Not all moments are created equal. Some are so altering they don’t need the benefit of the backward glance to understand their significance. The day I found Carlene, my wife, tucked in the living room shadows of a winter dusk, I sensed an impact to the remainder of our days on the earth.
My brother had recently bailed on the afternoon shift at our dairy farm and that left Carlene and me to manage the entire schedule. She hadn’t helped the last few afternoons and I strode home late, galled at her nerve.
She was sitting back on her socked heels, rocking and moaning from someplace so far inside that it scared me from someplace just as deep. By nature, my wife wasn't a crier.
I crushed an object under my steel-toed boot. A half turn on the dimmer switch illuminated remnants of an orange plastic car in the midst of a barrage of scattered bills—play money in various colors. The “Game of Life” was splayed in a wide arc emanating from the kitchen table.
I crouched behind her, joining her body in motion. “What’s going on?” I asked into her soft brown hair.
“Are you ree-al?” she cried. “I can’t feel you, or see you or hear you.”
I secured her between the crooks of my arms and applied enough pressure to make her believe I was real. We swayed together for a long time—my knees beginning to ache. “Where’re the kids?” I whispered.
“With your parents.” They lived in a new house on the other side of the property. She bent her head back and rested it against my chest. “Walt,” she said, her chest heaving, “our lives are unraveling, but I did everything exactly the way I was supposed to. Life’s a crap shoot. It doesn’t matter what we do—what’s going to happen is going to happen.”
She had never wanted to work a farm, but had learned the operation. Two children, not four had been her dream. Then we lost one. Nothing like guilt to fuse self-reproach onto sorrow.
“Did something happen today?” I asked.
“Lauren received her acceptance letter from GMU, but she said she’s not going.”
“She wants to go somewhere else?”
“No, Walt—she doesn’t want to go to college—period. She wouldn’t explain why. I found our “Game of Life,” slammed it open and reminded her that of the hundred times we played, not going to college was never an option. That was the path we always took.”
I pressed my cheek against the top of her head, wanting to absorb her frustration. Carlene began making another sound—something low and plaintive. “I’m sorry,” she cried, squeezing my arm, “because then I thought what does it matter? I went to college, waited till marriage for sex, had faith and look where I am. I wish life were a game. It would make sense of the non-sense.”
“Ssh,” I said. Her tone prickled me, felt like an indictment. It’s the same reaction I had when she put away the pictures of Pamela.
“No. I won’t ‘Ssh.’ If I were a pink peg, I wouldn’t have to worry about loss or cows or old houses or thighs. I’d just move along a prescribed course expecting the unexpected, knowing none of it really mattered.”
Then she went limp again and actual tears soaked into my sleeve. “I wonder if God is? Or should I be looking for something else?”
“You’re focusing on a miserable sliver of life you don’t understand.” My voice carried my own pent-up disappointments. “How many times have we seen evidence of Him? In how many situations do we see His hand? Your words are trying to erase all that, when instead, what we need is an *Ebenezer to remind us.”
I pushed my legs out from underneath me and we scootched back against the couch, wrapped together with only the ticking of the mantel clock marking time. Shortly after seven clangs, Carlene stretched to her side walking her fingers in the carpet toward a green token.
She didn’t say anything and I never asked about it, but when I returned from my parents’ house, I noticed the green car parked at the center of the kitchen windowsill. It was filled with a husband, a wife and four children. There it stands to this day.
*Ebenezers: Monuments erected by Israelites to remind them of times when God’s hand saw them through.
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