Five years ago, this spring, I relocated from Pennsylvania to South Carolina. I was not informed that I would need a passport to make this move and have been paying for it ever since. There are very few conversations that I will get into with someone that don't take that turn. The one where they go completely off subject and flash me that slow grin. "You're not from around here, are you?"
My former pastors wife was a yankee. She tried to teach me how to fake the accent. She, and many others, explained to me that I would need to in order to survive. But there are other things I can do nothing about that will always give me away. Take football, for instance. In Columbia, you are either a Gamecock fan or you're one of 'those'. A Clemson fan. There are the odd few who will say they are Florida Gator fans or Crimson Tide fans. There is even the rare Tennessee fan. Then there is me. The first time I was asked what team I rooted for, I think that timer actually stould still when I replied "I don't follow football. I don't like it." I honestly expected someone at our wedding to jump up when the Pastor asked 'If anyone has any reason....'
"He don't like football!"
There would be gasps and woeful cries. Parents would grab their 'young-uns' and run for the door as the Pastor began to beat me upside the head with his NIV Bible, shouting 'Be gone, Satan! Be gone from this boy!'
That's the kind of Pastor we had. I shit you not. I can say 'shit' because I am no longer affiliated with him or his church. There were , shall we say, 'issues'. They took time to build and for me to fully identify them all, but they were numerous and big enough for my wife and I to say 'We gone, Pastor. We gone.'
In Pennsylvania, you ask 'What denomination are you?' Depending on the answer, you then ask 'Orthodox? Reformed? Ukranian? Latin?' and so on and so on. In South Carolina, they ask 'Which Baptist church do you go to?' These days, I go the Our Mother of the Sealy Serta. I like it cause I don't have to travel far, I can go in my underwear, and if I'm lucky, the wife will make fried eggs and kielbasa for communion.
In Pennsylvania, the churches will have their signs out front. They will put their bible quotes or inspirational messgaes on them. A lot of them are either very conservative in what they might say or sometimes condemning. In South Carolina, it's anything goes.
"STOP, DROP, AND ROLL
WON'T WORK IN HELL!"
ONLY JESUS SAVES!"
"JESUS IS RETURNING
RESISTANCE IS FUTILE!"
OR ONE OF MY FAVORITES FROM
A SIGN AT ONE OF THE
FEW CATHOLIC CHURCHES DOWN HERE..
KICK USC'S ASS!
Sometimes you run across some really thoughtful ones. Ones that make even me stop and think. Then, once in a while, I come across one I just don't get.
"IF YOU'RE WAITING FOR GOD
TO GIVE YOU A SIGN,
TAKE YOURS DOWN"
That one was on a church about a mile from my house. I would pass it everyday on the way to work or on the way to just about anywhere. It's haunted me. I've missed turns and forgotten what I was supposed to pick up at the Piggly Wiggly because I was trying to figure it out. What sign? Do I have a sign up? What does it say?! WHAT sign!?!!?
And as far as me 'waiting for a sign', well, let's just say I have been waiting all my life. Waiting, asking, looking, praying...all to the point where I have given up. You don't know where I come from or what I have seen, but He does. I have gone through life pretty much demanding answers or some kind of sign and have forever felt dissapointed.
I know I have a great many things in my life to be grateful for. Many things. I know I have been blessed in some ways I may not even be aware of. My health...could be worse. I had a close call here and there. My family is a blessing, even though the in-laws ..okay, my mother-in-law likes to remind me I am and always will be a yankee. My wife is a blessing. Except on Sundays when the Gamecocks are playing. Then she's a warning siren and I sit at the computer and try to pretend my ears aren't bleeding. My step-son is a blessing, unless I have to traverse the landfill that has overtaken the bedroom I painted for him not too long ago. My daughter, all 16 months of her is a blessing...except for the curse. Yes, there is a curse. It's the one that started with my mother wishing on me that I would have children of my own one day, to my wife saying 'You don't understand because you don't have children of your own'. Now I do. I have a daughter of my own and unfortunately, I am beginning to 'understand'. And I don't like it.
There are many things I don't understand in life. Often, when I come to one of these crossroads, I feel very ignorant. Ill-equipped. Stupid. Forest Gump is Einstein compared to me. The guy from SlingBlade is Stephen Hawking compared to me. My inability to comprehend what seems to come so easy to others or on the surface appears as if it should be easy to me, frustrates me. I ask God, 'Why does it have to be so hard to understand?'
