Being alone sucks, especially if you're stuck at home and it is raining outside

Alone

There was no greater torment for me than staying at home alone with my thoughts while it rained. I could not read books, I could not watch TV, I couldn’t even do homework—the way Mara interpreted scripture, if one could not actively do good works like hand out tracts, or witness, or volunteer, the least evil activity that one could do in the Sabbath was to nap. I was such a contrary daughter that I couldn’t even do that. Tossing and turning and flopping in bed, it was as if I was ten years old again—a chronic insomniac—fighting alone against the hidden demons of my past those many nights.

Determined to put the past behind me, I pushed away those memories, and threw the covers aside.

I had expected that Tony would call, but he didn’t—and I certainly wasn’t going to call him.

I thought about last Wednesday. He’d called me after prayer meeting, just as I got home and was taking off my shoes at the door Mara shouted from the living room, “There’s a call for you in the phone”

“Ok. I’ll take it in my room” I’d said and had run upstairs before she had the chance to catch a glimpse of my red and blotchy face.

“Hello?”

“Hey—Tanya?”

“Who’s this?”

“It’s Tony”

“Tony?” I asked incredulously, “What’s up? How did you get my number?”

“You left your binder at church, kiddo, and I got your number from your student handbook.”

I cursed and threw the phone receiver on my bed while I unzipped my backpack. I glanced inside; no binder. I double checked by dumping its contents in my bed, hoping that he was mistaken. No binder. No notes. No dynamics lab report. No linear algebra homework. No French Literature paper. No student handbook with—

I saw red.

How stupid could I get? How had I left that behind? I thought back. Oh, yes. Zuri had picked me up from work, and I had brought my binder to sketch on while the prayer meeting was going on. Then I’d had my crying fit, and the rest was history.

“I can’t believe I did that.” I spoke into the phone, “Thanks for holding on to it, but what am I gonna do now? I can’t ask Zuri to take me after all the trouble I caused today… and then I don’t see you until Monday….” I calculated my odds of success with Mara. They were not promising.

“Aren’t you going to need it? I can drop it off at your house if you want.”

I sighed, “I’m so sorry…but could you?—I’ve got my lab report there.”

“It’s the same address on the cover of the handbook? Halcyon Drive?”

“Yes—Oh! Do you mind not knocking at the door?” I felt immensely awkward, but in this case necessity was greater than my embarrassment so I pushed on, “Mara—I mean, my mother—will ask me a million questions. Can you honk or something?”

“Ok, I’ll call you up when I’m there. You can save the number on your caller ID, that’s my cell phone.”

And just like that, twenty minutes later he called me saying he was in front of my house. He’d handed me back my binder without any comment, except to ask if I was alright. “I’m fine.” I smiled, relief had made me almost giddy, “Thanks for this—really.”

He nodded, and after considering something for a few seconds he turned the ignition off. “Hey, Tanya?”

“Hm?”

“I know how it feels—when in prayer you are confronted with who you are and you realize that it is not the person you want to be.”

I looked down and was silent while I thought back on my prayer, “I don’t know if that’s what happened. I just,” I sighed and hugged the binder tight against my chest “I don’t know if it signifies much, but I just want to start over.”

He nodded, “I know. Take courage, kiddo, I’ll be praying for you.”

“Thanks.”

He’d driven off in his sleek black Jag, and I’d gone back home wondering about the kind of person Tony was— I couldn’t make him out. He was young, but he obviously had a well-paying job as evidenced by his car and the time I’d seen him dressed in a suit. Yet the image of the successful Tony clashed with the image of the guy who had come in to church one rainy night, soaking wet from the rain in jeans and a hoodie—and that image also contradicted the Jesus freak who would eagerly go to prayer meeting on Wednesdays and Bible studies with a bunch of old people.

But that episode with the binder had led to my overestimating him. I suppose after that I came to think of him as someone I could trust, so that on Friday—faced with the menacing thought of returning to Hilltop Church the next morning—I’d called him. I wanted to be talked out of going. Instead, he encouraged me to follow through with it, even going so far as to offering to meet me there.

“Two are better than one,” he’d quoted, “For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow”

Pfft! You sound like a preacher.”

“What?”

