Thursday, July 16, 2015

FAVOR IN THY SIGHT By Nick Bruner


You can’t imagine how much my husband hated it when I found God. Please, please don’t tell him what happened. I’ve had two miracles in my life, and I don’t want to try to kill the second one, too.

Early on after I started going to church, Sam said something that wedged itself in my head good and hard. “Riddle me this, Abbie,” he said. “If you’re in so good with God now, why is it so fuckin’ hard to make a baby?”

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to say Sam’s an ogre. Don’t think that. He’s a good man, he really is. But whenever I would remember that for years after I would squeeze my fists until my nails drew blood.

I had to admit Sam had a point, though. We weren’t doing a lot of begetting, no matter how often we had sex while I was ovulating or how many thousands we spent on treatments at the fertility clinic. All we wanted was a sweet little newborn and the only thing we had to show for our effort was a pile of medical bills.

When we first decided to go for it, it’d been so romantic. Sam would come to bed with a flower, or a little poem he’d written himself, that goofy grin on his face. And I’d wear my sexiest outfit, the lacy black camisole he’d had gotten me on our first anniversary, or sometimes I’d surprise him by wearing nothing at all under the cool sheets. It didn’t take us long to get pregnant. Or so we thought.

When I missed my period we rushed to the drug store to buy a home pregnancy test. Could hardly get home fast enough and pee on that little stick, and when it turned pink we were so happy. Went out to dinner at the steakhouse to celebrate. At the first doctor’s visit that week they said everything was going well, and we started arguing over names. He wanted Andrew for a boy, I wanted Isabel for a girl.

We went back a month later for the ultrasound, wondering if we’d find out the sex that day. But in the examination room there was a problem. The technician had to go ask the doctor about something. She was gone a long time. When the doctor came in, she told us there was no embryo, just an empty sack. Anembryonic pregnancy, she called it. It couldn’t have hurt worse if she’d plunged a knife right there into my jellied abdomen. I almost wished she had.

I didn’t let Sam near me in bed for months after that. It just hurt too much. 

***

I felt like such a piece of crap for so long. Why can’t I do this one thing any other woman can do? I still felt like I had that knife in my abdomen. I could feel it twisting in my womb every day. And then I turned to God.

My friend Ellen invited me to the Assembly of God over on Pacific Street, and it all made sense right from the first visit. That day the preacher said we can’t understand God’s ways, but He has a reason for everything He does. And if there was a reason, it meant it wasn’t my fault. As soon as I heard that my insides started to relax.

Not only that, but I realized God might only be testing me. If I just showed him how faithful I was maybe then he would finally let what I wished for come to pass.

I started praying all the time. I would just close my eyes and talk to God, didn’t matter where. In the checkout line at the grocery store. Taking a shower. As soon as I woke up in the morning and before I went to bed. I tried so hard to be faithful, to be thankful, to be patient. I thought if only I accepted God’s will, someday I would conceive. At night when everything was quiet and the only sound was Sam’s even breathing, I would calm myself and listen, hoping maybe God would whisper back to me, telling me what to do.

I believed, I hoped, and I prayed, yet that one deepest desire I possessed did not come true. And all the while, Sam got more and more bitter. Mean even.

I shouldn’t say that. It was as hard on him as it was on me. That was his way of dealing with it.

All his snide little comments sure didn’t make things any easier for me, though. “Why don’t you tell your Sky God to part these cars? You know, like the Red Sea,” he said as we sat in his truck, simmering in a traffic jam on Dodge Street. Right, ha ha. And that night, like nothing had ever happened, he had the pure gall to kiss me on the cheek and say, “Maybe we should do it tonight, honey.” Was I supposed to forget what he’d said earlier that day? But I did it anyway. I detested every second of it, but I let him roll on top of me and stick it in. I was his wife after all. Even with the comments and the hurtfulness, we were still trying to make it happen.

Anyway, I didn’t let all that bother me too much. I was too involved at my new church. And I was so excited, so curious, learning new things every day about myself and my role in His plan. I read the Bible like it was a glass of water and I’d spent years in a desert. In a way, I had—an emotional desert. I didn’t understand half of what I read, but that’s not what mattered. The words just poured over me. Cooling, calming, soothing.

