Category: Childhood

Family – Five Minute Friday (a day late)

Another rewrite:

guardedNancy heaved her bulging bag onto her narrow bed and began pulling out stacks of neatly folded garments that smelled of biting sweet detergent. “How was Thanksgiving?” she asked.

“Okay,” my said in soft, small tones. My forehead wrinkled, my voice grew stronger “The houses are so close together. I thought that was only in Manhattan.”

Nancy laughed, “That’s the way it is in New York. Everywhere except the suburbs.”

“Oh,” I sat up straight on the hard, wood chair, held my legs out, and pointed and flexed my feet.

“It must be hard for you to be so far from home,” Nancy continued.

I pulled in a deep, cautious breath, “I guess.”

“What was your home like?”

“More land, bigger gardens. There’s a barn and playhouse… and a kitchen garden” I replied. “The vegetables here are like plastic,” my voice rose, cutting the quiet of the room, resounding off the hard surfaces of the floor and the iron beds. “I miss tomatoes that taste like sunshine.” The words tumbled past the censor that had stood stiffly at her post since the day I woke with my mouth pressed against the rusty, dusty screen door.

“Do you miss the family you lived with?” Nancy, her folded laundry now stored in the solid utilitarian bureau or stacked in her closet, sat on the edge of her bed, her chin resting in one cupped hand.

Images of the world which the man inhabited rose in my heart. I pushed most of them away before speaking, “I miss Matthieu.” I paused to review my feelings. “He’s the youngest.” I added. Internally, I scanned the remaining images. “I miss the mountains and Lake Mirren. And swimming everyday and my sewing machine.”

As I spoke, mountains, large green lake, my body slicing through chlorine water, the whir of my sewing machine presented themselves. The censor nodded. Each might be allowed public viewing.

Nancy sat gazing at me. Her patient, gentle attention hurt but there were no more images fit to be shared.

“What do you miss?” I asked trying to redirect her to herself.

“I miss my horse,”she told me.

“You have a horse?” I asked, my eyes wide, my heart rejoicing that she owned one of those magnificent beasts.

“Yes,” Nancy’s face held a small, wistful smile.

Then silence hung in the room. Something more seem expected of me. My voice faltered as the sentence left my lips, “I – I guess I’m looking forward to Christmas.”

She nodded her head. “I miss my family too.”

Nancy sighed, stood up, took her shower basket and one of her still fresh from being laundered towels and left the room.

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On Friday,100s of bloggers set a timer, write for 5 minutes, and then post the results over at Kate Motaung’s blog, Heading Home. She provides the prompt on Thursday evening. We don’t edit or concern ourselves with whether our writing is flawless or worthy to be seen. We expose our incomplete, unpolished thoughts and words to each other and our readers and tweet them with the hashtag #FMFParty. Join us.

Follow – Five Minute Friday

I’ve wanted to make “Loved As If” my magnum opus and answer all those who are amazed that I follow Christ even though my life has often been “solitary, poore, nasty, [and] brutish.”

Among other things, I’m a student of literature and especially of the stories we call myth and legend. Originally, they were simply the stories one generation handed down to another. Until fairly recently, humans weren’t interested in empirical proof of the facts. We wanted to pass on truth. Aesop and Gilgamesh pass on immense truths that have been part of what it means to be human since the beginning.

“The Epic of Gilgamesh” is one of my all time favourite pieces of literature. It’s also one of the oldest known to man. I’ve always been struck by Gilgamesh’s lament when he first realizes he will die. He prays to the god Shamash because he sees the bodies floating in the river; and realizes this too will be his lot. All that is left is to make a great name for himself. He and his dear friend, Enkidu, undergo many trials and adventures and win great renown. Then Enkidu dies and Gilgamesh loses himself. Death can do that to us.

jesus-and-child-10When I lost my parents, I lost myself. I did not know who I was or to whom I belonged. Knowing that I didn’t belong to the minister, that I gained no identity from him gave me a bit of information about who I was not but none about who I was. That knowledge came from my Friend, from Christ. He condescended to follow me and lead me through the horrifying labyrinth of my childhood. But eventually, I had to choose if I would follow Him. It made me cranky that I had to choose. Then I understood, Christ could not be a beloved magical teddy bear to comfort me, perform miracles when needed, and provide wisdom. He had to be my God as well as my Friend. I had to be willing to follow Him even if my life never became the image I had conjured in my mind and contained more heartache and pain.

