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Published:September 22nd, 2009 18:55 EST

Learning to Pray (pt. two)

By Mark Frederic Jennings

Learning to Pray (pt. one)

So then, if you would have happened to walk by the same room on a summer evening just a few years later, you would have heard an entirely different scenario playing out. And by then I`m pretty sure too that my sister had probably moved into her own room. Which was both good and bad. Good in that it allowed us more freedom and all that, but bad in that on some nights, like this one, I really could have used some company. You know, like if you saw a scary movie or something. Although tonight it would have been because my parents were fighting. Which was even worse than a scary movie.

     And tonight was a humdinger too. My parent`s fight that is. And no matter what I did to try and shut out all their yelling and shouting, I could still hear them. Even though I`d tried just about everything I could think of, rolling up a blanket and placing it across the bottom of the door, moving the fan closer to my head, and then even keeping my head under the pillow and pulling it hard down over my ears too. But then I couldn`t breathe, and still I could hear them anyway. But luckily at least I couldn`t really understand what they were saying, although every now and then a word or two would get through that I could.

    "I was," followed by some muffled words and then something clanking against a plate or something.      "Well," and then more muffled words followed by just a sharp, quick yell.

    "And if you," and then on and on, more like noise than anything. Which was how I sort of thought of it, like a noise. But a scary noise. Like a monster maybe. Or a thunderstorm.

    But so then I just lay there a while until the storm had passed. Then I got up and pulled the blanket away from the bottom of my door. They were done allright, I could tell then, nothing but darkness filling in the crack there now. And completely quiet too. So I ran back to bed and jumped in, and though I was very relieved that was all over, I still couldn`t get to sleep. I just kept worrying that something bad had happened. I had heard somewhere about people shooting each other, on the news or whatever, and worse, even people who were married to each other shot each other. I had seen this movie on TV too about that Lizzie Borden lady. Not all of it. It had gotten too scary. But this song these kids were singing in it had really burned into my mind. It kept playing over and over in my head.   

    "Lizzie Borden took an axe,

     gave her father forty whacks.

     When she saw what she had done,   

     she gave her mother forty one."

    I couldn`t figure that out, how anyone could do that. Had her parents fought like this? Or maybe something even worse. I hoped my dad wouldn`t do that to my mom, or vice versa. I knew when my teacher yelled at me sometimes I wouldn`t have minded having an axe. But I would have never done anything like that. And then I remembered too seeing an old axe we had out back sticking in a tree stump. So what if my dad went out back? Oh man, was all I could think.

    But these awful thoughts just kept going around and around in my head. It seemed like forever and I still couldn`t get to sleep. It was horrible being in the dark and in bed all alone in the room, thinking about all this stuff, and scared too. Every time I closed my eyes I`d see axe`s going into people`s faces. Finally I couldn`t hold out any longer.

    "Mommy," I yelled out into the darkness. I waited. I hated this part too. I knew if I did it too many times they would get mad, my parents that is. But I tried again though.

    Still no results. I tried a couple more times. Finally I saw the bedroom door slowly open and she slipped in.

    "Honey," she said over at me. I could tell she was sorta mad.

    "I can`t sleep mom," I complained over at her.

    "Just roll over and close your eyes." That was always her answer.

    "I tried that. I`m scared."

    "Oh, there`s nothing to be afraid of," she told me, and then to my relief I saw she was headed over now. She got in bed right behind me. This was a routine we`d been using for a while. All of a sudden I felt way better.

    "You`ve got to stop doing this honey. You need to be a brave little boy for mommy. Daddy gets angry when you do this."

    "He won`t get the axe will he?" I had to ask her.


    "He won`t get the axe and give you forty whacks will he?"

    "Oh my-" she said sharply and grabbed my shoulder and rolled me over on my back. "Where did you hear such a thing?" she asked sternly, looking down at me hard like. Boy was I sorry I`d asked that.
    "On TV. You know, that Lizzie Borden lady..."

    "Oh my goodness. We`ll have to be more careful what we watch. And no, your father won`t be getting an axe, honey. Now just roll over and close your eyes."

    Ok," I told her. I rolled back over, but didn`t close my eyes. "Hey mom, can I say an extra prayer, you know, on top of my normal one. I`m worried about something."   

    "Of course you can, honey. You can say a prayer whenever you want."

    "Okay," and I thought a minute, then closed my eyes. "Dear Jesus- is that a good way to start?" I looked back over my shoulder at my mom. I wasn`t sure how to start an extra prayer like this.

    "Perfect, honey," she told me.

    "Then, Dear Jesus," I started in again and closed my eyes again too. "Please help my mommy and daddy not to fight too much and be happy together." I could feel my mom put a hand on my shoulder. "-and don`t let nobody hit nobody else with an axe in the face. Especially not mommy or daddy. But nobody else either. Please Jesus. That`s awful. Please Jesus just let everybody be happy," and I knew that was a tall order, so I added in, "as much as you can anyway. But especially my mom and dad, " and I thought again a minute if I wanted to pray for anything else right now. That should do it, I figured. In Jesus name, amen. Is that okay, mom?"

