Heirs in Hope

Reflections on loving God, being Catholic, being a woman, being ill, loving life and anything else that comes to mind.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

O Is For Mrs. Orman

The phone rang as we opened gifts. Fourteen year-old Dawn, ripping a paper wrapping, shouted, “That’s probably my mother! I want to talk to her!” She opened the large box, “A coat! My uncle sent me a coat!” She held up the long chocolate garment, “Isn’t it beautiful?” Claire and I oohed and awwed. Five year-old Felicia alternately sucked her thumb and one of the peppermint twists I had placed in the stockings while hugging the large doll the uncle had sent her. The man’s voice cut through our Christmas morning chatter, “What? You don’t say?” Pause. “Yes! I’ll tell them. And don’t worry. They’ll be fine here.”

“I told her!” the man crowed coming into the living room through the small parlour, his arms thrown above his head as if he was one of the “thank you Jesus” women at church. Eight heads flew up; eight pairs of eyes stared at his broad smile, his laughing face. “I told her!” he looked at Dawn. “You kids heard me.” His chest expanded for a deep breath. “I told her, ‘If you don’t stop drinking, you’ll be dead before the sun rises on Christmas morning!’ Your mother died this morning.” Dawn froze, a bit of paper in her hand. “Our mother?” Felicia’s voice was a tiny whisper. The man nodded, laughing. A silent rushing, roar overwhelmed the man’s voice. My body was suffused with an electric tingle. I looked over at Dawn. Felicia huddled in her lap. Slowly, I got up and climbed the steps to the room I shared. I dressed in the outfit Mrs. P. had bought for me and walked out the back door.

The cast iron balcony railing was rough under my fingers. My feet tried to move through the waist-high bars. I watched my foot lift, watched my arms push my body upwards, watched my leg begin to swing over the top of the railing. “Merry Christmas,” a voice greeted me gently. “Merry Christmas, Mrs. Orman,” the words came of their own accord. “I’m so glad you’re here,” Mrs. Orman moved so that she looked into my eyes. “I’d love your help with Christmas dinner.” “Help?” I shook my head. “Yes,” she continued to hold my gaze. “If you could just sit with me in the kitchen while I cook. The kids are with their father and I don’t know where my daughter has gone.” I swallowed. “Okay,” my voice came from far away. Mrs. Orman placed one hand on my upper arm and gently guided me into her kitchen. “Tell me about your Christmas morning,” she placed a glass of water near my hands that lay palms down, fingers splayed on her table. My forehead wrinkled, “Mrs. Parn,” I swallowed again. “Our housekeeper,” I swallowed again. “Died this morning.” My head floated far above my body, too far for me to reach and pull it down.

N Is For Nurse's Club


Maybe something happened, I suggested to my Friend as I trailed my hand across the frames of the huge cork boards. Why else would the nurse want me? I’m not sick… Am I? “Have a seat,” the school nurse pointed to the only empty chair in her office. “Now,” she smiled. “We’re all here.” I glanced at the two girls seated to my left and Charlotte, who had also skipped from fifth to seventh year, who sat on my right. “I want to invite you four to a join my club.” Club? I asked my Friend. “You four have all been moved ahead one or two grades. Until this year, you’ve had recess but now, there’s only lunch and you have little time to spend with other girls your age. So I thought we’d have a club, just for you. We’ll have lunch each week and do some things together.” Ours eyes widened. Our faces reflected each others smiles. “It’s important you have friends of your own age,” she handed each of us a sheet of paper. “This will explain the club to your parents. Have them sign it; we want to be able to take short field trips.” My heart fell into my stomach as we stood to leave. They won’t sign it, I told my Friend. The nurse placed her hand on my shoulder. Once the other girls had left, she gave me a little smile, “I’ve already spoken with your mother. She said she would sign your permission slip.”

My kite soared in the sky, a white diamond with an abstract red and blue collage spreading out from the center. “This reminds me of a painting at the museum,” I had told the nurse as I pasted ripped chunks of coloured tissue paper on a large white sheet. “It’s very interesting,” she smiled down at me. “You do have a lot going on in your head, don’t you?” I raised one shoulder, lifted one corner of my mouth. “A lot!” I mutely told my Friend. “They’re all flying,” I called out to the nurse as the five diamonds danced in the wind. Charlotte let out a loud, “Whoop!”

M Is For Memory (and MArmar)

I stood in the open barn doorway. An old man sat on a stool near the back end of a brown cow. The cow was munching hay; something made my nose itch. There we are, the old man’s voice was a quiet lilt. You’re a good cow Sassy, he patted the side of the cow’s rump and went to lift the pail from under the cow’s body. Oh, the old man spied me. You must be the little miss who’s visiting us. I moved so that the barn wall hid most of my body but not so far that I could not see the cow. It’s okay, the old man’s voice was a quieter lilt. Old McPhearson won’t hurt you. I remained partially hidden. Would you like to see Sassy?

