Sunday Psalms: Fictional Narratives Inspired by the Psalms, Proverbs, & Other Biblical Works
The house is dark. The only sign of life is the Christmas tree lights. David and the kids have gone to bed, but I can’t manage to move myself from the living room. My back leans against the sofa cushion, and I let the lights mesmerize me.
It’s strange, the house like this. Brimming with calm, and yet I’m sitting here, my insides churning an internal storm. I wonder if my presence will taint the reverence of the Christmas lights. Am I a drop of ink squeezed into a cool glass of water? I consider taking my grief to the kitchen, or even out to the station wagon where the darkness can swallow me whole.
I’m willing to talk to someone, but I don’t know how to verbalize what’s wrong with me. If you sketch my life out on paper, nothing seems amiss. An artist would probably choose vibrant colors to portray my family, my accomplishments, our house, our pets.
If I were to draw my life, my instrument would be charcoal. I feel the emptiness, the uselessness, even if there’s good happening all around me.
“You’re always so negative, Carlie. You’re too sensitive.” My parents always said I had a flair for the dramatic. I suppose they were right. Nothing’s really changed in the past twenty years. I do tend to infuse nihilism into my perspective, and I suppose it would be good if I eased up. I want hope for everybody else, don’t I?
“Could you just try to be positive? Just once in a while. It would be really nice.” My husband frequently expresses his frustration with my melancholy outlook. I hate that. I hate that I make David feel my negativity. Even now, gazing at the lights, at these tiny bits of hope, I still feel empty. Why can’t I just be happy at Christmas?
My most recent exportation of misery makes me shiver. It’s as if I can’t get perspective until I’ve already made a mess of things. It’s only afterwards that I look back on an incident and see my dysfunction.
After dinner we pulled boxes of ornaments down from the attic. We all started laughing about last Christmas when we found the raccoon hiding up there, and Kyle launched into his best imitation of a raccoon. That’s when it hit me. All these ornaments, all these family traditions — they remind me how little time I have left with them here at home. Bianca’s in high school, Kyle’s already shaving, and I’m not the perfect mother, not the perfect wife. I guess it hit me extra hard today.
As my family decorated the living room with tinsel and garland, I could feel the wave of sadness wash over me. When David asked what was wrong, I snapped at him.
“What do you think’s wrong? It’s freezing in here.” His joyful face fell as I rubbed my hands together. Last night the furnace went out. David had promised he could fix it. He tried all afternoon before finally calling the repair man. It wouldn’t be fixed until Friday. I had ruined the evening.
Now I’m sitting cross-legged on the floor, a blanket wrapped around my shoulders. I rub my forehead, as if the motion will erase the dysfunctional cells in my brain. Sometimes life seems like a violently shaken snow globe. If only I could step outside the glass dome and look in from the outside.
This year we purchased our tree from the Boy Scouts. I love how the full branches camouflage the green of the light strand. It’s as if the lights levitate their twinkling message of hope, and I think of my mom. She loves colors. I prefer the white ones. Always have. But this year I decided to buy multi-colored strands. I remember the Christmas when I was sixteen and all our lights fizzled out. Mom sent Dad to the store to buy new ones. A Christmas superhero in the making.
“It’s not that big a deal.” I can hear her now, Mom’s voice full of disappointment. I was wrapping gifts when Dad returned with plain white lights. Hearing them, I nervously ran my tongue along the metal of my braces. I still do that when I’m nervous, even though the braces have been gone for decades. She would never say it, but Mom’s face told us that the superhero had failed in his holiday mission.
That night my dad didn’t say anything. He didn’t talk at all. He silently wound the lights around the branches of our artificial tree. The men in our family – they feel the failure of of these small disappointments. David is so much like my Dad, wanting so badly to please. When he smashed my car early this year, I responded so well. It was my favorite car. That black Jeep Cherokee had taken us across the country. I loved that car.
“It’s okay,” I had assured him. I didn’t care about the car. I was just glad he was alright. But not this morning. This morning when David burned my toast, you’d think he was amputating my leg. He had tried to scrape off the crackly bits, and I immediately started crying. Originally, I was crying about the toast, and then I was crying because I was upset about something so stupid, and then it hit me: I am so much like my mother.
I guess I’m not unique for spending years resenting my mother for her overbearing personality, for her chronic ability to infuse stress into a situation. But now I’d give anything for one of her worried phone calls, for her “worst-case-scenario” planning. In her cloud of Alzheimer’s, she doesn’t have a clue who I am.
“I’m sorry, Mom.” I’ve said this to her a thousand times, but she doesn’t track with me.