He has always been so gracious to me. He has always been there. And I want to follow because of His graciousness and generosity but also because in Him, I know who I am; Christ gives me identity. It doesn’t matter if the identity I have now is the one I would have had my life had been different. This is me. It is the Lord’s doing and it is astoundingly marvelous in my eyes.

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Every Friday,100s of bloggers set a timer, write for 5 minutes, and then post the results. We don’t edit or concern ourselves with whether our writing is flawless or worthy to be seen. We expose our incomplete, unpolished thoughts and words to each other and our readers. Kate Motaung at  Heading Home provides the prompt on Thursday evening. We all link our posts there and tweet them with the hashtag #FMFParty. Join us.

P is for Primer

Eight of us sat around a low round table in the reading corner. Mrs. L gave me a thin, soft book, “Janet and Mark.” “That’s your primer,” she smiled at me. The words were fuzzy until I held the book close to my face. We each read the first two pages aloud repeating the same words over and over. “Take your primers home and practice reading the first two pages,” Mrs. L. instructed us.

At the dining room table, I read aloud softly, “Janet. Mark.” I longed to turn the page and read more but recalled Mrs. L.’s voice telling us to practice reading the first two pages. I closed the primer.

“May I read the big Bible?” I asked the woman peeled potatoes in the kitchen. She scrubbed my hands and opened the big Bible on the dining room table. “Exodus,” I read.

The next afternoon, chin resting on the heel of my hand, I repeated in an almost voiceless whisper as Ellie read “Come, Mark. Come, Mark, come.”

Janet and Mark don’t know very many words, I mutely informed the Presence.

At the minister’s house, I practiced reading the next pages of “Janet and Mark.” Then I approached the woman for help with the big Bible. “Don’t you have any homework?” she asked.

“I’m finished,” I told her.

“You’re in the most advanced reading group,” she insisted. “Are you sure you’re done?” I showed her my primer. “Oh well, they must know what they’re doing,” she sighed as she placed the big Bible on the table.

The next day we read two more pages aloud.

May I just peek? I mutely asked the Presence as each child repeated the same words. From behind my primer, I glanced at the other children. They peered intently at their primers. Mrs. L. focused on the child who was reading aloud. Quietly, I turned the page and continued reading. When I reached page eleven, I stopped wide-eyed and open-mouthed, “There’s a picture instead of the word bike!” my voice was a soft whisper. I peered out quickly. No one had noticed. I continued reading. There it is again! I voicelessly but indignantly told the Presence. Pictures but not the word ‘bird’! I mutely told the Presence, Nothing happens. A whole book and nothing happens.

That afternoon, I did not practice reading the primer. Instead, I read Exodus.

N is for Not My Fault

Their deaths were not your fault.

The Voice pulled me from sleep. “Not my fault?” I sleepily mumbled. I reached for my glasses from the night table. The scratching sound as I slid them into place roused my mind from fogginess. My head turned towards the clock radio. 3:00 a.m. glowed red in the dark room.

Their deaths were not your fault.

The Voice, the Voice that had told me I was going to New York, that I had been happy once and would be happy again, resounded within me.

“God?” it was a small, high pitched plea.

Listen and write.

I switched on the lamp and took up my journal and pen that had become tangled in my bed clothes.

Your parents’ deaths were not your fault. You are seeing what happened with the eyes of a child.

I wrote: Their deaths are not my fault?

No. They’re not. Do you remember when your father got you back? Where was your nurse?

I don’t know. She wasn’t there. Marmar was there; she made me chicken soup from a foil packet. I sat on Papa’s lap. Siobhan was there. The cook was there. But the iron-faced woman was gone.

Do you remember what your father said?

