“Awww!” I screamed and raised my hand to my head. A sharp, ripping pain had wakened me. I reached over and turned on the lamp. Claire’s eyes were closed but I could tell she was awake. She held a long lock of dark, curly hair in her hand. Its end trailed across the pastel blue summer coverlet. “Why did you pull out my hair?!” I demanded. Claire emitted a soft ZZZ. The man’s footsteps stomped in the hallway, “What’s all this noise?!” He grabbed my shoulder, “What do you think you’re doing,” he demanded shaking me, “waking everyone at this hour?!” Claire sat up, rubbed her eyes with the hand that still held the lock of my hair. “She pulled out my hair!” I squeaked. “It’s there, in her hand.” “I was asleep,” Claire told him calmly. “I don’t remember pulling her hair.” “She must have done it in her sleep,” the man told me. In the morning, I checked my scalp in the mirror and found a red patch the size of a dime.
Month: April 2014
Though I am an adult, I still yearn for my mother as I did when I was a very little girl.
It was a chill, rainy day. I waited outside my classroom for the bigger children to call for me. They didn’t come. I was cold. “I know the way,” I softly told the Presence. “It’s not far.” Two blocks from the school, four big boys jumped from behind some shrubs. I had recently seen them quarreling with Gerard and Charles. “That’s Gerard’s sister!” one of them called out. “Let’s get her!” another one answered. Then I was on the ground. Pain throbbed in my arm and back; sharp pain stabbed my knees. A sneaker connected with my side. “Let’s go,” a voice said. “Old man Marcus’ll see us.”
My book and lunch pail were in a puddle. I picked them up and limped to the house still stunned and sobbing. “I want my mother,” I sobbed to the Presence. The woman met me at the door. I stood on the porch as she blocked the entrance. “Where have you been?!” her face was like the sky. “They forgot me so I walked by myself but some big boys beat me up!” I wailed. “You should have gone back to school and reported them to the principal.” I want my mother, I mutely pleaded with my Friend. “Turn around,” she pointed in the other direction. “This instant.” “It’s dark,” I pleaded, “and raining.” “Go back to school and report them to the principal,” she closed the door.
I limped back in the rainy twilight. Discovering a rip in the navy, corduroy skirt I wore, the well gushed out with such force, my chest hurt. “It wasn’t her!” I sobbed to the Presence. “It wasn’t her! It was just that woman!” Something dark caught my attention. I jumped, then peered closer. It was a shadow. “They’re waiting for me,” I insisted to my Friend. “I know they are. They’ll get me again.”
Mr. E gave me a puzzled look as I limped into his office, “Did they forget you?” The well gushed afresh. Between heh-huh hiccups, I began to choke out the story. He lifted me into an armchair and, when I was quiet, dried my tears. I watched his hands as he emptied the contents of a packet into a styrofoam cup and added steaming water from an electric kettle. Handing me the cocoa, he smiled, “Let’s see if we can do something about those cuts and scrapes. Now, this will sting.” He cleaned and bandaged my wounds, then drove me back to the house and walked me to the door. The woman let me in, “Go change into something dry.” Mr. E remained on the porch. As I climbed the stairs, I saw his stormy face, stormier than the woman’s had been. He spoke to her for a long time.
Pain woke me the next morning: the pajama bottoms had stuck to my knees where the bandages had fallen away. The man ripped them from the wounds. “Stop!” I screamed as he began to pull. “Big baby!” he sneered and slapped my pajama clad thigh.
While writing Loved As If, I’m also recovering from Sjogren’s, Crohn’s, fibromyalgia and a mis-diagnosed dance injury that was treated as rheumatoid arthritis. For the past five-ish years, I’ve been disabled. But I hate disability. I’m a dancer. In high school, I was on the water ballet squad. Walking five miles each day in in NYC was average. When fighting with God, I’d walk as far as I could until I was so physically exhausted, I couldn’t resist anymore and suddenly, usually with a rush of tears, I’d tell Him the thing I was trying to hide. Walking leisurely back to my starting point, I’d reflect on how silly I must be to think I could keep anything from the One who has been with me and cared for me my entire life. Life is movement, at least for me, spiritual, intellectual, and physical.
When I moved to Houston for my health three and one-half years ago, I used a scooter to shop in the giant supermarkets. My pain was so bad, I swallowed 60 milligrams of a morphine derivative each day, 1600 milligrams of another highly sedating medication for fibromyalgia, and another 60 milligrams of sleep medication (not Ambien – I made macaroni and cheese while taking that drug). I wanted off them all. Sedation isn’t at all attractive. After a year of physical therapy, I no longer take the narcotic and treat fibromyalgia with exercise, diet and adequate rest. Until a few months ago, I was tapering off the sleep medication as well. Then came a Crohn’s flare-up.
