|Corn Season Psalm
Author: Dianaartemis PM
I can already see that the new youth director the kind of person who acts excited all day, then goes home and complains to her cat about how annoying everyone is. She's probably one of those types that couldn't find a job in the sophisticated city, so she came out to a dusty small town, thinking that she could make a real difference to the uneducated farm children.Rated: Fiction T - English - Angst/Hurt/Comfort - Words: 7,240 - Reviews: 1 - Published: 08-07-12 - Status: Complete - id: 3048646
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Corn Season Psalm
When I was a kid, I used to run to my parent's room if I had a nightmare. One night, they told me that if I ever felt scared, to remember that God would always protect me. After I fell asleep again, I dreamed that God crawled into my bed and wrapped his arms around me. His hands were cold and he smelled like freshly turned dirt. I held him tightly, afraid of what would happen if he let me go.
I can already see that she's the kind of person who acts excited all day, then goes home and complains to her cat about how annoying everyone is. She's probably one of those types that couldn't find a job in the sophisticated city, so she came out to a dusty small town, thinking that she could make a real difference to the uneducated farm children. I know this because her eyes keep gazing to the corners of the room, imagining herself surrounded by a more prestigious crowd. She's more than just young, she's naïve.
My dad gave me a worried look this morning. "The new Youth Director is going to be here this Sunday. Are you going to meet her, Christie?"
I stood in the bathroom and pulled my hair into a ponytail, making sure every hair was secured tightly. It hurt a little, but I didn't want it to fall out. "Yeah."
"Try to be friendly."
Does he think I'm in kindergarten? "Okay."
"I mean it."
I looked at him in the bathroom mirror. "You think I don't?"
"You just have one of those...moods about you."
If I am anything less than normal, my dad says I'm in one of my moods. Granted, I am feeling a little annoyed today. But that isn't the concern of my dad, he has never shown any interest in the Youth Fellowship. He just goes to the service and I go to YF to meet the new director.
Her name is Mary Schubert and she gives us a nervous smile. There's too much teeth, as if her lips can't relax around us. I look around the circle at the few others that bothered to show up today. Sydney is smiling back at the new woman. She always acts too friendly. Jeff looks half-awake. Sometimes I wonder why he even comes. Sarah is missing, which annoys me. She's always good in awkward situations like this. Leanne just stares back at me like I'm stupid. I realize that Mary Schubert is looking at me.
"What?" I frown.
She looks like she's holding in a laugh. "I was wondering if everyone could introduce themselves?"
"Why? We've all known each other for years." It helps growing up in a small community.
"Ah," She's straining to keep smiling, and I wish she would just give it up, "but I don't know everyone."
"Christine." I look away.
Leanne is frowning at me, but turns to Mary and leans forward like she's going to tell a secret. "Christie's a sophomore. I'm Leanne, a junior." She pauses, her eyes widening in fake curiosity. "Are you going to take over the band?"
Mary's smile relaxes into something more real. It's hard not to instantly like Leanne with her curly blond hair and large eyes. She always looks sincere, even when she's lying through her teeth. "Yes, I heard the old director helped out the praise band. The Good News, right? I hope to be of help as well. I can play the piano and sing, as Jennifer did."
"Are you any good?" The bitter words force their way between my lips.
Mary falters and Leanne knocks my shoulder, hissing under her breath. "Ah, well, my undergraduate degree was in music..." She trails off, looking a little lost.
Sydney inclines her head. "Well, I sing lead, most of the time. My name's Sydney and I'm a junior too. Jeff plays the drums."
Jeff's eyes open a little. "Percussion." Then they close again.
"I also sing!" Leanne chimes in, giggling like it was a joke.
"That sounds great! It's good to see such dedicated members of the YF here." Mary turns to me. "What about you, Christie? Are you a member?"
"No." Leanne shoves my shoulder again. "But sometimes I help out." I glare at her.
Mary sends a grateful smile to Leanne, and I almost want to walk out right then. "I heard that Sue and Bill Collins play guitar and bass for you."
