‘The road was wide’
We hear the Lord not once or twice, but several times and know
Yet our heart cries out in our distress as the raging waters flow
The way to the valley is an easy route, we seldom try to miss
For some it comes from wanting more and for others… a lover’s kiss
Matthew 7:15 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”
This story takes place in the early 1940’s.
Loretta stared at the words in her bible as she sat in her kitchen sipping a cup of black coffee. It seemed as though she lost track of the years since she had been given this leather bound bible. She was fourteen at the time. Rev. and Mrs. Edwards had been the pastor of a country church near her home. Loretta began walking to the church when she was thirteen. Her family didn’t go to any particular church and she was mocked several times for her faith back then.
The bible was a bit worn now, as Loretta had packed it away for a long time. Yet, the words that she had underlined seemed to jump out at her as if in warning. Loretta put the bible away and dressed for the day. Loretta lived in an upstairs two room apartment. Her daughter was in a foster home. Her husband was missing and presumed dead. It was 1944 and the war had taken her young husband long before she had a chance to become a real wife.
Now, she owned a small metal table and 2 chairs that someone had thrown away. Her living room was also her bedroom. She had a couch, a wooden rocker and a small radio that only worked sometimes on 2 channels. She would listen to the news as she got ready for work each morning. Her small check from the war department had ended when it had become uncertain of her husband’s whereabouts. The man at the off ice had said he was sorry and he was looking into it. Yet, Loretta prayed and hoped her husband would soon return.
It was Saturday and she had a day off. She hand laundered her clothes and pinned them up to dry on a clothes line just outside her apartment out back. Now, her black coffee and donut stared back at her as she listened to the music and became lost in her thoughts.
‘Lord, I am alone now. Mom has her hands full with two teen agers. My siblings are struggling with their own families. I just left my sister’s as her home was just big enough for her family of seven. How will I get ahead enough to get my daughter out of foster care? What is there to be joyful about?’
Just then, she looked out the window and saw a tall soldier walking down the sidewalk. She didn’t stop to think of anything. ‘Steven is home!’ was all that came to her mind. She raced down the steps and down the walk and jumped into the arms of this tall man in uniform. Then after a few seconds she looked up and realized that it wasn’t Steven at all. It was a man with a uniform, and a bandage above one eye.
‘Oh, I’m so sorry…I thought you were someone else.’ Just as quickly as she had raced to this man, she raced back upstairs. After she’d made it to the privacy of her apartment she began to shake and cry.
The man on the sidewalk wished he could have been that man. He watched the woman’s retreat a moment before moving on. He continued walking to his father’s apartment downstairs from Loretta. After a warm welcome, the man sat down and asked his father…’so, what’s the story with the lady upstairs? I take it she is waiting for a husband to come home?’
Martin smiled. ‘Oh, Loretta, her name is Loretta. Yes, it’s a sad story really. She has a job in Pete’s Diner on Main Street. I guess her husband’s either missing or AWOL. Not sure really. I hear her sometimes crying and sometimes she tap dances. It’s a common story these days Jake.’
Jake settled back on the couch and knitted his fingers behind his head. ‘Yeah, I guess so. So, she is a dancer?’
The doorbell rang and Jake’s older brother Robert came in. He had a paper bag with him, and set it down. ‘Hey! We’ve been counting the days until you got out of that hospital Jake. You look awful!’ Robert hugged his brother for a long time. He then picked up the bag and went into his father’s kitchen. Soon, he returned with three bottles of beer. ‘I brought us some sandwiches from the deli too!’ The three sat and ate. Martin watched as his sons got reacquainted. His youngest son was very subdued from the young man who had left four years ago.
Loretta heard bits and pieces of laughter and realized that whoever that man was, he must have been a friend of her downstairs neighbor. They grew loud as the day wore on. Loretta grew restless and put her radio on to some dance tunes. She began to tap dance in her living room.
The world became a far off place when Loretta danced. On some week ends, she would go to the local dance hall and tap dance. She loved all kinds of dancing. At one time, she was thinking of going to NYC with some friends to try out for the ‘Rockettes’. She knew the moves and was told she’d be a perfect one to do it. Yet, she had gotten married instead. Now, she found herself using her dancing as a way to relieve stress as well as keep in shape. She turned as she tap danced and caught a quick view of herself in the mirror. She was about 125 pounds and five foot 9.
As the music played the big band sounds, Loretta lost track of time. Yet, downstairs a man in uniform was tapping his fingers to the music and listening to the tap tap tappetty tap of Loretta’s heels and toes.
The father and sons made a night of it with the beer and then fell asleep. The next morning Loretta was half way down the walk when Jake pulled the curtain aside in his father’s front room and saw the thin woman in a waitress uniform walk briskly away. Her brunette hair was shoulder length the day before, but she had it pinned up for work.
‘Good morning son, are you hungry?’ Jake turned around to see his father grinning at him.
‘Well, I could use some eggs if you have any.’ Jake answered.
Martin stretched and scratched his face. ‘Well, I haven’t been to the store. How about we let your brother sleep it off and we go over to Pete’s diner for breakfast?’
‘Sounds good, but let me get cleaned up first.’ Martin showed Jake where he kept his shaving supplies and within an hour the two were walking down Main Street. They walked in the diner and took a stool at the counter.
Loretta spotted the two men as she was putting her apron on in the kitchen. ‘Oh no!’ Pete turned to her.
‘What’s the matter sis?’ Pete had been trying his best to be there for Loretta. Things had been hard on her.
‘Oh, that’s the man I told you about. The one I mistook for Stephen! This is so embarrassing. Couldn’t you wait on him?’
Pete was sympathetic but he had no choice. ‘Now, Loretta…how am I supposed to cook and wait on people too? Just forget about it. They probably did.’
Loretta went to the counter with her note pad. ‘Good morning Martin, can I get you two anything?’
Martin was going over the menu and Jake spoke before he got the chance. ‘Well, now I know what I want! 2 eggs over easy, ham, fried potatoes with onions and garlic…and coffee. Toast too! So, how long have you been tap dancing over my dad’s head?’
‘Smooth Jake!’ Martin said under his breath.
Loretta’s face went red. ‘Let’s see, 2 eggs over easy, ham, fried potatoes with onions [we don’t do garlic…sorry]. Coffee and toast, and… tap dancing over your father’s head?’
Jake drew his head back and began to laugh loudly. Martin started with a little chuckle and then soon he was lost as well. Pete looked through the kitchen window and noticed the morning crowd was laughing as well. The only one who wasn’t was Loretta.
‘I better get out there.’ He wiped off his hands and opened the door.
‘Loretta, is everything all right?’
Loretta turned around and without speaking, she walked past him to the kitchen.
Pete looked at Martin. ‘Would you give her a break Martin? You know how wired she is these days! I have to stay open here and without a good waitress…oh forget it! Just pipe down!’
Jake grinned at his father. ‘The boss kind of likes her huh?’
Martin stirred his coffee and tried to get serious. ‘Yes, well Pete’s her brother! You sure caused a riot in a short time Jake! Behave or I won’t get my best breakfast in town! Pete’s a good cook!’ He hunched over suddenly and began laughing again. ‘I sure have missed your antics though!’
Suddenly two cups of coffee were placed on the counter in front of them. Pete called from the doorway to the kitchen. ‘Martin, would you like to introduce your son to us?’ Pete stood in the doorway with his arms folded in front of his chest and the most serious face he could muster up.
‘Yes, well I know you met my older boy. This here’s Jacob; Jake is what we call him. He just got back from Italy. Jake, this is my upstairs neighbor Loretta and her brother standing over there is Pete. He’s the owner of this diner. Great food here Pete!’
Loretta stared into chocolate brown eyes. One eye had a bandage over the brow. His hair was wavy and brown and she noticed perfectly white even teeth. ‘He looks like a movie star. Joseph Cotton’ she thought.
Jake tried to be friendly without teasing. He noticed Loretta’s fluster had mostly gone away and yet she was staring at him. Her huge hazel eyes were a welcome change from those stuffy nurses that used to attack him with needles. ‘It’s nice to meet you.’ He had it on the tip of his tongue to say more but he wanted to eat his breakfast and he had the suspicion that she might just chuck it at him if he teased her.
Loretta turned to go retrieve the breakfast plates. Martin elbowed Jake. ‘I saw that twinkle in your eye. You better behave Jake.’
