I still have vivid dreams about my first images of Rose. I was seven years old when she came into my life. My mother and father were both in the military so moving came quite often for me. It was the first move that my family made and I just didn’t understand why I had to be ripped away from the only friends and family that I had ever known. It didn’t seem fair. It was the hottest summer day that I had known when the moving truck pulled up to carry me far away from my former life. I climbed into the car with tear filled eyes and gave a brokenhearted wave to my friends through the tinted windows as we pulled off.
It was at least a month in our new home before the boredom took over the loneliness and I decided to venture out of the house. It was still during summer break and my young legs were itching for some adventure. We lived on base in one of the many cookie cutter military homes in the subdivision. Our house was located in the far east corner where a wooded area was located behind the house. There was something about the woods that called to me. I couldn’t figure out what it was, but I wanted to go exploring to see if I could find it. I wasn’t ready just yet to mingle with the other kids playing on the playground. I need a little bit of self-discovery before I tried to figure any one else out. I slipped on my flip-flops and told my mom I was headed out to play. After giving me the usual warnings, she kissed me with permission to go.
The woods were great. There were tall trees that stretched to the sky. Sturdy branches supported my weight as I climbed towards heaven. I spotted a great big oak tree, perfect for my new tree house that my parents had bought to coax me out of my shell. “This might not be so bad after all”, I thought to myself with a semi-smile. I played for hours that day chasing butterflies and catching bullfrogs. I loved the woods. I hoped that none of the other children had discovered my private sanctuary. The sun started to set and I figured I should start heading back to the house before it got to dark to see my way. There was only one problem: where was home? I was lost. Lost deep in the woods with no clue as to where to start to find my way back. I looked around for something familiar to use as a guide. Everything looked too much alike. All of the same trees and flowers grew everywhere. “Do I go left or right? Oh god, what am I going to do”, my heart pounded in my chest with panic. I walked around for a while longer just getting myself deeper and deeper into the wooded nightmare. The thought of not ever seeing my mom and dad again terrified me. Very dim light was the only thing peeking through the tree branches now. I knew before too long that it would be completely dark and the night creatures would be out to get me. I sat on a rock and cried until my whole chest heaved uncontrollably. Then, there she was. She walked out from behind a big tree from somewhere in the woods. She looked like one of the beautiful porcelain dolls that I kept in my room on high shelves so not to break them. She had pale ivory skin with clear blue eyes that seemed to glow in the darkness. Her red cherry lips that were pressed together in silence. Her head was topped with ringlets of honey blonde curls that were secured with a bright pink bow. She had a matching pink dress that cut off right above her knee. The bottom frilled out with a white lacey slip just barely peeking under the bottom. White lace trimmed socks were slid into black Mary Jane sandals. I didn’t know what to do. The living doll that stood in front of me mesmerized me. “What’s your name,” she asked breaking the trance. “Karen,” I slowly replied. “Hi Karen. My name is Rose. Why are you crying?” “Because I’m lost and I don’t know the way back home.” Rose looked at me and smiled, “Well I’ll show you. You don’t have to cry.” She grabbed me by the hand and a peaceful calm came over me. She led me through the dark woods straight to my house. I didn’t know how she knew where I lived. I assumed she was another kid on base. I really didn’t care where she lived at that moment in time. I was just thankful she had found me. “Here you are, Karen. It was nice meeting you! Maybe we can play tomorrow.” She released my hand and skipped off towards the woods. I couldn’t say anything. I was just frozen there. Rose was my hero. I turned around to ask her if she wanted to come in and play but she had already gone. I went inside, relieved to have made it back.
