The Long road Back

Long Road Back

I sat listless on my pink couch.

“Tanya’s Couch”, they’d begun calling it.


It was so ugly, old, and repellent. The stuffing was coming out and it had questionable stains. It even smelled funny—no wonder they named such an object after me.

I sighed.

I had argued with Zuri in the car, and said some nasty things. Now I was only tired. So very tired.

Too tired to care anymore.

Too tired to make an effort and lie to Zuri

Too tired to fight with God.

I just stopped struggling.

With the acceptance that I was nothing short of a disgusting dumb animal—intelligent, but an animal nonetheless—I had given in to life and all it threw at me. I escaped my drab existence as often as I could, each time hoping I would never return. And when I wasn’t away, I was only . . . tired.

I continued going to the meetings. What’s more, I even talked a bit. I didn’t sit in their circle—oh no. But I participated from my seat in the couch.

True, I began by making questions meant to stir discord within the group and aim resentment at me. But they considered my questions seriously, which was actually kind of funny. In time, as they neither looked shocked or annoyed by what I brought up, I shut up. Or on rare occasions I actually asked questions in earnest.

But not often.

And during testimonies and prayer requests I told Zuri that if she could pray for my Cousin Eva’s health I was sure my prayer request would be more likely to be answered, because I thought I was already far beyond the reach of God.

And yet, I never imagined that giving up the struggle was the beginning of my healing, and the first step of many in the long road back to Him.


part 10 of If You Only Knew

Hounded By His Presence

That autumn I was nearly always upset.

I was broke.

I hated the cold and the rain.

I was still attending the church meetings—hating them, hating Zuri, hating God.

I hated myself even more, though. If only I’d been more careful this wouldn’t have happened. If only I could just stop, then I could go, bang on Zuri’s door and her to get lost with her church and her prayer meetings.

She was convinced that only with the help of God would I ever be free–How I wished I could prove her wrong.
But I couldn’t. I was only a dumb animal. I had no self-control, and no strength to refrain from destroying myself. The intelligence I had been given was absolutely wasted on me– Or so I thought.

“How long?” I’d asked that fateful afternoon she found me out
“Until you stop destroying yourself like this”
“How would you know that I actually stopped? I could just lie to you.”
“You’re right. I wouldn’t really know. You could lie to me. But in the end your life trajectory will show it. And besides, you could never lie to God.”

While on the subject of self-hate, I really hated myself for clinging on to my belief in God. Millions of people–indeed, whole countries–had abandoned the idea of a god. So why couldn’t I? Why?

And why couldn’t he just leave me alone? The knowledge of an all-knowing and omnipresent deity hounded and tormented me. Worse, He had begun to make himself present there on the bathroom floor in those moments when every thought or trouble should have been erased from my mind. My heartbeat and breathing could become dangerously faint, but even then I could sense it…

His presence, which had followed me down into my darkness.


part 9 of If You Only Knew

An Interlude of Misery

Things with Terry remained strained. On the surface He was pretty much the same as usual, only more quiet. I was the awkward one. I could not meet his eyes for the life of me. For two days we worked in that terse environment, until relief came through a bright-eyed perky freshman who volunteered to help after school.

To Terry went the job of training her, and she was so eager and willing that she eventually she took my place in processing books and shelving, and other librarian duties. Meanwhile I fully devoted my time to the after-school tutoring services—rightly so, for my grades were the best. When I’d first came to the job of tutoring at the library, I was more advanced than most high school applicants, and even though I had technically been a sophomore, I was already in Pre Calculus and had been planning to take the AP tests for French, Spanish, and Physics.

At home, things were the same drab monotone–and only because Zuri had not disclosed my secret.

Why she chose to strike a deal with me rather than tell mom I didn’t understand then. But now I know that if she had told Mara, I would have felt as threatened as a cornered animal, and who knew what kind of outcome that would lead to? The only chance to keep me pliable, I think, was to let me think I was still in control.

October. The Indian summer left me. Autumn rains came in earnest.

