spring (Photo credit: promanex)
Baby showers were, of course, unavoidable. Kristine remained stocked up at home with gift wrap, various baby clothes, toys, and diapers, all stored in the same closet as wedding presents. One had to be ready when one was a minister’s wife. She disciplined herself to attend and smile and never make excuses. Once her husband, Chris, had told her people would understand if she did not accept every invitation. He never brought it up again.
Tonight would be another bright pastel shower, just as cheerful as each preceding shower. She loaded up her car with her present as well as a few presents from church members who could not attend. She placed her camera next to her purse on the graying seat beside her and left before Chris got home. He would find her note about errands before the shower and supper warm in the oven.
Last summer lurked in her memory, a fading nightmare that she tried not to recall. The past was wrapped in white medical paper on cold lab tables, her heels in stirrups. She had gone to several specialists and each one had a more confusing diagnosis than the last. Her first two pregnancies had ended in miscarriage, the first lasting two months, the second raising her hopes by lasting four. No one could tell her exactly why she could no longer conceive. As autumn approached, she found herself chilled, sitting half-naked, her every move punctuated by the crackling of the paper she was sticking to. As her eyes lingered on the scene outside the tinted window, she felt herself slip away.
She let go. She was not going to have a child, she was not going to feel her stomach stretch big and round, plead for foot rubs, back rubs, and ice cream in the middle of the night. She was not going to feel a flutter in her belly that would grow to a stirring and then finally mature to push its way out into the world. She was not going to have a baby. When the doctor finally came to see her to discuss more options, he found her dressed and ready to leave.
Kristine pulled into her muddy little park and stepped out of her car, carefully stepping on the slick ground in her rain boots. Spring had warmed the earth with her fragrant breath of wind and sun. The daffodils were in full bloom, bobbing their bright heads in the wind. Kristine’s firm mouth stretched into a smile and she snapped a picture, her green eyes mechanically taking in creation. She picked her way carefully making sure not to sink deep into a mound of dead brown leaves. Her favorite spot was a large rock resting under the shade of a maple tree. The maple would soon show signs of budding, the sparse grass would lose its matted, brown look, and things would be beautiful again. Could she bare it?
The hibernation and wild colors of the dying autumn had spoken to her; seemingly God was allowing nature to mourn for her, though she could not. She found solace in snapping pictures of each breathtaking moment. She could almost feel something here in the bright splash of colors and later in the drab, gray winter that followed. The cold suited her, it fit. She would then look at the pictures later, using a box knife to cut out shapes and shadows, to feel something in her void. She could respond to the bland colors, to creation, to the sound of the wind moaning.
Chris found her countless mornings on the floor surrounded and slumped over the massacre of glossy photos. He would kiss her freckled nose, or her sandy blonde mane, or her hand if that was all he could reach and would then leave wordlessly. She wouldn’t move until she heard the door lock into place.
Here, perhaps if he could see her here in the park, it would make sense to him. He couldn’t fix it. He couldn’t kiss it. He wouldn’t leave it alone. It hurt, but from far away, where she couldn’t feel it anymore. That’s why she took pictures so one day, when she could feel again, she could look back and see what she could not see before and then she could feel and she could love again.
Kristine could smell spring, her mossy, earthy promise that sunlit days of warmth and laughter, fragrant breezes were coming. So Kristine sat and waited, she would leave in a moment, but if she could open herself to this moment of promise, of hope, she could go to a baby shower; she could chose to be happy for someone else. One day she would feel happy for them also.
She slipped into bed beside Chris, her side still crisp and chilly, though she could feel the warmth of his body near hers. His breathing shifted and then fell gently back into rhythm, and she lay quietly, listening.
When they had first married, he had reached for her eagerly, and had never been turned away. At that point, she couldn’t fathom a time when she wouldn’t long for him to hold her, to touch her, to drive from her mind all other thoughts and cares.
During the first pregnancy, she had fallen asleep every night by eight and Chris had to practically carry her to bed. After the miscarriage, he was hesitant about making love, wanting to comfort her, but concerned about hurting her. Her sadness was deep, but at the time, she felt her faith was deeper. God would carry them through this. Somehow, she would learn something and be able to better minister to others.
The second pregnancy was a roller coaster of joy and fear. She was so careful, so excited, so scared. She thanked God everyday for another chance to be a mother, but she did not write notes to this baby as she had done the first one.
When she lost her second baby, she felt she lost herself, and somehow lost her connection to God, to Chris. God, who had always seemed so near, so real, was somewhere else, just watching. Chris lay next to her, peaceful while her jumbled mind wandered, close to the man she loved, but so far from him.
Kristine returned to her sanctuary the following morning, mulling over the fact that Chris no longer expected her to be home when he returned daily from his office at the church. He seemed to know she would return, but had stopped asking last fall where she had been. She didn’t know how to tell him that she drove to a secluded place to watch things die, she didn’t know what to say, so she retreated into silence. She kept making meals, just for two, cleaning the house, doing the laundry, but no longer adding special touches to her home. She had once crocheted a lovely throw to add a splash of coral across the cream colored couch. She had sewn a couple of sea-foam green cushions and then found a coffee table with a display case lid to show off her seashell collection. She had tried to use her artistic eye to add inexpensive style and comfort to her home. But her interest had evaporated with the summer and she simply straightened and cleaned. She was a housekeeper now, not a homemaker.
