Friday, March 11, 2011
Ella is about to arrive, with news of her own. I take a sip of tea while I wait, letting the warmth travel through me and calm the quivers. When I check the time again, the door bell rings.
"Would you like some tea?" I ask out of nervousness. Her eyes have the look of all night crying spells and more tears on the verge of spilling, her pale round face ashen, and her hands trembling.
She nodded, and pulled her lips apart in an effort to smile, or talk, or both. But neither came forth. I rush back to the kitchen to prepare tea. I am lucky she likes Earl Grey and I have one bag left.
"Are you off work today?" I push the mug before her, and sat down in front of mine.
"No, but I don't have to go until later."
"Oh, that's good. You just moved here right? Do you like San Diego?"
She nods with an almost smile. We chat more about the weather and her great new job, while she relaxes further into her chair, and her hands nearly stop trembling.
She takes in the steamy tea in big gulps. Her eyes, swollen with red rims, are now slightly obscured by the tiny cloud of fog lifted around her. Her usually neat bob looks slightly disheveled, falling into her eyes and aiming to take control of this side of her face.
She had called me last night, crying and shaking through the crackling phone lines. "I am too scared to move my legs, T! Why is he doing this to me? Why does he plays so many stupid tricks? Is he going to take away my kid so I'd never see her again?"
I pictured her daughter Anni, a wee bit toddler still, her wispy blond curls flying up behind her head while she runs and hides, always babbling something about superheros. Her warm brown eyes are just like Ella's, inquisitive, impatient, and impossibly clear. She chats happily yet never for more than a minute before she's off running again, continuing the conversation herself, until she's back and find you again, a few minutes later.
I somehow couldn't picture her without Ella standing over her on the side, picking up things she dropped, pulling her in when she's about to run into something, or afterward, and wrap her up in a hug. It somehow silences them both, just for a minute and no more; a moment of reprieve, from running, chatting, crying or whatever it was occupying them the moment before. They'd smile into each others eyes, unmoving and holding on to a world of unspoken words.
I had pulled the phone close, as if that would somehow help me convey my thoughts, yet I didn't have a thing to say. Unknowingly I raised my voice and started to tell her to take some deep breathes. But I didn't stop there, I had more steps and instructions. I got so caught up in the righteousness of my logic, voice raising all the more as I speak. Then I realized I was nearly yelling, at her.
I apologized sheepishly and called her back half an hour later to invite her to tea this morning.
"I can't imagine what you must be going through...but come round..., if you like to to have some tea... I'll listen."
So here we are, sitting in the soft rays of the early morning light, studying the swirling patterns and rich brown hues of my battered cafe table. Neither of us seem to want to reach back into last night's sorrow, lest those worrisome confusions and misplaced angst return.
"So how are you doing?" I finally break the silence that was beginning to weigh on us.
Another lips pulling effort. "I was actually doing much better after talking to you last night."
"Oh good." I cringe inside but continue. "So tell me what happened...,um, sorry I was in such a rush last night I didn't,... um,... listen..."
She gives me the story, and I listen, biting my tongue at times. But the look in her eyes reminds me to be patient, the look surrounded by tears still threatening to spill over.
My hands start to tremble when hers finally stopped, along with the story. It is the same old story, of how life can go so wrong when you least expect it, in the flesh in front of me. The absurdity of it all fills me and rises up inside like the beginning of a wildfire. Were I to try to control it, it will just break open every containment and shatter them into pieces.
Instead, I open the lid to tell her how I was in that story not so long ago, of how frightened and angry I was, and how easily those memories could still be triggered. I tell her about having no where to turn, being ashamed and about crying on the floor all night, and shaking until every muscle was hurting in my body. I tell her the story I'd told no one until today.
She starts to nod, her hands reach out then back, and eventually, real smiles broke through, and melted that thin layer of gray ice freezing her face. I had almost forgotten what a nice smile she has. It reminds me of the ones I saw on Anni, always flashing by the second before she runs off.
I feel the tears then, surging in and putting out the raging fire, bringing in an ocean of peace. I tuck back the tears behind my blinking lids, not knowing why. Perhaps that is just what the moment needs, not more drama. Perhaps I am getting used to tucking things behind, after all that has happened.
I can see the questions in her eyes, I can see her wanting to hear more. I can feel the story form on the tip of my tongue, about how I finally walked out of all the mud, but I tuck that back down too, not knowing why. Perhaps there's just not enough hours in one day to hear about brokenness, or perhaps there is too many. Or perhaps there is not a way to put shattered pieces together in one go, or revisit one that is still slightly shaky, and more persistence is needed than mere strength and speed.
I see a calm in her that I didn't expect. She tells me so too. So perhaps this is enough for today. We pray that there is a chance for more stories on another day, when we can sit sipping a second pot of tea, sifting through experiences that are different but the same, shifting into emotions that are echoing but varied, not knowing why but finding that feeling of okay anyway.
We part with the news back on, remembering how people in the other corner of the world is still churning, scattering and struggling through impossible forces of the elements, praying with the spirit that is carrying us, today and tomorrow, that we will persevere both inward and out, together in aid, somehow.