Wednesday, November 2, 2011

12-America's Least Wanted by Sharon Lurie

© 2011 David’s Harp and Pen

I had never been arrested before, and it was rather a surreal experience. The fingerprinting, the endless line of questioning. I think, deep down, I had always known that my life would probably end up like the series finale of “Seinfeld,” however I hadn’t imagined it would happen before I turned 40. My concern wasn’t really for myself so much as it was for Ryan and the kids. Well, mostly for Ryan. I mean, the kids had had lots of experience inside a police station with Arthur’s various paramours, but poor Ryan, being in a jail in a foreign country? Attempted kidnapping wasn’t going to look good on his worship leader résumé, that was for sure.

As I was about to space out, Bruno walked into the interrogation room with a none-too-pleased look on his face. He signaled for me to follow him out to the front desk, which I did. The only thing worse than when Bruno yells at me is when Bruno doesn’t say anything to me. It always makes me think that he is in deep thought about something, like good places to dispose of corpses.

When we got the front desk, he slowly and methodically handed me the keys to my minivan.

“Sooooooo,” I asked sheepishly. “Does this mean I’m free to go?”

“You’re free to go,” Bruno answered in a too calm, matter-of-fact manner.

“Soooooo, you’re not going to yell at me, or ask me what I was thinking, or bore holes into my skull with your eyes?”

“Why should I do any of that, Mags? Actually, I want to thank you. Usually, I get a call that I have to pick you up from the emergency room. Picking you up from jail is a nice change of pace. It was also extra considerate that you happened to come to my police precinct. Now all my co-workers can finally put a face to the name.”

I couldn’t tell if he was being facetious or not, but part of me really didn’t want to know. As I pondered Bruno’s next move, Arthur came into the police station. His face was red, and he was quite huffy-puffy. Arthur and Bruno couldn’t stand each other. I would liken their relationship to Batman and The Joker, except nowhere near as congenial.

“Margaret,” Arthur screamed, “what in God’s name is going on? What were you thinking? I send you out with the simple task of keeping my kids occupied for a few hours, and what happens? They end up inside a jail. If I wanted to have to pick them up from the police, I could’ve let them spend the day with my ex!”

“Which one?” Bruno shot back.

“Bruno, don’t start with me! Can’t you see how upset I am?”

“It wasn’t her fault! The kid at the door at Palucci’s was hiding because of the storm, and the little kid got out and snuck into Margaret’s van and under the van seat while Ryan and her were packing the hatch. It could’ve happened to anyone! Plus, the kid wouldn’t have even been roaming around unattended had his pea-brained mother not just dropped him at Palucci’s by himself while she went shopping in the mall. Don’t think for a second that Child Protective Services won’t be hearing from me about this!”

Arthur let his lower lip puff up in consternation. Since he rarely won an argument with Bruno, he turned his back to him and faced me. I rather got the feeling that Arthur wanted someone, anyone, to unleash his rage on, and I was the most convenient target at the time.

“Margaret, I trusted you with my kids, and this is how you repay that trust. Not to mention that I had to break my date in order to come here!” Arthur screamed.

“You and Suzanne had a date?” I asked.

“Not Suzanne. Heather.”

“Who’s Heather? This isn’t another girl you just met onli…”

“Do NOT lecture me, Margaret!” Arthur scowled. “You are in no position to lecture anyone about anything! You, who can’t even do something so simple as…”

Bruno interrupted by getting in between Arthur and me.

“Margaret,” Bruno said, “there are some things a man can only hear and should only hear from another man.”

I nodded in agreement as Bruno turned to face Arthur, who had an unusual mixture of anger and terror on his face.

“Arthur,” Bruno addressed in a condescendingly calm tone, “you call Margaret on a moment’s notice to watch your kids so you can be free to feel sorry for yourself while you add to your ever-growing list of future ex-wives, order her around like she’s a cocker spaniel with a lobotomy, and then you have the AUDACITY to yell at her for something that was completely out of her control?”

“This was an important date for me! You wouldn’t know anything about it because you’ve never been in love!” Arthur shot back.

“Arthur, you’re not in love. You’re in heat. There’s a big difference.”

“Oh, really?”

“Yes. Being in love is cause for celebration. Being in heat means you take yourself down to the vet’s office so you can have an operation.”

“Just because you’ve never had the courage to give your heart to…”

“Yaddy, yaddy, yaddy, sis, boom, bah!” Bruno jided, cutting Arthur off in mid sob story. “Look, Art, I am trying very hard to be a good Christian here, and not use any of the words Pastor Hadley said are unbecoming to a Christian man of my stature. So, I’m going to ask you with as much Christian love as I can conjure up, to please collect your children in Room 14 at the end of the hall, or I will have to arrest you.”

“Arrest me?” Arthur asked, irritated. “On what grounds?”

Bruno got right up in Arthur’s face and screamed, “Impersonating a man!”

Arthur groaned under his breath, gave both Bruno and me the evil eye, and walked off. I saw a blood vessel pop out of Bruno’s forehead. I suddenly had visions of that blood vessel bursting and causing a deluge that would make the Great Nashville Flood look like a broken sprinkler. I did feel most grateful, though, that Bruno stuck up for me, so I decided to thank him.

“Oh, Bruno!” I began. “Thank you so much for coming to my defense with Arthur. I feel really—”

“Margaret!” Bruno interrupted. “What the @$#@^ were you thinking? You’ve done some stupid stuff in your time, but this takes the cake!”

“But, you just told Arthur—“

“Forget what I told Arthur! Do you think I was going to give that skirt-sniffing invertebrate the satisfaction of being right?”

I started to feel really bad, and embarrassed. Trying to change the subject, I said, “And remember what Pastor Hadley told you about your language.”

Bruno got right in my face and replied, “Margaret, under the circumstances, I’m sure even Jesus would be okay with me speaking the words I am thinking!”

“Bu-but you said it could’ve happened to anyone.”

“But it doesn’t happen to anyone else, Margaret. It only happens to you! And have you thought for one moment what this is going to do to Ryan?”

On the verge of tears, I asked, “What do you mean?”

“Okay, in case you haven’t noticed, he is very fond of you. You’re like his pet or something.”

“Did he tell you he was fond of me?”

“Focus, Mags! Focus! Here he is, an Irish citizen, on a visa, in a church internship, wanting to be a worship leader and a missionary. How is this going to look on his permanent record?”

“Look,” I answered, getting almost too choked up to speak. “It was a big accident, or whatever. I never meant for…”

“No, you didn’t mean for it to happen. You never do. Meanwhile, you keep going from one stupid, outrageous disaster to another, and you don’t care how your friends are hurt in the process.”

I turned my face away from him, because I was sure I was going to bawl. He got right in my ear, sounding slightly apologetic and concerned, and continued, “Look, I just wonder where your head is some times. Oh, and we got a statement from one of the women at Palucci’s sitting in a booth near you. Who the hell is Joe Pagano, and what do you have going on with him?”

I burst into tears and answered, “You mean Joe the Pagan next door!”

I ran into the ladies room, crumpled up under the sink, and cried my eyes out. I kept replaying the afternoon’s fiasco over and over again in my head. Then I recalled the quote in the bulletin about the humble not being able to be embarrassed, and what God said to me about it not being about me, and me needing to look bad in order for God to look good. I was then reminded anew of why I worried so much about how I looked and why I got embarrassed so easily. In my mind, I was a screw-up who couldn’t do anything right, someone who couldn’t accomplish the simplest of tasks without botching them up in royal fashion and dragging down those around me. I picked myself up from the floor and stared in the mirror, as if I was looking straight at God.

Okay, God, I prayed out loud. I did my best, and I guess it wasn’t good enough. The humble can’t be embarrassed, but obviously the person who coined that quote had never been the instrument by which the guy she liked more than any other got kicked out of the country. And You say it’s not about me, but considering it was my minivan Ryan was in, and my lack of observation that got us arrested, I can’t see how it wasn’t about me. How You can look good out of all this is beyond me.

I got all the smeared gunk off my face the best I could and walked out. I began to look for Bruno to see if he knew the whereabouts of my purse. As I got near the desk sergeant, I felt a tap on my shoulder. I didn’t have to turn around to know whom it was, and as terrible as I felt for what I did to him, I couldn’t bear to look him in the eyes.

After a long pause, Ryan asked me, “Are you going to look at me?”

“Not if I can avoid it,” I answered timidly.

“What did I do?”

“Nothing. Leave me alone.”

“I can’t. You’re my ride home.”

“Bruno can take you home.”

“But why would I want a lift with Bruno when I can have one with you?”

I turned to face him and answered, “Well, you’re less likely to be involved in an international incident if he takes you home.”

“Maybe,” Ryan replied, “but it won’t be as fun. Especially if he forces me to listen to the talk radio station and all those conspiracy theories.”

“I would still prefer he take you home.”

Ryan got in front of me and, as was his usual practice, began to walk me into a wall.

“Do you care to tell me what’s going on?”

I found myself alternating between being weepy and indignant.

“You know, I don’t know how it is in Ireland, but here in America, we have something called personal space, and you’re invading mine!”

“No, we don’t have personal space in Ireland. Now, you’re going to tell me what’s wrong, or I’m going to have to knock you into the corner and hold you there. I don’t care how many coppers there are here.”

I got back into his face and asked aggressively, “Wrong? You have to ask what’s wrong? I got you arrested! You’re in a police station because of me. Every time I’m around you something awful happens to one or both of us! I don’t know why you even want to be around me anymore! I mean, if I were you, I would’ve dropped me as a friend a long time ago!”

Ryan looked genuinely confused and said, “I still don’t understand.”

Getting more frustrated, I said, “Okay, well, let’s recap, shall we? Let’s start from the beginning. The day I meet you, I mangle your hand in my car door—“

“Because you were getting your coupon box so all of us could eat a really cheap meal,” he interrupted.

I stared at him for a second in disbelief. I was not used to the men in my life seeing the bright side of things.

I continued, “Okay, and then I got my foot crushed in that trap, and you were stuck riding around with Bruno and me chasing Bernie, then you were stuck in the emergency room—“

“Because you took in a dog that anyone else would’ve turned their nose up at and left to die,” he interjected again.

