A Tale of 2 Phone Calls

Lately, I keep getting woken up by the past.

Tale #1
Rrrrrttt. Rrrrrttt.

My phone was blowing up on vibrate.

Rrrrttt. Rrrrrttt.

It was 6am. No one ever calls with good news at 6am.

Rrrrttt. Rrrrttt.

I opened one eye, my brain still foggy from the dream of a machine at work that looked like it was destroyed by a tornado. I glanced at my phone. 2 missed calls and a few text messages from Phoebe. “I need to get away. I need to think. Alex is still with the girl. Can I come to your house today? Do you have plans?”

Whoa. This just got serious. “Give me a minute to wake up and I’ll call,” I texted back. Five minutes later, I’m pacing in the backyard, talking with Phoebe. She was surprisingly calm when I spoke with her, despite the fact she had caught her husband with another woman a few days earlier.

Phoebe flipped the script and left on the lam – Alex’s modus operandi. She disappeared without an explanation, en route to the airport for my house. I sent her a picture of my credit card so she could book her plane tickets without detection, promising to write me a check when she landed. A few hours later, I picked her up at the airport. Ironically, I had cleaned the entire house the day prior for no reason. “The Lord knew,” she said. This is also why I keep my guest room in a constant state of readiness. You never know who the Lord will send your way with a moment’s notice.

Phoebe looked the same, as if 12 years hadn’t slipped by, and we picked up right where we left off. We spent time at the beach, ate good food, sipped wine, and discussed her situation extensively. For 3 days I watched her oscillate between a confident Christian woman who was going to contact a divorce attorney to a puddle of sadness and despair, longing for her marriage to made whole again. I was glad to share my home with her, thankful that she was eating and sleeping – something she hadn’t done much of since the blow up.

An ending has yet to be written. But that dream though: all of us work in the same health care department, and I wonder if that shattered machine in the dream means what I think it does. So much prayer. So much.


Tale #2
The other morning I woke up to a group message from the old church I attended in college. They’re hosting a homecoming for the youth group – the whole lot of us were invited for a picnic. Everyone was replying – people I hadn’t thought about in years appeared on my phone – even Jacob and Hannah are attending. This ought to be interesting.

A private message from Ruth was there too – the reception is one week after we were suppose to go on one of our epic adventures – and we decided to table the adventure in favor of the meet-up. Over the years, we had mused about “getting the band back together” and what it would be like to do a reunion. And now, we have that chance. We’ve booked a hotel room and we are each other’s date for the “bring your family” event. She’s like a sister, so it works. My husband had a gig anyway.

I am ecstatic to be back in my college town, especially with Ruth, to walk down memory lane together, in addition to making new memories. My only concern is that John’s last post was in my college town and I could run into him, if he’s still there. We haven’t stayed in contact and I have no desire to change that status. Nonetheless, I am really looking forward to seeing everyone again and hopefully making some new friendship connections with the old church crew.


These sort of things usually come in 3’s, so I’m a bit pensive of the next way the past will pop into my present.

Come what may.

A fissure in time seems unlikely.

Right?

 

New York, New York, It’s a Heck of a Town

I started a tradition in my family: whenever my nieces/nephew turn 16, we go on a trip together in the summer. Chantel and I spent a long weekend in Virginia Beach a few years ago, and we had a blast.

Now it’s Aimee’s turn – Chantel’s younger sister.

She chose New York City. Aimee had never been to a big city before. I bought train tickets and booked a hotel room – and in a few hours, we’re off on an adventure!

My first trip to New York was a couple of years ago before Christmas. I heard about a tour bus company that would drive us there overnight and drop us off at Macy’s on 34th Street around 10am. We had the entire day to do whatever we wanted, as long as we were back on the bus at 11pm. We’d get back home around lunchtime on Sunday. It was the perfect weekend getaway.

My husband completely freaked out about me going into the city alone, so I managed to convince my best friend from high school and her wife to accompany me. My best friend also lived in New York for a summer in college, so she had a decent idea of where things were and how to get around on the subway.

When we arrived in the city, it was like a movie: as soon as we entered the Lincoln Tunnel, the bus began blasting “New York State of Mind” by Jay-Z.

