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Have a Little Faith copyright 2011 nikkipattinson
Have a Little Faith
My mother is dying.
She has a very rare, very aggressive form of cancer... mantle-cell lymphoma. There is no treatment. There is no cure. There are experimental things that they want to try, but they have nothing that has proven effective. They... the doctors... estimate that a person has six months to three years from the date of diagnosis. It's just an estimate. No one has ever lived more than a few months after being diagnosed. My mother received this death sentence in November of 2008. It's September of 2009; ten months. She's an anomaly, but I could have told them that.
Since she has survived this long, she has become a case study. She and my father fly to M.D. Anderson in Texas once a month for tests. Papers have been written and published in medical journals about her. The doctors can't figure out why she's still here and relatively healthy. It just solidifies my belief that doctors aren't as smart as they think they are. My mother is showing them just how powerful faith is. They aren't God and she's exposing they mortality. My mother and my father have faith that she can beat this. Considering all the things that she has survived in her life, I have no doubt that she will give mantle-cell lymphoma a run for its money.
Esme Platt didn't have the best home life growing up in rural Walker County, Alabama. She was the third of four children. Her mother was a housewife and her father worked for Alabama Power Company as a foreman at their Gorgas power plant. My 'grandmother,' I use the term lightly, was a local beauty; tall, blond, blue eyed. This was her definition of beautiful. My mother had the misfortune of being the only child of Lillian Platt who looked like my grandfather. She was always small for her age. She had dark brown hair and dark brown, almost black, eyes. In my 'grandmother's' estimation, she wasn't beautiful. Apparently, this greatly disappointed Lillian.
The bitch... sorry, force of habit... my 'grandmother' verbally, mentally and physically abused my mother. I've heard the stories. She once beat my mother with a broom because she missed a spot while sweeping out the carport. She routinely hit her in the head with a hair brush if she dared flinch while having her hair brushed. When her younger sister, Phyllis, arrived, my mother was repeatedly told how she would never be as beautiful or as wonderful as her blond haired, blue eyed sister. My 'grandmother' would tell her that she was stupid and that no one would ever want her. She was told that she would never be married; she would always be alone. She was useless.
It's little wonder that as soon as an opportunity arose for her to escape she did. You see, my mother wasn't stupid. She is in fact borderline genius. While her mother was abusing her and her father was pretending that it wasn't happening, my mother was working her ass off. She graduated from Martin School at seventeen with a full academic scholarship to the University of Alabama.
Esme Platt left for Tuscaloosa, Alabama in August of 1966 and never looked back. She never went back to Walker County again. She had never worked a day in her life; she couldn't. Her 'mother' required her to do all the housework and take care of Phyllis. She was determined to not ask her family for help. Her scholarship covered all of her school expenses... even room and board, but it didn't cover any incidentals. She had to get a job. She took a full load of classes and worked part-time at the public library for spending money. She received special permission to stay in the dormitory during the holidays every year. She did everything possible to keep away from Walker County. Considering that not one member of her family ever called to check on her or to ask when she was coming home, she assumed that they were happy with the arrangement as well.
She took classes year-round and managed to graduate with her BA in Education in three years. In February of 1969 she and her best friend, Gwendolyn, applied for positions as student teachers at Etowah County High School in Attalla, Alabama. Gwendolyn taught history and my mother taught English to juniors and seniors. This student teaching job is how I came into existence. It's how she met my father.
Carlisle Cullen graduated from Etowah County High School in May of 1964. He went to work full-time at his father's automotive repair business. His older brother, Edward, Jr., had been learning the business for the previous two years as he had been tapped by Edward, Sr. to take over when he decided to retire. Carlisle was working there to pass the time until he decided what he wanted to do with his life. Unlike most of his friends, Carlisle had graduated without a girlfriend to marry. His possibilities were endless.
Unfortunately for Carlisle, the U.S. government had other plans. In 1965, President Johnson committed ground troops to Vietnam and the draft cards went out. Carlisle's cousins, Garrett and Charles, received their cards and were drafted into the Marines. Carlisle heard from his uncles about how hard it was for them in the Marines. He also heard that the Marines were being sent to the frontlines. Most were not coming home alive. Edward, Jr. was exempt from the draft as he had a young wife and two children. He was also the eldest son who was next in line to take over a very prosperous family business from a legally blind father. Carlisle's younger brother, my uncle Emmett, was a junior in high school. If anyone in the family would be drafted, it would be Carlisle.
Not wanting to be in the Marines and not particularly keen on the idea of coming home in a body bag, my father enlisted in the Air Force in January of 1966. He was immediately shipped to basic training at Pope Air Force Base in Fayetteville, North Carolina. It was the first time that Carlisle had ever been out of Alabama. He loved it. He excelled in the Air Force. Years of working in his father's automotive repair business made him an excellent mechanic. He was sent to school to become a jet fighter mechanic at Luke Air Force Base in Glendale, Arizona.
Arizona agreed with Carlisle. Its warm climate reminded him of Alabama without the annoyance of ninety percent humidity. He became one of the best aircraft mechanics in the Air Force. At the age of twenty he became the youngest crew chief in the history of the Air Force. He received numerous commendations. Letters were sent home, but Carlisle received no correspondence from his parents. He wasn't surprised when a letter he sent to his mother informing her of his deployment to Vietnam went unanswered. Thus began years of feeling that his mother never loved him.
Carlisle was sent to a base in the jungles of Vietnam that wasn't there. If you search the government records you will find no mention of it or of anyone being stationed there. The section in Carlisle's military record that mentions it is blacked out. He officially wasn't there. He will argue the contrary. He jokingly says that when he arrived they took his rifle and handed him a wrench. At least I think he's joking. He was there to do one thing... keep the planes in the air. He did his job masterfully.
He's often told me that even after all the horrors of war, and there were many, he would have stayed in the Air Force and made a career out of the military if he had been given the choice, but he wasn't. He had been in the Air Force for three years and was days away from re-enlisting when his commanding officer came into the hanger to inform him that his older brother, Edward Jr., had been killed in a car crash.
