A Journey of Faith

Bullied: A Short Story About Survival

Ruthie was awake long before her alarm went off. She lay in her bed, mentally checking to see how she felt. Did her throat hurt? No. Did she feel sick to her stomach? No. Nothing hurt, nothing felt ill. Guess she had to get up, no excuses today.
She got up slowly, dressed and went downstairs to find some breakfast. Her brother was already up and shoveling cereal into his mouth. Disgusting. Ruthie looked around and couldn't find anything that appealed to her. She filled a mug with water and put it in the microwave and went down the hall to wake her mother. "Momma, it's time to get up." No response. "Momma, wake up. It's time to get ready for work." Still no response. She heard the microwave beeping. "Momma, your tea is ready." She gave up and went to make the tea. She would try again in a few minutes.
Her brother was done his breakfast and watching tv in the living room until they had to leave. Ruthie sat at the table and tried to finish some of her homework. Math. Yuck. The numbers just swam on the page. She made an attempt and finally gave up and went to try to wake up her mother. She carried the tea to her mom. When she still wouldn't get up, Ruthie just left it on the nightstand and went to get her stuff ready. She looked at the clock and decided she didn't have time to walk to school. Darn. That meant she had to take the bus. She hated taking the bus. She would rather walk and have the quiet before she had to deal with all those creeps at school. Her heart started racing at the thought of having to stand at the bus stop. She would put off leaving until the last minute. She thought about walking anyway, but if she was late she would be in trouble.
Finally she couldn't put it off any longer. Her brother had already left. He had no problems at the bus stop, or anywhere for that matter. He was even friends with some of Them. She pulled her coat on and grabbed her backpack. Oh yeah, Momma. "Momma, I'm leaving. You need to get up, you'll be late." Whatever. If her mom lost her job, that was her problem, right?
She trudged down the road toward the bus stop. If she timed it right she would get there just as the bus did. No such luck. As she got closer she did a quick glance to see who was there. Great. All the creeps were there. She slowed down a little, hung back. Maybe the bus would be early. Her stomach was starting to churn.
"Hey Ruthie." One of the creeps was starting already. "Looking particularly ugly today. How do you manage that?" the others joined in the laughter as Ruthie just tried not to give in to the tears that were burning her eyes. She ignored them, but it continued. Soon the taunting turned to things that Ruthie, at eleven, didn't understand. What on earth were they talking about? Somehow she knew the things they were talking about were bad, were things only bad people did.It made her feel creepy and sick inside. Finally the sound of the bus distracted them as they all started scrambling to gather their things before the bus got to them. Ruthie hung back, waiting until everyone else was in line before she stepped forward. As usual she was the last one on the bus, it didn't matter, even if she was the first one on the bus she would likely sit alone.
When the bus got to school she got off quickly and put as much distance as she could between her and Them. Not that there weren't lots of 'Them' that she had to avoid, but usually morning wasn't too bad on the playground. She found her friends and they climbed on the jungle gym until the bell rang. She ran to line up. Good, time to go in. She liked her teacher, she was friendly and fun, and she gave Ruthie little jobs that made her feel important and useful. She liked that. She also liked it when her teacher praised her for her reading. Ruthie loved to read. Her teacher said that she was one of the best readers in her class. She wished that she would make Them stop teasing her though. At least she let Ruthie walk with her when she had recess duty, that kept Them from bothering her.
The morning went quickly. They had music. Ruthie forgot it was music day! She loved music! She loved how it sounded, how the words jumped and danced, how the piano sang back to them. It made her feel like she was soaring and running and dancing along with the notes.Yep, music day was the best day of the week. The only thing she liked more than music day was free reading time...and that only because free reading came every day instead of only once a week. As far as she was concerned, reading and music should both happen every day!
After music it was time for lunch. She went out to her hook in the hall to get her lunch box. Inside she found the bologna sandwich she had made this morning, the apple and plum from her grandparents' farm, and the peanut butter cheese crackers. She ate most of the sandwich and the fruit, saving the crackers for later. As she went out to the hall to put her lunch box back she was pushed from behind. "Hey clumsy...watch it" a voice sneered. Ruthie didn't even bother to turn around. She knew who it was, and if she responded they would just continue to bother her. She had learned a long time ago that if she let Them see how much they bothered her, they would just be more persistent  tease her more, say worse things. So she tried her best to ignore them.
