My newest book, “Fire and Ice,” tells how I left California for adventures in New Zealand.
Summary: In Book 3 of “Survival Stories,” Lonna Lisa Williams tells how she survived a tragic childhood and cancer. Then she realized she was an abused wife. But instead of finding a new life, she retreated into prescription medicine that her doctors gave her. A wildfire burned her California mountains, and Lonna flew to New Zealand with her two trusting children. She lost an international trial and returned to California where she lost everything in divorce. Her castle of a home was gone, her children hidden from her, and Lonna’s downward spiral into drugs continued. She crashed her car in the mountains then nearly bled to death while stopping all prescription medicine. But, like the mythical phoenix bird and through the power of resurrection, Lonna rose to a new life of teaching English overseas. Walk with her on this journey of adventure, across the frozen rivers of Russia and to the sunset seas of Turkey. Discover how the extremes of fire and ice can shape a person’s life. Catch a flame and snowflake in a camera’s lens and listen to the music of this writer.
Spaceship in New Zealand
“I lift my eyes up to the hills.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
Who made heaven and earth.”
A nearly full moon cast all the hills and valleys of sheep farm country in a liquid silver light that flickered in and out as wind blew clouds across the sky. In the distance, mountains rose in snowy heights, their peaks stark white against black chasms, a contrast more lovely than the road before me, and it drew my eyes away.
“I’m late,” I muttered, trying to focus on the headlamps that illumined the dotted white lines in the middle of the highway. Jessica, beside me, was silent as I raced down the wet-black road, on the left side instead of the right.
It started raining again, steadily and strong, and I turned on the windscreen wipers.
“Be careful, Mom,” she warned. I slowed down a little and glanced at the glowing face of my cell phone. No reception. The implacable time read 9:28.
“I’m late,” I repeated. “They’re going to be so mad.”
“You can’t help the rain,” Jessica observed. “We went all the way to Timaru to meet with that lawyer and do our shopping. Surely they will understand just half an hour.”
“Sheila told me to return by 9:00, and Jason echoed the command. I think they’ve set me up for failure. There was something in their tone when they told me not to be late.”
The Bingleys were watching Jonathan in the village of Fairlie. He had gone there after school to play with their sons. I knew, when I left their house that morning for a day trip at the coast, that I would be late.
Weariness clung to me, and my heavy eyelids threatened to close. I had not slept well even though I had taken medicine. Since childhood, I always expected the worst to happen, always thought too much about the problems in my life. Did I do the right thing by coming here? Could I get away from Edd’s long arm? Was God the One I really ran from?
I had not questioned my plan before I left California. I had chosen a risky path and now must stick to it, hoping the mountains could shelter us like fortresses. I lifted my eyes toward them again, as they appeared between the sheets of rain like strange mirages hovering.
“I lift my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?”
That verse from Psalms drifted into my tired mind, and I tried to focus on the words, the white dots on the road, but not the tiny green numbers that told the time on my cell phone.
The Subaru hit a patch of water and skidded a little to the left. Jessica suppressed a scream, and I eased the tires back to the center of our lane. My eyes stayed open wide for a while after that excitement, but soon my lids began to droop again, and I wished I had not finished drinking my cup of takeaway tea . . . or taking medicine.
“Mom, watch out!” Jessica yelled, her high-pitch voice catching in her throat like a panicked bird.
A lamb appeared in front of the headlights, and I swerved into the other lane to miss it. Tires slipped over water, the car skidded right, and I barely kept it from reeling into a ditch.
God, help us! I prayed as I wrestled with the steering wheel. My breath caught in my throat, and my head pounded. For three long seconds I did not know if our journey would continue.
Finally, the back wheels of the Subaru gripped the pavement and straightened out. I eased it to the left lane.
“Thank God for all-wheel drive,” I joked, my voice too bright for escaping a wet and lonely death. “Good thing not many people live on the South Island, or we might have met someone coming the other way when we veered into their lane.” I could tell, in the dim green glow from the dashboard, that Jessica was staring at me, her mouth slightly open. She knew that I took too much medicine.
