Monday, May 31, 2010

6-Just One of the Girls

© 2010 David’s Harp and Pen

Up until now, I have talked a lot about my guy friends. In most romantic comedies, the heroine usually has the support of a large arsenal of female friends who help her navigate the ups and downs of romance and life in general. I haven’t talked about any of my female friends because, the truth is, I didn’t have any. It wasn’t a lack of desire or effort on my part, either. I’d tried most of my life to fit in with the girls and women around me, but something would always go horribly wrong, and in my experience, unlike guys, girls are much less forgiving.

It all started back in first grade. Even at that young age, I was really spacey and klutzy, so the other kids, especially the girls, teased me to no end. I guess if I were them, I would’ve teased me, too. I still remember the times I would come to school with my clothes on inside out, or have different shoes on each foot, and even the times I forgot to get dressed at all and showed up in my pajamas (how I managed all this will be a subject for later discussion). It didn’t help that I didn’t have the expensive name brands all the other little girls had, either. One day, Lisa Wakinstrapeski, the prettiest, most perfect girl in school, invited me to her birthday party. I was thrilled beyond words that she would even condescend to talk to me, much less invite me to her party. The word on the street was she wanted one of the new Patty Potty-training dollies, the kind that peed in their diapers, and the lucky little girls who owned one got to change the diapers and put Patty Potty-training Terrific Talc powder on the doll’s diaper rash. So, I broke open my piggy bank, got my life’s savings, and bought one for her birthday. I was so happy with myself, because I was sure no one else at the party would’ve paid as much for their gift as I did for hers.

A week before the party, Lisa started to bug me mercilessly as to what I was getting her for her birthday. I kept telling her it was a surprise, but she wouldn’t give up. Two days before her party, she cornered me on the playground and said, “Margaret Ann, if you don’t tell me what you got for me for my birthday, you won’t be my friend any more and I’ll tell everyone in class you’re a poopy head!”

Well, I couldn’t have that, so I told her. She didn’t say anything. She just walked away and didn’t even so much as look at me until the day of her party.

When the big day arrived, neither she nor any of the other little girls paid me any attention at the party. During the gift giving, she opened all the gifts except mine. Confused, I went up to her and asked, “Why won’t you open my gift?”

She answered snidely, “I already know what it is. You ruined the surprise.”

Almost in tears, I said, “But, you said if I didn’t tell you what it was, you wouldn’t be my friend and you’d tell everyone in class I was a poopy head.”

“You shouldn’t have listened to me. And I’ve already been telling everyone you’re a poopy head since the first day of kindergarten,” she said snidely.

As I aged, my success with same-sex friendships went from bad to worse. It seemed wherever I went, other women turned their noses up at me. I still have nightmares about the night Genie Jeffries, wife of the guitarist in my band, had me over her house for what was supposed to be “girl talk.” I was working two jobs at the time and had been going for 16 hours straight, but she insisted I come over that night. I had tried unsuccessfully up to that point to strike up a friendship with her, and when I went to her house that night, I thought maybe she had softened to me. Not so!

When I arrived, she was not alone. Roxanne, Genie’s best friend and the wife of my drummer, was there, too. I thought that was odd that someone else was there. I sat down and Roxanne handed me some snacks and a Dr. Pepper. When I looked at Genie, she was drilling holes into me with her eyes.

There was a painful silence for a while until I decided to break it. “So, Ladies, how are you tonight?”

“Well, you’re trying to steal my husband, so how do you think I am?” Genie replied with all the fury of a nuclear explosion.

“Excuse me? What did you say?” I felt like a sequoia tree had been rammed through my stomach.

“You heard me! What do you have to say for yourself?” she demanded.

“Eh…only that I’m not trying to steal your husband?” I answered sheepishly.

“You lie! I know it all! How could you do this to me?” she scowled.

“You know WHAT? There’s nothing to know.”

“Oh please. You asked him to come over and help you move, but when he got there, there was no furniture!” She accused.

“No, there wasn’t when he got there. The other guys had already moved it all, but I still had too much stuff to fit in my car. I still needed help transporting everything.”

“You wanted him over there so you could be alone with him!” she accused.

“No, that’s not true! And come to think of it, the whole time he was there we weren’t alone. There were three other guys there the whole time. In fact, I can’t think of a time when I’ve ever been alone with Bobby!”

“Yeah, you’re always surrounded by a group of guys. And then you wonder why I’m suspicious,” she said sarcastically.

“Well, if the moving thing is the only reason you’re upset, then, yeah, I am wondering why you’re suspicious!” I answered. I was starting to get mad at this point.

“That’s not the only reason! Our husbands told us you were crying at band practice on Tuesday. Why do you feel the need to cry on the shoulders of married men?”

“My cat died! I didn’t plan on crying! It just happened!” I shot back defensively.

“You have to know that guys can’t handle that, and when you make big emotional displays in front of men, it confuses their little brains and creates unhealthy emotional attachments!”

“Eh, no, I didn’t know that. Like I said, my cat just died! I wasn’t planning on crying about it at band practice, and I’m sorry if that upset you, but really, there was no harm intended! Next time I’m upset about something, I’ll call one of those psychologists on the radio,” I replied timidly, wondering if some mass memo had been sent out about crying etiquette and everyone in the world had gotten it except me.

“Why can’t you just admit what you’ve done and what you’re after?” Genie pressed angrily.

“I’m not admitting anything. If I did something inappropriate, I apologize, but I don’t want your husband in any way, shape, or form!” I yelled.

Genie’s face started to contort like an ant under a magnifying glass as it channels the rays of the sun. With a Hannibal Lecter look in her eyes, she asked me, “Why? What’s wrong with Bobby?”

At that point, I thought maybe I had been sucked into some bizarre parallel universe, or maybe I was trapped in the mind of one of those afternoon talk show hosts, the ones with shows that always end with the guests trying to beat the crap out of each other.

“Are you asking me why I don’t want your husband?”

“Yes! Is he not good enough for you?”

“Well, he’s MARRIED!!! And even if he wasn’t, he’s not my type. I mean, have you talked to him at length any recently?”

I had really set her off. Her face puffed out and turned orangish-red. Her head looked like a habaƱero pepper.

“You little Jezebel! First you try to steal my husband, then your storm your way into my house and insult me! Are you even a Christian?” she yelled.

All my desire for diplomacy went up in smoke.

“Wait a minute! First you were mad because you thought I was in love with your husband and now you’re mad because I’m not? And I didn’t storm my way into anyone’s house! You were the one that insisted I come over here tonight, even though I told you I was too tired!” I screamed back. I picked up my purse and coat and headed for the door. Genie followed me.

“I knew when I met you I wouldn’t like you. There’s something wrong with a grown woman who tries too hard to be one of the guys. Don’t walk away from me! I want to know. Why don’t you have any girl friends?” I turned around and stared at her incredulously.

With one hand on the doorknob, I answered, “Think about everything you’ve said and done to me tonight, and you’ll discover that you’ve already answered your own question!”

There it was in nutshell. My Lisa and Genie experiences entirely summed up my difficulties to build any lasting friendships with my own gender: mixed signals and my woeful inability to read minds. As confusing and frustrating as men were to me, women were much worse. Things began to change when Ryan started his internship, and I thought perhaps my losing streak with connecting with other women was over. Wrong again!!!

One Sunday, I headed out the door after church to meet with Rhonda Mitchell, the worship arts coordinator. She wanted to have lunch with me about something. I didn’t know much about her, except that she worked at the church, she was about 60 years old, and she seemed like the type that had been involved in church ever since Jesus started the first one. More about her later, though.

I got to my car in the church parking lot, but realized my keys weren’t in my hand. I started to dig through my purse furiously, not wanting to be late to my lunch date with Rhonda. I wasn’t expecting anyone to sneak up behind me as I looked for my keys, so when I heard the word “boo” whispered right in my ear, I jumped, screamed, and threw the contents of my purse all over the place. I turned around to look. There stood Ryan, once again rubbing his ears.

“Oh, I am so sorry!!! I didn’t mean to…” I started to say.

Ryan interrupted, “It doesn’t matter what you do. I’ve got perfect hearing and you’re not going to change that.”

“It wasn’t intentional, I assure you. I have a lunch date I need to get to and I can’t find my keys.” I bent down and got on the ground to look under my car.

“Oh, you have a date?”

“No, no not that kind,” I said, my torso now completely underneath my car. I saw my keys under the center of my car and grabbed them.

“Well, I won’t keep you, then. I just wanted to ask you something.”

“Oh, okay. Give me a second,” I said as I tried to get back up. I couldn’t. I was stuck under the car. I tried pushing myself out, then sliding myself out by bracing my legs against the ground. No cigar.

“Do you need some help?” Ryan asked, trying not to laugh.

“Do you mind?” I whimpered.

“Now, if I minded, would I have offered?”

“Knowing you, I guess not,” I sighed. Ryan put one arm around my waist and grabbed my right hand with his other hand. With one swift yank, he had me out, but not before I scraped my face and the back of my head.

“Ow!” I moaned like a little girl, ashamed of myself.

“Poor thing! Is there anything I can do?” Ryan asked.

“No. No, there’s no hope,” I rambled. “I’ve been prayed for, anointed with oil, been to deliverance seminars, had every demon that could possibly be related to accident proneness cast out of me, gone to finishing school, and even taken special herbal supplements. Nothing works!”

“Ah. Well, I meant was there anything I could do for those scrapes, like get you bandages or ointment or something.”

I wanted to crawl back under my car and stay there forever.

“Look, I wanted to know if we could be buddies on All About Me?” Ryan asked, not skipping a beat. ( was the latest and greatest social networking website.)