My lips spoke the words as I wrote them, “He was angry because she hadn’t watched me.” The words echoed through the room, bounced off the walls until they hit and pierced my heart. “She didn’t watch me.” I wrote and repeated the words to the Voice in wondered puzzlement.

That was her job, to care for you, to watch you. You were a little child in her care. She hurt you and neglected you. She was angry with you.

I know. I’ve never understood that. She choked me with the tie of my sailor dress and when I cried out, she told Marmar that I was misbehaving. I think she hated me.

Your parents never knew. And you didn’t know how to tell them. You were four. And you had already had such painful experiences. You had already learned to hide your head in your mother’s lap and push the pain away.

Was it the iron-faced woman’s fault?

It was not your fault. You were not much more than a toddler. You hid from the person who hurt you. That’s what children do. That’s what you did when you were older and you often escaped.

It was really not my fault?

No, it was not your fault.

A tear trickled down my cheek. A pregnant silence filled the room.

Child, their deaths were not your fault.

My lips trembled as I wrote and whispered the words, “But I thought they were.”

You were wrong.

“I was wrong?” I asked aloud with a sniff and then quickly wrote the words in my journal.

You were wrong. Their deaths were not your fault.

Their deaths were not my fault.

I stared at the last words on the page, whispered them again and again. Tears coursed down my cheeks, dampened my pillowcase after I switched off the light, as I fell asleep.

not my faultBeep! Beep! Beep! The bright morning blur resolved into a red 7:00 a.m. once I had pulled my glasses on. A fresh fragrance filled the room. I leaped out of bed and went to look at my face in the mirror. My eyes did not appear ravaged by late-night tears. I seemed younger somehow. My heart longed to leap and sing.

“It was not my fault,” I firmly repeated to my reflection. “I was wrong.” My lip twisted in relieved pain. I smiled though tears, “Beloved, I was wrong! I was wrong!”

Five Minute Friday: Break

jesus_my_friend_176The minister tried to break my will. Though he hurt me, he failed. I am incredibly stubborn but have never imagined that my stubbornness saved me. There was Someone in my life Whose will he could never break. Though the minister didn’t know, that Someone has always had my back, kept His arms around me. The minister was never fighting me.

It’s sad.

I don’t know how, but I knew I was not to speak of my Friend to any of those around me unless he (or she) passed my litmus test: Do you know my Friend? Not just, can you talk about my Friend but do you know Him? Is He your Friend too? There is a je ne sais quoi about those who know Him. It’s not perfection. It’s hope and endurance and joy and the willingness to be wrong. It’s knowing that they too rest their heads on the shoulder of the One Who took on the sins of the world and not only didn’t break, but revealed sin and death as huge, terrible jokes.

I wish the minister had known my Friend. I hope at the moment he was dying, his heart and eyes opened and he saw my Friend reaching out to embrace him and tumbled into Jesus’ arms. The worst thing the minister did was refuse to let the best Friend ever break his stony heart and cradle him in His love. My heart still breaks for him.

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Every Friday,100s of bloggers set a timer, write for 5 minutes, and then publish the results. We don’t edit or engulf ourselves in concerns about whether our writing is worthy to be seen. We expose our incomplete, unpolished thoughts and words to each other and our readers. Kate Motaung’s, at  Heading Home, provides the prompt on Thursday evening. We all link our posts there and tweet them with the hashtag #FMFParty. Join us.

Leviathan Flees

For six weeks, Spring had been bringing fresh, mild days to New York but my body was hunched in the chair, my arms wrapped tightly around me as if to ward off a winter that refused to relinquish it’s hold; the warm sun had not penetrated the thick, chill fog that hung about me. My eyes had been red and swollen for several days… Ever since I’d written the letter to God… Ever since the words had spilled from my pen: ‘They lied to me.’

best woman crying sad sketchThe letter ended there. Its preamble had merely been an ineffective delaying tactic. And before the ink seeped into the paper, misery unleashed its power, left me with little except wet, salt-stung cheeks and eyes gritty with sand. Warmth fled. Laughter was unthinkable. Only fog remained. It penetrated to my depths, filled every empty space; I was a heavy blob of tears.

