Belinda sat on the small patio at the rear of the beachfront bungalow, an old house built in 1920 by her uncle, Charles.
When Uncle Charles passed on 10 years earlier in 1971, the place ended up mostly vacant. Her cousins, Uncle Charles’ children, used the bungalow on occasion for week-long family vacations to the shore.
Although the cousins were raised in the beachfront bungalow in Ocean City, Maryland, they all moved out of the resort town and scattered across the country upon reaching majority.
Belinda and her twin sister, Marilyn, and their kid brother, Wayne, were also born and bred in Ocean City, raised in a split-level home inland.
Uncle Charles and Belinda’s father, Francis, were brothers. Aunt Bette, Charles’ wife, died of cancer when Belinda, her sibs and cousins were all under 10.
The families were close, both because of proximity and because of circumstances.
Belinda began renting the bungalow in the fall of 1979, six months after her 28th birthday. Her cousins continued to make rare trips to Ocean City for holidays and she eagerly accommodated them in the smallish house.
Belinda had taken a seat before dawn on the rocking chair she placed on the patio at the start of each summer season. Many a morning she sat, rocking to and fro in the sturdy chair, watching the sun slip up over the seawater horizon. That July morn was routine in that sense.
Even before the break of dawn, the dense summer air had become humid and uncomfortable. Belinda knew the impending day would be intensely hot, necessitating staying inside in the air-conditioned house. Maybe she would stroll to the shoreline to sit on the wet sand at the water’s edge. She would decide what to do later that morning.
Often while she sat, awaiting the dawn and rocking in her chair, Belinda would say the rosary, taking some degree of comfort in the worn, emerald colored beads slipping between her fingers.
Running the prayers of the rosary made Belinda feel some thin connection to the God of her youth and her young adult life, despite the churning turn of events of the past few years.
When she moved into the bungalow in 1979, Belinda’s baby was six months old. She had not seen her mother or her father since the baby’s birth. Belinda could not bear to face them; for a while, they did not want to see her. Eventually, their divide became the norm, and they simply stayed apart.
Finally, through the intervention of her cousins, Belinda and her parents were scheduled to reunite the following day at the bungalow.
The birth of the baby itself was not the specific reason for the nearly three-year separation between parents and daughter. The divisive state arose more from the fact that at the time of the conception, Belinda was Sister Mary Carmel of the Benedictine order of Sisters at Mount St. Scholastica Convent in Atchison, Kansas.
During the sixth month of her pregnancy, she was politely asked to leave the convent. Her parents were unaware of the departure because Belinda (then, Sister Mary Carmel) told them she had taken a teaching assignment at a parochial school in Kansas City, Kansas, some 50 miles away from the convent. As a result, she would be living for a while in an apartment in Kansas City.
She kept up the rouse until a couple of days after giving birth to the baby boy, when she finally conceded at least most of the truth to her mother and father. She flatly admitted the pregnancy, the request to leave the order and her return to life as a Catholic civilian outside the embrace of the holy convent.
Belinda did not keep the baby boy to raise herself. While she did not doubt that she possessed the inherent abilities to raise the child properly, she knew that if she chose to mother the baby, he would be stuck in a stigmatized position for life.
First, the baby would be saddled with an unemployed mama with no real employable skills beyond prayer. And even that line of work was no longer available to Belinda.
Second, she feared the newborn boy would face life being known as The Nun’s Boy. She understood the cruelty of youngsters, having been around them for several years because of the convent school in Atchison, Kansas. Additionally, she was unconvinced that supposedly mature adults would treat her son significantly better.
The paramount reason for giving the baby boy up for adoption was a reason she vowed to forever bury in her own heart and soul.
She realized she could have saved her place at the convent had she spoken the truth regarding the pregnancy. She understood she could have placated her parents and never caused a familial rift. But she deeply knew that if she spoke up, the innocent baby would be wrapped in a moniker far worse than The Nun’s Boy.
Indeed, while sitting on the patio that summer morning, Belinda knew that even the boy finding a decent, solid adoptive home would be scrabbled away if she let the buried secret slip.
Thus, Belinda stood silent and the baby boy found a beautiful home with loving parents. Belinda never met the adoptive mom and dad, had no idea where they lived and knew she would never see the baby again. But she had been well assured that the adoptive parents were proper folks, sound people with a genuinely loving home.
Just as the sun climbed over the water to officially start the day, Belinda put her rosary back into the pocket of her robe. She retreated into the bungalow for the remainder of the day. She left at dusk to take a short walk on the beach, right at the water’s edge. She found comfort and a brace of strength for the impending parental visit from the cool, wet sand oozing beneath her bare feet.
The following afternoon, Belinda’s cousin, Francine, arrived at the bungalow early to facilitate, perhaps mediate, the reunion of parents and child. Francine lived closest to Ocean City of any of the cousins, living in Baltimore.
The cousins hugged when Francine arrived. “This will be fine,” Francine assured her cousin.
About an hour later, Belinda’s parents arrived. The cousin, the daughter and the parents all made their way into the cozy living room.
The conversation remained stilted and awkward for the first hour, although Francine did her best to lightly pepper the occasion with upbeat remarks and spotty jokes.
On the tops of Belinda’s parents’ minds remained the way and how of their daughter’s conception and pregnancy while a convent bound woman.
The parents asked the questions that lurked painfully in their hearts for more than three years. But Belinda remained steadfast in her quiet promise to herself and the baby. Deeply desiring to reconcile fully with her parents, Belinda nevertheless could not betray the child she would never see again and would never know.
Even to save herself in the eyes of her family and of her church, Belinda refused to speak further.
She avowed once more that day, as she sat in the living room of the bungalow with her parents and cousin, that the secret would remain tucked away forever.
She quietly recommitted herself to never disclosing that her baby, sent off and adopted, was the conceived product of a violent rape by an unknown predator who attacked and took Sister Mary Carmel.
The detective assigned to the case let the file gather dust among the others. No one would know the secret of The Nun’s Boy from him. He’d long ago forgotten.