She decided to walk home after school. She was not eager to deal with Them on the bus again, and it was a nice day. Momma was at work, so she wouldn't worry if Ruthie was a little late getting home. She packed her stuff into her backpack slowly, giving everyone else time to leave and get a head start so she wouldn't be walking with anyone who might give her a hard time. As she started the two mile walk home she hummed some of the songs that they had sung in music that day. She passed the road to her grandparent's house. Maybe tomorrow she would ask Momma if she could walk there after school for a visit. She liked visiting her grandparents. Her Grampa was funny and talked to her like she was a grown up. She liked that. And her Grammy was gentle and quiet and talked about GOD sometimes. Not a lot, but in her quiet way that was very matter of fact. Ruthie always felt safe and loved at their  house.
She passed the library where she had attended kindergarten. And where she could take home piles of books to read. At first Momma had tried to tell her that she was picking too many, that she couldn't read a dozen books before they had to be returned. But when Ruthie finished the last one and they weren't due for a few more days, Momma stopped trying to convince her and let her take out as many as she could carry. But she didn't stop today, she had just gone a few days ago and still had a few books left to read. Next she passed the little store where she sometimes stopped to buy candy, and the health food store. She walked down the long, steep hill and onto the bridge. She spent a few minutes looking down into the water, mesmerized by it's strength and power. She did a quick check to see that there were no cars coming and ran across the street, should she go up the long stairs, or walk along the river? She was pretty tired today, and the river route was quieter, and less chance of seeing anyone, so that is the way she went.
As she walked up the road to her house she could hear voices coming from the house down the road, where one of Them lived. She quickened her steps, hoping they didn't see her. Too late. They came riding their bikes down the road, cutting off her path to home. "What?" "Oh, Ruthie, why aren't you happy to see us?" she just ignored them and tried to go past, but they were too quick on their bikes. "Why don't you want to hang out with us? Just because you're too ugly, doesn't mean you can't hang out with us you know." she finally saw an opening and rushed past them. Thankfully they didn't follow, although their next words did follow her. More things she didn't understand, yucky things that made her feel gross inside. What was their problem? She didn't cry until she was safely in the house, in her room. She curled up on her bed and begged her Grammy's God to help her. But it seemed like no matter how much she asked Him for help, nothing changed. Maybe He didn't like her either. Maybe He believed the things They said about her and to her. Maybe He didn't love her because He was perfect, and if he believed those things about her, He couldn't love anyone who was supposed to have done them.
Eventually she stopped crying and went downstairs to do her chores and homework. She started with the dishes, then the laundry. Then she dusted the living room, vacuumed, and cleaned the bathroom. She started supper and sat down to start her homework. She was still doing her math when her mom came home from work. She looked tired, she always looked tired. She got a soda and went into the living room to smoke a cigarette. Yuck. Ruthie hated when her mom did that. It made it hard for Ruthie to breathe. But her mom wouldn't stop, no matter how much Ruthie asked. She just sat there in her chair, smoking and drinking her soda until supper was done. She thanked Ruthie for cooking, they ate, and Ruthie tried to finish her homework. Finally she gave up and went to bed. Tomorrow was another day, hopefully a better one.
                                                                    *two years later*
Ruthie wiped her eyes on her sleeve and sank down lower in her chair. "finger sucker" she heard the whispered taunt "baby Ruthie need her blankie?" It was a silly habit really. And she didn't usually give in to the urge to pop her finger into her mouth at school. But it had already been a really bad day, and they were having quiet reading time. Since she sat in the back of the class, she thought no one could see her. She was wrong. She willed herself not to  cry, but the tears wouldn't stop. Great, now They would bug her even more. Sure enough, the next thing she heard was "awww, baby Ruthie is crying. Someone get her a binky and a diaper. Poor baby Ruthie". She went back to her book and tried to ignore Them, but all through the endless last ten minutes of class she could hear them. Of course she could hear them, that is what They wanted. How she wished that she had the guts to stand up to them.
In the lunchroom that day she picked at her food, finally throwing most of it away. The lunch lady lifted her eyebrow at her. One of these days she would get in trouble for always throwing her lunch away. Oh well, she didn't feel like eating, what was she suppose to do? Force herself to eat? No thanks. She shrugged and walked out to the courtyard to read her book before the bell rang. It was a good book, a mystery, and she was just getting to the good part! She thought she had it figured out, but when she started reading she discovered there was a twist... she loved twists, especially when she thought she had it figured out. Those were the best ones. She was so absorbed in her book that she didn't hear Them until they were right in front of her. Not the same ones that had bothered her in class that morning... there were many that she thought of as 'Them'... anyone who thought it was recreational to tease and taunt her. There were plenty of them... at least they took turns, it would have been unbearable if they all ganged up to bother her at the same time. The thought made her sick to her stomach. No, this was a different bunch. They were in a different class, so she only had to put up with them at lunchtime or after school.
