A Light on a Dark Street

Claire shivers. She has stood on her front step long enough now that the damp, morning air has settled on her shoulders. She doesn’t even remember how to dress for a run in this cool weather. She considers going back inside to get a hat, but when remembering the chaos within, decides against it. Despite the guilt for leaving her husband to tend to their five children, Claire knows she must somehow force herself off her front steps and onto the sidewalk.

Taking a deep breath, she tries to resurrect her old self, the woman that used to run 100 miles a week with no problem. Now it’s been over three years since she’s run after anything other than a defiant, squealing toddler. Trying to get her out the door this morning, her husband told her she has nothing to lose. He was wrong—If she discovers there is no longer a runner inside her, that she has officially become just a mom, she would lose plenty.

running-573762_1280Setting off down the sidewalk, she feels sluggish and considers turning back with each step, but once she reaches the first avenue intersecting her street, she starts to gain momentum—her breathing evens out, establishes a familiar rhythm, and she starts to smile. Her lungs welcome the clean, cold air as her eyes flit to the right and to the left. There isn’t much to see other than the houses lined up on both sides, and she wonders what’s going on inside.

As she enjoys a perfectly timed deep breath, she thinks of how her husband is doing at home.

***

The bacon has come to life as Brad frantically searches for the lid to the frying pan, while one kid hangs on his leg and the other screams in his arms. His third born stands at attention and repeats a word Brad should have substituted with crap as the grease spots stain his church clothes. He should have known better than to get dressed before he cooked breakfast. He is just desperate to cook a meal that will impress his wife when she comes home from her run. She deserves to jump one less hurdle to get all five kids out the door in time for church. Brad is beginning to think that perhaps helping with breakfast was not a wise choice.

Within minutes, the kids are seated and eating. Feeling accomplished like he has just summited Mount Everest, Brad swipes a piece of bacon from Number 4’s plate. The feeling of triumph quickly shifts to trepidation as he turns around to see what he’s done to the kitchen—there’s that word again, slipping out rebelliously between his lips. He immediately pictures Claire in her church clothes on her hands and knees anxiously cleaning up this mess and shouting out orders for the kids to get their shoes on. It seems all he did was add one more hurdle for his wife to deal with.

He sighs and gazes across the street to Allen’s immaculately shoveled driveway.

***

houses-691586_1280Allen woke up looking for a fight. He can’t believe it’s Sunday already. Even though the days seem to pass slower than his days recovering in a Vietnam medic tent, Sunday always sneaks up on him, waiting to break his heart all over again.

Each Sunday, he rises at 5:30. He’d give anything to sleep until noon, wasting his life with pointless sleep is his only aim. Too bad his damn wife made him wake up before the sun on their first day of marriage, and sixty years later, he can’t even manage to sleep until 5:31—another reason his life is the epitome of misery.

He slogs out to the living room and lowers himself into his chair, careful not to look at the ostentatious floral ottoman sitting next to it. He stares at the floor for a few minutes before he musters up the resolve to look outside. The street is always so quiet on a Sunday morning—no doubt due to all the Heathens that Allen was sure surrounded his home. There’s that Claire running by, or was it Clara or Carla or Mary? He didn’t care. It’s no wonder her kids are always running wild: she shouldn’t have the time to go for a run when she’s got a zoo to feed at home. It’s so typical of a mother nowadays to avoid housework—all those women care about is how they look and how much money they can spend. Allen’s wife was never like that. She cared about everyone’s happiness but her own. He shudders at the idea that perhaps this is why she is not with him anymore.

If she was still here, sitting on that God-awful ottoman she just had to have, he would most certainly already be in his church clothes, eating one of her famous omelets. She would be eating her toast as they discussed the kids and grandkids. She would laugh and roll her eyes when he dropped a forkful on his tie, and then she’d scold him for swearing. He’d grunt–and take her for granted, like he always did. Then they’d go to church, hand in hand. She would smile and greet everyone in the building, as he found their spot in the pew—the same every Sunday. She was there for God and his people. He was there for her. That’s just the way it was.

Allen sighs, trying to deny that he misses church, and gazes over at the house of that lowlife, Tom.

