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The Third Miracle
Dreams opened the door to what Jailene’s conscious mind would not accept, although flashes of one particular scene seeped through. It began as a series—dream to nightmare.
Her mother was a slip of a girl; petite; bronzed bare arms and legs that made her look like a field worker; black hair colored by the same signs of bronzing from the sun; large soft doe eyes that had turned from milk chocolate brown to hazel after the birth of her daughter; threadbare summer dresses that clothed her in adolescence. Her age was that of a girl when the chrysalis phase unfolds the butterfly. She looked gloriously peaked with motherhood.
Jailene’s mind made her so, because most of the vision of her mother was made up. Jailene couldn’t remember how her mother looked, but a faint memory whispered how happy they were; how carefree; how innocent when left to themselves.
She was pulling the small girl in a red wagon down a summer dirt road. Dust swirls kicked up at their heels to hide their trail. This was their adventure road leading them away from the uniformed houses and soldier fathers. This was the path that carried them over the swinging bridge of a canal and even further through the snowing cottonwood trees until the dirt path intersected with a wide, black, hot asphalt road: Johnson’s Corner.
Johnson’s Corner, so named after its owner’s store, housed everything from black licorice to black tires. It overloaded its rural shoulders and narrowed its feet with cans, bottles, boxes, rainbow bolts of cloth, fishing hats and farmer’s hats, flashlights, barrels of nuts and nails, wide-mouth glass canisters stuffed with penny candy, assorted sizes of American flags, and customers who walked in with nothing particular in mind to buy, but always weather, crops and gossip with which to barter. It was an irresistible joy for a small child to immerse herself in touching, seeing and smelling everything housed under this crossroad roof. Johnson’s Corner gathered its locals together with a sense of ownership. This was the corner for locals, even occasionally the accepting of a stray traveler.
The small female child never knew poverty, even though they were very poor. The mother always told her that roads were treasure maps. All she had to do was go down the road and the treasures would show themselves. Their dirt road flaunted its treasures: empty soda bottles; orphaned coins; flying colored paper; silver jacks; camouflaged plastic army men; a red ball; shiny shirt buttons; ditch flowers; a naked baby doll with one arm missing and one eye permanently closed; more than a small red wagon could possibly hold on one journey; more than one small girl could possibly recall in one night’s dream. At the end of their journey, they bartered some of their treasure. They always bought the same thing: an icy cold Coca-Cola for her mother and soft vanilla ice cream for her. Sucking its milky nipple gave her a sense of her mother, her own nipples, something pleasurable, something safe. She would grow up attracting men who liked firm small breasts. Their attention to her breasts would make her feel wanted, safe, and loved.
Her mother had a flare for taking life’s undesirables and transforming them into envied originals. She was a part-time bag lady. She furnished their home with roadside recyclables when her husband’s military salary permitted little more than food. Their
home was admirably adorned with cast-off collectibles and military issued goods, while the other base houses looked emaciated by comparison.
The child’s mind worked as creatively as did her mother’s. She collected undesirable memories and transformed them into desirable ones. She used all of her skill of sorting and selecting, allowing a very few specifics to be carried from her childhood into her womanhood. Soft ice cream was one of them. Visual clutter was another. These safe feelings attached themselves to things and to people. These things, these people became her Eucharist. They reminded her that she belonged to someone; she was safe; the world had already sacrificed the lamb. They were temporary emotional blocks for a deeper fear—she was still a child in a woman’s body becoming a damsel in distress needing a knight who could fight off the dragons. She believed it took a monster to fight a monster. She was wrong.
Frontal Lobe Time
Time gave the child knowledge and opportunity to sense her own monsters after coming face to face with her father’s monsters. Time had a way of erasing some memories altogether, but the ugly nightmarish ones lived so thinly stretched in her mind, she thought they didn’t exist at all. That allowed them to stay. What the child inside the woman knew was that their thin line had creviced deep into her subconscious mind.
"Innocence travels harmless in effect or intention."
It was the child who protected the grown man. The man allowed the thinly stretched line to show itself, but only from a frontal view. The child viewed life from a side view where softness and vulnerability mingled with passion, joy, and bliss.
Jailene was her father’s child, not her mother’s child. Both shared a deep passion for things. Her father had a lasting passion for nature. When there was no war to etch out his purpose, the grounded fighter pilot paced like a caged bird with clipped wings. He subconsciously blamed his captured lifestyle on his social titles—husband and father—but really it was his uneasiness with the civilian world. As much as he tried to command his civilian wife, she would AWOL the post he repeatedly assigned to her.
