Some say this story defies classification. It is simultaneously a story of hope and dispair. Some find it disturbing and say it is thought provoking. You be the judge.
I thought mom's problems started on that Christmas morning when Dad got me a gift that totally changed my life. The fact is that mom's problems started long before that, but at that time I didn't know and didn't care 'cause I was too wrapped up in the wonderful gift my father gave me.
It was a doll and everyone said it looked just like me. It has long red hair, green eyes and a face full of freckles just like me. It even came with a Kelly green dress with white ruffles just like the one I had in my closet. I just loved that doll but when I showed it to mom, she got this strange look on her face.
“Look mom,” I said with an almost uncontrollable state of excitement. “Look what Daddy got me for Christmas. How did he know mom? How did he know this is what I've always wanted?” mom didn't answer. She just looked at me with this strange expression and then she stared at Dad and gave him a questioning look. That told me that she had no idea so I ran to Dad and asked him the same question.
“How did you know Dad, how did you know I've always wanted a twin sister?” Hugging the doll with all my might I twirled around in delirious joy and kept turning until I got dizzy and fell to the floor. After rolling around in the middle of the living room floor, I held the doll up with both hands and proudly announced, “I'm going to name her Jingle-bell, because she's a Christmas doll, but I'll call her Bell for short.” Turning to Dad I said, "You and mom can calls us 'A' and 'B'.” Get it Dad, 'A' for Anna and 'B' for Bell.”
I don't know what got into mom, but when I said that, she suddenly jumped out of her chair and spilled all the presents she had on her lap. Covering her face with both hands she ran out of the living-room crying. About two seconds later aunt Tilly and grandma followed her into the bedroom. I didn't know what was going on so I turned to dad for an answer.
“Molly!” Dad called out to mom, but she didn't answer. Then grandma closed the bedroom door and dad put his hand up to indicate that I should stay put while he ran off after them. Without looking back he disappeared into the bedroom and closed the door.
“Was it something I said?” I asked Bell. “I don't think so,” she answered, “but there was one sure way to find out.” Crawling up to my parent's room I peeked through the crack at the bottom of the door. All I could see was their feet but that was better than nothing. Dad, grandma and aunt Tilly were standing next to the bed but mom must have been laying on the bed cause I couldn't see her feet at all. Then they started talking.”
“How could you?” I heard my mother say. “Giving her a doll that looks just like her and then calling it her twin sister. How could you be so cruel?”
“Wait a minute,” My dad replied. “I didn't say anything about it being her twin. That was her idea. All I did was buy a doll at the mall.”
“And it just happen to look just like her?” Mom asked sarcastically. “Was that just a coincidence?”
“No, it was suppose to look like her.” Dad replied as mom went into another crying fit.
“Look, I was passing by this store in the mall.” Dad continued, “It was called 'The Doll Factory' or something. Anyway, there was a young women in the corridor and she handed me a discount coupon and asked if I had a daughter. I said yes and told her about Anna. I told her Anna was 7 years old, extremely intelligent and very hard to shop for. I explained that Anna was an only child and we spoiled her rotten so she had everything money could buy and I had no idea what else I could get her.”
“Leading me by the arm, the salesgirl took me into the store and told me she had the perfect gift for Anna. She explained that they made custom dolls and if I showed her a picture of Anna they could make me a doll that looked just like her.” Dad stopped to look at mom before continuing. “She said it was the latest rage and assured me that my little girl would love it.” I saw dad's feet move towards aunt Tilly and grandma as he continued his explanation. “I thought it was a good idea.” He pleaded his case. “I had no reason to think Molly would react as she did.”
“No reason?' Mom shouted at him as she got to her feet. “Have you forgotten what happened 8 years ago? Isn't it bad enough that Anna talks to an imaginary friend? You know how much that bothers me. Now you've given her that dammed doll to obsess over. She's already calling it her twin sister.” Mom broke down in tears again. “And... worst of all, … she wants to call it... Bell.” Mom screamed as she fell on the bed crying.
“You're the one that's obsessing.” Dad said as he tried to move towards mom but aunt Tilly move up to stop him. Then I guess she must have pushed him away because dad's feet took several steps back. That's when Grandma moved towards mom and sat on the bed.
“Oh honey don't let that fret you.” Grandma said with a very sympathetic voice. “I'm sure Tim had no idea what he was doing. You know how men are. If it isn't about cars or sports they don't have a clue. I'm sure he didn't mean to hurt you. He just wasn't thinking and forgot...” Then Grandma leaned forward and hugged Mom. “But maybe that's a good thing.” grandma continued, “It's been 8 years honey, isn't it about time that you forgot about it too? You've got a daughter to raise and the poor thing is out there all by herself wondering what all this commotion is about. Don't spoil her Christmas. You go out there and tell her the present her father gave her is the prettiest doll you've ever seen.”
