Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.
Back at home, I sit alone in our living room for nearly an hour. I am numb, trying to thaw, struggling to think. I eventually find some paper and start writing. My mother wrote letters because Simon Taylor (aka our former pastor) wouldn’t listen. I write because I love words. What I see in black and white is a personal dictionary, defining what I can’t otherwise understand. But it’s never enough. Suddenly my mother appears. As always she is graceful, her face glowing with the love of Christ. “Why did you have to read me all those stupid love letters you wrote to ... that man?” I ask. “I didn’t have anyone else to read ‘em to.” She takes her time looking around the room before settling on me slumped into one of our uncomfortable chairs, spiral notebook in hand. As she looks at me, I wonder why she's always so willing to trade comfort for style. “You had a lot of friends,” I say, rolling my eyes. “I was your kid.” She looks uncomfortable and I realize it’s the first time I’ve had enough nerve to bring up the subject. “Why did you and Daddy get back together anyway ... that time?” Her hands go to her head and work to massage out an appropriate answer. “Isn’t that what you wanted?” I shake my head. “I didn’t want you to read me all those stupid letters.” “But we were so close and you were such a sweet child.” “How come I never felt like a kid?” She looks away--through the sliding glass door that faces our neighbor's backyard --and I wonder if she even knows they have a dog. She finally says, “Your dad loves me.” “Do you remember tellin’ me that God said Daddy was gonna die ... so that you and Simon Taylor could be together?” “God did tell me that.” The tone of her voice stamps fact across the statement as it often does. Her eyes shine. “Are you sure because he’s not dead yet?” “I guess God changed his mind.” “If God’s perfect, why would he change his mind?” “He works in mysterious ways that are not for us to question.” Her eyes glisten with a familiar light that is starting to sicken me. According to her, it’s the best kind of joy--the kind you find through Christ. Her eyes have that same glow when she speaks of demonic possession, when she praises God with uplifted arms, and when she talks about her beloved Simon Taylor. It’s supposed to be a good light but it feels wrong, and I don’t know why. “I love God,” I say. “I just don’t understand him.” She sits on the couch next to me. “Most people don’t.” “Matt,” my voice cracks, “broke up with me.” Her smile tightens into a thin, crisp line across her face. “You shouldn’t have slept with him.” Her head swings like a baseball bat. Each time it moves from left to right it bashes my heart. “How do you know what I did?” She knows. “I wrote him a letter,” I say before she can answer. She moves off the couch and kneels on the floor in from of me, filling my personal space. “Sometimes it’s easier to say thangs in a letter.” “Even when people are willin’ to listen?" I ask. "Even when what you have to say sounds crazy ‘cause it’s so emotional and intense?” I look around the room as if to find something helpful but all I see is the pretty stuff my mother put there and the layers and layers of paint she chose. Most people would say it looked beautiful but something is wrong, off-kilter, out of line. “I don’t know why I feel this way.” “What way?” She stares at me, and I try not to look at her. “Someone’s got to love me soon or I’m not gonna make it.” Taking my chin in her hand, she forces me to look her way. “We love each other.” “But sometimes I don’t feel it ... here,” I say, pointing to my head. She looks sad and a little confused. She finally says, “But it comes from your heart.” “I love you Mom but all I feel is sadness. I’m all closed up. I’m hopin’ there’s somethin’ good inside me, underneath all the crap, but what if there isn’t? What if I’m just empty inside like that closet up there? Maybe there’s nothin’ inside after all. Maybe Dad took all the junk out and threw it away. I don’t even know how to find out what’s in there.” I grab my head then, hoping her massage technique will work for me. “I need to know what’s inside.” “Forget about the closet. First you’ve got to stop bein’ so self-centered.” I wish her face wasn’t so sharp. “You’ve got to reach out to others,” she says in a staccato manner. “That’s why I tried to get you to go see Anne’s mom. Remember: give and you shall receive.” “But my hands are tied behind my back,” I say, shaking them. “Don’t you see? Somethin’s wrong with me. I don’t know what I can give people.”
“But I want to be like most people,” I cry. “I cain’t even draw a straight line. I’m not artistic. Why cain’t I just walk down the street and file into line with the rest of the world? It’s so easy for most people, people like Becca. What happened to me?” She holds me at arm’s length. “Now you’re just feelin’ sorry for yourself. You don’t know the first thang about emptiness.” Her eyes squint until her face looks almost evil. It scares me. “Do you know how many empty, lonely years I’ve spent? And do you realize the persecution I’ve suffered just because I’m a Christian?” Her constant comparison with my life and my feelings is cruel. I’ve seen too much of her pain. Any happiness she shows appears to be a transient bolt of unreality. I want to see and feel the real thing. “You’re so young,” she says as if dismissing my troubles. “You just have to enjoy life.” “I’m struggling through it. I don’t know what my life’s supposed to be.” “Here’s what I think,” she says, still holding my arms. She gives them little tugs as she speaks, hoping to milk out the pain. I picture her filling one of our sweet tea glasses, then gulping it down in one big swallow. Like somehow drinking my pain is refreshing for her. “I think you should go down to that hospital and see Becca’s friend.” “She’s my friend, too,” I say although it isn’t entirely true. “You go see her. That’ll give you somethin’ to think about besides yourself,” she says, finally releasing me. I almost reach back out for her but catch myself, remembering that I need to break away.