I have asked so many times and asked so many people, I think the next one that comes at me, especially with that southern lilt, and says 'We aren't meant to understand the mysteries...' I may have to start taking hostages.
I have tried to make myself 'open' to God many times. Many times, I have been beaten down, disappointed, hurt, and even close to absolutely discouraged. I have been in the hole and I have been the hole. At one time in my life, a long, long time ago, I thought I had been called. The priest at my church put that to rest rather quickly. He all but laughed in my face. I go from there to the Pastor of the church I hook up with in South Carolina, who shuns me and my family, when I inform him one of the church 'elders' seems to have a problem looking at porn on the computer where we both work. The place where families and kids are the client and roam the faciltiy all the hours it is open. Even when the pastor confronts him and he admits to it, I and my family are still shunned. After I have joined the Praise Team, written songs for service, played for two thousand people at a Fall Festival the songs I wrote with the Praise Team, taught Vacation Bible School, and yes...EVEN introduced these God fearing southerners to the wonders of my yankee grandmother's shoe-fly pie..I am cast out!
This man laid hands on me. This man told me I had a place and a calling and a purpose in life. Now, I live in fear that I may run into him somewhere and react in an un-Christian like manner, that to some degree I am sure will be walking on the fence of what is or isn't legal. I have stopped asking God 'why' all of this had to happen. Why everytime I try to devote my life, my heart...I have it ripped out.
I didn't bother asking why when my daughter was born. The day I knew my wife was pregnant, I knew God was screwing with me. Trying to tell me or show me something. I also knew it was pointless to ask why or what.
You may have followed my blog during the pregnancy. I never told you about the birth. This is where 'The Curse' began to unravel and work it's stuff on me. They took my wife in for a scheduled C-section. I was in my scrubs waiting for them to call me in. They came a little sooner than I thought they would. Actually, one nurse came.
"We need you in the delivery room now."
She took me by the arm and began to pull me down the hall. "There's a problem. Nothing to worry about. Your wife needs you. You need to be calm and you need to comfort her."
I kept thinking that there was no fucking way this was happening. No way that God gives me a baby at 43 years of age and then pulls this shit at the birth. No damn way. This could fucking not fucking be happening.
We get into the room. My wife is literally stretched out as if she is laying on a cross. Both her arms were restrained. There was a blue curtain over her chest, so she and I could not see what was going on down below. She turned her head and was crying. The first words out of her mouth were 'I'm sorry'.
I think the nurse pulled me over to a chair by my wifes head. I sat. My wife continued to apologize and cry, her arms restrained as I heard a nurse say 'She's having an attack" My wife has a heart condition.
This was NOT happening.
A nurse told me to talk to her. I literally did not know what to say. 'Comfort her.'
I put my hand on her forhead. 'It's okay.'
'I'm so sorry' she kept saying. Sorry for what? Then it hit me. I looked up and saw the doctors face, or what I could see of it with the mask. The baby? Then I looked at her. No. No, no, no. Not both of them. No. Not. Not happening.
I kept telling her it was okay. Everyone in the room did. They very quietly kept assuring her everything was fine and she needed to be calm. The doctor did too. Then he said, 'We're almost there.' I actually was afraid of what he would say when he 'got there'.
As my wife seemed to be calming down, the doctor asked 'Was the last one breach?'
I looked at her as she said 'N-No.'
The doctor chuckled 'Well, this one is.'
I grabbed my wife's hand and she grabbed back. 'It's okay.' The doctor said. I knew breach wasn't good. I didn't know if it mattered in a C-section. Then the doctor looked over the curtain at me 'Would you like to see your daughter being born?'
My wife looked at me. 'Go ahead.'
I stould up on very wobbly legs. I looked over the curtain and down. I watched as the doctor pulled my daughter, ass first, out of my wife's abdomen. She was snow white with splatters of fluid all over her. Beyond her, I could not help but see my wife. How they had her 'open'. I could see 'inside' of her. Inside. The opening looked big enough for a basketball to go through. At least, in my memory it did. And I could see inside my wife. Inside.
