A Historic Charleston Short Story
In marriage, like anything other relationship, “to be or not to be, that is the question”. And regardless of what you hear from others walking around you at church or at work, we are deciding this question in our minds and in our actions day in and day out. I am seeing more and more couples calling it quits after weathering 30 and 40 years of marriage. Usually, one partner has been over the relationship and the other is blindsided. The common complaint is one feels they are living as roommates and the roles that held them together in purpose are not longer working. Women sit in my office brokenhearted. And decidedly so. They are witnessing all they have lived: wife, mother, daughter and friend tossed aside in harrowing, gut-wrenching stories and as I listen to them, my own comforting thoughts about why this could never happen to me fly out my office window. I contemplate what I can do to not sit in their seat. And my conclusion is we can love well, but ultimately it is out of our control.
In Christian circles, we are taught that we have a great deal of control. I attended a wedding ceremony recently where the pastor spent 10 mintues on the vows and 20 mintues on why the couple should never consider divorce. Seriously. Like his rant would make a difference. From where I am it only intensifies the fallout that is coming. And believe me, the fallout is inevitable because the honeymoon illusion lifts like a fine mist and our true self is exposed. Some of us survive it and others do not.
First, quit asking what you could have done differently to love more fully. We cannot fully know or possess our spouse in hopes of preventing the divide. That type of overreach may result in the marriage’s demise. The roots within us go deeper than our interactions. Consider our development as a child, our family of origin, our day-in-and-day-out choices, our ability to give and receive love, and our continued development. We are bigger and deeper than can be seen before men. The truth is none of us have any idea what lies ahead. The marriage leap is just that, a leap of faith. And except by the grace of God, there go all of us.
Secondly, stop beating yourself up. Guilt and shame are not the path God has for you. The best step you can take is to take account and release the wrongs and weirdness you contributed to the relationship. God loves you as you are in your mess, and He has a path forward to meet your needs. Trust that as you have courage to step back and ask for truth, He will grow that in you.
Thirdly, take the high road if you can. The nastiness of he said, she said gets us lost in the weeds of a fight that is not productive and will steel your joy. It gives the other party power over you and it is not worth it. Pray for the freedom to forget what lies behind, apart from the good memories, and press on to what lies ahead. (Phil 3:13)
My prayer for you today, no matter what you are facing, is to give yourself the permission to cry your tears and pour out to God your hurt and anger. This may not be what you signed up for, but God longs to bring you to a healthy, bitter-free place. Like all woundings and losses, we must experience our feelings. Be confident God is not going to leave you there for He has promised, “weeping endures for a night, but joy comes in the morning.” Ps. 30:5
For other writings by Denise Broadwater, find her blog Life Lights atwww.denisebroadwater.com. She is a licensed professional counselor in private practice in Charleston, SC. Her treatment experience encompasses anxiety, depression, life transitions, and family therapy.
A sparkling-eyed mind sits across from me, excited to have an open exchange, to lower the mask my generation lays over his inquisitive face. He fears what others would do if only they knew his reality. His mask is made of God-boxes, of iron-clad truths, of heavy-laden reasons that are dictated by a narrow Christian view. He comes longing for an exchange, not for the answers but the freedom to simply ask his plaguing questions, a step in determining the difference between his inner world and his outer persona. I look into these eyes, and I remember my own school-age child learning these truths as if for the first time:
“God created the earth in 6 days, and on the 7th He rested.”
“How did he do all of this in such a quick time? The fossils, mommy, the dinosaurs?”
“God came down in the form of a baby.”
“But how can we know for sure it was God, mommy?”
“Jesus was crucified, buried, and rose again the third day.”
‘Why did he have to die, mommy? And how could He rise from the dead?.”
“The Bible is a divine book, preserved by God throughout history.”
“But men wrote the Bible, mommy, like they write book I read?”
I look back into these expectant eyes, hoping to lend a hand in making sense of what they bring me. And at times, I am stumped. Today, a moment of clarity hit and I see in these eyes the depth of disillusionment carried by this young generation. They are all around us every week, sitting in our pews, raising their hands in worship, verbally following the tradition, or not returning to our churches, perhaps because we have silenced their need to ask the burning questions. And my heart is broken. We are losing the battle raging in their hearts, doing what we have always done. The reality is, we cannot make someone believe in our truth. It will not work with pure, theological debate.
