Category: Relationships

First (The Christmas Card I Wanted To Write)

“[S]eek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.” (Matthew 6:33)

God reveals the beauty in us.

Pieta, The C.1498 Buonarroti, Michelangelo (1475-1564 Italian) Marble Sculpture St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City

First, it hurts. Like warm water on frozen fingers. Like Michelangelo chipping away at a block of marble because he knows the Pieta or David is within. Chip. chip. Chip. God is plying his little hammer and chisel. First, it hurts.

Then I remember that first, my parents gave me to God in baptism and entrusted me to His care.

And first, I chose to risk my life on the belief that He really meant, “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.” If that promise is a lie, then all the other firsts are meaningless.

And first, He has always made it possible for me to withstand the chiseling and so I remain and let Him work. He loves me. I know that. There is no why. I’m not worthy. There is only love.

And first, there are my friends who share in community I hoped for but could never really imagine. They’re the biggest surprise. They wait with me as God warms my frozen flesh and brings me back to life. They wait as He chisels away. They wait in expectation even when I can’t turn my eyes in hope that there is something glorious in me that He is releasing. They wait even when I can’t find words to say “thank you” for loving me. So I will wait with them. I will have faith in their faith.

First, it’s a glorious new year.

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On Friday (and occasionally Saturday if Friday is filled with an excess of other activities),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.

Away III

This week’s assignment was to rewrite a previous submission. My goal is to blend Mel’s interior life with her Friend and the internal censor she has developed with her everyday experience. You comments and suggestions are most welcome:

…But you’re somehow a part of my life
And you won’t go away
(1)

Carly Simon’s voice continued on as my clear soprano cracked and faded to a whisper. The rubbery, dark, barrier spanned my heart and mind. I raised my broken soul to my Friend like a shocked child holding a dead bird, pleading, ‘It’s broke. Fix it.’ My Friend’s arms suffused me with radiant warmth; He neither explained nor eradicated the pain.

“She’s off key,” Verna sneered.

I raised my head to look at her indistinct form through blurred eyes, then wiped away my tears with the soft cotton of my pale blue sleeve.

Verna stood with her back to the frosted window. I did not respond. Neither did the other occupants in our dorm room.

“She is.” This time her voice was shrill.

Sprawled across my bed in her pajamas and robe, Kelli swiped a yellow highlight across another sentence in her economics text then looked up and said, “No she isn’t.”

Her dark gaze caught and held Verna’s hazel eyes. Verna lowered her lashes. Kelli returned to her studies.

Verna muttered, “I can hear it even if you can’t.”

“Huh?” Diana, flopped down like a rag doll, shared the braided rug in the middle of the floor with me. She lowered the typed page she was marking with red, green, and blue fine point pens away from her face, and told Verna, “You’re tone deaf. You can’t even play a kazoo.”

We chuckled. I turned my eyes back to the psychology text in my lap.

Verna opened the window a crack and sniffed, “It smells like snow.”

Ama, twirling one of her many slender braids, uttered a breathy plea, “Verna, it’s cold. We have our French final tomorrow.”

Verna shut the window and bounced towards her friend. The phone rang as she passed.

“Crazy coeds r us!” Nancy and I exhaled audibly. Kelli shook her head. “Meh-el,” Verna bleated, her mouth gloating, her eyes like Claire’s had been whenever she lied and the minister beat me. “It’s your fazher!”

I glared at her and snatched the beige receiver from her hand. “Hello?”

“Who was that?” I knew the minister’s voice could be heard throughout the room.

“My roommate.”

“Get a new one.”

“What’s up?”

‘Good,’ the inner censor commended me. ‘Keep it casual, relaxed.’

Mon Dieu! You don’t ask how I am?” he accused.

“I’m studying for finals,” I told him my voice raising nearly an octave.

‘Stay calm,’ the censor warned.

“You can pick up your ticket tomorrow,” the minister told me.

“Thanks. I’ll get it at the airport Wednesday.”

“Get it tomorrow.” His voice held the same menace as when he unbuckled his belt to hit one of us.
“I have finals every day.” An image flashed through my mind. I held my breath; my heart began to pound. “The ticket… it’s round-trip, right?!”

‘Don’t screech,’ the censor chided.

Zut! Don’t raise your voice to me!” the minister commanded. “I said I’d get a round trip ticket. Are you calling me a liar?”

