Sunday, September 25, 2011

Made Fearfully . . . Celebrating the Gift of Terror

I want to start a discussion about the Christian view of anxiety. I'm starting with a short, fictional, story as an introduction.

Beatrice hated her name . . . so she preferred to go by B.  She was always quick to correct people if they spelled it Bea, or even Bee. It was simply the letter B . . .  like that was all she deserved. She was a B student in high school and felt like she was a B person . . . so the name seemed to fit.

The only person that ever used her full name was her father. “BEATRICE! BEATRICE! Where the hell is that damn child?”  She could remember those words like they had been spoken . . . rather yelled . . . just yesterday.  But it was many years ago when that husky voice had echoed through the lathe and plaster halls of the old one story home on Oak Street.  It was so strange because she wanted to remember some faces from her past so badly, like her grandmother’s. But the little woman seemed semitransparent, like a pale image sprayed on a stained glass.  However her father, from the same epoch of her life, was vivid, so vivid that she could count his thick nasal hairs.

B had a few snapshots from a happy time with her father. She remembers, and it must have been when she was three or four, sitting on his broad lap and him making faces at her. They both would laugh so hard that she would start to pee in her jammies. But those days were brief and even more vaporous than her grandmother’s kind face.  They were quickly supplanted by uglier years.  She couldn’t remember exactly when the transformation took place . . .  but it did.  She remembered her father coming home later and later from his construction job and he was angrier and angrier.  She didn’t know why. In the beginning her mother would confront him at the door with arguing.  B didn’t understand what they arguing about and at age five she did not understand the meaning of her mother’s scream, “You’re drunk!  You’re nothing but a drunk!”

B use to hide behind her mother’s legs hoping that that her father would smile again and reach down to pick her up and throw her in the air . . .  but it never happened.  Everything changed the night that her father slapped her mother so hard that she fell down and crimson was pouring out of her nose and mouth and B was left standing alone. Her mother’s presence was no longer a safe place for her, nor her tall legs an anchor or shield.  The hitting continued night after night as did the screaming and crying.

As the months stretched into years, B knew the routine far too well.  Her mother too had shrunk into a little, quiet woman. She didn’t meet her husband at the door anymore but tried to be invisible.  She did though try very hard to make peace.  Since her husband’s appearance was unpredictable, she made dinner for him at six, but warmed it, rewarmed it and rewarmed it again until she would see the headlights of his truck turning into the driveway.  Then she would try to make sure everything was perfect one more time and run to her bedroom.  But things were never perfect. 

The best nights were when B’s dad fell asleep at the table. Some mornings they would find him face down in gravy.  Her and her mother would tiptoe through the kitchen trying not to wake him. But unfortunately the good nights were rare.

On most nights, after he had eaten a few bites, he would stumble into his bedroom were B’s mother was pretending to sleep.  Then, three doors down the hall, past the bathroom and the closet, B was hiding quietly in her own bedroom. She could feel the thuds of the hits before her mother’s screams could be heard.  Even at six she didn’t run out but lay alone in her bed with her eyes closed and trembling with the sheet over her head.  She would hum the nursery rhymes, which her grandmother Hayes had taught her. She would hum them louder and louder to drown out her mother’s sobbing . . . and the hitting.  

Then one night, after her mother’s sobbing had quieted down, she heard her father coming down the hall sliding his hand along the wall for balance. “Beatrice! Beatrice!” Next came the call at the bathroom door and even at the closet door. "Beatrice! Where are you child?!  Damn you!"  Then suddenly her bedroom door burst open and she jumped into a catatonic shock.  Peaking from beneath the sheets she saw her father’s big frame filling the doorway.  He took one step forward and tripped over her kitchen set.  It was a combination plastic stove, sink and refrigerator. The top of the stove still had her frying pans and the refrigerator was full of empty Tupperware boxes, on loan from her mother. But all of them went flying across the room as her father hit the hard, quarter-sawed, maple boards like a bag of cement.  He laid quietly for just a second and then went into a complete rage.  He stumbled up and started stomping the kitchen set . . . stomping and stomping and stomping until it was crushed to pieces. "Damn it to hell! Son of a bitch!"  This was B’s most treasured Christmas present from Grandma Hayes and she loved it. But now it was tiny pieces of white, red and yellow twisted plastic. “Beatrice!  Damn you child!  Get your little ass out of that bed now and clean this up!  Beatrice!”

B wanted to get up and clean up the room, but she was literally frozen like a marble figurine.  She couldn’t even close her eyes as they were fixed and open.  Then suddenly the blankets were thrown back and her father grabbed her by her hair with his huge, callused hands.  He dragged her across out of the bed and across the floor by her hair . . .  then he kicked her with his boot and she slammed into the wall.  “Clean it up now you stupid little bitch! I should beat the hell out of you for this mess!”  Then he stumbled out of her room and she could hear him in the bathroom, peeing in the toilet and on the tiled floor.  She was in too much pain to cry but she reached for the door with her foot and pushed it closed. She felt like she couldn’t breathe because her chest hurt so badly.

She was stupid . . . at least she felt that way. Surely she was the most stupid child that had ever lived.  She should have known not to have left her kitchen set up in the middle of the floor.  She hoped her father wasn't hurt from the fall. Stupid! Stupid! Lazy! Stupid little B! Were the words running back and forth through her head. They were intrusive.  She picked up the pieces of jagged plastic and stacked then in neat rows inside her toy box. She wanted them to be perfect, just in case her daddy came back.  He would look at how neat the pieces were and tell her what a good job she had done and kiss her on the top of her head like he use to. And he would tell her how much he loved her. But he didn’t return.

B didn't sleep well that night . . . nor any night for the rest of her life.  She felt so badly.  If only . . . if only she had picked up her toys this would never have happened. It was all her fault. So stupid. Lazy and stupid. She hated Beatrice.


Jaimie said...

I can identify with her a lot. Especially the paralysis and telling myself I'm lazy and therefore worthless.

Eagle said...

Domestic abuse is one of the sins the evangelical chruch does nothing about. In the 10 years I was a fundy I never heard this preached as a sin. Worse...given how many people treated divorce I wonder how many people were kept in abusive relationships.

I have wondered MJ with the resurgence of Calvinsim and the arrival of neo-Calvinist on the scene I wonder if sexual abuse is increaisng in the chruch. Is it improbablt for a man to use his bilical claims to lead his wife, and use that to force her to have sex against her will?

Nothing would surprise me anymore...absolutely nothing.

Eagle said...

BTW...I should add that the church was better about divorce in 2008/09 than it was in 2000, 2001. I remember when I entered evangelicalism and many fundys would not forgive Amy Grant for her divorce. Almost 10 years later I heard more people talking about divorce and I got the feeling that the stigma was removed.

jmj said...

Eagle, I think the Calvinist approval of abuse is only in the fringe (or one would hop). I can think of a friend that moved in the Calvinist+Bill Gothard direction that use to say things that made my hair cruel (about making his wife obey him). I know too that Driscoll has made such comments. I go to a Calvinist that is quite feminine in nature. The Senior, Assistant, Youth, and Adult Ministries pastors/leaders are all women. If a man had sexist views . . . he would be neutered quickly.

Jaimie, let's see if you identify as the story develops and we talk about the issues on the other side.

solarblogger said...

The title was intriguing, especially seeing it again AFTER reading the story. Looks like you're playing with different meanings of the word "Fearfully."

"Gift of Terror" sounds almost ironic, though I don't guess that that was how it meant. Though you have me wondering. (Which I like.)

I find this character believable. But I don't identify strongly. This might be helpful, though, as I may be too quick to imagine that other people had the same route to their disorder.