WARNING: Survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault may find the content trigger inducing. Reader’s discretion is advised.
2 Corinthians 1:3-7
Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! He is the Father who is compassionate and the God who gives comfort.
He comforts us whenever we suffer. That is why when other people suffer, we are able to comfort them by using the same comfort we have received from God.
Because Christ suffered so much for us, we can receive so much comfort from him.
Besides, if we suffer, it brings you comfort and salvation. If we are comforted, we can effectively comfort you when you endure the same sufferings we endure.
We have confidence in you. We know that as you share our sufferings, you also share our comfort.
LAUREN RAE TYLER, 18
Home is finally a comfort again. Over Thanksgiving break, home was pure torture. Okay, I’m not officially home yet. I’m just in Melissa’s beat up ’92 Nissan. I don’t even know what kind of Nissan it is… I just know it’s a typical boxy car of the late-80s-early-90s era. The passenger door doesn’t open from the inside. During the summer or spring, it’s fine to roll down the window and reach outside to open the door handle, but in the fall and winter, it’s a cold job.
She also doesn’t keep a clean car. There’s a KFC bucket on the passenger floor filled with garbage. Crumbs of all kinds clutter the seat I sit on. The dashboard is covered in dust. Stains of all sorts tarnish the roof, sun-visors, and seats. Her car smells like sweat, stale fries, and musky old shoes. Somehow, there’s comfort in this car for me. It reminds me of my mom’s car, B.G.− BEFORE GLENN.
Our apartment was a landfill. The dirty dishes were a mountain in the sink. The trash usually never made the inside of the trashcan. It was always on the floor around the trashcan or left in the spot where the trash was made. My room was a jungle’s sanctuary. I had to carefully place my steps in the chaos-free spots on my floor to get from one side to the other. I can’t even remember all the times I tripped over my toys or clothes or trash trying to get to “destination bed”.
I didn’t like Glenn when mom brought him home. I thought he was the cowboy edition of Santa Claus. I still don’t know how old he is, but it doesn’t matter really. Glenn is my dad. The dad I’ve known. It took me a while to call him dad, but I couldn’t imagine addressing him as Glenn out loud ever again. I may not be Lauren Rae Stevens anymore, and if I ever get married my name is going to change again. A name is just a name anyways; it doesn’t make me who I am.
“In nine days, Drew T will be 18!” Makayla exclaims excitedly.
She’s been in love with him since she met him. He didn’t even look like he does now. Approximately four years ago, in the clearest memory I have of him, he was two inches shorter than my current height. Like a Beatle from the sixties, his dark brown hair was cut in the shape of a bowl. He was a skinny rod and could hardly lift 30 lbs. of anything. The sweetest light brown eyes in the world belong to Drew T. For some reason his eyes remind me of Winnie the Pooh, gentle and kind, and absolutely huggable. Those scrawny arms of his knew how to give a mighty good hug. He’s only a year and a few months younger than me. He was off visiting his grandmother in Tennessee when I left for school, but he still looked like a tweener compared to me, and I still look like a high schooler to people.
On Thanksgiving break I didn’t even recognize him. When Pastor Donahue, J.P., and Drew T came over for Thanksgiving meal, I asked mom who the cute guy was standing next to J.P. She said, “Don’t rock the cradle honey, that’s Drew T.” My jaw nearly fell off its hinge. The way he looks all grown up, Makayla has a reason to gawk over him.
“Nine days til Christmas already!” Melissa huffs nervously. “Now, I’m nervous.” She shares.
She’s getting married on New Year’s Eve. She and J.P. are old-fashion cute together. Seeing them look at each other the way they do is heart-warming. Couples like them
, remind me that God has “the one” out there for me. When we do meet, he’s not going to care about things I’ve done or things that have happened to me.
Things that have happened to me… I think. In three days, it will be one month to the day since my rape and I still haven’t told anyone. Detective Camp hasn’t called about any leads. I can’t sleep all the way through the night. I wake up two to three times to escape the terror of my nightmares. The only way I can fall back asleep is by reading scripture. I just read whatever I happen to open the Bible to, and every time the piece of scripture works.
In my prayers, I beg the Lord to take the nightmares away or at least show me how to put an end to them. He hasn’t answered that prayer. Patience is a virtue. I remind myself. I know He’ll come through.
Makayla can’t stop talking about how cute Drew T is and all the cute things he does. Melissa finally gets tired of it, like me, and says, “He doesn’t compare to his big brother.”