“Ah, sure,” I answered, rubbing my sore, scraped face. “But wait, I just started using All about Me. I don’t remember what my username is.”

Ryan walked up to me, brushed some of the dirt off my face, and said, “Oh, don’t worry, Darlin’. I’ll find you.”

As he walked away, I couldn’t decide if he was making a promise or a threat. I didn’t have time to think about it, though. I gathered up the rest of the contents of my purse, hopped in the car, and headed to the restaurant for my meeting with Rhonda.

When I arrived at the restaurant, Rhonda was already seated on the patio. On the seat next to her was a stack of Worship and Warfare magazines.

“Margaret, thanks for meeting with…what happened to your face?” She asked, alarmed.

“Eh, I got stuck under my car and scraped my face trying to get out. I couldn’t get a hold of you and didn’t have time to get home and fix myself up,” I answered as I sat in my seat.

“Why did you get stuck under your car?” she asked in a slightly accusatory manner.

Why do people ask me questions like that? I thought. As if I got stuck under my car on purpose.

“Well, I dropped my keys under the car and then I got stuck and Ryan had to pull me out,” I answered.

A waiter approached our table and asked, “What can I get you ladies to drink?”

“Diet Coke, please,” Rhonda answered.

“An ice water with lime, thanks,” I replied.

“Alright. A Diet Coke and an ice water with lime. I’ll be right back with your drinks and to take your order,” the waiter said and walked away.

“And who is Ryan?” Rhonda asked me.

“Oh, Ryan O’Loughlin. He’s one of the new worship arts interns.”

“Oh, the Irish boy! Yes, well, he seems very nice. Very brave of him to come to America by himself, being so young.”

“So young? How old is he?”


Holy crap! He’s 12 years younger than I am? How is that possible? Oh, I could never get involved with him. And there’s no way he could be interested in me! A 12-year age difference? I think that’s illegal, even here in Tennessee, I thought.

The waiter returned with our drinks, took our food order, and quickly left again.

“How old are you?” Rhonda asked.

“35,” I answered, still mulling this revelation around in my head.

“Hmmm,” she said in a busybody type way. “Robbing the cradle, are we?”

“No, no we’re not dating. We’re just friends, if we’re even that,” I answered as my cell phone beeped. I looked at it to see a text message from

“Ryan O’Loughlin wants to be buddies on,” the message read. “Click on this link to accept his request.”

“Do you need to get that?” Rhonda asked.

“No, it’s okay. It’s just a buddy request from Ryan,” I answered.

“So, how long have you two been dating? I don’t know how it could ever work, what with the age difference, cultural differences, and all,” she said snidely.

“I told you, we’re not dating. We’re…we’re casual acquaintances, at the most,” I answered.

“Well, I was surprised as anyone to see you two together, what with all those other men I see flocking around you at church,” she continued, obviously not having paid attention to anything I had been saying.

“No. See, Ryan and all those guys are just my friends. I haven’t dated anyone in 13 years.”

“Well, if you want my two cents,” Rhonda started, and I knew she was going to give me her two cents whether I wanted them or not, “it’s no wonder nobody’s shown any interest. It’s not good for a woman to be surrounded by men all the time. Any decent man will look at you and think you’re either unavailable or a tramp.”

“Decent men think I’m a tramp?” I asked, startled at this revelation.

“Well, not that I know of, dear, but you have to be careful. You can’t be one of the guys, you know. If you’re serious about getting married one day, you better leave the boys at the playground. Getting too close to men not your husband creates artificial intimacy and unhealthy emotional attachments, and next thing you know, you’ve gotten involved with the wrong man, lost the friendship, and left alone and bitter. Remember what it says in the Song of Solomon. Don’t awaken love until it so desires.”

Wow! I went from being excited about meeting someone really nice to becoming a bitter, trampy old woman, I thought. Maybe I should have stayed under my car.

“Ah, well, thank you for the advice. I’ll think about it. Was that why you wanted to have lunch with me?” I asked.

“Oh, no, of course not. No, the reason for lunch is we in the Worship Arts Department have been reading your articles in Worship and Warfare magazine and have been very impressed!”

“Oh, well thank you!” I said.

“Yes. I find it amazing that someone with such great spiritual insight can have such poor judgement when it comes to interpersonal relationships,” Rhonda said.

“Thanks…I think,” I answered, not sure of what else to say that would be appropriate.

“So, we want to start a website just for the Worship Arts Department and wanted to know if you would consider doing our blogging?”

“Well, sure, yeah, absolutely! Thank you for thinking of me,” I answered, humbled at the thought.

“Wonderful. Now, you do realize this is purely volunteer.”

“Yes, that’s fine.”

“Good, good. I’ll send you an email with all the details.” My cell phone beeped again. This time it was a text from Shane, once again in the middle of a personal crisis. I furiously shot back an answer, not wanting to be rude to Rhonda.

“My, aren’t we popular?” she said.

“Eh, not really. That was just a friend. He’s having a personal crisis,” I replied.

He is having a personal crisis. I see,” she said in a tone I couldn’t quite decipher.

“You see what?” I asked, because I really wanted to know.

“That’s another part of your problem, dear. You shouldn’t make yourself so readily available to all these boys. They don’t respect you for it. They’re taking advantage of you.”

“They don’t respect me?”

“Don’t answer your phone for a few days. Let them know you’re not just there to serve them. That’ll whip them into shape!” She said authoritatively. For someone who didn’t know me, she certainly acted as if she did.

“So, Rhonda, I would love to connect with some of the women at church, but to be honest, I have trouble some times…”

“Oh, well,” she interrupted, which I saw she was good at, “you should come to Hannah’s baby shower on Saturday. As far as I know, all the women at the church are invited. Didn’t you hear the announcement at church last Sunday?”

“No, I wasn’t at church. That would be really cool!” I answered, getting really excited.

Hannah Wagner was my pastor’s daughter. I never really talked to her, but the thought of getting to bond with the girls had me ecstatic.

“Well, we’ll just count on you being there, then. It’s Saturday, 2:00 at the parsonage.”

“Wow! I’m just so thrilled! That’ll be so much fun!”

My cell phone beeped yet again. It was a text message from Bruno. Not answering his texts could result in a criminal warrant being issued for me.

“Another one of your boy friends?” Rhonda asked with a snooty look on her face.

“You don’t understand. Bruno’s a cop. If I don’t answer this, he’ll send the SWAT Team after me.”

“Remember what I said. It’s all about propriety, Dear. There’s no harm in making them wait every so often.”

I thought about what she said and thought, maybe, she was right. After all, she was older, and married, so maybe she knew what she was talking about. I put my cell phone down.

“Would you excuse me? I need to use the ladies’ room,” she asked.

“Uh, yeah, sure,” I answered. When I was sure she was out of sight, I picked up my cell phone again and went to All About Me to accept Ryan’s buddy request. After all, I didn’t want to be rude. Attached to his buddy request was a message.

“I told you I’d find you, Darlin’. My cell phone number is 011 (353) (087) 292-8584. Why don’t you send me a text message with your cell phone number so I have it if I need it? I don’t know yet if I’ll get an American cell phone while I’m here. Peace, O,” the message read.

I put his number into my phone and tried to text him, but the message was returned.

Hmmm… I wondered. I wonder if I have to do something special to text him since his cell phone is Irish?

Using my cell phone, I went to my cell phone provider’s website for instructions to send an international text message. It was all very confusing. If I understood it correctly, how to send a text message depended on the recipient’s cell phone provider, time zone, age, income, and position of the planets. I proceeded to a search engine to see if I could find any definitive information on the subject. The first hit was an Irish cell phone company.

The website said, “Prices for SMS are dependent upon subscriber’s pricing plan. A per message surcharge applies to SMS sent to all countries outside of Ireland.”

I didn’t know why, but that just sounded odd to me. So I went back to and, in what I thought was a private message that only Ryan would see, asked, “I got your buddy request, but I can’t figure out how to text you. I did a search on the Internet, and one website said something about sending texts to all the countries outside Ireland. That just sounds weird to me. I mean, how many countries are inside Ireland? I thought Ireland was its own country. Did it get upgraded to continent and I not find out? I know when Pluto got downgraded from planet to asteroid, I was the last one to hear.”

Rhonda returned, followed by our waiter with our food. We sat in silence and ate our food, and I was still mulling our previous conversation. I started to think perhaps I should heed Rhonda’s advice and quit guy friends cold turkey. As I thought of the possible ramifications of such action, I turned to survey the other tables on the patio. To my horror, I saw a couple with an infant two tables down. Out there in the open, plain as day, the mother had her top pulled all the way up, and her bra pulled all the way down. In full view of the world, she fed her baby with one breast while the other sat on top of the table like a place setting. I was so shocked at the sight I accidentally knocked my drink and my plate off the table.

“What in the world?” Rhonda exclaimed.

Attempting to be subtle, I gingerly pointed in the direction of the topless mom.

“What? Haven’t you ever seen a woman breast-feed her child before?” Rhonda asked me, like it was the most normal thing in the world.

“Well, no, to be honest. Surely you don’t approve of that, do you?” I asked nervously.

“It’s the most natural thing in the world, dear. Women do it all the time. When your baby’s hungry, there’s no time to be discriminate.”

“But, is that even legal?”

“Some woman not so long ago took one of those big department stores to court when they asked her to leave because she was breast-feeding her baby in the front lobby, and the court ruled in her favor!”

By then, I was really confused. How could it be that me having a bunch of male friends made me look like the church hooker, but this woman having her chest sitting on the table like it was part of the china was the height of virtue? Maybe it was one of those female things I had never understood.