I was not prepared for New York: I’ve done Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis, Stockholm, Paris, Berlin – but New York was an entirely new animal all together. As we walked to Central Park, I found myself homesick for London and I had no idea New York was so dirty, compared to a cleaner city like Chicago or Berlin. The constant noise and movement were not conducive to my empath ways, and I was thankful I wouldn’t be there too long.

We spent the rest of the morning at the Guggenheim and had lunch at its cafe: $130 for the three of us and no alcohol was ordered. Again, I wasn’t prepared for New York. We went down to the Battery, experienced the Seaglass Carousel, rode the Staten Island Ferry at sunset, and zipped back on the subway to Times Square. As I stepped out of the subway and into the luminous flashy and glittering bright lights, I was stunned. This was incredible. I was not expencting this.

We had dinner at an unknown midtown Italian place, as we met up with some of my friend’s city friends. Great food and a good time by all.

As we drove out of the metropolitan area, I was also taken aback by how many people were homeless. It was staggering.

I have mixed emotions about returning to New York. The adventurist in me is super excited to go exploring with someone new to city life; I’m also a bit concerned – perhaps it’s just my anxiety – about staying safe and those unexpected travel mishaps. I can’t bring mace on the train. I called the hotel to check my reservation and it was under my niece’s name.

I’m ready to get out of town and experience something different. And best of all, I think I found a fellow adventurer in my niece.

Ruth

I met Ruth when I accidentally showed up at the wrong college ministry freshman year (I ended up staying). We looked alike, too, which sometimes caused people to mistake us for sisters. We always found this hilarious.

In college we hung out a bit – the occasional coffee or swimming at the indoor pool in the university recreation center. We’d tread water in the deep end and chat.

Ruth was my polar opposite back then: in my days of too many boys and too much alcohol, she was on the straight and narrow. She would have been aghast that I would ever entertain the thought of getting drunk or was not a virgin – so I just left out those parts of my life.

Nonetheless, we found common ground, and the many memories of this college Bible group have Ruth in them and we stayed close. One night, she was discussing how after graduation she was going to live with her brother for several months who was living in Europe. I was jealous of her upcoming adventure, not to mention I had a slight crush on her gorgeous older brother. And that’s when she said it:

“You should come for a visit!” Oh my goodness, that was too good to pass up!

The three of us spent a week traveling around England with no particular plan, just wherever the trains happened to take us that morning. I loved it!

This trip cemented our status as lifelong friends, in what was supposed to be a friendship that faded away with college life. Ruth became one of my closest confidants in my adult life. The days of editing my life for her ears had long since passed. She knew everything. In time we had grown up: I cleaned up my act and Ruth realized the world was not as black and white as she thought it to be.

We kept each other in the loop about our various romantic escapades, struggles, and joys – as singles and as wives. We also shared the hardship of infertility. Our stories were night and day different, but both of our homes remained silent without children.

A few years ago, we decided to restart our adventures by meeting halfway between our homes, as we live quite a distance apart. Our adventures have spanned a near-death experience in West Virginian mountains and backpacking cities. We try to meet up at least once a year and do something fun: it’s usually outdoors, involves a glass of wine, a tourist stop, and deep conversations.

A friend like Ruth is one of those rare gems – I think of her more as a sister. Her intelligence, character, and love of God have not only inspired me but buoyed me through some really hard times, as well as contributed to the good times. I know I can call her at any time to tell her anything, and she will always be gentle and listen. She doesn’t judge, yet she’ll call a spade a spade when it needs to be said. I am so grateful for her honesty and her 24 karat persona.

I’m excited to see where the Lord is going to lead Ruth. She made the decision to leave her abusive marriage after many failed attempts to fix it. Now that she is free from that burden, I know she will blossom, like the tree by the water in Jeremiah 17:7-8.

….and I can’t wait for our next adventure!

 

A Different Kind of Card for Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day is always hard for me, as a woman who can’t have children. 

Picking out a mother’s day card for my mom and mother-in-law is bad enough. I always feel uncomfortable in that card section and the sticky sweet sentiments make me gag. It’s like happy Christian pop rock to my shaded rock ‘n roll soul. It’s not me.

