WARNING: SURVIVORS OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE AND SEXUAL ASSAULT MAY FIND CONTENT TRIGGERING. READER’S DISCRETION ADVISED.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Melissa Grace Russell, 20
J.P…. I love him but I may never understand him. I can’t get Christmas evening out of my mind. What’s wrong with me? I could have waited until the next day to break off the engagement. Well, I didn’t exactly break it off…
After I got done with Lauren, I was heading for my car when J.P. beat me there. He just got done with some very last minute ranch chores. He said he had a surprise for me. Still nervous about what I had to do, I took his hand without hesitation. It felt so good to intertwine my slender fingers with his thick, rough working man fingers. For whatever reason, it is one of the best feelings in the world to me.
He took me to his old house, the brick house his father used to own. On our walk over, I allowed J.P. to do all the talking. He talked his usual small talk− the dirty ins and outs of a rancher. Anyways, at the house, he pulled a key out of his pocket and said it was ours. For all his continuous work at the ranch, Mr. Tyler forked over the deed. It was our wedding gift. J.P. was struggling whether or not to keep the house a surprise, but when he saw me, he figured it’d make a better Christmas gift.
Immediately, my heart began to tear at the seams. Excitedly, he talked about his plans for our future. After I graduated college, 6 to 11 months later we would carry our firstborn over the threshold. A year to two and a half years later, we would bring our second born home. He gave our nonexistent children names. Joseph John Donahue was the first baby, and Elaine Mary Donahue was the second baby. He said additional children were optional. I’m not even sure I want one, and two seems like a truckload.
He unlocked the door and swung it open. He stood in the doorway staring at me, and for the first time, I swear his cold, staggering eyes resembled his brother’s. I froze on the sandy stone walkway that led to that open mahogany front door. Praying in my head, I asked for the Holy Spirit to guide my lips.
J.P. asked, “What are you waiting for?”
I said, reluctantly, “What if our future isn’t exactly how you envision it?”
Like a waterfall, all my words poured from my tongue. I told him everything, the dream, my prayer sessions, and the major prayer session with Lauren, and he listened. After I said everything, J.P. did nothing. His eyes went back to their natural, seemingly cruel demeanor. I then realized it had to be his eyebrows that made his eyes look like a harbor of cruel intentions. The eyes themselves are like his brother’s.
Then I asked him, before I lost my courage, “Would you go with me?”
Tears emerged from his eyes. Not the first time I saw him cry, but the first time his tears brought out my own. To keep his masculinity, he turned his back to me. I imagined the tears began to fall.
I couldn’t figure out why he was crying. I wasn’t breaking up with him, so he couldn’t think that. Then did that mean he felt this was the end? I wanted to reassure him that we can still have kids and we can still make this house our home. But the Lord God told me to remain quiet.
Remaining observant, I watched J.P. bring his hands to his face. I figured he was wiping away his tears. I wanted to comfort him, but I knew J.P. would just reject the embrace of my arms.
After a few heavy breaths, he turns to me. Our eyes meet with our focus completely on one another. He inhaled again, and then exhaled. I watched his breath puff into a faint cloud.
“Clearly, our lives are going in two different directions.” He sighed.
His words cut deeply into my heart. As he walked away, leaving me alone at the house, I screamed at him. I asked him if he broke off our engagement. He didn’t look over his shoulder and he didn’t stop walking. Ever since then he’s been sticking his cold shoulder in my face!
I didn’t call off the wedding. I didn’t even say I wanted to break up! I just asked if he would go with me… There was a time he wanted to be a preacher like his dad instead of a rancher. I don’t know what happened to make him change his mind.
The day after Christmas, I woke up with my mother screaming at me, asking me why J.P. called and asked her to call off the plans for our nuptials. My parents had spent a lot of non-refundable money. I told her about the scenario that occurred Christmas evening. She isn’t convinced the Lord is speaking to me through my dreams. In fact, I think she thinks I’ve lost my mind…
Those lunches at Lauren’s house were pure hell! That’s right, I thought it. H-E-double-hockey-sticks… HELL! Hell, hell, hell! I’m still in love with J.P. My heart literally aches in a way that reaches the inner depths of my soul.
