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The Sins of Our Fathers; Chapter Seven
Making A Stand For Her Own Life
For the following weeks, as preparations got underway for Claire to move to Boulder, she thought she was having a heart attack. At work, she continued her busy schedule, mostly to keep her mind off the upcoming move. She sorted through all of her belongings and packed what she would be taking: only a few of her favorite clothes and all of her hats. Her suitcase was already packed and ready and her room was barren. Claire gave her co-workers some of her clothes, although the long dresses were not in style. What no one wanted, she dropped off at the Goodwill Store on her way to work. Rachael seemed heartbroken, but she eagerly went through what was left in Claire’s room, claiming many of Claire’s possessions for her own.
Her racing heart and the feeling that someone was sitting on her chest caused Claire to think that she might be having a heart attack. Some days, it felt as though she couldn’t catch her breath at all. While she had never been into exercise, she now wondered if she was in such terrible shape that her job was stressing her heart. At other times, her head would start pounding and a loud whooshing noise filled her ears. Claire clutched onto the nearest countertop or table to steady herself until the drowning feeling subsided.
She explained her symptoms to a friend at work.
“Well,” Colette answered, “that sounds like a panic attack. I used to have them after my car accident. Your body can’t figure out how to deal with the stress, and you start to panic. It’s the flight or fight response. Your body is reacting to the stress in your life.”
“Well, I’m not afraid. It just feels like I can’t breathe. Like someone fat is sitting on my chest.”
Colette laughed, “Yep. That’s a panic attack.”
“Well, what do I do about it?”
Claire could feel the attacks coming on, like enormous waves from the ocean, threatening to pull her under and drown her.
“There’s a couple of different things. Have you tried therapy?”
“No. My family doesn’t believe in therapy. We talk to our pastor.”
“Have you talked to your pastor, then?”
“No. Everyone is mad at me, including the pastor. I decided to go to college, instead of using my savings to help the poor. The church thinks I’m being selfish. My dad is a pastor, but he’s not the kind of pastor you can talk to. I don’t really have those kinds of people in my life right now.”
“That’s some fucked up shit, excuse my French,” answered Colette. “What kind of crazy church is this, anyway?”
“We’ve belonged to the Seeker Church for about five or six years. They are pretty strict. I guess no one realized I’d been saving all my money. So now I look selfish. But I did tithe my ten percent.”
“Ten percent? Crap, that’s a lot. And you can still go to college? You rock. If you can’t do therapy, there are some other things you could try. Yoga helps relax the body. Deep breathing, meditation. Then there’s Xanax, which my doctor gave me, after the accident. It really helps. Or, you could just get high. That’s what I do now. Have you tried that?”
Claire’s head swam with the wealth of information. Her family, friends, and church would approve none of it. Therapy? Families went to Pastor Bill for advice, guidance and hope. Yoga? Meditation? Those things sounded like crazy Eastern religion, and she wouldn’t even know where to begin. Xanax? Her family never took prescription medication. Ever. And drugs? Those were a bigger no-no than sex. In the world of religion and sinning, sex, drugs and alcohol were the three biggies.
Colette continued, “Have you ever gotten high? That’s what I did in college. It really helps ease the tension. Smoke a little weed and you’ll be feeling all right.”
Claire answered incredulously, “We don’t really ‘meditate’. Isn’t that anti-Christian? I heard that if you meditate or do yoga, then you are worshiping other gods. Like Buddha gods and eastern religion. Do you know about that stuff? And I’ve never taken anything except for Tylenol. Our church doesn’t really want people taking lots of unnecessary medication. And no. I have never been high. I don’t believe in that.”
“That sounds like a crazy church you go to. No wonder you’re so stressed. When do you get out of here?”
“I’m leaving in July, transferring to the Boulder restaurant. I think I start there in mid-July, and then school starts in August. They gave me permission to move into the dorms early. But I’m so nervous. I’ve never been away from home except for a couple of church overnight camps. But they only lasted three days.”