He sat on the stool, placed the pail under the cow again. I’ll bet you never milked a cow. His soft lilt invited me, Would you like me to show you? Moving, almost against my will,  through the fog that filled my inner ears, filled my heart, I slowly approached the cow. That’s right, the old man coaxed. I won’t hurt you. Now, I was next to him. He took my hand. My eyes shut. I felt something firm and furry against the skin of my fingers. That’s Sassy, the old man lilted. Take a look, I opened my eyes. My hand stroked the short fur on the cow’s underside. Would you like to try milking her? the old man’s blue eyes looked into my dark brown ones. He took my hand and placed it on one of the soft furry teats. Now squeeze, his lilt instructed. I contracted my hand. Nothing happened. I looked at the old man’s leathery face which, lit with a smile, had crumpled into deep ridges and valleys. Your hand’s too small, he chuckled. I returned my eyes to my hand. I’ll just have to help you. The old man placed his hard, leathery hand over mine, Now, we squeeze and pull. A stream of milk squirted into the pail. I jumped. It’s okay, the old man’s face crumpled into more ridges and valleys. You’ve just milked you first cow!

Lysse, Marmar’s voice called. Off to your mother, the old man lilted. We’ll milk some more tomorrow. Slowly I walked away from the cow, the fog a little less dense. At the door, I turned and looked back at the cow. The crumples in the old man’s face had relaxed into many deep lines.
Cow, I held up the book for Papa to see. Cow. Marmar stood beside him, her face a puzzled smile, It’s just books. Marmar lay a hand on Papa’s arm, She’s fine. I sat on the pile of books, some of them open face down, that had come crashing down when I stood on a lower shelf to reach the one I wanted. A picture of me, my arms wound around Papa’s arm as he turned the pages of the book had flashed across my mind. The cow, standing in a field munching clover, was etched in the midst of that flash. Cow, I showed Marmar as she bent over to lift me and the book into her arms. Papa began replacing the pile on which I had sat. What are we going to do with her? he asked Marmar sighing. Cow, I pointed to the page for Marmar would see. Love her, Marmar, her voice a gentle definitive, kissed my cheek.

I have something for you, Marmar opened a big white shopping bag. From a swathe of tissue paper, she lifted something brown. Cow! I hugged the stuffed leather beast, nearly a quarter my size, to my chest. Yes, Marmar nodded her head. A cow.

L Is For Leave

You’re old enough to learn to do your own hair, the woman tugged the comb through my wet hair. Sssshhh! I winced through my teeth and pulled away. Don’t be such a big baby! That didn’t hurt you! she tugged again. Your hair snarls so easily. It doesn’t snarl when you braid it, I struggled to keep my voice level as she encountered an especially tangled area near my scalp. Huh, she finally pronounced. No more snarls. I’ll set it but you’ll have to stay in this afternoon. Why can’t I cut it? mutely, I queried my Friend as, inside, I heard all the voices that shouted, Comb your hair! each Sunday when the tight French plaits were released and my hair allowed to flow freely. If I can’t cut it, then why can’t I wear braids? I silently asked Him. They stick out like Pippi Longstocking’s! And they stay neat all week! The image of tucking and smoothing wisps of hair flashed across the screen of my mind.

I sat in the window seat in the room I shared longing to loosen the tight curlers but kept my hands clasped firmly on Little Women instead. The sound of bike riding, jump roping, running and shouting children called to me through the open window. The mild weather beckoned. I want to play too, I told my Friend. May I go out? I made my face as sad as I could hoping the woman would ease her restriction. Little ladies do not go out with curlers in their hair, she responded. I slowly and heavily walked back to the steps. Whose making all that noise! the man was watching a baseball game. Me! I squeaked. Why aren’t you out playing? I’m not allowed to go out with curlers in my hair. All I can do is watch television… Tchah, the man scoffed. Or read a book, I continued. The man clicked the remote to a golf match. You can go out if you put on a scarf, without looking around. Don’t leave the garden!

What are you doing outside?! the woman called from the back porch as I rode the blue bicycle around the paved area in the back garden. Come in here! All of you girls! Come in at once! I told you, she wagged her forefinger at me, Little ladies do not leave the house with curlers in their hair! But he said I could, if I wore a scarf and didn’t leave the garden, my voice was an indignant squeak. The pink colour drained from the woman’s face. Her mouth was a straight line. She walked quickly from the kitchen.

Why did you tell her she could go outside?! the woman’s voice demanded with a steeliness I had never heard before. Claire, Alex, and I crept into the dining room and sat in silence around the table. Why do you always countermand me?! Can’t you see I’m trying to watch a game! We knew the man had not looked away from the television. Stop bothering me! The game is about to start again! I will not stop bothering you! the woman retorted sharply. I told Eve she must stay home and help me get the children ready for church. You gave her permission to go over to Veronica’s! She took a loud breath, her voice raised and octave, I asked the boys to rake the lawn! You told them to play ball in the park! They were making too much noise! the man interjected. Can’t you just let me watch my game?! Claire, Alex and I stared at each other in silence. And now! the woman’s voice crescendoed, you tell her she can go out with curlers in her hair! The sound of the baseball game came from the living room. The woman’s tread sounded on the stairs.

The woman’s room smelled of the lavender soap she kept inside her suitcases and bureau drawers. She folded clothing into an open case, her mouth compressed into a tight, straight line. I’m sorry, I told her from the foot of her bed, as she pressed her brown pumps along the side of the case. I promise, I’ll never leave the house with curlers again. I’m not leaving because of you, she said, her mouth still a tight, straight line. I’m leaving because daddy never supports me. I wiped at a tear making it’s way down my cheek. She looked into my face, Little soldiers don’t cry. You want to be a little soldier for Jesus, don’t you? Yes, my voice was a small, breathless squeak. Then you mustn’t cry. She folded the dress she always wore to vote, placed it in the case and closed the lid. A yellow cab arrived. The woman got drove away in it.

