Legacy of Love and Pain

On Sept. 30, Tate removes her padlock from a metal locker in the waiting room.

It is time to take her daughter home.

Tate hums while she helps her daughter pack. She adjusts and teases a wig she bought for Hudson. "We'll get you fixed up, girl," she promises.

Tate pencils on eyebrows like a makeup artist and puts a pair of discount-store sunglasses on her daughter for the ride home. Hudson has lost about 20 pounds; her olive pants and green blouse hang loosely on her body.

She will need a new wardrobe. Tate will, too; since April, she's lost about 25 pounds.

Tate gently tugs at the wig until it sits perfectly. A wheelchair is waiting to deliver Hudson back to the outside world.

"Come by and see us," a nurse says. "We'll miss you. Take care of those babies."

"Bye, Angie," a chorus of voices says.

"We'll never forget you all," Tate says, and Hudson waves.

A cool fall Sunday welcomes Hudson with endless refreshing breezes like an extended standing ovation.

They head to Green's house so Hudson can spend the rest of the day with her children before heading to the home where she grew up, where Tate will care for her.

The older children rush the car when it pulls into the driveway. They bearhug their mother as if they've been separated for life. Mom is home, and someday things will be back the way they were.

The toddler is sleeping in the arms of her great-aunt. "Wake up, my baby," Hudson whispers from the other side of the couch.

When she does, the toddler stares at the coarse face of thick scars and pink blotches. She cries.

"That's Mommy," Green says.

The child responds by giving Green a tight hug, sucking on her pacifier and sneaking inquisitive looks at the mother who's been absent from her life for almost six months.

"She's so big," Hudson says, knowing she's missed so much. "Hey, young mama."

Hudson tells Green that she has to start physical therapy in the morning at Hermann Sports Medicine & Rehabilitation Center. She'll go three hours a day, five days a week.

Minutes later, the toddler climbs off Green's lap and staggers toward Hudson, dragging two bunnies -- a pink one with a bow and a light-blue hare wearing a straw hat.

Hudson takes her daughter's hand and helps her to climb into her lap. They stare at each other.