    "That`s real good, honey," she said, softly now and kissed me on the back of my head. "Now get some sleep."   

    "Will you stay until I do, Mom. Until I fall asleep?" I figured she would. She always did. But I wanted to make sure. And it`s funny how I never knew when she left, I just now realized. I`d never even thought of that until now. But I never ever did catch her leaving. Boy, she musta been real quiet and sneaky-like. Plus too I`ll bet I fell asleep real deep with her there like that.

    And I know it probably sounds funny too that I didn`t even know that you could say extra prayers like that. That`s the way religion and prayers and all that stuff was in our family though. We never even went to church hardly. And why we all prayed no one really seemed to know, or say anyway. But we had our bedtime prayer, and also one we always said before dinner.

    "Our dear heavenly Father,"   

    "We thank thee for this food,"   

    "Wilt thou bless it to our use,"   

    "And us to thy service,"

    "In Jesus name, amen."   

    But like I`m saying, no one in my family was religious hardly except for that. I had one Grandma that I barely remember who was. And what I remember most about her was that she spanked me one time when I went to visit her for the weekend and wouldn`t go to church with her on Sunday morning. How ironic is that!? Nowadays I can`t wait to go.

    But so anyway, like I`ve been saying all along. It`s just another one of those strange little signs along the roadside of my life`s pathway that shows, if you ask me anyway, that God was there all along. I mean, it seems pretty obvious to me. With my whole family saying those prayers like that and not even knowing why or really believing.

    Then I remember too one more time when I got to say an extra prayer, and probably the last time for quite awhile. Because it was Christmas a couple years later and my mom was really sick and in the hospital.

    All the while too, and just about as bad, was that my mom and dad had eventually ended up getting a divorce. And then my dad had moved out. Probably just because somebody had to. We all liked my dad ok, as far as I can remember, but him and my mom just couldn`t get along anymore, I guess, or whatever.

    But so then that Christmas, since my mom was real sick and in the hospital and everything, my dad had come back to stay with us. Then one afternoon, or early evening more likely, we were all loading up into his car to go visit her, me and my next two oldest sisters living there with my dad. My oldest sister Sheila had moved out by then, having come of age and all that. But me and my sister Diane were still pretty young. I was like ten or eleven and she musta been about twelve or thirteen.

     So we ran and piled into the Ford 500, my dad`s company car, while my older sister Gaila walked out more normal like with my dad.

    "Marky, let me have the catalogue again a minute," Diane asked me. We were sitting across from each other in the car`s big, back seat.

    "Nu uhh. I still got more to go..."


     We were fighting over the Sears Christmas catalogue which I had brought out with me to take along. Or it might have been the Montgomery Wards one. I can`t be sure which. Every Christmas we would each get to go through both of them and circle what we wanted to get from Santa. Santa Momma and Santa Daddy, that is, and of course we wouldn`t get everything we circled, but maybe one or two of the things at least.

    "I`m almost done," I told my sister. "Hold on to your pants. Here comes dad anyway, don`t get him mad," I added and that worked. She sat back like a little angel. I kept going like crazy, flipping the pages and circling all kinds of stuff.

    "Oh, you`re ridiculous," my sister told me. "They can`t buy you the whole catalogue."
    "I don`t know how mom`s gonna buy anything if she doesn`t get out of the hospital," I told her, very worried about it all.

    "Look Marky " it`s ok," my sister reassured me. She had softened up when she sensed how worried I was. "Daddy`ll buy everything for her. See... we`ll show the catalogue to mom and she`ll tell dad what she wants to get us."

    "Here," I just told her and gave her the catalogue. I wasn`t done yet, but I really didn`t care anymore. I knew mom was gonna miss this Christmas. It was less than a week away now. "Stupid Christmas anyway..." I added and capped my felt pen and let it fall from my hand onto the car seat between my sister and me.

    "Marky," she said and put a hand on my shoulder. I just turned away and looked out the side window. I felt like crying but held it in because my dad and my other sister were getting in the front seats now.

    "All right. Let`s get going," my dad said.

    "How late are visiting hours, dad," my older sister Gaila asked him from up front.

    "I think eight or nine," he told her.

    "Oh, we`ll have plenty of time then," Gaila said, and I know she probably checked her watch too. She was very serious a lot of the time and was already trying to help take care of me and my sister since my mom was away and all. "Are you guys okay back there?" she even asked.

    "Yes," my sister Diane said.

    "Marky?" Gaila said at me because I hadn`t said anything.    

    "Yeah... I`m okay," I told her and knew I`d been unable to hide the sadness in my voice. Nobody said anything though. They didn`t want me to start crying. So we just got going.

    Luckily it was a pretty short ride from good old Griffith way to the hospital. I watched the small town scenery slip by as we went. I was getting real familiar with this part of it too. We`d been to the hospital lotsa times over the past few weeks. My mom was pretty sick allright. Nobody`d told me yet, but she had cancer.