Two steaming plates were placed on the counter. Jake watched as Loretta worked through the rest of the customers. He left her a good tip and walked home with his father.
The following Friday found Loretta at the foster home with her daughter Nellie. She sat on the front porch swing and visited for three hours. Then as per usual, Loretta walked home in tears. ‘Please help me Lord. I just want to take her home.’
Jake was sitting on his father’s porch as Loretta walked up the walk way. She had a bag of groceries in her hand. ‘Hello again, do you need any help?’
Loretta thought of the irony of those words. Yet, she replied politely. ‘Thank you, but I’ve got it.’
Jake waited a few moments and then stood up. ‘I was wondering if maybe you’d like to go to the dance hall with me. I don’t know many folks and my brother is working. Just a cup of coffee is fine, if ….’
Loretta thought ‘here’s a soldier who’s just lonesome’ She replied ‘I’d like that. I can be ready in about two hours. Is that all right?’
Jake’s grin told her that it was. She went to her apartment and changed. Jake escorted Loretta in his car and they went smiling into the dance hall. The place was swarming with men in uniform and several tables were laden with food and soft drinks. The bar was set up as well. Loretta noticed Jake went to the bar first. As Jake was settling on a barstool with Loretta, a friend walked over.
‘Hey, Loretta! Want to dance?’ Joe Pelkey was a friend of Loretta’s and she always danced well with him. He was just a friend, but Jake didn’t know that. Before she could answer, Jake turned to him.
‘The lady is with me tonight pal.’ Jake hoped he’d scare the guy off.
‘Well sure, I didn’t want to steal her for any romance. I’ve known her for years. We’re just friends and a dance partner is all. We even won some medals, right Loretta?’ Joe grinned and waited for Loretta to explain. He didn’t want any trouble with a guy home from the war. He especially didn’t want any trouble with one who had been wounded.
Loretta smiled and said ‘Jake, Joe is a friend. You should see him dance. He only dances with me when the girls aren’t chasing him.’ Before long, Joe and Jake were sharing stories. When the band started, Jake was fine with Loretta dancing with him. He went to a small table in the corner with his drink and watched.
Loretta and Joe danced like Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. Someone shined a spotlight on them at one time and everyone moved aside to watch them. Joe spun Loretta around and then lifted her up over his head. They had perfect rhythm of a couple who had danced for years together. Jake found he was enjoying the show. When the music ended, Loretta returned to find Jake had moved. Sitting in a corner with him though were two other girls.
Loretta took a breath and walked over. ‘So, you’ve made some friends after all. I was going to ask you to dance but I guess you are busy.’ She was eyeing one of the girls especially. She had her arm draped over Jake like she owned him. Loretta turned to leave but Jake jumped up.
‘They just came over to say hi to the guy in uniform. Come on, I can’t dance like Joe but I can do a slow waltz that is passable.’ He smiled at Loretta and she found herself thinking she’d brought the handsomest guy to the dance.
Jake wasn’t lying about his ability to slow dance. Loretta found that she fit perfectly into Jake’s arms. He leaned his head down and pressed his forehead to hers. ‘How am I doing?’
Loretta thought he was an arrogant handsome guy. ‘You’ll do.’ She smiled.
‘That’s all? Do you want me to show you some fancy stuff?’ Jake was grinning with sheer mischief and Loretta didn’t dare egg him on.
‘You just behave or this will be the last dance I dance with you.’ She kept one arm on his shoulder and held on to his hand for dear life.
‘You have no sense of humor at all Loretta! Loosen up a little!’ He went to pull her closer to him in a more intimate fashion and Loretta swung her hand up and slapped him.
Jake was stunned. “I can’t believe you did that! You have one bad right hook lady!’ Jake was going to leave her on the dance floor but she was too fast for him. Before he got the words out of his mouth, Loretta was out the door. Jake rubbed his left cheek and turned around. The two girls who had sat at his table were there and ready to dance.
The next day Loretta was serving customers when Jake walked into ‘Pete’s Diner’. He sat at the counter and waited for Loretta to wait on him. Another waitress came to take his order but he waved her away. Finally, when it seemed he would have to speak up; Loretta came over to take his order.
‘Good morning! May I take your order?’ Loretta’s face was red and Jake could tell she was still upset with him.
He looked over her head and read the sign on the wall. “I’ll take the special. Two eggs and toast.’ He waited to see what she would do.
Loretta wrote it down and asked if he wanted coffee. “Oh, yes I’ll have a cup.” He tried not to smile or say too much because he now knew Loretta had a fiery temper. Truth be known, he liked it, but he preferred to drink his coffee and not wear it.
Soon, Jake found he had some company. One of the girls he had met after Loretta left the dance walked in. She sat down next to him and Loretta took her order. She turned around but was able to hear the woman tell Jake, ‘I could have fixed you breakfast this morning.’ Loretta turned back around.
‘Should I tear this up so you and her can go play restaurant?’ Loretta’s hazel eyes were shooting darts at Jake.
Jake swallowed and shook his head. ‘No, I have a job to go to. I’ll take that order please.’ ‘Great’, he thought. ‘She’s jealous and mad as a wet hen!’
Loretta busied herself in work and tried not to pay attention to the two of them. That night, she was tired and angry as she walked home. The walk in the cool breeze did nothing to take the anger away. ‘The nerve of that creep trying to squeeze me in the middle of a dance floor and then show up with that floozy for breakfast!’
She was busy talking silently to herself when she bumped into someone. She didn’t realize she was almost to her door and the someone was none other than Jake himself.
‘I said hello, but I guess you were thinking of something and didn’t hear me.’ Jake smiled and sat down on his father’s porch. ‘I got a job today, but I guess you really aren’t interested.’
Once again Loretta’s soft heart kicked in. ‘That’s nice Jake. Congratulations, so when do you start?’ She was making conversation and arguing with herself at the same time. ‘Why am I making small talk with this Romeo?’ she asked herself.
‘I start Monday. I’ll be staying here for a few weeks so I guess we’ll run into each other sometimes. I mean, not literally.’ Jake was noticing that Loretta’s eyes flashed when she was nervous as well as when she was mad.
‘Oh, that’s nice. Well, I will see you later.’ She turned to go up the stairs to her apartment.
Jake watched as ascended the stairs. ‘Gorgeous green eyes, soft brown hair and killer legs!’ he thought.
The next time Loretta saw Jake was in a five and dime store. He was on a pay phone. A girl with high heels and flaming red hair was kissing him good bye. Loretta pretended it didn’t matter. She said a curt ‘hello’ as she walked by. That’s when she overheard him making a date with someone called ‘Nellie’ on the phone.. Loretta made her purchase and started to leave. Jake reached out and grabbed her arm with one hand while still holding the receiver of the phone with the other. Before he said good bye, he said ‘Wait up, I wanted to talk to you.’
Loretta was disgusted. ‘How many girls do you need?’ Without thinking, she reached over and hung up the phone for him. Jake stood speechless and then a slow smile came to his face.
‘Why don’t you go out with me and see?’ He stood with his feet slightly apart as he did in the army and put his hands behind his back. He was totally ‘at ease’.
Loretta looked him in the eye with a sober expression. ‘Be at my apartment door at six sharp!’
Loretta turned and walked home. She was surprised that she had even said anything to him. “Great, now what am I going to do when ‘Romeo’ shows up.”
That night, Loretta put on new dress and donned her seamed stockings. Her black heels clicked on the floor as she brushed her hair and applied lipstick. At six on the dot, a knock came to her door.
Jake’s knock was always the same she later learned. ‘Shave and a hair cut, two bits’ or, ‘knock, knock, knock , knock, knock, …knock knock’
Loretta opened the door and was amazed to find Jake standing there staring. ‘Hi! Did anyone ever tell you that you look like Loretta Young?’ Jake couldn’t believe how pretty Loretta’s eyes were and how she filled out that pretty yellow dress.
She gave him a smile that said ‘thank you and don’t push your luck’ at the same time.
For the next few weeks Loretta enjoyed dating Jake. He opened up a different world to her. She wasn’t used to having someone taking her to the movies, to dinner, and dances. She found that Jake attracted people to him. Though he never looked for attention, he got it when he walked into a room. He stood six foot tall with dark wavy hair and a foolish grin that revealed pearly white teeth. He knew how to be charming and make his brown eyes twinkle. His voice was low and he could make music out of just talking to people.
