When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake. Then one of the synagogue rulers, named Jairus, came there. Seeing Jesus, he fell at his feet and pleaded earnestly with him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” So Jesus went with him.
08 November 2007
I wake up this morning looking forward to checking my email. This is unusual for me. I am looking for an email. I know it will be there. It’s impossible that it won’t. I saw my mentor last night. I explained that I had sent him an email earlier yesterday and it was rather urgent. I was awaiting his reply. I understood when he explained how busy he was. I understood that nine children had died in the hospital that day and there had been no time to check his email.
He knew, now, however that I needed him. He knew that I had written him. I had stood in that classroom at Union Theological Seminary in the city of New York, room 303, and cried when he hugged me. He knew that I needed him. He had held me, breathed with me, and loved me. An email was waiting for me.
I scrounge around the floor, just trying to find something decent enough to wear as I make my way down the hall. I settle on the closest things, pulling on sweat pants and a sweat shirt and sliding my feet into loafers. I open my door and head out, turning down the hall. Michael Orzechowski and Kym Clemons-Jones are stepping off the elevator. “What are you doing here?” I ask, somewhat surprised to see them both in seminary housing.
“Actually, we’re here to see you,” Kym says. “We need to talk to you. Would you like to do it in your room or in the community room?”
I briefly consider the fact that I haven’t done laundry in about two weeks and my dog is not a fan of people coming in our room, and my desk is overflowing with papers and text books, untidy. “Let’s go to the community room,” I say.
Michael and Kym lead me down the hall and as we go I think to myself, What’s going on? What’s wrong? I haven’t done anything wrong. I begin to make a mental check-list of all the things I have done in the past three weeks. Nothing comes to mind that could possibly get me into trouble. Nothing illegal. Nothing unethical. Nothing against school rules or regulations. “As you can probably guess,” Kym says, “this is pretty serious.”
“Yeah,” I answer. “I kind of got that feeling.” My parents. My brothers. My sister. My nieces. Everyone sends bad news by email. Denis has already fallen off of two roofs—the first time breaking an ankle, the second time breaking an ankle, tibia, fibula, femur, and crushing his pelvis. If they can send this kind of news in an email, surely the only thing that would warrant a call would be death. But they would call me, wouldn’t they? Unless they’d lost my number. Unless they had to call the school administration because they couldn’t get a hold of me. When was the last time I had recharged my cell phone battery?
I take a deep breath and let it out. It does not matter what is going on. I am safe. I just have to keep breathing. Whatever this is, he can fix it. He can fix anything. If I can just keep breathing, make it through this meeting, I’ll call him as soon as Michael and Kym leave. I’ll call him, and I’ll tell him it’s an emergency. Whatever it is, he can fix it.
We’re in the community room, and Michael motions to me to take a seat. Kym closes the doors. Michael sits on the arm of the couch farthest from me. Kym stands in front of me. “He died last night,” Kym tells me.
I have one thought echoing so loudly in my head I cannot hear anything else: He cannot fix this.
Which is how I know it isn’t true. He can fix anything. If he can’t fix this, then it can’t possibly have happened. I shake my head. “No.” It’s the only thing I can say. “No, no, no, no, no, no, no.” I say it over and over and over again. It simply isn’t possible. I keep shaking my head, wanting to shake Kym’s words right out, make them go away, unsay them and burn away the memory of their sound. “How?” It comes out of my mouth, in my voice, but I know that I can’t have asked it. If I’m asking how then I must believe it to be true, and I know that simply isn’t possible.
“A heart attack.”
I sit there crying, Michael so far away he may as well not be there, and Kym standing in front of me like a nightmare come to terrorize my nights and rob me of sleep. “Do you need to go to the hospital?” she asks.
“No,” I tell her. “I’ll be okay.”
I do not know how long we sit there. I continue to shake my head and say, “No.” I look up at Kym on occasion and ask, “Really?” It doesn’t make sense. I cannot wrap my head around it. It’s too….to be real. It is the impossible. I can’t be near them. “I need some time,” I say. “I’m going to go to my room. Maybe take a shower.”
“The worship office is changing the plans for chapel today. They’re planning a memorial chapel. Maybe you want to join in the plans?” Kym suggests.
“Yes, I’d like that. I’ll head over now, shower later.” I get to the chapel and they are just finishing up. I go back to my room. I grab my towel.
