by Laura Lynn Gatzow
A virgin she was not. Amanda’s white, lacy gown didn’t fit and neither did the white, steepled church in which she stood. She’s more like snow mixed with grit and street grime. She lost it shortly after her sixteenth birthday, at a drinking party where the coke should not be mistaken for cola. She said no to the drugs but yes to the young man and the stranger’s bed, opting for the one that promised warmth and love. But the promise emptied like her glass of gin and tonic, the dopamine in her brain waned, leaving nothing but ice. After this, it was easy—the stain was set in her psyche and she became like the rag shirt you change the oil in, or paint in, the one you just don’t care if it gets dirty anymore.
I see her back then on the altar, the tatted lace of her bodice rising and falling with each breath, the sequins and beads sutured to the delicate fabric clinging to her arms like hoar frost on tree limbs. Outside, those few leftover leaves, cocooned in ice crystals, so mulish and willful against the wind, dry and shrivel in a fight against the paler light of Winter, against a lackluster, thirsty sky, in hopes of an early Spring thaw. They will fall and nourish the ground around the very tree from which they had budded and, with the help of the sun, bring forth more beautiful life. Life like dahlias on slender stems shaking in the wind like a dew-soaked dog. Life like the leaves of silver maples at dusk, underbellies to the breeze and rustling like the pages of a gilt-edged Bible. Even life like Amanda’s.
When she first met Matthew, she expected nothing more than a short-term fling. Her jaded hopes were borne out by experience with lovers who shambled in the dark but would bolt as if chased by a greyhound at any sign of Suzy Homemaker tendencies or the faintest hint of attachment. So much of life is a lather, rinse, repeat cycle, like seasons. Here today, gone tomorrow.
Her sorrow is brooding deep and pulled by the moon. She rides the tide and wonders if he understands how all the little fowls get caught in ghost nets of lovers now spent and bought with such precious gold. She is whet with grief over the past. Hell may hath no fury like a woman scorned, yet men suffer not like a woman wrestling between good and evil, love and lust. The names called by more proper folk, like the choir boys who repeat their mothers’ epithets, and her father‘s determination that she was, in spite of a good home, a slut. It fit, somehow. A bit big at first, but she would grow into it in those couple years. Amanda’s dad let this prophecy slip when she was just fourteen, and shame pinned her soul like a five-point throw.
This man is so unlike him. She must be startled by this new love, discovering, maybe, that love past was mislabeled among many other misnomers. Amanda laughs at the silly things he does...like the giant birthday card Matt put under her pillow one night while she slept, one with a google-eyed pug on the front, Photoshop-dressed in a five-piece hot pink bikini and signed on the inside with a paw print from the dog. How he delivers clever puns and quips that he’s like an old pair of scissors—blunt and to the point. How she tells him to cut it out. And how he listens for the sea in a shell or rests his ear to her heart.
But the brooding deep calls her name.
Her body is a candle burning and the steel blade a douter. When she picks up the serrated knife and puts it to her wrist, her only thought is escaping the past, personified in her mind as hordes of demons coming to drag her away. Try as she might to outrun them, like a falling tower in some macabre cartoon, Amanda could not escape their menacing doom. Matt got there just in time.
Her depression is a medieval rack, stretching each axon and dendrite until only those negative filaments of racing thoughts pass through her synapses. No light or lifegiving words make sense. Everything is dark and deathtaking—meaningless as night without the moon and stars. She kneels for days, head bowed, limp-headed as a dying rose. Everything scares her: the TV mocks, stuffed animals frighten, and the voices in her head terrorize. Even the shower might make her melt and disappear, and she wonders if her layers could be lost in water. Where could she go? When will this nightmare end, she wonders, and counts the grains of sand in her broken hourglass, this long surgery without anesthetic. Matt just holds her close--as if his body could, in such silence, siphon the pain pulsing her veins--and speaks better English than his native-born tongue, somehow weaves and wends a wordless sonnet in her soul.
She’d said “I do” before she knew of deep depression and psychosis. Even then, Matt did not blink or shrink back but became to her a shore upon which Amanda’s waves of blues and other hues could depend. And like footsteps fading in cool sand, the ebb and flow erased her pain, and she did mend.
I see Amanda now. She basks in the light of an ever-fixed mark, the one to take darkness to task. Even the bag lady on the corner of Fairview and Main mumbles, “Forgiveness is true love,” like a mantra. Amanda knows she’s right. Wholly loved and healed with grace from within and above, with enough to spill over and pay forward. Now nature takes its course. She’s like fresh-fallen snow on an Alberta mountain top— this time, with the help of the sun, to melt with Spring, to green the valley and slake the dawn.