Rain and Wind
Sara crept through shadows in the January night, shivering hard as she reached Joe’s bedroom window. She paused to wipe her wet cheeks as she looked up at the stars. They twinkled like icy diamonds, frozen and numb, just like her heart.
Gathering up her courage, Sara tapped lightly on the frosty windowpane. There was no response, so she tapped a bit harder and whispered, “Joe!”
Immediately, a light came on, and Joe, still half-asleep, slid up the window. “Jesus, Sara! It’s freezing out there!” Joe rubbed his bare arms, looking at her, puzzled. Seeing her tear-stained face, his tone softened. “Come on, get in here.”
He leaned out the window and offered his hand to steady her as she climbed into the room. Joe closed the window and pulled Sara to him, in hopes to warm her. She buried her face in his broad chest, breathing in the familiar scent of Old Spice deodorant and Valvoline, as she tried to calm her pounding heart. Working at his dad’s auto shop made this smell nearly impossible to wash off.
She reluctantly pulled her head up to meet his eyes, warm and dark as coffee. She could see that he was concerned and very confused.
Her eyes began to fill again as she spoke in a quivering voice, “Joe, I’m pregnant.” She looked down at her hands as the words hung between them, hollow and desperate, like a plea.
Joe stared at her as if a tandem truck had just rolled over his chest, crushing all the plans he had made for himself. He sucked in a deep breath and just let it go, like a deflating balloon. His cotton-mouth was obvious by the choked words he managed to utter: “A-Are you sure? Maybe you’re just nervous and jumpin to conclusions.” In response, she handed him a packet of prenatal vitamins; she was sure.
When Sara got home from Joe’s, she laid awake the rest of the night, staring at the textured ceiling and thinking of how she could have possibly gotten into such a mess. She was only nineteen and had big plans to become a speech therapist. About to start her second semester at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, she was doing well, except for missing home. She was an A/B student and made sure she didn’t party too hard, never dreaming that she would be pregnant and unmarried, much less at such a young age.
Sara trembled to think of how mad her family would be. Worse than that, she grew nauseous thinking of their disappointment. Her younger sister, Beth, was in her junior year at Campbell County High and had always looked up to Sara. They had told each other everything, until life had to get so complicated. She hated herself for letting Beth down.
Their parents, Sheila and William, had worked like mules their whole lives. Sheila had been at the local bank for twenty-three years and William could never seem to get the coal grit off his callused hands. They wanted their girls to have life a little easier and made sure they were at the White Oak Church of God every time the doors swung open.
Sara wasn’t exactly sure of how her family would react to the news, but she was positive they’d be hurt, and this knowledge was more than she felt equipped to bear.
Rolling onto her side, she saw the red glow of the alarm clock: 6:30 a.m. In just a few short hours she would be getting up to go to church. God knows she didn’t feel worthy to set foot in the sanctuary, but she couldn’t arouse any suspicion just yet. There was never a question of whether or not anyone felt like going to church. They just went, and that was final.
Walking into church, Sara wore a big smile. Inside, she felt like dying. “Mornin Sara! Almost time for school to start back, ain’t it girl?” Pastor Brown broke into a grin and grasped her hand in a warm, firm grip.
“Yeah, one more week. Holiday breaks always fly by so quick.” Sara answered his question but her mind couldn’t have been farther away, for she was sure he knew her secret. His eyes seemed to look into her soul.
As the choir sang Hold to God’s Unchanging Hand, Sara stood next to Beth and felt dirty. She watched her Mamaw, hands lifted high, and thought of how she had felt close to God once herself, not so very long ago. Now, she felt that the heavens were made of brass and God had turned his face in disappointment.
“And the Word says that Samson shook his self, huh, and folks, he didn’t even know that the spirit had left him, huh! I tell ye, that’s a place we don’t wanna be church; we don’t wanna wake up and not even know that we’ve got away from the Lord, huh!….” The harder Pastor Brown preached, the more excited the congregation became.
People were jumping up and shouting, “Amen; preach it Brother!” Others were clapping and nodding their heads in agreement. Though Sara had heard this story many times before, this time she felt sorry for Samson because she knew how he must have felt.
