A man was walking along the road early in the morning, before the sun had gotten a chance to warm the desert again after a long winter’s night. A snake was lying beside the side of the road, gasping. The snake called out to the man, “Help me! I can barely breathe because of the cold. I’m afraid I will die.” The man walked over to the snake and prodded it a little with his foot and the snake’s story rang true: his long, tubular body was ice cold and unresponsive. He seemed about to die. In pity, the man picked up the snake, tucked him into his jacket to share his own body’s warmth and continued walking down the road. The snake sighed in relief and the man got a warm, contented feeling in his chest to think that his existence had benefited more than just himself, for once. This warm, contented feeling was quickly followed by a hot, burning feeling somewhere near his stomach. He looked down into his jacket in pain and locked eyes with the snake, who said, “What did you expect? You knew I was a snake when you picked me up.”
I had a brutal week last week. I got bitten by a lot of things that I should have realized were snakes when I picked them up. There were also just a couple of adrenaline boosts just to keep things at their peak emotional level.
On Sunday, as a result of hearing my music minister’s avid agreement with the pastor’s comments on racial reconciliation, I decided that it was time that I was not the only person who knew that publicly he put on a show that he did not act out in private. I sent an email to the pastors and the elders explaining that he had been ignoring my attempts to communicate with him by email, including my resignation letter, and pretending that he didn’t see me every time we were in the same room together.
This was actually probably the most peaceful part of the week. I really prayed about whether this was the right thing to do or not. I wrote the email, spent two hours in the spa, came back and looked at the email again, made some changes, and sent it. The proverbial weight was lifted from my shoulders. My mind knew that the shit could easily hit the fan because Christians are often the biggest and meanest potential snakes that I come across in my experience but my heart and soul were content that I was no longer the only person who knew that the music minister was capable of hurting parishioners with his deliberate neglect.
And I was contentedly surprised that the first few responses were caring and supportive. Ultimately, the folks that were responding communicated that if I had a little patience, they would find some time to meet with me and hear me out. They thanked me for not just walking away in the face of the hurt I was feeling. It was a situation in which I hadn’t realized that I was contracting all of my emotional muscles in the event that I would have to protect myself until I let them go because no one was attacking.
So, in that coasting state, of course, my ex-husband calls. He is the snake that I know is a snake but continually pick up because he looks so pathetic. He was calling to ask when and where our small claims court date was because he had lost the summons. Every time I think he can’t be any more self-destructive, he goes and finds a way to blow past his previous stupidities. You see, if he doesn’t show up at the hearing, I win automatically and the state will garnish his wages to get the money to me. But he lost the summons. Probably because he’s hiding the whole thing from his new wife. And so he calls me because he feels like he can rely on my to pick him up from the side of the road like I have so many times before.
Divorce is awful. There is no explanation for why interacting with the man who has not been my husband in almost 4 years can still cause me to weep. I have no illusions about reconciling and he has been so hurtful in the times that we have interacted since he left that I no longer think back on our time together with nostalgic longing. But I can’t get anything done when he calls because I am so agitated and at some point, I will feel tremendous grief. The fact that there is no psychological explanation for the tears makes them worse. They just are. And I have to accept it without being able to explain it. I’ve given up trying to explain since I know that my answers are just as wrong as the people who thought that maggots erupted spontaneously from rotten meat because microscopes hadn’t yet been invented to tell them otherwise.
So, in this state, while on the phone with my best friend Susan, a guy that is only an acquaintance, but whom I find to be quite attractive, beeps on my call waiting. I let it go to voice mail because I will only stick my foot down my throat and vomit all over this guy verbally if I try to talk to him now. But to add to the confusing mix of emotions that I am feeling at that moment, add fluttering hope and the terror of relationship potential. To recount, that mix is:
1. Fight or flight anticipation that my church leadership will reject me
2. Hesitating realization that maybe they won’t
3. Peace at no longer being solely responsible for the knowledge that my music minister behaves badly
4. Flabbergasted at Dennis’s temerity
6. Equivocation regarding whether to enable him or not
7. Frustration that I can’t get any work done
8. Fluttering hope because a guy who has never called is calling now
9. Intellectual attempts to squash that hope because it’s just silly
10. Terror that maybe it’s not silly and then I have to be all brave in a new relationship
11. The physical aftermath of conjuring up a mental picture of this guy
12. Mild dread at the office baby shower that will be taking place in 45 minutes (did I forget to mention that yet another woman my age is procreating?)
13. Pangs of emptiness because my life is not in a place where I can have my own children
14. Undercurrents of heartbreak over Matt
15. Slight disbelief that I still miss a guy that I only dated for 4 months
All on a Tuesday morning.
So, I listened to the voice mail and the guy is asking for my brother’s phone number because 1) he’s got a question about motorcycles and 2) he thinks he needs to start going to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and he was looking for recommendations on which meetings to go to.
At least we can eliminate 8, 9, and 10 from the list. 11 was a little more tenacious and stuck around. Of course, the adrenaline for all of these had nowhere to go, so continued to swish around in my bloodstream, causing my heart to pump a little harder than it normally does and my muscles to grip closely to their bones.
I called him back, then called my ex-husband, who wanted to come meet me to bring me the money tonight. I said that was fine but he needed to pay the court costs and it needed to be a cashier’s check.
“How do I get a cashier’s check?”
