Going back home was the worst mistake of my life.
Well, that's not exactly true.
The worst mistake of my life was going back home with a divorce.
Small towns are like a big family. Which means the people look out for each other. They care about each other.
And they talk about each other.
It took maybe three days for the word to spread.
When my cousin Deb found out about my divorce, she almost seemed excited. Like she'd been waiting her whole life for this moment. Her text came through at midnight. It was full of assurances. Like, she was the only member of the family who knew what I was going through. And that I could talk to her anytime. And that whatever I said would stay just between the two of us.
I laughed. A real laugh. A sad laugh.
This was some sort of sick bonding moment for her.
I thanked her, like I had thanked all the others who came out of the woodwork once the word spread, and then deleted the message. And then deleted it again.
I want no trace of the condolences. Not from Deb. Not from anyone.
My phone rings. It's Mom. I'm a little wary when I answer. I can't bear hearing that everything is going to be fine. That I'm going to get through this. That I'm strong.
"Hey sweetie," she begins. "Just wanted to check on you. How are you doing today?"
"Oh, I'm fine."
Does she know that's not true? She has to know.
But then, if she knows, why is she letting me lie to us?
I'm not fine. I haven't been fine for years. Everything hurts. Waking up hurts. Getting out of bed hurts. Staying in bed hurts. Life hurts.
"Well that's good to hear," she sighs.
Yeah. I'm sure it is.
"How is your day going?" I offer. Anything to take the subject off me.
"I'm at work, just taking a short break. Maybe we can get dinner this week?"
"Sure. Just let me know."
We've been talking about getting dinner for a few weeks now. It never seems to work out.
I roll off the mattress and stumble into the bathroom, my hand immediately reaching for the shower faucet.
The one thing I refuse to do is to let myself go. Even Dad is proud of that.
"When this happens, lots of women just stop caring about their appearance," he told me.
I won't be one of those. Mostly because I like showers. And haircuts. And lotion, and new clothes.
Whatever I give up on, those won't be included.
I step into the shower. The water hits my skin with a satisfying heat. As the aches and pains from tossing and turning all night begin to melt away, I close my eyes as I step headfirst into the stream.
Here is where the emotions choose to release themselves. Amid stone tiles that sweat even where the water doesn't touch, and mist that billows back into the rush.
I feel them welling in my chest. For a moment, it's as if I'm choking. Not because I am trying to stop them, but because there are so many all desperately reaching for my throat. Reaching for some sort of freedom.
I can't keep them back much longer. The pain is too great. I reach out and press my palms against the wall, shuddering at its strange coldness. As my forehead rests against the tile, it happens.
My lips part and unleash a scream with such force that it cannot even catch my vocal chords. My mouth is open, all the fury inside me spilling out. My neck strains back, and my muscle clench with effort.
But there is nothing to hear.
I only know the scream left me because when my lips finally close, my chest aches with exhaustion, and I have to inhale with a deep, ragged gulp to stay conscious.
My legs begin to buckle, and I stagger back against the same cold stone walls. Then, the sobs come. It doesn't even sound like me. This creature sounds so wounded. So broken. I want to silence myself, to make it stop, but I can't.
Not until my eyes burn with salt.
Facing the mirror once I'm out isn't always easy. There's a lot to look at, not gonna lie.
Rather ample thighs, and breasts, and belly, and hips that will fill your palm if you're inclined to grab on.
The scars are the hardest part. My figure developed so quickly, my skin wasn't quite ready. So I've had tiger stripes all across my belly, and breasts, and hips since I was just a girl.
I take a moment. I take a hard look.
And I hear a familiar voice that encourages, "Once you lose some weight, you will look so good!"
Once I lose the weight. The weight I've fought with since I was five years old.
Maybe if I had lost the weight I would have loved myself a little more. Maybe I would have valued myself a little more.
Maybe I wouldn't have felt so desperate to be desired. To be loved.
There's a knock on the door. I don't know who it is. And I don't answer. I can always explain later that I was in the shower.
Another thing about small towns. The people know when you're home, so they don't ask before they come over. They just come. It's inconceivable that you wouldn't want them to. What are you doing that would make it a problem?
