I thought I would do a different post for a change and include a short story that I wrote at the beginning of this year. It came about from lying at Pt Chev beach, and the character Beth is based on me and my experience that day. It is fictional in the sense that I did not run away from home – but many of the emotions that I have felt are expressed in this story.
When I first left Pete, I had a lot of well meaning people say to me – Ahh, that’s exactly like my experience with my current husband – he doesn’t help out at all around the house and I’ve been thinking that maybe I should divorce him… I would be left thinking – if ONLY Pete’s only issue had been lack of helping around the house! You can’t compare punching holes in the wall and grappling with knives and attempts to kill yourself with petty household disputes. I’m sorry – it’s just not like with like.
Or when I first left Pete and was trying to get used to being single and hang out socially, I was finding that people dissed me for my $13 Nokia cellphone – let alone the fact that its battery life was 10x better than their smart phones, and I would be viewed as “judgemental” when I was invited out for drinks and had a lemon lime bitter. What made me angry was that people were taking these things at face value with no thought as to what was behind it. When I left Pete and started out on my own – I had about $200 in my savings account – my Nokia phone was a prized possession – it was my only means of communication for the six months that I lived with no internet at all. And my apparent ‘sobriety’ was in fact due to the fact that my ex had been an alcoholic and I had made a decision to stand by him and not drink either to encourage him to remain sober. Having had no alcohol for five and a half years it was taking me time to feel ‘okay’ to begin to drink socially. These experiences led me to say emphatically – “No one knows why I do what I do.” This is what I was referring to when Beth says that in the story in regards to the young man that the grandparents are speaking of with disgust. You will notice in the story that I do not explain what it is that the young man has done. This in part comes from my feeling that I should not have to explain why I do not drink, or why I have a crappy phone. There are always reasons for why people do what they do. It is up to us to find out WHY they do these things. And to do that we need to really listen “with our ears and our heart.”
But this is only the tip of the iceberg. What really concerns me is when well meaning friends will say – “Oh well, when things go wrong, remember that there is always someone worse off than you.” I just want to say in response to this sentiment – this is NOT helpful at all. There are many different events that can happen in people’s lives that can take them to breaking point; cancer, burnout, depression, anxiety, exams, divorce, abuse, neglect, any form of sickness, bullying, isolation – the list goes on and on… But the point I want to make is that whatever is going wrong in that person’s life is currently the worst thing that could happen to them. No experience is inferior! You are invalidating their pain and denying their personal experience when you say – “ahh, but you are not as bad off as such and such…” This shuts the story down and blocks the freedom of expression. Every person has a story and everyone’s human right is for that story to be held up as important and given space to be expressed. Just sit and listen. Be present in the moment of pain and turmoil. We need time to express our deep heartbreak in the midst of whatever it is that is going on for us.
My hope is that this post is beneficial to someone, this has been on my heart for sometime and I wanted to express it in words.
P.S I do have a smart phone now – my friend gave me her old one which was so sweet of her. And in my new flat I have internet included in the rent so I truly have been blessed ❤
Here is the short story, I have entitled it Beth. Hope it speaks to you in some small shape or form. Christy xx
The sun set the sky ablaze with faltering streaks of pink and orange while red rimmed clouds appeared as burning galleons amid an otherwise tranquil sea. A path of fluid gold shimmered across the waters. A young lady of twenty and six lay on her stomach, propped up on her elbows. She was reading intently, she pushed her glasses up from where they had slid to the edge of her nose. An ant crawled across the blanket and up her leg. She impatiently flicked it away. With a furrowed brow, she grabbed her pen and pad and wrote furiously.
“There,” She said, quietly triumphant. She read what she had written aloud, “The greatest moment of my life is this moment here and now, this tick of the clock, this…” she paused and placed her hand to her chest. “this beat of my heart.” She gazed at the setting sky. “Just beautiful,” she whispered. “John Ortberg sure knows what he is talking about.”
Beth sat up, drawing the blanket loosely around her. She tapped her pen on her paper. Hearing voices nearby, she looked up. A young couple walked the beach together. The girl blushed and giggled, fairly waltzing down the beach. “A first date,” Beth mused. But then the girl nudged her lover’s arm and spoke loudly enough as to be heard clearly across the beach, “How about we dine in this year? There’s no need of a fancy meal. Wine will do.”
The guy seemed taken aback and responded, “But a bottle of decent wine will cost us twenty bucks at least, but if you’re sure…” They continued their merry dance and their voices trailed off.
Ah, of course, Beth realised. Valentine’s Day was this Saturday, which would explain the large number of couples walking on this particular evening. Strange though, she thought, to have a date on a Tuesday to discuss the plans for Saturday. She shrugged her shoulders and returned to the book. “This moment is the only moment you’ve got. Every past moment is irretrievably gone….” She read aloud now, breathing deep in the words.
“I can’t believe what he’s done now. Can you?’
It was an older man’s voice. Glancing up, Beth saw an old couple striding along the beach, taking the opportunity of a fine evening to take their conversation outdoors. The old man’s voice was low and deep but Beth could sense the inner tension across the sand.
“Nor I,” returned the lady. “In my family growing up, we never brought trouble in the house. How about u, Don? Did your family allow it?”
Don shook his head. “No, not at all Margie, of course not. But this is a new generation, they feel they are above the old ways of life. They take what they want, they go when they please. There’s no respect.”
Margie spoke in a bitter tone. “Well, his mother kicked him out and good riddance. So he’s got his just deserts.” She paused, and looked out on the water. Her face grew pensive and she turned to the old man, and took his arm. “In our day, we didn’t do anything that was really wrong, did we?”
With that, they continued on in silence.