"Hey baby Ruthie" They sneered as they walked by, laughing. Great, now they were talking amongst themselves. Just what she needed. She picked up her stuff and walked as fast as she could without running, back to the building. Maybe it was time for class. Not that that was any better. Since her parent's had divorced, she just couldn't seem to concentrate in class. She was so distracted all the time, and the work was so much harder. Her parents and the school guidance counselor had tried to come up with a way to monitor what work she was doing, but none of them really stayed on top of it, and Ruthie kept forgetting to have them all sign when they were suppose to anyway. Not that it mattered. Having her teacher sign that she wrote the assignment down, or her parents sign that they saw it, or back to the teacher to sign that it was done... none of that made the work make any more sense. Going to the teacher for help didn't seem to work either, she just couldn't seem to get it. Maybe They were right, maybe she really was just too stupid.
After school she had drama practice. She liked drama. She could be someone else, even if just for a little bit. And there weren't many of Them in drama. A few, but they were kept busy enough that They didn't have much chance to bother her. She just had to avoid them when they were dismissed, and she was fine. Today she wasn't so lucky, they followed her out, teasing the whole way. "Hey fatso baby Ruthie... or maybe it's fatso Ruthie who's gonna have a baby..." What??? They went on and on. Only she knew more of what they were talking about now. It made her want to run as far and as fast as she could. She just ducked out of the cafeteria and grabbed her stuff and ran for home, hoping They wouldn't follow.
                                                                   *two years later*
Ruthie adjusted her weight on the bleacher. It was uncomfortable sitting on it for this long, but she liked watching the games. She had always been thin, but she was even scrawnier lately than usual. She never ate breakfast, and lunch consisted of a bag of chips... if that. Supper she had to eat, although she didn't do much more than pick at that most nights. She had stopped feeling hungry months ago, food just didn't appeal to her. And she spent most of her time crying. They were still after her all the time, some days she wondered how much longer she could take it. Some days she thought maybe it would be better to just end it, at least then she would be free of the torment she dealt with every day. But she could never seem to gather the courage, something always kept her from doing anything. One day maybe she would be brave enough...
The next day she walked to school. The cold wind whipped her hair as she slipped and slid across the sidewalk. It was still better than taking the bus. She wondered how many miles she had walked all these years of walking to school instead of riding the bus. She saved going on the bus for days when she was just too tired, or when she was having too hard a time breathing. Those days were more often lately. She was just sooooo tired. Between school, helping at home, babysitting, and drama... she was very busy. She liked it though, it made the time pass more quickly. And she loved babysitting. She had always loved little kids and babies, but she found that she was a good... and if some parents were to be believed...great babysitter. She always tried to think of what each kid liked, and brought fun things for them to do, projects or games that would be of interest to each of them. Word had spread among many of the parents in town, and she was often busy every weekend night and even during the week now. Her savings account was growing nicely, and she was able to buy some of the things she wanted that her mom wouldn't  pay for. It was a nice feeling, to be able to pay for her own things.
She got to school early and went to her locker. She saw one of the girls from her Latin class. "Hi Ruthie, how are you today?" the girl's voice was friendly. She was one of the few at school who were friendly to Ruthie. She had a few friends, but she didn't see them much these days. Between her being busy, and the fact that she seemed to not be able to stop crying most of the time, they were all kind of keeping their distance. Ruthie told herself it didn't really matter, that she didn't really need to have lots of friends, but she felt so lonely. Some days she wondered if anyone would really miss her if she was gone. She doubted it. She wondered if her Grammy's God was really there, if He would be sad if she died. She doubted that too. If He cared, He would have listened, and helped her. But He didn't. Was she really that bad a person that this God fella didn't even like her? She liked going to church with her Grammy, liked going to Sunday School with her cousins, even worked in the nursery at her Grammy's church and the Congregational church in town. She liked hearing the stories, but they were probably just stories. After all, if they were true, wouldn't this God, who was supposedly loving and took care of His children, have taken care of her? Wouldn't He have done something to protect her from the constant teasing and taunting that was happening just about every day? Wouldn't He have made her stop feeling so sad all the time? She tried to convince herself that that didn't matter either, but the thought of God not even liking her just made her feel even more depressed.
She said hi back to the girl from Latin and headed to her first class. She tried to concentrate on what the teacher was saying, but it was so hard to focus. She was so tired. She finally just rested her head on her hand and tried to look interested. She would just have to try to get what that chapter was about by rereading it until it made sense. If she had time. The rest of the day was about the same. And the next and the next. The whole week she just showed up, tried to stay awake, and did the best she could.