"Yeah, and we practice Wednesday nights," Sydney pipes up. "You'll have to open the room for us. They keep the equipment and drums locked up."
"Percussion," Jeff mutters.
Mary is looking at everyone, smiling like she just received the best Christmas present in the world. This woman cannot be real. "This is fantastic! I can't wait to get started. I'm sure I'll find the keys in Jennifer's office, once I get everything organized."
I stand up. "I have to go to the bathroom." Mary looks confused, and I leave.
Sarah is sitting alone in the lounge, drinking coffee from a paper cup. The church lounge is usually filled between services. It's only during these off-times a person can sit down and really relax with the complimentary coffee and snacks. Sarah, despite the open couches, has chosen a table with folding chairs to sit at. She waves me over, and I sit down heavily next to her.
"How is she?" She sits back, as if relaxing in the hard metal folding chair. Her long black hair is messy, but I can't remember the last time I've seen it brushed. She's wearing a nice blouse though. Her mother must have dragged her into the service, at least for a little bit.
"Young." I reach for her coffee and smell it. I hate the taste of coffee.
The coffee smells good, even if I don't like it, and I take the sugar packets from the center of the table and begin to dump them in. Sarah pretends not to notice. I stir in the sugar. "She's going to join The Good News."
Her eyes widen. "Really? No wonder you hate her."
I roll my eyes at my friend. "Sydney and Leanne love her already."
Sarah takes back her coffee and pretends to be horrified at the sugary flavor. "They're just nice. Someone has to make up for your sour mood."
"Why aren't you there?"
She grins. "You think I want to stand between you and the new YF director?"
I give her a withering look. "I'm not that bad."
"Come on, you totally just stormed out of there over something stupid, didn't you."
I frown. "Shut up."
She drains her coffee. "I'm not judging or anything."
"Are you going to come next week?"
She crushes her cup and eyes the trashcan across the room. She tries to throw it in, but it only lands a few feet away from the table. "Maybe. You?"
She stands, picks up the cup, and tosses it in properly. "Are you still going to be a part of the band? I know you were really getting into it last year."
She actually gives me a serious look. "Come on, Christie." She bites her lip, as if she actually wants to say more.
Our neighbors own a massive farm. I've never actually seen their house, but their fields come up to our backyard. They rotate between corn and soybeans. When we were kids, my brother and I would play on their land whenever the corn was high. Once we ran past the first row, it was like a wall came between us and our home. Almost all sounds are deafened by the stalks of corn. We couldn't hear the few cars on the road or the wind-chimes on the front porch. We couldn't hear our parents arguing, even during their worst shouting matches. We often ran between the rows, rather than down one straight line, as we were still small enough to fit easily between the ears.
I remember the first time I noticed that the corn would glow in the afternoon sun. I stood between one of the rows, fixated by the contrast of the golden corn against the deep blue sky. For some reason, I felt like I understood something about the world that confused me before. But, as a kid, I really couldn't describe what. My brother found me and I showed him. He said I was being stupid and he wanted to play hide and seek. I never really forgot that feeling, even if I'm too old to go running around my neighbor's field.
Dad is yelling at my brother for sleeping through church. I don't understand why. I've sat with my dad during the service; he just basically sleeps with his eyes open. But he likes to nag Jimmy, and Jimmy likes to bother Dad. I figure the happiest they get is when they're arguing.
It doesn't take long for Jimmy to burst out the back door and sit in the hammock in the corner of our backyard. I follow him out the door, ignoring my dad who is still complaining under his breath. Jimmy stares moodily out into the cornfield. Within the next week or so the crop will be ready for harvesting. I stand next to his feet, facing him. My hand rests on the hammock.
We are silent for a minute, and Jimmy slowly cools down. Finally he can look at me with his lips curving into a small smile. "So...I heard there's a new Youth Director at church. Did you meet her?"
I shrug. "Maybe. But I'm not interested in YF anymore."
Jimmy examines me for a moment. "What about the band?"
