“What was he thinking?” I seethed while trudging down the abandoned street. “It’s not even like he had to lie,” I continued to fume, realizing that Ian wasn’t the person who I had thought he was. Now he was gone, all because he chose to keep the secret of his faith in God. It seemed just like yesterday when everything had been perfect, or so I had thought. Already, my life appeared to be on the decline while roots of bitterness entwined my heart.
Within seconds, a wave of fury swept over me as an aggravated cry escaped from my lips. Using my rage, I kicked a tin can and stood there, watching it as it crashed into a nearby trash bin.
“Just breathe, Lexie! Inhale, exhale,” I admonished myself, knowing that I had to calm down before I did something I would come to regret.
It was then that I became aware of the vibration in my pocket. Grabbing my phone, I glanced at the caller ID, my eyes widening. “What in the world?” I growled through gritted teeth, debating whether or not to answer it. With hesitation, I slid my finger across the screen, accepting the incoming call. “You have five. Use it wisely.”
“Hey, Sweetie,” my dad exclaimed, seeming unfazed by my blunt greeting. “How’s it going?”
“What do you want?” I ground out, clenching my backpack strap tightly. He chuckled softly, seeming amused by my brash behavior. “Lexie, can’t I call my own daughter every now and then?”
“No,” I answered deadpan.
It was then that a soft intake of breath came from his end of the line before he continued, “So how’s senior year? Keeping up your grades, I hope!”
I replied, “I’m sorry, but is this your version of small talk? In fact, is there a particular reason why you called?”
“Well,” he drawled out, “I was going to see if you wanted to meet me and have lunch. I have something I have been meaning to talk—“
“Uh-uh,” I interrupted before he could finish.
A brief silence filled the air. “Lexie, please,” he sighed, “I’m really trying here!”
I exclaimed, tired of playing this game, “Then do yourself a favor and stop!”
“No, Dad!” I snapped, hostility brewing within. “Do you realize that when you left Mom, you left me as well?”
“I didn’t leave you guys!” he began to say firmly. “Your mother and I agreed that it would be best if we separated.”
“Dad, the key word here is L-E-F-T,” I interjected bluntly.
I could envision him narrowing his eyes as he replied, “No, I mean separated. Lexie, we surely needed a break, just long enough to figure things out.”
“Do you mean time away from Mom, to see if you still love her?”
“No! I will always love your mom! She is—”
“Then why did you leave?” I whispered.
He sighed, hurt consuming his words, “Sweetie, what must I say to make you understand that I didn’t leave you?”
I fell silent, tears threatening to spill from the corners of my eyes, feeling as though my exterior wall was beginning to crumble.
“Lexie,” Dad spoke softly, as if afraid to break the silence. “Honey, just give me a chance. I promise everything will be okay. God’s abundant grace will help us pull through this trial! You’ll see.”
It took only a total of two seconds for his words to register, possibly softening my heart.
“You know what, Dad?” I asked in a tired tone. “I actually have to go. So, umm, g-goodbye.”
“Okay, Sweetie. Remember, I love you, and so does God,” he said sincerely.
Upon hearing those words, I bit my lip before saying quietly, “Yeah, I know.” And that was the end of our conversation. I took a deep breath, pushed open the back door to my house and was welcomed by the smell of fried chicken. My mom greeted me with, “Hey, Sweet Pea! You will never guess who I ran into—” Stopping in mid-sentence, she caught sight of my countenance and asked with concern filling her eyes, “What’s wrong?”
I debated whether I should tell her or not. With my mind made up, I gave a half smile, raised my phone and waved it slightly. “Dad just called me.”
Instantly, true understanding surfaced. Cautiously, she approached me, wrapping her loving arms around me, and we stood there hugging each other. For once, for the first time in a very long time, something felt normal.
The room was dark, the air tense, unsettling. Already, fear had engaged itself deep in my heart. I was tired and chilled to the bone, huddled in a corner, shaking like a leaf in the midst of a fierce storm. All the while, raspy voices surrounded me, whispering in my ear, “Alone you are, deep in darkness, where no light can ever exist. Here you shall reside, forever in this black, forbidden pit!”