I soundlessly released my breath but did not speak.

‘Good,’ the censor assured me. ‘Ignore his accusation.’

The minister continued, “Bring all your things back with you.”

“Why?” My heart began pounding again.

“Someone will steal them. Nouille!” He muttered the last word, idiot.

I ignored the insult. “My room and the dorm will be locked. No one can get in.”

“Bring everything anyway.” He spoke in his prophecy-from-on-high voice that I had learned to ignore when I was twelve.

“I have a final in the morning,” I sighed.

‘Perfect,’ the censor told me. ‘Remind him that you have a lot of work.’

“Just because you have that scholarship, you think you know everything.”

“I have insurance.” The words tumbled out before the censor stopped them. I ignored her indignant jolt. “It’s nearly midnight here. I’ve got to go. Tell Matthieu I love him.”

I gently replaced the receiver; he would ring back and rebuke me if I let it slam. Kelli’s eyes caught mine. She gave me a small, I’m-sorry smile. My shoulders ached. The darkness of the rubbery barrier loomed within me.

At the stereo, Nancy put on Janis Ian’s Stars. Her elder sister had owned it before she was killed by a drunk driver. We had not listened to it since the Sunday evening after Thanksgiving when Verna had taken extra holiday time and we had the room to ourselves. In the unaccustomed quiet, Nancy played it after she told me she missed her family.

“Why does your fazher sound like…” Verna proceeded to articulate each word, “a loud, old, French peasant?”

I breathed in through gritted teeth, “He’s not my father.” My lips were a tight line.

“He raised you.” All innocence.

I shook my head with such violence my sinuses ached.

Ama dropped her braid, propped her elbows on Verna’s desktop and said, “Verna said he adopted you.”

Only Kelli kept her eyes on her book; I knew she was not reading. I breathed out a defeated sigh, “No.”

‘Careful,’ the censor warned.

“I can’t find a birth certificate or adoption papers. There’s nothing, not even any pictures of me before I was about five.” My Friend’s arms had supported me Verna and the minister lacerated my heart. But now my body sagged under the continuing assault.​

“Did you ever ask?” Diana interest was genuine. Still her question was another blow. “I don’t mean to pry,” she added in a gentle tone.

“This was his answer,” I pointed to the scar above my right eyebrow, shrugged one shoulder, and lowered my head to my book.

“You’re a foundling!” Verna crowed with delight. “Your parents abandoned you.”

“They didn’t!” Heat suffused my body. Unheeded, my book slid to the floor. My fists curled themselves into tight balls. “I just don’t know what,” my forehead crumpled as the rubbery darkness overshadowed me, “happened to them…” The last three words were a whisper. My fists unclenched, became limp. My eyes pleaded for answers I knew none of them had. My face felt stretched, parched.

“What about you?” Nancy cut in with unusual sharpness. “Your father abandoned you.”

Verna’s back straightened, “Mummy divorced my father.” Her voice held a faint British accent that she had picked up during a semester in London; she used it to proclaim her superiority.

“Your father still abandoned you,” Kelli told her. “You haven’t seen him since you were a baby.”

Verna glanced at each of us. I followed the hasty swivel of her head. First, her eyes met Nancy’s hard, blue ones, then Kelli’s dark, exotic stare, then Diana’s dim sighted, hazel look, then my eyes as dark and exotic as Kelli’s, and finally the steady, blue gaze of her best friend, Ama. No one spoke. Even Ama, twirling her braids, waited with us for Verna’s response. Verna turned her eyes to L’Etranger. I picked up my book as Janis Ian explained:

…I’m leaving a light on the stairs
No I’m not scared – I wait for you
(2)

Rubbery blackness blocked the present from the past, an unassailable barrier. I blinked away tears. An electric tingle saturated my body from head to toe; my Friend was hiding me in the safety of His wounds.
____________
(1) Stephen Sondheim, “​Not A Day Goes By
(2) Janis Ian, “​Jesse

Alone – Five Minute Friday

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. (Matthew 16:24-25)

aloneSome things are easier when I am alone. Singing is easier when there’s either no one to hear me or someone who sings along with me. (I’ve joined the choir at church.) Though I’ve trained to sing opera, worked with a vocal coach, and have a powerful voice, I actually sing off key in a soft breathy voice if I’m singing in the presence of someone who’s not singing and who’s not really an audience.

