As she packed the car with the last of what she needed for the trip, Susan reflected on how much packing (and packaging) she had done in the last three months since the day she didn't get married.
Though announcements had been made to the wedding guests that they needed to pick up their gifts and take them back home, many had failed to do so. As a result, Susan had made many trips to the post office or courier to return the gifts no longer needed to set up a new household for two. She would be continuing to live in a household for one--bride only, no groom.
As usual, at the thought of Brad, she winced emotionally--nothing an observer would see on the outside, but a feeling by now familiar to her. She and Brad had hammered out the "business" stuff, working at the process she thought of as "undoing" a wedding, but no resolution had come in the feelings department. He had absolutely refused to give any reason, just stuck to his rigid repetition of "I realized that I didn't want to marry you, and I don't love you."
"Well, I don't love you anymore, either, Buster!" Susan smirked to herself and did a mental inventory of supplies needed for a weekend camping trip in the mountains. Tent, sleeping bag, backpack, clothing, food supplies, lantern, cooler: check, check, check. Everything's here, but I still feel like I'm forgetting something...
That something, who preferred to think of himself as a someONE, bounded up to her and looked up expectantly. Itsy, her Great Dane and greatest comfort through this disastrous time, knew it was time to "go for a ride!"
"Okay, boy, it's time to go! Hop in!"
So, the two of them, woman and dog, set off toward the mountains, distant but visible, rising above the plains. On they way they sang along with the Country & Western tunes that fit Susan's mood so well lately.
Yes, they. Itsy had developed his own way of "singing" and joined right in whenever Susan warbled a tune. The family loved this, and had caught many such moments on camcorder. Susan thought that someone should be here to record this, because Itsy was especially "tuneful" today.
She nodded as her thoughts moved on to how intuitive he had been over the past trying months. Just when she was at her lowest, he'd roll around and indicate "let's play" in his most goofy manner, and drag her outside (close to literally) for a romp. When she began to cry, he'd bring her Bible, as he had on her wedding night (make that non-wedding night) at a crucial moment.
Her emotion that he seemed unable to counteract was the anger. A deep, bitter anger toward Brad had taken root in her heart, and at times it bubbled out, rancid and raging. She had decided she could never forgive him, and that he didn't deserve her forgiveness.
The same old tape began to replay in her mind, drowning out the latest news and weather on the car radio. He could have handled it better. He could have shown up and made the announcement himself to the stunned family and friends gathered in the sanctuary. He could have been more human. He could at least give me a reason! I demand to know why!
What had happened between what he had whispered in her ear as they parted after the final rehearsal and noon the next day? He had said, "I'm so crazy about you! I can't wait to start our new life together, I really can't! Thank God it's only...13 hours away now. But that sounds like a lifetime, I love you so much!" And she had cried as she had responded in kind, "I love you so much, too!" They had both cried.
As she was crying again now, but for a vastly different reason. "Why, Itsy? Why? Why? Why? And how did it happen? And where and when? Was it something I did or said before that night? Did someone talk to him and scare him?" Itsy was looking at her with a deep concentration, trying to determine the best thing to do in this situation.
He threw back his head and boomed out a big "high note," followed by a long slurring phrase of some song only dogs know.
Susan laughed and assured Itsy that she knew it hadn't been him, and it probably wasn't anyone else, it was just a "Brad and Susan" problem that Brad had decided was insurmountable.
No, it was me. Susan's mental tape wound down to the same point it always did. I'm not good enough. He saw that at the last minute and backed away.
She sighed heavily as they exited toward the campground, and her heart was still bogged down as she made camp with the tent and equipment.
She and Itsy set out early the next morning on the hiking trail just adjacent to the campground. As always, hiking released her mind to work on things troubling her, and she really needed the mental workout now. She felt that she needed to forgive Brad, but how? He wasn't interested in talking at all now and she still felt the resentment and embarrassment so keenly! How can I forgive? How can I even begin to work toward thinking about the possibility of maybe entertaining a thought of forgiving?
She sat to eat her lunch (and Itsy chased a phantom squirrel) and pondered some more.
She heard voices approaching up the trail, and recognized them as her mother/daughter neighbors from the campground. The teenaged daughter was in full whine mode now, and Susan kept the smile from her face as she listened in on the conversation as they passed.
"Mo-o-o-m, I don't want to hike! It's hot! I'm sweaty! How are we going to get back down? I'm sure I'll be so tired I'll just collapse and be left all alone! I'm getting mosquito bites! I-"
"Stop," the mom commanded. "Look around you. How can you think of something so small when surrounded by something so big?"
The daughter did look around, and seemed to notice the grandeur of the place for the first time.
"And how did you get this far?" the mom continued.
"What?" the daughter clearly didn't get what her mother was driving at.
"You got this far by taking one step at a time, and that's how you'll get back down, too--by taking it one step at a time. Plus, you're not alone. I'm right here with you. Now, let's march!" She threw her arm around her daughter's neck and they moved on, quickly moving out of earshot for Susan.
The words hit her heart, a big bull's eye. Her mental tape rolled on at this point, adding new ruminations. "How can I forgive Brad? One step at a time, that's how. Plus, I'm not alone. God is right here with me."
She stood and wiped the loose leaves and grass off, and Itsy promptly tackled her from behind.