After watching friends have kids – and listening to their sordid stories – I realize that motherhood is not this idyllic 1950’s ad campaign concept. It’s my understanding that although there are precious moments, there are far more vomit/poop/tantrums/utter chaos/cringe worthy moments. It feels weird to gloss over all this with a flowery mother’s day card. The day is to celebrate moms, no? 

I decided to do something different a few years ago. I sent my mom and mother-in-law emails in lieu of cards, with a short blurb. The sentiment? Happy Mother’s Day and thank you. 

For my mom, I thanked her for being strong. She raised us without any extended family support, without a church family, and had no help from my father in terms of child rearing. She really went at it alone. I thanked her for all she did in those early years that I didn’t notice then.

I thanked my mother-in-law for raising such an amazing son. With his dad constantly traveling for work, she too raised her kids alone. I told her that I know my husband turned out so well because of her influence on him – his kindness, love for animals, and amazing cooking abilities.

I got replays back, both of them thanks in return. My mom said she got teary eyed. I heard from my sister-in-law that whatever it was that I wrote, really made an impression on my mother-in-law.

I challenge you to write a thank you card rather than a Mother’s Day card this year, especially if Mother’s Day is difficult for you. And if you are a mom, you know how much a simple thank you goes to such a thankless job.

Take a moment to thank them for their beautiful sacrifice and acknowledge their impact in your life.

Deborah

Deborah and I were not supposed to be friends.

She was a high school girlfriend of my then-college boyfriend and she was a nutcase. She was loud, annoying, and often came running up to my boyfriend and I in the university dining commons, greeting him with a big hug. They stayed friends, you see. I went out of my way to avoid her at all costs.

My boyfriend hosted a small gathering of friends at his house with the intent of getting drunk one night – my first foray into drinking. He and the guys left to get the goods from someone else – we were under age – and he had also invited Deborah who showed up just as they were leaving – I stayed behind.

I was stuck with her. Alone. I was livid.

I attempted guarded small talk with her only to be nice, praying the boys would be quick. As we chatted, we realized we had loads in common. When the guys came back with liquor an hour later, we were already old friends. Deborah and I were giggling and drunkenly hanging on each other as the night went on. My boyfriend just shook his head and smiled. He certainly had a taste for fun girls. I misjudged this one.

Our friendship quickly flourished into a strong bond of sisterhood as college rolled on. Our senior year we got an apartment together and painted it in the most ostentatious colors we could find, which included purple, lime green, blue, yellow, and neon pink. Her creativity and genuine personality complemented my own. Together, Deborah and I were unstoppable.

Our adventures were many: road trips that started at 11pm and ended as the sun came up, Spring Break in Florida (we ended up in St. Augustine/Disney when we realized the party in Daytona Beach was not our scene), and hosted legendary parties in our colorful apartment. 

Deborah also became my voice of reason: when the relationship with my boyfriend turned toxic, she called me out on it and assured me I would be okay when it ended. She was also a vocal opponent of my liaison with John (my friend with benefits), evident that it was not healthy long term. I leaned heavily on her in these times, perhaps more than I should have in hindsight. 

After college, she married her college sweetheart and we lived within an hour of each other. We went to concerts, saw indie films, and drank beer together. Her encouraging words urged me to re-evaluate my direction in life; she was the catalyst for refocusing myself to God and making better relationship choices. Deborah expressed dismay in my decision to leave Illinois and head into the unknown of North Carolina, but she knew I needed it. Deborah and Phoebe were the ones who locked up my apartment with me when I left for the coast.

After I moved, Deborah got pregnant and I met my husband. She morphed into a mom, while I pursued the traveling career girl route. We kept in touch sporadically, but when we met up, her conversations were limited to topics surrounding motherhood and my European adventures were all I could share, neither of us understanding the other’s experience. We had entered different worlds, and I was sad that the vibrant imaginative woman I knew was replaced with one who droned on about diaper rash.

Our communication became less and less. 