I pull out a loose thread on the hammock. "I dunno."
"I'll give you a ride there on Wednesday, okay? You can even drive back, if you want."
I smile. "Maybe. Are you and dad going to be cool now? Or should I expect to eat in my room tonight?"
He sighs, running a hand through his hair. "Who knows? He's crazy. Sometimes I can't wait to go to college."
"There's only one more year."
His foot taps my hand that was still searching out loose threads. "You can visit me, it's only an hour away. I'll give you a taste of real college life."
I smirk. "I doubt I'd want to visit your dorm room. Your room here is pretty toxic."
His foot taps my hand again, a little harder. "It's just the way I like it."
Leanne keeps giving me annoyed glares as I watch everyone else set up the room for practice. I ignore her; it's not like I'm singing with them. Instead, I let my eyes trail Mary, who looks a little lost, but still has that annoying smile plastered to her face. I knew she would be the kind of person who grins like an idiot when she has no idea what to do.
"This is so exciting," she keeps saying, "I hope everyone will help me out, I've never led a group like this before. I mean, I've been a member of a few. But I've never led them."
I bet she would be more comfortable if Sue and Bill came, the only other adults in The Good News, but they only come to practice once in a while. Sydney would be a good candidate to relieve her awkwardness, but she's helping Leanne set up. They have started tag-teaming me with the annoyed glares. Jeff has probably said only two words in his entire life, so he isn't going to help out the new director.
She starts walking toward me; I should have expected it. I pointedly look away, but the dumb woman still ends up sitting next to me. "So, Christie, is it?"
I pretend like I don't hear her.
"I didn't catch it earlier, but what's your part in the band?" I hate it when people say that. They know you didn't tell them because you hate their guts, but they are too stupidly polite to say so.
"Groupie." I grin unintentionally. Sarah would like that one.
Mary has the gall to give a small laugh. "Ah, I see. Anything else?"
My hand tightens around my notebook, which has been lying forgotten in my lap. I didn't want to bring it, but it felt wrong not to. "I tell them when they suck and when the amps are too loud."
Her ever-present smile is strained, unsure whether or not I'm still joking. "So..." She finally realized that she needs to change topic? "...just to get an idea, what have you guys been working on? I wasn't sure if I should introduce some new work or if you had something in progress."
I notice she's holding a folder, and I reach for it. "Let me look."
Her hands are stiff letting go, but she otherwise pretends to ignore my rudeness. The various Christian rock songs are familiar; Mighty to Save, Blessed Be Your Name, Here I am to Worship, Above All...
"Oh? I saw that The Good News has performed them before. I was hoping you would like something familiar..." She's trying to sound polite still, but her voice is gaining an edge.
I push the music back towards her. "It doesn't matter what I like." She looks a little confused, and I roll my eyes. "Do Mighty to Save. Sydney sings it the best."
Mary pulls out the mentioned piece, looking over it carefully. I look away, hoping she will just leave me alone. I'm not so lucky. "Can I ask why you don't like them?"
"Because Christie can be such a snob about Christian rock music."
I glare at Leanne, who had apparently finished setting up. The girl only gives me a withering look, like she's so much more mature than me.
She turns on a smile for Mary. "Are we going to sing that tonight? Great! We know it really well."
Mary looks unsure and she keeps sending confused glances towards me. "Well, if you guys want something different, I'm sure I could..."
Leanne takes the music from her lap as rudely as I did earlier. "No, it's fine. We haven't practiced in, like, four months. So we need something familiar."
Leanne's fake friendly attitude seems to be having a positive effect on Mary, and the director relaxes. "Well, why don't we get started then?" She stands up and begins to hand out the music. Sydney is also appropriately excited at the choices. Jeff scratches his head with a drumstick. I sit back and open my notebook.
Everyone begins to warm up as Mary takes her seat by the keyboard. I look down at my open page. It's Psalm 23, I copied it down at the funeral. I haven't looked at it since.
