Missing Comma

I need to write this morning. I need to purge myself of the feeling with which I woke — the nebulous hopelessness, the vague sense of being doomed, the knowledge that Satan is alive and well and thoroughly enjoying himself by stirring up memories better left forgotten.

He tried to camouflage what he was doing with concerns about the immediate future. When I moved to California, I thought I’d be OK for a month or two financially. I’d paid my bills for July and for part of August, and expected to have much of the security deposit I placed on my apartment returned. In addition, I expected to have a portion of the rent for August refunded, because I moved out early and a new tenant moved in shortly thereafter. But, I haven’t received a check and repeated efforts to contact the gal from whom I rented the apartment were finally answered with a terse message that I’d left extensive and widespread damage — an assessment I knew wasn’t true. Requests for more specific information have gone unanswered. I woke this morning worried about auto insurance and credit card payments that are quickly becoming past due.

All the hope I had experienced just two days ago had dissipated. What if I can’t find a job? How am I going to pay my bills? What if Sara and Brodie get fed up with helping me? Slowly, another voice began to whisper. A future of hope. Healthy growth. Trust. God’s voice. His promises. OK, I thought and picked up my journal. I need to write.

As soon as I opened my journal to the first blank page, I knew the truth. How I felt had nothing to do with money — nothing has changed since Tuesday — and everything to do with the past, a past I did not choose but with which I have lived for my entire adult life. A basement apartment. Sleeping in the twin bed in my corner of the bedroom. Two guys I didn’t know wandering down from a party upstairs. First one and then the other. My sheets bloody from the violation. Months of my life I still don’t remember.

I should have guessed this would happen, this weakening of the inner armor I’ve pieced together over time to shield me from these memories. I’ve been listening to an audio book when I paint in the morning — HELL AND HIGH WATER by Joy Castro. The narrator is a reporter assigned to do a story about registered sex offenders who have fallen off the grid in post-Katrina New Orleans. It’s full of stories and facts about sexual violence again women and children. And well written. I found myself picking it up when folding laundry, unloading the dishwasher and making myself lunch. I finished it last night, knitting into the darkness after Sara and Brodie went to bed. I needed to know how her story ended, because I suspected the narrator had been sexually molested herself. I needed to know she was OK. Even if she was fictional.

Knowing the source of my anxiety didn’t ease it, though. I picked up a book of poetry I found while packing — [RISKING EVERYTHING] edited by Roger Housden. As has become my habit, I opened it at random until a poem captured my attention — “O Taste and See” by Denise Levertov. I was stymied by the second stanza: “the subway Bible poster said,/meaning The Lord, meaning/if anything all that lives/to the imagination’s tongue.”

In reading poetry, I usually follow the author’s cues — use line breaks and punctuation for pauses. But, if I read the third line without pausing — “if anything all that lives” — it made no sense. It needed a comma, a pause, to make sense — “if anything, all that lives.” Then the whole poem unfolded with its richness, with its hope. We’re to allow the deaths in our lives to be transformed. “crossing the street, plum, quince,/living in the orchard and being/hungry, and plucking/the fruit,” the poem concludes.

Being hungry and plucking the fruit.

But first, we have to cross the street. And I have, I need to tell myself this morning. I have crossed the street. I worked with a therapist to create a modicum of order out of the chaos resulting from that experience, abuse in my family home and my mother’s death. I returned to the faith which had been torn from me by that act, which I couldn’t confess and barred me from receiving the Eucharist. And while my life is not what it might have been, I’ve done some good work from time to time and — I like to think — I was a good mother.

I have crossed over, even if I am currently unemployed. I have crossed over, even if I have bills to pay. I have crossed over, even if I am once again the victim of another of life’s injustices. I have crossed over.

And the sweet juicy fruit for which I hunger is well within my reach: hugs and kisses from precious granddaughters, encouragement and support from both of my daughters, my son-in-law’s patience, my brothers’ advice, morning prayer, time at the easel creating beauty, friendships. Love in all its many guises.

Love. The fruit which comes from God’s hands. For me to pluck.


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