I wanted Sam to have the same peace I’d found. I asked him to come to church with me, but you can picture how that went over. “I would sooner pull my own fingernails out with pliers,” he said. So I didn’t ask again. Ever.

***

On my birthday, Sam took me to the Spaghetti Works in the Old Market, my favorite restaurant. He must have told the waiter about the occasion because at the end of the meal they brought a dish of hazelnut gelato and all the staff stood around the table clapping and singing “Happy Birthday.” When they finished it was quiet for a second and I burst into tears. Somehow I’d gone all day without thinking about it, but it hit me right at that moment in the restaurant: I was forty-five. At that age you can pretty much write off ever getting pregnant. I knew right then I would really never have a baby of my own.

Everybody in the whole place turned around to see who was bawling on her birthday, probably expecting a five-year-old. I felt so bad, seeing the shocked look on Sam’s face, but I couldn’t help myself and cried and cried practically the whole way home in the truck.

He was so good about it. I apologized to him that night and he told me, “Hey, it’s your party, you can cry if you want to.” I laughed at that and he kissed me. I didn’t turn away that time. I closed my eyes and let his lips press against mine, let his fingers run though my hair. Maybe that’s why Sam didn’t fly off the handle when I told him we had to move.

It came over me all of a sudden, a real conviction we were in the wrong place and had to go.

“But where we will we live? Where will we work?” Sam asked, sitting up in bed.

“The Lord will let us know when we get there,” I said. The moving van was there that very weekend.

We got into town on Sunday and drove around, checking things out, with no real plan of where we would even spend the night. When we saw this place I knew instantly. The building was so tall and beautiful, and something about the gray stone and all the pinnacles and the pointed windows really struck me. It was like a cathedral, the kind of place where you could really get in contact with God. I said, “This is it,” and Sam pulled the truck over. We went right in and signed a one-year lease for an apartment that was available immediately.

Our stuff arrived the next day. After hours of carrying boxes and furniture, sweaty and exhausted, I sat on a stool by the open window. The movers had left and all was peaceful outside in the courtyard, with hanging plants all around on people’s balconies and the sky turning purplish with the coming night. I breathed in and the air smelled so fresh, filling my nostrils and lungs. And now I truly heard the Lord, and he was telling me it was time. I took off my clothes and went into the bedroom where Sam was unpacking a box of books and kissed him, fell right in his arms. We made love right there on the soft bare mattress, the first time in months. I knew right away a miracle had finally happened.

***

I was right, too. Nine months later I gave birth to Izzy, our gorgeous baby girl. She was born with a full head of curly brown hair and we brought her home to the nursery Sam and I had so carefully decorated with giraffes and lions and elephants.

She was so cute and precious, with her tiny fingers and the little pink booties we put on her feet. I never could understand why I was so sad all the time. More than that, I couldn’t even muster the will to get out of bed. The feeling was so strong it was a physical weight holding me down. When I heard Izzy cry for me in the middle of the night, I groaned with all my soul. How could I be like this, when God had given me everything I had wanted? I would have been angry, except I couldn’t even work up the emotion for that. Instead, I just hated myself. Hate was the only thing. The whole world seemed pointless and me most of all. I didn’t deserve what I’d received.

Sam was so good during this time, feeding Izzy, playing with her, while her stupid Mommy just laid around all day. I thought it was a good sign when I became jealous of him, because she had become so attached to her Daddy. It meant I was starting to feel again. That encouraged me to pray, and with God’s help, I became better gradually. I still had bad days, but they were fewer and farther between.

I insisted we raise her in the church, because God had done so much for us. That’s when the second miracle occurred: Sam started coming with us. Probably he was humoring me, or maybe he’d had a genuine change of heart. I don’t know. We went every week, and Sam and I listened to the sermon and held hands.

Now every morning I get up early for my own time with the Lord. I open the window and kneel with my arms on the sill, breathing in His good air and thanking Him for all He has provided for my family. The two miracles that have changed my life. The Lord talks back too. Not in words, but in the way I feel in my soul. So close to Him, in touch with his loving nature. I could not imagine a happier, more fulfilled life.