I wish that I had said, “Ask your wife.” That would have said everything so simply. But responses like that only come through in movies and on very, very good days. Today was not even a good day. I did OK, though. It just took more words to express my disgust. I said in disbelief, “Dennis, you’re 31 years old.” “It’s just a question.” “After I spent 6 years of my life teaching you how to be a grown-up to be repaid the way I was, it’s an inappropriate question.” “Jeez, fine.”
For the rest of the day, I got through the shower, received kudos for the blueberry hat that I made and got at least a little work done in the afternoon. I docked myself a couple of hours for company time wasted on personal business and went home, stopping at the gym first to get rid of a little pent-up energy. Dennis came by after speech practice (because I’m never going to be more important than speech practice) and I went down into the rain to meet him on the street to receive his check. Of course, he didn’t have the full amount, so I made him write that he did in fact still owe it to me and sign a piece of paper. He said he’d mail me the last $200.
I’ve picked up that snake before.
Luckily, Daniel was home to talk to me so that I could talk though the dangerously expanding grief in my chest. Jess asked later how he had looked. I took only fleeting glimpses, even though I was facing him directly. He’s thinner and the only sentence I could formulate in my head at the time was, “She bought him a new coat.” I didn’t think to look for his new wedding ring. I’m glad that I didn’t.
I wish getting the money felt a little better. I’m not going to court for the last $200. He wins. I’ll never get the respect that I’m looking for by being repaid. I wasn’t going to get it anyway. I just realize it now.
Later in the week, after a few stable days, a good yoga class, and a fun night of liquor and burgers with Jess in which she knocked over the boots on the display table in the store we went into after dinner like dominoes, my head pastor responded to my email from earlier in the week.
I had been lulled into thinking that because some of the recipients of the email accurately understood that writing the email was hard for me because I had to lay all of my vulnerabilities about how Christians treat me in order to do so. Because the tail and body of the snake had not hurt me, I thought that the head wouldn't either.
We've talked about it since then and I recognize that his motives were not necessarily to put me in my place because I had touched a nerve and offended him in some way, showing the other staff that he had me reigned in. But, wow, it really hurt. He said that I was malicious in bringing this to everyone's attention and not just his attention. He didn't address the issue of the hurt I was feeling about my music minister at all but only told me that I had gone about making my complaint incorrectly. He used scripture like a bludgeon to drive that point home. When we met about it this past Tuesday, I told him that I was so upset by it because I expect that from other Christians, but I didn't expect the retreat to legalism from him. I was hurt and then I was angry. I spent Friday night raging with my friend Jess, who was agreeing with me for the most part, but talking me down. I was exhausted.
Saturday I managed volunteers and luckily got distracted from sitting around the house for the rest of the day by going to see the new James Bond movie with my brothers Daniel and David.
Sunday, I went to church because I could claim the moral high ground if I did. My pastor gave a brilliant sermon on how Christianity requires our motives for doing good to be pure. Specifically, it requires that we do all that we do out of other-centered love. Since I had not yet spoken to him about his email, I could only think about the fact that he had shown no love in his email to me and that hypocrisy made me mad. He has since called it "The most awkward hug he has ever given," because he went for it without realizing that I was mad and I was like "cardboard," in his words. I did, however, get a chance to check in with the attractive guy that needed an AA referral and apologize for any inappropriateness that might have been in my voice mail as a result of recent contact with my ex-husband. He was very sweet about it. Too bad he needs at least a year of not dating to focus on his sobriety.
After church, I drove out to my parents' house, where no one would ask me any questions that I didn't want to answer. James Brown went with me at top volume. I had slow down at one point because some asshole thought I was racing him. I played with the dog and read a magazine. My mom fed me. I stayed the night there and then had the day off so that I could do my "upkeep" out in the suburbs. I went to the dentist for a follow-up on my oral surgery, saw my counselor, got a massage and got my bangs trimmed. Luckily, it was a beautiful day for driving around. Sometimes days like that make me curse the suburbs forever because of how stupidly people drive when they don't have an edge from living in a city.
This past Tuesday, I met with my pastor and worked everything out. My brother thinks that maybe there is a little too much drama at my church. It's possible that he's right, but I think of my relationship with this church like it's a relationship with a person, especially a boyfriend. It isn't until you have a couple of fights that you realize whether or not it's going to work. It's unrealistic to think that you won't fight. You're grown people with different experiences, expectations and habits; of course there are going to be instances where the puzzle pieces that are your lives don't fit perfectly. However, if you work out those differences well once they flair up, then it's worth putting some effort into it. Long-term commitment only requires that you are both willing to be right with each other. That desire will trump any issue that will get between you. I told Jess that I'm looking for a church that is a group of people worth feeling as shitty as I felt on Friday. The fact that the head pastor and I could sit down over coffee and have the difficult conversation of two people who have offended each other but who want to be right with each other means that this church is worth those kind of nights.
So, in the end, although it felt like I was picking up snakes, it turned out that I was the reptile who only slowly warmed up as the sun drove away the cold of the night again. I hope that I'm something that makes a better metaphor than a snake. Maybe I can be a some kind of turtle or an iguana.
Ah, the cyclical nature of life and emotions. It's a universal truth that I'm just starting to be able to remember when I'm at the bottom of the wheel. It doesn't make the week any less brutal, but it does help me hold up while I'm in the middle of it. Maybe this means that I will start getting better at remembering snakes have a vicious nature before I pick them up so I can leave them at the roadside and keep walking.