She draped across the antiseptic-scented, vinyl floor; fake-marble tile embossing her cheek. Her mind refused to shut down and let her rest. Payne felt like she was living in a haunted-dream world.
“It’s about time for bed check,” she thought, pulling herself off the bathroom floor. Like her soul, the room was stark stainless-steel. Payne stumbled from the door into blackness, falling on her bed. The door opened just as she pulled up the bleached sheet. Through her eyelids, she watched a flashlight beam sweep the room. Payne clinched her teeth, “I don’t know why they don’t just call it what it is; a jail.”
The thirty-year-old mother of two felt incarcerated. Indeed, she was. Layers of locked metal doors barred her from the outside world. Upon her arrival, the staff had taken away her belt, her shoestrings, her necklace, and her bathroom kit’s Daisy razor. She’d been furious – out of control – and a doctor had sedated her. That was the last time Payne had really slept.
Eight days earlier, she had been sentenced after the ER bandaged her wrists. The mental health facility, a group home, treated severe depression. Payne’s days were highly regimented from 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. She attended art therapy, one-on-one counseling, group therapy, and doctors’ visits; always guarded by the ever-present nurses.
After the three a.m. bed check, Payne returned to the bathroom. When she felt the icy tile, she knew she was alive. “God, where are you?” she begged, “Why have you left me all alone?” Her angst dripped on the floor. No matter how many times she pleaded for him, God didn’t answer her.
Nor had he when she’d screamed for him while a sweaty man abused her ten-year-old body.
The following evening, a Sunday, Payne came out of her room and huddled on a sofa in the common room for visiting hours; one to be exact. John would drive thirty miles to come see her. She wished he wouldn’t. It was too hard. Last night, her husband hadn’t been able to stop trembling. Raw, sparking nerves had threatened his veneer of brittle calm.
Their pastor, too, had visited Payne. But no one else. She guessed they were freaked out. “They wouldn’t know what to say and neither would I,” she thought. “Sixty-five more minutes and I can go back to my room.” She picked at a thread on the arm of the ridiculously patterned sofa. “If I wasn’t already nuts,” she grimaced, “these mustard swirls would drive me there.”
The hallway’s double doors opened, and visitors stepped in gingerly, as if walking on shattered glass. Payne kept her eyes lowered to the arm of the ugly sofa.
A hand tapped her shoulder. “Hey Payne,” a friendly female voice said. “I’m so happy to see you!”
Payne jerked up, shocked, to find the leader of their parish group. “Patty, what are you doing here?”
“Well,” Patty replied, “We’ve missed you so much that we decided to bring our meeting to you.”
Payne’s jaw buckled.
Patty continued: “Jim is bringing his guitar, and Sarah will read one of her devotions. Daniel is picking up John, so he can have a break from driving out here by himself. Chris and Brenda are bringing chips and salsa.” She grabbed a breath and rattled on: “Jennie baked your favorite chocolate-chip-oatmeal cookies. And since they won’t let you have caffeine, Susan and Steve are bringing Sprite. Payne, what’s wrong?”
“You, you mean our entire pa…parish is coming?”
Before Patty could reply, the group burst through the doors. They swooped around Payne, taking turns hugging and kissing her stiff form. Gradually, while the group talked and laughed, Payne began to thaw. Ignoring its bandage, John held her hand, relaxing into the sofa. And he began to grin.
They didn’t act uncomfortable. They weren’t judging her. By the end of the hour, she felt more “normal” than she thought possible.
Payne, again, visited the vinyl tile. She kept hitting rewind to re-live her parish family’s visit. They had turned a group home for the mentally ill into a lovely home group gathering. God had spoken to her through their voices, hugged her though their arms, and loved her through their genuine acceptance. Hesitantly, she began, “God . . .”
That was fifteen years ago when my recovery began. John said he knew I’d felt God’s love that Sunday night; because, I’d accepted – and returned – his goodbye kiss. He’s still grinning.
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