We drove on in silence, each passing minute jarring my nerves as the cell phone changed the digital numbers of time. 9:31. 9:32. 9:33.
Past the Clay Cliffs, past the sleepy town of Cave, past the pillared gates of sheep farms, we finally entered the Avenue of Trees that overhung the road and formed a gateway to the village. Like a scene from the 1950s, the main street with its quaint stone buildings was deserted. Street lamps showed the streaming trails of rain, and shop windows gaped black and empty.
I turned left on Church Street, then right on Meadow Lane. The Bingley’s house was down at the end, by the cow fields.
I parked by the curb.
“Quick, get out,” I ordered unnecessarily. Jessica already had her hand on the door handle.
The Bingleys had just moved from Christchurch, and their yard was muddy. Instead of a cement pathway to their door, puddles glistened in the porch light. We waded through the thick, gooey stuff, shivering in our t-shirts and heels, for we were not prepared for autumn in April.
Jason and Sheila were waiting at the half-glass door. Before we could knock, they opened it, their faces livid.
“You’re late,” Jason declared. His blue eyes gleamed with anger in the porch light, and I looked down at my dirty feet.
“I’m s-sorry,” I slowly spoke the futile words. “It rained–”
“We specifically told you to be on time,” Sheila interjected, her voice sharp as a slap in the face. I looked up to see brown curls dangling in her eyebrows. She stood in a pink fuzzy night robe, one hand upon the half-open door.
It was only half an hour. What’s the big offense? I wondered but did not say. I, the English professor and writer, could think of no words to defend me.
Jessica, beside me, tried to warm herself with her arms, but I could hear her teeth begin to chatter.
“Won’t you invite us in from the cold and the rain?” I asked.
“No,” Jason retorted. “We are not your friends. What you did was wrong, taking the children away from their father in California. He sent you this.”
He held up a large manila envelope.
“You have been served,” he spat, as if I were a prostitute caught in the beam of a policeman’s flashlight.
He thrust the packet toward me, his body still half behind the door. He made sure his hand did not touch mine, and I nearly dropped the envelope in the mud. I stared at it and turned it over. Black letters in Edd’s handwriting glared up at me. Big, looped letters L for Lonna Lisa caught some drops of rain and blurred a little (or were those my tears?).
“It’s opened,” I observed, my voice cracking on the simple words. “It’s addressed to me. You can’t read another person’s mail!”
“Edd told us to read it,” he replied, his voice emphasizing consonants like knives.
“That still doesn’t give you the right–”
“He says you are an insane drug addict and need immediate help,” Jason interrupted. “That what you did was illegal, taking his children out of America. He’s initiating a Hague Convention trial against you.”
I slipped legal papers into my wet and trembling hand. In the dim electric light, I scanned the ominous words of an attorney and a judge. Raindrops smudged some more black letters, and I put the papers back into their envelope.
“Edd abused us for sixteen years!” I defended, my voice both strong and shaking. “We finally got the strength to leave him. You know nothing of our lives. You can’t believe what Edd writes. He hates me! And I’m not a crazy drug addict. I am a cancer survivor, and doctors legally prescribed me medicine!”
Jason thrust his face toward mine, his chin showing the beginnings of a beard, his lips glistening with saliva, and his eyes filled with a light I did not want to see.
“Even now, you are ON something,” he spat. “Your pupils do not look right.”
I blinked my eyes and glanced away. Sheila stepped back with a little cry, as if even she thought her husband was too harsh. Only then did I see that my ten-year-old son stood behind her.
“Don’t talk to my mother that way,” Jonathan said, his voice high, his eyes so blue and innocent against the paleness of his face, as he stood with a fireplace blazing behind him, like Frodo in the scene with Gandalf and the Ring. I held my hand out, and he walked toward me, slipping past Jason and the doorway. He stood beside me, facing my accuser.
