Overcoming Joy

The pounding on the door throbbed through my head. I paused, my hand halfway to the cabinet. My gaze followed the line of my arm until it landed on my face. A web of red lines criss-crossed through my eyes. Stains of dark purple had spread beneath them, and two short ruts stood between them.

“Joy, please! Open the door!”

Mark. I sighed. Why won’t he leave?

A stab of pain flashed through my temple and I grunted. Pushing the side of my head with one hand, I opened the cabinet with the other. Bottle after bottle of medication landed on the floor. Where is it?

“You can’t hide in there forever!”

Ah! Pushing my deodorant aside, I reached for the medicine. I grabbed it and read the label, my hand still pressed to my head. This better do it. It would be the third one I’ve tried.

More pounding. I tossed my head back to give the pills easier access to my throat. One of them stuck, and I swallowed a mouthful of water to dislodge it.

“Joy, listen to me!” The door rattled. “We can work through this.”

I closed the cabinet and stared at my reflection. Why me? I turned to the bathtub and turned on the faucet. Somehow, the sound of the water flowing into the tub helped. I slid to my knees onto the floor and laid my head on the edge. Water splashed onto my face and I swiped at it. Lifting my head out of the way would have been easier, but it felt like a brick had been placed on it to prevent it from moving. More water landed on my cheek and rolled down into the corner of my lips. My tongue slipped out and licked the drop away. It tasted like salt.

I opened my eyes. The pounding had stopped. How long have I been here? I lifted my head, using my hands to help. “Mark?” I felt my heart beating faster. “Are you still there?” I crawled to the door and stretched out my hand to open it. “Please don’t leave me!” My fingers couldn’t grasp the doorknob and I collapsed to the floor, sobbing.

“Why?” My chest heaved and a rush of tears blinded me as I screamed, “Why, God? What did I do to deserve this – this – pain? This torture?” I felt a fingernail break as I tried to crawl toward the door.

I fell to my side and pulled my knees to my chest, squeezing my eyes shut. “Please. Don’t leave me. I don’t know what I’d do if I lost You.” Tears flowed onto the tile and I felt a hand stroke my head. I opened my eyes, but I couldn’t see anything but white.

The pounding started again, then a loud crunch. I tried to sit up, but my strength was gone. He’s back! The door flew open and there he was. I flopped my arm up and he grabbed my hand, kissing it. He drew me close and laid my head onto his shoulder. “Oh, Joy! I thought I had lost you.”

I shook my head, a mere twitch. “He wouldn’t let me go.” I sighed. Mark’s chest started to shake and he held me tighter. I heard voices, and someone told me it would be okay. “I know.”

*****

Mark held Joy’s hand all the way to the hospital. She was unconscious, but a look of peace had settled on her ravaged features. He traced his finger down a tear track, then clenched his fist and pressed it against his mouth. His tears made their own tracks before tapping onto the metal floor of the ambulance.

How on earth could one man cause so much pain in our lives? Mark’s jaw tightened. He looked at his fist. If I ever find him, so help me…

Slowly, he unfolded his hand. His anger would only cause more pain. Justice would be served, but not by Mark. He looked at his wife and smiled through his tears. So much pain and so much sorrow, but nothing would overcome his Joy.

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Genoa

If anyone has ever had a wild hair, it’s my sister. In fact, she has so many wild hairs they cover her head. My sister can’t do anything with them because every one of them has a mind of its own. Just like she does.

You’d think with a sensible name like Mary Jane Jones, my sister would follow suit. Ha! There is not a sensible bone in her body. I can’t tell you how many times, after one of Mary Jane’s escapades, Mama said, “Mary Jane, why can’t you use the sense God gave you? Do you think Genoa would ever do something like that?” And she’d point her finger at me as I sat in the corner of our settee reading a book.

That’s my name – Genoa Jones. I was named by my father after the city where the greatest explorer who ever lived had been born. No, plain, sensible Genoa with her nose stuck in a book would never be caught dead chasing a cow from the Nelson dairy down Main Street, whooping and hollering. No, I would never do that.

We graduated from high school the same year, though Mary Jane was two years older. She was held back because she never seemed to find the time to do her schoolwork. I always had mine done before suppertime so I could help Mama and Aunt Helen in the kitchen. Mama complained about Mary Jane to Aunt Helen, who said, “Give her time. She’ll grow out of it.” They always forgot I was there, hearing every word. When they’d remember me, they never clammed up like grown-ups do around children. They knew they didn’t have to worry about me.

After high school, I went to college to become a secretary. Mary Jane went to Hollywood to become an actress. “I’ll write!” she promised as she hung out the window of the bus, blowing us kisses.