Nature supplied his escape. It didn't matter if it took on the activity of hunting in a wood, fishing on a lake, casting out a shrimping net into marshy banked waters at low tide, turning garden soil, or sitting in solitude at the end of a long wooden pier while the horizon nodded into a freckled night sky. His passions substituted for commands in the civilian world. He respected nature. It had a hierarchy he could understand—survival of the fittest. But sometimes his passions turned on the closest thing or person next to him in harshness and a wrathful judgment of not good enough. What began as a journey, between a man and a small girl, a father and a daughter, turned into a punishing pilgrimage of absurdity, murder and suicide.
The sweet aroma of earthen tobacco from her father's shirt pocket woke her in an early morning embrace when sleepy children still think it night. The man held the girl until she woke. His arms were full and generous. The girl could feel her own heartbeats--racing--against the full broad chest of her father's. There was no movement beyond the beating, the breathing, or the gentle recognition through mirrored eyes. The man held the girl closer.
The man gave her everything with one sly smile that lit his black eyes to words, "Come on, Jailene, it's you and me." Nothing could keep her away from being with this powerful man. He was all magnitude with a flux. The girl gave him the keys to her worthiness anyway.
She prepared herself, not as a child going on her first hunt, but as a girl going on her first initiation into the land of the two-leggeds. They walked deep into the woods. Their shrine lay ahead, concealed in the sacred act of killing. The tall grasses cut the girl's chin with their razor blade edges. They stopped when they reached a clearing and lay down listening to the whippoorwills. The Spanish moss circled their hiding place with moist, hairy cobwebs. They waited in the darkness for their prey.
As they lay on their backs looking up through the bearded branches, the man pulled the small girl closer, wrapping his muscular arms around the girl's still smallness. The girl felt the wet dirt chilling her back, while the settling dew mingled with the oyster's marshy breath and her father's clean-shaven, Old Spice face, and his shirt pocket tobacco aroma. The girl drew in their smells like covered blankets to keep the unknown at bay.
With a mighty arm, the man pointed up between the branches to the stars. Her father whispered, "That's where God lives. God's up there watching us like we're down here watching Him. God's smart. He knew what would be goin' on down here when Eve got Adam thrown out of the Garden of Eden, so God made heaven as far away as He could, so men like me would have to struggle a little to make it. This world sucks! Don't ever forget that. This world don't mean shit. It's the after-world you gotta worry about. God's your daddy in heaven the same way I'm your daddy here. God ain't never wrong and neither is your daddy. You heard me tell you about God testin' Job? You remember your daddy's got the wrath of God too!"
The small girl listened to this man. It was her job to listen to him—she was apprenticing under his tutelage—although she did wonder why God took six whole days to make the world, if her daddy was right, and the world wasn't as important as heaven. If the only place that did matter was heaven, then why didn't God just invite them all to go live up there? Jailene stared up at heaven with this drifting thought. She noticed that God's mommy kept the sparkling lights on just like her mother kept the porch lights on for her daddy when her daddy didn't come home ‘til late.
Between the dark and the dawn, when the veil of dimensions thins and brushes each other's cheeks in passing, the girl passed through the world of make-believe into the world of the two-legged beasts. Just at the point of the horizon, the tip of an orangey pink and yellow balloon was being blown up and lifting its bald head above the waters of the Atlantic Ocean--signaling that the hunt was on.
The two-leggeds were afoot.
"Beasts carry invisible weapons that always pierce the heart."
The girl jerked to attention.
"What was that, Daddy?"
"It jumped right over my heart!"
"Come on, we gotta move fast!"
Off went the girl and the man and the beast.
The girl lost sight of the rabbit until her daddy stopped dead still…then motioned a quick back glare that said, don't even breathe. The girl froze.
A twitch in the tall grass gave the rabbit away. It sat up motionless, sniffing the air, watching the girl. It waited. It stood stone still except for the snoring breeze swimming through its gray fur. Its glassy, wide eyes studied the girl. The girl mirrored back the same intense stare. The girl felt something; something the rabbit was trying to convey in its silence. The girl felt it in her gut. She held on to the unspoken information now burning in her stomach. No one moved. No one breathed. Here was the shrine.
The rabbit sensed death accompanied these two-leggeds in this early morning greeting. The girl sensed it too. The rabbit's life was the sacrificial offering in the initiation of a girl becoming the apple of her daddy's eye. The girl did not want to step on a foundation of death to stand taller among the two-leggeds. She bent down to find a stone and throw it to scare the rabbit off. Before she stood back up, a shot came from the man.