“And then there was the hike, when you had to carry me up the trail because I had run into a tree—“

“Because you were trying to protect me from that flying dinosaur,” he broke in.

I could see I was losing this argument, but I wasn’t going to go down without a fight.

“And, well, then there’s this whole me getting you falsely accused because of this accidental kidnapping thing!”

“Because you were trying to show love to the children of a very silly and selfish man and give them at least one example in their lives of what a real Christian looks like.”

I looked at him for a second, then bowed my head in shame.

“I don’t understand you at all, Ryan. Why do you have to make everything look better than it is? Why do you have to make me seem better than I am?” I couldn’t keep from crying at this point. Ryan put his hand under my chin and raised my head so that I would look at him.

“You want to know what your problem is, Margaret Ann Sims? I’ll tell you what your problem is. You’re generous to a fault, and you always do for others at your own expense. Oh, and by the way, I don’t believe you when you said that if you were me, you would’ve ditched you as a friend. The Power Trio talks. They’ve told me all the things you’ve done for them and stood by them through, so I think even if I was the one that had gotten you landed in the clink, you still wouldn’t be going anywhere.”

“Now you’re just being nice,” I replied. That was apparently the wrong to say, because he suddenly looked upset.

“What did I tell you, Margaret? I’m not someone to be nice just for the sake of being nice!”

“I’m sorry,” I said quickly and appeasingly. “I know you’re not. I just have a hard time seeing what—” I couldn’t finish it. I started crying again. Ryan wiped my tears away with his hands.

“Look, Margaret. Now’s probably not the time or the place to get into this, but when I feel ready to tell you the whole deal, I will. Let me just say that, well, I didn’t leave Ireland under the best of circumstances. What I mean is, I wasn’t in the greatest frame of mind. But being around you, I have laughed, and I have enjoyed myself more than you could ever know. Between the time I’ve spent with you and reading the things you write in your magazine…the girls back home were, well, let’s just say, they don’t hold a candle to you.”


“Now, when I call home, they don’t ask me how I am. They ask me how you are. My dad asks me what crazy predicament you’ve gotten yourself, or both of us into. You’ve never been to Ireland, but you’re already a national hero.”

“But you got arrested because of me, Ryan! That’s bad! Bad, bad, bad!”

“Not entirely!”

“Oh, really? What’s the upside?”

“Remember Neil, the atheist kid who was supposed to guard the door at Palucci’s?”


“He came here to give a statement and felt terrible about what happened to us. I talked to him for a while, and long story short, he’s coming to church tomorrow.”

“You’re joking, right?”

“God is my witness. So don’t feel badly about yourself just because certain people have no imagination about how God works.”

Still feeling guilty, I said, “That’s wonderful, but I got you arrested! Because of me, you have a smear on your character!”

Ryan giggled. “Margaret, I’m flattered you think I’m such a good Christian and all, and I do try to be one. But keep in mind; I’m also an Irishman. This isn’t my first time being arrested.”

My eyes popped out of their sockets.

“It’s not?” I inquired.

“Noooooo!” He answered in mischievous fashion. “And I pray, the good Lord willin’, and by His grace, it won’t be the last time, either.”

He flashed his pearly whites at me as I looked on in amazement.

“What were you arrested for?” I asked, dying of curiosity. “Was it a persecution for the sake of the Gospel type thing?”

Before he could answer, Bruno walked up to us and handed me my purse and Ryan a bag with the contents he had in his pockets when we were pulled over.

“Here you are, Margaret. Here you are, O. I’ll be out of here in a few minutes,” Bruno said.

“No hurry, Bru. Margaret here is going to drive me home,” Ryan replied.

Bruno asked sarcastically, “Are you sure that’s safe?”

“Of course it is. Besides, I’m taking special measures.” Ryan then pulled a pair of handcuffs out of the bag, bound my hands in front of me, and took my keys.

“Where did you get handcuffs?” Bruno and I asked simultaneously.

“I traded my tickets in for them at Palucci’s. See? They came with a set of keys and my own junior police officer badge,” he said as he waved the keys and the badge in front of us. Then Ryan picked me up and held me close to him.

“Move along, people! Dangerous criminal coming through!” Ryan said in a manner ever so dashing as he carried me out.

Bruno yelled after us in slightly melodramatic fashion, “O, you’re living in a fool’s paradise! You really think you can curb Mags’ appetite for destruction with a mere pair of handcuffs?!”

So, it turns out God really was right. It wasn’t about me. There was no need to be ashamed. There was no need to be embarrassed. God accomplished that day, through me, exactly what He wanted. As Ryan carried me out, I didn’t feel a shred of self-consciousness, for the first time in a long time, because I knew that I was the envy of every cop, criminal, and law-abiding citizen there.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

11-Close Encounters of the Lavatorial Kind by Sharon Lurie

© 2011 David’s Harp and Pen

So there I was, standing outside the men’s room at the mall waiting for Zechariah and Jonathan to finish up in the men’s room, hoping it would be incident-free, since so far, I had been unable to get through the day with my dignity intact. After a few minutes, Zechariah came out and just stared at me.

“What? Where’s your brother?” I inquired anxiously.

“He’s having trouble. I think he needs you to wipe his butt,” Zechariah answered. (Jonathan was still not quite potty trained, and he couldn’t tidy himself after making number two.)

I gritted my teeth, covered my eyes, and inched my way into the Men’s Room. I slowly opened my eyes, and thankfully, there weren’t any men using the urinals. I looked at the bottom of the stalls for Jonathan’s little feet, but there was no sign of them. So, I yelled, “Jonathan, honey, do you need some help?”

I then heard two different adult male voices laughing. One of the stall doors swung open, and a late 20-something man, seemingly normal but giving off a creepy vibe, stepped out, walked right up to me, and said, “I’m sorry, Baby, but the kind of help I need, you can’t give me.”

“Excuse me?” I asked him, confused.

“Hi!” he retorted. “I’m Jonathan.” He extended his right hand to me, but given he had just come out of the toilet, I thought it best not to shake his hand.

“That was awesome!” Said the other voice, which belonged to his friend who was in the bathroom with him. When I turned around to see the face that went with the voice, Jonathan’s friend snapped a picture of Jonathan with a huge grin on his face, and me with a look like someone has on their face when about to be led to the gallows.

“I’m gonna post this on All About Me,” the friend announced with laughter, quite pleased with himself, apparently.

“I am so sorry, sir,” I said, blushing. “I’m babysitting my friend’s little boy, who is also named Jonathan, and his brother said he needed some help.”

“No worries, Luscious,” Jonathan answered. Luscious, an innocent enough word in and of itself, took on another, dark, insidious meaning when being applied to a woman in a public men’s room. “You’re cute.”

I all of a sudden felt very nervous, those two strange men and me in there.

“Eh, my name is Margaret, and thank you, but I’m really rather plain, and ubiquitous,” I answered. I felt the need to back up towards the door, but hesitated, because I didn’t want to leave without Jonathan (the small, non-evil one).

“Don’t be so modest,” big, evil Jonathan answered. “Do you have any plans tonight?”

Big, evil Jonathan and his cohort began to move towards me. I found myself tongue-tied. My mind began scramble. Even though I had been taking martial arts lessons and felt quasi-confident I could defend myself against one man, I felt zero-confidence in my ability to fend off two. Also, I couldn’t for the life of me remember the defense from an unwanted lip lock.

“Margaret? Are you okay?” asked an all-too-familiar voice. It was Ryan. I was both relieved and scared that he was there. Jonathan and his buddy, who were both a good six inches shorter than Ryan and nowhere near as ripped, immediately backed off.

“Sorry, Man. No disrespect,” Jonathan said nervously to Ryan. Then he turned to me and asked, “Why didn’t you tell me you had a boyfriend?”

Before I could answer, Jonathan turned back to Ryan and said defensively, “She didn’t tell me she was with someone. Typical woman, right?”

The elder Jonathan and his friend quickly washed their hands and headed out the door. Ryan looked at me with that usual unreadable look of his.

Don’t be embarrassed, Margaret. I thought. You did nothing wrong. Just make it into a joke and go with the flow.

Ryan finally broke the silence and asked, “So, looking for a date for later tonight?”

I let out a skittish laugh and started to say, “For your information, I can tell a lot about a man by the way he…” Then I stopped myself, but there would be no backtracking from that one. I saw the words, like carrots in front of a horse, dangling in the air in front of me, but no amount of reaching on my part could ever take those words back.

“No, Margaret! By all means, finish your thought,” Ryan stated, looking both deadly serious and also like he would burst into laughter at any moment. “What is it about a man you can tell a lot of by watching him in a public lavatory?”

I hemmed and hawed, straining my brain ferociously for something clever to say, but finally gave up. “You know, I really didn’t think that whole comment through before I started to say it, and…”

I decided it best to not even explain any further. Ryan began to laugh so hard I thought he would hyperventilate. At that moment, Zechariah and Brittany walked in to see what was going on.

“Where’s Jonathan?” Brittany asked. I then remembered why I had gone into the men’s room in the first place. I started to push open all the stall doors looking for the youngest of my charges, trying to forget all that just happened.

Oh, God! I prayed silently. I am trying so hard, but humiliation seems to chase me down wherever I go. I pray Ryan will overlook that I am spacey and regularly accidentally say things that could be construed as morally reprehensible in light of the fact that I am so good with children.

I pushed open the stall door on the last toilet in the room. There sat poor little Jonathan, quiet as a mouse, with poo smeared all over his face, hands, and the walls, with toilet paper crinkled up and overflowing out of the toilet. He looked like a little cherry sitting on top of a giant chocolate poo sundae.

As Ryan and I cleaned up Jonathan and the stall, I tried very hard to keep my mind from obsessing and compulsing. I had to get my mind off myself and how I looked and sounded, but I didn’t know how.

No sooner had we all left the men’s room than it began to thunder, lightning, and rain with a fury uncharacteristic even for middle Tennessee during the rainy season. Next thing we knew, the lights in Palucci’s were flickering. Jonathan pulled on my hand and reached up his arms for me to carry him. Jonathan hated storms. I was about to pick him up when I felt a small tap behind me.

“Mommy!” cried Toddler X. I turned around to see him reaching his arms up to me as well.

