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Monthly Archives: January 2011
Detaching from life Reality left behind Make-believe ahead Never standing still Moving rather than thinking Avoiding choices Happiness a myth Hiding inside of laughter Pretending to smile No chances given Giving hope the cold shoulder The decision made Why bother trying Instead simply start over Never to look back Evade reminders Fill each moment with nothing Keep moving always Disregard the past Leaving the game unfinished This time no one wins
My heart is aching
Even though you are not mine
You’re so far away
You call to my heart
Without even knowing it
Your soul draws me near
Tears fall down my face
I pretend it is nothing
But I’m missing you
We have memories
But they’re not without lament
Too late to go back
I wonder often
If you think that I’m a joke
Or if you might care
Time keeps slipping by
And our distance grows farther
Maybe it’s too far
My questions remain
Your intentions unspoken
Just as my feelings
I’ve given you hints
I’m just too scared to say it
I wish you were mine
The sounds of Johnny Cash float through the empty house, but miles away there are sounds of laughter. Absent-minded chatter and the clink of glass on glass and jokes appreciated before they are even done, all blend together to form the sound of life. Those are the sounds of home. Whispers behind raised hands dart from mouth to ear as eyes follow targets of lust or loathing. An ice-cube slides down the shaft of an empty glass and lands at the bottom with the slightest little jingle. The tiniest of breezes stirs as she flips her hair and meets his glance. Laughter and squeals and excited revelry spike and settle and blend and jump; each individual exchange joining together to form the collective story. Tears roll down faces as a result of recounted hilarity; reminiscing pranks and folly. A knee is slapped. Another round is ordered. Time is lost. The sounds of comfort and camaraderie float through the night, but miles away her house is empty.
For the past eleven years, when I’ve gone to church, it’s been to my dad’s church. When your father is a preacher, it’s pretty easy to decide where you’re going to go. But now that I live six hours away, I have the task of finding somewhere new to go. It made sense to start with a Presbyterian Church. Dad is a Presbyterian minister and I’ve been in that denomination for the past twenty years, at least. This brand of Christian has suited me well enough. I don’t jive with everything they believe, but it’s pretty hard to be a free thinker and buy 100% of any one denomination’s teachings. I always described being Presbyterian as having all the perks of being Catholic, and you get to use birth control.
I am not a closet anything. If I do it, I do it for the world to see. Hypocrisy is not a trait I want to possess or pass to my children. Someone once described me as being subtle like a shovel to the face, and sometimes that makes me a little hard to take. When I started looking for a church, I was a little bit worried. I didn’t want to sell out who I was, but I didn’t want to parade in like a wave of defiant obstinacy.
I started by e-mailing the three PCA* Presbyterian churches in the area. I knew one of the pastors at one of the churches. He was a Christian recording artist when I was a kid, and he stayed at our house once. Certainly that would be the perfect place. But when I visited, the sermon was an hour long apology to the congregation for firing one of the pastors. Apparently, money was tight and they decided to fire one of the preachers, the congregation went into hysterics about it, they hired him back and were now going to spend the next however long doing a total overhaul of the church complete with public ass kissing. Strike one.
I got a response to my e-mail asking for general information about the church from the second prospect. The pastor who responded let me know that their church was a “little different” and explained to me they liked to “emphasize the idea of the parishes of the past where people not only attended church together, but they farmed or worked together, went to the same schools and markets, etc. Obviously we don’t demand that children all attend the same school, or that adults work in the same businesses, but we do seek to do life together all week, not just on Sundays.” This was the tame portion of the e-mail. I’m sure this idea works well for them, but personally, if I’m going to join a cult, I’d like for it to be the kind with motorcycles and leather jackets. Strike two.