I gave up the struggle one of those gloomy days–and then was so sick I missed school the next day. After that, my money ran out so fast that I considered contacting my father (I quickly squashed that idea, though). Instead, I asked my brother for a loan, then begged mom to give cash as a Christmas gift—and to give it to me in advance.



part 8 of If You Only Knew

On the Couch

Monday and Wednesday evenings found me in Zuri’s car on my way to her church for Small Groups and Prayer Warriors.

The Small Groups meeting was held in the church’s Community Services Center. The first day I ever went I was welcomed and was promptly given a Bible. I was invited to take a seat.

I did so in style, plopping into an old dusty-looking loveseat of a vile pink color. For good measure I put my feet up to keep people from sitting next to me. They tried to strike up conversation, but as I was not encouraging it, they gave up.

Ha, ha.

When the study began, I was invited to sit in the circle of plastic chairs with them. I refused as civilly as I could. Zuri did not glare at me as Mara would have done. She placidly took her seat.

I did what was agreed: I sat, I listened. Zuri led the testimonies and prayer time. I didn’t kneel. I was angry at God, and told him so in my prayer—if it could be called a prayer.

A man with a balding head led the Bible study and discussion.

Yeah, Yeah. John 3:16. Everyone knows about that…

After the Bible study there were refreshments. Everyone seemed to brighten up. I saw coffee, and pastries and sandwiches and soup and fruit. I was not taken in, however. I remained where I was and watched everyone chat and stuff their faces. I hated them.


Church people.

I knew what they could do. I was not taken in by their nice appearance.

8:30 came at last, time for me to go back home. I didn’t immediately spot Zuri, until I saw her praying with two other people in a quiet corner of the room. Suddenly I was incredibly exasperated. I had liked Zuri quite well before she found out my secret. Of all my mom’s friends she was the only one who was not toxic. She was kind, and she knew how to treat everything naturally from migraines to menstrual cramps. Every Christmas she gave each of us a small gift. She had taught me how to pay the piano years ago, and though I had stopped playing, I still enjoyed falling asleep to her Bach many a rainy afternoons.

Now I hated her with an intensity that was almost scary in my emotion-parched life. But what could I do? I’d approached God with a business proposition—what I got in the end was outright blackmail.

And I was trapped.


part 7 of If You Only Knew

Everything and Nothing

The grief and longing of the human soul for things lost are made almost tangible by the poetic words. In the story, when the lovers reunite once more, the young maid cries,

So many times have I waked when the stars were sinking, to long for thee, beloved. It is cruel, at such a time, to be alone in love. . .

They marry in haste that same afternoon. She—the love of his life, now a beggar, a faded beauty. And she is dying. He—a counselor to the Sultan and exceedingly rich.

The judge officiating the wedding asks for the terms of the marriage. What can she bring to her husband as dowry?

“Property?” Omar smiled. “Hair dark as the storm wind, a waist slender as a young cypress, and a heart that knoweth naught but love. She needs no more. Make haste!”

The judge tells the scribe to writes down “Nothing of tangible value”

“And Now, what property doth your Excellency bestow upon her?”

“Everything—all that I have.”

“Will your Excellency please consider that we must place reasonable terms on record? ‘Everything’ will not stand before the law. We must have itemization…and their approximate value—”

“Write ‘Everything of tangible value,’” Omar instructed the scribe . . .

Later, before showering his bride with gifts of silk, jewels, gold, damask, and pearls Omar whispered to her “O my bride, never wilt thou know other arms than mine.”

* * *

I like stories. Don’t you?

Here’s another one.

Once upon a time, there came a Prince sent from Heaven. He was humble in garb, but was still the Son of God, and he captivated the world. He brought joy, healing, and good news for everyone. After all, he came to earth to be with the fallen race, a people who were poor, and dying…

To give them beauty for ashes,
The oil of joy for mourning,
The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;
That they may be called trees of righteousness,
The planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified. (Isaiah 61:3)

In short, he gave them Everything, when they could give him Nothing in return.

This, my modern friends, was rash indeed. The exchange of the dowry was customary in the Eastern culture. A marriage contract had to be made official with the exchange of monetary gifts. It was as important as what we would consider an exchange of vows.