She had another baby by the time I hit my infertility phase. I never told her of my struggles. Occasionally we’ll exchange “How are you? I am great!” text messages. I haven’t seen her in years. I have no idea what she’s really like anymore, how her triumphs and failures have shaped her since our multicolored days as college students. I wish she could know me now, how I’ve changed for the better since college. Her social media feed projects a loving mother, a doting wife, and a confident executive. I know she is all of those things.

I wish I still knew the woman behind the smile.

Maybe years from now, Deborah and I will rekindle our friendship; we’ll once again reveal what’s in our hearts to each other over a drink, laughing about the good old days, caring for each other in the moment, and sharing our dreams of the future. 

I refuse to lose hope.

Phoebe

Phoebe texted me out of the blue.

Seven years had passed since we last spoke – 1,000 miles and a lifetime between us. We drifted apart as life happened. We communicated through Christmas cards.

She wanted to catch up.

I met Phoebe at my first job out of college, in the barren wastelands of central Illinois. She was a new immigrant from Asia, and in the small red neck town I found myself in, she was the coolest one there. We would walk to house parties, taking pulls off of a flask of rum. We’d go dancing at the night club an hour away – dressed to kill – or grab drinks at the bar down the street. We’d swap boy stories, hang out, have lunch dates, and I learned a great deal about her culture and way of life back home. When we hung out with her crew, I was often the lone white girl, who was a full foot taller than everyone.

She worked second shift, I worked third shift with her then-boyfriend Alex, an American. Alex helped me learn my trade and I kept up with him for job references. When they got married, I was a bridesmaid.

We kept in touch after I moved to the coast for several years. Once the kids came along, we drifted apart. I got a phone call when she found out she was pregnant with her first. I learned of her second child on social media. I haven’t seen her since 2009 and never met her kids.

I was surprised to see her texting me after all this time, but my heart was happy. I missed Phoebe. We talked on the phone that night. She sounded good, she caught me up on all the local gossip, as she and Alex are still in the same town. We talked about the surface level things – fond memories, how “things were currently going well,” both of us still unsure of the other – I wasn’t ready to spill my heart of the past years with anxiety, infertility, and alcoholism. Maybe for another conversation. Her accent was as thick as ever, my ear no longer trained to it. It was never like that before.

We ended our conversation with her and the family possibly coming to visit in the fall.

A few days later, Phoebe texted, Can you talk thru text message?

Sure, I replied. This was bizarre, but okay.

All the pieces clicked in her next message.

I’m not in a good place. I’m leaving Alex. I can’t take it anymore. Can you help me restart my life? Maybe I can get a job by you?

What?

Long story short, Alex cheated on her several years ago and they got through it. The other woman recently waltzed back into town and Alex got a burner phone to communicate with her behind Phoebe’s back – despite his denials of contact. It was a mess that involved the cops at one point when their argument got out of hand over the situation.

I offered for her to come to my beach for a few days, get out of the situation to think clearly, and said several times to get professional help. Counseling in these situations is so important, whether they stayed together or not.

She began to price airfare and planned a long weekend visit in a few weeks.

And then I got this message:
Things are better. We talked it out and I’m leaving for a visit to Asia soon and I don’t have the money to fly to North Carolina right now. But thank you so much for listening and supporting me! I promise I will come down sometime this year!

I told her the invitation was open and that if she needed time to get away, I was here for her.

This was all several weeks ago.

I texted her today, to see how she was doing. Things had returned to normal – the other woman was gone and the harmonious matrimony continued.

I hope stays that way.

Chantel

I still vividly remember the first time I saw her.

It was 2 weeks before my wedding. I was moonlighting on third shift, helping to cover a coworker out on FMLA. I got off shift that morning and hopped into the car with my fiance: we were driving to Virginia to meet his sister, her husband, and my oldest soon-to-be nephew and 2 nieces.

I tried to sleep in the car, but it was a fitful, unrested sleep. I was an overtired, grumpy, frazzled, dehydrated, stressed out bride who was about to meet extended family for the first time. And I was a hot mess.

I managed to pull myself together by the time we arrived in their driveway, and that’s when I saw her from the passenger side of the car: a cute little 9 year old with light brown hair and big expressive brown eyes was playing in the yard. This had to be Chantel. We locked eyes. I had never been an aunt before. We started quizzicaly at each other, unsure of what all this meant. I remember she gave me a big hug, as we got out of the car, and were ushered into the house, welcomed with open arms.

