So nearing the end is bitter sweet. I have at the very least decided to finish posting the entire book here once it’s done and offer it as a free download one way or another at least for a while.
My Journey Begins
I did go to church and I didn’t even wait until it was time for Kora to sing. Mom had stayed in town with us to help out since I wasn’t fit to do much at first and would go to church with me. The accident had left me burned on my left arm and down my left leg and a scar that in a mirror looked like Zorro had slashed me (it was backwards) going from the top of my left breast, down between them, and then across my right side in the middle of my stomach. I wore loose fitting shirts with long sleeves for a long time so that no one would ask about any of it. That’s right; the mom of the girl whose face is permanently scarred and visible to the world couldn’t get past the social stigma of her own problems.
Vivian even joined us since her husband was going anyway it would leave her no one to talk to on a Sunday and this helped to make it not so uncomfortable the first few times for me. I must say I was always surprised when I had gone early on when Kora started going as it wasn’t anything I was used to. Gone was the stuffy old church with everyone in suits and a preacher talking constantly about going to Hell. Instead here was a group of people coming together mostly dressed in jeans and t-shirts that just wanted to worship God. And with the upbeat modern music it was easy to get into.
About a month in Pastor Jason did a sermon about God being more than a neighbor. He had asked me originally if he could use the idea I had given him as a theme for a sermon or two and I agreed as long as there wouldn’t be any indication that the story was about me. I don’t know who I was fooling since most everyone knew the story by then and Kora would tell anyone who asked that I had talked to God despite my asking her not to. “Don’t deny the Lord, mother.”
But I needn’t have worried either way because he really didn’t tell my story he just used the idea that a lot of people are keeping God as a neighbor to them. This went back to the big difference between the old churches I went to that scared you into following God and this church in which Jason just tried to teach you how to love God better and to better follow Him. It was a refreshing change for someone like me.
At the end of the sermon, like he always did apparently, he asked us all to stand and bow our heads. It was at this time that he would put everything he’d said into a nice little synopsis and asked us if that had convinced any of us to give ourselves over to Christ. Well those weren’t his exact words but that is what would typically go through my cynical mind.
That day he said, “If you would, stand with me and lets bow our heads and ask yourself, are you keeping God as a neighbor to you? Maybe you pray in the mornings and God is the neighbor that you wave to each morning but then never speak to otherwise. Maybe you come home late after drinking too much and God is the neighbor you hang your head and run in your house from, hoping He won’t see you and think badly of you. Maybe you only go to Him in times of need and God is the nice neighbor who is always willing to help you out and listen to your problems despite the fact that you never return the favor when you are doing well.
“Or maybe God is the neighbor that you only do something for when you expect something in return. The good news is God is the best neighbor you could have because He WILL always be there for you but you are denying yourself so much because He could be and give you so much more. I’m telling you if you stop being a neighbor to God and let Him into your home as the Father he is you can do and accomplish anything. You won’t hang your head in shame you will hold your head up high because your Father is in your home and in your car and at your work and helping you with everything in your life if you’ll just let Him. If you want God to be more than a neighbor to you today won’t you come forward and give yourself to Him. Let Him know that He is more than a neighbor to you and you respect Him and want Him in your home won’t you come forward now.”
I found my body pushing me forward despite my inhibitions about going up there. I found my mind racing and wanting all the help that I could get. I found myself begging God to forgive me for all I had done. I found myself on the steps of the stage in front of Jason and a few of the other members of the church and as I cried they stood around me and prayed. Jason himself put his hand on my shoulder and said, “God, Jillian wants you to be more than a neighbor. She wants you to be the Father of her home and life like you were meant to be. God we know you forgive her because that is what You are best at…” He went on but the tears and thoughts flooded out a lot of the rest. That day I gave myself to God.
I’d like to write the words ‘Happily Ever After’ now. I’d like to tell you that everything was perfect and I never sinned again or strayed away from God or got mad at Him but it’s just not true. This is just where my journey began.
I did go to church every Sunday for a while and even attended some of what they called ‘small groups’ which was just a group of people from church with similar interests getting together and talking about their interest or talking about the bible. Two of them I was very fond of, actually, and was the most faithful to. One was a mother daughter group where the moms and daughters would sit in a group and talk about the struggles of being moms and daughters. There were often books with questions about how we felt when the other did this or that and Kora and I really opened up to each other more from that. It was also nice to hear that I wasn’t the only mom struggling to be a positive role-model for my pre-teen. Vivian and Amy-May joined that group with us.
