Wednesday, June 17, 2009


I've always envied people with large families, those with scads of brothers and sisters--some liked, some not--who share common blood, upbringing, family legends and myths.
I was the only child of my parents, though I had two half-sisters from my mother's first husband. As a kid I rarely saw them, they lived at their father's house and rarely came to mine. When they did visit, they came bearing a dislike for my father, whom they felt had taken their mother from them. The eldest sister died eight years ago; the other, a musician and composer, lives in Paris. I see her whenever I travel to France and we try to pick up the conversations left unended when last we met and parted.

G. Stanley Hall, reputed as the founding father of child psychology in the late 1800s, called being an only child “a disease in itself.” Susan Newman, a social psychologist and author at Rutgers University, says the only child "myth" has been perpetuated ever since. “People articulate that only children are spoiled, they’re aggressive, they’re bossy, they’re lonely, they’re maladjusted,” she said. “And the list goes on and on and on.”

According to a recent article in MedIndia, which tracks family health in a nation where more and more families are opting to have only one child, " ‘onlies’ become extremely independent and take on responsibilities very soon in life. They take on more than they can handle and rarely or never ask for help. Pleasing parents and devoting almost an entire lifetime trying to live up to expectations weighs them down heavily, but in most cases the expectations are usually theirs and not imposed. Singles have a strong desire to succeed, mostly for self-fulfilment, and studies also show that single children are rarely dreamy; they like things straightforward, tend to get one thing done at a time and generally like their lives uncluttered.

Hmmm. Doesn't much sound like me.

I wonder if single children seek to unite with established families. I've been doing this--without success--a large part of my life. I like being involved in families, listening to their histories, watching their dances of joy and sorrow. I fantasize about having someone who has known me from childhood. I wonder what it's like to have a sister getting engaged, or divorced, or bearing a child. I wonder what a brother would have been like, whether there would have been shared interests or immediate competition. Most likely, a little of both.

But then I know families where siblings have not spoken to each other for years, where parents are reviled, and family reunions that have all the trappings of Greek tragedies, so it's all idle speculation.

Here's installment 99 of Wasted Miracles.

When Mollie got to the airport a stream of gaily painted cabs was disgorging passengers. She’d planned it that way, had made it a point to get there when traffic was at the highest. The ten pound package weighed much more than she’d anticipated. It was in the carry-all and the strap pulled at her shoulder so that she felt lopsided.

When someone bumped hard into her, she stumbled, almost fell, felt herself being pulled around. Then the strap of the bag broke. She yelled but someone pushed her again and this time she did fall, landing on her hands and knees. She heard the sound of feet running, looked up from the floor to see a pair of worn Reeboks weaving through the crowds. Then she heard a police whistle. Four sets of uniformed legs dashed past her, a shiny military boot barely missed her head. She struggled to a sitting position on the floor, felt hands on her neck, on her shoulders.

“Miss? Miss, are you all right? Miss?”

Not much later, as she sat on a hard plastic chair in the congested office of the airports customs office, it struck her that her luck hadn’t held out, that no matter how things worked out, she was in a great deal of trouble. She stood, put her hand on the doorknob, tried to turn it. The door was locked. She sat back down, looked at the tourist posters advertising a much more pleasant country than the one she was in. She lowered her head into her hands and started crying.

Two door down from the office in which Mollie was sequestered, Major Charles Townsend opened the travel bag. He was a tall black man of military bearing, born and raised in Freeport and proud of the services he’d provided to his country. His men had cornered the thief—a mere boy— in a toilet, thoroughly pummeled him and whisked him away to a small holding cell usually reserved for quarantined animals. They had deposited the travel bag on the Major’s desk.

He unzipped it, reached in, felt a heavy parcel wrapped in paper. He pulled the package out, slit the paper with his pen knife, found a layer of plastic, slit that. The white powder gleamed at him. He moistened a finger, poked it into the powder, brought it gingerly to his lips. He frowned, did it again.

The Major was due to leave the Customs Services in a week. His good-bye party was already planned. He thought about the paperwork involved in this particular seizure. It might take weeks to interrogate the suspect. He had already purchased two airplane tickets to New York for the day after his retirement so he and his wife could visit their eldest son who was living there.

He found that morning’s newspaper, spread it carefully on his desk. Then he slit the parcel completely open.

He tasted the powder again.

He flattened the mound of powder across the newspaper with a ruler, poked his finger here and there throughout. He smelled it, tasted it again a half-dozen times. He inspected the powder, used the eraser end of a pencil to push it around, looking for anything that might have been concealed there.

After a while he gathered the corners of the newspaper, folded them together, used several feet of Scotch tape to wrap the bundle tightly.

In one of the bag’s sidepockets he found Mollie’s wallet, opened it. There was $318 in cash, plus change. He took $250 out, folded it and placed it in his shirt pocket. He dropped the parcel in his trashcan.

Mollie had stopped crying when he opened the door but her face mirrored her thoughts. He handed her the travel bag, led her out of the room. “I’m afraid you’ve missed your plane, Miss. You’ll have to make other arrangements.”

She nodded, not really hearing him.

“I’m very sorry this happened,” he said. “I hope it won’t stop you from visiting Nassau again.” He pointed towards one of the airline counters. “Delta has a plane leaving in two hours. If you hurry, you might be able to get a reservation.”

Mollie nodded, still not hearing.

He gave her a gentle push in the direction of the Delta counter. When she was a few feet away, he said, “Miss?”

Mollie turned, faced him. He wore a stern look.

“I believe U.S. laws expressly forbid the importation of foodstuff from the Bahamas. That includes fruits, meats... and flour.”

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