Either way, they get their conversation with you, or they go have a conversation with someone else about you not answering them.
Eventually, my visitors give up, and head off to find someone who can be shocked with them that I didn't even come to the door.
I throw some clothes on and go to the one place I know I won't have to speak to anyone.
The cemetery is quiet. Go figure. As a child, I felt funny being there. I felt like I was an invader of sorts. Everyone there was resting. Surely they didn't want me just walking along, chatting like their bodies weren't just a few feet beneath me. But as I got older, I became less fussy.
They're dead. They can't care that much. In fact, being it's such a small town with such a small cemetery, my presence might give them something to chat about in the beyond!
"Yeah, you remember Daisy's granddaughter?"
"The one that moved away? What about her?"
"Back? Why? What happened?"
"Tsk, tsk ... kids these days, they can't make anything work."
Growing up, I heard my aunts and uncles and grandparents proudly proclaim how they were taught to fix things when they got broken. There was always a sense of shame tied to walking away.
As though you were less of a person if you didn't stoop down and pick up all the shattered pieces.
As though you were less of a person if you didn't hold them together with bleeding hands.
I'd never walked away from anything in my life. I'd never quit when something was hard, or even when something hurt.
Because ... I'd never seen anyone do it.
Till now. Maybe that's why it's so hard.
Maybe that's why no one understands me.
They all have stories about making it work. About sticking through the tough times. About enduring pain, and persevering through their hardships.
They've never had to be strong enough to LET GO.
Because they don't think that takes any sort of strength.
"Well hey there, Laurie."
Great. Someone is here after all.
And just my luck, it's the Preacher.
He stands all of five foot five, with a snow white tuft of hair that refuses to let go right on top of his head, and a left handed shake that reaches all the way through your unprepared shoulder.
"Hey." I do try a little enthusiasm. His smile seems so genuine.
"I'd heard you were back in town," he says. "Haven't seen you in church, yet."
I sigh, heavily. "Yeah, sorry about that."
There is a quiet between us. I don't know if he expects me to explain myself. To admit that church is the last place I want to go right now.
How can I? How can I walk in and listen to all the whispers? How can I force myself to smile when all I want to do is cry? How can I sing when all I want to do is scream?
How can I believe when everything I hoped and dreamed ... is gone?
But he doesn't press it.
"I can't imagine how you're feeling right now," he admits.
I have no response.
"Divorce is a painful thing."
My lips quiver. "Yeah ... yeah, it is."
"People think that God looks at divorce like some sort of sin," he proceeds. For a moment, my heart drops. "But, I think the truth is, He knows just how much hurt is involved, and that's why it's hard for Him."
"Hard for HIM?" I reply. There's an anger that swells inside me at those words. "Hard for HIM?! What's so hard for HIM? He never had to deal with ANYTHING like this!"
His words take me off guard. He says them so simply. So matter-of-fact.
I blink. "I'm wrong?"
"God has never been to court, or divided His property, or had to deal with lawyers, but He's felt the pain of divorce, just like you are now," he assures me. "He's fallen in love, you know. Many times. And He's watched those same people He's loved with all His heart turn and leave."
I take a breath. "That's ... not the same."
"Isn't it?" he counters. "You think He doesn't wonder WHY? Why they walk away? Why they don't choose Him? You think it doesn't hurt?"
Yeah. Actually, I do.
I think it hurts.
I just never thought that He COULD hurt. Not the way I do.
I feel the Preacher's hand on my shoulder. "You don't have to explain to Him. He knows. And He's always ready to listen."
He doesn't say anything else. His hand pulls away, and he turns, and goes back into the little chapel that's next to us.
I don't know how long I waited. But I follow him. I go through the white painted doors, and find myself sitting in the muted light of stained glass windows.
I sit back, and take a deep breath.
"Always ready to listen, huh?" I mutter.
The tears come before I can think to blink them back. The same emotions well up in my throat, and the same painful sobs force themselves past my lips.
I don't speak. I can't begin to form words.
But I don't think I have to.
I think He knows what I'm trying to say.
And for the first time since coming home ... someone hears me.