Beth felt the air still around her. Her stomach clenched and her jaw tightened. She closed her eyes, recalling a scene etched in the deepest part of her.
“Get off my door step and out of my house! You’re nothing but trouble!” The mother screamed at the bedraggled girl who stood in the doorway. The girl paled and took a step back.
“Mother, please…” Her blue eyes blinked back the tears that threatened to spill. “Danny has left me, I’m all alone. I made a bad choice, you were right….” She paused and reached out a hand to steady herself. “Please forgive me.”
“You live with your choices, girl.” The mother snapped, eyes flashing. “You’ve brought this trouble on yourself so you deal with it. It’s nothing to me, you can’t run back here expecting me to turn around and forgive you after all you’ve done, the way you treated me.” She paused and studied her daughter that stood before her. “No, Beth. Not this time. This time you’re on your own.” And with that, she slammed the door in her face.
The girl on the sand stirred, brushing her fingers gently over her wet eyes and turned back to her book. Beth repeated aloud the words of John Ortberg, “Every past moment is irretrievably gone. Live in the now, if you live in the past, you may as well be dead.”
She packed her books and pen away, smoothed down her simple black dress, and stood to her feet. Beth inhaled and slowly scanned her surroundings, she felt as though she was seeing as if for the first time. She trudged along the beach, bathed in the fading light, her footprints joining the throngs of people before her.
She wasn’t paying any particular attention to the people around her when she heard a voice that she recognised.
‘So what do you reckon Margie, fish or chicken for supper?”
It was the old couple, they were just in front of her. Beth turned to walk away, in the opposite direction but then she bit her lip and before she could rethink her decision, she hurried over to them.
“Hi Don,” She addressed the old man.
He gave a start of surprise that a young woman was addressing him with supposed familiarity. Beth quickly continued, “Sorry for butting in, but I happened to overhear you earlier and it just so happens that I have personal experience with… well, I happen to know a thing or two about..” She paused, gesturing about her helplessly, unsure how to continue.
The couple stared at her, eyes wide. Don recovered himself and his manners first and he gestured towards a wooden seat. “Here, sit yourself down, love. That’s it.”
Once the three of them were seated, Don broke the silence.
“Now child, can you please explain to us why you came up to us ‘out of the blue’ as it were to tell us about something you overheard from rudely eavesdropping on us? Do you make it a habit to sit on the beach and report stories about people as they unsuspectingly walk by? Or what?”
Beth looked up at the old man. “I was kicked out of home by my mum.” She said quietly. “Hearing what you were saying brought back memories and I wanted to know – have you considered why he does what he does. There is always a reason.”
The old couple remained silent. Beth took this as encouragement to continue.
“I ran away with a young man when I was twenty years of age. I left home because I was unhappy. Desperately unhappy. Nothing was going right in my life at the time. I was failing in my studies, most of my friends had moved away, or simply moved on. I felt isolated from the world. I tried to explain this to my mum but she didn’t understand that what I needed most was someone to listen to me. And someone to give me a hug.” Beth looked out across the beach at the waves. The couple waited while she took a breath.
“Initially leaving home was all I had ever wanted. I had all the freedom I had dreamed of. We went out partying most nights. I got a job in a bar as a waitress and spent most of my money on drink and clothes. But my dream started to fall apart. Danny began to spend less time with me and I soon discovered that there were other girls.” Tears trickled down her cheeks and she hastily wiped them away.
“You know,” she looked directly at the old couple, “I left home because I felt alone but until Danny, I had never known the heartache of what it was like to be shoved aside and utterly used by someone. In that moment I missed my mum, and I knew that I must have hurt her deeply in leaving without an explanation and without saying a proper goodbye. I decided to return home. I thought that if I said I was sorry, then she would listen and forgive me… But I was wrong.”
“And then?” Beth turned. It was Margie who had spoken, and she softly asked once more, “What happened then? After your mum kicked you out?” Beth thought for a moment.
“Well, I started again, made a new life for myself. At least I tried to. I went back to University and completed a degree. Now I live in an apartment – it’s a few blocks from here and I tutor in the University across the road. I have a few friends but none that I’m really close too. In fact, I’ve never told anyone about my relationship with my mum before.”
Don leaned forward, “I’m sorry that you overheard our conversation about our grandson and that it triggered past memories for you.”
He hadn’t really understood what had just taken place. He hadn’t seen that one brick in the wall had been removed and that soon many more would follow. He hadn’t really listened.
“I’m not,” Beth said, surprised by the amount of strength and conviction in her voice. A small piece of warm air breathing into a soul that had suffered long, hard winters.
“Me either,” broke in Margie. She gently laid her hand on Beth’s own. “Thank you so much for sharing your experience. Thank you for reminding us of what it is to be truly human, with all our mistakes and failures. The first thing I am going to do when I get home is ring my grandson and ask what’s been going on and listen with both my ears and heart.”
Slowly the old couple got to their feet, Margie gave Beth’s hand one more gentle squeeze in goodbye and then they were gone, small black shapes striding through the sand once more.
Beth felt suddenly restless. “All that talk demands some action!” She said aloud. The tide was out and the only way to get to the water was to cross black rock and boggy sand. “Shall I wade in the water?” She threw her head back and lifted her voice in joyous abandon. She ran across the sand, stumbling at times as the puddles of water had made the rocky surfaces slippery. Upon reaching the cool water, she picked up her skirts and waded in. She spun in full circle, taking in the different textures and colours that surrounded her.
Above her, the sky stooped low to the ground as the sun prepared for its final goodnight. The clouds’ dark silhouettes were a stark contrast to the flickers of gold and orange, burning on like a candle that refused to be snuffed out.