“Fire and Ice” Chapter Four: 38 Steps

How does an abused wife leave her husband?  It is difficult, especially if she has children.  Sometimes she does a rehearsal for the real event.  I did this before I fled from California to New Zealand with my two children.  Read and wonder.  Has something like this happened to you or someone you know?  (from my new book, “Fire and Ice”)

Four

Thirty-eight Steps

“Where shall I go from your Spirit?

Or where shall I flee from your presence?

If I ascend to Heaven, you are there!

If I make my bed in Sheol, You are there!

If I take the wings of the morning

and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,

even there your hand shall lead me,

and your right hand shall hold me.”

Psalm 139:7-10

One thing the doctors gave me through cancer and nerve damage from the chemotherapy–was medicine.  They were eager to write prescriptions for pain, anxiety, and sleeplessness.  Fifteen years of domestic abuse pushed me further into these drugs.  When they became less effective and the doctors would not prescribe stronger ones, I would use the family credit cards and buy more on the Internet–without a prescription.  They came easily enough from places like Canada and India, in dubious packaging with strange names.  I hid this contraband in the linen closet of our lovely mountain home and waited all the long, stress-filled days for the chance to swallow them secretly at night (as if no one knew).

It was a family custom for Edd and me to put Jessica and Jonathan, our beautiful children whom I homeschooled, to bed each evening.  We would sit on the children’s twin beds in their shared bedroom, in the glow of the green moon nightlight. By Jonathan’s bed, Hebrew letters–penned with his own hand–were caught in black ink behind glass, framed upon the wall.

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, body, and soul,” they read.

Beside them, the painting of an angel blazed in white against the dark background of a boy’s bedroom.  The heavenly being, with arching wings, stood tall above the sleeping boy who was covered to his chin with blankets.  The angel held a torch in one hand and a sword in the other.  Its silver blade reflected fire above the small, smooth face of the sleeping child.

The inscription below the painting read in English cursive letters:

“I will both lie down in peace and sleep, for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.”

How can I feel safe with Edd?  I wondered, staring at the man who tormented us.   

Jessica was too old, really, for this nightly ritual.  Her eyes stayed open during prayers.  She seemed too big for the four-posted bed, its wood carved in French-style curves and painted white and yellow.  Above the headboard hung a Renoir painting of a girl in a striped red and blue dress, playing with a hoop and ball.  Her hair fell about her shoulders in auburn curls, like Jessica’s.

I followed Jessica’s gaze toward the window where Penny the parrot perched sleepily in his wooden cage.  Yellow curtains looped above the cage like veils.  Beside them, the dresser rose, dotted with childhood’s fleeting objects:  a doll dressed in an old-fashioned gown, sitting at a table spread with tiny rose-print teacups and plastic strawberries in a bowl; a stack of baseball cards beside a Boston Red Sox’s cap; a clear acrylic globe painted with glow-in-the-dark stars.

Jessica’s eyes swept toward the closet with its posters of kittens and the solar system, then to the father who sat on her bed.

How can I pray with him?  I asked myself again, watching the man I called husband bowing his head, eyes closed, hands clasped benignly in his lap, as he prayed for his two children.

“Lord, thank you for the day,” he said, his voice deep and baritone.  “Please bless our sleep, all we do tomorrow, and keep us safe.”

Safe?  I repeated in my mind.  I had taken my nighttime pills early, and already my mind was melting into a mist of forgetfulness.  Pain slipped from me as did my sensibility.  My muscles relaxed, my jaw dropped slightly, and if I spoke, Edd and the children would hear a slur within the sloppy words.

I had prayed so long for God to rescue me.  I was looking for permission to leave my husband, permission that would not be handed to me like a plane ticket.  I found it easier to swallow several pills than to even think about the situation:  to lie down on my spacefoam mattress and sink into a dreamless sleep.  What I didn’t realize was that help lay just outside my door, and I needed a clear head to guide my hand toward that door handle.

One night, I sat at my polished mahogany desk in front of the moonlit window.  On the other side of glass, wind blew evergreen boughs like dancers.  The forest around the house lit up, trees casting shadows upon the pine-needled ground.  Music filled the air, inside the room and out–the music of wind, my joyful heart, and the words in my mind like clear notes of an aria.