Writing is easier when I’m alone. So is speaking. Sewing and drawing and embroidery and all sorts of other accomplishments are also easier. If I’m working with others or alone, I excel at so many things. When I feel someone is watching, I choke, shy away, fumble; I naturally give way to others, do what they are doing, follow their lead.

Yet I’m in a time of learning to excel when I’m not alone, even if others are not participating. It’s part of denying myself that Jesus talks about. It’s scary. But since He has brought me this far, I’m convinced He will continue to take me where He wants me to go and, with His help, I’ll marshal through. Let’s see where He has taken me this time next year.

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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.

Image source: http://thespiritualsoldier.blogspot.com

Christian Community Is A Christian Thing

Years ago, at a time when I still had many acquaintances but few real friends, I had one very, very dear friend. She did her best to comfort me when I discovered my parents were, in fact, dead. She helped me understand the responsibility my therapist had towards me and I towards him. And, to celebrate my birthday, she even made frozen dinner (it was better she not attempt real cookery) and gave me the kind of toy I was never allowed to play with when I was a child. Once, she even saved my life.

But she wasn’t a friend I could keep and I knew it. Whenever I was discouraged about finding my family, worried about work, or indecisive about whether I should go to an audition, she’d offer to “do a reading” for me. I understood that she was offering me the best she had. And perhaps God had given her gifts of prophesy. But she saw the gifts she might have as hers to control. She believed she should peer into the future so that she and others might have an easier time traversing life.

Whenever she offered to “do a reading” for me, I’d demur. I didn’t want to hurt my friend but I knew divination to be, at the very least, an attempt to circumnavigate the limitations God has placed on us. He has given us this moment and asks us to trust Him. He has not given us permission to map the suffering and good things in the future and then plot an optimal course through. As time passed, I became more and more uncomfortable with my friend’s activities. Though she was wonderful, our ability to be in community was hindered because we walked very different paths. We couldn’t accompany one another because we didn’t share a common goal. Ultimately, I ended our friendship.

Christian community is a Christian thing because of the common goal we share: Christians are striving to follow and become like Christ and to get to heaven. We regularly fall and are oft times reduced to crawling yet as we travel together, one of the most important things we do is encourage one another. Just as CPT Sarah Cudd’s received support to cross the finish line and earn her EFMB in the video below, Christians support each other as we follow Christ. In fact, no matter how much we disagree, we can’t be Christians without each other. We are indispensable to one another.

Years ago, when my life felt like one overwhelming disappointment, I needed people who would remind me that God loved me and that I could trust Him even if my dreams of finding my family never came true. Invitations to peer into the future were a temptation that made living in the moment more excruciating. When all I longed to do was read the last page of the book and make sure it held the happy ending I envisioned, I needed to be reminded that God was calling me to crawl and trust. No matter how wonderful my friend was she couldn’t help me do that because paging ahead in the midst of suspense is the exact opposite of trust.

As long as non-Christians aren’t hindering our faith, they certainly ought to be our friends. We ought to invite non-Christians to participate in most community activities. And we must do so without an agenda. We must not invite people because we plan to convert them. Through loving friendship, we show Christ to those who don’t know Him. When friends ask questions, we must be honest and trust God will use us as He sees fit in their conversions.

Still, there will be times when following Christ will require relinquishing friendships with some non-Christians, often because of our own weakness. We are not to be unequally yoked and that can include friendships too. When following Christ takes us away from some relationships, we need to remember that He will bring us together in Christian community, in His Church. He will prepare us to present His Gospel to a world that is not starving for knowledge of what tomorrow may bring but for His love today.

Heart Of Stone

A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.(Ezekiel 36:26)

I wish I could say my heart of stone came solely as a result of what happened to me. Certainly much has happened to me. The constant onslaught of death and abandonment and loss and assault and rape and neglect and isolation and illness were crushing. But I have a fighter’s spirit. I fought back with every talent God gave me. And I fought so well I began to delight in fighting not only to protect myself but sometimes to get back at those who hurt me. I’m not one who seeks simply to take the stick from an attacker. I want to ensure that the attacker will never harm anyone ever again. God has often held me back. Had He not, I would have produced much mayhem.

