WARNING: THE CONTENT MAY CONTAIN TRIGGERS FOR SURVIVORS OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE AND SEXUAL ASSAULT. READERS DISCRETION IS ADVISED.
DISCLAIMER: THE CHRISTIANITY PORTRAYED IN THIS STORY DOES NOT NECESSARILY REFLECT THE DOCTRINE OF THE AUTHOR.
A merry heart makes a cheerful countenance, but by sorrow of the heart the spirit is broken.
Melissa Grace Russell, 21
“Thanks for the birthday card. You sent it out just in time.”
I look at Lauren’s signature at the base of the inside, and a little touch of jealousy rises in me. “It got here on my birthday,” I state the obvious.
“I’m really bummed I’m not there to spend the day with you. What does the whole family have planned?” She asks.
“Nothing really. I’m watching the babies right now. I’m picking Blanca and Phoebe up from daycare at 4. Dad is bringing the twins and Pete home at 3, so I don’t need to cart the babies with me to get the tots. Grant closes tonight, but he says he has a surprise for me. I’ll take Blanca to his place to put her to bed. Makayla says I can use her as a cover in case it gets too late for me to drive back home.”
“You’re not sleeping with him, are you?” Lauren worries.
“He totally respects my beliefs and understands I don’t want to do any of that until the relationship is more serious.”
“Until I’m married.”
“What counts as ‘any of that’, huh?”
“Anything more than making out…duh.”
“Okay… Because Makayla—,”
I stopped her, completely offended she was comparing me to the past days of Makayla Isley.
“She skewed the lines a lot, and I can’t believe you think I’d be like that. I know better. I have too much conviction for the things of God for that.”
“Then why are you dating a non-Christian if your conviction is so strong?”
Nobody knows Grant like I do. He can sense there is a God. He believes that love is the key element to change the world. He understands there’s a spirit realm and demonic forces are real. He believes in good and in evil. And he doesn’t argue theology with me. He lets me share all the revelation I get about God with him. He lets me sing whatever worship I want to and all I have to do in return is listen to his weird, jaded philosophy on life. Occasionally, it is odd how closely our beliefs line up.
I like being with him. He truly cares about what I want and what I need and I don’t have to cater to his every whim. I don’t have to chase his dreams with him. He dreams of being a writer and I dream of being a high school English Teacher. We couldn’t be a more perfect match for each other.
“We just go well together.”
“Are you still transferring to Bible College in the Fall?”
“I don’t know… I think God wants me to, I’m just not sure. My family really needs my help.”
“Didn’t you get a scholarship to Valiant University?”
“They’re a young institution with new four-year programs… Like, what if I… I don’t know. Arizona is just next door but it seems far still. I’d be even further from you, whereas New Mexico is much closer. Plus, I’m almost done. If anything, I’ll finish at NMU and enter a new program at Valiant when I’m done.”
Lauren’s new address on the top left corner of the envelope bothers me also.
Mr. and Mrs. Matthew LaHaye. How did they get address labels that quickly? Maybe they’re old, from when he was married before. Is it right to use a dead woman’s address labels? But how does Lauren get to get married and have a baby before me? I have zero reason to be upset, especially since she kind of got forced to build such a perfect life, but everything always seems to work out in her favor, while the rest of us have to make lemonade out of lemons.
“How was getting married at city hall?”
“Surreal. I still can’t picture being married. Mary and John got us tickets to Belize in January for our official honeymoon. Matthew thinks we should plan a wedding everyone can attend for next May or June. Everything is amazing, Melissa.”
“If he makes you happy after the year of hell you’ve been through, that’s all I care about.”
Lauren giggles faintly. I can almost feel her joy through the phone, yet the wall of my own sorrow blocks me from taking it on. I should be genuinely happy for her. But I’m not.
“How’s Makayla holding up?” Lauren drastically changes the subject.
“Ah… She sleeps all the time since the funeral. She won’t leave her grandmother’s house. I think I’ll visit with her tomorrow. Grant says she keeps calling into work. He’s being really lenient, but he may have to let her go if she doesn’t take her next shift.”
