UPDATE: I have copies of More Than A Neighbor now available. Please email GoodGeekRanting@gmail.com and let me know if you would like a word document (.doc) or Adobe Reader file (.PDF)
If you know of any church small groups who think this would make a good story to read and discuss please let me know as I’d love to offer it to them as well as get feedback from them on what questions they get from it and so on.
I recently got inspired to write a script. I was all excited about it and wanted it (or want it, I should say) to launch me into a career of Christian film making. The idea was solid, the beginning was gold as was act 2 but it fell flat at the point I had so anticipated. Dejected I let it set for a few days trying to think of a way to rewrite it. It’s not a full length movie or anything, just a short film. Maybe 30 minutes at most but something inspiring and much more in your face Christian than anything I’ve done to date. But I have been praying for that. I want my talents used and I am praying for Him to use them.
I then thought of making it into a short novella and so today I have churned out, here and there, chapter 1. This book is nothing like anything I’ve ever written and yet it flows out of me like I had lived it. Chapter one is not overly religious in fact the whole idea is the character is falling away from God. You could almost call it her testimony, if she were to give one. I think it’s a pretty powerful start but I’d like some second or third opinions if anyone wants to jump in and read it. The book is called ‘More than a Neighbor’.
What I used to be
My name is Jillian and I used to believe in God.
Well, that statement is slightly misleading, I suppose. I used to have more FAITH in God, would be more accurate. I still believe in God, I just don’t believe he’s bothering to much with me. Not that I’m worried about it, I’m not his biggest fan right now either.
When I was growing up my parents took me to a real Southern Baptist Church. You know the ones, hard pews, small choirs singing old hymns, and constant talk of being damned or heading towards damn-nation. You’d be about to fall asleep when the preacher would suddenly scream some random word in the middle of a sentence and then pause, as though that word held all the meaning of his entire sermon, even though the sermon would keep going for another 40 minutes. Sometimes mom would tap me on the head if I did fall asleep, ‘Jillian. Wake up and pay attention to God.”
Yeah, that was me. Sunday dress, had to look nice in church at all times. Had to behave in church at all times, too, because of course that’s the only time God judges us.
Now, my mom really was spiritual and faithful in her beliefs. I’m sure she’s in Heaven now shaking her head at me and saying, ‘You’ve got so much potential.’ I know mom, but I really love NOT having responsibility.
My dad, on the other hand, cussed all the time and drank a lot. Ok wait, my mom cussed some too, but she’d always follow it up with, ‘God forgive me’, so I think it evened out, but dad was often just mean and hateful. Not towards me, specifically, but just towards everyone. The preacher used to talk about getting ‘struck down by the Lord’ which I assumed meant lightning, so I always sat on the other side of mom from my dad just in case his time came.
Those days are long since gone as is that church and my interest in hearing anymore about damn-nation. I got married young, at 18, and promptly got pregnant with my only daughter Kora.
His name was Daniel and we had gone out all through the last year of high school. I had been so proud of myself to be one of the few girls to ‘save herself’ for marriage that as soon as we were able I hopped on the opportunity to marry him. He had wanted to go further, physically, before we got married but I successfully kept him cooled off for the year we went out. Of course, that’s also when things changed.
I had heard the saying, you always marry your father, but I didn’t really believe it. Danny seemed so nice all the times we were together but he was just so different after we got married. Oh sure, the first month or so it wasn’t much of anything. He drank a lot (I already knew he did, what kids didn’t back then, other than me?) and he yelled some but that was just the way he was and I was used to yelling in my family. Then I got pregnant and I don’t think he was ever happy again.
The day I found out I was pregnant I was so happy. This was what good southern girls did, get married and became good moms, and I had dreamed of being a good mother for a long time. ‘I’ll be better than my parents were’ I’d always say.
But my happiness with the news was short lived when Danny came home and I told him. He just got… SO ANGRY! His face turned red and he started screaming about how I did this on purpose and why hadn’t I been on the pill and what were we going to do now. I started crying and told him we’d figure it out and God would be there with us.
That’s the first time he hit me, and the first time he told me to never mention God again.
I really don’t remember any more about that day other than going to bed, alone, and crying myself to sleep.
Over the next few months, early on in the pregnancy, he didn’t hit me a whole lot again. He started just staying away after work going out drinking with his friends which, right after that incident, I was fine with. But eventually I thought, ‘ok, I really did make a mistake I should have told him I wasn’t on the pill but now I want him back with me like we used to be.’ You know, because in my head we used to be laughing and kissing and hugging all the time.
