My name is Emily Anne Rose Lyons. I work as an archivist at the Historical Society in Huntington. It's an important job, because our past is so much a part of who we are today. I am smart but no one knows it. At five foot three inches tall, I’m too tall for petites and too short for regulars, which means I have to hem everything I own. I have green eyes and brown hair. My three girls don't do what I say, and my dog doesn’t do what I say either. My house is always a mess. No one ever takes me seriously. Maybe it's all the floral prints I wear or the headbands. I am forty-two years old and I can’t understand it. After all these years in church, I don't believe in anything.
Church is over and I've decided something. There’s no reason to come back. Like Ted's old clothes, it’s time to quit holding on to the past. I gather up the girls, head to my car, gather up the girls again after they take a moments inattention on my part to run the other way, head to the car again, pull out my car keys.
"Oh, no! I forgot my purse." Sarah, my eleven year old middle child exclaims. She didn't really need a purse, but insisted upon carrying it everywhere. It was empty except for her cell phone. Being an only parent, I made sure all three girls now carried cells.
"Okay. Go back inside and we'll all wait here." Rebecca, nine, and Emma, twelve, climb into the car and crank up the heat. I try to find something on the radio when there's a tap on the window.
"Emily, can I speak with you a minute?"
I turn and see Jane Sully, hoping she doesn't hear the sigh that escapes from my lips, just as Sarah returns with her purse. Annoyed, I step out of the car. We almost got out of here without my having to talk to anyone. Sarah climbs in and Emma and Rebecca start fooling with the radio. Very loud rap music with the F word comes through the closed doors of my car...figures…
"What is it?" I ask.
"I was wondering if you wanted to be on the planning committee for the Easter dinner and egg hunt."
Is that all she can come up with? Jane hasn’t talked to me for several months now. In fact, no one really talks to me anymore. They probably don’t know what to say.
"I don't think I have the time now that...I'm doing everything with the girls by myself," I say. This usually proves a successful ploy to get people to shut up and leave me alone, but Jane isn't leaving so easily.
"Emily Anne, when are you going to begin living again?" she asks. "It's OK to live again, you know. And it's not about the girls. Ted would want you to live again."
Wow, how many times had I heard that sentence from people. As if they knew what Ted would want! But Jane seems to read my mind. "Bless your heart, I know you've heard that line from more than one person, but there's some truth there, you know. And we've all heard that line about the girls more than once."
Could she quit saying, you know?
"Jane, I really don't want to. I want to be left alone, okay?"
"Well that's more honest than that line about the girls. Okay. I don't think it's the right thing to do but it's your life. I hope you can come to the dinner."
I don't really care what Jane thinks is the right thing to do but I can't say this to her. "I'll think about it," I lie as I climb into the car and turn down the offensive radio.
"One more thing." Jane places herself in the way so I can't shut the door. "Emily Anne, you seem so angry! Why are you so angry all the time?”
I don't respond because I have no idea how to respond. How can she have no clue? What's happened at the church, her husband Don, and John Taylor, just going along with whatever Alex said… in the end it left a hole in me. And I didn't need another hole after....
Jane must have realized she wasn't getting an answer, so she backs up.
"Bye girls." she says. "See you next week."
Sarah and Rebecca settle down in the back seat and we drive off. I look in my rear view mirror at Jane, who's walking back towards the church. Before I can even get out of the parking lot, Jane starts talking to Ida. Let them talk, I think. Let them talk.
I thought that would be my last service at Mainard Bible Church.
"Mom, are you OK?" It’s Emma’s turn to sit up front. Since her dad died, my oldest girl is so worried all the time. She worries about me, her sisters, the dog, everything, and she never misses a shadow that crosses my face. I look over at my sweet little girl, twelve years old.
"I'm fine." I say, giving her my best fake smile. "Are you hungry? How about we go out to eat this afternoon? How about the Mexican restaurant? How about I call Grandma to meet us there?"
It works. Emma stops trying to fix her mom for the moment, and remembers she’s only a little girl. She joins her sisters in clapping and cheering. Living on one income, we don’t go out much these days. I make a quick call to my mother, who agrees to meet us. Good. I can have a margarita and she can drive home. I think I need a drink.
A half hour later, Mom sits down in the booth beside me. "How was church?" She asks.
Where to start? "Ida and I are very uncomfortable in the same room these days, Jane Sully keeps trying to pry information out of me about my spiritual condition so she can pray for me, and Alicia refuses to accept that I’m no longer taking communion.”
Mom looks sympathetic, gives me a squeeze. I go on.
“I don’t understand how Alex could agree to be the new minister when he so obviously, so fundamentally disagreed with the way we run the church. He might as well have tried for the new priest’s position at St Joe’s! It’s caused all kinds of damage. He was good at quoting scripture, so good at it that people believed whatever he said. It’s so hard. I miss Ida and there’s nothing I can do. I guess Ida and John have decided God wants them to quit being friends with me. I can’t believe it. How did this happen?”
I feel like crying.
"Yes I know it must be hard. I thought things were better now with Pastor Mainard back. I don’t understand what happened. All this division over Shepherds? What Alex did was not that bad. How could it separate such good friends? I don’t…”
She trails off.
Emma and Rebecca are laughing a little too loudly. Sarah's almost in tears again. Both sisters are teasing her. The waitress gives me a quick look. "Girls, quit teasing your sister. Settle down and eat your lunch!"
The girls start eating, but not before Emma gets one more squeal out of Sarah. I shake my head.
“You’re right. It wasn’t that bad. Ida’s a smart woman. If Alex had done something obvious, then we’d still be friends. As it is, he just nitpicked his way between us. The way he quoted scripture, picking and choosing just the right verses to get control and power; it makes me sick to think about it! No, he didn’t get what he wanted. Yes, he left, but by the time he finished making a huge issue over who was going to run the church, well, several of our core families left with him.”
Mom nods her head. “I see,” she says.
I sigh. How can I say this? "Mom, I sit there and don’t feel anything. I don’t believe anything. I can’t keep doing this. I’m tired of it all, sick to death of it all. I've made a decision.”
The girls are paying attention now. “Girls, you might as well listen to this too. I am not going back to church."
There's this....silence. The only sound from our booth is the clinking of fork against plate. Great. I guess I get another failing grade this afternoon as mother.
Finally, Emma says, "Does that mean we have to quit going too?"
I don’t know what to say. Mom comes to my rescue. "I'll take you girls to church if you still want to go."
Mom attends early mass at the Catholic Church where I went as a child. It will work.
"And Emily, you know you could always go back to St Joe's with me, anytime you want!"
"Thanks, Mom, but I think I need a break from church for a while." There. I've said it. Relief pours over me as I sip my margarita. At least the girls are quiet now. Mom puts her arms around me.
"You’re welcome. I’m just glad you let me help. I love you.”
I give my mom a hug. Truth is I'm not alone with the girls. I'm so lucky to have her.
Monday morning, after dropping the girls off at school and going to work; it's at work I find something I believe in. Just like that! I am reading through a document about a church scandal that happened in our town over one hundred years ago. The Pastor had to stand trial. I know that I know that I know. What Alex did was wrong, and I'll bet it's happened more than once in more than one church. And I'll bet people like me need to talk about it. I have an idea. I’m going to start a blog with a chat room where we can all get together and talk. I've read enough scripture to know a little bit. Alex was so wrong, both spiritually and morally. There was no love in what Alex did. He manipulated scripture to fit his own agenda.