The Middle Child, by Alma Linda Martinez
I hit rock bottom in the eighth month of my thirtieth year. I knew I needed to find the road back to the top. I took the obvious and most certain course. The one to guaranteed exaltation. The one where all the arms along the way reached out, reached around, and embraced me the full twenty seconds needed for the oxytocin to assure me it was the right way.
It was around the fire. All the way around it. All of the men with their starched white collars and freshly pressed suits flashed their white smiles. "We put all the bad things in the fire. The bad things burn as stubble. It is right there in black and white. Don’t go back in there. Whatever you do just keep moving forward. Throw the bad things in and move forward." I looked at them with skepticism dancing all around me, but their smiles were so bright and their eyes so kind and comforting. Eyes like that don't lie. I believed them.
One broken piece of me at a time I started hurling ALL the things in. Old pictures. My most treasured art given by my lesbian surrogate parents. The pool trophies and patches. The memories that were pieced together by smokey pool halls and smokey garages where game nights were held. I threw in the laughter and the sacred spaces held for wounded middle aged women that nurtured and loved me like a kid sister. I threw all of it in. I couldn't have any evidence to remind me of the bad thing I was and the bad things I did. All of it was wrong.
"He'll make you brand new," they said. If I get to have brand new I could get rid of all of it. All the bad things. Burn it all to stubble. "Don't tell anyone because they won't understand. That's not who you are anymore." I shifted in my chair. I didn't talk about the parts I was learning to shove way down. I kept throwing in those parts. I kept pulling them up by the roots and tossing them in the fire… but they kept growing.
I gave the bad parts a new name. Not gay. No, never gay! They were abused. Confused. They were learning more every day. They were learning to be like the rest of the ones with the white teeth and sparkly light around them. We could fix it all. Bad things can't grow forever. I mean, not if I'm living the right way. If I live the right way they'll stop growing eventually. Until then, pull them out. Throw them in the fire. Move forward. Not gay, never gay. I was abused and confused. I am a good girl now.
Those kind eyes did their best to teach me to love the light again. To crave it. I did learn to love it and crave it again. Like air and water. Essential elements for survival. They taught me to be committed to my Savior like I had never been before. They taught me that if I stayed in the light that he would be with me always, and he was. He was the one. The one who told me I threw too many of the things in. Gay is not a bad thing, he said. Different, but not bad.
I knew he was right. All of the new was too sterile. Couches like dentist waiting rooms, but no beds. No blankets. I couldn't get cozy inside me. I knew he was right, but still I pled with him, "Can you give me new cozy too? Please? I'm not that girl anymore. If I go in there I'll never make it back out. Two little boys need me to make it out."
He told me something that I already knew inside… that two little boys needed all of me. Real mothering that grows influential and compassionate humans and sends them off into the world with a chance requires all the parts of a mother to be there. To teach them about hope. To teach them about progression. To teach them that walking in the light doesn’t mean there won’t be any trials or conflict. Sometimes the light is a fire that brings us to the purest parts of ourselves.
He walked me to the edge of the fire. He made me believe I'd have to go alone. All the way to the edge until the flames were hot on my face, and the smoke thick in my eyes until the tears were streaming. Then I heard her. The little girl's voice in a whisper-yell, "Heeelp! I'm in here. I can't see. I want to go home." I didn't wait to see if he'd be with me. I knew that voice. I didn't mean to throw her in. I tore into the flames after her without waiting to see if he would follow.
I reached for her. I called her, "Mita…. Mija! Where are you?!" I felt five tiny but chubby fingers around my ankle. Then another hand like a searchlight up my calf. "Why did you want to burn me," she asked? "Why would you do that? What did I do? I promise I'll never do it again if you'll just take me home." I scooped her up and wrapped both arms around her. I held her thick crown of hair in one hand while I let out silent sobs…"No mija… you didn't do anything wrong. We're going home now."
While the tears formed crystals on my cheeks I wandered in the fire. They flowed steadily. Dried as the flames surrounded me. I looked for the light. The white light, not the red of the flames. The flames were blindingly hot and they took my breath away. I kept wandering in circles taking half breaths trying to not let her know I was scared. I wasn't leaving without her, but I was losing hope. I almost lost focus in the hopelessness. "Are we almost there," she asked? I remembered it wasn't just me anymore. Little girl needed me to be strong for both of us.