The next day I was itching to find Rose. I had gotten in trouble for coming home so late the night before but was permitted to go out and play anyway. I searched for Rose very cautiously, as not to lose my way again. She was nowhere to be found. I made my way back to base to see if she might be playing on the playground but she wasn’t there either. I went back to the woods and sat on the same big rock as the night before and waited. After sitting for about thirty minutes I was almost ready to give up, and then there she was. She appeared from behind a tree from somewhere in the woods. I never even heard her footsteps as she approached me. She still looked like a living doll, wearing the same outfit from the night before. “Hi!” she said, bouncing towards me. “Hi,” I replied. “Do you want to play,” she asked me. “Sure!” We both took off running into the woods. We played for hours. Soon it was lunchtime and I was getting hungry. “Do you want to come to my house and eat lunch with me?” I asked Rose. “No, I’m not hungry. You go ahead and eat. I’ll see you later.” “Well, you can come anyway. You don’t have to eat. You can meet my mom.” Rose smiled, “I can’t. I’ll see you later.” She took off running behind a tree and disappeared. I ran home a little disappointed and told my mom all about my new friend. My mom told me to invite her to spend the night sometimes. She was happy that I found someone to play with.
Rose and I played all summer long in the woods. We would climb trees, chase lizards, and catch lightning bugs. My parents started to worry about me because I was spending so much time with Rose and wouldn’t ever play with any of the other kids. My mother would set up play dates with some of the girls in the neighborhood, but whenever I would take them to meet Rose, she would never show. She only wanted to play with me and I only wanted to play with her. She was my best friend.
My parents thought I was making her up because I would never bring her over to play. I tried to tell them that she wasn’t imaginary but they didn’t believe me. I discussed it with Rose. “My parents don’t believe me when I tell them about you, Rose. They think I’m lying. Won’t you please come over and play at the house so they will believe me?” I begged her. Rose dropped her head in silence. “What’s wrong Rose?” “I can’t come over. My daddy is a mean man. If he found out that I went to your house he would be very angry with me. I want to show you something.” Rose grabbed my hand and led me deep in the woods. We walked in silence for at least thirty minutes before we finally came to a small clearing deep into the woods. A very old, nearly condemned house stood in the small clearing. Almost every window was shattered and busted out. The roof of the old enclosed porch was severely sagging. The smell of old rotting wood and mold wafted heavily through the air. An old porch swing, the old gray paint chipping off, was barely hanging on to the roof with only one old rusted chain. It creaked as the wind blew threw it, just barely budging the old thing. The old stone steps were chipped and crumbling. The whole house looked as if you blew on it the whole thing would come crashing down. The front door stood wide open. The storm door was latched, but the screen was practically gone. Wasps and flies swarmed in and out of the opening. I could see into the living room through the old mesh. An old decaying green couch was the only furniture that appeared to be in the living room. No pictures or ornaments decorated the walls or mantel right above the tiny fireplace. The only decorations to be seen were the dead leaves and termite holes that had been drilled into the walls and floor. Right beyond the living room, part of a kitchen could be seen. It looked as if there were broken dishes on the floor. A trashcan had been tipped over, as if a raccoon or perhaps a dog had gotten into it. It literally looked as if the life had been sucked out of the tiny old house. An old broken coffee table sat splintered in front of the couch. This house was definitely not suited for someone to live in. In fact, it appeared as if no one had lived here for years. “What is this, Rose?” I asked in confusion as to why she had brought me here. Her head kind of dropped in shame, “This is where I live.” I stood and stared in amazement that someone actually lived here. It seemed impossible to me that beautiful Rose lived in such filth and decay. It would explain a lot. She always wore the same exact outfit everyday. Now I realized that she lived in poverty and that was all she had. “Show me your room,” I told her, stepping towards the house. “NO!” she screamed at me. I jumped, startled at Rose’s sudden anger. She had never been angry or cross with me. “You can never go inside my house! Never! My daddy is a mean man! He will hurt you! Don’t ever go inside my house!” Rose screamed at me. “Okay,” I quietly replied back. I knew Rose was ashamed of her house, but she didn’t have to hide things from me. I didn’t care what her house looked like. She was still my best friend. She turned and walked away from the house. “Come on.” I followed her back out of the woods in silence. When we got back to the rock where we met everyday, I turned to apologize to her. She was gone. She was always disappearing like that. I just shrugged it off and made my way home. I felt bad for Rose. I prayed for God to take Rose out of her situation that night. I wanted to tell my mom about how bad Rose lived but I didn’t want her feeling sorry for her. I knew Rose didn’t want anyone feeling sorry for her. I just went to bed wishing I could do more.