“I can’t believe her dad didn’t tell her he was sick… Has she gotten tested yet?”
“Every time I bring it up, she changes the subject.”
“He left his HIV untreated and it progressed into AIDS. I just don’t want that to happen to Makayla, if she has it. I pray she doesn’t.”
“Me too. Like when will God cut her a break, you know?”
Agitated by that comment, Lauren snaps, “God didn’t make her dad a heroin addict. God didn’t persuade him to molest her half her life. God is faithful and He will come through for her as long as she continues to hold on…”
Mood swings occur so quickly with a pregnant woman. I should know better, being around pregnant women very frequently in my life. But I still know nothing, typical of me.
“Can we pray for her together right now?” I ask. Requesting a prayer session always melts the tension, thank you Jesus…
“Yeah, I’ll start… Father God, I pray you continue to comfort Makayla, bring her heart to a place of healing, God. We pray that her test for HIV is negative, Lord. May her mortal body be subject to the law of Christ alone, and in Christ there is no sickness or disease. Lift depression from her now, in the name of Jesus. Let her be a light and testimony to her entire family, that with You, all things can be gone through, for You are our refuge and strong tower. How we love You, Lord Jesus, we magnify You, and glorify you… Thank you… Hallelujah…”
Sounding like she’s done, I take over, “I come into agreement with Lauren. I thank You with her and ask that all she has prayed be so. We pray for Danny, and ask that he gives Makayla some space. It’s great he wants to be there for her right now, in her time of need, but she needs more time with You Lord. I also pray, Lord, that You show her you are right beside her in the midst of this whole thing. Let her not feel SO ALONE. We pray for her mind, Lord. We cover her mind in the blood of Jesus, let the lies of the enemy be cast out, and cause Your truth to stand paramount in her soul. We praise you and we love You, Lord. Amen in Jesus’ Name!”
“Amen,” Lauren adds.
“I feel better now that we did that. I wish I was there. I just want to be there for her like she was for me when I found out I was pregnant. You sure you can’t see her today?”
“I’m not gonna take two babies with me all the way out to Reservation, plus, by the time I get there, I’d have to turn right back around because I have to pick up the tots from daycare. It’s almost 1 o’clock here. Gabby and Rach will be up from their nap soon wanting something in their stomach. I promise I’ll see her tomorrow. Mom will be home because it’s her day off and I’ll tell her I’m unavailable. Maybe I just won’t come home tonight. I’ll get away with having a free day tomorrow. My parents will already think I’m with Makayla anyhow.”
“You’re gonna stay the night at Grant’s?”
“Relax, I’ll sleep on the couch. You act as if I have no self-control.”
“I know you do, but are you sure you can trust him?”
Ever since Lauren got sexually assaulted, she’s read up on a bunch of statistics and facts. Any situation that might lead to an assault she calls into question for assessment. Women, and even men, are sexually assaulted by someone they know at an alarmingly high rate.
Lauren realized before she used that private number to call for a cab, that the cab driver that assaulted her had picked her up through dispatch at least five times around campus. They were on a first name basis and talked about her classes. When Lauren mentioned her memories to Detective Camp, the detective admitted they had found evidence of Dmitry stalking all his victims before attacking them. His lawyer managed to make the evidence inadmissible. The only thing that got Dmitry convicted and sentenced for as long as he did was that the baby is biologically his child, and Lauren’s character could not be defamed enough to convince a jury she was a whore and the sex was consensual, unlike the stripper and the college slut.
“Tell you what, if I get a bad vibe as I’m heading to his place, I won’t stay. I’ll just drop Blanca off and ask him to come to the car to pick her up. Okay?”
“Promise?” Lauren asks, like an overprotective mother.
Gabby’s hungry cry blares through the baby monitor on the coffee table. My down time is over with. I take a big whiff of air in and slowly huff it out. “Hear that? That’s my cue to go.”
“Okay. I love you, Mel.”
“Love you too, Lauren.”