I turn on the water, as hot as it will get. I sit on the cold marble stall of the shower, draw my knees up to my chest, wrap my arms around my legs, hang my head, and I cry. I sob. The water striking the back of my head hurts. Every drop is like a needle pricking my skin, stinging me where it lands. I cannot breathe. It hurts too much. I feel like I am drowning in sorrow. I may as well be surrounded by water. At some point, I get up. I turn off the water. I put clothes on. I go to chapel. I cry. I remember the way he said my name, “Mary Winkelpleck” in a tone that told me he was going to scold me in a really loving way. It always made me giggle. Remembering it makes me laugh. I do not sleep.
10 November 2007
I have decided to create my own reality. I will continue to tell myself that this is a bad dream and that I will wake up. I will tell myself this until I believe it. I will tell myself this until I make it real—real for me and real for everyone else in this nightmare. This is just a bad dream and one morning I will wake up on Thursday, 08 November 2007 at 9:18am, and I will check my e-mail. There will be an e-mail from him in my inbox, an e-mail full of love and support and arrangements to meet at 1:45pm on Saturday on the park side of the street at 116 and Riverside Drive. Plans for me, Willy Wonka, him, and Casey. This is just a bad dream. This is just a bad dream.
I am in a women’s clothing store on 34th street. My phone rings. It is Anna. I answer. “I’m so sorry. I just heard. Are you okay?” she says to me without preamble.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I reply. I’m shopping.
“I just heard about him. Honey, are you okay?” Anna seems really worried.
“Oh, that! It was a mistake. They were wrong. It’s fine. I’m fine. Everything is fine!” I have started to shout into my phone.
“Mary, honey, where are you?”
“I’m buying panties!” I yell at Anna. “So, you see,” I tell her, my logic flawless, “he can’t be dead. Because if I can buy panties, the most normal, Mundane, BORING ACTIVITY IN THE WORLD, HE CAN’T POSSIBLY BE DEAD!” I’m practically screaming at her now. People are staring at me. “I’m buying panties,” I say, trying to rein it in. “Don’t you understand? People don’t just buy panties after the whole world ends. It’s not possible. And if I’m buying panties, if I’m capable of buying panties, then the world hasn’t ended. They were wrong. He isn’t dead. He’s just sleeping.”
“Mary, where are you? Where exactly are you? Tell me where you are,” Anna pleads.
“I’m buying panties. I’m in line now, I have to go. I need to pay for this. I’m heading home when I’m done. I’ll be in McGiffert for the rest of the day.”
“Promise me you won’t hurt yourself,” Anna pleads. “Promise me you’ll make it home safely.”
“Anna, why would I hurt myself? Everything is fine. I’ll call you later. I need to pay for this.”
I get home, put my new purchases away. I grab my bottle of vodka, a fifth of Smirnoff. It’s full. I grab a bottle of cranberry juice. I grab a movie. Miss Congeniality. A comedy. I’m going to drink and laugh until I can convince myself that this is not real. I sit in the common room. In less than 45 minutes the vodka is gone. The movie is playing, and I’m speaking along with the dialogue. I laugh at the funny parts. I cry.
I do not know why I’m crying. There are people around me. They are saying things. They are concerned. “I’m fine. He’s just sleeping. He’s going to wake up. Okay? He’s going to wake up.” Someone tells me that I have to face reality. That he isn’t going to wake up. I get angry. I cry. I yell at them.
Someone else sits next to me. It is Vanessa Cardinale. “It’s okay,” she says. “Guys, just leave her alone. Let her believe what she has to. It’s okay.”
Someone else keeps telling me I have to drink water.
“Water. H20. Did you know that water is made up of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom? Did you know that it has an atomic weight of ten? Two hydrogen atoms—each weighs one atomic unit, because they each have one neutron. One oxygen atom—it weighs eight atomic units, because it has eight neutrons. Eight and one and one make ten. That’s water’s weight. Ten.” These are the things I say to them.
Michael O. materializes in a corner. He says something to me. I can’t hear him. “Anna sent you, didn’t she?” I say. What a good friend, making sure that I’m okay.
Michael is still talking. I listen closely. “We need to go to the hospital,” he says.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” I tell him. “I’ll just go to my room. I’m sorry you had to come all the way out here. I’m sorry you had to waste the time. I didn’t mean to make a scene. I’ll get my stuff together and go back to my room.”
