The Recluse (Part XIV)

“Maria! Did you see what happened? You shouldn’t be playing match-maker! Our strange neighbor isn’t even a believer and Oscar, our brother, is vulnerable!” Tony can’t wait to begin correcting his wife after the last guest leaves. Oscar’s interest in Estelle is the perfect excuse for him to vindicate his extreme separatist views. His perspective comes from his damaged psychology and an unmet need for protection as a child but being in deep denial of his broken state, he is able to twist many scriptures to suit his need for safety from the dangerous other. Maria knows this about her husband but for years, her efforts to help him look within and face his problems rather than project them onto others have been unsuccessful. Maria’s answer is soft, “Tony. All I did was invite two lonely people to a dinner party. It’s up to God, Estelle, and Oscar after that. They are mature adults, Tony.” “Estelle isn’t a Christian, Maria! It’s wrong for Oscar to become involved with her and you…you set him up to sin!” Maria squelches the urge to criticize in retaliation, “Tony, I can’t control everything and neither can you. Maybe Estelle will find faith in Jesus and maybe God will use Oscar to lead her to Him. It’s up to the Holy Spirit, not you or me.” Tony is exasperated as he always is when he can’t force his control in a situation that causes him to feel threatened, “Maria, I love you but you are so naive when it comes to people and what they are capable of! I know first-hand what kind of evil lurks in the heart of a woman like… like that Estelle! I don’t want that… that poison infecting my daughter or my friend! How can you trust like that!” Maria pauses from clearing dishes and sternly gazes into her husband’s red, flustered face, “I trust God, Tony. Do you?” Tony answers by turning on his heel and fleeing from the room.

Propelled by a force he doesn’t understand Tony dashes out the front door and slams it behind him. The night is muggy and heavy like his mood. Storm clouds rolling in reflect the street lights eerily as if validating his suspicious mindset. Tony walks fast to keep up with his racing thoughts as he clenches and unclenches his fists. He knows he has to keep moving or he will start breaking things. Old memories flood his brain and remind him that he might even hurt someone in the way he had hurt people in the past. Walking it off is the only way Tony knows to ‘be angry and sin not’ when he can’t get control of a situation and feels compromised. As a young man, he’d learned to gain control by going out of control and ruling people through fear. He knew now how wrong his actions were but he can’t get a grip on his own fear and it reigns over him. “Trust? If she really knew what I went through…God, I trust You…or I try my best… but I don’t trust people…I mean, You know what people are like! There is no evil they aren’t capable of! I don’t know how to get around that reality…”

Thunder rumbles over-head and big, cold drops begin to pelt Tony but they can’t cool his rage. Driven by memories of his mother and junky girlfriends, he begins to run as if he believes he can outdistance the storm with his past. Flashes of an old world he’s locked away inside and is vigilant in hiding break into his conscious thought. Those memories and the emotions that accompany them are overwhelming. “Maria, you are a good woman, innocent and you have no idea what some women are capable of…things even the world won’t speak of because no one wants to think of mothers doing those things…” Tony feels a sob come up into his throat. It breaks through his effort to keep himself from crying and exits his body in an agonizing scream. “GAWWWWD! Why did they do those things to me? Why did my mother…why did You let that happen!” Tony upon saying these things immediately feels guilty for his anger. “How do I get rid of this anger? How can I trust You, Father and still keep my family safe? Father, help me…”

As the rain begins to pour, Tony’s rage gives way to feelings of utter helplessness, not unlike the pain he knew as a small boy who had no father. A boy who had no one to protect him from the mother who should have kept him safe but instead abused him and shared him with women more demented than herself. Heroin is a cruel god that demands even the sacrifice of the faithful’s children. “Oh Jesus! Please, help me learn how to be a real man…help me figure out what that means. I’m failing everyone who depends on me…and I’m failing You…” Tony being fully submerged in his secret inner world, forgets how far he’s come since Jesus came into his life and is overwhelmed by his stock-piled, emotional pain. As if crying with him or for him the rain intensifies, soaking him to the bone and threatening to drown him.

Tony can’t ignore the weather any longer and begins running back home. As he approaches, he sees the lights still on, guiding and welcoming him. Maria meets him at the door with a towel, helps him get out of his wet clothes, and taking his hand, leads him into the kitchen where a cup of Chamomile tea waits for him. Neither of them speaks but each is pre-occupied with the same problematic thoughts. Maria caresses Tony’s hand in an attempt to show understanding but the truth is she can’t fully understand and it is beyond her ability to heal his heart and mind. Tony struggles to regain composure by stuffing his past back down deep where he hopes no one can see and for emotional relief, practices that by which he has so aptly learned to cope, begins re-projecting those horrifying images onto others. He takes a sip of tea and thinks to himself, “This wouldn’t be happening if that strange woman hadn’t entered our lives. I’m going to have to do something about her so our lives can return to normal. It’s up to me to keep us safe.”

To be continued.

For previous posts in this series go to https://joyindestructible.com/the-recluse-series/

Survivor’s Prayer

If I am still alive when the bitter cloud passes, may I not I not be found stubbornly clinging to the storm because I’ve adapted myself to misery. Instead, may I celebrate in sunlight as I embrace the sparkling new day the sun reveals. Let me move forward to clean up the damage left by the storm and not be stuck hanging on for survival long after the storm has passed. A powerful storm forever transforms the landscape and the lives of those who survive but help me, Lord to accept and embrace the transformation. May the storm not live on in me in thoughts that exist in loops and refuse to move forward. Make me mindful of the present and keep me from reliving terrifying moments and even repeating them by my actions. I do not want to be a storm bearer, a manufacturer of the misery I survived. Instead, help me share the hope that enabled me to endure. May I be an image bearer of you, Jesus the one who made my survival possible. It is to you that I cling in the midst of every storm. I cling to you now, even though the sun is breaking through the clouds because I need you in good times as well as in bad. I remain tethered to face new storms that soon will appear on the horizon. Even if one of those storms should take my life, I know my soul is secure in you, Jesus. Though I die, I will live. I should never fear the storm but when I do, Jesus, you are always there to comfort and strengthen me. You are there to lead me forward when danger has passed. In you I have hope even, on those dark days when I can feel no hope, joy, or peace. Even when I let go of you, Jesus, I know you are holding on to me. Thank you, Jesus for this gift of faith by which I endure all things to also, overcome. Amen.

