Wherever You Are

We can’t see them. But they’re watching. The giant evergreen rustles, limbs shaking. They play tag around the thick trunk, circling faster and faster as they descend. Claws scratching coarse bark.

My husband and I laugh loud at their antics.

“I guess they’re not hibernating after all, ” I say.

He tears open the yellow cellophane, dropping peanuts in his haste.

I smile. “It was sweet of you to think of them.”

“They gotta eat too,” He shrugs.

Photo courtesy of Glenda Zylinski

Curious but wary, soon that primal force propels them nearer. Seagulls wheel about us, crying their grating call for the rest of the flock to join them. Hunger drives their large number closer, too.

I shoo them away. My husband throws a handful of the snack far to his right.

“A diversion,” He says.

After some time and a lot of patience, we delight in the rewards trust brings.

Photo courtesy of Glenda Zylinski
Photo courtesy Glenda Zylinski

The gunshot from across the river causes the small creatures to scurry back to the safety of their tree. And the flap of a myriad white and gray wings keeps them there.

Photo courtesy Glenda Zylinski

“Come out, come out!” My husband sing-songs.

Much later, I shiver and my husband crumples the empty bag.

Photo courtesy Glenda Zylinski
Photo courtesy Glenda Zylinski

We continue along the footpaths a familiar and soothing trek.

“Did you see that squirrel with the hacked off tail?” my husband says.

I nod, wending his wide fingers through mine.

“I saw one with scars on its shoulder.”

Photo courtesy Glenda Zylinski

We’ve been talking a lot about scars lately. How they can even be seen on a soul.

The image carved bold into that sycamore reminds me that God’s faithful love can heal. And the nails driven deep through Jesus’ hands and feet left an ageless trail of evidence.

My husband pulls me close and the tears fall unbidden.

“Remember last spring when we were here? That rush of wings–a Cooper’s hawk on the hunt–and the death screech of… A dove? A squirrel?”

“Yeah,” he murmurs onto my black knit-cap.

“Unforgettable. Haunting.”

I stop. Pull the cover off my camera. I’ve never seen more than two maybe three at a time tops. I count at least twelve today.

It’s too late.

“They’re gone,” I sigh.

“Not that one.”

And it’s enough.

Photo courtesy Glenda Zylinski

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Empty Places

Our eyes lock. I look away. Our carts pass in the aisle, scents of cinnamon clashing with garlic. I can’t count the times this scene plays out. Same story. Different characters. The pastor’s wife likely knows the script. Don’t engage. Just keep walking. As if we’ve never met. As if I’ve never been graciously welcomed into her home or worshiped God in the same church.

As if.

Another shopping day. Same-store. Different church. Another woman. We spot each other reaching for vitamins. She holds my gaze and welcomes my embrace.

“How may I pray for you?” I say.

“I need to sell the business.”

We part ways. I numbly fill my cart. I’d attended the wedding. Scrapbooked in her home. At Bible study groups she’d been an oasis with her smiles and kind comments. Those times after my attempt to take my life and others had gossiped and turned their backs, she and her husband invited our family on outings. I’d politely declined, thanking her and making excuses not to meet.

My face burns. The dairy room empty. I stop to let the cool air flow over me. Here she’d been again, offering me grace just weeks after burying her husband. He’d lost the war with his internal infernos.

How had fear wrapped its tentacles around my heart? Why had it first felt like a cozy hug? When had the eyes of my soul gone dark? And why do I blindly stumble, groping and grasping at thin air directionless alone?

 

…27…28…

The ambulance lights flashed red and blue. I shut my eyes to their dizzying effects and the surreal dream-quality of all that had happened and was happening. Two medics whisked me on a gurney toward the opened doors of the emergency vehicle.

“I’ll follow you to the hospital later,” my husband told the men. “Our two kids and their cousin are due back any minute from the 7-11 down the street. I need to find someone to watch them.” I recognized the familiar signs of anger, disgust, and heartbreak on his handsome face. He held the glass storm door of our yellow house before him like a shield. Was he guarding those hot emotions not just his well-built physique?

“Did you jump off a building to get into these pants?” The medic good-naturedly asked as he helped me pull them off. I smiled and nodded but the question and the removal of my jeans ticked me off.

The antiseptic odor of the emergency room like smelling salts burned me awake to the consequences of my foolish actions. The pale walls, white ceiling tiles, and bleached bedding drove the point deeper. I didn’t deserve to cry. Frustration escalated, I felt it rising in my veins. My breathing erratic like the thumping of my heart. The beat of my life.

I pat-patted the blankets, mind racing, emotions like a pinball pounding the edges of my thoughts.

