Good Friday

Posted on Apr 23, 2011 in Blog
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Tammy drove her children into the lake on a Friday, the weekend that her soon-to-be-ex-husband was out of town.  She did not do it on purpose, though eventually the prosecution would paint things that way.  Instead, she swerved to avoid a rabbit that had jumped out onto the road.  Tanner, her son, was sitting in the front seat and saw the rabbit first.
            “Don’t hit it!” he’d screamed.  And so she’d swerved, and because it was an unbearably cold April they hit a path of black ice, and from there careened through the guard rail and down into the lake.  

She remembers everything.  The coppery surge of fear in her mouth as she felt control of the wheel slide out from beneath her hands; the crunch of the car as it swumped across the rocks and into the water; the peculiar, high-pitched whine of her children’s screams as they came to a jolting stop in the lake.  The infinitesimal moment of peace as she realized they were okay, and then the dark panic that rush up to devour them all.  Water, seeping in from everywhere.  Water, the murky smell of frozen algae, the sudden acrid reek of potential death. 

            Tammy fumbled for her belt, unclicked it, and then reached across to Tanner, who had gone pale with shock.  He was still screaming.  By the time she got her hand around his seatbelt, the water had risen past his knees.  The front half of the car was already submerged.
            “Tanner,” she said.  He kept screaming.  “Tanner!”  More screaming.  She raised her hand and slapped him, hard.  He stopped and looked at her, his mouth open.  A thin line of saliva hung from his lip.  “You’re going to have to swim,” she said.  Slowly, carefully.  “I’m going to open the car door – water is going to come in, and you’re going to have to swim.”
            He nodded.  His eyes had glazed over – he looked unsure of himself, as though he might no longer remember his name.  “I can’t swim,” he whispered.
            She shouldn’t have heard him whisper – this much she knows now, remembering.  But she reached across and pulled at his door.  It would not open, so she grabbed the window roller and held his shoulder.  “Just kick,” she said.  “Kick, and push.”
            The window wouldn’t open.  Then she remembered – something about pressure, and physics, and needing the outside and inside pressure of the car to be the same.  She pulled away from the door and turned, instead, to the baby, who hadn’t stopped crying.  Audrey sat crooked in her car seat, gravity pulling her legs down.  Her body had lurched forward with the tilt of the car, and the seatbelt was cutting into the space between her ribs.  There was a gash on her forehead. 
            “It’s okay,” Tammy said, automatically.  It’s okay.  It’s okay.  Her fingers shook and fumbled.  More water, now, icy cold.  The baby’s seatbelt wouldn’t open.  The water kept rising.  Tanner had started to cry again.  Great, gasping sobs. 
            “Stop it!” she shouted.  The words came out slow, and thick.  They only had so much air.  Everything was drenched now.  Everything.
            The baby’s seatbelt came undone, finally, and Audrey fell forward, splashed into the water that was filling the car.  More crying.  Tammy’s hands were shaking badly now.  She held the baby’s head above the water and watched them both.  Her children, and an icy, watered grave. 
            “Just a minute,” she said, forcing the words out.  Shaking teeth.  So cold.  “Just … a … minute.”  Her hand pushed forward through the water and found the door handle.  The entire car was submerged now, and sinking fast.  The pocket of air in the car shrank to six inches.  Five.  They huddled at the top, in the air.  Four.
            Tanner’s head went under first.  Then hers, then the baby’s.  Tammy surged forward and yanked the handle of the back door.  It did not move.  She yanked it again, and this time the door creaked open.  She pushed.  Like giving birth, with her arms.
            Then she pushed Tanner forward, into the water.  Kick, her mind screamed.  He did.  He went up. 
            She tried to follow, Audrey hooked into her arm.  But she misjudged the space, wiggling, and hit her head against the top of the doorframe, hard enough to make her drop the baby.  Black dots danced in front of her eyes.  She tried to take a breath and swallowed water. 
            The baby floated beside her like a doll.  Tammy pulled the child close, kissed her, and pushed again.  Her daughter surged up, to the sky. 
*
The prosecution does not believe this story, which is not surprising.  These months later, Tammy hardly believes it herself.  Who remembers this much detail from an almost-drowning?  Who says that an eighteen-month-old baby surges forward through water and muck like she’s been propelled by a motor? Nobody.
            Instead, the prosecution draws attention to the disintegration of the marriage, and the fact that Edward was going to fight for custody.  They bring up the AA meetings, and the post-partum depression that struck Tammy eight years ago, after Tanner was born.  They use words like unstable and unhinged.  They cite other cases of unstable, unhinged mothers.  (It is easy, today, to believe that a mother might want to kill her children in the event of a divorce.  Less easy to believe in icy roads and rotten luck.  We make our own luck now.  We rise above the limits of nature.)  They are so certain that at times even Tammy believes them.  Wasn’t she angry?  Hadn’t she been weeping, just before the rabbit ran across the road?
            This is the only thing she can’t remember.  She might have been crying.  She might not.  Not that it matters, anymore.
*
What she does not tell them – what she’ll never tell them, and what the children will never know – is that God came to her in the car.  A mossy, dark green God, like Neptune, or the colder, north-dwelling Nix.  When her children were suspended above her, kicking up toward the light, God rippled into place in front of her and held out His hand.
What does God say, when you meet Him in the flesh?  She can’t remember this, either, at least not exactly.  She knows only that His fingers felt like sea kelp, slippery and mysterious.  He is a dark God.  He speaks the language of sacrifices and blood.  If He loves at all, it is deeper and harder than anything she’s ever known.
Eventually she turned away, and surged up, and broke through the surface to find her children floating facedown on the water.  She yanked them close, and smacked the air into them, one by one.  And then they wept, in the water, together. 
            The next day, Edward came back from his trip and took the children away. 
*
If you go back, He might have said to her, during that green underwater moment, they will take your children from you.  And so they have. Tammy is not allowed to see the children now, which is not really that surprising.  Edward’s sister drops by every now and again and tells her about them — they have become stories, a weekly television show.  Audrey is talking now.  Tanner’s having baths again.  They do not ask about her, ever.
            This is okay.  At least they are alive. 
             She says this to herself every day – in the morning, at the courthouse, in the evenings when she is alone.  They are alive, and they are well, and years from now they will remember this only as the last drive they ever took with their mother.  They will remember breaking through the water like newborns, the water receding behind them like a nightmare banished and gone.  Life will be a gift for them, always. 
            And God?  God will wait for someone else to find Him, hiding there beneath the water.  He is patient.  He is kind.  He holds mystery and terrible choices fast between his hands.  He is no stranger to sorrow.  He holds Tammy now even as she sleeps, as the jury turns against her. 
            Eternity, like death, is also green. 
             