He put away his uniform but everyone knew he had been in the war and was wounded. He was hailed as a ‘war hero’, and was often given free drinks wherever he went. At times, if he stood at the bar after having a few drinks, he would misinterpret anyone coming to his wounded eye’s side as someone trying to attack him. He would swing and hit anyone when he was drunk. Loretta would stand in terror as she watched him in several bar fights.
Loretta found out that Jake had a very dark side. She blamed it on the fact that he’d been so long in the war and seen so many horrible things. She found that he had nightmares of still being in the war in the middle of the night. He would yell, ‘Get down, Get down, ‘and leap out of the bed. He would end up in a cold sweat and sit for hours just staring.
The woman who waited for a missing husband and prayed each day changed to a woman who went out a lot and found herself in Jake’s arms most every night. She overlooked his drinking habits. She overlooked his family’s drinking habits. She found it humorous to have so many girls slip their phone numbers into his pockets wherever they went. Then, she found herself pregnant.
'In you, o Lord, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame; deliver me in your righteousness.'
A road more traveled
The crossroad sign points in two directions
We wonder which way is best
How many do not wait for God’s instructions
But took a road that meant more tests?
Loretta sat in her apartment and wondered what to do. Loretta had two documents in front of her. One document was from the war department. It had declared her husband dead, though no body was found. There was sufficient evidence found near where an ambush had taken place. The letter said that she was to receive a box soon with a few of Stephen’s personal belongings that had been retrieved from where they believed his body had been thrown into the river.
The other document was the doctor’s report. Loretta was now almost three months pregnant with Jake’s child. He had not said much when she told him that morning. He’d nodded and said he’d come by later. It was now almost seven o clock at night. She watched for him by the kitchen window.
Jake strode up the walk way as if he owned the street. Shoulders back, looking straight ahead and he smiled as his eyes went to the window where she sat. He was going to get married. He had thought it through and his father had conferred that it was a good move.
A quick knock and Loretta flew into his arms. ‘Well, now that’s a welcome I enjoy!’
“Oh Jake, it’s been quite a day. Look what I got in the mail. I guess its official now.”
Jake took the papers and sat down. ‘Well, I’m sorry for him. But, really Loretta it’s not a surprise is it? I thought they would declare him dead a long time ago. I guess they waited to gather up anything left behind. ‘Jake turned the pages and then picked up the other paper. He read what the doctor had written. He was going to be a father.
‘Loretta, I was thinking maybe next Friday we would make it official. Does that sound all right?’ He got up and took Loretta’s hand.
‘It’s going to be all right Loretta.’ Jake said quietly.
Loretta had a nagging feeling that something wasn’t quite right but she didn’t say anything. She smiled up into Jake’s chocolate brown eyes. Little flecks of gold danced in his eyes as he stared down at Loretta. ‘I love you Jake’.
Jake smiled down at her and said, ‘I love you too!’
Friday morning came quickly and Loretta dressed to go to the City Hall to be married. Jake arrived at ten a.m. The two were sitting having coffee when a knock came to the door. Jake thought it was his father. He got up and opened the door.
A tall man with blonde hair stood in front of him. He wore plain clothes and asked if Loretta was there. Loretta glanced up and then passed out. Jake was confused at first. He thought her pregnancy caused the fainting. When the man spoke, Jake’s breath caught.
‘What’s the matter with my wife?’ Stephen looked over at Jake with a question.
Jake, returned a look of pure hatred to Stephen. “Your wife?”
Stephen stood still as Loretta stirred in Jake’s arms. ‘Stephen, is that really you? I thought you were dead!’
‘Yeah, that’s why I am here. I’m not dead.’ He remained still in the doorway.
Jake was the first to regain some sort of normalcy. “I think we’d better sit down. ” he turned to Loretta. Loretta saw the fire in Jake’s eyes.
‘Really Jake, maybe we should talk alone. I guess we won’t be going any where today. Can I call you later?’
Jake was furious at being dismissed. ‘I’d say that’s a good idea. But, I’m not leaving!’ He sat down on the couch next to Loretta. ‘OK, so you are Stephen. Have a seat. Start talking.’
Loretta touched Jake’s arm. ‘Could you please wait downstairs?’ Jake thundered down the stairs barely missing his father as he was coming up.
‘Before I get to marry her, she has to dump husband number one!’ He told his father. Martin went to his apartment to try to calm Jake down. Loretta and Stephen could hear the yelling downstairs.
Stephen didn’t know quite what to say. ‘I guess I better explain. I came to see about getting a divorce.’
Loretta found that she was having so many emotions. She was glad he was alive; surprised he wanted a quick divorce. She was sad to see part of her life over, and frightened and excited to know a new life had begun. In the end, the meeting went on for about an hour. Loretta was angry that Stephen had found someone else so quickly. He had been shot and a woman had taken care of him behind enemy lines.
The two made plans to go see their daughter and sign papers of divorce as well. Stephen realized that Loretta had gone on with her life.
‘So, I guess you and Jake are free to do whatever now.’ Stephen said. He watched Loretta’s eyes flash.
‘Whatever Jake and I decide is none of your business. I’ll see you Monday. ‘ Loretta felt the blood rush to her head. She had been lied to and in her heart she had buried this man. Her mind was a mixture of raw emotions.
Jake sat on his father’s front steps as Stephen exited the building. He went upstairs and sat down with Loretta. ‘So, what’s going on?’
Loretta was trembling and Jake held her for a long time. ‘We’re getting a divorce. Monday, we’re going to go see Nellie. Then, you and I can begin a new life. We can then bring Nellie home too.’
Jake nodded as he held Loretta. He stayed on the couch silently holding her until the following morning.
The following Monday Loretta and Stephen went to see their daughter. Stephen remarked how pretty she was. They found their way to the lawyer’s office and Loretta signed the necessary papers to dissolve their marriage. They parted ways in a civil quiet fashion. Stephen went to an unknown destination, and Loretta went to a nearby park.
She sat down on a park bench and watched the ducks swim in the pond. Across the street, some church bells rang. Loretta sensed that she was not alone. She looked up past the pine trees in the park and saw a rainbow. She suddenly prayed silently to the God that she had forgotten for nearly six months.
‘You have not moved Lord, but I can not see you very well. I have been with Jake and now find myself deeply entangled with a man whom I truly love, but who does not know you. This baby I am carrying is a gift in spite of my own actions. I will rejoice in knowing that you promised Noah with a rainbow, and I will take this rainbow as a sign of your promise to be near me as well. I do not know what my life is ahead. I’m going to risk Jake’s reaction and tell him about you. But, whatever he says or does Lord…I will be rejoicing in just knowing that this rainbow is a sign from you.’
For the first time since she was sixteen, Loretta felt joyful. She walked to her apartment knowing that the Lord was still with her. She baked an apple pie that afternoon and waited for Jake to arrive.
By 2 a.m., Jake had still not arrived to eat any of that apple pie. Loretta sat with her bible open and ate a piece of pie with coffee, but she didn’t feel alone. She was still remembering what the Lord had showed her above the trees that afternoon. A promise with a rainbow. The Lord God almighty was still her God.
By the little lamp that night, Loretta read Psalm 98 ‘Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things…’ Loretta thought and made a list of some of the miracles. Though the list was painful and tears fell, she still felt the joy of the Lord. 1. Stephen was not dead. It hurt to think of the entire ordeal, but he was alive. 2. She was able to visit her little Nellie and Nellie was healthy. 3. She still had her job at the diner. 4. She had an idea about a new job. The list took on a few other things and Loretta found herself singing at 3 a.m. ‘It’s bubbling, it’s bubbling, it’s bubbling in my soul. There’s singing and laughing since Jesus made me whole…’
Indeed something had happened to Loretta that day. Yet, for Jake it was another matter. Jake had met his brother Robert in a bar. Robert had been bragging of Jake’s skills as a boxer. He placed a few bets, and others had followed. That night found Jake punching and jabbing in the alley of ‘Red’s Bar and Grill’. He had a split lip, and a black eye and fifty dollars when the fight was over. He then spent the fifty dollars buying everyone a drink, including the man he had beaten. No thoughts of Loretta filled his head that night.
The following day found the two brothers asleep on their father’s front porch. Loretta came downstairs on her way to work. She smelled the alcohol and had an idea of what had transpired. When she saw Jake’s face, she became upset.
Martin came out on his porch and put is finger to his lips. ‘Just go to work Loretta. I’ll fix him up.’
