Storied Past – 10

The seat was empty! Ramona looked around. There was no way Edith could have slipped out. Ramona was on the aisle seat! Now she was really confused! What could have happened to her? She knew it was crazy but she even looked under the seats.

Then she noticed that the bag was still there. She grabbed it and stood up. Edging her way up the aisle to the rear she looked at every seat for Edith. Arriving at the onboard restroom she checked there, too. It was unoccupied. Puzzled, she returned to her seat.

Well, that was surely weird; almost creepy, that she had been sitting by someone who suddenly disappeared. What on earth was going on? She settled back into her seat not sure what to think now. Well, there must be an easy explanation, but what? One moment she was talking to this nice, sweet, grandmotherly lady and the next she had disappeared!

She drew a deep breath and exhaled slowly. Now really! Did all that just happen? No, she probably imagined it all. Surely it was brought on by the turmoil of the last several hours. At least she could chalk it up to a stressful day! Your mind can play tricks on you sometimes. She was just starting to believe this self-talk when a disturbing fact dawned on her. The bag!

She was still holding the bag Edith was carrying. Oh, God! It wasn’t her imagination, as she had tried to convince herself. The flowered bag was still in her hands. She slowly raised it up to look at it. It wasn’t very heavy for an overnight bag. She set it on the seat and laid her head back. Wasn’t this bizarre?

What did it all mean? And the way Edith had looked at her when she last spoke; her eyes seemed to penetrate into her very soul. How did she know how Ramona felt when she was little; that she loved Jesus so much? It was a bit spooky. Or, or maybe, just maybe . . . no, no that was too trippy.

She fell asleep. Grandma Beckett was holding her on her lap, shushing her while putting a Band-Aid on her scraped knee. Grandma kept saying, “It’s gonna be alright, just alright sweetheart,” her sobbing comforted by the elder woman’s gentle voice and she felt, no, she knew, that everything would be alright. Tomorrow always would be better than today.

 

Mr. Beckett woke up slowly. He laid there not wanting to open his eyes. His concentration was a bit groggy as he tried to recall the day’s events. His daughter had stopped by; he remembered that. How did their conversation go? He really hoped she would get back to church but then he started to grasp the content and reality of what he had said to her. That part about how hard it was to keep her obedient to God with rules. Had that been the right approach? Well, he just wanted the best for her and to make sure she was ready for heaven.

There definitely was a rift that had developed in their relationship these last several months since Sarah passed. He really missed Sarah. Her absence left such a hole in his purpose and enjoyment of life. He knew she was in a better place and was waiting for him there; in heaven. Pastor Marlowe had counseled him to be sure he was ready so he could see Sarah again. That had driven him to a renewed enthusiasm for the Bible and being faithful to its precepts more than ever! He continued to seek God and consecrate his life and behavior so that he would be more Christ-like and holy.

Now with Ramona pulling away and the added pain of her having a baby out of wedlock seemed to tear the hole even larger. What had gone wrong? He had tried to be more careful to direct her and instruct her in the ways of God. Whenever Pastor would bring something from the Word, he made sure Ramona followed the teaching. After all, he was responsible and his reputation as a Christian father was at stake.

 

Becky and Jeremy stood in the middle of the bus station. This late in the evening it was quiet. There was a faint smell of stale popcorn lingering in the air that stole your attention when by day the busy activity would have. As there was hardly anyone there it was easy to see that Ramona wasn’t either. Jeremy strode over to the ticket counter. The only window open revealed an older gentleman sitting on a worn metal stool dressed in a gray uniform with a nametag, Robert G., proudly prominent on his right pocket.

“Sir, may I ask if you have seen someone?” Jeremy proposed.

“Ask away,” the man answered.

“Well, I am wondering if a girl, about twenty, or so, just bought a ticket from you?”

“Maybe,” he said. “What did she look like?”