“I mean,” I modified my tone and amended the statement lest I come across as offensive, “sometimes you say things that sound like they came out of the Bible. I’m pretty sure Jesus said that.

He chuckled, though I didn’t for a second imagine he was laughing at me, “I know my Bible pretty well, I guess. Didn’t I ever tell you? My father is a pastor”

“What? You didn’t tell me.”

That was when he told me that he’d been the black sheep of the family. He’d made a run for it the moment he had graduated from High School, and now here he was hundreds of miles away from home trying to return to the straight and narrow. I didn’t get to ask about details because Mara had entered my room to inquire why I was still up and who I was talking to.

“I gotta go now.” I said to him after having evaded a minor quarrel.

“Ok, so tomorrow 9:30, right?”

“Yeah.”

“See you tomorrow, then.”

He’d said that, but then he’d never showed up.

More than being angry, more than being annoyed—I was disillusioned. Once more I’d gotten my hopes up, and once more I’d seen that there was no one who really cared. It’s so easy for people to talk and say that they’ll be there for you, but when it came down to it, they are always too busy for you. Adults…they are so fake.

And yet, that was not enough for me to give up hope that maybe he would call and say that there had been a fire, an accident, or someone had been taken ill and had kept him from going. I even refrained from going online to the BookNrds chat room in case Tony called (this was back in the AOL dial-up days).

But it was no use hoping—after all, I was just a stupid kid.

 

Part 22 – If You Only Knew

Cleaning up after a meal

Mara

We decided to forgo the weekly potluck and came home immediately after the service. We had a quiet lunch, Mara and I, of vegetable soup and quesadillas, while listening to a guitar concerto in the radio.

As we ate I marveled at my silliness. It hadn’t been as scary as I’d thought; in fact, I had almost enjoyed it. And though my mind had drifted off for long spaces of time during the service, my musings for the most part hadn’t been morbid. The people I’d known before hadn’t chewed me out, either. The biggest surprise, however, was that Mara and I hadn’t killed each other on the drive there and back home. There was a subtle change between us, and I did not know how it had happened. It was just very odd to discover that though neither one volunteered to begin or carry any form of conversation, the air was not tense as it was wont to do whenever my scatter-brained older brother was not around to liven things up.

“Do you want to go back for the afternoon service?” Mara asked as we cleaned up. “Some Gospel singers from out of state are coming to sing.”

I shook my head, “I’ve had enough for today, I think.”

Mara scraped something from the kitchen stove, “Well, I suppose it would be too much to ask.”

I regarded her warily from the sink where I was drying the dishes. Was she trying to start a fight? “What’s that supposed to mean?”

She frowned, “It’s not supposed to mean anything. Calm down, Tanya!”

“Don’t tell me to calm down! It’s not like I’m angry or anything.” The dishes clattered loudly as I stacked them in place as if belying my assertions, “You always think the worst of me,” I muttered.

“Don’t give me that.” Mara threw her cleaning rag on the sink and proceeded to wash it clean, “You are the one who suddenly wanted to go to church, so I took you with me. You didn’t want to stay for potluck, I brought you home. I am way past forcing you to go to church. I was simply offering to take you. Do I get a ‘Thanks’? No. Do I expect it at this point? Not really. Just don’t shoot my head off for trying to be civil.”

Her words stuck me. I didn’t exactly agree with her sentiments—she somehow always managed to verbally outmaneuver me—but the revelation that she wasn’t entirely trying to antagonize me left me speechless for a time.

“I’m sorry,” I said after a while. My tone was subdued from the effort of getting down a huge slice of humble pie, “I didn’t know—I thought…” I sighed, “If you are going I’ll join you. I can drive if you want.”

Mara wrung her now clean rag and hung it up to dry. “I wanted to hear the concert, but I had originally thought to spend the day up there. Going back in the rain and then finding a place to park would be an absolute nightmare. Anyway. I thought I’d go see Alma. She’s not doing so well after her surgery.”

“Ok.” I said, as if I had an idea who Alma was.

“You going out today?”

“Pfft! I never go out.”

She looked surprised, and I wondered what it was she thought I did on Saturdays when she was out the whole day. For the sake of our new-found truce I didn’t volunteer any information.