We say, “Bye-Bye,” in unison. I set my cell on the table and then stretch as I stand, yawning. I should have taken a nap too, instead of talking on the phone with Lauren for so long.
I can feel a massive episode of manic depression about to hit me. Even when I’m well-rested, I just want to sleep more, and I’m getting pissed about every little thing. I talked to my doctor about my medication. The newest one makes me feel like a zombie, so I only take it when I get like this… I probably should take a pill. Doc swears it’s the best on the market. I ask why I can’t go back to my old one, and she says that it’s because it was only designed for adolescents with bipolar disorder. She says I need to start getting used to one for adults since our brain chemistry is different. According to her, if I consistently take my meds, the funk will eventually wear off.
I pop my precious pill and swallow it dry. I heat a bottle up for both babies in the microwave, and since my stomach is empty, the medicine kicks in right away. I feel totally disconnected and detached as auto-pilot mode sets in.
I’ve heard of God miraculously healing people from guest speakers often. Why doesn’t anyone in our church get miraculously healed? Why can’t I just not be bi-polar one day, and one day soon?
In the room I pick Gabby up, and the moment her lips meet the bottle she’s happy-go-lucky. I set her on the floor since she’s old enough to hold the bottle herself. I could give her something solid to eat, but I don’t feel like going through all that trouble. I stand over Rachel’s crib, watching the five-month-old sleep somberly. She looks just like dad with her strawberry blonde curls, dimpled, chubby cheeks, and spotty, freckled face. She is covered in freckles. Out of all of us Russell kids, she’s the most freckled.
Slowly, her eyes open and she smiles at me with her sleepy eyes. I reach in and pick her up by underneath her arms and cradle her in mine so she can lay back. I can’t remember where I set her bottle down when I fed Gabby hers. I notice it on the counter space of the changing table by the door. As I reach for her grub, I hear my phone ringing. I look for it and then remember it’s by the baby monitor in the living room. I can call whoever it is back, but as soon as it stops ringing, it rings again.
I readjust Rachel in my arms to be able to pick up Gabby with one arm. Hoping she holds onto her bottle, I pick her up from behind, using my forearm as a handlebar to keep her locked tight against my torso. Unfortunately, as soon as I prop her in place, she drops her bottle and starts crying. My phone stops and then rings a third time. Mom must be trying to call me.
Gently, I toss Gabby on the couch, and tuck her as best I can in the corner. I sit on the edge in front of her so she won’t climb off and plummet to injury. Midway through the fourth-time of mom calling me, I’m able to answer. I tuck the cell between my propped-up shoulder and leaning head, and I use my free hand to keep wailing Gabby from crawling around me, trying to escape the folds of the couch.
“Mel,” Mom’s crying quite heavily.
Forget auto-pilot mode, concern drags my spirit to the low level of sorrow. “Mom…”
“It’s your father…”
“What?” I start crying, knowing something is really wrong.
“He had a stroke. I’m at the hospital now, but they had to take him into surgery to relieve some bleeding in his brain.”
“I’ll be right there.”
“No, I want you home with the kids. Drew T is gonna pick the tots up, Dwight and Pete too and he’ll bring them to you. Sandy and Junior are here with me. Your Aunt and Sable are on their way too. I just wanted to get a prayer chain going and keep your father lifted up… We can’t afford for your dad to be out of work… How will we pay the bills? I’m not even sure how we’ll pay this right now.”
“Mom, God will come through. He always has a plan.”
“I don’t want to lose your father, Mel. Rachel hasn’t even gotten the chance to know him.”
“Pray with me mom…Let’s just pray.”
“No, you can. I got to go.” She hangs up the phone.
Anger rises up from my chest and a raging warmth lodges in my throat. I just cuss until I can officially be called a sailor. Why is it one thing after another? Can I not, for just one day, have a normal life? And why, of all days, on my birthday does my father have to have a STROKE? I’m beginning to wonder if God really cares about me. How can I be a missionary or even go away to school if problems are always rising up in my family and I’m the only kid my parents can count on?!
