The Handprint

I hear them whispering outside my bedroom door. 

Hear their father whisper No.

Not today. 

Maybe she’ll be better tomorrow. 

It is the same everyday.

I consider going out there.

I think a good mother would do that.

Go reassure them, tell them everything is going to be all right and then see to it that everything is all right. 

I pull the covers back over my head. 

Maybe tomorrow I will be better.  

Maybe tomorrow I can reassure them.

Maybe tomorrow I will be able to deal with the disappointment that is written all over their faces. 

But not today. 

Today I wish they would go away.

Today I just want to sleep.

*************************************

My father tipped his head down and looked at me over the top of his black-rimmed bifocals.  My mother, shocked beyond words, questioned with her eyes.  How could you let this happen?  How could you disappoint us again? It was only one B I said, but it was pointless.  One B  was one B too many  The angry words, the threats, the accusations were routine, so I waited, knowing they would come. They were easily endured and quickly forgotten.  It was the looks that weren’t so easy to forget.  I promised again to try harder and wished I knew how.  But mostly, I wished they wouldn’t look at me that way; like I was someone they didn’t know or couldn’t possibly understand.  Hours after school were spent in tutoring and speed reading classes; surely I could make the grades if only I tried hard enough.  When those failed to bring up my grades, IQ tests and visits to the counselor were arranged.  All in an attempt to fix what was wrong with me if only they could determine the cause.

One B became two and then three.  B’s gave way to C’s and then D’s.  Those grades became larger and larger in my parents’ eyes and I became smaller and smaller.  Why couldn’t I make straight A’s like my brother and sisters?  I wished I knew; I wished it wasn’t so important.  Five days into my junior year, I was already behind in my work.  I knew it was no use.  I couldn’t make the grades they so desperately wanted.  So I waited for class to be over and then I left.  I left school. I left home. I left town. And I determined never to be graded again.

*****************************************

It was getting late. My daughters were in bed.  I took a look around and mentally listed all that remained to be done.  Things that couldn’t wait until tomorrow.  I was exhausted but there was so much to do.  Making lunches, getting kids ready for school, starting laundry, feeding the horses and morning sickness would occupy my time in the mornings before work.  It had to be done now.  There was never enough time to do all that needed to be done.  But it must be done.  I felt like I was being graded all over again.  As though once again, who I am depends on what I do.  All I had to do was look around to know that I hadn’t done it well enough, not yet.  My husband said sit and rest; everything looks good.  But I knew better, good just wasn’t enough.  I could always find evidence of my lacking. If I could have made the grade, passed the test, measured up somehow, wouldn’t everything be so much better?  Wouldn’t I finally feel I had value for something?  I cleaned, cooked, sewed, chauffeured kids, referreed fights, got the groceries, built the fire, did the laundry, tended the horses, weeded the garden, fed the dogs and the kids, but it never seemed like enough.  I never seemed to be able to say, it is enough.

I was in the garden when the pains began. I thought about stopping and resting and I thought about calling the doctor.  But I was sure the pains would go away.  Besides, it was almost dark.  I could rest then.  I would be just fine in the morning. But the pains didn’t go away and I wasn’t just fine in the morning.  I lost our baby.

************************************

The doctor talked of remains and procedure.  The nurse, a friend, took hand and told me it will be over soon.  I remembered the card I sent for the baby she recently lost.  I never understood her pain.  The procedure was over soon enough and my husband and I drive home.  The drive was awkward.  My husband looked at me like I’m fragile; like he was scared I was going to fall apart if he touched me; like I might  just break into tiny little pieces.  He kept saying it’s all right. Everything will be all right.  And I said for the hundredth time, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.  He tried, but he just didin’t know how to deal with remains.  I tried,  but I didn’t know how to deal with remains.  We just didn’t know the procedure.

I retreated to my bedroom and lost track of the days.  My husband comes in, laid down beside me, and puts his arm around me.  Nothing was said; he was out of words.  Words  couldn’t  touch this pain anyway;  the pain was too deep.  Words had no power to heal.  He didn’t understand why it was so important that I do so much for my family.  I didn’t understand why he couldn’t.  So we laid there in silence.  Then I felt someone squeeze me, gently at first, and then, so tightly I couldn’t  breathe.  I thought it was my husband and I tried to tell him to stop.  But I couldn’t get enough air to say the words.  All I could do was move my head, and as I turned to look at him, I saw that the pressure was not from him.  The muscles in his face and arms were relaxed; he wasn’t exerting any pressure.  Then a voice, a gentle and quiet voice, spoke to me, “I am here.  I’m just going to hold you for a while.  I love you.  Right here, right now, when you are in this bed and can do nothing for Me, I love you.  You don’t have to do anything for Me.  You don’t have to do anything for My love”.

He continued to tell me over and over again of His love for me.  Then He directed my attention out the window to a large cottonwood tree by the creek.  He asked if I saw the handprint, but I didn’t.  Quietly, He said, “look again”, and I saw, off of the side of the tree, a solitary branch.  This branch angled off the side of the tree instead of growing upwards as the others.  It was a long, bare branch except at the end.  Here it split into five smaller branches.  Two shorter ones on either end with three longer ones in the middle, shaped just like a fan.  Or a handprint!  I had never seen that before. The grip on me relaxed a little and He continued: “I’m leaving now, but I am leaving this handprint for you.  You can look at it and remember this time that I held you.  You can remember that I love you and know that My hand is on your life”.  Then He was gone.

I stood at the window in quiet amazement.  My husband,  now asleep,  heard nothing and felt nothing.  I stood at the window for what seemed like forever trying to comprehend, but I couldn’t. I just couldn’t comprehend being loved and accepted even if I did nothing.

************************************************

I come to the window often to be reminded of this time. 

I come for the reassurance that what I do is not the basis for His love for me because sometimes I forget. 

I watch the seasons change the handprint from green to gold to bare and back to green again. 

Still it remains. 

I come after strong winds have scattered birch and cottonwood branches all over our yard. 

And the handprint remains. 

I come when I need to be reminded that His hand is on my life, because sometimes, I forget that too. 

Still the handprint remains. 

And it touches me all over again.

 

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