Edges on the Page
The culmination of all my Friday nights at the church was my confirmation.
I’d planned it all out for weeks ahead, what I’d wear, how I’d act. I’d chosen a special name. Everyone was invited, my mum and step-dad, the Shrink, Minnie. The Shrink couldn’t make it. The concept of him and my mother in the same room together was a bit much – she still resented the letter he’d made me write – so I wasn’t heartbroken that he couldn’t.
As each Friday night had progressed on to the next, and I’d gradually become immersed in what I was learning, about God’s kingdom and what He’d done for me and what he expected of me, I’d also been filled with a growing sense of His purpose within me. I needed help to understand what it was that I was beginning to feel. I saw the sister who was helping with the teaching with an increasing sense of awe, almost as if there was some tremendous power that her humility and goodness held over me. She taught me that what I was feeling was the power of God’s love working in me and that it was a feeling of vocation that I was experiencing. I hadn’t quite identified this sense of vocation until the moment that I knelt before the Bishop.
Confirmation is the gift of the Holy Spirit. It’s a powerful sacrament if undertaken in purity of heart. The Holy Spirit worked so powerfully in me that day. The Bishop interviewed each one of us confirmation candidates and our parents separately.
He asked me what I thought I was going to be doing now that I was confirmed. I told him that I was considering becoming a nun. I’ve never seen my mother’s face go that colour before. The Bishop turned straightaway to the stricken parent with words of comfort. “Don’t worry, you’re not losing a daughter,” he told her. “You’re gaining a saint.” I’m not sure which one of us shocked her most.
The power of the Holy Spirit certainly made some changes to me that day.
All through the summer Friday nights were free. And summer madness seemed to set in early that year. And the more I tried to be good so the more badness seemed to find me. Maybe it was just my level of awareness that was different. And maybe the devil was just out to get me.
After my affair with Marina, and the close shave on the bench with Miss X, you’d think I’d learn to steer clear of girls. But I didn’t. And in the process of chasing one pretty little bit of skirt too many I managed to get myself involved with a man who didn’t do wonders for my points score in the line of male partners either.
It all started the day I went to Tonbridge.
I’d gone to there to visit a girl that I’d played it so cool with in ESP that she had hardly any idea how much I liked her. I knew she was trouble but when she phoned me up to say she’d been released I couldn’t resist. Besides, it wasn’t that long after I’d received Marina’s letter and I suppose I was trying to prove something. Just my luck to get lumbered with Miss Pretty Girl’s crazy-bloke friend who asked me to marry him. Tadpole Man I called him because he had about that much intelligence and looked like something that ought to live in a pond. Actually that’s unkind, but I don’t have lastingly endearing memories of him.
He squatted in a derelict building on the Tonbridge bypass. Was I so desperate to have Someone that I’d accept Anyone? He turned up on my doorstep drunk one time too often and I sent him packing up the Tonbridge Road back the way he came, towards Tonbridge. He ruined my summer. Threw my equilibrium out the window, and totally destroyed any religious fervour I’d managed to gain. But at least I had the sense to walk away, eventually. Better would have been to resist Pretty Girl curiosity in the first place maybe.
At the end of summer, unencumbered by Pretty Girls, Tadpole Men, or any other form of pond life, I went to some sleazy biker pub with my gay friends. A moment of weakness?
I’d been in there five minutes and a man walked up to me at the bar and just handed me a wrap. “Best whizz you’ll ever ‘ave,” he said, putting the wrap in my hand. “Knew you wanned it soon’s you walked in. Only a tenner.”
I was so stunned I gave him the money. In all the time I’d been doing the sherbet no one had ever walked up to me and just laid it on me like that before. Never. But I hadn’t done any for nearly two and a half years. What was I going to do with it? I licked my finger and dabbed it in. He was right it was good.
A dishy young blond man in a suit came over and chatted me up. “What does a man have to do to get you into bed?” What was with this place?
“A lot more’n talking to me like that!” I replied indignantly.
“I’ll bet I can make you want me.”
“What makes you so sure?”
Smooth talker or not, I took him home with me.
But I was bored with dabbing. I had a needle somewhere. I also insisted that the Smooth Talker let me use it on him too. Was there something retributive in me that night? Something that wanted to lash out but didn’t know what at? He might have got me into bed but he wasn’t going to get away unscathed. He would remember me.