So I started to push for him to be home more and to help out with getting the babies room ready and I got him to go to an ultrasound once which I think he actually smiled for a minute, but I always went to church alone.
And it was that, that loneliness during something so personal that I wanted so bad to share with him mixed with my mother saying, ‘A man should be with his wife at church’ that made me start egging him on to go.
Of course we had been through this discussion before and the answer was a stern no so I started trying to slide it into conversation. I’d talk about things that happened at church while we were eating. The fun stuff like plays and people telling jokes and the kids going on trips, you know just innocent things. Then I started hinting at what each sermon was about, which made him get real quiet. He would just eat and stare at the TV, occasionally nodding and saying ‘uh huh’.
‘Uh huh’, I hate that unaffectionate phrase now with all its connotations and hidden meanings of ‘I don’t really care what you’re saying in fact you could shut up and I’d probably be happier now.
Anyway, I remember this one sermon, THE sermon. It talked about how God was there for us even if we weren’t listening or talking to Him. That He considered us His children even when we betrayed Him or hurt His feelings. And it went on to talk about how couples should be the same way and that we should be the loving caring person even in the other’s darkest times and we should love them with their faults because that’s what true love is. There was even more to it but at this point I was in tears and in my head thinking ‘YES! YES! YES! This is what we should be doing. I need to be more like this and Danny would see how he’s been if he’d just hear this sermon.’ I believed this SO much that I got someone who runs the little sound booth to make me a copy of it that I could play. He put it on a CD and I took it home knowing that this would change our lives forever.
I have never been more right and more wrong all at the same time.
When I got home Danny was still asleep so I had some time to wind down from my ‘spiritual high’ and made him lunch. Two things you never do around Danny, never wake him up unless he’s late for work and never let him wait for dinner. This gave me time to think about how I would play the CD. When I first got it I had the drive and ambition to just say ‘We’re listening to this it will change our lives’ but now I knew he’d just walk out the door. I had to be sneaky.
When I heard him stir and start to wake up I knew I had about 5 minutes while he woke up, scratched himself, went to the bathroom, and considered which pair of torn jeans to wear today, so I started the CD then. It worked out well because the beginning of it had a couple of songs and some announcements about upcoming events. I kept it quiet enough that he wouldn’t be able to tell what it was before he got in the living room but loud enough that he would hear the preacher talking while we ate.
But of course, we never listened to anything while we ate except for the noise from the TV. NASCAR, Football, and more were the norms in our house so I don’t know how I thought I’d get him to listen to it.
He came in, got his plate and sat down. He then, without asking, turned off the CD player and turned on the TV.
“Hey babe, I was listening to that.”
“Footballs on,” his words were short and direct.
“But it’s something I think could help us both.”
“Oh God, what is it this time?” he was already gearing up to argue. He liked to close himself to anything new.
“It is the sermon from this morning. It’s about how we…” I was cut off by his voice raising.
“I don’t need to hear nothing about God or what he thinks I should do. God got to rest on Sundays now dammit I should be able to watch my football.”
“But this will help us communicate better and feel better about how…” I didn’t often get to finish sentences.
“Really just leave it alone and be quiet. If you want to communicate better how about ‘get me another beer’ and then you get me one, that’s all the communicating we need around here.”
“I don’t ask for much it’s just that the pastor thinks…”
“Oh, the pastor thinks,” Danny got up and opened the CD player, taking the CD out and starting to bend it. “I think you’ve had just about enough of that church of yours.”
“NO DON’T!” For some reason saving that CD was SO important to me. At the time it felt like I was saving our marriage if I could just save that CD. “STOP! LET ME HAVE IT BACK!”
CRACK! The CD snapped spraying little bits over the floor. Instinctively I reached out and hit him. Not hard, I was sobbing too much to hit him hard, but that’s all it took.
SMACK! His hand print bruise across my face stayed there for a couple of days and I didn’t go anywhere while it was there.
“I said, no more talking about God in this house. And you won’t be going back to that church either.”
“I have to go to church. I won’t talk about it again but I have to…”
He had started to walk away and I grabbed his arm pleading these words but he just turned around and punched me in the stomach. I felt Kora move inside me and I fell to the floor in tears. The TV volume went up so he could hear the players hit each other like he had me.
“You need to shut up now, and make yourself useful and clean up that religious smut that’s all over the floor.”
He didn’t say anything else to me all day, and all I could say was, ‘Yes sir.’