Jimmy lets me sit in silence for a little bit as he drives me home, but he can only contain himself for ten minutes. "So?"
"We're doing some old stuff."
"Ah, that's good." He pauses. I notice that he's biting his lip. He does that when he has a secret he wants to tell me. I sit it out, and I'm not disappointed when he finally spills, "You know, Mary talked to me a bit before you came out."
"Really?" Now that I think about it, she did disappear for awhile after they finished. I didn't notice where she went because Leanne had dragged me into helping her put the equipment back into the closet. "What did she want?"
He hesitates. "She was just...asking about you."
He shrugs. "Maybe, but she seemed kind of concerned about you."
"She doesn't know me."
"Yeah..." He keeps biting his lip,
I lean forward, giving him a hard look. "What did you say?"
His hands tighten on the steering wheel and I can tell he's thinking very hard about his next words. "I think you should talk to her about Jennifer."
"It's none of her business." I look out the window. Even though it's too dark to see any of the corn fields. I can still imagine what they look like.
A heavy minute passes and my chest feels like something tight and cold is gripping onto my heart. I see his reflection in the window as he frowns.
"You know, it really is kind of her business. Because of her job and all. Plus you've been acting like a brat towards her."
"How do you know? It's not like you come to church or anything."
He rolls his eyes, as if this conversation is casual, but my chest still hurts. "I know, okay? I know how you are."
"Whatever." I fold my arms over my stomach and slouch into my seat, still staring stubbornly out the window.
"Are you okay?"
I swallow thickly. "I'm just fine."
"Did you write anything tonight?"
It's strange how I forgot that I used to tell Jimmy about my notebook. "No."
I sat with Sarah during the church service. She tried to convince me to come with her to YF, but I dragged her into the sanctuary instead. For some reason she was pissed at me and didn't even shake my hand during the time of greeting. She only lightened up when I excused us both after the sermon and let her go to the lounge before everyone else would get out. Dad didn't even notice.
But now, even with her customary coffee, she's still giving me annoyed looks. "So, how was practice?"
I shrug, wondering if she chose a table again just to make sure I was uncomfortable in the metal folding chairs. "They sang some old stuff."
"How about your stuff?"
I start ripping the tops off sugar packets and dumping them into her coffee. "That was only once. And it's not my stuff, I just rewrote lyrics."
She stirs in the sugar casually. "But it was cool. You should do that again."
"What was that?" A new voice interjects.
I freeze, feeling my stomach cramping. Sarah looks up, her face a little confused. I forget that she hasn't officially met Mary Schubert, though it won't take her long to recognize the new face. I want to say something, but Sarah is already blabbering on.
"Oh? Just talking about Christie's lyrics."
"Rewrites," I whisper, but neither of them are paying attention.
"Really? I haven't heard about them before." I can tell Mary is looking at me, but I keep my head down. Sarah keeps talking like an idiot.
"Yeah, The Good News performed a couple last spring." She looks to me, oblivious to my silent pleas for her to just shut up. "You and Jennifer worked on them together, right?"
"It doesn't really matter anymore." I stand abruptly and pretend I'm not storming out of the lounge like a toddler having a tantrum. It's pretty hard to make a graceful exit when the entire congregation is flocking in after the service. I try to think of a reason why Mary would be getting out of YF early. Maybe no one showed up because they all realize what a fake she is. The thought gives me comfort, but I can't bring myself to smile.
Everyone is against me. Dad is pissed at me because I pressured him to leave from church as quickly as possible. Sarah is an idiot for blabbing to Mary. She doesn't even know the new director. And Jimmy is annoying for trying to get me to go to band rehearsal again. Even when he succeeds, I really don't need him to give me that self-satisfied smirk.
It starts out as it did last week, with everyone helping to set up and myself sitting uselessly in the back of the room. Mary moves around with a bit more purpose now. Maybe she feels better because Sue and Bill Collins decided to show up this week. She's chatting animatedly with them and even from across the room, I find her voice really annoying. It's like she's speaking through her nose or something.