K Is For Keepsake

Sometimes, I miss my mother so much, I stared at my reflection in the mirror above the booth, my eyes rimmed with red, my face pinched, lips sere. I think what hurts the most is I don’t even have a picture of her. Her face feels so clear, sometimes. If only I had something to touch, the well spilled a few tears. Alethea handed me a tissue, How old were you when she died? Not quite five, my voice was a tiny whisper. I don’t even have the cross she gave me so I’d never be lost again. I’m so glad I have all my mother’s photos and keepsakes, Alethea stared off into space. Elizabeth spoke up, I’ve got my mother’s things but I never look at them. It’s hard to be reminded of the way she treated me. Alethea and I reached out and rested our hands on Elizabeth’s shoulder. Ah well, my sigh broke the silence after a long moment. Maybe we should talk about piety, study and action. Alethea smiled, It’s about that time.

Alethea, Elizabeth and I met each week for Ultreya, small weekly Cursillo community meetings. Amid secrecy and rules, that led up to the long weekend, I had made my Cursillo a year before them. On Thursday night, I sat in a confession/counseling session with a priest who told me, You’ve certainly been crucified in your life. He smiled as I solemnly nodded my head. But that doesn’t mean you should continue to crucify yourself, he told me gently. But how do I stop? Perhaps you’ll discover something this weekend that will help. By the procession on Sunday, I had tangible experience of the risen Lord through the love of the those who served on the Cursillo team and through strangers I’d probably never meet. I longed to immediately begin living the Fourth Day.

Elizabeth and Alethea had made their Cursillos together, I sponsoring Elizabeth. Both had had experiences similar to mine. And now, we met each week for coffee or dinner and discussed the ways in which we each lived out piety, study, and action in our day-to-day lives. You know what I’d like? I asked as we waited for the server to bring our cheque. I’d like to go on retreat, just the three of us. We could each give a meditation. It would be a lovely way to end the year.

O God of peace, who hast taught us that in returning and rest we shall be saved, in quietness and confidence shall be our strength: By the might of thy Spirit lift us, we pray, to your presence, where we may be still and know that thou art God; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen. (Book of Common Prayer, page 832)
I find it so difficult to trust that. I always want to do things, to control them, to ensure all is going well. I paused to gather my thoughts. Alethea and Elizabeth, eyes staring into unseen depths, nodded in agreement. But the harder I try to save myself, the more I fail. I have no idea what God is doing with me. But I know, He knows what He is doing. For this year, I’d like to replace abject terror with confidence. At least, sometimes.

Let’s open presents, Elizabeth smiled cheerily, bouncing up from her chair to retrieve the small pile of gifts we had placed near the guesthouse Christmas tree. We oohed and awed over the books and simple jewelry we had chosen for one another. Perusing Julian Of Norwich’s, Showings, I didn’t notice Elizabeth standing before me, a small package in hand. This is for you, she told me, a big smile lit up her face. Oh! For me? But I’ll get an extra gift, I mutely told D’Abby. Thank you, I opened the box. An oval chunk of silver on a fine chain lay atop the cotton packing. Etched into the oval as if it were a smallsection of bas relief, the Blessed Virgin held the infant Jesus closely. Read the note, Elizabeth demanded. I lifted the small card and read softly, This medal is to remind you of your mother… my voice cracked, a few drops sloshed out of the well. …and the Eternal Mother… many drops fell on the cotton. As you gaze on it’s loveliness, remember that your mother loved you and did the very best she could for you. I crumpled, my head on my knees, the well flowed as I rocked myself. Alethea and Vera’s arms held me enhancing the warm tingling enclosure of D’Abby’s everlasting embrace.

Friday, April 11, 2014

J Is For Justice

The big cookie jar was on the counter, open. The cupboard above was locked. She forgot! a big smile filled my face as I whispered the words to my Friend. I pulled the kitchen stool over, climbed up, grabbed a handful of cookies, and stuffed them in the pocket of the light jacket I wore. Shooey ate one. I gobbled down the rest. His bulk and the shadows of rose bushes concealed me from the woman who sat reading near the playhouse, and from the other children as they biked and ran. My mouth was parched. I returned to the kitchen for a glass of water. The cookie jar still sat open on the counter. I grabbed another handful, carefully replaced the stool, took the cookies to the room I shared and ate them as I read Johanna Spyri’s, Heidi. Later, I walked back through the kitchen. Still, the cookie jar remained on the counter. I pocketed another handful and shared them with Shooey under the porch. Twice more, I repeated my careful promenade through the kitchen. Then, the jar was then empty.

Who ate all the cookies?! the woman demanded, her face red. Twelve children sat around the dining table or on the chairs pushed against either long wall of the room. The woman waved her arms excitedly, I can’t believe this! I go in to make dinner and all the cookies are gone. Whomever ate the cookies, confess right now! I remained silent. If no one confesses, I’ll punish all of you. I remained silent. Eve! Follow me, she led Eve into the little parlour and closed the door. The sound of her hand smacking Eve’s body resonated through the small glass panes of the door. Eve cried out, I didn’t do it, Mommy! I didn’t do it! The woman’s voice sounded, Send Gerard in. Eve came back through the parlour door. Gerard, she sniffed and pointed to the partly open parlour door. Gerrard disappeared behind the closed door. Whoever ate those cookies had better confess! she demanded, her face red and wet. It’s not fair that I should be punished! I didn’t eat them! I remained silent. Each child disappeared in turn behind the parlour door, returned crying, and loudly demanded the culprit confess. I remained silent. My stomach sank down to my toes. I sat sideways on the chair hiding my face in the hard upholstered back. I don’t want a spanking, I mutely told my friend. The youngest child in the house at the time, I was called in last. A lump filled the back of my throat; I closed the parlour door behind me.