Claire felt her anxiety rising as she spoke, and she gasped deeply for air, feeling like her lungs never completely inflated.
“Sister, you need to chill.” Colette put an arm around Claire’s shoulder. “Do you want to meet me tonight, after work? I can help you relax.”
Claire agreed to meet her, and waited nervously by Colette’s car after her shift. She wasn’t sure why she decided to meet Colette, and as she waited she began to doubt that Colette could actually help. She did believe that she should be strong enough get herself off to college. But her heart problems had her concerned and she wanted to figure out how to master her own stress.
“I’m pretty sure I’m not ready to get high. But maybe you could teach me to breathe. Or meditate. I could try that.” Claire spoke nervously over the top of the car as Colette unlocked the door.
The two women climbed into the red Honda, and Colette turned on the stereo. Mellow flute music filled the car, like nothing Claire had ever heard. Drums beat softly and rhythmically, birds chirped in the background, and wind chimes accompanied the flute.
“Wow. What kind of music is this? I have listened to the Christian station for so long, I forgot there would be other stuff out there. My friends all listen to Christian music too. Some of them even have tapes of my dad singing. It’s kind of weird.”
Claire chuckled to herself. Her friends. As if. She had never developed any close friends at the Seeker Church, and most of her public-school friends, from way back before her ‘conversion,’ had moved on. To be honest, she didn’t have any friends and she certainly had no idea what music people listened to. She really did listen to church music or classical music. Beyond that, she never listened to music.
“This is new age, baby girl. Now sit back, close your eyes, and let the music take you away. And here. Take a half of one of these pills. Use the other half the next time you start drowning.”
Claire looked doubtfully at the tiny orange pill, cut in half. She doubted that anything so small could ease the pressure in her chest, but she was willing to try it. Swallowing the pill with the remnants of a warm diet coke, Claire leaned back in the seat, and immediately felt her chest open and expand. Floating away on the music, she felt, for the first time in months, like everything would be ok.
Shortly after her meeting with Xanax, Claire headed to Boulder. Colette gave her half-a-dozen small orange pills, and told her to carefully cut them in half and keep them hidden. These would be for emergency only, Claire decided. She had visited the restaurant where she would be working, and she was excited to get started with her new life. Now that things were moving forward, she was hopeful that the panic attacks would fade into the past.
Claire’s dad took the following Monday afternoon off, to help her move, and during the weekend, Claire packed the last of her belongings. Sleeping in her room that last night, everything already seemed so different. All those things that made the room uniquely hers had been given away, or were loaded into the van for the hour-long ride to Boulder.
After breakfast and devotions, Claire, Melissa and Craig loaded into the van. Rachel begrudgingly agreed to babysit the boys, but she was mad. She wanted to see the school and Claire’s dorm room. She pouted in the living room, as the boys ran around in circles chanting.
Claire kissed her little sister and hugged her fiercely, “I love you Rachel. Be good.”
Rachel hugged her back, “Of course I’ll be good. You be careful. I love you too”
Isaac and Christopher knew Claire was leaving, but they really didn’t know where Boulder was, or what it meant. She kissed them both on their heads and told them to be good. The boys slowed only for a moment, to kiss her good bye then returned to their game.
Craig and Melissa talked in the front seat of the van, while Christian music played on the car radio. Craig would occasionally sing along with a chorus, and Melissa sat quietly waiting. Her conversations with her husband were always being interrupted by something. Or someone.
They talked about church, and what songs Craig and Theresa were working on. Claire wanted them to talk to her, to tell her how much they loved her, and would miss her. Instead, the conversation continued just like any other day.
When they got to the school, Craig began carrying boxes to the elevator. Since it was mid-July, there were few students around, so the elevators were empty. The big move-in wouldn’t come until August, but Claire wanted to get settled in at work and in the room.
She slid her I.D. card through the slot and loaded boxes onto the elevator. Then she and Melissa rode to the fifth floor.