Yet time and time again in the Bible, it is God who makes the initiative to seek you out, and take you as you are as his Bride. Because the one thing you can give him–that which is “nothing of tangible value” to others–means everything to him.

So will you give him your heart?

– – –

[1] Lamb, Harold Omar Khayyam (New York: Bantam, 1956) p.94



I didn’t get a miracle.

The next day I got a pounding migraine.

So this is what you get from trying to negotiate with the Almighty. Punishment, indeed.

It was so bad that mother called Zuri, our next-door neighbor who knew how to treat everything with natural remedies. None of the painkillers found in the drugstore worked on me, only her natural remedies did the job when it came to my migraines. We used to think she was like a shaman or something, she and her family were that weird, but they claimed they were Christians.
Well, whatever, lady. Please, just do something about this pain.

Usually no one was ever admitted to my room until I had made sure all evidence had been safely put away. I was never careless, but that was always an extra precaution. The day I was found out I was so wrapped up in my misery that I completely forgot about it.

It wasn’t my mother who found me out. She had been too preoccupied with getting the neighbor and with getting herself ready for work on time. Zuri helped me as best as she could, then after telling me to rest, went back home, promising to come in a few hours to check on me.

When I opened my eyes hours later, Zuri was sitting on my swivel chair, looking grave, and in her hand. . .

Oh. Sh—


part 6 of If You Only Knew

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If You Only Knew, Part 6

Negotiating a Miracle

I began to contemplate having a relationship with God for entirely selfish purposes. But what does it matter to Him why you come, as long as you come to him?

Wretched and feeling incredibly lonely, I was sobbing in the restroom after having been sick. I looked at my face in the mirror.

Oh, man…

I’d only lasted two weeks.

“How pathetic,” I said to the bloated face that stared back at me, “if things are like this, who would ever come to love you?” I splashed my face with cold water, and dried it with a towel. Then I trudged on to bed.

“Who would ever love you?” You say? Idiot. Terry said he liked you.

Yeah, but Terry—come on! Terry?

I thought about my good friend of almost two years; saw his crooked smile, and the awkward gait of a guy who is still trying to get used to a considerable growth spurt. Gone was the pudgy boy of my childhood, and in its stead was a guy who was not at all bad-looking. I remembered the long afternoons at the library as we processed books and chatted about life. He’d never judged or said an unkind word about me or about anybody—but then I’d never really told him everything.

My face crumbled, “Oh, Terry. If you only knew…”

It wasn’t that I liked him and I regretted turning him down. Romance was unthinkable. I was more upset about the things I’d said, and the friendship I’d lost. How great it would be to have an undo button in life. That’s not possible, or won’t be until some genius invents a time machine. To end it all is also impossible, as I said before.

Then, is it possible to wipe everything clean and start over?

I thought about it. Once in my life I’d been granted that wish. Can a miracle be repeated more than once in a person’s life? Could I somehow negotiate a miracle, the way I negotiated…other things?

It was then that I prayed for the first time in years.

And I think I was still under the influence.


part 5 of If You Only Knew

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If You Only Knew – Part 5
Wednesday Word Count: 354

Love’s a Joke

In a way I’m writing this (telling you about Terry and all) as a way to apologize to him.

I hurt Terry a lot, and I’ve always regretted it. He was a very good friend—timid to the point of being made fun of, but affectionate. Sweet, loyal, and hopelessly optimistic. Furthermore, he was the first guy in my life that ever really liked me, which means a lot, because this was back when I was “morbidly obese”, and I had nothing much going for me except, perhaps, my GPA.

Someone once said that in order for a person to love someone they first have to learn how to love themselves.

So then what was I to do? I who did not fit in the school desks and who waddled comically when I was supposed to be “running” the mile? I who was hopelessly trapped in a torrid vortex of self-destruction?

The end conclusion is that Terry picked the worst possible timing to tell me all about his feelings for me. Or he simply picked the wrong girl. He was shortsighted, you know. Or maybe some buddy of his dared him to it as a cruel joke.

But who am I kidding?