Slightly aggravated, I picked him up and asked him, “Where are your parents?”

The question apparently confused him greatly. He then pointed to the gun range game and exclaimed, “Wifles! Boom!”

I could see I wasn’t going to get a straight answer out of the kid, so I carried him to the front counter and handed him off to the manager. As I turned to rejoin Ryan and the kids, a huge flash of lightning lit up every open window and sky light, and all the electricity in the place went out. As the subsequent sound of thunder blasting ensued, and every child in Palucci’s let out a single, collective, ear-piercing cry that rose up to Heaven. After the screaming died down, I heard from the direction of the front door the sound of heavy, labored breathing. I discovered, to my concern, it was the kid at the door in charge of stamping hands and making sure the kids who come to Palucci’s leave with the right grown-ups. Concerned, I walked over to the door to check on him.

“Are you alright,” I asked, then glanced at his nametag, “Neil?”

“Hate storms,” he answered in rapid-fire fashion, fidgeting as spoke. “Hate ‘em, hate ‘em, hate ‘em!”

“I’m sure it’ll be fine. We’re used to storms like this here,” I said in an attempt to sound reassuring.

“It’s not fine! Can’t you see we’re all going to die? How can you be so calm?”

Ooh! I prayed. This would be perfect time to talk about You to him, wouldn’t it be, God?

“Well,” I answered Neil, “if I die, I know where I’m going.”

Neil looked at me oddly and asked, “Where are you going?”

“Oh, sorry,” I answered. “Well, if I die, I’m going to Heaven. To be with God. Forever.”

“Oh, great!” he sneered. “You’re one of those, aren’t you? I can’t believe in the present age of knowledge and intellect there are still people stupid enough to believe something that’s nothing more than old wives’ tales!”

“My faith is not an old wives’ tale!” I protested.

“No, of course not! It’s true because your mommy told you it was, right? I don’t believe in stupid-stitions. I believe in science. I believe in fact. I believe in logic.”

Another blast of lighting and thunder came through Palucci’s, even stronger than the one before.

“Oh, Sweet Jesus!” Neil screamed like a little girl. As he ran to hide under the front counter, he cried, “I’m too young to die.”

I stood scratching my head as he disappeared from view.

Oh, God! I
prayed. I don’t think that went very well at all. I don’t think I said the right thing at all.

God replied, It’s not about you. Are you willing to look bad so that I can look good?

God, I don’t know what You mean. I didn’t know what You meant all the other times you said it today
, I prayed in protest.

Suddenly, the electricity came back on, and life at Palucci’s quickly proceeded as normal.

“Margaret!” Brittany yelled as she ran up to me, interrupting my silent debate with God. “Come with me to the finger-painting class! Please!”

Before I could answer, she grabbed my hand and pulled me to the craft room at Palucci’s. Besides all the games, Palucci’s had a craft room where they would have a class with fun stuff like painting or drawing. I jumped into cool babysitter mode and threw myself into finger-painting with her. I worried about Brittany more than the other two, mostly because I knew it had to be hard for her being the only girl in the house. I wanted to be a good role model for her. As the class went on, my lack of sleep from the previous evening finally overtook me. I put my head on the table to shut my eyes for a second, and that second turned into forty winks.

I woke up moments later to the sound of ever-increasing laughter. As I lifted my weary head, I saw strange faces jeering at me everywhere I looked. I felt something on my face and in my hair, so I grabbed my compact out of my purse. I was covered in paint. My face had been painted white, with large black circles around my eyes, purple streaks on my cheeks, and giant red lips. My hair had been doused with orange and red paint. I looked like Ronald McDonald, except not quite as classy. I stared at myself in shock. Then I heard the sound of Ryan and the boys chuckling at the door of the craft room. I felt so goofy and so ashamed, but before I could say anything, Brittany tugged on my arm.

“Do you like it, Margaret?” She asked sweetly. “I love playing make-up and dress-up. I did it all the time with my last mommy, but they won’t let me bring my make-up with me when I visit her in the prison.”

All of a sudden, I felt ashamed for a different reason, namely my self-consciousness. Then I remembered what God had been saying to me all day, and it finally clicked. It wasn’t about me. I had to look bad so a little girl could feel loved and special and know that God wasn’t the indecisive nut job who had thus far been erroneously presented to her.

I bent down to Brittany, looked her in the eye, and said, “I love it! I have never looked or felt lovelier than I do at this very moment. Thank you!”

I kissed her on the cheek as she hugged me super tight around my neck.

“I’ve never seen you look lovelier, either,” said that voice I loved from the get go. I turned to see Ryan grinning at me.

“No, seriously,” he said with a smile, “you look great.”

“Thanks,” I responded. “I feel great.”

It’s not about me! I prayed silently. It’s not about me. Thank You, God, that it’s not about me.

The time was coming for us to leave. We brought all our tickets to the prize desk and traded them in for this humongous, life-sized, stuffed Palucci. When we were done, we walked out to the parking lot. I pressed my keyless entry to open the sliding doors and hatch on my minivan. By this time, the rain was pouring down fiercely, and we wanted to get out of it as soon as we could.

“Brittany, Sweetie, would you please get your brothers into their car seats?” I asked.

Brittany fought with her brothers to get them strapped in while Ryan and I tried our darndest to get Palucci to fit in the rear hatch. After a few minutes, we admitted defeat and squeezed him among the rows of the minivan, even though it was an awkward fit. Ryan slammed the hatch closed, we each closed a side door, and then we took off.

When we left, the rain was falling even harder. I had paint streaming down me, but I didn’t care.

“You seem content,” Ryan said.

“I am,” I replied. “You see, it’s not about me.”

“Really?” he asked. “Do tell.”

I was about to tell him my little discovery for the day, but I was interrupted by the sight and sound of police sirens, which had quickly overtaken us.

“I wasn’t speeding, was I?” I asked, confused.

As I pulled over, Ryan looked in the back of the van and asked, “Eh, Margaret, how many kids did we bring with us to Palucci’s?”

“Three,” I answered with a reasonable degree of certainty.

“Then why do we have four kids in the van?”

My heart stopped before becoming lodged in my throat. After I had stopped the car, I turned around to see Toddler X climbing out from underneath the middle row of seats.

“Mommy!” He screamed with delight.

I felt a terror unlike I had felt since high school. I scrambled for my purse to get my driver’s license, then the glove box for my registration and insurance card.

“How did he get past the Neil kid at the door who stamps everyone’s hands?” I asked frightfully.

“You mean the guy who kept ducking behind the prize desk every time he heard thunder?” Ryan retorted.

The next hour was a blur, to be perfectly honest. I vaguely remember the kids crying, police officers with guns drawn, accusations of kidnapping, and being handcuffed. One of the cops radioed back to dispatch that he had found both the child and the woman matching the physical description of a “deranged Indian chief.” As Ryan and I were put into different police cruisers and the kids were taken off in an unmarked car, Ryan looked at me, almost as if he was in pain, and said facetiously, “Honey, we should’ve stopped after one.”

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

10-A Thousand Shades of Red by Sharon Lurie

© 2011 David’s Harp and Pen

For those who have never been, Palucci’s is like one giant, noisy, grease-oozing, carb-laden, token-sucking babysitter. Theoretically, one could leave one’s kids there for years without the children ever noticing their parents were gone, unless, of course, the kids ran out of tokens. They make the most fattening and flavorless pizza money can buy, but the kids don’t care, because it’s pizza and kids love pizza. Besides, what child cares about culinary excellence or nutritionally sound fare when there are video games, skee ball alleys, and a ball crawl bigger and deeper than most moon craters to contend with? Kids love the place because it’s endless fun. Grownups love it because, after a few hours, the kids are catatonic and in cholesterol coma and will often sleep until of they are of legal drinking age. Brittany, Zechariah, and Jonathan would always beg me to take them to Palucci’s, so as often as I could, I would.

Brittany went on her way to the giant Etch-a-Sketch machine and the boys headed to the skee ball lanes. Ryan and I got a booth and sat down to talk.

“They seem like great kids,” Ryan said.

“Oh, they are. They really are. They just need some TLC,” I answered.

“How many times did you say their dad was married?”


“And he’s been a Christian the whole time?”

“I know, right? I don’t understand it. You wouldn’t believe all the single Christian dads I’ve known over the years who just jump from relationship to relationship, rushing out of one bad situation into an even more disastrous one. And of course, it’s always God who told them to go looking for women online, through the mail, blah, blah, blah. The thing is though, especially with Arthur, his kids now have this totally screwy concept of God! I mean, it’ll be a miracle if they escape with any kind of sense of right or wrong whatsoever.”

“Eh, speaking of right and wrong…” Ryan said as he pointed to the skee ball lanes. I turned and looked, to my horror, to see both Zechariah and Jonathan picking up the skee balls and physically walking them down the lanes. Zechariah had a stream of award tickets shooting out of the skee ball lane a mile a minute. I darted over to the skee ball lanes to set the boys straight. Ryan followed me.

“What are you doing?” I accused, my voice getting squeakier as my temper flared. A large, elderly, nanny-looking sort of person walked up to me with consternation on her face.

“I was wondering when you’d come along. What a reprehensible example they’re setting for the other children here! What kind of mother are you?” she accused.

“I’m not their mother,” I answered defensively.

“Okay. What kind of grandmother are you?”

I was speechless, both from the accusation and the fact that Ryan had heard it. I could hear his suppressed chuckling behind me, and my personal campaign against embarrassment had been dealt another crushing blow.

“It’s interesting, Margaret,” Ryan observed in what I thought was a detailed and methodical manner, “when you get embarrassed, your cheeks turn about a thousand different shades of red in no time flat. It’s like watching twin volcanoes erupt simultaneously.”

As my brain scrambled for the proper reply, Jonathan walked up to me and asked, with that cute little lisp characteristic of all three-year-olds, “Mawgwet, why does Zechawhyah have maw tickets den me?”

“Because, Sweetie, he’s cheating,” I answered.

“But I’m cheating, too!”

“I know, but when Zechariah walks the balls down the lane, he drops them in the hoops, which gets him points. You walk them down the lane and drop the balls in the gutter, which really defeats the whole purpose of cheating in the first place.”

“Will you show me how to trow da ball in da hoops, pwease?”

