I looked over my shoulder, I looked behind. It seems like the older I get, the more I seem to look back, instead of ahead. The past chases me. My name is Elizabeth Glassworth, but I go by Elle. My past has been full of anger and abuse.
“I grew up in a well-to-do household, but that didn’t fix our problems. My mother, sister, and I were constantly in fear of my alcoholic father. We were constantly in fear that someone would find out how broken our family was. My mother was the breadwinner, while my dad spent his inheritance on liquor and nights on the town. Mom worked late nights, and so often we would be home alone with dad. My older sister, Lisa, was my guardian. She protected me as best she could from his rages and curses, but I still got hurt. Then, my father was charged with manslaughter after driving home from the bar. He rammed his truck into a van, killing the couple inside. Now the truth was out, and the shame was everywhere. We were on the news, being interviewed, as we went to court to sit through the trial. Kids at school avoided me, believing that I too had the power to inflict harm on them. Mom was spotlighted in particular. People blamed her for marrying such a man, and for putting her young daughters in such harm. We visited once in prison, so that we could tell him that we were moving, and that Mom was divorcing him.
The move was a breath of freedom, no one knew my past, or at least no one cared. Mom had a good job and seemed less stressed then she had in years. Lisa was going out with a sweet young man, and I was a freshman in high school. Life was as good as it could get, until Mom got sick, really sick. She had to be hospitalized, and soon our comfortable life was in shambles. Lisa stopped dating her boyfriend, dropped out of college, and got a full-time job to pay for hospital bills. Mom survived, but her immune system was never the same. She gets sick often and is always in a fragile state.
I got a scholarship to a good school, and went to study medicine, along with my sister. Lisa reenrolled in a nursing school, got married, and had two children. My father is still in prison, and I haven’t seen him in six years, nor do I have a desire to.
This is where you find me; bitter at life, and whatever deity or circumstance that makes my past so hard to cope with. You can’t help me,” I write, as I finish my email to my councilor. “Nobody can.”
I sigh, as close my laptop computer. She won’t be able to cover up, excuse, or make me forget my past. The councilor was my professor’s idea, but it won’t work. Talking about it only brings back the hurt and shame. A text appears on my phone from Lisa, it says, “Call me when you can.” I dial on her number.
“Hey Elle, I don’t have much time to talk. Henry is crying and Gabby keeps getting into the pots and pans.”
A loud crash is echoes in the background. I smile, thinking of sweet, little Gabby violently banging pots together.
“Sorry about that! Okay, this is why I wanted to call you: I got invited to our church’s missionary dinner. I got a babysitter for the kids, but Mattias forgot he had a work meeting he has to attend. I don’t want to go alone, can you come with me?”
I sigh audibly, but not loud enough for the phone to catch it. Religion is not my thing, and Lisa and her husband know that. It’s been two years since they got ‘saved’ and all, and despite my lack of interest, they keep inviting me to their church activities.
“I’m pretty busy right now,” I say, trying to come up with an excuse. “Why don’t you ask one of your friends?”
“But you’re one of best friends! It would mean a lot to me if you came with me,” she shouts into the phone, as I hear Henry scream. I know she needs a break, and I know that it has been a while since we have had some girl-time. My conscience struggles within me.
“Are you sure?” I ask, hopeful for this small chance at an escape.
“Yes! I would so much more fun if you went with me.”
“When is it?” I ask, taking a deep breath.
“Tonight. And wear a nice dress”
“What? I don’t have a dress I to wear!”
“Come over to my house, I find something for you to wear of mine.”
With that, she hangs up. I shrug and grab my keys. My car is ancient and oddly shaped. It has the appearance of a big, bloated, distorted tan pumpkin. It has an exasperating tendency to break at random moments.
When I get to her house, I walk inside. In the twenty minutes that I took me to get there, the pots and pans are put away, Gabby is playing with the dog, and Henry has stopped crying. Incredible. Lisa has always managed to make her life look perfect.
“Come to my room!” Lisa calls. I obey.
Lisa comes out from her closet wearing a faint pink dress. She looks like a model, even after having kids.
“Let the fun begin!” giggles Lisa.
For the next hour we try on jewelry, hair styles, and dresses. I am actually enjoying myself. The babysitter comes, and we get ready to leave. I wear a slivery blue dress, that is tight at the top, but fans out the waist. Slippers on my feet, and fake pearls dangling from my ears and neck.
“Something’s not quite right.” Lisa says, looking me over.
She reaches into the closet and pulls out a soft blue shawl. I know that shawl, its mom’s. My breath catches in my throat. I can’t speak. Lisa drapes it around my shoulders. Memories flood me, memories of a healthy mom smiling; memories of her going to a wedding with dad…No, I will not think of him now. Quietly we kiss the children goodbye, and drive to the party.
It is a nice place, and I can see that there are a lot of people here. I get a drink, and watch people talk. I don’t know anyone here; they are all church people. My sister walks toward me, a young man swimming in her wake.
“Elle, I would like you to meet Patrick Chimming. Patrick, this is my sister Elizabeth Glassworth.”
We exchange pleasantries, but soon find ourselves in a deep conversation. I am surprised by how much we have in common. He is handsome, with dark hair, and sea-blue eyes. Lisa drifts oft, chatting with ease. Patrick and I are interrupted only by the pastor’s call to pray. Everyone bows their head and closes their eyes except me. When the prayer is finished, Lisa glides over and pulls me to her table. I wince as I see my seat is directly next to the pastor’s. Fear, anger, and embarrassment rise, as I try and smother my emotions.
“Hello, I hear you are Elle,” begins the Pastor kindly.
“Yes, yes I am,” I stiffly return.
“I am Pastor Straddock but call me Lukas.”
