The words come first this time.
I did not love my husband.
I toyed with the wording inside my mind, trying to figure out if this was really the truth. Maybe I just did not like him? Maybe I loved him, but he didn’t love me anymore?
I thought I used to love him, but maybe that was only a memory of a time in which I was too different of a person to relate to anything I am now. I remembered looking at him young and being enthralled, revering his every movement, but now I could not find that passion or that peace. There are distinctions to be made between loving someone and being in love, receiving their love in a give and take or being absolutely completely taken with each other,
but I was weary of making sense of empty hollow words rattling. And the days pressed heavy, I couldn’t breath.
The weight would lift when I would spew out everything that was wrong, everything that had come upon us in our eleven years together to take us off the course I had counted on. But then the weight would settle heavier, our souls sick from fear and blame and doubt. Still naked together, but rubbed thin to the breaking point. We were a fearful grasping.
I know he felt the same and I hated him for it. Hated myself for being unloveable. Grew ever angrier at God for giving us more than we could handle. Each new struggle was a reminder. Our dead child. That’s all, defined by our dead child. Never escaping the things that came of those moments when I couldn’t hold him tight enough, couldn’t bind him to life. Our dead child.
We tried to think of someone to talk to. They all seemed dangerous, speaking of all the nothingness seemed hopeless, more than we could bear. Yes there were moments of beauty, joyful times with friends, always our children close to us. But we knew what lay deep inside was not as it had been, was not as it should be. We did not see enough of God in “church” so we stopped going. Then one Sunday we returned, just to be inside the four walls where Jesus’ name would be spoken, not hoping for anything more. And then we were standing amidst the crowds that do not know us, tears streaming down. We didn’t know much, just that we had said we were sorry. Not to each other, we didn’t have strength enough for that yet, but to Him, the One who binds us together. I walked home hopeful that the air had cleared, but then the next week came, and work came, and the children came, and all the same pain persisted.
And then after him and our boys had gone camping for the weekend, the phone call came. My grandma, my Gran who I was supposed to have more years to see. Who I NEEDED. Who I hadn’t been to see. She was dying. And it was one death too many and I fell empty. Just empty.
I didn’t know if she would see the next week and I could not get to her. Children felt like a sprawling weight around my neck, my husband a chain, the miles between us like running through air thick in a dream where the horizon is always fading farther away. I could not get to her. Really? Losing a child and birthing another meant that I couldn’t go to her in all this time? How had four, five years gone by? I had been in my moment of pain, holding the bits of joy close in a bubble and time had passed me by. I blamed him and I blamed me and I blamed our one enormous loss leading to countless smaller ones. And this one felt like one loss too many, the signal that my life was irreversibly off course.
I could not get to her and so I ran. Ran down the street outside my house, through dusty fields and along the waves. I ran back through all the time, back to moonlit swims and her wise words, back to the sun beating down while ice cream ran in rivers through my skinny legs onto her pool chairs. I ran back down her street in Kansas and into college days where my love proposed to me sitting on her daughter’s bed. Tiny pink flowers flecking a white bedspread, ivy curling off the dresser while I cried tears of happiness, innocent of all our lives would bring. I ran and ran, back to our white house by the honeysuckle bush, shuttered windows and her sitting with me on the golden couch by the window. I ran til I could touch her hair, forever died brown and up in a beehive, til I could smell her, everything that touched her, vanilla. Ran until all I could hear were her familiar words – that even though she left her hometown and family farm for a life traveling with the military, though she had lost her husband, him shot down and missing seven years, though she had raised three children on her own. Even through all of this, her life had been rich and the Good Lord had taken care of her. While I ran, her words came clear and soothing to me, but when I stopped all I heard was the static of a world spinning wildly out of my control. Doubt and fear buzzing in my ears.
He came home, told me he was sorry and that work and school, all that was expected of us, driving for days and expenses didn’t matter… He asked me how soon did I want to leave, to go to her? And in those words I felt the wall between us break.
