B’s world changed so much in just a few months that she felt detached from it. She couldn’t keep up with the narrative in which she had been thrust. Her new stepfather, Kevin, moved her and her mom across town into his bigger and newer, yellow bricked home. But the most startling change was that church and Jesus was the epicenter of this new world.
While she didn’t know Mr. Ward that well, and whether or not he had always spoken freely about Jesus she didn’t have a clue, but she did know that her mother had never talked this way before. But now her mother was a completely different woman. A first it seemed to be a positive thing. Anything besides the tormenting world in which they had lived would seem like an improvement. Her mother was smiling again, which a good thing. But B had unease about it and she couldn’t name the feeling. That emotional awkwardness seemed to be hinged on the fact that her mom was so different, almost like a new persona had inhabited her mother’s old body. The smiles, which were refreshing at first, later appeared to be stuck on like Post-it notes. But the thing that B noticed most was that her emotional alienation seemed to be getting worse.
B’s mother was so distraught herself when B’s father was still alive that she didn’t have much reserved from which to comfort her . . . but at least she tried. She would hold B on her lap at times and tell her that things would get better. Her hope rested on getting help for her father. But it seemed like her mother was giddy now, but stopped trying. Didn’t she feel there was a need for hugs anymore? B wondered if maybe it was because she was nine and now she was too big to feel close to her mom.
But one day B was playing in her room and was thinking. Her father’s hands were rough and calloused because he worked construction, but Mr. Ward’s hands appeared soft. Then it dawned on her that she had never touched them or had been touched by them. That seemed odd especially when he was supposed to be her new father. But oddly, he and her mother had been married for six months now and she realized that he had never touched her once, even by accident. But worse than that, she realized own her mother had not touched her since her father’s death. That really frightened her. Was her mother blaming her? Was it because her prayers had caused her father’s death and the death of the stranger and her baby? Was her, being a sloppy child that caused her father to be so mean? She felt so ashamed.
B wanted so badly to be part of her parents’ new world. She went to church every Sunday. She sat in Sunday school where she never spoke a word nor did anyone ever speak to her. She hated it. But worse than that, she felt that all the other kids hated her and she wasn’t sure why. Was it because they knew all her bad stuff?
B finally got to the point that she despised leaving the house, so she stayed in her room with the door closed and played pretend with her dolls and big stuffed pony. But she knew that she was getting too old for that. She longed for her mother to come in and talk to her . . . but she never did. She felt so lonely and isolated that she finally reached a point where she wished these were the old days. If this couldn’t be the days when her father use to sit her on his lap and make faces, then she would settle for the nights he came home and tried to kill them both. At least in the later situation, she knew the she existed and was on someone’s radar. Now, she felt invisible, and hated by the world. But she wanted to be better.
B’s parents enrolled her in an Assemblies Christian Academy, which was operated by her church. It was simply an extension of her Sunday school. There she sat in silence in the back of the room and no one spoke to her as it was basically the same kids as in Sunday school. The only difference was at the Academy, she wore a plaid skirt and white blouse every day, the same one as the rest of the girls.
People, including her mother, started calling B shy. Maybe that’s why she felt so badly when she was around other people because God had made her shy. Maybe He made her shy because she was so bad. But then, as time when on, she learned through the sermons and through the youth group—which her stepdad required her to attend—that when you have the Holy Spirit you are confident and bold. She begged and begged for the Holy Spirit to come into her life and to change her. She begged God every night to forgive her, but she never felt good.
Entering puberty didn’t improve things. She was relegated by fate as being unpopular, but she felt imperceptible. She had noticed boys for a couple of years, but they never noticed her. Once she sat beside the most handsome boy in their youth group for four hours going to a Christian concert, but they never exchanged a single word, except when he asked her if she could “scoot over a bit.” She sat catatonic through the drive up to Cleveland. She constantly searched for a word she could say to him but all of them sounded stupid. She knew that if she said something uncool the whole bus would laugh at her. She was afraid to scratch her nose, and it itched terribly, because she was afraid someone in the bus would accuse her of picking it. They hated her, she was sure of it, because she had made her father bad and she was the daughter of the man who killed the innocent woman and her baby.
When she got home that night, she thought about how she wished she had never been born. She would now easily trade her life to that night when her father was kicking her. At least he had come into the room to look for her. No one was looking for her now. She prayed for help but none seemed to come.
One morning she dreadfully got up to don her plaid skirt and blouse and she felt the mice again . . . nibbling on her heart. Her palms were sweaty so sweaty that she kept wiping them off with a towel. She went down to breakfast to eat quietly. Her mom was be in the kitchen watching the 700 Club on her little portable TV. She would pray with B . . . but she never asked B how she was doing, or reached over and touched her. Her mom wasn’t even there anymore . . . she was already in Heaven with Jesus . . . in her mind. Her mom was also pregnant and she and Mr. Ward were so excited about the new life that God had given them. B thought maybe it was Satan who had brought her into her mother’s life.
As B drank her orange juice she could see the liquid vibrate with her trembling hand. She felt weak, almost too weak to walk out the door to catch the school bus. Onboard she tried to sit alone because she felt ugly and she felt that her guilt was written across her face, and these were all good church kids. At the next stop a girl, who she barely knew, sat down beside her. She didn’t make eye contact but her trembling got worse. She was suffocating and she wasn’t sure why. She couldn't control her breathing as if she had just run as fast as she could. B started to cry quietly wiping the tears with her hand so they wouldn’t fall and people could see them. Her seatmate was watching her and blurted out so everyone could hear, “What are you crying about weirdo?” The girl got up and moved to another seat. B could hear snickering. She felt simultaneously an intense fear that she was dying and a great hope that she really would. It was her nightmare either way.
As soon as the bus got to school she waited until everyone was off then she walked to the office. She whispered to the lady that she was sick but that’s all the information that she could give them. The lady in the office called her mother. She sat in the chair waiting and the thirty minutes seemed like thirty hours.