My siblings and I had a lot of babysitters growing up. My parents went out a lot, in retrospect; once a week was "Bible-study night", where we always had a sitter except on the nights it was at our house, which we hated even worse b/c then we were stuck in the back of the house and couldn't even go down the HALL. Also, my dad was an officer in the Army and I guess they attended a lot of events. Also, my mom would often get a babysitter for us during the day so she could go shopping. I never knew what was worse — to be dragged along on her endless shopping trips or to be left with some inept teenager. Or mean old woman (Mrs. Morris — ahh that is a post in itself… remind me if I forget…). But then, for a few years, there was Carol.
She was my Favorite Babysitter Evah. I must have been 5 or 6 when she started babysitting us regularly. We lived in San Antonio, pre-Kansas. I guess she was 18 or 19, but it's hard to judge when you're that little. In any event, she was nice, fair, firm, but loving. I remember being very sad when we had to move away to Kansas and leave Carol behind. As a parting gift, she took me to the mall and told me I could "pick out one thing, ANYthing, and she would buy it for me". O.M.G. Do you know how spectacular that is for a 2nd grader??? It was soooo generous and soooo amazing and sooo exciting! ANYthing? I couldn't believe it. What would I get? After what seemed like hours, but probably wasn't, and after much agonizing, I chose perhaps the ugliest stuffed dog on the face of the Earth. I remember she kept asking me, "Are you SURE? You're SURE? Ok. You're SURE?" I insisted that I was. And how I loved that ugly stuffed dog. You may be wondering how any stuffed dog could be ugly; well I'll tell you. It was white with black ears; it was made cheaply, like a carnival stuffed animal – filled with those little Styrofoam beads, so not even very soft. And the kicker? It had a rubber face. Like a doll's face, only a dog. It was even pink, like a doll face. And its tongue stuck out. I don't know if my description can possibly convey the disturbing nature of this dog, but anyway — that was my Carol dog and I cherished it. (Sidenote: I honestly can't remember if my sister went with us to the mall — seems like she would have, but then again she was only 3 or so…Nicole, do you remember?)
So in 1976(?) we moved to Ft. Leavenworth, KS. It was the first time we had ever lived in a place that got snow, so as kids, we loved it. Also, there were tons of neighborhood kids to play with at any given moment — we lived on base, and it seemed every house had 2-3 children. Life moved on, I started 3rd grade, we began the process of going through a battery of weird babysitters. I don't remember how long we were there before my mom got a phone call one night. I think it was within the first year we lived there. The phone call was from Carol's mother, informing us that Carol had died. Carol was dead. As in, gone forever. My mom told me this, but I didn't grasp it. I didn't know details, only that we were flying back to Texas to attend her funeral. Again, I can't recall if Nicole was there, it may have just been my mom and me.
We went to the "viewing" at the funeral home the day before the service, and I sat there, in a room full of flowers, watching my babysitter, Carol, laying very still in a casket. It was an open casket. She looked puffy and smelled like roses — to this day I can't stand the smell of roses or carnations b/c it takes me back to that funeral home. While my mom and her mom chatted and cried, Carol's little brother tried to entertain me. It was very surreal. I remember watching Carol very closely, waiting, willing her to open her eyes. I really just thought she would sit up at any moment and say, "Hello, I'm back, just sleeping." But she didn't.
Years later when I was 14 or 15, I was doing dishes with my mom one night when the subject of Carol came up. My mom then told me what had really happened, and I felt the shock all over again. Carol had been going to college. She had gone out on a date with a "friend" and had been raped. She got pregnant from this rape. Despite being from a staunch Catholic family, supposedly she was "highly encouraged" by a family member to get an abortion, and she did so, against her own wishes. It appeared that she never recovered from the trauma, because they found her one morning in her apartment, dead, with empty bottles of prescription pills scattered around her bedroom floor. It was determined that she had killed herself.
My whole world shifted that day. Things from the past started falling into place: the guilt that her mother had spoken of that day at the funeral home; the unusual awkwardness I picked up on, even at 7; my mom spending hours comforting the mother, even though they were not close friends. My mind went even further. That explained why Carol looked "puffy". It was macabre and devastating and fascinating all at the same time.
I had not thought about that incident in a long time, until I had a strange conversation with a friend several years ago. We were somehow talking about funerals, and as I told her Carol's story, for the first time I realized how weird it was that a 7-year-old spent the day in the room with her dead babysitter in an open casket. I had already been to lots of funerals by then, which apparently isn't everyone's experience. I guess I had a lot of very old relatives die throughout my childhood, but Carol was the only person I ever knew personally, until my best friend Ann's father died our senior year of HS. But this friend was telling me how she had never been to a funeral until her Grandfather died a few years ago. I was amazed, but have come to realize that perhaps I was the anomaly…
It got me thinking. I'm still not sure what I think. But suffice it to say that there was never another Carol, and I will never forget her extraordinary kindness. The tragedy of her short life still makes me ache when I think about it. Which I'm doing today, for some reason.