My long fingers swept across the white keys of my laptop like a pianist in a concert.  With each touch of a fingertip, the melody rose toward crescendo, in words like windowsill and elbow.  I was writing an epic story like an opera.  I mastered arts of setting, character, and costume, each detail chosen from millions of possible words.  They appeared one black letter at a time on a white screen against a glowing blue background.  I loved that color of blue, the color of the distant sky and shallow water.

Selah, clothed in glittering armor, faced the dungeonwraith at last.  Her right hand held a torch high against the darkness of deep stone and dim halls.  Her left hand lifted a silver shield that blazed with reflective light.  Her sword hung ready at her side.

         “I am not afraid,” she spoke to the black, faceless form of her enemy.  Its shadow shrunk before the light and stepped back toward the wall.

         “I banish you in The Maker’s Name!”

         Selah placed the torch in a metal bracket and unsheathed her sword.  Its crystalline blade blazed brighter than fire, sunlight through ice, cutting through the frigid darkness.  The dungeonwraith crouched like an animal before it.

I did not hear Edd walk through the open doorway behind me, so focused was I on my newest book.

“I told you not to go on the Internet,” he said.  “I saw the red light on the phone upstairs.”

My fingers paused mid-stanza, and all the music waited in interlude.  Selah still held her sword, turning her face toward me for directions.

I swung my chair around and saw Edd standing against the white wall.  He was six feet tall and nearly 300 pounds, his reddish beard laced with gray like steel, his blue eyes glowering like a wolf’s.  Without another sound he took three steps toward me, grabbed the computer from the desk, held it high in the air, and smashed it against the wall.

One.  Two.  Three times the plastic and metal container that held all my lovely words hit the white wall.

All the music stopped.  Selah disappeared.  I screamed and jumped up from the chair to try and stop him, knowing it was too late.  I could only stand there and stare at the white computer on the floor, its metal twisted into an acute angle, its keyboard a thin rubber skin hanging loosely from metal components, its once-bright monitor black and cracked in jagged glass from edge to edge.

Jessica and Jonathan, awakened from childhood’s dreams, appeared in the doorway.

“Mom, are you alright?” Jonathan asked.  “I thought you were being . . .”  He saw the broken computer, stepped toward me, and gave me a child’s hug.

When he pulled away, he looked up, his dark blue irises around wide pupils, his elvish eyebrows and high cheeks beautiful beneath his curly golden hair.  Jessica, three years older and quieter, stepped toward the telephone to call for help, but her father’s stare stopped her.  Auburn locks fell on the shoulders of her rose-patterned nightgown, and her lighter blue eyes seemed feverishly vivid against her white skin, lips, and the pink birthmark on her left cheek, shaped like a baby’s hand.  She put down the phone receiver, walked toward me, and stood silently there.

“I’m OK,” I said, my voice too calm.

“I told her not to go on the Internet so late,” Edd stated, as if smashing a computer was the usual punishment for such a violation.

“I just checked my email,” I replied, the words sounding hollow.  “I didn’t even realize I was still connected, as I was writing Selah.”  In reality, I thought Edd had fallen asleep on the upstairs sofa and would not see the light on the telephone.

“You JUST.  You JUST do everything I tell you not to.”

Edd took a step toward me, and Jonathan bravely stood between us, small and thin in his plaid pajamas.  He didn’t say a word, but Edd stopped.

“Go back to bed,” the man commanded.  He was not an alcoholic.  He became drunk only on rage.  His eyes, beneath thick brows, swept over me like a final blow, and he turned and left the room.  I held the children who ran into my arms.  I would put them back to bed, talk to them, pray with them, try to assure them it was safe to sleep.  But before I left my bedroom for theirs, I bent down to touch the three marks upon the wall.

I kneeled above the broken computer but did not touch it.

All those lost words, all those beautiful words . . .

“At least he did not throw you against the wall,” Jonathan whispered.

Oh, but he did, I almost said.

“It’s like when Jo’s angry sister burned all the pages of her story in the novel Little Women,” Jessica observed (a true homeschooler).  “And the ashes blackened her hands.”

