Unforgivable – Part 4
by Brynn Paulin
All material © Brynn Paulin
The service had already started by the time I got to the small church. I stood outside the sanctuary listening. Ben’s clear, deep voice over the sound system wrapped around me like a warm blanket of comfort. I just stood there until one of the ushers got brave and headed for me. Afraid he’d offer to pray with me or something, I slipped inside and slouched down in the back pew. Even sitting that way, I knew Ben would see me—the congregation gathered there was too small for him to miss me.
It would have been too much of a storybook coincidence if Ben had been speaking on forgiveness. He wasn’t. He was preaching on God’s love. Priceless. God always being there for us. His joy in us. His pain for our pain. Suddenly, I wondered if maybe, just maybe, God could love me. I decided I’d ask Ben more about it that night. As if he’d sensed my thought, he caught my eye and smiled.
I floated back out to the entryway after the service, only to plummet violently back to earth. “Did you see the way the pastor looked at her? What is she doing here?” I heard.
Gaia. The sinner. What was I doing there?
I didn’t look for Ben, although I knew he’d want to talk to me. I left the church right away and walked the few blocks to our apartment building. Fitting for my mood, it started to rain along the way. I didn’t think much about what I was doing. I only knew I had to be on my way before I ruined his career.
Since the apartments are furnished and I didn’t have many belongings—anything personal was in a storage unit in my hometown—I had completely packed my things in forty-five minutes. I left a note and a check to my landlord for the mess in my apartment, and I was on my way without looking back.
I knew from experience Ben wouldn’t be home from the church for another hour. By then, I’d be long gone. I got into the cab I’d called feeling both cowardly and brave.
I was doing the right thing.
I’d send Ben a letter and explain later.
I didn’t know where I was going when I walked out of the apartment building that day. My conversation with Ben played in my head as the cab driver took me to the airport. With the settlement money from the accident, I could go anywhere I wanted. By the time, the car pulled into airport’s drop-off lane, I knew where I needed to go. I needed to face my demons. I was going back home to Michigan.
I wrote a letter to Ben on the flight. My seatmate probably thought I was having a nervous breakdown from all the crying. I didn’t stop until after I’d gotten to my parents’ home. And then a new round of tears began.
My hometown hadn’t changed in the years I’d been gone. Like the town I’d just left, it was small and everyone knew everyone else’s business. Within three hours of my arrival, my closest friend, Tina, was on my doorstep. She didn’t say a word, just hugged me. Her silent acceptance reminded me so much of Ben I almost started to bawl again. I didn’t, but I made the decision then and there that I was staying. I was getting my life back in order.
I did somewhat do that, too. There was no alcohol in the house—my parents weren’t big drinkers—and I decided I wouldn’t buy any. I’d rarely imbibed prior to the accident. I could do it now. Of course, I’d underestimated the pull the booze had on my body. I still craved it.
I spent some endless nights, wrapped in the comforter from my parent’s bed, wishing for a drink, wishing for Ben. I called him one night in the middle of it. He begged me to tell him where I was, told me he’d come and get me. I told him I needed time. I needed to get my life together, that I’d given up the drinking but it was unbelievably hard. He suggested AA, but I told him I couldn’t. I didn’t want anyone from my town to know how far I’d fallen. I didn’t want to tarnish my haven any more than it already was with the death of my family. Then as calmly as I could, I told him what had happened at his church. The pain in his voice killed me, and I needed to justify why I had left, why he couldn’t just come and get me.
I don’t think I have ever heard such an expletive come from Ben’s mouth. He tried to convince me it was only that pair of women, but both of us knew that wasn’t true. There was heart-wrenching resignation in his voice when he stopped trying to cajole me into believing him. As if a steel door of finality had slammed down between us, he stop speaking. An unreleased sob throbbed in my chest. Just as I was sure he’d hung up, he spoke again. He quietly suggested I check into support groups in nearby cities and perhaps see a therapist to help me through my pain.
Then he did disconnect. It ripped through me, and I shook uncontrollably, but I kept telling myself, this was better for him. I was doing this for him. I didn’t feel any better. It would have been easy for me to get on a plane and go back to him. I knew I couldn’t, no matter how much I wanted to. The people of his church would reject him because of me. I couldn’t risk it. I couldn’t risk assigning any out-of-place feeling to him. Our emotions were running high, but it wasn’t love. We’d survive apart from each other. He could move on. At another time, Ben and I might have worked, but I had too much to dredge through before I could commit to a relationship with anyone.
I did start therapy. The therapist managed to get me hooked up with an on-line support group and a mentor who checked on me. And somehow, about three months after I’d been going to sessions, he managed to get me to see that the accident wasn’t my fault. It opened an entirely new venue of pain and anger I hadn’t yet explored. Slowly, I started to recover.
The hole in my heart from my family started to mend, and while I’d never fully heal from their loss, I knew they’d always be with me. There was still an emptiness I couldn’t fill. In an effort to help me, Tina, who was the only one beside Ben and my therapist to know the extent of my struggles, invited me to church. I put her off for several weeks. I couldn’t forget what had happened at Ben’s church. Tina didn’t know about that, and she didn’t know about Ben.
Finally, she persuaded me. Or should I say, coerced me. She showed up at my house two hours before service started one day and announced it was Friend Day at church. “You don’t want everyone to think I have no friends, do you?” she teased. I folded even though I knew no one would think that. Low and behold, that day Tina’s pastor was preaching on God’s love—not an uncommon topic, I mean it is a Christian church, but I felt like God was trying to get a message to me. And this time, I listened. I started attending more and more, until one Sunday morning, I couldn’t shut out the call anymore and I opened my heart. God settled right into that empty space in my chest.
I was so excited. I wanted to share what I’d found with someone, and I knew the only one who could fully appreciate it was Ben. That afternoon, I tried to call him. His phone number had been disconnected. It stumped me, but I figured he’d changed it for some reason. Maybe, he’d moved to another apartment. I knew Monday was his day off, so I tried to call him at the church office Tuesday morning. I could nearly feel the frost across the line when the secretary informed me that Pastor Martin was no longer at their church. She couldn’t—or wouldn’t—tell me where he’d gone.