One look at J.P. and I have to do all I can not to cry. I’ve been with him for almost 5 years. I’ve known him my whole life. That’s a history I can’t put to pasture overnight. I’m not sure that’s a history I ever want to put to pasture.
I keep praying, asking the Lord what he wants me to do now that I’ve done as he’s asked… He must have thousands of my prayers up in heaven, but I got zero feedback here on earth. I wait for signs or dreams or guidance every day and so far I got nothing! Of course, I can’t hear the Lord cause I’m too busy fretting to listen… Why does life have to be so FREAKING complicated. Excuse my thoughts Lord, but I’m ANGRY! My life sucks and it’s not getting any better… When will my life get better?
And now my life just got more complicated… I don’t think we were meant to get married on New Year’s Eve. Mama went into labor. The next day, I got a new baby sister. It’s weird not being the baby of the family anymore. What’s not weird is the orchestra of baby tears in the night. Rachel cries, then Gabby, and finally Dwight. He normally sleeps the whole night through because he’s old enough, but ever since Rachel showed up, he feels the need to get some night time love and attention as well. I didn’t have to suffer this perdition the first few days of Rachel’s homecoming. I was at Lauren’s, but then I was called home.
I tried to go back to Lauren’s, especially because she needed me, but Dwight needed me more. Apparently, he gives daddy a hard time about going to bed, but for me he’s asleep the moment I lay him down. Maybe mom is right, maybe I have lost my mind? I could never leave, not until Dwight was at least five… Ugh!!! Why God? Why does my life have to be so complicated? Life seemed so much simpler when J.P. was firmly in the picture, instead of being the pain of a hang nail he is now!
Lauren’s leaving in a couple of days. I promised we’d get together before she goes. Today I woke up and told my mother my afternoon is reserved for Lauren, that if she needs me to do anything, ask me before noon. What does that woman do? She asks me at 11:53 a.m. to go to the store and pick up a few things. When I got back from the store 20 minutes to one, she said she’s exhausted and she had to take a nap.
For two hours, I’m stuck watching biblical tales of animated vegetables while I alternate holding, feeding, and changing a newborn and a four-month-old. Not to mention the twins, Pete, and Dwight had to be under my watchful eye. The minute my tired mother shuffled her feet into the living room, Rachel was in her arms and I was heading out the door. Then my mother asked me, “Could you pick up Phoebe from after care?”
Argh! Dwight saw me heading for the door and broke out into beautiful, weeping tears. His face flushed red and everything.
Mother said, “Why don’t you take Dwight?”
“Sure,” I told her.
After I lifted Dwight off the floor and I turned to leave, Rachel and Gabby started crying, and Mother asked if I could tend to Gabby before I left. I thought Gabby started crying because Dwight was. The two have become quite co-dependent. I checked her diaper− clean. She couldn’t be hungry because I already fed her.
Mama’s like, “She must be stir-crazy. Take her with you too.”
I’ve never wanted to commit suicide, but this moment made me mimic the losing turn out of Russian Roulette. I made the sound effect with my mouth and mimed the gun to my temple. Oh, the look on mama’s face was priceless. I didn’t even get angry as she yelled at me about doing such a thing. She went on and on that I should be grateful for the roof over my head and the food in my belly. If I don’t like it, she told me to move out. If only I could.
I pile the tot and the babe into their car seats in the back and I floor it over to the elementary school to get Phoebe. Mama would die if I left them in the car while I ran inside to acquire my niece. With Dwight on my hip and carrying Gabby in her carrier, we muddle indoors. I go to the cafeteria where aftercare is held to get Phoebe. Her face beams with happiness when she sees me, and she runs to hug me as best she can with all I’m holding. Daisy, Phoebe’s primary aftercare counselor, smiles at me. That means I can take her and no one will flip out, because Daisy knows Phoebe left with family. After we’re all settled in the car, ready to go, my phone goes off. By the ringtone I know who it is… daddy.
Reluctantly, I pick up the phone. Daddy asks me if I can run to the store to buy potting soil. I explain that I have to drop the kids off at home and go meet up with Lauren. He said my responsibility is to the family, and that my friends can wait. Angrily, I hang up the phone and throw it into the passenger seat. It bounces into the door, and as the back pops open releasing the battery, the pieces of my phone fall to the car floor. I don’t want to say it Lord, but I’m thinking it… I hate my life… I LOVE Dwight, and the twins, Pete, and Gabby, and Phoebe… It’s just that I didn’t sign up for this. I never had sex with J.P.− and yes, disappointingly, there were moments we almost did− but for this exact reason we didn’t! I don’t want kids… EVER!