Jeremy described as best he could Ramona’s physical features. By now Becky had joined the conversation and added more detail.

“I just sold a ticket to someone like that about forty-five minutes ago. ‘First bus out,’ she wanted, so that’s what I gave her.”

“Where was it headed?” Jeremy inquired.

“Rancho Cucamonga,” he said. “Won’t get there till late tomorrow some time though.”

“Where is that?” Becky asked.

“Southern California, just east of Los Angeles area,” the man in gray answered with an obvious pride in his geographic knowledge.

“Oh no,” Becky and Jeremy answered together. “Thank you, sir.”

“Yup,” Mr. Robert G. said. “No problem!”

As they walked toward the exit, the seeming finality of Ramona’s decision settled in to Becky. It looked like she was going through with it and there was nothing Becky or Jeremy could really do right now. Becky stopped.

“Jeremy, it looks like it’s a done deal for Ramona but I still think there is hope. God can arrange her circumstances to help her make the right choice about this baby.”

“Yes, I believe that, too. I don’t want her to choose to end the baby’s life but even if she does, there is still hope for her to find a way to trust God for her future. He is such a loving and forgiving God, isn’t He?”

 

Ramona woke with a start. The bus lurched over the driveway apron and into the parking lot of a small town. The flickering sign over the station revealed it wasn’t her stop. Brownsdale, it announced, Home of Elkhorn Tractor.

She got up to go inside to the restroom, as this was a 20 minute stop, and took Edith’s bag with her. Well, whoever that was that sat with her for an hour and a half! As she waited her turn she became curious about the bag. It couldn’t have had much in there: maybe some clothes and toiletries. She guessed she may as well open the bag. There could be something to identify the owner.

Pulling the zipper she reached inside. There was something soft and a small box. She pulled out the softness: a smallish blue blanket, like a baby blanket. Well, maybe there was something that made sense about that! The woman obviously had mental issues. She opened the box. It contained a baby pacifier.

Ramona was suddenly taken aback as her mind connected some dots. This woman, Edith, was no mental case! Somehow, she knew that Ramona was pregnant. It had to be that. And, Edith had to be an angel of some sort. That was the only rational answer to her disappearance and the strange events the last few hours!

Ramona forgot she needed the restroom. Dashing out to the bus she begged the driver to retrieve her suitcase. She had to get back to Maple Valley!

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Storied Past – 9

Becky called the names Marlowe had given her. The second girl, Rachel, answered.

“Oh, I don’t really know where she could be. I haven’t talked to her since, well since she left church and kinda went into sin. She could be anyplace. Did you check that saloon, or whatever?” Rachel said.

“No, I haven’t, but thank you for the lead.” No answer on the third girl’s phone either.

“I’m not sure what to do now, Jeremy.”

“How about asking someone who does know?” he suggested.

“I’m sorry. You are so right! I’ve been a bit consumed by the crisis here and I forgot what I really should be doing first.” She bowed her head slightly. “Father, we really need some help here. Would you please show us, or lead us to Ramona? Whatever she decides to do next could impact her life forever and she needs some friends with her.”

“Thank you, Lord,” Jeremy finished.

“Duh!” Becky suddenly exclaimed. “Why don’t I just call her?” Her voice rose a bit in pitch at the end in a rhetorical question. Jeremy’s eyes rolled back in his head.

“I can’t believe we didn’t think of that already!” She scrolled down to Ramona’s number and tapped it.

 

Ramona nervously paced back and forth across the large waiting area at the bus station. The room was empty except for a sleeping pan-handler or two, and an older, sweet looking lady carrying a small bag.

A few minutes earlier she had purchased a ticket to some California town, Rancho something-or-other. She didn’t really care where she went. She just thought that any place in California would be safe and far enough away that she could start over. With the few hundred dollars or so she had saved, at least she could get a room somewhere, pay for the procedure and hopefully find a job before she ran out of money. If only she could stop this insistent, naggy voice deep down inside that was disagreeing with this whole line of reasoning!

