by Julie Lessman
When Gina invited me to guest blog today, I was thrilled, not only because I love Gina and the Inkies, but because I love this blog and its focus on writing and God. She told me I could write about "anything related to faith," so I was excited because I LOVE talking about my faith and the amazing things God has taught over my many, MANY years.
But, life happens, as we all know, and I ran out of time. That’s when something in my spirit whispered the words, "Windowsill Jesus." Now if you have read my debut novel, A Passion Most Pure, you may remember the acknowledgment at the back of the book to Windowsill Jesus, a true character from my childhood about Whom I wrote a story for a fiction class ten years ago. This is both His story and mine, and as far as I am concerned, there is nothing more "related to faith" (mine, anyway) than what Windowsill Jesus did for me—a young woman desperately groping in the dark before He brought her into His glorious light. And so, without further ado, I give you Windowsill Jesus—the best friend this girl has ever had.
The Plight of Windowsill Jesus
Mama always said I had an imagination like a runaway train. Wild, out of control and guaranteed to get somebody hurt. She never smiled when she said it. Just shook her head in resignation, her tone flat and lifeless. Not unlike, I often thought, her feelings for me.
She was right, of course. I still remember the night of ‘the call’. To this day I swear I wasn't asleep, only drifting on my bed somewhere between contemplation and slumber. The rain pelted against the window like angry tears while I lay in the dark. Somewhere in my head, a phone rang. I never moved a muscle, except in my mind's eye, where I calmly lifted the receiver to my ear.
"Hello Julie, this is the Devil. I'll be there in five minutes." Click.
I jolted up in bed. My ragged breathing slashed the silence while my heart pumped in terror. What should I do? I couldn't call Daddy—I’d get the belt for waking him in the middle of the night. After all, a doctor had to be well-rested to care for his patients. And I knew better than to call for Mama, a woman with little patience for the 3:00 a.m. hysterics of an eight-year-old drama queen. Besides, all of her comfort and care was reserved for the little girl sound asleep in the bed next to mine, the one Mama was sure was an angel sent from above.
Mama was right again. Who wouldn't love a dimple-cheeked cherub like Katie? Stack one sweet-natured, flaxen-haired five-year-old against a spindly, mousy-haired ‘angle-shooter’, and the contest was over. All hail, Queen Katie. Long live the Queen!
I wanted to hate her, but I couldn't. I wanted her gone, but she was all I had. Katie, a blue-eyed moppet with a sweet smile. She could chase the Devil away with grins and giggles and games of Fish until the pale light of dawn crept through our bedroom window. Only then would we fade into sleep, safe and secure in the cocoon of each other's arms.
Of course, Mama always yelled when she found me asleep in Katie's bed. "You could have smothered her," she’d accuse in a stern voice reserved especially for me.
"But, Mama, Julie had a bad dream," Katie defended, an urgency in her little-girl voice.
It always amazed me how quickly Mama's eyes could shift from steel gray to the softest blue when addressing her youngest daughter. "But Mama doesn't want anything to happen to her little chicken," she would whisper, scooping Katie up in her arms. They’d leave the room then, and all I could see was Katie’s sorrowful eyes, watching me over Mama’s shoulder.
Moments like that drove me—not to my knees, but to my windowsill. Nose pressed hard against the screen, I’d squint out of the corner of my eye, imagining Jesus sitting on the outside ledge of my parent’s room. All I could see were His sandaled feet dangling and the hem of His white robe fluttering in the breeze, but it was enough. We'd talk for a while; mostly me, of course. I’d tell Him how much I needed Mama to love me. Since Sister Cecilia always said God was love, I sort of figured He was in the business, anyway. Why couldn't He make Mama love me, after all? I asked Him to talk to His Dad and the Ghost, you know, just to see if there was anything They could do. He never answered, but I figured He must have heard, because somehow I always felt better for the asking.
