That day had to be the most interesting of my life. I had left home about 7:00 and walked a few houses down arriving at around 7:02. The father had a sickly colored face with little eyes and firmly set lips. One smile and he might crack. The mother looked like an office-manager Barbie doll: perfect and monotonous. Her judgmental eyes searched for any kind of horrendous flaw that she might have unknowingly let into her home. Her hair was always pressed into a bun, every strand in its perfect place.
Their daughter was no better. In fact, she was way worse. I would’ve gladly punched her and had been done with it. But being ten years old and smarter than my fists, I smiled politely and pretended to be interested in a friendship. The first time Ria saw me when she walked into her living room with me on the couch trying to get her parents to talk, she sighed heavily and groaned. “Mom! Dad!” She screeched. “Do I have to play with that?”
Needless to say, her parents sent us to her room where we both engaged in an intense battle of pre-teen wits. It didn’t take me very long to find out I was battling with an unarmed moron. Eventually, she left me there fuming and I took off through their back door to get some fresh air. That’s when I met Ryan.
“Hey!” A voice caught my attention in the midst of my steaming. I turned and saw a face resting on the top of the fence.
“Hey,” I said, unsure of how to react. How long had he been standing there watching me express my hate with a few slugs to one of Ria’s plush animals? What was he thinking about me?
Ryan took a quick glance at the unicorn slumped over my arm, its eyes smashed into its skull and its horn askew. “I see you met Ria.”
Seeing that as permission, I took the liberty to thrust the unicorn into the dirt and stop on it a few times before I answered. Ryan fell back laughing. We both decided we needed to get out. While he ran inside for a coat, I opened the Roberts’ gate and slid out, watching for any sign of Ria or one of the Great Stone Faces. I cleared my route and headed next door where Ryan had been waiting for me in his front yard. We’ve been best friends ever since.
Before we knew it, six years had passed and we are just about ready to take on the world alone. One step at a time, the time had whirled above our heads and sank into our hearts, turning into memories. I went to all his birthday parties, he came to all mine. He hugged me when I cried and I volunteered one of my sister’s stuffed animals to pummel when he was agitated. At school we were teased, but the bullies put an abrupt stop to the insults and kissy-y faces once we showed them they didn’t want to mess with us. High school is tedious, stressful, dramatic, and above all pointless. Guys come to get laid, girls come to show off, teachers come to get paid, and Ryan and me? We come to at least try to get an education. But again, it didn’t take very long to understand that education was only going to be achieved once we left Roosevelt High and faced college… if we could even get into one.
I laid back on my bed with the phone clutched to my chest as I reminisced through the older days when the hardest decision we had to make was whether or not we wanted to eat our vegetables. Now, I am searching for a job, trying to get hours of homework done on time, taking responsibility for a car, and working out for a half hour every day. Why can’t life be simple the way it used to be? When all I had to do to get over my anger was punch something or cry it out?
“Miriam,” Ryan knocked on my bedroom door and is at up. The door flung open as he tossed me a coke and popped his open. Seating himself in my computer chair, he looked at me and smiled gently. “How’re you doing?”
I shrugged and gave a brave grin back. I forgot to mention that the responsibility I’m taking for my car is the expense in damages and trying to get the ticket reduced. My Camaro that I had got for so cheap proved to be too powerful for me, a licensed driver of just over a month. The sight of the pitch black morning and gushing rain streamed through my head, slow and agonizing. I didn’t see the dark car speeding down the road without its headlights. And by the time I was already in the intersection, they were about to blow me and my car to bits. I gunned the gas pedal to avoid a collision, but my car hydroplaned, skidded, and ran head-on into a tree. The smoke from the airbags stunk, and the sting of being smacked in the face was numb. I had to find my sister. I remembered screaming her name and her screaming mine. I remember the terror I had felt because I could’ve killed her. I could’ve lost my baby sister.
And it would’ve been my fault.
I avoided Ryan’s eyes, knowing if I had looked into them I would’ve lost control of my emotions. Those tender eyes knew me so well, and at times like these, the fact was frightening. Ryan set his coke on my desk and kneeled in front of me, grabbing my hands in his and rubbing them with warmth. “Do you hurt anywhere?”
“No,” I whispered. Unfortunately, I wasn’t injured at all. My sister suffered from a tiny cut on her eyelid when the airbag exploded and smashed her glasses, but that was it. But I had walked away completely fine. I would’ve taken a broken arm, a broken leg, a broken anything if she didn’t have to get that small would on her precious face. I would’ve rather been hospitalized than have her suffer in any way.
Ryan sighed and opened my coke for me. “I’m sorry I couldn’t come sooner.”
