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, na├»ve 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 PeekABoo.com. 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?”

“Yes.”

“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.