Sunday, 22 April 2007

The Runaway
Her heart pounded against her chest, begging for mercy, yet she presse
d on, every so often casting an over the shoulder glance. He hadn’t caught up, but she couldn’t slow down. Distance meant freedom. Every breath came like a knife slicing its way down her throat, her brain hollowed and the surroundings tipped. She slowed to a walk. Within minutes, the meandering deer trail she followed widened into a clearing, and she quickened her step. It had to mean a home, people, and a telephone. Anticipation of freedom shot through her, and released itself in tears.
She’d given him the slip, and never again would she have to hear wind blowing through the sod roof, or look at the memorabilia of her predecessors, hanging on the rotting log walls. “Where are they?” She’d asked one day, and the glint in his cold brown eyes told her she’d find out soon enough.
She forced her trembling legs to move faster. Getting caught this close to freedom was not an option. The woods fell away with no transition. Thick wet fog clung to the air, but through it, she saw no buildings. She paused, her boding swaying to the beat of her pounding heart. Across the narrow clearing, another bank of trees rose into the misty air.
A biting wind blew in, shifting the fog, exposing a narrow gravel road. Pulling her thin hoodie tighter, she stepped onto the closest rut and looked both ways. Behind, a branch snapped, followed by profane muttering, then fast, determined footsteps. Without looking, she tore down the road, her feet slipping in the slick damp clay.
Soon the footsteps ebbed and she slowed to catch her breath. A road must lead somewhere. Clamping her teeth against the encroaching defeat, she pressed on. Chimney smoke drifted into the air, lifting her spirit. The road turned, and a cabin came into view.
Terror flooded through her, freezing her leg mid stride.
Steel fingers closed around her neck. Then nothing.

Friday, 20 April 2007

The tragedy this past week in Virginia Tech uncovered a vault of my own dormant emotions, driving me to consider “what if?” Beyond death, injury and mayhem, the despair I saw in the young man’s eyes reflected what had once been in mine. It kindled a need to understand, driving me to revisit a past I’ve refused to acknowledge.
My search landed me in my fifth grade, when my happy school experience turned into a brush with hell that lasted until I left the community. For days I pondered this year, trying to pinpoint the catalyst that started me on such a course, but no single incident stands out. Three realities, however, are fallow ground.
To describe my appearance as unique is an understatement. Being clinically blind, I needed glasses, but not the ones I was forced to wear that looked like pop bottle bottoms wired together. But their oddity matched my ringlets that went out of style years earlier. On top of such a fashion statement, my teacher didn’t like me much. Cliché, I know, but true. Without a cause, ten year-olds do not lose control of their bladder because they’re terrified of a teacher.
At home I was Cinderella without her looks. Being told I was stupid, and wouldn’t amount to a thing came close to being a daily ritual. I started believing it, and set the law of rejection breeds rejection into motion, thus thrusting me into a world of torment. A world where classmates taunted me, called me names that even today make my throat ache. A world with no escape because home hurt as much as school.
I swung from trying to prove I was acceptable to resigning myself to being the lowest of the lowest. Night after night I knelt by my bed, crying, begging God to help me not hurt so much, and to make my classmates stop. Begging Him to help me be someone my parents could love.
I felt deserted and betrayed by everyone, so anger became a faithful friend. I was sure even God turned his back on me, because nothing changed. I contemplated death. Not the death of my perpetrators, but my own, because it wasn’t their fault I was what I was, but mine.
Now, when I see children cowering in corners, scared to participate in the activity going on around them, my heart breaks. I feel their sadness, and if I can, I hold them, cry with them, and tell them as often as possible, you are special. You are good, and you can accomplish whatever you choose.
I think of the young man on the news again and my throat swells. His desperation, his anger at being ostracized is so familiar, but the hatred that drove him to such lengths, I struggle to fathom. My despair sent me to my knees, begging God for help, and running away when I thought he didn’t care. But over the years, He brought people into my life who rubbed salve into those old wounds until they healed. He taught me how to forgive and trust. To love and be loved.
For that young man, I wonder where it all went wrong. If his pain was so much deeper than mine. Or if God hadn’t heard me when I was sure He hadn’t, would I be here now, wondering why I am? Wondering what is the dividing line between contemplating your own demise and planning, then carrying out a massacre. Wondering if this young man and all his victims would still be here if someone had taken the time to show him God loves you, and so do I.

