As you know if you’ve been following my blog –I haven’t been blogging lately since I took up my new book project. Consequently, this week I decided to share a chapter from my published book, Darkness Overturned. From Chapter Six:
The bakery was located on an Indian reservation, and in the night came the rhythmic throb of distant chants. I wondered what they were doing, poor creatures. Day by day they came to beg moldy bread from the store, their faces expressionless. Their leathery cheeks seemed chiseled. Too noble to permit condescension, they asked forthrightly. It was dignity hung with rough blankets and adorned by carved beads and brightly colored taffeta.
Somehow, I understood. These were people who loved, feared, hoped, and then just existed —resignation sidled up against clouded nobility. Perhaps it could be so for them, I thought ruefully, because they could remember their rich heritage. Maybe that’s what they did so deep in the night. They remembered with their chants and fires and strange rituals. Did they feel as haunted as they sounded? I could almost have felt a part of them, except that there were no memories for me to soothe away my beggarliness.
As I lay in bed each night listening, another sound came through the darkness, first throbbing, then crescendoing into a gnashing roar, screaming its warning into the blackness. Sometimes I could see the wide beam of its roving eye as it sent light ’round and ’round in the sky. Each time it passed, I could almost feel its churning steel wheels tearing my body apart against the tracks. Perhaps if I were deliberate enough there would be nothing left. It would be as though I had never been. Yes, one night I would simply walk away into forever.
One day I was headed for the kitchen when I heard a man’s voice.
“We just want you to know we know,” he said. I stopped and looked up. It was the young man from downstairs.
“We’ve heard you crying. We hear how roughly he speaks to you. If there is anything we can do…”
So. They’d heard us after all!
“…anything we can to do help?” he finished with a look of helplessness playing across his face.
Inside I cried out, go away! You don’t know! Oh God, please, where are you? Somebody, hold me! I need somebody to hold me! I turned to the young man.
“Thanks, but it’s okay. I’m all right.”
It was a lie. Were my eyes as empty as my heart?
Later that day the owner of the bakery approached me. Taking me into his little office, he counseled me to learn a woman’s place in marriage. It would help me adjust better, he assured me, and God would bless me with a long life.
Just what I wanted!
I wondered about his marriage. He slept apart from his wife, out in a screened shed. “For my health,” he explained to anybody who had the nerve to ask.
His wife was the next to seek me out. A gracefully aging woman with a gentle demeanor, she was the one who handed out bread to the Indian women who came with their huge-eyed children. She was thanked with toothless grins as she reached out to touch the babies, often slipping small treats into their little hands.
“Come up to the house,” she offered. “I want to show you something.”
Whatever she showed me I have long forgotten. But as she reached out to me, I felt my detachment from reality begin to crack, like leathery old skin.
“Something is terribly wrong,” she probed delicately. “You need someone to understand, don’t you? Not just to know, but to understand.”
She continued talking softly to me. She did not intend to let me out of her sight.
“I’m afraid you are thinking of doing something desperate.”
Had I been that transparent? Suddenly I felt sick. Putting my face down against my knees, I dug my knuckles into my eyes, trying to halt the tidal wave of tears that were falling.
Oh, how stupid to call Mommy! Why do I do that? She’s not there. She’s never been there. No one is there.
Oh God, I’m sorry! Please let me go!
She was holding me now, rocking me and stroking my hair. Knowing. Understanding, at least, that I was an empty-handed child. And when I was spent, she laid my head upon a taffeta pillow, and I slept. When I awoke she was still there. For the next few days, she always seemed to be there. Slowly, I turned back into life.
Turning back hurts. It means you feel again. Yet for me it also meant I could pray again. Not like before, but I did pray. Going out into the woods, I prayed with my eyes, tracing the border of green against the sky. I noticed the scent of wetness in the leaves and heard the birds and the wind. Tasting the freshness and calm of fall, I wrapped my arms around the trunk of a tree and prayed by just being.
My mind was still in such a paralyzed state that I could not formalize my thoughts into a recognizable prayer. Just the same, I communed with my Maker, perhaps not unlike a tree: created and Creator. I went as often as I could and lingered as long as I dared —the tree and God and I in a strange, healing embrace.
Slowly, as I began to get my bearings, I sensed that God was speaking directly to me, though I couldn’t fully understand what He was telling me. I could only hear the water song and the wind chorus. But somehow, as I had prayed without words, so I began to “hear” without sounds. My heritage was greater than the Indians’. I belonged to the family of God. And mine was the Bread of Life, fresh from the throne of Grace.