Everyone's basically ready to start, but Mary doesn't sit at the keyboard. Instead, she faces them. "Okay, everyone. I've been thinking a lot since we last met. The music director informed me that we have a few slots open next Sunday for the contemporary service. Instead of doing a usual repertoire, I think it would be fun to do something different."
Her shoulders are practically shaking in excitement. Everyone looks a little nervous. We always sing the same stupid songs. Anything different would be...different. And Leanne would probably butcher anything new anyway.
Mary continues, "So I thought it would be nice to do songs in memory of the previous director, Jennifer Andrews. A memorial of sorts. We could sing some of her favorite songs, perhaps something you think would be nice in remembrance of her, or..." She turns around, setting her eyes on me and my chest feels numb. "Maybe you could write something for the occasion, Christie? I'll need everyone's help to do this and I think it will be really special."
My heart is beating in my ears, and I can barely hear. Sue and Bill Collins look pleased at the idea. Sydney and Leanne also look excited, already stepping forward to suggest song favorites. Even Jeff looks like he's thinking.
My eyes fall to the notebook in my lap. I haven't opened it since last week. I don't hear Mary come to stand in front of me. She puts a hand on my shoulder and I flinch. "What do you think, Christie?"
I can't look up from my notebook. "I can't do it."
She leans down. "What?"
I find myself jumping up, almost breaking her nose with the top of my head. "It's a dumb idea." I leave the room.
I only make it to the bathroom and I lean against one of the sinks. Desperately, I try to make my heart rate slow down so I can think. My chest is hurting again, like two small hands are clenched over my heart.
"Christie?" The door opens and drop my notebook by the sink. The sound is loud on the hard floor as I quickly lock myself in one of the stalls.
I see Mary's shoes on the tiled floor. I lift my legs up, balancing on the toilet seat. She slowly bends over and picks up my notebook. I hope it didn't get too dirty, but I'm barely breathing. Her feet stop just in front of the door.
"Christie? Can we talk? Are you alright?"
"I'm fine." My words sound cloudy.
"Can you come out?"
I close my eyes and press my face against my knees.
"I'm sorry." A small breath. "I may be new to this church, but that doesn't mean I can't understand. Or that I can't listen."
I want her to go away.
"I want you to talk to me."
"I don't want to talk to you." I look and see that her feet have moved out of sight. It doesn't help relieve the tension in my chest.
"I know, but I think you still need to talk."
"Leave me alone."
"I will if you come out."
For some reason, her words just make me angry. I'm abruptly on my feet, throwing open the door. The sound of it banging against the stall is loud in the small bathroom, and it makes us both jump. For a minute, I imagine we have the same expression of complete confusion on our faces. I can't seem to move out of the stall. So I just stand there like an idiot and try to remember to keep glaring.
"I'm not showing you my lyrics."
She has her arms folded across her chest, like she's the one who needs to be defensive. "That's okay. I was just asking."
"You have no right to ask." My voice seems louder in the echoed bathroom.
Her arms tighten. "You don't need to be upset. It's okay, I understand."
"No! You don't!" A burst of anger and suddenly I've deflated. The hands in my chest are tighter than ever and it feels like I'm having a heart attack. I can't breathe normally. I bend over, pressing my palms into my knees. Mary puts a hand on my back, rubbing small circles. She asks if I'm okay, and I can't remember if Jennifer had ever done this.
I draw in ragged breaths, and I wish Mary would take her hand back. I can't seem to form the words.
"I heard that you and Jennifer were close." Her words sound careful.
Everyone's against me. "It's none of your business," I gasp.
She doesn't say anything and I breathe loudly in the bathroom. Slowly, painfully, I get it a little under control. Her hand has stopped moving, but she's still touching me. I really wish she would just back off.
"I didn't mean it...I mean, I know I don't really understand." I glance up and see that Mary is looking at the far wall. "But I want to. Could you tell me?"
I have enough strength to move away. "It's personal." The hands on my heart are cold and I wrap my arms around my waist, hoping to counter the feeling. I still can't stand straight.