"You're going home, son," the officer said with a smile. Little did he know that it was the last thing Carlisle wanted. He had planned on never returning to Gadsden, Alabama again. He was going to make the military his career. He had plans; plans that were dashed in one drunken night on a back road in Alabama.
So, Carlisle Cullen returned to Gadsden to take his brother's place in a family business that he despised; his hopes and dreams of a future in the Air Force gone. He returned to a family in which he felt complete isolation. The friends he had left behind were all married; most had children. Carlisle had no prospects. In truth, he really wasn't interested in the girls of Gadsden. He knew them all and knew their ways. He found them intolerable and inane.
His younger brother, Emmett, was working part-time after school at the shop. Emmett refused to let Carlisle wallow in his own self-pity. Emmett was as different from Carlisle as night and day. While Carlisle was calm and introverted, prone often to stoicism, Emmett was exuberant and extroverted. He is still described as 'a fun guy to have around.' With Emmett, it's always party time.
Emmett would careen into the shop every afternoon with tales of the 'fox' that was teaching his English class. My father would roll his eyes and tell Emmett to shut-up and get to work. After all, what did he care of a seventeen year old's fantasies about a high school English teacher. He had work to do. As well as running the family business, Carlisle was also going to school at night to get his business degree. He had other things on his mind.
In 1969, there was a drive-in restaurant in Gadsden called Billy Boy's. It's a McDonald's now, but in the 1960s it was the place to be on a Saturday night. Carlisle and Emmett had worked all day one Saturday at the mechanic shop. Carlisle had plans to go home, take a shower, and start studying for the economics mid-term he had on Tuesday night. Emmett, being his usual self, wanted to go to Billy Boy's and hangout with his friends... maybe pick up a girl and have some fun. They were covered in dirt and grease, but Emmett wanted to 'make an appearance.'
Emmett began to beg and plead and eventually whine for my dad to stop at Billy Boy's 'for just a minute.' Carlisle reluctantly agreed. He pulled his Studebaker into an empty stall at the drive-in. Emmett immediately jumped out to join his buddies. Carlisle ordered a cheeseburger and a Coke from the carhop. As he ate his food, he looked around at the silly, giggling teenagers and felt out of place. He finished the last of his Coke and felt the return of his stoicism and self-pity. He felt trapped and alone. He'd been too many places and seen too many things to be stuck in Gadsden, Alabama for the rest of his life.
Carlisle got out of the car and looked around for Emmett. He was done with this scene and was ready to go home. He was dog tired and wanted a shower. He didn't want to be hanging out with teenagers. Emmett had disappeared into the crowd. Carlisle began walking around the lot looking for Emmett. He asked a few people if they had seen him. He finally found a group that pointed him inside the restaurant.
"Great," he thought. The last thing he wanted to do was go inside a restaurant covered in grease and grime. As he approached the door of the restaurant, he could see Emmett inside talking to an attractive blonde. Leave it to Emmett to find the prettiest girl in the room and hit on her.
Carlisle started walking toward Emmett determined to drag him out of the establishment if necessary. He could hit on the blonde later. Carlisle was ready to go home and start studying. He came up behind the blonde and said, "Excuse me, I hate to interrupt, but it's time to go, Emmett."
That's when it happened. Emmett shifted to the right and Carlisle's eyes fell upon the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. She looked exactly like Natalie Wood. Carlisle felt all the blood in his body rush to his face and he lost the ability to breathe. He pushed past Emmett and almost ran past 'Natalie's' table into the men's restroom. Emmett followed him, thinking he was sick. When he got inside the restroom he found Carlisle holding onto one of the sinks... hyperventilating.
"What the hell's wrong with you?" Emmett said as he approached Carlisle. "You're gonna pass out if you don't quit breathin' like that."
"Didn't you see her?"
"Hell, yeah, I saw her. Why do you think that I was talkin' to her? She's a stone cold fox."
"Not her. The girl with the brown hair... sitting at the booth in the corner." Emmett's brow furrowed as he thought about it.
Sudden recognition appeared on his face and he said, "Oh yeah, that's Miss Platt. She's that English teacher I've been tellin' you about."
"That's your English teacher!" Carlisle exclaimed. "I thought that it was Natalie Wood."
"Hmm, I guess. Now that you mention it, I can see a resemblance. I told you she's a fox. Wanna meet her?"
"No!" Carlisle said quickly. "I... I can't. Look at me. I'm filthy. I can't meet her looking like this."
"There's a sink; there's some soap. Wash up."
"Look at my clothes. I can't, Emmett."
"Fine," Emmett said in defeat. "Be a little pussy. You ready to go?"
"What about the blonde?"
"Aw, I got her number. I'll call her later. I ain't got any money on me tonight anyway. Let's go."
Carlisle sighed and said, "Okay." He's told me that looking back he should have noticed the gleam in Emmett's eye, but he was a little preoccupied. They exited the restroom and started for the front door. As they neared Esme's table, Carlisle lowered his head and tried to slide past without making eye contact. He was trying so hard to not look at her that he ran into Emmett, who had stopped at the side of the table.
"Hey, Miss Platt, this is my brother, Carlisle," Emmett said as he stepped back and pushed Carlisle forward.
My dad tripped and almost fell onto the table. He regained his footing and said, "Um, hey." If he had known then what my mother told me later he might not have been so nervous.
Esme had seen Carlisle when he walked in the front door of Billy Boy's. She's told me that the sight of him made her heart skip a beat. According to her, my father was the best looking man she had ever seen who wasn't on a movie screen. He had his blond hair cut short, which was completely out of style for the time. She had no idea about his military service, which was the reason for the close cropped hair, but she has said that the end all and be all was his eyes. They were, and still are today, a stunning shade of blue. Depending on what color shirt my dad is wearing, his eyes vary from grey to a deep, dark blue. The night he met my mother, he had on a navy blue shirt and navy pants, making his eyes this deep, hypnotizing blue.
If he had known that she was as taken with him as he was with her, then he might have been a little more charming... more suave. As it was, he quickly said 'hey' and then sprinted for the door, leaving Emmett to apologize for Carlisle's rudeness.