“Well, I see I am not welcome in this town,” I said sarcastically. I turned and walked through nearly frozen mud, Jessica and Jonathan close behind me, and the envelope still clasped within my hand.
Back in the car, I turned the dome light and the heater on. Jessica shook with cold, and I reached for a sweater behind the seat. Bags of groceries lined the back, and Jonathan sat among them.
“You are my brave little hero,” I told him. “All you lack is the golden ring.”
“Oh, I have it, Mum,” he told me, reaching for the necklace I had given him. An old wedding ring from my jewelry box was looped into a silver chain. He had worn it with his green cape and burgundy vest, the costume that won him First Place at Ice Castle Skating Rink’s Halloween contest back home. He held it to the dome light, and it glistened like our doom.
“You’re crying,” Jessica observed, her voice still trembling from the chill. She had been silent all the time we faced the Bingleys.
“Yes,” I admitted, wiping my cheek with my hand. “I was just slapped in the face by people I thought were my friends.”
Was that the only reason? Did I cry for the battle ahead, etched in black, twelve-point type on fourteen-inch papers inside a soggy envelope? Or did I cry for the words Jason had spoken, words I did not want to hear?
“You are an insane drug addict who needs help,” he had proclaimed.
If that were true, why did they not offer any?
I drove back to our rented sheep farmhouse in silence. Past Main Street, the edge of town, the row of trees looking dismal in the rain, our car headlamps illuminated the dirt road leading over a bridge, by the barn and sheep pen, to the old garage and cottage on the hill. I followed the muddy road up, feeling the tires slip a little in the deep ruts partly glazed with ice, and parked next to the wall. The children followed me quickly up stone steps to the torn screen door that opened hollowly before my shaking hand.
Inside, it was cold and late and dark. I switched on the kitchen light, a bare bulb hanging from a white ceiling, then hunted among dead flies inside a drawer for matches to start the wood-burning stove. Jessica was still trembling, and Jonathan brought the electric heater from his bedroom. I plugged it in, and Jess sat right on the floor in front of it. I grabbed a down comforter from my bed, draped it over my daughter’s shoulders, and began to pack.
“Wh-what are you doing?” she asked, her teeth still chattering.
“We’re not safe in this small town. We’re leaving.”
“But–” Jessica’s objection was stopped cold by my stare.
“They are friends of your father,” I spat, clenching my fists in the frigid air. “They will tell him all about us! I cannot bear to have him drag us back beneath his power. We must go to a place he will not think of–or have spies to watch us.”
The names of possible towns flitted through my mind like wings of birds, but I could not focus on one. It was easier to open closets, haul out empty suitcases, unzip them, and fill them with clothes, toys, boots, jewelry, photographs–all the things we had dragged with us from California.
For all the medication I had taken, for all the time I had been up since early morning to get Jonathan ready for the village school, I could not stop my mind from remembering the things that shaped my life to this point of running away again—just like my mother taught me.
Why do we have to remember things? Amnesia seems a blessed state, much to be desired.
As I folded Jonathan’s jeans and placed earrings into tiny boxes, my past rose before me like someone else’s story.
I stopped packing my jewelry into the bag. My hand rested on the old wooden country dresser with its ceramic white knobs. I was leaning forward, staring at my reflection in the spotted, silver-backed mirror.
Do I look so different from my mother? I asked, pausing in my desperate flight for three long seconds.
Oh, why couldn’t I see the warnings etched within that glass, as if someone had taken a silver key and cut words into the shiny surface?
The rain stopped, and the moon shone again between the clouds. It slanted through white lace curtains of the farmhouse bedroom window and onto the oval vanity mirror, illuminating it like a spacecraft.
I paused in my packing, found Jonathan and Jessica, and led them outside to the sheep fields.
Wet grass rubbed against our legs, the sweet/tart scent of pine trees filled the air, and a warm wind swept down from the North Island.
