Beauty from Ashes
By Anonymous, Rowlett, TX
Author's note: I hope that, when you read this book, you remember that, even when things are dark and times are... Show full author's note »
Numb“As we go through this time of grief, we must remember that Anastasia is not dead. She is dancing with angels, and spending eternity worshiping God. And one day, He will call us home to be with Him forever, just as He did with Anastasia. Until then, we must honor her memory by moving on with our lives, and shinning God's light in the darkness.” Pastor McLuhan concluded.
A young woman stood beside her husband, her head leaning on his shoulder, and her cheeks stained with tears. Their hands were laced together, and the woman was holding him as though she would be swept away in a flood if it weren't for the strength of the man beside her.
“Nekia? Everyone else is getting ready to leave. I'm going to take Judah out to start warming up the car. You can just come out when you're ready. Take your time.”
“Thank you Aviv.” Nekia replied quietly.
Aviv squeezed her hand gently before turning to take hold of their four year-old son.
“Alright Judah. We're gonna go out to the car.”
“But-- Mommy!” Judah protested.
“Mommy will be right out behind us. We're just going to get the car all nice and warm to make Mommy happy. Do you want to be a big help?”
“Yeah! I wanna help.”
“Alright then!” Aviv says brightly, leading Judah towards the doors of the church.
Nekia watched them go, thinking to her-self what a beautiful image it was. A father, holding his son's hand, guiding him along. Judah was the exact image of his father. Both had dark, Middle-Eastern skin, and dark hair curly hair. Their eyes, also dark, were like something out of a painting. Aviv stooped down and lifted Judah up onto his shoulders, speaking softly to him. This fatherly love that he showed his son made Nekia want to laugh and cry at the same time, for while she was beyond glad that Judah was able to experience this, it was something Nekia herself never had.
Nekia's father had died in a fire just months before she had been born, and her mother never remarried. Of course, her mother had also died when Nekia was only thirteen years old. Even though it had been more than ten years ago, that day was as fresh in her mind as though it had been yesterday...
I walked through my house, my goal being the living room couch where I could read my book in peace. Although paper books had been replaced by eReaders, and they were no longer even sold in the stores, my mother had a whole room devoted to them. Mother had always preferred the feel of paper in her hands. It was comforting in a way that she had tried to explain, but it wasn't until I grew older that I fully understood. She said they made her feel safe, as though the act of putting her time into something far more real than anything electronic would keep time from going on, would keep things safe and unchanged.
The book I was reading, A Ring of Endless Light, was a very old book indeed. Being published in 1980- over 40 years ago!- things were vastly different. An eReader was unheard of, paper books were still being both sold and printed, and the cure for cancer, a virus that naturally attacks the cancer cells when injected into the body, was still being searched for.
Yes. Things were very different now. But even so, I loved the book. I loved how the main character, Vicky, had to have the help of her family and friends to get through the rough things she was dealing with. I loved how the author had used all the hurt in Vicky's life to help Vicky realize that while the world isn't prefect, not everyone is cruel. In a world so dark as the one she was living in, there was still light, happiness, and hope. Just like today.
As I passed into the living room, I stopped to glance at myself in the mirror. I didn't consider myself very pretty. My wavy sandy blonde hair fell down to the small of my back. My face, void of make-up as always, was clear and clean. There were no pimples on my forehead fortunately, and my blue eyes weren't puffy or anything. My lips were much smaller and lighter than my mother's, and were-as she put it- “cute.” I stood at 5' 3'', and hoped upon hope to grow taller. Even though I was thirteen, I had yet to develop much in those areas. Sure I had a slight bust, but all of my friends were much bigger in that area than I was. My mother said I should feel “fortunate and blessed”, because being developed in those areas would come in time, and was only a pain. Plus, once they developed they would never get small again. I wanted to be developed anyway.
I pulled myself away from the mirror, and settled onto the couch. Time to read some more about Vicki. I was drawn into this book like no other. So much so that when the doorbell rang, I didn't hear it. Instead, I heard only waves, and seagulls, and the sound of dolphins. It took another ringing of the doorbell, as well as loud knocking to draw me out of the world I was in. And even as I walked to the door, my mind was in that world still.
“This is the police. Please open up.”
My mind flew back to me, and I was shaking as I peaked cautiously through the curtains to look out window adjacent to the door. Standing on my porch, with a badge open and held out in front of him, was a police-officer. He looked to be about 35, and was tall and muscular, with a broad chest. His dark hair and beard were cleanly cut, and his uniform neatly pressed, without even a hint of a wrinkle. His blue eyes looked grave, but not stern.
I opened the door, afraid of what he would say. If only my mother had been there. She had left about two hours ago to buy groceries, and unfortunately, had not come back yet.
Being afraid when I knew I had nothing to hide was very irrational, but nevertheless, I was.
“Yes sir?” I said, tremblingly.
“My name is Sergeant Seth King. Is this the home of Katherine Snyder?” The police-officer asked.
I relaxed a little. Something in his tone said that he didn't suspect my mother or I had done anything wrong. He didn't sound as though he were going to accuse me of something, or arrest me, but a police-officer doesn't come to your house on a whim.