“Of course, Sweetie!” I answered, hoping to salvage at least some of my efforts to appear motherly.

Now, I knew no more how to bowl properly than I knew how to pilot a Cessna to Ireland, but I couldn’t let Ryan or Jonathan know that. At the time, though, I thought throwing the skee ball down the lane would be pretty straightforward, without much margin for error. I grabbed the ball, reeled my arm back, and was about to release the ball, when I felt a tugging on my shirt. A little boy of about four years of age had walked up to me and was adamant about getting my attention.

“Mommy!” he cried out to me, most convincingly.

I was so shocked; I didn’t pay attention to where I was aiming the skee ball. I let her rip, and it shot straight for the metal edge of the plastic rim over the hoops, bounced off said metal, and hit me full force in the forehead. I fell flat on my back, and for a moment, the rest of the world faded. I looked off into the ceiling, not sure if I was alive or dead.

“Mommy!” The little boy, who I’ll refer to as Toddler X, since I never found out his name, screamed at the top of his lungs as he grabbed my hand to pull me up. Ryan grabbed my other hand and brought me to my feet.

“Stay here. I’m going to take him to the front counter,” Ryan informed me. Then he walked off with Toddler X in an attempt to find his real parents.

God, I prayed silently, this isn’t going well. I’m trying to get through the day shame and embarrassment free, but considering it’s me we’re talking about here, maybe it’s not possible.

It’s not about you, Margaret. Are you willing to look bad so that I can look good?
answered that Still Small Voice inside my head. As I pondered what God meant, Ryan returned.

“Your son is a handsome little man!” Ryan said with a little snicker in his tone.

“Yes. He gets his blonde hair and brown eyes from me,” I answered as I batted my blue eyes and ran my fingers through my dark brown, almost raven hair.

“Good one! Say, why don’t we work on that throwing arm of yours?” Ryan asked.

Ryan picked up a skee ball and put it in my hand.

“Jonny, pay very special attention. This is how the pros do it,” Ryan said to Jonathan in a cute, fatherly fashion.

“Do pwos have to use quawters?” Jonathan asked.

“Pros get unlimited tokens, which is why you want to be one. Now, some people will argue that a good throw is all in the shoulder, but I say it’s equal parts shoulder and wrist. Like this,” Ryan explained. Then he stood super close behind me, put his left hand on my left shoulder, took my right hand in his, and threw the skee ball down the lane, landing it square in the million point hoop, the highest-point hoop there was. More tickets streamed out of the skee ball console as Jonathan squealed with delight.

“Yay! Do it again,” Jonathan exclaimed.

“Yes, do it again,” I whispered.

With his hands still on me, Ryan made a second bowling demonstration, landing another skee ball in the million-point hoop. I won’t lie. Having him that close to me made me feel slightly euphoric, and him being so close probably wouldn’t have happened had I not knocked myself out in the first place.

Wow, God!, I prayed in my head. He’s so understanding, and nothing I do seems to scare him off. He likes kids, he knows how to relate to them, and he knows how to bowl! Not only that, but he smells fabulous! Would it be too forward of me to ask him what cologne or aftershave he’s wearing? It smells so musky and woodsy, like he’s some gorgeous, rugged outdoorsmen who lives on the side of a mountain, and he spends all day splitting logs, hunting bears, chasing rainbows, and…

“Margaret?” Ryan interrupted my little fantasy. “Are you alright?”

I felt my twin volcanoes erupt again. I opened my mouth to speak, but nothing came out, except carbon dioxide.

“I lost you again,” he said with a concerned look on his face.

“I’m sorry. I…” I tried to respond, but again, I couldn’t speak.

“No, it’s just that sometimes you seem to go to another place, even though you’re here.”

“I’m sorry. You’re right. I do. Go to another place.”

“It’s alright. Next time you go there, take me with you. It must be fantastic!”

“Oh, from your mouth to God’s Ears!”

God, I prayed in horror, did I just say what I think I said?

Ryan burst into laughter, confirming my fears.

God, perhaps I could avoid most of the embarrassment I feel if I could just keep my mouth shut, I prayed.

God answered, It’s not about you.

Oooh, how I hated it when God repeated something I never got the first time!

About an hour had passed since our arrival. The kids got loaded up on pizza and soda and were wiping up the arcade and casino floor and earning a whole Amazon rain forest’s worth of tickets. Toddler X made another appearance, insisting I was his mommy. Ryan and I deposited our charges in the ball crawl and returned to our booth when my phone rang. It was Arthur.

“Hi,” I answered. “What’s up?”

“I don’t believe it!” Arthur shot out. “I finally got through to Suzanne. Do you know what she had the nerve to say?”

I was sure I already knew, but to be polite, I asked anyway.

“She said I was smothering her!” Arthur answered, and he sounded genuinely confused when he said it, too. “She said I was moving too fast, and that I was draining her emotionally! Can you believe it?”

“Ummm,” I hesitated before finally answering, “yes! I can totally believe it!”

“Whose side are you on, anyway?”

“Yours! I wouldn’t tell you you’re an idiot if I didn’t care!”

“A true friend will stand by me and support me no matter what!”

“And I do! But I’m not going to keep saying, ‘poor baby’ as you keep making the same stupid mistakes over and over again, Arthur! It’s like you have no identity outside of a woman. When you have a woman, you’re okay, or you think you’re okay, and when you don’t, you lose all ability to function. Girls don’t like guys who are clingy and needy and, well, girly!”

“You don’t understand, Margaret. When I love a woman, I love her with everything I have. And if I know that she’s the one, I don’t see any need in waiting.”

“But you should. A girl with any sense isn’t going to make a lifelong commitment to a man without a chance first to test and observe his character. The fact that Suzanne got scared says a lot of good things about her. Any good woman, a woman you would really want to marry, would be scared off by getting a proposal after ten days when you hadn’t even met in person!”

“You don’t understand, Margaret! You’ll never understand!”

“You always say that, Arthur, and yet you keep coming to me for advice.”

“I’m going to hang up now!”

“Hey, before you go, don’t you want to know how your kids are?” Before I could finish the sentence, though, he was gone. At that point, I found myself so angry that I was growling like a grizzly bear.

“What is this man’s problem?” Ryan asked.

“You tell me,” I shot back, still fuming. “I don’t understand, Ryan. I really don’t. Maybe, since you’re a man, you can explain it to me. I have known so many Christian men through the years, particularly single dads, who just jump from relationship to relationship with no forethought whatsoever! They can’t live without a woman, but then when they have one, they don’t seem to fare any better! And they always make it sound like it’s God’s will for them to hook up with whatever girl happens to be there at the moment. Then, they get their hearts broken, but they turn around and do the same thing again and again! The problem here, though, is that Arthur’s kids now think that God is the One that keeps leading their dad into bad relationships, and they want nothing to do with Him!”

As I finished my little tirade, all the sleep deprivation from the night before began to catch up with me, and I feared I might have exerted the last bit of energy I had left.

“It’s a funny thing, Margaret. Most of us can talk a good line about being a Christian, but a lot of these men, by the way they live, are just practicing atheists. They don’t give God a chance to meet their needs. They don’t give God a chance to fill their hearts the right way. It sends a horrible message to his kids. It sends a horrible message to the world, too. What do unbelievers think when we talk about God being our All in All, but live our lives as if He’s anemic, stingy, and powerless?”

After talking to Arthur and listening to his childish talk about love and marriage, it was such a relief to have a grown up conversation with a grown up Christian man. He was making so many good points, and I wanted to make some good points, too, except I was getting very tired very fast, and in my attempt to sound spiritual, I sounded…not.

“You’re right,” I acceded, my voice getting louder as I continued talking. “But you know what the funny thing is? They say they can’t wait for whatever, that God wants them to be happy, yaddy-yaddy-ya, but then when they take matters into their own hands, they’re even more miserable. They’ve got a woman, but they argue all the time, the situation in the bedroom tanks almost instantaneously, and they’re scratching their heads and asking God what He did wrong. I’m sorry, but if I’m a Christian, and God didn’t spare His only Son for me, then shouldn’t I have more joy than an unbeliever? Shouldn’t my relationships be better and last longer than some unsaved person? If the God who lives inside of me is the One who created marriage and romance in the first place, shouldn’t I be having better sex than Joe the Pagan who lives next door?”

For a split second, there was dead silence. It was as if every eye and ear in Palucci’s was trained on me. I could feel my cheeks, AKA “Mount Saint Margaret,” about to blow any second. I turned my face away, because I didn’t want to see Ryan’s reaction. However, I happened to turn in the direction of a pair of very offended grandmothers.

“Blasphemous!” scolded Grandmother Number One.

“As if God has anything to do with sex!” exclaimed Grandmother Two.

I closed my eyes to avoid the women’s glares. As I did, I heard the sound of Ryan’s laughter. I wondered how many stupid things I could say and do in front of him before he realized just how hopeless I was really was. After a moment, I felt his finger as it tapped my shoulder. As I slowly opened my eyes, I beheld, for the second time since I’d known him, him on his knees in front of me as he raised and lowered his arms and chanted, “I’m not worthy.”

“Brilliant. Eloquent. A tour de force!” He said, tongue in cheek.

Pretty soon, it was time for Palucci to make one of his regularly scheduled appearances. All the kids loved Palucci, especially Zechariah. When he came out and began to walk around the play area, the kids came to our table and stared at him in awe. Palucci had all the qualities that children love in a fictional character: largeness, a good sense of humor, furriness, and lots of video games. No one really knows if Palucci is animal, vegetable, or mineral. He’s not human, or not entirely, but we’re not sure if he’s a mammal or even some kind of alien. He’s a bit like Goofy, Mickey Mouse’s friend. Zechariah began to bounce up and down and squeeze my hand in excitement as Palucci made his rounds. However, when Palucci got near our table, Zechariah suddenly got shy and buried his face in my side.

“What are you doing, Z?” I asked. “Palucci’s coming by! If you shake his hand, he might give you some tokens!” Zechariah shook his head violently.

“Why are you getting all shy now? You have no problem peeing on bushes for all the world to see but you’re too shy to talk to Palucci?”