Thursday, 5 April 2007

Life is a Cone
The calendar said fall, yet summer remained. Life along Prairie Creek is much like that. There’s no yes or no, black or white, beginning or ending. Things just flow together, one starting before the previous ends. Or that’s the way it was until last spring, when Doctor Ross diagnosed my lung cancer. Months later, it’s still difficult to fathom, because things like that never happen along Prairie Creek, especially to me.
Coffee in hand, I sauntered through the open French doors, onto our deck. A floral umbrella in the center of the burgundy patio table was already raised, and a paperweight rested on top of the Mountaineer to prevent it from blowing away. I flipped through the large, unruly pages until Recognize the Warning signs of Lung Cancer rose from the print like a rattler ready to strike.
“Thanks for nothing!” I slapped the pages shut and hurried down the steps to the lawn below, my emotions flapping like a flag in a windstorm. On the ground, I gazed into the peaceful autumn sky. “Why God, did it happen to me?”
No answer came. I meandered into the bush surrounding our farmyard and followed the narrow, winding sheep trail until it disappeared into a meadow. Feeling tired, I wilted onto a weathered, gray stump and looked around. Decaying leaves and brown, brittle grass covered the earth. Poplar and birch skeletons hid among the evergreens to conceal their nudity. A noisy “V” crossed overhead, and beside me, a chipmunk with bulging cheeks scurried up a gnarly gray poplar trunk. The sweet aroma from a harvested grain field, saturated the amiable July breeze still existing in mid October. Hot sun beams beat against my shoulders, but lacked the power to tan. In a strange sort of way, their incompetence comforted me.
My thoughts returned to the decaying leaves, and sadness dropped in like a faithful friend. Welcoming its intimacy, I encouraged it to embrace me tighter by reliving my doctor’s appointment yesterday.
“I’m sorry Lorne,” Dr. Ross said in his matter-of-fact way. “We’re going to have to extend Chemo. The cancer cells aren’t shrinking as I expected.”
I clutched the edge of his desk, my fingers turning white. “What are you saying?”
He smiled the smile of a doctor bearing unwelcome news. “Your cancer’s stubborn. It needs to be treated more aggressively.”
“But the treatment’s already bad enough. I don’t want any more.”
His eyebrows rose. “It’s your only hope.”
“But you sound like I have no hope.”
Dr. Ross reached across his desk, covering my cold shaking hand with his warm comforting one. “I wish there was an easier way.”
“That makes two of us.” I rose from my stump. The sheep stopped eating, eyeing me suspiciously. I called them by name, petting one’s head and scratching another’s chin as I made my way across the meadow. On the far side, my trail continued, and like a robot with no ability to make my own decisions, I followed it down the steep embankment of the big gully encasing Prairie Creek. At the bottom, I walked into the sharp wind that coexists with mountain streams, willing it to sweep the cancer from my lungs. I approached the creek bank where Tree grew, and looked up to greet my faithful friend, but no evergreen crown waved back, just blue sky, covered with wispy horsetails. “Oh God. Not Tree, too!” Dropping to my knees, I hugged the jagged edges of his broken trunk and sobbed as if I’d lost my last friend. In front of me, his handsome crown lay partly submerged in the restless water, impatient waves crashing into it, destroying it one needle at a time.
I glared at the waves, desiring them to feel my anger. Instead, their raw tenacity to remove such a huge obstacle sparked my own determination, and an elusive longing to survive brushed against my spirit. I leaned against Tree’s rough, damp stump and wonderful memories surfaced. I was a child again. Above me, Tree’s branches swayed in the breeze, cooling me and keeping the blazing sun off my delicate skin as I constructed make-believe castles from his brittle, cast-off needles. As we grew, each in our own worlds, and yet together, I leaned against his trunk, as I was doing now, and shared my hopes and dreams with him and our restless river. “It’s not fair. “We don’t deserve this!”
My husband lowered his lanky frame to the ground beside me and draped his arm across my shoulders. “The storm last night.”
I moved into his embrace, my tattered emotions finding refuge in the strength of his presence.
“You’re not Tree,” he whispered as if reading my thoughts. “Your life isn’t part of the balance of nature.”
“It might as well be.”
He shook his head. “There’s medicine. Will power. And God still heals.”
“Don’t even go there. We’ve been down that road too many times.”
His jaw set. “No, we haven’t. I have.”
“That’s not fair!”
“Maybe not, but it’s true.”
“It is not,” I lashed back. “And who made you an authority on my problems?”
Jeff rolled his eyes. “Nobody. But I’m bit tired of you getting all defensive, and acting as if your cancer doesn’t exist.”
My jaw dropped. A breath stopped, half inhaled. “How dare you make yourself my judge?” Distress swept across his face, but I needed him to hurt as I did, so I kept ranting. “Do you think this is fun for me? That the parasite in my lungs isn’t painful as it feeds on them one cell at a time?” I started to cough. “Then there’s this,” I said between gasps of air when the cough subsided. I threw him a disdainful look. “Isn’t life beautiful?”
Jeff stared at me, an expression of not knowing how to respond imprinted on his handsome face. “Is that it? You’re giving up.”
“Just thinking of more treatments makes me sick.” I stared at Tree’s crown. “When I know I’ll end up like Tree.”
“That’s absurd! It was a bad storm! Get it? A bad storm!”
“The how doesn’t matter. It’s about the message it brings.”
Jeff disappointment filled the air, and a need to comfort him seeped into me. To gather my thoughts, I watched the waves battering against Tree’s crown. Please God, take away my fear, and replace it with those waves’s tenacity to go on. I looked around, expecting the world to be different, but nothing changed. No hope burned in my spirit, no desire to go on shot through my veins. I bit my lip until a coppery taste filled my mouth.
Jeff smoothed his sandy hair against his head. “Nothing’s over until it’s over. Winter does come, but life returns with spring. Just look around.”
“Exactly. It’s fall. Everything, including me, is dying.”
“Take a closer look.”
I stared at Tree’s majestic crown. The waves still tore at his needles, and the urge to hate resurfaced. “He’s almost dead, yet the angry creek won’t let him die in peace.”
Jeff cupped his chin between his thumb and forefinger, rubbing the bristly whiskers poking through his skin. “You’re right, but they’re also breaking off cones and washing them ashore.”
I glanced along the bank, and cones lay everywhere. Kicking my shoes off, I strolled onto the damp, wave-washed sand and retrieved a cone. Beside Tree’s stump, I dug a hole and dropped it in. “Part of him will grow again.”
“And you’ll still be around to see it,” Jeff promised, poking a stick into the ground beside the cone. He took me in his arms and pressed my head to his chest. “I love you.”
It felt good. My anger subsided, and I melted into him. Maybe he was right. Maybe, just maybe, spring would come for me.

Obstacles are those frightful things you see when


take your eyes off your goal.