I wandered in the dark, stumbling over tree roots and into hidden holes. With the windchill, it was 7 degrees. I didn’t know that then, I learned that this morning. Hot tears turned cold before they could reach my milky, frozen cheeks. I looked at the blinking stars and thought about Indian girls who once walked through these woods; girls who knew how to navigate by them. “That would be useful now,” I thought. My eyes scanned for the safety I was looking for. I passed angels sitting in the branches of our ice- encased forest, wearing simple white dresses. They didn’t shiver, they were warmed from within. Each offered to take me home. I politely declined. “I’m only on a walk,” I lied, “I know the way and I’ll head back soon, thank you.” Then the sound of their wings, like the rustle of thin, silver lined Bible pages, and they were gone. Hours passed, hours of air so cold it stung my lungs. My feet lost feeling but marched on. No more angels appeared. I turned around and could only just make out the faint glimmer of our porch light, so distant I couldn’t be sure it was real.
I wanted you. I did. Beneath it all and with every footfall, I wanted you. I wanted to believe your promises like an eleven year old wants to believe there is a Santa. But she just can’t. I know this is not like that. And I don’t mean to be insulting. But your promises, the things you say about how you love me, they are ten trillion times more magical than flying reindeer. So maybe you can understand. I was afraid, but I was also so cold.
I knew, I had known all along, that I wasn’t going to find the safety I was searching for here in these woods. In frustration I wept, tears streaming into chapped, cracking lips. I picked up my pace, frantic now, running against the knowledge that the only place to go was the one I’d come from. I tripped over a rock and crumpled to the forest floor hard and unforgiving. Though almost immobile, my mouth began to form the shape of your name. But before I could send the breath to make the sound, flashlight beams came bounding out of blackness. Steady and sure, your footsteps echoed off the walls of my rib cage. I cried harder and called out…
In a moment your broad search light landed on my curled up body, stiff as a sculpture beneath the tree. In one swift motion you picked me up and cradled me, unzipped your winter coat and tucked me close to your loudly beating heart. You pressed your warm cheek into mine and whispered, “Hey, Kiddo.”
You carried me quickly through the trees, the lights of our house grew from pinpricks to throbbing orbs of yellow lighting our way. Jesus stood waiting at the back door, swung it open when we reached the stoop and followed close behind us into the overwhelming glow of this safe haven, this only safe haven. “She’s frozen. We need to warm her up,” you said to him.
"Pauline is already upstairs with a bath drawn." He replied in a worried whisper. You took the stairs three at a time. The Holy Spirit, her face rounded and soft was waiting in the upstairs bathroom, steam rising from the large, claw footed tub. The room smelled of lavendar and fabric softener. "Hey, Darling," she said. Teeth chattering against each other, I managed a broken, "I’m sorry, Pauline." She cupped my face in her palms, "It’s okay, Darling, you’re home now. We’ve got you home now, don’t we?"
You carefully stood me on my feet and held my shoulders, steadying me as Jesus and Pauline took off my hat and scarf, peeld mittens from my icecicle fingers and unzipped my coat. Pauline said, “Alright, you mens scoot so I can thaw her out.” She shut the door gently behind you and helped me off with the rest of my clothes. The water burned and I gasped as my body came slowly, tingling back to life. My limbs turned scarlet, like the arms of lobsters. She took a washcloth and squeezed a waterfall of warmth over the gooseflesh of my back. I shook and she sang songs from childhood. “Yesterday a boy went out to wander, caught a dragonfly inside a jar…”
Slowly my breathing grew even. She washed my hair and let me soak until my cheeks were flushed and my toes turned to prunes. There was a gentle knock on the door. Through the crack in the door Jesus passed her a blanket of terry cloth fresh from the dryer. I stood, she wrapped me up and helped me step out of the tub. She held me close for a long time, my nose nuzzled into the brown folds of her neck. “There,” she cooed, “that’s better.” She showed me the plaid flannel pajamas, socks and slippers waiting on the chair in the corner. She slipped out and as I dressed I could hear your three voices murmuring downstairs. I came slowly down the stairs to the whistle of the tea kettle.
The looks on your faces when I stopped on the landing took my newly reclaimed breath away again. They were looks of love, of pure adoration, and of concern. Now that I was no longer in danger of dying of hypothermia, I was expecting to be yelled at. I was expecting to be asked why I didn’t feel that you were enough. I thought someone would surely gesticulate wildly about the room and shout, “Is this not good enough for you, is this not safe enough for you? Do you not remember how we rescued you, because really, Sara Katherine, it was not that long ago. And now you’re out there again looking for what?”
That is what I expected. That is not what happened. Jesus met me at the bottom step and hugged me. “You warm, Skatie?” He leaned back and looked into my face, ran his fingers through my damp hair. “Yes, sir. I’m sorry.”
"You are home, precious one, that is what matters now." He led me to the couch and you brought me a hot cup of tea. Pauline was in the kitchen ladeling vegetable soup into four bowls. A timer dinged and at the creak of the oven door, the smell of your hot sourdough bread wafted through our house. We ate on our laps, dipping bread in broth. I was mostly very quiet. You kept looking at me from your armchair as if you couldn’t believe I was real, as if I was too good to be true. I thought a thought for only you. "You’re the one," I looked straight into your green eyes, "you’re the one who is too good to be true." Tears stung my eyes. I apologized eight or nine more times and heard from each of you eight or nine more times that you loved me. When the trays had been taken to the kitchen Pauline lit candles and we dimmed the lights. Jesus read my favorite passages and the entirety of Haggai. You recited a couple of poems from Garrison Keillor’s compilation and prayed over me, beside me now on the couch. I leaned into your body while you prayed that I would believe you, that I would know that you are unchanging, and that unchangingness includes your feelings about me. Pauline hummed hymns behind your voice and held my hand in hers. My eyes grew heavy and the four of us moved upstairs. You tucked me into bed and spread an extra quilt over me. Moonlight cast shadows on the wall. You sat in the rocker near my head, Jesus curled up in the arm chair by the window and Pauline sat on the window seat and pulled her knitting from the basket. I don’t think it took a whole minute for me to fall asleep.
I awoke once, in the middle of the night. “Sshh,” you smoothed my hair back from my face, “I am right here. You are safe.”