She felt her phone vibrate and then ring. She looked at the number that popped up; Becky Moore!

“No, I just can’t talk to her right now,” she thought as she let it go to voicemail. “She will just try to talk me out of this.”

The monotone loudspeaker voice sounded bored as it announced the arrival of her ride south. She walked to the door indicated by the voice and waited. The sweet, old lady approached and smiled at her.

“Hello. You must be going on my bus, too.” Her smile was disarming and friendly to the point that Ramona couldn’t ignore her.

“Uh, yes, I guess so.” She kind of reminded her of her grandmother. She died when Ramona was only six years old but left such a wonderful memory.

“My name is Edith. Would you care to share a seat with me? I could use some company.”

Ramona really didn’t want conversation with anyone but maybe she would be kind and gentle, like her grandmother. She decided to take a risk anyway. Maybe “Edith” would go to sleep.

“OK, sure.”

 

Becky hung up her phone.

“No answer, Jeremy. Well, I can try again later. I don’t have any other ideas, do you?”

“Do you think she might leave town?” he posited.

“Well, I don’t know. I haven’t heard of any doctors who do that sort of surgery here in Maple Valley. Maybe she would leave. Let’s drop by the bus station before we head home. It’s only a few blocks away.”

“Sounds good to me,” Jeremy said.

They left the coffee shop and walked toward the Pub-Trans station. As they approached the block where the station was, they had to pause while a big interstate bus turned in front of them.

“Oh, I hope she’s not on that one!” Jeremy moaned. They tried looking in the windows but they were all darkened by the tint and couldn’t make out any faces.

 

At that moment, Ramona looked out past Edith. Her heart nearly stopped as she recognized Becky waiting to cross the street. As the blood drained from her face, which must have had a look of horror as well, Edith asked, “Are you alright dear? You look worried about something.”

“I’m OK; I just . . . may have forgotten to turn the iron off. Well, no worries, it goes off after thirty minutes. I’m fine.”

“Oh, that’s a relief. Well, where are you going; to visit some relatives?” Edith asked.

“No. I don’t know anyone where I’m going.” She suddenly realized what she had said and knew that statement made her vulnerable to more lines of questioning from this Edith lady. But Edith didn’t pursue the unintentional blunder.

“Oh, that’s lovely!” Edith said. “What a great adventure you must be looking forward to!”

The statement sounded like her grandmother, too. Come to think of it; she had a slight resemblance to Grandma Beckett. She was short, plumpish and smelled of lavender.

“Yes. It will be an adventure, I’m sure.” Ramona returned. The way she said it, she was sure she didn’t sound very convincing.

“I’m off on an adventure, too!” Edith shared. “It is completely new territory for me. I’m going to a retirement village down near the Oregon border. All of my things are there already and I am excited to meet my new friends.”

“Meet . . . your . . . new . . . friends?” Ramona asked haltingly. “How can they be friends and you haven’t met them yet? Doesn’t make sense.”

“Well, you ARE right. I don’t know them yet but I am sure I will like them. I have peace about my future and I know everything that happens to me will be special. I am so blessed!”

This sounded a little too disconnected from experience for her taste. She felt special all right; like, specially taken for an idiot and especially in trouble now! But blessed? All she felt was cursed; cursed to a life controlled by everyone but her.

“How can you feel so confident about your future? I’m not sure about tomorrow but I intend to take control of my future and do what I want to do.”

“Oh no, my dear. I didn’t mean I am in control. Usually it’s quite the opposite. I just mean that I am alright with what is coming tomorrow because I trust the process and who is actually in control. Every day is challenging but I am grateful for it. I meet new people; like you for instance, and I only want to try to be kind and love people because I know I am loved and valued.”

“Hmmm. I thought I was loved but it seemed like it was only when I obeyed rules; not just loved for who I am. And, I was not valued after I was taken advantage of, for sure!” She ended with an edge of venom in her voice.