The vicious onslaught also left me fearing people. There were times when I lied or simply ended contact because I couldn’t be what I thought others expected me to be: because I didn’t have enough money to do all the things someone expected or couldn’t change my faith to please another person or couldn’t continue to expose myself to actions that scandalized me and sent me spinning into flashbacks and phantasms from my past, a past almost none of my friends knew about because I didn’t trust them. Being unable to trust coats the heart with layers of stone.

My pride added additional layers of rock. I knew what I needed and how I needed it. I even set the delivery schedule. Usually, the due date was right now. A dear friend used to tell the attorneys with whom he worked, “You can have it right or you can have it now but you can’t have it right now.” I demanded I be healed right and right now. After all, God can do anything. But He didn’t follow my scripts or my instructions. It baffled me.

heart of stone (1)Fortunately when I was lost God found me and has remained with me. So when I was old enough to hand Him my scripts I was also experienced enough to know that even though God wasn’t following my prescribed plan, I needed to stay with Him. Where else would I go? Chaos is the alternative to God. I knew chaos better than many. I’d lived in the midst of it for eleven years and could not go back. So I continued on but my heart of stone was a heavy ache within my chest.

It felt anger, desire, rage, pride, need, attraction, hunger, pain, and so much more. The dark feelings rumbled around, became fodder for ruminations that piled on more stone. Sometimes happiness touched the edges of my heart but it couldn’t nestle in and make a home. I loved with everything I had but love was always the gift of the moment. It wasn’t the constant I needed because no one really loved me. Most never tried. Those who did never knew me; I could not share my secrets with them. How can there be love without knowledge?

And all the while, God carried me as I kept revising those scripts and waving them before His face. Eventually, He pried the pages from my hands. Ill, frightened, alone, I moved in with a “friend” who told me that if I was really sick I must go because she wouldn’t care for me. Her words triggered my stubbornness and I pushed myself through demanding work while doctors unraveled the illness I suffered. At the same time, I had returned to the Catholic Church and found it different than when I left. People invited me into their lives, invited themselves into mine. Community surrounded me and gently but persistently pulled me in.

One day I awoke in hospital after undergoing major surgery. The smiling face of the woman who had voluntold* my home for a New Year’s Eve party three months before greeted me. Over the next few days, people I barely knew visited. Usually there was no one. And through more treatments and surgeries they continued to come. When I needed to be collected from hospital after an emergency, I was afraid they wouldn’t release me because I had no escort. The woman who voluntold my apartment had told me to call if I needed her. I risked rejection and called. Her bright voice assured me she would be there.

I wanted God to say the black and do the red. He was to just follow my instructions and all would be well. How God must have laughed at me. He knew I could have healing right or I could have it now but I couldn’t have it right now. And I couldn’t have it my way not because God sought to thwart me but because my way wouldn’t work. I needed the gentle sledge hammer of Christian community. It’s been at work on my heart of stone nearly as long as the entire time I spent with the minister and his family. My heart isn’t fully flesh yet and I don’t know when it will be. I do know I can feel it beating at this very moment. Happiness now has an abode in my heart. Others know and love me. I am the luckiest girl in the world because fortunately when I was lost God found me. He never wants me or anyone else to have a heart of stone. His heart was pierced and an ocean of mercy poured out so that our hearts might be made flesh.

* Voluntold is an accurate contraction of volunteer + told

S is for Seeing

9 Crimes“What are You seeing that I’m missing? What takes You from, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ to ‘Praise the LORD…’?” My voice was a soft whisper in the still church. The 3 o’clock Good Friday service was over but the building remained open. Though I was alone for the moment, Kyra or someone else might come in. Please, let them stay away, I prayed silently. I need to understand.

I slid from my seat into the kneeler, propped my prayerbook under my elbows, and rested my face on my hands. Gradually, my shoulders relaxed. I let my eyes find the troubling words.

Praise the LORD, you that fear him;
stand in awe of him, O offspring of Israel;
all you of Jacob’s line, give glory.
For he does not despise nor abhor the poor in their poverty;
neither does he hide his face from them;
but when they cry to him he hears them. (Psalm 22:22-23)

“He does not despise nor abhor the poor in their poverty,” I whispered aloud.

“Oh! Oh!” My eyes opened wide. A ray of light pierced the smoke darkened colours of the stained glass window, “You don’t despise or abhor the poor in their poverty?” Tears washed gently down my face. I let them fall. “But everyone else does.”

