But now T.J. is sitting in the waiting room at the hospital, wondering if Angela, unconscious after a fall, will ever wake up. Wondering, too, if he will ever feel at home with his and Angela's new parents—Marlene, who insists on calling him Timothy, and Dan, who seems to want a different son.
Going back and forth between Now and Then, weaving the uncertain present with the painful past, T.J.'s story unfolds, and with the unfolding comes a new understanding of how to move forward.
Pages 80 to 84
In this scene, I wanted to convey the sense of uncertainty and ambivalence that older kids can feel when being placed for adoption. Angela is being uncooperative while T.J. is concerned with losing his name. Something similar to this accidental name-change happened to one of our children while he was in foster care. Sometimes a child's name is the only thing he has left to call his own.
South Hampton, New Hampshire
Copyright © 2011 by Sheila Kelly Welch
All rights reserved
Between Then and Now—
He tried to tell Mrs. Cox about his name on the day they were making their life books. She was talking on and on about their upcoming move from foster care into a “real forever” home.
T.J. and Angela had not only met but even visited Marlene and Dan in their house with the huge backyard and swing set and wading pool. Angela had stared at the pool and said, “I already know how to swim. This is for babies.”
“Shut up,” T.J. had told her. Even though he wasn’t at all sure whether he wanted Marlene and Dan to adopt him and Angela, he felt that insulting their pool was not a good idea.
But Marlene had frowned at him, not Angela, and said, “Timothy, we don’t say ‘shut up’ in our house.”
Everything about Marlene and Dan was different from what he was used to. T.J. wished he could feel excited about moving in with them, but he didn’t.
And making this stupid life book was not helping.
“How come she calls me Timothy?” he asked Mrs. Cox. “My name’s T.J. Not Timothy.”
Mrs. Cox gathered up Angela’s cranes and put them in a paper bag. She shook her head. “Your name is Timothy James Riley. Says so right in your records.”
T.J. wished he could take those stupid records and throw them out a window way up high and let them flutter away and get lost like Angela’s paper birds. “My name is T.J.,” he said again.
“Yes, that’s your nickname.” Mrs. Cox smiled at him. “But your given name is Timothy James.”
He wondered if she was planning on throwing that bag and those birds in the trashcan. But he had more important concerns.
“T.J. That’s my initials and my name. T.J. stands for Tom Jones. That was my daddy’s name.”
“Well, I’m sorry, T.J. You must be mistaken.” Mrs. Cox set the bag of paper cranes on the table and pulled a folder out of her scuffed black briefcase. She riffled through the papers in the folder and then pulled out a 5 x 7 school picture and laid it on the table next to the paper bag. “See?”
He looked at the words where she was pointing. Timothy James Riley was typed on a label that had been stuck to the bottom of that photograph of himself.
Did Momma lie to him? Maybe she’d made up that business about him being named for his father. Maybe there was no Tom Jones anywhere.
“You know,” Mrs. Cox said, “Marlene was so pleased to learn your name is Timothy. I heard her tell Dan that she always planned to name a baby boy Timothy.” Mrs. Cox slid the picture back into the folder.
“I’m not a baby boy,” T.J. said, feeling angry, suddenly, at Marlene because she had wanted a baby, not an eleven-year-old. “Can I see all that stuff? Those records?”
“Well, not really, T.J. I mean, most of this … these papers are official, AFCS business. Not interesting at all.”
“It’s all stuff about me and Angela, right? And our momma.”
“No. Not all of it.” Mrs. Cox had shoved the folder back into her briefcase and was hooking the clasp.
“Please? Could I just see some of the stuff? I mean, you showed me that picture.” T.J. felt as if those records were more important to some people than the real, live Angela and T.J. He wanted to see what was hidden inside that folder in the worst way. It suddenly seemed important. Worth being extra polite. “Please? Are there more pictures? I think that one you showed me was from second grade.”
He could tell Mrs. Cox was relenting as she set her briefcase on the table.
“Let me check. Maybe I have a snapshot of your mother that Angela could put in her life book.”
She didn’t find any pictures of Momma, but there were two more school pictures of T.J. and one of Angela taken the year when she was in kindergarten. T.J. studied his own face but he couldn’t remember when the pictures had been taken. There was nothing written underneath or on the back of the first one he flipped over. So he looked on the back of the other picture.
T.J. Kindergarten was written in Momma’s rounded cursive. And underneath that someone (a social worker? a policeman?) had scrawled, in skinny, spiky letters, what looked like Tim James. Beneath that was printed, apparently by yet another official person, with a felt-tipped pen, Timothy James, and a question mark after it.
“Look,” T.J. said to Mrs. Cox. He pointed to the scratchy Tim James writing. “I bet that’s supposed to be Tom Jones. Somebody with sloppy handwriting wrote my name. And then somebody else guessed it was supposed to be Timothy James. But it’s not. My name is T.J. Just T.J.”
Keeping his real name, the one Momma had given him, was important to him, but he couldn’t explain why.
“Oh, T.J., I’m sure there was no guessing about your name!” Mrs. Cox peered at the writing on the back of the photo. “Well …” She shook her head. “It does look a bit strange. I suppose something like that might happen. But what difference does it make? I mean, you are called T.J. whether your name is Timothy or Tom, right?”
“But she … Marlene … calls me Timothy. Lots of times, Dan does too.”
Mrs. Cox looked flustered as she put the photos back into the folder and then her briefcase. “I’m sorry about that, T.J. I will mention it to them. But Marlene loves the name Timothy, and it seemed like such a nice coincidence. As if it was all meant to be.”
T.J. opened his mouth to say that it wasn’t “meant to be” if his name was not Timothy. But before he could say that, Angela jumped off her chair.
“I gotta go potty,” she said loudly, and Mrs. Cox had to take her to the bathroom down the hallway.
By the time they came back, T.J. was working on another page in his life book. He was making a picture that was intended to upset his caseworker.
“Who’s that?” Mrs. Cox asked him when she glanced at the picture.
“Billy,” he answered.
“Why not?” asked T.J. “He’s part of my life.”
“Oh, well, I understand, but …” Her voice trailed off. “Angela? Please draw something, anything, for your life book. How many birds have you made? Six, is it? That’s really plenty.”
Angela’s clear blue eyes drifted up from the yellow piece of paper she had just started to fold. Her gaze settled on T.J.’s drawing. “Billy?” she whispered.
T.J. covered the picture with both hands. He had not thought about Angela’s noticing it. “You don’t need to look at him. He was no good, remember?”
Angela nodded her head, her soft curls moving gently at the top of her shirt collar. But her face looked pinched up, as if she were holding something inside so no one would see it. T.J. wished he’d lied. Pretended it was someone else. Or not included Billy in his life book at all.
The picture actually looked nothing like Billy. It showed more how T.J. felt about him. Wild lines coming off the purple circle of a face. Huge eyes that stared out, as if to see all the things T.J. wanted to keep hidden, to keep safe. And growing out of that face were long arms with sharp fingernails.
Mrs. Cox let out a long sigh. “He looks like a monster.”
Sheila Kelly Welch writes and illustrates for children of all ages. Her story, “The Holding-On Night,” published in Cricket, won the International Reading Association’s Short Story Award. Her most popular books are Little Prince Know-It-All and A Horse for All Seasons. Her middle-grade novel, The Shadowed Unicorn, was short-listed for the Prairie Pasque Award and was likened to Paterson’s Bridge to Terabithia in a Booklist review. Sheila and her husband live in Illinois where they raised five sons and two daughters. Four of the children were adopted when they were of school age. Although she has two degrees from Temple University, she has learned more from her children than from any college course.
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