On Sunday she went to her aunt and uncle's house to watch her cousins. She loved watching them. They were so cute and funny! They played and ate supper, and she got them ready for bed. After she got the baby to bed she snuggled up in a chair to watch tv with his big sister. She was about four, and she loved to snuggle with Ruthie. Tonight they were watching one of Ruthie's favorite sitcoms, but the story was about the main character's reaction when their friend commits suicide. Ruthie's eyes filled with tears, and her heart started racing. She reached for the remote to change the channel. "Ruthie, why are they crying?" her little cousin looked up at her. "They are sad because their friend died." "oh. Ruthie, I would be sad forever if you died" Ruthie's breath caught, and for a minute she couldn't speak. "I know sweetie, I love you too." it was all she could say.
She sat at the table doing her English homework. Diagramming sentences. But her mind was elsewhere. She looked at the pieces of paper she had tucked in her book. Would she have the courage to do it? Would she chicken out... again? She didn't know how she would do it. It had to be quick, and neat. She didn't want her mother to have to see a mess. It would only make it worse for her. And she didn't want it to be painful. She did know that she couldn't take it anymore. Couldn't take going into that school every day knowing that someone, or many 'someones', were going to bully her. Couldn't take the feeling that she was worthless, and damaged somehow. Couldn't take another day of endless tears. It felt like all she ever did anymore was cry. She was surprised she had any tears left. She felt a pang of guilt when she thought about the kids... her cousins and all the other kids she babysat. She loved them, and knew they loved her, but it wasn't enough. She was just done.
She looked at the clock. The game was starting in half an hour. She closed her book slowly and slipped the papers into her pocket. "Mom, I'm done, can I go to the basketball game tonight?" Her mother agreed and got her keys to drive Ruthie to the school. "Call me when you are ready for me to pick you up." Her mom was better. Still a little distant, but at least she got herself up and ready to leave for work on time in the mornings now.
Ruthie sat in her usual place on the bleachers. She half watched the game, but her mind was racing...almost as much as her heart was. Everyone was laughing and cheering. It seemed so out of place, all this fun and good spirits. How could they all be so happy, when she was sitting here thinking that tomorrow might be her last day? How could they not see that her heart was beating so hard that she was sure they could see it on the other side of the gym? How was it that no one was running to her, begging her to reconsider this choice? Of course, no one knew what she was thinking, what she was even now planning. How could they? She didn't think that there was anyone there that would care anyway. Maybe the two girls she had written the notes to. Well, maybe. She would find out soon enough. She doubted they would care, it wasn't like they were good friends... but she hadn't known who else to reach out to.
The final buzzer rang. She got up and slowly walked out to the pay phone. She called her mom, dropped the notes, and walked out the door. She waited outside for her mom to come pick her up... and for the door behind her to open. She braced herself every time it opened, ready to run if anyone came looking for her. Would anyone find the notes? Would they read them, or throw them away? Would they deliver them to the girls from class... and if they did, would the girls read them? Would it matter? Her mom finally arrived and Ruthie got in the car, glancing back at the school one more time. Maybe no one would find them. Maybe they would be there in the morning, and she could throw them away herself. Pretend she never wrote them.
When they got home she mumbled that she was tired and went right to bed. Even though her body was exhausted, her mind was racing. What had she done? Now everyone would know that she was weak and wimpy, that she couldn't handle life and wanted the easy way out. Would they even believe that she was suffering? She thought of all the times that one of her uncles, or grandmother, or some other family member had refused to take her seriously, saying that she was making stuff up. Of course that had been when she hadn't felt well physically... usually when she said she couldn't breathe well. No one would believe her now either. They would think that she just wanted attention, or that she was trying to 'laze' her way out of things. They all thought she was lazy and stupid. Maybe they were right. She tried to pray to her Grammy's God again. Maybe this time He would listen. Maybe this time He would help her.She just kept praying "help, please help, please please help"  She needed help, and she didn't know what else to do.
Her thoughts were interrupted by the ringing of the phone. She lay there, listening. She heard her mom talking, then crying. Oh no! Her body tensed, and she began to shake. She heard her mom call her name and slowly got up out of bed. Her body refused to move any further. Her mom called again and she forced herself to walk through her door and down the stairs. She stood in the living room, but refused to meet her mother's eyes. She just couldn't.
