Farther Than I Meant to Go, Longer Than I Meant to Stay - Chapter One
I gazed blankly at the television screen.
After losing my career to Travis’ criminal activities, I had no idea what to do with myself all day. I had no desire to start searching for another job; the whole idea was depressing. I chose, instead, to stay home and watch television ministers all day long. And between television church broadcasts, I cooked.
I had been doing so much dieting that I’d forgotten how comforting food was. I totally rediscovered the joy of food. Yes, I’d lost fifteen pounds, but that didn’t even matter. Being skinny was no longer a priority, not when my heart was broken and my life was in ruins.
During Joyce Meyers’ broadcast, I heard a car pull up in my driveway. I peeked out of the window and saw Lynette’s little red car. I didn’t want to see her or anybody else for that matter. Maybe she didn’t catch the hint when I didn’t answer the phone when she called or responded to any of her voice mail messages. I just wanted to be left alone. I heard her banging on the door like a bill collector, but I didn’t answer. She knocked for a good ten minutes before she left.
I inhaled the scent of the chocolate cake that I was baking. It was intoxicating. I’d made it especially sweet. So sweet that it was going to make my teeth hurt. It would be good with milk, but I was out of milk. It was going to have to be coffee.
I opened the refrigerator and realized that I needed a lot more than milk. It seemed like I’d just been to the store. But it had been two whole weeks. I was going to have to venture out again, but I’d wait until it was night. I would go to the twenty-four hour Save and Go. Grocery stores were so peaceful at two o’clock in the morning. And best of all I wouldn’t run into anybody I know.
Since Travis got me fired from my job, I’d seen two members from my church. Of course they knew all about me being fired. One problem with having bishops and pastors as the board of directors of the bank is that they all had wives. And some of them had nothing better to do than gossip about someone else’s bad fortune. Well, I realized that running into people wasn’t going to be very easy when the two I did see started offering condolences like one of my loved ones had died. I almost expected them to hand me a pot of spaghetti and some cold chicken. People always brought the most unappetizing food to the houses of the grieving.
I wished the cake would hurry and bake. I needed my sugar fix. I sounded like an addict. Speaking of addicts, I wondered if Travis was addicted to porn. I never would’ve taken him for that type. When I thought of men who indulged in pornography, I envisioned greasy, slimy looking characters that went out in the shadows and hid their dirty secret in garages and under beds. Maybe I’d driven him to it. Maybe he was sick of looking at my fat rolls and wanted to see some women that weren’t twice his size. Guess I couldn’t blame him for that. But why’d he have to put it on my laptop unless he was trying to get me fired on purpose. That didn’t make any sense, but then a lot of things were not making much sense to me.
The cake had another twenty minutes to go and then it had to cool off, but I didn’t think I could wait that long. I poured myself a huge glass of Pepsi. I grabbed eight ice cubes out of the freezer and placed them in the glass. When I went to reach for the glass, I slipped and knocked it off the counter. The glass broke into a hundred little pieces and Pepsi splattered everywhere. Tears sprang to my eyes – it was my favorite glass.
The sound that it made when it fell, I liked it. It was loud and kind of sharp. That sound made me feel good. Even better than a slice of chocolate cake. Even better than that glass of soda would’ve tasted. I ran my hand across my arm and there were goose bumps.
Before I could stop myself I broke another glass, and then another. And it felt GOOD! I even saw the blood on my bare feet from where I stepped on a piece, but I didn’t feel any pain at all. I ran out of glasses, but I still wanted to break something. I didn’t want the feeling to go away. So, I started on the plates. I was disappointed. The heavy pottery just didn’t have the same sound as the glasses.
For a moment, I was dejected. And I started to reach for the broom. If I couldn’t enjoy myself anymore, then I thought I should clean up. But then I got another bright idea. I bet the window would make a sound like the glasses. Actually, it might’ve been even better! I hit the kitchen window with the broom handle, but not hard enough. I gave it another whack and then it crashed into a million little shards. I felt a smile creep across my face.
But the kitchen window was not enough. So I ran upstairs and started breaking all the bedroom windows. Faintly, somewhere in the back of my head, I could hear my burglar alarm going off. There must’ve been something wrong with it because it didn’t go off until I got upstairs. Or maybe I just didn’t hear it downstairs.
There was glass everywhere. Upstairs and downstairs. But there was nothing left to break and I felt melancholy about that. I looked out of what used to be my picture window in the living room. My next door neighbor, Clara, was standing right out front and so I waved at her.
“Charmayne!” she called. “Are you alright?”
“Me? I’m fine! Actually I’m better than fine. I’m great!”
“Well, your windows are broken.”
Well looking out at Clara gave me another idea. My car had six sturdy windows. I was sure breaking them would prolong my euphoria for just a little longer. I opened the door and went outside. I wasn’t wearing shoes so I was making bloody little footprints on the walkway. They looked funny so I let out a little laugh. Clara was still standing outside, so I waved at her again before I started bashing in the car windows. I heard Clara scream, but when I looked up she was not standing there anymore.