She stands there and I notice that her ponytail is sloppy. Her bangs are falling into her face, but she doesn't move them away. Her eyes move from the wall to me. "Have you ever told anyone?"
I want to maintain eye contact, to show her that she can't intimidate me. But I hate the way she's looking at me, like there's something wrong with me that needs to be fixed. As if she is the one to fix it. Just because Mary is a Youth Director at a church doesn't make her a holy therapist. It just means she's stupid enough to think she can connect with teenagers who have problems she has never faced. Not that I have problems. I'm just pissed that she's standing there, giving me this self-righteous, pitying gaze. It makes me want to puke.
The door creaks, making us both jump again, and Sue Collins carefully walks into the bathroom. "Mary? Christine?" She sees both of us, her eyes resting on me. I know I probably look like crap; half bent over with my arms clutching my sides.
"Whatever." I grab my notebook from Mary's stunned fingers and shove past her into the hallway. I hear their voices murmuring in the bathroom, and I'm glad Mary doesn't try to come after me again. I feel tired. I just want to lie down and go to sleep.
I step out onto the front steps of the church. Jimmy hasn't arrived yet, because there's probably still an hour left of rehearsal time. My notebook feels heavy in my hands, and I begin to walk home.
I've done the walk from church to home before, during the summer. It feels a little uncomfortable in fall. It'll probably take me at least an hour, but I don't really care anymore. I would rather walk five hours then spend another minute in that church with that woman.
It's not that I haven't talked about Jennifer with anyone. It's just that there isn't much to say. Yeah, we were close, but she was friendly and I wasn't so irritable back then. I look down at my notebook, the pages are bent because I'm clutching it so tightly.
It doesn't take long for me to get out of town and start walking down the empty country road. I wish I had a flashlight, but the stars are nice.
A flash of headlights and a car pulls next to me. I pretend to not be surprised to see Jimmy opening the door. "Christine!" Sometimes he sounds just like Dad. "What the hell are you doing!? Get in!"
I sigh, but I step into the car. "Stop freaking out. I was just walking home."
"It's pitch black out here!"
I shut the door and lean against the window. "It's not like I've never done it before."
He puts his head against the steering wheel and breathes deeply. "Christie," he moans, but seems to regain his composure. "One, you've never been alone. Two, you've never done it at night before. And three, our house just received a really panicked message from Mary Schubert. You can't run off like that!"
I bite my lip, but continue to stare out the window. I wish he would start up the car, but he seems content to just sit there and yell at me. "How does she know our number?"
He looks at me like I'm a total idiot. "That is not the point." I roll my eyes and he almost growls. "For fuck's sake, are you even listening to me?"
I don't answer, my stomach clenching. I'm almost sixteen, I want to say. I can take care of myself. I'm fine and I wish everyone would back off. But I have a feeling he would just throw the words back at me.
It's a long silent minute before he releases the brake pedal. I listen to his breathing and try to keep mine regular. He's completely pissed at me, and we haven't argued in such a long time that I've forgotten how horrible it is. The feeling of the moving, vibrating car is comforting though. I suddenly feel tired; I could almost curl up and close my eyes.
I pull my knees up, pushing my notebook against my chest. The spiral binding is pressing painfully against my arm, but I really don't feel like moving it.
"Can you talk to me?"
I have my eyes half closed. "About what?"
His voice is quiet. "Anything? Can we talk about anything?"
Have you ever told anyone?
When I wake, the sun is coming through my window. Someone let me sleep late and miss school. It was probably Jimmy or maybe he convinced Dad. I lie under my covers, savoring the warmth of sleeping. The house is quiet. Maybe they just forgot about me.
Eventually I sit up and I sway. My head feels fuzzy and my eyes hurt. They feel tender. I wonder if I'm getting a cold. I wander downstairs and see a note on the kitchen counter.
Tried to wake you this morning, but you weren't moving. Dad called you in sick. He gets off work around 2. I'll see you after school.
