I was on vacation on Sanibel Island. This was the third consecutive year my two best friends and I had driven from Orlando to this island we had grown to love. The plan was to get away from our normal lives for a week. The three of us worked as veterinary techs at three different animal clinics. All of us were born in the same year and at the same hospital, Orlando Regional. Despite living in the same city and doing the same work, we had never run into each other. We had attended different high schools. We met one Saturday shopping at the Mall at Millenia. We were each searching for the perfect swimsuit and have been best friends ever since. The fact that we worked for different animal hospitals made it possible for us to take the same week off each year and vacation together. This year we rented a condo for a week at the Oceans Reach Resort. We made this choice because we discovered in our search for the perfect place to spend our vacation, the Oceans Reach was the closest condo complex to the beach we could find. Vacationing together had many advantages for three single young girls. Cost savings, of course. We would also watch out for each other for protection (safety in numbers). We would watch over each other when it came to guys. Three girls on vacation on a tropical island is to guys like blood in the water is to a shark. So we protected each other from making relational mistakes. We set rules for ourselves. No guys in the condo. No single dates. All for one and one for all. That meant even if only one of us had a date, the other two would also go on the date. We would always stay together, no matter what. We very quickly discovered that there were always enough guys to go around, so no one ever had to go along on a date alone.
Each year we would make sure to eat at all our favorite restaurants. One called The Bubble Room is at the top of the list. They always had great food, a fun atmosphere, and huge slices of cake we would purchase to take back to the condo for dessert later in the evening. This year it was just as good. And as usual, when we arrived, it wasn’t very long before the sharks started circling. Of course, meeting guys and enjoying their company was a big part of our vacation adventure each year. The sharks circling was something we looked forward to. If it didn’t happen, we would be disappointed. It was fun to be three young women in this tropical paradise. We would play the usual games to size up the sharks and decide if they were worthy of us.
Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw Jon.
We were sitting at our table eating our food when I noticed him. He was breathtaking… sun- bleached long blond hair, a deep bronze tan and a chiseled body. He was wearing a white button down shirt, untucked and spotless. He had on a pair of classy looking jeans with just the right tightness to reveal the strong muscles of his perfectly shaped legs. On his feet were flip flops that had seen a good number of miles. There were two guys with him and they were walking directly towards us. As they came closer, my friends and I prepared ourselves. But the unexpected happened. They passed right by us without a sign of knowing we were even there. We were surprised and slightly insulted.
The boys stopped at the corner pool table and started to play a game. My friends and I got over the obvious rejection and turned our attention back to our grouper sandwiches and cold slaw.
A short time later, we got that shark bait feeling again. There were two other guys approaching our table and this time it was apparent that we were the target. We noticed these two earlier because of a disruption they had caused with two other girls. They were loud and slightly drunk then, and unfortunately for us, had been drinking ever since. It was obvious that now they were very drunk. When they arrived at our table, they immediately began making rude, loud comments along with suggestions that we go with them to “really have some fun”. As they started to pull on us to get us to go with them, I heard a strong clear voice come from behind me. “It looks to me like these nice girls don’t want to go with you.” I turned and looked past the man that had my arm to see whose voice it was, and saw it belonged to Jon. I guess when our assault began, Jon and his friends put down their cue sticks and followed the noise. Now the two guys that were trying to force us to leave had three guys behind them. I heard Jon’s voice again. “ I suggest you take your hands off them,” he said. One of the men replied, “I suggest you mind your own business”. Almost immediately, I felt the hold on my arm loosen and I heard what sounded like choking. A second later, I was free. I turned to find the guy that was pulling on me in the firm embrace of Jon. Jon had a choke hold on the guy’s neck and was pulling him to the exit. The guy’s face was turning colors as they went. They were closely followed by the other one being carried by Jon’s two companions. One had the creep by the feet, and the other was carrying him under his armpits. There was a stream of blood flowing from the second man’s nose.
After a few minutes, Jon and his two buddies returned to the restaurant and this time walked straight to our table. We quickly realized they had saved us. They assured us we would not be bothered by those two again. We invited them to join us. They sat down and after the introductions, we began to get to know each other. Almost immediately, the conversations split up into twos. Jon started to direct his conversation to me. He asked the normal get to know you questions and I answered them. Then it was my turn to ask him questions.