After Rhonda and I parted ways, I drove home. As I walked into my front door, my cell phone began to go crazy. I looked at it, and it had filled with text alerts from All About Me. I walked over to my computer, put my phone and other things down, and pulled up All About Me to see what was happening. It turned out that private message I had sent to Ryan was not a private message, after all. I had posted the message on his bulletin board, where all his buddies, whom included Bruno, Larry, and Shane, could read it. I re-read my post and the comments that followed:

Margaret Sims: I got your buddy request, but I can’t figure out how to text you. I did a search on the Internet, and one website said something about sending texts to all the countries outside Ireland. That just sounds weird to me. I mean, how many countries are inside Ireland? I thought Ireland was its own country. Did it get upgraded to continent and I not find out? I know when Pluto got downgraded from planet to asteroid, I was the last one to hear.

Ryan O’Loughlin: LOLOLOL!!!!! No, Darlin’. Only one country in Ireland. Actually, Ireland is a world all its own! ;)

Shane Cooper: OMG! Mags, do not think out loud online! Lather, rinse, repeat.

Bruno Spallone: Yes, Mags. Ireland has been upgraded to continent. You should also know that Brooklyn has been upgraded to universe.

Shane Cooper: Remember, Margaret’s always been in her own little world.

Larry Mandusky: Very funny, Bruno and Shane…NOT! Take heart, Margaret. Remember, the Word says we’re strangers and aliens here on earth, looking for a country of our own.

Ugh, I thought. I will never live this one down.

I plopped down on my couch and Bernie curled up at my feet. Wanting to clear my head, I decided to give the Song of Solomon a read on my computer Bible. To be honest, it wasn’t a part of the Bible I read with any frequency. In fact, I had always wondered how it made its way into the Bible in the first place. Perhaps, though, reading it again at that particular point in my life gave me greater understanding. Boy, could I really relate now to the Shulamite. She was the odd ball, very unsure of herself, always saying and doing the wrong thing, surrounded by boys, criticized by the women around her, yet somehow, she had caught the eye and captured the heart of the one who was both shepherd and king. The world stopped for a moment when I came to chapter 4, verse 7: “O my love, how beautiful you are! There is no flaw in you!”

I had been terribly insecure most of my life, and although most people had said over the years that I would grow out of it, I felt like it was only getting worse. Not in every respect. I mean, I think I had gotten to the point where I truly believed in my heart of hearts that God loved me unconditionally, but I still didn’t believe that another human being could love me unconditionally. I wondered what it took for the Shulamite to finally get over that insecurity, to finally accept that she was indeed loved by King Solomon, and to understand that maybe the things she hated about herself were the very things he cherished about her? What if I had met my King Solomon?

I walked away from the computer and threw myself down on my bed and said to myself, “I will not read into anything. I am not the Shulamite. If Larry saw me misapplying Scripture in such a flagrant fashion he would rebuke me on the spot! I will not awaken love until it so desires, and step one to not awaken love at the wrong time is to NOT read the Song of Solomon!”

My cell phone beeped yet again. I walked back over to my computer where I had left my cell phone. There was a message from Ryan. He had texted me directly, wanting to make sure I had his number. While I thought about how to reply, my computer screen flashed. I looked to see even more alerts from All about Me. My post to Ryan was quite the sensation, apparently. There were comments from the boys, milking my little lapse in judgement for all it was worth, and also comments from Ryan’s Irish buddies, asking him if American women were really as nutty as they’d heard. A blunder of this magnitude, now an international incident, was surely worthy of granting me entrance into the witness protection program.

Saturday came before I’d realized it. The temperature was unusually high that day, so I was torn about what to wear. Most of my cooler tops were in the wash, so the only really comfortable top I had to wear was a clingy, sleeveless back silk sheath. I thought I looked really cute, to be honest. As I walked out the door, my cell phone began to beep like mad. Both my visual voice mailbox and text inbox were overflowing with messages from Ryan, the Power Trio, and All About Me. It then dawned on me that I had spent so much time deliberating about how to reply to the boys’ messages that I had neglected to reply to any of them at all. I thought I should at least let them all know I was alright, but when I looked at the time, I saw I was running late for the shower.

Oh, no, I thought. Well, when the shower’s over, I’ll text the boys and let them know I’m still alive.

The parsonage was bustling with activity and all things pink. The estrogen was so thick I could’ve cut it with a knife. All the women seemed to be heading to the back patio. I was very nervous, but my fears subsided slightly when I saw Rhonda. I walked up next to her and shook her hand.

“Hi, Rhonda, I’m here. Thanks so much for inviting me! I’m really excited!” I said, barely able to contain myself. Rhonda gave me the once over, grabbed my arm, and pulled me aside.

“I’m glad you made it, dear, but what’s with that top?” She asked right in my ear, keeping her voice down. I looked at my top, not sure what she was getting at.

“I don’t understand.”

“Well of course you don’t. Look at yourself. I can see all your business!”

“I still don’t understand.”

“Margaret, dear one, that top is entirely too tight. What were you thinking about wearing that to a church-related event?”

“But there’s nothing wrong with this, is there? I mean, it’s hot outside, and we’re all girls, right? It’s not that tight! Besides, at the restaurant, when that woman was milking her baby—or the other way around—you were perfectly fine with that!”

“Exactly! She was feeding her child! Surely you understand the difference!”

Pushing the issue more than I should have, I said, “Well, no, I don’t. First of all, I’m not trying to show off my chest, but if, for argument’s sake, I was, are you saying it’s only okay if it’s being useful at the time?”

Rhonda gave me the look, the look I’d first gotten from Lisa all those years back on the playground. She walked away from me and stepped out on the patio, leaving me to ponder the error of my ways. Suddenly, I saw the light! Not literal light, of course, but maybe, just maybe, all the things my guy friends had said about women all those years were actually true. Maybe we women really do have a weird list of rules longer than the length of the Great Wall of China, as well as a list of exceptions to all those rules, which was most likely the length of the distance between the Earth and the Sun. Maybe my problem with relating to women all this time was that I dared to question all these time-honored traditions passed down from mother to daughter (although somehow bypassing me). Maybe the fast track to acceptance with the XX chromosome crowd was to simply accept what I didn’t understand and keep my mouth shut. Well, it sounded like a good idea at the time.

I walked on to the patio, and all eyes were on me and, more specifically, my ring finger. Did I mention that in churches, it’s also very hard being the single woman? The married women are immediately suspicious, no matter how much heartfelt reassurance the new single woman offers that she is merely focusing on God and her career. The single women, most notably the over 30 die-hards, see the new single woman as a threat. I was preparing myself for the worst.

I sat down in a chair not too far from Hannah. She seemed really nice and sweet, although a bit overwhelmed by all the attention. I had decided I would say hello to her when I was intercepted by a large, scary group of women that, I can only guess, was Hannah’s security.

“Welcome to the party,” Woman One said.

“I’ve seen you at church a lot, but I don’t think we’ve ever met,” Woman Two exclaimed excitedly as she tried to shake my hand off.

“Oh, this is Madeleine. She writes for that magazine, you know? And she’s dating that British guy, Bryan, who’s interning in the worship arts department,” Woman Three happily told the other two.

Woman Two looked at me curiously and asked, “But I thought you were married to that guy on the worship team. What’s his name? The one who always has chocolate stains on his face and hands?”

Before I could answer, Woman Five cut in and said, “Oh no! They were over a long time ago. No, she started dating Bryan right after she and what’s-his-name broke up. What’s his name again?”

Woman Three answered, “Oh, ah…it’s right on the tip of my tongue...Gary! That’s his name, right? The waiter guy?” Then she turned to me and said, “Don’t worry Maddy, it’s his loss. Honestly, after what I heard he did to you, I don’t know how you still speak to him. I mean, the nerve of him. And now he goes around saying God’s given him the gift of singleness. Well, that’s a gift to all women everywhere, if you catch my drift!”

All five women, whose names I never got, all laughed amongst themselves. I couldn’t believe the elaborate stories that had circulated about me without my knowledge. I began to wonder if I had been living a double life all that time and everyone knew it but me. The only thing I was sure of was that I had just been steam-rolled, and I wanted to set all those women straight about my personal life, but I was interrupted.

“Ladies, Ladies! Gather ‘round now! We’re going to do the gift exchange now!” Came the booming, over-powering voice of Carole Hadley, the wife of my pastor and Hannah’s mother. I’ll be honest. This woman scared me at times. Maybe because she always seemed too…oh, I don’t know the word, but too something to be real. Absolutely everything she had, including her husband, was color coordinated. She was also the queen of frou-frou. Don’t get me wrong; it was some top-notch frou-frou, but frou-frou nonetheless. I doubted she’d ever had a bad hair day, skin day, or wardrobe malfunction in her entire life. I was sure she was a nice enough woman, but I found her extremely intimidating. It didn’t help that she liked to spice up the women’s conferences by randomly dropping the v-bomb, which to me, was more disturbing than the f-bomb.

As Hannah opened the various gifts, I intently watched everything going on around me. There was a lot of laughing, crying, and hugging. I could tell some of the women there had a long history together. It seemed every time Hannah opened something new, all the women would let out a long string of oohs and ahs, and then someone would put their arm around Hannah and give her a friendly squeeze. I was so jealous. It was such a special moment, until the women…well, until they started to really be women.

I’m going to share a little known secret about women, at least little known to the male population at large. Women accuse men of being crude, which they are. However, men evenly space out their crudeness so that, eventually, those around them can build up an immunity to it. Women, on the other hand, store up all their crudeness for very special events, such as baby showers and women’s retreats; when unleashed, their crudeness would make even the most hardened sailor, truck driver, or morning radio deejay blush and run for cover. I soon discovered that baby showers are not events for the faint of heart, or the weak of stomach, of which I was both.