Carlisle dove into his car and started the engine. Emmett finally got in the passenger seat and said, "What is wrong with you?"
"I don't know," Carlisle groaned as he leaned over and put his forehead on the steering wheel. "I just freaked out."
"You were rude, Carlisle. I had to apologize for you. Do you realize that she's gradin' me? She could fail me, you know."
"She won't fail you for me being an ass." Carlisle glanced once more into the restaurant. He could see Esme and her friend, Gwendolyn, still sitting at their table. He sighed and put the car in reverse. "Let's get home. I have a mid-term to study for."
It was over a month later before Esme Platt and Carlisle Cullen would cross paths again. For weeks Carlisle would rush home after work on Saturday to shower and change his clothes. Then he would rush back down the mountain to Billy Boy's to wait for my mother's arrival. He was disappointed every time.
On the fateful night, Carlisle was driving down Lookout Mountain... alone. Emmett had a date with the blonde, whose name turned out to be Rosalie Hale. The whole way down he told himself that this would be the last Saturday that he would endure the annoying children at Billy Boy's. If she wasn't there this Saturday night, then it wasn't meant to be.
He parked in the lot... not in a stall... and entered the building. He looked around and his heart sank. She wasn't there. He turned to leave and literally ran into her.
"Oh, um, hey," he stammered as he tried to appear less shocked to see her. She was even more beautiful than the first time he had laid eyes on her. "You... you, uh, cut your hair."
Esme reached up and touched the ends of her hair. She had cut it to her shoulders in an attempt to appear older than her students... it wasn't working. "Excuse me?" she said.
"The last time I saw you... your hair... it was longer... than it is now," he again stammered.
"Yes," she said slowly and then walked past him into the restaurant.
"I like it," he called after her. "It looks good."
Esme and Gwendolyn turned to stare at him. Esme slowly answered, "Thank you?"
"Well, um, can I buy you dinner?" Carlisle asked nervously.
"I'm here with a friend," Esme said, gesturing to Gwendolyn.
Summoning all his courage, Carlisle said, "Can I buy you both dinner?"
Esme looked at Gwendolyn and she shrugged. What the hell. This was the man that Esme had been talking about almost non-stop for weeks. Gwendolyn nodded her agreement and it was settled. Carlisle followed the two women to a corner booth and asked them what they wanted. He then went to the counter and placed the order.
As they ate, they talked. Carlisle learned that Esme was from Walker County originally, but that she had no plans to return there. She liked Gadsden. It had that small town feel she grew up with, but had more things to do than Oakman or Jasper. She missed Tuscaloosa because it truly felt like home, but she was happy in Gadsden. She loved her job. Teaching was a challenge for her and she enjoyed challenges. She didn't really mention a family and Carlisle didn't push it. After all, it was only the first 'date.'
Carlisle told them about his military service. He saw Gwendolyn's mouth curl into a disapproving frown, but Esme smiled and nodded her understanding. He told them about working at the garage. He saw both their eyebrows rise when he mentioned going to school at night. They all talked about Emmett. Gwendolyn had Emmett in her World History class and thought that he was a disruptive influence. Esme disagreed. She found him delightful, if not a little prone to being a class clown.
"I like Emmett," she said. "I think that he is very bright and has a lot of potential."
"If you say so," Gwendolyn said with a roll of her eyes.
"He wants to be a lawyer," Carlisle told them.
"Hmph," Gwendolyn said as she turned to stare out the window.
Esme smiled sweetly and said, "I have no doubt that he will be exactly that."
As the ladies were leaving, Carlisle asked permission to call Esme. She agreed and gave him her telephone number. "I'm gonna marry that girl," he muttered to himself as he watched them drive away.
Carlisle and Esme began to see each other every Saturday night. Carlisle introduced her to his family. She met his friends. They had been dating for six months when Carlisle presented Esme with a near flawless third carat diamond ring. Before she could accept it, she knew that she had to tell him about her family.
"There are some things that you need to know before I can give you an answer. You may change your mind about me once you hear it."
Carlisle shook his head and said, "No way."
"We'll see. Haven't you ever wondered why I don't talk about my family or why I don't go back to Walker County to visit?"
"Well, yeah, I guess. I thought that maybe you would take me to meet your family after we're engaged."
Esme shook her head. "No. I won't go back there."
"I don't understand," Carlisle said as he took her hands.
"I haven't been back to Beat Ten since August of 1966." Esme paused and took a deep breath. "I don't think that I've been missed. My mother never really wanted me anyway and my father always deferred to her on everything. Mother has Phyllis; she's all the daughter Mother needs."
"I'm sorry, but would you believe that I understand. I was in the Air Force for three years and I never received a single letter or call from my mother or father. Emmett wrote me a few times, but not my parents."
"Did they beat you?"
Carlisle thought for a moment before he answered. "A few times. I remember getting a beating because Edward made a D on his report card. Daddy said that he wanted me to know what would happen if I ever brought home a bad mark."
Esme nodded. "Did they tell you that you're stupid and ugly and that no one would want you?"
Carlisle let out a grunting laugh and replied, "It was implied."
"How did you go back? Why did you go back?"
"I had no choice in coming back. The Air Force honorably discharged me for family hardship and I really had nowhere else to go. Plus, the family needed me. And by family I mean Emmett. He's so smart. He can do anything... be anything. If I hadn't come back, then he would have been forced to take over the business. He's too good for that. He's going to college and he's going to be a lawyer. I'll make sure of that."
"I have brothers too, but I don't miss them. They're much older than I am. They were out of the house with wives and children when I was still at Martin School. I really don't miss Phyllis. She was a horrible child... spoiled and mean. I think of my father sometimes. He tried to be good to me, but he was never a strong man. Mother ruled the house and she did it with an iron fist."
"Nothing that you've told me changes the way I feel for you, Esme. I love you. I've loved you since the first moment I saw you. Please," Carlisle paused as he took a knee, "be my wife. We'll make our own family."
With tears in her eyes, Esme Platt whispered, "Yes."