I have a big sister who is AWOL in our lives. And two big brothers who can’t even take care of their own responsibilities. One is off chasing a music pipe dream and the other is hiding in Alaska. I wish I had the luxury to leave!
God… help… please… just help!!!
I put Gabby on my lap and hold both babies in my arms as I rock back and forth. The song “It Is Well” comes to mind and quietly, I struggle to sing the first verse. I must tell my soul everything is well, if I don’t, I’m gonna lose it! I will officially be out of my mind, beyond the brink of bringing it back. None of this is helping.
“WHY AREN’T YOU HELPING GOD?” I SCREAM. Gabby freaks out and begins to cry harder, and Rachel drops her bottle, joining the cryfest too.
Hurriedly, I take the girls back to their room and put them in their perspective cribs to cry. Horrible thoughts of throwing them across the room to get them to shut up won’t leave my mind. I should not be left in charge of the little ones right now. Of course, dead infants would be quiet, because they would BE DEAD!
I pace the nursery, kicking toys in my way out of the way. Any stuffed animal in my sight, I grab and toss as hard as I can across the room. Claustrophobia hits me like Mike Tyson knocking out an opponent, and then I start hyperventilating. I need to get out of here, I need to get out of here, but I can’t, because of the babies… MY LIFE SUCKS!
“God… if you don’t do something, I’m done. I’m finished. I’m done with my family. Done with my friends, and this life in general, I’m done!”
Take all your pills at once and you’ll officially be done, A dark thought settles in my mind.
Peace I give you and peace I leave you. Be still and know I am God, Counters a heavenly thought.
GOD IS REAL. GOD ALMIGHTY. GOD IS GOD.
I close my eyes and I think about nothing. I ignore my feelings.
“I know You are God.” I say, again and again and again.
My breathing steadies as a wave of peace floods over me. The girls stop crying suddenly. The entire house is still and silent. I stand in one place. I cry until I can’t cry anymore. I finally feel normal. I feel like me. God is the best medicine, and His word is health to my bones and sweet like honey to my soul.
My phone rings again, I take it out of my back pocket, and answer without looking at the caller ID.
“You okay?” I hear JP’s voice ask.
How I’ve missed hearing his voice. I wish he was here. His embrace would have prevented this frantic moment of mine.
“Yeah…Thanks to God…” We both chuckle slightly.
“I’m praying for you and your family,” He says.
“I miss you,” He says.
I’m crying all over again, overwhelmingly happy to hear him confess that.
“I miss you too.”
“I don’t think we should have broken off our engagement.”
“I didn’t,” I say defensively.
“Fine, I shouldn’t have broken up with you. But your dream freaked me out…”
“During a summer church camp, before you were old enough to go to the teen one, a prophecy was spoken over me, that I would minister to the nations and travel the globe spreading the gospel and planting churches. The first nation I would go to is Chad, in Africa.”
The warm, tingling sensation rushes over my whole body as the Holy Spirit confirms what he said is true. I wonder if my dream took place in Chad. I feel the Holy Spirit confirm it again with another surge of tingling. Warmth ripples throughout my body like a shockwave.
“Are you saying what I think you’re saying?”
“Well, hold on. Let’s not rush anything. But um, I’m thinking about transferring this Fall to Valiant University. Do you think you still want to transfer there too?”
“Yes. But, with what’s going on right now…”
“If you can’t make it in the Fall, join me in the Spring. I have all four years to finish. You have what? A year?”
“Can we do the long-distance thing?”
“It will be good practice for when I’m traveling the world one day and you’re at home with the kids.”
“No, we’re coming with you.”
“Drew T says you have a boyfriend already, is that true?”
“Do you want him or me?”
“You, clearly you. I haven’t ever not wanted you.”
“I sort of have a girlfriend… we’re even then.”
Laughter bubbles between us. Then we make an agreement to end things with our current significant others and text each other when we’ve done so.
“Keep me posted on how your father is doing, please.”
“Yeah, um… are we back together now or…”
“Friends. Really, really, great, super-close, friends…For now…”
*Edited by Aly Fry