Woman Four asked Hannah, “When are you due again?”

“Two weeks,” Hannah replied.

“Oh, how exciting!” Woman Three squealed.

“Yes, it’s going to be smooth sailing from here, I’m sure. Dr. Sanders says he really likes Hannah’s uterus,” Carole shared happily. My head turned so fast I thought I got whiplash.

“You’re really fortunate to have such a great uterus, Hannah,” Woman Two remarked. “Mine is tipped and doesn’t sit right in my pelvis. Let me tell you, conceiving in the first place was a nightmare.”

“Oh, but you’ll have no problems with yours, Hannah. I can tell just from the pictures,” Women Three reassured her.

I thought. Pictures of what?

Then I saw the pictures. Someone had made up a little commemorative program of the shower, and there on the front page was an ultrasound photo of Hannah’s womb. I stared at it for the longest time, unable to absorb the magnitude of what lay in front of me. I must have had an unusual look on my face, because Woman Four sat down next to me.

“Are you alright?” she asked sweetly. I should’ve followed my previously established rule and not said anything, because questioning these time-honored female traditions and codes of conduct only got me into trouble in the past. It was like looking at that fatal car wreck, though. I just couldn’t help myself.

“This is Hannah’s uterus, on the front page of the program,” I said nervously as I pointed to the picture.

“Yes, I know, isn’t it lovely? She’s going to make great babies.”

“But, is that normal? I mean, showing pictures of your internal organs like this?”

“Well, sure it is! It’s so everyone can see the baby!” I looked at the photo again, still confused.

“Eh, I don’t see the baby.”

“It’s right here, see?” She pointed to a gray speck in the middle of the photo.

“But that doesn’t look like a baby. It doesn’t look like anything.”

“Of course it wouldn’t! She wasn’t far enough along yet!” This only heightened my confusion.

“Okay. So, ah…I’m sorry. Please forgive me. I’ve never seen anything like this before. Ahm…so…what makes her uterus so perfect?”

“Oh, there’s a lot that factors into it: the size, where it sits in her pelvis, and look here. See nicely rounded the walls are, how it’s that nice V-shape…oh, and look at her Fallopian tubes. Notice how the arches are in just the right spot…are you sure you’re okay? You don’t look well at all!”

“I, ah, I don’t feel well, to be honest. I’m sorry. I’m not used to this.”

“Not used to what? This?” She pointed again to the ultrasound photo. My stomach started to churn at an unreal pace and I swallowed very hard, afraid I was going to throw up.

“I don’t know what you’re getting so worked up about,” she said. “This is a beautiful thing. It’s a natural thing. It’s a woman thing.” My mind pondered the preceding conversation, and I started to wonder if maybe I was somehow deficient as a woman. I began to feel really bad that I didn’t have a closer, more personal relationship with my own uterus, like all these women seemed to have. Perhaps a good way for me to develop friendships with other women was to get some ultrasound photos of myself and carry them around in my purse. Pictures of my womb, though, still seemed a little too intimate to me, so I contemplated instead getting shots of my liver, or something a little more exotic, like my spleen.

My stomach had gotten really upset, so I ventured over to the drink table for some ginger ale or clear soda to calm it down. Turned out that was also the wrong place to be.

Woman Five stood in front of the drink table in a lively conversation with more women whose names I never got.

“So, I thought, this is kid number three, so it’ll be a breeze, right? Wrong!” She said in an animated fashion. “Brandon was two and half weeks late. The doctor kept saying be patient, but he was a man, so what did he know? I was absolutely miserable! By the second week, I was ready to grab John’s hunting knife and just cut the kid out myself!” Maybe I would’ve found that funny at the time had I not been trying to keep my entire digestive system from nuclear implosion.

“When I hit week 42, everyone was getting worried, so the doctor said he had no choice but to start stripping the membrane,” she continued. She then noticed me standing there and asked, “Are you alright? You look awful!”

“Str…stri…stripping the membrane?” I stuttered. I know, I know. I shouldn’t have asked, and I have no one to blame but myself.

“Oh, that’s when they go in and peel back the membranes to separate the baby from the cervix,” she answered.

“And how do they do that, again?” Woman Three asked.

“Well, sometimes they use a clamp, but if it’s a midwife, she just uses her fingers.” At that point, my gag reflex kicked in and my face turned a lovely shade of pea green.

“You really look terrible. You better sit down,” said Woman Five. She pulled a chair up for me to sit on.

Weakly, I said, “I’m so sorry. I have a little bit of a weak stomach, and all this talk about…you know…” All of the women laughed, which only made me feel worse.

“I take it you don’t have any children?” Woman Two asked.

“No, no. Just a dog.”

“Well, you better toughen up. The life of women is blood and guts, and you know what they say. ‘No guts, no glory.’”

“Besides,” Woman Five chimed in, “human women have it easy as far as childbirth goes. Most animals, after giving birth, have to eat the umbilical cord and the placenta.” I thought I was going to pass out right then and there. Suddenly, a mad fit of uncontrollable dry heaves came over me, and I didn’t know how to make it stop.

“Well, great! Now look what you’ve done! Stop torturing the poor girl!” Woman Four commanded. She came around beside me and handed me a drink in a paper cup. When I looked at the cup, it had punch in it, the super red, homemade kind that had chunks of melon-colored sherbet floating around in it. For some strange reason, the mere sight of it made me feel much worse. I covered my mouth, jumped from my seat, and ran straight for the bathroom. After a few moments, I was able to regain my composure. I looked at myself in the mirror to assess the damage.

Courage, Margaret, courage! I said to myself. The world of female relationships is a minefield, but a navigable one. I splashed some water on face, took a deep breath, and headed back outside. As I surveyed the yard, I noticed Carole and Rhonda socializing in a corner with some women who looked like they were well past childbearing age. I thought maybe this would be a safer place to hang out. Again, my discernment that day was way off.

I walked in on the conversation in time to hear Carole say, “I tell you, Ladies, I thought it was going to be the end of our marriage.”

“Oh, I hear you. When I had mine, it was hell on earth. At one point, Ray thought he was going to have to have me committed,” Rhonda shot back.

Okay, Margaret, I thought to myself. Suck in your gut, put your game face on, and interact. These are your sisters in Christ. Fear and nausea, be gone!

“What happened?” I asked, trying to show genuine interest in whatever they were talking about.

“Oh, we were just talking about our hysterectomies,” Carole answered casually, as if they were talking about getting their nails done.

Oh please, God, no!
I prayed silently. How much more can one woman take?

“Oh, I’m so sorry. My condolences,” I said quietly, wondering if that was the proper thing to say.

“Nobody died, Dear,” Rhonda quipped.

“I might as well have!” Carole shot out. “I was absolutely miserable, and I don’t care what anyone says. The hormone replacement therapy is worse than the hysterectomy itself.”

“Tell me about it. That Premarin made me a raving lunatic. The mood swings were so bad, I was ready to kill anyone that peed standing up!”

“What’s Premarin?” I asked innocently.

“You take it when you’ve had a hysterectomy. It replaces all the estrogen you’ve lost after they take out your ovaries,” Rhonda answered.

“I see. And how does it work?” I asked. Why did I have to ask? Why, why, why?

Carole answered, “I’m not exactly sure. Premarin is an abbreviation for pregnant mare urine.”

My poor stomach was about to collapse on the cellular level. I kept telling myself to be mature about the whole thing, that this was normal girl talk, and if I wanted to be one of the girls, I would have to get used to it.

“Really? Pregnant horse urine? That’s…uh…hmm…so, do you…eh…do you just drink it straight, or do you mix it with something?” I asked, hemming and hawing to get the question out, trying to look genuinely interested.

Carole gave me the strangest look and replied, “It’s in pill form!” I felt really dumb at that point, more so than usual.

“Of course, the worst part of it for Ray was my libido became nonexistent. I mean, the mere thought of him coming anywhere near made my skin crawl!” Rhonda shared. Carole and all the other women in the group nodded their heads in agreement.

Oh no! I thought. They’re talking about sex.

“Preach it, Sister! I was there, too. You know what an animal Norman is. The first few months after the operation, well, I wasn’t in the mood at all. He just walked around the house like a hurt puppy dog,” Carole added.

I had passed the point of no return. It was bad enough they were talking about sex, but to hear my pastor’s wife talk about her relationship with my pastor? That’s like thinking about my parents…ugh! I get the heebie jeebies just thinking about it! The ladies continued on a little longer about all their love lost until Carole noticed I was quickly headed into a catatonic state.

“Oh, Ladies, we better stop. I think we’re making Madeline here uncomfortable,” Carole giggled.

“It’s Margaret,” I somehow managed to get out.

“So, Madeline, how did you handle your hysterectomy?”

“Oh, I’ve never had one.” That was the second time in my life I had gotten the Hannibal Lecter look, and receiving it from seven women at once was downright terrifying. I felt like I was surrounded by a flock of carnivorous vultures that had just descended on fresh road kill.

Thinking that might have been a good time to lighten the mood, I asked, “What? Am I the only one here with a uterus?” I found out quickly that was NOT a good time, because the answer to my question was a resounding “yes.” I excused myself again to the bathroom and quickly scanned all available exits to the parsonage. I wondered if I would be able to escape with my dignity and reproductive system intact.

When I got out of the bathroom, I saw all the ladies congregating around the really long table outside. As I walked outside with the greatest of trepidation, I heard Carole announce, “Ladies, Ladies, it’s time to cut the cake. I just want to thank all of you who helped make this such a special day for Hannah and me. Let’s dig in!”

I got behind Rhonda in line for the cake. She turned to look at me and asked, “What is wrong with you? You look like death warmed over!”