Through the years, I’d watch her blossom into a teenager. What began as her watching me put on make up in the morning morphed into me asking her for make up advice. Her make up game was on fleek, as the kids say nowadays.

The teenage years became fraught with angst and rebellion, accentuated with drugs and sex, probably steaming from the abuse she had suffered and never treated. I’d call her out and try my best to show her I would always be there and love her despite her many lapses in judgment. Her parents kicked her out of the house several times for having drugs and basically threw up their arms with frustration in terms of helping her professionally and emotionally. She’s currently living with a friend’s family at age 19, in between jobs again.

She needs someone to show her the love of the Father. And so I remain, checking on her through text messages and sending birthday gifts.

I was in town, visiting her family without my husband, a few weeks ago. While she was invited over for dinner, her lack of communication skills kept her from stopping by. It was no matter: I had already arranged a lunch date with her before I arrived.

* * * * *

Almost to the day, 10 years after we met in a driveway, I picked Chantel up in a stranger’s driveway. She was at another friend’s house, in the middle of absolute nowhere. She looked like she had dropped some excess weight, as her belly ring was clearly on display, and wore the light aroma of of marijuana as she slid into the passenger seat. Both of us were nursing a hangover: I sipped too much wine the night before and had a splitting headache. She had done shots (“Only like 6 or 7” – I kindly informed her 4 was binge drinking – she had no clue) and spent part of the night throwing up. She had been arrested again last month, this time for petit larceny, after failing to say no to a friend’s suggestion of putting unpaid merchandise in her purse. She was on probation, of course.

I swear, her communication skills and insecurity will be the end of her.

This was demonstrated again in her failing to pick a spot for lunch. “I don’t know, what do you want?” I pushed her to make a decision and she finally chose Red Robin, a fine choice, even though my Lenten fast meant I wouldn’t get my favorite bottomless root beer float.

Our conversation was surface level, but by the time food arrived we were in a deep talk about her insecurities, her inability to express her desires, and how that was making her life very difficult. She knew that stealing was wrong, but she lacked the fortitude to say no, blaming it on being tired after a long day, wanting to go home, and the “Sure, whatever” mindset she has when making decisions that directly affect her.

She acknowledged what I already knew to be true, but she has a streak of lip service behind her. Chantel’s words and actions are light years apart.

After lunch, I drove her back to her current home and I felt that tug from the Holy Spirit to pray with her. I struggle to say Grace before meals in a group setting, but I obliged.

“Can I pray with you?” I asked as she was about to leave the car.
“Sure,” she replied.

I held her hands and spoke His words over her. They flowed out, like a poem. I asked for her protection and that Chantel would know how beautiful, strong, and loved she was. There were tears in her eyes at the end.

Before she left, I told her not to spend dwindling money on weed, as I could smell it on her. I hugged her tight, told her I loved her, and to call me if she needed anything.

And before I knew it, I was flying south on the interstate, heading for home.

I hope Chantel’s future is brighter than her past. But only she can make that happen.

Open Prose Letter to my Niece Chantel

Dear Chantel,

And so, it happened again. You got caught – this time by the police – with drugs. As tears welled up in my eyes, as we again had a conversation about making better choices and moving forward out of the fray, you are back to where you were a year ago. I don’t understand how someone like you, with their whole future ahead of them, continues to make these choices that do nothing but keep you down.

I keep asking myself why. As I thought about it, I think I nailed down your life motto, which seems to fit all the trouble you find yourself in as of late:

I do what I want. The rules do not apply to me if it conflicts with what I want.

I wrote this prose – more for me, than you – to get all of things feelings off my chest.