Apparently, Zechariah saw my logic and decided to approach Palucci in all his genetically ambiguous and anthropomorphic grandeur. As the rest of the children rushed at Palucci, I sat back and took in the whole spectacle. Some of the kids were jumping on him. Some were just jumping up and down and screaming in front of him. All of the kids were indulging in silliness of the highest order, without reservation. It was both a heartening and convicting sight. My attention then turned to the sound of a coin being dragged across the table to under my nose.

“What’s this?” I asked.

“Penny for your thoughts. That’s still the going rate, isn’t it?” Ryan asked.

I sighed and answered, “Oh, I was just thinking about how when we’re kids, and we’re so free and uninhibited and unashamed of who we are and how we look. I wonder what it is and when it is that we become so wrapped up in appearances and such that we can’t do anything without asking ourselves a thousand times, ‘Will this make me look stupid?’ Is self-consciousness instinctual, or is it learned behavior?”

"It's probably a little of both. When was it for you?" Ryan asked.


"When was the moment when you became worried about how you looked? When was it that you lost your freedom?"

“Lost my freedom? You make it sound so, so…”

I made the mistake of looking into Ryan’s eyes, which were like optical sodium pentothal.

“Wednesday, September 16, 1981, 9:47 a.m.” I blurted out.

Ryan tilted his head to one side and widened his eyes, as often happened whenever I said something that caught him off guard, and said, “Interesting. You have total recall or something?”

Before I could answer him, Brittany came running to our booth, grabbed Ryan’s hand, and begged, “Ryan, would you please come to the ball crawl with me? I need you to protect me from the other kids.”

“Of course, milady,” he replied, switching to a British accent, like a knight in shining armor. “Your wish is my command.”

The two then ran off and jumped into the ball crawl. As I looked on, I saw two little boys already inside, dressed like space aliens, carrying play laser guns, and shooting up everything in sight.

Some time passed as I sat at the booth, alone with my thoughts. Ryan was right. I had lost my freedom. I surveyed all of Palucci’s. Everywhere I looked, there were kids and adults and space aliens and yet-to-be classified life forms having the time of their lives, playing make believe, screaming at the top of their lungs, and giving no thought as to how they looked to anyone else. Everyone there was free, except me.

Oh, Father, this is just silliness beyond silliness, I prayed. Every person here is having fun, totally unconcerned with appearances, or worrying about saying something that might sound stupid or embarrassing to those around them. I should just, I don’t know, let my hair down and have some fun!

No sooner had I finished the prayer than Zechariah and Jonathan approached me with ants in their pants.

“Mahwgwet,” Jonathan pleaded in pitiful fashion, “we have to go potty.”

I looked towards the ball crawl, but Ryan looked like he was having such a good time with Brittany, I didn’t want to disturb him. So, I decided I would take them to the restroom. Now, the restrooms in Palucci’s were closed due to some plumbing problem, so we had to use the mall restrooms. I had wanted to take the boys into the Ladies’ Room with me, but the two protested, saying they were big boys and could use the Men’s Room on their own. I compromised and told them they could go to the Men’s Room, and I would stand guard at the door.

I will never learn.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

9-The Young and the Clueless

© 2011 David’s Harp and Pen

“The humble cannot be embarrassed. When you start to feel embarrassed, it is because you are beginning to move in pride. Let embarrassment be a warning that you have departed from wisdom.”

This appeared in the church bulletin one Sunday. The church secretary said she put it in after reading it in a devotional. An extensive search on the Internet failed to reveal the phrase coiner, but as far as I was concerned, God had spoken it directly to me using a Jupiter-sized megaphone. I had always assumed that I embarrassed so easily because I thought too little of myself. Was the real culprit pride instead of insecurity? Or is it perhaps that conceit and insecurity are two sides of the same coin? All I was really sure of was that I spent too much time thinking about how I looked to others, which was a major time and energy waster. So, one fateful Saturday morning, I decided to start my day with the resolution to not get embarrassed, no matter what happened.

I chose the wrong Saturday to make that resolution.

It didn’t help that I began the day majorly sleep-deprived. I had been up most of the night with Shane, who was facing one of his greatest temptations ever. I won’t go into detail, but it was all I could do to keep him from wiping out the world’s chocolate supply in one shot.

After making my resolution, I went to my friend’s house to pick up his three kids. Arthur Collins was a single dad who went to my church. He wasn’t a member of the power trio because, first of all, if there were four men in the power trio, it would be the power quartet, and second, the power trio would not have him. At that time, I had started to see why. Arthur was about to close on his third divorce, and already, he was trying to line up a fourth wife. His first wife he met in Bible College. She was the mother of his three kids: Brittany, age 10, Zechariah, age 6, and Jonathan, age 3. After ten years together she left him and the kids because, according to Arthur, she said God released her from the marriage so she could marry their marriage counselor.

Four hours after his first divorce was finalized, Arthur married his second wife (in fact, I think the judge that signed the final decree for the divorce from his first wife was the same one who officiated the marriage to his second wife), but that marriage lasted only four months. She was sent up the river after setting up a charity and raising money for non-existent starving children in a non-existent third world nation.

His third marriage was, by far, the worst. They made it a whole year, until she was arrested for polygamy, with husbands all over the country. It turns out she had multiple personalities, and each was married to a different man. Arthur would say in her defense, though, that the personality he was married to was completely faithful to him throughout their marriage.

However, none of his wives had been nearly as scary as his girlfriends. His last girlfriend he met online on a so-called Christian dating website. He proposed to her after 15 days and sent her all kinds of money and gifts. Well, it turned out this beautiful, God-fearing woman in Russia was actually a creepy 63-year-old man in a trailer just outside Lincoln, Nebraska, who had scammed all sorts of men out of all sorts of money.

I frequently watched his kids and took them places because I felt sorry for all of them. I was getting to the point, however, where my sympathy for Arthur was beginning to diminish by leaps and bounds. That fateful Saturday was going to be the icing on the cake.

“Margaret!!” Brittany, Zechariah, and Jonathan yelled in unison as I walked in the door.

“Howdy!” I responded. “Are you guys ready to go to Palucci’s?” Palucci’s was one of those pizza places that had an arcade, kid casino, and mini-amusement park inside.

“I don’t know if I should leave Dad alone. He’s having a really hard time,” answered Brittany, who being the oldest and only girl, often wrongly took on the responsibility of being “the woman of the house.”

“What’s wrong, Sweetie?” I asked.

“His girlfriend just dumped him. He’s very depressed.”

“Where is he?”

“In the den.”

“Hmmm…why don’t you get your brothers ready and I’ll go talk to your dad?”

I walked through the unkempt living room to the even more unkempt den where Arthur was lying face down on the futon, groaning.

“Arthur? Arthur, what’s going on?” I inquired.

“It’s over. It’s all over. She said no. I feel so alone,” Arthur whined.

“Who? What? Why?”

“Suzanne! She said no! I can’t get a refund on the ring, either!”

“Suzanne? Didn’t you just meet her, like a week and a half ago?”


“And you already proposed to her?”

“Yes. God told me she was the one. Not only did she say no, she blocked me from her email and changed her phone number. Why does God keep letting my heart get broken?”

(By the way, Arthur tells EVERY woman he dates that God said she was the one. I want to state for the record, because I know someone will ask, no, there was never anything between Arthur and me, and, not to be mean, but if he ever DID say to me, “God told me you were the one,” I think I would have to go looking for another god.)

I knew I had to be firm with Arthur and talk some sense into him, so I took a deep breath and gritted my teeth.

“Ummm…Arthur, I hate to tell you, but I don’t think you can blame any of this on God. I mean, as long as I’ve known you, you’ve said God was the one who put you up to getting involved with all of these different women, and I really don’t think God is that fickle…or mean.”

“I’m a good man. Any woman would be lucky to have me. Why can’t any of them see that?”

“So, what are you saying? That it’s always been the girl’s fault that your relationships haven’t worked?”

“Well, to be honest, yes! Look at Suzanne. We had a great thing going, and she just threw it all away. And why?”

“Eh, maybe because you bought a ring and proposed to her after less than two weeks, and you hadn’t even met in person yet?”

“But that just shows I’m committed.”

“Or maybe you need to be committed.”

Arthur got up from the futon and looked at me with derision in his eyes.

“Who are you to lecture me about relationships, Margaret? You’re 35, you’ve never been married, and Clinton was serving his first term as President the last time you had a date,” he said snidely.

There it was. That feeling of shame and embarrassment with which I was so familiar. I reminded myself that I shouldn’t take it personally, that it was only Satan trying to push my buttons. I needed to stand firm, because Arthur’s impulsiveness, stupidity, and selfishness in relationships were taking a toll on his kids, and someone had to say something.

“Oh, so are you saying that because I have so little romantic experience that I don’t know what I’m talking about, Arthur?” I shot back. “Look, just because I’ve never been run over by an eighteen wheeler doesn’t mean I don’t have the right to say that getting run over by an eighteen wheeler is a bad idea! This jumping from relationship to relationship, and telling your kids and yourself that God’s been the One to tell you to get involved with all these women, is bad! Bad, bad, bad!”

“But God says it’s not good for man to live alone. Besides, there are some people, like me, who just do better being married,” he answered, not sounding like he was totally convinced himself.

“But, if you do better married, wouldn’t you, like, still be married? And not working on your third divorce?”

“And my kids need a mother.”

“Your kids have a mother. They don’t need any more wicked stepmothers. You can’t stand there and tell me God would tell you to get involved with all these women with such glaring character defects.”

“God told Hosea to marry a prostitute!”

“Yes. God did. So, what you’re saying is God told you to marry all of your wives and date all your girlfriends to symbolize ancient Israel’s unfaithfulness to God, idolatry, and child sacrifice, which resulted in their subsequent demise at the hands of the Assyrians and banishment to the four corners of the earth? How’s that working out for you?”

Arthur’s face turned red with fury, and he walked right up to me and said, “You’ll never understand my pain! You’ve never had the guts to love someone like I have, which is why you’ll end up old and alone! We are NOT going to have this conversation again.”

He marched out of the den to the boy’s bedroom, and as he walked, he yelled, “Have the kids back by six!”