“I…ah…it’s been a rough day,” I said, not in the mood to try to explain my female deficiencies.

“Well, the day’s almost over.” When we made our way to the front of the line and I looked at the cake, I realized my nightmare was just beginning. There, plastered across the sheet cake, was an edible image of Hannah’s aesthetically pleasing and architecturally perfect uterus. However, this picture must’ve been taken when Hannah was further along, because the baby clearly looked like a baby this time. If that didn’t send me into an epileptic seizure, I didn’t know what would. To add insult to injury, Rhonda handed me a piece that was a cut-around of the baby’s head. She tried to hand it to me as I started to shake.

“I’m sorry, Rhonda, I can’t. It’s too, too gross,” I muttered, not even wanting to acknowledge the presence of the dreaded piece of cake.

“What are you talking about? It’s just a piece of cake!”

“It’s what’s on the cake! That’s the baby’s head, for goodness sakes! It’s, it’s barbaric!”

“Well now you’re just being melodramatic!”

“I am not! It’s the principal of the thing! I am not a cannibal!”

“Just eat the cake and stop being ridiculous!” I couldn’t hold it in any more. As Rhonda shoved the piece of cake in my face, I turned away and threw up all over the sheet cake. A collective gasp rose up from every woman there, sucking all the oxygen from the yard at once. I looked at all the women there staring at me, including Hannah.

“I…I am so sorry,” I stammered and ran out of the house to my car.

The car drive home was interminable. The only comfort I felt on my arrival was when my dog Bernie jumped up to me and licked my hand as I patted his head.

“Well, Bernie, I’m not one of the guys, but it doesn’t look like I can be one of the girls, either, so I guess it’ll just be the two of us from now on,” I said to him, determined that I was not going to cry.

I walked in the back door, so preoccupied that I forgot to close or lock the door behind me. When I set my phone and keys down, I noticed that my cell phone was dead. I walked over to my charger, plugged in my phone, and turned it on. The phone made sounds I’d never heard before, so overloaded with voicemails and texts, most of them from the boys.

Oh, no! I thought to my dismay. I never got back to any of them! Oh, I am so dead!

As I began to play back the messages, I contemplated, in light of recent events, what I would need to do in order to fake my own death.

Voicemails from Shane:

# 1: “Mags, what is going on? I’ve texted you, I’ve called you; I’ve stalked you on All About Me, and nothing! Don’t you know I’m having a crisis and my chocolate supplies are depleted? This is unacceptable! Call me right away, as in immediately!”

# 2: “Okay, Mags, I give up. I guess you’re just too important now to talk to me, so I guess we need to discuss custody arrangements of our mutual friends. I’ll take custody of Bruno if you take Larry. I’m sure we can come to an amicable agreement about Ryan. Okay, then. Since you’re not talking to me anymore, I’m not talking to you. Well, so long!”

# 3: “It’s me again. I just remembered I’m going to Atlanta next week for that audition and you promised to dog-sit Hayley. So, feel free to keep that appointment, and when I get back, we can go back to not speaking to each other. Bye!”

Voicemails from Larry:

# 1: “Margaret, no one’s heard from you since Sunday morning. I’m not worried, because the Word says we’re to cast all our cares on the LORD. However, it would be helpful to continue to not worry if you called or texted one of us.”

# 2: “Hey there, Mags. I am still not worried, because the Word says we’re to be anxious for nothing. So, call or text soon, so I can continue to stand in faith for you.”

# 3: “Margaret, I still haven’t heard from you. Now I’m really…eh, really NOT worried. Anyway, please let me know something, because I love you…not like THAT, of course. I mean in the phileo, brotherly sense…and maybe in the agape sense, too, although definitely not in the eros sense in any way. So, anyway…I pray you’re alright. Call soon!”

Voicemail from Bruno:

“Alright, are you trying to get back at all of us because of the comments we left about on All About Me? You know we were all joking. Why do all you women have to be so touchy? You’ll be happy to know that not only have I not been able to get through to you, but I’m getting real-time updates from Larry, Ryan, and Shane about their inability to get through to you. If you don’t call or text soon, I’m calling out a search party. Of course, knowing you, it won’t be something as simple as getting lost or getting into an accident. So, I’ll be sure to keep my ears open for any alien abductions or local terrorist sleeper cell membership drives. Who knows? Maybe that dog of yours finally finished you off and buried you in the back yard, which would be tragic, because I’d have liked the honor of doing it myself…okay, in all seriousness, Mags, I’m worried. I hope you’re okay, because you know that I…I…Oh, if you make me say it, Mags, I swear to God I’ll…” Beep!!!!

I felt awful, a level of awfulness I had never experienced before. I had failed making contact with the girls, and I thought for sure the boys would never forgive me for dropping off the radar. Surely the Shulamite would never have been so foolish. I began to pace in front of my couch as I relived everything I said and did in the last seven days. I rehashed every conversation and situation to see what I could’ve done differently. It was a terrible feeling to think everyone but me had been given all the rules to interpersonal interaction, and halfway into my fourth decade of life, I was still trying unsuccessfully to play catch up. While I beat myself internally over and over again, I felt a presence in my living room. When I turned around, I saw Ryan standing in front of me. I was about to scream, but he put his hand over my mouth.

“Sorry,” he said. “I don’t mean any harm. I just knew you were going to scream and decided to save you the embarrassment.”

“How did you get in here?” I asked.

“You left your back door wide open.”

“Why didn’t Bernie bark?”

“He likes me, remember?”

“Yeah, right. How did you get here?”

“Someone at church is letting me use their car while I’m in the program.”

“How did you find my house?”

“MapQuest. Any more questions for me?”

“Eh…ah, what are you doing here?” I asked, afraid of the answer.

With a hint of sarcasm, Ryan answered, “Oh, I’m just looking for a corpse.” My poor brain was going to explode any second.

“Oh. Ah, who died?”

“My friend Margaret.”

“But, but I’m your friend Margaret.”

“Oh no you’re not. See, my friend Margaret would never purposely disappear without telling anyone, or not answer her phone or her text messages, so the only reason I can come up with is she’s dead. And I ain’t talking to you through a Ouija board, so you couldn’t possibly be her.” I held my head down because I couldn’t bring myself to look at him.

“Just be glad it was me and not Bruno or Shane that came by. Now, why don’t you tell me what’s going on?” he asked as he started to walk towards me. Again, I found myself backing away from him as I tried to think of a good answer. It appeared these Irishmen had no concept of personal space.

Think, Margaret, think,
I thought to myself. What would Rhonda say? What would the Shulamite say? Propriety, boundaries, don’t get attached, you’re not one of the guys!

“I’m waiting,” he said in a voice that seemed deceptively calm. I stopped backing up, and as he got in my face, I looked straight into his eyes.

“Well, um, you see, I had to go work in my vineyard, because I’m the only daughter of my mother, and my brothers were saying that I was slacking off, but I got really burned because I didn’t wear any sunscreen; and then, when I went back to my tent, all that burn cream put me to sleep, and so I didn’t hear when the shepherd knocked on my door. So, he thought I wasn’t interested, and then I had to chase him through the village, only to find out that not only was he a shepherd, but he was the King of Israel. So, ah, yeah, that’s where I’ve been.” Ryan looked at me, his eyes as big as Frisbees, and tilted his head to one side.

Slick, Mags, real slick. That was monumentally stupid, even for you, I said to myself.

After a minute, Ryan looked at me again and said, “Alright. I know that makes perfect sense to you, but I left my Margaret to English, English to Margaret Dictionary at home. So, could you tell me that again in English, using really tiny words?”

“I…I” I stuttered and stammered.

“I’m waiting.” I tried very hard to think of something to say that would be acceptable to Rhonda or Carole. Don’t say too much. Don’t say too little. Don’t be too accessible. Make the boys wait for answers. Do not act in any way that would even give the slightest inkling that I was mature, attractive, or sane.

I couldn’t take it anymore. I started to bawl uncontrollably and collapsed on to the couch in a big weepy mess. Ryan sat down next to me, then Bernie got on his hind legs and put his front left paw on my left leg and his front right paw on Ryan’s right leg. Bernie kept turning his head back and forth between Ryan and me, wanting desperately to know what was going on.

“What’s going on?” Ryan asked.

“I can’t tell you,” I replied.

“Why not?”

“Because, as soon as Genie Jeffries finds out I broke down in front of you, she’ll have a lynch mob on me faster than you can say, ‘Margaret, the church hooker!!!’” I buried my face in my knees. Bernie nuzzled his face into mine and licked the tears off my face as Ryan put his hand on my shoulder.

“Why don’t you just tell me what’s going on? I promise I won’t back you into any more trees, and we’ll have Bernie man stand guard at the door for any insects or lynch mobs.”

I laughed for the first time in a week, so against my better judgement, I told him the whole sordid story about my lunch with Rhonda, the lady breast-feeding her baby, and my weird venture into The Estrogen Zone. When I finished my tale of woe, I looked at him, fully expecting a recap of everything I had said and done wrong. Instead, he looked at me wide-eyed, bit his lower lip, and began to laugh hysterically.

“You’re laughing at me,” I said, then finding it hard not to laugh myself.

“No, no, Love, not at all. I’m laughing at all those scary women! Omeegosh! Edible embryos. Horse wee. I’m just thankful you made it out alive.”

“So, you don’t think I’m crazy?”

“Oh, I didn’t say that, Darlin’,” he answered. He then winked at me, and bust out laughing. At that moment, I was finally able to see the humor in it all and laughed ‘til it hurt.

“I think I met some of the women you described. Ever since I got here, they’ve been trying to fix me up with their daughters,” he said, chuckling.