The volume of my voice increased slightly. My words spilled out quickly, “I’ve lost everyone who loved me, lost everything, even my identity. I can’t point back to anyone and say, I came from that person. Papa’s legs are gone. I can’t lean against them so the world knows I belong to him. I don’t belong to anyone. I haven’t belonged to anyone since I was four and a half. How could I be poorer? The people who survive are impoverished, we’re left with no one.

“No one really knows me. No one really loves me. They admire me or think I’m weird. But I have to keep everything that is me hidden away just as I tried to do with Cade. It’s easier now. They’re not around all the time. But I’ll be alone for Easter dinner. The Sunday after, they’ll say, ‘You had a good Easter?!’ The only acceptable answer is, ‘Yes.'” The corners of my lips turned up in a rueful smile. My nose had become too stuffy to breathe. The air pulled through through my mouth made a grumbling wheeze. I sat back in the pew and breathed slowly until the wheezing diminished.

“Does this mean You don’t abhor me in my poverty but when I cry out to You, You hear me?” The air was pregnant with a rich silence. The hand that had stroked my back when as a child I had had such difficulty sleeping, now stoked a warm fuzziness through my torso. “Have You been hearing me all along?” I listened to the intense silence. “You have. When nobody else hears me, You hear me.” I finally fumbled in my bag for a tissue, wiped the tears away and blew my nose.

“Why did I not see?” My forehead rumpled. I let out a long sigh. “I know why. I’ve expected people to see my poverty and help me.” I quickly reminded my Friend, “You do work through people. But I guess, I’ve been expecting You to work through people who aren’t open to hearing me, seeing me. They’re nice. I really like them, even love them. But we don’t know each other.” I sighed again, “Still, even though these people don’t hear or see, You do. Even if they think I’m weird, You don’t.”

My forehead rumpled again, “I guess the problem is that I get my identity from You. That’s probably why I’m weird. They’re seeing someone whose identity comes from an unexpected place. I guess I’m Yours.” I looked up, a little smile on my face, “You’re stuck with me. But I don’t really know what to do with that.”

Q is for Quibbling Over Fantasies

Hot water! I happily, mutely told my Friend. I soaped my body in the narrow tub/shower. I love Cade, I silently continued. But…

The opening bathroom door pushed a draught of fresh air into the tight space. “I decided to join you,” Cade announced as he stepped into the shower. A shade lowered within me. “Pass me the soap,” he waited hand out-stretched. I gave him the small cake.

“I’ll wash your hair if you like,” I offered brightly.

Palm out, he quipped, “I don’t want foolish, female fripperies.” Then added, “I don’t know why you buy such expensive shampoo. It smells great but it’s a waste of money.”

“It works!” I retorted. “If you really want to tame your cow-licks, a better shampoo and conditioner would help. Not all of them smell like perfume. And a bit of gel would work wonders.”

“Shampoo is shampoo! And I don’t use products!” He spat the last word at me. “I’d rather spend money on more important things…” Cade became silent, seemed to be searching for something in the misty bathroom air. He continued, “Like a car.” He searched for another instant then spoke decisively, “I want you to help me buy a car.”

My forehead rumpled, my eyes widened, “Why would I help you buy a car? I don’t even drive.”

“You’d benefit from it. We could take rides in the country, get out of the city,” he told me as he scrubbed cheap shampoo through his hair.

My forehead remained rumpled, my voice gained a slightly shrill edge, “If I want to go to the country, I take a train. I don’t need a car.”

Cade reached out and pinched my breast. I screamed, “Ouch! Stop that! It hurts!”

“It doesn’t hurt you,” he sneered.

Alain’s voice sounded inside me, “Hit his hand when he pinches you.” The moment had passed.

I stepped out of the tub and began drying myself on one of his skimpy, scratchy towels. “I want a boat too,” Cade announced to the air above my head.

I looked up, “Fine. Get whatever you want.”

“What do you want?” Cade suddenly asked, then added, “In the future, I mean.”

“To get married and have children and do some sort of work I enjoy. One luxury I do want is live-in help when I have children,” I responded without realizing that honesty had slipped past my usual guardedness.

“You want live-in maids to take the place of friends just like my mother!” At his harsh tone, my head snapped up; Cade pointed his finger at me. I covered myself with the inadequate towel. “I’m not paying for extra space,” he fiercely spat out. “I’d rather have a boat.”