"That was the guidance counselor at the school. She said that one of the boys at the game found some notes you had written." she glanced at her mom. She was crying. Ruthie's heart sank. "She is going to call back and you need to talk to her. Are you ok?" Ruthie didn't answer. Her voice seemed to have become disconnected, she couldn't speak. "I just want you to be happier than I was." Her mom was crying harder now.
The phone rang and Ruthie was sure that her mom could see her heart beating through her shirt. Her mom told her to answer it, and she walked slowly across the room to get it. Maybe if she walked slow enough she wouldn't get there in time, and it would stop ringing. No such luck. She picked it up and said hello. At least her voice was working again.
"Hello, is this Ruthie?"
"Ruthie, some notes were found with your name signed, did you write them?"
"Yes." Ruthie whispered.
"Ruthie, you have to promise me you won't hurt yourself. If you don't, we will have to admit you to the psych hospital. Can you promise me?"
"Yes." Ruthie breathed. She didn't want to be taken to the psych hospital! Did they think that she was crazy?
"ok. You need to meet me in Room 203 tomorrow before school. Will you do that?"
She said goodbye, handed the phone to her mom and ran up to her room. She buried herself in her covers and sobbed until she couldn't cry anymore, her breath ragged and her chest hurting. Finally, after what felt like forever, she fell into a restless sleep. When she woke up in the morning her mom was already awake and dressed. "I'll drive you to school this morning." Great, now everyone was going to watch every move she made. Her mom never drove her to school, not without good reason. She got her stuff and went out to the car. Might as well get it over with.
She thought about finding a place to hide until first period, but figured they would just find her, and she would have to talk to the guidance counselor eventually. She went to the classroom and was surprised to see not just the counselor, but the principle, the girls from class and the school nurse. Her heart was pounding and her stomach churning. She willed herself to walk to an empty seat and sit, not able to look any of them in the eye.
"Ruthie, did you write these notes?" the guidance counselor held up the notes. Ruthie just nodded. Tears stung her eyes. "Are you planning to do something to hurt yourself?"
Ruthie looked up at her quickly. She remembered last night, how she said that Ruthie would have to go to the psych hospital if she was planning to hurt herself. She shook her head quickly, and prayed they would believe her. "no" Please don't let them take her away! Please let them believe her!!
There was silence for a few minutes, then finally, after a lot more talking, and more promises from Ruthie that she wouldn't hurt herself, she was free to go. She ran to her first class and sank down in her chair, numb and shaking. She sat there, shaking and in a daze for the rest of the class, the rest of the day really. When that day was over she went home and lay on her bed for hours until she had no choice but to get up and cook supper. She ate in a daze... rather, picked at her food in a daze. Her stomach was far too queasy to eat. She excused herself and went to bed. For the next few weeks she lived this way, barely eating, barely functioning, barely living. No one seemed to notice. Not a word was said about the notes. Not by the guidance counselor, not by the girls from class, not by her mother... or her father, who she didn't even know if her mom had told. Not by anyone. It was as if they had never been written. Isn't that what she wanted? Hadn't she regretted even writing them the moment they hit the floor? Then why did she feel so much more alone now than she had before she wrote them? Why did she feel like she had just lost a major battle? Why did she feel like her last hope was gone?
Weeks passed. She stopped caring whether anyone saw her cry. It didn't matter anymore. Nothing did. She felt like there was a heavy, dark cloud surrounding her, sucking what little life she had left in her. She went for walks often, taking her brother's dog as an excuse to escape the house. She often found herself down at the river, looking over the side of the bridge, wondering... how cold was the water? How long would it take to die if she just put one foot up and then the other... How long would it be before they found her? How long before they even looked for her? But she could never seem to find the courage to do it. It was like something was holding her back, not letting her do anything drastic...
The week came where there were no classes, it was 'Spirit Week', and the days were filled with fun and games for the whole school. Ruthie would have preferred to stay at home and sleep or read, but that wasn't an option. So she went and spent the time sitting on the playground, in a daze as usual. One day she was sitting on the tire climber when her Latin teacher came over and said hi. "Are you ok, Ruthie?"
"I'm ok" Ruthie said in the flat, dull voice that seemed to be her new voice.
"Ok" her teacher didn't seem to believe her "if you ever want to talk, I am available."
"Ok. Thanks" Ruthie looked away.
A few weeks later, she stood outside the Latin classroom. Maybe this time she would have the courage to go in. She put her hand on the doorknob and slowly turned it. "Hey Ruthie, come on in!" her teacher sounded genuinely happy to see her. Ruthie walked in and sat down. She didn't know what to say. "how are you? did you enjoy the snow day the other day?" Ruthie began to relax as she started to tell her about the book she had spent the snow day reading. The time flew as she spent the next hour or so talking about books that she had read, and the play that the drama club was doing, and what her little cousins were up to. When she left she felt a little more relaxed.
