The Trashed Tot
The now famous picture earned many headlines: ‘Waste Basket Waif', ‘Garbage Girl', ‘Toddler Tossed in Trash', and ‘Airport Agony'. Of all the names, the one that endured was the ‘Trashed Tot'. The child's abandonment was a top story on television broadcasts and in newspapers worldwide. Full-page stories on the discarded baby were seen in every newspaper. Talk shows were spurred to speculate on the unfortunate child, addressing issues and circumstances that might bring about such a desperate action on behalf of a parent.
The years that have passed since the day she was found, make no impact on the fame the young, nameless baby garnered that day. Fame, a word the child would not even begin to understand the meaning of for years to come. Not a year can go by without some reference in the media being made to the ‘Trashed Tot'. The picture appears at charity functions, as it is useful for promoting both ‘pro-life' and ‘freedom of choice' positions. Each time it bears a different title, designed to make people think one thing or another, but the picture of a helpless child never changes.
She stopped being the ‘Trashed Tot', to two people at least, Oscar and Harriet Grey; the couple that adopted her and named her Phoebe. In this home she was not famous, but she was special, and loved. Phoebe was sheltered from the people who still had a rather unshakeable interest in her life, the life of the ‘Trashed Tot'. She went through various feelings for her situation in life. There were the times, at a very young age, when she had no great grasp of what her status of fame really meant or why a lot of people wanted to talk to her.
As she got older and started going to school, it became something of a life achievement to be the ‘Trashed Tot'. Her identity commanded awe and respect from classmates and friends; it was tantamount to being a well-loved member of the Royal Family, benevolently going out to shake hands with the commoners and listening with interest to whatever they had to say. It was the pompous stage for Phoebe, where she was under the impression that her celebrity status meant the world revolved around her.
In her teenage years, she rather resented the continued interest in her life. The fact that complete strangers felt compelled to ask questions on private matters, the answers to which Phoebe thought should be guarded closely, infuriated her. The fame that she had exalted in as a child became a source of irritation.
The dislike of her notoriety carried on into adulthood, but at the same time, her maturity brought with it a desire to be famous on her own terms. She had not asked to be placed in a trash can where a passing photographer could immortalize her face. Phoebe wanted to work for her fame, but she did not want to do so as the ‘Trashed Tot', she wanted to be recognized as something other than that.
Phoebe pushed her chair away from the desk, turning her back on the computer and staring out the rain-splattered window, a deep frown creasing her delicate features. She could not explain her need to recount her side of the story, although she knew it had something to do with the fact that for years, people who were entirely unknown to her had told her life story, while she had no input in what was said.
It was thirty years ago to this day that she had been found in a trash can, when her life had essentially started, for no one had ever been able to find any kind of record of her existence before that day. She thought of the sentence she had just written, stating how she wanted to be famous on her own terms. Apparently, her wish was beginning to take shape as her current book was presently enjoying its fifth week at the top of the New York Times bestseller list.
In the bookcase that stood across from Phoebe, a shelf was devoted to a collection of her previous books. Books which had not met with the same enthusiastic reception as her present work. The spines of the novels proclaimed the author to be, ‘Phoebe Marshall'. Marshall was her married name, her wish of being famous on her own terms would have been impossible if she had written as ‘Phoebe Grey'. That name was as famous as her picture, and readers, out of morbid interest, would have read anything the ‘Trashed Tot' wrote, surely, not the best way to guarantee success based on her own power as a writer.
Resolutely ignoring the computer screen where the cursor, blinking expectantly, waited for her to continue her writing, Phoebe left the room in favor of the cushioned swing on the back veranda. Pulling a thick sweater over her head, Phoebe settled herself into the swing, breathing in the crisp, moist air of the weekend summer morning. Leaning back and pushing the swing back and forth with her feet, she once more questioned her motives for beginning to write her life story, especially after struggling so hard to earn respect and fame for being someone other than the ‘Trashed Tot'.
Phoebe could hear her husband, Jacob, in the kitchen, making himself his morning cup of coffee, humming along to a song on the radio. He soon joined her on the veranda, carrying the newspaper and his cup of coffee with him.
Planting a small kiss on her head, slightly ruffling her auburn-blonde hair, he said cheerfully, "Mornin' Phebes. Want some coffee?"
"No, I'll do without," Phoebe said, watching as Jacob settled himself comfortably at the table on the veranda, taking the paper apart as he always did. The sections that were of no interest to him were set aside on the opposite end of the table, while the sections that he wanted to read were organized in order of most to least appealing.
Jacob looked up from the paper to find Phoebe staring at him. "What?" he asked, handing the Entertainment, and Comics sections over to her.
"Nothing," she answered, discarding the paper on the seat beside her, continuing to stare thoughtfully at the tall stand of trees in the distance, the outline of which was blurred by the falling rain. Jacob considered his wife for a moment, before shrugging to himself and returning to the crossword; he was used to her reflective moods.
