A Life Transformed by a Black Metal Lunchbox
by James Brown
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The prolonged silence was a blessing as John and Carol snuggled deeper into bed, trying to snatch a moment of slumber. Sleepless nights were taking a toll on the exhausted couple, striking John the hardest. Minor frictions erupted into tidal waves of hurt and anger that pounded the already eroding shores of their marriage.
“Lord, can’t you let me have just one night of sleep?” John entreated. “I don’t know how much more I can stand.”
Before the “amen” escaped his lips, the terrified wail of his son shattered the stillness. Carol threw the covers off and raced to Tommy’s room screaming. “Tommy… Tommy! It’s all right, Mommy’s coming.”
John gave the ceiling a malevolent glare and marched to Tommy’s room muttering, “I knew You wouldn’t listen. I don’t think You even care anymore.”
He pushed these thoughts aside as he saw Carol trying unsuccessfully to comfort their son.
“You might as well give him to me and go back to bed.” He sighed in exasperation and growing bitterness. “I know it goes against the grain of your motherly instincts, but you know he’ll only settle down for me.”
He saw hesitation written on her face, so he grabbed Tommy and plopped into the rocking chair. The screaming stopped in an instant, as Tommy snuggled deep into his father’s embrace.
“Go on back to bed dear.” Grasping her hand, he gave her a half-hearted smile and whispered, “Go on, I’ll be in soon.” He closed his eyes and began rocking, ears tuned to the sounds of Carol
heading back to bed, his body tense from the hatred he felt for his miserable existence.
Soon, Tommy was sound asleep in his father’s safe embrace. John, however was wide awake, looking down at his son as myriads of thoughts tumbled about in his mind.
How can you sleep so soundly little boy, now that I’m so wide awake? Why were you born retarded? I figured that by now we should be out playing baseball. Instead, you’re just like a three-year old. It’s not fair…
He tilted his head back to stare at the ceiling, shifting his thoughts to an angry prayer.
You heal the sick and raise the dead. You’re supposed to be God! Why can’t you make my life normal? Where are You when I face the ridicule at work from that pompous oaf? His son is perfect in everyway, a Little League star, but I end up with a…a…, oh forget it, You don’t care. My life was great until You ‘blessed’ us with a son. I’m all messed up. I guess I’m one big failure...
Late the next morning, Carol barged into Tommy’s room. “John, Tommy, wake up, it’s late. We overslept.”
“Looks like it's gong to be another great day,” John muttered.
Tommy meanwhile, jumped down and began jabbering away to Carol as they headed to the kitchen for breakfast. Later, John stormed past Tommy without a pause, grabbed his lunchbox, gave Carol a quick kiss, and headed out the door.
“John, wait a second,” she called. “I’ve got to tell you something about your lunch today.”
Her plea fell on deaf ears of a husband waging a terrible battle with his God.
“Okay, God,” John prayed as he drove to work. “This is it. If You don’t do something to stop these nightmares so I can get some sleep, I’m out of here. Carol can keep playing the good Christian mother if she wants to, but I’ve had it. This is your last chance to work a miracle.”
The break room was crowded when he punched in and set his lunchbox on the shelf next to the bulletin board. His heart sank as his nemesis chose that moment to make his appearance.
“Hey, nice picture,” he taunted John. “I’m surprised you had the guts to post it like that.”
A turn of his head revealed a child’s scribbled picture tacked to the bulletin board, with Tommy written across the top. He ripped the offending picture down and turned to tear into his foe, but he was gone already.
In a trembling rage, he crumpled the picture and threw it in the waste basket. The last thing he saw as he headed for the mill was the secretary staring at him through the window, silent tears streaming down her face.
The thought of the secretary understanding his plight made the morning go by easier. By break time, he was starved, so he opened his lunchbox in anticipation of Carol’s cooking. No matter how rough the morning, she always packed him a good lunch.
“What the…” he exclaimed. There, sitting on top of his sandwich was another picture written in childish scrawl. And this one was worse than the one posted on the board.
“Where’s Butch,” he growled.
“He left a little while ago,” a fellow worker answered. “Said something about taking his son to a Little League All Star game someplace downstate.”
“It figures,” John said slamming his lunchbox shut. “Just wait until he gets back.”
“John, can I talk to you for a minute?”
He looked up to see the secretary standing in the doorway to her office. “I’d love to, but I’ve got something on my mind right now. Can it wait until lunch?”
“I guess so, but it’s real important.”
“Okay, we’ll talk then; I promise. Right now though, I have to get back to work.”
Time flew by for John who was absorbed in visions of revenge on Butch. The noon whistle sounded just as he put the final changes on a plan to get even. Laying down his tools, he headed for the break room where he dove into the roast beef sandwich Carol had prepared.
He discovered the next piece of paper when he was rummaging through his lunchbox for a spoon. This one was different though. He unfolded it to discover Carol’s flowing handwriting.
My dearest John, he read. Tommy feels so bad about waking you up every night that he drew the picture you discovered sitting on top of your sandwich. The forms in the middle of the picture are you and Tommy sitting in the rocking chair. The scribbling above is supposed to say “The Boogie man can’t get me when I’m with my daddy.” The big scrawling letters on the bottom say, “I love my Daddy.” We worked on it while you were in the shower this morning. I hope it brightens your day. Love, Carol.
While fighting back tears, he heard a voice behind him.
“John, can we talk now?”
He looked up to see the secretary standing in the doorway.
“Yeah, sure,” he sniffled. "What was it you wanted to talk about?"
She walked into the room and stood facing him. “I want to know why you tore Tommy’s picture off the board this morning. He’s no great artist, but he’s only three. How would you like it if I tore one of your son’s pictures off the wall?”
“Your son’s picture?" he gasped. Hanging his head in shame, he whispered, "I didn't know your son's name was Tommy."
“Yes it is, but you haven’t answered my question.”
John spent the next half hour apologizing to the secretary who revealed that she had a brother with the same physical condition as Tommy. She even shared a method her father used to calm him when he woke up screaming every night.
That evening on the way home, John had a serious talk with God.
“Dear Lord, I’m so sorry I lost it today. I was so caught up in my pity party that I hurt the people closest to me. If Carol hadn’t written that note, I never would have understood Tommy’s picture. But now I see that I am impacting him. He does love me. Maybe I’m not the failure I thought I was…”
* * * * *
Tommy clutched his new baseball as he fell into a deep sleep that evening, wore out from playing so much with his dad.
“Hopefully he’ll sleep better tonight,” Carol whispered. “You worked him pretty hard out there tonight.”
“Yeah, but he seemed to love it. You know, Tommy’s picture made no sense to me until I read your note. You interceded for Tommy to me, his father, just like Jesus intercedes for us to our Heavenly Father. Even when I’m rambling like an idiot, Jesus interprets my utterances. Not only that, but when I’m acting my worst, He works His best. I’m so sorry for how I’ve been acting lately. I’ll do my best to make it up to…
A scream filled the house, interrupting his apology. They bounded up the stairs to discover Tommy standing up and pointing under the bed.
“He’s afraid of the monsters again,” Carol fretted.
“Let’s try something new,” John said. He picked up Tommy and the baseball that had fallen to the floor, and settled into the rocker. “Have a seat, while I tell Tommy a story.”
Carol sat on the bed as John began speaking.
“Tommy, did you know that I used to be afraid of monsters when I was a boy? But one day my dad told me about a special person who gets rid of monsters. His name is Jesus…”
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