Everyone was quiet for a while and then Mom got up and started walking towards the door. That was my cue to get back to where I was sitting and pretend to be playing with my doll. When the family marched back into the room, everyone took their places around the tree and tried to pretend nothing happened.
Mom walked up to me and sat on the floor right by my side. She took me in her arms and said, “I'm so sorry baby. I didn't mean to get all teary and spoil your fun. I think your new doll is beautiful but when you told me you were going to name her Bell, it reminded me of someone I knew a long time ago and thinking about her made me sad.” Mom put her arms around me and squeezed so hard that it hurt but I didn't say a thing because I knew she was fighting off tears and I guess she was still hurting inside.
After a while I decided to say something to make Mom feel better. Holding my doll up for her to see, I told Mom that Bell was very pleased to meet her. Mom didn't answer, she just held us both close to her chest and rocked back and forth. Then I felt a tear-drop fall on my hand. “Why are you crying Mom? Is meeting Bell making you sad?”
“No baby.” Mom replied. “These are tears of joy. I'm very happy to meet Bell.” Then she sniffled and another tear-drop fell. This time it landed on my doll's porcelain face just below one of her Crystal green eyes. “Look Mom,” I said, still trying to make her feel better. “Bell is happy to meet you too. See, she's crying tears of joy just like you.”
“I didn't think I said anything wrong but after I said that Mom started crying again. It didn't take long for the whole family to come to her side and helped her stand up. Then they lead her back into the bedroom and closed the door. They weren't in there too long before Dad came out and told me not to worry that Mom was going to be all right. Putting both hands on my shoulders he told me he was going to take me out for an eggnog shake at Denny's.
“Really Daddy, really?” I was surprised cause we hadn't given out all the presents yet and nobody was allowed to leave until everyone got their gifts. “Can I bring Bell?” I asked. Dad said yes and asked me to get my coat. He didn't have to ask me twice. I jumped up and ran to the closet. I love those eggnog shakes and I would have one every day but Christmas is the only time they serve them.
It wasn't long before Dad, Bell and me were sitting at the booth and waiting for our order. Dad ordered coffee and said Bell and I could share the shake. That was kind of silly since Bell doesn't eat or drink. I have always done the eating and drinking for both of us. Anyway, while we were waiting, Dad said he had something to tell me. I didn't know what it was but I was sure it was going to be about mom.
Dad began by saying that what he had to say was very important but he wasn't sure if I was old enough to hear it or if he should be the one to tell me. He said it was something I had to know so I could understand what my mom was going through and so I would stop doing things that upset her. I started to ask Dad a question but he held up his hand and told me to just listen and he would answer all my questions when he was done.
For the next half hour my father told me a very long story about what happened while Mom was pregnant with me. Dad told the story real slow so I could understand but as he told the story it reminded me about some thoughts I've had in my head that always troubled me. I use to think those thoughts were just dreams but after what Daddy said, I now know they are actually memories.
Dad said that eight years ago, when mom was pregnant with me, the doctor gave them some really good news. Mom was going to have twins. The doctor showed them some ultra-sound pictures that proved that mom had two babies growing in her belly. Dad said it was hard to see in the fuzzy ultra-sound pictures but the doctor said he was sure and he pointed to two round things that he said were the heads of baby girl 'A' and baby girl 'B.'
“That was me and Bell.” I shouted while holding up my doll. “That was us.” I told Bell, “Wasn't it Daddy?”
Dad's mouth smiled but the rest of his face was serious. He said there was a whole lot more to the story and suggested I sit back in the booth and listened without asking any more questions.
He said mom was really happy about having twins and she bragged to everyone that her girls were going to be the prettiest, smartest babies ever. Mom couldn't wait to be a mother and she threw herself into decorating the nursery. Dad said she spared no expense making sure the Baby's room was the cutest thing anyone ever saw.
As the months went by, Dad said that Mom's belly got bigger and bigger but the doctor thought it wasn't big enough and he wanted to do some test to make sure everything was all right. Dad said the test were in-con-clusive. That means that the doctor still didn't know what was going on so he wanted mom to have something Dad said was called a cat-scan.
When I heard the word cat, I got all excited and couldn't help myself. I just had to ask about the cat. Dad said there wasn't any cat and explained that a cat-scan was another kind of picture that doctors take to look inside of people. Then he reminded me that I had promised not to interrupt so I said I was sorry and me and Bell sat back in the booth.