***

Yep. It’s official. Jordan has been yelling all morning. She yelled at David when he woke up too early. She yelled at Charlie when he spilled Cheerios, and just to make things fair, she yelled at Sara when she emptied all her toys onto the floor.

womanShe walks over to the window to breathe and refocus just as Claire runs by. She would give anything to have a little time to herself—even if that time was spent running. She hates running—of course—probably because Tom did. She used to be friends with Claire, but now she can’t help but hate her…and her family. They are happy and it disgusts Jordan. Every Sunday, they flit off in their minivan, perfect clothes and perfect hair, to worship a God that seems to have completely disowned Jordan.

She quickly busies herself with the dishes to get Tom out of her mind, as her three children wreak havoc on the living room she just picked up. She ignores it all and escapes into her head, repeating her mantra, You can’t break. You can’t break. You can’t break. This has been her mantra for the past 10 months—the longest 10 months of her life. She finds it disgusting that after nearly a year she still expects Tom to walk through the door, as if he might miss them or something.

Her hand is warm and wet with blood as she bends down to sweep up the glass. Her daughter is crying and the boys are simply staring at her, with worry and fear in their eyes. She doesn’t know what triggered her to throw the plate at the wall. She must have learned that from Tom, too.

Sensing their judgment, she screams at her kids to get out of the way, shaking and wracked with hatred for her life.

She finally broke—10 months was all she had in her.

***

Claire practically skips into the house, feeling reborn. She barely made it thirty minutes—her legs, chest, and arms burning, and yet she knows it is the start of something great. Her skip slows, however, as she is welcomed by a thick, reeking fog inside her home. Bacon. Unmistakable.

Her firstborn crawls to greet her, still in her pajamas. Claire tries desperately to stay upbeat as she glances at the clock—one hour until they need to leave.

“Brad!” she calls out.

Coming around the corner, Brad explains, “Honey, I’m so sorry. Breakfast took longer than I thought it would and the kids are just wild this morning.”

“You’ve got to be kidding me. I was only gone thirty minutes,” Claire mumbles as she picks up the youngest and hustles upstairs to get her dressed.

***

“Mom, maybe we just shouldn’t go to church. Amy isn’t even dressed yet.”

“We are absolutely going to church! Get your shoes on!” Claire glances around hurriedly, counting her children, “Everyone get your shoes on; we have five minutes!”

Knowing he can’t be of any help, Brad has been sheepish since Claire returned from her run. He has learned through the years that once his wife becomes more efficient than an Olympic speed skater, it is best to just stay out of her way rather than try to help.

“Brad! Are you even going to help me?”

Brad tries to be the calm one, “Yes, of course. What do you want me to help with?”

“Obviously put Sam’s shoes on!”

***

No one is more surprised than Claire when they manage to back out of the driveway at 10:08 which should put them in the church parking lot at 10:28.

traffic-light-876055_1280With the kids chatting and smacking one another in the backseat, Claire sighs heavily, already mentally repenting for getting so frazzled and angry at Brad.

She glances over at him, so focused and intent upon the road, but she doesn’t know how to make the first move. She is so good at acting like a complete basket case sometimes–She wonders how annoyed Brad is, since she manages to drive herself crazy. He probably would rather I not talk for a bit, she thinks. As this thought crosses her mind, she sees Brad’s mouth twitch ever so slightly when he pulls up to a stoplight.

She pretends not to notice and intently watches the red glow in front of them, but when she feels Brad’s hand in her own, she knows that all is forgiven and settles a little more comfortably in her seat.

***

As Claire sighs at 10:08 and glances over at her husband, she is too distracted to notice Jordan peering from her living room window. Jordan will never know that her name is on a post-it by Claire’s bed, reminding her to pray for Jordan and her children every night. Claire will never know that as she rushes off to church every Sunday, drowning in stress and sin and family tumult, Jordan grows in curiosity about her God and what he might have to offer a single mom with three misbehaved children.

***

Brad is busy trying to convince himself to forgive his wife and himself for a fight that has become too common. As he drives by house number 1204, he does not even consider that past Allen’s freshly shoveled driveway is a man who desperately misses his wife, and his wife’s faith, which always kept him going. Brad does not know that underneath Allen’s constant irritable comments about him and his family, is a man who enjoys watching them pile into their van every Sunday, because it reminds him so much of a time past, when he was happier. Brad will never consider that perhaps his family’s imperfections will lead a grieving old man back into a church, where he will find peace and joy once again.

***

couple-1845334_1280Instead in their humble faith, Brad and Claire enjoy a quiet moment with their fingers entwined, despite the ruckus stemming from the backseat, as they press on in raising five more lights in a dark world.

***

You are a light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. ~Matthew 5:14-16

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