Jennifer Davis gripped the cold sides of the toilet and wretched into the bowl. Her face was blotchy with tears, as she sobbed and gagged.
I loved him so much. I loved him so much, pounded in her brain.
It had been three months since Jenny's husband of eleven years had left her and three months of this morning throw-up "ritual".
She'd even had a few medical tests done, at the insistence of her doctor.
“Well, you're not pregnant,” he said jovially when she went in for her exam.
Could he not see how those casual words exploded around her?
"It's just stress, Honey," said her mother on the phone that morning, "You really need the Lor..." but Jenny hung up the phone as she dashed to the bathroom. Again.
Just stress. And hell. And a bad nightmare that just happens to be real, okay Mom?
Jennifer heard her seven year old daughter at the kitchen table, humming and reciting words from the Psalm 23 coloring book her grandmother had given her.
Not too subtle are you, Mom? Jenny groaned inwardly. She could hear her mother's voice and oft repeated words...“You just need the Lord, Dear."
Nope, not too subtle at all.
Little Kimberly skipped into the bathroom with her coloring book under her arm.
“Wow, Mommy. Look how blue, blue the sky is today!” She twirled around on her toes. “It's almost the same color as this crayon. Wow, hey?" Kimberly held up a stub of blue that had obviously colored many a coloring book sky. "And the clouds are all white and poofy, too." She twirled some more.
“Oh, Mommy.” Kimberly knelt beside her mother, suddenly noticing, “Wow, you don't look too good.”
“Knock it off with the 'wow', please, Kim.” Jenny snapped. “Wow this and wow that! Just because your friends talk that way, doesn't mean you should.” Jennifer could see the pain in Kimberly's eyes as the harsh words stung the little girl. Jenny knew she was being foolish and hurtful, but the shame of that only provoked her further.
"You're a big girl now. For Pete's sake, use some different words. Words that actually have some meaning, okay? See if you can do that for a change.” She waved her arm roughly towards the door. “Now, just go in the backyard and play, please!"
Jenny slumped against the toilet when she heard the back door slam.
I feel like I am being split right down the middle. I can't do this anymore. I'm out of control. I'm a terrible mother.
She pounded her fists on her knees. Why? Why? Why? She cursed her wayward husband. How could you do this to us?
When Jenny finally stood up and looked out the window, she saw Kimmy sprawled on the lawn with her book and crayons. She knew she had to go to her.
When Jennifer reached her, she squatted down and stroked her head.
“Forgive Mommy, okay Angel?”
Kimberly took her mother's hand and pressed it against her own tear-wet cheek.
“Maybe if we lay our souls down we'll feel better? That's what the coloring book says. Lay your soul down into the green grasses.”
They lay side by side, hand in hand, and called out the different shapes they saw in the clouds. With a lot of imagination, “Look, there is a fire engine!” “There's a dinosaur!”
As they lay there, Jenny tried to recall some of the familiar words of Psalm 23. Words she had heard throughout her childhood.
Forever and Ever
She closed her eyes. Lord. I am so worn out and so torn up. Please help me. I lay down my soul.
“Mommy. A lamb!”
Jenny looked up into the sky to see a distinct outline of a sheep in the clouds, surrounded by a halo of light. It was all there. The curve of the head, the line of the ears, the fluffy, woolly body and tail. Even the dark eyes, nose and hooves were clearly defined.
The Lord is my Shepherd.
“Wow.” Mother and daughter breathed out the word reverently, and in unison.
And then they laughed with joy.
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