The other group was more for adults though most of us had children so wherever we ended up (normally the pastor’s house as this was one of his wife’s groups) there would be kids running around playing but we would just sit and have dinner and then play cards or a board game. Sure we would pray before and after but it wasn’t just ‘here’s how God should be in your life’ but rather really nice people just talking and honestly I could SEE God in their lives without them telling me. This one couple who were doing very well thanks to the husband’s self-owned business was giving half of their income that year to various organizations around the city. One for orphaned children and another for single parents and another that was for abused women. Then this other older lady would talk about her travels throughout her life and she always went out of her way to learn something new in the various places she went. The end of most stories would follow along the lines of ‘so I knew I didn’t really have it all that bad if they were’ fill in the blank with all you could imagine going wrong and she had probably seen it.
And I guess there was one other group though I didn’t go to it as long and it really only bears mentioning for one reason. One of the groups at the church was for single people. Well of course I was intrigued because I had started opening up to the idea of how lonely I really was. The last thing I wanted to become was the grouchy old cat lady at the end of the block who yelled at kids to get off of her lawn. The lady who never seemed to go anywhere so she was always in her nightgown and when she did go somewhere she was STILL in her nightgown. I was truly FRIGHTENED of becoming the lonely old lady and after all of the dreams of how angry I was I knew I needed a nice Christian man who could put up with me.
Well, one thing stood in the way of me and Mr. Right and it certainly wasn’t Kora who was SUPER excited at the idea of having a man around. One week she’d say, ‘You need a man that knows how to play the piano’ and if I asked why she’d promptly say, ‘so he can teach ME to play the piano.’ The next week she’d want to learn guitar and then she wanted a dad who knew how to dance so after we got married and he and I had our first dance SHE would get to dance with him too. Oh and let’s not forget going to pick out the dress but yes she was getting ahead of herself since it was ME who stood in the way of me and Mr. Right.
For the first few weeks I mostly only talked to the other single women. They weren’t mad about it or anything since they all knew all the men there anyway as it was less a ‘let’s all hook up’ type thing which would be a lot less Christian and more of a ‘hey we’re all single let’s hang out and talk about how much Valentine’s Day sucks.’ But I did start trying to open up to the men who all seemed very sweet but I was just SO bitter about everything that had happened. I really couldn’t get into a conversation without saying something that made it sound like I wanted all men in the world to be put in their place, to put it much nicer than I normally did to the men I was talking to.
I was also defensive and self-conscious. I would talk about things I didn’t like about men but I would tell the personal stories that would explain WHY I felt that way. And I wouldn’t wear any short sleeve shirts to show my arm or shorts that would show my leg or even a moderately low neck shirt that could show a piece of my scar. I would pray each night for God to bring me a nice man, no, the RIGHT man into my life but then I’d put up all these walls around myself so no one could destroy what little bit of self-confidence I had left. Even Kora didn’t get everything because while she started understanding I struggled with a lot of things she still believed me to be this strong woman who could handle almost anything because of what I’d been through instead of this crying emotional wreck who feared everything because of what I’d been through.
And then it happened. And I do mean IT!!! If it could have been a truck that hit me I would have been SO much happier than what REALLY happened. Maybe the 3rd month I had been going to those singles meetings and was FINALLY starting to feel comfortable. Ok, well comfortable in the insecure I’m going to hide the real me away kind of way but comfortable for me. I had even thought of going on a date with one of those guys I’d met though I had no clue which one as I felt the same way around all of them.
I arrived early to help the lady who was hosting that week’s get together fix little snacks and get set up. We were talking about this and that and people started arriving. All the same people at first, yep I know him and I know her and I know her and I know him and I know…. HIM! Nelson walked through the door.
I realized I had failed to FULLY prepare for the night as I had not asked the lady hosting where all the alternative fire exits were. I shrunk inside myself and nervously started tugging my sweater arm down to make sure my arm was covered then pulled my shirt up closer to my neck, a bad habit I’d been finding myself doing more and more. Arm, neck, arm, neck, arm, neck, I can’t even imagine what kind of fool I looked like when I was really nervous like I was then.