“Run while you still can!” I urged him. We laughed for a little while longer, and then it was just silence.

Ryan looked at me and said, “I don’t know what to tell ya about the girl friend situation. Just…just don’t ever feel like you can’t be yourself with people. Let me pray for you about it.” Then he took my hand in his, we bowed our heads, and he prayed in such a way that it seemed like God couldn’t in a million years refuse him.

“Well, I better be getting back. Let Bruno, Larry, and Shane know you’re alright, and for God’s sakes, keep your cell phone on and charged, will you?” he said jokingly as he got up from the couch and headed for the back door. I didn’t know why, but I started to cry again.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to come unglued on you,” I said penitently as I followed him to the door.

Ryan then got that unreadable look in his eyes again, turned around, and got in my face one last time to say, “Don’t you ever apologize for being real with me. Do you hear me?”

I thought for a moment that I had made him mad, but then he reached his hand up to my face and gently wiped away my tears as they streamed down my cheeks. As he did it, I remembered the part of the Bible that says that God will wipe all the tears from our eyes. No one had done that for me before, but it felt so good, it almost made all the crying seem worthwhile.

“Nice place you got here,” he said as he walked out the door.

“Thanks,” I answered.

“Definitely fit for a queen.” I stared in silence as he walked away.

Fit for a queen?
I thought. Oh no, Margaret, you’ve already done too much thinking for one day.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

5-Devil Bug and the Volcano

© 2010 David’s Harp and Pen

Another unfair expectation placed on today’s Christian woman is superhuman athleticism. Besides the need to possess the intelligence of Madam Curie, the poise of Grace Kelly, the people skills of Eleanor Roosevelt, and the spirituality of Ruth Bell Graham, she must have the body and athletic skills of Jillian Michaels. No Christian would argue that physical fitness is a good and advantageous thing. However, the problem is that physical fitness for Christian women has to be in the form of daily trips the Y for at least three hours a day. (I wonder some times if the Y has a secret deal with churches in which they give the pastor kickbacks for every parishioner he sends their way.) For some of us, though, this is hard, not for a lack of motivation, but more a lack of coordination. Up until the time of Ryan’s arrival, it was hard for me to engage in any sort of physical activity, including brushing my teeth, without inflicting great bodily harm on myself and/or those around me. I’ll just be honest. I missed the time when gluttony was next to godliness.

I am not skinny-skinny, but I’m not fat, either. And because I was (and still am) a little klutzy, the idea of regular physical activity never appealed to me. After all, why would I want to schedule opportunities to do things that would only send me to the emergency room? Besides, I had always been able to maintain my ideal weight through the time-tested calorie-burning exercise of excessive worrying. One fateful trip with the boys to a nearby state park was going to change all that forever.

The boys invited me to go on a hike, which at the time, seemed like a perfectly harmless activity. It was Ryan, Shane, Bruno, Larry, and me. Larry was the third and final segment of my power trio of guy friends. Larry was the strong, silent type. He spoke a gazillion languages, including, but not limited to, Biblical Hebrew, Biblical Greek, Biblical Aramaic, Biblical Pig Latin, Vulcan, Klingon, and Wookie. He was also one of those people who could do it all and survive on next to no sleep. Besides learning new languages all the time, he was waiting tables, going to college part time, and starting his own recording studio. Oh, and he was also excessively godly. He was the one that always made sure I was being theologically correct. In fact, if he were any godlier, I wouldn’t be able to look at him unless he wore a veil and I wore sunglasses. Before anyone asks, no, there was never anything between Larry and me. He let it be known early on in any conversations with girls that God had called him to lifelong singleness. I thought it was a shame that God gave that calling to Larry and not Shane, because Shane could’ve really used it.

By that time, Ryan’s hand had healed completely. My foot had just come out of the cast, too, so I thought I would be fine. Also, Ryan was set to return to Ireland soon, so that would’ve been my last chance to spend any time with him. The self-conscious part of me told me to keep my distance from him, since I had not been able to be around him for any length of time without hurting him, hurting myself, saying something really stupid, or some combination thereof. As intimidated as I was by him, though, I couldn’t stay away. He was like that awful, fatal car crash on the interstate: I knew if I looked, I’d be emotionally scarred forever at the horrible carnage, yet I couldn’t take my eyes off it.

As I pulled into the parking lot by the hiking trail, I tried to psyche myself up to see Ryan.

“Okay, Margaret. Don’t speak unless spoken to. Giggle politely at everything he says. Don’t stare too long,” I told myself over and over again.

When I approached the four boys, they were huddled around Ryan’s mp3 player.

“This was the first worship song I recorded. My church in Ireland liked it so much, they put it in their regular Sunday morning rotation,” Ryan said.

From the first note of the song, I found myself transfixed. Oh dear! Not only did Ryan look like an angel, he wrote and sang like one, too. It wasn’t fair, considering how difficult it was for me already, to be composed and sound intelligent around men, to have a guy like Ryan around. However, as I listened to the song he wrote and sang in its entirety, I felt such a strange peace come over me, a sort of inner security and confidence I hadn’t experienced before. I thought I would perhaps float away; that was, until, Shane tapped me on the shoulder.

“Ah, Mags, are you alright?” Shane asked with a worried look on his face.

“Yes,” I answered. “Why do you ask?”

“Well, the way you were twirling around and staring into the sun and purring like a kitten just now. I’m surprised you didn’t fall over!”

“What are you talking about?”

“What I just said. It was like you were in another world or something. I kept calling to you, but you didn’t answer, so I came over and tapped you on the shoulder.”

“I wasn’t…are you sure?”

“Is there another Mags here?”

I turned beat red and excused myself to the ladies room at the visitors’ station.

“Oh, no!” I thought to myself. “Now my body and brain are acting independently of me and embarrassing me without my knowledge or consent.”

My cell phone rang. It was Brian, my editor from Worship and Warfare magazine. I answered the phone.

“Hello,” I said.

“Margaret, you struck gold! Your article about King David and the lifestyle of worship garnered the biggest reader response in the history of the magazine. Do you know what this means?” Brian asked excitedly.

I started walking back towards the boys as I talked to Brian on the phone.

“Ah, that I get to keep my job?” I answered.

“We want to give you your own column! The rest of the editors and I decided we want you to write a monthly segment geared towards our female readers. This will mean a pay raise and greater visibility for you, too. Let’s plan on discussing it in person when you come in to the office on Monday.”

When I walked outside, another song of Ryan’s was playing on his mp3 player. It was also wonderful and otherworldly sounding. As I got lost in the song, I found my eyes glued on Ryan, who was quite otherworldly himself. I didn’t know what was wrong with me. It had been well over a decade since I’d been in a relationship and just as long since I had even noticed guys, let alone liked one. Since Ryan showed up, though, I had about as much success keeping my eyes off him as my dog Bernie had keeping his eyes off squirrels.

“Margaret Ann Sims? Are you there?” Brian yelled, snapping me back to reality.

“Yes?” I answered.

“Have you heard a single word I’ve said?”

“Ah, yeah. My own article about women. That’s great. Thanks!”

“No, what I said after that.”

“You said something after that?”

“Margaret, what’s going on?”

I was about to answer, when I glanced back towards the boys. Somehow, in the short amount of time I’d looked away, they’d gone from listening to music to arm wrestling on the hood of Bruno’s car. Bruno and Ryan were in a gridlock, and Ryan’s ripped biceps and triceps glistened in the sun.

“Margaret,” Brian screamed, “are you even listening to me?”

“Eh, Brian, I need to go and, uh, crucify my flesh and take my thoughts captive. I’ll call you back in twenty minutes,” I said.

“Have you completely lost your mind?”

“You’re right. On second thought, I’ll call you back in an hour.”

I hung up the phone and rejoined the boys. As I approached Bruno’s car, Ryan looked at me and asked, “So, what do you think of my music?”

I froze. I had no idea how to answer. I didn’t want him to think I didn’t like his music, but I knew I couldn’t pay him a compliment without saying it all wrong.

“It was…” I hemmed and hawed.

“You liked it that much, ay?” he asked.

“No. I mean, yes. I mean, it was…groovy!”

All the guys started to laugh.

“There’s a word I’ve not heard in a long time,” Ryan chuckled.

“Groovy?” I thought to myself. “Margaret, that was the best you could think of? Great! Now he’s going to think I’m a stoner or something!”

“Hey, let’s get going. I’ve got to get back in time for work tonight,” Bruno said.

So we started our hike. Everything was fine until we had to go uphill. I was having trouble keeping up, mostly because, as I discovered, my foot was not as fully healed as I thought. It also didn’t help that I was an inexperienced hiker and the incline on the hills were around 270 degrees. I didn’t want to say anything, though, because I didn’t want the guys to think I was a girl or something. I started to question the wisdom of having guy friends in such great shape with negative 22% body fat.

“Mags, you’re falling behind,” Bruno yelled.

“I know, Bruno. I know,” I replied.

“You can do it, Margaret. Remember, you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you,” Larry yelled to me.

“Thanks, Larry, but I don’t think Paul had this hill in mind when he wrote that,” I answered.

“Well, Jesus said if you have the faith the size of a mustard seed, you can say to the mountain, ‘Be removed and cast into the sea, and it will be done for you.’” Larry shot back.

“Yeah, but the nearest ocean is over eight hours away, and I’d hate for the mountain to have to travel that far,” I answered.

Poor Larry always meant well, but sometimes, he came across as patronizing.

“What’s the problem, Mags? We’re all wearing backpacks except Ryan and you still can’t keep up!” Bruno yelled.

“Well, my foot is bothering me, if you must know,” I yelled back.

“I’ll stay behind with Margaret. We’ll meet you all later at the end of the trail,” Ryan said.