He told me that the three of them had met 3 days ago on a beach on Captiva, an island just to the north of Sanibel. The two islands are connected by a small bridge. Actually, they did not meet on the beach but about 200 ft off the beach, in the Gulf of Mexico. They had arrived at the beach at around the same time, but separately. They each had a surf board and had pushed off into the water. They noticed each other 150 ft out and had stopped together about 200 ft from the shore. All three had the same puzzled look on their face. The water was completely calm. Not even a ripple. No one had told them that the Gulf was usually not the best place to surf. They realized that must be why they were the only ones along the whole beach that were on surf boards. They sat there, side by side like chess pieces. Floating almost motionless, waiting for the wave that would never come. Finally, they looked at each other, sweat dripping off their chins. Without saying a word, all three rolled off their boards into the cool water and then remounted the boards and paddled in to shore.
When they got to the beach, they sat down under some trees and talked for a while. They discovered they were staying at the same resort. All three were single and unattached. They decided to change clothes and meet at the resorts tennis courts, play a few games and then meet for dinner that night. That’s why they were at the Bubble Room. That’s why they were available to save us.
After we finished our meals and bought our slices of cake, the six of us stood out in the parking lot for a while talking. One of Jon’s friends asked if we would all like to go to his condo to eat cake and watch a movie? We girls excused ourselves for a minute to talk. When we were far enough away from the boys not to be overheard and asked each other what we thought. We quickly decided because we would be together and they seemed nice, we would accept their invitation. It was 8:00, so we said we would stay until midnight. We got in our car and they got in theirs and we followed them to the South Seas Resort, just up the road from the restaurant. The resort was beautiful and the condo faced the Gulf. We decided we were all too full from dinner to eat cake, so we agreed to watch the movie first and have cake later. After looking over the dvd choices, we chose the old classic, The Wizard of Oz. As we found our places to get comfortable to watch the movie, we paired up like it had been since the restaurant. It was Jon and me on the love seat and the other two couples on the couch. As the movie started, Jon sat close to me. Just about the time the Scarecrow and Dorothy meet, I felt Jon take my hand. He took it slowly and gently, probably so I wouldn’t be startled and pull away. I didn’t. We sat there, slouched and holding hands for the rest of the movie.
When the credits started to roll at the end of the movie, all three guys got up and said they were going to serve the cake. This was turning out to be a great evening. The three of them went into the kitchen and about a minute later, Jon came back out with an ice bucket in his hand. He asked me if I would go with him downstairs to the ice machine. I said “sure”. As we walked down the stairs, he reached for my hand and I laced my fingers with his. When we reached the first floor ice machine, we both gasped at the same time. Over the horizon of the gulf was the most beautiful moon I had ever seen rising above the horizon. Jon asked me if I would like to step out onto the beach to get a better look? I said yes.
We walked down a short path through some palms and palmetto bushes and came out onto a completely deserted beach. The moon and the ocean were breathtaking. Soft gentle waves rippled lazily onto the sand. We walked down to the water’s edge, my fingers still laced in his. I looked back towards the buildings and could see the lights of the resort shining through the palms. Jon asked if I wanted to sit for a few minutes. I again said yes. We sat there for three or four minutes enjoying the moonrise and the breeze from the gulf. I felt his hand release mine. Then I could feel his hand softly rest on the small of my back and slowly rise until his fingers were tangled in my hair. I turned to look into his eyes. But instead of the soft blue I had seen all evening, I saw something dark. Suddenly, his hand grabbed my hair and he pulled my head back violently. Instead of his pleasant voice, I heard an evil voice say, “Now let’s have some fun.” I tried to scream but he clamped his other hand over my mouth and nose. I was having trouble breathing. I tried to break free but he was too strong. In one motion, he pushed me all the way back and rolled on top of me. His legs were holding my arms down as he sat on my stomach. He continued to hold one hand over my mouth and nose and with the other, held my head down. I couldn’t breathe. I kept fighting and trying to scream until everything went black.
I awoke to the smell of garbage. My whole body ached, especially my head and the left side of my face. As my eyes started to focus, I realized it was dark. It was night. I was in some kind of small room with no roof and a big blue box in front of me… It was a dumpster! I was laying on the dirty concrete floor of a dumpster enclosure. I tried to remember how I got here but I had no idea. The last thing I remembered was being held down by Jon. What had he done to me? Why was I here? Where are my friends? With great pain I slowly got up. I could see from the light of a streetlamp that my shirt was badly torn and my shorts and swim suit bottoms were gone. I carefully squeezed passed the smelly dumpster and looked around. It appeared that I was behind a restaurant. There were some full length white cook’s aprons hung up on some nails on the back of the building. I took two down to cover myself, one in the front and one for the back. I looked at my watch. It said 4:17. I slowly walked around to the front of the restaurant. I saw the sign, R.C. Otters. At 4 am, the restaurant and streets were deserted. I started walking. The street was lined with vacation rentals. I walked along, looking back and forth until I saw a house with a light on inside. I could see through the window an older lady sitting in a chair, reading. I approached the door and knocked. I heard footsteps come to the door and a ladies voice ask, ” Who is it?” I answered, “My name is Crystal Wells. I’ve been hurt and I need help.” She said, ” Just a minute.” I heard footsteps walk away from the door and then some muffled voices. The door opened and standing there was the lady I had seen through the window and a sleepy looking older man. One look at me and the woman said, “Oh my poor dear!” She took me by the hand and led me to the kitchen and sat me down. While they introduced themselves to me, she got a clean dish towel, wet it, and started to clean my face and cuts. I heard the man, her husband it turned out, talking to someone on the phone. When he had hung up, he came over and told me the police were on their way.