Inflammation in my small intestines put an end to physical therapy using a power plate (a cool device). But I refuse to lose everything I gained. Writing requires me to be awake and as healthy as possible. Swimming was the logical alternative and highly recommended by my doctors. So on Friday, I slathered on sun block, pulled on my bathing suit and swam ten laps across an Olympic sized pool. In high school and college, twenty-five to fifty laps was warm-up. Today, ten laps is exhausting. Remembering that two laps in a half-sized pool was beyond me when I first moved to Houston is helpful. But ten laps still feels inadequate. So today, I developed a formula, 10 + X (where X = a multiple of 2). For two weeks, I’ll swim ten laps three times each week. Then I’ll add two laps every two weeks until I can swim twenty-five to thirty laps without stopping. It’s like looking forward to going to New York when I was a child. When circumstances seemed hopeless, the knowledge that I had a goal was one of the things that pulled me through. Whether 10 + X works out as I’d plan doesn’t matter. The goal and the attempt to reach it is what counts. I’ve learned, to look back every so often and am always surprised where I’ve come. I look forward to looking back in a few months at 10 + X and discovering what X equals then.
A howling beast lives within me though I may look much like a lamb. She longs to sit in the public square bellowing: “See my wounds! They did this to me! Evil people hurt me! Took everything from me! Shredded me! Look at what they’ve done!” The beast longs to attract passersby. She grasps their garments, tries to convince them to chorus her lament. She is filthy, angry, hungry to control so that she will be forever safe. I don’t like her. I don’t want to be her. But if not her, who will I be? I can’t lock the beast away. Once, I may have been just a lost lamb. Now, I am also beast. Answers will always include her. If I cannot find something of value through the beast, I will find nothing at all. The wounds that have shredded me must also be the fountains from which healing comes.
So much was torn away from me. I have so little left. But I want to have something. I want to be something. I want the tatters of my soul, of my identity to grow into something worth having. I want the beast to be transformed into something beautiful. So I offer the tiny bit I have as a young child offers weeds to his mother. I’m not a child. I know what weeds are — not much. I tell God, “I’m sorry I have only anger and hurt and terror to give You. I wish I had more. I wish I was brave and everything You have created me to be. But all I am is a shredded soul and Yours.”
He asks me, “Will you be an occasion for heaven to rejoice over the repentance of a lost sinner?”
“Huh?” He must be joking. Can the victim, lamb and beast, help those who wounded her? Perhaps. Perhaps not. God asks for my cooperation but doesn’t reveal the results; ours is a strictly “need to know” relationship. I do know, being an occasion isn’t just about those who wounded me. Sometimes it’s about allowing God to take my shreds and use them for someone else: another victim, another abuser, another who might choose evil but instead chooses the hard road of fighting their beasts. Being an occasion places something in my hands that I can give passersby. Their beasts may be tamer than mine. Then again, I may be much stronger, may have been given more aide. All that matters is I can let God do as He pleases with my shredded soul, no matter how much it hurts. This is worth more than my ease, my comfort, my life. This is really belonging to the Love of my life.
So I will be an occasion for repentance. And that makes me an occasion for hope. My beast’s howl may actually become a song of joy, a thing of great beauty.
I’ve had a dear Friend my entire life. My memory goes back to somewhere about three. He was there. Over and over, He has proved His friendship, even when I’m the worst friend imaginable. I call Him Lord, Father, Jesus, Beloved, and, always, Friend. It’s been harder for me to be with people than with Him.
For a long time, I thought everyone had God as their best Friend. It still stuns me that so many live without Him. Sometimes I try to imagine how it must be & I fail. Once, I was complaining about being alone & my Friend told me, “You know what it’s like to be without people, but you don’t know what it means to be alone.” I don’t want to know. I need His shoulder to lean on. I must rest my heart in His hands. I need my Friend.