Then I heard the sirens…
“How did we get here?”
I had no idea how to answer this question to my therapist, Dr. Rayna King. I wasn’t exactly sure what she was referring to when she said here. She could have meant how I, Charmayne Ellis, ended up in her office as a patient. Or she could have been asking how I arrived at this point in my life. I breathed deeply while I contemplated a response to what seemed to be a simple question.
Dr. King affectionately called her office a sanctuary. From the inside one would never have guessed that the colorful and spacious room resided in a nondescript medical building, surrounded by dental clinics and pediatric offices. The walls were painted an appealing shade of lilac, and the lights were purposely dimmed providing a backdrop of tranquility.
I was sitting directly across from Dr. King in a cushioned chaise, while she rested on the burgundy velvet loveseat. Conspicuously missing from this therapist’s office was the obligatory couch – where the patient spilled his or her guts, and the desk – where the doctor silently judged sanity or insanity while madly scribbling in a yellow tablet.
My pastor’s wife, First Lady Jenkins, had referred me to Dr. King. When she was not running her private practice, Dr. King served an evangelist in one of our sister churches. Her techniques, including praying and reading bible verses with her patients were unorthodox to most of her peers, but she received high marks from the church community.
“I don’t know,” I finally responded. “Honestly, I never expected to find myself in therapy.”
Dr. King smiled. “First of all, Charmayne, I want you to stop thinking of our meetings in clinical terms. I’m only here to help you figure out God’s purpose for your life.”
“I like to think of this in clinical terms, Dr. King. I’m sick, and I need treatment. It’s better for me if I don’t try and make it sound like something other than what it is.” I said flatly.
“I agree. You are sick, but I believe your spirit woman is what needs to be treated.”
I looked down at my arms and hands. There were dozens of tiny scars – a constant reminder of my illness. I wished that they were products of a vivid imagination, but no, they were cold hard evidence that something wasn’t right. I shook my head slowly and deliberately.
I asked, “How do you know that I don’t just need some medication? Can’t you just give me a prescription, so that I can get back to my normal life?”
Dr. King responded patiently, “I don’t think you need meds. They are a last resort anyway. You had an episode that I feel was stress induced.”
An episode. That was a dainty name for something so ugly that it had my arms looking like a briar patch. It would have been nice to go back to what I felt was normal. I would have loved to just take up where I’d left off – in my career and my church duties. But Travis had ruined everything for me.
“So if you won’t give me medication, how do you expect me to handle this mess?”
“First, we need to determine the root of your depression.”
I sucked my teeth in a ghetto girl manner. “I know the root. Travis Moon.”
“I believe that your relationship with Travis was a symptom of something deeper. Together we’re going to try to find out what that is.”
I was skeptical of Dr. King’s spiritual approach. My life had been fine before I met Travis. I was at the top of my game – spiritually, intellectually and financially. I had been a bank president, making six figures a year. For ten years I had carefully chosen investments and was able to boast an impressive stock portfolio. But none of that meant anything anymore. I didn’t think that my relationship with Travis was a symptom of anything. It was a tragic mistake that I couldn’t take back; no matter how badly I wanted it.
I looked at my watch. There were ten minutes left in my session with Dr. King. It was my third visit, and we’d barely gotten past introductions. The whole thing was moving way too slowly for me. I had a life to reclaim, and I wanted to do it sooner rather than later.
Dr. King continued, “Charmayne, I’ve got some homework for you.”
“Yes. I want you to go home and read the story of Rizpah. It’s found in 2 Samuel 21:8-14.”
“Rizpah,” I repeated. “The name does not ring a bell, and I used to teach Sunday school. I’m ashamed.”
“Don’t be. Rizpah is one of the unsung heroines of the Old Testament. I believe that God will speak to you through her story. We’ll discuss it on your next visit.”
“Okay…” I acquiesced, but I would have rather agreed to discuss me and my issues, and not those of a biblical character.
Dr. King pulled a little bottle of oil from her pocket and rubbed some on her hands. Then she reached out for my hands. I’d seen those saints that I liked to call ‘deep’ putting oil on their hands and head before they prayed, and sometimes we did it as a church when we were about to begin a fasting period. It felt odd doing it in the context of psychiatric medicine.
As if she could read my mind, Dr. King said, “The oil is symbolic, Charmayne. It reminds us of God’s anointing that is present when we come together in prayer. I want us to pray for your healing, and I want you to believe that prayer.”
I nodded and bowed my head. Dr. King prayed in a soothing voice that calmed me. I heard her send words up on my behalf that I had been afraid to utter. She squeezed my hands – willing me to feel God’s spirit in the room. After saying ‘amen’ I left Dr. King’s office. I was still filled with doubt, but I felt uplifted. That had to be a step in the right direction.