“I think I’m going to do some homework. Or study. I have some big exams coming up.”

“It’s the Sabbath.”

“I’ll take a nap then.”

“Ok. I’ll be back in the evening.”

“Take care.”

Fifteen minutes later Mara left, and I remained at home to listen to the rain.

 

Part 21 – If You Only Knew

Pain

Tony followed me outside,  “Are you OK?”

“I’m fine,” I lied, and finding a convenient planter sat at the edge of it while I hugged myself “I . . . . just need some air”

“Are you sure?”

I nodded, then when a stab of pain at my side got me gasping, I shook my head “. . . It’s . . . my stomach hurts. Badly. I don’t know why”

“Oh.” He fidgeted nervously, as if looking for something to do “Do you need anything? I can go get it, there’s a pharmacy at the corner”

I was going to tel him to leave me alone and go back to the meeting, but I was attacked by another stab of pain, “Actually. I just wanna to go home. Can you call Zuri?”

“Of course” he said, springing to action

“Wait! You don’t even know who she is!”

“Oh. Right”

“Tall, thin. curly hair. She’s wearing green”

He went back into the room, and next thing I knew, both of them were next to me. Zuri had her purse and car keys, “Come on, Tanya. Let’s get you home”

“I’m sorry, Zuri,” I said when she deposited me in the car seat

“It’s alright, dear. Now, try to breathe, OK? We’ll be home soon”

“Yes.”

Dimly, I was aware of Zuri and Tony talking outside, then she was in the car and we were driving away.

“Breathe deeply, Tanya.” She said to me, “In through the nose, out through the mouth. Try it”

I did, but even that made my stomach contract in pain.

“We’re almost home, don’t worry”

* * *

I lay in bed, with an  ice-pack on my lower stomach, looking up at the ceiling, crying. How could it be that a bit of pain could bring one to one’s knees. Pain is a shameful thing, indeed. I heard Zuri and my mother come back upstairs, and quickly wiped my tears away.

“How are you feeling?” Zuri said, placing a cool hand on my head.

“It still hurts”

“Here, chew on this” She took a pinchful of dried leaves from a little pouch hanging from her wrist.

I obeyed, and quickly wished I hadn’t “Ugh! What is this?”

“Absinthe wormwood. My mother called it ajenjo and would give it to us in tea–and believe me it’s even worse in that form. Chewing is faster and just as effective. Now, be a good girl, and chew on it as long as possible, then swallow it.”

“It’s awful!”

“Yes. But that bitterness will help. The stomach suffers when we stress, or when we are anxious or sad, or angry, and that’s why your whole digestive tract feels like it contracts in pain. This bitterness helps it get back to normal.”

Mara spoke at last, “What happened, Tanya? How was today worse that usual? Some thing you ate, perhaps?”

That was Mara. So quick to judge and condemn. “No, mom.”

“Let’s let her rest Mara.” Zuri said gently, “She’ll be fine, I promise.”

They turned the hallway light off and went back downstairs. I was left alone at last.

She’ll be fine, she’d said. But would I?

 

part 15 of If You Only Knew

Prayers

“I thought you wouldn’t come”

“Long story.” He said, removing his jacket.

“You don’t have to sit with me, you know.”

“I want to. Besides, you don’t have a partner yet” He said, and asked me to scoot over a bit more.

As I didn’t want to make a huge issue about this business anymore, I said nothing, merely moved and made him more room. After the welcoming remarks and repeating the invitation to pray in groups for the sake of the newcomer, all thoughts turned to prayer again—and far away from me.

“That was close.” I said out loud, greatly relieved.

Tony said nothing. He simply glanced at the others and took in the soft murmur of prayer. “Everybody’s praying.” He whispered, “Do you want to go first, or do you want me to start?”

“What?”

“Pray.” He leaned in my direction, bowed his head and closed his eyes. I realized he meant it as an order, not as an answer to my question.