Anyway, the cat-scan showed that something was wrong. The babies were growing together and they were going to be conjoined twins. I didn't know what that was but before I could ask dad held up his hand continued his story. He said the doctor believed that the babies were attached at the chest but it turned out to be far worse. The twins had a normal body from the shoulders down, but at the top of the extra wide shoulders, the body split into two separate and distinct individuals.
“The doctor took me aside.” Dad continued, “and showed me a video of the cat-scan. The image clearly showed two heads attached to one body. It was a very curious sight but I couldn't take my eyes off their faces. They were beautiful and my heart was filled with love for both of them. For a very long time I watched them peacefully sleeping while they sucked their thumbs. Baby girl 'A' was sucking the thumb on the right hand and baby girl 'B' was sucking the thumb on the left.”
Dad went on to tell me what the doctor said after that. The doctor told Dad that the two heads were connected to the body at the spinal column and other than having two heads the body was normal and healthy. The heads seemed healthy too. He said they were both equally viable with no medical reason to prefer one over the other.
Dad stopped the story to look at me. I think he was trying to decide if I understood what he was saying but I didn't say a word, so Daddy continued. He said the doctor told him that the two girls shared all their major organs from the base of their spinal column down. From there up their circulatory and nervous systems divided into two separate systems. That was very fortunate, the doctor said, because it would make separating the girls in utero relatively easy.
Daddy asked if that meant that he could save both girls but the doctor said no. Only one child would survive the operation. The real problems was that someone would have to choose which of the two heads would be removed. The only other choice was to give birth to a two headed baby.
Daddy stopped talking and just stared at me for a long time. Without taking his eyes off me, he reached to the middle of the table and poured himself another cup of coffee. Then he asked if I understood what he was saying.
I thought about it for a minute and then answered. “Mom had two babies in her stomach that were stuck together.”
“That's right.” Daddy answered.
“So how come there's only one of me?” I asked.
Dad looked at me for a while and said, “Just listen to the rest of the story. It will all be clear to you by the time I'm done..”
Dad said that when he told mom what the doctor said, she was dev-is-tated. All her dreams about having the perfect twins were shattered. And what was worst, she was now faced with the frightful prospect of giving birth to a monster. How would she ever face her friends? She'd be the mother of a freak and the news-media would probably spread her shame all over the world.
“I tried to tell her that all was not lost. We had an alternative.” Daddy continued. “We could still chose to have a normal baby. It was a horrible choice but all we had to do was to choose which one of the girls we wanted to save.”
After weeks of thinking they found it was an impossible choice so they called the family together for a prayer meeting. The pastor lead them in prayer but when it came time to ask the Lord to help the girls, they realized that the girls didn't have names. Mom had promised herself that she wouldn't name them until after she held them in her arms and looked into their eyes. This however, was an emergency so she decided right then and there to name baby girl 'A' Anna and baby girl 'B' would be called Bella. Then they got back to their prayer and asked the Lord to help them come to the right decision.
While they were thinking about what they should do, the pastor gave them some advice. He said that they could choose to trust God. Each life was precious in God's eyes and they should accept the girls the way God made them. The pastor assured them that if they did that, the church would come to their aid and help them raise the children.
Dad said the doctor wasn't so optimistic. He saw neurological and circulatory problems and even major psychological problems down the road when the girls realized how different they were from everybody else. I told dad I didn't understand all those words so he said he'd make it simpler for me.
He said the doctor told him that baby girl 'A' controlled the right side of the body and baby girl 'B' controlled the left and it was going to be hard for them to move. And he also found some problems with their heart. Dad said it was called Cardy-act A-rithmatic or something like that. He said that was caused by the two heads trying to control the body at the same time. The doctor also said that even if all the other problems could be fixed, He didn't think the baby could have a good life as a two headed girl.
“Dad said the doctor scheduled mom for surgery and a Cess-seri-ann delivery but when the day came to go to the hospital, they still haven't made a decision. After looking at the cat-scan video a whole bunch of times, mom and dad still couldn't make a choice so dad told mom she have the baby the way God made them.”
“Your mom rejected that.” dad said, Then the doctor told them that the carddy-act thing had gotten real bad and if they didn't make a decision soon, they might loose both girls.”
“Which is it going to be, baby girl 'A' or baby girl 'B'? The doctor asked dad. Dad thought the question was too hard to answer. It wasn't like picking between Coke or Pepsi, so as the surgical team prepared her for surgery, mom looked up at dad with pleading eyes and said she couldn't chose. Dad said it was going to be up to him but when he turned to the doctor he couldn't talk.”