Once, when Mama came home from a day of shopping, she piled a tower of boxes on the kitchen table. We squealed with delight as she opened each to reveal its contents. A dress for Katie, a sweater for me, another dress, skirt and blouse for Katie, a hat for me, the latest fad for Katie, nothing for me.
"Mama," Katie said, eyeing my token pile, "I have more than Julie."
"Well, Julie's so hard to fit—I never know what to get her.” Mama absently patted my head. “You'll just have to go with me next time, so you can try things on." She turned away, unscrewing her clip earrings as she left the room. I blinked away the blur in my eyes and felt Katie's hand on mine as she looked at me with soulful eyes.
That night, Windowsill Jesus got an earful. He took it rather well, although the sandals seemed to droop more than usual. For a guy in control, He sure didn't talk much. No matter. I had more than enough to say for us both.
I knew it wasn't Katie's fault, but sometimes I made her pay for Mama's love. Like the time we fought over who got the bed on the inside wall next to Mama’s room. No way did I want the bed by the door where I was certain monsters loomed at night. But all Katie had to do was shed a few tears, and Mama would descend on me like a Missouri thunderstorm.
"She's just a baby,” Mama would say, “Stop being selfish and take the bed by the door." Katie sniffled as Mama gave her a squeeze. "It's okay, little chicken, you can have the bed next to Mama's wall. I want my little girl close."
Before she left the room, Mama would give me the eagle eye, defying me to argue.
"You heard what Mama said … I get the bed by her wall,” Katie said.
"No problem," I’d say, smiling and plopping on the bed by the door, legs casually crossed. "I don't want to sleep by Frank, anyway."
Katie blinked. "Who's Frank?" she asked, her voice wavering.
"You know, Frank—as in Dr. Frankenstein? He sleeps in that closet by your bed."
Her eyes widened in terror as she crouched against the headboard. "He does not," she whispered, her face as pale as porcelain.
"Sure he does. Ever notice that big, square trap door at the top of the closet? That's the attic. Frank lives up there. I thought you knew that. But don't worry, he only comes out at night."
"I don't want this bed," she wailed, "I want the bed by the door.”
"But Mama said you had to –"
"No! I want the bed by the door."
And so I won, as always with Katie. It was only fair, I reasoned. After all, Katie may have had Mama's heart, but I had the bed by her wall.
Over the years, my visits with Windowsill Jesus became as infrequent as my attempts to win Mama's love. And then one day, both stopped altogether, deliberately tucked away at the age of fourteen into the dark recesses of my ‘orphan's’ heart. I replaced them with makeup and movies and the all-important quest for a boyfriend.
What I lacked in love, I made up in creativity. My gangly body, just beginning to bud, burgeoned into buxomness when enhanced by bobby socks sewn in where needed. Heavy eyeliner, guaranteed to produce the come-hither look, ribboned my eyes. Through it all, Katie would sit for hours, Indian-style on her bed, watching while I teased my hair and slinked into tight sweaters. Oh, how she would giggle when I’d pucker up, applying enough pale lipstick to produce perfectly pouting lips. I could tell she was fascinated by the evolution of her older sister. A stark contrast to Mama, whose casual indifference was only occasionally punctuated by comments like ‘boys don't marry tramps’. A sentiment always echoed by Daddy. When he was around.
When Katie hit her teens, her relationship with Mama hit the skids. Overnight, she transformed from Mama's sweet-faced angel into a celestial beauty anxious to try out her wings. No longer content to be Mama's ‘little chicken’, Katie dreamed of freedom to follow in my footsteps. I shouldn’t have, but I reveled that her dreams became Mama's nightmares.
More and more, Mama seemed to float in and out of depression. On days when she had the energy, she would blame her ‘little chicken's’ demise on my bad influence. If Katie sassed her, it was my fault. If Katie rose to my defense, Mama accused me of stealing her baby. Mama's attacks still managed to produce a mournful look on Katie's face, but their sting no longer penetrated the steel casing around my heart. Her words would fly, and I would simply turn and leave while Mama squandered her final reserve of energy on silent screams.