John Paul, aka J.P., is a woman’s man. He’s about 6’5” and cut with muscles. He already has a thick beard. Melissa doesn’t like it but she puts up with it. J.P. keeps his hair simple, only about a half inch long. He only wears jeans, boots, and cowboy shirts. He throws a suit jacket on for church. He prefers baseball caps over cowboy hats, however. He’s like a trucker cowboy− a modern rancher.
His eyes aren’t like his brothers. J.P.’s eyes are a deep, dark brown. When he is looking at someone, he could pick that person apart just by looking. Thankfully, he’s nothing like his eyes. He’s a sweet, kind, loving, Christian man. He usually wears shades to cover his intimidating eyes, even inside.
Memories of last month bubble to the surface of my mind. Thinking about J.P. wearing shades sparks unwanted imagery of my attacker in my head. I start trembling. My chest starts hurting, like needles are trying to escape from within my heart. Dizziness dances in my head and twists my vision.
I can’t lose it now! Using all the strength I have, which isn’t much, I pray to God. Lord, not now! I can do all things through He who gives me strength. He who is in me is greater than he who is in the world. Please, Heavenly Father… My vision begins to tunnel.
“Are you okay Lauren?”
I can’t speak yet. I’m trying not to pass out. Please, Father… Grant me peace. Be with me now. Please… in your son’s precious holy name, Jesus Christ… Amen…
I manage to nod my head. Slowly, my dizziness subsides and my vision is restored to full.
“Say something to assure us you’re okay!” Makayla demands.
Melissa interjects without allowing me to speak, “I think she’s hungover.”
“Are you?” Makayla questions.
I’ve never been hungover in my life. It’s cute how my friends think I’ve become a whole new person away from here. Perhaps I have, the Lauren from Gallup wouldn’t have kept her rape a secret. Matthew doesn’t know yet. Why am I afraid to confess the truth? It wasn’t my fault what happened. Even though I ignored the Holy Spirit’s warning. Be quiet brain! I don’t need those types of thoughts now.
I did go to another party of Gina’s last night. I did think about having a drink, but I drove my own car and I told Gina she had to worry about herself in terms of getting back to the dorm. A couple of guys talked me up at the party. For the heck of it, I gave them my number. I don’t know why. All they want is sex from me that I’m not going to give it. I laugh mentally because my initial thought was horrible. Since I’m not going to give it, they might as well take it. Who am I? Have I a lack of compassion for myself?
To break the awkward silence that allowed a staleness to stew in the air, I say, “I was at a party last night…”
Neither one gives me the opportunity to finish speaking.
“I knew it!” Melissa exclaims, “Who’s good at reading people? This girl!”
“I can’t believe you went out partying…” Makayla whines and then grabs my shoulders from behind.
“Have you learned nothing from me?”
Makayla used to be a heavy drinker and marijuana smoker and she’ll be 20 in April. Once she joined the church, she managed to kick her addiction and put her destructive lifestyle in the past. The Lord did all the work though. The church was merely moral support for Makayla.
I lean forward to free myself from Makayla’s playful, but slightly distraught, clutches. Makayla weaves a huge lecture that drinking in excess isn’t godly; that as the Body of Christ, we grieve the Holy Spirit when we partake in drunkenness. Tired of Dr. Isley’s lecture series on the wages of sin through the spirit of partying, Melissa picks up badgering me next.
“Is that how you got your busted schnauzer Thanksgiving break?” Melissa asks with a giggling banter. “Did drunkard Lauren get in a brawl?” She questions in a pirate tone.
No one asked me last month how I got a broken nose, which is weird. I thought of all people, my parents would ask out of concern. Maybe it was a good thing, because I’m not sure I would have told the truth. I’m not sure I can do it now. If I tell them the truth, they are going to feel beyond guilty. The season is to be jolly, not glum. But the Holy Spirit convicts me to confess the truth. I take a deep breath. As I open my mouth, ready to confess the event of last month with all the courage I can muster, the car begins to slow down rapidly.
Makayla starts freaking out. She’s hollering, asking why Melissa is slowing down. At first, Melissa’s clueless as to what’s going on, but as she steers the car to park it on the side of the road, she notices the gas tank on empty.
“God, Melissa!” Makayla whines, “Why didn’t you fill up in Albuquerque?”
“I’m sorry you guys, J.P. said I’d have to fill up before or right after we picked Lauren up. I forgot, okay. Shoot me!”
“I will.” Makayla snaps.
Laughing uncontrollably, I hold my stomach, which hurts from all the muscle-clenching my upper abs are doing. I haven’t laughed this hard since last year, before college. I love these girls!
“I’m sorry,” Melissa apologizes again genuinely.