I began to protest “I don’t—I…”

He began, interrupting my protests, “Jesus Christ. I know you are alive and you reign in heaven. I pray for strength and deliverance from the devil and his fiery darts. I ask for courage to do what’s right, and I claim the power of your cleansing blood to purify me. Forgive me . . . ”

He paused here for a protracted time. I, who had kept my eyes open looking this way and that, now began studying his face with growing unease. His brow was furrowed, and his chin was sunk low on his chest. Fortunately he didn’t cry. He rallied himself and continued on, “And I also pray for my friend Tanya. We all come from different places and backgrounds, so I don’t know what troubles her. Please give her the power of your Holy Spirit to resist temptation. In your name I pray, Amen.”

“Amen” I said, unwittingly—and felt silly at catching myself doing it. But I was glad that he was done. I sat back in my couch and expected him to do the same, but Tony kept his attitude of prayer. He kept it so long that it was just plain weird…

“Tony. It’s ok… you can sit back now. We just wait until the others are done”

“Your turn” He said with his eyes still closed

“I don’t pray. I can’t. You don’t know I—”

“Just do it. If not for you, pray for me. I need it.”

The duration of my inner debate was not long—but it felt like it. It was so—so—awkward. How could I pray for Tony? And what for? I never even prayed for myself since that fiasco back when I’d asked for a miracle (a fat lot of good it did me)—and longer still before that. And why was the prayer time longer—much longer—than it usually took?

Tony kept his head bowed, as if waiting for me to start

I sighed loudly.

“Fine,”

Where to start?

I closed my eyes, and remembered way back when my grandmother had taught me to pray, which was peculiar—because I could not remember much from infancy.

Fold you hands like this. Yes, like that. Very good. Now bow your little head. Close your little eyes. That’s it. Now repeat after me . . . “Our Father in heaven…”

“Our Father in heaven,”

Hallowed be thy name,

“. . . Hallowed be thy name,”

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done. . .

“. . . Thy kingdom come, thy will be done . . . ”

Nothing more came. That was all I remembered, though I strove to recall the rest of the words, but I couldn’t.

What could I do?

God, what can I say?

I grasped for words, but I literally had nothing—nothingto say aside of my usual litany of incoherent rebellion.

I was on my own now.

“God. I have nothing…much to say to you . . .  just . . . ” I sighed deeply once more and continued this most difficult task, “Please . . . just listen to the prayers of the people here . . . Listen to them . . . And I pray for Tony here too, who is suffering. Amen”

“Amen” Tony repeated, and then sat back.

But I wasn’t looking at Tony now. Tony, the study group, the church, the whole city block was now a thousand miles away from me.

Because my heart and my mind were millions of light years away. Prayer had awoken the fierce and gnawing pain of loss and now all my bones and joints, my muscles, my innards, my fat, and even my overstretched skin ached as if cold, damp, sorrow had taken possession of me. And that feeling was exactly like that day—years ago—when I had told God that he and I were through.

And how sad, how cold, how vast, friendless, and empty the world had seemed, the day I’d lost my faith in prayer–that day that Grandma died.

 

part 14 of If You Only Knew

Tony

We were late on Monday for some random reason. When we got there, Elder Banks was about to conclude testimony and prayer time.

Zuri took her seat on the circle–as usual. I went to my corner, briefly scanning the room.

Tony wasn’t there.

Figures. Well, this is–after all–the last place anybody would want to be at…

I plopped on my couch as usual; the old frame squeaked in protest under my weight.

“…and now let us turn each other and claim the power of intercessory prayer. Turn to a brother or sister next to you, and pray for each other for a few minutes.”

I was not alarmed. They had done this before many times. That day, however, Elder Banks was filling in for Zuri who had come late. He must have felt the spirit or something, because he walked up to me, and with an evangelist’s booming voice and expression addressed me, “Daughter. Please join us in prayer.”

“Uh?” I squeaked.

“Come. You can pray with…let’s see…is anyone in need of a partner?”

The silence was eloquent.

Zuri was about to speak up when Martha and Horace—the oldest people in the room—said they wouldn’t mind having a third.

No. No. No. No. No…

Diversion saved me, however. It came in the way of a new arrival dressed in an elegant business suit.

What the–

“Why, welcome brother!” Elder Banks said stepping forward to greet him with a hand shake.

At first I didn’t recognize the newcomer. But then I realized that it was Tony walking in and taking a seat next to me on the vile, pink, couch. He flashed a smile at me and greeted me cordially.