Did I really want to die?

From behind the curtain, I heard voices talking about picket lines, derogatory name-calling, and how the medical center scraped, searching for temporary staff to fill shifts. Strangely, knowing this brought me comfort.

One on-call nurse entered in her scrubs, her honey-gold hair and lithe form somehow intimidating.

“I’m sorry you have to do this.” I softly said.

Although she acknowledged my words, I saw and felt no compassion in her icy-blue stare or briskness as she took my vitals.

“We’re going to give you charcoal to absorb the pills from your overdose and to aid in forced vomiting.” She handed me a bedpan.

The large clock ticked a circular marking of time. The black hour and minute hands and numbers and red looping hand reminding me of school days nearly a decade past. I counted holes in those drop-down squares and waited. And waited. And…

Another nurse, similar in coloring but older, no-nonsense, and stockier slid the curtain aside, the metal ball chain attached to the ceiling rails raking an irritating protest.

She looked down at the shallow vessel. The silver cold and heavy in my hands. Shaking her head, she took it from me.

“We have to pump your stomach.”

“Why?” I said.

“The charcoal’s not working. We have to rid you of the contents. Unless…”

“I make myself throw up?” I knew something…too much…about that.

She nodded. I nodded back.

All through the night, she brought me two-litre-sized bottles of a thick, clear liquid. At first, eager to want to help and not wanting to waste her time, I gulped down the offerings. After the third round, I shook my head. She looked sternly at me and spoke an even harder truth.

“You have at least five more of these to drink. If you don’t, your kidneys may be permanently damaged.”

Still, I hesitated.

“You have a family, right?”

I nodded.

“Maybe it’s time to think about them.”

 

Out of the Dark

Not again. The boys sat huddled on the long couch, eyes narrowed. A suitcase laid haphazardly on the stairwell. A blitz of harsh words and hearts blistered. The smiling faces of our two sons framed in gold on the far wall seemed to mock the conflict unfolding in our living room.

“Just say the word and I’m out of here!” My husband shouted.

“What happened to never say the D word?” I said between clenched teeth.

But if you go on hurting each other and tearing each other apart, be careful or you will completely destroy each other.

“Well?”

“You know that’s not what I want.” I said.

A spontaneous shopping outing and day planner bursting at the seams with volunteering commitments depleted our checking account and my energy. Bankrupting my family of my time and attention. Again.

Lying in bed with my husband later that night, a chasm of mattress between us, I stared at the shadows playing on the ceiling of our room. Unhappiness lingering along with the stink of burned chicken. More apologies. More hugs and reassurances for our elementary-age kids, their eyes shrouded with disappointment. Again.

If you keep doing the same thing expecting different results…

How did we not hear that two pumpkins had been hurled into the back window of our station wagon? Or that their remains landed in the front of the car? Picking seeds and scraping guts out of the carpet and calling the police and insurance company not a welcome addition to the burgeoning family calendar.

My husband shrugged off my attempts to hold him and I rolled back to the opposite side of our California King. Fighting the sobs threatening to erupt couldn’t stop the renegade tears from splashing against the wooden frame.

In the stillness of midnight, I quietly slipped down the steep staircase and collapsed on that long couch. The day’s events replaying a circuit until fitful sleep and the nightmare found me. A cruel hand wrenched my hair and smashed my toddler forehead into the car window. Was that blood or pumpkin flesh?

I awoke as my husband descended the stairs slowly, watching me. Wary. Likely wondering what mood he’d find me in that day.

“Can I talk to you?” He said.

Bleary-eyed and weary, I nodded, grateful for the chance to be reconciled.

“I’ve given this a lot of thought and I’m taking you off our account. If you need money, let me know and we’ll get cash, okay?”

“For how long?” I asked.

“I don’t know.”

I nodded and sank into him, loving the feel of his sturdy shoulders.

We kissed good-bye as he left for work, and I wandered into the kitchen. From the window over the sink, the rosy blush of dawn streaked like flames across rippling clouds framed in gold. My breath caught. The dirty dishes stacked neatly in the sink no longer overwhelming me.

Who had told me about that study in Colossians? I rushed to the library room, found my Bible, and flipped pages to the first Chapter.

…giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves…

Hmmm. Father. What did that even mean?

Light. That sounded good.

Rescued. I felt hope rising.

Darkness like a prison sentence. I wanted to be free.

The Son. Jesus. Yes, he could be a good friend. More than the acquaintance I’d stiff-armed him to be. I kneeled, bowed my head, and poured out my heart to him.

What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear. What a privelege to carry everything to God in prayer.