I can’t tell you of all the rest. Can’t give voice to it properly. I will say what I can. I am not good at speaking, only slightly more comfortable at typing and so I punch these words out because they are the only ones I know. We stepped off that plane, out of California’s mad dash and into space – wide, open and free. We drove through trees, back into the heart of that place where we had begun, the midwestern states. Clattered up the gravel driveway and the sky dipped and spun as I walked familiar hills round my teenage home. I was beyond unable to breath. My heart ached so fierce that I thought sorrow would crush me. A great tearing ache, welling up for all the pieces I just couldn’t put together as I watched my children run through trees I had not greeted in years and up the steps to their grandparent’s home. A home they had not spent time within since their father was far away at war, had not visited since the Christmas after their baby brother was not born. I did not know what to do with the grief rolling over me. I did not feel I could survive it and so I took up a camera. It didn’t matter which one… I picked up my camera like I did after I lost my Joshua and I pointed it in the direction of beauty. The camera body against my face, a shield. I looked through it at light falling across my boys running through green, and that was all that mattered. And when my heart almost burst to see them helping their grandma in her kitchen, knowing they were twice the age since they had done that last, I just pressed the shutter and told the story of here and now. And that story healed the lost years. Each time I found within all that used to be familiar, a new oddity, I did the same. Each time I didn’t understand a piece of where I had come from or where I had journeyed to, I made an image as a way to deal with this strangeness. Document, process and the pain eased as I accepted each frame as it came to me.
And then there was her room. The place I did not take my camera. A sacred space, suspended between life and death. I needed to be in that moment with her, that long drawn out last breath. I needed to hold her hand incessantly, to feel her cheek against mine and look straight into her eyes even when they began to stare as she slipped away. I threw the shield away here, I did not need it. All was peace beside her. I could not bear to look through a viewfinder, a lens, nothing to distort the reality that she and I were together again. And nothing had changed, time had not stolen even a tiny piece away. I wanted to see everything in my periphery, the silly plastic flowers on her window sill, the tree growing up strong outside, it’s leaves sheltering us. My children’s photos on her jewelry box next to her, black and white in her wedding dress and him helmet under one arm, stepping out of the cockpit. Yes her face was drawn and I could see the blood pulsing tired within her veins, but her words held as much weight as ever and that is all I needed to carry from that room. She said she understood and she was proud of us. Proud of how we had handled the death of our son, proud of our living boys growing, laughing and swimming in the water she loves. The boys stroked her fingers painted pretty, kissed her cheek and I waited that night as she was born into another life. The nurse a midwife by her side, her daughter coaching, reassuring her that it was time she let go. A sacred space, as we circled round and gave what comfort we could as she made her way through pain into rest.
I drove home through the rain that morning and into my husband’s arms. He held me and I knew it would be different. We had not fallen out of love. We just could not find each other.
I could not find him. He could not find me. We could not even find ourselves.
And so we set out, headed to what we did not know. Him on a plane back to California, work and waves and a quiet home. Me in a car with children and my brother, eleven hours of states stretching past. Back to a house that still smelled of my Gran, she hung heavy everywhere, the air drenched with her. Again I could not fathom the sorrow of a season passed by, so I drew out my camera. Not to hide behind this time, but to hold out an offering, hoping to catch any last glimpse before her light faded. I was not capable of making the images that should have been made in her home, days after her death, her great grandchildren swimming in the pride and joy, her pool. I was just a clumsy girl, clicking away, trying to harvest any of the memories that had grown rich in that space.
We criss crossed from Wichita back to Missouri, a town so small I didn’t know any of its’ kind still existed. My Gran’s senior picture still upon the high school walls. Her grave lying next to her love’s tombstone and the cows watched as we lowered her down. Her family loved her so much, that we couldn’t bear not to see it all, even the dirt rising up all around as they sealed her body into the ground. There was no planning, no wondering if we should, we drove to her mother’s farm like it was drawing us itself. And we walked, each child, grandchild and great grandchild through trees and streams, into barns, around ponds and finally up to the old farm house. Pumping water out of the rusted pump, without a word, compelled. Into the old farmhouse we trickled to see a new refrigerator and ancestors upon the walls. We trod that ground, pressing our life down firm into it, picking up bones and antlers, throwing walnuts and laughing long in the light. The sun bathing us golden, until it could reach no more above the trees and sunk splendid beyond what we could see. And still we lingered in the car headlights, till all was black and we gathered round coffee and catfish bigger than I had ever seen. We had a feast, her legacy.