They were married two months later at Mt. Pisgah Baptist Church in front of their friends and my father's family. Esme sent a postcard to her father a month later telling him of the nuptials. He didn't reply.
Carlisle and Esme moved into a trailer home in Rainbow City, Alabama. The location seemed like a logical choice since it was fifteen minutes to Etowah County High School and fifteen minutes to Cullen Tire and Automotive. Carlisle could drop Esme off at the school before he went to the shop. Gwendolyn could give her a ride home. This arrangement worked for three months. Then Esme's contact was not renewed for the 1970 – 1971 school year. So she took a job teaching pre-school at the Etowah County Headstart Program. For a year she would ride into work with Carlisle and then take the bus to the shop after the pre-school let out for the day.
After teaching at the Headstart Program for a year, Esme received a call to apply for a position at Sand Rock School in Cherokee County, Alabama. She would be teaching second grade, but there might be an opportunity for her to teach high school English again in the future. It was an excellent opportunity. The only downside was that the job was in Cherokee County... forty-five minutes from their home in Rainbow City. And Esme didn't drive. She would have to learn.
Carlisle went to the Ford dealership and bought a 1970 Ford Pinto. It was red with a white top and a manual transmission. He put Esme in the passenger seat of the car on the Sunday before the Monday she was to report to take the driving test and drove around the deserted parking lot of the K-Mart. He showed her how to work the clutch and to shift the gears. He stopped the car and they traded places. Esme stalled the car the first two times she tried to go forward. Fear made her start to cry. Carlisle took her hands and firmly told her that she would have to learn to drive. He couldn't drive her to work every morning and pick her up every afternoon and still run the business.
"You can do this," he said to her. "I have faith in you. Try again."
Esme wiped her eyes and bit her lower lip as she turned the key in the ignition. She pressed the clutch and put the car into first gear. She slowly let off the clutch and the car leapt forward, but it didn't stall. She drove forward until she heard Carlisle say 'now' and then she shifted into second. The gears ground a little, but the little car didn't stall.
They drove around the deserted parking lot for over an hour. Then Carlisle suddenly said, "Drive us home, darlin'."
"What?" Esme exclaimed as she stopped the car; it stalled.
"You've got the hang of it; drive us home."
"No. I... I can't. What if I hit someone or I stall it in the middle of traffic?"
"When you take the test tomorrow, the officer won't bring you to the K-Mart parking lot and let you drive around. You'll have to drive in traffic. You need the practice. Drive us home."
Esme frowned as she saw the stubborn look in Carlisle's eyes. He wasn't going to budge. She turned to look out the windshield and scowled at the exit of the parking lot. There was a traffic light so she wouldn't have to worry about on-coming traffic when she pulled out. She turned back to Carlisle and sighed.
"Fine," she huffed as she started the car. She put it in gear and drove to the traffic light to wait for it to change to green.
They made it home without Esme hitting another car. She also managed to only stall out once. Carlisle took that next morning off from the garage and went with Esme to take the test. She scored perfectly on the written portion, but Carlisle expected that. She took his hand before she got in the car with the officer to take the driving part. Her hands were wet with sweat.
"I'm so nervous," she whispered.
"Don't be; you can do this."
Esme nodded and slid into the driver's seat. The officer got in the passenger seat and shook Esme's hand. She glanced out the window at Carlisle one last time before she pulled out of the lot and into traffic.
Thirty minutes later, they were pulling back into the lot. Carlisle had been sitting on a bench outside of the testing office. He leapt to his feet and approached the Pinto as Esme gingerly parked it. The officer got out of the car shaking his head. Carlisle knew that look... she had failed.
Carlisle approached the officer. "Excuse me. I'm her husband. How did she do?" The officer looked at Carlisle and shook his head. "Oh," Carlisle said. He looked over the officer's shoulder and saw Esme sitting in the car with a sheepish smile on her face. "Did you tell her that she failed?"
"Listen, she has a teaching job in Cherokee County. She starts next Monday. She has to drive to work and back. If I promise you that she will drive me to work and back home every day this week and that she will drive everywhere we go this weekend, will you please give her a license? I will guarantee to you that she will be able to drive well by next Monday."
The officer raised an eyebrow and then turned to look at Esme as she sat in the car. He turned back to Carlisle and said, "She drives everywhere and if she has an accident, this conversation never happened."
Carlisle shook his hand. The officer gave Esme the lowest passing score he could. That's how my mother got her driver's license. She wouldn't know about the deal Carlisle made until twenty years later.
Esme began her career at Sand Rock School in 1971. She soon realized that teaching second graders was a lot harder than teaching high school students. She also found that there was a lot more outside work to do. She didn't teach a single subject... she had to teach all subjects. But Esme liked a challenge and she put in the extra time and effort. Her contract was renewed after the first year.
She and Carlisle had also decided to start trying to have a child. My dad often jokes that the two years they tried to have a baby were the most fun he'd ever had in his entire life. For two years they had fun trying to make a baby and for one year they stressed about why it wasn't happening. Finally, Esme went to the doctor. The news wasn't good.
Carlisle held Esme's hand as the doctor explained about Esme's inverted uterus. He explained that she may never be able to conceive a child and that if she did, she would most likely never be able to carry it to term. Esme burst into tears. Carlisle wrapped her in his arms.
"It's alright," he whispered. "Shh, it's okay. We can adopt. We'll still make a family."
They left the office and drove home in silence. Esme entered a deep depression. Carlisle tried everything to pull her out of it. They fought a lot, but would always make up. It was a bad time for them. Gerald Ford was president and interest rates on loans were so high that all small businesses were hurting. The tire and automotive business took a turn for the worst. With the gas shortages, most people weren't driving much. The cost of rubber and oil went through the roof.
The gas for the hour and a half trip Esme made to and from work every day was taking its toll on their finances. Edward, Sr. gave them permission to move their trailer onto a tract of land he owned just inside Cherokee County. It would cut Esme's daily drive in half, but would increase Carlisle's by twenty minutes. In the end, the money they would save in lot rental made the move economical.