Over the next few months things got a little better. Ruthie stopped often after school to talk to her teacher. They just talked about little things, books Ruthie liked, the cute things her cousins did, Latin stuff. Nothing about how Ruthie had been feeling... but that was ok with her. She just liked that someone let her sit and talk and just... be. The girls she had written the notes to were friendly, talking to her in the hall, walking with her after school, even taking her to the city to shop. And then there was him...
Her mom had started square dancing a few years earlier with some of her friends. Ruthie and her brother had gone with her the year before to one of the classes. This year her mom had made her start going to the other class. It was closer, and there were teenagers there. At first Ruthie had refused to go, using the excuse that she didn't want to become friends with anyone there, they would all be long distance, and her mom would never let her call or go to visit them, so why bother? In the end her mom won, so she went. She danced with the boys her age, they were polite and took turns asking her. She began to look forward to going every week, finding herself watching the door for one certain boy who came with his parents and brother. When he walked in the door her heart would skip a beat. He was sweet, and smart, and funny. And he asked her to dance often, holding her hand so gently, giving her that extra swing at the end of the dance. By the end of the school year one of the girls from class had heard so much about him that she good naturedly told Ruthie that if she didn't just call him already she wouldn't talk to her for the rest of the year. It was one warm spring day that she finally got up the courage to call him. They talked for hours. He was easy to talk to and made her laugh more than she had in ages.
The more she talked to him, the closer they became, and before long she stopped thinking about how much easier it would be to just end everything. The bullying stopped bothering her so much... she was too busy thinking about him, and what they had talked about, to even notice most of the time what They were saying. The cloud seemed not so large, not so heavy or scary as it had...
                                                 *two years later*
Ruthie ran to the mirror one more time. "I can't get my hair right!" she debated whether to attack it with the brush again. "aaarrrggghhh! I hate my hair" she said with a laugh.
"He'll be here in a few minutes, you'd better hurry up." her grandmother said, handing her the shawl that went with her prom dress.
Suddenly Ruthie's stomach did a flip... a few minutes!! She wasn't ready!! Sure enough, she heard the crunch of tires in the driveway and looked out the window. He was here!! She looked in the mirror one more time and went to answer the door.
He looked amazing.
Tall, blond, with eyes that sparkled when he smiled and danced when he laughed. Even though they were officially just friends, she had a huge crush on him. Had ever since that first square dance two and a half years ago. He came in and put the corsage on her dress. "you look great" he smiled down at her.
"yeah... you clean up pretty nice yourself" she teased. She was rewarded with those dancing eyes. Her grandmother took a few pictures, and they left. His brother was out in the car, acting as 'chauffeur' for the evening.
                                        *two years later*
"This is Den's girlfriend, Ruthie" His mom introduced her to another relative. They looked at each other, shrugged, and smiled. News to them, this 'girlfriend' thing. They laughed about it later as they walked with his brother and sister. "how is it that you get a name, I don't get a name... just the husband" his brother in law joked. "Hey, I'm still trying to figure out how I got to be the girlfriend." she laughed.
On the ride home from the reunion they teased his mom about it. "spreading rumors mom... saying she's my 'girlfriend'."he joked, and Ruthie laughed with him....
Later that night he asked her if she wanted to go out, to really be his girlfriend. That he would like to start dating again, if she wanted to. Of course she did...
                                   *one year later*
"with this ring..." "I do."
                                  *twenty years later*
Ruth drew a deep breath. She tried to calm her nerves, but she was shaking so hard that her arm was starting to hurt again. She didn't know what her problem was lately. She was use to the depression she had fought as a kid rearing it's ugly head from time to time, but this was different. This was more insistent  more of a war than the little battles she was use to fighting.  She just couldn't seem to win this time, she couldn't seem to pull herself out of it.
Before, over the last two decades, as she and her love had built a life together, welcomed children, she had pushed things back, hidden them away. It hadn't always been easy...often she had had times that she fought with everything she had, and slowly pulled herself up from that awful pit. It had become easier the more she grew in her faith...her Grammy's GOD was her God too now... always had been she guessed, she just hadn't known Him. It had become easier as she and her love grew older together,and she realized that he was the staying kind, that not only was he smart and funny and sweet... he was honest and loyal and true.
