Jane Hulstrunk and Doug Poms

Jane Hulstrunk

The Unnaturals
By Doug Poms

Inspiration Piece

I always knew I was different. From an early age, my life was not the same as the lives of my friends, classmates and cousins. My steps seemed more planned and controlled than other children’s, like they had been decided already or even preordained, as if I was playing the starring role in a play or movie, but had forgotten that I was an actress. Maybe other girls felt the same way, but if so, no one ever talked with me about those thoughts.

For one thing, my parents were much older than those of my peers. In fact, it was not uncommon for my parents to be mistaken for my grandparents. My mother was now 68 and my father was 71, and I had just turned 16 years old.

“You are our miracle child,” my mother told me. “We gave up hope of ever having you, and then God gave us to you, like He gave Isaac to Abraham and Sarah, and Samuel to poor childless, Hannah.” I often think how funny it is, that in the bible, miracle children were always sons. Perhaps miracle births of daughters had also happened in biblical times, but having a daughter would always pale in comparison to having a son, so that the miracle birth of a daughter was never enough to be as exciting as the ordinary birth of a son.

“God must have a special purpose for our Diana,” mom would always brag to her bridge club friends. My parents, at least, thought of me as a miracle daughter. I was clearly the focus of their lives. Ever since I can remember, they tried to plan out each and every one of my waking hours; from school to gymnastics to dance class to piano lessons, as if they had a schedule arranged for me on the day I was born, one to which they were sticking rigidly, even as I was finishing my junior year of high school.

Still I was determined to disrupt their grand plan as much as I could. Fortunately, I had the perfect accomplice toward my mission in the form of my best friend and classmate, Caroline Grant. Caroline was the epitome of spontaneity and rebellion. She was beautiful, with long, flowing auburn hair and a full figure that made her very popular with the boys (and some girls) in our class, and often got her into mostly harmless trouble. Caroline helped me to shrewdly cut out of a gymnastics or dance lesson here or there, or even more daring, skip out of school early.

Most notably, I owe Caroline my one and only detention, handed to me the day after she kidnapped me during lunch and drove us to the Delaware shore. “This day is far too beautiful to be kept inside that juvenile prison,” she proclaimed as the wind swept through her fiery hair and our favorite band, the Silvertones, blared on the digital stereo. I had felt a wonderful sense of exhilaration that day, knowing I was defiantly deviating from my methodically preordered life.

On the day that would change my life forever, Caroline convinced me to leave school before our last period started. We both had PE, and there was no harm in missing volleyball practice since our team sucked anyhow. We liked to hang out at the Starbucks on Arbor Avenue, across from the basin of the Oak Brook duck pond. We always sat on a sturdy but comfortable handcrafted birch memorial bench that stood under the comforting umbrella shade of a ginormous bottlebrush tree with hanging prickly red shoots. ‘For Dana. You will always be with us’ was lovingly inscribed on the bench’s left arm. We liked to name the handsome brown and green mallards, some mated for life, as they drifted by, hoping we would throw them some bread or cake crumbs, as they came to expect from their human benefactors.

We collected our drinks and sat under the shade of our beloved tree. I was drinking my favorite coffee, a caramel macchiato, while Caroline sipped her usual chai latte. The ducks were on the other side of the pond harassing a group of giddy grade school kids.

“What did you tell him?” Caroline was quizzing me on my encounter with the hunky Brandon Gentry in the school hallway a couple hours earlier.

“I told him I would let him know after I asked my parents”

“You should definitely go with him. He’s hot and, even better, he’s an unnatural. That’s way cool. I haven’t even gone out with an unnatural before. At least as far as I know. Calvin Woodruff is a strange boy, though.”

“Father Mike says unnaturals are damned. They won’t be allowed in heaven.” Although I did not really believe that sentiment, I loved to taunt Caroline with the bigoted lessons I garnered at my family’s church.

“Don’t believe that bullshit, Diana. You’re way too good for that.” Caroline’s face was flushed as red as the bottlebrush flowers.

It was ironic that Caroline and I spoke about unnaturals that day. I had never thought that much about them until recently. My cousin, Bradley was always trying to spot them out. He was convinced he could tell who one of them was. “You can see it in their pupils,” he’d claim.

We had spent a whole couple days in biology class talking about the unnaturals, the process with the cells, formation, birth and most everything else involved. I actually found it all pretty interesting, a lot more than the week we spent dissecting frogs.

Then there was Father Mike. He was obsessed with them too. I was still haunted by his tirades against the unnaturally born: “The world is being filled with them. Beware, those people have no souls. They are susceptible to demons. One day they will unwittingly try and bring the rest of us down to hell with them.”

I decided to change the subject. “Have you finished your family tree poster yet? They are due on Monday”

“You know me. I will be working on it late Sunday night. Besides, Vampire Wars is on tonight. We gotta watch.” Caroline was a DTV junkie, and we watched something together almost every night in my spacious post-modern family room. Caroline loved coming to my house to watch because we had a 50-inch video screen.

“Definitely. But I want to spend an hour on my family tree before it starts. Okay? This morning, I found an old box of pictures in the attic that I may be able to use.”

“Cool. I will help you tonight and you can help me Sunday.”


Caroline came over to my house right after dinner that night. I brought her up to my room and took out the newly discovered shoebox full of old photos. There was one faded monochrome picture I was dying to show her in particular.

“This is really odd. Here I am at the dance studio downtown, at least I think it’s me. My mom is in the picture but she looks so much younger here, at least twenty years younger, don’t you think?”

“Maybe that isn’t you, then. Could it be one of your aunts or cousins?”

“I don’t think so. My two aunts look nothing at all like I do. And all my cousins are boys.”

“Why don’t you ask your mom about it then?”

I decided I would do just that, as soon as Caroline went home. For some reason, I was terrified to broach the subject with my mother. She was reticent when it came to the past. She rarely spoke about her life before me. It was if she were in a coma for decades until the day I was born. What I did know about her was that she came from Montgomery, Alabama, she was the daughter of an Episcopal minister, she studied to become a registered nurse, and she met my father after she tended to his injuries after the horrific terrorist attack in Atlanta during the summer of 2018. The years between my parents’ marriage and my birth were a complete enigma to me.

Finally, I mustered the courage to approach her. She was alone sitting in the living room, knitting another shaggy red sweater that was sure to become someone’s least favorite Christmas gift later this year.

“Shouldn’t you be in bed, dear. You have a long day tomorrow, school, dance class and bible study.”

“I promise I’ll go up in a minute. I just need you to look at this.” I handed her the mysterious photograph.

“Who is this girl in the picture? It looks like me, but I know it can’t be me.”

I noticed tears started to well in her dark blue eyes. She looked at the picture in silence, then at me, then back at the picture. After a few long minutes, she quietly spoke.

“That is you sister, baby. She was killed a while before you were born.”



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