I walked into my condo after my session with Dr. King and it was strangely quiet. I suppose that it had always been that way, especially before I met Travis, but it was the first time I’d truly noticed. Everything was in place, but still I felt uneasy. I went through every room turning on lamps, even though it wasn’t yet dark outside. The light helped to quell the unexplained panic that I felt rising in my belly.
I went into the kitchen to prepare my dinner – a protein shake and a garden salad. It was not a meal that I could get excited about, but a picture of my plus-sized self in a bathing suit was taped to the refrigerator as incentive. I lost my appetite every single last time I got a glimpse of the photo, which was of course, the desired effect. I remembered taking the picture. The women’s ministry at my church had gone on a cruise retreat. I’d reluctantly worn a swimsuit at the urgings of my thin friends Lynette and Ebony. We’d gone to the ship’s deck, wearing our suits, to get a little bit of sun. When I heard a little boy say to his mother, ‘Look at the fat lady!’ I changed back into my sundress and haven’t looked at a bathing suit since.
Aside from my weight issues, everyone was always telling me how pretty I was. I could look in the mirror and see my caramel colored skin and hazel eyes, but I didn’t see the beauty there. I couldn’t get past how round my cheeks were or that fleshy layer beneath my chin. The one feature that I did take pride in was my hair. It was thick, long and healthy. I never went more than two weeks without getting it styled and I spared no expense doing so. My stylist, Unique, worked in a shop in the ‘hood’ area of Cleveland. She was so good that I traveled forty five minutes from my condo in the suburbs, and waited all day in the salon to have her lay my perm just right.
I listlessly chewed what was left of my salad greens, and then quickly moved from my kitchen barstool to the living room sofa. I picked up my bible from the coffee table and made myself comfortable on the soft leather. If the Lord had a word for me from the story of Rizpah, I wanted it right away.
I read aloud from 2 Samuel 21. “But the king took the two sons of Rizpah the daughter of Aiah, whom she bare unto Saul, Armoni and Mephibosheth; and the five sons of Michal the daughter of Saul, whom she brought up for Adriel the son of Barzillai the Meholathite:
9 And he delivered them into the hands of the Gibeonites, and they hanged them in the hill before the LORD: and they fell all seven together, and were put to death in the days of harvest, in the first days, in the beginning of barley harvest.
10 And Rizpah the daughter of Aiah took sackcloth, and spread it for her upon the rock, from the beginning of harvest until water dropped upon them out of heaven, and suffered neither the birds of the air to rest on them by day, nor the beasts of the field by night.
11 And it was told David what Rizpah the daughter of Aiah, the concubine of Saul, had done.
12 And David went and took the bones of Saul and the bones of Jonathan his son from the men of Jabeshgilead, which had stolen them from the street of Bethshan, where the Philistines had hanged them, when the Philistines had slain Saul in Gilboa:
13 And he brought up from thence the bones of Saul and the bones of Jonathan his son; and they gathered the bones of them that were hanged.
14 And the bones of Saul and Jonathan his son buried they in the country of Benjamin in Zelah, in the sepulchre of Kish his father: and they performed all that the king commanded. And after that God was intreated for the land.”
It was just seven verses, but immediately I felt saddened by Rizpah’s grief. I placed myself in her shoes, sitting out in the elements, mourning, grieving and lamenting. To passerby she probably looked quite pitiful, something like how I’ve seemed to all of my family and friends. Her tears, however, masked an inner strength. I wondered if I would discover fortitude on the inside of me.
I understood the loneliness Rizpah felt when her sons were stripped from her, so soon after she’d lost her husband. For my entire life, I’d been surrounded by people but I was no stranger to feeling alone.
As a girl, I was blessed to have the stability of a mother and father under one roof. I cherished the evenings that my mother, Claudette, baked cookies with me and my sister Dayna. Mama would let us stay up late on Fridays to meet Daddy when he came home from his second shift job.
Daddy always came in the house and scooped me up in his arms as if I weighed a feather. I didn’t realize I was a chubby child, I just knew that my Daddy loved me and he thought I was beautiful.
When I started going to school, and the teasing began, I didn’t know just how to take it. I ran home crying everyday because of the cruel jokes and embarrassing pranks. Even worse, my own sister Dayna, a year younger than me had become ashamed of sitting near me on the school bus.
Mama’s solution to my weight problems was to berate me and deprive me of sweets and desserts. Gone were the nights of cookie baking. I sat alone in my room, with tears in my eyes, reading books while the aroma of the fresh baked goodies wafted into my nostrils. Unbeknownst to Mama, I would sneak Little Debbie snack cakes from the store and guiltily munch on them while waiting for Daddy to come home.
Rizpah, a woman who had been dead for centuries, sparked new tears from decades old hurts. I just sat on my couch crying for Rizpah, or maybe I was crying for me. Her despair reminded me of my own, and her loneliness of what I was experiencing right before I met the man who would change my life.