Sun & Shadow

The bad memories, and the really painful ones, tend to always have a golden summer hue to them.  Which is all the more disturbing, really.  Collectively they sit in the recesses of my existence, never quite erased, but certainly not wanted.  Definitely not needed in the every day.  But all these memories together form a story of hope.  Of redemption and grace.  Of love. Sharing is hard when it’s so intensely personal, but I want my story to be told, because it all means something.  If I don’t allow beauty to rise from the ashes of my story, I’ve missed my purpose, you see.  It all means something extraordinary.  And so does yours.  

Psalm 68:5 A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling.

Matthew 11:28 Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

Psalm 34:18 The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. 

The woman is always perfumed, tanned, and highlighted, with perfect early 90’s perm, liner, shadow, and blush.  But this day her hair lies crazily disheveled, her makeup worn and faded from the previous nights’ excess.  It’s after lunch time, but she’s passed out on the couch, oblivious.  She is somehow always lying broken but beautiful from life and her own recesses of pain after nights like the one before.  Looking on her I hate her.  I hate her for the wasted love stored up inside of her.  I hate her for her treachery.  I hate her for her failure.  I hate her for her pain.  It’s always there, and as a child I know it, I feel it, and both fear it and resent her for wearing it like a party dress.  I know deep down it somehow keeps her here.  Like this. Wasted.  Willing her to wake up and be here with me, and then dreading the thought, I turn away.  The windows are streaming noonday light, with dust motes glittering in the rays.  The sunshine always makes it feel like this could be a better day.  A new leaf kind of day, whatever that means, like she’s always saying brightly when she’s had time to think.  To dream of something better.  Hope sparks in my heart and dies just as quickly, because this cycle, this only life I’ve known except on those special weekends, is on eternal repeat and I can’t get away from it.

He came home two or three days ago, her husband.  I can never quite think how long it’s been because time seems to stand still when he’s home.  It all just feels like one big catastrophic rip in time until he leaves again.  Willing him to go seems to work in some way, and so I stay away as much as I can, forcing him to leave in my mind.  Surely he’ll be gone the next time I venture out of my bedroom from deep in a book, or back from the all day bike rides I cherish for their feeling of complete freedom.    

This particular day I’m pretty sure he’s gone, and feel a certain sense of confidence.  A certain sense of safety.  Clarity?  

The little ones are fighting the naps I orchestrated after finding and making something for them to eat.  The youngest is quietly using my precious teal green puff paint to decorate my bedroom walls, and the other one is screaming angry in their bedroom.  I just want them to go to sleep,  to be quiet so I can THINK. Their bedroom has bunk beds, and I don’t want one of them to get hurt while I’m doing this today. I lock them into my bedroom together and try to figure out what to do.    Because today is different.  Today I’m going to change something, anything, because my young heart is screaming that others don’t live this way.  That I don’t want to live this way.

All my new bruises are fresh and aching.  I wear them layer upon layer and have for years. Hers are fresh too. I can see the swelling on her face and arms and wonder if the vomit is from too much alcohol or another beating or both.  I wonder if she’s dead, if he killed her. But no, she’s breathing, and I’m relieved.  The smell of alcohol, sweat, vomit, and fear mingle in my heart and head and make me dizzy with disgust.  With dread.

If I leave who will take care of them all?  Who will make sure they’re okay?  Something inside me snaps and rages.  I don’t want to take care of them.  I don’t want any of this.  

So I throw some new yard sale clothes into an Avon beach bag, listen at my bedroom door and almost sigh with relief that they are quiet and hopefully sleeping.  I tiptoe to the front door and a surge of panic hits me.  What if he’s out there?  What if he’s not really gone?  I take breaths in shallow gulps and open the door carefully, so carefully, relieved that on the other side of this door is some kind of freedom I want but can’t define.  I say a frantic prayer and dart out into the sun.

I get on my bike, the bike the Knight bought me for my last birthday.  It’s a ten speed mountain bike and so perfect and makes me feel free, especially today.  But today I need a phone, not a long ride.  I ride by all my friends’ homes.  Knock on a few doors.  No one is home. Everyone is out and about on this late summer day, I think getting ready for school to start, or having that last family vacation that I’ve heard of.  I’m still not sure what that means though.

The last friend’s house is quiet, but I find the door isn’t locked, and feeling almost crazed with desperation, I ease in.  I realize at that moment that I don’t want anyone else involved in this.  I want to be alone, and immediately I feel like this is best if only I have time to make the call…  Quickly I dial the precious sequence of numbers that is hers, my angel.  No one answers…and I realize it’s because she’s at work.  That’s right!  It IS Friday, after all! Everyone is working!!  But I can’t stay here, it’s still lunch time. What if someone comes home and finds me here?  So I find some change and ease back out of this friend’s house.  Desperately I ride my bike to the new store down the road and use the pay phone to call her work number.  She answers and I can’t hold it all in, I tell her I can’t stay anymore, to please come get me.  She tells me to go home and wait for her to call me back……..the fear and panic explode inside me and I tell her I can’t go back, that I have to leave now, leave forever.  I realize myself just then that I can NEVER go back, will never go back, and beg her please don’t make me go back…. She quietly tells me to stay by the phone, don’t dare leave the phone, because she’ll have to call back.  So I stay-even though staying anywhere right now is grating on my already torn nerves.  I wait what seems like forever and then I hear the ring and my whole body jerks to attention.  I jump at the pay phone hoping it’s for me and it is….but it’s not her.  It’s the Knight.  He’d just gotten remarried a few days ago…they’d let me come and I’d been so surprised.  He’d said something about getting custody {rescuing me} but I hadn’t believed it….  But he says he’s coming to get me.  Another kind of doubt and dread rises in me but I hold onto the words….even as he, too, says I have to go back there to wait.

The ticking sound of my ten speed as I slow, nearing the house, resounds in my ears like hammers on steel…surely they’ll hear me!  They can’t hear me.  This can’t be taken from me, I have to get out!  I feel like I’ve barely breathed all day, and the sting in my lungs reminds me of it.  I feel faint and the sun is so hot, and I’m so tired.  No tears will come, though I realize I probably should cry this day.  But I won’t, because that would distract me. That would make me feel weak, and I can’t be weak today.  I silently, stiffly glue myself to the walls, in shadows, the remainder of the afternoon.  The shadows are so cold, clinging and cloying. I pray to the Jesus I’ve been taught about, that I asked into my heart not long before.  I know He hears me, because I’m being set free today.  I feel something like the quietness of peace stealing through me, if I can just hang on tight enough.  

Just as the August sun starts to shift and wane, the Knight pulls up in his fancy hot rod.  So handsome.  So dashing.  His expression feels off to me, but I dismiss the thought.  I turn back to look at the house.  I don’t want to see if any of them have woken up, I just want to leave.  But so carefully, I ease the door open and look in.  Everything is silent. Everyone is still asleep these hours later, and I’m glad, because I didn’t want to face her.  I didn’t want her pain swallowing me up, drowning me.  Drowning my resolve.

I gently turn the lock with a soft click, and close the door.  So they’re safe.  Because I won’t be coming back this time.   And while I desperately wanted this, I’m not sure what to do with the emotions suddenly starting to roll over my thoughts like spilled syrup.

As we drive away he tells me I have to stick to my guns, that this is permanent.  I nod vigorously, because this is all I’ve ever wanted, though I really don’t believe him.

I’m ten years old.






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