For some reason the note makes me wish my brother was home right now. I want to apologize or see him smile or just have him talk to me. I feel a little cold and I go find my jacket. I don't remember Jimmy coming to wake me up. I can't even imagine it, I usually wake to my alarm easily.
My jacket is sprawled across the couch. When I lift it, I see my notebook lying there. I take it with me and step outside. My hands feel a little numb as I sit on the hammock and open it up to the first page.
Have you ever told anyone?
I told her. I told Jennifer everything.
The first page is the lyrics to Mighty to Save. I've written all over it. I crossed out words, or entire verses, and wrote comments on why it wasn't good enough. I hate the lyrics to that song. They're so bland and typical. But I love the tune, and I wanted to make it a better song.
The next page is my rewrite lyrics. Looking at them now, they aren't much better. But Jennifer was leaning over my shoulder and saw me looking at them. She sounded curious, even though I was embarrassed. I told her about it, and she seemed really interested. That was back when The Good News would sometimes perform during YF. I heard them a lot, but I wasn't a part of the band. She invited me to practice, and even gave me the music. She said she wanted to see more lyrics.
I remember being excited, and I can't remember feeling that excited before. I would often go to Jennifer's office and show her my ideas. She would always turn to me, even if she looked like she was busy, and listen. She let me read my lyrics or talk through certain ideas I was trying to figure out. She even sang my lyrics, and I remember feeling like my chest would burst. She suggested performing my work.
Thinking about it later, it didn't seem like much. I was just a stupid teenaged girl bothering her YF director. All we did was talk and laugh and sing and somehow every time I left her office all I wanted to do was write or rewrite or run down the empty hallways of the church and try to touch the ceiling. It wasn't much, but it was so much.
During that practice, Jennifer asked me if I had any new lyrics. I told her no. I actually did have some ideas, but I didn't feel comfortable sharing them with the others around. She smiled like she understood and told me to wait around afterward. Everyone packed up and left. She took me to her office and we talked for a long time.
I can't even remember what we talked about.
I called my dad, and Jennifer said she had work to finish. Dad picked me up and on Sunday I learned she was hit by a car on that Wednesday. I don't know why now one called us earlier. Maybe they forgot. So for three days, I thought she was still alive.
The notebook is open to the last page.
Even though I walk
through the shadow
of the valley of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me.
The page is wet, and I realize that I'm crying. I wipe my face with my sleeve, but the tears don't stop. "Stupid," I whisper, "It's stupid. I was stupid. She was stupid. She was stupid and died and why didn't she go home on time?" The words hurt, but I can't seem to stop. "Why would someone get drunk on a Wednesday night and go driving around? Stupid! Why didn't I know for three days? Because I'm stupid! Why didn't she tell me? Because she was stupid! It was all fucking stupid!"
I throw my notebook down, and it lands softly on the grass. I stand and march into the field behind the house. I'm too big to be playing in the corn, but I shove the stalks out of my way. I don't care if it's my neighbor's property and I don't care. Bad Christian rock songs are playing in my head, the sound stuck at full volume.
"You are with me? Yeah, fucking right. Were you with her? No!" The corn is ripe and falls heavily to the ground. I storm through it all. "You took the fall and thought of me above all? Shit! Your grace is enough for me? It's all shit! Blessed be your name on the road marked with suffering? Fuck your name! My God is mighty to save? My God can't save shit! Because he is fucking weak! So fuck, fuck, shit, crap, fuck!"
I burst out of the corn and stumble into an empty, open field. The corn season has come and the neighbors have begun to harvest. Instead of endless stalks of corn, golden in mid-day light, I'm facing a field of stumps and broken ears pressed into the mud.
There are cold hands around my heart again, squeezing so hard that I can't breathe, and suddenly I'm overflowing. The tears pour out hot and painful, and I'm choking on my breath. I crouch down, holding myself tightly. I don't know if I'm trying to warm myself. I don't know if I'm trying to keep the cold hands in my chest, because I think they might be keeping me together. But I don't know if I'm falling apart. I don't know if I fell apart four months ago.