The next day I couldn’t believe that any of it had happened. I’d changed, hadn’t I?
A few weeks later we went back there to the same pub, my gay friends and I. It was the first anniversary of my release. I’d also moved the same day, to a place a little less like the bridge to normal living that Westborough House was supposed to have been to a shared house in Leeds village just outside Maidstone owned by a friend of mine. No one forced me to take a wrap of sherbet this time, but I did get approached by another dishy young blond man.
He was a very old friend of one of my gay mates. In fact Rodney didn’t want to introduce us at first because of some camp fear that he would ruin my life, either by making me believe his strange philosophies or by driving me mad with them. I pointed out that my own philosophical standpoint was strong enough to take it and that my life couldn’t get much worse so he might as well introduce us anyway, and he did. His name was Adam Waltz. It was the most romantic name I had ever heard.
It made him sound like a pop star.
We all went back to Rodney’s flat after the pub closed and got very stoned. Okay, no sherbet, but is smoking dope any better? Well, I didn’t sleep with him at least, just woke up on the couch next to him wondering if I had.
That was the beginning of a beautiful relationship.
Or so he told me some time around Christmas, when I was tormented by the inadequacies he made me feel and desperately trying to live up to his romantic ideal of womankind. No doubt an ideal that had been carefully fostered by his two older sisters, who were faultlessly portrayed as goddesses and had obviously never had so much as an impure thought in their lives, if Adam was to be believed. No doubt an ideal that had been not so carefully enriched by every hooker and loose woman he’d ever met on his many travels around the seedier parts of the backpacker’s world since he’d run away from home at sixteen, if he was to be believed.
I was the first woman he’d ever loved, ever really loved. I was eight years older than him and carrying on in the lifestyle of a gorgeously dishy young man quite often took its toll, even if I did enjoy it. I seemed to be constantly looking in the mirror to make sure that I matched up to his imperfect image of the perfect woman. But at least I was thin then so I had good reason to look.
He used to say, did Adam Waltz, that ugly people had no right to look at us in the street because we were beautiful and they weren’t. There was something seriously not right there and we had lots of juicy arguments based on the premise that it was wrong to judge others by those standards. I mean, what would the world be like if everyone believed that kind of crap? Who’d set the standard of what was considered beautiful or ugly? A beautiful person or an ugly person? Who’d know the difference? To me everyone was beautiful in their own very personal way and he was a chauvinist pig for even thinking like that.
It wasn’t a match made in paradise, no matter what colours he tried to paint it.
Adam was the bass guitarist in a band, so in a way he was a pop star. That meant that I soon became the lead singer in a band. For a very short period of time. I entered into my song-writing phase. Then I lost the book in which all my songs had been written, so I can’t write any of them down here. That’s probably just as well; they were of the usual heavy metal ballad type stuff with schmaltzy choruses that repeated in not so enigmatic riffs and made everyone go ooh for a day until the next one came along. Meatloaf was still my hero, but my song-writing was not a reflection of that fact.
At first we’d spend our evenings lying on my bed listening to the music we liked and making love. Then I wrote songs while he composed the music to go with them and made love as an afterthought. Then I moved to the big room upstairs and the ball game changed shape entirely.
I felt as if I was finally beginning to get my life back on track. After a year of strangeness I felt as if it was all making sense. I had learned that I could live without committing crimes. That I could hold down a full-time job. That I could have a boyfriend who wasn’t a complete bastard, was extremely good-looking and also intelligent enough to hold a conversation with, even if his philosophy left much to be desired.
There were edges on my page.
Until then it had seemed that my life was a blank page upon which I’d let the ink pen of fate scrawl its spidery meanderings without really understanding either myself or the true moral system by which my life should best be lived. If Friday nights had taught me anything it was that the moral code was not only a necessity to ensure the regular maintenance of the vehicle of life, it was also a joy. Life was starting to make some sense. I kept going on Friday nights when Father started the programme over again.
The big room inspired me. I got everything just the way I wanted it. I bought my first ever computer and set it up on the long counter that ran the whole length of the wall beneath my window. All the curtains and bed covers were co-ordinated with the walls. It was easy and pleasing on the eye and I liked spending time there, in my room, sitting at my computer, looking out of my window. The process of education that had begun in Cookham Wood and then continued through Bullwood Hall and ESP was beginning to find the outlet it craved. I began to write short stories.
Then something awful happened.
