Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Hammer in the Envelope

There it was staring back at me from the pile of mail I had been sorting. My heart lurched in the now familiar way. I recognized my guardedness because I had so often seen it creep into my husband's gaze. It had taken years for me to understand where it came from and why. The anxiety made its presence known in variations on a theme for both of us.

For him, the notes played in harsh overtones of suspicion, control, and gloominess. Nothing was simple – not even hanging pictures or painting a room. Surprise was to be avoided at all costs. There was no room for spontaneity in our lives. For me it played delicate notes of protective caution. No matter what, I felt the need to protect him from the entity which seemed to torment and distance him.

When this envelope arrived, I already knew what had lurked in the shadows all those years. So, my protectiveness clashed and clamored in discordant Shostakovitch-like notes. My hands shook as my heart clutched desperately for any extra oxygen it could find. I could feel the undertow coming even tho' I was hours away from the ocean.

He arrived home from work and did what he always does. He reached for the mail. His face showed the stunned reaction to the handwriting and name. A small sigh escaped. “Is there an event coming up I don't know about?” I ran over possibilities in my mind but admitted they were wild guesses.

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He tapped the envelope on the bar weighing his options. Reluctantly, he picked at the edges of the envelope. Our hungry eyes devoured the words – our hearts beating in tandem. His 2nd sigh was almost imperceptible. I looked up at him falling into my role as the ever hopeful optimist. “What is it?” I asked knowing that the sigh spoke volumes.

Something's up,” he replied. “As good as this note looks, it isn't about an apology. There must be something...some event for which our presence is desired. It's all about looking a part. There is always a hook.”

My heart sank. I was only just beginning to learn about the power of secret keepers to keep secrets. Back then, I'd probably be like most of you. I'd write Casey Anthony off as the compulsive liar she is without looking for the undertow beneath the surface of her life. Now, 5 years later, I hear her explanation. Then, I look again and again: three, eight, a dozen times. If her explanation did not ring as plausible in shattered hearts from coast to coast, no one would give her a second thought. But, some of us...we keep looking back and turning her life story over in our minds wondering. Does her life contain the same puzzle pieces as ours? 
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In that moment, I just wanted to encourage my husband to shake off his sense of dis-ease. I wanted him to accept this apology at face value and find a way to move on. I read and re-read the note. Beyond the specifics of words harshly spoken and failure to act in some undefined but protective way, the writer seemed at a loss. It was as if the writer was not quite sure exactly what to apologize for or could not bring the full weight of honesty to bear upon the words.

Jeff stared out the window again weighing options. “I think I'll wait a while before I respond. There's something we don't know. I'm just going to sit on this for now. There's something else coming. I can feel it.”

The days passed. I watched the mailbox and our email inboxes praying that the hammer would not drop. I wasn't sure what he expected the hammer to be, I just knew I wanted him to be surprised when the apology could stand on its own face value. If not, I feared any remnants of an entire circle of relationships would be lost to us for a long time if not forever. I checked off the days growing more hopeful as each one passed uneventfully.

It was nearing the 30 day mark. The envelope sat in sight but undisturbed by human hand. Waiting. We were all waiting. That day as my husband left for work, he said, “I think it's time. When I get home tonight, I'll call. It's time I respond to the apology.” I let out a long, slow, deep breath and realized I had been holding my breath for nearly 30 days.

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Later, I thumbed thru the mail. I would have fallen to my knees had I not been mostly prepared. The irony was crushing. So close. We had been so close. Another envelope. Same handwriting. Same name. The undertow pulled at us again. I dreaded his homecoming fearful the hammer would be a gavel pounding a final sentence in our lives.

I waited as long as I could, but the protective crescendo in me reached a fever pitch. I tore the envelope open. There it was. The event he had suspected was looming out there in the future. The one he feared had triggered the apology that said so much but explained so little. He turned to the other envelope and tore both to bits letting the remnants of my hopes for the future flutter into the open trash can. I sighed, and my sigh said so much.
He squared his shoulders, looked at me, and said, “Oh well. Now we know. I was right to wait. It was all about putting on a united front for public consumption. I don't play those games anymore.”

The choices we have made have been hard fought. While we have not looked back, we have always wished for a different reality. This reality was thrust upon us and not a choice we made. The rip tide has carried us away from that circle of relationships. We take each step it carries us hoping for freedom, health, and restoration. As we follow the current, we know the choice to move toward freedom is a choice to move away from what we want to hold dear. Courage is a lonely choice most of the time. Especially for fraidy cats like us.

I count the cost every holiday, every Sunday, and every special family occasion. I watch the toll that has been exacted on others in the old circles. Despite their denials, it is plain that they have suffered as much or more than we. I pray for repentance, restitution, and restoration even amid the brokenness we have endured. I intercede for the secret keepers even when I feel I am Don Quixote jousting in the wind. I long for the day the rip tide will carry us on to a place of safety. I pray we will land on a shore where the sand does not shift and where our foundation will stabilize. My good God has a plan. And, while I am no longer his chiefest cheerleader, I can sometimes remember flashes of the days when I wanted to be.

I did not want this story to be the one I told, but here we are, and I am telling it. And you...there you are. You've come in from the cold and found a safe place for fraidy cats. Fraidy cats have all kinds of names, but if you know the fraidy cat about which I write today, yours is a special kind of fear. You honor me with your presence. I do not take it lightly. Yours is a special kind of courage. Fall in and walk with me? No words required. No knee jerk platitudes Sunday School has taught me to say at times like these. Let's just walk. Ok? See you tomorrow? Bring a friend in from out of the cold. 
Isaiah 54:4
Do not fear, for you will not be ashamed; Neither be disgraced, for you will not be put to shame; For you will forget the shame of your youth, And will not remember the reproach of your widowhood anymore.

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