Excerpt #11 Dukin’ it out with God

I messed up Excerpt 10 and had to redo it, so if you’re following this story, please refer to excerpt 10 before you read this! thanks.

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One of my favorite places on Earth:  Grandma and Grandpa’s patio.

So very peaceful there.

Natali had turned 12 in October, and we celebrated Nathan’s 14th birthday in December.

We were all more excited about the approaching holidays that year than ever before.  It was the first Christmas we had all been together for two years. However, even after the kids were home, I always felt guarded, like someone was going to show up at the door any minute and take them all away.

I wondered how Jess would handle having a new baby around the house.  After all, his “baby” time with me had been cut short.  I remembered when he had been with me for a visit, sitting by my feet playing on the floor.  Suddenly he sighed and said, “Mommy? Can I go back into your belly?  I need someone to be my mommy.”   I was somewhat afraid he might feel betrayed when his baby sister came along.

In December something strange happened; it felt like my water broke, but just a drizzle.  I had no idea how serious diminishing amniotic fluid was until my obstetrician expressed grave concern over the situation.  He ordered me to get a more detailed ultrasound the university hospital in Columbus.

Three doctors reviewed the results of my test and told me that my baby was in trouble.  She might not make it.  I needed to be admitted to the hospital for the duration of my pregnancy.  I told them it was impossible! I was a single mom and my kids needed me.  Then I made a statement which I’m sure made them think I was off my rocker, “Are you sure it’s a girl?  Because, if it is, I’m going home.”

They assured me it was a girl.  I told them God had given me a dream, and everything was going to be ok.

Boldly I asked God to make my baby and me healthy and safe during the rest of my pregnancy and through the delivery.  I added that I would appreciate it if he would make the labor as painless as possible.

A blizzard came on the evening of January 23, 1992.  I had just sent the kids to bed and was relaxing in front of the television.  I felt a little crampy, but nothing major.  The cramps were regular, though, coming about fifteen minutes apart.  Still, I waited until 5:00 the next morning before I decided to bother Mike with my suspicions.

With the snow coming down and roads getting slippery, I thought I’d better head off to the hospital to be checked.  My car was dead, so I’d borrowed Mike’s, but thought it wasn’t a good idea to drive in case I truly was in labor and the pains increased.  He agreed, and ran in the cold and snow nine blocks to my house to take me to the hospital.  At that point I hoped I was, indeed, in labor, even if it was two weeks early, so that his brave effort wasn’t for nothing.

They admitted me, and I lay there waiting for the intense pain of contractions to begin.  Mike stayed at my side, ready to pitch in wherever he was needed.  We chatted, watched T.V., and called to check up on the kids a few times.  It was such a lazy delivery; I hesitate to call it, “labor.”

A nurse was supervising my contractions and such from time to time.  At one point, as she watched the needle on the monitor register my contractions, she looked at me incredulously and said, “Are you sure you don’t feel that? It’s a pretty good one!”

After a long while Mike cocked his head to the side and a light went on in his mind, “Hey!” he said, to no one in particular, “I’m going to be a dad!”

“Uh, yeah, that’s sort of what this whole thing has been about!” I said.  What a smart-aleck, huh?

“You’re dilated 8 centimeters,” the nurse told me at about eight-thirty in the morning.

“Well,” I answered, “can I start pushing, or what?”

Again, she gave me the wide-eyed stare and said, “I guess so.  Maybe it’ll get the baby into the birth canal.”

At around nine, Mike got thirsty, and a little bored, I think, so he went to find a soda machine.  Wouldn’t you know, just a few minutes after he left, the baby decided to get the show on the road.

The nurse got the doctor in there fast.  I told him to get out his catcher’s mitt, ‘cause the baby was sure to come flying out.  Ok, I did have to struggle a bit during the next part, but the doctor knew how to help.

They cleaned up my beautiful Chelsea Rose and placed her snuggly little self in my arms.  6 pounds, 4 oz., 18 inches long.  Her skin was very light, almost gray, and what hair she had was straight as an arrow.  Not like in my dream.  But I didn’t care.  She was perfect!

I kissed her and kissed her, then whispered in her dainty ear, “Don’t grow up too fast.”

Mike came strolling in with his soda in hand, ready to post himself next to the bed for the next part of my labor.  After taking about two steps across the tiled floor, he got stuck on the spot, like he’d stepped in gum or something.  He didn’t speak, just stared at me quizzically.

“What happened to you?” I said, “You missed the whole thing!”

“Is that her?” he asked, indicating the bundle in my arms.

“No, I went and grabbed someone else’s baby, what do you think?”  (I know, smart-aleck).

A smile broke across his face as he came to introduce himself to our precious girl.

Big man, scared of an infant.  Preparing to hold her was quite a production.  He would fold a blanket in four parts and place it under her, (to make her seem bigger and less fragile), then lift her cautiously into the crook of his arm.  It was a tender sight.

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Chelsea Rose

It made me wonder how my family could find fault with Mike just because his skin was dark.  I was sure they would never accept Chelsea, and, if they wouldn’t accept Chelsea, that meant I was out of their lives for good.