“You need to get your socks and shoes on. We need to go to the hospital,” Michael says again.
“I don’t want to go. I’m fine, really. I’ll just go to my room. I didn’t mean to scare anybody.”
“Marybeth, if you’re not willing to go to the hospital with me now, I’m going to have to call the police. They’ll make you go. I don’t want to call the police.”
“Oh. Okay.” I do not want to further inconvenience anyone. “I need some help. I can’t get my socks on. I wear toe socks,” I explain, beginning to cry. “I can’t get them on. Can someone please help me?” Vanessa begins to help me get my socks on. They are olive green, and sparkly dark purple, baby blue and lime. They are beautiful, fun, foolish socks, and they are designed like gloves for the feet, with a separate appendage for each toe. I point out the colors to Vanessa, just to make sure she knows what the colors are. We count my toes, “One. Two. Three. Four. Five.” Other foot! “Six. Seven. Eight. Nine. Ten.” Now my shoes. “Can you tie my shoes? I don’t think I can tie my shoes. Will you help me?” I ask Vanessa. Vanessa ties my shoes.
They want to take the elevator, which is ridiculous in my opinion. It’s a single flight of stairs. It’s lazy to take the elevator down a single flight of stairs. Don’t they understand this? I give in. We take the elevator. It’s probably a good thing. When we get to the four steps leading out of the building Michael O. is holding the door open for us. I have one person behind me, holding me up, one on my left, and one on my right. The people on either side of me lift my legs one at a time and place them on the steps. I cannot feel my legs. I cannot feel anything.
I am in Michael’s van, and he is driving me to the hospital. I am on a gurney. “We blew another vein,” a voice says. I can’t see anything. Just voices everywhere. I think, Another vein? I’m going to have two bruises tomorrow. “You have to use a butterfly. I have deep veins in my arms. You can’t get anything in my elbow. You have to use a butterfly in the back of my left hand.”
“We know, honey. You’ve told us. We’re trying,” a voice says. (I counted six bruises in my hand the next morning.)
I have to pee, and no one will let me leave the gurney. I ask to be escorted. They can even pick the person. I don’t care who goes with me. I do not want to experience the humiliation of a bed pan. They refuse. A bed pan it is. In the meantime, a friend who rode along to the hospital helps me undress and get into a gown.
I ask for an emesis basin. I fill it. My stomach rolls. I ask for another one. “I don’t think you’ll need another one,” a man tells me. “Judging by the amount, I’d say you got rid of everything in this one.
My stomach does not feel good. “Please,” I tell him, “I think I’m going to be sick again. I need another one.” He hands me another pink tub. He is right. I do not vomit again. Nor do I have the muscle control to hold onto the tub. I put it at the head of the bed, above me. I falls over, slips down. I end up wearing it like a hat.
I urinate in a bed pan. My worst fear. I urinate too much. It overflows. Why couldn’t they just have let me go to the bathroom? Someone takes the bed pan away to empty it. “Can I get a new sheet please,” I ask. “It spilled. This one is wet.”
A doctor comes. “Why did you drink a bottle of vodka this evening?”
She’s the emergency room psychiatrist. I do not trust her. “They lied about him. He’s just sleeping,” I tell her. I do not think she believes me.
“He is the man who died?” she asks, turning to Michael O. and Kym Clemons-Jones for confirmation.
“No!” I scream. Where did Kym come from? “He’s not dead. He’s just sleeping. Jesus woke up Jairus’s daughter in Mark 5 and he’s going to wake up him!” She turns to Michael and Kym to confirm that he is the man who died. Why don’t they understand? “Jesus woke up Jairus’s daughter and he’s going to wake up him!” I have to make them understand. I have to make them believe this. If I can convince just one other person, then maybe I can really believe it myself. I try to be gentler about it. “Jairus’s daughter wasn’t dead. She was sleeping. Jesus woke up Jairus’s daughter. They got it wrong, see? He isn’t dead. He’s just sleeping. Jesus woke up Jairus’s daughter, and he’s going to wake up him.”
I spend the night in the emergency room. Suicide watch. I do not sleep.
A large crowd followed and pressed around him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.
At once Jesus realized that power had gone out of him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?”
“You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you ask, ‘Who touched me?’”