“No,” I said again. I was relieved he couldn’t. I wouldn’t allow him to see me the way I had been for the past week after the accident. I was drained, drained of self-power, strength, emotion. I was tired. I just wanted to hold my baby sister and tell her how sorry I was, to beg her to forgive me. There was no way I could ever make her understand the pain I felt for her. I didn’t have the energy to put my makeup on, curl or straighten my hair, mix and match cute outfits, or hang out with my friends. Like zombie-girl, I walked to school, did my homework, and slept until dinner where I would munch a few bites then sleep some more. Today I was just beginning to feel like my life might let up on me. Today I felt hope. Today I had sneaked into Bree’s room, kissed her forehead, then got ready to go to the mall with Ryan. “Don’t worry about it.”
He smiled at me again as he helped me up. “You look great.”
Ryan pulled into the parking lot and yanked a list from his pocket. “Ok, so here’s the game-plan,” he said. I rolled my eyes. He was always annoyingly organized. “We hit The Rack then head to Forever 21, Victoria’s Secret –I’ll give you some money and wait outside—maybe get a burger at Orange Julius, get a few things from Aeropostale then head home. Sound good?”
He opened his door and stepped out. “But Ryan,” I called as I stepped out on my side. “Those are all the stores I like, what about you?”
“It’s not about me today,” Ryan put his arm around me and led me into Nordstrom’s. I rested my head on his shoulder and silently thanked whoever had given me such an amazing friend. Anger suddenly welled up inside of me, a stage I had been going through since the day after I wrecked my car. My other friend, Kara, said she was praying for me. If she was praying for me, why did I almost kill my sister and cost my parents so much money? If she actually had anyone to pray to, why did he or she let me ruin this significant part of my life? How could these people claim to have faith in a god that’s done nothing for anyone? I guess Ryan felt me tense up, because his hand pressed into my shoulder and I eased up some.
As we entered, both of our attention was grabbed by the same man and woman. The man was dressed in yellow form head to toe. Yellow hat, yellow coat, yellow pants, yellow shoes, and though we couldn’t see them I would’ve bet he was wearing yellow socks. The woman clung to his arm as they made a point of coming in our direction. “Hello,” The man flashed a smile.
“Hello,” Ryan said as his grip on me tightened.
The woman, tight-lipped and short, smiled at us under her bangs. She pulled out two pamphlets from her purse and held them out to us. ‘Ever heard of Open Arms Church of the Nazarene?”
I had, but I stayed silent as I opened the pamphlet and scanned through the images and little words printed neatly in an easy-to-read pattern. “Yes,” Ryan said. “We go there.”
The man frowned in thought. “Really? I’ve never seen you.”
“We only go for the Wednesday night service,” Ryan began guiding me away from the couple.
The banana man grinned again. “Well don’t’ make yourself such a stranger!” He called as Ryan kept pulling me away. “We’re your family!”
I waited until we were out of earshot. “Why did you lie to them?”
“If I had said we never head of their church, they would’ve tried to evangelize us and it would’ve taken forever. These people are pretty persistent and once you get them going they won’t leave you alone.”
I nodded. It made sense. And I was tired of being lectured about how I needed God. My family were all Christians except for me. I was never the sucker who bought into that stuff. My mother and father made it clear they wished I would come to a service every now and then at least, but I wouldn’t have any of it. My sister wept herself to sleep sometimes because she thought I was going to Hell. My brother would always read his bible out loud while I tried to watch of a movie. I was sick of the whole religion. I didn’t want to have anything to do with it.
I took a few bites of my burger then set it down. “Ryan,” I said.
“Miriam,” he teased. I rolled my eyes.
“Why don’t you believe in the whole Jesus thing?” I paused, knowing he was going to get all worked up. Instead, he surprised me.
Ryan set his burger down and took a sip of his soda. “Well,” he said, “Why don’t you?”
I shrugged. “It’s impossible,” I started. “Christians claim that their god is a loving god, but if he’s so loving then why does he let such horrible things happen to people? Why do orphans die of hunger, teenagers get sold into sex-slavery, people get murdered, and hearts get broke? Besides that, there’s no way any kind of higher power could exist.
“Scientifically,” Ryan said.
“But what about spiritually?”
I clamped my hands together and Ryan took another bite of burger. What was he doing? “There’s no spirituality, there is no spirit.”
Ryan held up a finger as he finished chewing. “You don’t believe that people have spirits in them? Then what gives them fire, or passion, or love, or the drive to do something they know is right? What gives them an urge to fight for what they believe in or compels them to die for it? If there are no spirits, then why do words hurt more than sticks? If we had no spirit in us, there would be no emotion, no personality, no dreams. We’d be flesh robots. Science can’t touch spirituality.”