Without thinking my reaction to my thoughts through, I scream in frustration as loud as I can. Both Dwight and Gabby start crying, and I think I scared Phoebe into shock. Embarrassed, I lean my forehead against the steering wheel. All I want to do is cry, but no tears cascade from my eyes. I try to laugh, but instead, I sigh.
Why have I become so self-absorbed lately? This is against my character. Normally, I’m focused on the Lord or family or…J.P. Oh, J.P. I miss you…
Forgive me Lord… Life isn’t about me, it’s about you. I’m here to do your will, which is my will Lord. Your Word says do for others as you want them to do to you. I don’t ever want to see my mother mock her own suicide and I don’t want my dad to throw his phone because he’s angry, and I especially don’t want Dwight to randomly yell because the pressure of life gets to be a bit much. Thank you for guidance Lord, but it wouldn’t hurt to get a little more. In Jesus Christ’s precious holy name, Amen.
“Amen, amen…” I whisper with my breath.
I twist uncomfortably to look at Phoebe to talk to her. Amazingly, Dwight has stopped crying. Gabby hasn’t given up on her tears yet.
“I’m having a tough day, but I’m okay… Jesus calmed me down. Okay?”
Unconvinced, Phoebe nods her head to humor me. I hope she doesn’t tell my brother about my outburst, because he’ll tell my parents. Then my parents will question my sanity… That’s the last thing I need. I’m fine. I write in my journal everyday… I take my meds… My meds! I forgot to take my pill this morning. Do I still have pills? I noticed a few days ago I needed a refill.
I feel fine though. I am heading in a depressing direction mentally, but that’s normal when your life takes a huge change of course… Isn’t it?
We have to go home and check the medicine cabinet. Lauren can wait. The last thing I need is a manic moment… Of course, my thoughts aren’t disorganized and I’m not compulsively obsessed with anything. That’s a good sign I’m not on the crazy train. Still, I’m worried. If I need a refill I need to get one before the pharmacy closes.
It’s not until I pull into the driveway at home that mama calls to tell me to pick up my refill from Wal-mart. I put my phone back together for her to call me at the last minute to tell me about this? PERFECT! Ugh… She called it in this morning for me. She too realized my sanity pills were low.
Trying to stay calm while very frustrated, I pull out of the driveway. How can I be a missionary? Can I take enough pills to last a year? They’ll probably think I’m a drug smuggler. Maybe I’m not supposed to go for a long period of time… just a season… a season my pills will last.
I’m a pro when it comes to Wal-mart and a bundle of kids with me. Dwight holds Phoebe’s hand, Phoebe holds onto the side of the cart and Gabby, still in her carrier, sits in the cart in the built-in seat area for kids. I don’t really need a cart to pick up a prescription; it’s just an easier way to travel with kids.
Standing in a long line at the pharmacy, a lady behind me inquires about my batch of kids. I don’t have the strength today to be on the defense. Let her think all three are mine.
“Your son looks just like you,” the woman says.
I push a smile on my face and nod my head. It isn’t a total lie. Dwight looks like me. He does.
Dwight gets nervous and hugs my leg, hiding himself between it and the cart. He’s supposed to be holding Phoebe’s hand, not my leg!
“Dwight, what are you supposed to be doing right now?”
Dwight whines. He knows he’s in the wrong, but he’s comfortable where he’s at. Phoebe interjects and tries to pull Dwight away, but that just makes him scream like he’s being abused.
“It’s alright Phoebe, let him be,” I snap at her.
She jolts back. I can tell my behavior from earlier has her still stirred, but she’ll get over it.
“He’s probably crazy like you!” Phoebe barks back.
Okay, maybe she won’t get over it that easily.
Uh-oh, she angered Dwight. He lets go of me and smacks her in the arm as he yells, “Crazy mean word!”
And now I’m pissed. I grab Dwight by the arm and tell him to apologize to Phoebe right now. Instead of doing as I ask, he starts crying. Dwight is too spoiled. The nosy lady behind me makes an unwelcome comment.