Her first letter was newsy, full of hope and a young girl’s dreams. It was also her last letter. She got so busy she could only pen a few lines on a postcard. “Having a grand time! Tell Aunt Helen I met Sean Connery!” And I would. Each postcard was from a new place and I put them in my scrapbook.

I would go to see her movies. Aunt Helen would come too when she could. Mama never came. She didn’t approve of the movies.

Mary Jane came home once, to pick up the rest of her stuff, she said. Aunt Helen and I helped her pack and we carried everything to the taxi. Mama didn’t say a word to any of us, especially not to Mary Jane. Even when Mary Jane stood at the door begging Mama to say something, Mama was firm. She even turned her back. My sister stood there, as if rooted, shock written on her face. For Mama to be stubborn was one thing, but to turn her back – ! Tears slid down my sister’s face as she ran to the taxi. She never came back.

Afterwards, Mama was in the kitchen and I saw her swipe at her cheek. She turned to me when I asked if I could help and refused to acknowledge she was crying even as the tears spilled from her eyes. We didn’t speak of it again.

It’s been ten years. My sister still sends me postcards and I still put them in my scrapbook. One spring day six years ago, Aunt Helen came into the kitchen and announced that she was getting married and moving to California. She’d had it with small town life and wanted to see the big city. I think she missed my sister too much. I’m still a secretary, though there are times I wish I could follow Aunt Helen to California.

Mama’s still here. She’s not as strong as she used to be. She lost something the day Mary Jane left. She prefers to sit in a rocking chair while I cook our supper. She quilts to pass the time. Just last evening, as I was putting her to bed, she asked me why I didn’t marry and have a family of my own. I asked her who would take care of her if I was gone? She patted my arm, “That’s my Genoa. Always the sensible one.” Then she closed her eyes and fell asleep, leaving me to sit beside her and wonder if I really had been the sensible one.

Frau Nussbaum

I pulled the map out and squinted at it. The wind whipped my hair into my eyes and I impatiently scraped it back. It was time for a haircut, I decided. The map folded over itself and I slapped it back open which tore it a bit on one of the creases. Great! Just what I need, I thought to myself. First I get lost and then I destroy the only map I have! This trip is a waste of time.

I was on a backpacking trip across Europe. There were two reasons I was here. The first was because I had just graduated from college and I wanted to do this before I didn’t have time. The second reason was because of Mike. Mike was my fiancé. Yes, was. He had died two months ago in a freak accident while helping his parents build their dream house. The irony is that he had died 3 days before we were to marry. We had the funeral in place of the wedding. This backpacking trip was supposed to be our honeymoon.

I had not cried when Mike died. I did not want to cry now, so I packed up the map and got back in the car I had rented. There was a village about 5 miles to the south, so I decided to head there for lunch. I gripped the steering wheel tightly enough that my knuckles turned white. God! Why did You do this to me?!? I screamed silently. It’s not fair!

I paid no attention to the countryside. Mike was the sightseer and liked to take his time. I, on the other hand, just wanted to get there. He always had to make sure that I saw the beautiful things that I would have otherwise missed. I didn’t even try this time.

I came to the village quicker than I had thought I would. It was a quaint place, with a fountain in the square and buildings built close together. I parked the car in front of an eating house, and took a deep breath. It really wouldn’t do to go out in public the way I was feeling. I needed to calm down.

The inside of the eating house was nice and cool. The proprietress was a kindly woman who fortunately knew English. I placed my order and found a seat by the window. I had a view of the fountain, which was really a work of art. It was a bronze statue of woman pouring water over the feet of her son. Beside the fountain there was an elderly woman gazing up at it.

“That is Frau Nussbaum. Her husband and his mother posed for that fountain. She comes to look at it every day.” The proprietress shook her head sadly as she filled my coffee mug.

“She looks so sad,” I replied as I looked at the frau more closely.

“Herr Nussbaum died when he was building a new home for themselves. They had been together for almost 50 years. She has not been the same since he died.” The proprietress went back to her kitchen, still shaking her head.

I kept thinking about Frau Nussbaum when I was back on the road. Her husband had died the same way Mike had, but at least she had been given the chance of living a life with him. For nearly 50 years they had lived together, breathed together, loved together, and now she was without him. I could not imagine how that would be.

As I was thinking these things, I saw a little church by the side of the road. I stopped my car and got out. The church appeared to be abandoned. The doors had faded and one was hanging off of its hinges. Inside there were no pews, but the altar was still there. Behind the altar was a huge wooden cross. I couldn’t help it; I knelt at the altar and started to cry. I realized I had been so selfish. Here I was moping around when I still had my life to live. And I had my life because of what Christ did on the cross. Mike had been a believer too, so I knew I’d see him again. What about Frau Nussbaum? Would she ever see her husband again? I didn’t know. I began to pray for her. As I did, I felt the bitterness melt away. The grief was still there, but now there was hope.