The next day I walk slowly through the hospital parking lot. Endless rows of cars, lines of structured civility, usher me forward. I wonder what Cheryl will look like. I know she’ll die. I can’t save her and I won’t be able to bring her back to life, so what am I doing? I look around to see if anyone is watching. The dull headlights of a hundred cars stare at me: tan, white, black, big, and small. Like normal people, they fit effortlessly into carefully created spaces. They’re at rest and I know that when their keys turn, they’ll respond with perfection. I can almost see the waves of heat surrounding me. To my right, a loud grinding noise comes from the huge generator buttressed against the hospital wall. The sound, like a gigantic speaker, blasts through me. I turn and walk back to my car. It’s jammed into a parking space I created at the far end of the lot because the real ones were all taken.
Before my mother’s deliverance (aka exorcism), the few times she appeared happy involved sewing, painting, or scheming to transform people into the beautiful God-like creatures she wanted them to be. She had a creative spirit that caused her to see everything as ugly and changeable. She saw it in places where unsightly had its place and the polite thing to do is simply look away. Like the trash. You don’t fix trash. Her sadness frightened me. It made me sad and I wanted to make it go away. It became my job to hold her when she cried. The constant fighting between her and my father magically stopped when I spoke. And when I was afraid to speak, when her yelling severed the hot, mosquito filled days and nights, I found another way to end it. I sat in the farthest corner of my room, tiny fingers shoved in my ears until I was sure they touched my brain, and I sang—loud.
When I was seven, I saved her life. My fists crash against the bathroom door. I scream, sure that if I’m powerful enough she’ll come out, alive and ready to be my mother again. I’ll cuddle her in my arms and tell her everything will be all right. Her silence is cavernous like my heart is becoming, empty except for my love of her. Finally, my tiny voice forces out clear directions. “Mommy, turn off the heater. It don’t smell right. You have to do it, Mommy!” My seven-year-old panic fights against my mature tactics until it wins and all I can do is scream. She doesn’t answer but when the bathroom door finally opens, she falls into my tiny arms, making them like weights. The thick, adult love flowing through them makes heavy what should be light. “Mommy’s okay,” she cries. “I’m just sad today, that’s all. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. But you love me, don’t you, Peyton? I know you love me.” I wrap myself in her long, coarse hair and wipe her eyes. “Your Daddy’s killin’ me,” she says as her tears sink into me and become my own. “He doesn’t understand me.” “Why does he wanna kill you?” I ask, trying to understand. “It’s the same stuff. He’ll never change. He won’t even try,” she sobs. I stroke her head and listen as she goes through a long list of complaints but all I understand is the pain. I hear the sound of it over and over again until it becomes familiar; it becomes a part of who I am. I fit into her arms as if I was created to comfort her, as if that’s my sole purpose of existing. She rocks me but I believe I’m rocking her. I wonder if we’re going to leave again. Each time she leaves him, I dutifully pack my tiny suitcase. I sit next to her in the car, sleep next to her at my grandmother’s house, and coach her back into being my mother. We always come home but the length of our stay is a mystery. That night, as we snuggle close in my grandmother’s extra bedroom, I have a dream I’m sure comes from Christ himself. I’m in heaven. It’s splendid, all white, clear, and crystal. The ground is made of diamonds. Jesus and I stand at the center of a courtyard, surrounded by angels. A strange, glorious tree grows at the head of the circle. Only two branches, equal to the trunk in diameter, protrude from its left side. Shaped like half circles, they make the tree look like part of a Jewish menorah. They’re large, solid and safe. Jesus whispers to me that it’s the tree of life. Then he gathers me in his arms and carries me toward the giant tree. Lifting me eight or ten feet, he places me onto its highest arm. I feel safe until I wake.
Watch for the rest of Chapter 3 of BOUNDARIES on Thursday!
BOUNDARIES is Penelope Przekop's first novel. It's a work of fiction based on true events. Since writing BOUNDARIES, she has completed two other novels. ABERRATIONS was published by Greenleaf Book Group in 2008. CENTERPIECES is currently being considered by several publishers. Penelope is working on her fourth novel, DUST.