This did not go unnoticed by her seat companion. “We have all been taken advantage of at some time or other,” Edith shared. “I married young. My husband was a charmer but he had a drinking problem. He used to come home and physically abuse me and the children. Then . . . well, he would fall asleep after he had his way with me. I had quite a painful time for several years.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” Ramona was sincerely moved. “What happened then?”

“Well, he met with an accident on his way home one night. I was so bitter. Not that he was gone but that I let him abuse me and the children for so long.”

“You don’t seem bitter now,” Ramona said. “How did you get over it?”

“Well dear, I don’t know whether you can ever “get over” an experience like that. The scars are so deep. But I met someone who helped me learn to forgive him and myself. That was the best thing that could have happened. The memories are painful but they are in the past. I try to live each day with a joyful spirit while being at peace with the future.”

“Wow! I wish I could be at peace with the future. I mean, I’m going to make my own future and it will be what I want but I don’t know about the peaceful part yet. There will be some trouble and hard times before I get there, no doubt.”

Edith looked directly at her. “Yes . . . there will be some trouble and hard times. But you will come through all of that just fine. Just remember how you felt when you were a little girl. Remember how your faith and trust was so strong in Jesus? Get back to that place and you will be peaceful.”

Ramona teared up. She glanced away out the opposite window to keep Edith from seeing her cry. Yes! She remembered a time when life seemed simpler. Her faith was strong and she used to talk to God a lot! How she missed those times, but they seemed so long ago and far from reality now. How many bridges had she crossed and how many were burned that might be keeping her from getting back to that place?

She discreetly wiped her eyes and turned back to Edith. “I just don’t know if I can . . .”

She froze in mid-sentence. No one was sitting next to her.

– To Be Continued –

Storied Past – 8

Stunned for a few moments, Becky finally gathered her presence of mind and sprang up. Tearing down the stairs to the street level she searched for Ramona. The streetlights had already been on for a while but they didn’t reveal which way the girl had gone.

“Oh, Ramona,” she wondered, “where did you go?” Heading back upstairs she tried to think what to do next. Maybe Ramona would go back home tonight. She might try to check online for a doctor there or maybe she could get a referral from her own doctor. What to do?

Her ringtone abruptly sounded. It was Jeremy, the staff member from City Reach.

“Hi Becky, how’s it going?”

“Not good. Remember the girl I brought with me to the soup kitchen?”

“Yeah, she seemed real shy. Nice though. What about her?”

Becky sighed, “Well, she is pregnant and I’m afraid she might end it; soon!”

“Are you serious right now? Isn’t she with you?

“Well, she was at my apartment until I got home from work. Then she had a meltdown and flew out the door threatening to find a doctor. I don’t know what I should do.”

Jeremy thought for a second. “Want me to meet you someplace? We should try to find her.”

Becky agreed. “I think she might go to her house. Meet me there; 1015 East Granite Street. I’ll be there in fifteen.”

 

Ramona hurriedly walked to the corner where she turned left. She didn’t know where she was going and didn’t really care. She was only cognizant of this anger and deep hurt that drove her to get away; just go someplace, anyplace but here in this Podunk, small-minded town.

That thought lodged in her consciousness with a speck of hope. Maybe she really should go someplace else: a new life in a new city where no one knew her. They wouldn’t know her past; wouldn’t judge her now and she could make her own future without church busybodies telling her how to live. She could find a doctor in a larger city, take care of her problem and start over.

First she had to go home and pack some things. Then she remembered: her purse! She was in such a hurry to leave Becky’s she left it in the front hallway!

Continuing around the block she headed back to the apartment.

 

Becky and Jeremy arrived about the same time at Ramona’s house. “Did you knock yet?” he asked.

“No, I was waiting until you arrived. I may need your moral support.” Becky said.

