“Above the dam there was what ought to have been a deep pool but was now of course a level floor of dark green ice. And below the dam, much lower down, was more ice, but instead of being smooth this was all frozen into the foamy and wavy shapes in which the water had been rushing along at the very moment when the frost came.”
C.S. Lewis, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe
He framed the day with his presence. The light of your life, the one that you felt safe with.
Growing up, you didn’t blame your dad for the punishments that came more often than the crimes. It was someone else who told him you were guilty. He just believed them. Besides, you knew you were often guilty too. Like that day he took you to work with him and you stole money from his change box to get some candy, his punishment was reasonable – you didn’t get to eat the candy you brought back.
He was your safety. Could she have been in one of Her moods that morning? Did He protect you from her sometimes by bringing you to work? Was this his way to protect you from what he wouldn’t stop when he watched it happen?
I did ask him, when I was much much older than you were that day, why He didn’t stop her. “How do you think I made it so well in the Navy?” was his only answer.
Besides, there was the letter he wrote his mom and excitedly read you one day not long before the frost came. “I just found out Andie has been taking spankings for her sisters. Well, I guess she deserved them for lying.”
Obviously there was something about you that made it easier to believe the others. Obviously, there was something about you. It wasn’t a passing thought, it was a dread that lived in your bones, one of many questions already stuffed in the closets and under the beds where you hoped no one could see.
It was a work day at the college you were attending. Your student employment was as an aide to a psychology professor. It was a good working relationship and on that day you were working at the registration fair when signing up for classes was a hands on interaction before computers were so prevalent in our lives.
Your dad was driving you to work that day, that 20 minute drive from the country house your family then lived in. Time alone with your him was a treasure.
When you had been young he would take you to work and sometimes you were the one who got to go with him on the fishing trips. Your daddy had a false teeth front he would sometimes take half way out and make silly noises and faces until all the children were laughing. He sang the songs from his high school years. He let you go visiting with him when mom was working. You felt like his partner sometimes in his work as a pastor. You felt you had something to give as you taught Sunday school classes and made the cakes for birthday celebrations. You loved the times you would sit with him and talk about the stories of his life.
You tried to be good. You made mistakes but when he told you no, you asked questions and tried to understand the reasons when it didn’t make sense because the others had gone to similar things. You questioned but you didn’t go. You learned early to hide the mistake you did make. You had enough punishments for the things you didn’t do. Grace and forgiveness was not terms you understood as more than verses to memorize in the Bible with the accepted explanations.
Sure you clashed on some ideas. What father and teenage daughter didn’t?
“Dad, you just used that glass on the counter. Couldn’t you just rinse it out and reuse it instead of pulling another one out of the cupboard?” Washing dishes was definitely a least favourite chore and this was the third glass he had used as you were trying to finish the job to go outside.
“Washing dishes is women’s work,” he would answer as he set that glass on the counter and deliberately took out one more to use because you had questioned him.
The conversation began as would be expected – just the simple chitchat about what you would be doing at the registration fair. It felt like an important position as you shared the responsibility in helping our classmates prepare for their term.
Driving along the narrow road surrounded by the flowing river on one side and steep hills on the other, dad casually brought up a subject. “Your brother-in-law and I are getting along better.”
Relief flooded you. “I’m so glad,” you said .
When your father is also your pastor sometimes religious questions can hit close to home. You struggled with understanding messages about loving enemies while hearing your dad talking in anger about the way your brother-in-law was acting toward your sister. Some of the things that came out of his mouth were vindictive to the point that you would have had you mouth washed out with soap or worse if you had said half as much.
You had been exposed to the idea of questioning and struggling with scripture in the Bible group in high school so to work through questions about scripture was something you had learned to value. You admired your dad. He was the main pastor you had known for so much of your life. Surely, he could help you understand. So you had talked with him that day about your perception of what you were hearing and the difference between hate and anger or some other such discussion that allowed you to put the subject to rest after one discussion.
You prayed for the relationship of your dad and your brother-in-law. You prayed for your sister’s family. You held to the rigidity of beliefs you were taught about marriages but you still prayed that their relationship would heal.
Happy that your dad felt it was important to share this with you, you looked over at him with a smile. His hands tightly clenched the steering wheel and the look he turned toward you was one of taut, steely anger. “I don’t appreciate that you think you can talk to me in that way! I never hated him! How dare you accuse me of something like that! If you think you can talk to me like that then get out of our house! Leave and don’t come back!” He turned back to the road and finished the trip in silence. Your mind was a stunned turmoil.