That afternoon, Sara slid into her dark green Mazda and drove to Joe’s house. His mom and dad were visiting Papaw Henry in Corbin, so she knew they wouldn’t be back for at least an hour. She stepped onto the worn, wooden porch, and when Joe pushed open the screen door, she fell into his arms and held on as if she were drowning. After a moment, they sank onto the red polyester couch and Sara whispered, “Joe, what are we gonna do? I told everybody today after church.” Her face reflected a flood of misery as she continued. “Mom started pitchin a fit, screamin and cryin to beat the devil. Said she’d raised me better‘n that and that the whole family would have to leave town. Dad just sat there and looked at the wall. Beth stared down at the table for a few minutes, and then came over and gave me a hug. She didn’t say a word. Not a word.”
Joe took Sara’s hands, and, for a moment, she thought she recognized a look of panic on his face. His eyes were round as saucers, and his tan face looked ghostly. She knew he planned to take over the auto shop one day, and had even thought he might want to marry her. Her stomach sank like a rock as she realized that these may have only been her plans. She could tell he was at a loss for ideas by the way he chose his words: “Baby, you know I love you. I don’t have all the answers, but I do know that I’m gonna stick right beside ye. We’re gonna have a baby.”
Once the semester started back at UT, Sara tried to focus on her coursework and adjusting to her new roommate, Breanna. This girl reminded her of a bat; she slept all day and came alive at night, black and ready to fly. She had more chains and fish-net stockings than Sara had ever seen. Scatterbrained as she was, she always managed to remember when Liquid offered ‘college night’ tequila specials.
Between studying Algebra, Psychology, and World History, while Breanna screamed Marilyn Manson lyrics, Sara stayed busy. Still, she came home every other weekend because she couldn’t stay away from her mountains any longer than that. The drive only took about an hour, but it seemed like traveling into a whole different world; her world. Sometimes, walking down Neyland Drive, she felt like a bird in a cage. Her spirit was meant to fly free, but there she was, imprisoned by asphalt and concrete. Her chest would burn until she got in her car and headed home; for Joe, for the familiar thickness of trees, or maybe just to catch a breath and make some sense of her life.
Breanna had been talking to her about abortion, and it was making her crazy. She said it was Sara’s best option. She reasoned that she was too young to put her life on hold and could always have another baby when she was older. Sara was ashamed, but this option kept her mind occupied much more often than she would have ever believed, had it not been reality. Sitting in class some days, listening to her classmates make their plans for the weekend, Breanna’s voice would linger in her ears. She thought of how she would not be able to go places like her friends and how her body would look different. Joe wouldn’t like to look at her the way he did before. Then she thought of a baby that didn’t ask to be created, and felt like a worthless dog. She pictured her mamaw’s wrinkled face and remembered all the times she had heard, “Sara, the Lord won’t never fail ye. He’s a present help in the time of trouble. You just hold on to him, and he’ll hold on to you.”
As the weeks went on, Sara became overwhelmed by the guilt she felt and the constant nagging thoughts. Her dreams were full of sterile hospital rooms and faceless doctors using her baby’s mangled body for research. She was barely making D’s in her classes, and Joe hadn’t talked to her in almost a month. He never answered his phone, and when she was home, he was always busy working or helping someone. She tried to hold on to God like her mamaw said, but he must have been too mad to listen. Maybe God was just a story, created by the simple-minded to make them feel better.
Sitting in her dorm room, staring at a blue computer screen, she knew that she didn’t even want to live anymore. She felt like multiple boulders sat on top of her and she just couldn’t shake them off. Everyone had problems, she knew. Yet, her problems seemed to be relentless, like rain during a flood. The rain doesn’t care what it destroys or how it is handled. It just is.
Rising, she walked over to her sixth floor window and looked at the cruel street below. She considered how quickly her troubles could disappear, and, before her eyes, the street transformed into the lake of fire that had brought her running to the altar when she was seven years old. Gasping in fear, she stepped back. Daring to look once more, she saw just a plain old street, now more lively because of the drunken girls staggering toward the building. Surely she was losing her mind. She had almost decided that all those Bible stories were just tall tales meant to scare people into leading boring lives. Yet, what if they weren’t? Exhaling loudly, she turned and flopped onto her neon green beanbag. Well, if they are just meant to scare people, they sure are working.