I know you didn’t take them, the woman spoke softly. I’ll spank the piano bench and you cry. She spanked the upholstered surface and I howled. You’d better run upstairs or they’ll know you’re not really crying, she told me. I covered my face with my hands and ran up the steps howling. Gerard cried out, Whoever took the cookies had better confess. They deserved it, I told my Friend, as I sat on the window seat and hugged the eyeless bear: They hit me. And pinch me. And hurt me. And call me names cause I don’t look them or sound like them; cause I’m little. I took a deep snuffly breath, You know the horrible things the boys do to me? The warm, gentle tingle of my Friend’s hug filled me. Even Eve does those things to me! I hate them! They deserve to be punished! The well within me gushed over, She won’t give me anything to eat! Neither will he! She always gives them them things they can eat! I hate being hungry! The tingle surged to powerful, electric surge.

I Is For Isaiah

But Zion said, “The LORD has forsaken me, my Lord has forgotten me.” “Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have graven you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me. …Then you will know that I am the LORD; those who wait for me shall not be put to shame.” Can the prey be taken from the mighty, or the captives of a tyrant be rescued? Surely, thus says the LORD: “Even the captives of the mighty shall be taken, and the prey of the tyrant be rescued, for I will contend with those who contend with you, and I will save your children. I will make your oppressors eat their own flesh, and they shall be drunk with their own blood as with wine. Then all flesh shall know that I am the LORD your Savior, and your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob.” (from Isaiah 49:14-26)

A series of silent sobs poured from my depths and gradually birthed sound, Huh! Huh! Huh! Huh! I took in a deep snuffly breath, Huh! Huh! Huh! Huh! The pitch rose, Hnhh! Hnhh! Hnhh! Hnhh!

Is it true? words finally came to mind, found their way out my lips. Are they really dead? Hnhh! Hnhh! Hnhh! Hnhh! sobs clicked in the back of my throat. All this time they’ve been dead?! I crumpled the papers in my hand. I saw myself ripping them to shreds. I might need this, some voice of reason whispered in my head and stayed my actions. And how will You make it right now? How will You set me free? What good has it been?! My thoughts reached a shrieking crescendo, Waiting and hoping! Another snuffly breath, Hnhh! Hnhh! Hnhh! All this time?!

Why the Harrowing Of Hell

Revised “about Loved As If” page which discusses why I chose the Harrowing Of Hell as my motif. There is no hell too deep for God.

H Is For Happy Again

She died, the man’s face twisted as he pushed the words out. His eyes were puffy and swollen, his voice a breathless dullness. Your mother is dead, he looked around the living room at the six faces so much like hers and my face that was like none of theirs. Six faces crumpled and broke into tears, Mommy! Mommy! Oh Roberta! the man caught up the smiling photograph of her that had been taken on the family photograph day less than two years before. His entire face was suddenly bright red. It crumpled. Tears flowed. I’ve never seen him cry, the thought flashed through my mind. I sat and watched, eyes wide, eyes dry. A hard lump plugged the well in my heart. The image of the man’s hand slapping the woman played across the screen of my mind. I heard him shouting, You’re crazy! He cried. I went to get my books and the coat I wore. The day was bright and crisp. You’ll be staying out of school for a while, the man told me as I descended the steps.

I’ve brought you some dinner, Mrs. P. caressed my hair. You like macaroni and cheese and green beans? She stared hard into my eyes, You poor child. Mrs. P. fluttered around the kitchen. I sat on the kitchen stool watching. Every half hour or so, the front doorbell rang. Women carried food into the kitchen. A turkey, and stuffing! I told my Friend as I helped shift the contents of the refrigerator. Mrs. P. served cups of tea. Feminine voices whispered, Those poor children! What do you think he’ll do? I don’t know. He can’t raise all these children alone. And he certainly can’t take in anymore!

You three kids had better get to bed, at nine o’clock the man’s voice cut through the silence of the living room. I want to stay down here, Ames hugged the man’s arm. Eve, put Matthieu to bed, the man lifted Matthieu from where he nodded on his rocking horse. Poor little boy, the man kissed the sleepy child and passed him to Eve. I followed her up the stairs and locked myself in the bathroom. I have to be alone with You, I told my Friend as I bent over the sink to splash water on my face. I looked at my wooden face in the mirror. Suddenly, my mouth broke into an ugly, wide grimace. I shrugged. Tears burst out but the hard place remained. I tried to cry harder, to release the well in my heart but could not budge the stoniness. I’m not really crying, am I? I queried my Friend. The tears that were not tears subsided. You are going to New York. My head whipped around. There was no one to be seen. Still, the sound echoed through the room, bounced off the white tiles and pale green walls. I looked at myself in the mirror again. My forehead crinkled, God? The voice spoke again, You were happy once. You will be happy again.

G Is For Goldie

yellow mutti croppedCome here boy, I put the pan on the ground. The shaggy golden dog tilted it’s head to the side, cocked one ear and stared at me. Come on, I urged gently. This is for you. He slowly approached, grabbed a mouthful and skittered back. It’s okay, I won’t hurt you, I told him. You can be my dog. He moved back to the pan and began to eat. I stroked his fur. You need a bath, I told him and giggled. I told Charles I could catch you. He was trying to catch you with a piece of bread but I knew you’d like gravy. You’re a dog. I looked around quickly to be certain I was alone, Her gravy tastes like dog food.