They had been living on the forty acre tract of land for about two months when Esme became violently ill. She had been vomiting almost constantly for three days. Everything she ate came right back up. She had to take off work. Carlisle was getting worried. Esme insisted that it was a stomach virus, but Carlisle wasn't convinced. A stomach virus didn't usually last this long.
On the fourth straight day of vomiting, Carlisle loaded Esme in the car and took her to the doctor. The nurses took blood and urine samples. The doctor came in and listened to her heart and lungs and then he felt of her stomach. Carlisle and Esme were left in the room alone to wait for some answers as to why she couldn't eat without throwing up.
"I'm sure that it's nothing," she said, trying to reassure Carlisle. "It's just a stomach bug. The doctor will give me something to make the vomiting stop and I'll be right as rain. You'll see. There's no reason to worry."
"Yeah, I know."
The doctor came back into the room and said, "I want to do a pregnancy test."
"I'm not pregnant," Esme told him. "I can't get pregnant."
"Humor me," the doctor replied.
So Esme agreed to the test, knowing that the result would be negative. Fifteen minutes later the doctor came back in with a smile on his face.
"It's exactly what I thought. Congratulations, Mr. and Mrs. Cullen. You are indeed pregnant."
Carlisle calls it the yell heard 'round Gadsden. He literally yelled with excitement. The one thing they had been praying for had happened. Esme was pregnant.
"Wait," Esme said, bringing Carlisle back down to earth. "I could still miscarry. How far along am I?"
"I'm not sure. You'll need to go to your gynecologists to find out."
"Take a wild guess," Esme demanded.
"Hmm, well, judging by the morning sickness, I'd say you're at least eight weeks along; give or take a week."
They left the doctor's office with Carlisle walking on a cloud. Esme wasn't as excited. She had heard what her gynecologist had said a year ago. She would most likely miscarry this child. She was scared, but Carlisle was over the moon. He insisted that she make an appointment with her gynecologist for the next day. Never mind that the next day was Saturday and the doctor wouldn't be in the office. So, first thing Monday morning, Esme called Dr. McKee and made an appointment for that Wednesday afternoon. She would have to take another day off work, but neither she nor Carlisle wanted to wait to find out what the doctor would say about their miracle.
Dr. McKee was cautiously realistic about Esme's pregnancy. He determined that she was probably seven to eight weeks along. He made sure that they understood the risks associated with her condition. He didn't push for her to terminate the pregnancy because he was almost certain that she wouldn't carry to term.
"If you make it through your first trimester without any problems, I'll be surprised. If you make it through the second trimester, I'll be more optimistic. If you get that far, then I would say that you might actually carry to term," Dr McKee told them.
Esme wiped a tear from her cheek and Carlisle frowned at the doctor. "I appreciate your honesty, but we have a little more faith than that. We're having this baby."
"A positive attitude always helps. This pregnancy surprised you, Esme. Didn't you miss a cycle?"
"I've never been regular. I've skipped a month or two before and haven't been pregnant. It seemed normal to miss one," Esme said with a shrug.
"Hmm, well, I want you to come back in two weeks for another check."
For two weeks Esme was on pins and needles waiting for the miscarriage that she was expecting. For two weeks she remained pregnant. Dr. McKee was happy, but surprised that she was still pregnant when she arrived at his office for her appointment. Not only was she still pregnant, but she was also doing quite well. Carlisle was partially to blame for that.
He would get up every morning and fix Esme breakfast. He would make her two eggs, either bacon or sausage, and toast. Then he would have her drink a glass of milk and a glass of orange juice. Coffee was strictly forbidden as was tea. Carlisle quit smoking; a habit he had picked up in the Air Force. At night he would prepare her an equally healthy dinner, complete with another glass of milk. Carlisle was determined to not only have the baby, he intended for it to be a healthy baby.
Esme made it through the first trimester without incident. She made it through the second trimester. At seven months Dr. McKee finally became optimistic that the baby might make it. The heartbeat was strong. Esme's blood pressure and blood sugar were good. The only problem was that she was gaining a lot of weight. She had gone from ninety-six pounds before she became pregnant to one hundred thirty-five pounds at seven months. It was becoming difficult for her to get around. She couldn't get out of the bed by herself. She couldn't get out of a chair without assistance. Driving was almost impossible. It was January 1975 and a decision had to be made. Could she still work?
Esme applied for a one year leave from her teaching position at Sand Rock and in February began the wait for Little Baby Cullen to be born. And wait she did. Her due date was March fourteenth. The day came and went with no baby being born. The next day... nothing. The next week... still no baby. Esme was beginning to get concerned; concerned and bigger. She now weighed one hundred fifty pounds. She could hardly move.
She and Carlisle went back to see Dr. McKee. Not only was she two weeks past her due date, but she was also showing no signs of going into labor anytime soon. "Get it out!" she demanded. It was decided that Dr. McKee would induce labor. The baby's heartbeat was strong and Esme was miserably large. It was time.
Esme and Carlisle arrived at the Holy Name of Jesus Hospital at eight o'clock on the morning of April ninth to have their baby. Dr. McKee induced and the baby was born at ten o'clock that night; Edward Anthony Cullen, III... me. I was named for my grandfather and an uncle I would never know.
I don't have many memories about the first three years of my life. I have heard stories from my parents and my uncle; much of which I've already told you. I don't remember Uncle Emmett marrying Aunt Rosalie; I was one. I don't remember breaking my baby bed by swinging over the side and dropping to the floor. I don't remember dragging the phone off the bedside table in my parent's room and saying "Oh, Pawpaw, oh" because I wanted to talk to my grandfather on the phone. I don't remember my daddy carrying me around by one ankle and calling me 'his opossum'. I don't remember this freaking out my mother or that at one of my check-ups the doctor did the very same thing to check my reflexes. I don't remember that I never slept or Daddy asking the doctor to give me something to make me sleep. The doctor apparently told him no, so my daddy asked for something to make himself sleep.