The real conclusion to this is that I did not and I could not believe there was anything attractive about me. The fact that anyone thought I was beautiful when I was an absolute mess, and that somebody wanted to cherish me when I only wanted to hurt myself, was too much to believe.
Nothing good came out of this affair, except a new low point in my life—and a broken friendship.

That is how some people come to think of love as only a mean joke.


part 4 of If You Only Knew

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If You Only Knew, Part 4
Word Count, ~300 Words

The Leftovers Kid. Part 3 of "If You Only Knew"

The Leftovers Kid

Terry and I went back a long, long time.

We were both in fifth grade and attended Crescent View. I was one of the many non-entities of the campus. Terry was the pudgy, aptly-named “leftovers kid,” who would spend all his lunch break gorging on the  school’s cafeteria food: chocolate milk cartons, the obligatory weekly meat loaf, the occasional corn-dog, and the rare, prized, Red Baron pizza slice. Fruit cups and jell-o cups aplenty. Bean-and-cheese burritos galore. In short, anything that the others didn’t want to eat was considered his property.

Obviously He didn’t have any friends, and he hardly spoke at all during class. Consequently, it came as a surprise to both of us when (due to some crazy circumstances that I won’t go into now) it became necessary for me to approach him with a business proposition. I pounced on him mercilessly.

“That looks good!” I said, right before he took the first bite of his corn-dog. He was so shocked that he forgot to close his mouth and simply gaped at me in great confusion with the corndog still midway up to his mouth.

Quickly producing my brown lunch bag, I extracted a turkey and cheddar sandwich, a Capri Sun, a chocolate-chip cookie, and a bag of Doritos. “Wanna trade?”

By now he was past the initial shock, and he assumed a very suspicious look.

“What’s wrong with it?” He said

“Nothing’s wrong with it. I just feel like eating corn-dogs today” I glanced over his shoulder and saw my friends coming, “Hurry! You want it or not?”

He eyed the Doritos greedily. “Them too?”

“Uhh…yeah. But you gotta give me the chocolate milk”


The first transaction was complete—the first of many more for the remainder of the school year. Aside from the lunch-trading during fifth grade, however, there was nothing to justify us becoming friends in High School. But so it happened. Terry who had been the leftovers kid, was now Terry the Librarian Assistant. Just like me.

And he was the only friend I had in school, now that I was no longer “normal.”


part 3 of If You Only Knew

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Word Count: 349
If You Only Knew, Part 3

Locker Room

This Side of Eternity

I believed in hell.

That is part of why I never did it it–because I was too much of a coward to die and go straight there. It’s not because I didn’t know how to do it; anyone who wants to know something will find it out by a few discreet, hypothetical questions. Or by eavesdropping–if you really can’t bring yourself to ask the ones that know.

One day when I was changing in the girl’s locker rooms after a mile run, I heard Monique and Serena talking. I was surprised because I thought I was the last one there–I always made sure I had the locker room all to myself. I hastened to put my clothes back on, lest I be seen.

“Cold water never works, dummy. It has to be hot. Scalding hot. It will numb you after a while”
“That makes no sense. Shouldn’t it be ice-cold?”

Sometimes I overheard the guys

“…His neck didn’t break. He’s too light. Must have been choking there for a long time.”
“What if he’d used a longer rope, and jumped off a chair or something?”
“I dunno, would have had to drop a good ten feet. I heard of someone they did it like that and their head was ripped off”
“Sick, man!”
“Yeah. What a way to go”

I know.

But it wasn’t entirely hell and cowardice that kept me from actually doing it. Yes, I was afraid of the blood that would spurt from my slit wrists, or the horrible ways that my hanging could go wrong (as if hanging wasn’t already bad enough). But far more than my cowardice–which was great–was the one thought that if I did it I would lose them forever.

I couldn’t imagine being parted for all eternity from the people I most loved–those who’d gone already, and those living.

So in a way, it was love that kept me this side of eternity.


Why didn’t I see it sooner? I suppose it was because I was convinced that love was nothing but a joke when it came to me.


part 2 of If You Only Knew

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If You Only Knew, Part 2
Word Count ~ 300