When they arrived, a woman police officer sat with me asking me questions. I told her all I could remember. She then told me that hours ago my friends had reported me missing and they had been searching for me ever since. A short time later, my friends arrived, and after a tearful reunion, the police took all of our statements. The paramedics were there to examine me and care for my injuries. They asked if I had been raped. I said no. I’m not sure why I said that, because I really had no idea if I had been or not, blacking out like I did. The thought of going through some kind of exam after all that had happened to me seemed too embarrassing to endure.
The next two days were spent with the police trying to find out what had happened. We managed to find our way back to the condo where we had watched the movie. We found two of the guys there, but no Jon. They said they had never heard of a Jon. They held to the story that the two of them had picked up my two friends at the Bubble Room that night and ended up at the condo to watch the Wizard of Oz until the two girls left at midnight. They had never seen me before and didn’t know anything about a Jon person. So after all the questions and investigation, we didn’t have any idea what happened….and Jon was a ghost.
When the three of us got home, we spoke a few times but something had changed. I had changed. My two friends just became reminders of that horrible night. I found myself getting angry and isolated. I went back to my job and my life, but there was no joy in anything anymore.
After a month back home, I started getting sick in the morning. Every day I felt sick. Then I realized I had missed my period. I purchased a home test from the drug store. Standing in my bathroom, staring at the result on the plastic stick, I realized the life I had dreamed of living had just ended. I was pregnant. For a week after finding out, I called in sick at work and never left my apartment. I didn’t want to be a mother. A single mother. The mother of a child whose father beat and abused and raped me. I was angry. I hated the man that did this to me. I was angry at my friends that had failed me. I was angry at God for letting this happen to me. I was mad at myself for putting myself in the situation that allowed it to happen. I wasn’t going to be forced into a life situation I didn’t want or ask for or deserve.
The next Monday I started my research on how I was going to free myself from this. I made an appointment at Planned Parenthood. I heard they helped women free themselves from this problem. I talked with two women, filled out some paperwork and made the appointment for the procedure.
The day arrived and I was ready to get this out of the way and get on with the life I had planned. When I stepped out of my car at the clinic, I noticed some people on the sidewalk in front of the building. They were carrying signs. It looked like they were protesting about something. I didn’t pay any attention to them and walked to the entrance of the clinic. I entered the building and after a few minutes in the waiting area, I was ushered back to a room. They asked me to remove my clothes and put on the gown that they provided for me. A nurse came into the room and asked me to lay on the table that was in the middle of the room and put my feet in the stirrups. I was laying there trying to relax as much as I could when the doctor came in. He told me I had nothing to worry about and this would be over before I knew it. As he started, I was feeling discomfort.
Halfway through the procedure, I started to hear a baby cry. I asked the people in the room, “Why is that baby crying?” They listened and then the nurse standing next to the doctor said, ” There are no babies crying here.” She told me it was probably just my imagination and to ignore it. After a while, the doctor was finished. He stood, removed his gloves and left the room. As I got dressed and got ready to leave, I could still hear the cry. As I walked through the building to go home, I kept looking around to see if I could tell where the crying was coming from. When I went outside to get in my car, I again noticed the people on the sidewalk carrying the protest signs. I decided to walk towards them to see if one of them had a crying baby. No one did. What I did discover was that the signs they were holding had words on them like abortion and choice. And to my horror, the signs also had photos of what appeared to be tiny dismembered arms and legs. A frozen chill went up my spine and I felt like I was going to throw-up. These photos couldn’t be real. What they had just done inside that building was remove a glob of tissue. Not a baby. When I saw a woman coming from the group walking towards me, I quickly turned and headed to the parking lot as fast as I could. When I closed the door to my car, I could no longer hear the crying baby. But I had a very strange feeling. It felt like when my dad died 5 years before. Leaving the memorial service, I felt an emptiness I had never felt before. It was like the world was suddenly empty. Now…the world feels even emptier.
