This is a story of innocence lost, self-imposed exile, and adaptation to survive. Finding bliss when they fall in love at first sight, Hannah and Tommy marry, and have a child together. Later, they learn, to their astonishment, that they are in fact twins who were separated at birth. The new family decide to relocate to Alaska, where they sustain themselves and even thrive as they adapt to their new lives together.
It was the summer of 2005 when two events skewed the upward trajectory of Hannah's life. Without warning, not one, but two Challenger disasters smashed her life to smithereens.
First, there was the discovery of the identity of her biological parents, and then there was meeting Tommy, the man she felt destined to love forever, only to eventually learn that their love was universally condemned as perverted, filthy, the vilest of sins.
Hannah was a kindergarten teacher so her summers were somewhat free, except for the six weeks she taught in a half-day enrichment program for children needing school readiness skills.
These students were quite different from her year-round students who were white, middle class, native born, and affluent. Most of her summer school children came from diverse ethnic groups, and/or were poor, and/or were non-fluent English speakers, and/or lived in educationally unsupportive home environments. Hannah liked the extra money she earned during the summer as well as the instructional challenge posed by this special population. With every new letter, number, fact, or song a child mastered, she basked in the success of her teaching. These were the tangible fruits of her labor. Here was evidence that she was making an impact on the world, however infinitesimal.
But more importantly, she craved the infusion of inspiration she derived from contact with children. When she was with youngsters, either her summer or her year-round charges, she felt more alive. Her face became elastic with a range of exaggerated emotions from fear to elation, and her body moved in grand sweeps. She viewed the world through their eyes, a glittering world of wonder and joy. Her throaty laughter merged with their tinkling laughter at jokes only five year olds understand. Their probing, often unanswerable, questions made her look at reality with inquisitive eyes. "How did God make the earth without falling off?" Her awe of nature deepened as she and the children breathlessly observed a wooly caterpillar amble across the classroom floor. Her favorite perch was the child-sized chair she sat on as she gazed down at the upturned rapt faces of her students while reading books aloud, animating her voice deeply for scary characters and lightly for happy characters. She pulled her shoulders back to signal support for the children as they gathered their resolve to climb the small playground equipment, their own Mt. Everest. When she led her students in their off-key singing of children's songs, she proudly shouted the lyrics along with them. The visions she saw through her students' eyes validated Hannah's belief in the goodness of the human race. She fervently believed that humans were born good, but what happened to some people later in life corrupted their innate goodness, but that was true for only despots, mass murderers, and rapists, not everyday people. To Hannah, most of life was to be savored, and every experience had a silver lining if you only dug deeply for it.
When her students looked at Hannah, they saw a wide face on a large head fringed with bangs and a pony tail. Her hair was Asian black, silky, and straight. Her smooth skinned face with large black eyes, button nose, and full lips made her appear like a comic strip drawing. In fact, her students told her that she looked like the cartoon character, Dora the Explorer. Maybe that was one reason why they liked her so much. Imagine being taught by a cartoon character come to life. But the main reason for their affection for Hannah was her kindergarten teacher personality - bubbly, warm, affectionate, and overflowing with praise. She found what was unique in each child and emphasized this to the child, the other children in the class, and the child's parents. No parents ever came away from a conference with Hannah without being prouder of their child than before the conference. She was the most requested teacher at Waterview Elementary. All parents wanted their children to start their education with Ms.
People who superficially knew Hannah thought she was an airhead, lacking depth which was considered of prime importance in the college town in which she lived. She appeared innocent, especially when she widened her black eyes. Some wondered why she was always happy, especially in light of her father's premature death and her mother's Alzheimer. They concluded that she was either hiding her true feelings, or she was a blind optimist who didn't recognize that she was supposed to be depressed about her family situation.
She didn't care that people viewed her as na?ve. Her behavior was based on the premise that if she was nice to everyone; then in response, everyone would be nice to her. She wanted the world to be conflict-free, or at least the world around her. She wanted to live in a cocoon of smiles and hugs. In her rare introspective moments, Hannah moved out of her body to gaze at herself, and she liked what she saw - a woman whose calling in life was molding young lives; a woman who smiled all the time sprinkling happiness wherever she looked; and a woman who was lucky to live a comfortable life in a small town in one of the most beautiful places in America.