The classroom buzzed with whispers, “Where is Mr. Y?” “He’s not coming back.” “Why?” “I don’t know.” “There was something about him in the paper but my parents wouldn’t let me read it.” A man in a plaid shirt and jeans entered the room, “Good morning students.” He spoke through a stuffy nose. An illustration of Ichabod Crane flashed across the screen of my mind. “I’m Mr. V. I’ll be taking over for Mr. Y.” We looked at each other. Taking over? our eyes grew wide. “I don’t have his lesson plans,” the stuffed voice rang out again. “So let’s just begin with the standard seventh year curriculum.” Gary held up his hand, “Mr. V.?” “You are?” he looked down at a sheet of paper on his desk. “Frank Murgum?” Gary’s forehead puckered, “I’m Gary Wright. Frankie is over there.” Gary pointed. Frankie held up and waved his freckled hand. “That’s not right,” Mr. V. studied the paper again. “The seating chart has Frank where you’re sitting and you,” Mr. V.’s forehead wrinkled, “I’m not sure where you’re supposed to be.” The class exchanged swift glances. “Mr. Y. didn’t use a seating chart,” Gary told him. “He didn’t,” our voices chorused; we shook our heads. “And we’re the gifted class,” Frankie told him his bright blue eyes serious. “We don’t follow the standard curriculum.” Mr. V. raised his head and looked into Frankie’s eyes, “We will follow the standard seventh year curriculum.” An almost mute collective groan hummed throughout the room. My heart tumbled into my stomach.
“I’ve been reading the Aeneid,” I told Mr. V. “Next year we begin Latin and Mr. Y. wanted to prepare us.” Mr. V. sighed, “The Aeneid is not part of the standard seventh year course. I want a book report on “Where The Red Fern Grows.” Today’s Wednesday. Get it to me by Monday.” “I read that two years ago,” my head bobbed in time to my words. “I wasn’t here then!” his stuffed voice snapped. Mr. V. stared out at the class, “You’re to stop telling me what you’ve done in the past. Just follow my instructions.” We breathed a collective sigh. Mr. V. placed stacks of thick books and workbooks on each desk in the front row, “Take one of each and pass the others back.” A collective groan rumbled through the class.
“Here’s my book report,” I placed it on Mr. V.’s desk on Thursday morning. “It’s two days early,” he looked puzzled. I shrugged and raised my hands, my eyes wide, one corner of my mouth lifted. I’m bored, I mutely told my Friend. My eyes returned to the Aeneid hidden in the history workbook. Mr. V.’s voice snuffled. I lifted my head, caught Lourdes’ eyes and smiled to her across the room.
“You ought to be doing your home work,” I jumped at Mr. V.’s stuffiness booming in my ear. Our eyes stared at the sketch of a horse I had been working on. I left it face up and pulled a pile of workbooks from under my desk. “It’s done,” I shrugged one shoulder. “Then do the next lesson,” he held the books out to me. I sighed, “They’re all done.” I pointed at the stack of books he held, “That’s all my homework, for the rest of the year, for every subject except French; M. Abadie does not use workbooks.” Mr. V. ran his fingers through his hair. Dandruff flakes fell onto his dark plaid shirt. “Then you’ll have to sit quietly, won’t you?” he placed the stack of workbooks on my desk. I returned to my sketch and, later, to the Aeneid.
A paper airplane landed on my desk. I looked up. Frankie’s bright blue eyes sparkled, a big smile lit up his freckled face. “Read it,” he mouthed. I unfolded the plane. Inside, “Toss me to Gary!” was written in block letters. I refolded it and tossed it to Gary. Mr. V. sat at his desk grading papers. “Have you any books on making paper airplanes?” I asked the school librarian. “Or aerodynamics?” Gary hastily interjected. I mouthed, “Thanks.” “I think I have some books on making model airplanes,” the librarian directed us to a shelf. At lunch, the students in the gifted seventh year class, pored over a book. “We can make these,” Gary assured us.
“I ought to give you an F in citizenship,” Mr. V. blocked the doorway as, I, the last student to leave that day, approached the door. “You’ve disrupted my class from the first day,” the stuffed complaint was like nails on a chalkboard. “But you won’t,” and, without thought, I knew he wouldn’t. “You think so?” more scratching. I sighed, “You won’t. An F will look strange next to all those A’s.” The words tumbled out, “I’ve been at this school since kindergarten and skipped two grades. Mr. E. will want to know why, all of a sudden, I have an F in citizenship. He’ll find out you’ve been teaching the gifted class the standard curriculum.” Mr. V. swallowed and stood aside. “A ‘B,’” I told my Friend as I walked along reading my final report card. “I can live with that. I did deserve an F; I’ve been really bad. But we’ve all been so bored. And we’ll be behind next year.”
