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By Stephanie Perry Moore
Moody PublishersCopyright © 2006 Stephanie Perry Moore
All rights reserved.
My world was so perfect. I was doing well in school. I had two great girlfriends. I even had a boy who liked me. More important than any of that, what made me happy was knowing that my family was happy.
It was Friday night. Two more weeks of school to go. And instead of doing anything with my friends, or doing anything by myself, we were having family movie night.
My mom and my dad were nestled on the couch together. Dad was thrilled to be head coach of the Virginia State Trojans football team. Soon he would be preparing for what hopefully would be a good year. My mom's art business had really taken off.
She was going to paint murals for all of the Chesterfield County schools. They wanted her to finish twelve of them before the summer was over. Boy, was she really going to be busy.
My brother, Clay, had finally adjusted to the fact that we were his family; adoption didn't matter. He loved us and we loved him, and the problems he was having with my father were gone. My dad wanted him to play football in middle school. Clay wasn't having it at first, but now all of a sudden he had developed an interest. With the good throwing arm he had, I thought he'd be a dynamite quarterback. That made my dad feel good. Even Cassie wasn't bothering me as bad. I realized that my little sister loved me. Over the last couple of weeks we'd been able to talk through our differences. We hadn't been fighting like we normally did.
It was a great night. I had the movie, the popcorn, and all of my family. I could enjoy this scene forever. No sooner than I thought that, the quietness changed.
"Y'all hear that?" my dad asked as he got up from the couch.
Everybody looked at each other sort of confused. I said, "Yeah, Dad, I heard it. That sounds like police sirens or something."
My dad went out the front door and stood on the steps. The rest of us looked out the windows. Two police cars quickly headed toward a house down the street.
"Mom, it looks like they're at Shante's house," Cassie said in a scared tone. "What's going on over there, Mom? What's going on?"
I couldn't look out the window anymore. Something wasn't right.
"I hope Michael's okay," my brother said, biting his nails, like a person eating corn on the cob.
I didn't know the Thomas family that well. Their son Michael was the middle school bully. He'd picked on me about the way I talked when I first moved to Ettrick, and that hurt my feelings pretty bad. Boy, did I hate running into him on the street. He was so mean. Lately, Cassie had been playing with his sister, Shante. Cassie's best friend was Riana's little sister, but she was starting to hang with Shante too. I thought the Thomas family had some younger children too, but I wasn't sure. Even though I didn't know the family that well, I certainly didn't want anything to be wrong.
"Mom, Shante told me that she was scared, because at night her mom and dad keep fussing. She told me yesterday in school that she never gets to sleep, because they yell all the time. Mommy, what's wrong down there?" Cassie cried as my mom held her.
My dad came back inside the house. "Honey, some of the neighbors and I are going down the street to the Thomases' house. We're going to talk with the police to see what's going on. Y'all stay in the house."
The good movie we were watching didn't matter at that moment. The yummy popcorn was now sitting in a bowl untouched. The perfect silence that we had enjoying each other's company was gone, and our neighborhood was loud, loud, loud. What in the world was going on at ten o'clock at night in the Thomases' house?
About thirty minutes later, my dad came back and he didn't look happy at all. "Guys, I've got some really bad news."
My mother looked as if she was holding her breath. The look on her face frightened me. Part of me didn't want to know what my dad had to share. I only wanted to know good things in life. I didn't want to hear anything bad.
My dad came over and held mine and Cassie's hands as he sat on the couch and said, "Tonight Mr. Thomas made a very bad decision. I don't know all the details, but he and Mrs. Thomas were arguing. He hit her pretty badly. She is unconscious. They rushed her to the hospital. The police took him to jail, and her mother is there with the kids. It's not a good situation. We need to pray for them."
My mom said, "Oh, Charles, no."
My little sister grabbed my dad's arm. She was crying so hard. I felt awful. Mrs. Thomas just had to come around.
