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Creative Nonfiction Christian High School

Leaving Eden was like stepping back into the void of anyone’s making. Heavy mouth breathers hoarding island chimeras promised the world to people like Starling and her mother. Whether light or shadow, heaven or hell, nonetheless, there was no going back. 

Kansas City, Missouri had been a proverbial Eden prior to Starling’s father’s death. Every step forward was swallowed within the shadow of that former loss – from the ‘More Than You Know’ of her mother’s suitor, a reptile with a smooth pitchfork, to the ‘Greater Love’ Starling sought in one engagement after another. Her fourteenth year could be entirely defined in the movements of a single album by a group called Out of Eden.

Would-be humble heirlooms were spread out on rusting metal folding tables in the backyard, where strangers fingered her entire childhood with nimble indifference: How much for this? A dollar? I’ll give you 50 cents. Starling’s chest ballooned, lifting the orb above into striking lightness – blinding, hot. Her favorite Jesus painting was sitting in the grass next to scraps of yarn and dog food bowls. Her mother had set her heart in the yard with a For Sale sign: ‘It’s Me’, all of Starling. 

Was this all Eden had meant to her mother? Had their life fallen so cheaply that they couldn’t even afford to keep Jesus on the wall?

The house, the dogs, the cat, their furniture, personal belongings, roots, friendships, and home – all of these had to be sacrificed for the move overseas. Her mom never said it would be a ‘Good Time’ – even if her new stepdad tried to say so. He was a liar. 

‘You Brought the Sunshine’ was his theme song; he sang about himself. He would rush them away in an undertow across the country, from Missouri to Colorado; then, from San Francisco to Hawaii; and, finally, to his ranch home with an ocean view on the tiny pacific island of Guam. He was doing them a favor, of course; she was told to be grateful. Starling’s mom wouldn’t have to worry about finding work. To hear him put it, their worries in life were gone. He had a goat farm and a retirement fund. What more could a sulky, fatherless teenager want?

The Rockies, proving taller, sturdier, and more striking than all of Starling’s daunting fears and uncultured experience, sparked a measure of hope. Perhaps, other unseen wonders awaited. Her mother’s suitor seemed to try to ‘Get It Right’, casting warm glowing smiles at Starling when they walked the cobblestone hills and wharfs of San Francisco. But the warm winds of Honolulu slapped the flowered skirts of the beach shops with surprising force. It was nearly dark when they arrived in Hawaii, and the sunshine of ‘Giving My All’ was setting. Starling hated Hawaii. The shadows there talked too much of unspoken violence. 

Did he know then that they had come too far to turn back? 

Starling wasn’t the only one ‘Confused’ when the Guam goat ranch by the ocean turned out to be a steel gray shipping container on a bit of scrub – no ocean in sight unless you stood on the roof on a brazenly naked day. The cockroaches greeted the weary travelers inside, scurrying in a flurry; they knew about the shadows too. 

Were the other kids there too? It was hard to remember; shock sanitized the first scenes. 

Upon exiting Eden, Starling reserved one saving grace; she knew she had not been kicked out alone. Her mother’s suitor had five kids still at home and without a living mother. She had tried on her mother’s white shoes dozens of times. She had felt her desires as her own. She would be surrounded by children – children who needed her. 

It was thus that the serpent painted the wilderness with his crafty tongue. When we ‘Get to Heaven’, we’ll finally know what palette he used that was so convincing… 

Eden was where God walked among mortals. Eden was where Starling’s dad lived. The cool of the day was reserved for the ten cent Sprites her dad used to bring home for her after work; it was the smell of motor oil and sweat after he changed the oil; it was freshly cut grass, the evening news, and a twilight drive through the city to the evening church service. The cool of the day had defined Starling’s childhood. Guam was nothing but hot air, like this new guy. 

A mere week after arrival, all five of his kids were removed from the home by DSS and proceedings that had begun in the dark long before they arrived. The flaming sword. Tears were of no use on the quest back to Eden. What had fallen from the tree could not be reattached, could not be returned. Her clothes hadn’t even arrived from across the ocean yet. Somewhere on a container ship, remnants of the cool of the day sat, folded neatly, cold and lifeless, sure to be DOA, while the heat of the wilderness seared a new reality into Starling’s skin. ‘Can’t Let Go’ was home now – 

A few weeks later, the salvaged painting of Jesus hung in Starling’s bedroom in her new guardian’s home. Eden was worlds away now, but He still watched over her. The eyes of the painting used to follow her around the living room in the cool of the day. Now, they looked compassionately over her next to her bed. “If I make my bed in hell,” the Psalm read, “You are there.” And so it was.

Her mom had taken her to one church service within the first few weeks on the island. A military wife had scribbled her name and number on a piece of scrap paper after service and told her mom to call if Starling ever needed a place to stay – as if that were commonplace protocol amongst strangers. Two weeks later, Starling had repacked her sole bag and went to live with that military family. Guam was a small world, to be sure, but it wasn’t that small; providence had fashioned garments to preserve her soul’s skin. 

God had not put a For Sale sign on Starling’s heart. She might have been out of Eden, but she was not out of Jesus’ sight. The painting on the wall of her heart told her so. Falling from Eden had been painful, but only if Jesus left her would she abandon all hope… ‘Then and Only Then’. 

February 05, 2022 04:42

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1 comment

Della Killeen
03:06 Feb 17, 2022

Really liked this story and your writing style. Found it easy to imagine the places you mention and the situations she finds herself in. Keep up the good work!

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