The Recluse (Part XI)

“Thank you for taking me to church with you, Maria. I enjoyed it very much.” Estelle opens the car door to step out onto the sidewalk in front of her house and Maria gets out of the car too. “You are very welcome, Estelle. We love your company and I so appreciate what you are doing for Alisha.” As if on cue, Alisha jumps out of the car behind Estelle and gives her an unexpected hug. “Thank you for coming to hear me sing Ms. Williams!” Estelle gasps at the surprising embrace but then accepts it and returns the favor. Maria hugs her in turn and Estelle feels an old ache momentarily fade. It’s been a very long time since she’s felt a human embrace. “I will see both of you soon.” Estelle bends to peer into the car where Tony sits behind the wheel, “Thank you, Mr. Hernandez. Have a wonderful afternoon.” Tony nods in ascent and then looks straight ahead, “Come along Maria…Alisha. We need to get going.” Mother and daughter get back into the car as Estelle walks toward her front door.

Estelle opens the door and is enveloped in the isolation she’s sheltered in for such a long time. The emptiness feels safe and familiar but also, frightening and all consuming. She looks around at the immaculate, perfectly decorated house and has a sudden urge to dirty it up and make it look like someone actually, lives here. Determined but not really understanding the force impelling her to action, Estelle defiantly strides into the living room, looks at the portrait of her mother, and begins tossing expensive, artfully placed cushions from the sofa and chairs willy-nilly and even on the floor. Then she kicks off her shoes, lets down her hair and carelessly, flops down on the beautiful blue sofa. She stretches out as for a nap then reaches for a perfect rose pillow to support her head as she stares into the painted eyes of her deceased mother.

Those eyes leave Estelle feeling frozen. “How many times did I reach for you, Emma? How many times did I need a mother and even though I could see you and touch you, my mother was never there?” In a flash, Estelle understood herself as having always been an orphan on the emotional level. In fact, she’d been forced to be a mother to Emma from the time she was a small child. “Was I a good mom, Emma?” Estelle yells at the portrait as tears begin to spill. Then she remembered what the preacher said in church that morning about somehow, being able to have a parent-child relationship with God because of Jesus’ death on the cross. The idea of having such a relationship is very appealing to Estelle but it doesn’t make sense to her. She also, remembers the words of Jesus and the validation she felt upon reading them. “Emma! Do you know or care how much pain your drinking and constant neediness caused me? Do you know how hard Dad and I worked to keep your drinking secret and how much life we lost trying to protect you? Were you ever aware of what people said to me or what our neighbors thought?” With tears streaming, Estelle counted all she’d lost to Emma’s drinking and the black hole that drinking was used to anesthetize. Much of her childhood was consumed in that hole and even more of her adult years after her father passed. “Even now Emma, you steal my life from me because you never had a life! You never became a whole person! You used me to live for you and I’ve never lived for me either…” Estelle fiercely wipes the tears from her eyes, “I’m going to find a way to be more than the arms and legs of Emma Williams! I want to be a whole woman and live my life!” Estelle moves a few more objects out of place, gives Emma’s portrait a hard stare, and leaves the room.

It’s anger that gives Estelle the energy to move despite these new inner revelations. It is also, anger that numbs and gives her the fortitude to fight her excruciating, emotional pain. In the sanctuary of the only bedroom she’s ever known, she removes her church clothes and puts on her favorite pair of yoga pants and a big t-shirt. Then she goes to the bathroom to wash her face and pull herself together. When she catches her eye in the mirror, she gives herself a hard stare much like the one she unleashed on the portrait of Emma. “I-want-more!” she states firmly just below the tone of a shout.

In the kitchen, Estelle makes a sandwich as she recalls the words she heard in church that morning and remembers the warmth of friendship she’d enjoyed with Maria and Alisha. “Relationship. That’s exactly what’s missing in my life.” Estelle counts the relationships she was never able to enjoy, the school-chums that couldn’t come over to play or for sleep-overs; then later, the young men who could never find room in her life because her life belonged to her mother. “Now, I’m left alone and I don’t know how to connect to others because I never learned.” This truth comes down cold and hard but also, clarifies the solution. “I need to learn how to relate to people.”

Estelle takes her sandwich and a glass of milk with her as she goes into her office for her lap-top. Thinking she will lay down on her bed and catch up on some reading, she starts to enter her bedroom but then suddenly turns and decides to use Emma’s room instead. Pushing decorations aside, she puts her things down and rips open the bed. The frilly comforter lands on the floor where it stays and Estelle builds a comfy seat for herself from the pillows. She opens the curtains to let the sunlight in and then settles in bed to finish eating, not caring about the crumbs spilling all over the expensive satin sheets.

“If I want to know who Jesus is, I guess I need to read the Bible.” Estelle doesn’t own a Bible but quickly finds one online. Not knowing where to start, she decides to begin in Matthew, the book from which they’d read that morning. Estelle reads all of the Gospels and is transfixed by the person of Jesus described in those pages. “Such an ancient story that touches my heart in a way I don’t understand.” Estelle whispers to herself but also, to God. “He suffered so much but He stayed true to You and You were always there for Him. What a wonderful relationship. God, I don’t know what I have to do exactly. I don’t really understand but I want that relationship. I want You to be my Father too. I am all alone and I need You!”