“Please, nooo!” I cried out, bolting upright in my bed, my chest rising and falling. I drew in a shaky intake of breath, realizing it was yet another nightmare. By now, unwanted tears welled behind my eyelids, making me close my eyes. Licking my dry lips, trying to force the tears away, I re-opened my eyes, only to stare straight ahead, drawing a blank. With a sigh, I glanced at the clock: 1:13 a.m.
With one swift movement, I swung my legs over the edge of the bed and pushed myself off, refusing to go back to sleep, knowing the nightmares would only return. With my mind made up, I trudged toward the door, opening it quietly, hoping that a refreshing drink would calm me down. It was then, as I stood at the top of the stairs with my hand resting on the railing, that I heard muffled voices. I froze, curiosity growing within.
I crept slowly toward my mom’s bedroom before placing my ear against the door, listening carefully. Then, pushing it open slightly, I peeked in, spying my mom sitting in a chair, her back to me. I could see her reflection in the window.
“I just don’t know what to do, Greg.” She spoke softly, her phone resting in her lap, hinting that the incoming caller was on speaker phone. “She barely eats a handful at each meal, she gets less than three hours of sleep each night due to nightmares… I—it just seems that she is so unhappy. Depressed even…What if it is my—”
“Anna don’t say that,” my father cut in sternly. Before silence fell between them, he added more gently, “It is not your fault.”
My mom then raised her hand, anxiously running it through her hair. “Who’s to blame?” she whispered, as a single tear graced her cheek. “Greg, please…can’t you see how much this is hurting me?”
“This is hurting me just as much as you,” my father sighed heavily. “Even though I am not there now, that does not mean I don’t care about you or Lexie.” My heart froze at the mention of my name as he continued saying, “We are still a family. Even though I am halfway across the United States, away from you guys, that will never change. Do you understand that?”
“Of course,” Mom voiced. Then continuing in a subdued tone, she added, “I understand that it’s your job that causes you to work so many hours…but truly, when was the last time you were home for more than two days?”
“Anna, that’s not—”
“What, Greg? What’s not fair?” she choked back. “What’s not fair is that you’re always away on business. It’s hard enough to go through all of this with Lexie. Alone.”
Dad exclaimed then, empathy dripping from his words, “Sweetie, Darling, no. Please don’t ever think that you are alone in this! God will always be with you.” His voice suddenly grew quieter as he sincerely stated, “As will I, till death do us part.”
At that, a gentle, adoring smile tugged at the corners of my mom’s lips, resting there briefly, before disappearing completely. She then countered, “That still doesn’t solve the problem at hand. What do I do with Lexie? I can’t bear to watch as she continually puts herself through this. It’s not like her at all. Anger just seems to be radiating from her constantly. Greg…she needs you.”
Dad sighed, “I know… But in the meantime, give her some time, Anna, and pray for her, earnestly. Only God can intervene.”
“You’re right,” she mused quietly.
“Aren’t I always?” Dad teased.
Mom laughed, her eyes illuminated, “Perhaps, but I thought I was the one who is always right.”
“Well,” my dad drawled out, “that’s debatable.”
“Mmm, got me there…” Mom continued to tease until a comfortable silence fell.
Seconds later, breaking the stillness, my dad said compassionately, “Anna, I love you.”
Tears of happiness filled her eyes as she echoed, “I love you too, Greg.” But catching sight of the time, she added reluctantly, “It’s late, and you have work tomorrow.”
“Ah, that’s life.”
Mom shook her head, a smile remaining on her lips, “Byyye, Greg,” she voiced in a sing-song manner.
“Bye, Anna,” Dad bid farewell.
With that, a click filled the air, indicating that the call had been disconnected. I remained frozen in place hiding behind the door. My heart felt heavier than ever. As a single tear slid down my cheek, I felt a part of my hard, outer shell crumble. Then, into the darkness, I whispered softly, “What is wrong with me?”
