by Kristina Lautenbacher
Curious. That’s what his teachers were calling him lately. They said that his curiosity made him more fun to teach; that Brody was going to have a bright future ahead of him with how curious he was at only 5 years old. I, however, thought the word reminded me of Brody’s father, Andrew. It was the same word Andrew somehow used to convince me to make love for the first time, which gave us a quick marriage and a baby boy right out of college.
“Baby I love you so much. But now I’m curious as to how deep our physical connection could go to make our love even stronger. I’m just curious baby.”
The same word had started our separation because he used it in a bitter tone toward our financial problems.
“I’m CURIOUS to see how much cash is left at the end of the month, since you basically paid for your father’s funeral with every penny I’ve earned for this family.” Andrew had said that as he gave me the “busted” look.
I had begun to hate that word.
“Mommy, where do babies come from?” said the little voice from the backseat.
I rest my case.
“Sweetheart, I’ll tell you when you’re older,” I sighed. “Mommy has a bad headache right now.” Glancing in the rearview mirror of my mini-van, I caught my dark-haired, blue-eyed little boy playing with his chicken nuggets. “Brody finish your Happy Meal please, we’ll be at piano practice soon.”
“Mommy, when will Daddy be back from his work? I want Daddy to play catch with me again,” Brody called toward the front of the car, his mouth full of food.
“Daddy has a lot of work to do, sweetheart. But you will get to see him soon, I promise.” I really meant what I promised; but as to Brody seeing Andrew on a regular basis now? When he stops being an asshole.
Andrew and I had agreed not to tell Brody that our arguing was the reason behind him seeing less of Daddy. Andrew had been working more lately, so the excuse seemed to fit. He was always on his phone or laptop anyway, since the accounting firm he worked for was in the midst of a huge company takeover. So when Andrew did get to see Brody, it wasn’t for very long. Not to mention my editor position at the local newspaper had gotten so serious that I’d had to start working on Saturday nights. Since Andrew was staying at a friend’s for the time being, my mother’s was the only place for Brody to stay on Saturday nights.
We pulled into the tiny parking lot at the music store where Brody had started piano lessons just three weeks ago. Before I could completely stop the car and turn the engine off, he had unbuckled his seatbelt and threw open the door, bounding to the front door.
“Brody Andrew Gordon, you know better than that!” I hollered after him. Jeez he was so much like his father lately.
I used Brody’s practice time with Miss Emma, the music store owner’s daughter, to catch up on my bills and my bank statements. Listening to Brody practice was peaceful, so I was able to fly through writing checks and licking envelopes. I had almost gotten rid of my headache. But all that peace went crashing through the window in a heartbeat when I finished with everything.
I had a hundred dollars to my name.
How was I going to make it through the week? My job paid bi-weekly, and I had just been paid three days ago. What on earth was Andrew buying to put us in that much debt? What was I buying to put us in that much debt? I couldn’t recall any big purchases or any trivial spending. But then again I couldn’t remember what I had for breakfast after work and taking care of Brody and running errands. Was I that irresponsible? My head started to pound again at full force. Brody had a dentist appointment and a checkup at the doctor Monday after school. I still had to get gas after practice to even make it home and to drop Brody off at his Grandma’s house and make it to work tomorrow.
“Mommy, listen to this. Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so,” he sang as he plinked out the corresponding notes on the piano.
“That sounds wonderful, sweetheart.” I smiled a half smile, though it was probably more of a grimace, since I was trying not to cry. He had no idea that we were almost broke. Thank God Miss Emma gave him his piano lessons for free since he was her Sunday School student at my mother’s church.
I didn’t even remember getting to the Quick Fill gas station after Brody’s practice. All I remembered was staring off into space, thinking about how I was going to explain to my mother about my financial situation, while Brody continued to sing Jesus Loves Me in the backseat. “Little ones to him belong, they are weak but he is strong.”
I got out of the car and locked the door behind me. I’d had to start doing that since Brody had figured out how to unbuckle his seatbelt and undo the car door. I reluctantly slid my debit card into the slot and punched in my PIN. The numbers continued to climb as the gas flowed into my car. With each number, my heart sank deeper and deeper into my stomach. $44, $45, $46, $47. I started crying at the pump, unable to hold in the utter hopelessness anymore.
Why was this happening to me? It seemed like things had went downhill since Dad died a year and a half ago. I’d had to help Mom with the funeral costs, which had begun Andrew’s and my financial spiral and our constant fighting.
“I miss you, Dad,” I whispered to no one in between sobs. “Life was so much easier when you were here.”
“We haven’t seen you at church lately, darlin’.” I had heard this once a week since Andrew and I had gotten married.
“Yeah I know. Andrew is working doubles and I’m still trying to find a job. I’m really glad you guys have volunteered to take Brody to church since we can’t seem to keep our heads on straight. Oh, but the local paper did give me a call and told me to bring down some samples of my work.”