****language warning****

Late to high school
Skipping class
Maybe not show up
Truancy and tardies
Notes home for skipping
Your message to others
Has been the same
Since high school
I do what I want
Fuck them

Smoking pot in the house
Carrying at school for friends
There are rules and consequences of this
Your response
:
Fuck that
I do what I want
I am in charge
Not you
Fuck you
And get out of my way
Before I fuck you up

Stealing a car
And narcotics
May be against the laws of this state
But it didn’t matter right now
In the moment
Because you’d say
I do what I want
I needed the high
You have no idea
What’s going on in my head
Only way to get there was to drive
I do what I want
Fuck you for not understanding

Breaking the rules
Of the state or of your parents
Don’t mean shit
You’re only sorry you got caught
Sorry you’re going to get chewed out
And stonewalled at home
Showing up for a court date
Is a minor inconvenience
But it will happen again
Because you simply do what you want
Getting drunk
And getting home
Were top priority
What you wanted in that moment
Not your safety
Or the safety of others
The rules of the road don’t apply in these situations
You do what you want
Fuck them for getting in your way

If you’re prosecuted for intent to distribute
It won’t stop you from doing it again
If you want to do it
You fly under the radar to evade capture
You will still drive
You will still smoke
You will still do hits
You will still sell
You will still do what you want
When you want
Because you always have
Fuck them if they try and stop you
You are in charge
You do what you want
The rules serve as only boundaries
To remain undetected

If you kill someone in a car accident
Driving home from a party cuz you were legally drunk
But the least drunk of your friends in the car
It won’t change nothing
You do what you want
Someone dying won’t change your wants
Unless your wants change
History tells us it won’t
But I hear you loud and clear:
I wanna get high
I wanna get fucked up tonight
I wanna get laid right now
I wanna take nude selfies for likes
I wanna forget my pain
I wanna take hits til I can’t feel
Cuz that’s what I love to do
It’s what I want
I’m gonna do what I want
Fuck you if you get in my way

A trail of destruction
Strained relationships
Fines
Legal woes
Maybe even jail time
Will follow you
Until you decide
To want different things
Like abiding by laws
And taking care of yourself
Right now it’s all noise
It’s all a stalling tactic
Because in the end
You’ll do what you want
Over and over
And over and over again
That is your narrative:
I do want I want
The rules do not apply to me
If it conflicts with what I want
And fuck anybody
Who tries to stop me
From getting what I want

And with everything that’s happened
Everything is right on track for you
You’re getting what you want

But I am always here
Watching
And praying
For you
That you will seek help
From a therapist
From the Lord
From me
So we can help silence
The demons
The drugs cannot do

Bons baisers,
Aunt Simonne

 

Michigan Musings: Lake Huron Adventures of the Past

Nearly every summer in the 90’s was spent on the shores of Lake Huron.

They were all adventures.

My dad’s sister had a cottage on the lake in Port Austin in Broken Rocks – it was more of a house than cottage. I spent my days with my cousins, climbing on the giant boulders that jutted out from the land into the vast lake.  My one cousin and I would dig for clay at The Cove and then we fired the pots we made in that night’s beach campfire. I hunted crayfish in the shoals and attempted to net hundreds of fish that ultimately got away.

Swimming was by far my favorite. My feet adjusted quickly to Huron’s unfriendly rocky bottom and choppy waters. I couldn’t wait to get in the water.

My first brush with death happened in the lake when I was 9: the small sailboat my dad and I were on capsized when the wind changed directions and my dad wasn’t quick enough with the sail: I got trapped under the boat momentarily. My dad was freaked out, but I thought this was a great adventure. We had life jackets on, Dad was here, what could have possibly gone wrong? Ah, to view the world as a child.

I learned how to ride horses at the local riding stable. It was western trail riding on old nags, but that didn’t register to me. This was another adventure, quite different from my normal life. The trail leader said I was a natural on horseback and I began taking English riding lessons back home. The only problem was barnstorming: the horses knew the trail and once they realized they were heading back to the barn, where food was, they took off like they were wild mustangs. I had one horse take off into a gallop on me – mind you, I’m not wearing a helmet – and grabbed fist fulls of mane to stay on! I made it back okay, but ever since that time, I’ve been spooked with speed on horses.