This became my normal. He would hit me if he got angry, which was often, and take me when he wanted me, as I didn’t ever want to anymore. This, at least, was less often. I secluded myself in the house as often as possible. I did my best not to make him mad the weeks before doctor’s appointments for fear of them finding something. I never went to church and eventually they stopped calling, since he would yell at anyone from there when they did. I was not allowed to answer the phone if he was home and, often, he would just unplug it.
My mom came by occasionally, but started getting his hints that he didn’t want her around when he was there and eventually only came by once a week during the day when he was gone. I made sure to always be wearing long and loose sweaters when she was around.
At first, around this time, I stopped talking about God to appease him. I learned to join in on his cynical comments whenever the subject did come up on TV. At first it just staved off the abuse but then, after a while, I started believing it. I mean, wouldn’t you? Why would God let me suffer was a common question or PLEAD to Him.
So time went on and Kora’s birth got closer and closer and I was able to focus more on that. And Danny did try, occasionally, and do something really sweet. I remember I had been complaining that we didn’t have much for her room and one day he came home and had a crib. I thought the world of him for that even though I didn’t realize that my parents bought just about everything else.
And it was his anger that brought Kora into this world, fittingly enough and in a dark sort of way I find it funny. I don’t even remember what he was mad about. It was something to do with dinner but he punched me square in the stomach and I started having labor pains. He didn’t believe me, he called me a faker pleading for attention and slapped me. He stormed out and went to a bar so I called my mom and she took me to the hospital. Just over 4 hours later, my angel came into my life.
He never came to the hospital nor called to find out how we were. Mom took me home with her and I was there for just under a week when he started calling.
He told me how sorry he was and how much stress he’d been at work and how excited he was to meet his daughter. Despite my mom’s wishes for me to not go back, I did. If I had stayed one more day I would have gone to church with my mom and, from what she tells me, heard a sermon about getting out of bad situations so God has room to work or something like that.
And for a short time things were ok. I don’t even know how long but it was long enough to make me think things were different now. He smiled more and played with Kora and talked more and drank less.
But drinking less didn’t last as long as anything else. And then he smiled less and started talking less. Eventually he started getting angry again and started hitting me again. I focused on Kora and being as good a person as I could for her. I was determined to give her everything I could, even though I had nothing that wasn’t his or bought for me. I was fine with his outbursts as long as I had her.
But then he got worse.
She was somewhere around 6 months old and he was so drunk and angry. He slapped me a couple of times but I let it go and went to give Kora a bath. But Danny cut me off and said he would do it. I tried to tell him no, it was fine, I had it covered but that sent him off. He grabbed her and knocked me down, walked into the bathroom and locked the door.
I heard the water start running and at first went to the kitchen to make her a bottle for after the bath. I could always get her to sleep with a bath and a bottle and even today after a shower she gets tired almost immediately. I always tease her that she wouldn’t make a great swimmer because she’d fall asleep.
A few minutes later, though, she started screaming. It was a loud, blood curdling, make your hair stand on end scream. This was not just crying because she missed me or was unhappy about getting a bath (Which she never was unhappy to get a bath) but a ‘something really bad is happening’ scream.
I ran to the door screaming along with her. I begged him to open the door and let me in, I just wanted to help her, I just wanted to help him I could help him get her to stop screaming. I kept repeating these phrases but he wouldn’t open up and she didn’t stop screaming. Eventually the water stopped running and he flung the door open and shoved her in my arms.
Her skin was beet red and tears streamed down her face. I went in the bathroom and locked the door myself though he was done caring now. The bath was still draining and I felt it and I swear, I could have boiled eggs in there.
I ran out and called my mom while in the background he kept going ‘she’s fine she’s fine’ and eventually she told me to get ready, she was coming to pick me up. This infuriated him even more and he started yelling that I didn’t trust him to be a dad and whatever else and he hit me again. I fell to the floor holding Kora in a way as to try and lessen any impact she might have felt. I remember thinking my mom must have sped over there because she was at the door almost instantly after that and she picked me up, helped me get Kora ready, and drove me to the hospital.
Kora had bad burns and still has some scars on her face and arms. The doctors also tell me they believe he did other things, maybe not that night, but at some point. These are things I try not to discuss and don’t bring up around her. The thoughts of him hurting my daughter in anyway make me cry even today.
The police went and picked him up but he was out almost instantly. No charges stuck as his mom had money to get a lawyer that twisted things around to make everything my fault. I did get a divorce, though, and was granted sole custody. He was allowed supervised visitation but he never showed up for them. He continues to hold things over me when he does speak to me but I try not to let that happen too often. That was over 16 years ago now.