We have a new dog! Charles and Ames greeted the man. We got him with gravy! Ames hopped up and down. Can we keep him? Can we keep him? Ames and Charles begged. Let’s see him, the man laughed. We gave him a bath and everything, Charles assured. I remained silent even though Charles and his brother lay claim to my work. The man examined the dog’s ears, eyes and teeth, He seems to be in good shape. He’ll need a visit to the vet and you boys will have to take care of him. The man nodded. But I think we can keep him. I want to name him! Ames hopped with delighted anticipation. I want to name him too, I mused ruefully and mutely to my Friend. I think we’ll call him Goldie, the man declared. He looks like a Goldie to me. Come here Goldie, the man held out a hand. Goldie walked over and licked it. The spring inside Ames suddenly stopped.

F Is For Foster Care

Today’s post for the A to Z Blogging Challenge. If you like my posts, please share them and please like my Loved As If Facebook page. Thanks:

When I began telling others about my experience as a child, I always called the man and woman my foster parents. Technically, I was correct. They were not my parents either by birth or adoption. They were just people with whom I lived, people who took in other children, people, who on at least one other occasion, tried to keep children as they kept me. They fed me (sort of), clothed me (sort of), sent me to school (sort of), made certain I did my homework — they provided a place for me to live. They also abused and neglected me, and did their best to pulverize my spirit and psyche. It’s what many foster parents do.

Certainly, there are wonderful people who foster children because they want to love the “least of these.” Some are grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins or family friends. Others are strangers. They take in children who need care, even sacrifice to provide that care. Other foster parents have less altruistic motives, but are basically decent people who provide decent care to children who have no other home.

Then there are predators who vent their rage and frustration on the children they are supposed to protect and raise. Foster children are easy prey. A tiny fraction of those predators appear in news reports. But many more are more like high-functioning addicts who methodically molest and abuse, sometimes for years, children in their care. Many child predators wear highly respectable faces. I recall hearing, What wonderful people! They care for so many children! And they don’t have to! If only they knew, I’d tell God. They don’t know how bad it is? How hungry I am. The things they do to me. And I didn’t know who to tell, who would believe me.

Unfortunately, the foster system tries to use a bureaucracy to address very human needs. It will never be able to protect children. Systems may be perfect for filing information but children (or “beds” as they are called) need loving, stable homes. Caseworkers can, at best, provide some oversight and represent the state’s interest in caring for minors. They cannot be parents to those they think of as so many “beds.” Neither can they be present when predators neglect and abuse children.
There will always be a need for foster care. And there will always be those who prey on children: this is a fallen world. Sin is real. And those who suffer the consequences of sin are too often children, whom Jesus strictly warned us not to offend. I have no easy answers. I can’t fix the flawed system because I cannot fix flawed people. I can try to shine a spotlight on the innocent victims. I want those who can love a child to step forward and do so. I want those who make policy to speak with those of us who have survived and use our wisdom to begin to change the lives of children today. And most of all, I want adults to really look into the eyes of children, and ask themselves, Is she really okay? I want adults to befriend children, not in a creepy way, but as watchers alert for signs that all is not well.

E Is For Easter Dress

Albert! the woman studied a tag. Look at this! The man leaned against the wall, holding a bag, checking his watch every few minutes. I don’t want to spend all day shopping, he warned as he roused himself and moved towards her. You stay here, he shoved the bag into my hands. A whispered conversation followed. The woman’s face became red, excited. The man’s right shoulder twitched as he pumped his arm up and down, smacking one finger in his left palm. He threw up both hands, Do whatever you want! He stalked back to me and snatched the bag out of my hand. Come here, the woman face wore a big smile. What do you think of this? She held up a navy cotton dress with red polka dots and trim. It’s pretty! my voice held a rising note. Why is she asking me? I mutely inquired of my Friend. Let’s try this on you, she led me to an empty dressing room.

Kneeling at the bed, I buried my nose in the skirt. See? I raised my head. A new Easter dress! I sniffed the unwashed newness again. And new shoes! I held one black patent Mary Jane to my nose. I have a new Easter dress, God! I said aloud. Who are you talking to? Claire opened the door and looked around. God, my voice was small. You think you’re so special, don’t you? You’d better thank God you have that dress. She grabbed a lock of my hair. My mouth became a serious straight line. I held my head very still. My shoulders tensed. Claire released my hair and fingered the edge of the new dress. You should’ve worn my old dress from last year, her voice was low and rough; she wasn’t speaking to me. She looked at my face, You’d better take good care of this dress. I grabbed my Bible from the nightstand and propped myself on my elbows, leaning over the dress to protect it from her, and began to read softly to myself. One at a time, I knocked the new shoes under the bed skirt with my knee. Claire jerked open her desk drawers and slammed them shut. Finally, she stomped out of the room.

Friday, April 04, 2014

D Is For Dog Food

During April, many bloggers participate in the A to Z Blogging Challenge. This is my first year. I'll post twenty-six excerpts from Loved As If, one for each letter of the alphabet, every day except Sunday.