The third church didn’t have a regular church building. They met in a local dance studio. I knew someone who had dated the brother of the pastor’s wife, and they said that he was pretty laid back and cool. The boys and I decided to give this church a try. It had several things that we wanted. The dress code was casual (which we all like) there were lots of kids (which the boys like) and the service started at 10 so I figured we would be out early enough to beat the lunch crowd. I loved the first person I met, not only did she think I was a lot younger than I really am (“You have an eleven year old? Wow, you must have gotten started early!”), but they served real wine instead of grape juice at communion. But after a few visits, the laid back approach to worship started to feel too laid back to me. I’m a little bit OCD♦ and it is very distracting to me for children to get up and walk around during the service, not to mention the preacher seemed to just talk and never get to a point, or at least not in a concise way that held my attention. As much as I hated it: Strike three.
Now what? An old pastor of mine and a good friend of my dad’s, Charles McGowan, used to live in this area, so dad called him up and asked for suggestions. I laughed when I heard his answer. Charles said I should try a local First Baptist Church. I had this thought of typical Southern Baptist churches and I couldn’t believe that the ones here in Tennessee would be much different than those in Alabama. But dad insisted that they were a unique church that was very forward thinking and progressive. I hoped so. When we pulled up to church with the top off the Jeep, we were usually listening to Eminem, not praise and worship music.
I should tell you, that since I have been here, I’ve been very surprised by the subtle differences between this area and my home back in South Alabama. Not only am I the only single parent in either one of my boy’s school classrooms, but in six months, I have yet to meet another single parent. In fact, I haven’t even met anyone who is single. Walking into some back woods Baptist church as the only single parent this side of Nashville, wasn’t something I pictured as enjoyable. But I figured I’d give it a shot. If nothing else, they were located right across the street from this great doughnut shop, and since it would be our first time there, we could use the visitor parking.
Sunday morning started like a usual Sunday morning. I woke up at eight o’clock on the nose. The boys were still sleeping. As I lay in bed listening to the sweet sound of their little snores from across the hall, I thought about being proactive, getting up, running to the doughnut shop while they were still asleep, and then having a nice breakfast of doughnuts followed by showers and a leisurely time getting ready. Instead, I rolled over and went back to sleep. The great thing about no one expecting you at church, is that no one will be the wiser if you decide to stay in bed and worship in the Church of the Holy Comforter, and that’s what I intended to do.
About an hour later, Dozier came in my room, completely dressed and ready to go. “You said we could go to the Doughnut Palace before church.”
Damn it. I threw the covers back with a huge sigh. “Fine,” I said, “Let me get in the shower.”
I started the calculation of taking the church start time, deducting the drive time, deducting the time to buy doughnuts, deducting the time to eat the doughnuts and deducting the time it would take to get shoes and jackets on both kids and realized that I had 4.7 minutes to shower and get ready. When I got out of the shower, Scout was having a meltdown over his hair. He is growing his bangs out and likes for them to flip in a very particular way, so much that he walks around with his head held at a very certain angle at all times and flips his head around like a go-go dancer about every fourteen seconds. I try to get him to hold his head straight, but then the bangs part down the middle and hang over his forehead. According to him this makes his head “look like a stage.” “Whatever, Scout,” I told him. “Everybody has a bad hair day. Get in the Jeep.”
The wailing and moaning that went on during the Jeep ride covered everything from sucking hair to liking the last church just fine, but all feelings of woe were erased as we parked in front of Doughnut Palace. We were going to be late, but a promise is a promise, so we went in and got in line. We ate inside to avoid large amounts of sprinkles and confectioner sugar all over our clothes and washed it all down as quickly as we could. We raced across the street and found the singular open parking space right up front marked “Visitor Parking.”
Now, not only was I single, but I was late. But as I walked the children in and found the childrens church downstairs, I remembered some wise words of my father. You see, I consider myself to be very conservative, but I make it a point to avoid judging others. That makes me a very conservative individual with very liberal tendencies. Just because I wouldn’t do it, or think it’s wrong to do something, doesn’t mean that I would ever come down on someone else for doing something. That was alright back in the Presbyterian church, but now I was about to walk into the First Baptist sanctuary, and I wasn’t sure how they would feel about my beer drinking, tattoo having, divorced ways. But dad’s words helped me out, “If they don’t accept you for who you are, then you don’t want to go to that church anyway.”