Loretta nodded and went to the diner. When her shift was over, she took a walk over to the hospital. There was a new program going on. It was a training program for nurses. The pay was little more than what she was making at first, but it was more money. Also, it trained her for a profession. Loretta signed up for the 2 year course.
She was excited when she came home. Jake was awake and had cleaned up. Though he still had a cut lip and a black eye, he did look more presentable when Loretta walked up the walk.
‘Loretta’ he whispered. He still had a bit of a headache. Though he told no one, he had begun drinking heavily since he left the hospital. There was shrapnel left in his brain that was inoperable. No one knew how long he had left on the earth. He was addicted to the morphine at the hospital, but they discharged him with very low doses of pain meds. The alcohol dulled the pain for a bit.
Loretta knew very little of this. She just knew that he had gotten drunk the night before. Yet, she was thrilled to have someone to tell her good news to.
“Oh Jake, I have great news! I’ve been accepted into a new nursing program at the hospital! Come on upstairs so I can explain! I’m late because I was signing papers.” Loretta scooted up the stairs, oblivious to Jake’s stagger behind her.
Jake was tired when he finally made it up the stairs. Loretta was putting her coat away and putting the coffee pot on she didn’t notice. ‘It’s a 2 year course and I’ll be paid as I am training. By the end of the course I’ll have a nursing degree!’
Silence met her words. She turned her head to see Jake holding on to his head. His knees were parted and he was squeezing his forehead. ‘What is it Jake? It can’t still be a hang over, it’s been too long!’
Jake didn’t answer at first. He was concentrating on taking deep breaths and not vomiting. His head was pounding from the punch he’d received the previous night. He had been punched near his head wound.
When he pulled his head up slowly, Loretta cried out. ‘Oh no!’ She took a cool cloth and put it on Jake’s throbbing head. She then handed him some aspirin. But, before he could swallow any aspirin, he bolted for the bathroom. His stomach was all ready empty and he had dry heaves.
‘You have to go see the doctor Jake!’ It’s been too soon since you left the hospital and you have a huge bump on your head!’ Said Loretta.
Jake whispered ‘no’. Just let me have a moment and I’ll be all right. He sat on the bathroom floor and passed out instead.
Loretta ran downstairs screaming for Martin and Robert. The two men brought Jake to the hospital. For the next 24 hours Jake was being monitored each hour for the head injury. The next day Loretta was in the room when the doctor came in.
‘Well, Jake I hoped I wouldn’t have to see you so soon. The war still isn’t over for you though I take it. I’m giving you some pills for the pain, and letting you go home. I’d stay away from the boxing ring though. Another hit like that and you might not wake up.’
Robert was in the doorway and Loretta watched the color drain from his face. She glared and finally figured out what had transpired. The nurse came in to help Jake dress and Loretta took the time to speak with Robert in the reception area.
‘What kind of brother are you? You stood by while he was boxing? He could have died on the spot!’ She was yelling and her pent up anxiety was being poured out on Robert.
Robert just stood still and let her yell. He loved his brother and was cringing inside. Loretta had more reason than she knew to be upset with him. He could tell she didn’t know that it was his bragging about is brother’s quick fists that had brought the fight on.
When Loretta wound down, she could tell Robert wasn’t listening. He remained stoic and then walked into his brother’s room and brought him to a waiting car.
That night Jake slept on Loretta’s couch. She covered him with a blanket and took another blanket for herself on the rocking chair.
She closed her eyes and prayed silently.
‘Lord, I am in the middle of a war zone. Oh Lord, we need you. Oh God, keep him safe. What am I to do? ‘
Just then, she realized that Jake was moaning and sweating. She removed the blanket and noticed that his eyes were open and he was speaking. ‘Get down, get down, they are coming. I’ve got my rifle trained. Just be quiet!’ He was in the middle of a nightmare over a thousand miles away.
She began to talk softly. ‘Jake, you are home now. It’s ok Jake’ Jake was silent and then began thrashing again.
‘Jake, you are home now. You aren’t in Italy anymore. You are home now.’ She didn’t shout, but spoke loud enough to waken him. She didn’t touch him, for she knew he’d throw a punch if she touched him.
Suddenly Jake woke up and sat up quickly. He looked over at Loretta with wild eyes. She knew a moment of fear as he blinked a few times. Then, he reached out.
‘Loretta, Loretta, Loretta come here!’
Loretta went into his arms as he trembled. ‘It’s ok!’ she spoke gently to him as he just continued to repeat her name over and over.
The valley she was in was real. She knew that now. ‘But, God is real too…’she thought. ‘I will not forget you Lord.’
‘He will lead me beside quiet waters…’ Psalm 23
Your face is what I seek each day as the waves come crashing in.
Teach what I need to know, as my world seems in a spin
Bring peace to this tortured mind as shadows grow in size
Let Jake be at peace tonight and again at your sunrise
Loretta prayed as Jake went back to sleep. She sat next to the couch and listened to the sounds of the lake nearby. The Saratoga Lake had always brought her a sense of peace. Saratoga Springs was her home town now.
Nestled in the north eastern part of New York State there lies two bodies of water. Saratoga is bordered by these two waters. The Hudson River is one body of water and Saratoga Lake is the other. The name for Saratoga is from the Mohawk Indians. It means ‘Sah-rah-ka’ or ‘Sarach-togue’ which means ‘the hillside country of quiet river.’
The county was built on an ancient geological fault line that runs through most of the city of Saratoga. It hosts natural carbonated mineral springs. It is known for this water that is still bottled and sold today. The Saratoga Springs Water Co. was established in 1872. It is found on Geyser Road. The blue glass bottles are still its trademark.
There is a sulfur odor to the water. Analysis of it shows almost no presence of dissolved sulfur. The sulfur is in the form of gas, hydrogen sulfur. Many have believed over the years that it had healing properties. There are still bath houses in Saratoga as well as many springs where you can drink the water.
Loretta’s brother opened his diner in Saratoga during WWII. He had been in the service himself and honorably discharged. His timing for opening the diner was good. Many soldiers coming home from the war were given a free cup of coffee in his establishment. This soon got around and business was booming.
Saratoga is also known for its race horses. Martin worked at the harness track and both of his sons had been working there at one time or another either grooming or working in the huge restaurant nearby. Robert was a chef for a while. Yet racing was not being held at this time due to travel restrictions brought on by World War II. The stakes races that would have been run at Saratoga are being held in Belmont Park at this time. Everyone had to have ration stamps to get gas.
Two weeks later found Loretta and Jake in front of the justice of the peace. ‘I now pronounce you man and wife. You may kiss the bride!’
Jake turned to Loretta and pressed warm lips to hers. Loretta had on a tan suit with white flower in the breast pocket. She wore cork wedge shoes because most of the leather was sent to the armed forces for the army shoes. Finding leather shoes wasn’t easy. Yet, to Jake; Loretta looked just beautiful. Her wavy dark hair and wide innocent hazel eyes sparkled up at him. ‘I’m sorry we can’t go on a honeymoon. I’m so new at work that I don’t dare take time off. I can afford to treat you to a spaghetti dinner though. I made a deal with this guy…’
Loretta wasn’t really listening. She was so happy to be his wife. When Jake walked to the diner with her, she was amazed to find it all decorated with flowers. Martin, Robert and Loretta’s brother and sister were there. Her mother had made a special cake for them.
Loretta was disappointed to find her brother in law with a flask of vodka in his suit pocket though. By the end of the night he and Jake were both quite drunk. What had begun as a nice family celebration turned sour when the two brothers began to argue.
Martin took his older son outside and brought him home. Loretta was glad her family cleaned up the diner so she could get Jake home as well. Jake staggered as he walked the three blocks to their upstairs apartment. He began to sing and laugh loud. ‘Hush, you’ll wake the neighbors’ Loretta said.
Jake began to shout. ‘Hey, I’m married! Wake up everybody!’
The air was fresh and clean, but all Loretta thought of was getting Jake home before he passed out again. Her hurt and anger at Robert for ruining their day was going through her mind. When they made it home, Jake passed out on the couch.
The bible lay open on the nightstand when Loretta went to bed alone. She let Jake alone on the couch. She read Luke 13:13-14
‘Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.’
‘Well…’ thought Loretta, ‘that doesn’t speak about Jake. After all, he was just celebrating our wedding. He’s not a drunkard.’ She sat back and suddenly thought about the many times she had seen him and Robert drinking. She thought Robert had a problem with drinking but not her Jake. ‘He just gets drunk when Robert gives it to him.’ She turned over and looked at her new wedding ring.