But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet, and trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”
I grew up in a really fucked up family. My father is an alcoholic and a drug addict. During my childhood, my father was emotionally and verbally abusive to everyone in the household. He was physically abusive to my brothers. I remember my younger brother’s pre-school picture. He has a fat lip. He’s three years old in the photograph, and he has a fat lip, split open and swollen because my father had backhanded him the day before the picture was taken. What does a three year old do to deserve being beaten up by a grown man whose upper body is corded with muscle from years of working construction, and whose blood runs with too much aggression from the amount of amphetamines, cocaine, and heroin he takes?
I remember this one time that my brothers and I had an epiphany. Dad always got more violent when he was drinking. He had come home with a new supply of beer that day and drank through half of it before passing out on the couch. If we could just interrupt the supply, he wouldn’t get so mean. We took the rest of the beer outside and began emptying the cans on the ground, watching the piss-colored liquid pool and foam before sinking into the gravel, turning the gray dust to mud.
One of my brothers wanted to know why Daddy drank it. He squatted down and dipped a finger in the beer, touching it to his tongue. “Don’t do that!” I said, filling with panic. “You don’t want to end up like him.” My younger brother takes a taste as well.
“It tastes disgusting. I don’t know why he drinks it.” But there was something in my brothers’ eyes that day that made me nervous. A fierce shining and a look of resignation on their faces. I wonder if at the ages of ten and seven they had a primal knowledge of the genetics of addiction, if they weren’t giving in, resigning themselves to what would become their lives at such a tender age. I was eight, and I knew I would never use drugs or drink alcohol. Those things just ruined your life and made you mean. They made you brutalize the people you were supposed to love.
Out of nowhere my brothers are both on the ground. A terrifying beast stands over them, five feet, nine inches of solid muscle. Long legs, long arms, and power. We had been paying such close attention to the beer we hadn’t heard our father approach. He began to kick my brothers viciously. Wearing his steel-toed, pointy, cowboy boots he kicks and kicks and kicks. I heard the blows landing as I watched my father’s boots connect with their backs, stomachs, legs, their arms as they covered their heads in self-defense. He yelled the whole time he was kicking them, telling them that they were sons-of-a-bitch, little bastards, where did they get off touching his things? When he grew tired, my father walked away. I stood helplessly by the entire time. I don’t think my father ever saw me.
“We have to tell mom,” I said, pleading with them. “She has to know what he’s like.” As though she didn’t already know. At least twice already my father’s had tried to kill her. Once he had pinned her to their bed, pounding on her with his fists. He broke her nose and gave her two black eyes. He told her he was going to beat her to death, and he meant it. She managed to grab the two-by-four he kept in their bedroom and he backed off.
The other time my father tried to kill my mother they had been out to a bar, and my father’s girlfriend had shown up. She began flirting with my father. When my mother confronted him, they came home. When they got to our house they sent the babysitter home. They argued, yelling at each other. It escalated. My father held my mother against the wall, his hands wrapped around her throat, her feet dangling several inches off the floor. My mother tried to plead with my older sister to call the police. But my sister was terrified. She couldn’t move. My mother started to black out, and stopped struggling, her body going limp. My father was still holding her against the wall, still squeezing. My older brother went to the kitchen, grabbed the telephone, and dialed the operator. Before he could even ask to be connected to the police my father had ripped the telephone from the wall and left.
On this occasion, having beaten my brothers for pouring out his beer, my brothers refused to tell our mother what our father had done. “We’re going to tell her we fell off our bikes when we were riding around town today.”
“You can’t do that. You have to tell her the truth,” I pleaded.
“What do you think he’ll do to us if we rat him out?” my older brother asked. “You have to promise you won’t tell mom what he did. He’ll kill us if you tell on him.”
“Maybe he won’t,” I argued. “Maybe she’ll finally leave him.”
“Promise!” he demanded. I told him I wouldn’t mention it to our mother. I lied.
When my mom got home from work that day and saw the scrapes and bruises on my brothers, they told her they had fallen off their bikes. She believed them. That night after everyone had gone to bed—my mother finishing up the dishes, my father out of the house, my brothers both sleeping—I snuck into the kitchen. “Daddy did it,” I whispered.
“What?” my mother asked, in a somewhat distant voice, as though I had interrupted a daydream, not having heard me as she carefully washed a plate, rinsed it, and placed in the dish strainer.
“Daddy did it. The boys didn’t fall off their bikes. We took Daddy’s beer up to the elevator and dumped it out. He found us and beat up the boys. He did it to them.”