Instead, I am asking of our older generation to be open to their disclosure and their pressing questions, not with answers, but with a willingness to sit with them in their dilemma. They do not know the Christ I know. The One who encourages through scripture when I am low, brings a verse to mind when my feet have nigh slipped, and fills my mouth with truth when I am at a loss. The very basis of faith that I cling to on a regular basis is in question. We must reach across and start at the beginning, going back to the source. But isn’t that what faith is all about? My experience of God dictates that this book of scripture is much more than literature, a depiction of the Jewish story, a mere book our ancestors died to preserve and Christians around the world long to hold a copy. What I am assured of is the Word of God can handle the scrutiny. It has withstood thousands of generations. So bring on the questions, friend, bring on the doubt. My God goes before us and this Word will prevail. Heb 4:12, “the Word of God is quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”
Aya opens my door and wakes me with just a few words.
“Ms. Denise, your next client is here early. I hate to wake you, but I thought you might want to know.”
“Oh thank you, Aya. I appreciate you cutting my free hour short. This is my last for the week. Let me gather myself and I will be right there.”
Engrossed in Dick Foth’s Known with my trusty tea, I notice I am unusually tired after lunch. Sitting up slowly I become painfully aware of a throbbing headache across my forehead and a queasy stomach. I touch my tummy. Whatever I ate for lunch is sitting rather long and hard, feeling as though its stuck in a quagmire. Surely, this cannot be. I am still getting over being sick with something the beginning of the month and my cough remains. I am never sick like this, WHAT IS GOING ON?
I claw my way through the last hour, and other than the surprise I see on my client’s face when I end things right on time. I am sure I cover my illness well. No one suspects…at least I am hoping that is the case. Lately, I am realizing how badly I cover my true feelings.
I drink some water, take an allergy pill, and gather my briefcase. I pull up Greg’s number as I head for the car. We have reservations for his celebratory birthday dinner on Hutson Alley at 8pm. A quaint, string of Holy City Hospitality restaurants are tucked away in the lovely Radcliffeborough of +Charleston. We are to have pre-dinner drinks at The Dewsberry, Living Room, my absolute favorite…and Greg’s too. After all, it is his birthday. I hit the call button on my phone and Greg’s voice pours into the car.
“Greg, I am coming down with something. I am afraid dinner is out.”
“Well, we can just order take out. Get in bed and I am on my way home.”
“I need a hug right now.”
“Well, let’s wait and see what you’ve got first.”
“Don’t be cute!”
I snuggle up in the fetal position on our bed when Greg walks in and feels my forehead and arms. I fear my hypochondriac-freak flag is flying. I don’t handle nausea well.
“Do I have a fever? Our Walgreens thermometer I fear cannot be trusted.”
“You aren’t very warm, but it’s your call.”
“I’ll call off our reservations on the drive to urgent care. I am afraid this might be something more than allergies.”
Arriving at the doctor’s office, I know I am in trouble. I find myself barely making it with the contents of my tummy. As bad as that is nothing compares with warning the assistants of a cleanup needed on Aisle 7.
The doctor sits with me patiently. “Most likely this is a bad sinus infection and the nausea is from the excessive drainage. Let’s test for the flu for good measure.”
In a few minutes she enters my exam room, looking shocked.
Oh, God, no was my initial thought. “WHAT IS IT?”
Sitting in her seat slowly, she gets out, “Ms. Broadwater, you tested positive for the flu. You must have caught it very early, your fever isn’t even set in yet. I will call in the scripts, get home to bed. I want you to take it easy this weekend.”
From the arrival of my first symptoms until my first dose of Tamiflu is less than 4 hours. And in 24 hours, Tamiflu and my immune system kick the green grunge. I know I dodged a bullet…If I had lay in my bed for wait and see, this story may have ended very differently. While I am still resting, I am seeing my way clear.