It's not the fault of Christian rock songs. They just don't know any better. I thought I knew better and I didn't. Jennifer did, and I've forgotten everything she said to me. But I remember how she made me feel.
I press my face into my knees, feeling hot tears soak my pants. I'm cold, I'm hot, I'm tired, and everything feels a little unreal. I know the sky is blue, but it feels cloudy. I know that the corn is being harvested, yet I can't understand why it's gone.
How could she be gone? How can a person be there and then not be there? Why didn't I feel it when her car was hit? Why didn't I wake up in the middle of the night with cold hands clutching my heart?
The time I spent with Jennifer feels like another life, and now I have to learn how to joke again, how to control my anger, how to write, how to cry. Christian rock songs, with their bland lyrics and catchy tunes, swirl in my mind and memories. I disliked them at first and now I'm just angry at how they seem to have no idea. It's easy to hate a bad song. It's easy to be angry at someone you've just met, because it's so hard to love the one person you'll never see again.
I look up at the field and see the contrast between the clear sky and dark brown mud. I hear birds chirping nearby and wind rustling the remaining corn behind me. The corn is harvested when ripe. Next year it will grow back, or maybe there will be soybeans, or maybe there will be nothing. But all that matters right now is this year. This year the corn grew tall and golden and it is ready.
I wish I could stop being angry and annoyed all the time. I wish I could stop looking up, over my notebook, and expecting to see Jennifer. I wish I could write something for her. But words remind me of her, and remind me that I'm not the same. I wonder if she knows how much I miss her.
I reach out and take an ear of corn that was missed by the combine. Besides being a little muddy, it's unharmed. My chest feels a little warmer now. "The Lord is my farmer, I shall not want." Carefully, I peel away the husk to reveal the kernels inside. "He plants me in fertile fields. He provides the best system of irrigation, so that I am always refreshed." The corn is pale and hard to the touch. "Even though I'm sent through the darkness of a combine, I fear no waste. For you are with me at harvest." I carefully cover the corn again with the husk and set it back down on the ground. I slowly scoop the mud back over it. "Surely my body will be used for goodness and nourishment all the days of my life, until I am wholly consumed." I wonder if it could sprout and grow next year. A random stalk of corn between the rows. "And I will dwell with you for every corn season."
I stand up and wipe the dirt from my pants. My eyes feel swollen. A stream of tears drip down my cheeks, constant and strong. I can't look away from the tiny mound I just made, and the hands around my heart loosen and warm.
On Thursday nights Mary Schubert does a bible study with the junior high kids. Tonight's activity seems to be making posters for a charity project to collect school supplies for impoverished city schools. All the preteen girls press towards Mary, eager with ideas of what to write or draw. She smiles and listens and lets them make a mess with the paintbrushes and markers. She lets no one sulk in the corner, making sure everyone is working or enjoying themselves.
I stand outside the classroom, leaning against the wall. Jimmy said he would wait in the parking lot for me to finish. I think he would sit out there all night if I needed it. There's laughter, and I hear Mary joining in. I slide to the ground and pull my knees to my chest.
I thought I would go inside, apologize, then leave. But I can't make myself enter the room, and I feel like an idiot. Jimmy didn't question me when I said that I needed to talk to her before Sunday. He just checked the church website to see if she would have any studies or meetings during the week, then drove me over.
I didn't tell him about wandering through the neighbor's cornfield, and I had cleaned up before Dad had gotten off work. But when Jimmy came home, he saw me rereading my notebook on the hammock. I think he understood.
I sit there for almost an hour and I put my head down as the kids come filing out. I hear a body eventually sit next to me and I look up, unsurprised, to see Mary settling herself against the wall. She looks a little worried, but eventually gives me a soft smile. I can tell it's a real one this time. When she reaches out and puts her hand over mine, I realize how close I am to crying. She doesn't say anything, for once.
I find that I don't mind how cold her hand is, her smile is warm.