Friday, March 30, 2012
Help from God
She looked out the car window, biting her cuticles. Biting away until it bled. Then she moved on to the next finger. Biting, biting down until she could no longer bite her skin and moved on to her nails. It was raining and she liked to watch carefully as the water droplets raced and collided, making bigger droplets that ran faster and faster, their weight carrying them backward, downward.
Sometimes she'd find herself rooting for a small droplet, encouraging it to run the race alone, to avoid competitors all together, to be okay with losing. A small few would make it to the end of their window journey having never touched another droplet, and she would smile a little between nibbles on her bloody fingers. That's perseverance, she thought to herself. She liked people who could do things alone. Except for God. God should help people because it doesn't hurt Him to do so. She expected this of God.
"Jesus Christ, honey stop doing that!" She was startled and accidentally bit her finger too hard on a raw tip. The little wound opened wider and bled freely. "Stop biting your damn nails. They look terrible." She didn't like that. If she wanted to stop biting her nails, she could do it on her own. If she wanted. She didn't care. And when her mother berated her, preaching about germs and fecal matter, she ignored her, but she stopped biting. There was nothing left there.
She was being driven to her therapy session. She liked her therapist okay, but she could take care of herself, she knew. She didn't like people who used other people to take care of them. Once you reach a certain age you deserved and should be expected to become independent. She knew this.
She looked back at the window. Perhaps ten more minutes, she thought. They had to go out of town. Country towns didn't have much by way of mental health care in those days. When they reached the third stoplight of the trip, she watched the droplets roll straight down the window. Her heart kind of sank with them. They would never win the race, now. They died in a sense. They slid lifelessly downward--dead. The light turned green. They started to move forward. The drops that hadn't reached the bottom yet still had a chance! Come on, Mom, let's go! I don't want them to die! Then screeching tires, a cursing horn, a moment of silence...
Was she screaming? No, it's Mom. She was burning. But she needed to take care of herself. How terrible for a mother to expect her 10 year-old to save her. And she watched. She did nothing. When the paramedics arrived she feigned sleep, whispering prayers she didn't believe in. Humans needed to take care of themselves. But God needed to take care of everyone. But she already knew God had failed.
And then she hated herself. Her mother died. She could have saved her. Guilt, guilt, guilt, guilt... there was nothing she could do now. God had failed her. He failed, failed, failed... but so had she. She eventually forgave herself for that day in the car, but she never forgave God.
Years later she had a minor accident with her daughter in the car. She had a concussion, but nothing too terrible happened. The daughter was trying to gather herself. Her seat belt had burned her chest. And the mother looked very seriously, nearly angrily, at her daughter. "Don't you dare start praying," she said. Her daughter started crying. And her mother kept saying it louder and louder. "DON'T YOU DARE START PRAYING!"
And the little girl, out of fear, ran out of the car. Her mother continued to call after her, but after a while it faded. In their small town she found her father's mother's home easily. She was crying, she was a little bruised and the seat belt burn was getting sticky and a little bloody. She'd heard thunder. Her teacher said not to be outside if you heard thunder. You could be struck by lighting.
She walked inside without knocking, she was too scared to wait. She heard voices from inside the kitchen. Oma was on the floor and two police men were standing over her, smoking and laughing. "Keine rauchen, bitte" she said. Her grandmother would have been proud. Of course, the policemen didn't understand. Instead they laughed more, as if she had contributed to an existing joke--an inside joke. "Don't you dare start praying." she said in a voice so hateful and mature that they looked at the six year-old bewildered. They left, unsure what her words had meant. But she knew. She knew those words meant leave. Leave now.
About twenty-five years later, that little girl took her daughter to her estranged mother's funeral. The daughter had never met her grandmother. Her mother hadn't spoken to the crazy woman but four times since that day. First, on the day of her wedding. Second, on the day Haley was born. Third, when her father died. Fourth, at her deathbed. They had an average kind of funeral, with the expected performance of archaic and barbaric rituals. But then the crazy grandma sat up in her casket and laughed. She laughed and laughed as if she needed no breath for it. She pointed at the mother and screeched. She started screaming as if she were terrified and couldn't move her legs to leave. The mother put her face in her hands. The already tearful mother cried harder. Why is she doing this to me? The rest of the mourners tried to comfort her. "She's in heaven now," "God takes them when they're ready," "She's at peace now."
But Haley saw something the others didn't. She saw her mother's eyes behind her long, thin fingers. Her mother saw, heard, felt what wasn't there. Only Haley sensed it. She knew what her mother had always said to get her attention and tell her it was time to leave. "Mommy. Don't you dare start praying." Her voice contained the same hard quality that her mother and crazy grandmother had when they spoke those words. There was evil in it. But her mother looked at her seriously. It was Haley's first time speaking those words, but they felt comfortable and right in her mouth. They belonged to her genetics.
The people trying to comfort her mother gasped. The cursed, they cried, they tried to touch Haley and convince her of God's presence. Haley would have none of that. With her mother's attention, she spoke the words again. "Don't. You. Dare. Start. Praying." Her mother nodded at her baby's words. She stood, took her daughter's hand, and they walked away together, whispering those words. They ignored the words of their audience. The continuous string of gasps. Those people just wanted to help, but they would never again accept help from anyone but one another.
Picture: Oleg Dou. His stuff really struck me. Here's the link