MORAL: GO TO THE DOCTOR, IMMEDIATELY from one hypochondriac to the rest of the world. Trust your quesy gut.
Our second winter is blowing in by mid-December. Winter in Charleston is mild compared to most of the country, but our blood runs thin due to our acclimation to the warmer climate. As the cold creeps into the house, my bones are feeling it and I am cold through and through. Greg set the vent-free heater in front of fireplace, a unit rated for more than our small area, but the heat pools in the center of the room. Greg spent last Saturday morning sealing the windows with a plastic film to keep out the drafts, but the lack of insulation in the walls makes plugging the holes around the doors and windows impossible, a losing battle until our walls are redone.
I wondered how the poor dears from years past lived under these conditions. It takes me back to tent camping with the friends and family in the Appalachian Mountains, the warmth radiating from a central campfire before climbing into our cold tents for the night praying the zero-rated bags will use our body heat to warm us. Warm clothing, wool socks, and lots of hot chocolate is our recourse against the elements. I pick up these defenses in my warmest PJ’s, hiding under a down comforter reading my latest obsession, my steaming coffee on the end table outside of my retreat.
The hold on central heat is Greg’s restriction from doing the mechanical part of this project due to the required license, and then finding a company Greg can trust to do the job. So, here we are coming up on Christmas with little more than a gas heater. I voice my complaints, but I am forced to accept the discomfort is part of living in the project while working on it.
Charleston’s rent district is expensive so the hope of us managing another household while paying for costly renovations is just out of the question. Neither of us are going anywhere, but an occasional venting of the pressure is warranted. This no-closet, dusty cottage on the upper Westside of Charleston pings me from time to time. Let’s face it, we have come along way already. The house is nearly half complete and we keep telling ourselves the worst is behind us. Amenities, like heat, is something I feel I may have taken for granted.
Beyond our physical struggles, Christmas is upon us making this the second year without a family celebration at our house. It is not uncommon for me to host three Christmas parties, and a family celebration for our children all in one season, so the house has interfered with my favorite time to show love and appreciation for the many friends and co-workers we were blessed to have, and my gift of hospitality is put on hold indefinitely.
My adult children arrange to have our gathering at our eldest son’s home, making the holidays manageable. I try to be content with being together as a family and not give into the longing to have my children sit at my table for Christmas dinner. This time of year, confirmed more and more our family home is gone.
One night about a week before leaving for holiday, I am snuggled under that soft comforter, trying to stay warm. A blast shakes the side of the house, glass shatters, and a thud falls heavy. In my dream-like state, I assume a stray gunshot blasts into the house. I bolt upright to gain my wits.
“Greg! Honey, what just happened? Are you OK?” My voice breaks and I pray he is ok. I don’t want to even say what my mind is envisioning.
“I am good. I was sound asleep and the crash startled me. Don’t come in here, Denise, glass is everywhere!”
I walk to the door, silent half afraid to look at what I would see. I envision Greg with cuts from the glass, Slowly, I open the door of our make-shift master bedroom to peek into what nightmare lay on the other side.
Greg is whole, not bleeding, on all fours with a brick laying inside the window. A spray of glass is spread throughout the room. He combs the floor for any other evidence of what just happened.
“I am sound asleep on the sectional. when “POW”. Greg looks white and in shock. From looking at the room, a brick came through the broken pane next to the front door. This could have ended very differently if one of us was sitting in a chair in front of that window. I shutter, but do not vocalize my fears.”
“Are you serious? What do you mean a brick came through the window?
“Just what I said, Denise, someone threw a brick through our window and it landed in front of our sectional. I was drifting off with my eyes closed while the TV was playing.”
My heart flutters and I feel my adrenaline coursing through my veins. A middle school emotion after being slapped by bullies for not setting up the volleyball spike returns suddenly. We are being targeted. It is the only explanation. As I came out to peruse the damage, I try to console myself by looking at the bright side, the window is an old window still in need of replacement and Greg says he can fix the pane in minutes.
“I am calling the police to report this.” I tout rather strongly, yet waiting for Greg to protest. Normally, Greg prefers to go into the night quietly when it comes to confrontation or dealing with a police matter, rather unexpectedly he walks into the other room with little more than an ok. He knows this is worthy of outside help.