We usually stopped for dinner at one of the restaurants in the small downtown – Chuck and Jane’s was our top spot. Evenings were spent eating ice cream and walking along the breakwater at the marina.  I loved the gift shops – Finan’s and the Dime Store – they had everything a preteen girl would want. I especially loved the cedar boxes – I have 2 of them with a horse on it – and Port Austin, MI was stamped in the lower right corner of the lid. My grandma couldn’t come downtown without stopping for bread and other delicious items from Murphy’s Bakery. For a special treat, we’d drive to Grindstone City’s General Store: they had the best ice cream in this hemisphere. This is not a hyperbole, this is fact.

Once I was a teenager, we began to stay at Ray’s (my mom’s cousin) quintessential cottage a few miles down the road in Caseville – its musty cottage smell is forever etched in my memory. The beach there had a sandy bottom, a welcomed relief from my aunt’s beach. This cottage is special to me because 2 things happened here that still ring true in my adult life: I officially became a Christian and began mapping out my family tree. I still walk daily with the Lord and am now writing down 20 years of genealogical research into a book.

As the years went on, it became me, my sister, mother, and grandmother in Port Austin trips. We’d stop at the IGA (a grocery store) in Bad Axe and get all the supplies we’d need for the week. Shopping with my mother and grandmother, this was a 2 hour excursion, which I always dreaded.  I wanted to get up to the cottage as soon as possible and see my lake! The foodstuff could wait.

Ray was there with his wife when we arrived. There were 2 cottages on the property – they would stay in one, we’d stay in the other. Ray was old enough to be my grandfather. My sister and I went fishing with him on his boat and caught so many lake perch our live wells were filled to the gills! Ray’s navigational systems weren’t working, so we had to stay within sight of land – but Ray started chasing schools of perch, as fishermen tend to do, and the next thing we know, we’re surrounded by water. It was I who got us safely back to shore after I found Sebewaing’s lone water tower in the distance.

There was no TV here. This was long before the internet was ubiquitous (I would go a whole week without checking my email!). I truly unhooked from the world I knew, the craziness of my household. And I loved every minute of it.

Watching the storms roll in on the lake was better than TV. I collected zebra mussel shells as if they were conch shells. The waterslide in Caseville proved I could get over my fear of heights. My 82 year old grandmother beat me in mini golf at Sandy Dunes. I would run the fitness trail at Port Crescent State Park, usually with my Dad when he showed up for a couple of days. Countless walks on the beach, watching the sunset, campfires every night – I never got bored and planned to move here alone after college.

These summers moulded my heart to love the beach life, which is part of the reason I live in the coastal Carolinas. Like so many others, I can sum up my childhood summers in 2 words: Port Austin.

If I could do it all over again, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

Pray & Prey

All the #churchtoo hash tags on my Twitter feed reminded me of a fellow youth group member in college who could classify as a preditor.

I would know. I was one of his complicit prey.

Word had gotten around church that I was newly single. I looked okay on the outside, but on the inside I was in the deep throws of an existential crisis coupled with an identity crisis. My ex was an emotional abuser, and I got too caught up in his web of dysfunction.

It was during this time that I learned when I hit rock bottom, I will find a shovel and start digging.

Jacob was the shovel.

Jacob had asked for my phone number and he was the full package: handsome chiseled features, very muscular, highly intelligent – an all around sweetheart who loved Jesus. I was giddy. I never thought a guy like Jacob would notice me.

Sure enough, he called me to hang out one evening. After a false start, we ended up back at my apartment to watch a movie with my roommates. Jacob put his arms around me and pulled me back onto him. This was nice – a little fast – but nice. In the course of a few minutes, his hands started to wander. I politely stopped him several times.

If I wasn’t in such a state of complete breakdown, I’d like to think I’d have rebuffed his advances. But when you’re already careening out of control and extremely comfortable with your sexuality, you make certain allowances that otherwise wouldn’t make sense.

He suggested going back to my room and I agreed. I tried to explain to him how crazy my life was, but it came out jumbled and it was clear he was not understanding. The spell wore off after midnight. We didn’t have sex, but we defiantly knew each other better in the physical sense.

He requested I drive him back to the dorm at 3am, less than half a mile from my apartment. The conversation was terse, compared to what happened between us a few hours prior. He threw a casual “see ya” over his shoulder as he left the car.

I regretted it. I was disgusted with myself. His scent was still all over my sheets, but in the morning light, it smelled bad.

