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I opened my eyes. I squinted at the speeding acres of unfamiliar fields and empty highway. The world was going by too fast. My insides jumped in awe as the deeply golden sun washed a vibrant glow over the dry and grassy acres. In an instant, what was dead seemed warm, rich with life. The crisp strands of meadow reflected egg-yolk yellow. My heart sank as the final disk of sun disappeared into the horizon, pulling grayness into the picture like dark, mingling colors in a painting. I shivered.
“Do you want some music?” My mother said quietly as she fiddled with the car radio. I didn’t answer, but looked at my brother asleep on the seat beside me. I lightly touched his soft hair, and troubled brow. Tears welled, so I turned to the window. I observed the reflection of my swollen eyes looking back at me. I shut them tight. “I’m not sure how to work it, so we’ll just go without for now,” my mother said.
I sighed. There was just nothing good to think about. Tears began to run freely as I searched my mind for comforts, but they seemed to be lost. Then I remembered.
It was that same morning that I woke to the blue jays outside my window. From the comfort of my soft pink bed, my eyes traveled the familiar corners of the room. The walls were a drab brown paneling that deeply contrasted the pastels and pinks of the lovingly placed pictures. My richly dressed dolls bravely paraded the edge of a hardwood bookcase. I smiled, silently naming them off, one by one. My smile faded when I heard the soft, but possibly frantic patter of my mother’s footsteps. I shut my eyes.
“Princess,” my mother’s soft voice was oddly strained. “It’s time to get up.” I kept my eyes shut. “I need you right now, sweetie.” My gaze reluctantly drifted to my mother’s.
“Are you mostly packed?” she gently shut the door. “Please look at me dear.”
“Yes!” I snapped.
“I’m not trying to make this more difficult.” My mother sat on the edge of the bed. “Try to understand.” Tears began to run down her cheeks.
I only shook my head, and slowly lifted myself from the bed.
“I don’t want to understand.” I said, blankly. Mother rested her hand on my leg.
“Well now. I should not be crying. We have to be strong and get through this. Then we can cry, together.” I heard the memory of my mother’s voice fade as I opened my eyes to the sound of quiet, instrumental music playing on the car stereo.
“I guess I got it working.” Mother glanced at the rear-view mirror. “Is this music alright?”
I thought of hurtful things to say to her, but my other brother in the front seat spoke first.
“Mom, just leave it alone please.” He turned his face to the window. I gritted my teeth, and shut my eyes once more.
I went through that morning with the same consistency, or lack thereof that I had every other morning. I did not open my dresser and look at my clothes as if I would never see them again. I looked in the mirror, but did not ponder the possibility that my twelve-year-old, girlish reflection would never bounce off the glass again. I only pushed the unreality of the situation into the cubbies of my mind that contained only fantasy and nightmare. Uneasiness hit me when I remembered my mother’s bruised face. When I looked at her, I remembered love and hate. I hated her for letting my family dangerously splinter, but loved her for trying to keep it together for so long.
“Are you hungry?” Once again my mom’s voice interrupted my thoughts. The miles of open highway and thriving orchards narrowed into a winding driveway as my mom pulled the car into a rest stop. “I was thinking that we could make sandwiches and stretch our legs a bit.”
The only response she received was the yawn and slight muttering of my waking brother beside me. I glanced over at his distressed face. We were all wearing the same victimized expression. My mom opened the car door and began to noisily sort through the trunk. Both of my brothers just stared blankly in front of them. I looked longingly at the grassy, sloping park full of excited and worn out families. Restlessly, I opened the door and bee-lined for a place out of my mother’s sight. I found a small table beneath a shade tree and clunked myself on a seat. For a few minutes I just sat there with my face in my hands and listened to the activity around me.
People had reason to be happy. Children were whining about sunburns and crabby siblings. Parents were stressing to keep their children together. An older couple quietly shared their lunch while reviewing photos they must have taken on their trip. They were all talking into their own lives, and remained separate from mine. I began to despise them and their careless joy. Did they, or would they ever understand the pain that I felt? The tears began to run freely again as my mind raced back to that morning.
“You should say goodbye to your kitties. We are probably coming back, but just in case.” My mom gently touched my hand. I glanced up at her before quickly turning away. My heart sank as I stepped out to my front porch. One of my cats was leaning over its food bowl and stared expectantly up at me. I knelt down and began stroking its gray, matted fur before calling to the others. A brown, Persian tabby peered around a box beneath the porch. I called to her, and she replied loudly after me. Nipper. I sat on the dirt and lovingly stroked her fur as I remembered some of the silly “adventures” we had been through together. She was my buddy, and was always there to soak up my tears with a trusting gaze from those bulbous green eyes. She bumped against my leg and gently bit on my thumb as she had since she was a kitten. I told her that I loved her, and would see her again. I thought of my mother’s words about holding back tears and grieving later. They seemed silly.
I lifted my face from my hands and for a moment admired the beauty of the park. The green sloping of the land was beautiful. The trees were regally silhouetted against the clear evening sky, the spidery limbs sheltered oblivious children and distracted parents.
“Bekah,” my mother’s voice crept around the tree behind me. I buried my face in my arms. Quietly, she slid beside me and slipped a soft, worn hand in mine.
It would be a year later that my thirteen year-old self would visit the life I once clung to. I would walk into the bedroom of my childhood; my dolls would be motionless on the dusty shelf. I would open the drawers of clothes I had left behind, nearly all of them too small, too childish, and too worn out. Passing through my bathroom I would catch myself in the splattered mirror. It would flash before me, a hint of mischief passing over its face. We would exchange glances before I would rush outside to find my Nipper.
My heart catching in my throat, I would call to her. She would not appear. I would wonder if she would remember my call, let alone that I existed. I would peek beneath the stairs, and a glowing set of oversized emeralds would meet mine. I would wipe my eyes and reach my hand out to lightly touch her dusty fur. She would look offended. I would sit there and speak to her as if I had never left. Little time would pass before she would emerge and brush against my hand and bite lovingly at my thumb. Although quite thin and a bit melancholy, she would be the Nipper I had left behind.
Through that notorious day in the park and the year of change that it preceded, my mother helped me realize something that made my future palatable. Life is delicate. I was clinging to my childhood and what was comfortable, without acknowledging that it is by the grace of God that I ever had it at all. I was powerless. It was a comfort to know that God promised to work all things together for good, and that I will never have to worry about losing the home that I found in his hands. In Christ, I am free. God would keep his promises.
Nipper and I would be together again. I would take her on a plane from the Sierra Nevada Mountains to begin a life in Chicago land. The open skies of my childhood would be replaced with blood-tinted smog and tangled telephone lines. The stretches of whispering, rippled fields would become fences, and sketchy neighbors. It would be completely different. I would find newness in my family, make some friends, and discover a larger, more terrifying, yet awe-inspiring world. Although I would never be the same girl that would sink her bare feet in the rich soil of our garden, and time would not bring back the hours I spent with my brothers playing in the open meadow, none of it would be forgotten. Even through what I had experienced, I would become certain that the ugly and the beautiful of my childhood had empowered me for the brilliant future God planned for my life.