WARNING: SURVIVORS OF SEXUAL ASSAULT AND DOMESTIC VIOLENCE MAY FIND CONTENT TRIGGERING. READER DISCRETION IS ADVISED.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
LAUREN RAE TYLER, 18 GOING ON 19 (CONTINUED)
He further explains he didn’t know he was adopted until his 18th birthday. His parents wanted to tell him earlier. They actually wanted to raise him with the knowledge of his adoption, but they didn’t know how to do it. Later they decided to tell him when he reached a maturity level where they would know he could handle the truth. Matthew was slightly hurt, but he wasn’t angry with his parents. He had the opportunity then to find Mary, but he loved his parents. He didn’t want to insult them and for some reason he thought finding Mary would be insulting.
It wasn’t until Janette died that the need to find Mary grew strong in his heart. He believes the Holy Spirit led him to find her. The agency Matthew’s parents used only had information about the 16 year old Mary Dawson that placed him in adoption. They gave him her name, address, and a letter she wrote a few months after he was adopted. The letter was just in case he ever decided to look for her. Her letter didn’t say much. She talked about his birth father, Michael Hogan, and she said she was going to school to be a doctor after she graduated high school. She didn’t know where she was going to college yet, she just knew she was going. She asked for Matthew’s forgiveness and that she hopes one day they meet, until then she signed the letter with all her love.
He went to the house of the address the adoption agency had, in San Diego, and an old man lived there, Mary’s father. He explained he hadn’t seen or spoken to her since she was 18, the day she left for college with her boyfriend. A weird Jesus-Freak named John St. James. Matthew thought it was worth a shot. Maybe John St. James would have helpful information about Mary Dawson.
A private investigator found out John had an advertising business in Tucson, Arizona, where Matthew had been living since his freshman year of college. The P.I. was going to give him extra information, but that would have cost extra. Matthew called and set up an appointment at Resurrection Ads. The appointment was right after lunch and Matthew saw a man returning to the office with a beautiful woman on his arm. She gave him a kiss goodbye and said she’d see him after work. She walked away from the man but stayed in the office area. She went down a hallway as if she was walking to an office.
The receptionist pointed at the man and told Matthew that it was Mr. St. James and his wife Mary. Matthew began laughing joyously, slightly shocked his birth mother stayed with someone she’d known so long. He canceled his appointment and asked if he could get one to see Mary. The receptionist gave Matthew a dirty glare.
“Only employees get to see her.” The receptionist said.
Matthew asked why.
“She runs the daycare for the employees.”
Matthew left and figured there were other ways to get the address of the St. James couple. Once he got it, through another P.I., he decided to show up on a Tuesday night. Mary opened the door. Matthew didn’t have to say much, only three words, “I’m your son.” With tears in her eyes, she embraced him with open arms.
Matthew quickly built a relationship with them. He partakes in Tuesday Bible Study, has dinner with them once a week, and sometimes just stops by to visit and talk. He still calls his parents and spends his holidays with them. When he told his parents he found Mary, they were excited! They were also very grateful that Matthew didn’t disown them.
That’s why Mary’s eyes were familiar when we first met. Why I was so quick to trust her. Mary reminded me of Matthew. Mary is Matthew’s birth mother; my mind chews on that thought.
Matthew talks about me all the time… Matthew talks about me all the time to them… Matthew was the first person I told I found a couple to adopt Joshua. I told him their names, I mentioned where they lived, and what church they went to, which means Matthew had to know the Lauren they talked about was me. Why didn’t he tell them he knew me? If he occasionally pops-in on them, how come he never popped-in the times I’ve been here? Did he see my car and flee?
“Why didn’t you tell them you knew me? Or me that you knew them? Hmm?” I ask, trying to conceal the rage itching to roar in a yelling tangent.
Matthew puts his hands up like I’m about to arrest him and explains, “I didn’t know. They said your name was Lauren, that you were a student at the U of A, and that you were mature for your age. That’s all!” He adds that they hoped I wasn’t going to change my mind. That they were going to wait to tell more people about the adoption until they were certain I wasn’t going to back out.
“Open adoption is a good idea, Lauren.” Matthew says.
It is a good idea− a fantastic idea. But if there’s the slightest chance I’m going to end up like Mary, it’s not an idea worth making a reality. Wait, if they’ve been together for more than 22 years, why don’t they have any kids of their own by now?
Matthew tries to convince me not to change my mind. Mary and John tried for years to have a child of their own, but all the attempts ended in heartbreak and emotional scars. He takes me firmly by my shoulders and uses his gorgeous eyes on me. Pleading he says, “Please Lauren, don’t change your mind. Don’t jump the gun and back out.”