“No lights on,” Jeremy noted. They peered into the living room window. “And I don’t see any shadows moving around either.” He said.

“Great!” Becky sighed and moved back to the front door. She rang the doorbell. No answer. She rang again and then again.

“Well, what do we do now?” Becky looked at Jeremy.

“Where else do you think she might go?” he asked.

“I don’t know. I’ve only known her for about a week, Jeremy. I saw her Dad at the mercantile store and then on the kitchen floor, unconscious. He is the only . . . oh, I know. Let’s call Pastor Marlowe. He would know lots of her friends and they could ask around; see if they can find her.”

“Great idea, Beck! I’ve wanted to meet him anyway.” Reaching for his phone he said, “I’ll search for his number.”

He found a Pastor Marlowe listed and handed the phone to Becky. She waited while it rang and then went to voicemail.

“Pastor Marlowe, this is Becky Moore, a friend of Ramona Beckett. I am wondering if you could help me find her. I think she may be a bit distraught and could be in danger. You can reach me at my number; 503.555.6162. Thank you.”

“Well, all we can do now is wait for him to call back. Other than that, I don’t have a clue where she could be,” Becky concluded.

It was now getting close to 9:30 pm. They caught a bus and headed toward downtown. Five or six minutes later they got off on Main. The streets were wet from a heavy mist. Diesel fumes from the departing bus mixed with the moist air in a familiar scent that describes most small to medium sized Northwest towns. The yellow/orange streetlights reflected off the dampness of every hard surface and magnified, leaving a glow that was both welcoming and mysterious.

Holy Grounds Coffee Company, Becky’s part time employer and the place she took Ramona after discovering her under the overpass last week, was in the next block.

“Jeremy, let’s go get some tea while we’re waiting for Pastor Marlowe to call back. I will tell you what I know about Ramona.”

“Right! Good call.” Jeremy agreed.

They ordered and sat down with mugs of steaming organic tea. Becky then related how she met Ramona just down the street a few blocks and everything up to when he called her a couple of hours before, including Ramona’s dream and today’s rant.

“Well, that is pretty sad,” Jeremy observed. “I have heard other people share similar stuff about that church. It will be interesting to meet the Pastor and see if he is really that . . . that harsh, I guess I might describe it.”

Becky’s phone interrupted their conversation. Pastor Marlowe’s voice asked, “Becky Moore?”

“Yes, Pastor? Thanks for calling back. I’m worried about Ramona.” She then gave a much shortened version of the last few hours.

“Well, what would you like me to do?” Marlowe asked.

“I was hoping you might check with some of her friends there in the church to see if they might know where she could be.” Becky suggested.

“You know, it’s hard to say. Ramona strayed from God and she’s gone into other friendships that her church friends probably wouldn’t know about. She could be anywhere. And I don’t want to get in the way of God’s disciplinary activities. What would that make me?”

Becky had a hard time with this last comment. She didn’t quite know how to respond.

“Well, I would be glad to call a couple of people if you could give me their names, Pastor.”

“If you want to call, that’s fine. I think she has made her bed though, and you can see what she did in it!”

“Yes, sir. Who can I call?”

Marlowe gave her three of Ramona’s friends from his church. Jeremy entered them into his phone as she repeated the names. Thanking the pastor, she hung up.

“You will never believe what he just said.” Becky was fuming. “I just can’t understand how a Pastor would write off someone and not even want to help.”

“There are those who believe that when you leave a church you leave God and His best ways,” Jeremy observed, “even if you don’t leave because of sinful activity. It’s like you can only serve God best in that church and by leaving it you have chosen to serve God at some lesser level, which is not acceptable once you have known a better way.”

“And what about Ramona? She didn’t leave because of that. She left because she felt like she couldn’t live up to the Pastor’s expectations, which she equated with God’s expectations. Oh! Excuse me. I need to call these friends before it gets too late.”