Now of course I had seen Nelson PLENTY since my accident. While he had never come up to the hospital (I learned he had realized that I wasn’t his biggest fan) I of course saw him by my house and at church where he was a member. I did talk to him more but it wasn’t a lot more because, when it comes down to it, what do you say to the guy you barely knew who just happened to save your life? What is the protocol? Do you have to say thank you every day which I’m pretty sure I did for the first 2 months until it lost its meaning. Do you invite him out to lunch which I did because BOY could I have felt anymore guilty or responsible. I just didn’t KNOW what to say to the man.
I had been fortunate enough for the fact that he was training to be a fireman and then did become one so he wasn’t outside as much but I guess every time he was outside it was just magnified in my head because of all that had happened.
The first fear was ‘well now everyone’s going to be talking about him saving my life’ but as it turned out there were few who knew of my accident or his reasons for becoming a fireman and even fewer who know the two were connected. If any were there they didn’t bring it up so at that I was saved.
And I could have been saved from talking to him as well since when he saw me he just gave me a nod of recognition. He must have seen the arm, neck, arm, neck, arm, neck motion going on and got the hint or got scared. Of course the hostess introduced him to everyone and when she got to me he just shook my hand, of which I learned to always give my right hand for a shake now even though I was left handed, and said it was nice to see me and moved on.
I should have been relieved when he went off and talked to other people. The guys all wanted to hear about any crazy fires he’d been in and the women weren’t TOO uninterested in that either so it’s not like he wasn’t busy. But I wasn’t relieved and I felt more guilt than ever. As much as I had hid from everyone here he knew me better than all of them despite the fact that we rarely talked for more than 3 minutes. If nothing else he knew my daughter and he knew about the burns on my body which was plenty. I don’t know if he knew about my scar at the time though with how much blood I’m told was all over the front of my clothes I’m guessing he could have guessed.
I had to get the courage up to talk to him and the first attempt went something like, “Hey Nelson.”
“Yes Miss Jillian.” He smiled a really big smile he was good at. It was a cute infectious smile that would make any girl swoon for him. I hated it because later I would be told I was the only one who got that smile.
“Ummm, how have you been?”
“Since this morning?” Of course he’d joke about the fact that we had just done our passerby routine that day, I was such a dork. “Pretty good I suppose. Yourself?”
“Fine. Fine. So, my drinks empty, I’m gonna go refill it.”
That’s right, I was super smooth. I did come back to him that night though when it was about time to leave and asked him if he’d meet me at the coffee shop near our homes and he, with a huge surprised look on his face that I can’t blame him for, agreed.
I bought him a large mocha cappuccino since after all, he saved my life. Yeah the joke fell flat when I told it to him too but like I said, I was such a dork. I tried small talk but it all seemed hollow and forced and unbefitting the person whom I had treated so horribly. I finally just said it, “Nelson, I’m really sorry I’m so mean to you.”
“Oh well, you’re not really that mean to me.” He was always so dignified and never let anything bother him. I hated that.
“No I was. Heck I still am. At my best I’m simply not nice to you.”
“It’s fine. I’m just a neighbor it’s not like we have to be best friends.” I know he didn’t mean anything by the neighbor line but it had haunted me since the pastor did a sermon on it. No one ever meant anything by it and most didn’t realize it was my story that inspired it but it always irritated me. I guess because I was still struggling with how I felt about it and all that had happened.
“But that’s just it because you are SO not just a neighbor.” Ugh, no I was doing it too. “You saved my life and I can barely look at you. How am I supposed to act around you?”
“Well you don’t have to do anything different. I did what anyone would have done and really I should be thanking you because…”
“Crud Nelson stop thanking me for getting rescued by you. You’re way too nice you know that?” I started that sentence angry but ended in a chuckle.
“Is it the words thank you that you don’t like? I can try other words. Gracias, in Spanish. Danka, in German. Or just,” He made a motion with his fingers throwing them towards me from his chin that I knew meant thank you in sign language thanks to a deaf customer at the hair salon. Then he grinned that big, cute, infectious stupid grin of his and I bust out laughing.
I really laughed and it wasn’t forced and it wasn’t something I thought I SHOULD be laughing it just happened. After my accident I stopped laughing at most things and most things that used to be funny were simply not anymore. I had been shown all the bad in me and my life in one grand showing and it made me very sad inside. I know I would cry a lot but at that point I started crying every night and even Vivian and Kora said, ‘you don’t laugh anymore.’