Estelle closes her lap-top, pushes it to the other side of the bed, then sinks down off the pillows, and drifts off to sleep. Before long, she is wandering from room to room in her house-dream. She is a little girl to whom the house of her childhood though small, appears very large. The house is cold, empty, and Estelle lost, meanders circling from one silent room to the other, calling for first her mother and then her dad. There is no answer. The house is filled by an arctic wind and then goes black. Little Estelle shivers in the dark fearing she’ll also, disappear in the void; when suddenly, a bright light appears!

To be continued.

For previous posts in this series go to https://joyindestructible.com/the-recluse-series/ where posts are listed in ascending order.

Turn Back

I am an old fashioned girl, I guess.

Still a bit new to being an old lady;

I’ve lived long enough to see a few things.

I’ve learned a lot and I know what works,

And what doesn’t.

 

I remember many things that are now, forgotten.

 

I’m still quite taken with chivalry.

A man who offers me his coat when I’m cold,

Opens the car door for me.

He respected me enough to marry me,

Before I gave him a baby.

 

I still like that now discarded word, wholesome.

 

Values that stand the test of time;

Boundaries, manners, appropriate, even etiquette.

Masculine, feminine, equal but different.

Family formed to raise children,

“In the nurture and the admonition of the Lord”

 

“The hand that rocks the cradle rules the nation.”

 

A mother’s job is the most important.

Nurturing a stronger nation, shaping its leaders,

Reward more valuable than money:

Respect and families that stay together,

Bound by mother’s unconditional love.

 

“Wait in your room until your father comes home!”

 

The man who puts a roof over your head!

Food in your belly, clothes on your back; honor him!

Accept his strong discipline in healthy fear.

When you grow up be like him!

Work hard, take care of your family.

 

“Fashions come and go but the classics never go out of style.”

 

Yes, I’m old now and time softens the edges.

It wasn’t perfect back then, it wasn’t like Ozy and Harriet!

But everyone knew what was right and wrong.

In our high ideals there was consensus,

Truth was upheld, good wasn’t evil.

 

“When evil is exalted the innocent become prey.”

 

In this new century there is little desire for Truth.

Free morality held in by tight government regulations on everything else.

More government requires more taxes!

Working mothers can no longer rock the cradle.

Corrupt leaders rise; sociopaths, megalomaniacs!

 

God, they say is like me, old fashioned. They’ve removed the old landmarks.

Confusion is rampant and people are angry that America’s promise is gone.

While old ladies like me pray that America will turn back and bless God.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Recluse (Part VII)

Alisha is wide awake a full half-hour before the time either of her parents usually, rouse each other to get ready for work. She can’t wait to get over to Ms. William’s house and gather more clues to solve “The Mystery of the Lone Lady” the mystery/fantasy game she created in her twelve-year-old mind and is obsessed with. The lines between fantasy and reality are as blurred in her thinking as her definition of person and object. At twelve, Alisha views life as a wonderful, exciting, movie unfolding before her and because of her inborn nature and the special status her parents have always given her, it is no stretch for her to place herself in the seat of movie director. Life in Alisha’s view is simply a matter of controlling the script and directing various personalities to move here or there and nudging them into her desired action. It has worked so well with her parents that she accepts it as her rightful station in life. Alisha manipulates with ease and without conscience but also, without malice. She is simply, a twelve-year-old girl who is as alone as the woman she’s become fascinated with and she is caught up in her imagination. She is only, playing a game and has no real feelings at all for Estelle.

Tony hears unusual rustling noises that are unusual for this time of morning. Being a vigilant protector, there is no hesitation as he jumps out of bed to investigate the source. Following the intrusive sounds, he finds Alisha dressed, polished, and pouring a bowl of cereal in the kitchen. “Mi jita! I never see you up this time of day! Que pasa? “ Alisha brightens when she sees her father and runs to him for a hug. “Oh! Hi Daddy! Didn’t Momma tell you? I’ve got a job! I’m going to be working at our neighbor’s house. You know, the lady next door who is alone all of the time? I’m going to do chores for her and she’s going to pay me with art lessons. Isn’t that great? You don’t have to worry about me being home alone, Ms. Williams won’t be alone, and I’ll be learning so many new things! Aren’t you proud of me, Daddy… mi papacito?” Tony could never be anything but proud of his daughter but he didn’t like the idea of his precious Alisha spending time with a woman he didn’t know. “No. Your mother said nothing and I’m not sure I want you spending time with a stranger.” Alisha notes the expected resistance and meets the challenge as she’s done so many times before with great success. “Oh….Daddy, she’s no stranger! She’s Ms. Williams our next door neighbor. You always say that we should love our neighbors. How can I show her the love of Jesus if I don’t spend time with her?” Tony thinks his daughter is amazing and melts into the familiar twisting around Alisha’s finger, as if into a warm hug. “Okay, you win but I want you to keep your Iphone with you at all times and call me if anything seems wrong! Call me anyway, every hour or so to check in and know this! If I don’t hear from you, I’ll do the calling, and if you don’t answer, I’ll be ringing the door bell!” Alisha placates her dad with more hugs, sweet kisses, her biggest Hershey eyes, and sparkling smiles. She scoots back into her room to wait for her parent’s departure and watches television as she waits for the clock to display 9:00 a.m.

