“Let’s connect mid-week for accountability I said to my new church friends, excited about our plan to encourage one another.
“Great idea, Jess. Maybe Wednesday after the kids’ youth group?”
“Sure, Toodles and I will be home.”
Under her breath, I added, “I never go anywhere.” My kitten kept me smiling though the year of news stories, reporters, depositions and those glances wherever I went. We all laughed and hugged goodbye. Sarah and Lynne were so supportive following my ordeal.
Church in another town was my break. New friends, fresh starts, a 30 minute drive for reflection provided healing. I’d shared everything with Sarah and Lynne. As young moms, they understood my loss.
Sermon notes in hand, I vowed that this week, my hour of church time would flow into every corner of my life. Journaling, reflection…I was healing. I’d always attended church and my relationship with Christ flourished when I joined the college church. It was there I met Todd. That was before.
Driving the familiar highway after church, I glanced in the rearview mirror. The church steeple eerily pierced a cloud, just like ….. I quickly tilted the mirror to block the steeple but it was too late.
Memories flashed me back to that cloudy winter day when it happened 18 months ago. Taylor would be almost two now. Would I always dread my decision to go out Christmas shopping?? Home all day with a cranky teething baby, it could have been me.
“Mama needs a break” said Todd with his usual jovial demeanor arriving home at 3:30. His teacher’s schedule provided my late afternoon errand time and Todd loved his new daddy role.
“Jess, could you bring me burgers on your way home?” Those were the last words I heard from him-in person, that is.
Rushed shopping with visions of burgers, Todd and Taylor..... drive- through smells…....the homeward dash to feed Taylor before bed. Ooh, sirens- I pulled over for an ambulance- then a squad. Sirens made odd harmony for the Christmas music on the radio.
Wait. It was June. Was that the smell of burgers? Christmas lights on my dash board? Silent Night on the radio?
”Shoot, I thought that was over,” I said out loud as my senses filled from inside of my head. The steeple in the cloud and the sirens and red lights sparked flashbacks. Vivid memories invaded my peace and I lost moments as December poured into this June day.
The police said the baby died from blunt force trauma to the head. Their photos showed Taylor’s pacifier eerily floating in a cloud near her mouth.
“A murder suicide,” said the officer who approached my car, blurred by squad reds and holiday lights.
“I have burgers for my husband, I need to feed my baby.”
“I’m sorry,” said the officer. “No entry allowed.”
Over and over, I listened to the 911 tape.
“My baby’s not breathing. There’s been an accident. My wife’s out shopping.”
No expression, no waver in Todd’s voice- it sounded like reading a teleprompter.
No teleprompter existed when a microphone was shoved at me that night.
Police found Todd’s body burning in the fireplace. They said he ingested gasoline and put a lighter in his mouth in the nine minutes between the 911 call and the officers entering.
There was only minimal smoke damage but I never entered the house again.
A move to my sister’s in a neighboring town proved too close to home. I moved again and so did the memories. Maybe I’d return to work soon. I loved teaching before my promotion to my dream career-motherhood.
Now, I couldn’t wait to get home for my afternoon break; to reflect on healing with Toodles on my lap. My new prayer journal and inspirational props were already perfectly arranged on the coffee table; favorite pictures, scented candles, Taylor’s baby necklace, Todd’s wedding ring on a chain with mine.
As I entered the apartment that beautiful June day, Toodles met me with a piece of chain in his mouth.
“Stupid cat,” I yelled. Only my Bible remained on the coffee table.
I kicked the door, picked up a brass candlestick and threw it at Toodles, hitting him smack on the head.
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