I’m hungry, I told the woman as she rummaged in the refrigerator. My stomach rumbled. My head ached. The world wobbled. You may have an apple, she said in her warning voice and handed one out from the refrigerator. I looked at the red fruit in my hand. Eat it on the back porch and then you can play. I looked back at her standing with one hand on the open refrigerator door as she watched me walk away, That’s all you get ’til dinner. Scoot! I sat under the porch next to Shooey, the large part collie, part golden labrador, and looked at the apple. Do you want an apple, I asked him. He tried to lick my face but I held him back, I don’t want dog spit on my face, Shooey! Shooey sniffed at the apple and sat next to me again. Are you hungry boy? I’ll get you something, I told him.

Charles sat on the porch reading a comic book. Do you want my apple? I asked him. Yes! He looked at me, suspicion in his eyes, Why? I’m not hungry, I told him. He took the apple and crunched into it. The woman had left the kitchen and had locked the refrigerator and cupboards. One of the lower cupboards held a large bag of dry dog food next to a stack of tinned dog food. I filled both front jean pockets with the dry food and went back to sit with Shooey under the porch. Here boy, I held a piece of dog food from my right pocket on the palm of my hand. How does it taste? Is it good? I reached in my left pocket and removed another piece. Shooey began sniffing at that pocket. No! I told him. You can have some from this pocket. I pulled him around by his collar sand pointed his nose to my right pocket, I don’t want dog spit on mine.

It’s crunchy. Crisp. Like crunchy, tinned, corned beef hash, I informed Shooey, giving him another piece from my right pocket. My head began to bob. These are Crispy Treats, Shooey. I began to sing in time to the bobbing of my head: Crispy treats are so nutritious, good for you and perfectly delicious! The image of boxes in the cracker aisle of the supermarket filled my mind, Maybe we could sell these.

C Is For Carrots And Chicken

During April, many bloggers participate in the A to Z Blogging Challenge. This is my first year. I'll post twenty-six excerpts from Loved As If, one for each letter of the alphabet, every day except Sunday.
 
You’re old enough to help me with dinner, the woman announced from the playroom door. You’ve had your nap and finished your homework; you can read later. I want you to peel the carrots. I looked up from my book, eyes wide, my mouth a straight, serious line. She turned and walked to the kitchen. I followed. Wrapped in a big apron, I stood on the stool. My head felt light, the kitchen wobbled. Use the peeler like this, she showed me how to peel away from myself. When you’re finished, you can scoop all the peelings into the bin. The metal implement soon became slippery. Ahhh! I cried out and dropped the peeler. Blood dripped onto the peelings in the sink. Let me see. I held my shaking hand up. It’s just a little scrape. Don’t be a baby. She jerked my finger under the running tap water. She looked up at my face, Why are you crying? It hurts, I whimpered. You’re too big to cry over a little scrape, her voice was firm. You don’t want to be a cry baby, do you? I wiped my eyes with the back of my uninjured hand. The carrot juice stung. I sniffed hard, my shoulders shaking. You want to be a little soldier for Jesus, don’t you? her voice remained firm. Yes, I said softly. Then you mustn’t cry over every little thing.

Mommy I., Lyssa’s voice called out. Can you help me with my homework? Finish the carrots, the woman told me. I’ll check them when I return. Once the carrots were peeled, I used my uninjured hand to make several trips back and forth to the bin dropping many of them on the floor. I sighed as I bent over to clean the floor, I’ll never finish. Standing upright again, the room swirled about me, sparks of colour exploded and then the room faded to dark grey; my suddenly head ached. I leaned against the cupboard until the room resolved into its usual coloured blur. I opened the cupboard and filled my pockets with Crispy Treats. About to return to the playroom, I espied two unwrapped chickens in a pan on the counter.

They look like little people with no heads and no feet, I told my Friend. I dragged the kitchen stool to the counter that held the chickens and climbed up onto my knees. Hi chickens! I told them brightly. Do you want to play? I balanced one on the stump of its legs. Would you like a walk, I asked the chicken as I used the wrist of my injured hand to support the chicken and moved it’s legs with the unharmed one. I held it up by its outspread wings, You want to fly away, don’t you? You don’t really want to be eaten, do you? Footsteps sounded in the dining room. I hurriedly replaced the chicken in its pan and dragged the stool back to the sink.

I’m all done, I told the woman. And all cleaned up too, her voice sounded glad. Well, she looked closely at the pile of peeled carrots, I suppose you could have been a bit more thorough but this isn’t bad for a first attempt. Now you may go play or read. May I visit Angela, my stomach sank below my knees. The woman looked up at the clock on the wall, I think half an hour would be okay. But wash your hands first, put on your sweater and be sure to thank Angela’s mother for having you over. I skipped to Angela’s house after stopping under the porch to share my Crispy Treats with Shooey.

B Is For Bible

During April, many bloggers participate in the A to Z Blogging Challenge. This is my first year. I'll post twenty-six excerpts from Loved As If one for each letter of the alphabet, every day except Sunday.

The man called us into the living room: A family ought to read the Bible together every day. He read from a book. My ears perked up: What is this? I asked the Presence. When some of the children were told to read a verse from their books, I piped up, May I read? You haven’t learned to read yet, the woman gently responded. I can read. No you can’t, the man glowered at me. He waved his hand in the oldest boy’s direction: Charles, read. But I can read! I insisted. The man turned the pages of his book and pointed to the middle of the one, Read this. I walked towards the book, moved my face closer until the words became clear and said, Jesus wept. Read the next verse. I continued, Then said the Jews, Behold how he loved him! A huge grin cracked my face. I reseated myself and bounced in my chair as with open mouths and wide eyes, the man and the woman looked at each other.