She woke up in the middle of the night and went to the couch to check on her new husband. He was still asleep and talking. ‘Yes, thank you Mona. Just needed a shave.’
Loretta was stunned. She had brought out a blanket to cover him with and threw it at him instead. Suddenly, Jake reared up with fists in the air.
‘Who is Mona?’ Loretta asked. She stood waiting for him to answer.
Jake was trying to clear his blurred vision and think of what Loretta asked. ‘Mona?’
Loretta stood with her hands on her hips. ‘Yes, Mona!’
The darkness suddenly went away and the light was blinding him. ‘Shut that out before I bust the light!’ he yelled.
The light went out and Loretta went back to bed.
Jake sat up and tried to think of that name. He suddenly remembered the girl at the five and dime store. She was a short redhead with big teeth. He laughed and got up slow. Jake figured out that his new wife must have heard him talking in his sleep. He was dreaming of getting shaving cream. He walked into the bedroom.
‘Are you upset because I talk in my sleep or because I was talking to the ugly girl at the five and dime in my sleep? I thought you were never jealous!’ Jake sat down lightly on the side of the bed. He reached over and stroked his wife’s back. She was facing away from him.
Suddenly Loretta’s temper flared. She rolled over and lunged at him. ‘I’m upset because it’s my wedding night and your brother got you plastered so you spent the night on the couch. I ought to sock you one! You know I hate drink! To top it all off, your dreaming of some other floozy!’
Jake smiled in the darkness of the room. ‘She’s only about 16 and works behind the counter. I dreamed I was trying to find shaving cream. Is she a floozy? A very young floozy! But then, my wife is ten years younger than me. Maybe I like them younger now.’
A pillow sailed towards his face and Jake ducked and then lunged towards his wife. ‘Hello wife! Do you like to wrestle? I’m a very good wrestler!’
Loretta started to fight him off but ended up hugging his neck instead.
The next day was a work day for both of them. It was also the afternoon Loretta was to see her daughter in foster care. She brought Jake and they sat in the parlor and watched the baby for a while. Loretta was a different person when she was with her daughter. Jake noticed a gentleness that he had never seen before. He didn’t know much about babies.
His life had seldom been around small children. He began to get jealous. ‘Is it almost time to leave?’ Loretta didn’t notice the detached attitude. Jake sat on a corner of the sofa and watched the two of them. He didn’t try to join in.
‘Just think, soon you will have a little brother or sister!’ she said to the child. Loretta held her daughter and curled her fingers into her hair. ‘Soon, you will come live with mommy!’
Jake wondered what his wife would be like with two babies. Would she ever have time for him? Would she stop going out dancing. All ready she was showing signs of morning sickness. He grew restless to leave and soon they were on their way.
Jake noticed the tears when Loretta was out the door. ‘Hey, what’s that about?’
‘I just wish I could take her home. I hate having her left there. I only see her once a week. Sometimes not longer than an hour. Moms should have their babies with them.’
Jake put his arm around her and they walked home in silence. Loretta walked around their apartment silently as she made dinner and washed out their clothes. The radio played as she worked.
Jake went downstairs and had coffee with his father to get away from her mood. Late into the night he crawled into bed.
The sound of a 1940 Chevy’s engine woke the couple up the next morning. ‘Hey Jake! Look what I just bought you!’ yelled Martin. Martin had a friend who sold cars and this fairly new convertible was Martin’s payback for a some work he’d done. He had tried to get the friend to pay him the money but the guy was broke.
Martin wasn’t too upset though. He thought this would be a great wedding present for Jake and Loretta.
Loretta and Jake had been married for two days. Jake stuck his head out of the upstairs window. “Pa, where did you get that? Holy smokes!’ Jake grabbed his shoes and raced down the stairs.
Martin was all smiles as his son admired the shiny used car. ‘You like it son?’
‘Sure Pa, who wouldn’t?’ Jake replied.
Martin went to him and handed him the keys. ‘It’s all paid for and it’s a wedding gift for you and Loretta. ‘
Jake stared at his father. ‘Now wait a minute, are you sure?’
Martin laughed. ‘I did some work a while ago and the guy couldn’t afford to pay for it. He gave me this instead. It’s got some miles on it but it runs pretty good. I like the cream and brown colors. The top comes up slow so don’t be in a rush with it.’
Loretta had been watching from their upstairs window. ‘Come on down Loretta, we’re going for a wild ride!’
Loretta started to get in the back seat. ‘Oh no, get in front. I’m staying home!’ Martin smiled at her.
Jake went to the service station first and got some gas for 20 cents a gallon. His father had given him some gas ration stamps. ‘I can believe why the guy was anxious to get rid of this. He probably couldn’t afford extra gas rationing stamps.’ Jake turned on the radio and the sounds of the big band station were on.
The couple took a quick trip around the block on the gravel road and then went home. Loretta quickly fixed eggs and toast and got ready for work. Jake dropped her off at the diner on his way to the factory. ‘I’ll see you tonight. I’m sorry you’ll have to walk home.’ He smiled. Loretta always walked home.
‘He’s a good man.’ Loretta told herself. In the back of her mind though were a few details she didn’t want to think about. Her husband had some problems.
That night Loretta told her husband that she wanted him to go to church with her. ‘No!’
‘Why? I know you believe in God.’ She answered.
Jake sat down and put his elbows on his knees. His head was bent down. ‘Loretta, the bible talks about the ten commandments. Right?’
‘You know the one where it says....’Thou shalt not kill? Well, I was a sharp shooter in the army. I was one of the best. I really don’t think God wants me.’
Loretta was speechless. She said a quick prayer and sat down a moment. Suddenly it came to her. ‘The bible talks a lot about King David in the bible too Jake. The bible says he was a man after God’s own heart but he was a soldier too. He killed tens of thousands. In fact, as I remember even before that Moses brought the Israelites out of bondage and as they entered the Promised Land they had to fight and take the land away from the inhabitants. That was a lot of killing.’
Jake thought about it for a bit. ‘Then why does it say ‘Thou shalt not kill’?
‘I don’t have all of the answers. But, it’s what is behind the killing I think God is talking about. If we take a life just out of malice. God looks at our heart motive. If we take a life to gain for ourselves or in revenge, that is wrong. But in time of war is a different thing. You were in the army to fight against Hitler’s army. Those who would kill all of the Jews for no other reason than because they were Jews. Also, you fought for our freedom. There is a difference.’
Jake listened but was not moved to go to church. ‘I don’t care if you go, but not me. I don’t want to talk about it.’
Loretta had covered more ground than she was aware of. She hugged her husband and said, 'Ok, for now.'
part 4The road to bitterness
‘I think this is a boy Jake!’ Loretta called as Jake walked in the door. He was tired from a long hot day at the factory. He strolled in and sat on the nearest chair to remove his shoes and socks.
‘That’s great Loretta! How do you know?’ He went to the ice box and pulled out a can of beer. He sat back on the soft couch and stretched his legs as he listened to his wife.
Loretta scooped Nellie up from the floor and sat down next to Jake. She began to play pat a cake with the two year old and then answered Jake. ‘This baby kicks like a prize fighter. Look at this bruise!’ she lifted her skirt to show him the bruise on her stomach.
Jake laughed and watched Nellie climb down from her mother’s lap. ‘Nellie will have company before long! What’s for supper? I could eat a horse!’
The smell of spaghetti sauce filled the air and something else. Nellie stood up leaning on Jake’s knee. ‘Pie, Pie’ she said.
‘Did mommy make pie today?’ Jake smiled as he recognized the scent of apples and cinnamon mingle with the spaghetti sauce. He sat back and relaxed as Loretta set the table. Jake had wondered how married life would suit him and nights like this made him glad he had married Loretta.
The apartment grew quiet after supper as Nellie was put to bed. Jake went downstairs to see his father. Loretta lost track of time as she hung out the laundry and did the dishes. Her pregnancy had made it hard for her to do a lot in the heat of the day. She’d begun doing her washing after supper and hanging it out to dry at night. That way, it would be dry after breakfast the next day.
A loud noise startled her suddenly. Robert and Jake were in another argument and a dish came flying out the window. A few moments later, Jake bounded up the stairs and slammed the door. Nellie woke up screaming and Loretta went to her.
‘Shut that brat up for pete’s sake!’ Jake yelled. Loretta could see that he was drunk. Her annoyance with the drinking several times a week came to a head.