Hannah viewed her life as a fairy tale. She knew that she had ideal parents who lavished her with love. They desperately wanted a baby and couldn't have one so they adopted her. She didn't know who her biological parents were, and she had no desire to learn their identity. With perfect parents, why would she want to find the imperfect parents who threw her away? Until the age of 16, her life had been blissful. She loved school and got A's in every subject, except math in which she got B's or C's despite studying hard and being tutored. She never had to be told to do her homework. Not only did she do the required homework, she always did the extra credit. She practiced playing her flute without being prompted so she could play on-key in the school marching band when she was more concerned about not tripping than producing the correct notes. She rehearsed her gymnastics moves at home so she would perform them perfectly in competitions. She rotated through the house with summersaults and cartwheels, somehow avoiding the many fragile knick-knacks and plants crowding the surfaces in every room.
She enjoyed spending time with her parents, even as a teenager when she was expected to rebel against them. Together they went to the movies, bicycled, gardened, and cooked. Some of Hannah's fondest memories were of their annual beach vacations when she and her parents spent hours rafting atop the crests of ocean waves. Then, returning to their beach cottage, her mother would soothe Hannah's and her father's flame-red sunburned skin as she gently massaged them with lotion. The burning pain from the sun would be further diminished by a seafood dinner at their favorite beachfront restaurant.
Hannah's father's death was the first puncture in her fairy tale existence. Death was the evil stepmother, the wolf, and the ogre who brought grief into her life. For three months she mourned his passing, continually asking God why He took such a good human being while letting nasty people live into old age. But then Hannah quelled the evil stepmother, and put her fairy tale existence back on track. She stopped questioning God and started thanking Him for giving her 16 years of complete happiness with the best father in the world. She refused to let her father's premature death squash her rosy view of life.
Once Hannah started teaching, her life gained a richness she had never envisioned. She discovered that she was created to be a teacher; this was her calling. She eagerly anticipated each day she spent with her students. Most of her mental life was devoted to thinking about them, what was happening in their lives, and what fun activities she could create to maximize their learning. But that serenity was shaken three years earlier when her mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. The evil stepmother had returned. First God had taken her father's life, and now He had taken her mother's mind. Her students sustained her as she gradually adjusted to her mother's condition. Her house also helped. The Victorian house built in 1925 with its turret windows was her castle, and she was the princess who dwelt within its walls. She loved her house so much that she lived at home during her four years at college despite her mother's encouragement to live on campus so she could better experience college life. She refused because her house was her sanctuary. She thought it would provide an impermeable shield from life's hardships. She was wrong; Alzheimer's had penetrated its walls.
Hannah felt that her mother's illness was another of God's challenges to her positive world view. She battled to maintain her vision of the world as a place where bad things made you appreciate the good things even more. What helped her in this struggle was her belief that someday she would meet her Prince Charming who would provide a happy ending to her fairy tale. She used this dream as a shield against negativism and depression. She and her prince would marry and have 10 loving, perfect children. Her prince would vanquish death, illness, and unhappiness. His arms would envelop Hannah, giving her complete impregnability against the evils of life.
She had a special prize waiting for her prince - her virginity. She was saving this for him to show that he had always been the only man in her life even before they met. During her high school years, preserving her virginity had not been difficult because she had only gone out on a few dates, usually to school dances. But guarding the prize for Prince Charming became more of a challenge in college. On the first day of classes, she spotted David in her huge freshman psychology class. She was attracted to his light blond, almost albinoish, hair and bright blue eyes. She thought he looked a bit like a prince in a Disney movie, and she hoped she might be lucky enough to find her Prince Charming on the very first day of college. At the second class, she sat next to him. David was extremely shy so she initiated a conversation and asked him out for coffee after class. That was the beginning of their lop-sided relationship where Hannah talked incessantly as she gazed into his face and he listened passively with his eyes averted.
She was having difficulty getting him to utter more than a few words although she tapped into a variety of topics from sports to medicine to religion, hoping something would spark a response from him. He was like a turtle, he rarely made utterances. She wasn't even sure she would recognize his voice if he didn't identify himself when he called her.
David was a pre-med major who was strongly motivated to become a dermatologist, like his father. To maintain high grades, he studied every night except Saturdays when he took Hannah to the movies or sporting events. David brought Hannah from the kissing stage to petting. With their first kiss, she realized he was not her Prince Charming. He left her feeling vacant. During their kissing and petting sessions, she thought of homework she had to do and clothes she had seen on a recent shopping trip. Her lack of responsiveness to him left her worried that she might be frigid, a condition she had read about in a woman's magazine. After his freshman year, David transferred to another school that had a better pre-med program, leaving Hannah to continue her pursuit of Prince Charming.