He brings up Mr. Michaels’ line of questioning. He says he was in court today, in the back, and he saw how I struggled to answer the questions from the truest corner of my heart.
Don’t jump the gun? He mentioned. He’s using a prayer session he wasn’t present for− acting as if he knows the will of God for my life− to stand on his birth mother’s behalf. Who does he think he is? He is SO MUCH like my father.
Don’t jump the gun… The Lord told me back in December. But that’s exactly what I did. I saw Mary and I subconsciously thought of Matthew. I was tired of asking questions and getting unsatisfying answers. Mary and John are a great couple and they would be fantastic parents, but I bet if I interviewed them that day, I would have said no. I said no to the 11th and 12th couples that day. I kept saying no because I didn’t want to be at the adoption agency. I didn’t want to interview any of the couples from the 20 files I selected with my mother.
“I saw Mary and John and jumped the gun, Matthew,” I say, squirming out of his clutch. I make my way for the front door and Matthew gets in front of me. If I wasn’t carrying another person, I could have maneuvered to get around him, but luckily for him I’m pregnant.
“Don’t marry Drew T!” He blurts out softly, but nonetheless fervently.
Okay, his following explanation could peak my interest. I sigh as I ask, “Why?”
He anxiously rubs his hands together. He always does that when he has something important to say. He licks his bottom lips, tucking his tongue back in his mouth through the left corner. That’s another sign that what he’s about to say means a lot to him and he’s extremely nervous.
Exhaling he states, “You’re not in love with him.”
I giggle. How does he know who I’m in love with? He couldn’t even tell I had a crush on him when we first met.
“You don’t know that.”
Matthew nods his head condescendingly. Holding his cringed hands above his hair like he’s trying not to pull it out, he asks, “Then tell me, Lauren. Are you in love with him?”
I manage to gently say that I love Drew T. It’s true, I do love him… I think… Wow, my own mind isn’t convinced that I’m in love with Drew T. I’m comfortable with Drew T, but I didn’t miss him at all during the school year. I was nervous about seeing him when he told me he was flying out with my parents for the trial. Not the good nervous. It was anxiety brought on by guilt. The only reason he proposed was because I’m pregnant. In fact, Drew T has taken advantage of my pregnancy. I allowed my pregnancy to give him a shot before my father even demanded I’d place Joshua in adoption. I tried to think about what would be best for Joshua. Two parent homes are necessary for the healthy upbringing of children, but only if both the parents are happy. How happy would I be marrying Drew T? Earlier today I realized I don’t want to marry him. I’m not in love with Drew T.
“Take it from somebody who has been in love. You’re not in love with Drew T. Marrying Drew T and keeping the baby−,” I stop him right there.
“I wouldn’t get married just because of Joshua. I think I made that pretty clear in court. Get out of my way, please?”
Matthew backs up and clears a path for me. I leave without saying goodbye to anyone. I get in the car and sit there. Tears pour from my eyes and now I couldn’t be more confused in all my life.
Am I being selfish? Isn’t placing Joshua with Mary and John the best thing? What did you mean Lord? What am I supposed to do? And this isn’t fair! I love Matthew SO MUCH but he isn’t over his dead wife! She’s been dead for five years! Why, why, why LORD? Why would you tell me to name him Joshua if I wasn’t meant to keep him?
I get Lord that you use everything in our life for the greater good, but I don’t see the good in this… What good is raising a kid below poverty level, in a single mother home, and a father in prison? I don’t get it at all! I’m not sure I even want to begin to understand it Lord…
Give me an answer Lord! A clear definite answer, keep or don’t keep Joshua? Just tell me Lord! In Christ’s name, I plea, please Father, tell me…
I turn on the ignition and the Holy Spirit tells me to turn off the car. Good point… I shouldn’t drive as the emotional wreck I am. I just sit in the car. I’m debating whether or not to go back inside when Matthew comes rushing out the door. He spots my car and rushes towards me. He reaches for the passenger door when I lock it. I don’t want him in my car. He knocks on the window eagerly, desperately hoping to speak to me. I roll down the window.
He immediately admits that he was selfish for telling me not to marry Drew T. He struck my curiosity enough for me to unlock the car door. Matthew puts his thought on pause to get in the passenger’s side.
Gazing at me through the heart of his eyes, he says, “I love you… I’m in love with you.” He quickly looks away and stares out the front window.
I should have seen that coming. The entire moment was bound to come after he nearly commanded me not to marry Drew T. I didn’t ever think I would be part of a love triangle. Then again, I never thought I’d be pregnant at 19. Life has unexpected key points on a daily basis. I wake up sometimes wanting and expecting to make pancakes for breakfast, but a friend calls, like Matthew, and asks if I want to go out for breakfast and I end up getting a waffle instead. Which means I can think what I want, and expect what I want in life, but that doesn’t mean I’ll get that expected want in my life… Riddle me another riddle brain! I think I think too much sometimes.