After quieting her daughter, she decided to try to talk to Jake. He was in the bedroom getting ready for bed. The green wall paper with pink and white flowers was a gift from her neighbor John and Mary. She had no money for a new apartment but they had fixed up this one quite nice. The white chenile bedspread was tossed back.
‘Jake, you’re drunk! How much did you drink with you father and brother?’ Her hands were on her hips and she was staring down at him.
Jake had no idea how much beer he consumed and he was tired and angry. ‘I’ll drink whenever I feel like it and I don’t need you preaching at me either!’ he yelled at his wife.
The room was lit by a small lamp on a night stand next to the bed. Jake reached over and grabbed it from the stand. He then threw it across the room causing a loud crash as the light bulb shattered.
Loretta was disgusted and went to retrieve a broom. Jake was still in a fury when she returned. ‘When you are done cleaning that mess up, I’ll make you another one!’ He was seeing double at that time and his gait was unsteady. His sense of reason was gone. He did not know why he was angry, only that he was compelled to be angry.
As Loretta walked by, he grabbed her by the waist and threw her down on the bed. ‘There, how do you like having someone look down on you!’
The force of Jake’s shove was stronger than he realized. Loretta lay in a dazed state for a moment. Her abdomen had struck the bedpost first and then she had collapsed. Suddenly, she clutched her abdomen. She began to pant and sweat.
‘Answer me, damn it!’ Jake was weaving back and forth in a drunken state.
Loretta could see him and yet was in too much pain to speak. She could hear Nellie screaming as well. It seemed like it was in slow motion. Suddenly, she felt a wetness and knew that something was wrong.
The noise had awakened a neighbor and he began to knock on the door. Jake was confused, but made his way to the door. ‘Who are you?’ he asked.
‘I’m John, and I live next door. What’s going on here? It’s 3 a.m. and hey, what’s that?’
Loretta was screaming in pain. John walked past Jake and what he saw was horrifying. Loretta was panting and bleeding. ‘I’ll call an ambulance!’
Suddenly, Jake seemed to sober a bit. ‘What?’
‘I’m sorry man, I didn’t know your wife was having trouble. You don't have a phone do you? I’ll get the ambulance! I know you don’t have a phone.’ John was gone as quickly as he had entered the apartment. In what seemed like a few moments to Jake, Loretta was wheeled into the ambulance on a stretcher.
Though he was still in a daze, he had enough fresh air to help him sober up a bit. He lifted Nellie and took her to Loretta’s brother. The diner had just opened and he put the child in a high chair. When he explained the situation, Pete phoned his wife and got a sitter for Nellie.
Jake raced to the hospital. He still had on the same clothes from the night before but he never thought of it. He met the doctor in the hall. He put his hand on Jake’s shoulder. ‘I’m sorry Jake, she lost the boy.’
‘Loretta? How is Loretta?’ He stared at the doctor and when he didn’t answer right away Jake began to tremble.
‘Loretta is in shock right now. I think she will heal physically. You have to give her a day or two though Jake. She doesn’t want to see you.’
‘I’m her husband.’ He tried to push past the doctor.
Two orderlies and the doctor sat Jake in the nearest chair. ‘You are not allowed in that room right now. Go home, get some sleep and come back tonight Jake. I can smell the booze on you myself. You need to go home now.’
Jake’s mouth went dry and stood up. He was quite shaky but he walked to his car and sat there a while. He took a few deep breaths to get his strength. It was almost thirty minutes before he had the presence of mind to drive home. His father met him on the porch.
‘Jake?’ He had planned to apologize for asking about his time in the war. The previous night his father had asked what he did in the war and Jake had refused to tell him. This led to a argument as Robert was drunk and not thinking clearly. He’d taken a swing at his brother and Jake had suddenly gone violent. Martin was stunned to see the look in his son’s eye this morning.
Jake didn’t hear his father and began to walk up the stairs. Martin was hesitant but in the end he decided to go upstairs himself. The door was open and Jake was sitting on a chair leaning on his knees with his head in his hands.
Martin spoke quietly. ‘Son, are you all right?’
Jake looked up and Martin saw the tears streaming down his face. Jake’s face was pale and his eyes were blood shot. ‘Loretta and I had a fight. I pushed her. She lost our son. She doesn’t want to see me.’ He began to mumble then and Martin wasn’t sure what he’d said as his head went back down.
Martin encouraged his son to lie down and he went to find Robert. It was a long time before Jake woke up. When he did wake, his stomach rebelled and he went to his knees before the toilet. Jake knew that his life was forever changed. He sat on the floor of the bathroom and saw Loretta the day he met her. He saw her dancing. He closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the cold wall. The doctor’s words kept coming back to him. ‘she doesn’t want to see you.’
Slowly, he got up and went to the kitchen for a glass of water. Martin was sitting quietly with a cup of coffee. ‘I phoned the factory and you have three days off. You need it.’ Jake nodded and drank some water.
‘I went to see Loretta. She said it was an accident. She isn’t pressing charges against you Jake.’ Martin waited to see his son’s reaction.
‘Charges? Oh, of course…she could press charges! I could go to jail?’ He just stared at the wall for a while.
Martin reached over and touched his son’s arm. ‘Jake, she said it was an accident.’
‘Ok’ Jake whispered. He washed and dressed and went back to the hospital. He stood in the doorway of her room and looked in.
Loretta felt numb. There was no kicking and she knew her son was gone. The fact that he was in heaven did not relieve the pain in her heart. She looked up and saw Jake in the room.
Before she had time to think of what she would say, she screamed. ‘Get out! I don’t want you near me! Take your booze and your drunken family and get away from me! Don’t you see what you’ve done? Get out!’
Jake trembled and swallowed. He turned around and noticed a few nurses coming towards him. ‘It’s ok, I’m leaving.’ He said.
One of the nurses went to Loretta and the other nurse took him down the hall to an office. ‘ The doctor wants to speak to you sir.’ She said.
Jake sat down on rubbery legs and tried to compose himself. The doctor came in quietly and sat behind the desk. ‘I had hoped to see you before you went to see your wife Jake. I need to tell you a few things. The grief of losing the baby is overwhelming and I am so sorry. There is more to deal with though. Physically, your wife is now going through hormonal changes that will make her depressed and unbalanced in her thinking as well. She sees you as the enemy right now. Her thinking is very confused. I have prescribed something to help her sleep for a while. I will have her here for a few days.’
Jake listened to the doctor talk about hormonal and psychological difficulties his wife was going through. He didn’t understand it all but he sat quietly. When the doctor was finished, he asked a question. ‘She wants me, I mean doesn’t want me around.’
The doctor nodded. ‘She is angry, grieving, and too upset to know what she wants. Give her time.’
Jake went home and cleaned the apartment. He went to the diner and explained everything to his brother in law. Pete nodded and agreed to keep Nellie with him for a few weeks. ‘She’s no problem and the wife is enjoying her. You just relax and try to get on with things.’
Meanwhile, Loretta was laying in the hospital bed and her mind was consumed with one thing. Beer and alcohol had robbed her of her son. Jake had chosen to get drunk and then push her. She would never put up with a man who drank ever again. She now knew the danger of a drunken man. There was no reasoning with a man who drank. Her trust in Jake was gone. Suddenly, a cold reality settled over her. She hated Jake.
There was a gentle knock on the door and then Pastor Salks from her old church walked in. ‘Hello Loretta. I hope you remember me, I was the assistant pastor when I last saw you. I am now the Senior pastor of Church on the Rock. I’m so sorry for your loss. Is there anything I can do?’
Loretta was bitter and sarcastic too. ‘Can you raise the dead?’
Pastor Salks was used to this. He visited many sick and embittered grieving people. ‘No, but I know who can. There is a comforter who never leaves you Loretta.’
Loretta was impatient for him to leave. ‘I’m sorry Pastor, but you are barking up the wrong tree here. I know what the bible says. It’s not helping. See, my husband chose to get drunk and push me. Then, I hit something and lost my son. My marriage is a sham. I can’t forgive what he did. I don't want to. I just want to be left alone.’ Loretta clutched the blanket and turned her head toward the wall.
Pastor Salks prayed silently before answering. He had been given the entire story before seeing Loretta. It was his intention to try to speak to her about counseling. Her husband might be ready to talk now. ‘You are suffering a burden too heavy for you to bear alone. It can destroy you if you try. I know that time helps to heal. But, I pray that you will ask God to give you a forgiving heart. Holding on to the bitterness will only give you a burden that you will suffer under. I will leave this little paper with you. If you ever need to talk Loretta, I am here for you.’