She whips out her seemingly ancient flip phone and calls her future hubby. I hear him laugh at her over the phone. Once she hangs up, she explains J.P. is on his way to the rescue.
The first thirty minutes wasn’t too bad. Everyone had their thick winter jackets on. The heat was still trapped in the car but it didn’t take the cold air long to seep in and slither into everyone’s body. Gabby didn’t even squirm, but Dwight whined that he was cold fifty minutes into the wait. Makayla unbuckled him and passed him up front to snuggle with Melissa. The entire time Makayla complained that Melissa has a death wish. She told a story about what happened last week.
Melissa and Makayla were watching the kids while Craig and Janie had a date night. Melissa made homemade Macaroni and Cheese. After she made the cheese sauce, she forgot to turn off the stove eye she cooked it on. The Macaroni and Cheese had to cook in the oven for about 35 minutes. When she took it out, she placed the oven-mit on the dangerously hot stove-eye. The mit caught on fire. Melissa picked the burning oven-mitt up and held onto it trying to figure out what to do. She finally decided to throw it in the trash, but the fire got larger because it burned the garbage as fuel. Makayla had to step in and take the trash can outside, where she dosed the fire with the hose. It didn’t make it.
Within a total of an hour and ten minutes, we spot J.P.’s big-wheel, high rolling, deep crimson red of a four-door Dodge Ram speeding on the other side of the highway. He makes an illegal turn through the foliage in between each side of the highway and zooms his Ram across mild traffic to park in front of the Nissan.
The driver’s side door and front passenger’s door swing open in unison. J.P. emerges from the driver’s side, of course. He’s wearing his sleek shades and a Texas Ranger baseball cap, while sporting a red and black checkered flannel shirt with his royal blue, puffy huntsman vest on to keep him warm, and light, ratty blue jeans. A similar looking fellow steps out of the passenger’s side. He’s wearing a plain red baseball cap which is slightly too large for his head, but it’s barely noticeable. He’s tall, a few inches shorter than J.P., with a budding goatee. He’s wearing a blue jean jacket, a red shirt underneath, and darker blue jeans.
The gentleman in the red cap, lifts his hat to scratch his hair, which is buzzed. Shaking his hat, he stares at me. My hazel eyes meet his gentle, kind, and naturally droopy, light brown eyes… It’s good to see Drew T. Sending me a smile, he puts his cap back on as I smile back at him. How handsome he is…
“Isn’t he gorgeous?” Makayla squeals. “I only have to wait a week and two days.”
Melissa struggles to hand Dwight back to Makayla in order to put him back in the car seat. Somehow they manage to work it out. Makayla had to complain how heavy Dwight is; Melissa sighed softly to ignore it.
J.P. grabs a portable, plastic gas tank from the bed of his truck and walks over to Melissa’s car. He fills it up for her. He tosses the plastic gas container to Drew T as he opens Melissa’s door. He bends low, leans in, and kisses Melissa on the lips.
Looking around inside he says, “No one appears injured…” He laughs, impressed by his own crack at a joke.
Melissa slaps him on the chest playfully. J.P. unbuckles Melissa from her seat and then swiftly yanks her from the driver’s seat. He sits in her place. Melissa questions what J.P. is doing.
“Lauren, go ride with Drew T,” he says.
“I’ll go with him!” Makayla says, scrambling to unbuckle herself in the back.
“No!” J.P. barks in a lively manner. Then honestly he explains, “I don’t trust you with my baby brother.”
Drew T opens the door for me. I didn’t even notice him walk over. He takes my carry-on bag without me having to ask. He holds his hand out to help me out of the car. I take his hand and use his gained girth to climb out of Melissa’s car.
J.P. speeds away the moment Melissa gets back into the car, taking my place in the passenger seat. First, Drew T puts my carry-on in the backseat. Then, he lifts me up onto the truck step with ease. He holds my hand while I get settled in the front. I keep my eyes on Drew T in faint shock. He’s a man now… How did that happen?
Drew T doesn’t speed like J.P. He goes the speed limit. On the drive home he explains he dropped out of high school and started working on my dad’s ranch. He got his GED and he’s taking college courses online. I think he told me that Thanksgiving break. It’s good he hasn’t quit education all together, like his brother.
“Why did you drop out of high school?” I ask, incredibly curious.
“You forgot already…” He sighs gently.
I don’t know what he’s referring to.
“I was bored with it. I love helping out on the ranch, but I don’t see myself doing it forever. I’m either going to be a vet or a pastor.”
Wow, I’m proud of him. He’s not a complete idiot like J.P. “Why not both? Seminary school only takes two years,” I suggest.