My dad led us in prayer. "Lord, right now my family is coming to You because our hearts are broken. We don't understand why bad things happen sometimes, but we trust You to take care of the bad things and make them better. I don't know exactly what happened down the street to cause this, Lord. I mean, my family was down here having a great time enjoying each other, and just a few houses down the street there was a battle going on. We now lift up Mrs. Thomas. We ask that You make her well. We pray for the Thomas kids. Keep them strong as they go through this tough ordeal."
Cassie couldn't stop crying. Seeing her tears and knowing what just happened, I started sobbing too. This was a lot to handle.
My dad continued, "Lord, I pray for Mr. Thomas too. We hope he finds You."
Later in bed, I prayed tomorrow would be a brighter day. The end of this one had taken away my happy spirit and I wanted it back.
* * *
When I woke up the next day, I immediately went to my knees. I needed to talk to God. I was so fortunate to have a mom and dad who loved each other. I was thankful that my dad was not violent like Mr. Thomas. Although my mom and dad didn't get along all the time, at least they talked things through. I just wish more adults in the world would do the same thing.
I prayed silently, Lord, this is tough. I don't understand. Why do adults fight? I'm just asking You to help people talk stuff out more. People shouldn't get so upset at one another.
Folks should not always have to have their way. And thank You so much for my mom and dad. Thank You for helping them love each other so much. I used to say "ugh" when they kissed, but now I want to see them do that more often. I pray this prayer in Jesus' name. Amen.
"Carmen, honey, you'd better hurry up and get dressed," Mom said, interrupting my thoughts. "Mr. Golf will be here any minute."
With everything that happened the night before, I had completely forgotten that this was Kings Dominion Theme Park day. I had planned this a few weeks back, along with my girlfriends, Layah Golf, who lived with her dad, and Riana Anderson, who lived down the street with her dad, mom, and two siblings.
I had been to Kings Dominion several times before with my family. We had made it a Browne summer family outing. We didn't get to go last summer, though, because we moved.
Mother's Day was just around the corner, and Layah and her dad always did something special around this time, since her mom moved away. She told Riana and me that she really didn't care that her mom wasn't living with them, but it was something about the sadness in her eyes that told us she wasn't telling the truth. I so wished I could snap my fingers and make that situation change for her, but I wasn't God. I couldn't do that, but what I could do was pray for her and make sure to be a good friend. So when she asked Riana and me to tag along on the special date with her dad, we were happy to agree. Kings Dominion had the best roller coaster rides, tasty elephant ears, and coolest arcade games in the world.
It took me no time to put on my jeans, T-shirt, and my brand-new, black Nikes. My mom had given me thirty dollars, and since Mr. Golf said he would take care of my entrance fee, I had that money to spend on whatever I wanted. I planned to spend it wisely.
Riana and I rode in the back of Mr. Golf's sweet ride. It was a black Mercedes Benz with tinted windows. We were styling. It looked more and more like being a lawyer like Mr. Golf would be cool.
As we headed out of our neighborhood, Riana and I talked about what happened last night. We were both sad about the Thomas family.
"What happened?" Layah asked.
Though it was hard to keep talking about it, it actually made the time go by fast. The forty-five-minute drive from Chesterfield County to the north side of Richmond, Virginia, where Kings Dominion was located, flew by. Her dad was open and honest and told us that, sadly, adults don't always get along.
Mr. Golf said, "Sometimes folks need to be apart so that they can calmly think about their situation."
"Like you and Mom," Layah said in an irritated tone.
Her dad didn't reply. Riana and I looked at each other. She and I didn't want the tension to mount. But the car was as silent as if no one were there.
Layah looked out of the window with sad eyes. My heart felt bad for my friend. Not having your parents together had to be tough.
Riana whispered in my ear, "Carmen, we've just got to make this day really special since she misses her mom and stuff. We have to do whatever she wants to do all day, okay?"