She picked up the laptop and handed it to me.  The metal cut my finger, and one red drop lingered on the “S” key.

Three a.m. and the house full of screaming.  Again.  It had been two years since Edd smashed my computer at midnight.  Why had I not left him?  Because I could see no clear way out, was still waiting for permission, and it was easier to take some pills and go to bed . . .  And, worst of all, part of me felt like I deserved such punishment.

I sat on the very edge of the tapestry sofa, staring at the rose pattern.  Fuschia petals wove together with mint leaves and taupe stems.  Beautiful.  I brushed my hand across the thick, woven material, then clasped my other hand again in my lap, assuming the position–prepared to flee.  All I had to do was stand and run for the stairs and the door . . .

“Are you listening?” he yelled, lunging toward me, his hand raised.

He wants to hit me again, I whispered in my mind, as if the words could become a wall against his rage.  His anger was more than just sound in air; it was a malevolent spirit I could not understand, and worse than him actually striking me was the threat of it.

How could I NOT hear you?  I wanted to shout–but only meekly replied,

“Yes.”

“Do you understand?” he pursued, lowering his hand a little.

That question I could not answer.  I could never really understand why he had to yell at me.  Was it some great fault of mine?  Was I not selfless enough, dedicated enough?  I had never been unfaithful to him.  I cooked, I cleaned the house, I shopped for all we needed, I homeschooled the children, taking them to figure skating lessons, music class, drama productions, and science expeditions.  Yet there were the pills . . .

And he knew I could not love a cruel man.

My eyes widened, the blue irises nearly swallowed up by black.  Had he heard that last thought?

“You DO NOT understand, bitch,” he spat, his face reddening deeper shades with each syllable.

The anger in his words rose with the volume, and I felt their power as if he had punched me in the chest with his fist (as he had done once, just over my right breast, the same spot where I found cancer . . .).

He hadn’t hit me in three years.  Yet, somehow, those blows, whether hard or mere jolts, had been easier to bear than the anger like something solid in the air I could cut with a sword (and I had a Sting sword from The Lord of the Rings, and while writing Selah I would practice with it).  A physical attack was so dramatic that, afterward, a kind of relief would wash over me, as if I had paid the price expected and could breathe again.  But the loud words, like the gunshot that killed my father, would not stop.  They pierced my thoughts, ever echoing.

I stood, trembling.  My face turned toward the closed door just eight steps below the living room.  The red carpet spread like flames around me, and I wanted to run over its hot color to the brown wooden steps, the cool touch of a metal door handle, the cold air of winter–a snow-bound mountain night beneath the stars and moonlight, fir trees to hide in, freedom . . .

“Don’t turn away from me.  I’m talking to you!” he continued with the tenacity of a pit bull, sinking his teeth into my heart and ripping it with each sway of his strong head back and forth.

“You have been ‘talking’ to me for five hours,” I said, my voice calm and steady.  “I don’t even know what I’ve done wrong or what you want, except for me to sacrifice myself and all my needs for you.”

He stepped back, surprised that I dared to reply, shocked by my honesty.

“I have been pointing out to you what you lack as a supportive wife,” he stated, his voice suddenly steady, too, and of a normal volume–as if yelling at one’s wife for five hours straight, until three in the morning, was as natural a husbandly act as passing salt at the dinner table.

I could predict what would follow.  He would grow loud again, like a Nazi-trained torturer.  Then I would promise something like getting up with him at 6:00 in the morning to make his breakfast before the children woke up for homeschool.  He would follow with forgiveness, tender words, and the offer of caresses . . .

And then, in the next week or ten days, the cycle would begin again, a wheel like a windmill, ever at the mercy of an inevitable gale.

Why can’t humans break the wheels of their own doom?  I wondered.  Even those who call themselves Christians . . .

         My eyes wandered to the painting of Mary holding baby Jesus, above the huge wood mantel and stones of the fireplace.  Mary looked so peaceful as she kissed the divine infant’s face.

Then I looked at the face of my husband.

Where is my peace?  I asked myself–and God–whom I knew was watching this.

The answer to a prayer I had whispered for fifteen years came to me suddenly, like the last embers glowing in the hearth that whipped into flame as I watched.