The closing arguments were good. I didn’t think Mr. Michaels had a chance after my testimony, but his words cleverly spewed from his lips like the beautiful melody of a hymnal. I almost wanted to be merciful to Dmitry and drop the charges against him. I heard what happens to rapists in prison… That’s not going to help him heal from whatever pain he has in life, it’s only going to give him more wounds. If he’s found guilty on three counts of sexual assault, he could serve anywhere from 15 to 45 years in prison. It depends on whether or not he’s given the minimum sentence or maximum sentence for each count.
Court adjourns and Ms. Rodriguez-Ortega says to stay close. She thinks she had a good read of the jury. In her opinion, they’ll only take a couple of hours.
My parents went to get tea. They asked if I wanted to go. I have angst coursing through my veins thicker than my blood. I’m too nervous to go anywhere. Drew T keeps me company in the hallway outside the courtroom. He isn’t holding my hand and that’s what I’m craving right now− the security of a good hand holding.
At least he’s not like his brother. He’s talking to me. Unfortunately, I’m not in the mood to talk about Star Wars.
During the closing arguments, I glanced at Dmitry here and there. He didn’t even look nervous. His face was blank and deadpan. He looked like…like… me when I− I was in the hospital because…of him. If that’s all he feels, nothingness− an emptiness dug into his soul by numbness really− I give him my sympathy. Worst feeling in the world… The thoughts that conquer the mind− uninvited, self-loathing, soul-crunching thoughts− that are clearly designed by unseen, evil forces. If the human mind was solely capable of such self-destruction, we wouldn’t have a chance. The point is: I may understand how Dmitry feels. I don’t want what happened to him to make him feel that way, and I pray he lets it go…
Ha… I never truly thought I’d be in a predicament when I would pray for a real enemy of mine. I’m literally living my faith in action.
Pray for Dmitry! The Spirit alerts me. I don’t know what to pray for… What do I pray for? How do I pray for Dmitry?
I excuse myself and go to the bathroom. I rush to splash water on my face. I feel like I’m going to puke. I haven’t puked for pregnancy related reasons in a while. The nausea could be my nerves. I don’t want to pray for Dmitry.
I exhale as I dry my face off with a paper towel. The water cooled my face and brought a little relief. I take a few deep breaths as I toggle the crumpled paper towel in my hands. The flimsy, damp paper towel finally snaps from the knot I made of it. I throw it out, sighing.
“Dear Lord,” I say out loud. Strong prayer requires strong efforts, “Father in heaven…” I sigh.
A single thought doesn’t come to mind. Think, think, think, rings in my head.
Don’t think, pray… The Spirit says.
Suddenly, a slew of tongues hum under my breath. This is the most fluent I sound to date. It still sounds like gibberish to me. Like a combo of Spanish, Italian, a touch of German, and Arabic.
I questioned tongues for a long time. Grandma Tyler believed speaking in tongues was selfish− Purely self-edification. No one was a bigger skeptic than my father though. He believed there was no need to speak in tongues anymore because linguistic specialists have researched speaking in tongues and not a single, clear understanding has come of them. Well, no duh! If tongues could be taught like any other language, then all types of tongues could be analyzed. Tongues ignite on any person’s lips with a simple anointed prayer and a willing human heart. I believed what they believed about tongues. Tongues freaked me out, but I went directly to God’s word searching for an answer.
In the second chapter of Acts, men who spoke different languages were filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in tongues. Suddenly, they could all understand each other. I bet if linguistic specialists with unwilling hearts were there, they would have thought it was gibberish too. Paul wrote about tongues to the Corinthians. People in the church were fighting about what fruit of the Spirit was best. In Paul’s opinion, tongues were the least important, but were vital for believers. As far as speaking tongues in church, the ability to be interpreted was clearly necessary at times, but mainly tongues were for one on one prayer. I think somewhere in John it mentions that the Spirit intercedes for us. I figure then, when we don’t know what to pray, and all we have are tongues to pray, that’s the Spirit praying for us. Plus, I also presume America is going to be a Tower of Babel all over again. Maybe… not like the Lord has actually told me that… I figure when we can’t understand each other, tongues will unite us so we can interpret what the other is saying. Just a theory though, no knowledge if it will actually ever happen.
I’m not saying I’m over my weirdness about tongues, but God gave me the gift and I’m not going to waste it. The bonus is I could use a boost in faith; every disciple of Christ needs it. If tongues give me that boost, thank you God.
The urgency to use tongues fade and I actually have something to pray.