– To Be Continued –

Storied Past – 7

Ramona sank down into the stout hospital chair next to his bed. She hadn’t figured her father struggled with anything. He was always so settled and determined when it came to his faith. He seemed to act with unquestioned commitment as he dutifully followed the Pastor’s directives. If he, the one who was so careful to do the right thing, the one who always backed the Pastor fully, the one who was always there at church even if he was sick, if HE had questions . . . well, how could she ever make it?

That brought back a memory that made her shudder. In her mind she could hear a ditty that two of her friends sang years ago. Pastor Marlowe loved it! He had them sing it several times in front of everyone. One verse went like this:

“If we all backed our pastor, our pastor, our pastor
If we all backed our pastor, how happy we’d be.
When your friends are my friends and our friends are God’s friends
If we all backed our pastor, how happy we’d be.”

Well, she wasn’t happy! Maybe other people in the church thought it was because she wasn’t “backing the Pastor.” But, her dad was. Why didn’t he act happy then?

“You’ve been awfully quiet. What are you thinking about?” She snapped back to the reality of the sterile hospital room.

“Nothing, Dad. Um, did Mom always go along with Pastor Marlowe’s preaching? I mean, did she agree with all the rules and stuff?”

“Well, we had, shall I say, spirited conversations about different things. Sometimes when he had a Bible teaching about something, she would disagree. I always thought Pastor meant well and was truly concerned about making sure we were ready for Heaven.”

Ramona was puzzled. She had the impression that her mother was pretty supportive. She never talked bad about him anyway. Well, there WAS that time that Sister Jacobs had all the girls line up on their knees to check how short their dresses were. Her mom was not happy about that but what could she do?

The duty nurse slipped into the room. “I think we should let your father rest for a while now. Pretty big ordeal he’s been through today!”

“Sure.” Ramona said. “I’ll see you later, Dad.” He didn’t respond. He had drifted off to sleep.

Ramona was deep in thought as she exited the hospital. The distinct medical smells from inside were supplanted by the organic wetness of nature outside. The crispness of this spring evening was such a contrast and seemed to portend a feeling she couldn’t quite identify; something peculiar. Was it simply the known promise of the approaching warmth of summer? Was it the impending unknown experience this life growing inside her would bring?

A baby would change her life trajectory, of course. Many times in the last few weeks this thought had both frightened her and brought anxiety. She struggled to picture a daily routine which included feeding, smelly diapers, tiptoeing at nap time, the inevitable noise of a crying child, the virtual death of her social life. She didn’t want her future completely hijacked by a baby!

As she walked the fifteen or so blocks back to Becky’s, a possible solution she once rejected out of hand took form on the shadowy horizon of her consciousness. She needed to find a doctor though.

She had to figure it out; needed to think this thing through. It made sense because she just wasn’t ready; besides people did it all the time. How could she get a job with a baby? It would be too hard!

She tried not to think it might be a solution she could regret later but she was already filled with guilt and regret. With a baby she would still have that, plus the added burden of being responsible for a child. At least with an abortion she would only have guilt and regret.

Becky pulled a couple of shots of espresso to add to the Americano she was making. She had been thinking about Ramona all afternoon.

“Lord, how can I help her see you?” she breathed. “I know that her church experience has been hurtful and right now her faith is especially vulnerable. Let me just be a friend to her and listen.”

“Paul, your Americano is ready. Paul?

A good looking guy stepped up to claim the drink. “Thanks! Hey, what time do you get off work?” he asked.

“In a few minutes,” she returned, “but I have plans. Thanks anyway.”

“Well maybe some other time?” he offered.

“Probably not. My boyfriend wouldn’t like it.”

“Oooooo. Ok then. Have a nice life.”

He turned and walked out, to Becky’s relief. She clocked out and went to get her coat. Leaving the small shop she headed to her apartment.

Ramona was standing at the back kitchen window when Becky walked in. She hung her coat on the hall tree and walked across the small room to the overstuffed chair. She waited to see if Ramona would acknowledge her presence.