Claire thought, “Well, the fifth floor is good. That’s my lucky number.” She knew her mom would be irritated if she called it a lucky number, so she stood quietly, watching the numbers on the elevator panel change as the car climbed the building.
Claire walked down the quiet hallway, until she found her dorm. It was a large L-shaped room, with one single bed and a bunk bed. A sitting area made up the front part of the room, and a small bathroom slanted off one side of the bedroom.
Claire immediately claimed the single bed. It had its own dresser, and a small corner gave it some privacy from the bunk beds.
“Don’t you want to wait and see what the other girls would like?” Melissa asked Claire.
“Well mom, since I’m the first one here, I get dibs. Anyway, the other girls won’t be here for two more weeks. I came early so I could get situated for work.”
“Well,” Melissa sighed deeply, “it just seems a little selfish, that’s all. Taking the best bed for yourself. Maybe one of the others would like it.”
“Mom. Everyone would like it. That’s why I came first. So I could get the good bed. I hate bunk beds.”
Melissa shook her head, “I sure am disappointed in how selfish you’ve become. It seems like I must have gone wrong somewhere, to have a daughter who only thinks of herself anymore. Claire, it’s like you’ve become a different girl. You never used to be like this.”
“I’m taking this bed.”
Without another word, Claire turned her back to her mother and started down the hallway for more boxes. The second elevator pulled up and the doors opened, revealing Craig, with the last of Claire’s belongings.
“Well, here we are. I hope they don’t mind a man coming in the dorm.”
“Dad, don’t be silly. You’re my dad. And anyway, this is a co-ed dorm.”
As soon as she said it, Claire froze, waiting for her dad’s reaction. He paused momentarily gathering his thoughts. Claire knew the outburst would be a loud one. She mentally prepared herself, figuring that he wouldn’t yell too loudly in public and surely he wouldn’t hit her.
“This is what? I will not have my daughter living among boys. It’s bad enough that you are living among the unsaved, but boys? Absolutely not.”
With that, Craig strode down the hallway toward Claire’s open door.
“Melissa, help me gather Claire’s things. She can’t stay here.”
Laden with boxes, Claire made her way past them and into the room.
“Dad. Mom. I know you are disappointed, but I’m staying. This is where I want to be. You need to trust that you raised me right. I know how to make good decisions. You need to trust me. I’m an adult now.”
“Claire, you can’t stay. You are not an adult. You are an eighteen-year-old child. It will be too much temptation. You don’t know how to handle it.”
Melissa pleaded with her daughter, tears welling in her eyes.
“You are not staying. That’s final. Now, let’s get that car loaded back up, and get you home where you belong.”
Craig picked up the box he had just carried in, and headed back toward the elevator. Claire knew this was the time for her to make a stand for her own life.
“Daddy. I’m staying. Please bring my box back.”
Craig stopped in the hallway, set the box on the floor and turned toward his daughter.
“I think you are making a mistake. Until you are ready to repent of your error and see things correctly, I don’t want you around your brother and sister, leading them into your corruption.
“Claire, I don’t know what has come over you, but I must say, I am very disappointed in you. You had such promise. Such intelligence. I can’t believe you would throw away your family for a chance to live in the sin and debauchery of this dorm.
“Melissa, come with me. We are leaving.”
Stunned, Claire watched her parent’s head toward the elevator. She wanted to run up and hug them, to beg their forgiveness.
Her heart cried out, “Mommy, daddy, come back.”
But Claire stood silently, until the elevator doors opened. Craig and Melissa entered the elevator, then turned to face their daughter for a final time.
“I love you, mom. Dad, when are you going to tell mom that Christopher is your son?”
Her parent’s shocked faces, as the elevator door closed were burned into Claire’s heart, and she regretted the words as soon as they were on the air.
To read Chapter Six of The Sins of Our Fathers
To read Chapter Eight of The Sins of Our Fathers