But, even though on the outside she was strong, even though she functioned well and knew the joy that came from living for God... she had built a wall around her heart to protect it. And while the wall kept out any words that may have hurt her, it also kept her from allowing herself to ever really confide in anyone that there was still a lot of pain there. Pain from rejection and teasing, from words meant to wound and from never having measured up. She thought that all those things were long gone, so far in the past that they couldn't touch her anymore.
She was wrong.
One summer evening she received an email from her daughter. She always read her daughter's emails, she also seemed to struggle with depression sometimes, and Ruth wanted to keep an eye on her. This evening what she read broke her heart. Her daughter had sent an email to her cousin saying that she wanted to die. That she was depressed and couldn't take it anymore. Ruthie sat on her bed and sobbed. Her beautiful, talented, amazing daughter, whom she loved more than life itself... how could she fix this for her??? Memories of that cold night so long ago flooded back as she sat there and stormed Heaven for her baby girl. Begging God to give her the words to say to let this amazing gift HE had given her know that she was loved beyond reason, beyond words. To give her the strength to tell her baby that there was always hope, and that she would never give up on her. She gathered her strength and went into her child's room.
                                       *four months later*
"give it a personal ending... how has GOD worked in your life?" her pastor was talking to her and a friend about a service that they were filling in for. Ruth's heart started racing, her stomach felt sick, and she was shaking even more than she had been lately. Personal? She couldn't! She didn't want anyone to know how much she had struggled... especially lately. Her heart was pounding so hard now that it hurt, her whole body was numb, and shaking, and painful all at the same time. It felt like she was dying. She had a sudden urge to run as far and as fast as she could... not that that would be very fast or far given that her lungs were currently rebelling against working properly. She tried to breathe, but now they were as stiff as a board. When the meeting was over, they all prayed. She tried to calm her breath and relax, but she couldn't. She drove home shaking.
A few weeks later she and her friend did the service. Surprisingly, she was ok. Later she would ponder over this. She had been hearing lately that she should consider going into the ministry. Her first response was a resounding 'no!', she was terrible at public speaking, and really... not all that deep a thinker. She wasn't sure anyone would want to hear what she had to say. But doing this service was different than she expected... it was comfortable, and even a little bit fun.
Still the depression ate at her... a funny thought since she was barely eating. She worried occasionally that she was slipping into the habits of her teen years... those years that she avoided eating. Not in an attempt to be thinner, but in an attempt to have some control over her life, and because food just plain held no interest for  her. This time it was different. She tried to eat...after all, she had a family to care for, four kids to raise and a home to take care of. But she just couldn't do it. Every so often, when she would try to eat a normal meal, there would be that voice... not a real voice, more of a thought..."Ruthie... you don't want to eat that... it is too much... you'll get fat... you don't need to eat... you aren't so weak that you need to eat that..." and so it went.She knew enough that thinking that way was ridiculous, she was certainly not anywhere near 'fat'... especially having lost so much weight. But that voice was so persistent  Poking, her pastor called it. 'The enemy is poking at you to hurt you, to pull you away from GOD'. She tried to 'flick' him away. But sometimes he was too strong.
And her weight dropped lower and lower. There were days that she barely ate anything. Those were the days that she barely made it through the day... physically or emotionally. The days that she felt as if she were on an island, far away from the real world, the world that she loved, the people and things she loved. On those days, when she was sure that the darkness would envelope her once and for all, she often used her last bit of strength to reach out and hear someone's voice or just spend time sitting with a friend. It wasn't much, but it was enough. Sometimes that was all she needed to come back to herself...even if just a little bit, but it was enough to keep her here. Sometimes she was scared. She believed that GOD was in charge, that only He could decide when her life here was done, but sometimes she was really afraid that she wouldn't have the strength or the patience to wait on HIS timing for that end to come. Some days, especially if all her 'people' were busy or unavailable, she would lock her door, curl up on her bed and cry. And pray. Somehow, HE always brought her through those times, but now it had been over six months of darkness, and she was getting so weary. How much longer would this last?
People were starting to make comments... was she ok? Was she sick? Had she lost weight... and was it on purpose? Ruth hated those questions. She never knew how to answer them. Somehow she felt like she was confessing to a huge mistake if she admitted that she didn't eat. She had told her pastor that she was concerned about her weight, that her eating wasn't great. She hadn't told her that she often chose not to eat. That she didn't care if she lost more weight. Sometimes she even wondered if she lost enough... if dying that way would be painful. So she tried to avoid talking to people about it. She did have to admit that she had lost weight... anyone could see that anyway. But she tried to change the subject and act as if she were fine.
But she wasn't.