Seconds seeming like minutes passed and finally Becky ventured, “Ramona, you Ok?”

“Does God forgive all kinds of sins, forever?” Ramona asked, almost monotone.

“Yes, yes, of course Ramona. He has already forgiven all of your sins and mine. You know this; that Jesus died once for all of us and for all time. Sin has been paid for completely and entirely. You are forgiven.”

“Well, I don’t feel forgiven.” She shot back. “I feel dirty, I feel rejected, I feel embarrassed, I feel wronged, I feel like I’ve disappointed God, my family, church and I’ve gone too far, made too many mistakes and used up all of God’s patience.” She was gathering steam now. “That’s why I’m pregnant! God is punishing me because I went too far this time. I didn’t listen to him or the Pastor and now I have to pay for it.”

Ramona turned to face Becky. There were tears running down her face from reddened eyes. Becky was moved deeply as she sensed the pain Ramona was trying to express. But the next statement from Ramona shook her.

“I am going to fix part of the problem.” Her voice was strong and resolute now. “I can’t let a baby ruin the rest of my life. I need all my energy to get back on track. So since God forgives sins forever, I’m about to commit one more.”

“Ramona, how can I help?” Becky hoped this would slow down the girl’s speedy journey into more trouble.

“Well, for starters, you can take your “God stuff” and stuff it where the sun don’t shine! I’m tired of everybody’s sanctimonious attitude like they know what I should be doing. I know what I want and it isn’t a baby!”

She strode out the front door slamming it with a finality that chilled Becky to her bones.

“Ramona, Wait! Don’t do it. I can help.”

Storied Past – 6

“What is it, Ramona?” Becky raced into the kitchen.

“My dad, he’s lying on the floor,” Ramona cried. They both stooped for a closer look at the man. He appeared to have fainted or something.

“I’ll call 911,” Becky exclaimed.

Ramona mumbled, “Dad, what happened? Dad! Oh, please don’t be dead. I need you!”

She could hear his slight breathing and uttered a silent prayer of thanks to God. “Don’t let him die, God. I couldn’t handle losing him, too. ”She heard the sirens now and Becky returned to the kitchen. “Is he . . . ?”

“He’s still alive, Becky. Thanks for calling.”

“Of course,” she replied, and then intoned, “Thank you Jesus, for letting us get here in time.” Ramona tightened up inside but didn’t say anything.

The next many minutes melted together into a nightmarish fiction at glacial speed. The paramedics told the two girls that Mr. Beckett had suffered a heart attack. Arriving at the hospital, they followed the gurney into Emergency. Becky had to go to work leaving Ramona to witness the medical staff scurrying around attending to her father. A few moments later the doctor on call stopped to give her an update.

“It was a heart attack, probably from high blood pressure,” he related. It was pretty high when he came in.”

“Has he been under a lot of stress lately, Miss Beckett?”

“Well, my Mom passed a couple of years ago. Would that have caused this kind of stress,” Ramona queried.

“It certainly could have contributed but generally this comes from chronic stress which exposes your body to elevated levels of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. Eventually, your body reacts to this unhealthy exposure in a sudden event, like a heart attack.”

“OK, thank you, sir. What are you going to do now?”

“Well, we are doing some testing now to check for coronary artery disease. We will know the results in a little while. I’ll keep you posted.”

Just then a tall, slender figure approached from her peripheral vision. “Ramona?” Pastor Marlowe asked. “Are you doing OK?”

“Oh, hello Pastor. Yeah, I guess. I’m still numb I think.”

“I heard about your father from a girl who called me this afternoon. Becky, I think she said? I figured I should come and see how he is.”

“They are running some tests right now. Looks like he had a heart attack; may be stress related.”