Jess seemed to enjoy holding the new addition to our family as much as the older kids did. We would actually have to set the timer and take turns with her. Nathan commented that Chelsea was, “…like an angel, sent by God to heal us.” Natali chose Chelsea’s outfits for the day before she left for school and left them lie on my dresser. She was like a little mommy to her.

In a few months, Chelsea Rose “came into her color,” a rich cinnamon tone. Her hair went wild and earned her the nickname, “Curly top.” Not only did that part of my dream prove true, but my family, including my mom, started coming around with gifts for the baby. Mom and I even went to the grocery store and whatnot together on occasion.

Forgiveness is a hard thing, especially when you no longer trust the person you must forgive. But the bible told me that, if I didn’t forgive those who hurt me, I wouldn’t be forgiven. I knew that wouldn’t work; I needed to be forgiven every time I turned around. I had learned that forgiveness didn’t require me to throw myself back in harm’s way or forget what the person had done that hurt me. It didn’t mean I wasn’t angry anymore or that the pain had subsided. It only meant that I would put the injury in God’s hands and trust him to deal with the injurious party while healing me. So forgiving is what I did.

Having the kids back meant to me that we now had a chance to get back on track. But the train kept skipping the rails at every turn. Over the next years, I found myself in juvenile court with Nathan on many occasions. Nathan the artist. The survivor. The quiet boy with a mind like a sponge. Nathan the teenaged vampire who actually drank other’s blood and got into one fight after the other. He climbed atop the train bridge and swooped down on unsuspecting drunks weaving their way across after a night’s hard drinking.

I got him into Tae Kwon Do with a tough, muscular, Christian instructor who I thought would help set Nathan straight. You wonder, don’t you, why I would put a child who showed violent tendencies in Marshal Arts? Well, I knew that, when he felt cornered, there was a beast inside him who emerged to wreak havoc indiscriminately on whoever was near. I knew that because a similar beast was always trying to rip its way out of me. If a feeling of helplessness caused that reaction, then knowing he could take care of himself might counteract the urge to strike out. Again and again, his beloved instructor and I told him that his skills would teach him to defend himself using just as much force as was necessary. For a time, I did see the program build his self-esteem somewhat.

We had moved into Mike’s house a few months after Chelsea Rose was born. It was hard for Mike to have so many people around when he was accustomed to having the place to himself, but he was making due. Nathan acted out and rebelled against both Mike’s and my authority. He disappeared for days at a time. Once he lost his temper and threw a toy through Mike’s window, shattering the glass. Things between Mike and me started falling apart.

One afternoon a knock came at the door, and a friend of Nathan’s said he had received a call from a hospital in Parkersburg, W.V., about 15 minutes down the road from Marietta. The hospital wouldn’t allow Nathan to call me directly since it was long distance, so he had had to call his friend collect to come and let me know he’d been in a terrible car accident.

I started to panic, then told myself to settle down. My son needed me; I had to get to him! How badly had he been hurt? I was shaking when I picked up the phone to dial my sister’s number. She lived only a few blocks from the hospital. Would she please go to Nathan and tell him I was on my way? She said she would.

When I got to the emergency room, they told me I could not go back to my son because someone was already with him. My sister. Can you believe that? I went back anyway, of course. I was shocked when I saw him. His head was swollen up like a melon. It looked awful, but the doctor said my son should recover. They were still doing tests, so I was shown to a small room where several other people were waiting as well. I wondered why they put me in there with these strangers, but I found out they were my cousins. Nathan had met a boy at school and befriended him. Grandma told us later that the boy was our third or fourth cousin. This was his mom, dad, and two siblings.

After introductions went ‘round the room, they began to tell me a frightening tale that went like this:

In Waco, Texas, a cult leader named David Koresh had barricaded himself and his followers inside their compound and was holding the FBI at bay. 15-year-old Nathan and his younger cousin stole the cousin’s dad’s car and took off to kill David Koresh and show the FBI how incompetent they were.
They had loaded the trunk with black powder, guns, and ammunition. Nathan, who had no real experience at driving, told his younger cousin that he would teach him how to drive on the way to Texas. ON THE INTERSTATE.

They were going too fast and lost control. The car ran up a guardrail and flew nose first into the air, crashed down on the back end, flew back up, and landed in pieces all over the road. The boys had NOT been wearing their safety belts and hit their heads repeatedly on the windshield and dashboard. The cousin, in shock, made this statement while they waited for the rescue squad to arrive, “My mom’s going to kill me. I spilled pop on the seat.”

They both lived, though it was clearly a miracle in many ways. The black powder could have exploded on impact. They could have been killed in the crash. But God spared them.
God spared Nathan when he fell off a building. He spared him when he was involved in another crash a couple years later.

I told him there must be a great purpose for his life, but he couldn’t grasp it. Somehow, he was still that helpless little boy who longed to be the man of the house and fell short. It never even occurred to me that he was acting out like a victim of sexual abuse, too. It’s strange that I didn’t recognize the signs, but I didn’t. Never the less, I had him in counseling several times over the next few years.