“How are you?” my therapist inquired after my hand reached for a wad of tissues to dab at dripping eyes and nose.

My lower lip trembled. The tissues made a quick swipe at my nose. My head shook. My nose sniffed damply and loudly. “I know what it is,” I whimpered. My face screwed itself up. The stream of tears burst its banks. Two more damp quick sniffs and then, “I know what I’m so afraid of.” My throat swallowed, my chest heaved up and down. “They lied to me,” my voice was a hoarse whisper.

My therapist leaned forward, “What do you mean?”

“When they sent me away,” more swallowing, more damp sniffs. Pained composure descended for a moment. “Papa sat me on his desk. I’d drawn some maraschino cherries for him. He took the drawing, told me it was beautiful, tacked it to the cork board above his desk,” the sniffing came again in short, sharp, moist bursts. My chest heaved out clicking breaths: huhnh, huhnh, huhnh, huhnh, huhnh!. The wet, shredded tissues scrubbed at my eyes and nose.

“He told me they were sending me away.” My face scrunched up as the words left my mouth. “He said they wanted me to be safe while they found the bad man, the man who hurt me.” My hand raised itself up to wipe at the liquid running from my nose. “I told him, ‘But I will never see you again.’ Papa pulled me against him and said, ‘Of course you will. You will be home before you know it.’ I shook my head against his chest and cried. My tears soaked through his sweater. I can feel the wool against my cheek. The warm, wet, woolly scent is in my nose,” my hand stroked my cheek where it had pressed against Papa’s chest.

After another loud sniff, I continued, “I told him I needed him. That I really would never see him again. He said, ‘You must be my brave little girl. And I will be right here if you need me.’ He held me away and looked into my face, ‘If you need me, draw maraschino cherries for me and ask Siobhan to send them. I’ll come right away.’ He held me close again, ‘We must make sure you’re safe. And as soon as the bad man is found, you will come right home.'”

My body shook. My hand reached for a wad of dry tissues. My chest tried to pull air into my blocked nose. My arms hugged my body tighter as it rocked to and fro.

“But what do you mean that they lied?”

My forehead scrunched. Why didn’t he understand? I took a deep breath, “He sent me away from the danger but they stayed and the danger killed them. He knew he was staying with the danger. He knew they would be killed. But he lied and said I’d be home before I knew it. He told me to send the maraschino cherries but he was dead and there wasn’t anybody to receive them. He’d never be able to come,” my voice tried to scream through the dampening tears.

When my breath eased “And Marmar knew too. She cried when I left. I can see her there. She cried so hard, Papa was supporting her. I had told her that I would never see her again just like I told Papa. But she said, ‘Don’t worry, my Lyssa. God will take good care of you. You’ll be home soon.’ But when I left, her heart was being ripped away and she knew it.”

My chest shook out breaths in short clicks: huhnh, huhnh, huhnh, huhnh, huhnh! Except for the wet, clicking noise, the room remained silent.

Finally, my therapist asked, “Did Professor Cumberlan learn when they died?”

The tears, though suspended, waited just within my eyes to burst forth again. With a loud sniff, my nose attempted to pull a breath past the congestion, “About three weeks after they sent me away. Probably a little less. They were walking in the park near our home. Someone shot them.” My forehead scrunched itself, “It’s as if I can feel what happened to them. Papa was shot in the neck. My head wants to snap to the side the way his must have. Marmar was shot in the abdomen. I can feel a big wound in my body.” Leaking tears quickly reverted to a torrent that weighed my head down and pulled me into a deeper slump.

“Small children often have a close connection with their parents,” he told the top of my head. “It’s not unusual that you would feel your parent’s deaths. But I think you’re wrong. I don’t think they lied to you.”

My head raised itself. My eyes examined his face. Another loud, wet sniff brought in enough air to whisper, “What do you mean?” Tears spilled over leaving salt tracks on my dark cotton skirt.