I found his light like a flicker within me, paused, and closed my eyes. The prayer was in my mind. I didn't want her to hear me crying. I wanted her to feel safe. As I rocked from my left foot to my right foot I pled in my mind, "Master? I need help. I found her, but we're lost now. I'm getting tired. I don't know if I can save us. Please find us. We want to come home." I sat in the hope that he heard me. I rocked with my eyes closed and my hands combing through dark locks of hair.
Suddenly I could feel the flames swelter. I could feel their warmth, but even behind closed eyelids I could swear they turned white. Deep breath in, deep breath out. My eyes flickered open to see a new scene. The flames were behind us. Our Savior was before us with his arms outstretched and a smile.
Little girl turned and saw him. She couldn't free herself from my arms fast enough. She ran to him while she squealed in delight, "It's my Jesus! It's really Him!." Little girl was new again. Wearing a pink ruffled dress. Not one evidence of ashes on her face. Her hair was pulled in a tight ponytail. How was it done? There was no evidence of the fire on either of us. Only beauty. He squatted as she leapt into his arms. "I missed you soooo much my Jesus!" He gazed at me with a half-smile and a wink when he saw me frozen with a look of utter bewilderment. It was as if he were saying with no words, "Believe me! I am the master healer."
He led us along the path with few fellow journeyers. We didn't question because he was with us. I let them walk ahead of me. Little girl stayed in his arms with her head resting on his chest. As she talked, her chubby little fingers occasionally twirled the hairs of his beard as though she needed tangible evidence he was really with her. I don't know how long we walked like that. Down a path that sometimes got dark and twisty. We never questioned because he was with us - always leading the way.
We continued that way in peace for quite some time when little girl finally became aware of the world outside her Jesus bubble. She looked at me and smiled a gracious and content smile. Then she looked to my left and to my right when that smile quickly eroded into a blank stare. We were all startled when she anxiously yelled, "STOP! Please stop! Where is she? Did we leave her? I promised her I'd stay close to her. She must be all alone in there." The tears started rolling down her cheeks as she begged, "Please Jesus, we have to go back. We have to get her out of there. We were waiting for you. We were waiting for you and I forgot all about her when you came for us. Please let's go back!"
I couldn’t imagine who we could have forgotten. I asked her, "Who did we leave, little girl? There was no one else with you. I promise." In the back of my mind I knew I could be lying. I couldn't see. I just wanted out of there. I wanted that place far behind me.
She was relentless in her pleading, "Can we just go check? I'll tell you where to find her. She'll never come out on her own. She thinks she belongs there. She thinks she is a bad thing." The master had already reversed direction when I decided we had to try to find her. He must have felt the heaviness in my heart when I began to wonder why I didn't notice she was missing. Suddenly I could feel one arm around my shoulder, and as I felt it wrap around me I felt a simultaneous wave of comfort and grief. He knew the grief would hit me, and he stood with me so I wouldn't be knocked down by the force of it.
Even though little girl was so eager to get going I needed a moment. I looked up into His kind and empathetic eyes. We spoke in the language of the spirit because my voice was locked in the base of my esophagus. How did I erase her? I kept throwing her in there. I remember now. Every time she tried to grow into her rightful place I pulled her up by the roots and threw her back in. Oh she was such a mess, but she didn’t deserve that. She didn't deserved to be erased.
He stopped the flow of my thoughts with a gentle and nurturing wave of pure love and relayed to my mind, "It's okay, dear one. It's all going to be okay. It wasn't your fault. If she were a bad thing she wouldn’t be there anymore. The bad things turn stubble. There wasn't a place for her, but there will be. I needed you to see how much you needed her. I wanted you to feel her loss because I did. I know she belongs with you. All of you are worthy of my promise. My blood was shed for each of you. My blood was shed so no one's parts have to die in the fire. I answer for all of you that carry me in your heart and seek to serve me selflessly.
I felt his promise all the way through me. I curled into his free arm and buried my face in his robe and wept. I wept for the life I tried so hard to create and the life I tried so hard to erase. I wept because I didn't think they could exist together, but as his arm wrapped around me I knew he was saying, "Just trust me," and I did. The grief passed and all of us were ready to go after her. We were ready to go and free the middle child.
As we walked I created a space for us to heal together. I formed all the promises in my mind and then set them apart with the purest of intent. All of the promises I gave away to everyone but her. This time I would show her how much she deserved my love and devotion. Whoever I was meant to love - from now on I had to make sure she knew I would never diminish her value below another. She deserved the life no one could give her but me. If we all walked together he could give and he could take away, but at the end of the day if we were all with him we would always be okay. We would always have his promise.