“Hey, kiddo”

There was a murmur of surprise when it was understood that I, the mocker, had been the one to invite the new arrival.

I suppose that—being the good Christians that they were—they’d come to underestimate the power of the God they served, otherwise how could they fail to remember that He can use any situation and any person—even me—for his good pleasure?

For I’m sure it was his pleasure that Tony should be drawn to know and serve him.

* * *

Let me fast-forward fifteen years.

Tony has since then finished college and attended the seminary. He works as a Chaplain in the same hospital I work at and spends much of his free time at a youth shelter mentoring neglected youth to steer them away from a life of addiction.

Furthermore, he also bears the title “Doctor” as he recently earned his PhD—He’s even published two books.

I didn’t know what Tony would eventually become when I first saw him crying his heart out in church–not even that day he arrived at the Study Group. I didn’t even imagine either that Tony would be the person who would help me believe in the power for prayer again.

Life is funny like that. God certainly has a knack for surprising you.

I certainly was surprised by him the first day Tony went to the Bible study group.

 

part 13 of If You Only Knew

Yes It Matters

I didn’t see that guy again until maybe some three weeks later.

I was sitting in the back, sketching on my binder, when he came in and sat on the pew across the aisle from mine. The same one he’d been at that first time. When he caught me looking curiously at him through the gloom he got up and took a seat next to me.

“Tony. You?”

I stupidly blurted out my real name, “Tanya”

“Nice to meet you, Tanya,” he said chuckling softly.

He looked younger when he smiled. I now estimated him to be no more than twenty-one. Somehow, I had the feeling that I’d seen or known him before–did he remind me of my older brother? I took his hand and shook it. “Nice to meet you too”

“Why are you sitting here—all the way at the back?”

I bristled, “Why are you sitting here?”

“I don’t know anybody.”

“Same here,” I lied

We didn’t talk for a while. As the service went on I got used to having another person sitting next to me, so I sat back on my usual spectator attitude. Tony, however, was an active participant. He sang when they sang, kneeled when they kneeled. He didn’t cry like before, though, which was a relief.

“Tanya” he suddenly whispered as the pastor rose to give his sermon, “do you know of any Bible studies or catechism or classes or whatever to become baptized?”

I was in a spot. How would I know what Zuri’s church did?

“I don’t know.”

“Well aren’t you baptized?”

“No. This isn’t even my church”

“Oh.” He looked decidedly disappointed, “Nevermind, then.”

I thought about what I said next for a full fifteen minutes. Should I? Should I not? Oh well.

“There’s a Small Groups study here on Monday nights… If you are interested. The people there can answer your questions.”

“Monday? What time?”

“Six”

“No what time it ends?”

“Around eight. They have food afterwards”

“Count me in, then”

When the church lights flickered on at the end of the service, we shook hands again.

“Will you be there?”

I shrugged, thinking of my situation, “Does it matter?”

“Well I want to make sure I know at least somebody.”

“Yeah. I’ll be there,” I said, pondering the real question of how could I not be there?

He saluted me as he turned to go, “See you then.”

 

part 12 of If You Only Knew

Coming in From the Rain

I did not enjoy Wednesday prayer meetings. But since the church was vast and only the front was lighted up, it was easy for someone like me who sat at the back pew, to walk out and wander about. Unfortunately, when it rained hard I was forced to remain indoors.

So it was one rainy evening that another person joined me at the back pews. It was a twenty-something-year-old guy so drenched from the rain his shoes made squelching noises when he walked. He behaved peculiarly. During prayer time he hugged his damp form, rocked softly, and cried, emitting shaky high-pitched wails at times. When the small group of singers took the stage and began leading out the hymns he got on his feet, lifted his arms and continued saying stuff as he sang along and wailed betimes.

I felt uncomfortable. Almost scared. But before I could move and join Zuri at the front pew, the meeting was done, the church lights flickered on, and we stood facing each other for a short beat.

Deep-set eyes under dark, thick eyebrows. Sharp-featured. Short. Incredibly thin and pale.

I opened my mouth to say some inane apology, but he blinked, and fairly ran to get out of there.

 

part 11 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

Miracles

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

– – –

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

– – –

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