It wasn’t a lie. But it wasn’t the whole truth either. Andrew still wasn’t too keen on going to church. When it seemed as though I’d finally gotten through to him and convinced him to come to church, the accounting firm had laid-off almost half of its workers and Andrew was working every day.
“Well that’s good darlin’, I’m glad to hear that. Now you always remember, God has a plan about everything. This lil hardship y’all are goin’ through will pass over just as long as you trust in the big man upstairs.”
“Thank you, Dad. You always know just the right things to say. By the way, is my Bible there at the house? I swear I packed it when I moved out, but I can’t find it.”
“I’ll look around for it darlin’. That’s one thing you definitely don’t want to be in a house without.”
“Mom, don’t worry about it. I’ll make sure everything is paid for. You just make the arrangements.”
“He’s got the social security, we can just use that.” Mom sounded so deflated. Who could blame her? Her soul mate that she met when she was fourteen had just passed away. Dad had been fine one minute, laughing and joking as usual, and then the next he was on the floor. The doctors said the stroke had been building up in his brain for about three years.
“No Mom, I want to do this for you. I feel like I need to do something for Dad. I haven’t been to church in so long because of the newspaper. Dad harped on me since me and Andrew got married to go back to church, and I let him down. I feel like this will make up for it. Just let me do this.”
Thump, thump, thump. “Mommy.” Thump, thump, thump. “Mommy, why are you crying?” Brody tapped on the window, pulling me out of my memories.
I wiped my eyes and replaced the fuel pump, tore my receipt from the machine and climbed back into the mini-van.
“Mommy, why are you crying?”
“Mommy has had a very rough day, sweetheart,” I sniffed. “We are running late already. You need to get to Grandma’s.”
The drive to my mother’s house from the Quick Fill took 15 minutes. Brody was oddly quiet during the drive. Usually, every Saturday afternoon on the way to Grandma’s, Brody would rave about cookies and milk and church with Grandma on Sunday morning.
I pulled into my mother’s gravel driveway and put the car in park. I sighed and rubbed my eyes, hoping Mom wouldn’t see that I’d been crying. Before I could unbuckle my seatbelt, Brody finally piped up from the back seat.
“Mommy, I don’t like when you cry. It makes me sad.”
“Mommy doesn’t like to cry either, sweetheart.”
“Miss Emma said last time in Sunday School that God wants us to help people who are sad.” His bright blue eyes stared at me in the rearview mirror.
“Well she’s right,” I said as I slid out of the driver’s seat and opened the door to let Brody out.
We walked to the front door and rang the doorbell. Mom answered the door and gave us the usual hug and kiss, then whispered something about cookies to Brody. “COOKIES!” he screamed as he tugged her along to the kitchen.
I walked through the hallway and into my old bedroom. Everything was just as I had left it the day I moved out on my wedding day. I reminisced with every picture and old stuffed animal. How easy life had seemed back then: before Andrew’s job had gotten tougher; before I had made excuses and stopped going to church; when a simple lesson from Dad about trusting God was all I needed to get through the day. Just as I was about to head to the kitchen, a glint caught my eye. It was after dusk, so there was no sunlight seeping in through the window to make that. As I stepped closer I realized it was my old Bible. Had it always had these silver edges on the pages?
“Mommy, I brought you a cookie,” Brody said from the doorway, the edges of his mouth flaked with cookie crumbs. “I thought it would make you feel better.”
He handed me the cookie and stared at it. A smile crept to my face. “Thank you, sweetheart. It really does make me feel better.”
He smiled, looking just like his father had the day I said ‘yes’ to his proposal. He started to walk back to the kitchen, but then turned around and gave me a bear hug. As I hugged back, Brody looked up at me. “Mommy, I love you. Miss Emma told us in Sunday School last time that everything happens for a reason, and God always blesses his children. I’m glad God blessed me with you as my Mommy.”
I stood staring after him as he ran back into the kitchen for another cookie. I looked down and brushed the dust off the front of my Bible. How long had it been since I’d prayed? Why hadn’t I brought my Bible with me when I moved out? I flipped open the Bible, letting the pages fall where they wished. The first verse that caught my eye was one I had highlighted years ago, when my faith had been my driving force.
Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
I tried to ignore the chills that had started to prickle my flesh. As I thumbed through the pages again, an envelope fell out of the back cover. My name was written across the front in grand strokes and swoops that I thought I’d never see again: my father’s handwriting. I carefully put the Bible onto the bedside table to rip open Dad’s envelope and throw it on the floor. As I read the letter, I sank onto the bed and began to cry.
My beautiful daughter,
I feel like God is writing this letter for me. I just want you to know that no matter what hardship you go through, you should refer back to the verse you highlighted in your Bible when you graduated high school. God really does plan on making your future bright. Remember that. When you were a little girl, God put it on my heart to start a savings account for you. I think now is the time to give you access to that account whenever you need it. There is a little more than $5,000 in the account. The PIN is 2046. I love you darlin’.