“You’re a braver man than me, O,” Bruno yelled back. (The guys had started calling Ryan “O” for his last name, O’Loughlin.) Before I had a chance to protest, the power trio shot off ahead, leaving Ryan and me alone. I stared at him speechless, afraid to say anything. He looked at me strangely, then started to walk again, but slowly, so I could keep up.

“This is lovely. I know the others are in a hurry, but I like to take my time on the trails. Besides, it’ll give me a chance to get to know you better,” he said after an awkward silence. We walked a little further ahead. I was about to say something, when Ryan got a wild look in his eye and darted up a tree. I didn’t understand. I had driven men up walls before, but never a tree.

“Omeegosh, Margaret!”, he yelled to me. “I wish you could see this. The view is…oh, I can’t take my eyes off it.”

As I stared at him, I knew exactly what he meant.

“Here. Give me your hand. I’ll pull you up,” he said.

“No, I better not. It’s kind of …” I tried to get it out, but before I could finish saying it, he went ahead and pulled me up. He pulled me right next to him on the tree limb and we looked out on the valley below us. Oh, it was beautiful!

“I haven’t taken the time to be out in nature as much as I like. I get so busy doing I forget about the being, you know?” he asked.

“Yeah, I know what you mean,” I answered.

“I read your last few articles for that magazine of yours, and I just wanted to ask you. How do you get inspired?”

“Well, it depends on…” I started to say when I heard a cracking noise. It appeared the limb we were sitting on was about to give way.

“Oh no! Quick! Follow me!” Ryan shouted as he hopped to an adjacent limb that was higher up in the tree.

Sure, I thought. Follow him. Easier said than done. Why did I have to have a crush on Tarzan?

“No, I think I’ll just try to make my way down,” I replied.

“C’mon. I won’t let you fall,” he answered.

Obviously, he didn’t know me very well. Even God had trouble keeping me from falling.

“Check out the view from here, Margaret,” he yelled again as he leaped to yet another limb. He kept his hand outstretched to me, but I was too nervous to take it again. Maybe he wasn’t a man after all. Maybe Ryan was really a spider monkey.

By the time I had made my way down to the ground, Ryan had made his way up and down five more trees. These Irishmen were certainly spry. I looked around and searched the tops of all the trees in the area until, out of nowhere, Ryan appeared in front of me.

“Aggghhh!” I screamed. Ryan rubbed his ears.

“Oh, I’m sorry! I did it again,” I moaned.

“No worries. I’m getting used to it,” Ryan replied. I stared at him for a moment, but couldn’t tell if he was joking or if he was serious.

“So, back to my question. How do you get inspired to write?” he asked again.

“Oh, yeah. Well, when it comes to writing, I’m a little strange…”

“We’ve already established that,” he cut in. Again, I couldn’t tell if he was joking or serious, and I could feel that horrible self-consciousness start to creep in again.

“So, ah, yeah. I mean, most writers I know say they need to be alone somewhere to get ideas and all, but I need to be around people. I mean, most writing is about relationships, right? I mean, even when I’m writing about God, a lot of how I experience and view God has come from my relationship with other people, you know what I mean?”

“No, what do you mean?” I looked at him and tried to speak, when I got hit again with brain freeze and tongue lock. After a few awkward seconds, he winked at me and clicked his tongue.

“That’s interesting. When I write, I always mole-hole myself away because I think other people are going to distract me. Maybe I’ve been wrong all this time, you think?” he said.

“Oh, I don’t know. I’m just talking about getting my inspiration. I mean, once I get my ideas and my inspiration, then I get alone to actually write it down. Having people around are great for helping me get creative, but when it comes to getting actual work done, they can be counter-productive and really annoying,” I blurted out.

Ryan just stared at me for a moment.

“That’s not what I mean. I mean…oh, I don’t know what I mean, do you know what I mean?” I rambled.

“Yeah, but I don’t think you really mean it,” he answered. Again, I didn’t know if he was joking or serious. My thoughts began to drift rapidly towards self-depreciation as the sun drifted towards the western horizon. I began to wish that there were some way I could know what he was going to say ahead of time, like a day in advance, so I could have intelligent responses prepared. Before I could think about it too long, though, he was up another tree and began to watch the sun as it started to set, and in a split second, he had again grabbed me and pulled me up to sit next to him on the tree limb.

“Look at that, Margaret. Oh, I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of watching that. You know, I’ve been in church my whole life, been on the platform leading worship as long as I can remember, but for every killer worship service, every revival, whatever you want to call them, I never feel closer to God in those four walls than I do out here, because when I’m outside, just Him and me, and I’m surrounded by His handiwork, I just get this feeling deep down in my gut that this is how He’s always meant it to be, you know? That’s when all the walls come down and all I’ve got is my relationship with Him; if He can make all this, imagine what He could make out of a hooligan like me,” he said.

I didn’t know what to say, but when I listened to him, I realized for the first time that he was as gorgeous inside as he was outside, and from that point forward, I would be completely helpless against his powers.

“Wow, God!” I prayed silently. “He’s the real thing.” At that moment, my cell phone rang. It was Bruno. Leave it to him to ruin a good moment like this.

“Hello?” I answered.

“Where are you guys?” Bruno asked.

“Umm, where are we?” I asked Ryan.

“Eh…I don’t know. I don’t remember seeing any markers recently,” he replied.

“He doesn’t know where we are,” I told Bruno.

“Put your phone on speaker so I can talk to both of you.” I put my phone on speaker as Ryan got down from the tree and then helped me down.

“Have you crossed the creek yet?” Bruno asked.

“No,” Ryan answered, “but I can see it straight ahead of us.”

“Oh, come on!” Bruno jeered. “You haven’t crossed the creek yet? Tell me, do you expect to get here any time before Jesus comes back?”

“Jesus said that no man knows the day or the hour,” Larry said in the background. Even though I couldn’t see Bruno, I swore I heard him roll his eyes at Larry.

“Sorry, Man,” Ryan said. “We’ve just been taking our own sweet time and enjoying the view.”

“You mean Mags has been poking around and talking your ear off? Has she driven you crazy yet?” Bruno shot back.

“No, but she has driven me up a few trees,” Ryan replied. Bruno and Ryan laughed. Ryan took the phone off speaker and the two continued to talk to discuss shortcuts we could take to meet them faster. My mind, however, started to race.

Oh no! I thought to myself. He kept climbing those trees to get away from me. He does think I’m annoying.

Ryan got off the phone with Bruno and handed it back to me.

“Bruno told me about a few shortcuts we could take, but they’re steep, and I don’t know if you can handle them with your foot. I told him we’d stay on the main trail. He said they’d wait for us. He thinks he can get his buddy to cover for him on his patrol until he gets back.

My mind continued racing, playing back those insecurities with which I am all too familiar. I was still thinking that he wanted to get away from me when he climbed those trees. At that point, I began to think that he had stayed behind with me just out of pity for me. It was all so maddening that I had to say something or I just knew I would burst.

“Look, you don’t have to do this!” I blurted out nervously.

“Do what?” he asked.

“You didn’t have to stay behind with me. I know you did it just to be nice, but it’s really not necessary.”

“Why would you say that?” he asked.

“Well, it’s obvious I’ve been slowing you down all this time. I can always catch up with you later,” I answered.

“I can hike trails in Ireland anytime I want. I’ll only be here with you for a short time.” I didn’t know what he meant by that, exactly. It didn’t dawn on me, at the time, that maybe he meant exactly what he said.

“Really, you’re too kind. I’ll be fine.”

“Now, what kind of man would I be to leave you all alone in the woods?”

“It’s no big deal, really. Besides, I know the guys are getting antsy.”

“I’m not leaving you.”

“Please, I don’t mind. You don’t have to be polite on my account.” Ryan then looked straight at me, and I couldn’t quite discern the exact look he had in his eyes. It was some strange mixture of irritation, chivalry, and mischief.

“Are you questioning my honor?” he asked as he moved closer to me. His question caught me off guard, and I began to back away from him.

“Ah, no. I just don’t want to slow you down or make you feel like you’re stuck behind with me,” I replied nervously.

“Well, first of all, no one makes me do anything I don’t want to do. Secondly, I don’t say things I don’t mean just to be nice. That’s very un-Irish,” he said in an urgent yet subdued tone as he continued to walk towards me and I continued to back up. At this point, I had no idea what he was thinking.

“Of course it is…isn’t,” I stuttered. I was certain he was going to hit me in the head with a tree limb and leave me there in the forest to be carried away by fairies.

“But if you must know the truth, I did have another reason for staying behind with you. Your buddies have told me all sorts of interesting things about you, so part of me just had to find out for myself.”

“The guys? Said nice things? About me?” I asked, right before I backed onto a rock and tripped. Fortunately, I didn’t fall down. I just kept backing up. Ryan didn’t miss a beat.

“I didn’t say they were nice things. I said they were interesting. But, yeah, they said a lot of nice things, too,” he continued.

“I can’t believe it.”

“Why not?”

“Because Bruno always tells me I’m so dumb I could screw up cornflakes, and Shane says if I was any spacier I could work for NASA.”

“So are you calling me a liar now?” Ryan asked, his temper flaring a little, but still mixed with enough mischief that I couldn’t tell if he was really angry or just pulling my leg. Not knowing made me even more nervous.

“No, no, not at all. It’s just…ah…well…” I tried to finish talking, but my tongue was now tied to the point I would need to have it untied surgically.

“And since I’m all about telling the truth, I’ll tell you I’ve wanted a chance to talk to you alone ever since I met you. You’re rather a mystery to me.”

“I’m a mystery?” I asked. He stood still for a moment and looked into my eyes.