“Yes sir. Is something wrong?”
Sergeant King's face darkened. “Yes, I'm afraid so. Mrs. Snyder was in a car accident. A truck-driver lost control of the steering and ran into her car, forcing it off the road and into a ditch.”
I grabbed for the wall to steady myself. My vision flickered, my heart beat rapidly, and my stomach threatened to toss back the sandwich I had eaten only a short while before. “She's-- she's-- she's my mother.” I heard myself say, although it didn't sound like my voice. In fact, I wasn't sure it had been me speaking at all.
“Mrs. Snyder is over at Creekside Medical Center. I'll be taking you over there myself as soon as you're ready.”
“Is she--” I couldn't bring myself to finish, as if perhaps not saying it would help it not to be true. He understood what I meant anyways.
“She's holding on, but she's not doing well. The doctor's aren't sure how long she'll be able to keep going. If you're ready, we'll go on over there.”
No! Not my mother. Not the one who caught the measles because she wouldn't stay out of my room when I had them. Not the one that always had something to compliment me on. Not the one who had loved me even when I let her down. Not the one who I loved so much in return. Not my mother.
“Is there anything I need to bring?” I asked numbly.
“No. You can come back here to get anything you need when--” He trailed off. When? Was it that bad?
“I'm ready then.” I said quietly.
Sergeant King and I drove to Creekside Medical Center in silence. The drive seemed to take hours, when in reality it was only about 15 minutes. The whole way I was praying, begging God to let my mother live. And if He wouldn't let her live longer on this earth, I prayed that He would let her live just long enough for me to see her first.
But even if God didn't answer my prayers like I had asked, I knew that it would be alright, because it had been my mother who had taken me to church every Sunday, and who had prayed with me every night, and who had helped me see that God was listening even when my best friend deserted me. And I had no doubt whatsoever that I would see my mom in heaven one day. But I also believed that God would heal her if that was what was best.
We pulled up to the hospital, and went in through the Emergency Room entrance, since my mother was in ICU. People were milling about, waiting. Most of them looked anxious, frightened, and sad, like me. In a way, I felt connected to these people, as though we shared a sort of bond. The bond of worry.
After that, it was a flurry of waiting, and talking, and waiting, and talking, and waiting some more. I never remembered what happened in that time, except that we were told we could not go in her room unless the situation worsened. After an hour or so of waiting, we were shown in.
Forever after, I remembered my mother, attached to those tubes and machines, barely breathing. I placed my hand on my mother's arm, but it didn't move. I stood there, waiting and watching. A doctor came in the room. He looked sad, and I knew whatever he had to say would not be good.
“Hello. I'm Dr. O'Rourke. Are you Mrs. Snyder's daughter?”
“Yes sir.” I said, as bravely as I could.
“Your mother is not doing well. There is severe swelling of the brain present, and she's suffering. I strongly suggest that we turn off the life support. I'm so sorry.”
My mother was gone. Instead of pain, I felt only numbness. Like when you've been out in the snow for too long, and your fingers are stiff. Only instead of my fingers, it was my heart.
Sergeant King patted me gently on my shoulder, saying, “I'm really sorry, kid. I have to step outside to make a phone call. You can stay here or you can come with me.”
“I'll stay here.” I answered quietly. I didn't want to go anywhere, do anything, or say anything. I just wanted to sit and look at my mother. She looked so peaceful, so serene, and I knew she was in a better place. God had answered my prayers, my mother was healed.
But even knowing that she was home with her Savior, tears filled my eyes. The hurt that I hadn't felt a moment before came rushing at me full force, and the tears broke free. They poured down my cheeks, betraying all the hurt and grief I was feeling. My mother and I had been very close, and now I would never again see her this side of eternity.
I felt overwhelmed with grief. It paralyzed me, as nothing before ever had. The sadness threatening to rip my heart out of my chest. I could feel myself falling deeper into despondency. If someone didn't grab me soon, I would loose hold of all that was good.
But suddenly, as if in answer to my prayer, I felt a hand on my shoulder. I turned my face to see who it was, for in my tears I had heard no one come in. It was a woman. She had an Asian look about her. Her hair was black, her eyes were brown, and almond shaped. There were wrinkles around her eyes and eyebrows, but the rest of her face was smooth. Her smile was soft and comforting, but it did not quite reach her eyes. And in those eyes, I saw pain and grief from many years past. This woman had seen or experienced more hurt then I ever had.
“You must be Nekia. My name is Sherise Powell. I'm a social worker.”
I mustered up the strength to say, “Hello, Mrs. Powell.”
“Please, call me Ms. Sherri. I'm going to be helping you find a home where you can feel safe. For now, you're going to come to my house, where you can stay until after the funeral. On the way, we'll stop by your house so you can pick up some clothes, and maybe something to do. Since it's summer vacation, you won't have to worry about any schoolwork.”