“Grace is a free gift God… but before your grace, there was mercy… Clearly Lord, Dmitry needs your mercy… And yes, I’m going to be honest. I hate his guts! I’d prefer if he died… But you can take anything and make something good come out of it…” I fall silent.
I look down at my bulging belly and I cup my hands around it. Joshua gives me a couple of powerful kicks. I burst into a gentle fit of laughter. That night was the worst night of my life… But it wasn’t God’s fault, it wasn’t His doing. It wasn’t even mine… Dmitry made a choice and that choice changed the course of my life, his, and started a life for Joshua. The Lord− who is greater than this life, who is everything good− has the power to save… Joshua…
“You save Lord, save Dmitry…” I want to end my prayer. But tears swell in my eyes and I feel the notion to give thanks. “Thank you Lord… I never really said thanks for… for carrying me through this storm. For placing the people you’ve placed in my life for support… For leading my heart to forgiveness… for keeping my heart rooted in love… and now, for making my heart a heart of thanksgiving. Thank you for not letting me go… Hallelujah… In Jesus Christ’s name I pray, Amen.”
I hear the door to a stall creek open. A puffy-eyed Candace walks out. She’s been crying heavier than I have, it appears. She wipes her tears with crinkled toilet paper. She holds the extra toilet paper out to me. I take it out of kindness and use it.
She pulls up to a sink beside me. She digs around in her purse, anxiously looking for something important to her. She takes out a makeup bag. Starting with foundation, she fixes her makeup.
I didn’t know anyone else was in here. Had I known, I would have waited or found a different place to pray… I think? This is a public bathroom with more than one stall. I should have checked the stalls.
I say thank you for the tissue and begin to walk out, when she stops me by saying, “I wish I had faith like you.”
Intrigued, I turned back to face her. I ask her what she means. She explains she grew up Catholic. She wouldn’t go into her childhood, but by the comments she made about her mother and father, it didn’t sound pleasant.
“I believe St. Paul said God never gives you anything you can’t handle… Well I don’t agree. I’ve had too much.”
She’s finished fixing her face. She angrily puts her makeup away. She slings her saggy purse on her arm and storms past me to leave the bathroom. I didn’t know what to say, but then the Spirit told me to speak to her.
I open my mouth and say this, “You can’t handle anything life throws at you… alone… You have to rely on God through faith in Jesus Christ and hold onto the only hope you have in this life…”
Curiously, Candace cautiously spins back to face me and glares at me skeptically. “And that hope is?” she asks.
“That your scars will heal the wounded… that the testimony of your storm will save another soul… But mainly, the hope that your pain will not be in vain because−,” Candace surprisingly finishes my thought.
“The Lord saves…” She says softly. She shudders a breath like she has just surfaced a body of water and is desperately seeking fresh, clean air. She spins back towards the door. I expect her to walk out and leave me alone, but shockingly, she opens the door for me. She expects me to exit first. As I walk past her she asks me where I go to church. I giggle. I tell her she doesn’t need church to have faith, but church, if it’s the right church does help build the house the foundation Christ lays down. We had every intention of picking a seat and talking, but as we approached the courtroom, we found out the verdict was in.
Dmitry Stephanopoulos has been found guilty of three counts of sexual assault and will serve a total of 26 years without a chance for parole. Twenty-six years doesn’t seem long enough, how was that sentence even determined? I was partially spacing out when the judge gave the sentencing. I also barely understood what I was listening to. In high school, I had a 3.9 GPA, right now at the U of A I have a 4.0. How can I not understand lawyer jargon? I must not be judicially minded.
After I manage to worm my way out of the group hug I was forced to endure from my loving parents and ex-fiancé, I walk towards Dmitry to get as close as I can get. The closer I get, the more I want to puke. My heart kind of hurts a little. Both my parents and Drew T are calling out to me, asking me what I’m doing. As Dmitry is being placed in cuffs, I spit it out.
I say, “I forgive you.”
A rush of relief flushed through my body. The puking sensation goes away. My heart feels normal again.
The officer begins to take him away, but after one step Dmitry stops. He doesn’t look directly at me. He looks just barely over his shoulder. Only the corner of his eye must see me. He grins in sinister banter. He chortles darkly.
“Forgive others or else the Father won’t forgive you…” His chortling turns into hysterical laughing. He howls a quick woo like he’s a frat boy celebrating a victorious beer chug. The officer tries to move him along forward, but Dmitry unexpectedly spins around the officer and charges toward me. He lunges at me, mockingly biting as if he’s trying to nip me. The officer grabs him forcefully and pulls him back before Dmitry gets within two feet of me. As he’s dragged away, Dmitry huffs, “How selfish of you!”
Repeatedly, he yells, “Selfish, selfish, selfish!”
*edited by Aly Fry