But he got it. HE of all people seemed to just inherently know how twisted my mind was. Not really even in a dark funny kind of way even though weird things would make me laugh but more over just how backwards my mind would think sometimes. The fact that the hardest thing I had ever said to someone was ‘thank you for saving me’ made me feel like some sort of alien.
We started talking about everything. I kept trying to steer the conversation back to him since even though I hated to admit it, I really enjoyed listening to his stories but he would always find a way to get me talking again. And not the superficial small talk I had come up with the group but really talking about my life. At one point he asked how my arm and leg were and I told him ‘fine’ while absent mindedly pulling the arm of my sweater up to show him. It wasn’t until he asked if it still hurt that I realized I had lowered my guard by raising my shirt that I quickly pulled it down again.
“What happened to your wife?” I blurted out at some horribly awkward and completely inappropriate moment. His big infectious stupid grin went away. I hated that and felt horrible for making it happen.
He played with the straw in his cup, swirling it around slowly a few times, drawing in a deep breath, swirling it faster, pulling it out, letting out a deep breath, and finally setting the straw down on the table only to stare at it and push it to and fro as he talked. “She got off work early one Friday and went to pick up our son from school.”
“Wait, you have a son? You never said you had a son.”
He chortled. I’ll never forget that laugh that escaped his mouth that night. It wasn’t a jolly laugh filled with great memories of life and funny comedies. It was a dark laugh that indicated an emotionally crippling time and a misstep in the conversation once again provided by me. “Normally he took the bus and went home to an empty house until one of us got home, typically me an hour later. But she was going to pick him up and get his hair cut and then meet me for a family dinner and movie night out.” The straw was getting batted around faster and if I were a drinking utensil I would have felt sorry for it. I looked back into his face which, while still staring at the straw, was in obvious pain and looked old and weathered for the first time.
“I waited at the restaurant for over an hour continually trying to call when finally it answered and I was so relieved that it was being answered yet so angry that she wasn’t there yet. I started to say ‘Where have you been? You should have been here an hour ago’ and just as I was about to quickly calm down and let relief come over and say ‘I’m glad to hear you’re ok’ when a male voice came on the phone. ‘Sir, my name is officer…’ I can’t remember his name it was like Talbot or something weird like that. ‘There was an incident, where are you? Do you need a ride?’
“An ‘INCIDENT’ he said. Not an accident but an incident. I told him I had a car and he said to meet at the hospital. I kept trying to think of what an ‘incident’ would be and while logic would tell me he probably means accident but just uses a different word panic said it was something worse. Panic won that night.
“Inside the hospital I quickly told the nurse in the ER who I was expecting her to rush me to the back to see my wife and son but instead she turned and got someone who got someone else who got the police officer I had spoken to and a doctor to come and talk to me. The policeman informed me that someone had tried to steal my wife’s car while she was at a red light. This guy had just robbed a convenience store and needed some way to escape quickly and I guess my wife and son were the first people he came across. He yelled at them to get out and they think my wife had tried to roll up the window and drive away, no one is completely certain of the exact events but it is known that for whatever reason shots were fired. Two shots to be exact and whether they were intentional or just an accident when the car moved they were two very direct shots. That’s when the doctor stepped in to do his part and let me know that my wife had not made it to the hospital and they had just lost my son.”
“I’m so sorry, I didn’t know.”
“It’s ok.” The straw would say otherwise and while he wasn’t crying there was a distinct lump in his throat that disagreed as well. Then there was silence because if I hadn’t known what to say for saving my life I was lost for words now. Other people, including Nelson, would probably say ‘God will get you through it’ but I was not comfortable using those words so soon after becoming a Christian again.
After more silence he went on, “I guess that’s why I thank you so much for letting me rescue you. I mean, besides the final straw that broke the back of the emergency response camel I was thankful that I was there to save you after I couldn’t be there to save my family.”
I said you’re welcome. That is how little I could think of that I would say you’re welcome to that. I said it in the meek manner of someone who obviously can’t think of anything to say but I was still embarrassed and about to apologize for it when Kora called and asked when I was coming home. I told Nelson he’d have to come over for dinner sometime soon but this time I really meant it.