I am not sleeping, God spoke in the flame.  You do not have to live with this.  This is not how I intended marriage.

I blushed from the top of my forehead to my toes.

“Enough!” I screamed.  For the first time, I yelled back.  “I’ve had enough of your yelling, your violence, your anger.”  I ran toward the stairs and saw the children sitting on the lower steps, to the lower level, in the dark.  Again.  Tears glistened on Jonathan’s face, caught in the green moon nightlight that illumined the staircase for those who sought their way in darkness.  Jessica sat behind him, her face hidden in her lap.

I stood between them and the upper landing by the exit.  Then I flung open the heavy wooden door and stepped toward the outside staircase.  It rose a dizzy height from the walkway, framed by silver fir trees.  Cold mountain air splashed over my hot face like water, filling my lungs for one long breath before I screamed to the night,

“I . . . can’t . . . take . . . this . . . anymore!”

The words echoed in the forest silence, against tree trunks, rocks, and hills.  They beat upon the neighbor’s house.  But no lights came on, and no one appeared in the doorway.  I reached for my purse and keys that always waited ready by the door.  I lifted my arm toward my children and pleaded,

“Come with me!”

Jonathan jumped up and took my hand.  Jessica hesitated, looked toward her father, and said, “But who will stay with Daddy?”           Perhaps I should have grabbed her and pulled her with us, for she had always been connected to the father she resembled in face, figure, and character.  But I could not force her then.  I stepped out with Jonathan onto the wooden platform and hurried down all thirty-eight steps.

         Three-fifteen in the morning is cold on a mountain winter night.  All I had was my purse, my Subaru station wagon, and my frightened son Jonathan.  I drove around aimlessly for awhile, watching the headlights hit the tall snow berms and the white-laden branches of trees.  I stopped at the church and parked in the dark, empty lot.

The church perched on top of the mountain.  I took Jonathan’s hand and walked across the cleared path to the edge of the slope, where the large wooden cross rose silently against the view.

The nearly full moon lit up the mountain range from our feet to the farthest summit above Desert’s Edge.  Stars spread in millions of white dots forming ancient patterns of animals and heroes.  They touched the mountain peaks and the horizon, countless paths open to us, countless possibilities.

All the ridges, slopes, and crevasses of the mountain were made more stark by snow and shadow, with only a little mist that floated in between.  I stepped forward, and the snow crunched beneath my sheepskin boot.  I bent down and scooped up a handful, white in the moonlight.  I sifted the ice crystals with my fingers, so cold against my bare skin that they burned like fire.

Fire and ice, I thought, are not so very different.

         I wiped the snow away and sighed.  What to do now?

“See, there is Keller’s Peak,” I pointed toward a distant summit, my voice feeling free.  “On top of it is the forest fire lookout we climbed to with your sister.  Remember how steep the steps were, and how I had to walk up just behind you?  And the view!  Remember the room all plated with glass, the mountains’ forests stretching in all directions beneath us, and the telescope viewer they let us peer through?”

Jonathan looked up at me and said, in a small, tired, little-boy voice,

“I’m cold, Mom.  And I miss Jessica.”

His breath, like mine, formed a mist illumined by the moonlight.

“I know,” I replied, my sudden elation and momentary freedom turned to tears.  They rushed unbidden down my cold cheeks, and I wiped them with the arm of the coat I had grabbed on my way out the door.

“Where can we go?” Jonathan asked.

“I . . . don’t . . . know,” I replied, wishing I had a father, mother, or brother now.  I could not imagine driving down the mountain this late, not knowing where to go for refuge and without Jessica.

“How about Pastor’s house?” I suggested.

Jonathan nodded, his elvish face so full of trust that it hurt to look at it, tipped up toward me in the moonlight.  His oval eyes under lashes glowed in the reflected light, so bright I could glimpse their color blue–like the submerged sides of icebergs, something rarely seen.  Curls dangled on his forehead, and he pushed one away with a small, ungloved hand.  His other hand reached out for mine.

I would always remember that touch, especially when I could hold him only in my dreams.

“Yes, let’s go to Pastor’s house,” he agreed, always wise for his age.  It was a Plan, and we needed one.