The rabbit stood no more.
More than one member of their trinity died with the man's shot. The girl dropped her stone. It pitted the vessel of her soul, allowing some of her light to spill out into the mundane world, diluted, but not lost.
"I knew you were your momma's baby girl," accused the man as he walked over and plucked up his booty by the ears.
The girl lost favor in the man's eyes. Her shame was pervasive. The rabbit had died for nothing. Not good enough to pass her father's test, the man simply tossed out one of the keys to the girl's worthiness. A door shut between them. They would both push on it from time to time, even grab the handle and turn it, but never again did it open.
Her daddy told her that he only played with winners, not losers. With victory, other chances to play were offered, but with failure came the wrath of God.
The hunt was over. The game was not. The girl walked alone ten or twelve paces behind the man. She was not allowed to walk in the winner’s circle with her daddy.
As the girl approached the edge of the woods, she saw her daddy standing in the middle of their front yard. The front porch light was still on although it was fully morning. The girl thought about how her mother was like that, always giving little signals that she had missed you and that it was important for her to let you know it.
The man did not wait for the girl to reach the house, but tossed the rabbit on the ground and walked into the house. The girl cautiously approached the rabbit’s graveyard. She stared at the dead rabbit. She sucked in her breath to hold back the tears. She felt nauseous. Her head throbbed. The slap of the knife thrust into her hand brought her back to attention.
"Gut it, girl!"
"I don’t wanna ever hear you say can’t to your daddy! Can’ts are for sissies with no hair on their balls! Now you gut that rabbit, or I’ll beat your ass so black and blue the sun won’t ever shine in your britches."
A dribble of warm urine trickled down the girl’s leg.
"You wanna go with your daddy next time, you gut that rabbit now."
The girl knelt down and ran her fingers over its soft fur. Warm. Sleeping, she thought. She wished it so…she was still young enough to know the difference between make-believe and real. This could not be real, she thought.
"I said gut it!"
The girl held the knife tip right between the hind legs, pressing the tip down hard enough to nick the skin. A dribble of warm blood seeped out. Her daddy grabbed the knife while still in her hand and ripped up through the carcass to the throat, almost halving the tiny creature.
Hate flew in the girl! How could her daddy be so cruel? She hated him for killing the rabbit. She hated the rabbit for being so stupid and scarred that it let itself get killed. And for what? She was never going to be like her daddy. She was never going to be one of the two-leggeds.
The smell of oozing feces hit her nose. Anger swirled up inside her throat. She swallowed hard pushing the smell down into her stomach, but it pushed right back up, and she vomited all over herself, the rabbit, and her daddy’s hand.
The man dropped his grip on the girl’s hand, and the knife fell on top of it all. Guilt and shame paralyzed the girl. Her vagrant eyes moved in search of the cast figure beside her until they looked up into the face of disapproval, shame, and dishonor. The girl instantly dropped her plea of forgiveness. She had been dishonorably discharged from the man’s love and attentions until the right acts could place her back in the winner’s circle once more. She was learning how to be a woman in this man’s world. Her daddy’s eyes burned with God’s wrath. The girl shut her eyes, tight, trying to see her daddy’s other eyes…burnt gingersnap brown eyes…little boy eyes…jumping story-teller eyes…peek-a-boo-with-God eyes.
The man was an enigma. She knew several men from the uniformed men her daddy brought home. Her daddy was like these men, and not like these men. These men treated her mother and her with a charity of the highest southern hospitality, military style. It was a combination of respectful grace for mother and child and rigid ground rules for the sanctity of preserving the family unit.
The girl was too young to feel the subtle undertones of their open good will gestures. She simply knew that in their presence her daddy did not allow the two-legged beast entrance into their home or their company. Even the girl’s own internal voice, when she allowed it to speak, was charitable. But when the lieutenant colonel was possessed with the dark prowler, it allowed no charity for the lieutenant or his family.
The girl could not stay in hate with her daddy, but she could move the hate to herself. She was not good enough nor big enough to live in the land of the two-leggeds, so she put on her daddy’s bravado and played soldier with plastic green men and cereal coupon baby dolls camouflaged in the cool, neutral ground under her daddy’s stilted military house.
Her birth had foreshadowed an aspect of her nature—she was good at hiding. What she did not remember was that she was part of an elaborate experiment, and the caretaker of that grand plan was beautiful, compassionate and loving. Jailene belonged to another family, another trinity. As an adult woman she would come to know the real meaning of this trinity and be a part of and witness to three miracles in her life.
"The second miracle is unconditional love for others."
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