******************

By 8:30 a.m., Estelle is up and dressed. She takes a few moments to inspect the dress she’s chosen, a burgundy-print, summer dress that hugs her slim body modestly and ends in a soft ruffle just at the knee. She loves the juxtaposition of an autumn color in a summer dress and also, notices how it sets off her green eyes. At forty-seven, her arms are still beautifully slender but she chooses to cover them with a sheer, white, summer shrug. She also, takes note of a few grey hairs at her temple and wonders how long it will take for all of her dark brown hair to fade. Estelle can’t deny that she is a beautiful woman or the fact that she longs to be loved by a man and even have children but she also, believes it a fallacy for her to indulge herself in such fantasies. She stiffens her back, straightens her dress and hair one last time, turns from the full-length mirror and then stops dead. “What have I done? Why? Uggghhh….but I’ve done it. Too late now!” Caravana jumps from Estelle’s bed with a concerned, “Meow?” and tries to comfort his mistress. Estelle bends down, scoops him up, and holds him close on her chest as she rubs her cheek on his. “My Caravana! You are the only man for me. Love of my life and my son too! Where would I be without you?” The old, white Tom jumps to the floor just as Estelle hears the door-bell ring.

Estelle walks curtly toward the front entryway, stops to straighten herself one last time, and breathing deep opens the door. “Hello, Ms. Williams! I’m here! I’m not late! Aren’t you glad to see me!” Estelle lets her breath out in a huge sigh and reservedly responds, “Good morning Miss Alisha. Yes, I’m glad you are on time. Please, follow me into the kitchen.” Alisha starts to skip but Estelle simply, stops moving; and with one green-eyed- hard-stare, Alisha’s skip stops and without missing a step, blends into the walk of a mannerly, young woman. “This is where I’d like you to start Alisha. These dishes in the sink need to be rinsed and placed in the dishwasher and the countertops wiped down. The supplies you need are under the sink. Surely, a girl your age knows how to do dishes? I have a few calls to make. I’ll be in my office and when I return, I expect this work to be done.” Alisha knows how to answer, no matter what she is really thinking inside. “Yes, Ma’am!” Then when Estelle leaves the room, Alisha looks at the mess and whispers her real feelings. “Ewwww…that’s not for me!” Alisha plops down at the breakfast bar and loses herself in her Iphone.

“Alisha? What are you doing? Why is my kitchen still dirty?” The little girl puts on a sad face and walks over to the sink in hopes of making herself appear small and helpless in comparison to the mess. “I tried Ms. Williams… but… I have this cut on my finger, see?” Alisha holds up a forefinger wrapped in a Band-Aid for a not-too-close inspection. “It stings so badly when it gets wet! I just can’t make myself do it!” Estelle’s hands land on her hips in exasperation and she starts to respond in the way most natural to her in such situations, by just doing the work herself. She takes another look at Alisha standing helplessly and petulantly beside the sink full of dirty dishes; and in a flash sees the image of another woman superimpose over Alisha. Suddenly, drunken Emma has taken Alisha’s place, with her favored Bourbon and Coke sloshing in her glass in one hand and a cigarette in another. In an echo across time Estelle hears the familiar, “I just can’t do this anymore, Estelle! Your mother wasn’t meant for this drudgery! If that dad of yours wasn’t so lame, I’d have the kind of life I was meant to live!” The visage of Emma wobbles, slurps, takes a drag and Estelle feels that old impulse to run and fill her mother’s need, do her work for her, and hope for approval in return.

“Ms. Williams? Are you alright?” Alisha with real concern for how weird Estelle is behaving asks. “Ugh. Yes, I’m fine… Alisha.” Estelle answers while also, adjusting to being here in 2016 and not back in 1986. She takes another look at the little girl and like a long-sought piece of a jig-saw puzzle falling into place, understands Emma in a way she never could see before. No wonder her mother never seemed to know she had arms and legs of her own. She never had to use them. Estelle took another look at Alisha and with a resolve that feels cathartic for herself and also right for Alisha coolly states, “Life is full of difficulty, Alisha. Sometimes, we have to work around our pain in order to fulfill our obligations. There are rubber gloves under the sink to protect your hurt finger but I expect you to finish your job.” Alisha is shocked by this kind of answer and feels anger rise but then quickly, squelches it when faced with the unmovable expression of Estelle. “Yes, Ma’am, I will.” Alisha opens the cabinet beneath the sink, dons the gloves, and goes straight to work. Estelle grabs a cup of coffee to sit, watch Alisha work, and try to understand what just happened. “What’s going on with me?” she thinks to herself. “How can this little girl stir up so much from the past?” Sipping slowly, she watches Alisha’s now concentrated effort in her kitchen. Such a beautiful child, so intelligent, with so much promise, a little girl on the cusp of adolescence not much different than she’d once been…or probably even, Emma. Beautiful Emma, the helpless Queen. Had she been doted on and coddled as she suspected Maria coddled Alisha?“ It might be part of it but surely, not all of it. Nothing, especially human beings, is that simple but still, people can only become what they have opportunity to become.” Estelle’s thoughts stop here because she doesn’t want to delve any deeper into the questions surrounding her development, her stilted becoming.

“Alisha! That looks wonderful, dear. I’m proud of you. Now, let’s go out back. We’ll have an early lunch and then I’ll teach you the basics of drawing.” Alisha first inspects her finished task and is surprised by an unusual feeling of accomplishment when she sees how nice everything looks. Then she falls into her old habit of needing to be in charge and complains, “But…I don’t like drawing. I thought we’d paint or do some sculpture! Something exciting besides, I can’t draw a straight line, my Daddy says so.” Estelle replies firmly, “No child, we will start with the basics and the basic when it comes to creating fine pieces of art is drawing. There are no straight lines in nature but I will show you how to draw a nearly, straight line by a simple technique. We will also, explore circles, ellipses, and learn to connect them with straight lines to form images. Drawing is no more difficult than making beautiful letters. You simply need to learn how to do it. If you want to draw dear, you can learn to draw.” For the third time in two hours Alisha responds with a respectful, “Yes, Ma’am.”

Estelle and Alisha dine on fresh cucumber and cream cheese sandwiches and lose themselves in happy chatter about Caravana, the flower garden, and all the beautiful birds. Alisha forgets all about solving “The Mystery of the Lone Lady” as she is beginning to see her neighbor through eyes of respect and as a real person rather than a make-believe character. Estelle also enjoys this warm moment in time, feeling her somber thoughts float on the warm summer breeze and the uncomplicated conversation of the delightful, young girl. They move seamlessly from a lovely lunch to drawing lessons and soon, Alisha is enraptured in discovering the magic of line, as this lesson begins to uncover her inborn creativity. Estelle feels an inner awakening in the connection of pupil and teacher, as she guides Alisha’s self-discover by her own talented thoughts and expert hands. Alisha’s finished pieces are a reflection that is partly herself but also, partly Estelle, her new teacher. They are the expression of a burgeoning relationship and each of them is filled with new happiness as they inspect them together.

The sun begins to dip and Estelle realizes that it’s time for Alisha to return home. They say their goodbye’s and agree that Alisha will return day-after-tomorrow as Estelle, holding a tired Caravana, closes the door and notices the silence reclaim her home, as she has never noticed it before. Again Estelle asks, “What is happening to me? What is going on here?”

To be continued.

See previous posts in this series at http://www.joyindestructible.com/the-recluse-series or simply visit my Home Page and look for the drop-down menu just under the Header. Click on “The Recluse Series” and find posts listed in ascending order.

The Recluse (Part VI)

The loud slam of Maria Hernandez’s car door brings Estelle bolting up from a deep sleep. Suddenly alert, she responds as if to a gun blast and is instantly, awake and vigilant. As she realizes the more common reality of what she heard, she gets up to look out the window and sure enough, there is Mrs. Hernandez walking from her car toward her front door. Estelle pulls the blind down and then looks into the mirror over her dressing table. She brushes her hair smooth, wipes her face with a disposable cloth, and then reaches for her favorite sweater. It’s not cold but wrapping it around her gives her a feeling of armored protection as she prepares to confront her neighbors about the behavior of their child. Confrontation is no easy task for a person who has done everything in their power to avoid contact with others and in this moment of truth, Estelle is facing an epic challenge. She feels she must do this in order, to put her life back into a manageable context.

Without really knowing how she arrived, Estelle stands outside the Hernandez home, clutching her sweater around her in a stabilizing hug. She waits for a response to the door bell and then upon becoming impatient, knocks. She feels the tension brought on by the slow answer pushing against her urge to flee. Just as she is about to give in to the second emotional prompt, the door opens. Estelle finds herself looking downward as the small form of Maria Hernandez fills the doorway. There her eyes meet the kindest, warmest eyes she’s ever seen. All of her angry resolve melts in those soft, hazel-grey globes. “Hello! May I help you?” asks Maria. “Oh…ugh…yes, I think so. I’m your next door neighbor. My name is Estelle Williams and I was wondering if I could speak with you about a problem I’m having.” Estelle sighs with relief in the success of being able to express a cohesive thought. She pulls her sweater tighter as she waits for what might come next. Maria holds out her hand and warmly invites Estelle inside, “Why of course! I’m so glad to finally, meet you. My name is Maria. Alisha has told me about you. Did you enjoy the Bisquochitos? Please, come in and have a seat.” Estelle enters the Hernandez home which is a cookie cutter image of her own but so different. The house is clean but the furnishings are merely practical and a mix of old with new. Estelle finds an over-sized chair near the back wall, facing the entrance and timidly, sits down. “Yes, the cookies were nice but I’m having some problems with your little girl and that’s why I’m here.” The soft expression on Maria’s face turns to concern and consternation, “Oh? I can’t imagine my Alisha causing anyone problems. She’s a good girl and I’ve never heard her say anything unkind about you, Ms. Williams. In fact, she asked to take cookies over to your house because she worries about you being alone.” Estelle thinks about this statement and description of Alisha for a moment then compares it to those manipulative eyes that she’s found spying on her for the last two weeks and has sudden insight into Alisha’s disregard for the personal boundaries of others. “Well…Maria…may I call you, Maria? I do appreciate your daughter’s concern for me but that concern is invading my privacy. For the last two weeks it seems, every time I turn around I find those big, brown eyes of hers spying on me. I must say that she is much too young to be on her own all day. Girls her age need guidance!” There, she said it and the problem is on the table. Then, out of the corner of her eye, she sees the subject of this conversation trying to remain invisible as she peers around the corner from the kitchen. Estelle aims the full force of her green eyes straight at her and Alisha vanishes as silently, as a ghost. “Oh, Ms. Williams…” Maria’s beginning explanation brings Estelle’s attention back on this gentle face. “You may call me, Estelle.” “Estelle…I’m sure Alisha doesn’t mean to invade your privacy but I will talk to her.” Not hearing exactly the response Estelle hopes for she reiterates, “That’s a good beginning Maria but if the little girl is alone with no one to enforce your… conversation, I have no assurance that my boundaries will be respected.” Maria flops down on the sofa and clutches a worn pillow in her lap absent mindedly, pulling the corners. “I don’t like leaving her here all day either. I wanted to put her in some kind of program for the summer but the ones I can afford, she doesn’t like. I gave into her. We’ve just moved and moving is expensive. My husband is starting a new business and I have to work. I’m sorry Alisha is bothering you. I will talk to her but I’m afraid that is the best I can do right now.” Maria doesn’t quite believe her daughter would spy on their neighbor, she doesn’t want to force Alisha into a summer program she doesn’t like, and she down-plays Estelle’s complaint as she feigns concern. Estelle sees the denial and decides to make a brave move in hopes of gaining direct control over the situation. “Well Maria, I do see your point of view. Perhaps, I can offer a solution and since Alisha is so concerned about my state of… loneliness, perhaps she would be willing to help me with a few chores around my home and accept payment in the form of art lessons, with me as her teacher. Perhaps, that would solve many of our problems.”

Alisha being careful to remain out of sight hears this and her heart leaps. She doesn’t like the sound of the word ‘chores’ but wow, what an intro to the inside world of “The Lone Lady”! She decides to make a dramatic entry into the scene playing out in the front room.

Alisha smoothes her ribbons and her summer dress then skips into the living room, “Hello Mamma! I’m glad you’re home! Oh! Ms. Williams! I didn’t know you were here!” She opens her chocolaty eyes wide for their full effect and smiles her most dazzling, people-pleasing smile. Maria’s face lights up as it always does in the presence of her beloved daughter, “Oh, mi linda! Come here and give me my hug.” Alisha folds into her mother’s side on the couch knowing she’s won control no matter what Ms. Williams says. “I’m glad to see you here Ms. Williams. I worry about you all of the time!” Estelle compares the words she hears to the expression in those eyes and knows from long experience the truth doesn’t match Alisha’s intent. She decides to match that intent and replies, “Well Alisha, I’m a grown up and I’m old enough to choose to be alone and manage my behavior. You on the other hand are a child and I believe it is you who shouldn’t be alone all day. I don’t mind being alone but I do think it not right for a girl your age to be left to her own day-after-day. Your mother and I were discussing this and I’ve made her an offer. I do have many chores around my home you could help me with and in exchange for your help, I am willing to give you art lessons. What do you think?” Alisha took the bait and jumped in before her mother had a chance to respond. “Oh yes! Yes, Ms. Williams! Oh Momma, I would love to help out. You know you and Daddy are always telling me how important it is to help others and I would be learning something too! Please Momma say, yes!” Maria’s natural servant’s heart over-rides any logical thought in the situation. She only wants to make everyone feel better so, she follows the inclinations of her heart as she always does when she makes a final decision. “Estelle, are you sure this isn’t too much bother?” “If it were a bother Maria, I wouldn’t offer. I don’t like being spied on and I do need some help with things. I love creativity and I will enjoy sharing what I know with Alisha.” Maria looks into the face she favors above all others and says, “Alisha, mi jita, my precious little girl yes, I think this is a very good idea. If it makes you happy little one, it makes me happy too.” Then she turns toward Estelle whom she already regards as a friend and with loving warmth, accepts her offer with many thanks. The three of them discuss the matter further, set a scheduled time, and agree that the plan they’ve made will begin tomorrow. “Well, I should get back home. I have work to catch up on and I must say Alisha, I don’t want to look up from my desk and find you watching me. If we are going to be friends, you must respect me. Friends don’t spy on friends. I am looking forward to seeing you at nine tomorrow morning. Don’t be late! I’m a busy woman.” Alisha, thinking she’d won a victory and fully confident of her ability to avoid doing any real work, gushes, “Oh, Ms. Williams. I am so happy and I promise not to watch you anymore. I just worry if you’re okay because you are always all by yourself. If I’m with you then I won’t worry!” Estelle knew these words to be a side-step of the real truth but she had no idea of Alisha’s underlying intent. Still, she was satisfied to be back in the driver’s seat of her life and as she turns to walk back across the driveway, feels some relief in having regained some control over her small world. Alisha watches her back feeling smug in her almost magical control over adults and looks forward to finding new clues into the mystery of her strange neighbor. Maria looks on with tender, soft eyes from one to the other, thinking how wonderful they both are and how blessed she is to have each of them in her life. The three of them have no idea of the change the pact they’ve just made is going to bring into their lives.
To be continued.

 

To find links to previous posts in this series, visit my Home Page and go to the drop-down menu, just under the Header, click “The Recluse Series”. Links are posted in ascending order.

The Source of Genuine, Indestructible Joy

My joy isn’t dead, no matter how I feel. Even though everything on my plate is seasoned with pain, Jesus lives! Though the boot-heal of oppression bears down in an attempt to grind me into dust, my hope is un-crushable. Even when my happiness shatters and all those I love move beyond my embrace, love isn’t carnal or mortal. When my body is broken, then passed around as bread and my blood becomes a drink, a sacrifice consumed but unrecognized, Jesus is my validation. He walked this path before me. He set the standard. True sacrifice isn’t made in hopes of personal reward. Though I fall and the weight of this cross I bear is too much for me to lift again to carry, God’s ultimate plan remains. When my eyes are blind with the tears of sorrow and agony causes me to no longer care, a new blast of His breath enters me and by His strength I rise to move forward. Though the sting of sin poisons everything I see and touch by the fulfillment of His Will, not mine, I will press beyond Death’s boundary and reach the ultimate prize. In Jesus I possess indestructible joy which He bought by His obedience and blazed the Way predestined for me to follow. This narrow path I must walk despising all worldly gain. I am nearer now to the finish than I was yesterday. Though in this world I endure suffering and can’t always feel my joy, when I finish this race, my agony will melt away. When my body dies to become ashes and dust, I know Death has no power over my soul. Though this present night is deepening, soon the Son will rise with healing in His wings! When morning comes, my feet will rest on the eternal shore. I will forget the effects of sin’s painful sting and cry no more. Jesus is my eternal joy.

Job 42:1-6 “I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted. You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. “You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.’ My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen You. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”

Paper Tatters Flying in the Wind

Write the number of my days on fine rice paper.

Tally them, and tear…

Delicate hand molded sheet into bits and caste it in the wind!

I can no longer understand the sum of those days nor transcend,

The heartbreak of futility or tragedy’s rude temper!

This calamity I fear…

Shattered my existence by the hand of happenstance I can’t bend,

Into a shape I can’t cope with, I can’t make my scattered mind comprehend,

How or why God allows evil’s continued mad caper!

In emptiness so clear…

I tremble in askance in the presence of my horror from which I can’t fend!

I’ve lost all surety of knowledge of just who I am in this ominous moment self-end!

Blanketed by sorrows I feel my faith’s diminishing taper.

Father rescue me here!

Without You, I am only tattered delicate rice paper flying in the wind!

 

 

 

 

 

The Recluse (Part V)

See links to previous posts in this series at the bottom of the page.

Estelle is in rare form on this early July morning. In fact, any long-time neighbor who might happen to see her standing defiantly on her front porch with hands on her hips as she glares at the Hernandez home next door would be shocked. She is always mindful of who is out-and-about and did everything she could to not be seen for more than a second. Estelle is definitely beside herself as she prepares for an unwanted confrontation. Caravana fretfully, tries to distract and comfort her by rubbing her legs and meowing but Estelle is in vigilant mode; unaware of herself and his presence. She’s had enough! That unattended child next door, that little Alisha, had spied on her for the last time! When Mrs. Hernandez came home this afternoon she was going to get a piece of her mind! Estelle mumbles to herself, “How ridiculous for an eleven or twelve year old child to be home alone all day! It just proves that religious people have no common sense no matter how perfect they think they are!” It riles Estelle to see that little family pile into their car every Sunday morning, rain or shine, to go to church but during the week, leave that little girl home alone with nothing to do but bother her! She was definitely going to let them know about it!

With a set plan of action in mind, Estelle and Caravana go back inside the house and Estelle tries to focus on her work. However, instances of catching Alisha spying on her over the last couple of weeks keep bubbling up in her mind. Anger is meant to block all other thoughts and prepare the threatened one for battle with super-focus on the enemy. Estelle is very angry and simply can’t think about anything else but the events that have violated the safety of her privacy and her pending confrontation set for this afternoon. She gives up on work after several failed attempts to accomplish anything cohesive and begins pacing in her office. Her pacing turns to wandering from one room of her house to the other. This tear Alisha made into the fabric of Estelle’s cloistered world is fostering greater tearing and in each room she enters, unwanted, long denied memories assault her. Images of daily life with her mother overwhelm her and exhausted she enters her bedroom, closes the door, and collapses on her bed. Estelle’s room doesn’t look like a magazine. Everything here is a scattered eclectic mess. A room cluttered with objects from childhood mixed with her adult things and nothing ordered into any cohesive purpose. Undeveloped would probably be the best word to describe the décor of this room in this perfectly decorated house.

Estelle curls into a fetal position with Caravana spooning himself into her stomach. She mindlessly caresses him while in a transfixed trance, overwhelmed by images and feelings of the past. Those memories are so intense that if she tries to move she won’t be able to because her body is shut down, giving all its energy to her overloaded, flooded brain. Flash after flash of instances when Estelle so desperately needed her mom to be there for her. A mom who was always present, who she could see and touch, but was emotionally absent. Emma had been so overwhelmed with herself that she seldom even saw her little girl. Estelle wonders if her mother had ever really known what she looked like. In this moment of sensory overload and the emotional flash-backs accompanying it, Estelle feels the full weight of abandonment and suddenly, understands why. She’d spent her entire childhood in a state of emotional abandonment! She acknowledges herself as an invisible child whose emotional needs went unmet. In fact, all of her childish needs were secondary to the gaping need of her mother. This paralysis she experiences is the frozen terror of a child left all alone in the world.

With a vehement surge, the chocolate eyes of Alisha Hernandez fill Estelle’s visual field. A child left all alone; a child whose eyes hold the same cold hunger as the eyes of Emma. Those eyes that see others as interesting or uninteresting objects to be moved this way and that for pleasure or to fill needs. Objects that when failing to produce pleasure or serve a useful purpose are then discarded without a thought. “The eyes of a cold-hearted queen” Estelle thinks out loud and in an instant, understands that ‘Queen and her personal servant’ was the description that best fit the relationship she once had with her mother. Another flood of memories come; memories of a desperate little girl trying so hard to please her mother, make her happy, and make her notice her existence. She feels that deep sadness that often overwhelmed her as a little girl and that deep, insistent desire that someone, anyone, especially her mother would notice she was hurting and ask her why. No one ever asked that question and Estelle longs for it now with the same intensity of pain she carries with her every day, in silence.

“Caravana! You are the only living creature who has ever cared about me!” The old, white tom cat responds by stretching, gently patting Estelle’s face with his paws, and then lifts himself up to lick her tears. Estelle’s tears are rolling now. A deep fount of long-stored-salt-water bursts open and the normal mute-hush, of this ghostly house, shatters in the crying shrieks of an abandoned child.

Estelle falls into a debilitated sleep that lasts until ended by the sharp slam of a car door.

 

To be continued.