“What’s your point?” This wasn’t the Ryan I knew. Every small mentioning of there being any kind of creator usually made him clam up and deny any kind of god watching us. Where was he going with this?
“I’m not saying there is a god up there,” Ryan said, “I’m just saying that there is spirituality because people do have souls.”
“So tell me, Ryan,” I said, feeling challenged. “Where do these souls come from?”
“Where do we come from?”
“Where did our mothers come from?”
“And their mothers?”
I groaned. “Would you please tell me what you’re trying to get at?”
Ryan wadded up his wrapping and shot it into the trash can. “Our souls aren’t physical, our bodies are. Our mothers are physical but their souls aren’t. We can only get the physical being of us from them. So where do the souls come from?”
“And what happens to them when we die?”
Ryan looked away then back at me. “I haven’t gotten that far yet.”
“Ok, so you’re saying there isn’t necessarily a ‘god’ but there is some kind of higher power giving us souls to live with.” Wrapping my head around Ryan’s big logical mind was wearing me out.
“I’m not saying there is and I’m not saying there isn’t. I just don’t know.”
I stared at him, trying to figure out what I had missed. “What changed your mind?”
Ryan glanced at me and blushed. I knew he would be embarrassed to be caught believing in any kind of spiritual existence. “some pretty convincing things were said when I was visiting my family last week.”
Ryan helped me grab my bags then we headed to Aeropostale.
“Mom, I’m home!” I took my bags to my room and set them on my bed. I flopped onto the bed but slid off and was now laying on my back on the carpet. It was almost nicer. Like I was getting what I deserved. I was a spineless little brat who deserved no bed, no shelter, no love, so I lay there and took it. Hot, salty tears spilled out of my eyes and streamed down the side of my face. Ryan’s shopping trip had meant to make me feel better, but all I was feeling was confused. Shopping couldn’t feel this hole I felt inside me. A knock came on my door, but I was crying too hard to answer or even get up. I turned to my side and held my hands over my face.
Mom walked in, saw me, and before I knew it she was stroking my hair while I lay on my bed calming the tears. “Did something happen with Ryan today?”
“No,” I choked.
“She sighed. “Are you still upset over the car accident?”
I rolled my eyes. Of course I was still upset. It was only a week ago. But it wasn’t why I was crying. I shook my head and wiped my face unsuccessfully.
“Sweetie, what is it?” Mom rubbed my arm. “Please tell me.”
I refused. My mouth was shut tight. If I had told her about Ryan’s and my spiritual conversation today, I wouldn’t hear the end of it. She wouldn’t tease me or say, “I told you so,” but she would tell me that I need Jesus, and I didn’t want to need anybody. She prayed for me. But I didn’t pull away.
“Why didn’t you leave?” Mom asked.
“You never like it when we openly pray for you.” Her fingers combed my hair. “What’s going on, Honey?”
“Mom,” I sobbed, “where do spirits come from?”
“Spirits? You mean like our souls?”
I nodded. “Yes.”
“Well,” she sighed and laid next to me. Wrapping her arms around me she said, “I could tell you but I’m not sure you’ll want to hear it.”
“Ok. Souls come from God. They’re the part of us that goes on after our bodies can’t go any longer. And depending on our choice, they either live or die.”
“There’s no escaping it.”
“Having to make that choice.”
“No, there isn’t. But my decision was easy for me.”
“You want to live.”
“I do too.”
Mom paused. I knew what I was saying, but I couldn’t even believe it myself. I knew all the stories about the old testament and the new, about how Jesus was crucified for our sins then lived again three days later. I knew those stories, but now I was choosing to believe them. Mom sat up and looked at me. “What?”
I sat up with her. “I want to live, Mom. I don’t want to be away from God. I know I can’t go on without Him.” I stopped to see if she was getting it. “I need Him, especially now.”
Mom burst into tears and squeezed me, she prayed with me, and for the first time I talked with my spiritual father. I felt at peace. Ryan, an extreme, die-hard atheist had made me realize I was a mere speck compared to the love the one and only true God had for me. That family dinner I ate like a hog. I felt re-energized, revived, alive. I had a whole life ahead of me, and another one after that. My family welcomed me to God’s and thanked Him for bringing me in, and when I called Ryan, he didn’t try to talk me out of it. He said congratulations, the he had to go. Next week I’m going to Kara’s youth group, and I’m bringing Ryan with me.
(Key Verse for this story: Jeremiah 29:11)