I didn't make a comment. I wasn't sure if I wanted to do everything Layah wanted to do. Real friends make sure everyone is happy. But just to keep Riana off my back, I agreed.
The first few hours at the park, Riana's plan was working. Whatever Layah wanted to do, I was cool with. The three of us were having a ball. Mr. Golf was so funny on the rides, shouting like a big kid. Even though I was fine with riding what Layah wanted to ride, deep inside the Drop Ball was all I could think about.
The Drop Ball was a ride that went straight up and down. I had hoped that ride would be on her agenda so we wouldn't have any problems between us. Unfortunately, though, by the end of the day we had ridden everything except the Drop Ball.
It was almost ten o'clock and Mr. Golf told us this was going to be the last ride of the night, so we had to choose quickly. Layah wanted to ride on something that we had already ridden twice before. I had been hinting about getting on my ride every time we passed it. I was ignored.
I said with confidence, "Let's ride the Drop Ball now."
Layah insisted, "No, I don't want to ride that. We're not going to ride that. You guys are here with me. My dad paid for the tickets. We're not riding that."
She was so bossy. Not only did I scream out in frustration, but I pouted too.
When she and Riana lined up to ride the roller coaster for the third time, her dad sat with me. I couldn't hold back my tears.
Mr. Golf asked as he handed me one of the napkins from around his snow cone, "Carmen, you want to tell me what's wrong?"
"I only wanted to get on one ride in the whole place, just one," I confessed before blowing into the napkin. "Your daughter wouldn't let me. She is so mean sometimes, sir. And she takes over. I'm her friend and everything, but she makes me mad."
"I agree with you," he said between slurps. "You have every right to be angry with her. Layah invited you and Riana to come out here to this park to have a good time—not for you guys to just follow behind her and grant her every wish. I'm actually surprised you two let her lead all day long."
I was glad Mr. Golf was with me on this. "Well, it was Riana's idea. She thought since Layah was sad about her mom and because this was a trip for her to help with her mom not being with her on Mother's Day and stuff, that we should be nice and do whatever she wants. I was fine with that, but I didn't think that Layah wouldn't let us choose one ride, you know?"
He nodded and said, "Well, that's very nice of you guys. You two are really good friends of hers to pick up on the fact that though she tries to be so tough, she is really sad that her mom is not constantly in her life. Carmen, I can't tell you not to be mad at Layah because she was wrong. She wasn't raised to be bossy."
I wanted Mr. Golf to give me some dap on that one. Layah had no reason to act pushy. Even her father thought I should stand my ground.
"But ..." He switched tones, showing me that he was about to make an adult point. "I can tell you, if you can find it in that golden heart of yours to keep showing her grace, maybe you and Riana can help her really deal with her pain."
What was he saying to me? Did he want my help in getting Layah to admit that she still deeply missed her mom? I believed that until she said it bothered her, she could never ask for the help to move on.
He continued, "She cries herself to sleep some nights, Carmen. She picks up the phone to call her mom and almost every time she gets the answering machine. She goes into a store and wishes her mom were there to help pick out a nice dress. She comes away disappointed when she sees other girls her age shopping with their moms. I don't want to make excuses for Layah, but maybe we all need to help her see that she is hurting."
Wow, that was a lot. I never knew my tough friend was so wounded. As I listened to him, the anger I had for her was drifting away like a sailboat leaving the shore.
"Like me, I need to do better as a dad to tell her not to be so bossy. Particularly with two friends who really care about her, but understand, this time you are giving her will help her through Mother's Day. She'll be able to look back and remember the fun time she had with you guys here. Folks who are bossy usually aren't bossy by nature. They've got something else going on with them that they gotta work through. Good friends don't bail on them. They don't give up on them. Best pals try to help them get over the pain. Got me?" Mr. Golf asked as I nodded.