After we each read, the man talked for a long, long time. The other children fell asleep. I looked over at the woman, she too was sleeping. A loud snore came from a corner. The man quickly removed his leather slipper and threw it at Eve: Wake up! he shouted. This is good for you! All of you! You ought to stay awake and listen! This is good for you! Startled snorts sounded through the room. I did not sleep. I wanted to know everything about God. After his talk, the man asked, Are there any questions? Why did Jesus weep? But I didn’t hear the answer. I continued to bounce in my seat: This is grand! My heart pounded. I hadn’t known there was such a big book about about the Presence. I hugged myself in delight, He knows You!

A Is For Ask

During April, many bloggers participate in the A to Z Blogging Challenge. This is my first year. I'll post twenty-six excerpts from Loved As If one for each letter of the alphabet, every day except Sunday. Please enjoy and share. Thanks. 

I took a book to a big cushion in the rest area, Run, run, as fast as you can! You can’t catch me! I’m the Gingerbread Man! The salty well began to spill over. The words of the book fell away; I sang quietly to my Friend, Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me, the Bible tells me so. Mrs. R’s gentle voice interrupted, What’s wrong? She looked at the book I read. Why don’t you try this one, she held out The Golden Book ABC’s. That’s a baby book, I told her, sniffing to prevent my nose running. What about Goodnight Moon? she asked. I’ve read that one too. The pictures are pretty but there aren’t very many words. She looked intently at me, Aren’t very many words? I like books that have a story, I told her in a small voice. Will you read the story to me? she asked with the same look the man and woman had on their faces the night I told them I could read.  I ran away from the old woman. I ran away from the old man. I ran away from the cow, and I can run away from you! Try this, she handed me another book. I opened it and began to read it to her. You can read, she remarked, a big smile on her face.

Mrs. R led me to a room where a woman with short, white hair had me play games and read stories and answer questions about what I’d read. I spent the next day with her and then the next. A man sat in the corner writing on a clip board.

On Friday after school, the woman brightly told me, You’re too smart for kindergarten. On Monday, you’ll be in the first grade. She looked as if she wanted to bounce in her seat.

I woke with a stuffed nose. After checking my temperature, the woman sighed, You’ll just have to stay home from school today. After a lunch of chicken noodle soup from a foil packet she tried to take me on her lap. I held myself rigid and pushed her arms away. She smelled wrong. Her face clouded, Pride goeth before a fall. I scrunched my eyebrows together. Her words made no sense. She sighed. I think you’re afraid to go to the first grade, the woman told me. Why didn’t you ask me? I wanted an answer but didn’t speak my question. I saw myself playing Duck, Duck, Goose, listening to stories, sitting in my quiet spot as the well spilled over and I sang to the Presence.

There was a big mistake but I didn’t know whom to tell, didn’t know what to say. I liked Mrs. R. I liked her voice. The woman’s voice reminded me of something that was, at times, almost pleasant. But that something was also huge and black. But if Mrs. R. found me crying again, she might just ask about my tears this time. She might help me. I think you’ll be able to begin first grade tomorrow, the  woman told me. As I walked away, the well inside me spilled over. I went to the bedroom I shared and waited for the executioner.

*******

As a child, I often wondered why no one ever asked me why I was so sad. Even the one teacher who did ask was quickly distracted by my ability to read. Perhaps adults don’t realize that children will provide answers when they have a trustworthy adult.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

"Loved As If" Unplugged

I have spent the past nine months trying to write Loved As If so as not to offend anyone or trigger any painful memories in those who have been abused. It's been a dismal failure. So here is the beginning of my stripped down rewrite. If I don't tell the brutal story, the miracles of healing will not be miracles at all. Your comments would be most appreciated. Please share.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Loved As If: Reflection on 2 Kings 5:1-15

Loved As If now has a dedicated blog. Today's second post was inspired by the first reading in today's lectionary.

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Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Another Preview from Ch. 9 - The Plans I Have For You

One day, my first Catholic friend, who is given to voicing profound insight about Scripture and faith off the cuff, told me, Jesus didn’t mean the gates of hell would be attacking us. He meant the gates of hell would not prevail against the Church. We're supposed to be attacking them! I found myself reconsidering what I'd always thought Jesus meant: “The gates of hell shall not prevail.” (Matthew 16:18) My friend was right. Gates don’t attack. They are attacked and prevail only when the attackers can’t pull them down. Until then, I had seen myself trapped behind towering, black cast iron gates as they were about to open and devour more unsuspecting prisoners. Now, the image flipped and I saw the Church pulverizing those huge gates. The pile of rubble was astonishing. Still more astonishing was the immense crowd of freed prisoners making their way out. Might I be one of them? I eagerly agreed with my friend. We went on to discuss his insight and, to this day, still do. I never told him my past imagery or new vision. But the new pictures remain in my mind and heart.

I don’t think I’m an easy person to love. Though I’m thoughtful, caring, other centered, creative, silly, well read and, definitely stylish, I keep quite a lot to myself. Because I can be talkative, most people probably don’t realize how little they know me. Occasionally, someone will surprise me, as a co-worker did when she warned another young woman in the office, Don’t crowd her. You have to give her space and time by herself. I need time to digest the new. And others always come first. I may plan to tell a friend I’m afraid or lonely or in need but then forget listening to his response to, How are you? It’s rare for me to call someone and blurt out a concern; I don’t like asking for help or attention or anything else; I share the desires of my heart with very few. Only recently have I been genuinely comfortable asking a friend to come and collect me after a medical procedure. I need private time with someone before I can express what I’m thinking and feeling. I do answer direct questions but if my life becomes the main topic of conversation, I usually begin to deflect questions about myself.