I’d been taken on the permanent staff at Royal. I had to go through the interview process just like everyone else. But there was a box on the form that I’d had trouble with when I was filling it in. I figured that if the personnel manager who interviewed me had a problem with it she’d ask me. No one did. That day I’d always dreaded, always wished would never happen, happened.
Because the standard of my work was so high I’d passed all my accounts exams in six months rather than the two years they were expected to take. I’d been promoted to a section with more responsibility. I worked that much harder than everyone else because I knew what they didn’t. I always dreaded that somehow they’d find out.
I was called into the director’s office. I didn’t know why. He told me that he had received a phone call. That the person on the other end had asked him if he knew that he was employing an ex-con with a record for fraud, forgery and deception. He said he liked me. That he’d tried everything within his power to keep me on. The suits at the top had spoken.
I was heartbroken. It was the biggest shock my system had ever had. Getting messed up with drugs and crime had been such a gradual slide into the gutter, the climb back out had been just as gradual and far harder. But this? This was brutal. This was cruel and heartless. No. The person who had rung up was that. Calculating, vindictive, cruel and heartless. And vengeful. But I could think of no one who could hate me that much. Except for Homes. But she wouldn’t. Would she? I’d never know.
That was shortly before my 30th birthday.
Something else happened shortly before my 30th birthday too.
My ever-loving boyfriend decided to go travelling again. This time he went away to America for three months. All I wanted to do was settle down, maybe start another family. He wanted that too, but he still had to travel. If he’d asked me to go with him I’d have found the money somehow, but he didn’t. He just left me behind, thinking that everything would be just as he left it when he returned. He bought me two lovebirds for my early birthday present. To keep me company while he was gone. He left me his car, to play with while he was gone. But three months is a long time for a heartbroken person to be left alone, lovebirds or no lovebirds, flash car or no flash car. How would my page’s edges hold up under this kind of pressure?
My birthday fell on Good Friday that year. I went to mass in the afternoon. I bought a bottle of champagne from Sainsbury’s on the way home. I spent the evening in bed watching telly and drinking my champagne. When I was drunk enough not to care I phoned Miss X, because she was the only person I could think of who would tell me that they cared. She wasn’t in so I left an abusive message on her answer phone.
A couple of weeks later I drove down to Broadstairs to visit mother, but picked up the boys first. We went for a drive around Thanet and drove past the end of Daisy’s street. It couldn’t hurt to just drop in on her for five minutes, could it? After all she was my best friend, and I did miss her. Even mother couldn’t stop me missing her, and we didn’t have to tell her we’d stopped there, did we? The boys agreed with me. I turned the car into Ellington Road and parked up outside her house. The boys stayed in the car while I knocked.
Her son answered the door.
“Hi, Bart,” I began, not sure he’d even remember me, I’d been away so long. “Is yer mum in?”
“Mum?” He seemed oddly surprised that I should want to see her.
I was brimming over with excitement. Daisy was always so pleased to see me after along absence. “I knew you’d turn up eventually”, she would say to me, before throwing her arms round my neck. I could already hear her saying it, just like she always did. Then she would turn all serious on me and ask me what trouble I was in this time. But this time I could tell her how well I was doing, how I hadn’t committed a crime since I’d been released. I could tell her how God was helping me to stay straight this time. I could tell her about Adam, and about my short stories. And I could whinge to her about losing my job. She would console me and tell me that it didn’t matter because I was far too good for the silly old job. She’d pick me up just like she always did when I was on the ground.
“Yeah, your mum.”
Daisy’s son Bart looked up at me with a curious mixture of disbelief and fury in his face as he replied. “Mum’s dead!”
17th December 1999
I think I asked him if his dad was in after that. I don’t really remember exactly. I was in a state of shock. The Dealer was in and very much alive, although most people who knew him thought the wrong person had been taken first. It was him who gave me the big hug and said that he knew I’d turn up eventually. It had strangely different connotations coming from him. I’d never really seen him as anything more than an extension of Daisy who delivered my sherbet before. Now I had to make the effort to relate to him as the husband she’d left behind, at least until I could figure out what had happened. Maybe I hoped he’d be able to say all the other things too. I went back to the car, and drove to my mother’s, a very shocked and shaken person indeed.