The first real memory that I can recall involves my cousin, Alice. I was three when Alice was born. I remember that Uncle Emmett and Aunt Rosalie brought her to Pawpaw and Grandma's house for some occasion that I don't recall. Aunt Rosalie, who I have loved for as long as I can remember, told me to sit on the couch. She then carefully placed a baby in my arms.
"Hold her tight, but not too tight. Be real still. She's very fragile so be careful," she told me.
I sat on that couch and held my baby cousin for the first time. I was in awe. Aunt Rosalie pulled back the blanket so I could see her face. She was so beautiful, with her tiny turned up nose and pink bowtie shaped lips. I remember that she yawned and opened her eyes and then she smiled.
"She smiled at me!" I exclaimed.
"Naw, it's just gas," Emmett said from across the room.
"Emmett!" Rosalie reprimanded him. She turned back to me and said, "She likes you. You're going to be best friends."
Aunt Rosalie was right. Alice and I grew to be very close. She was more like a younger sister than a cousin. She was always small; a direct side-effect of being born six weeks premature. I took care of her. She's quite possibly the smartest person I know. She was reading at a second grade level by the time she was three. Aunt Rosalie worked with her constantly. I used to love going to their house as a child, because they always had really interesting games and puzzles. Looking back I now understand that it was all educational. Alice skipped kindergarten and first grade, which meant that she was only a grade level behind me.
We were almost inseparable growing up in Gadsden. Emmett and Rosalie were both lawyers with a small firm in Gadsden. Momma was a teacher and Daddy ran the family business. Every day after school, Alice and I would get off the bus at Pawpaw and Grandma's house. Their gravel driveway was almost a mile long... all uphill. One day when Alice was six and I was nine, she tripped and fell in the gravel. Her knee split wide open. She was bleeding and crying. I dropped my book-bag and carried her all the way up that driveway and into the house. She still has a scar on her right knee from that.
Those times at my grandparent's house were some my happiest. I loved my pawpaw. I know that he was hard on my daddy and my uncles, but he was always good to me. I would follow him everywhere on that old one hundred sixty acre farm. I helped feed the chickens and the cows. I went fishing with him at the pond on the back side of the property. He let me plant sunflowers for Alice in the garden one year. He was quite possibly my favorite person when I was a kid.
Edward Anthony Cullen the First was a remarkable man. He was born into an impoverished family of eight with one very distinct disadvantage... he was near-sighted. I don't mean that he had difficulty seeing things in the distance. My pawpaw was legally blind. He could see some, but whatever he was looking at had to be extremely close to his face. I remember watching him read a newspaper without his glasses by placing it on his nose and moving it from right to left.
He was also left handed. This may not seem like an infirmity, but when he was in school in the early part of the twentieth century being left handed was a bad thing. You see, the pens they wrote with weren't like the ones we use today. The ink didn't dry quickly. A left handed person would smear the ink as their arm dragged across the paper. So, the teachers bound my pawpaw's left hand to his side and forced him to use his right hand. This created a unique talent in Edward Cullen, I; he became ambidextrous. There are many people in the world who have this talent, but most can only mimic with their non-dominant hand. Some, like a girl I went to middle school with, could mirror image with her non-dominant hand. My pawpaw was different. He could write two different things at the same time. Or he could write a letter with one hand and draw a picture with the other. He would do this 'parlor trick' as he called it for me when I was little. I always thought it was so cool.
He didn't finish school. He dropped out in the seventh grade at the age of fourteen. It was the Great Depression and money was more than tight in the Cullen household; it was non-existent. He and his brother, George, left the family homestead in Hokes Bluff, Alabama and set out to find work. They ended up 'hobo-ing' across the country. They traveled around for seven years. In that time, Edward learned how to work on cars. You know how you always hear that when one of your senses is deficient the others become extremely acute to make up for it. My pawpaw always said that it was the truth. He couldn't see, but his hearing was impeccable. This ability made him an excellent mechanic. He could hear the problem in a car and determine how to repair it. His sense of touch was also highly developed. He could feel vibrations and other problems that most other mechanics would never even realize were there.
At twenty-one, he returned to Gadsden after leaving George in Texas. George had met a young lady named Evelyn at a fair in Lubbock. Her father worked for Standard Oil. When George and Evie became engaged, her father got George a job at Standard. Edward knew that it was time to go home. He moved into a track home in downtown Gadsden and started working at Firestone as a mechanic. A few months later he met my grandma, Elizabeth, at a dance. They married and moved into his small apartment. They scrimped and saved for years until they were able to buy the one hundred and sixty acre farm that became my father's childhood home. They raised three children in that small shotgun house on the hill.
More saving and more sacrificing and Edward was able to buy a small building in Central Gadsden just across the Broad Street bridge. Cullen Tire and Automotive was born. Five years later a second location was opened in East Gadsden. Ten years after that a third location opened in West Gadsden. This was the 'empire' that my father inherited.
Pawpaw died of black mole melanoma when I was ten. My grandma announced to the entire family at the funeral that I was Pawpaw's favorite. Maybe I was. It was most likely because I was such a pest. I was literally his shadow. From the time I walked into his house at half past three every afternoon until Momma picked me up at five, I followed him everywhere he went. I would climb up into his lap and 'make' him watch cartoons with me. I think I made him love me. Or maybe he loved me because I loved him so much. I don't know. Talking about him is still painful.
When I was five, Ronald Reagan was elected President. This was very significant in my house. As a small business owner, my daddy had struggled through the Ford and the Carter Years. Inflation was high and gas prices continued to soar. I remember that we had to buy my clothes and shoes at K-Mart and Woolworths instead of Pizitz's and Belk where Aunt Rosalie bought Alice's things. But in 1980, things began to change.
'Reaganomics' apparently changed my family's life. Inflation began to decrease. During Carter's last year in office inflation was at 12.5%; it was 4.4% in Reagan's last year. The unemployment rate declined. He advocated a laissez-faire philosophy to stimulate the economy with large tax cuts. Income tax rates were lowered and he revised the tax code with the Tax Reform Act of 1986. Reagan ended the price controls on domestic oil that had contributed to the energy crisis; the price of oil dropped.