Sighing deeply and focusing her eyes on her husband, Phoebe said, "It's strange how circumstances in one's life seem to come together, isn't it?"
"Uh-huh..." Jacob said. He was rather puzzled by his wife's meditative tone. He turned his concentration back to the crossword; 25 Down had been confusing him, but it was suddenly clear. Compared to his complex wife, the crossword was simple.
Phoebe noticed her husband's bewilderment at her question, and rather than confusing him further with her ramblings, she began inspecting her fingernails and considered the situation more closely.
"Jacob, I want to find out the truth about my life." Phoebe finally said, flipping the Comics open and hoping to find some amusing cartoon that would lighten her dark mood.
"What do you mean by that?" The statement made by his wife was enough to momentarily distract Jacob's attention from 28 Across.
"I want to know how I came to be in the trash can thirty years ago. You can't begin to understand how annoying it is not to know, to spend most of my life speculating how I ended up in a trash can of all places."
Jacob let out a long breath, laying down the pen and pushing the crossword away, he turned to stare in amazement at his wife. "Phoebe, the police are trained to find whatever clues there were, they did everything they could to find out the truth..."
"Well, you would say that, Jacob. As a cop you're bound to defend the profession." Upon seeing the slightly hurt expression on Jacob's face, Phoebe felt remorseful and said gently, "I'm sorry, that was uncalled for. I just don't see how the police did everything they could. I mean, it wasn't personal to them, it was looked at from a professional angle."
"No, Phebes," Jacob was quick to say reassuringly. "I'm sure that there was many a sleepless night spent questioning how you came to be in the trash can. Professional or personal, that doesn't change the effort put into discovering the truth. As it is, it does seem a little late to start delving into the past, any helpful leads or records will be long gone. The person who left you couldn't have picked a better time or place: Chicago's O'Hare, the busiest airport in the world, and a long weekend. Phoebe, just think how many people pass through on a daily basis; a person could have dumped you in the trash can, boarded a plane to another country, all in the space of a few minutes. It's a case of the proverbial needle in a haystack. Why do you want to start digging around in the past, anyway?"
"I'm not sure, really." Phoebe said, scowling at her inability to come up with a truly plausible reason for her desire to learn the whole of her history.
"Phoebe, if you're not sure, I'd recommend you do nothing about it. In such cases as these, it's impossible to know what you might find. It's probable that you might discover something that you are much better off not knowing. As things are you have Oscar, Harriet, and me. Don't look for something that might disrupt all that. Think about it, you could take years and still be none the wiser. Don't torture yourself over this."
"I know, I shouldn't," she whispered, looking back across the yard.
"Then don't do it, Phoebe."
Smiling, Phoebe turned her head to look at Jacob. "You're right, Jacob. I won't do anything that I could come to regret. I guess sometimes it's better to leave things well alone. I think I was dwelling on it too much, considering today is the anniversary of my ‘birthday'. I felt I should do something, but like you said, I've never felt especially motivated before to look into it, and I really am more than contented with my life."
"Good!" Jacob exclaimed in obvious relief, giving her a lopsided grin. "You just about gave me an extreme panic attack, woman. Now, can I return to the crossword?" he asked, with a teasing gleam in his eyes.
Laughing, Phoebe got up from the swing, saying, "By all means, return to your precious crossword. I think I'll get myself that coffee."
Jacob nodded his understanding, but did not remove his eyes from 28 Across. He was still at a loss over the answer to that particular clue. "Phebes," he moaned, "Help me out on this one. It's an anagram... ‘This actor may cause riot police to flinch.' Do you have any idea who that would be?" Jacob held out a pen and paper towards her.
Phoebe frowned, "Riot and flinch?"
Jacob nodded, looking expectantly at her. "I place all my trust in you! I know how quickly you can solve those stupid things."
Scribbling the letters down on the paper, Phoebe let out a triumphant laugh. "Try, ‘Colin Firth', and if you were any kind of an observant husband you would have got that in a second. He is my favourite actor, after all."
"Come now, dear," Jacob said in a tone of mock condescension. "I'm paid to be observant day in and day out. You can't expect me to keep doing that when I get home!"
"Well, it would seem that I expect too much, then," Phoebe said, going into the kitchen, laughing.
After pouring herself a cup of coffee, Phoebe went into her writing room, where she deleted the start of her life story. It was unimportant now. The emotion of the day had caught her writer's mind and for a while she had actually toyed with the idea of writing the story of the ‘Trashed Tot', but the attention that that would have focused on her was the last thing she wanted. Instead, she would write the novels that earned her the respect she had struggled for; she would never again consider starting such a massive project as looking for the reasons she had been abandoned.
The one thing that had eluded Phoebe was the important fact that this day did not hold significance to her alone, and that the choice to ignore the past did not solely belong to her. More than one person had played a part in the events of that day, thirty years ago.
© 2001 Copyright held by the author.