It was just a regular Saturday. I think that’s what makes it so hard. That it happened without any warning. That sorrow doesn’t just live around sinister corners and dark alleys but can be waiting behind a phone call during breakfast.
I was up at the school administering the ACT test to a group of tired high school seniors. It was hard to give up my one morning off, but we needed the money. And I still had half a day to rest and catch up on the dishes and grading papers. But as I was packing up my things to head home, my husband called my cell phone. Without any greeting he asked, in a panicked voice: “When will you be home?” “I’m leaving in five. Why…what’s the matter? Did something happen?” “No, no. I just need to talk to you.”
My chest does this thing sometimes where it seems to push out the air that I am trying to breathe in. I couldn’t catch a single thought. They were racing by too fast, colliding into one other; causing a pileup of what-ifs. I opened my car door with shaking hands and tried to form some kind of prayer. This became my liturgy for the next year, to pray, out of breath and with unsteady hands: “God, help.”
I don’t want to talk about that afternoon. Not in detail. Some things haunt us enough without committing them to the permanence of pen and paper. Suffice to say, that afternoon marked the beginning of the end of my marriage. Just like that. On a regular, Saturday afternoon, accompanied by sunshine and a light breeze.
And sometimes, to this day, I still catch myself looking around friendly, well-lit corners, in case the end of something precious is beginning there. As if spotting it in advance would help. As if the prophets were any less burdened by knowing about future sorrow in advance. Still, I hate the idea of being surprised by pain. I think about Job losing all his children in one day. In one moment, really. And how, before he put ash on his head and worshipped God, maybe he paused for a moment and whispered, “God, help.”
Today, I am not out of breath with sorrow, but soaking up the warmth of love with my husband in his reading chair beside me and my dog, Frank, resting at my feet. I still panic sometimes. And the best I can do in those moments is to look at what’s in front of me instead of peeking around corners, and to keep that prayer at the ready, for when I need it next.
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