And that feeling hit me yet again. I knew I was right. I knew I was making an important point. But as soon as I heard his “old and alone” comment, all that discomfiture came rushing back. I knew it was the Enemy (and Arthur) just trying to keep me quiet, because I was right, but I still didn’t know how to get past it, and I knew that the whole shame game was keeping me from being more effective for God.

Well, not the best start for today, but I shall not relent, I thought to myself.

I gathered up the kids and we headed for my minivan (I drive a minivan because of Bernie). As I looked overhead to the grayness of the sky and felt the chill in the air, my cell phone rang. I answered it as I tried to get the kids into minivan. It was Ryan.

“Hello?” I answered.

“Tell me!” He said, with the sound of mischief in his voice.

“Eh…tell you what?” I hated trick questions, especially first thing in the morning.

“What’s the plan for today?”

“Oh, I’m taking Brittany, Zechariah, and Jonathan to Palucci’s.”

“Who are Brittany, Zechariah, and Jonathan and what is a Palucci?”

“Oh, they’re my friend Arthur’s kids. I’m taking them out today. Palucci’s is a pizzeria with video games and a little amusement park for kids.”

“Great! Come get me!” Ryan exclaimed, sounding like a little kid himself.

“But what about the worship arts intern barbecue?” I asked.

“It got cancelled because it’s going to rain, and I’m glad, because I don’t want to be barbecued.”


“It was a joke.”

It took me a second to catch on. “Oh, I get it! Sorry,” I replied with nervous laughter. It was too early in the morning to even attempt funambulistics.

Don’t get embarrassed, Margaret. Not everyone gets every joke
, I told myself.

“Do you want to just meet us there? I’ll give you directions,” I inquired.

“Can’t. The car I’ve been driving is in the garage getting repaired,” Ryan answered.

“Okay, but, are you sure you want to deal with all the yelling, screaming, fighting, etc.?” I asked.

“Margaret, you’re really not that bad,” he answered with a note of sarcasm in his voice.

I finished my phone conversation, loaded the boys into their medieval torture—I mean child safety seats—and into my minivan, and off we went to get Ryan. Now, I was always happy to spend time with Ryan in any capacity. However, whenever I was around him, embarrassing antics always seemed to follow, more so than normal, and with a bunch of rambunctious children in tow, my resolve to get through the day abashment free was going to be surely tested.

I picked up Ryan at his host home. The ride to Palucci’s was, for the most part, uneventful, which should’ve triggered alarms in my head. I parked the minivan in Palucci’s lot and unloaded the kids. Palucci’s was at the end of a shopping mall, and on the outside the place was full of shrubbery.

“It’s really nice of you take the kids out like this,” Ryan said.

Omigosh! I thought. This is a test, isn’t it? I bet he’s going to be watching me to see what kind of mother material I am. I better be on my best behavior.

“Yeah, well, they’re sweet kids, and Arthur needs the help. I like to think I’m a stabilizing force in their lives. You know, showing them the ropes,” I said, trying to sound maternal.

Ryan pointed his finger towards Zechariah and asked, “Is that one of the ropes you showed them?”

I turned my head to see Zechariah as he peed in the bush next to Palucci’s entrance.

“Zechariah!!” I screamed.

Zechariah chuckled to himself as he redid his pants. I was so mad I could’ve spit. I walked over to him, determined to set him straight.

“What do you think you’re doing?” I yelled. “Couldn’t you have waited until we got into Palucci’s?”

Zechariah answered, “Dad said it’s okay for me to pee in the bushes.”

“Like hell he did!” I shot back, forgetting I was talking to a child.

“Ooh! You said h-e-double hockey sticks!” Zechariah teased.

Brittany, Zechariah, and Jonathan all pointed their fingers at me and chided in unison, “Margaret is a potty mouth! Margaret is a potty mouth!”

“Am not! Am not!” I replied, forgetting I was no longer a five year old.

Joining in the laughter at my expense was Ryan. He walked up behind me with a huge grin on his face. We gathered the kids together and began to walk into Palucci’s.

“You’re a woman, and I know it seems foreign to you,” Ryan whispered to me, “but it’s a man’s God-given right to pee on anything he pleases.”

“Really?” I asked, not sure if Ryan was pulling my leg again.

“Well, within reason, of course, but any kind of greenery is fair game.”

That certainly explained a lot. I started to feel guilty for all the times I scolded Bernie for treating my neighbors bushes like his own personal Port-o-Potties, when really it was just my silly conventions interfering with the natural order of things. It turns out my education for that day was just beginning.

Monday, October 11, 2010

8-R.I.P. (Rest in Pieces)

© 2010 David’s Harp and Pen

I spoke earlier about bullies and helplessness. It seemed to me the worst thing about bullies, whether they be literally or figurative, was that, at least in my experience, they always seemed to attack out of nowhere and when I would least expect them. A big part of my feeling helpless as much as I did was the notion that I could never really be prepared for whenever human or circumstantial harriers would strike. I had to come to grips with the fact that, despite what my Charismatic sensibilities dictated, I was not able to control anywhere near as much of my circumstances as I’d liked. In fact, the only thing I could really say I could fully control was myself. Therefore, I needed to work not so much on how to avoid the real and allegorical Roccos of life, but how to respond to them when they crossed my path.

When I got home from Wednesday’s after defeating that drunk with my awesome tickle- and ice-fu, I went to the dojo’s website to watch a video lecture of Sensei’s. He discussed three stages students go through in training in order to reach proficiency. The first was learned response. In martial arts, through practice and time, we force our brains to react physically to specific stimuli. For example, the first defense and counter-strike Sensei taught me, I had to train myself when I would see a punch or shove coming to immediately block with one hand and strike my attacker with other. The second was muscle memory. This is the stage when certain maneuvers have been practiced to the point that, although I may still have to think about them, it is automatic for my body. Then there’s the third and final stage, which is reflex, when those fighting and defense techniques become second nature. It is the goal of every fighter to get to that third stage, when the training and discipline has become so ingrained in him that, at the slightest hint of danger, he is ready to go on the counter-attack without a second thought. In other words, fight is to him no longer a verb but a noun. It’s no longer something he does but the essence of who he is.

When danger, bullies, pain, anything unpleasant had come my way, my reflex was always to feel afraid and ineffectual. I wanted to get to that place when my first reactions would not be fear but faith and action. The time would come when that would be my first response. Of course, it came sooner than I thought, and as usual, not in the way I had planned.

I can’t properly describe the atmosphere at church when I arrived that Sunday. Everyone looked so somber and dejected. Some of the women in the lobby were crying. I was running late, so I didn’t take the time to ask anyone what the problem was. I took a seat way in the back, and when I looked at the platform, I was surprised not to see Pastor Hadley. Pastor Jackson, the associate pastor, took the pulpit to do the morning announcements. It was then I learned the source of everyone’s sorrow. He told the congregation, choking back tears, that Hannah Wagner’s baby had died! He then related the details of the funeral service, which would take place on Tuesday.

I was anxious for the church service to be over so I could get more details. As soon as Pastor Jackson dismissed everyone, I made a bee line for Rhonda Mitchell.

“Rhonda!” I exclaimed. “Hannah’s baby! Oh my gosh! What happened?”

“Oh, it was terrible, Dear! The umbilical cord became wrapped around the baby’s neck and strangled him during delivery! It was terrible. The doctor and that hospital dropped the ball in a big way. If I were Joey and Hannah, I would sue them for every penny they’ve got!” Rhonda said with increasing wrath.

I found myself very upset and wanting nothing else than to go straight home after church. I couldn’t get Hannah out of my mind. She seemed like such a sweetheart, and the whole thing seemed so senseless and unfair. In my life, I don’t know that I’ve ever felt more fearful or powerless than I have when someone I loved has died. There were several times in my life when friends and/or loved ones had died in rapid succession, and I remember well the dread I felt. For a while, I was afraid to answer my phone or read my email for fear of news that someone else I cared about had been taken from me. Grief is perhaps the worst of all feelings of helplessness, and poor Hannah and her husband Joey were now feeling it in spades.

The funeral service on Tuesday was packed. I had never seen the church so full. The Wagners and the Hadleys had a good reputation with all the other pastors in Nashville, so the church had wall-to-wall people to show their support. Because it was such an emotional time not only for the Hadleys but all of the pastoral team at my church, the pastor of another church would be officiating at the service. As I scanned the sanctuary, I caught a glimpse of Hannah in the front row. Oh, the look on her face! I couldn’t even imagine what she was feeling at that moment. I’d been told over the years that losing a child is a parent’s worst nightmare, but to lose one like she did, when she never even got a chance to get to know her baby…it got me so upset to even think about it! I prayed as hard as I could that God would give her some special and unique comfort in the days to come.

The service was so sad, and although the guest pastor gave a comforting, although familiar, word about our hope in Heaven, the natural, human sense of hopelessness and helplessness continued to pervade and rest heavily on every person in that room. At the end of the service, Joey and Hannah stood at the front of the sanctuary by the little casket to form a receiving line. Scores of people lined up to offer their condolences to the grieving couple. I found a place in line next to Rhonda and we waited patiently to make our way to the front.

“Oh, the tragedy!” Rhonda lamented.

“I know. The baby shower seems so long ago now,” I commented.

“It was such a happy day! I just don’t understand. She’s such a sweetheart. And her uterus was so perfect!”

I looked at Rhonda, trying hard to comprehend her thought process at that moment, but decided, to my credit, to keep my mouth shut. I then turned to look at Hannah up at the front. She looked like she was trying to be so brave. I hated every second of that ordeal for her. I felt so helpless, like most of us do when we see someone we care about it pain and there’s nothing we can do about it.

Oh, God, I prayed silently, please, please, please, give me something, anything! Some word, Bible verse, something that will give her any kind of comfort or relief.

It’s in situations like that when I worry most about saying or doing something stupid. As we got closer to the front, however, I was freshly reminded that at funerals, the majority of people come down with Grief-Induced Brain Freeze (GIBF). The first words of “comfort” offered to Hannah that I was close enough to hear started the very short process of setting my blood to boil.

“Well, Hannah, I guess God needed another baby in Heaven,” said a well-intentioned but completely clueless middle-aged woman as she hugged Hannah.

“God needed another baby in Heaven?!” I repeated as a question, and more loudly than I thought.

“What are you talking about?” Rhonda asked.