Loretta did not speak. She wanted to be left alone. Her brother had told her that he had Nellie. She was not worried about her. She only had time to be angry for now.
Flowers were delivered from family and Jake. She sent Jake’s away. Later, she rolled over in bed and snatched the piece of paper that the Pastor had left.
Matthew 18:21-22 ‘Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times? Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy seven times’
When we are in the darkness of the valley
When emotions want to rule our days
It's easy to take a road of misery
Rather than let God guide our way
A change in direction
The road to joy is often covered in tears of agony
Christ is with us in the mountain tops and every low valley
The narrow road is the one to take, though few believe it's true
Joy in the Valley is not for someone else, it's there for me and you
A week had passed and still the sound of a high keening cry could be heard coming from the upstairs bedroom where Loretta lay on her side. She refused to be comforted by anyone. The rays of sunlight passed through the window and yet she remained in bed. Her daughter was still with family and Loretta had no reason to get up.
Jake was sitting at the table sipping a cold cup of coffee and wondering what to do next. His wife no longer would speak to him. His hand raked through his dark wavy hair in frustration. He too mourned the loss of their son. He had gone to Loretta on his knees and begged forgiveness and received none. "Get away from me" was all she would say.
It was time to leave for work and so he put his dish in the sink and silently left the apartment. He had plans to stop off at a local bar on the way home. He dreaded having to return home at all.
This went on for almost a month with no words being exchanged between the couple. When Loretta was well enough, she returned to her job as waitress. Her own brother took her aside one afternoon after the diner closed for the day.
“Sis, this can’t go on. You have lost weight to the point you look skeletal. I want you to think about getting help. That assistant pastor came by and I saw you talking to him. I know he’s offered to try to help. I think you need to go.” His hands were on Loretta’s shoulders and she was forced to look up at him.
“I don’t see the point.” She looked up at her brother’s tired worried face. “Ok Pete, I’ll go.”
The following evening found Loretta sitting in the study of her assistant Pastor. He held her hand and prayed before speaking anything at all.
“Loretta, can you tell me what you are feeling?”
“Dead, I just feel dead. Everything I wanted in life seems to turn sour. My first marriage was stolen, and now this one is ugly too. I’ve been beaten, lied to, and robbed of a son." Loretta's throat clenched and she could say no more.
Pastor Salks took her hand and prayed. "Lord, the word says you are the comforter. This sorrow is so deep. I pray for you to touch Loretta as she is grieving over her loss." He sat back and began to speak again to Loretta. "I understand your grief Loretta. So much to carry alone. I know the Lord never meant for you to carry so much pain. Perhaps talking about things might help. You can stop whenever you like though."
Loretta felt a calmness that hadn't been there before. She continued to speak. " My husband chooses to drink and spend our money on his bar friends. My life is just existing.”
Pastor Salks reached over and patted her shoulder. “Thank you for sharing. I know that wasn’t easy. Now, I wonder if you can tell me what your husband is like.”
The mahogany desk was neat and polished. Loretta stared at it rather than at Pastor Salks. “I was so lonely and devastated when I met him. I used to pray, really I did. Jake was like a breath of air to a suffocating world. He was tall, and well….he’s really handsome. Dark eyes, olive complexion, dark wavy hair and deep voice. Women follow him everywhere. I guess I was attracted to the package. He seemed to be fun too. He's a hard worker. He fixes things around the house, when he isn't breaking them. When he is sober he is quiet, yet likes to tease and is quite funny. He is also sensitive and has a big heart. He likes to help others. But, he has a horrific dark side. When he drinks he is violent, and doesn't care who he hits, or how much he breaks things. ”
“Did you know if he was a believer when you dated?”
Loretta looked up quick. “I didn’t ask.”
Pastor Salks let that sink in a moment before he spoke again. “Do you know what the bible says about dating and marriage?”
“What has this to do with me now?” Loretta was getting antsy.
The bible on Pastor Salks desk was opened and he turned the pages swiftly to 2 Corinthians 6:14 "This might give you some insight into how you and your husband are so different. ‘Do not be yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?’ “ You have a totally different foundation or set of values than your husband. God began a foundation of righteousness in you when you accepted Him into your life. You believe what the bible says, right?”
“Yes” Loretta said.
“Loretta, you told me that your husband chose to drink. That is true. In fact he’s made several wrong choices and it’s never all right for a man to beat his wife. But, do you see how you could have made some wrong choices as well?”
“Yes, I chose to marry him.”
The pastor sat back and steepled his fingers in front of his chest. “Well, I was thinking of something else. Did you think about Christ as you entered into your marriage?”
“How could I? Jake doesn’t exactly understand the faith. He did say he didn’t mind if I went to church though.”
“Was this after or before you married?”
Loretta remembered and spoke. “After.”
Pastor Salks knew how to proceed. “Loretta, the bible talks about submission in the book of Ephesians. However, a person who does not understand Christ wouldn’t have the foggiest notion what that means. In a marriage the husband and wife are to submit to each other. The husband is to love the wife as he loves his own body. Christ would be the center of the marriage. The pleasures of this world wouldn’t be a part of this sort of life. Did you portray what a Godly woman should be in front of Jake?”
“No, I guess not.”
“Do you remember what I said in the hospital? You are suffering a burden too heavy for you to bear. Part of that is your own guilt. I might have stuck a thorn to an open wound here, but I did it for you to see the first layer of pain. Do you understand?”
Loretta sat back and took a deep breath. “Hmm, it never dawned on me before but I guess I was looking for Jake to become my everything. I think I expected him to supply everything my heart desired emotionally. Whatever Jake did was ok, because he was Jake. But, I never thought this would happen. I completely put the Lord aside and worshipped Jake instead.”
Pastor Salks nodded his head. “You can see that, good. I must tell you though. No man, even a out standing man of the Church can take Christ’s place in a marriage. No one is perfect, and we serve a jealous God who says “I am God alone”. We won’t solve everything in one day Loretta, but do you know what you must do?”
Loretta nodded and Pastor Salks sat with her as she prayed. “Lord, forgive me for not even thinking of you when I rushed into this relationship with Jake. Be the center of my life from now on. I don’t know what to do next though. Guide me Lord.”
As Loretta sat up she looked over at the Pastor. “What does the bible say to do next?”
Pastor Salks went to a few scriptures to help her to know.
I Peter 3:2 “Likewise wives, be subject to your own husbands so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives when they see your respectful and pure conduct.”
Hebrews 13:4 “Let the marriage be held in honor among all and let the marriage bed be undefiled for God will judge the sexually immoral and the adulterous.
“Now, Loretta I want to be very clear about something. I know the church has led the way in speaking out against divorce. Yet this has given a wrong attitude to those who suffer under abuse. No where in the bible does it say that you are to live with an abusive husband. Forgive yes, but to live with being beaten or even being spoken to in a abusive way is not God’s plan.”
“Psalm 11:5 says this ‘The Lord examines the righteous but the wicked and those who love violence his soul hates’ I am not telling you to leave Jake. I am telling you to not feel you have to stay with him to please God if Jake is abusing you.”
Loretta nodded her head. “At this point, I am not sure if I can even forgive. I’m feeling better after knowing God forgave me though.”
“If we can feel God’s forgiveness, we can also receive the power from Him to forgive others. If we willfully refuse to forgive though, than God will not forgive us. It will be another burden to carry with you.”
Pastor Salks gave her a slip of paper with the scriptures he had read to her. “This is so you can remind yourself. How about we meet next week?”
Loretta agreed and took the piece of paper and put it in her purse. As she was walking home, she thought of all that had been said. She saw one of the girls that she’d seen while out dancing a few months before as she walked down the street.
“Hey there Loretta, I sure had fun dancing with Jake last night. We pretty near closed the bar.”
Without a moment’s hesitation Loretta threw a right hook which connected with the girls jaw. As she lay sprawled out on the pavement, Loretta said…’You ever come near my husband again I’ll rearrange your face. You hear me?’
“Yes, yeah sure!” The girl got up slowly and went away quickly. The news spread later that Loretta had floored Matilda Gailor. The girl always crossed the street whenever she saw Loretta from then on.
Loretta laughed to herself as she walked home. “Well Lord, I know you don’t like violence but I’m not quite there yet.”