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Grandma with Jess when he was small

Not long after Grandpa died, Grandma was diagnosed with cancer. It was quite a blow to me.
Both grandparents had been my true fans, the people who overlooked my wild, rebellious ways and loved me just the same. When I moved back to Marietta, Grandma and I became best buds. Many a night would find us watching Matlock or The Golden Girls together. We shopped together like teenaged girls, giggling, telling stories, and just plain being silly. She had been an advocate for me no matter what anyone else said about me.

She lasted far longer than the doctors predicted, but I knew she was torn between this life on Earth and a reunion with the only man she ever really loved. After she died, I dug up some of the flowers we’d planted together in her flowerbed, along with the soil, and transplanted it into flowerpots. I wanted some of the earth we’d shared. Something alive. I walked ‘round and ‘round the cozy house and admired the work Grandpa had done to enhance the place over the years. I reminisced about all of our Christmas parties and barbecues.

The family had grown farther and farther apart when Grandpa died. I wondered if I would even have a family now that Grandma was gone, too.

I turned the back porch light on and off, because Grandpa had put that light bulb in, and I was amazed that, even with him gone, the light bulb was somehow still alive. The cherished little house that had been the hub of family activity seemed like a body without a soul. Finally, my dad and two aunts sold the house to the hospital, and they tore it down to build a road.

The kids and I only lasted at Mike’s for about a year before I knew it was time to call it quits. Not far from his house was a building with a two-bedroom apartment for rent. You guessed it; I transformed the dining room into sleeping quarters for me. The girls shared a room, and the boys had bunk beds in another.
It was a disgusting place at first. ‘took me three solid weeks of scrubbing day and night to make it livable, and I had to haul huge buckets of water to do it.

The landlord refused to turn any water on until I was moved in. I should’ve seen that as a red flag, but I was too desperate for affordable housing to argue.

The walls I painted with some leftover paint I found in the pantry. I got some cheap dollar store “rag rugs” and sewed them together to make an area rug large enough to cover the rotten dirt-stained carpet. The stiff old plaster walls in every room was chipping away, little by little, so I got some “Quikcrete” and did my best to patch it all up. Underneath the porch in the back and all over the gravel parking lot were piles and piles of trash that the landlord and tenants had deliberately thrown there, though a dumpster stood only a few yards away.

My kids and I put on our work gloves and got busy with shovels and garbage bags till every scrap of trash was in its proper place. We hosed down the building and planted flowers. The neighbors marveled at what we were doing, but wondered why we bothered. Sad.

Things with Nathan were still going downhill. He spent weeks or months at a time in the juvenile detention facility in our town. His probation officer’s attitude was that the boys under his supervision were nothing but troublemakers and losers.

Jess wasn’t doing all that bad up to that point, though he was a bit hyper and distractible in class. If his teachers had any complaints, it was, “He just can’t stop singing!”
True to form, Natali’s unruliness was quiet and secretive. She would sneak out the first floor window and flee into the night to party with friends. Instead of going to class, she’d spend the day at someone’s house or down by the river.

It was 1995, the summer my grandma died. There we were in that stale cracker box of an apartment just trying to get a cross breeze going. We had two fans, but all they did was blow hot air around, so most nights we’d sit on the porch till the wee hours of morning just trying to cool off.

About that time, Nathan brought some rather bohemian people home to visit. My son jumped in the shower, which left a lanky young man and two girls in my company while I did the dishes and made brownies. The girls wore long flowing skirts and colorful beads around their necks. The male seemed a bit older than Nathan, who was nearly 18.

Feeling somewhat awkward at having to entertain strangers, I sort of rambled on and on, asking questions and making chitchat. Then, for some reason I can’t explain, I began to tell them of a disturbing dream I had had about Nathan: he was perched on the edge of a cliff overlooking a verdant valley. I went to put my hand on his shoulder, but he reared back and growled at the sky like a madman. There was a fierce black and red mask covering his face that startled me, and I jumped back. But a voice came from some unseen place telling me not to let go. So I went back to hold him again. This time the mask fell away and he began to sprout the wings of an Eagle.

I told the strange young people in my kitchen this dream as if I was in a trance, then snapped to when the story was complete. Rather embarrassed at having revealed something some people would find weird, I searched their faces for a sign of what they were thinking. I was surprised and pleased to find them nodding and smiling.

That day the young man, (whom we later dubbed, “Wind”), and I sat down over coffee to talk about some things that were on his mind. There was nothing we couldn’t discuss with ease. He was a spiritual person with similar viewpoints as mine on many subjects. We were both beginning to get interested in our Native heritage. Right away, he clicked into a space in my life like a puzzle piece that had been missing always.
Nathan had proudly told everyone he met that I was his best friend.

Now, I know what you’re thinking, but you’re wrong. He knew I was the BOSS. I didn’t hesitate to discipline him all those years if he needed it. But we always had the easy rapport a single mom and her child seem to grow. So it wasn’t at all strange that one of my new best friends was also his.

Wind was about to lose his apartment, so we offered him a place to stay. This was the beginning of one of the strangest summers of my life.

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