The next day I went to the rock where we met everyday, but Rose never showed. I waited around all day. It started getting dark. I waited a little longer until I couldn’t wait anymore. I was worried about Rose. Maybe her dad had found out that she showed me her house and was mean to her. Although I had never seen any bruises or marks on Rose, she did warn me as to how mean he was. Maybe she was grounded and couldn’t come out for a while. I didn’t know what to think. I hoped she wasn’t mad at me. After all, she was the one who had brought me to her house on her own. I never asked her to show me what she had shown me. Frustrated and confused, I went home. I tried to sleep but it was nearly impossible. Rose was injected into my every dream. I woke up in a sweat. It was stifling in my room so I went to open the window to let the fresh midnight air in. There she was standing at the edge of the woods. Her smile pierced the darkness. I rubbed my eyes to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. Nope, she was still there. I slipped on my shoes and climbed out the window. I nearly tripped over my feet trying to get to the woods. “Rose! Where were you today?” I asked, nearly crying tears of joy. Her bright eyes dimmed a little as she turned to me in sadness, “Karen, I can’t play with you anymore.” My heart sank in my chest, “What? Why not? Did I get you in trouble? I’ll be glad to talk to your dad.” A small tear streaked her face, “No, Karen. It’s not your fault. Its just time for me to go. You’ll be leaving soon too.” I was confused and heartbroken. I wasn’t going anywhere. How could she tell me this? “No, Rose, I’m not leaving. You don’t have to leave either,” I begged her to stay. Rose brightened up a little and took me by the hand, “You’ll be okay, Karen. I had a lot of fun with you this summer. Don’t ever forget me. You’re a good friend.” She turned my hand over and placed something in it. I looked down at my hand to see what she had left me. It was her hair ribbon. I looked up for a better explanation of what was going on, but she was gone. She had disappeared into the night. I just didn’t understand at all. I didn’t know why we couldn’t play anymore. Confused and hurt I turned around to head back towards the house, where I sat up all night crying.
I spent the next week in my room, not even once attempting to go outside and play. I was mad at Rose. If she had changed her mind and wanted to play with me again, then she would just have to suffer like she made me do. I didn’t even want to try to find her house to confront her and ask her what the heck was going on. I wanted answers but I wanted her to sweat it out. She had made me mad. I heard a soft knock on my door. “Come in.” My mom came in and sat on the edge of my bed with a concerned look on her face. She knew something had not been right with me. “What’s wrong honey?” she asked me with genuine concern, sweeping the hair out of my eyes and wiping my tear soaked cheeks. I explained to her the whole situation with Rose. I told her about the old condemned house, how Rose always wore the same clothes, and about how she said her dad was mean to her. “Well baby, some people aren’t as fortunate as you are. Maybe she was ashamed of her father. You said she never had bruises so you know he didn’t hit her. She’s probably just poor and doesn’t want you to see her house and is just angry because you tried to go in anyway. Some people are ashamed of the way they live, even though it’s not their fault. You’re a sweet girl, honey, for not caring about how much money she does or doesn’t have. Maybe it’s for the best anyway, Karen. I have news. It’s time for us to move again. Your dad has been transferred to a new Army base. You’ll get to make all new friends.” The news hit me like a ton of bricks. Even though I was mad at her, I didn’t want to leave Rose without saying bye.
Roses’ house was way to far in the woods for me to remember how to get there. I never tried to look. I just hoped she would show up at our rock and I could tell her good bye. Something deep inside told me that I wouldn’t see her again. The next week we packed up our things and moved. I looked back towards the woods as we pulled out of the driveway, hoping that she would be there. She wasn’t.
I spent the next several years of my life with bitterness. I didn’t want to get close to anyone or make new friends. I knew that as soon as I did, they would just be ripped out of my life like all the other ones. I didn’t see any point in it for the longest time. I just didn’t understand.
Several years and moves later, I graduated from high school. My bitterness slowly faded and I learned to trust people somewhat. I opted to join the military so I could become a nurse. I met a great military man, and we married young. After being married for five years we had two beautiful children. Adam was our first-born and Allison came 3 years later. As fate would have it, our first move had us stationed 10 miles from my child hood home that had first brought me to Rose. Allison, being ten, was having just a hard time as I did dealing with the move. I told her about my situation when I was five and introduced the story of Rose. I showed her my ribbon that Rose had given me that I had been sure to keep safe over the years. She thought I was too old to understand and blew me off.