“He was pretty worried about you, Ramona. Thought you had run away when he couldn’t find you. Maybe that you had taken off with . . . well, no matter. You are here now. He was so hurt by . . . ; he felt like you had just gone over the edge.” Marlowe struggled to keep his own feelings and verbal communication in check. Ramona sensed he wanted to scold her himself but thought better of that idea.

“No, I just needed some space to think so I disappeared for a while.” She thought the less said to him, the better. No telling where that information would go. She recalled that other people’s issues often surfaced in private conversations disguised as “prayer requests” and she didn’t want to be the topic of church gossip any more than she already was.

“Well, I hope you take this situation to heart. Bad things often happen as a result of our own misguided actions. Who knows? Maybe your father was so distressed about you, thinking you left God forever, that his body just couldn’t handle it anymore. I believe God will forgive you when you come back to your faith.”

This last comment made Ramona seethe with anger. Why would she have anything to do with a heart attack? She wisely refrained from lashing out knowing it wouldn’t do any good anyway. She was glad to be away from such judgmental assessments like his. Maybe she would make this separation from church more permanent.

“Well, we will be praying for you, Ramona. I’ll get going but I hope you will come back to church soon.”

“Goodbye,” Ramona said. Under her breath she muttered, “. . . and good riddance.” Ohhh, she was feeling a bit wicked.

Pastor Marlowe’s absurd chastising reminded her of his weekly discourses to the congregation: Bible teachings that were explorations into how to be more consecrated and holy. They occasionally involved more esoteric excavations of ritual biblical practices like weekly fasting habits or Bible teaching topics of late 19th century holiness movements. The latter most often focused on women’s clothing. She recalled an instance where shoes with high heels were spotlighted and condemned because they caused the leg calf to be more pronounced and thereby seduce men. So it was the woman’s fault that men lusted, she assumed was the conclusion. Something there she needed to process more.

The nurse on duty approached. “Miss Beckett?” she inquired.

“Yes, I am.” Ramona replied.

“Your father is in a room now, 314. You can go sit with him until he wakes up, if you wish.”

“OK, thanks. I will.” She walked a few doors down finding the room the nurse indicated. Slowly she pushed the door open and parted the curtain around the bed. She stood there for a few minutes looking at him. Memories of when she was little crept out of hiding into her consciousness. Scenes of playing with her father on the backyard swing. He would come home from work tired but happy to see her. Standing in the driveway, he would call through the window for her to come out and play for a few minutes before supper. She wished she could see him happy like that again. She wished she could be happy like that again. Where had that closeness and joy gone?

She saw a bit of movement. “Dad? Are you awake? Can you hear me?” Mr. Beckett opened his eyes.

“Hi pumpkin.” It had been a long time since he called her that.

“Hi Dad.”

She bent over to give him a hug and squeeze his free hand. She felt a bit of wetness on his face and realized a tear had leaked out one corner of his left eye.

Ramona felt her own tear trail down over her makeup. “How do you feel?”

“Well, I don’t know. I remember I felt a horrible pain in my chest and then . . . what happened?”

“The doc said you had a heart attack. They are running some tests. I’m so glad you’re still with me.”

“Ramona, I . . . ; you don’t know how much I have been worried about you, leaving the church and all. I don’t want you to go to hell and split up our family.”

“Oh, Dad, I didn’t leave God or my faith. I just was having a hard time following all those rules. I don’t know how you and Mom could follow them but I felt like I had a chain on my ankle. I couldn’t even enjoy life. Do you know how hard it is to snowboard in a dress? Do you know how that made me feel when I was around friends who don’t go to that church? I’m sorry; I shouldn’t bring that stuff up when it’s you in the hospital.”

“It’s ok, pumpkin. Since your mom died, I tried to deal with it by being more involved at church and trying to live more holy. This whole thing about your having a baby just made me see how that trying to keep myself, and you, unspotted from the world is so hard and out of my control. I want to be perfect but I don’t know. I’m kind of confused. Maybe I need to get saved again.”