Wide-eyed, lips compressed, I looked up at him, “Who said you would pay for anything? I don’t need you to pay for me.”

“If we get married,” Cade began. The words echoed through the narrow room, bounced off the walls, stopped squarely in front of my face. “You’ll want to stay at home with children. And,” he gave the word two syllables, “you’ll expect me to pay all the bills.”

Most of his words tucked themselves in some corner of my memory. “If we get married,” still rang in my ears, hovered a few inches from my forehead. I’m not marrying him. The thought came almost from outside of me.

Suddenly I laughed, “This is the silliest argument ever!”

“What?!” he stood glaring at me, fists curled at his side.

“We’re not married. We haven’t even planned to get married. None of this is real. We’re just quibbling over fantasies,” I told him decisively.

“What?” Cade seemed stuck in the shower. The water, which must have become cold, ran over his back. He did not move.

“We’re quibbling over fantasies,” I reiterated. “It’s a waste of my time. I’m getting dressed.” I left him in the bathroom under the stream of cold water.

Five Minute Friday: Tomorrow

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day.” (Matt 6:34)

tomorrowAs a child, I looked forward to tomorrow. By the time I was six, I knew Matthew 6:34 by heart and wanted so badly to “let the day’s own trouble be sufficient.” But each day held so much trouble, a surfeit not a sufficiency. I needed tomorrow.

And then it came. And was different but so much like yesterday — still the surfeit and not the sufficiency. Then came the therapist who told me, “You don’t want to be an ordinary person.” I was confused.

But he was right. I thought tomorrow held the extraordinary and that was what I had been reaching for: I knew I needed extraordinary healing. But today holds the ordinary people and activities that God uses to bring extraordinary healing.

Today holds the friends who are only doing what is ordinary for them but is extraordinary for me. Today holds the smiling face that pierces my heart when I awake from anesthesia: on too many yesterdays, I had awakened alone. Today holds the priest who offers to make an appointment with me and does: on too many yesterdays, priests had dismissed their own suggestion that we should meet and dismissed me.

Today holds ordinary that pierces my heart and heals me. I won’t find that in tomorrow. It’s not over the next hill, nor down in some hidden valley. It’s right here in the midst of a world that so often holds a surfeit of trouble instead of a sufficiency.

 

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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.

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!”

J is for Justice

Clad in red and white striped, flannel pajamas, I stumbled into the kitchen for a bowl of cereal. Gwen sat at the table eating a bowl of some noxious stuff. My stomach churned as the smell of what she ate filled my nostrils. I began breathing through my mouth and reached up to pull my new box of Quaker Crunchy Corn Bran from atop the refrigerator. Another damp box of the same cereal, also mine, sat next to it. Thank You for reminding me to get more cereal, I mutely told my Friend. Abner must have kept the box in his bathroom all weekend.

“Good morning,” Gwen looked up from her bowl with a smile.

“It is morning, isn’t it,” I sleepily responded and added milk to the bowl of cereal I had poured.

“Come sit with me while you eat breakfast,” she invited.

I glanced down at the bowl before her and then raised my eyes from the sight. My lower lip pulled itself down, my eyes widened crinkling my forehead. Gwen laughed at my expression, “I’ll cover the pan.” She quickly got up and placed the cover over the pan of stuff that had filled the kitchen with such a nauseating smell. She cracked the window and crisp Winter air quickly cleared the smell. I glanced down at her bowl eliciting another laugh. Gwen took one of her cookbooks from the shelf and propped it open on the book stand hiding her bowl.

I smiled sleepily, “Thanks.”

“You’re welcome,” she replied returning to her breakfast. “How did Edith like her gift?” she inquired.

I took in a long sighing breath, “She loved it. She even gave me a gift.”

“She did?” Gwen’s eyes widened. “She said she doesn’t give Christmas gifts.”

“She made an exception for me. Goddesses In Every Woman,” my mouth shaped itself into a rueful moue. “That’s what she gave me.”

Gwen gently shook her head. “Because you said that about being submissive…”

“Yep,” I sighed. “That’s what I get for being honest when she’s around.”

“She doesn’t know what you mean, does she?” Gwen’s gentle voice inquired.