    When we got to the hospital me and my sister Diane waited in the lobby while my dad and Gaila went up to see her. They would come and get us if my mom was, "up to," seeing us. That was the plan anyway. But as we waited, I couldn`t help but have mixed emotions about it all. When we first started visiting her, I couldn`t wait to see her. But lately I didn`t know If I wanted to see her or not, to be totally honest. It was kinda spooky really. One time she had called me over close to her bed.

    "See those boys down there," she had said and nodded with her head toward the window. She was right next to it and from there she could look right down onto a part of the high school campus which was right behind the hospital. In Emmit back then the high school and the hospital were right next to each other. But so I looked and there was no one there. "Don`t you go with them, honey. You stay away from them."

    "Okay, momma," I`d told her, even though I was very confused and scared about it all. Of course, now I know it was probably her pain medicine talking. And probably too she had seen some kids down there ditching and smoking or something. And in retrospect now, I can imagine her alarm at what they would have been doing. Because she had lung cancer, which she had gotten from smoking herself. Which I`m sure she knew, explaining why that had stuck in her like it did. Why it was so alarming and all. But at the time it was all just too weird and scary for me.

    So we just waited though, me and my sister down in the lobby. There was none else there either. So I didn`t mind it there at all. My sister sat in one of their big, over padded chairs, still working through the rest of the catalogue with her felt pen, while I was just sorta wandering around, then stopped to check out this big, pretty Christmas tree they had in the corner.

    Then I noticed, just off to the side, a short ways up the hallway from the lobby, there was a small room with its door partway open. Chapel, was stenciled on the door`s opaque window, and immedeately I was very curious about what waited behind it`s closed door. I looked over at my sister still totally engrossed in the catalogue, and then snuck up the hallway far enough to crack open the door and take a peak inside.

    Where there wasn`t too much stuff really, most notably just a statue of Jesus in one front corner and Mother Mary in the other one. Then there was a small stand holding a big version of the bible open  facing out to the small group of benches that filled the back half of the room. It was very peaceful there though and quiet, religious music played from speakers hidden somewhere. I wanted to stay, but knew I had to get back real quick to keep my sister from yelling at me. She was still engrossed in the catalogue though when I got back.

    "Hey, Diane," I asked as I walked up to her. She didn`t look up.  

    "Hmmmm?" she just said.

    "I thought a chapel was like a big tall steeple thing."

    "A what?" she said.

    "A chapel. They got one just down the hall."

    "Oh really," she said. That had got her to look up.

    "But I thought it was like a big steeple thing."

    "It doesn`t have to be, silly," she explained. "It can be a place where people can just go to pray. Probably the one here is for people to pray for their loved ones who are sick," and I could tell she was very happy about being able to inform me about that. That was my sister Diane. She was always real smart. 

    Right away though, after hearing that, I decided I wanted to pray for my mom, there in the chapel. But I didn`t tell Diane. I had already gotten in to the habit of praying by myself. So I just waited a little, pretending like I was just looking around, and then as my sister went back to work on the catalogue, I snuck back down to the chapel again. I went in and took a seat on the front bench right in front of the bible. I just lowered my head and started talking to God, like my sister had called it.

    "Jesus, can you please help my mom get better. I don`t think she is doing too good. But I know you can help her get better. Please. I would greatly appreciate it, please, please," and I was starting to cry, so I just finished up. "-in Jesus name, amen."

    Then I hurried back out to the lobby and was just in time. Because there was my dad and Gaila coming in now too. My dad grabbed my hand and we started out. My mom was too tired to see us, he explained on the way out to the car. My sister Gaila was stone faced. Diane still had the catalogue with us in the backseat as we drove home. We both looked at each other and knew we better not say anything about it to dad. He looked really tired too.

    All the way home we had to look at all the Christmas lights all over the place, and probably for about the next twenty or twenty-five years they never looked too good to me any more. Because just a few days later, one afternoon, and this is another one of those scenes like totally burned into my memory, but just a few days later my sister Gaila came into my bedroom to tell me my mother had died. And the black anger and horror and hatred I felt for this whole world and the God who had created it can only be understood by others who, like me, have also experienced the sudden taking away of the most precious person in their life. And I hope that I will never have to go there again, to that place where those emotions rule, but know that I may. And too, I know probably all of us will, or have been there as well.

    But I hope like me, at least somewhere along the way, you too have had, or will have, the chance to learn how to pray. And too, I also hope that like me, you will come to realize that to blame God for our bad decisions, or the bad decisions of others, that can lead to early death or other forms of sorrow and suffering, is misplaced, to say the least. It`s not God`s fault. And I know that figuring this out, and learning how to pray, were both very helpful, if not totally necessary, to bring me to a place where my relationship with God is strong, and growing stronger everyday. And it is through this relationship, and only through it, that I will be able to get to a place where this sort of suffering and sorrow never happens any more. The only place bad things never happen anymore. A place called heaven.