I didn’t hear from him in the following days and our group met on a few nights later. My heart raced as I walked to the building. I tried to catch his eye, eager to read his expression. We made eye contact: it was a quick expressionless glance, like when you almost bump into someone in a busy airport.

That was it.

Oh, I thought, as the reality seeped through my body. This is how it’s gonna be: all over me in private, ignore me in public. While I was disappointed, I also knew it was stupid to think he wanted something more. The situation a few nights previous was obviously about the physical rather than the mental, emotional, and spiritual. Just what I needed: another guy in my life to treat me like crap.

I wish I could say the story ended there.

But it didn’t.

It happened again.

And again.

While I’ve never done drugs, I’m sure Jacob was cocaine in the human form. I knew it was a bad idea, but I loved the high – it boosted me out of the hole I found myself in, albeit temporarily. I loved the rush, the impulsive nature of our aimless fraternization.

I was eager for another fix.

As time passed, I was slowly coming out of my self-induced haze, longing for the comforts of emotional sobriety. What if I was leading him on? I paused as I was leaving his dorm room, leaning against the door jamb for support. It was time to clarify things.

“So,” I began. “Where does this leave us?”

“Right here,” came the sarcastic reply and a smile.

“No, really. Where do you see this going?”

Jacob stopped and turned to me. “I am not in a place in my life where I would be a good boyfriend to you, I can’t be what you would need in a relationship.”

It sounded like a pre-recorded message, a backhanded complement, but I took his words at face value.

“Okay,” I said, as I drifted into the hallway and closed the door behind me.

That was fine by me.

It stopped right then and there.

I’d like to point out that all of this was consensual between Jacob and I. He never forced me to do anything. I take responsibility for my actions.

Then I got back with my daft ex, because I was young, stupid, and apparently masochistic at 21.

But that’s when the prowl started.

My boyfriend didn’t want to attend formal several months later, so I went alone. Jacob was there, handsome as ever. He tried to get me to come back to his dorm afterwards and I explained I was with someone else and not interested. Jacob tried to persuade me otherwise. He pulled me close when we were alone, and I pushed him away. “I have a boyfriend, we can’t do this, ” I said and left his presence.

I can’t remember the circumstances, but I had something to drop off at his place months later. He had moved out of the dorms and into a house. He gave me a quick friendly tour, no vestige of our history showed.

“And this is my room,” he said as we stopped at the door. He came from behind me and used his body weight to push me on the bed. We fell on the bed together and I knew what the look in his eye meant. “I have a boyfriend,” I said, slightly worried about how this situation was going. Again, he tried to charm me. “No, I have to go.” I sprinted out to my car before he had a chance to stop me.

That was our last encounter.

The following school year, Jacob was a distant memory. A girl named Hannah started coming to our group. Hannah was not only stunningly beautiful, but wholesome and kind. She was in my Bible study. I had just taken a big swig of soda when Hannah said she had an announcement: “Jacob and I are officially dating.”

It took everything in my power not to spit the soda across the room. She took her purity seriously, and while they made a handsome couple, I certainly hoped she knew what she was signing up for with Jacob.

I did not mention anything to her about my experience. Maybe she knew about Jacob and I, maybe not. I didn’t want to reveal my previous indiscretions; there was also the possibility of Jacob amending his ways.

They got married and have children. Occasionally a picture of them will pop up on my feed, all smiles. I wonder what their marriage is like and if they are truly happy beyond the pictures.

The shine of youth is gone for Jacob. The sculpted muscles have given way to age and fat; he looks well into his second trimester now. Those bright eyes and boyish grin still come through, but I know what lies behind them. Hannah still has a better body than my barren athletic one.

What is Jacob like now? I wonder if anyone at his current church has a story about him. I wonder how he dealt with the past or if he ever did.

Many years later, I told my good friend Ruth (from the same group) about everything that happened between Jacob and I: turns out I was just another link in the chain. She and many others had a similar experience. Ruth shot him down before anything came of it (as I should have done). I wasn’t the first in the group. I wasn’t the last either.

I was simply another violin in a woeful symphony.

I was played. And prey.