A woman abandons her little girl outside a church, but twenty years later, the daughter is still looking for her — and then she finds her.
Sometimes there are truths so dark and painful we just can’t face them, and that was what happened to Carly DIngles. When Carly was 5, her mother took her for a drive in her big red car.
They drove very far from the streets Carly knew until they came to a big white church standing in a green field. “Carly, honey,” her mom said. “You wait right here, baby, and momma’s gonna be right back!”
Then her mom kissed her on her cheek and climbed into the car, all those bracelets she liked so much jangling, and drove off, her pretty yellow hair flowing like a flag in the wind.
That was how Carly would remember her mom, driving off, her hand with the jangling bracelets waving in the air, and that yellow hair streaming back. Carly watched until her mom’s car shrank to a dot on the road, and sat down on the church steps.
She waited and waited, but mom didn’t come back, and no one else came by. Then when the sun was very high and Carly was getting really thirsty, a pretty black lady came to the church carrying an armful of beautiful flowers.
“Child,” she cried. “What are you doing here in the sun?”
“I’m waiting for my mom,” Carly explained. “She said she’d be right back.”
The lady was muttering and fussing and putting her hand on Carly’s forehead and saying it was too hot. She went back to her car and came back with a handful of peaches and a bottle of water. “Now you sit over here where there is shade,” she told Carly. “And you have some water and a peach, and I’ll be right back.”
The lady took the flowers inside and came back with a tall man in a black dress (he later explained that it wasn’t a dress and he was a priest, but it looked like a dress to Carly). The lady and the priest argued a lot, then the lady made a phone call.
It was almost dark when a thin lady and a police officer arrived and took Carly away. Carly kept saying she had to stay because her mom was coming, but no one listened.
Carly was taken to an orphanage. She was very angry and wouldn’t talk to any of the other children. “I’m not an orphan,” she screamed. “I have a mom and she’s coming back for me!”
None of the other children tried to befriend Carly, she was always so angry and bitter, except for one boy. His name was Peter, and he was a pale sickly boy. The other kids said he had a bad heart.
They didn’t mean Peter was bad, just that his heart didn’t work properly, which meant he couldn’t run or play catch or do anything fun. So Peter built paper planes and he’d sit on the staircase and see how far they’d fly.
One day, he saw Carly sitting at the bottom step crying, and so he sent her his best plane. It flew high, high before it softly floated down to land at her feet. Carly picked it up and saw there was something written on the wings.
“You’re gonna be alright,” the plane said. Carly looked up to see where the plane came from and saw Peter. “Did you make this?” she asked him.
“Yes,” said Peter. “I can’t run, so I make planes that can fly high.”
Carly climbed up the stairs to give Peter back his plane, and the two started chatting. They became best friends, and in fact, he was Carly’s only friend.
Children need and deserve to be loved by their parents.
Every time Carly was having a bad day, somehow a paper plane would float out of nowhere and land on her desk, or on her bed, or at her feet, and remind her that everything was going to be ok.
The years passed quickly, and soon Carly was seventeen, and about to turn eighteen, and her plan was to go looking for her mom as soon as she could leave the orphanage.
She went to the director and asked her for any information she might have that would help her find her mother, but the woman tried to discourage her. “Carly,” she said gently. “You have a bright future ahead of you, a scholarship. Forget looking for your mother for now…”
“Never!” screamed Carly. “I know my mother is looking for me! She came back to that church and I was gone. It’s all your fault!” Carly ran out of the director’s office and out into the garden crying.
She was sitting there feeling sick and angry and unhappy when a paper plane swooped in and landed on her lap. She looked down, picked it up, and crushed it in her fist. “STOP IT!” she screamed. “Your stupid planes don’t help me, Peter! I HATE THEM! I HATE YOU!”
Soon, Carly was ashamed of her outburst and wanted to apologize to Peter, but she was too embarrassed to seek him out, and he seemed to stay out of her way. She left three days later without saying goodbye.
For the next two years, Carly crisscrossed America looking for her mom, and finally, after many adventures, she found her in a trailer park outside of St. Louis Missouri.
Carly walked up to her mother’s trailer and knocked on the door. A woman opened it, but she didn’t look anything like the pretty mom Carly remembered. She was much older, and her hair was stiff and brittle.
“Yes?” the woman asked. “Who are you? I’m not buying anything!”
“Mom?” whispered Carly. “Mom, it’s me, Carly!”
“Carly?” her mom gasped. “Well, I’ll be… What the hell are you doing here?”
“Mom, I came looking for you,” Carly said. “I know you came back to the church and I was gone…”
The woman laughed harshly. “Came back? Hun, I shook the dust of that town off my heels by sunset! I had a new man in my life and he didn’t want no other man’s get!”
“You left me?” Carly couldn’t believe it. Everyone had been right all along. “You left a five-year-old outside a church?”
“Well, hun, ain’t them all always saying children are God’s gift? I was just giving you right back!” The woman laughed again, and Carly just turned her back and ran away.
Three days later, she was back at the orphanage. She told the director about her journey and its bitter ending. “So I came back, and I was hoping to get in touch with Peter…”
“Oh Carly,” said the director. “I’m so sorry! Peter’s heart… It gave out just a few weeks after you left…”
Blinded by tears, Carly walked out and sat in the garden. She’d run off after a fantasy of a mother who loved her when all along a true and loving heart had been there by her side.
“Oh Peter,” she whispered. “I’m so sorry!”
And then something strange happened. A leaf swooped down and landed on her lap. A bright yellow sunny leaf, shaped exactly like one of Peter’s planes. Maybe it was just a coincidence, or maybe it was a message.
I think it was Peter telling Carly that everything would be alright, and Carly thinks so too.
What can we learn from this story?
Children need and deserve to be loved by their parents. Carly needed so badly to believe that her mother would be back that she refused other people’s love.
Those who love us are always with us, in our hearts, and comfort our souls. Peter’s kind spirit was with Carly always, giving her courage.