When my two friends came running talking about how much fun they'd had, I looked at Layah in silence and was actually excited to see a smile on her face. I couldn't imagine going through life without my mom. It hurt me that she was hurting like that. So what? I didn't get to ride the Drop Ball this time. I was able to help a friend, and that was more important.
As the three of us walked behind her dad toward the exit out of the park, we passed the Drop Ball one more time. Layah wrapped her arm around my shoulder and said, "Carmen, I didn't get on that ride because I was scared and I didn't want anybody to know that. I'm sorry I didn't let you get on your favorite ride. You're tougher than me."
Wow, I thought to myself as I smiled at my friend.
Layah was afraid to get on the Drop Ball and she called me tough. Now, I really couldn't be mad at her anymore.
This was a good night. I didn't come for me; I came to support Layah.
"Next time my family comes, I'll see if you can come with us, Layah. It's really no big deal."
Her dad looked back at us and said, "We've got time for one more ride. I know I told your parents I would have you home at eleven, but I'll call."
Layah hesitated. "Will you guys ride the Drop Ball with me?"
"I'm scared too," Riana said. "I'll watch you guys down here."
"No," I said, pulling both of them to the empty line. "We're buddies. We're going together hand in hand."
Minutes later, I held on tight to my girlfriends as we dropped down. At the same time we physically dropped, I also felt all the bossiness, meanness, and sadness drift away. We screamed screams of joy. How cool.
* * *
When we got to school on Monday, there was a big assembly, and a bunch of important people were there from our county to talk about domestic violence. The incident in my neighborhood was something everybody wanted to talk about in class on Monday, so the principal called a big assembly and brought professionals in to deal with the difficult subject.
An important-looking man with a suit said, "Hello, boys and girls. I'm Mr. Redmond and I'm here from the Chesterfield County Hospital. I've been brought in today to speak to you for a few minutes on the subject of domestic violence."
Though I knew I needed to learn more about the subject, I was squirming in my seat. Why do I need to know more about this tough issue? I wanted the world to be perfect. However, I knew that wasn't realistic; and learning as much as I could, even about the bad stuff, was a good thing.
When Mr. Redmond introduced the short man dressed in a karate suit to help him, the students looked interested. The man started out with some karate moves. His cool skills eased the whole atmosphere. He finished by breaking a piece of wood with his hand. After that, we were all ready to listen.
"Did you all like that demonstration?" Mr. Redmond asked as he came back to the stage.
The cafeteria cheered collectively.
"Well, breaking that board in two is okay, but using that same power to harm another person is not good. First of all, I want you guys to know what domestic violence is. It occurs when there is a physical fight, or threatening argument, between family members. This might take place between a husband and wife or any other family members. In most cases the husband or male is the abuser. However, we have found incidents where the wife or female has been the abuser too.
"Anytime someone in the relationship uses verbal, mental, or physical abuse of any kind toward someone he or she is supposed to care for, that is also domestic violence."
As Mr. Redmond gave us the serious information, the students grew serious as well. I think a lot of kids were scared that maybe what happened to the Thomases could happen to them. We did need help, I guess. I mean, what is a kid to do if their parents fuss really, really bad? Maybe this lecture would show us the best way kids should respond.
"We want you to know that you don't have to be scared in your home. If you feel frightened about a situation in your home or someone's home that you're visiting, you should immediately call 9-1-1. If you or someone you know just needs to talk, call our hotline number, 1-800-NOABUSE, where counselors are waiting to speak confidentially with you. We want to get moms, dads, uncles, aunts, cousins, friends, neighbors, and anyone who needs it the help they need," Mr. Redmond said as he looked slowly around at all of us.
Excerpted from Golden Spirit by Stephanie Perry Moore. Copyright © 2006 Stephanie Perry Moore. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1. Dark Hour,
2. Warm Moment,
3. Pushy Ways,
4. Nice Time,
5. Yucky Situation,
6. Peaceful Night,
7. Chaos Everywhere,
8. Bright Beam,
9. Shining Light,