“Dr. Dobbins? Is something wrong?”
Sam kept staring straight ahead but patted the empty space beside her on the bench; Elly accepted the invitation. “I just got news that my dad died, Elly.”
“Oh, Dr. Dobbins. Bless your heart.”
Sam turned and looked directly into Elly’s eyes. She knew the power of words; she lived with a poet after all. There are times, maybe just moments, when the right word or phrase is like the biblical description: apples of gold in settings of silver. In that moment, Elly’s bless your heart was just such an apple. Sam had heard that phrase growing up at least a million times. Many times the words rang hollow, a thoughtless expression people parroted when they didn’t know anything else to say. But sometimes the three words were more, much more – another human being taking the time to cross to the other side and ask/hope/pray a blessing into the heart of another, that deep place we all hold in common. The wise men brought three gifts of verifiable worth; Elly the wise college girl brought three words of inestimable value - bless your heart.
Forgive and forget. Two borders she could not cross.
The memory haunted her still. If she could stay busy it seemed to stay quiet, but she could not always be busy. The remembrance was both sight and sound, always the same: A sky so black it threatened to swallow you. The only lights were the crazed eyes of a woman, her mother, old beyond her years slowly tearing pages from the Bible, eating them, repeating “taste and see…the Lord is good…taste and see.”
She was seven when they crossed under the cover of a new moon. There were others with them but they were told to snake two by two through rocks and sage across the border. They could see the shadows of the others, still her mother was direct: “Don’t let go of my hand, Isabel.” But something or someone, she never knew what, had scattered the group in fear. Mother and daughter ran further into the black. By sunrise everything around them looked the same; it stayed that way for three days. Darkness seemed their only companion.
A small hip-pack had water and crackers, enough for one day, not enough for three. Her mother prayed for miracles more than once. God must have been asleep or busy or just not interested. On the night of the third day, her mother simply sat down and stopped. Hope was not deferred, but lost. Isabel watched as her mother took out a Bible and began to eat the pages. The last thing she saw her mother do was struggle to swallow the words of God.
His arms yanked her from the scene and the night picked up speed as he carried her and ran. She cried for her mother once, but his voiced shushed her: “She is dead.” She never knew his name; he must have been all of fifteen, but strong. He carried her through the darkness saying, “Do not cry.” The air smelled like rain, but the drops never fell.
By sunrise, Isabel’s legs burned as she sat on the rusted out floor of a van. There were holes so she could see the road as they drove; the motion made her sick. A woman packed beside her looked to be her mother’s age. She leaned down to Isabel: “The Lord is good, no?” That question had already been answered for a seven year old; nothing Isabel had seen since then caused her to change her mind.
The memory lunged at her tonight as she spied the Gideon Bible on the nightstand. She wondered if the Gideons had ever tried to eat their words. Isabel shook the remembrance from her mind, gathered her clothes and dressed quickly, then walked to the door. The man in the bed had no name, like the others. He surprised her by asking her name as she reached for the door. “Isabel,” she said. He sat on the edge of the bed and spoke softly: “Do you know what your name means?” She knew; her mother had made certain Isabel knew the origin of her name. “Yes. It means ‘consecrated to God.’”
This was a routine she had followed for some time now; it was becoming a rhythm, this offering of herself. Everything was pre-arranged, business-like. She was instructed never to leave anything in the room, personal belongings such as an earring or tube of lipstick. Isabel was careful that nothing of her’s remained, or so she believed. A Spanish poet wrote that we leave small pieces of our hearts here and there until there is not enough left to give away and stay alive...