Then everyone went their way, back to their lives. And I had to wait for a plane to fly me back to mine. Completely exhausted, and my children at their worst, friends took us in for three days as we waited. I did not mind the waiting. I was afraid to go back, did not know where to go from here. There was honest joy, people gathered in those friends’ home, dinners shared and a big breakfast cooked and laid out on a weathered wooden table. There I had time to think of all the people who had gathered round our journey. My Gran’s friends, tears running down their cheeks, distant relatives cooking and cooking more than we could ever eat after her service, hometown friends round fires and tables lazy with good food and the comfort of shared memories. Chickens, tree houses, parks and always the leaves whispering, the trees sheltering us. I was full of a peaceful grief and gratitude.
And the last night in my friend’s home, I told her the things I tell NO ONE. The thoughts I never let outside my head. The ones I kid myself to believe He does not know or will not answer. I said it all and God spoke supernatural. He filled that lamp lit room and spoke right through her mouth and so deep into my soul, it shattered me. I didn’t tell her that I couldn’t see through all the years and loss, fights and bills and messes to find the man I love. She knows about that. I just told her the questions haunting me. And I found out I had forgotten the good news, or never known it as fully as I do now. All our sin, all our mess for His righteousness, she said. That’s the deal, it’s gone. And we are covered in Christ.
Covered in Christ.
God doesn’t have to look through all my mess to catch a glimpse deep inside of Jesus. I don’t have to hope that his view is uncluttered enough to find His son and spare me. When He lays His eyes on flawed, sinful me, He just sees Christ, his perfect son clothed in righteousness. And when he looks at my father, and my husband’s father, and everyone who has done good in this world and all of us who have done wrong, He either sees His son, or He doesn’t. I told her how I had believed in Him since I was a little girl, but after everything I had seen I was afraid I didn’t feel enough faith to keep hold of His son. She told me it was Him who was holding me with a grasp that can never let go, whispering that He has me. Him who had given me the faith to be found in Him.
I heard those words and breathed free, relaxed into His arms. I knew a miracle when I heard one. Good news.
I barely slept that night, after she finally trailed upstairs to bed I packed suitcases and made lists for the morning. Three hours later I drove through a sunrise like none I have ever seen, full of the joy of that week. Solemn. As our plane hurtled through the air, pitching and tossing in a Pacific storm, my baby’s golden hair asleep on my lap, I thought of the man I would see in a few minutes. I was tired, ready to be home, but scared for what lay ahead. I did not know how my heart or his would feel. I was afraid we would not find each other.
As he walked through the airport toward us I did not see that boy I fell in love with and promised to walk beside, better or worse. But then he grabbed me, wrapped me in arms as strong as the day we walked down the aisle and he kissed me like it was that day. I knew the miracle had been done. I didn’t know how, or why or exactly when…
I just knew we had been found and could see each other again, in Him. Once was lost, but now am found. We love each other because He first loved us.
Now the images.
These images of my husband and I are not beautiful, or flattering or even “good” images. But they are honest. We are simply looking at each other, looking for each other. After all the years have tossed at us, after everything our Lord has walked us through, we are finding in each other a love that makes our minds spin. Love that lights every inch of our hearts and bodies. We are seeing each other as more than just the scared, naive kid the other one married, more than the lines on our faces and faded clothes. We are amazed to see each other as the undeservedly beautiful creatures God created and truly knows us as. When he holds me I feel all the years a blessing now. Lost, then found.
Hasselblad 500 c/m . Ilford 50? . taken of each other