The summer came and went, and with it more weight. She had now lost 33% of her body weight, and her emotions were at an all time low. She found herself panicky over everything from whether her kids got their chores done to whether her friends would be safe while away on vacation. She just wanted to gather everyone she loved near to her and keep them safe... the thought of losing any of them guaranteed an anxiety attack. She was struggling just to function... and failing. Her pastor had finally convinced her to see a counselor, and she liked her. More than she thought she would. She felt worse than she had before, but she was trying. The anxiety attacks... because she had learned that was what was happening... were getting worse. They came on without much warning,and left her feeling drained and weak, mentally, physically, and spiritually.
Her counselor had given her 'homework'. Ruth liked homework, it gave her a chance to really think about the question, and take her time on things. This homework was hard though. Her counselor wanted her to write about her teenage years. Ruth didn't really want to 'go there'. She didn't want to revisit those days when she was sure the world would be better off without her. But she had agreed to do it, and she could see that it might help,so she had done it. She worked on it all day, trying to get it done before the retreat for the ladies from church. She didn't want it hanging over her head all weekend, but it was harder than she thought. She wrote... seeing herself crying, seeing herself being abused and tormented.Seeing herself drop those notes again and again and again. Seeing her mother's tears... and remembering her own over her own daughter's pain. Seeing all the things that had touched her, torn at her spirit. And her spirit's scars were ripped open, bleeding all over again.
That weekend was hard. She was trying to enjoy the fellowship... she loved retreat weekends. But those scars were wide open and pouring her life out the whole time. When talk turned to how some of the ladies had had to deal with 'depressed people' who brought them down... Ruth's heart sank. She had been trying to gather her courage to ask for prayers, but now... she just couldn't. She couldn't bring herself to be 'that person'. She tried to duck out during the break, but one of the ladies pulled her aside and asked if she was ok...and she lost it. Her heart broken, she just couldn't stop the tears. The rest of the weekend was a fight between Ruth and her emotions. At one point she excused herself to go to bed,and lay there crying. That voice... that wretched voice... was back, only now it was taunting "you have sleeping pills... you could take a bunch, it wouldn't hurt, it would be quick". Ruth shook in her bed, the tears pouring down her face.  When the other ladies began to come upstairs to go to bed, she finally began to relax a little... with them in the room she felt safer. But the next morning she was still shaking and crying and ended up losing it again, sobbing her heart out with her friend again. She made up her mind that if GOD gave her the strength, she would ask for prayers at the worship service that morning. She needed them so desperately  She was at her end... it was time to let GOD take over. But at the worship service, hearing how the weekend had touched each of the other ladies... all she could think of was that their presence the night before had kept her from taking her life. And she couldn't say that. She just couldn't. And so she just sat there and cried. Before she could pull herself together, one of the ladies came up behind her and prayed for her. That was it, she went over the edge and began to sob. She couldn't stop. It was as if all the pain,and fear, and struggle she had bottled up in her came pouring out,and she was powerless to stop it. Someone got her pastor,and she tried to talk to Ruth... but Ruth was beyond where her pastor could reach her. She was terrified that she would never be ok again, that this time there would be no return from the darkness, when her pastor asked if she wanted everyone to pray for her. She said yes quickly... they had made her feel safe the night before... surely they wouldn't let anything happen to her now. They made a wall around her, laying their hands on her and one of the ladies prayed. The longer she prayed, the closer Ruth came to herself. She finally started to calm down, her breathing slowed, and she could think a little clearer now. But she didn't want them to stop... she wished they would all just stay around her for a while longer... keeping her safe.
                                         *a month and a half later*
Ruth knelt at the alter. She was shaking so hard she couldn't hold it in. She just prayed...over and over..."GOD, please help me. Please help me. Give me strength, please LORD, heal my heart and my mind, give me strength." When she felt the hands on her shoulders and head, she began to cry. It was over way too fast, but she felt a peace, a calm. After service she went to her pastor's office. She started to comment on the healing, the anointing  but her pastor cut her off..."none of it matters now." None of it matters. None. She smiled in agreement and headed home...
On the way home she pondered that. None of it. None... None of it, the bullying, the rejection, the abuse, the pain was all powerless now. She had been anointed as GOD's child, healed as HIS little girl, and nothing had any right to hold onto her now. She marveled over how simple this was, yet how freeing.
And then she realized something else. A gnawing in her stomach. She was hungry.
She was hungry.
It had been over a year of darkness. A year of no appetite, no interest in food or eating or whether or not she lost weight. And now, she was hungry.
The battle was won. The war was won.

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