Sara could hardly wait to get home and unpack after finals. It was May, and, even though she was just four months along, she felt like a walrus. She had been trying to get a hold of Joe all day long so they could make plans for the weekend. Though she wasn’t all that surprised with the unanswered calls, she missed him and had some ultrasound pictures she thought he’d be interested in seeing.
When the last pair of flip-flops had been placed in the closet, she looked outside and realized it was getting dark. Determined to talk to Joe, she decided to take a drive around town. She drove slowly, wondering why she had even looked in Joe’s direction and absent -mindedly singing along with Delta Dawn on her favorite Tanya Tucker CD: “Delta Dawn, what’s that flower you’ve got on, could it be a faded rose from days gone by….”
In high school, she had dated several guys but none very seriously. She was always very careful about who she got involved with because she knew she had high standards to live up to.
One night, just before graduation, she had been working the late shift at the Pizza Parlor. Joe and a group of his buddies came in and sat down at one of the red and white vinyl booths. They were a little older and she was feeling bold, so she made it a point to flirt, flipping her blond hair around and smiling at their jokes.
When they got up to leave, Joe strolled over to the salad bar, where she was putting out fresh tomatoes. He had looked straight into her eyes and said, “Wanna go for a ride when your shift’s over? I got me a new truck. It’s real nice; a white Chevy Silverado with extended cab.” The only thing Sara had known about Joe was what everyone else in town knew: He worked hard through the week and partied hard on the weekends. Nevertheless, his lopsided grin made her stomach tickle and his voice was so low, so sexy.
The ride turned out to be fun. It was after midnight when she got to leave the restaurant, so Joe was free to take the curvy roads as fast as he dared. They had rolled down the windows to enjoy the smell of spring air and turned the radio up. The wind whipping across her body had made her feel vibrant, and she had laughed so hard at Joe’s attempt to sing along with Hank Jr. on All my Rowdy Friends. When he had taken her back to her Mazda, Joe asked for her phone number, and, from that moment on, they started spending more and more time together.
She had to smile, remembering their first kiss. He had taken her out to Norris Lake at nighttime. Even though it had been comfortable on the dock, the air was cool out on the water. Noticing her shiver, he gave her his denim jacket and wrapped his arms around her in a cocoon. He brushed his lips against her forehead, light as a butterfly’s wings. She lifted her face and, when their lips met, the chill was no match for the warm honey that had flowed through her body.
Her family hadn’t been too crazy about their relationship because they feared Joe was too experienced for their little girl. However, Sara had never given them a reason to mistrust her, and she became quite the expert at masking her true feelings. She did an excellent job of pretending that Joe was just like the rest of the guys she had been with. In reality, he was completely different.
Though she couldn’t pinpoint why, she loved him the way a little child loves: purely and for no reason. She had always been in control with the other guys. With Joe, she felt like she was bungee jumping, and, from time to time, she wondered if she may have jumped without a cord. From the arrowhead tattoo on his left shoulder to the way he always wore baseball caps reading Larry’s Auto, she loved every detail about him. She was mesmerized by his free-spirited lifestyle and laid-back attitude, so she was willing to do just about anything he requested. He had even convinced her to drink with him a few times. She thought it tasted horrible, like a mix of moldy bread and soured apple juice, but she reasoned that there had to be something good about it if Joe liked it so much. The last time, it had burned her throat, and when she tried to lie still on the floor, the room kept spinning. She decided that she just wasn’t going to be able to find the good part.
For years, she had thought she would wait for sex until she was married. She made plans for the perfect night, the perfect setting, and the perfect man. Then one night, her fantasy crumbled in the back of that white Chevy. Afterward, she laid there, feeling Joe’s breath on her face and fighting a lump in her throat; Oh my God. I can’t believe I just did that.