The opening hymn had already been sung and it was a packed house. I found the one seat open, and slid into it just as the preacher told all of the first time visitors to remain seated while the rest of the congregation stood up. Before I knew it, Christine appeared above me like the Cheshire Cat hovering above Alice. She must have been in her early 80s or maybe her late 70s, and thank goodness she had good dental hygiene, for although she had pleasant breath, she had no concept of personal space. She introduced herself to me like only a close talker can, and had me sort of pinned down to the pew as she leaned in over me. After a short eternity, Christine left and I opened my hymnal.
I was soon lost in the teenager in front of me. His body was amazing. His torso was that of a model, as was his style. He sat next to his stylish, yet conservative parents. I wondered how they had raised this metro sexual in rural Tennessee. He was wearing Versace glasses! The detailing on his blue jeans was exquisite. I sat there wishing my vision was better so I could read the type on the buttons. I would love to get those jeans for Dozier (*that’s* how you raise a metro sexual in rural Tennessee). Before I knew it, the sermon was starting.
I was getting excited. The preacher had an outline. He mapped out the points he was going to discuss. He was clear and concise. This was going to be great! And then he began the 45 minute hell and brimstone dissertation on the evils of alcohol. Each proclamation that a single sip of the devil’s nectar would send one barreling to hell was answered with a shout of “Amen!” or “Preach it, Brother!” He outlined the satanic practice of selling wine and beer in stores while the congregation hooped and hollered for him to raise the volume even more.
I was trying to be open minded. I decided that when the sermon was over that I would ask him if they were like the Baptist back home that said you shouldn’t drink, but then you always ran into them at the liquor store buying “cooking wine.” If he was a friend of Charles McGowan, that question shouldn’t offend him and he should answer me honestly. Then I had a thought. Maybe I was at the wrong church†. Sure, I had asked dad three times to clarify that I was going to the right place, but maybe, just maybe, there had been a mistake. So I decided that when the sermon was over, I would ask the pastor if he knew Charles McGowan, and then I would ask him if he really believed all that crap about going to hell if you drank a sip of alcohol. I was cheered back up and optimistic, although I was a bit sad when the family in front of me slipped out during the invitational. I was hoping to ask that kid where he had gotten those jeans.
As the last hymn began, I found someone pulling on my hand, as the whole congregation squished up in the middle aisle holding hands and singing. Thank goodness it was a normal looking young woman beside me. What if I’d been seated next to a nose picker or someone with pink-eye? I made a mental note to slip out during the invitational like the people in front of me if I ever visited here again.
I missed the line to shake hands with the preacher and slipped back around to the tail end of the line. He had been joined by his wife at the door to hug and smile at the members. As I reached him, I extended my hand, introduced myself and asked him if he knew Charles McGowan. He lit up a smile, took my hand and responded; “Now that name sounds familiar.”
His wife interjected, “Are you sure you aren’t thinking about Terry McGowan? We know a Terry McGowan.”
He continued, “Did you fill out a visitor card and put it in the offering plate?”
Yes, damn it, I did. I even wrote referred by Charles McGowan, which Reverend Hitler here obviously has never met. “Yes, sir, if you will excuse me, I need to collect my children.” I was in the wrong church!
I couldn’t walk to the Jeep fast enough. “Get in, boys, let’s get out of here.”
As Scout shut the door and began to buckle his seat belt, he chirped, “I like this church, Mama, let’s go here!”
“We’ll talk about it later, baby, Mama needs a drink.” And with that, we raced past the sign that read “You are entering the mission field,” pulled out onto the highway and began our journey home.
*PCA – The Presbyterian Church is separated into two groups. The Presbyterian Church of America is the more conservative branch and the PCUSA, the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. is the more liberal of the two.
