Tiny Chocolate Crosses (hook here)
One town over, they’re digging up the wrong daughter with a backhoe. I know this because I am home unexpectedly with a sick child and we are watching the local noontime news, sipping ginger ale. I hear the reporter say that most days this public works crew just fills potholes, clears storm drains, or weeds the flowerbed in front of city hall. I expect him to recount a kitten rescue or a black bear sighting in the business district. This is news in northern Michigan.
Instead, he uses a word I’ve never heard spoken in conjunction with kittens or native wildlife: “exhume.” Under the stoic eyes of local cops and the Michigan State Police, they were exhuming the body of a downstate girl, Laura VanRyn; college student, devout Christian, volleyball player, sister, and yes, daughter.
For five weeks the body of Laura VanRyn lay in a casket that was not her casket, buried in a hometown cemetery that was not in her hometown, deep in a plot marked with a headstone that did not bear her name. The 1,400 mourners who attended her closed-casket funeral weeks earlier had not cried for her. She did not appear in the video that was shown to celebrate her life; she was not the smiling blonde in the footage of a family enjoying Easter dinner together. The fresh flowers laid upon her grave were not among her favorites, and neither were the bible verses read aloud as she was lowered into the ground.
I turn the television off. My son is nine and for as long as possible I want him to go on thinking that having an ear infection on a sunny spring day is the very worst thing possible. But I find that I cannot pull my mind away from their story, neither right then nor for many months afterward.
That night, after all three of my sons have gone to bed, I turn the television back on. The newsman looks grim. More grim than usual, I think. He says that on April 26, 2006, five college students were killed in a highway accident when a semi-truck plowed into the van they were riding in. The driver fell asleep at the wheel of his 80,000-pound rig. The crash scene was a mess of torn metal, personal belongings, and bodies. Purses and backpacks were thrown awry.
One survivor was airlifted to an area trauma center. She had brain damage, broken bones, cuts over her face, and was in a coma. She would live. Her name was Whitney Cerak. The name on her medical chart, the name that was used to admit her to Parkview Hospital in Fort Wayne, the name on the driver’s license and student ID card placed on the gurney with her, the name spoken aloud by onlookers, was Laura Van Ryn. Another girl would be pronounced dead at the scene and her body would be taken to a make-shift morgue. The name the coroner wrote on her death certificate, the name hospital staff used to identify her body, the name listed among the dead was Whitney Cerak. Her real name was Laura VanRyn
I think about my youngest son sleeping upstairs under his comforter with rockets and planets on it and how glad I am that he has an ear infection. Just an ear infection. I think about my two older sons, lanky big-eared teenagers with plans for college someday. College. Where they will study for tests, memorize poems and history dates, and maybe even occasionally miss their mother. College, where they will be free to get into cars with people I will never meet, and hurtle down the highway at ungodly speeds to this event or that. Where they will slide by untold numbers of sleepy men driving semi-trucks.
The CNN ticker rolls by on the bottom of the screen like a robotic soothsayer. “What a heartbreaking tragedy. Hard to believe this thing could happen,” anchor Wolf Blitzer says. He in his flak jacket and me on my couch have witnessed young soldiers blown up in the desert, whole villages washed away in a tsunami, airplanes crashing into history, dying babies on rooftops in New Orleans, and yet we are moved by this story of two families from insignificant mid-western towns, living out their good and anonymous lives. Whose daughters are these? Whose daughters were they in those five weeks when they carried each other’s names? Whose daughter, I wonder, am I?
This is really good writing. It's also a memoir about adoption ie a tough market because there's been a lot on that subject so the bar for fresh and new is really high.
I'd invest in 50 pages of reading to get a sense of this but I'd want a syopsis that showed me what was going to make this stand out from the crowd.
I'd want to make sure these two stories are integrated throughout the book as well, that it's not just up front to catch my interest like a big sign that says FREE and small lettering that says (after $100 purchase).