In seconds, the operator is on the line.
“911, what is your emergency.”
“We just had a brick thrown through our porch window about 15 minutes ago.”
“I am so sorry for your trouble this evening, ma’am. Is anyone hurt? Do you need me to dispatch EMS?”
“No, fortunately no one was sitting near the window or in the path of the brick or flying glass, but we need our streets checked. It is a bit unnerving for us to worry the person may still be outside. It could have been worse.”
“Stay inside your house until the officers arrive. They are in route now and should be there shortly. Please stay on the line with me until they arrive.”
I awkwardly held the phone to my ear, dumbfounded. Tears formed in my eyes. Sometimes I had to wonder if all the dedication to this project was worth everything we are facing since we began two years ago. Is this brick a type of warning telling us to get out of this neighborhood? I couldn’t imagine our neighbors being behind any of this. It did make me wonder if we were invading a place we were not wanted. I couldn’t blame any of them. We are the outsiders here.
I open up to Greg to try to get his thoughts on the situation.
“Who would do such a thing? This makes me so uneasy.”
“Let’s talk to the police when they come. They are more aware of the calls and this type of behavior in the area than we are. Maybe they’ll step up patrols and look for other clues.
The policeman arrive and survey the damage.
We had loose bricks under the edge of our piazza and in looking at the brick lying on the living room floor, the hateful act had been wrought by a brick from our courtyard. No one else had bricks spread out and I am sure they weren’t carrying them around in their pockets on the chance that they could heave one into a window.
“Mr. Broadwater” the officer looks down at his pad in a nervous tick, “Do you have any form of protection in your house should someone try to force their way inside to steal or harm you or your wife?”
Greg and I looked at each other in a bit of shock. With all the gun controversy, we forget the stand your ground protections afforded here in the south. We decide not to go there and avoid the question.
“This is a bit unnerving for you folks tonight. I work these streets and I don’t think it was out of hate or malice, maybe some teens who are out of school on Christmas break and they were horsing around out here. Just to be safe, having a form of protection would be wise. I can write you a report for your home owners’ insurance, if you need it.”
“No need, officer. I’m going to have that glass pane fixed in just a few minutes, I won’t need to file it. Thank you for coming out to check on us.” Greg, who hadn’t been the one to call for help appreciates having him available to check out our courtyard and patio. “I wasn’t sure what was going on outside of our house. We have had enough stuff happening that my wife thought we might need things checked on out here.” Sure. He was macho man and I was the damsel in distress, I could take that for him. What I knew was as tough as Greg is, he wasn’t fooling me.
“Get rid of these bricks stacked just under your piazza and keep your gate closed.” The officer kicks at the bricks stacked next to our porch step. “I know it is not a total fix to the mischief happening, but we don’t want to give them their ammunition if you know what I mean.”
“I’ll get those right away.” Greg respectfully responded.
“Here is my card, call me anytime.”And with that the blue flashing lights that had been lighting up the dark street fade, and he is gone.
Greg picks up the bricks and places them inside the back fence. Greg went to work immediately on the pane and in less than 15 minutes, he re-glazes the broken pane and it looks untouched. I made us both coffees, and we sit in our chairs warming by the gas stove trying to settle our rattled nerves.
“Do you think the brick is a message to us that we don’t belong here? Everyone has been so good to us, but it makes you wonder.” My worst-case scenario was rearing its scary head.
“I think it was some teenager who got put up to a dare. The police officer works these streets regularly and that was his thought, too. When that brick came through the window, I about jumped out of my skin. It’s done and over and I am tired. Let’s try to get some sleep if we can. One funny thing is if they comeback they can’t even show their buddies what they did.”
I had to chuckle when I thought of them returning to see their handiwork. The broken window is erased, as if it never happened.
“I didn’t want to give them the satisfaction of knowing that they got one over on us.” Greg slowly moved toward the bedroom to get ready for bed. As I, too, went into to try to get to sleep, we resolve to not let this disrupt our night any further. Greg and I are going to finish this restoration, if it kills us. And after tonight, we begin to wonder if it might.