My mother sighed. “Go back to bed. Everything will be alright in the morning.” I learned years later that my mother hadn’t believed me. She thought I wanted her to divorce my father. She believed that I was willing to say anything to make it happen. I love my father. I always have. When he passed out on the couch every night after too much beer or liquor, I would shake him awake before bed—every single night—for a hug and kiss goodnight. I do not think he remembers this.
When I was five, my older sister had a friend over to spend the night. My sister was nine, her friend was twelve. She did not spend the night. My sister’s friend forced my younger brother, who was three, to perform cunnilingus on her and to have sexual intercourse with her. She forced my older brother, who was six, and me to undress one article of clothing at a time and lie in bed together after taking off each article. When we were stripped down to our underwear, we refused to go any further. We knew that what she was trying to make us do wasn’t right. She refused to give us our pants back and made us watch while she raped our baby brother. My sister sat in the corner of the room just watching the whole thing unfold.
When we finally did get our pants back, my older brother and I went downstairs to watch television with our parents. When my younger brother came down and told my parents what had happened, they called the police. The girl’s parents came and took her home. The rest of us went to the police station. They would only take my younger brother’s statement because he was the only one who had been forced to “perform a sexual act.” What she did to my older brother and to me didn’t matter to them in light of this. We were not allowed to talk about what had happened. The police did not want to hear it. We weren’t allowed to talk about it at home. My parents didn’t want to hear it.
I began acting out in school. I would kick, yell at, and hit the other students. I threw my safety scissors, crayons, paste, shoes, books, and chair at the teacher. Strangely, the thing I feel most shame about is that one day, having been placed in the corner for a time-out, I dumped out all the puzzles, mixed the pieces together, and put them back into the boxes handful by handful. I am ashamed that this act created confusion when the boxes were opened next and no one could make any of the puzzle pieces fit together properly.
This incident with my sister’s friend was also the beginning of sexual abuse within the family. After my sister witness her friend sexual abusing my older brother and me, and raping my younger brother, my sister began sexually abusing me. I do not have many or particularly long memories of the abuse, but I do have specific snippets of memories of being forced to French kiss her, bathe with her and touch her genitals and one instance when she forced me to drink her urine.
Because of the problems at school, my parents took me to therapists—several. They would meet the therapist privately and then I would be sent in to meet the therapist. I knew that I was angry about the sexual abuse by my sister’s friend and the ongoing incest/molestation, but because I hadn’t been allowed to talk about it with the authorities, and because I wasn’t allowed to talk about it at home, I did not know that I could talk about it with my therapist. I also was under the impression that my parents were guiding the therapist in terms of what I was and was not allowed to discuss. I never broached the subject of the sexual abuse, and every therapist I saw wanted to talk about my father’s alcoholism. They all insisted that my father’s rage was a result of his drinking, his drinking a result of my failure to behave in school, and thus, if I wanted my family to happy, I had to learn to not get angry about my father’s drinking so he would stop. I never saw a single therapist for very long.
When I was ten, my father sexually abused me. It only happened once, but it was traumatic. Two months later, he came after me in a fit of rage and would have killed me if he could have gotten his hands on me. I believe these are the only two times in my entire childhood that my father saw me.
The night my father tried to kill me the police were called. I was suddenly invisible to him again, as he had beaten my brothers, and when the officer arrived, he threatened to strangle my sister in front the man. I was never looked at or referenced. My three siblings and I were taken into foster care that night. When my mother came home and found us gone, she kicked my father out and told him to never come back. Two months after this my younger brother and I were returned to my mother’s care. It would be another six months before my sister and older brother were returned as well.
My father entered rehab and got clean and sober. The physical and sexual abuse stopped. My father fought to win my mother back and four years later succeeded. I did not want to move to another new town and be under the same roof as my father. My mother put me in therapy again. With this therapist, being fourteen years old, I felt comfortable telling her what I needed. I explained the circumstances: the sexual abuse my father perpetrated against me, indicating that I was still very angry about this and insisting that I did not feel safe in my home, living under the same roof as this man. The therapist told me that my father’s sexual indiscretions (that is what she called his abuse) were the concern of my parents’ marriage and if I continued to insist on talking about it, she would not continue to offer me services. I attended another three sessions during which I said not a single word. Finally she told my mother that I was “uncooperative” and was wasting both the therapist’s time and my mother’s resources. I did not return to therapy.