“Aren’t you pretty? You look just like my daughter Carlie Ann.” Last week Mom was so sincere. It’s as if she’s trapped behind a glass wall that won’t shatter. I hate Alzheimer’s most at Christmas.
“Mom?” I jump at the sound of my own daughter’s voice. She has this ability to move through the house like a stealthy cat. Sometimes I don’t even know she’s in the same room until she’s standing right in front of me or tapping me on the shoulder.
“Bianca, you scared me to death.”
She bites her lip, and I can’t help but laugh. She laughs too.
“Scaredy cat,” Bianca says and sinks down next to me.
“Why are you up? Do you know what time it is?”
She doesn’t answer. She picks at the braid of the area rug and I feel her stress.
“You see that?” I point to an ornament on the lowest branch. It’s a round blue ball with “Baby’s First Christmas” written in black calligraphy.
“I know, Mom,” Bianca says in her exasperated voice. “It’s my first ornament. You tell me that every year.” She acts like she’s too old for this sort of thing, but I can tell she loves it by the way she leans in close to me.
For some time we point at the ornaments, reminiscing where each one came from. There’s the fat Santa on the snowmobile that we picked up in Alaska and the chubby angel from last year’s Christmas bazaar. The kissing snowman couple was a wedding gift. That one is her favorite.
“I ruined everything.” When we run out of ornaments, Bianca finally tells me what’s wrong.
“Everything? You’ve ruined everything?” I say in a teasing voice.
“I’m serious, Mom. I screwed up big time. I don’t think I can go to school tomorrow.”
I’ve heard this one before. At least once a week she doesn’t think she can go to school. This time, she claims it’s the most serious of all her trials. Apparently, the boy she likes has been calling her Brittany, and she can’t bear to correct his mistake. To keep from disturbing the waters, she even started signing her name as “Brittany” when she grades his quizzes in math class.
“You can’t just tell him about the mistake?” Bianca gives me a look that communicates this is not an option. I don’t argue. I know she’ll figure it out.
I remember when I brought Bianca home from the hospital. It was November of ’02, and I was terrified. Maybe I would drop her, or lose her. Maybe she would grow up to hate me. She’s just like me, this emotive thing, and I want so badly to give her advice, to stop her from being too hard on herself.
As she sorts out her dilemma, I feel affection for my only daughter well up. Maybe this is how David feels about me, or how my pre-Alzheimer’s mother loved me.
She’s as tall as me now. Too big to carry to bed. Try as I may, I can’t seem to scrounge up good motherly advice, I have no profound words of wisdom other than, “It will be okay.”
“You’re a good mom,” she whispers. She rests her head on my shoulder, and we sit together in the quiet.
It’s probably around midnight when I finally hear the sound of Bianca’s shallow slow breathing. I put my arm around her and cherish my sleeping daughter. I notice the scent of her strawberry shampoo. She always chooses berry flavors.
As the lights watch over us, I eventually fall asleep next to my girl. Throughout the night I dream of snow globes and ornaments, of strawberries and raspberries. And lights. So many lights. In my dream, Bianca and I walk through a maze of Christmas trees with more lights than I’ve ever seen. Hand in hand, we walk without speaking. Snow falls all around us, and I realize we are inside a massive snow globe. Our slippered feet leave soft imprints in the freshly fallen snow. Bianca squeezes my hand, and I sense that she is peaceful. We both are.
All night long I dream. I don’t wake until David gets up to make coffee. I open my eyes to see the tree guarding Bianca and me. For the first time in months, I have slept through the night.
For thus said the Lord Jehovah, the Holy One of Israel, ‘In returning and rest shall ye be saved…’ Isaiah 30:15a (ASV)
For thou wilt light my lamp: Jehovah my God will lighten my darkness. Psalm 18:28 (ASV)
The people that sat in darkness saw a great light, and to them that sat in the region and shadow of death, to them did light spring up. Matt 4:16 (ASV)
Question to Ponder: Where/how do you need rest today?
Song Recommendation: I Will Rest in You by Jaci Velasquez
-Read Previous Sunday Psalms from Season Two: Episode 1, Episode 2, Episode 3, Episode 4, Episode 5,Episode 6, Episode 7, Episode 8, Episode 9, Episode 10, Episode 11, Episode 12, Episode 13, Episode 14, Episode 15, Episode 16, Episode 17, Episode 18, Episode 19
Written by Heidi Sadler, Inspired by Isaiah 30:15, Psalm 18:28, & Matthew 4:16. Copyright © 2016 Heidi Sadler, All Rights Reserved.