I try and shut down the conversation without being rude, but he just keeps asking questions. I start to get frustrated that this guy won’t leave me alone.
“How is your relationship with God right now?” he gently asks me.
I turn and stare at him. How dare he ask a question like that to me! I’m about to start screaming at him, when I see Lisa get up suddenly, her phone clutched in her hand. Her face white and strained, her fists clenched. I know something is wrong.
“Lisa what is it?” I inquire, as she pulls me away.
“It’s dad. He’s got out of prison early for good behavior. He’s coming here to see us right now.”
“But how does he know where we are?”
“He came to my house; he has the address since I write him every now and then. The babysitter told him the address of dinner. He will be here in a few minutes.”
With those words, my whole world that I’ve carefully built came crashing down. The spell has been broken, and my evening out has spoiled, and there can be no fixing it. I curse under my breath, as I grab my purse.
“Where are you going?” Lisa shouts as I race out the door.
I don’t answer, as I grab my phone and call an Uber. A clock strikes twelve in the distance. The shawl around my is unbearably hot. How could have I betrayed Mom by letting that man into my life again? How could I let him ruin the life we have so carefully constructed to exclude him? I stop at Lisa’s house to get my car as I drive home. My phone is being lit up with texts and calls from Mom and Lisa, but I don’t answer.
Tears pour down my face, as I slam the door, and throw myself on my bed. I don’t understand, I am strong. I didn’t cry during the move, or when Dad went to prison, so why now? I can’t be as broken as he is, because I never loved him enough to let him break me. I sob into my pillow. Memories come back to haunt me, the good and the bad. Dad pushing me and Lisa on the swings, Dad, blood-shot eyes, throwing a vase our way. Mom, sobbing as we climb in the car, and the kids at school jeering at me the day after the crash. I can’t take this; I can’t take this. I run to the kitchen and open a bottle of wine, but still I can’t fall asleep.
In the morning, the bottle is empty, but the memories haven’t stopped. I’ve changed clothes, but the shawl is still draped around me. I call in sick to work. My phone has been constantly wringing, but I ignore it. Days pass by, in the same miserable existence. Lisa comes over once, but I lock the doors and hide in my bedroom. I start to feel physically sick, every hour I run to the bathroom to barf up another bottle of wine. Then, depression, so bottomless and thick sets in. Like a fog, it rolls in and blocks out the sun. I tell myself that I am strong, and that I have it all together, but I know I don’t. A week has passed since that night. I can’t remember what it feels like to laugh or smile. I can’t remember what it feels like to be free, my past has finally caught up with me, and caged me.
There is no future when I am stuck in the past, I think as I get in my car, grabbing my shawl on the way. There is no hope for me. I drive to a bridge. I park the car and get out. I look out at the river, contemplating what I am about to do. My hand grabs the pole, as I hoist myself up. The view is so peaceful, but my soul inside me churns. I sit there a long time, a tiny shred of hope lingering, but slowly diminishing. The shawl drops from my shoulders, and flutters to the ground. I am getting ready now, ready for the jump. I am too ingrained in my thoughts to realize a man is slowly walking my way. I turn my head at the sound of his footsteps. It is Pastor Straddock.
“Why are you doing this?” he asks, as he climbs up beside me.
“This is the only way to end my problems”
“Have you tried forgiveness?”
At the sound of this word, I crack, fully and completely. Sobs rack my body, as I grip the railing.
“How can I forgive him after he has ruined my life?” I cry into my hands.
“Well, you can’t. Not without Jesus, you can’t. You can never truly heal unless He is in your life.”
I turn and face him. What does it feel like to be healed, to stop looking back, to stop the memories, and to stop the pain? I want that feel that desperately.
“What do I do?”
“You simply believe that He has the power to change you. You believe that He can put the past back where it belongs and believe that He takes care of you. You just believe in Him.”
Silence falls between us, as I think.
“Do you want me to pray with you?”
“I don’t know how-” I start, but he cuts me off.
“Just talk to Him.”
“Okay. Umm, Jesus, I have been so furious at my dad. I can’t get him out of my head. I can’t get my past out of my head. I don’t know how to heal myself. I don’t know how to make the pain go away, but I believe You can. I believe that You can take away my anger, my hurt, and my mistakes. Thank you. Amen.”
Peace, sweet peace floods me from head to foot. I feel numb. My anger, my confusion, and my past seem more distant then it ever has. Tears spill from my eyes, tears of joy. I reach over and hug Pastor Straddock.
“Can we get down now? I am terrified of heights,” gasps Pastor Straddock.
“How did you know I was at the bridge?” I ask, climbing off the railing.
“I was driving by, and I thought I recognized your shawl,” he answers, as he bends down, and carefully puts the shawl back on my shoulders.
I walk with him to his car, as he pulls out a Bible.
“Read this, it will help you with your new future.”
“Since then, things have gotten better. I made up with Lisa, and while she was furious at me for ignoring her, she was thrilled to realize that I too was now a Christian. I see them quite often; we have dinner together once a week with Mom. My studies are going well, I think I want to become a nurse, just like Lisa. I look up to her so much.
I also started going out with Patrick, I really like him. In fact, we are going out tonight for dinner and a movie. I hope you will get a chance to meet him some time. I am healing, slowly but surely. Jesus is changing me inside, He is the best Councilor I have ever had, and I am never giving Him up. I just want you to know that I forgive you and want to start our relationship over. I want this to happen to us, because it is exactly what Jesus has done for me. When you come up here again, I won’t run away, I promise. We can begin to have the relationship we never had. I love you Dad.
I send the email and grin to myself. I can’t help but wonder what adventures the future holds, as I wrap the shawl tightly around me.