“I’ve never met a girl like you before. And I’m having trouble believing the girl who tried to cut off my hand with her car door and the one who writes those magazine articles and worship songs are the same person. Whenever I’m around you, you act like you’ve just seen a ghost. It seems like when you see me coming, you run in the opposite direction. You write these incredibly intelligent and thought-provoking essays in your magazine, but then, when I try to talk to you, you can’t put two words together!”

“Intelligent and thought-provoking? You really think that about my writing?” I asked, a little starry-eyed.

“There you go again! I wouldn’t have said it if I didn’t mean it! Do you question everything everyone says, or is it just me?” he asked, moving towards me again, causing me to move backwards again.

“Eh…just you,” I answered without thinking.

“And why is that?” he asked. The expression on his face gave told me he was either going to burst into a murderous rage or uproarious fits of laughter, and, once again, not knowing was killing me.

“Eh…your guess is as good as mine,” I replied, not knowing what else to say. He backed me into a tree, leaned into my face, and placed his hands on the tree on either side of my head.

“So now that we’re alone, I have to know: what’s going on in that pretty little head of yours?” He asked, his eyes glaring into mine. I was about to answer, when all of a sudden, I heard a buzzing noise. I looked above me, and hanging from the tree limb was a hive of some kind. Out of the hive emerged the biggest, ugliest bug I’d ever seen. Ryan looked up, saw the bug, and pulled me behind him.

“That’s the scariest looking insect I’ve ever seen,” he said.

“That’s not an insect,” I replied, shaking. “That’s Satan with wings and antennae!” The devil bug began to swirl around my head, like he was an evil witch doctor looking for a stupid virgin to sacrifice to the angry volcano god. I started to back away.

“Stay behind me!” Ryan yelled.

“No! It’s bad enough you got your hand mangled and suffered short-term hearing loss and had to carry me up all those stairs. If you don’t make it back to Ireland in one piece, I’ll never forgive myself,” I shot back as I inched towards the trail.

“I’m trying to be chivalrous here, and you’re cramping my style,” he said as he got in front of me again. Devil bug then made a daring lunge towards my forehead. As he bit me, I smacked him and smeared devil bug parts all over my forehead. I thought I was out of the woods until I heard the roar of what sounded like a thousand jet engines coming from the direction of the hive. I looked up, and to my horror, saw a legion of angry devil bugs heading right towards me. I started to scream and ran away.

“Aggggghhhhhhh!” I yelled as I suddenly scaled the hill like it was just a speed bump. I found energy and agility I didn’t know I had, not only outrunning the insect kamikazes bent on my destruction, but even leaving Bruno, Larry, and Shane in the lurch.

“Was that Mags?” Shane asked as I sped past. “And what was that weird black cloud following her?” Even though I was in fear for my life, I began to feel proud of myself at my newfound strength and speed. I started to think maybe I wasn’t such a klutz after all. Unfortunately, my sense of athletic accomplishment distracted me from the low-lying tree limb directly in front of me. Boom!

Running head first into what I assume was a tree limb with murderous intentions had knocked me unconscious, so I of course am unaware of what happened after my fateful meeting with that tree limb. Knowing that I could trust him to tell me what happened, I asked Larry about the events that took place afterwards, so rest assured knowing that the accuracy of the following is on par with that of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Not only was I knocked unconscious but my forehead had split open and blood was flowing everywhere. When the four guys caught up to me, Ryan took his shirt off and used it to bandage my head while Bruno called 911 on his cell phone. The emergency operator said to carry me to the next mile marker where the ambulance could get me. Larry said he was very worried. Not in a fearful, doubting way, he said, since he knew God would watch out for me, but in a manner fitting and proper for a brother in Christ to show for a sister in the LORD. (As hard as it is being me, I imagine being Larry for even a second would be absolutely draining.)

Since Ryan was the only one not wearing a backpack, he picked me up and carried me all the way to the next mile marker. Bruno looked at him and asked, “Are you sure you’re okay?”

Ryan answered, “Yeah, I’ve got her all right. Remember, I have practice.” Everyone laughed, except Larry who didn’t see anything funny about the situation. Larry rarely sees the humor in anything.

“I feel terrible. I think I was a wee bit too hard on her,” Ryan said.

Bruno answered, “No, don’t you back down! You have to be hard with Margaret. It’s the only way to get through that thick skull of hers!”

“Has she always been like this?” Ryan asked.

“Like what? You mean accident prone and lost in space? Yes. It’s an amazing phenomenon.”

“Her head looks awful,” Ryan said.

“Don’t worry. This isn’t her first concussion,” Bruno chuckled.

“It’s not even her seventh concussion,” said Shane.

Concerned, Ryan asked, “How often does she hurt herself?”

Bruno answered, “Let me put it to you this way: she’s been to the emergency room so many times, she gets her own group discount!” Bruno and Shane started to laugh uncontrollably.

Bruno continued, “I’m a cop, so I’m very friendly with the emergency room staff at Davidson County Memorial. Nine times out of ten, when Mags needs to go the ER, she calls me. Right before she got her foot caught in that bear trap, the head of the ER calls me, and he says, ‘Margaret’s not been to the ER in over a month! Is everything okay? Is she still alive?’”

Larry said, “I don’t think that’s very funny at all. You two have too much fun at Margaret’s expense.”

Bruno said, “Oh, knock it off, Larry. She knows we wouldn’t tease her if we didn’t like her.”

Ryan said, “That’s funny. When I told her you all spoke well of her, she didn’t believe me.”

Larry answered, “Well, the Word does say we shouldn’t think of ourselves more highly than we ought. Even I admit Margaret takes that verse too literally.”

Bruno said, “You have to understand, Ryan. You can’t pay Mags too many compliments. If I told her how much I thought of her, she’d let it go right to her head, and then she’d get the wrong idea. You know how women are.”

Ryan answered, “You’ve not had a lot of experience with women, have you, Bruno?”

Shane laughed and said, “Thanks, Ryan, for confirming what I’ve thought about Bruno all along.”

Bruno shot back, “Come on, Shane. You’re no better.”

Shane said, “Oh, please! I tell Mags all the time how wonderful she is. At least I think I do. I mean, I know I’ve paid her at least one compliment in all the years I’ve known her, I think.”

Larry said, “I tell her every chance I get how much I think of her, because the Word says we’re to build up our brothers and sisters in Christ, just so long as I stay within the confines of Biblical propriety.” Bruno, Ryan, and Shane all stared at him at him in disbelief.

Bruno turned to Ryan and said, “Something you’ll learn about Mags real fast, O, is, yeah, her foot’s in her mouth more than it’s on the ground, but her heart’s in the right place, even though she’s dislocated her head. I mean, what she’s missing in common sense and coordination, she more than makes up in loyalty. Last year, when I got shot on the job, she drove me around to all my doctor appointments, did all my grocery shopping, cooked all my meals, everything.”

Shane said, “Yeah, and when my grandfather died and I couldn’t afford to fly home, she cashed in all the frequent flyer miles she’d been saving to go to Italy and gave me a plane ticket so I could go to his funeral.”

Larry said, “Not only that, but she goes to the nursing home every other Sunday and leads a service at the homeless shelter once a month. She doesn’t talk about the good things she does, especially for other people, because that’s the kind of person she is. Whenever someone is in need, she’s right there.”

Bruno said, “So we overlook the fact that she’s a train wreck on two legs, because, well, when it comes to Mags, they don’t come any sweeter.”

“But you never tell her that,” Ryan said.

“Absolutely not, because then she’d get a swelled head, and there’d be no living with her,” Bruno answered.

“Ah, speaking of swelling, she looks like she’s going to pop!” Shane said, rightfully concerned. By this time, we had reached the mile marker. Ryan set me down and noticed I was having trouble breathing.

“Oh, crap! I bet she’s having an allergic reaction to the bug bite,” Bruno noted.

Ryan said, “I know CPR. Call Emergency Services again and ask them what else we should do.” He was about to call 911 when a police officer and two medics came down the trail with a stretcher to meet us.

At this point I woke up and found that I was staring up at the sun. Ryan was shirtless and kissing me—or so I thought—it felt like I had a turban on my head, and I felt, well, puffy.

“The epi-pen works very fast,” I heard a strange man who turned out to be an EMT say.

“Don’t throw me in the volcano,” I mumbled. “I will not be his bride!”

“What’s she saying?” Bruno asked.

“Stop talking,” Ryan said as the medics hoisted me on to gurney. “Let the shot do its work.”

Still groggy, I asked Ryan, “What happened? Did I die and go to heaven?”

“No. You got bitten by a bug, chased by all his little friends, ran into a tree, split your forehead open, got knocked unconscious, then stopped breathing.”


“Yes, but I can understand why you’d confuse one for the other.”

I was too weak to laugh. I looked at him and said, “You must think I’m…oh, I don’t know what you must think.”

Ryan grinned and said, “Well, you have another three months to improve my opinion of you.”

“Three months? I thought you were leaving next week!”

“No. I got accepted into the worship arts internship. I’m not going anywhere anytime soon.” And, for a fleeting moment, I felt pure, unadulterated bliss despite the fact I had just fought with a tree and the entire insect population of Middle Tennessee. And lost. The moment was fleeting, however, when I was approached by the park ranger.

“Miss Sims?” He asked.

“Yes?” I asked.

“That insect you killed is an endangered species. I’m afraid I have to issue you a citation for $500,” he replied, and handed me a ticket. I don’t remember anything after that, but Larry said as the EMTs put me in the ambulance, I muttered something about my husband the volcano torching the park right before I passed out.

So, I had another three months to improve Ryan’s opinion of me. I didn’t think an entire lifetime would be enough for such a herculean task.