for

encouraging me to follow my dreams.

Chapter One

Sitting in the reception area of the Department of Child Services it felt like I’d been waiting forever. I’d already leafed through the health magazines left on the coffee table, inspected my cuticles thoroughly, and counted the tiles on the ceiling (there were eighty). I looked at the clock on my phone impatiently; I’d shown the courtesy of arriving on time, was it too much to ask that my caseworker do the same? It wasn’t that I didn’t like Mrs. Murray. My file had been in her care for the last few years and she seemed to have my best interests in mind. She just wasn’t punctual on a day when time seemed to stand still.

I wrung my hands together, restless. I was trying to be patient but it was difficult. It wouldn’t have been so bad if I hadn’t been anticipating this day my entire life. I had waited eighteen long years, until I was legally deemed an adult, before I was able to request information about my file. There were no more excuses; I wanted answers now.

As anxious as I was for information, I was also trying to be cautious and realistic. Allowing myself to be hopeful was dangerous. Growing up in the foster system, I learned at a very young age not to put my faith in anyone but myself. The first time I was moved between foster homes, I was too young to understand why I was being taken away from the most important people in my world. I kicked and screamed, put up a fight, but it didn’t make a difference. The decision was made. It took a few more switches between homes before I faced the cold, hard truth that I was alone in the world. I went where I was told, and stayed until I was required to move again. No planning, no warning, complete lack of control over my own existence. The pain and sadness lessened with every door that closed behind me. I learned to guard my heart, and refused to invest in the people or the places. My fate had been decided for me the day I was born, and I had no choice but to accept it.

That being said, every orphan, including myself, holds on to a glimmer of hope. That delusional confidence that the stars might one day align, the information long sought would arrive, and the family we had lost would be found. For that brief moment in time, you allowed yourself to be optimistic. For me, that day was today.

Emilie, Mrs. Murray called, as she entered the waiting room. Getting up from my seat, I walked towards a short, middle-aged woman, hair askew, with dark circles under her eyes. I followed her down the hallway to her office.

How have you been? she asked, as she gestured for me to take a seat in front of her desk.

Fine, I said, as I sat down, placing my backpack on the floor beside me.

You’ll be graduating high school soon. She commented, as she unbuttoned her jacket and sat down behind her desk.

Yes, in June, I replied. Mrs. Murray paused for a moment hoping I would elaborate. I didn’t. She frowned, disappointed that she was unable to make a connection. I appreciated that she wanted to be polite, engage in some small talk, but I didn’t have the patience or the desire to pretend. It took every ounce of my restraint not to jump out of my chair and rip open the manila file I saw sitting on her desk.

I have the information you requested, she said, as she opened the file, retrieved a legal size envelope, and slid it across the desk towards me.

Thank you, I said, as I took the envelope, stood up and prepared to leave.

Aren’t you going to open it? she asked. Something about the tone of her voice made me sit back down.

Do you know what’s inside? I asked. She nodded her head sympathetically.

Taking a deep breath, I opened the envelope and pulled out the contents. Inside were a birth certificate, a typed letter, a photograph, and a key. I looked at the birth certificate first, scanning over the section that listed the parent’s names, both of which stated, Unknown.

That figures, I said, making no attempt to hide my disappointment.

Reading through the letter my emotions ranged from intrigued, to surprised, to disappointed, and then angry. I was abandoned on the steps of a church? I blurted.

In a small town called Mountainview.

A baby-in-a-blanket-on-a-doorstep, who does that? I stated. Those kinds of things happened in movies, not real life. It was the twenty-first century; there were options far better than leaving a child on a set of steps.

The two items were tucked in the blanket beside you, Mrs. Murray added.

So it says. I took a deep breath, trying to control my emotions. I stared at the photograph and the key…the complete sum of evidence related to my existence, sitting on the table between us. So, that’s it then. No names, no addresses. Just a photograph of some random baby and a key? I flipped the picture over and read the faded name on the back. It read Emilie Marie. I sat there stunned. It was simply a first and middle name, coincidentally my first and middle name, yet it was not a picture of me.

They used the name written on the back of the photograph when it came time to register your birth, she explained, noting my surprise.

Not a lot of creative juices flowing in the abandoned child department, I scoffed.

Who was the mystery person in the photograph who shared my name? Was it a picture of my mother, my sister, or my grandmother? Was the person even a relative or merely a random meaningless snapshot tucked in the basket? I had to be hopeful that it was of some significance because after eighteen years of waiting and wanting to belong to some family somewhere, it couldn’t be a dead-end.