“No, she doesn’t,” I shook my head. “And we talked for nearly an hour. When she insisted that you aren’t submissive to Abner, I realized, I was a wasting time. All I could say was that neither of us know the intimate details of your marriage. We only know that Abner doesn’t walk all over you.”

“He certainly doesn’t!” Gwen’s eyes widened with something that might have been anger; her mouth compressed. She took a breath, “He’s never even tried to walk all over me or belittle me or mistreat me. He loves me.”

I shrugged, “Edith’s concern is justice. She always wants to get her due, even in relationships.” Suddenly, my words tumbled out more quickly, “It was like that with Cade. We were always battling for what was due to us. I battled for him to be affectionate and thoughtful and to stop doing things that he knew hurt me. He battled for ll of my time and attention and to make me what he thought I should be.” My voice became a shrill breathiness, “It was hell! During the last two months, I often had an image of myself whacking him in the head while he slept. I’m so glad I left him.”

“So am I,” Gwen smiled gently. Then, with decisiveness, “I don’t like the way he treated you.”

“Neither did I,” I ate a spoon full of corn bran then looked up, “You know, I wish you had told me.”

“I didn’t want to offend you,” Gwen replied.

“I might have been offended at the moment but I would have remembered and left him sooner, before he began showing his sadistic tendencies,” I told her gently. “But I’m away now and the battle for justice is over.” I sighed again and felt a tear smarting in one eye, “Edith just doesn’t get it.”

“Doesn’t get what?” Gwen gently inquired in the stillness that had suddenly filled the room. She waited as I searched within myself for words.

“I used Abner as an example not only because he doesn’t walk all over you but because of the relationship you two do have.” The memory of Gwen rushing out of the bathroom the day before, clad only in her robe, to grab a can of cleanser so that she and Abner could refine their song. “I know about battles for justice. And I know when justice isn’t involved. Most of our clients really need a good therapist or group therapy with the other parties. They’re fighting because they were friends and feel betrayed.”

Gwen laughed. I looked up with a smile and continued. “The asbestos cases, those involved justice. Much of the tobacco litigation — that involves justice.”

“Tobacco?” Gwen asked skeptically.

“Yes. Tobacco companies knew their products were dangerous but kept it hidden,” I confidently told her. “In an odd way, one of the cases I’m working on involves justice. A mortgage lender lied and scammed people into refinancing their homes. Then they discovered the payments were greater than their income. Many have lost their homes and now instead of fighting to help them, companies who bought the fraudulent loans are fighting to avoid responsibility. The homeowners need justice and the companies need to learn what justice is.”

J is for Justice waltzI took a breath, “But that’s not what I want in my personal relationships, I want a relationship like yours,” I looked directly into Gwen’s blue eyes. “You and Abner are always dancing. Everything you do together is a dance. You cook and take unbelievably long showers, which ruin my cereal since Abner never grabs his own box, but you play. And even when I’ve seen you fight, it’s like a tango — you do it together and work things out together.”

“I’ll buy you another box of cereal,” Gwen smiled ruefully.

“That’s okay. I bought cereal. It’s only a big deal when I discover all my cereal is soggy,” I smiled. Gwen laughed. “But the two of you don’t spend much time battling to gain justice from each other. You just love each other. That’s what I want.”

I ate a last bite of corn bran and continued, “I don’t want another relationship where I’m always fighting for my rights, even when I am right. Why bother being in a relationship at all if it’s just one long fight? I want a waltz, a tango.” I stopped for a moment and then, “And I want to dance the female part.”

“Huh?” Gwen asked.

“There were usually only girls in my partner dance classes. And I always had to dance the male part.” Suddenly, my hands gestured, beating the air, “You know, I never learned to follow! Never! I’m dismal when I dance with a man! But I want to learn.” My hands quieted themselves.

“Edith thinks submissive equals doormat. If I wouldn’t let Cade walk all over me, why would she think I’d let any other man do it? He was only my second boyfriend.” I shrugged, “Now I know better. But I don’t want to be en garde all the time for slights and missteps. And I’ll never battle for justice again, not in a relationship. I want to dance. And if I can’t have that, I’d rather not have a boyfriend or get married.”

“You may be more of a feminist than you imagine,” Gwen laughed.

“I don’t think I’m a feminist,” I told her, my head crinkled with puzzlement. Then a smile crossed my face, “Perhaps we need a new name for strong, intelligent women who want to dance with men.”

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