“You’re looking at it from a child’s perspective. You were afraid you’d never see them again. Somehow, you may have had a strong sense that you would never see them again. But they didn’t know. Three weeks isn’t a very long time. If your father knew they were in danger, he would have left just as he left South America.” My therapist took a breath and shaped each word clearly and precisely, “Your father loved you. He wanted you to be safe.” My mouth shaped itself into a small O as my head nodded slightly in agreement; the tears had subsided once again. “He didn’t set you up to be disappointed. He did what I would have done. He made sure you were safe and that you had a way to contact him.” My mouth widened itself to a pained pout. “He didn’t know. Neither did your mother. They believed you were in danger. But there was no reason for them to believe that they were also in danger.”

A hoarse squeak left my mouth, “Really?”

He leaned forward and looked directly in my eyes, “Do you believe your father deliberately set you up?”

Several moist sniffs pulled in air and pushed back tears. “No,” it came out in an almost voiceless whisper. My eyes widened. A pout pulled my lips out. Another sniff came. A few tears tumbled down. My voice sounded high and breathy, “But… I thought… I thought they lied.”

“You were wrong,” my therapist told me.

My mouth twisted itself into a confusion. Tears brimmed my lower lids.

“You were wrong,” he repeated.

My eyes narrowed, my neck twisted my head to one side as if my ears had caught a sound that was nearly, but not quite, audible. The almost sound coursed into my heart. “I was wrong,” I whispered. My barely audible voice released more tears, different tears, tears that washed long-caked debris from my heart.

After repairing my skirt and rinsing my face in the bathroom, I stepped out into the warmth of the Spring afternoon. There was a delicious, green scent in the air. The growing leaves seemed newly cut — laser cut — sharp, clear, in shades of green richer than I had seen before. The late afternoon sky had been washed with clear, soft blueness. Puffy white clouds, tinged with pinks lounged about. My body wanted to float alongside them. My legs, longing to dance, rejoiced in the swishing fabric of my long cotton skirt. My feet raise my ballet black flats in little sweeping kicks. “Is it always this beautiful?” I softly asked my Friend. “Why have I never seen it before?” I breathed in another draught of the sweet air. Hailing a taxi, I settled myself in the back and pressed my forehead against the cracked the window. The taxi’s wheels against the asphalt sang to me with each revolution, They didn’t lie.

* Image source.

Five Minute Friday: Visit

We spent two summers in Bristol where the minister’s wife was born.

Each time, as the end of the school year approached, the minister would ask at dinner one night, “What will the kids do this summer?”

“Play, hang out around here,” the minister’s wife would respond.

The minister’s face would convulse, his voice become harsh, “This summer can’t be like last year. They did absolutely nothing. The boys wouldn’t mow the lawn unless I stood over them.”

bristol - scary bridge“We could visit my aunt in Bristol,” the minister’s wife would suggest. “She’d love to have us. You could join us for a week or two whenever you can get away.”

The minister would grumble about the cost of airfare, the ensuing weeks would be filled with his voice warning us to be on our best behaviour and not embarrass him, and a few weeks later, seven or eight sleepy kids would debark in England.

Though I’ve always loved England, I feared parts of Bristol. There was a huge, high bridge where we often picnicked that terrified me. I just knew it would fall on me. While the other children ran about and explored, I would sit with my back to the bridge, nervously looking over my shoulder to make certain it hadn’t begun to crumble.

9 West 57th StYears later when I went to live in New York, the dread fear that building would tumble on me kept me looking down so I wouldn’t the giants hulking over me. I detested 57th Street between 5th and 6th because I was certain the building at 9 West 57th Street would slide down and crush me as I walked past.

Finally, I learned I had a form of agoraphobia, I fear wide open spaces and things that tower above me. Knowing has helped a bit but given a choice, I avoid things that might come tumbling down and crush me even if everyone says they’re safe.

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Every Friday,100s of bloggers set a timer, write for 5 minutes, and then publish the results. We don’t edit or engulf ourselves in concerns about whether our writing is worthy to be seen. We expose our incomplete, unpolished thoughts and words to each other and our readers. Kate Motaung’s, at  Heading Home, provides the prompt on Thursday evening. We all link our posts there and tweet them with the hashtag #FMFParty. Join us.

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