And so, at 3:33 a.m., we slid down the icy road to Pastor Tom’s house.  We never would have made it without all-wheel drive.  When at last we pulled into the recently shoveled, narrow driveway, I sat there with the engine and heater running.

“I’m going to knock on his door,” I told Jonathan.

“I’m coming,” he said.

“You sure you don’t want to wait here where it is warm?” I asked.

The boy stared up at me, every bit as Irish/English stubborn as I was.

“OK.  Come on.”

He followed me out of the car, still clinging to my hand.  We crunched our way up the snow-dusted deck to the front door and rang the bell.

No one came.

I rang the bell again.  I knocked.  I waited.  I knocked harder.

“Well, it’s almost four in the morning,” I observed.  “Maybe they are asleep and do not hear us.”

But that seemed odd.  Did they see who was at the door and decide not to answer it?  Several times I had gone to the church to ask for help with Edd’s abuses.  No one had believed me, though my only witnesses to what happened behind closed doors, Jessica and Jonathan, had testified on my behalf.  Edd made a lot of money as a full-time English professor, and he donated tithes to the church.  He was also a worship music leader, and I was a crazy poet, homeschool mom, who took too much prescription medicine . . .

My head pounded, and the back of my neck hurt.  The soles of my feet, my toes, and my fingertips started tingling.  How long had it been since I had a Viacodin?

“Nooo,” I moaned.  “I’ve got to stop taking all of those.”

Jonathan looked up at me, questions in his eyes.  I had not realized I spoke my thoughts aloud.  I put my hand on his head, felt the soft curls beneath my fingers, and remembered how I kept tiny cuttings in plastic bags, safe in my jewelry box, since he was born.

I rang the bell one last time.  I could hear it echo in the house behind the broad wooden door shut tight.  Jonathan shivered beside me, and a chill ran like an electric shock into my uncovered head.

I thought about Edd falling asleep on the upstairs sofa after he put Jessica back to bed.  I thought about the dark steps leading down to the lower level where my pain, anxiety, and sleep medicine waited in the closet by my bedroom.  I thought of the green moon nightlight above the desk, my new laptop light dimming and brightening like a breathing cat asleep, the spacefoam mattress, deep pillows, and fleece blanket.  I thought about being numb again, lulled to a dreamless sleep for hours uninterrupted.  Perhaps, I could continue to bear the abuse, to somehow cope . . .

I thought of how I would have to climb each of those broad, wooden, beige-painted thirty-eight steps to the heavy, stained brown double front door with its beveled glass windows enclosed by metal like the portals of a castle’s gates.

Those doors I had a key for.  They would open to me easily.  But what about the doors I had stood upon the frozen precipice to see, the mountains spread out in snow and moonlight?

Don’t go back, my heart warned.  But the Pastor’s door remained unopened, his windows unlit.  The terrible cold weighed me down.  Pain shot through my body like fire.

I turned and walked back to the warm car, pulling Jonathan after me.

“Is anybody out there?” I yelled a few weeks later, at snow-laden trees and empty houses.  “Any neighbor who would help us shovel snow?”

No one answered.  Jessica and I continued to shovel snow on our own.  After awhile, the man from next door walked outside to stare at us and the snow shovels in our wet, gloved hands.  Then he turned around and walked back into his warm house.  He didn’t say a word.

“Mom, we’ll never get this car shoveled out of the driveway before the store closes,” Jessica pointed out the obvious as light began to dim in the shadow of tall evergreens.  She threw her orange shovel to the side of the semi-shoveled driveway, stood dripping with sweat and the flurry of new snow, and looked into my eyes.  Her pale face, framed by auburn waves of curly hair, seemed silent, still, resolved.  The pink birthmark on her left cheek was hardly visible.  Her eyes flashed darker than usual, like the sky above treetops before night drives away the blue.

I expected her to speak, to ask The Question–the one I had heard for months, but she said nothing.  And that Nothing held within itself years of abuse from a man I called Husband, and she called Father.  Not “Daddy” anymore, just “Father.”

Behind her stood the three-story, half a million-dollar, wood and glass house framed by hundred-feet-high silver fir trees–a castle, a tower, a Beautiful Prison.