I drove home and that night, I was awakened from a sound sleep. Somewhere, there was a baby crying. I tried putting my pillow over my head to stop me from hearing the cry, but nothing worked. What was strange was that it sounded like the same baby I heard at the planned parenthood building. Wouldn’t all baby cries sound the same to me? But this cry sounded different than other cries I had heard.
As the days went by, every few days I would hear that baby, but not always crying. Sometimes laughing, sometimes gurgling like babies do. After a while, even though sometimes the baby would wake me in the middle of the night, I slowly got used to hearing it. As time went by, the baby’s voice changed. It was like she was getting older. I say she because it was obvious when she got old enough, I was hearing the voice of a little girl. I got so used to her being there, I decided to give her a name. I chose Coral. When she started to say words, they were of a language I had never heard and did not understand. Regardless, sometimes it felt like we were having a conversation, even though I had no idea what she was saying.
Seven years went by. Life had found a new normal. I had finished college and started a new career. The days passed, one by one, and my life became what I would call ordinary…except for the fact that the world continued to feel empty, and I had an ongoing conversation with a young girl I couldn’t see.
One day, I was looking for a book to read at Barnes & Noble. I found a book called The Message and decided to buy it. When I got home, I discovered it was a bible. I hadn’t read the bible since Sunday School when I was 7. Out of curiosity, I opened it up and read a couple of pages. This bible was different than the one I remembered from childhood. There were no thee’s or thou’s. The words seemed familiar and even a little comforting. So I continued to read. I found I understood this bible. It almost felt as though the words were written to me. I continued to read. Every morning I would read a little more.
Ever since that horrible night on Captiva Island, I would regularly dream about the events of that night. Many times that night would invade my waking thoughts as well. Whenever my mind would take me back there, I found I could easily renew my hatred for Jon. I would also renew my anger for those I felt let me down. This renewal was something that became very familiar to me. It seemed as though I needed to keep those feelings close to me, especially my hatred of Jon.
Then one day, my mind went back to that night like it had so many times before. This time though, something was different. Something had changed. I thought back to the beach and Jon, but the hatred was gone. I remembered the story I had read that morning in the bible about Jesus hanging up on that wooden cross, nailed there with spikes. As he looked down at the people that had done this to him, He said to his father, “ Forgive them, because they don’t know what they are doing.” Forgive…the word echoed in my head. Is that what is different? Have I forgiven Jon? The moment I had the thought, I knew it was true. But didn’t I need to hold onto the hatred? I couldn’t think of a reason I needed too. A deep feeling of release and freedom vibrated through me. I dreamt about the Captiva events the next night, but instead of waking up full of hatred and resentment, I felt joy. Life was much happier after that. But the world still felt empty.
For some reason the date I went to planned parenthood and had the procedure has stuck in my mind. October 16th. Today it was 12 years ago. This morning, I was in my living room reading my bible, when suddenly everything went dark. After a few moments of fear and concern, it was light again. Except now, I wasn’t in my living room anymore. I was at the edge of a forest facing a green field with a sparkling, blue pond in the center of the field. It was a clear fresh morning. I noticed a young girl playing at the edge of the water. I saw a man sitting on a rock a short distance away. He appeared to be watching over her. He motioned for me to come over to where he was and patted his hand on the rock inviting me to sit next to him. I walked over and sat down. He said hello. I said hi. Then he looked over at the girl on the beach. She was making a sand castle. He said, “Isn’t she beautiful?” I looked over to where the little girl was playing and as I was about to answer him, she turned, looked at me and smiled. I fell to my knees. Tears filled my eyes. I began to sob. I knew the moment she looked at me, she was my daughter. The baby I had aborted 12 years ago.
She ran up to me and threw her arms around my neck. She whispered “mommy” softly in my ear with the same voice I had heard the last 12 years. I cupped her face in my hands and kissed her cheeks until they were red. I looked into her beautiful blue eyes and said,” I love you.” She looked back at me and said, “I love you, mommy.” I hugged hear so tight. Suddenly, she got up and ran towards the forest. I noticed at the edge of the trees stood a group of children about her age. When she reached them, she turned, smiled and waved. Then they all disappeared into the forest.
I turned to the man, my eyes still filled with tears. I was unable to speak. He reached out his hands to hold mine and said, ” We will take good care of her until you return.” He then let go of my hands. As he did, I noticed that his hands were scarred. I was about to ask him when I could come back when everything went dark again. After a few moments I was back in my living room.
The next few days were full of emotions. Sadness for what I had missed and was missing. Happiness knowing my daughter was well and I would see her again.
…..And the world didn’t feel empty anymore.