♦OCD – although I have never actually been diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, I do categorize my canned goods and alphabetize them within each category.
† I was, indeed, in the wrong church. After a good belly laugh at my expense, my dad called Charles McGowan and got the name of both the correct church and the pastor. We’ll see how that goes next Sunday.
All the lights were out, but they could still see each other clearly in the glow of the television. It would be easy enough for her to keep him distracted; all she had to do was smile. When she flashed her perfect teeth and the skin around the corners of her eyes slightly wrinkled, he was always stopped immediately, regardless of his word or thought or deed. They snuggled close together as they had for what seemed a lifetime. Her head lay tilted against his chest; his arm cradled her frame protectively, lovingly. They had seen the movie a hundred times. It was her favorite. The volume was hardly audible, but they didn’t need to hear the lines. She would laugh before the joke was told and he would grin because of her joy instead of in response to the pictures dancing on film. Each time he tried to speak, she would sweetly shush him and point toward the glowing screen. She kept her face forward, but she could feel his eyes upon her. They were caressing her cheek, running over her lips; they memorized every line and color and bend. “Watch the movie!” she would whisper and he would shift his gaze ahead. But she knew he was still watching her from the corner of his vision; trying his hardest to pretend to enjoy the movie although his mind was completely taken with her. She soaked it all in. Even as she chastised him, she was not watching the story unfold before them either. She was blushing and absorbing his admiration as she moved with the rise and fall of his breath and fell into a rhythm with the beating of his heart. Her eyes grew so heavy. She knew she couldn’t keep them open much longer. She thought of when their children were babies; how they’d fight sleep with all the energy they had. She let out a little laugh at the thought of her babies; now with babies of their own. She turned to face him, meeting his gaze. With each blink of her eyes it became harder to pull her eyelids back up to continue their stare. She knew it was time to stop being silly and give in. As her eyes fell shut, still fixed on his face, she saw him mouth the words “I love you.” And as her lashes lay softly atop her cheeks, everything faded to black. He shifted slowly as to not disturb her and reached over the railing of the hospital bed. Once his cell phone was in hand, he pressed a single button. The call was connected with a subtle click followed by ringing that seemed so loud that it echoed through the quiet room. A groggy voice, fresh from slumber, answered the call. “She’s gone.” he said with a catch in his voice, and then he began to weep.
I rolled over, tucking my hands under my pillow, as the sun began to stream through the crevices around the roman shade. As I nestled into my new spot, my eyes came to rest on the faded American flag as it rose and fell with each breath of slumber. I wondered about the events seen by eyes so young. Excitement was found in a lesser man’s nightmares. Smoldering timber, burning long after the first spark, fell quiet beneath his boot as his smile cracked the mixture of dirt and soot and sweat that formed a mask on his boyish face. Comrades were made and contentment found amid endless sand and heat and waiting, a chance to validate excuses made for being a drifter. There was plenty of time for growing old after dreams had been exhausted. I was lost somewhere between the flag and his golden skin; my thoughts filled with speculation. I swam in the memory of our laughter, refreshed by the way our voices blended until they became one. Our smiles were laced with alcohol and our intentions were anything but pure. But we always lost control before we could act on our whims. We remained a comfort to the other, a place of solace and rest. For now this wandering soul lay still beneath the flag he served. He was mine completely to both lead and follow. But as ever, there was no time to revel, for his eyes fluttered open. He lifted his head and adjusted his focus and smiled to start the day. “Let’s go for a hike.” He said. “Sounds good,” I answered.
We were on our way to Target. The boys were in the back seat of the Jeep arguing, as usual.
Scout: “Mom, make him stop. He’s being a jerk.”
Me: “Ya’ll please just settle down and be nice to each other.”
Scout: “Mom, I can’t take it. He’s acting all French.”
Me: “He’s not being that bad, Scout.”
Scout: “Fine. He’s being French Canadian.”