Rolling across the Adam Hollow Bridge, she saw at least twelve trucks and a roaring bonfire down on the creek bank. Right away, she knew Joe was there. He never missed a chance to party. Turning around in a gravel driveway, she pulled up and parked next to a royal blue Ford Ranger. Spotting her first cousin, Ronnie, she smiled and yelled, “Hey Ronnie! Ain’t seen Joe round here nowhere have ya?”
“Hey cuz! Yeah, believe I seen ‘im here bout an hour ago. Don’t know where he is now, though. You know how crazy he is; he’s probably…..” He trailed off and she could see that he was sloppy drunk. He just smiled like a little boy at Christmas and dropped down on a rock, totally oblivious that he had been saying anything at all.
Shaking her head, she muttered, “I’m sure I’ll find him here somewhere. I just hope to God he’s in better shape than you, buddy.” After dodging some crude pick-up lines and stepping over some passed out partygoers, she spotted Joe’s truck next to a scrawny apple tree. Pulling out the ultrasound pictures, she skipped over to the tinted window, half expecting to find him passed out in a pool of Budweiser bottles. Yanking open the driver’s side door, she smiled, “Joe! It’s about time I…”
In a whirlwind of movement, Joe popped up from the backseat, banging his head on the roof, “Sara! God, uh, I…….” Sara felt like someone had dashed ice cold creek water in her face as she took in the scene before her. There was Joe, looking like a guilty puppy caught eating Sunday shoes. Looking at her with wide green eyes was a girl she’d never seen before. Their clothes were thrown in the front, as if they’d been in a hurry and the stench of beer was sickening. For a moment, Sara thought her knees had turned to Jello. She leaned against the door and felt sick to her stomach. “Sara, baby, I think I was about to make a big mistake. I’m so glad you….”
The sound of his fake, pleading voice brought every emotion she had felt for the last four months to a boiling point of pure rage. Before she even really thought, she had grabbed one of the Budweiser bottles and smashed it right up the side of his surprised face. As she saw the blood run, she screamed, “You sorry jerk! Don’t ya think you could a even told me you didn’t want me first? Coward!” She felt like screaming at the top of her lungs until the whole world felt all the fury she held. Instead, she turned and grabbed two handfuls of this girl’s red curls and pulled her, kicking and screaming, out of the truck. “And that,” she screamed, “just makes me feel better!”
At that, she turned and ran. She ran from the moment, ran from her life, but when she stopped running, everything was still there. She was still pregnant, she still loved Joe, and Joe had still betrayed her.
Sara strolled along the creek bank behind her house. It was early October, and the leaves were just beginning to turn yellow and fall off their branches. She loved the way the air smelled in the fall. It reminded her of wood smoke and spice cake. She had brought one of her favorite books, Fair and Tender Ladies, and was planning to relax for a while.
She found the spot she was searching for. It was a little clearing in the trees, right next to the water. There was a large maple stump, just perfect for sitting. Today, though, with the afternoon sun glistening on the water, she opted to sit on the dark soil and lean her ever- aching back against the old trunk.
As she sat there with her eyes closed, the chill of an early autumn wind caressed her face and lifted her hair. She heard the rustling of leaves all around her and, somehow, she felt that they were whispering her name.
Opening her eyes, she looked across the creek to the mountain rising up. She couldn’t see the top of the mountain from where she was sitting. In that very instant, she knew that God was showing her a glimpse of his mercy. He had never left her. Yes, she had made some bad choices but just as she couldn’t see the top of the mountain, the end of God’s compassion was nowhere to be seen.
In the last five months, Sara had been like a toddler, learning to walk all over again. She had fallen flat on her face but, slowly, she had started to crawl, and finally, she was learning to take some steps on her own. She knew she could make it without Joe and still be a good mother. She knew that God was helping her, and, because of this, she was stronger than ever.
She looked down at her belly. The little girl was due to arrive any day now. My little girl. She whispered, “God, please help me to be the mama I need to be for this baby. You know I’m gonna need some help and I’m sure gonna need some wisdom.”
Lifting her eyes to mountain once more, Sara realized how much she loved the little girl that hadn’t even come into the world yet. Another wind caused the colorful leaves to dance around her. “God is with us, baby girl. Can you hear him? He’s like the wind. Even when we can’t see him, we can feel him all around us.” -e-