I know all these things because Reagan was a god in my house. My daddy still calls him the greatest President that this country has ever had. Reagan's two terms in office kept my family out of bankruptcy. Momma could finally afford to buy me nicer clothes at better stores. My parents were able to buy a house. We moved into a neighborhood not far from Alice's house when I was seven. I remember that year quite well. That was the year that I met Jasper Whitlock.
Even though we were living in Cherokee County, I didn't go to Sand Rock School. Instead, my dad would drop me at Highland Elementary on his way to the shop every morning. It was on his way and it was in Etowah County. My parents had given the school my grandparents address and that's how I was able to go there without a fuss. You would think that when we moved into the new house the school district problem would have been a moot point, but it wasn't. I was now supposed to go to R.A. Mitchell Elementary instead of Highland. I didn't want to do this because I would have to leave Alice, who was in Highland's district. We continued to use my grandparent's address and I now rode to school with Alice and Aunt Rosalie.
But now a new problem surfaced. All the kids in our neighborhood attended Mitchell and I was the outsider. Have you ever been the new kid in a school full of kids that have known each other their entire lives? If you have then you know how uncomfortable and alienating it can be. That's how I felt in the new house. Most of the kids were around my age, but they didn't know me and I didn't know them. Alice's house was about two miles away, across Tabor Road, which was an extremely busy thoroughfare. For the first couple of months, I would ride my bike across Tabor to Alice's house almost every day. Then the near accident happened and that ended.
I was on my way to Alice's house. I made it to the intersection of our street and Tabor without incident. I know that I looked both directions; I distinctly remember doing that. The coast was clear so I started across. I have no idea where the truck came from, but I thank God every day that the driver wasn't driving over the speed limit like most people do on Tabor. He clipped the front tire of my bike and I went down on the pavement. I hit my head and blacked out. The next thing I remember is a man in a uniform standing over my waving a light in my face and asking if I could tell him my name. I told him my name and my address before I burst into tears and cried out for my mommy. That was my last bicycle trip to Alice's house.
After 'the incident on the road' Momma told me that I had to try to make friends with the neighborhood kids. That's how I met Jasper. He lived next door to us with his parents, of course, and his older brother, Grant. I only mention Grant because we was... well... weird. Grant was eight years older than Jasper and a genius in every aspect of the word. He scored a perfect thirty-six on his ACT... six times! He had to take it repeatedly because the ACT board thought that he was cheating. The last time he took it, he was in front of a panel of judges who were watching to see how he was cheating. He wasn't cheating; he's that smart. Needless to say, he didn't pay for college or law school.
Jasper was a complete opposite of Grant. I don't mean that he was stupid, but he wasn't a genius. Jasper was more into sports than Grant. That was my in with Jasper. I love football. One Saturday afternoon after 'the incident' I was out in the front yard tossing a football in the air and catching it; essentially playing by myself. I was extremely bored. Daddy was at the shop and Momma was making bulletin boards on the kitchen table. I had been inside 'helping' until Momma told me to go outside and play. Apparently, I wasn't helping as much as I thought that I was.
Anyway, Jasper came outside with his dog to play fetch and saw what I was doing. He yelled over to me, "Ya havin' fun playin' football all by ya lonesome?"
I stopped and turned to face him. We had been living in the neighborhood for two months and these were the first words that had been spoken to me by anyone except my family. "Not really," I replied.
He cocked his head to the side and stared at me for a long moment before he said, "Wanna come over here and play with me and my dawg?"
My eyes widened and I dropped the football on the ground. "Yeah!" I exclaimed and ran over to his yard. Alice may have been, and still is, my best friend, but from that moment forward, Jasper was my pal.
Jasper was my 'in' with the rest of the neighborhood kids. I was suddenly included in backyard football games and twilight hide and seek games. He also talked me into asking Momma if I could tryout for peewee football. All the boys in the neighborhood played football for the Mountain Rams. I begged and pleaded with Momma and Daddy until they agreed to let me sign-up. Being on the football team opened me up to many more friendships with boys that I would never have met in any other way. It also prepared me to play in middle school and high school.
It's also how Jasper met Alice, leading to another lifelong relationship. Uncle Emmett and Aunt Rosalie came to every game the first season that I was on the team. Notice that I didn't say the first season that I played, because I didn't play at all the first season. Because they were there, so was Alice. She never actually watched the game; she watched the cheerleaders. The following spring Aunt Rosalie let her start taking gymnastics. That fall, Alice tried out for cheerleader for the Mountain Rams and made it.
Cheerleading practice and football practice coincided, so we would often carpool with Jasper. I should have known that something was up with Jasper and Alice early on. He picked on her incessantly. In the beginning she hated him. She didn't understand why he was so 'mean' to her. I tried to get Jasper to stop, but he refused. Now I understand what was happening; he picked on her because he liked her.
This behavior continued until we entered middle school. I went to Etowah Middle School and Jasper went to General Forest Middle School. This made us rivals on the football field, but it couldn't break-up our friendship. No matter who won the game, we were as tight as ever. I think that's because we understood each other. Or maybe it was because he was in love with Alice.
I noticed the change in Jasper's behavior toward Alice the second season we played JV football at our respective schools. Alice was going to Etowah too by then and she had made cheerleader. We played Forrest the fifth game of the season. After the game the players and the cheerleaders from both teams would meet on the field to say 'good game' and shake hands. Jasper and I found each other like we always did, but this time Alice found us too. I remember how Jasper's eyes widened when he saw her. It had been over a year since they had been that close to each other. Alice wasn't particularly fond of him, so I would avoid going to his house or asking him over to mine when Alice was there. Therefore, Alice didn't have the same reaction when she saw him. I remember that she wrinkled her nose and sneered at him before she turned to walk away.
"Hey, Alice!" he called out to her.
She stopped and slowly turned around. "Don't speak to me."
"Aw, c'mon now, don't be that way. We're friends, right?"
Her mouth dropped open with shock. "No," she said with disbelief.
Jasper smiled a crooked smile and said, "Wanna be?"
She raised one eyebrow and then narrowed her eyes at him. Then she turned and marched back to our side of the field.