“That’s a terrible thing to say to a woman who just lost her baby! ‘God needed another baby in Heaven!’ Well, why the hell did He have to take Hannah’s?!”

“Margaret! Language! We’re in church! And we’re grieving! We’re grieving in church!”

“Sorry,” I said repentantly.

An elderly couple was the next to approach Joey and Hannah. The husband took Hannah’s hand and said to her in an aristocratic tone, “Don’t cry, Hannah. God has a plan!”

“Oh, I hate that!” I exclaimed to Rhonda. “Why do people say stuff like that to when someone’s lost a loved one? ‘God has a plan!’ It’s like they’re saying God willed her baby to die!”

“Will you keep your voice down?” Rhonda snapped. “What are you getting so riled up for, anyway?”

“I’m sorry, Rhonda. It’s just that I’ve lost so many people in my life, and I can still remember all the stupid things people would say to me to try to make me feel better. I mean, yeah, I know God has a plan in all that happens to us, but to tell someone when they’re baby just died not to cry because God has a plan is just…well…cruel!”

“I think you’re reading too much into this. Calm down! Besides, Hannah’s strong like her mother. She knows that you have to take what some people say with a grain of salt.”

Trying to calm down, I replied, “Okay. If you say so.”

After the elderly couple walked off, a man dressed in a pastor’s frock gave Joey and Hannah a huge hug. Clutching his Bible tightly to his chest with his right hand and raising his left hand, he said to Hannah, “Heaven and Earth will pass away, but God’s Word will never pass away. That’s why we must learn from this that we should never love anything or anyone too much, because God wants us to put Him first.”

If looks could kill, that pastor would’ve been dead instantly from the figurative steel core armor piercing bullets I shot at him with my eyes!

“Oh no he didn’t!” I growled, finding it harder and harder to contain my displeasure.

“What now?” Rhonda snapped.

“Rhonda, please tell me you didn’t hear that! So, now it’s Hannah’s fault her baby died? Because she loved the kid too much? I really don’t understand why you’re not as upset about this as I am!”

“Margaret…Dear, sweet, naïve Margaret,” Rhonda condescended, “working in a church, especially one as large as this one, I average anywhere between 12-20 funerals a year. When someone dies, people feel that they have to say something, or at least quote Scripture, to the family in mourning. I haven’t heard anything today that’s any worse than anything I’ve heard at all those other funerals. You just smile politely, nod your heard, and let it roll off your back. That’s what Hannah’s doing. I suggest you do the same.”

I nodded my head in acquiescence. I certainly didn’t want to upset the natural order of things. I began to hum to myself so as not to have to hear any more words of (dis)comfort being offered to Hannah.

We finally got our turn at the head of the receiving line. I looked at Hannah’s face. Despite what Rhonda said, Hannah didn’t look strong. She didn’t look like anything was rolling off her back. In fact, she looked like she was carrying the world on her shoulders. Her eyes were cherry red from crying. I felt so helpless…for her and for me. I wanted just some little speck of consolation to offer her. I then looked at Rhonda: strong, experienced, never-at-a-loss-for-words Rhonda, and to my shock, I saw, for the first time, the helplessness I felt written all over Rhonda’s face. She looked uncomfortable and uneasy. Then I wondered, given all the funerals she’d been to, what words of wisdom she would bestow.

After several awkward moments of hesitation, Rhonda put her hands on Hannah’s shoulders and asked her, “So, Dear, when do you think Joey and you are going to try for another one?”

If the funeral had been part of a cartoon, my reaction to Rhonda’s question would’ve been shown with my eyeballs popping out about 12 feet ahead of me, still attached to my eyeball sockets with steel springs. I had heard some awful things said at that funeral, but the words proceeding from Rhonda’s mouth took the (edible ultrasound photo) cake! As if it wasn’t bad enough, Rhonda just kept talking, telling Joey and Hannah to try again right away, because the best thing to do is jump right back in the saddle, blah, blah, blah!

My brain and my patience had reached critical mass. I was absolutely furious for Hannah. I’d heard stories from other former wimps like me about the moment in time when they first fully got in touch with their anger. The stories all differed, of course, but the common denominator in each one was the person getting angry had, how shall I say this, a little bit of an out-of-body experience?

I don’t remember any of the sixty seconds that followed Rhonda’s equestrian analogy. That was probably a good thing, the not remembering, because if the matter went to court, it would greatly help my insanity plea. My brain reconnected with the rest of me when I heard Rhonda scream. Apparently I had closed my eyes during that minute, and when I opened them, I saw Rhonda face down on the floor, her left arm twisted and cranked into her back, held down by…me! Several ushers were making their way to us when I quickly let go of Rhonda’s arm and jumped to my feet. One of the ushers helped Rhonda to her feet as she moaned and groaned. With all the fury of the Earth’s molten core and the indignation of Godzilla right before he incinerated Tokyo, Rhonda hissed to me, “You! You! You Bride of Satan, You!”

I wanted to apologize, but I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t even formulate any words in my brain. I felt all eyes on me, and I wondered, if Rhonda had her way, if I would be having a funeral of my own in the very near future. I sprinted to the back of the sanctuary, grabbed my purse, and bolted out the door.

When I arrived home, to my dismay, Bruno was waiting for me. I’d given him spare keys to my house and car, and someone at church had called him to tell him what happened. When I walked into my living room and found him sitting on my couch, he shot me a scowl that would’ve made Charles Manson recoil in terror.

“So! Margaret! Is there something you’d like to tell me?” he asked. Even I knew that was a trick question.

“Eh,” I stalled, “honestly, I don’t exactly remember what happened.”

“Well, let’s recap!” He opened my laptop and went to I felt my pulse spike into the triple digits as he played a video of me at the funeral. My jaw dropped as he looped the portion during which I threw Rhonda down and attempted to amputate her arm with my bare hands.

“Somebody taped that? Somebody taped that and posted it on the Internet?” I asked in horror.

“Oh, you’re a celebrity now! In the 20 minutes since it was posted, you’ve gotten half a million hits! Gotta love the caption, too! ‘Margaret Sims, attending the funeral of an infant, apparently did not feel the condolences being offered the bereaved were up to snuff, so she decided to exercise some quality control.’ Margaret, what were you thinking?” Bruno accused.

“I…I…someone really posted that on the Internet?!” I asked again, still in shock.

“Hey, you think the caption’s bad, get a load of some of these viewer comments! Here’s one… ‘what kind of woman assaults someone in the receiving line of a funeral? Margaret, whoever you are, you’re as bad as those nutty church groups who picket funerals of dead soldiers. There’s a special place in Hell reserved for people like you!”

I fell back on the couch, in shock and unable to close my mouth.

“Oh, wait, they get better! ‘Wow! That Sims chick looks a lot like that lady serial killer down in Florida. I can’t remember her name, but they gave her the Oscar right after she went to the electric chair,’” Bruno continued mockingly.

“The whole world thinks I’m a crazy person,” I muttered.

“Not the whole world,” Bruno said facetiously. “Sensei wrote on here. He said he doesn’t know what was going on but wanted you to know your kimura was flawless!”

I smacked my forehead with my hand.

“You’ll like this one, Mags! They said, ‘Margaret Sims, you’re my hero! I want to be like you in every way, shape, and form,’” Bruno continued.

“Who said that?” I asked.

“Let’s see. Sally Long, founder and president of The Center for Grief and Loss Recovery.”

I lowered my head to my knees and buried my face.

“I knew this was gonna backfire somehow,” Bruno ranted. “I knew letting you take martial arts classes was going to be a bad idea. Lucky for you, I got everything taken care of.”

I felt that anger again, and so I rose to my feet and looked at Bruno.

“What do you mean, ‘I knew this was gonna backfire’? What do you mean you ‘let’ me take the classes? And what did you take care of?” I inquired.

“C’mon, Mags! You’re more of a menace than that dog of yours, and now that you know a few judo moves, you’re even more a menace! Good thing for you, when Rhonda called me about pressing charges, I reminded her that if she did, all those speeding tickets of hers that I magically made disappear might reappear again, and so she backed down. You could show some gratitude.”

I couldn’t contain it any longer. I looked at Bruno and declared, “I don’t need you to do anything for me, not if you think it gives you the right to insult me! Let Rhonda have me arrested! I don’t care! I stood up for what was right at that funeral! Yeah, maybe I should’ve just told Rhonda to be quiet instead of submitting her, but you weren’t there, Bruno! You didn’t hear all the nutty things people were saying to Hannah. You didn’t see the look of death all over her face when Rhonda told her she should just start making a new baby right away, like she was replacing a broken dishwasher or something!”

“Mags, people have been saying stupid things at funerals ever since Cain killed Abel, and everyone and their brother accepts that this is an unavoidable part of life, like death and taxes and hail right after getting your car washed. Nobody makes a big deal out of it. Nobody except you! Listen, at my Uncle Giuseppe’s funeral, the priest walked up to my Aunt Concetta as she was bawling her eyes out and said, ‘Don’t cry, Connie! Gio’s in a better place. Life is fleeting. We’re here for a moment, and then we’re gone. Dry your eyes, because you’re going to be with him any day now.’ She was so distraught she had an aneurysm and dropped dead right there on the spot!”

I stared at Bruno a second, then asked, because I was confused, “Eh, okay. So….what was the point of that story?”

Bruno thought for a moment, then answered in a frustrated tone, “I don’t know. It seemed relevant at the time. I’m so ticked at you right now I can’t think straight! I just don’t understand why you have to be an idiot about everything!”

I couldn’t take it any more. I got up and walked right to him. After a few seconds, he stood up and looked straight at me. I looked straight back at him and gave him a good hard shove, which pushed him back into his chair.

“Did you just push me?” he asked, irate.

“Yes, I did!” I answered coolly.

He stood up and got right in my face and said, “You do realize assaulting a police officer is a crime.”

I shoved him back into his chair and said, “Right now, you’re not a cop! You’re just big mean old bully!”

“What are you gonna do now, Mags? Are you gonna hit me? Are you gonna knock me out? Inquiring minds want to know!”

I wanted an outlet for my anger, but he did have a point about the cop thing. To the right of his chair, I noticed Bernie’s basket of chew toys. I went for the basket and began to throw them at Bruno fast and furiously.

