Feeble Knees

Sunday, April 30, 2006


So I didn't go. Not to the funeral, not to the wake. I am scum.

So apparently time does not heal all wounds. Not the ones you keep picking at. Not the ones you wear like a medal. Not the ones you refuse to let heal. Time can't do a blessed thing with those.

Truth is I was afraid to go. After all this time, who knows whether or not I would just be bringing more conflict in an already terrible situation. I didn't want to be the face of regret, the reminder of bad times and unhappy situations.

And I didn't want to face Them.

"Them" being all the other church people I left behind when I bolted out of there. They were all swarming around Z now, I just knew it. No doubt she was surrounded by a buzzy hive of do-gooders, who on any other given Sunday probably took issue with her haircut, or her worship style, or her offbeat sense of humor. Six months from now they'll be the same ones trying to set her up with "a friend of ours, he's just your type." But for now they flitter around invading her personal life and vie for the empty spot in the pew where her husband used to be.

Thinking like this is bad for me I know; the angry current that zips up my spine and quickens my pulse is one indication of that. The urge to fight them all off and send them packing is another. But I would do this for Z, I would protect her, stare down the pushy, nosy no-goods and send them running for cover. I'd let her scream and swear and throw things. I wouldn't raise an eyebrow if she stayed in her pajamas all day - again. I'd make her soup and bread - not that she'd eat it. But I wouldn't make the mistake of bringing her foods she hated, like Chinese, or flowers that aggravate her allergies and weaken her already vulnerable state.

I know her. And I'd know how to take care of her. This is what I tell myself. But that was four years ago. Before the veritable ice age that's elapsed since the last time we looked one another in the eye.

So I didn't go. And I pretty much felt like toilet bowl scum about it the whole time. Praying, I asked Jesus to forgive me for being so small and cowardly. As earnestly as I knew how I begged God to be God to Z, to be an all enveloping Presence and Source of strength and grace and peace - words that sound so hollow and ineffectual on paper - but in spirit are the only sustenance for such dark times.

Then I did the cheesy thing and sent a card. It didn't say much, nor did I add a lot to the sentiment. But I did include my contact information. Bug and I went down to the post office to mail it off in person. Just walking over to the stupid mail slot scared me to death. Where on earth would this lead?

Some days passed and she sent me an email. Mr. F was the one who saw it blink into existence at the top of my Inbox.
"Z sent you an email'', he said. Everything seemed to dangle in mid-air. I had written; now she had written back.

My turn again.

So I wrote back. "No," I said, "I can't imagine what you're going through." "Yes," I said, (and here I just about held my breath as I typed) "I'd like to see you too."


That was several days ago. Now I check just about every hour on the hour for a response. I hit the Get Mail button relentlessly, as if the command didn't fire correctly the first time. Stupid software, I tell myself. It didn't connect. It must not have connected. Maybe the mail server is down? Try again. Nothing. Nada.

Did she have a change of heart? Did I say something stupid? Is she okay? There are a million questions and no answers, and my nerves are fraying at the root about it. But there's nothing to be done.

Just wait and pray, pray and wait.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Never Leave On Bad Terms

That which I greatly feared has come to pass.

Z introduced herself quite strangely to me one night after Bible Study as I chatted with a few other church members. I was still relatively new; though I'd been attending for more than a year, I still hadn't managed to crack the social circle of the so-called "pillars of the church". Though I did my best to show up every time the doors were open, I still traveled on the periphery. At altar calls, older women still came and prayed for me in such a way that suggested they were unsure about my degree of commitment and purity of lifestyle. No matter. I still pursued Jesus with every fiber of my being and yearned to belong to His church.

So I wasn't expecting it when Z approached me purposefully, tissue in hand, and began wiping the lipstick off my mouth.

"That color is all wrong on you," she declared. A perfunctory search of her own purse turned up a shade more to her liking, a softer, pinker creme. "Here. Put this on. This is much better with your skin. See? That was too brown."

Bossy. Impetuous. Intense. Crazy. Off-putting. Everything about Z rocked my new-found religious sensibilities. She was brash, blunt, irreverent and at times unnerving. Our first few get-togethers left me mentally drained by the time I got home and I wondered what I was getting myself into. But she was the first person to really reach out to me and say, "here, come sit by me." So I did. And so began our friendship.

It was Z that played hooky from church with me. It was Z that dragged me away from my desk when I was working long hours and drove me to the ocean, to force me to take a break and rest my fractured heart and mind. After church, Z and her husband and daughter invited me to lunch. They took me with them to fairs and other family outings. While I was away, they took care of my pets. I was a frequent guest in their home. We exchanged gifts on Christmas and birthdays. We were family.

It's almost four years now since I last spoke to - no, yelled at - Z. Almost four years since our last words flew faster than consequences, found their targets and slammed their meaning home. She stormed out of my apartment that day and I fell apart. I often wondered if she heard the sounds of my sobs. The windows were open to the June breeze and it wouldn't have been a far distance for my cries to travel. I heard the sound of her feet on the pavement, the car door, the engine - but my sobs were the loudest thing going for a mile around.

Oh there were opportunities, but we didn't take them. Never again did I call or show up at their home unannounced. Never again did she sidle up to me in the pew or toss notes into my lap when I wasn't looking. Days later I attended our church for the last time. Months later I moved and left no forwarding address. My name changed in marriage, and that suited me just fine. It was the next best thing to entering the witness protection program. I had disappeared. It was the best thing for all, I thought.

Yesterday I got a call from someone who'd heard the news. Z's husband is dead, quite suddenly, very unexpectedly. He's with Jesus. And Z remains.

And here I sit, dumbstruck in grief and agony. Paralyzed. God help Z.
God help me.