The rain came down in torrents as Crystal sat at her kitchen table with her best friend, Shelley. They sipped coffee while rain streamed down the windowpane. Dark clouds of late winter clung to the afternoon sky.
“The worst part of this whole thing is the loneliness,” Crystal said. She took an unsteady sip of her scalding coffee. “I feel it with every fiber of my body, every second of the day. I’m not used to making tough decisions without at least thinking of his wishes first.”
“I don’t know how you’ve managed to cope so well these past few months,” Shelley replied. “If it were me, I’d go nuts.”
“Well, maybe at first I felt that way. But after awhile I got involved with helping the kids cope, and that’s helped me make it this far.”
“But now it’s getting worse?”
“Well, yeah. For one thing, I’m getting tired of packing the kids into the car every Sunday and driving eighty miles to the prison just to visit Dan for an hour. Then we turn around and drive home. Two hours with everybody crying, fighting and arguing. I’m seriously thinking about visiting once a month instead of every week. It’s just getting to be too much of a strain on all of us.”
“What’s all the fighting about?”
“I don’t know how it starts. I’m usually wallowing in my own misery too much to pay attention to the kids.”
“So, pretty much, going to visit Dan makes everybody angry.”
“The kids fight about whether Dan did it on purpose or not.”
“They don’t believe that it was self-defense?”
“They think that if the courts found him guilty of murder, then he is a murderer.”
“Do you believe it was self-defense?”
“I know Dan isn’t capable of murder." Crystal dragged her spoon through her coffee. "He doesn’t have a violent bone in his body.”
The wind gusted around the corner of the house, bouncing off the trunk of the old maple outside the dining room window and forcing itself against the side of the house creating a low, shuddering rumble of siding and glass.
“I love Oregon winters,” Shelley said. “They’re just fierce enough to scare you, but not dangerous enough to kill you.”
“But all this darkness can really depress the heck out of you,” Crystal said.
“What have you heard from the parole board? Any chance of Dan getting an early release?”
“No. They say they can’t put someone who killed a man in a bar fight back on the streets. He’s a danger to society.” Crystal spoke in a low whisper, so low that Shelley had to lean closer to hear. “I almost wish he’d have gotten the death penalty. At least my mourning would lessen over time. This way, I grieve over and over again every day.”
Shelley’s eyes narrowed and her mouth dropped open. She looked out into the back yard, past the rain and huge maple, over the lush green grass cradling pools of rainwater.
“My Aunt Emma once told me something that may help you bury your pain, Crys.”
“I need something. I feel like I’m at the end of my rope here. I miss him more and more every day, but I hate him for leaving me. I hate that I have to pay a lawyer a small fortune so he will keep making appeals. I hate that I have to clear out my own sewing room to make room for a boarder, just so I can make the house payment.”
“When my father left us, Aunt Emma came to live with us. She helped Mom sort out the mess of bills, home repairs and stuff.”
“I know what kinda stuff you mean, too. Stephanie started wetting her bed a couple of months ago. She’s almost twelve years old and has never had that problem before. Zach has become a terror for his teacher. I think he’s the only third grader who spends his whole school day in the principle's office. That’s the kind of stuff I find myself up against now. I’ve never felt as alone as I do right now.”
“Your kids are strong; they’ll adjust and pull through this.”
“You’re probably right, they’ve been pretty happy up to this point." She looked past Shelley, staring unblinkingly at the wall.
"There’s other stuff too. I don’t earn enough money to cover the bills, a lot of things are going to have to go. I’m going to have to sell the cars and buy something used. I have to get rid of most of the furniture, the payments are too much for me. I feel like I’ve been kicked in the head and my whole life is moving backwards.”
“I don’t know if this will help, but when my Aunt Emma found me crying alone in my room, she came in and sat on the edge of my bed. She talked until I quit crying. She told me that she didn’t want to see me carrying all that anger around with me. She said it would color my whole life and that if I didn’t get rid of it, I wouldn’t be happy.”
“What did she suggest you do with it? Pretend it wasn’t there?”
“No, not exactly. She told me to make a list. We got out paper and pens and we both made lists of the things that had happened to us that made us sad or angry.”
“I don’t see how that could help. I already know what makes me sad and angry. I don’t need a list reminding me.”
“No, that wasn’t the end of it. When we finished our lists, and they were long, we pulled some old shoe boxes out of the closet. We each put our list in a box. Then we said prayers, something like ‘God, please forgive these people for all the pain they’ve caused us. Please help us to heal from these things that cause us pain, and help us to forgive all of these offenses.’ Then we took our boxes into the backyard and buried them.”
“Okay, so how did burying these lists solve anything? Did your father come back? Did your mom become Supermom?” Crystal hadn’t said prayers since she was a child. God probably wouldn’t help her, not since she had ignored Him most of her life.
“No, but every time I would begin to feel angry or sad, I would look out into my back yard and see the mound of dirt which stood atop my box of pain, and I remembered. I remembered that since God forgives people, I could too. I am not, after all, bigger than God.”
Shelley got up and walked over to the kitchen sink. As she peered out past the streaming rain she could see two barren rhododendron’s by the back fence. “I see just the spot for your list, if you’re willing to try it out.”
“I really don’t have anything to lose, so I’ll try it,” Crystal said. She really didn’t believe that such a simple act of forgiveness could help, but she hoped to somehow relieve some of the tension that her anger caused.
Spring came as fast as winter had. It seemed that overnight the buds had formed on the rose bushes and the leaves began to cover the trees. Birds came from seemingly nowhere. The sunshine felt like a warm gift. It had been three weeks since Crystal had visited Dan and the depression had really begun to build up.
One morning she looked out her window, and saw a flower on the tiny mound where she had buried her troubles. There she saw a white lily swaying in the gentle breeze. She smiled a faint, distant smile and thought today might be a good day to gather the kids and visit Dan.