The day Mama died began like any other. Daddy left for work early, as usual, and Katie and I slept late. As late as Mama would allow. It was summer, after all. That didn't seem to mean a lot to Mama, who always appeared at our bedroom door promptly at 10:30 a.m. In her mind, we were nothing but ‘bed jockeys’ who wanted to sleep the day away. In our minds, we were far away in our own personal dreams, romanced and sought after by boys who couldn't live without us.
I awoke that morning to Katie's frantic cries, her arms flailing at my bed covers. "Julie, wake up, wake up—Mama's not breathing! God, what are we going to do?" She stood there, her face contorted in panic, dragging her fingers through the blonde ringlets as if she were going to rip them out by the roots. I lay there in a stupor until the meaning of her words invaded my conscious. I could taste the fear in my mouth as I shot off the bed, pushing past her to Mama's room down the hall.
She looked so peaceful. Not at all like the depressed woman who had taken to crying jags and pacing aimlessly through the house. Just peaceful. In a surreal blur of sirens and doctors and mournful crying, Mama was taken away. An aneurysm in her heart, the doctors decided. A heart that would never know how much I longed to be within it. For the first time in a long time, I thought about Windowsill Jesus. So much for prayers answered. Close the casket on this one, boys, 'cause the God of Love blew it big time. Pack up your prayers, little girl, and move on.
And move on I did. Onto broken curfews, bottles of booze and the notorious free-love era of the 70s. The Devil didn't call me on the phone anymore. No, he just pulled right up to my front door and took me riding. Most nights I'd come home and collapse on my bed, the taste of vomit ripe in my mouth. I remember the room spinning out of control, like my life. Someone was always there, though, holding my hand and wiping my lips with a cool cloth, whispering everything would be all right. Even through a haze of Jack Daniels, I swear Katie looked like an angel. "I love ya, Kate," I would slur before the haze began to dim.
"I know you do, Julie," she would say, "and I love you, too. More than anything in the world. Always have, always will."
I closed my eyes and smiled. Windowsill Jesus smiled back. "Always have, always will," He whispered.
I rolled the window down, and the cold, autumn air misted my face like a dream. I stared at the house I once called home and watched the shadows of dusk cloak it in darkness. Blinking back the tears, I leaned out my car window. I could almost smell the cloves and cinnamon from the bourbon pumpkin pies Mama used to bake at Thanksgiving. Almost. Grabbing a Kleenex, I wiped the wetness from my eyes. True, I hadn't felt loved or protected in this home, but it had given me something. Rolling the window up, I turned the key in the ignition and buckled my seatbelt, ready to head home.
Home. Where toddlers clamored for my attention and a husband's eyes lit up when I entered the room. Where perennials bloomed and Katie and I enjoyed prayer luncheons on my cedar deck. Where memories of Mama had softened and deepened and forgiven, just like me. And—most importantly of all—where Windowsill Jesus still kept vigil.
http://www.borders.com/online/store/ListView_best2009favefiction. She resides in Missouri with her husband, daughter, son and daughter-in-law and is the author of “The Daughters of Boston” series, which includes A Passion Most Pure, A Passion Redeemed, and A Passion Denied, as well as the recently released A Hope Undaunted, book 1 of her brand-new “Winds of Change” series. You can contact Julie through her website at http://www.julielessman.com/.
The 1920s are drawing to a close, and feisty Katie O'Connor is the epitome of the new woman--smart and sassy with goals for her future that include the perfect husband and a challenging career in law. Her boyfriend Jack fits all of her criteria for a husband--good-looking, well-connected, wealthy, and head-over-heels in love with her. But when she is forced to spend the summer of 1929 with Cluny McGee, the bane of her childhood existence, Katie comes face to face with a choice. Will she follow her well-laid plans to marry Jack? Or will she fall for the man she swore to despise forever?