When he dropped you off at the college, your legs felt wobbly under you. You held as natural an expression on your face as you could. You didn’t slam the door and tried your best to walk at a normal pace. Did you even say goodbye before you left the car? I don’t know that answer.
The day was a daze of working until the tears threatened to push past the walls of appropriate behavior. You would excuse yourself for a bathroom break where the broken sobs would be silenced behind your fist as you let the edge of the sink hold you up until you could get back in control. No one asked you what was going on, but no one complained about the numerous breaks you took either. In between they could see you worked hard. You did all your could. You even kept your public face in place while something imploded inside.
By the time you got off work, you could only listen in silence as your boyfriend told you one more story about how his mom was down on him all the time at home and his boss would not give him any slack or wasn’t doing things in the way your boyfriend thought they should be done. Did you go to square dancing or to dinner that night? I don’t remember. I only remember you struggled to find words to respond.
You boyfriend came in with you that night. You were religious enough in your view on touch that your parents didn’t mind if he came and visited in your room. Everyone was upstairs by the time you got home. You sat in the center of the bed, he sat against the end of the bed, keeping the door open to the living room.
Did your boyfriend even ask why you had so little to say that evening? Or in the safety of your room, did you feel you could at last open up? All I know is that you began to tell him what had happened that morning.
“I am so sick and tired of hearing about all your problems!” His explosive response stunned you. You sat in that cross-legged, shoulders hunched forward, hands in lap position that characterized moments when you were trying to talk about something that hurt.
You didn’t try to go on. You didn’t try to explain or defend or apologize or reason. You sat there as something more imploded inside.
How long did it take to realize that the imploding wasn’t stopping, that it was slowly taking more and more of you with it? How long did it take you to realize that you were in a danger beyond anything you understood? How long did it take until you realized that even the words you needed to say weren’t coming. The ice was forming, freezing into the still, brittle crumbling edges breaking off and falling into the darkness.
“Please,” you beg him. “There is something I need you to do!” At that moment you needed someone to call you back from this slowly absorbing cold blackness that was sucking you away. “Hold me!” screamed from pieces breaking off and falling into that bottomless well. “Touch my hand! Anything! Just keep me here!” But the words wouldn’t reach your mouth.
He sat there on his end of the bed talking to you in words you could barely hear.
When you realized he couldn’t understand and you would need to go to him, your brain gave the signal to move but your body didn’t follow it. Your legs, your arms, your hands stayed silent, locked. Your mind was terrified. It was screaming signals and your body wouldn’t respond. It was screaming words but they couldn’t reach your mouth. Your eyes could see. Your eyes could speak but he couldn’t hear what they were saying.
Pushing with all your might you forced words through your mouth, “I-can’t-move. Help-me lay-down.”
I don’t even remember his response but I know he helped you. He pressed on your shoulders and pushed them back onto the bed. Your hands and legs never changed position. He took each arm and each leg and laid them down one at a time. They would respond to being moved but not to your own brain.
What should he do, he asked. How does anyone deal with something like this? How could he help? Your body and mouth weren’t responding to your brain. No one could help with that.
“Ge-et-mo-om a-nd da-ad,” you pushed past the barrier. Your boyfriend ran for them.
They both came. Mom came in yelling at you for acting so stupid. You could move. You were just being obstinate. This was foolish. Stop acting up.
“J-ust-l-oove m-e.” you finally pushed out.
When mom was in a rage she wasn’t one to listen to anything so she continued. She pulled and pushed at your body stopping short of striking you, raging and demanding that you move.
Your eyes began to lose their focus, the light in the room dimming and fading in blurred lines. You couldn’t turn them anymore. The dark wooden slats of the ceiling above you blurred at the edges.
You kept repeating the one phrases, slower and slower, the work of getting it past your tongue becoming almost too much an effort. The words slurred to a barely recognizable garble and your mind could only listen as it forced these last words to hold you in the world, “Juu-ush laahh meeeh.”
Did you mom see that your eyes were fading? Is that why she finally broke down and hugged you saying, “I love you”?
All I know is that some wall dropped inside and all the muscles went limp. They didn’t move but they went limp and slowly your brain could connect to a finger, an arm. You would be all right. They left you there to sleep.
He framed the day with his presence.
After your boyfriend left your mom and dad followed him out of the room. Your dad had been there the whole time watching. You saw his back as they turned off the light and went back up to sleep. He hadn’t said one word to you.
It would be days before you would stop noticing your right arm staying in an awkward position and not listening when your mind told it to move. You would reach up your left hand and quietly, lay it on the table until it could hear the signals again. And life would go on as if it had never happened.
Dedicated to the 19 year old girl I was when the frost came — with love.