26…27…28

Lights flashed red and white. I shut my eyes to their dizzying effects and the surreal dream-quality of all that had happened and was happening. Two medics whisked me on a gurney toward the opened doors of the ambulance.

“I’ll follow you to the hospital later,” my husband told the men. “our two sons and their cousins are due back any minute from the 7-11 down the street. I need to find someone to watch them. I recognized the familiar signs of anger, disgust, and heartbreak on his handsome face. As he held the glass storm door of our yellow house before him like a shield, I wondered if he was guarding those hot emotions not just his well-built physique.

“Did you jump off a building to get into these pants?” The medic good-naturedly asked as he helped me to pull them off. I smiled and nodded, but the question and the removal of my jeans ticked me off.

The antiseptic odor of the emergency room–like smelling salts–burned me awake to the consequences of my foolish actions. The pale walls, white ceiling tiles, and bleached bedding drove the point deeper. I didn’t deserve to cry! Frustration escalated, rising in my veins. My breathing erratic, like the thumping of my heart.

The beat of my life.

I pat-patted the blankets. Mind racing. Emotions–like a pinball–pounding the edges of my thoughts.

Did I really want to die?

From behind the curtain, hushed voices talked about picket lines, derogatory name-calling, and how the medical center scrambled, searching for temporary staff to fill shifts. Strangely, knowing regular employees weren’t on duty, comforted me.

One on-call nurse entered in her scrubs, her honey-gold hair and lithe form somehow intimidating.

“I’m sorry you have to do this.” I said softly.

Although she acknowledged my words, I saw and felt no compassion in her icy-blue stare or brisk movements as she took my vitals.

She handed me a bedpan. “We’re going to give you charcoal to absorb the pills from your overdose and to aid in forced vomiting.” She said, her tone flat.

The large clock ticked. The black hour & minute hands rotated at a snail’s pace past the seven and beyond as the red hand looped over and over. A reminder of former school days, nearly a decade gone.

I counted the tiny holes in the drop-down ceiling tiles, and waited.

And waited.

And…

Another nurse, similar in coloring to the first (but older, no-nonsense, and stockier), slid the curtain aside. The metal ball chain attached to the ceiling rails scraped an irritating protest.

She looked at the silver vessel, eyes narrowed. The shallow receptacle cold, heavy, and empty in my hands. She took it from me shaking her head.

“We have to pump your stomach.”

“Why?” I said.

“The charcoal’s not working. We have to rid you of the contents. Unless…”

“I make myself throw up?”

I knew something–too much–about that.

She nodded.

I hung my head, defeated, and nodded back.

All through the night, she brought me two-liter-sized bottles of a thick, clear liquid. At first, eager to help and not wanting to waste her time, I gulped down the offerings. After the third round, I stubbornly shook my head.

With a stern gaze, she delivered granite truth.

“You have at least five more of these to drink. If you don’t, your kidneys may be permanently damaged.”

Still, I hesitated.

“You have a family, right?

I nodded.

“Maybe it’s time to think about them.”

Glimmers

Twinkle, twinkle little star, how I wonder what you are! Up above the world so high, like a diamond in the sky.

–Jane Taylor

Two years and four foster homes later, my caregivers visited her cousin and her cousin’s family. Their little girl, whom I call, Daphne, eagerly gripped my hand and pulled me into her bedroom–a space blooming with all things pink and frilly. The four-poster bed with a ruffled canopy, matching curtains, and shag pillows dumbfounded me.

“What?” Daphne said. Her sapphire eyes and wide smile puzzled me.

“Come on!” She gently pulled me by the hand and as we explored her vast array of toys and dolls, I stopped hard in front of her miniature piano.

“You want me to play it for you?”

I nodded.

She pecked the keys and sang with joyful abandon. Over and over she crooned about a little star in a night sky. And as she taught me the few notes, the terror and grief briefly disappeared.

***

Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.

–The New England Primer

How many of us as children, learned this lilting verse?

Shortly after my singular visit with Daphne, (who taught me to sing, play notes, graciously gifted me her mini-piano, and caused hope to unfurl in me) another precocious friend flashed into my life.

Her last name rhymed with the street she lived on, something like, Carly Sunny lives on Funny.

We wore out the swings, teeter-totters, and merry-go-round at a small-town park playground.

She invited me to her church so she could win prizes, and I tagged along so I could pretend to be her.

One day while soaring as high as we could, hands gripping fat chains, feet planted in black-swing-seats she yelled, “Do you pray?”

I shook my head.

She leaped off, mid-air, and jerked me to an abrupt stop.

Dropping onto the grass, she closed her eyes, pressed her palms together and bowed her head.

I copied her movements.

“Every night you should kneel beside your bed and pray like this…”

Who knew a child’s prayer could switch off–if only for a little while–the scenes that played like a horror film in my mind?

***

Carly coached me on prayer, shared a silly song all about a fine lady on a white horse with rings on her fingers and bells on her toes, and she taught me how to wish–

Starlight, star bright, first star I see tonight, I wish I may, I wish I might, have this wish I wish tonight.

–Unknown

Sometime during Carly’s free tutoring on life as a normal girl, a record playing, When You Wish Upon a Star, captured my attention.

One night, before I knelt beside my bed to recite my nightly prayer, the phrase “makes no difference who you are” jingled in my thoughts.

Hands trembling, I held my breath and brushed back the cotton curtain.

Not too dark yet.

Then, like a glittery beacon…

The first star.

Scrunching closed my eyes, I recited the poem, careful to enunciate each line.

When I finished, something supercharged and ethereal broke through the all-too-familiar-dread.

My eyes flew open and I pulled back, heart racing with a kind of knowing:

The heavens declare the glory of God…

Psalm 19:1

Someone heard the fervent desire of a little girl. A little girl aching for her mother, her grandfather, her innocence.

A little girl lost.

Several days later, my wish for a pony came true.

And while the gift provided years of joy, Judy in no way compared to the awe I’d felt or the longing ignited in me to know the mysterious Who.

From the Memoir-Part Two

Black tires skidded to a stop in front of me, spraying gravel.

A tall man wearing a shiny badge jumped out of a car with a flashing light on the roof and sprinted toward me.

“Oh, God!” A deep voice said.

Sharp pebbles pierced my cheek, and hot pavement seared my forearms, belly, and legs.

From my prone position, my head bobbed as I struggled to lift it.

The sun, high in the sky, ringed the man’s blond hair like a halo.

Strong arms lifted me and held me tight.

I wriggled and flailed, trying to get away.

The man gently stroked my hair and patted my back. “Shhh, it’s okay. Everything’s going to be okay.”

I sank into him and rested my weary head on his shoulder.

At the police station, the officer sat me on a sturdy, folding-table and bought me an Orange Crush from the vending machine.

“Want me to open it for you?”

I shook my head, and after he handed me the chilled drink, I rocked it like a baby.

The policeman had me back to my grandmother’s by nightfall. Before he left, he popped the cap and watched me take a drink of the sweet liquid.

Once he was gone, my grandmother ripped the bottle from my lips–glass scraping my teeth–grabbed me by the hair, and dragged me to a bedroom.

While fireworks boomed outside, she beat me with a belt–buckle and all.

I scurried to a corner, rolled into a ball, and offered her my back.

After she left, I crawled to a cot covered with an Army blanket. As I clambered up, my tender skin bristled against the coarse fabric.

There, the darkling lie was planted, and I got the message: I had to be perfect to be loved.