I was left with my thoughts of yesterday; morning had come and gone, leaving behind rays of light cascading about. It was then, as I found myself pouring a second cup of coffee, that I decided to check on Lexie. I knew she had had another nightmare, for I had heard her crying out in her sleep. I wished I could help her somehow, someway; but she tended to put up shields of steel, preventing people from getting too close. The only one that had seemed able to break through this barrier was Ian, but now he didn’t seem to come around anymore. My heart was breaking as I was forced to watch from the sidelines as Lexie continued to live in this manner. When she was young, things had been different. We had used to live in harmony, but now all that holds our “family” together is nothing but a thin, unraveling thread.
When I reached Lexie’s door, I hesitated. An all-too-familiar silence greeted me. Softly, I pushed the door open, hoping that the hinges wouldn’t protest. As the hallway’s light cast beams into her darkened room, they revealed my forlorn daughter lying curled up in the fetal position. Her eyebrows were drawn tightly together, and her lower lip quivered, causing soft whimpers to escape from her mouth. I sighed heavily and quickly closed the door, pausing as I leaned against it. I had promised her that I would not do anything about this: the insomnia, the nightmares, the unhealthy eating habits. But if I didn’t do something soon, what would that classify me as? People say a promise is a promise regardless of the circumstances, but when someone loves unconditionally, would it not be better to break your word than watch a person hurt themselves again and again? It would take only one phone call to elicit help… Without a doubt, whether this was right or wrong, I thumbed through my phone’s contact list, stopping when the name appeared.
“Good morning, this is Dr. Randle’s office,” the receptionist answered. “How may I assist you?”
“Hello,” I greeted softly, taking a step away from Lexie’s bedroom. “This is Anna Gunzila. By chance, is Dr. Randle available?”
“Yes. One moment please, Mrs. Gunzila. I will transfer your call.”
I had to wait only a moment before the line was reconnected. “Hello, Anna? Is everything all right?”
“Ye-” I started to stammer but stopped before continuing.
“No, Aaron…to be truthful, it isn’t. I have already spoken to my husband, Greg, regarding this, and he requested me to call you only as my last resort. As an old family friend, we now need your help more than ever.”
Silence hung in the air before Aaron breathed, “This is concerning Lexie, isn’t it?”
“Yes, but how did you-” He gave a soft chuckle,
“My son, Ian, has already informed me regarding bits and pieces. The poor lad is totally beside himself. Apparently, the two of them are on the “outs” at the moment, for Lexie has been ignoring him over the past week or so.”
I winced, “Hmmm, at least Greg and I aren’t the only ones receiving the cold shoulder.”
“This is not like her, Anna.”
“I agree,” I said without hesitating. “Maybe if she were only acting this way toward us, her parents, we would say that it was an act of rebellion, but Ian too? For the life of us, neither Greg nor I can find the source of this…major issue.”
Aaron sighed, “Well, something has to be triggering Lexie in order for her to be reacting this way.”
I bit my lip, debating whether or not I should request this. Ready to reap any future consequences, I took a deep breath and went on to say, “Maybe, if I bring her in for an appointment, we might be able to get the answers we seek?”
“What kind of answers?” he drawled out, not truly following where this was all heading.
“Answers to why she is having nightmares every night!” I began to gush. “Why she hasn’t been eating-”
“Wait,” Aaron cut in. “She’s not eating?”
I hesitated slightly, “No. Well, not much anyway.”
“Bring her tomorrow morning at nine. I will speak to her then.”
I closed my eyes, gratitude filling my heart, “Thank you, Aaron.”
“Anytime,” he replied sincerely before saying goodbye.
As I echoed my own goodbye and disconnected the call, I raised a hand to wipe away a stream of tears. Then, I took a deep breath before turning around, only to freeze in my tracks.
With perspiration running down her ashen face, Lexie stumbled back a step, shaking her head in disbelief. “Mom,” she whispered hoarsely, “you broke your promise.”
Written by Hannah Schweinschaupt. This article was published in the Winter 2013, and Spring and Summer 2014 editions of The Beautiful Spirit magazine.
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