Drew T ponders my advice. I can see his train of thought working that brain muscle of his. He doesn’t give a yay or nay to my suggestion. A silence builds between us. I take in the scenery, which isn’t much. A few shrubs here and there, and red, dusty dirt. The sky looks fierce. The blue is washed out by a cool gray. From the east, there are dark, nearly black, menacing clouds rolling towards home sluggishly.
“Great… snow…” I sigh.
“A white Christmas… Something beautiful for a beautiful lady.”
I think I’m blushing from Drew T’s cheesy compliment. The scary part is I know he means it and that he doesn’t have a womanizing agenda. I’m embarrassed I liked his kind words. Drew T’s been crushing on me since we were kids, towards the end of elementary school. I never pictured there’d be a day I could take his crush seriously or return the crush, but the day has come. It was the third Thursday of November.
What is wrong with me? I think. Forming a crush on a minor! Shouldn’t the idea of intimacy stir fear within me? But I know Drew T’s character. His eyes don’t lie.
For some reason, I wondered why he never asked about my nose Thanksgiving break.
“I figured if you wanted me to know, you would tell me,” he says to ease my wondering.
A smile from comfort sprouts on my face. Drew T grins as well and the dimples in his cheeks make me blush again. I feel all giddy and girly. My smile has taken over my face and has a will of its own. I can’t allow a romance to bud between me and Drew T. He’s too young for me.
We officially arrive in Gallup city limits about an hour and twenty minutes after J.P. came to the rescue with gas. Drew T drives through the bulk of the town by the highway, but we have a bit of a drive to dad’s ranch. Gallup has that small town feel. The feeling isn’t a lie because Gallup is a small town. Yes, we have a Wal-mart, and quite a bit of major chain restaurants like Applebee’s and Golden Corral, but mostly everyone lives at least ten minutes apart from property to property. There’s one area where there are modular homes clumped together. That’s where Melissa lives with her parents. Aside from hotels, there isn’t one apartment complex in town. Well, there’s a tiny section of town houses, but they look out of place in the middle of nowhere.
I’m confused when Drew T pulls into the parking lot of Trinity Community Baptist Church. It’s Friday, not Sunday. Drew T pulls in between dad’s silver Toyota Tundra and Pastor Paul’s blue Chevy Silverado. Through the rearview mirror, I notice Melissa’s car parked in a row of cars behind us.
For a Friday night, the church’s parking lot is packed. The whole congregation must be here to welcome me home. Why do I have to be the Assistant Pastor’s daughter?
Drew T hurries to open the door for me. Like a typical prince charming, he helps me out with his extended hand. Once I’m out of the truck, I don’t let go of Drew T’s hand. His comfort is soothing and I can’t afford to break down at the moment. After we enter the church, Drew T releases my hand. Nervously, he jumps in front of me and leads the way to the recreation room.
The church looks the same. The walls are still spotlessly ivory white. The high ceiling compliments the stained glass windows and beautiful white-crystal chandeliers. Drew T opens the seven-foot, white French-style double doors simultaneously.
A huge crowd shouts, “Welcome Home Lauren!”
A sea of people stand behind a huge table, which is probably several tables placed beside each other. A feast of food stretches from end to end, lined along the row of tables. I eye the roasted turkey in the center. I know I want a bite of that, especially if Janie made it. She’s the best cook in Gallup. She could open a restaurant and put everyone out of business.
Cowboy Santa, aka my dad Glenn, approaches me with mom by his side. I know it’s time for dad to cut his hair, but I don’t think he does. His hair is pure white and down to his shoulders. His matching, full beard is getting a little long too. Plus, it doesn’t help he’s wearing a bright, candy apple red western shirt with white cuffs and buttons. He’s also sporting white dress pants and black boots. I know his suit-jacket has to be around somewhere and it’s probably white with red trim, or vice versa.
My mother, Sandy Jewel Tyler, looks normal. She’s still dying her gray-less brunette hair blonde. She has her hair in a bun and she’s wearing a beautiful, strapless soft pink dress. The thin white belt around her waist pops with her white flats and white pearl necklace, bracelet, and earrings. She’s sheer beauty.
They both give me a welcome home hug together. My mother hands me a champagne glass filled with sparkling apple cider. Dad holds up his glass and toasts to my homecoming.
“Here’s to Lauren’s safe arrival home,” he says with a trembling voice. It sounds like he’s about to cry. “I just want to say… I’m so proud of the excellent student she is, and how smart she is, but what I’m proud of most is her relationship with Christ. Her relationship with Him will take her farther than a degree or her wits.