Izzy had her third birthday two weeks ago exactly. She’s at the age now where she has a mind of her own. She insisted she wanted a birthday cake with princesses, so I bought one at the grocery store and invited a few of her friends from daycare over. We held the party in the courtyard, put the cake on the picnic table made of white stone.

After Izzy blew out the candles, Sam picked up the stainless steel knife to cut the cake. His hand brushed the hand of one of the mothers. He smiled at her and she smiled back, her brown eyes flickering as if it wasn’t their first touch. I nearly fell to the ground in shock, a rush of blood to my head reminding me of the bad. All those years we couldn’t conceive. Sam’s hateful remarks. The way I’d felt it was my fault all that time for not getting pregnant. My tears that night at the restaurant. Even those dark days after Izzy was born when I acted so ungrateful.

I was nearly overtaken by panic right there in the courtyard. Were things really different now, between us? How well did he know this other woman? How many times had they met? Maybe I didn’t even truly deserve his love, or a beautiful child, or a happy life. At that moment in my mind, it was as if the last several years hadn’t taken place at all.

“Honey, are you all right?” Sam asked.

I took a deep breath, got ahold of myself. “I’m fine,” I said. “I was just a little dizzy for a second.” I picked up the matchbook and saw that my palms were bloody.

The next morning I opened my eyes and the crushing feeling hit me. It was another of those days like after Izzy was born. I forced myself to get out of bed and open the window. I kneeled down and breathed in the air. It wasn’t fresh anymore, or warm or sweet. It was cold and sharp as needles in my lungs, my gut, down to my womb. And I knew right away it meant the Lord was asking me to do something. Something I didn’t want to do.

I had to kill Izzy.

I closed the window and went back to bed. Tears ran down my face as I laid there. When Sam woke up he asked me if something was wrong. I told him I didn’t feel well, that was all.

I went over it in my mind, considered it from every angle. Why would God do this? Maybe it was mercy. Maybe something was wrong with Izzy, and killing her now would save her from suffering later. I watched her all day for signs of illness, but she seemed so healthy and happy, running to the swings at the playground and shouting in her little voice, “Mommy! Mommy! Push me!”

Three days I opened that window in the mornings, and three days that cold air entered me. I prayed to Him, I pleaded with Him. I prostrated myself on the floor and opened myself to Him, hoping that if He could only see how faithful I was He wouldn’t lay that terrible command on my heart. But in the end, I knew God wasn’t changing his mind.

On the fourth day I waited until Sam went to work. I picked out the stainless steel carving knife from our wooden knife block, the same one he had used on the cake, and placed it in a tote bag. I called Izzy to me and kissed her on the cheek and told her we were going down to the courtyard. She took my hand and we went out the door.

I hoped the elevator would stop on the way down, that somebody would get in and grab me and put a stop to it, maybe that old janitor who was always hanging around. No one did. The door opened and I led Izzy down the corridor.

“Where are we going, Mommy?” she asked.

“To the courtyard.”

“Are we going to play there?”

“Mommy has something she has to do there.”

“Did you bring a snack, Mommy?”

I squeezed her hand harder and pushed through the double glass doors into the courtyard. There in the center stood the stone table. I picked Izzy up and sat her on top.

“Lie down and close your eyes, Izzy.”

“It’s not my naptime, Mommy!”

“Let’s pretend it is.”

She laid down and closed her eyes, smiling in anticipation of the fun game we were about to play. I took out the knife from the bag and gripped it in my right hand, covering her eyes with my other. I raised the knife and did not hesitate, because I had prepared myself in my mind for this moment. I put my faith in the Lord and trusted in His will. I brought the blade down in a smooth, clean motion, and as it was about to pierce her ribcage a voice shouted, “Stop!”

I jerked my hand back and looked around. Nobody was there.

“What are you doing, Mommy?” Izzy asked, her eyes open now.

“Nothing, baby,” I said, checking the windows on the upper floors. Where had the voice come from? “Let’s go back inside.”

I replaced the knife in the bag and brought Izzy back upstairs. Inside the apartment the window was open. Odd, I was positive I had shut it earlier, because the air was so cold. Now though, the sun was out and I started to sweat, big oily drops oozing down my face. The sweat ran off me onto the floor. It was as if somebody had pulled a plug, and all the anger and pain I’d built up for years drained out of me, right out in a black puddle by the coffee table.