Picking up the key, I rolled it around in my hands. It wasn’t like any house or car key I’d ever seen. It had a hollow circle at the top, and a long slender shank, with two teeth at the end. This could open anything, I sighed. The key was useless, and with no distinguishing markings, the possibilities were endless.

I realize this is hard to accept and that you are disappointed, she said sympathetically.

That was putting it mildly. Obviously, I was disappointed by what I’d been given after waiting all these years and then to find out next to nothing. I didn’t want to seem ungrateful, because my life so far had been good. Most of my foster families had been kind and caring, but it wasn’t the same thing as having one’s own family with no conditions, no deadlines, and no expiry dates. I wanted the confidence of knowing that the memories I made each holiday would be with the same people year after year. I longed to understand my genetic makeup and from which parent I received my traits. Did I get my dark hair from my mother? Were my green eyes from my father? I had so many questions and not one single answer. There were people who could trace their family roots back centuries; I felt as though my roots were never planted. I was like a lily pad floating rootless through the waters of life.

I’m sorry, Mrs. Murray said.

So am I.

* * * * *

Later that night, sitting alone in my room, I stared at the picture of the baby. The tiny round face so innocent and pure. I longed to understand who she was, to have the photograph speak to me in some way, explaining what I wanted to know. I couldn’t accept that it was over, that I would never discover anything about where I came from.

I wondered what clues I could get from the photograph. It looked old, but how old? Perhaps, if I could figure out its age, I could figure out who the person in it might be. It was a crazy idea, but it seemed like the only option. If I had my own personal CSI lab, I could have probably snipped a sample off the corner, placed it in a test tube, added some secret reactive liquid, and spun out the truth. However, I didn’t have a lab, so I had to do everything the hard way.

I opened my laptop and typed, How to tell the age of a photograph, into the search engine. Okay, that wasn’t too difficult. A dozen different sites popped up. I clicked on the first one and read the list of suggestions.

1. Look at the clothing the individuals in the photograph are wearing to pinpoint a fashion time in history.

That would have been great advice if the individual in the photograph wasn’t a baby wearing a white dress.

2. Examine the paper the photograph is printed on, its size, and shape.

There were several different examples of photographs shown for comparison and one looked similar to mine. The caption on that particular illustration explained that the black and white card-mounted photograph was originally introduced in 1850 and was last used in 1920.

3. Examine the colour of the card stock used.

With that final tip I was able to further narrow down the period of time to sometime between 1895 and 1920. In mere minutes, with the help of the Internet, I’d been able to focus my search to a twenty-five year span in which the original Emilie Marie’s photograph had been taken.

I was elated, until I did the math. Those dates made the photograph at least ninety years old. I found that realization disheartening because the possibility of the individual in the photograph still being alive was slim. It was definitely not a sister or a mother, more like a grandmother or a great-grandmother. However, I looked on the bright side. That person who might have been a great something to me, most likely had some children who had some children, and they would still be alive.

I suddenly remembered an advertisement on television for an ancestry site that could find your ancestors using nothing more than a name. A name was all that I had, and not even a full name at that, but it was worth a try. I opened the site, typed Emilie into the space allotted for the first name, and Marie into the one for the middle name, crossed my fingers, and hit search.

There were over twenty-six thousand matches!

I refined the search, and asked for only the individuals in Alberta, Canada, from 1895 to 1920. There were still four hundred options. Emilie Marie was a far more popular name than I’d imagined. I refined my search one more time using Mountainview as the location. My mouth fell open in surprise; there were sixteen matches, sixteen potential families that could be mine.

I looked at the surnames, testing each one on my tongue. I wanted to know how they would sound next to mine. It reminded me of grade school when I’d scribbled my crushes’ names after my own. Excited about my progress, I scanned, copied, and pasted my old photograph into a generic e-mail explaining that I was searching for information about the child in the picture. I sent the e-mail to the contact person listed for each of the sixteen families. It was a long shot, the Hail Mary of ancestral searches, but it was all I had.

Each day, for the next few weeks, I returned to the site and looked for replies. Apparently, people didn’t frequent their genealogy sites as often as they did their social networking. When I did finally get a few messages, they were dead-ends.

I continued to go through the motions of my life feeling lost and forgotten. I attended school, worked my shifts at the local department store, did my homework, and went to bed. The days ticked by with no progress. Questions continued to go around and around in my mind like a song I couldn’t forget. I wasn’t ready to accept defeat.

Everywhere I went and everything I did reminded me of what I didn’t have, what I was so desperate to find. At work, I started to watch the parents and their children waiting in line. I observed how they interacted as I scanned their purchases: a child petitioning for that last minute chocolate bar, a teenager throwing his arms around his parent and thanking him for the new baseball glove. I pined for those small gestures, the stolen moments that I never had.