           
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8 Comments

  1. Kerry Schafer
    April 23, 2011

    Oh, wow. Beautifully written story – heart wrenching. So glad you stopped by my blog so I found yours. : )

  2. admin
    April 23, 2011

    Thanks Kerry! I hope you have a wonderful weekend. 🙂

    xo

  3. Steph
    April 23, 2011

    SO WEIRD.

    We were just talking about a similar, true story, only far more tragic, if you can believe that, at work the other day. The mom did drive into the water on purpose.

    Anyway, this was excellent; I can't even say anything else. The highest praise I can think of is that I'm jealous.

  4. admin
    April 24, 2011

    Aw, Steph — you're so lovely. Please don't be jealous! Just remember — this was the product of an entire day of writing. Normal people would choose to have a life. 🙂

  5. Stacie P.
    April 24, 2011

    Your writing is truly compelling, and I'm so happy I stumbled upon your blog. 🙂 Excellent read!

  6. admin
    April 24, 2011

    Thank you so much, Stacie. Might I say that I am ALSO very happy that you stumbled upon my blog? 🙂

    xo

  7. Mary
    April 27, 2011

    Amanda,

    I tried to comment a few days ago but blogger was being silly and wouldn't let me post.

    So, I will try again…

    This piece of writing is so powerful. Your descriptions had me right there in Tammy's mind. I felt her pain. I saw her surroundings.

    I'm excited to read more from you. Amazing.

    Sending love your way.

    Do you like the rainy weather? I imagine if I were a writer I might like it. Not sure why…but I feel like it might inspire some good thoughts.

  8. admin
    April 27, 2011

    Mary,

    Thank you so much! I can't tell you how much your words mean to me, especially now. They — and you — are such a gift.

    I will try my best to get new writing up, and soon!

    In the meantime, as of right now I am actually ambivalent about the weather. I DO like the rain, 'tis true — but right now it also reminds me of Scotland, which makes me sad. So I don't quite know what to feel about it right now. I'm kind of hoping that the sun will break out soon and help me change my mind. 🙂