Izzy laughed. “You’re all wet, Mommy!” I stumbled to a chair and sat and held her in my lap. I felt relief, as if I had passed a test I hadn’t even known I was taking. And although I still pray every morning, it’s been two weeks now and God hasn’t spoken to me since.

Monday, June 8, 2015

3rd Annual Writing Contest for Middle & High School Students – Sponsored by the Chantilly Regional Public Library & the Writers of Chantilly 

Deadline: August 15, 2015

The Chantilly Regional Public Library, and the Writers of Chantilly, a not-for-profit organization of local professional and aspiring writers in Chantilly, VA, are sponsoring a free writing contest open to all middle and high school students in Fairfax County.

Students are invited to write an original essay, short story or poem on the theme of “Mysteries and Wonders”—about a hidden treasure or marvel, a surprise history, or a new discovery.

First through third place winners will be chosen to read their work at an author event held on Sunday, September 27, 2015, at the Chantilly Regional Library. Winners also will receive a writing prize package, and have their work published in a future Writers of Chantilly anthology.

Rules:
·         Only one entry per author may be entered
·         Entries must be postmarked/received by August 15, 2015 to be eligible
·         Works must be written by students, and reflect their own original ideas
·         Pieces will be judged on creativity, content and structure (stories and essays should have a beginning, middle and end; poems may be free verse)
·         Stories can be fiction or nonfiction
·         Only unpublished works are eligible
·         Previous winners of a Writers of Chantilly writing contest are not eligible to enter
·         Entries must be typed in English
·         Maximum word count of 1,500

Include your name, grade, school, mailing address, email address and phone number with your entry (your information will be kept confidential), and note if your piece is fiction or nonfiction. All entries will be acknowledged; winners will be notified by September 12, 2015. Send or email entries to: 

The Writers of Chantilly—Writing Contest
c/o 14205 Hartwood Court
Centreville, Virginia 20121
Email to: WOCwritingcontest@gmail.com

About the Writers of Chantilly
The Writers' of Chantilly meets twice monthly at the Chantilly Library to encourage and support writers 18 and over at all levels—newcomers warmly welcomed. WOC has published several anthologies, the most recent being Unfinished Business, available on Amazon.com or through the Fairfax County Public Library system. More info: WOCwritingcontest@gmail.com; writersofchantilly.blogspot.com


This writing contest has been approved by Fairfax County Public Schools.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Writers of Chantilly in the News

The Writers of Chantilly were recently in the news with an article related to their recent author reading event and awards ceremony for the Student Writing Contest.

Page three of the 10-1-2014 Vienna-Oakton Connection newspaper features a story about Megan Do, the first place poetry winner in the 2014 Student Writing Contest sponsored by the Writers of Chantilly, and our Sept. 7, 2014 author reading event. Read the article here.  Bonnie Hobbs wrote the story and took the accompanying photo.

Cover of 1 October 2014 Vienna Connection

Friday, September 19, 2014

To Be Creative, Don't Hoard Ideas

Sometimes I meet or hear about a writer who thinks ideas are a rare, precious resource. These writers hoard ideas like a squirrel hoards nuts, locking them away no one can ever see them. They're frightened to share their ideas with others lest they should be stolen. They spend useless time studying copyright law to keep others from copying them. They work for months or years on a story way past the point where more polishing is necessary, because they think they're only going to get one shot at a good idea.

This is all nonsense. Talking about your ideas with others begets more ideas. I say, if someone else steals your idea, good for them! If they're a good writer, what they do with it won't look anything like your story anyway. And if they're not a good writer, why do you care what they do with your idea? And forget copyright--leave all that up to your agent and publisher, although my guess is the hoarders rarely get to the point of having an agent or publisher.

I'm something of a perfectionist, but once you've gotten your story to a point where more work on your story doesn't change the story's quality, move on to something else. There's usually a natural point where if you're paying attention, you realize you've pretty much reached the limit with the story you're working on. If you spend longer than that on it, you're just gumming up the creative part of your mind that needs new things to work on.