I held my blue shovel by its bent and padded handle–halfway between the three-foot-high berm and the grey sky.  The dirty black Subaru station wagon waited behind me in silence, the doors unlocked, the gas tank full, the steering panel ready for a key.

“Say it,” I said to Jessica–my Jesse who had changed from a happy toddler with pigtails that bounced when she ran–to this tall, silent teenager with pale skin and flaming blue eyes.

She stood there as the sudden flurry ceased and sunset cast rays upon the virgin snow.  She stood like an angel, a Guardian who leads children safely home.  She raised one arm and pointed at something behind the car, her red vest covered with white, her brown eyelashes with crystals.

I did not have to turn around to see the Door open in the air, the Door to a new Life, a new dimension.  I did not have to open my palm to feel the Key Jesse had just given me, a key more ornate than the silver one I pinned to capes for dress-up–or the large brass one upon my dresser, which I said would open my English castle’s door.

I had not been to England for fifteen years.  I had changed England to another country, New Zealand, much like it but more lovely and uncrowded–in another Hemisphere across a different Sea.

My thoughts turned back to where we stood, in the snow, our feet cold in their boots.  Jessica continued looking at me as if waiting for directions.  Still holding the shovel between sky and snow, I felt a sudden piercing like a sword thrust through me, followed by the stillness before death or birth.

I will say the Question,” I spoke softly as to a frightened child (was it Jess or me?).  “And this time I will answer it.”

All the strength and weakness that had kept me in an abusive marriage snapped inside me, like a pine sapling under a blizzard’s burden.  I knew I could not step again–meekly, like a slave or sheep–into that house.  Nor could I lead my children in there after me.

“When are you going to draw the line and leave Dad?” I yelled at myself that Question Jess had asked me for months.  “I am so tired of seeing him hurt you and us!”

I raised the shovel above my head and plunged it into the snow blanket’s graceful, untouched surface that glinted like a million crystals in the last light of afternoon.

I pulled the shovel out to reveal a perfect line of white with aquamarine edges.  I set the shovel down, walked to the Subaru, opened the front door, pulled out my digital camera, took a photo, and announced,

“Jessica, there is your Line.”

Her face enlivened with opposite emotions.

“Are you kidding?” she asked, stepping toward the line in the snow.  “Why now?  Are you sure?  Don’t do it just for me!”

For the first time we could remember, Edd was down in the valley, staying in his office so as “not to deal with the snow.”  Jonathan, almost eleven, was playing up the road at a friend’s house.  We had Air New Zealand tickets stamped with “June,” for our fourth summer/winter there.  We could change them to April, ask friends to help us pack, get a ride to the airport, and fly across 10,500 kilometers of ocean to islands near Antarctica, where the Silver Fern grows, and children and wives are better protected from abuse (or so I hoped).

We had no American family to turn to, no inherited house for retreating.  The land across the sea seemed not just the place of our dreams but a real Door we could enter, a keyhole into which we could turn a key.

The Southern Alps, with their year-round glaciers and aquamarine lakes, could hide us . . .

Jessica and I looked at each other, and two smiles bubbled up from somewhere long covered over by tears.

“See, there’s the Door,” I gestured behind me.  “And you have just handed me the Key.”

“And you have just cut a Line in the Snow,” she said as we embraced each other.

With help from Tara, Jessica’s best friend–and Tara’s parents–we packed and left that night.  Never wanting to return, we stowed all our Treasures:

–my collection of small silver spoons from countries all over the world, each with its own seal and design

–letters from my Great-Grandmother Julia in England and her sister, Great, Great Aunt Kate in India, handwritten on parchment

–photo albums of Julia in England, riding her bike at the turn of the Twentieth Century, Worcester cathedral above her in shades of black and gray–and Kate, perched on a white horse in India, palm fronds behind her . . . and my Irish grandfather at the coal mines, and my educated university professor grandparents in the cozy study of their Carolina mansion . . . and all the early photos of my childhood, the only ones of my dark-haired father, my blonde mother looking wistful, my lost brother, my own children when they were young (before I stored digital images on my computer)

–my Renaissance costumes in heavy velvet material and lace, Sting sword with Elvish letters on the blade, an eagle-feathered silver Gondor helmet with matching shield, an archery set with Jessica’s real Indian fringed leather quiver for the arrows

–my family ancestry book with carefully labeled branches of family trees, birth certificates, notes I could never remember

–all the cards, presents, drawings, treasures my children ever gave me

–all the American history dolls with costumes, baseball cards, baby clothes, and toys from the children’s bedroom

— and so much more I cannot type for sorrow

All into brown boxes to send by boat to New Zealand.