On the vast South Island of New Zealand, below the equator in a southern sea, where sheep outnumber people and the land has not been ruined with factories or pollution, on a still night after a rain–beauty takes a new name. We stepped up the grassy slope above the cottage and paused as the midnight sky took our breath away.
The Southern Cross hung above us, bright despite the moon, mingling with the Milky Way like swaths of stardust reaching toward the east and west horizons.
All around us spread a landscape few have ever seen, in layers from snow-covered mountains in the distant north, cut through with glaciers dipping fields of ice into the silver-surfaced lakes–from which rivers entwine like scaly serpents onto the deep green slopes of hills below them, sheep fields terraced by rows of trees, country roads, and farm houses set like gems into a tapestry.
And over all, the moonlight shone, glittering in the hovering air like crystals, as fresh as when the world was new, and the morning stars knew their names and sang together.
I looked at the faces of my children, in too much haze from medication, but still saw the precious growing beauty in them. I grabbed their hands and lifted their arms toward the glowing sky. For one long, precious moment we stood in a circle as if poised to dance. A night bird piped a lonesome tune, each elusive note more perfect than a symphony caught on the wind and drifting to the land below us.
On that lovely summit on a lovely night, come unexpectedly after rain and cold and confrontation, we stared at each other as if we knew how precious was the touch of hand to hand. Their bodies once grew inside mine; my blood had mixed with theirs. The bond of generations tied us, as we touched each blade of grass and dormant insect beneath our feet. Every living thing around us lifted voices in the night, and the stars kept singing with the very breath of God.
The blissful moment passed, and awkward silence came between us, for we remembered what had brought us there.
Oh, why can’t we just forget it all and dance? I wondered.
“If we stick up our thumbs, maybe we’ll hitch a ride on a spaceship!” Jonathan exclaimed. He let go of Jessica’s hand and raised his thumb toward the night sky.
“But they wore a special ring which transmitted signals,” Jessica observed. She had been reading Douglas Adam’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and we had seen the silly movie in the musty farmhouse living room.
Laughter, like yawns, is catching. We all started giggling and holding up our thumbs. Nothing passed above us but the clouds, the Southern Cross in four bright points, and the occasional curious angel.
I should have been at peace with God and man. Instead, I wanted to escape even this–and the threat that reached for us from America like a giant hand in a starless corner of the sky.
Jessica looked at me and said,
“I can see your aura, Mother. You know, I see angels sometimes–good and bad. I saw shadows in the white walls of the farmhouse, too. Something bad is going to happen.”
My face was over-bright in the moonlight, burning from chemicals within my body, the pupils of my eyes so large that the blue was almost swallowed. Is that the aura Jessie saw? Or did she see the future like my father, gypsy child, had stared into his crystal ball?
“No, no, not more bad things!” I cried, fighting sudden tears of frustration, exhaustion, sorrow. “We must be free! Surely God will have mercy on us.”
After all, I still read my Bible daily, went to church on Sundays, and prayed with the children every night . . . the drugs had not erased it all. And I had good reasons for taking medicine, pain still strong in me from chemotherapy and–far worse—abusive marriage.
I wanted to be numb, but tears came anyway. No matter how many pills I took, I could not stop the feeling, could not forget, and here were the eyes of my children looking at me for answers I could not give them. Did they see the weakness in me, the uncertainty of what to do next–after running away to the farthest island of the earth?
I turned away from their eyes that glowed so brightly in the moonlight that I could see the color blue. Oh, such blue that burnt into my soul like the rarest tongues of flame! I looked again to the sky and imagined a spaceship hovering above us in ever-changing colored lights and motion, blurry as a psychedelic haze. Perhaps I saw an angel there, moving in the wisps of wind beneath the stars. God had not forsaken me, though I had wandered far from even Him.
I held my thumb up a little longer, then lowered it. The children had put their arms down long ago. They knew a spaceship wasn’t coming.
Read the rest of the story here: