Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: CHALLENGE (08/17/17)
TITLE: Calling the Ocean Damp
By Jan Ackerson
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Her high school years were…well, when I’m in a mood for euphemism, I say challenging. That’s a bit like calling the ocean damp, but the word conveys enough meaning that you can imagine what her father and I went through. Defiance? Yes, at every opportunity. Suspension from school? Several times. Failing grades? Of course. Drugs, alcohol, cigarettes? Yes, yes, and yes. Promiscuity? Heartbreakingly, that too.
And we never knew why—probably never will. Andrea has never told us, even now that she’s firmly on the other side of that door. Ours was a home of love and plenty, but there was a rebellion in Andrea’s spirit that pulled her toward darkness while we urged her to turn her face to the light.
I turn the pages of the yearbook, noting all the places where Andrea’s picture is not. Choir, drama club, softball—no Andrea. But she’s there outside the principal’s office, in a protest organized by students opposed to the dress code—wearing a miniskirt and a crop top emblazoned with a foul word, purchased with God knows what money. There’s one other picture of her, other than her official school portrait: in a collage of candid shots of student life, she’s in the background of one photo, scowling at a group of girls who are laughing by their lockers. I’m drawn over and over to this picture, wondering what made her so angry.
And then came the Transformation of Andrea, a miraculous change that began, ironically, with one of those laughing girls. Sara drew Andrea into her circle, a circle of love that expanded to take her in, no matter how she kicked against it. Eventually, Andrea found her way to the center, where she found an altar and a pair of wounded hands.
Craig walks into the room just as I’m closing the yearbook, lifting an eyebrow but saying nothing, bless his heart. “They should be here any minute, right?” he says, looking at his watch.
“Yes,” I say, and I take his hand. He squeezes my fingers and looks toward our landline, remembering as I am the scores of times during high school when we waited for it to ring, both yearning and dreading to hear the voice on the other end.
But those times are behind us now. There is no doubt. Andrea is fine.
“What’d she say about this guy, again? Darren, is it?”
“Dwayne. He’s a junior, a business major. Interns for a nonprofit, maybe something about world hunger? Dean’s list. Sings in the men’s glee club. Plays ultimate Frisbee.”
Craig is silent, comparing this paragon of virtue to the troubled boys Andrea used to flaunt at us, daring us to forbid her to see them.
Finally, we hear her car in the driveway, and like characters in a sitcom, Craig and I try to look busy, picking up magazines and flipping through the channels as if this visit wasn’t supremely important. We hear them before we see them, entering through the kitchen and laughing, Andrea’s warm voice in counterpoint with a stranger’s deep bass.
And then they’re standing in the entrance to the living room, the afternoon light casting them partially in silhouette so that I have to blink to be sure my eyes aren’t playing tricks on me.
Andrea hasn’t told us everything about Dwayne, and in the four or five seconds before I leap up to go to her, Craig is already there, shaking his hand and welcoming him in an abnormally loud, forced voice. We were not expecting the reality of Dwayne.
So she is challenging us once again. Her face is pure and open as she gazes at her young man, and I can see that she loves him even as she dares us to object. I do is already written in her eyes.
In a flash, I see her future—one in which she exchanges privilege for persecution, comfort for cursing, sanction for damnation. Then, strangely enough, I see a vision of their feet, side by side. They stoop, my daughter and her beloved, and their hands enter my vision, holding out bowls of food to eager, grasping fingers. The dust of this arid country covers their sandals, staining their beautiful feet an identical shade of brown.
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