My story is so horrific. How can I expect others to handle it? My story is so beautiful. How can I ever do it justice?

Besides, God gave me my share of family. Though brief, it was better than the families many people have had. What more could I expect? I didn’t expect. My friends never inquired into my expectations. They just loved me. They live the new commandment, “love one another; even as I have loved you.” (John 13:34) None of them does so flawlessly. Some of us have argued. I’ve been reprimanded and done my fair share of reprimanding. A few friends really fail every so often. But they try. And I am the benefactor of their love. Because of them, I now have a family that loves, that loved me when I was riddled with wounds, that I can trust to go one loving me.

"The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good tidings to the afflicted; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound." (Isaiah 61:1) Because of their love, I became the person Christ came to free. While I was enjoying their friendship, Christ used them to pommel the gates of every hell that had been created for me, crushed every prison bar I had claimed as my own. Through a community of Christian friends who love me even when I don’t know how to be loved, God reached down to me in hell and pulled me out. He continues to fulfill my heart’s desires. He has kept the promises He made to me. I wanted to go home. Today, I have more homes where I am truly welcome than I ever imagined. I wanted to be free from the horrible, oozing ache, to be innocent and free. It's still a surprise to me but, I am. I wanted my family. I have my family, family I didn't even know existed. They may not wear the same faces as Marmar, Papa, Grandp√©re or Ti Eduardo but they love me and care for me when I need it. Some even let me care for them when I can. He was right! My Friend was so right! I was happy once. I am happy again.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Loved As If: Preview From 1st Draft of Last Chapter - The Plans I Have For You

Recently, my spiritual director asked me if I might have been sold to the man and woman. I don’t know, I replied. It’s possible. A few years ago, that question would have sent me away to relive my childhood in self-destructive fantasies that were coloured with the dim shadows of possibly having been sold into slavery. Since the incident with the girls whose mother died, whom the man tried to keep, I’ve thought I was like them. But, there are other possibilities. The man had said: You're mine! Even if you're not mine, you're still mine! Perhaps he did pay my caretaker for me.

My presence in the house always felt surrounded by the sinister. For years, vague memories troubled me: the man threw me, naked, across a room. He did something to my arm that hurt horribly. I stood before a window wearing a black cotton sling, swallowing hard from the ache in my shoulder; I must not cry. I pushed the memories away. They were silly silly, made absolutely no sense. Then, I hit my head on the bottom of a pool trying a hip lift in too shallow water. The technician checked some muscles that hadn't been included in my doctor's instructions and discovered an old injury in my left shoulder. A specialist told me my shoulder had been badly dislocated and improperly reset when I was a child. Finally the pieces came together. My memories made perfect sense. The sinister remained. I stopped telling myself I was being silly.

God used a swimming accident to help heal my tendency to discount myself. It doesn't surprise me. He has an unparalleled ability to take seemingly unrelated experiences and actions and knit them together so that the result heals. Not long after I moved to Houston, I went back East for a visit and spent several days hiding in a girlfriend's bedroom while she and her boyfriend, both faithful, Catholics, shared the same bed in the room next door. I don’t know if they did anything else. I didn't listen. But I was afraid to come out. Knowing they slept in the same bed, though there were two beds in the room, was already too much. I didn’t want to know more. For most of my visit, I stayed away from them. I went into fight or flight mode, was harsh (and probably somewhat irrational) with my girlfriend. Leaving a few days early, I fled to the home of another friend. She comforted and cared for me. For a year, I had flashbacks to the brothel; the smell of unwashed hair and body fluids were always in my nostrils. I began to look away from scenes that I knew would lead to or even suggest sex. I looked away from public displays of excessive affection. It mattered not if the characters and people were married. I didn’t want to see what they were doing.

Finally, I realized I was scandalized by their behaviour. But that could only occur if there was still something innocent within me. I'd long thought all my innocence had been demolished by death, rape, molestations, beatings - by all the ugliness that filled my childhood. But innocence survived. My ruthless conviction that I deserved to be harmed, deserved to be destroyed hadn't chased it from my heart. Neither had it been killed by an obsessive compulsion to fantasize about my destruction or my occasional attempts to seek self-destructive relationships. When the flashbacks ended, the compulsions didn't return. No matter how anxious I became, I was no longer dragged into such fantasies. Innocence trumped OCD. One day, I was scandalized and set free.

Freedom still leaves me giddy. It's a wonder, a glory. God's glory. I didn't expect to be scandalized by my friends sharing a bed. I've had more than one roommate who waited until I was asleep to bring her boyfriend into the room where I slept or into her bedroom next to mine. Their behaviour angered me. Some things are private and my roommates were breaking house rules. I've even seen some porn and read a few "erotic" books. They triggered and encouraged self-destructive fantasies but, ultimately, were fake and sad. I stopped because I didn't like what they triggered in me. But if God had asked me, Will knowing your friends sleep in the same bed scandalize you? I'd have replied, It won't matter. He didn't ask. He put me in the situation and untapped innocence flowed to the surface.