“Oh no!” I cried out. “What is it now?!” Claire’s demanded. “My zipper broke.” “Change your dress,” she placed a hand on her hip and rolled her eyes. “But it’s my last picture day,” my voice was a small squeak. “I wanted to wear this dress.” “Well, if you hurry up, I’ll wait while you fix it,” Claire plopped onto the window seat. I removed the dress and began quickly tacking the zipper tape to the folded opening. “It’s in back.” I took a locking stitch and sealed the first side. “My hair will cover most of it and I can do a better job later.” “What are you two doing here!” the man’s voice roared. He wore pajamas. His eyes were red. Claire and I exchanged Why isn’t he at work? glances. “I broke my zipper,” “I’m just waiting to walk out with her,” our voices jumbled together. “Get out of here!” The man grabbed the broom from the hall closet. Crack! He brought the handle down on Claire’s arm. “No! Daddy!” she jumped up and ran down the stairs. The front door slammed. “And you!” I raised an arm and turned away from him. The broom handle descended, Crack! Crack! “Get!” Crack! Out! Crack! Of! Crack! This! Crack! House! Crack! The man grabbed my arm and pushed me out the door. I pulled a coat from the downstairs closet and stumbled to school. “I hate him!” I told my Friend aloud. “I hate him!”
The face of the girl in the photograph was puffy. The eyes were swollen and red. Pain was etched in every furrow of her forehead; the mouth did not smile. It’s ugly! I mutely told my Friend. I hate it! I ripped it into tiny shreds. “What are you doing?!” the vice-principal demanded. “Give me that.” She held the tiny bits in the palm of her hand. “You were supposed to put each photo in the right file! I didn’t give you permission to destroy any of them!” shock filled her voice but her eyes narrowed. I knew she was planning my punishment. “What’s wrong?” Mr. E.’s voice asked quietly. “My “helper” destroyed one of the school photos!” the vice-principal held up her hand. “I’d never imagine you’d do such a thing,” Mr. E looked at me, his eyes wide. I dropped my head. “It’s of me,” tears smarted in my eyes. Please don’t let them fall, I begged my Friend. “It was ugly.” My voice became a tiny whisper, “I’d been crying.” Mr. E. placed one hand on my shoulder, “I think you can take the rest of the hour off. We’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Charlotte laughed because your mother died,” Tess stood before me, her head to one side, a hand on her hip. It was my first morning at school after the woman died. “She said it was funny.” Tess glanced around the semicircle of sixth, seventh and eighth year girls who listened, their mouths wide ovals or smiles. I don’t want to do this, I mutely told my Friend. I took a deep breath, squared my shoulders and marched off to the tetherball court where Charlotte waited for a turn. “Charlotte!” I made my voice hard, “I heard what you did!” Charlotte turned to me. I socked her in the eye. Charlotte swung back. I continued to hit at her. We missed more than we connected. A whistle shrieked in the crisp morning air. “Break it up!” Mrs. L, the vice-principal called out. “I’m surprised at you two,” Mrs. L. held us each by one arm. “I thought you were friends.” My lower lip felt big. A sharp pain filled my mouth when I touched it with my tongue. We are, I mutely told my Friend.
Mr. E. gently wiped blood off my chin and handed me a paper towel, “Here, hold this to your mouth. It will stop bleeding soon.” He went over to examine Charlotte’s eye, “Well, I don’t understand this.” “She hit me!” Charlotte declared, her good eye opened wide. Mr. E. looked at me. I dropped my head, “Tess said you laughed because my mother died.” Tears filled my eyes. “I didn’t laugh!” Charlotte insisted looking up at Mr. E., then over at me. “I said, ‘It’s so sad your mother died.’ I said, ‘I’m so sorry for her.'” My tears fell on my lap. I looked up, my voice a tiny whisper, “She said you laughed.” “I would never do that!” Charlotte placed one hand on my arm. Mr. E. passed me a tissue, “I think the best thing we can do is start the day over.” Charlotte and I looked into each others eyes, then back at Mr. E. Our heads nodded slowly in unison.
The photograph caught my eye, Giants?! I quickly lifted the section of newspaper that sat atop Eve’s purse. Oh! It’s just sports, I told my Friend with a loud sigh. Eve walked into the kitchen just as I replaced the paper. “You went into my purse!” she shouted. “I’m going to tell! You went into my purse!” She ran up to the woman’s room. I ran after her, “I didn’t go into her purse! The newspaper was on top. I just picked it up to read and put it back!” “She went into my purse!” Eve insisted. “Even though it was on top, it’s still my purse!” “But I didn’t even open your purse!” “She’s right,” the woman told me sternly. “If it was on top, you went into her purse.” I shook my head. A flash exploded inside me. I saw it across the screen of my mind, was surprised it failed to light up the shaded room: “I. Did. Not. Go. Into. Her. Purse.” Each word was precise, clipped, definite. My voice rang with an accent similar to, but different from, more proper than the woman’s. I stood upright, as at the barre, my shoulders down, my head up. “Yes you did,” the woman declared. “You should spank her,” Eve declared. “Come here,” the woman reached her arm out to me. “No.” the same precise tone and accent rang through the room. “What?” the woman’s forehead crumpled. “Leave me alone!” it was a command. “What?!” the woman’s eyes opened wide. Eve’s mouth was a large O. “Leave me alone!” my voice was louder now. “Get over here,” the woman’s face was steely. “Leave! Me! Alone!” it was a scream. I ran from the room, locked myself in the hall bathroom, and stared out the window at the balcony railing.
Bang! “Let me in!” I ignored the woman’s voice. Make them go away, please, I begged my Friend. Bang! Bang! “Let me in!” the woman demanded again. I said nothing. My breath came faster, my chest heaved, the well inside me sloshed over, became wracking sobs and then, Cough! Cough! Cough! “You’re going to make yourself sick!” the woman’s voice was sharp. I don’t care, I mutely told my Friend. Tap. Tap. “Let me in,” the steel was gone from the woman’s voice. “I promise, I won’t hit you.” Shaking, emitting shallow, he-huh, he-huh breaths, I unlocked the door and opened it. The woman came in, “You didn’t know. I understand. But even if something is on top and sticking out, you must not take it. That’s Eve’s private bag.” Eve nodded. Claire guarded the doorway. The woman sat on the toilet and tried to pull me onto her lap. I stiffened my body. She released me. He-huh. He-huh. He-huh. The wracking sobs would not stop.
“You’re so sad,” the woman said to me, her forehead wrinkled. He-huh! He-huh! He-huh! the sobs grew louder, shook my entire body. I hugged my arms around me. Claire came in and closed the door. “Eve wears lipstick,” Claire told the corner of the room. Eve took a sharp breath, “Huh!” The woman looked at Eve, “You know you’re not supposed to wear lipstick.” “It’s just lip gloss,” Eve’s voice held a rising note. “You girls don’t think I understand. But I do,” the woman caught up Eve’s hand. “Your father doesn’t want you wearing lipstick until you’re eighteen.” “He’s too strict,” Eve poked out her lower lip. “Yeah!” Claire chorused. “He is strict. But he’s your father”. “He won’t even let me date. You know I had to lie whenever I went out with Ray. He’s known Ray since he was a baby!” Eve’s voice reached a higher octave. “And he nearly hit me because I bought shoes with little heels!” Eve paused for a breath. Her eyes narrowed, “You lied to him about those.” “I know,” the woman still held her hand. “You want to go to dances and parties.” She took a breath, “And you will when you’re older. But now, you must respect your father. And you can dance in your bedroom or at your girlfriend’s houses.” Claire muttered, “Like that’s fun.” “What’s that dance? You asked for a tape for Christmas,” the woman smiled. “Stayin’ Alive?” Claire asked. “The Hustle?!” Eve crowed. The woman nodded at Eve, “Show me that dance,” the woman told them. Eve twirled with Claire knocking into the tub and laughing. The woman laughed too. I stood in the corner. The explosion within me dimmed to a glimmer. The well seemed blocked by something cold and stony.
Rust, dust, grittiness against my tongue: I pressed my mouth against some sort of metal mesh. My feet were bare. I stood on a cool, smooth surface, wore pink and white pajamas with legs that ended before they reached my ankles. The mesh was set into the upper part of a white, wooden door. Outside, trees bloomed, a few puffy clouds wafted across a blue sky; the fragrance of grasses, wild flowers, growing trees tickled my nose. Where am I? I was like an electric light that had snapped on. I felt inside myself for my name and encountered a palpable blackness, a thick, rubbery barrier.
I was not alone. A Presence was with me. Separate. Accompanying me. My physical senses were intensely aware of Him. I felt on the verge of touching, smelling, seeing Him. He was absolutely clear to the eyes of my heart. Though He spoke no word, I understood. I stood there probing the barrier, mutely questioning the Presence in my heart and mind. A harsh voice intruded: “Go and finish your nap!” I looked toward the sound, saw a narrow stream to my right that disappeared between the trees. Several indistinct figures sat or played near the stream. Who are they? The voice intruded again, louder: “Go and finish your nap!” I turned, ran into a room, climbed onto a bed. With the eyes of my heart, I looked towards the Presence and shrugged.