I looked at Jasper and shook my head. "She really doesn't like you, " I said.
"She will," he said confidently.
I had a blissful childhood. I was completely unaware of any strife in my parent's marriage until I was fifteen years old. It was September 1990 and I was a sophomore at Etowah High School. I had made the varsity football team. I couldn't drive yet, but one of the seniors, John Nance, lived across the road from Grandma. My house was on his way home, so I rode home from practice with him. It was a Wednesday, I remember this little detail but I don't know why, and my daddy was home when John dropped me off. He was never home when I got in from practice. He usually didn't make it home until after seven most nights.
I walked into the house and saw my momma and daddy sitting at the dining room table. "C'mon in and have a seat, Edward," Daddy said. I reluctantly took my seat across from my momma.
"Son," Carlisle started, "your mother and I have come to a decision." My heart leapt into my throat. I had a few friends at school whose parents were divorced. I had a bad feeling that I knew what was coming.
Carlisle continued. "We've been arguing a lot lately. We've been trying to figure out why... trying to fix it." He stopped and looked over at my mother. He took her hand and a tear rolled down her cheek. I swallowed back the lump that had formed in my throat.
"You know that the automotive shop was your grandfather's and that he left it for me to run, right?" I nodded. "He had hoped that it would always stay in the family and that it would be yours someday."
"I don't want it," I interrupted. "I don't want to be a mechanic. I want to be a lawyer... like Uncle Emmett."
"We know that, Edward," my momma said, soothing me. "That's why we've decided to sell the business. Your father is miserable and it's making me miserable. We want to be happy again."
It took me a minute to process that the word 'divorce' had not been mentioned. My next concern was the one that I voiced. "What will we do for money?"
"I work, Edward," Esme reminded me.
"We'll get a nice sum for the business. It's successful and Baker Tire has shown interest in the past. We'll be fine," Daddy said as he patted my arm. "I'm going back to school. I'm going to be a nurse."
"A nurse?" I said, surprised. I'd never known a man who was a nurse.
"Male nurses are in high demand right now. The admissions counselor at GSCC says that I would be hired as soon as I graduate. They have a two year program. I could get my associates degree and be working as an RN before you start college."
"I didn't know you wanted to be a nurse," I said, still confused.
Carlisle smiled and said, "I want to do something to support my family that has absolutely nothing to do with cars. It'll work out, Edward; you'll see."
He was right. Daddy graduated in December of my senior year of high school. He already had a job at the Gambro dialysis clinic in Fort Payne, Alabama. I graduated the following May with an academic scholarship to the University of Alabama. I had talked Jasper into applying there also, even though he was a fanatical Auburn fan. He applied to Auburn as well. He got into both, but opted for Auburn. I was slightly disappointed, but I had been in this position before; the new kid with no friends.
My parents moved me into the honors dormitory in Tuscaloosa in August of 1993. One of the guys that was on the football team with me, Lee Copeland, also got into the University and was able to fulfill the requirements to live in the honors dorm. We became roommates our freshman year and remained roommates until we both graduated in 1997.
Jasper and I remained close despite the distance and the rivalry. We entered law school at the University of Alabama in 1997. We moved into a small two bedroom house just off campus. For two years we studied hard and partied even harder. Then Alice showed up and the partying ended for Jasper.
Alice had grown into an extremely beautiful young woman. She had taken after Uncle Emmett as far as her coloring. She had dark brown hair and the trademark ice blue 'Cullen' eyes. But she had the delicate facial features of my equally beautiful Aunt Rosalie. It was her looks as well as her brains that led her to the University of Georgia, where she majored in broadcast journalism. She completed her bachelor and master degrees at Georgia in five years (I told you she was smart). She had decided to come to the University of Alabama to get her doctorate.
She rented an apartment at University Downs on Fifteenth Street. Jasper and I helped her move in. That was the last day that it was 'me and Jasper.' Over the years, Jasper had pursued Alice relentlessly and she always shot him down. He had left for Auburn still pining for her. Don't get me wrong; he was far from celibate for those years, but no one ever became serious. Alice on the other hand always had a boyfriend. She had dated a guy named David through most of high school and her freshman year at Georgia. She had played the field for a little over a year after they broke up. Christmas of 1997 she brought home a boy named Jeff. They dated for a couple of years, but ended the relationship just before she moved to Tuscaloosa from Athens.
She and Jasper were both single in 1999. That lasted for all of two weeks. I've known both of them most of my life, and I love them both dearly, but I never would have put them together until that day in Alice's apartment. Jasper had been vile to Alice our entire childhood and had become an annoyance to her through our teen years. Maybe it was the years of being apart that changed her outlook. Maybe it was the failed relationships that she had endured. Maybe it was that they had both matured. Whatever it was, the spark was undeniable. I could almost feel the electricity in the room when they were together. They've been married for five years now and I still feel that when we're all together.
Jasper and I graduated from law school in 2000. I was third in our class; Jasper was sixth. We both had offers from Najjar Denaburg in Birmingham. We started working there in June of 2000. Most of our job was to study for the bar exam, which was coming up in July. Truthfully, our employment depended on us passing that exam. The most stressful week of my life was that week in Montgomery. The most stress months were the two I waited for the results to arrive in the mail. I received my resulted two days before Jasper; I passed. Jasper passed too.
Jasper began working in the domestic relations division at the firm. I had developed a love of property law in law school so I went into the property division. Jasper considers this a mental defect. He detests property. On the advice of one of the partners, I took and passed the patent bar. I do a lot of copyright and patent law. I make a good living since I am one of only three lawyers in Alabama who do any type of intellectual property work. To say that my parents are proud is an understatement.
My momma taught second grade at Sand Rock School for thirty-two years. She officially retired at the age of fifty-five. My daddy worked at the dialysis clinic in Fort Payne for ten years and then he went on contract. This meant that he would work at a different dialysis clinic in the area for a week or two and then move on to somewhere else. The contract left him with flexibility to work when he wanted. It was like semi-retirement. They bought an RV and traveled. I'd never seen them happier.
Then Momma got sick.