“Kids can be so trying! I should know, I had three.” She grins like she’s trying to build a rapport with me.
Why didn’t she add too or as well? I have three kids with me. That’s when it hits me. She probably doesn’t think Gabby is mine, which is true. If Gabby was white, I bet she’d think she was mine also.
“Tell me about it, this is only half the brood.”
“Six… all of them are yours?”
Tired of Phoebe’s pouting, Dwight’s crying, and this lady’s nosy inquiries, I pick Dwight up and turn to her.
“Yes, seven actually, and they’re mine. I didn’t ask for them, I didn’t work for them, but I got them. I love them more than my own life and I will do anything for them. Right now I’ve had a tough day, and I really don’t need the added stress. Don’t butt into business that isn’t yours.”
“I can help who’s next,” the pharmacy techs says.
Turns out I’m next. Thankfully, Dwight has stopped crying. Now that I think of it, he just did all that to get out of apologizing to Phoebe.
After I get my meds, we move off to the side and out of people’s way. I put Dwight down and face him off with Phoebe. I tell him to apologize, and that if he whines he won’t get to go with me to visit Lauren.
Avoiding eye contact with her he says, “Sworry.”
Man, he needs to learn how to talk. He apologized, so I can’t work with him now. Speech lessons can take place later. I ask Phoebe if she wants to go with us or if she wants to go home.
“Home,” she answers blatantly.
I should have seen that coming.
After we all get settled in the car, my phone rings. It’s Lauren. Hoping she’s not calling to cancel on me, I eagerly pick up the phone. She says she’s famished and she can’t wait any longer to eat. Her and Drew T are on their way to Applebee’s. I tell her I can meet her there. I say I’ll get us a table, which means all three little ones are hanging out with us. Phoebe enters a state of chronic poutiness− a common condition in the Russell Family.
That’s what I’m doing. I’m being the QUEEN of POUTINESS. I’m a GROWN WOMAN. Yes, my years with J.P. were a blessing. But God is taking me somewhere greater. He’s taking me to the mountain peak of my CALLING. He has all my steps set out for me. He has a future to prosper me, not to harm me− a hopeful future of prosperity.
Forgive me Lord; I’ve been a whiny brat since I got up this morning. Today, right now, I’m setting my brattiness aside and living in the peace of your Gospel. I’m going to wear my helmet of salvation, my belt of truth, and my breastplate of righteousness. I will hold up the shield of faith and the sword of truth, your Word Father, and I will walk with you to live for you… in Jesus Christ name, AMEN.
Our table is graced by a handsome waiter. It’s unusual to see male waiters at the only Applebee’s in Gallup. Not that I’m playing the race card, but it’s even more unusual for white people in general to be working in restaurants in town. That’s a good thing. That means our small town is growing!
I have no idea why I’m incredibly attracted to our waiter. He’s not my type. He’s basically my height. He has sandy, blonde hair cut in a shaggy man-bob. His eyes are bluer than mine. His jawline is pretty square. I like oval faces like J.P.’s, and I can tell by the small gages in his ear lobes, and the ankh he wears around his neck that he’s extremely worldly for my taste. But his huge, deep blue eyes look way sweet and tender.
Even demons come on as angels of light. I can’t seem to calm these butterflies of attraction in my stomach. Shoes of peace, shoes of peace…shoes of peace…
Lauren and J.P.− I mean Drew T− show up at the right time. They walk in holding hands and she’s still wearing my old engagement ring. Does that mean what I think that means? Did Drew T propose to Lauren with my engagement ring? Well, okay, it’s not my ring anymore. Wait, are they courting? Oh no, don’t tell me they got married in secret! That must mean she’s pregnant. Well, duh, the Holy Spirit told us that. Little Joshua… That is such a common name…
Lauren sits across from me. Dwight sits at the head of the table in between us. I rest Gabby on a displaced chair beside me. I figured I should keep Phoebe, Little Miss Grumpy, away from the other little ones. She could pick at them since she didn’t get her way. Therefore, she’s kept at a safe distance on the other side of me across from J.P.− ugh− Drew T!
“You brought part of the gang.”
Lauren smiles as best she can to pair with her statement. I can sense she’s not thrilled to be surrounded by kids.
“I figure you might like practice.”
Lauren’s eyes bulge a little as she plays off my comment with a gentle, closed-lip grin.