From here, sitting in front of my computer, and with the hindsight of retrospect, it seems that the power of the Holy Spirit was working so powerfully in me during my confirmation that it provided a bright shining beacon to alert any ships that were cruising my waters. But it wasn’t a distress beacon. It seems to me now that the ships it attracted carried cargoes of evil that were hell bent on my destruction. That summer seemed to herald an endless slide back into bad ways. Maybe they were the trials and tribulations of the saint’s life sent to test my mettle. A series of disasters and the old programming started to dominate like it was some kind of ghoulish jack-in-the-box that just popped up to bend destruction to its will.
Wrong relationships, being sacked, the death of my best friend. All had taken their toll. I came back from Broadstairs riddled with guilt. It clung to my conscience like a cancer, like the cancer that had killed Daisy. Thoughts of absolution made me reel. What I was prepared to do, felt I must do, to obtain absolution from my guilt was the worst of it. I couldn’t quite believe I was even contemplating an absolution so binding, so complete.
The edges on my page were still there, even if they’d begun to fray a little. I knew that some of the things I was doing were wrong, I just didn’t let my conscious mind spend much time acknowledging the fact. There was a part of me still so shrouded in ignorance and superstitious thought that I didn’t think I was good enough to be truly good, that keeping God’s law couldn’t apply to me because I was already so tainted with badness. Like my marriage contract with God had been rendered null and void because I’d been married before and was definitely no virgin.
Father’s phrase, which he repeated over and over again to me when I spoke of these things, was always, ‘Eartha, you are a new creation in Christ Jesus’. He used to try to make me understand the power of God’s love by telling me that if I’d been created anew that meant that in God’s eyes I was a virgin again. I couldn’t get my head around that. Not then. Perhaps it was just easier not to, especially when I kept putting myself into relationships that included sex and couldn’t see how the no-sex-before-marriage rule could possibly apply to me. I still had a long way to go before the edges on the page were able to become an integral and living part of my life, but at least they were there at last, a foundation to build on.
Elysia’s Blank Book
Elysia walked around her garden with a heavy heart. There was anger in that heart. There was fear in that heart. And there was a depression in her bearing. A part of her wanted to stay there and forsake the tunnel altogether. She knew that she would be letting her Beloved down if she did that. She felt angry with herself for even thinking about staying. He was all she wanted. The garden was no good to her without him.
The fear that she would not be good enough to win her battles forced its way through her defences and into her heart, even though he’d already told her that she could not lose. His love would be strong enough, he’d told her that often enough for it to be a part of her consciousness now. Yet the part of her that looked only to her own resources knew that she was doomed to failure if she could look no further. Depression found its podium, mounted easily and fed on the sumptuous banquet of her fears.
Through her half-closed eyes and dulled ears she saw a bright mist rolling in over the bridge, creeping across the lawn, and heard the muffled tones of a fanfare. Was she dreaming? She tried to focus her senses more sharply, pushing away the anger, the fear and the depression. The mist rolled away and the tones became clear and sharp.
“Put your trust in me, Elysia. And only in me!”
He walked towards her, final trails of mist swirling and evaporating around his feet.
“Do not let these negative thoughts destroy you! For I will never let you down.”
“But how can I ever repay a trust and love so great?”
“By going through your tunnel for me, Elysia. By taking off this old programming and putting on the new programming. By putting on my programming, Elysia. That’s all I ask.”
“But what if I fail?”
“You will not fail Elysia. If your love for me is strong and real, if you are willing to follow me wherever I may lead and to live for me, you cannot fail. It’s simply not possible.”
She smiled as the realisation dawned on her that it really was as simple as that and her fears evaporated like the mist that had surrounded him a few moments ago. “Then onwards towards success I will go.” She threw her arms around his neck and hugged him tight. “And towards my destiny in you, my Beloved.”
His arms slid around her waist as he hugged her back. He was smiling too. When she loosened her arms from his neck he drew something out from the folds of his garment. “Do you want your present for today?”
It was flat and rectangular. A book, leather bound and with its own golden clasp and a little key to lock it. “Another of your books,” she exclaimed in excitement.
“But the pages are blank. Shouldn’t something be written on them?”
“Keep looking and the words will appear,” he replied. She looked up at him and caught the humorous twinkle that glinted there in his eye. “When they’re ready.”
See you all on December 18th with Chapter Eighteen! Happy wishing. I once wished that every page in my blank book would be filled, and it did. That’s the power of wishes 🙂
Brightest Blessings and a Happy Advent Journey to any and all of you who are reading this,
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