Graduation was hard. Looking out at the crowd of people in the audience, I saw beaming family members celebrating their child’s success. Cameras flashed and graduates posed as treasured memories were saved. I watched in envy as parents embraced their children, proud of their accomplishments. I had no one.

It didn’t help that I was preoccupied by the photograph. I kept it with me at all times; tucked in the front pouch of my backpack, in the pocket of my work smock, and on my bedside table. I looked at it every chance I had. I stared at the image, memorizing the face of the baby, wondering who she was. I read her faded name, my name, over and over again. At night I dreamed of Mountainview, picturing the church where they found me eighteen years before. I was obsessed.

Then finally, after months of hearing nothing, I received a new message. It was from a man named James Stranaghan. He wrote that the woman in the photograph was his grandmother, and he knew that for certain because he had the identical photograph to mine.

My skin started to tingle and a strange sensation came over me. James Stranaghan had the exact same photograph. I would have doubted the words, had they not been there on the screen in black and white. This confirmed that the person in the photograph was real. That my picture was of his grandmother and perhaps, just perhaps, someone special to me too.

In the message, James gave details of a family reunion taking place the following weekend about an hour from Calgary, and he invited me to attend. I immediately accepted. I could hardly contain my excitement, because in one week I would be meeting a reunion full of people who just might be my family.

Chapter Two

I stared out the window at the passing scenery. I’d lived in Calgary my entire life but had never explored the rural parts of the county. All along the highway there were farms. They had large yards with outbuildings, fences, and animals grazing. There were wide-open fields, surrounded by clusters of trees, their crops in the early stages of growth. I saw multiple gas plants and oil pumps, aboveground power lines running the entire length of the highway, and large satellite towers in the rolling hills.

Following the instructions listed in the e-mail from James, I found the correct range road and turned off the highway. Map aside, I knew I was on the right track because of the multiple neon signs posted along the road with black arrows pointing the way to the Stranaghan family reunion.

After about ten minutes on the gravel road I found the reunion site. I didn’t immediately turn down the long driveway; instead I stopped the car and turned off the ignition. Doubt had been building during the drive and right at that moment it peaked.

I always did that…jump in headfirst and think about the consequences later. I never should have come to the reunion in the first place. I should have declined the invitation, stayed home, and left everything as it was. I’d managed eighteen years without knowing who my family might be, and I could have gone on managing just fine. Bottom line, some closets were better left closed, and this was one of them.

Then I reminded myself of the alternative…being alone in the world, with no family and nowhere to belong. I remembered the agony I felt over the previous months wishing I’d receive a reply and hoping to find someone who knew something about the baby in the photograph. I’d waited my entire life for answers, answers that could possibly be found at the end of the road. As scared as I felt, I knew in my heart that I needed to see the meeting through. Taking a deep breath I started the car and turned the corner.

I parked the car among the dozens of other vehicles located in a large field, then walked the rest of the way up the driveway towards the spot where the reunion appeared to already be in full swing. In a large grassy area there were motor homes, trailers, fifth wheels, and tents. There were clusters of people mingling about doing all sorts of activities. Groups of people sat at picnic tables visiting, while others played games like cards and horseshoes. There were dozens of children running in all directions playing a game of tag. I was surrounded by generations of a family who could have potentially been my relatives, yet there wasn’t one face in the crowd that I knew.

As I approached, I saw two women sitting at a rectangular table. The banner on the base of the table read, Stranaghan Family Reunion - Registration. They each wore a name tag: one said Karen, and the other Pam.

Welcome, Karen said, smiling up at me. What branch of the family are you with?

I stared down at the empty name tags and handouts on the table. I wasn’t sure how to answer. I’m...not family, I stated. I’m here to talk to James Stranaghan.

Oh, Karen said, surprised by my answer. I could tell by the way she looked at me that she was waiting for more information. I offered nothing.

James went to grab a few more items for the heritage tent, she said, as she gestured to a white tent located along the far side of the open area near the tree line. I guess you can wait for him over there.

Thank you, I said, as I turned and began walking towards the heritage tent.

A red saucer soared past my head.

Sorry! a young man said, as he raced by me to retrieve the Frisbee.

No problem, I said, as I hurried forward. I kept my eyes down, trying to avoid making eye contact. I didn’t want to talk to anyone and risk being asked questions that I didn’t know how to answer.

While waiting to speak to James, I took the photograph and key out of my backpack; I wanted to be prepared when he arrived. The longer I waited, the more nervous I became. What was I going to say to him? I was hesitant to reveal my story, and leery of the reaction I might get. I wanted answers, but at what cost? Complete humiliation of myself or someone else? What if my birth mother