“How did you know?” Drew T questions.
I roll my eyes. I take it Lauren and Drew T don’t talk about serious moments together. She didn’t tell him about our prayer pow-wow. Instead of answering the question, and feeling a little agitated for some reason, I ask, “When’s the happy date?”
They simultaneously look at me confused, like they don’t know what I’m talking about. Then they look at each other and smile in unison when they figure out what I was referring to.
Shaking her head, Lauren says, “My finger’s still swollen. It won’t come off.”
Without taking his eyes off Lauren and smiling by one corner of his mouth, he says, “But she has agreed to court me.”
What about that guy back in Tucson? Lauren’s in love with him. And the long distance thing… how is that going to work? Well, it’s not really any of my business so I should stay out of it.
Lauren asks me how I ended up caregiving for three babies today. I spent a good twenty, maybe thirty minutes explaining my story. Either Lauren really is hormonal or I’m a comedian today. She laughed at nearly every scenario in my story. Drew T chuckled somewhat. Maybe I could have a career in standup comedy. Yeah right!
Lauren and Drew T get the two for twenty, and so do I. Phoebe and Dwight will split the other entrée. Normally, waitresses at Applebee’s don’t let me do it, but Grant, our waiter, is kind enough to do it. I know it’s a trick for waiters to flirt with customers for big tips, but I’ll enjoy my fantasy that he actually likes me.
When Grant returns our change, an unexpected thing happens. He boldly lives up to my fantasy.
“I’m not supposed to do this… I could get in trouble, but may I get your number?”
I suddenly break into a coughing fit from a gulp of air. I didn’t think air could go down the wrong pipe. My cough is obviously triggered from shock. The cute waiter actually likes me!
Instead of saying no, like I should, I let him think that I might give him my number, because I might, by asking, “You’re not going to question why three kids are with me?”
Tittering, he points to Phoebe, “I have a daughter about her age too. She’s six.”
Lauren and Drew T find what Grant said funny. Like a lot of other strangers, he thinks Phoebe is my kid. I wonder if I look that old or if people assume I was teen mom?
“She’s not my mom!” Phoebe says, defensive.
“She’s her aunt,” Drew T says.
Thank you, Drew T for butting into my business, I think. I explain that all three are the offspring of my siblings. I introduce him to them.
“Well, will you give me your number or what?”
As much as I want to say yes, I know I can’t. I tell him, “No,” as sweetly as I can.
He’s not derailed at all. Still expressing his happiness on his face, he says, “Maybe next time.”
Next time? He’s going to ask for my number again. I ask him if he is and he says, “Yes.”
He tells me that he’s going to ask persistently, and he figures one day I will say yes. That’s creepy yet endearing. Annoying yet amazing… I could regret my choice, but I decide to give him my number. I tell it to him and ask if he needs me to write it down.
He shakes his head and says, “Got it.”
Grant is a man with a super brain… Interesting… Before he walks away, he asks if I receive text messages. I do. That makes him light up from excitement. He pulls his cell phone out in front of us, and it’s obvious he’s creating a text message as his thumbs type on the keyboard. He puts his phone back in his pocket and stares at me. I hear my phone buzzing to alert me that I received a text message. A part of me is afraid of what it will say, but most of me is immensely curious!
I open his message and read: If you’re not liar this should your number. –Grant.
Another one from Grant comes in that reads: Good, you’re not a liar☺ Text you later!
He actually uses proper grammar in his text messages. That’s rare. I only know one other person that texts that way− Lauren. I wonder if he’ll expect me to text back using proper grammar. I never have time to meddle with my average cell phone’s numbered keyboard in order to text full words. Plus, I can text more of what I want to say and take up less space. But overall, I’m too lazy to use grammar. It’s also kind of cool to just go with the flow and use simple terms.
“Melissa, did you hear me?” Lauren asks.
I did not. I was totally in my world of thought. Texting is pretty amazing… I’ve been hanging out with Makayla too much. That’s something she would say.
“What?” I ask.
“If he asks you out, you can’t go out with him,” She shares honestly.
I know… I won’t go out with him… I’m pretty sure I won’t. I’ll try my best not to. I tell her I won’t, and then think in my head I won’t, if I can help it.
*Edited by Aly Fry