After my Daddy Platts and Mother split up, I would never see him again, so you know, Shel, how important that phone call was two years ago, just before his heart attack. I’m glad we had that last conversation because I’ve never stopped loving him and thinking of him from time to time. And I forgave him long ago. Next to Pappa, he was my prince, treated me like his own child, never made me feel like a stepchild.
That last day–I was just seven–the mood was unhappy: Nana, Pappa, Daddy, and Mother were sitting around the gray Formica kitchen table. It was the only thing not yet packed up. Ruby was climbing over a pile of suitcases, laughing and carrying on; she was too young to know what was going on.
Mother was crying.
“You know it’s for the best, Rose,” Daddy said. “God knows we tried to make this thing work.”
“The girls will be well-cared for,” Nana said. “We’ll make sure of that. Maybe if you get help–”
“I don’t have a problem!”
“You know, honey, it’s the drinking that tore us apart. I wanted so much for us to be a family–”
“Just shut the fuck up! I’m getting the hell out of here!”
Then she grabbed a suitcase and stumbled out of the apartment, slamming the door behind her.
I wouldn’t see her again for three years.
Ruby and I started crying. I was really scared, Shel. I knew something important in my life was about to happen, and that I would have very little say about what that might be. And I didn’t fully understand the game plan. I thought Ruby and I were going to Sioux City together.
Daddy shook his head. “I still love her, but the drinking and the other men–” Daddy looked at me. “The other problem just got to be too much for me. I’m tired.”
“Well, that’s that, then,” Pappa said, getting up and rubbing his hands together. Then he put his hand on Daddy’s shoulder. “You did your best, Dean. Thanks.”
Then Nana hugged him. “Take care of Ruby.”
Take care of Ruby?
“Ruby’s going with us, isn’t she, Pappa?”
All three adults looked away from me.
“She is! I just know she is!”
Finally, Daddy said, “I’m sorry, honey, but she’s going to Arkansas.”
I picked up my suitcase, the one with Suzette, my favorite doll, and stood by the door. “Then I’m going to Arkansas, too.”
Nana came over and put her arm around me. “You have to go to Sioux City with us.”
“I want my baby sister.” The tears felt hot on my cheeks.
Ruby cried louder. “Sammy! Sammy!”
“You can visit her,” Pappa said.
“We’ll drive down to Arkansas next year,” Nana said.
“I’ll write, princess.”
You can’t take my baby sister away!
But Daddy swooped up a kicking and screaming Ruby, and said, “We’d better go.” He grabbed a suitcase. My sister grew stiff in his arms. “The movers’ll get the rest.”
And then they left, just like that. I could hear Ruby screaming, “Sammy! Sammy! Sammy! Saaaaaaaammmmmmmyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy–” all the way down the hall and into the street, becoming fainter and fainter.
I can’t believe it took us 30 years to get back together.