You should have so many ideas that if one doesn't work out, you have a hundred more to pick from. The thing to do about ideas is not to protect them, it's to stoke the furnace in your mind that produces them. And just as you don't gain strength by resting your muscles all the time, but by using them vigorously and often, so it is with your creativity. Write lots of stories, poems, letters! (Blog posts!) Keep a notebook with you to write down story ideas whenever they occur to you. If you have a funny or frightening dream, consider how you might adapt it to written form. (Lots of my best ideas come from dreams.) And join a writers' group, where you can discuss all sorts of ideas with other writers!


Written by Nicholas Bruner, cross-posted at The Ballad of Nick's Blog

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

2nd Annual WoC Grandmother's Day Event!

The Writers' of Chantilly Second Annual Grandmother's Day event took place on 7 September. The event included an awards ceremony for the winners of this year's WoC Student Writing Contest and readings from WoC members.

The families of contest winners said that they enjoyed the event very much and were proud and excited that their children were being honored.

A reporter from the CentreView newspaper was in attendance and covered the event. She says the article will appear in the Sept 17th issue.

Here are some pictures from the event:

Four of our winners of the 2014 student writing contest were able to attend and read their pieces

Welcome Poster!

A selection of WoC Anthologies were available for sale

A healthy crowd attended for the readings

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Author Reading & Outreach Event
Sponsored by the Writers of Chantilly

Sunday, September 7, 2014
2—4:30 p.m.
Chantilly Regional Library




The Writers of Chantilly, a not-for-profit organization of local professional and aspiring writers in Chantilly, Virginia, will host an author reading and outreach event at the Chantilly Regional Library on Sunday, September 7, 2014.

Members of the Writers of Chantilly will read selections from their most recent books, Etched in Memory and Unfinished Business, and area students who participated in a writing contest sponsored by the Writers of Chantilly will read their original stories, essays and poems exploring the theme of “unfinished business.” Students will be recognized and read their winning entries starting at 2:00 p.m.

The free event will take place at the Chantilly Regional Library, 4000 Stringfellow Road, Chantilly, VA, 20151, from 2—4:30 p.m. in the meeting room (drop in at any time during the program). Limited copies of Etched in Memory and Nana…and Other Grandmothers will be available for purchase at the event to support the Writers of Chantilly (cash or check, please). Bring your family and support local writers of all ages. Light refreshments served.

About the Writers of Chantilly

The Writers of Chantilly meet twice monthly at the Chantilly Regional Library in Chantilly, VA, to encourage and support writers 18 and over at all levels—newcomers warmly welcomed. WoC has published several story collections over the last 12 years, the most recent being Etched in Memory, available on Amazon.com or through the Fairfax County Public Library system. Contact: wocruthbox@gmail.com; Web: http://writersofchantilly.blogspot.com

Monday, July 14, 2014

Writers of Chantilly Announce Winners of 2nd Annual Student Writing Contest



Congratulations to the 1st-3rd place winners in the 2nd Annual Student Writing Contest sponsored by the Writers of Chantilly.

Prose winners:

The Mother and Child -- Seungwon B. (Rachel Carson Middle School)
A Conscience's Dream -- Oress Fiona P. (Rachel Carson Middle School)
Unfinished Tree House - Khai N. (Rachel Carson Middle School)
Poetry winners:
Unfinished Stories - Emma V. (Glasgow Middle School)
Untitled poem -- Megan D.  (Thomas Jefferson High School)
Shirley - Caroline D. (Rachel Carson Middle School)

This year’s theme was “Unfinished Business” and we received over 175 stories, poems and essays from middle and high school students all over Fairfax County, VA! Our judges were very impressed with the quality of entries—and the talent of young writers who participated—and had a very difficult time choosing the winners.

The students will be recognized and read their winning entries at an author event and open house on Sunday, September 7, 2014, at the Chantilly Regional Library, 4000 Stringfellow Road, Chantilly, VA, 20151, from 2—4:30 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.

Please email WOCwritingcontest@gmail.com with questions about the contest or September 7, 2014 event. 

About the Writers of Chantilly
The Writers' of Chantilly meet twice monthly at the Chantilly Library to encourage and support writers 18 and over at all levels—newcomers warmly welcomed. WOC has published several anthologies over the last 12 years, the most recent being Etched in Memory, available on Amazon.com or through the Fairfax County Public Library system. More info: wocruthbox@gmail.com