“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.
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.”