Later that year, I was sexually assaulted while babysitting for a neighbor. I told no one. Two weeks later, I cut myself for the first time and knew I had found salvation. I continued to cut for seven years.
I did not want to cut. Having had my experiences denied the whole of my life, however, there was something soothing in seeing a physical manifestation of the internal pain no one was willing to witness, and about which I was not permitted speak. Cutting myself was an undeniable affirmation that I was human, and that my pain was real, and it mattered, even if only to me. When a razor blade slips through your skin like a sharp knife in a nectarine’s flesh it demands an acknowledgment of brokenness and pain. Even if you are the only person who ever knows, who ever sees, it cannot be run from or denied.
I fought with myself over the issue of self-mutilation for seven years. I desperately wanted to give it up, but I needed it to know that my pain was genuine. In those seven years, I never went more than three days without cutting, often cutting several times a day, every day, for weeks at a time. One time when no razor blades or knives were available, I gave myself a third-degree burn. It didn’t hurt. It didn’t bleed. It didn’t heal in the same way. I never burned myself again.
Seven years of this and it ended one night. In an instant I was healed. I was sitting in my car preparing to cut myself when I heard an audible voice speak into my right ear. “This is not who I created you to be. I want so much more for you. This stops now. Your identity is in me. This is not who I created you to be.” I never cut again. I began to get healthy. My relationships began to flourish. I hadn’t seen a therapist in seven years, and in one moment God healed me. Three years later I finished my undergraduate degree, was accepted to Union Theological Seminary, moved to New York City, and did not look back.
While Jesus was still speaking, some men came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue ruler. “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher any more?”
Ignoring what they said, Jesus told the synagogue ruler, “Do not be afraid; just believe.” He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John the brother of James.
When they came to the home of the synagogue ruler, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. He went in and said to them, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.” But they laughed at him.
After he put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which mean, “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”). Immediately the girl stood up and walked around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished. He gave them strict orders not to let anyone know about him, and told them to give her something to eat.
I was living in New York City, attending Union Theological Seminary. More importantly, I was living. This is where I met him, my mentor. He loved me. He loved me so well. He was the incarnate Christ in my life. According to Ron Belsterling, the term mentor may come from the root “meno (enduring relationship).” This is “an abiding relationship, the type of relationship [Jesus] desires with His twelve disciples.” There are not words for what I lost when he died.
13 November 2007
My mentor died six days ago. I am going to his funeral. I carefully choose my attire. I have a black, pin-striped suit. He loved how it looks on me. I am wearing black, strappy, open-toed, high heels. Carefully, I make my way from my room to Riverside Church. I sign the guestbook. I enter the sanctuary. I am flanked by friends. There is reserved seating for a group of us. Half-way down the aisle I stop, striving to move forward, trying to exert my will upon my body, which has decided at this moment to move backward. I am pulled along by my friends. I feel as though I am walking headlong into gale-force winds.
People talk. People sing. Some man plays a trumpet. A pastor says, “Into your hands, we now commend his spirit,” and it hits me. This is the moment that he is truly gone. This is the moment that his spirit truly leaves us. Until this moment, it was possible that he might come back. Now, this man, the pastor, has ripped his spirit from our hearts and placed it in God’s hands. I begin to shake my head no. This is not possible. He cannot be gone.
14 November 2007
I am on a plane. I am leaving New York City and returning to Iowa. My best friend has agreed to let me live with her for the next year, until I return to Union to finish my degree. When the plane lands, I collect my luggage, climb into the truck she and her husband have left for me in the parking lot. I drive to their house, carry my things inside, and collapse into bed. I cry until my eyes run dry.
I stare at a wall. Matte rose. Dull fuchsia. I cannot tell. I barely sleep, though I spend eighteen hours a day in bed. When my body aches (from being in one position for so long) so severely that I can no longer stand it, I make my way downstairs and lie on the couch. Sometimes I stare at the wall. Sometimes I stare at the moving pictures on the television screen. Are those people? Are they saying something? I think I take a shower once.
I stare at a wall. Matte Rose. Dull fuchsia. I cannot tell. I barely sleep, though I spend eighteen hours a day in bed. When my body aches (from being in one position for so long) so severely that I can no longer stand it, I make my way downstairs and lie on the couch. I eat sugar. I wash dishes. Sometimes with the water running, I think I remember him. I leave. The water is still running. It overflows into the next sink and goes down the drain. A few hours later I come back and turn the water off. I lie on the couch and stare at the wall. I try to go back upstairs to bed. I am so tired I curl up on the stairs half-way up and take a nap. When I awaken, I crawl on my hands and knees to the top and into my room. I sleep on the floor, too tired to lift myself into the bed. I take a shower one day.