Ms. Sherri carefully lead me out of the hospital room, and out to the car, speaking calmly, but with authority. I didn't remember afterward what all she said. I didn't remember getting in the car, or driving to my house. I had no memory of picking up clothes, or of driving to Ms. Sherri's house. Instead, it was muddled, and everything ran together like watercolor paints when you're not careful.
The next thing I did remember was waking up the next morning in a strange room, on a strange bed. Sunlight poured through the window, streaming over the covers, and warming my face. The overall tone of the room was peaceful, and light. The walls were painted minty green, and the trim was pristine white. The bedding matched perfectly, and with the sun coming in through the window, I forgot for a moment all that had happened the day before.
But it was only for a moment. In the next moment, the memories of yesterday hit me cold and hard in the face like a wet rag. My mother was gone. I was in a strange home, with a woman I'd never met before. I had no family left in the world. No family... Except one.
Nekia jerked back to the present. She wasn't at Ms. Sherri's house at all. She was in a church, and she had just been at the funeral of her best-friend, Anastasia. Anastasia had very nearly become her sister, and though it was never official, the two considered themselves family. Though the government never recognized it, Anastasia and Nekia did, and that was all that mattered.
Nekia walked to the front of the church where the coffin sat, open. She looked down at the face of her Anastasia, and couldn't help but remember the day she told Ms. Sherri that she would go to Russia. That no matter what Ms. Sherri said, nothing would change her mind...
“Nekia, I'd like to talk with you for a minute. Would that be alright?” Ms. Sherri asked politely from her desk.
I had been at her house for about a week and a half. The funeral for my mother had been two days ago, and I was grateful that she had given me the time without pressing me to make any decisions. But I knew I couldn't stay here forever, because soon enough the room would be needed for another person who had been through something similar to what I had.
I sat down silently, because I knew that anything I might say would only cause us both more grief, something I wasn't ready for yet.
“Well Nekia, I'm glad my husband and I were able to open up our home to you this past week. You've been going through some really hard times, and I'm glad we were able to help you in any way we could.” Ms. Sherri said. “But now it's time to start finding you a more permanent arrangement. Do you know of any family or friends that might be willing or able to take you in? I know your father passed away before you were born, but do you have any aunts or uncles, distant cousins, or grandparents that we might not know about?”
“No. My mom was an only child, and her parents died when I was three or four. My dad--” I paused, trying to muster up the strength to continue. “He spent his childhood in various foster homes, but none of them worked out. If my dad had any siblings, neither I nor my mom knew about them.” I spoke in a businesslike manner, trying to hide how much it hurt for me to talk about him. I'd never gotten to create any memories with him, so it almost hurt more than talking about my mom.
“Alright. Do you know any friends who might have room to take you in?”
“No, not really.” The truth was, I knew plenty of people from church who had the means to take me in, but I would feel so guilty. I didn't want to be a beggar or a charity case. I didn't want to become some pet project.
“Are you sure?” Ms. Sherri looked concerned. I was sure she could see straight through my lies, but I continued the charade anyways.
“Yes. I'm sure.”
“Alright.” She said again. “I'll talk to the people at Buckner. They may have a room for you.” She moved to pick up the phone.
“Wait!” Her hand hovered in midair, and she looked at me expectantly. “I-- I-- I know where I want to go.”
“Oh?” Her hand moved away from the phone. “Who would that be?”
“Anastasia.” Ms. Sherri looked concerned, as though perhaps she knew who I was talking about.
“Anastasia. My mom and I were going to adopt a girl my age from Russia, and her name was Anastasia. We had been accepted and everything. She was coming over later this week, and was going to stay with us all through the process of finishing up the paperwork. I want to go to Russia, to her orphanage.”
“Nekia, I'm afraid that's not possible. Russia is going through some very tough times right now. There's plenty of poverty, and talk of war. It's not a good place for you to be.”
“I will go over there. I believe that God wants me to be with Anastasia. I think she needs me! Can you at least try to see if you could get me there?”
“I don't know.” Ms. Sherri looked very reluctant. “Like I said, Russia is not the ideal place for anyone to be, much less an orphan. But I'll see what I can do.”
The next day, Ms. Sherri called me back into her office.
“Well Nekia, I contacted the Orphanage where Anastasia lives. It's called Syeĭmchan Priyut dlya Devochek, or Seymchan Orphanage for Girls. I talked to someone there, and I asked if Anastasia could possibly be transferred here to the United States. Well, she said that the prospect of having to pay for an airline ticket was enough to convince the head of the orphanage that getting Anastasia transferred was unnecessary. So I suggested getting you transferred over there, and they said that as long as we were willing to pay for your airfare, the head will agree. Now, I don't agree with that, because in the long run it will be more expensive to keep you over there then it would have been to send her over here, but nevertheless, I can't change their decision.”
“Does that mean I get to go?” I asked, elated. After all that had happened this week, I finally had something go the way I wanted it to!
“As long as the judge agrees. If he says no, then that's that. But if he says yes, you'll be going over on Friday.”
“Thank you so much Ms. Sherri! You don't know how much this means to me!” Ms. Sherri smiled, and it was genuine. I think she did, in a way, know how much it meant to me.