A few months into our new place, Allison came home from school and asked me to help her with a school project. They had to do a report on the town’s history and she was given the task to report about the fire that had occurred in 1932 that wiped out the whole town causing the townsmen to rebuild a bigger and stronger city. Everyday we spent an hour after school doing research.
It was the last day of our research when I had gotten the biggest shock of my entire life that will forever be imbedded into my memory. I was looking through old newspaper articles while Allison did some Internet research, when a headline caught my eye: Family Found Dead In Their Home. It was a headline that would be typical in today’s time, but for the 1930’s it seemed a little off. Curious, I read the article:
Janet Parson found her brother in law, Charles Lawson, along with his wife and daughter, dead in their home yesterday morning. The body of his young wife, Sarah, was found badly beaten. She looked as if someone had beaten her with a heavy club of some sort. The child’s autopsy has revealed that she was thrown down the stairs of the basement, breaking her neck, killing her instantly. Interviews with Mrs. Parson have lead authorities to believe that Charles Lawson went mad, killing his family and then himself. Mr. Lawson lost his job at the mill three months ago. Mrs. Parson tells us that a short time after losing his job, Sarah had called her crying; telling her that Charles had began drinking heavily. Sarah called her sister on many occasions to come out to the house because Charles was getting physically and verbally abusive. The more he drank, the more abusive he got. When Sarah informed Mrs. Parson that he had begun being abusive to their five-year-old daughter, Rose…
Chills ran down my spine as I read the last sentence. It couldn’t be, could it? I kept reading:
They had made arrangements to be removed from the house at once. When Janet arrived, she found her sister’s badly battered body lying in a pool of blood in the living room floor. Broken dishes and furniture were scattered throughout the house, indicating that a struggle had most likely occurred. Their daughter is assumed to have been thrown down the stairs by Charles. Charles’ body was found hanging in the kitchen by a rope with several scratch marks and whelps, confirming speculation of the struggle. Speculations lead authorities to believe that in an attempt to stop Sarah from leaving, he restrained his daughter by throwing her down the basement stairwell, breaking her neck, in turn killing her instantly. After unintentionally murdering his daughter, he went mad, letting his anger out on his wife, beating her to her death. He then strung himself up with a rope, tying it to a kitchen light fixture for support. Funeral arrangements can be found on page 4 under the obituaries. May God bless and keep them.
My heart pounded and my hand trembled as I slowly turned to page four. There she was. A picture of Rose was located above her service announcement. I sat there numb. The same bright-eyed girl with the pink ribbon in her hair was the same girl I had played with as a child. It all made sense to me now. I knew why I couldn’t go in her house and why she never could come in mine. She was dead. I wrote down the cemetery location and we left the library hastily. I knew that even if I told my husband he would never believe it. I dropped my daughter off and drove to the Resting Hill Cemetery. I’d never been to the cemetery before, but I just knew where she was. I walked right to her grave. There it was. A small polished stone marked her grave:
Allison Rose Lawson
April 3, 1927- August 28, 1932
Our Little Rose, May God Keep You Safe
A small angel was lying underneath the engraving. A single freshly cut wild red rose lay above her body. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I was shocked and numb. I didn’t know what to think or do. All those summer days that I had spent playing with this little girl, I was actually playing with a spirit of a lonely soul trying to escape her father's memory. She rescued me from the woods. She brought me out of my depression. She was there for me. She was my salvation. I smiled and closed my eyes and thanked her. A gentle breeze blew around me. I looked up and in the distance I could see a little girl in a pink dress smiling back at me. She waved and vanished into thin air.
Still shocked and in disbelief at what I had just experienced, I went home and got the ribbon out of my box and gave it to my daughter. She wore it in her hair the next day to school. She came home with three new friends that day because the ribbon had sparked conversations that lead the girls to realize that they had a lot in common. I kept the secret of Rose to myself. No one would believe me anyway. She had always been my little secret. I think that’s the way she wanted it to be. From time to time I visit her grave and update her on my life. I know she’s there. She’s always been there. I’ll never forget my Rose.