She sat quietly on the rock, waiting. She knew He would find her here, and she wanted to be ready. She remembered how, as a child, she had gone up to the altar with her parents on Sunday mornings and prayed and waited. She always felt like she was sitting in her daddy’s lap when she was waiting on God. There had been no heartache then, no fire burning. Just a calm anticipation; the best was to come and she just needed to be ready and willing. His voice would be clear, His direction would be sure. He had led her to college, He had led her to marry Chris, He had led them to serve at Bethel Church. But now, as a broken adult, she was yearning, she was hurting, if she could just let herself feel it.
She could hear Him, it was time to feel again, quit shutting out the pain and those who loved her. It was time to love again and be healed.
She shifted in bed later that night, but couldn’t sleep, replaying the evening in her mind. Kristine padded around the apartment not sure how to settle down for the night.
Dinner had been a quiet affair, after so much time and so much distance, she felt stilted with her husband. She had gone to the store after her devotion in the park and returned home to make Chris’s favorite, filling the galley kitchen with the aroma of steak, twice-baked potatoes, and dinner rolls. As she placed the garden salad on the table with the rest of the meal, Chris looked at her curiously, “What are we celebrating?”
Her smile felt plastic on her face and she tried to relax. “Nothing, just thought we needed something special.”
She wanted to laugh and say something normal like, well, but to make up for it we’ll be having ramen tomorrow, but it had been so long since they had just teased each other, she could only choke out, “Your welcome,” she chewed the crisp lettuce thoughtfully. “So . . . how was work?”
He looked at her, “Normal. People are people. Everyone is still stressed out making all the follow-up phone calls from the conference.”
“But that was two weeks ago.”
“It was two-thousand people, three-hundred or so churches also to be interviewed.” He ate a forkful of potatoes. “It’s just . . .”
“Nothing new, I just wish I could be there more for people. I know follow-up is important, but I feel like we’re so busy at work sometimes I miss really getting to talk to people, getting to know them, help them, pray with them. That’s why I’m in the ministry.” His voice dropped and he stared at his plate for a moment, “I just want to do more . . .”
“Well . . .” what could she say?
“I know it’s a good job and great experience. I am learning a lot and -”
“Chris, I’m sorry.”
He stopped listing his reasons to be grateful and smiled. “Thank you.”
It had been a start. As Kristine drew back the curtains to let the moonlight spill over the living room, she drew in her breath. Looking out the second floor window she watched the large apple tree stir in the breeze. The branches were just starting to bud and she wondered that she almost missed this moment. She turned and looked at her living room, now transformed by nocturnal magic. The pale couch, a hand-me down from her older brother, was silvery, the tan carpet seemed gold, and the cheap coffee table with the display lid she’d found at a flea market now sparkled. Slowly, she found herself moving toward the bookshelf they had nestled in the tiny hall that led to the bathroom. She turned on the bathroom light and began thumbing through Chris’s yearbooks.
“What are you doing?” Christ had never been one to sneak up on her, but Kristine jumped as she had not heard him approaching.
“Just remembering.” She looked up at her husband as he stood bare-chested in his boxers with his black hair sticking out in several directions.
“Oh.” He began to turn away as though dismissed and stopped abruptly, “Kristine?”
She tried to smile.
The sleep had gone from his eyes, hunger painfully clear, “Come to bed, please.”
She wanted to argue, to stay safe looking through her picture books. She could rest later, when he wasn’t beside her, when she was not in danger of dreaming.
He stood still, looking at her as she closed the yearbook. How long had he been standing still, giving her room, allowing her to grieve? He was so gentle, so patient, but she knew he was not going to wait wordlessly forever. He needed her and she needed to be needed.
She stood up slowly and raised her face to his. He kissed her warmly, more passionately than she could recall for a long time. She tried to stop her mind from thinking of her fears, felt herself praying to be able to focus on Chris, to love him the way he needed to be loved; the way he had unselfishly loved her.
She recalled how willingly she had first kissed him as his wife, how nervous she had been that first night, how miraculous she had found his body and strength to be. She remembered what a gift making love was and tried to let go of her reservations, following him into their bedroom, pressing her body into him and allowing herself to be caught up in his passion. And she loved him and gave him her love, while tears seeped out of her eyes and wet her cheeks, she loved her husband.
Afterwards, laying her head on his chest, Chris felt the tears on her face and surprised her by crying, too. “I’m so sorry, Kristine, you weren’t ready.”
“No,” her breath caught as she recognized the truth of her words. “No, I needed you tonight. I just . . .” She tried to make sense of her snarled emotions.
“What?” His left hand brushed her cheek gently, and she breathed in the scent of his skin.
“I’m – I’m stuck inside. I’m trying to get out.” She sat up slowly and leaned close to him, “I want to get out. I am trying to be your wife again.”
“Kristine, you never stopped being my wife.” He pulled her back to him and they fell asleep, her ear pressed to his heart.