“I wanted to speak, “ dad said, “but nothing came out. I kept seeing the image of the two girls peacefully sucking their thumbs and suddenly I couldn't breath.”
“I had to step outside to get a breath of air.” Dad continued, “So I told the doctor I'd be back and walked out of the room ignoring all the voices that were calling me back. I walked out of the hospital and kept walking until I was standing next to a neighbourhood bar. Stepping inside I ordered some liquid courage and gulped it down. Well, one drink led to another and before I knew I passed out on the table. The bar tender woke me up and asked me to go home. Looking at my watch I realized that two hours had passed and I rushed to the hospital but it was too late. The nurse told me your mom was in recovery and you were in the intensive care ward.”
Daddy said he met grandma and aunt Tilly in the waiting room. They weren't too happy with him and told him that mom almost had a nervous breakdown. She kept asking for him but he was nowhere to be found so just before she went under, mom pulled on the doctors sleeve and whispered 'Anna'. The doctors took that as her choice.
“I was both distraught and relieved.” Daddy continued his story. “Distraught because a decision had been made without me and relieved because I didn't have to make it.” Dad looked at me and I could see that his eyes were red and teary as he finished his story. “I was a coward.” He confessed with tears rolling down his face. “I ran out on your mother when she needed me most. I forced her to make a decision she wasn't emotionally prepared to make and I don't think she's ever forgiven me for that.”
I guess that was the end of Dad's story because after that he just sat there with his face in his hands and quietly sobbed.
“That's okay Daddy,” I said as I stroked his arm. “We understand and we don't blame you for what happened. We don't blame mommy either. It was just one of those things that happens when nothing else can be done. But you don't have to worry about it. We're okay.”
Dad slowly lifted his head and looked at me. I could see the question forming on his face and he held it in for a long time before finally asking, “We?”
“Bella and me.” I responded. “We don't blame you. It wasn't your fault that Bella and I grew out of one body. But everything turned out all right. You see, Bella didn't die. She lives here with me in my head.”
Dad just looked at me. His face was frozen with an expression of disbelief, so I took him by the arm and led him to a mirrored wall that decorated the restaurant. Placing Dad in front of me, I pressed the side of my face against the glass and asked him to look at me. When his graze was fixed on me I put my thumb in my mouth, closed my eyes and we sucked our thumbs just like we did when we were in mom's tummy.
Dad watched me and my reflection for a while. He didn't say anything but I'm sure he saw what we wanted him to see because he fell to his knees and whispered, “Bella?”
Seeing me leaning against the mirror while I sucked my thumb reminded him of that cat-scan picture he saw so many years ago He remembered how Bella and I use to suck our thumbs when we were still in mommy;s stomach and at last he understood.”
“Oh my God!” He said. “Can this be real?” He asked not sure who or what he was talking to. “Are you trying to tell me that you're both alive?” When we nodded yes, he put his hands on my shoulders and looked deep into our eyes. He must have seen something there because he suddenly pulled us to him and held us tight for a long time.
When Daddy stood up we went back to the booth and sat in silence. For a long time he just kept staring at us. Then he told us that we must never tell mom what we just told him. I explained that in a way we already had. “You know how mom use to tell you that I had an imaginary friend?” Dad just sat there looking at me so I continued.
“Until just now, when you explained what happened on the day I was born, I didn't know who Bella was or why she lived inside me. But now Bella and I understand and she remembers how she came to live in me. The day we were born Bella remembers that the doctor cut her neck. She felt the pain and felt herself being pulled away. That scared her so she moved away from the pain and hid inside my head.
After we were born, Bella remained in my head and lived there quietly watching the world through my eyes but not daring to show herself. I didn't actually know she was there but I could feel her thoughts. Then, when we were older and I learned to talk, Bella learned to talk too and we started talking to each other.”
“It was wonderful having a friend to talk with and when we were alone, we began to talk out loud. It was mainly baby talk but somehow we could understand each other. When mom noticed she just thought I was being chatty. The things we said surprised her and she told all her friends what a smart and creative child I was.”
“For years we shared our body but mom never suspected there were two of us. She treated us like one person and we had a lot of fun playing games with her. Sometimes mom would ask me a question and Bella would answer. Then I would give a different answer and mom would say, 'Well, make up your mind young lady.' That was funny and Bella and I would both giggle. We made a game of teasing mom cause she never knew which one of us she was talking to. Sometimes that made her angry and she told us that we were trying her patience and walked away angry.”
“One day, mom was walking by our room and overheard us talking. She listened for a while and what she heard bothered her. It sounded like two people talking so she came into the room and demanded to know who I was talking to. When I told her I was talking to my friend, mom looked around and when she didn't see anyone she laughed and asked if I had an imaginary friend?”