I stare at a wall. Matte Rose. Dull fuchsia. I cannot tell. I barely sleep, though I spend eighteen hours a day in bed. When my body aches (from being in one position for so long) so severely that I can no longer stand it, I make my way downstairs and lie on the couch. I eat sugar. I wash dishes. I stare at the wall. I stare at the wall. I think I take a shower twice.
I stare at a wall. Matte Rose. Dull fuchsia. I cannot tell. I barely sleep, though I spend eighteen hours a day in bed. When my body aches (from being in one position for so long) so severely that I can no longer stand it, I make my way downstairs and lie on the couch. I eat sugar. I wash dishes. I stare at the wall. I stare at the wall. I think I take a shower twice.
I get a job. There is no way my friend can make ends meet with her husband at boot camp, not being paid. She needs me to help. I go to work at 6:00am. I get home at 9:00am. I lie on the couch. I stare at the wall. I go to work at 2:00pm. I get home at 4:30pm. I lie on the couch. I stare at the wall. At night, I climb the stares, crawl into bed, and stare at the wall until I sleep. I shower once a week.
I go to work everyday. I go to church every weekend. In the in-between times, I sit on the couch. I stare at the wall. My mom comes over after she gets off work. She spends time with me. Once, she gives me a ride to the chiropractor. We stop by her house for lunch. We pull into the driveway. She leans across the van, gives me a hug and says, “I’m sorry you’re so sad.” I start to cry. My mother immediately releases me and gets out of the van. It is the only time anyone in my family mentions what I’m going through.
I begin working with a therapist. We meet every other week. Mostly, I cry. I miss him. There are so many things I did not get a chance to say. There are so many things I never got ask. There is one thing I did not take the time to say. I write a letter to him, saying the one thing. It took me two weeks to write it. I did not finish it. I just ran out of time. I shower twice a week.
May 2007-August 2009
I work. I go to church. I spend time with my mother. I go to therapy. I make new friends. I get healthier.
I return to New York City. I return to Union Theological Seminary. I shower nearly every day. Jesus has not awoken me. Jesus has not resurrected me. I woke me up. I rebuilt my life. But, I have a different life now. It is not the life I wanted. It is not the life I planned. It is, however, the only life I have. I am finally living again.
Yet, I find myself living without the simple, easy relationship I’ve had with Jesus my whole life, a Jesus who never let me down, a Jesus who protected me in the midst of my traumatic upbringing; a Jesus who was with me as I got healthy; a Jesus who healed me of self-mutilation in an instant; a Jesus who was God incarnate, imbued with all of God’s substantial power and gifts—omniscience, omnipotence, omni-benevolence; a Jesus who is perfect; a Jesus who could and would love me to the ends of the earth, for all eternity.
Now, I have a life with a Jesus who is human. It’s a life with the Jesus of the Gospel of Mark; a Jesus who doesn’t heal anybody, because it is their faith that makes them well; a Jesus who doesn’t resurrect people, because “The child is not dead but asleep”; a Jesus who fails; a Jesus who failed me the moment I needed him most. It’s a life that returned to trauma after being delivered from so much trauma—the new trauma so much worse for the fact that it had been interrupted, finally, by an understanding of how God intended for us to love and be loved by one another. A life in which this trauma utterly broke me, and I had to pick up the pieces, patch them back together, and try to create something that resembles a whole. It’s a life that hurts more for the love I found in the in-between time, in the interruption, the time with him, my mentor. In losing him, I lost everything because it fundamentally changed the entire landscape of my life.
In the Gospel of Mark Jesus is always being interrupted. Or doing the interrupting. He interrupts illness with health; possession with freedom; death with life. And he still dies in the end. His death is more traumatic for those who knew him because he had delivered them from their trauma and shown them the love of God in real, tangible, manifest ways. In the end trauma, loss, and death have the final word. We are left to figure out how to pick up the pieces and create a life without him, because the Jesus I needed wasn’t there, and the Jesus I have, isn’t the one I want. He is, however, the only Jesus I have. Perhaps one day, together, we’ll find wholeness and create something new.