Her name was Agatha. Agatha was raised in the midwest. She was poor with a small family who sold cherries when they were in season. Agatha went door to door late into the night asking people to buy her cherries. She was exceptionally beautiful for her age. Her hair was long and blonde, her eyes were baby blue, and her face was rosy pink. Put her in a little red dress at five years old and she could sell some cherries.
Agatha’s parents seemed to sell her in other ways as well. “I don’t understand how they wouldn’t have known,” Agatha remarked to me later. Weekly visits to the doctor were normal for Agatha even though she was never sick. Her parents sat in the lobby as she was called into the room. The doctor picked and probed her until he unbuttoned her pants or pulled up her dress dependent upon the weather. He wasn’t the first to abuse her. By the age of eight, Agatha had been pushed into a closet by her uncle for favors she didn’t understand and beaten by her mom for being pretty. As age fifteen approached, Agatha experienced what it was like to be gang-raped.
Despite her lack of schooling, Agatha used sheer will to move away from her old life. She married a man with a steady income and had a daughter. Funny how the past works its way to the present. A few years into the marriage, Agatha noticed that her husband acted quite peculiarly. He watched and stared at movies with women who were barely clothed for the seventies. His eyes were glued onto women as they passed into the street. He wasn’t just a man generally looking, he was possessed by the form of any woman around him. Her suspicions reached conclusion when she caught him standing at the foot of the neighbor’s bedroom window. The married woman with short brown hair had just bathed. She was changing, Agatha’s husband was looking into her window from outside at eleven o clock in the night. With nothing more to argue over, Agatha left. She stayed single, she made her way in the world. She gained skills and began to work as a receptionist. Agatha was making her own way until she met Bill.
Bill was very different from her first husband. Stanley was quiet, strange, and obscure. Bill was graceful, exuberant, and bright. They married just two years shy of Agatha’s divorce. Love blinded her eyes for the next twenty-eight years. They built a marketing firm together, had two daughters of their own, and bought a house. She made it out of the ruins of her youth or so she thought.
The first daughter from her first marriage was so quiet, reserved, she vibrated with quiet anger. Agatha thought it was how she was. She accepted her character as any good parent should. When Lily was married with a child of her own, she confessed to her mother a dark secret from the safety of a phone.
“Mom from the time I was twelve until I was seventeen,” Bill raped me.“He came into my room when you were asleep. He’d take off my clothes. I’d always gag when he made me touch it. I thought it would stop and it did when I turned eight-teen. I didn’t know what to do. A few times I tried to tell you, It was always so late in the night that sometimes I thought I had imagined it. During the day, he was cold. It was like nothing ever happened….”
Agatha cleared her throat to silence Lily. They sat over the phone penetrated in stillness for a long time. Finally, Agatha spoke, “Are you sure?”
The conversation ended shortly after. Instantly, Agatha’s love for Bill was transformed. She was now sixty-five. She stayed silent, she refused to confront Bill for fear he might deny it. The news was too fresh. Agatha knew she must cling to the truth of Lily. Besides, Lily wouldn’t lie. And it was in this moment every decision her Lily ever made was so sensical. She never showed up for family affairs. She only saw Agatha on her own, by herself. This could be of no coincidence. At her wedding, Lily refused to have Bill walk her down the aisle and chose Agatha instead. Agatha continued to sleep in the bed next to Bill for six more years. Her face wrinkled as her anger grew. It took all her strength to sleep in the guest bedroom but she finally did it.
Her hatred turned her into one of those ladies who yell at people at the grocery store or stare aggressively at any perceived mistake made by a waiter. It was after all of these events that I met Agatha.
I walked into her house after my no longer husband and I were there to do business with her. She was a talented artist with huge paintings that covered every wall of her house. In her backyard were kiwis which may not sound exceptional except that these kiwis were grown in Wilmington, North Carolina. Until I met Agatha, I didn’t know a kiwi could be grown in Carolina and neither did my biology professor. She loved to show me her marvelous fruit trees and in the evenings when I was with her, she cooked me the most interesting foods like roasted fig with ice cream and honey. During one Christmas, she poured bottles of wine she made in the basement. Her loveliness remained secret from most of the world. I got a taste of her wonder. She was an unknown talent from her paintings to her cooking to the way she grew kiwis in the backyard.
Her magnificent beauty, the complexity of her nature was a reminder that everyone really is doing the best they can. Whether they are evil, mean, manipulative, or kind, people come with a history. To know that history breeds compassion. Agatha did eventually leave Bill. She sold her house and moved into another a few miles away. She was seventy-six and estranged from her two daughters who didn’t believe their half-sister Lily was raped. I can’t tell you what happened to Agatha in the end. She stopped speaking to me for reasons I still don’t know. I imagine she feared that I couldn’t be trusted because I knew too much. Agatha was a treasure and she never knew it. Agatha will most likely die alone and it is this probable truth that I sit with today.
Her life had beauty but also ashes. Remember that cliche quote;
Beauty from ashes.
What happens when the ashes aren’t transformed and they sit in a pile until they are blown away by the wind? When she dies if she is not dead now, she may never have figured out how worthy of love she was. That she was indeed beautiful.
Image by: Grace Louise