Had I not been taking prescription medication, I might have paused a moment in my frenzy and asked if this was really the best plan.  Why fly all the way to New Zealand?  Why not drive down the hill to a woman’s shelter?

Hadn’t my mother taught me that you cannot outrun your problems, cannot escape yourself?

My children obediently followed my lead and stuffed their Treasures into boxes.  They packed their suitcases with warm clothes, for it would be autumn there.  And I did not pause to ask these questions.

After hours of preparing, we got in the black Subaru station wagon and followed Tara’s white, overloaded truck (Jonathan wanted to ride with them).  In our packed car, Jessica and I watched the nearly full moon shine over cedar trees covered in snow crystals, and the fields of smooth snow without a single footprint.  The very air glowed with light, and we giggled like prisoners set free.

The forest, the mountains–the whole wide world–lay open and unexplored before us, and we could step into it all if we chose.  But I picked New Zealand, twelve-and-a-half hours’ flight across the Pacific, in the Southern Hemisphere where the Southern Cross hangs in the sky and the Milky Way looks so close, as if we were in a spaceship exploring it, or as if we could hold up our thumbs and hitch a ride through the Galaxy.  New Zealand, where the green hills, dotted with sheep, stretch toward rivers one can drink from, and the buzzy bees hum through flowers, and the Kea parrot calls across the snowy mountain rocks, and the Tui birds sing out their names from Kauri trees:

“Tu-ii, Tu-ii!” at midnight.

We spent two nights at Tara’s house, waiting for our flight from Los Angeles to Christchurch.  I slept on the sofa.  The children slept upstairs in Tara’s room.  Edd didn’t spend much effort looking for us.  He probably didn’t believe that I, like a caged bird free, could fly with our children across the Sea.

On the way to the airport, he called my cell phone.  We, in a limousine, answered the ring and told him we wanted to go.  Even Jonathan said so, the boy who remembered all too well the yelling and violence that had permeated his life.

Jonathan would later tell me,

“The screaming in my mind did not stop until we reached New Zealand.  And I dreamed of Dad sitting in a chair yelling at the rest of us who sat in chairs in a square around him.”

But, after he hung up the cell phone, he looked at me with his blue Frodo eyes and curly honey hair and said,

“I hope you’re right about this, Mom.  I’m trusting you.”

I should have paused and asked myself how well thought-out my plan was.  But I let the limo continue its journey to the airport, our suitcases and boxes all packed, the Air New Zealand tickets and passports in my purse.  Jessica was silent.

We passed through the security machines and then spent time in the shops at the International Terminal.  I exchanged money from American to New Zealand and bought some chocolate for the flight.  When the call over the loud speaker came to board our plane, we walked down the gray enclosed ramp with other passengers, some with Kiwi accents and all bobbing happily along.  Jonathan held his big, plush wolf pillow under his arm and reached for my hand.

We found our seats, three together by the windows.  I sat in the aisle seat and immediately took some medicine to help me relax and enjoy the long flight with its several meals and full-length films.  Jonathan played with a computer game, and Jessica just sat there, silent.  What was she thinking?

It was lovely being surrounded by Kiwi accents again, eating Kiwi food like lamb and roasted potatoes.  I even had a glass of free wine.  We flew into the night, the endless night, across the vast Pacific.  After our second movie, I lay my head back on the padded seat, closed my eyes, and listened to the hum of engines.

I fell asleep but did not dream.  Better I had stayed awake and watched and soberly considered this flight I took with my two trusting children.

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

This is why I went to New Zealand.  Read my chapter about my life in New Zealand in my post “Fire and Ice” my book, New Zealand Chapter:  https://lonnalisawilliams.wordpress.com/2012/07/02/fire-and-ice-my-book-new-zealand-chapter-6/

Read the whole story here:

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B007U7KYJ8

 

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