“Margaret Ann Sims! Forget about getting arrested. At this rate, I’m just going to have you committed,” he yelled.

“You are so mean to me, Bruno Spallone! You never give me credit for anything! One of these days, you’ll see that I was right about something and have to say you’re sorry!”

Holding his hands over his head to block the squeaky toys, he answered, “Aw, that’ll be a cold day in Hell!”

Seeing that I had run out of chew toys, I screamed, picked up the basket itself and lunged to put it over Bruno’s head. Right before I did, I felt myself being pulled backwards by two very strong arms. Then I felt a hand move the hair away from my left ear. Finally, I felt the warm breath of the man to whom those hands and arms were attached as he whispered in my ear, “Let it go, Margaret. He’s not worth the jail time.”

I turned around to see it was Ryan. All my anger evaporated and I became a Raggedy Ann. Bruno jumped to his feet, looked at us, and grimaced.

“How the hell do you do that, O?! She’s been carrying on with me like raving lunatic for the last thirty minutes! Then you come in, say two words to her, and she turns into…she turns into freakin’ Bambi!”

“It’s the accent, Bru. The women fall for it every time,” Ryan answered suavely. I nodded my head in agreement.

Bruno almost looked hurt. After a short pause, he said, “But…but I’ve got a cool Brooklyn accent.”

“It’s not the same,” Ryan replied. Bruno looked at me and I shook my head to concur.

“Well, maybe you can talk some sense into her with that Irish accent of yours. I’m going to the bathroom,” Bruno grunted as he headed to the bathroom.

As soon as Bruno was out of the room, Ryan let go of me and I turned to face him. He had that unreadable look on his face again.

“So, the funeral,” he said.

“You heard?” I asked.

“I was there running sound. I heard AND I saw,” he answered.

My anger rushed back instantaneously. I began to rant, “Oh, so you know, and I guess you thought you’d come down here and give me a good talking to just like Bruno! Well, save your breath! I know what you’re going to say and I don’t want to hear it!”

“And what exactly am I going to say?” he asked.

“You’re going to say it was uncalled for, that I was being stupid, that I’ll probably be ex-communicated, and I should’ve let sleeping dogs lie. Well, you weren’t up there! You didn’t hear all the idiotic things people were saying to Hannah and how she looked like she was dying a little more with each comment. When Jesus went to Lazarus’ funeral, He cried and then He raised him from the dead, so unless they’re gonna cry or resurrect the corpse, people should just keep their mouths shut! Yeah, I’m sorry I hurt Rhonda, but I’d be sorrier if I didn’t do or say anything. It was like Rhonda was Rocco and Hannah was me, and I couldn’t stand by and do nothing while she got verbally assaulted, so you can just keep your opinion of the matter to yourself!”

“Well, actually, I wasn’t going to say any of that.”

As I stared at Ryan, I heard a sound in my head equivalent to the air being let out of a balloon at an abnormally high speed.

Slightly embarrassed, I stuttered, “Oh. Wh…wh…what were you going to say, then?”

As Bruno walked back into the living room, Ryan got down on his knees in front of me, bowed his head low, raised his arms up and down, and said, “I’m not worthy! I’m not worthy! I’m not worthy!” Then Ryan grabbed my right hand in his hands, looked up at my face, and said, “Oh, Great and Powerful Ninja Goddess, please, let me just touch the hem of your garment, because I know if I do, I can be a real man!”

Bruno became enraged and yelled, “O, what the hell are you doing? For God’s sakes, don’t encourage her!”

“Shut up, Bru! She’s made major progress here!” Ryan shot back.

“Progress, O? Progress?! She’s on video pile driving a semi-elderly woman into the ground at a baby’s funeral for the whole world to see! This is regress! I know you feel protective and responsible for her and all that crap, like she’s your pet basset hound or something, but this is bad! This is very bad! It may seem cute to you now, but I’ve been dealing with this for the last five years I’ve known her, and by the end of the first year, let me tell you, the charm wears off!”

“I think she feels bad enough already!”

“No, I don’t think so! She always feels bad, and yet she continues to do stupid crap like this again and again!”

“Yeah, and I can see clearly that five years of you yelling and ripping her head off every time she screws up has made things so much better!”

Bruno and Ryan continued to bicker, getting closer to each other as they argued. I really thought they might come to blows. Although I felt awful about it, I couldn’t help but be a little happy. For the first time in my life, someone had stepped up to defend my honor. The argument was interrupted, however, by the ringing of Bruno’s cell phone.

“We’ll finish this discussion later,” Bruno snarled at Ryan. He then opened his phone and answered, “Officer Bruno Spallone…oh, hello!” He seemed to be surprised. “Look, I talked to Rhonda. She’s not going to press charges. As for the church, Margaret feels really bad and will do anything to…Really?...Well, I can do one better. I’m at her house right now. She’s standing right next to me…Sure. Would you hold on a second, please?” Bruno put his cell phone on mute, then looked at me and said, “It’s Hannah Wagner. She wants to talk to you.”

“Me?” I asked, in shock. “What does she want?”

“Your cannoli recipe!” Bruno snarled. “What do you think?! She wants to talk to you about the funeral! Listen, before you talk to her, you’re gonna put the phone on speaker so all of us can hear.” He then handed me his cell phone.

“Why do I have to put in on speaker?” I asked.

“I wanna hear what’s going on, because even though you don’t deserve it, I’m going to try to save you from yourself.”

I made a face like a scolded child as I unmuted the phone and then put it on speaker.

“Hello, Hannah,” I said as nonchalantly as I possibly could.

“Hello, Margaret. The graveside service just ended, and I wanted to call you before it got too late in the day,” Hannah said, her voice cracking a little.

“Hannah, I feel so awful about everything. I mean, what happened at the shower was bad enough, but my behavior today was, well, there was just no excuse for it! I am so sorry! I just have no words for how bad I…”

“Listen, Margaret, you don’t have to go through all this. The reason I called was to say thank you.”

“Thank you?”

“Thank you?!” Bruno mouthed silently.

Hannah continued, “I absolutely dreaded today. I told Joey yesterday I didn’t know how I was going to make it through the funeral. I mean, my baby died, and I told God that I wished that I had died, too. Of course, Mom and Dad have so many friends that have called and visited, and I know they’ve all meant well, but, the thing is, at funerals, people think they have to say something, anything, and well, more often than not, what they say is more hurtful than helpful. Lots of people told me I shouldn’t cry because my baby’s in Heaven, or that it was all God’s Will. One person at the funeral said to me before it started that it was better that he died, because if he’d have survived, what with being choked by the umbilical cord, he’d probably be special needs, and all…” She got all choked up. “Like I would’ve cared whether my child had been born with learning problems!”

I felt myself getting choked up as she talked.

She went on, “Like I said, I know people mean well, but some of the things people said to me just came off as so cruel. And contrary to what people think, I’m not tough like my mom. She loves a good insult. She never backs down from fight. Not that anyone there was trying to insult me, but you know what I mean, right? I almost felt like I was being ganged up on, understand?”

“Yeah, I do,” I answered.

“So, anyway, halfway through the receiving line, I told God and Joey that I wasn’t going to make it. Then when Rhonda came and said I should just jump right into having another baby, just replace one kid with another, like that’s even possible, I thought I would die right then and there! Well, you come along, and, well, you put Rhonda in her place in short order! After I was done with the receiving line, I excused myself to my dad’s study, and I laughed my head! The most horrible day of my life and, as crazy as it sounds, I found one glimmer of joy, and it was because of you! So all that to say…thank you!”

I looked at Ryan, who had a big smile on his face. I then looked at Bruno, who scowled so hard I thought his face would freeze that way.

I said to Hannah, “Ah, you’re welcome! I mean…yeah, you’re welcome! So, you’re really not mad?”

Hannah answered, “Margaret, I’ll tell you a secret, and you can never tell Rhonda I told you this, okay? I love Rhonda, but she’s so pushy, and what you did to her today is what the rest of us have only dreamed about doing!” Bruno slapped his face and dragged his hand across it.

“I won’t say anything,” I answered, relieved.

“Listen, Margaret, the next few weeks are going to be crazy for me, but maybe we could get together after that? I’d love to get to know you better,” Hannah asked.

“Really?” I asked excitedly.

“Yeah, I would. Is my number showing up on the phone?”


“Okay. This is my cell. Send me a text from your cell so I have it. We’ll connect in a few weeks, okay?”

“Yeah! I would totally love that!”

“Me, too! Well, I have to go, but thanks again, Margaret. You’re a good woman to have around! Have a good rest of the day.”

“Yeah, you too! I’m praying for you.” I hung up the phone and handed it back to Bruno who looked so angry I probably could’ve fried an egg on his face.

“We will never speak of this again,” he grunted as he headed to the door.

“Ah, Bru,” Ryan asked, “isn’t there something you want to say to Margaret?”

Bruno’s eyes shot back and forth between Ryan and me, and with an angry grin on his face, he bowed slightly and quickly to me and said, “I’m not worthy.” Then he bolted out the front door.

I turned to Ryan and said, “I did it! I did it! I stood up to the bullies! I stood up for what was right, and I did it my own way, and now I might have a girlfriend out of it!”

“That’s me girl!” Ryan chuckled.

“By the way, how did you get in here?” I asked.

“I can walk through walls.”

I stared at him with my jaw dropped for a minute. He laughed.

“I’m just screwing with ya! Shane told me where you hide the spare key! I just love that look on your face!” He chuckled.

I remembered I had left Bernie in the garage and walked to the door to let him into the living room. As I opened the door, I said to Ryan, “You better not tease me like that anymore, because now I’m rough and tough and can stand up for myself.”

When I opened the door, Bernie charged in, jumped on me, and knocked me straight to the floor. Ryan bust out laughing as he picked me up off the floor.

“Baby steps, Margaret! Baby steps!” he said with a light in his eyes. I felt a little deflated again. Ryan then backed up to the front door, bowing to me and saying, “I’m not worthy! I’m not worthy!” as he headed out.

As I closed the front door behind him, I pondered yet another huge stride made in such a short period of time. I was no longer the victim. I was the victor, and I would never feel powerless again…except until maybe the next time.