Part I: https://joyindestructible.com/2016/01/16/the-recluse/

Part II:  http://www.joyindestructible.com/2016/01/23/the-recluse-part-ii/

Part III: http://www.joyindestructible.com/2016/01/30/the-recluse-part-iii/

Part IV: http://www.joyindestructible.com/2016/02/14/the-recluse-part-iv/

 

The Recluse (Part IV)

Part I: http://www.joyindestructible.com/2016/01/16/the-recluse/

Part II: http://www.joyindestructible.com/2016/01/23/the-recluse-part-ii/

Part III: http://www.joyindestructible.com/2016/01/30/the-recluse-part-iii/

The sound of pouring rain and a crash of thunder startle Estelle from the depths of a familiar, re-occurring dream. Haunted and chilled to the bone, she wraps herself in a blue afghan she picks up from a bedroom chair and tries to peer through the window to ascertain the mood of the day. Grey, thick clouds and pounding rain, that promise to remain for several hours, are a validation of Estelle’s grief. She welcomes the flood as she stands, face and hands pressed against the cold glass, tears streaming her face as the cascade of falling water washes the world outdoors. In this moment of commonality with the outside world, Estelle feels a slight waning of her constant isolation. Flash-backs of her dream pierce her waking consciousness in images, feelings, desires, and memories that she knows should be pieced together. She recognizes the need to solve her inner puzzle but recoils in the same instant, overwhelmed by the painful, enormity of it.

Estelle turns away from the window and as the lace curtains float back into their familiar place, she looks around this room she created in remembrance of her mother. It’s beautiful; full of expensive, precious things but leaves Estelle feeling utterly empty and abandoned. There is no pain like the pain of abandonment and no act more life-threatening to a child than to be abandoned by their mother. “But why do I feel this way? My mom was always present, my dad provided for all of my physical needs. I have no reason to feel this kind of despair but this is my over-riding emotional state. I am abandoned. Alone! Stuck! No one cares and I don’t know how to connect with anyone or make them care.” This room is where her familiar nightmare always began; in the heart of this house, dedicated to Emma, with secrets lurking to be avoided in every room.

Estelle falls into the embrace of a softly, upholstered, bedroom chair, wraps the afghan tighter, and squeezes a small pink cushion to her chest. Closing her eyes, she allows her mind to follow the path of her ‘house dream’. She leaves her mother’s room, heads down the hall, and in her mind turns to the right to enter her dad’s former room. The old door needs re-hanging and squeaks as it opens on a cubical sparsely filled with shabby furniture and no decorations. Everything in the room is either brown or a non-descript neutral that blends so invisibly that color isn’t considered by any beholding eye. Estelle is startled and a bit angered by this imagery. She knows she redid this room! How did it go back to its original state? With frustration, she moves across the hall and opens the door on her own room and finds it full of boxes, packed, but scattered in disarray. The bed is covered with cartons and Estelle can barely, make her way into the room. She manages to suck herself in and negotiate a path to the opposite wall and the window. As she pulls back a heavy, navy-blue curtain, she confronts something very strange. Her bedroom window opens into an entirely, alien, broken-down passageway that she feels compelled to enter.

As Estelle steps through the window, she is propelled by a force she doesn’t understand while making her way through fallen roof beams and shards of broken glass covering the floor. Suddenly, she reaches a white door that swings open on a secret house she knows but has also, forgotten. Relief washes over her as she arrives inside with the thought, “I am home.” She rushes to explore every room; some of them lavishly furnished, some very odd with useful purpose shrouded in mystery. At the end of her exploration lies the most befuddling detail of all; the house suddenly opens into a shopping mall, full of people, and Estelle finds herself as one of them. This is point when Estelle always, wakes up and if she ever traveled further in this old dream, she blacked the memory of it out.

Estelle emerges from within herself and looks again at her mother’s room, feels herself at the heart of her mother’s house, and matter-of-factly, re- accepts her isolated reality. Her tears have ceased and the rain has stopped; but thick clouds promise more rain later. She pats the pink pillow back into place, neatly folds the afghan, and smoothes the wrinkles from the Queen’s bed before going to take her shower. She turns back for a quick look before shutting the door, “Good-bye for now, Momma. Rest well.”

Feeling clean and refreshed, wrapped in a thick mint-green robe, and toweling her hair, Estelle steps inside her office. She really must get some work done, even if she has to stay up all night. She loves her job and is glad she is able to lose herself in designing online advertising. Her creativity is her only real connection with the outside world and she loves to think about how her ads touch the people who view them. Though the intent is to sell, Estelle regards her work as art. Her ad campaigns are a way for her to communicate who she is and contribute to the world. Safe behind her computer screen, the world and its masses of people seem manageable. She feels a surge of self-confidence as she sits down at her desk and prepares to dig in.

Remembering her dream again, Estelle looks around at her Dad’s old room, which she reclaimed as her office, with a re-assured chuckle. No brown or neutral left in here and no squeaky door. The walls sport light lavender paint, with dark, hard-wood floors, and furnishings in cream. Sheer, lime-green curtains lay softly over the window to peacefully, filter the sun-light. Everything in this room is tasteful, feminine, and beautiful. Estelle intentionally, placed her desk beside the window to enjoy the ambiance of green-filtered light as she works. This day’s thick clouds allow very little natural light so, Estelle flicks on her desk-lamp as she sinks into her comfortable office chair. As is her habit, she looks through her window to the outside world before settling in and with a start, notices those familiar, chocolate eyes watching her from the window next door. Those hungry eyes… like the bottoms of Hershey’s Kisses, lock with Estelle’s green eyes for an instant, and then quickly vanish with the precocious little girl who owns them.

Estelle is first perturbed at the feeling of invasion, and then finds herself laughing at Alisha’s guilty, child-like response. She pulls down the shade to block any further view, in resolute purpose, to lose herself and all painful thoughts in her work. Absorbed in abstract ideas of color and the psychological effect of words, the disturbing thoughts triggered by the previous day fade into the familiarity of a happy task. Caravana rubs her ankles and contentedly settles on his favorite stool nearby, curling and settling for a long nap. All is as it was before except for the sudden mental flashes of those big Hershey eyes and the nagging thought that there were more disturbances to come.

To be continued.