“To Lauren’s Homecoming!” He cheers, raising his glass high.
The crowd repeats Glenn’s words, as they raise their glasses high. Then everyone takes a sip.
After that the crowd disperses to mingle freely, I want to eat. All I had was oatmeal for breakfast. I did have some peanuts on the plane, like nearly ten bags because I was really hungry, but the flight got to me. I blew chunks of peanuts in a vomit bag as we were landing.
I try to ask dad when he’s going to cut the turkey, but he gets caught up talking to Pastor Paul and J.P. They’re probably talking about the ranch. For years, Pastor Paul’s ranch was a few miles from Dad’s. They used to help each other out. For some reason, Pastor Paul lost his passion to ranch when Elaine, his wife, passed away. He sold it to Glenn and moved into the house by the church.
“Hi Lauren,” A familiar voice greets me timidly.
I turn around to find Sybil, Melissa’s cousin, standing in front of me. Sybil must be seventeen now. She has gorgeous black curls and those Russell cool blue eyes.
“How are you doing?”
I don’t know how to answer that question. I haven’t had any practice in delivering the truth gently. And truthfully, I’m spiritually in pain. I feel like God’s forsaken me. Once again, before my salvation, I feel empty inside. That’s how I’m doing. How do I say that out loud?
Janie and Craig come up to share how glad they are to see me. Janie jumps in excitement from a baby’s kick from within her womb. She must be eight months along by now. About to have a baby and she cooked a meal for the whole congregation. I’m sure the other women helped, like my mother. Holding her watermelon tummy, a hand rests in the area the baby is kicking. Without asking, she takes my hand and lays it upon the patter of the baby’s feet. How amazing is that? That little one kicking my hand feels like a finger flick, a strong one. For some reason, I smile.
“Oh, she likes you. She started dancing the minute I saw you.” Janie says. She adds a comment that Rachel Mercy Russell is going to be a ballerina. Melissa [pelage]d and dazzled people on her toes until she was 12. A sea of skinny prima ballerinas might as well be the sea of darkness led by the Devil. I don’t remember a day− linked to ballet− when Melissa wasn’t crying because of the cruel and perverse things girls said to her. Melissa’s retirement from the Fine Art was by the sweet grace of God. Okay, not really, but Melissa was more than relieved to be done with it.
Sybil grows impatient and leaves. I don’t have to answer the question after all. Then, of course, Janie and Craig ask me how I am. Suddenly, it’s really hard to breathe. I manage to remove my hand from Janie’s seed incubator. My chest is hurting again. People are going to give me a heart attack! Why can’t people be more like Drew T and not ask questions?
I could run from them. No, I have to tell them something. I start to tell them I’m okay, when a band of little kids running around interrupts. Seven-year-old carrot top, Glenn Jr., is leading the band of childish havoc. Joey Hassleback and Mikey Clover are following his lead. They’re playing race car drivers. Each boy is pretending to be a race car driver as they make speeding, rumbling motor sounds. I can’t believe my brother can find amusement in a glorified foot race, but his smile warms my heart.
Abruptly, my brother stops and instantly barks, “Pause!” He darts to hug me tight while greeting me with a muffled hello. He looks up at me with his chin resting on my stomach. Those owl wide, aqua eyes of his draw in my attention as he says, “Welcome Home!” He removes himself from my embrace and he yelps, “Go!” The boys putter their lips to mimic running engines. With their arms out in front of them, like their clenched fists are holding onto a steering wheel, they take off running.
A big hand settles on my back. Slightly startled, I jerk to look behind me. I relax when I see Pastor Paul smiling at me. Drew T gets his eyes from Pastor Paul. Unlike his boys, Pastor Paul doesn’t sport facial hair. He’s clean cut. His dark brown hair isn’t more than a few inches long on the sides and on top, but in the back it’s barely an inch. Somehow his hair nicely parts in the middle. His hair looks healthy and he doesn’t have a single gray strand. I wonder if he dyes it…
Pastor Paul has come to welcome me home. He shares how everyone missed me, and how much they’ll miss me when I go back to school. He then asks, “How are you?”
That question again! I understand its typical small talk, but I don’t want to talk small talk. How am I? I’m hungry! My stomach is pining. I’m tired. After I eat, it would be nice to go home and sleep. I feel like crying, but I think I dried up my tear ducts. My body aches all over the place. To be honest, I feel like a pile of dog shit.
“I’m−,” I begin to answer, but then my father calls the meal to order.
“Let’s cut this bird!” He says.
*Edited by Aly Fry