“Mom didn't know my imaginary friend was Bella, but at that time I didn't know it either so we both called her my imaginary friend and left it at that.”
“After that, mom joined in our games and said that if I was going to have an imaginary friend she was going to have to help out and pick up toys and stuff. Bella was happy that Mom was talking to her and she did everything mom asked. Whenever I didn't want to do something, Mom would ask if my imaginary friend would do it and since Bella wanted mom to like her, she'd do whatever mom asked. I guess that made mom happy cause she started talking to Bella all the time. She called it our little pretend game and it was fun for a while until I told mom that Bella was real and that she was like a sister that lived inside my head. Mom didn't like me saying that and told me to stop.”
“Mom said I was getting too old to have an imaginary friend and that she never wanted to hear me talking to myself again. She said what I was doing was crazy and creepy and the last thing she needed was to have her friends and family thinking she had a crazy daughter. After that I stopped talking to Bella in front of mom but Bella and I still talked inside our head where mom couldn't hear us.”
“Mom didn't believe us Daddy. Why didn't she believe us?”
“She didn't believe you because she couldn't believe you.” Dad said, “What you told her and what you are telling me is so far beyond what we think is possible that it defies our concept of reality.“
“I don't know anything about what is possible and what is not.” I told dad, “All I know is that Bella is just as real now as when we shared a body inside mommy's tummy. Now that we're born we still share a body, the only difference is that Bella now lives inside my head.”
Daddy shook his head and sighed. “Okay, maybe I can understand it a little and I guess I have to believe it because of all the things you've told me and shown me, but your mother will never understand or believe. Her decision to give birth to you and let Bella die has haunted her for years. In her eyes she defied God's will and committed an unforgivable sin. Don't you see? Your Mom believes in a vengeful and unforgiving God that punishes people that don't obey Him. And all those years of living with guilt and fear have torn a hole in her soul that no one can mend.
“But Daddy, that has all changed now. Now that we know who my imaginary friend really is, we can tell Mom that Bella isn't dead. She's alive and living inside me. That should make everything right.”
“You don't understand.” Dad tried to tell us. “Over the years your mom has filled that hole in her soul with feelings of contempt and self loathing. She believes she should be punished for not having faith in God's will. I'm afraid that if she finds out that Bella is alive and living inside you, she won't see that as a reprieve from her torment or a blessing from God. She'll just think God is mocking her for her disbelief and lack of faith. Instead of embracing you and accepting Bella as her long lost daughter, she'll recoil in horror. Believe me, this news will drive your mother over the edge and into a world of insanity.”
That's what Daddy told us and now we kind of wish we had believed him because that is exactly what happened.
When we told Mom, she didn't believe us and when we tried to prove that Bella was alive and living in me, she got angry and hostile. She blamed Dad for putting us up to telling her such a ridiculous and horrible lie. Then she turned away from us and refused to look at us again. In fact, she turned away from everyone and everything.
Locking herself in her room, mom turned off the lights and sat in the darkness weeping. When the ambulance came she didn't fight or protest. She thank them for coming and told the doctors that she deserved to be locked away. That she had been a bad mother and it was God's will that she be punished.
It's been twenty years since mom was committed and now that we are older, Bell and I understand what happened. Mom couldn't accept us. She didn't see us as a chance to have what she had given up. She saw us as proof that her lack of faith was being punished She refused to accept our forgiveness and instead chose to let her guilt and fear turn her life into a living hell.
Bell and I don't know too much about God or about hell, but we feel that if there is a God, He is not about guilt and punishment; He is about hope and compassion. Our own existence proves that. And hell, if there is such a place, its not a fiery pit in the bows of the earth. It's a place deep within us where we store all the pain and guilt that we've created for ourselves.
We visit mom every other weekend but she refuses to receive us. When they bring her to the visitors area, she hides in a dark corner and covers her face. We know she can see us because she tracks our every move with her red swollen eyes, but when we hold out our arms to let her know that we welcome her into our embrace, she shivers and turns away.
Anna and I wanted to help mom more than anything else in the world, but mom's fate was out of our hands. We were not responsible for her condition nor was it God's will. Too many people see God's will or an attempt to defy His will as a cause for everything they can't explain. The fact is that nobody knows God's will and even if they did, there is no way anyone could possibly defy it.
No, mom's sin wasn't that she defied God, but rather that she denied herself the power of forgiveness. We all have free will and with that the ability to chose our fate. Mom chose to abandon all hope that she could ever be forgiven. With that abdication she also gave up all hope that she would ever escape from that personal hell in which she kept herself imprisoned.