All went well after that. I vaguely remember following the nurse, with my daugher in her arms, into the nursery. I carried my wife's 35mm camera. I remember a man already in there. he had that 'deer in the headlights look' as he stared at my daughter and then me. In a dreamlike voice, which fit the dreamlike moment, he softly said 'Take pictures. Take lots of pictures. You can never..get..enough..pictures.' For a brief moment, it felt like the secret of life had just been revealed to me. 'Take pictures.'
And so my lesson began. I would now know what it was like. The fears, the worries, the joy, the heartache. All of it. And not subtly. Not in bits and pieces. I was gonna get it all at once. The Pink song comes to mind. "You can run over me with your eighteen wheeler truck, but I won't give a fuck'. The thing is, you do give a fuck...and then some.
My wife won't watch any movie where a child is in danger or being hurt. Now I know why.
As my mother-in-law tells me about a relative who is getting a divorce and how the mother took the child and was so self-absorbed that she didn't take any toys for the child, I know. All I can see is my daughter's face and think of her with none of her toys to play with. Nothing of her own. Nothing familiar. My heart breaks as I wish she would stop telling me about this baby. AS I try NOT to put my daughters face on the images running through my head. I'm about to cry because I can't stop picturing my daughter without her things. That was about a week ago and I still can't shake it.
Last Friday, I was on my way to work. I almost drove off the road. The church with the 'sign about signs' had been payed a visit in the night. Someone had taken the letters and re-arranged them. I probably would never have noticed, except that I had become obsessed with this one sign and I knew I had to find the meaning before they changed it again. I had to turn around and get a picture of it with my cellphone.
The rest of my ride to work was a blur. What the fuck? Who would do that? WHY would they do that? Then, I found myself trying to connect the two. Did one have anything to do with the other? Was THIS a sign? Or was THAT a sign? and still...WHAT is my sign?
My wife and I work in the same office. Working together has its advantages. Of course it has its disadvantages. But overall, my wife has saved my ass more times than I can count, at work. She's smarter than I am. She knows the business better, the company better. She knows it all. She never gives herself enough credit. Working together, well, you tend to be more familiar at work than you would with your regular co-worker. As soon as I got in, I had to show her the picture. She passed the church as well, but hadn't noticed. Was that a sign? Maybe she doesn't need a sign?
By the time I was on my way home that night, I saw in my rearview mirror as I passed it, that all the letters were now gone. The sign, as it were, was now blank. Was that a sign?
Today, on my way to work, the sign was still blank. I wondered what the discussion might have been in that church on Sunday, regarding the sign. Were they angry? Vengeful? Hurt? How long would they leave it blank? How long? And what would they put up next? Would they respond to what was left on it on Friday? Were they waiting...for a sign?
I felt like shit this morning. My health is so-so at best. I need to quit smoking desperately, if it's not too late already. I need another nerve block, but have so much going on that I am afraid what else the doctor will find. I'm tired too much. Usually, when I go to work like this, it just gets worse through out the day and by the time I get home I want drugs, quiet, and sleep. The amazing thing is, I can walk in the door, miserable as I could possibly be, and my daughter toddles over and looks up with a smile.Her face seems to say she understands but 'It's okay. You're home. We're glad you're home. Now give me a tickle."
When i got into work, my wife had seen something on the internet. A four year old girl had been shot at the Sam's Club about two miles from our house this morning. I have been training myself not to start 'picturing' things. I said 'Oh' and moved on. About an hour later, she had the full story.
There are so many things wrong with this 'incident' that if Nancy Grace tried to report on it, her head would explode from a massive aneurism.
"A four year old girl, sitting in her grandmother's shopping cart, pulled a small caliber handgun from her grandmother's purse...and shot herself."
And it's only Monday.
As my wife told me the story, there it was. All I could see was my daughter...not knowing...so innocent..so curious.
All day, I have gone over and over it. Each time, seeing my daughter's face. I have gone over all the why's and what the fucks. I have gone over and over.
On my way home, I checked the sign at the church in my rearview mirror. Blank. Nothing. Nadda. There is no sign. Where is the sign? Where is the sign in all of this? And what, if any, is my sign?
I need a sign. So does the little girl's family. She is recovering, they say. Recovering. How does anyone recover...sigh.
If...IF I have a sign, I am sure it says something like 'What the fuck?' I know that may not be appropriate. I suppose a more acceptable version of that sign would be 'Where are you?' or 'Where were you?'