She didn’t realize that Jake was getting a haircut and saw the confrontation in the window of the barber shop across the street. “Whoa, Loretta seems to be rising from the ashes!”
He had no idea of what he’d said.
Later as Loretta went over the scriptures she found one that the Pastor hadn’t read.
I Corinthians 7:10-15
“To the rest I say [I ,not the Lord] that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Other wise your children would be unclean but as it is, they are holy. But if this unbelieving partner separates let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace”
The horses race to find the finish
Blinders cover their eyes
Looking not to the right or even the left
Oh Lord, give blinders to mine
Loretta walked to the park and sat watching the ducks. Her mind swept to the past and then to the present. The last six months had captured so many emotions. She had known the joy of a love so encompassing for Jake. She thought about when she had found excitement and passion in a time of such despair. How could any of it had turned so ugly? Yet, in the deep recesses of her heart, she knew the pastor’s words rang true. More than that, the scriptures backed up his words.
For Loretta, it mattered little what anyone thought of her. If a word was backed up by actual scripture though, it meant a lot. She fumbled in her purse for the papers the pastor had given to her. She remembered what he’d said about the burden being too much for her to bear.
A cool wind blew and the paper drifted away from her fingers. Loretta sprung up and caught the papers just as her husband drove by on his way home from work. He did not see Loretta as he stopped at the red light. Loretta saw the profile of his face only. He looked tired and irritated. ‘I wonder if he’ll go straight home or drop off at the bar first.’ She thought.
So few words had been spoken between them. The scene from the night she lost the baby replayed over in her mind so often that she barely could go through the day without feeling the sense of loss. She was looking over the lake when the sun suddenly shone brightly. In the glare of the sun she saw the trees perfectly outlined against the sun. The colors were vivid and it seemed that there had been a fog before but there wasn’t. It was just that the illumination of the sun had brought out the stark reality of the scene before her.
She sat thinking of how the sun in the sky was much like the son of God. Jesus too illuminated the darkness. ‘Lord, help me see through your eyes. I can’t believe that my life is never going to get better than this. Show me the joy in this dark valley.’ When Loretta lowered her head she had a sudden vision. In her vision she saw Jake sitting in a dark room. He was staring and not moving.
‘I wonder if he mourns the loss.’ She thought to herself. The vision returned more clearly this time. Jake was indeed staring into space. Yet more details came into focus. His shoulders were slumped and his eyes were glazed over. No sound was in her vision but she somehow knew that God had showed her a vision of a man who mourned with no one who could comfort. God had shown her what she needed to do. The wall of hatred that had been sealed to keep her from Jake was cracked.
Loretta walked home on unsteady feet. She prayed and asked for help. ‘Let me love him through your eyes Lord. Show me my husband through your eyes. Put your words in my mouth. Protect me and guide me. I do not know if I can love him again. I need you Lord.’
The door was open when Loretta got home. Jake had stopped to buy a few bags of groceries. Loretta walked in just as he was going to close the door. They stood toe to toe and almost nose to nose. Jake backed up and let her pass.
Loretta looked at him closely for the first time in two months. His face was blotchy and his eyes red. His wavy hair was rumpled as if he’d passed his fingers through it several times. His white shirt was wrinkled as were his trousers. She reached out slowly and took his hand. ‘Thank you for buying groceries. Can I fix you some coffee?’
Jake wasn’t sure he had heard correctly. He stared at his wife for a second and then said ‘uh sure, ok’. Jake led the way to the kitchen. He began to empty the bags of groceries as Loretta perked some coffee.
Loretta watched as Jake pulled out a small ham steak, carrots and cabbage. ‘If you like, I can make a boiled dinner with that?’
Jake’s back was to her and he suddenly went still. She heard him let out a breath. ‘Loretta, what’s up?’ He thought she was going to ask for a divorce.
‘Come, sit down Jake. Please, I just want to talk.’ Loretta sat in her kitchen chair. Jake continued to put the food away and then took his coffee cup to the table.
‘I don’t do small talk, just spit it out. You want out?’ Jake’s fingers tightened on his coffee mug and Loretta saw the white knuckles.
Loretta shook her head. ‘Is that what you want Jake?’
‘Just what is it then?’ Jake ignored her question with his own.
His face was red and fierce but somehow Loretta saw him as the Lord saw him. He was a frightened man and he was hurting. He also was feeling defeated. This insight gave her the courage to reach over and take his hand.
‘We’ve gone through the worst pain that two people can have. I need your help and forgiveness to get through it. I want to give you mine. I know, you came to me a long time ago and I pushed you away. Am I too late to ask this of you now?’ Loretta waited for what seemed like an eternity.
Jake stared at his wife. ‘Is this real?’ he thought. He looked into her eyes. Loretta was a terrible liar, you could tell by her eyes. His heart was thumping and he could barely breathe let alone try to speak. He could tell she was being honest. He was undone. He tried to speak but only a whisper came out. ‘You forgive me?’
She nodded her head and reached over for his hand. He tried again to speak but his voice was hoarse. ‘I really wanted that baby.’
Loretta felt the Lord’s hand on her. ‘Come here Jake! Let me hold you!’
Jake got up slowly and stood in front of her chair. Suddenly he sank to his knees and buried his face in Loretta’s lap. Loud wracking sobs could be heard as Loretta held him. The mourning father held back nothing. Loretta comforted him as best she knew. When the sobs began to die down and tears finally stopped, Jake lifted his head and looked into his wife’s eyes.
The love that she thought had died was suddenly there again. She stroked Jake’s hair and kissed his forehead. His eyes held questions though and Loretta understood. ‘No, I don’t want to leave. I’m not sure how we’ll get through this but if either of us can ever survive…it will be ‘we’ and not ‘I’. Jake, I went to Pastor Salks and he gave me some wonderful counsel. I didn’t really want to hear it all because I wanted to blame you for everything. But, after that meeting I did some thinking and also I’ve asked God for help.’
Jake sniffed and got up to sit back in his chair. ‘You know I don’t know much about that stuff. But, I’m surprised that guy didn’t tell you to leave me. Aren’t I the devil’s spawn or something?’ Jake drank his cold coffee and waited.
‘No! We just don’t have the same understanding of the Almighty. I really didn’t show you what a Christian wife is, yet.’ She smiled as she sipped her cold coffee.
Jake went silent with dread. The word Christian conjured up pictures of ladies in flowered hats with dowdy dresses. They didn’t dance or have any fun. They definitely didn’t go to bars.
‘I want to be a better wife.’ Loretta said it quietly as she knew Jake’s opinions of church people. ‘I am not about to become a nun Jake. I will still dance, but I am not a drinker. You know that. My main concern here is to be the woman God created me to be. I want to be the perfect woman for you. With God’s help, I think I can improve. I want to ask you something. Do you feel you really have to drink?’
Jake was still not understanding. ‘I like you just fine now. No, I don’t have to drink. I like to. I can cut back though. Is it a great sin to have a glass of beer once in a while?’
Loretta had been ready for that. ‘No, but the bible says a drunkard will not enter heaven. I want you with me Jake. For eternity.’
‘Well, I don’t know what to say. I’ll try.’ He smiled at his wife for the first time in a long time. His eyes were still red and he looked like he hadn’t slept in months. But, he was a smiling mess as he sat across from Loretta. The smile erased lines on his face and reminded Loretta of the handsome man she once loved more than life. She still loved him, but now she loved him as a man and not an idol.
‘I’m glad. Look, how about if I fix supper while you go rest?’ Loretta watched as her husbands face showed a myriad of emotions.
He scratched the back of his head. ‘Well, I think I’ll go get cleaned up. You go ahead with supper.’ He got up to leave the table and then turned back around. Loretta knew his mind without the Lord’s help this time. He reached for her hand and pulled her up flush with his chest.
His arms reached around her waist and he buried his face in her hair. The couple stood quietly for quite a while. Loretta felt the stubble of his face and smelled the sweat from a day’s work. She was surprised that she loved every bit of it.
He in turn smelled a hint of ‘Evening in Paris’ perfume. He smelled the pine from the trees at the park. He smelled the fragrance of Loretta. He felt the simple joy of holding his wife.
Loretta’s throat caught and she was speechless as she felt her neck get wet with tears. A gruff voice whispered, ‘Loretta.’
Jake tugged at his wife’s waist and soon they were out of the kitchen. Loretta helped him out of his clothes as the tub was filling with water. He was a fine muscled long legged man with wide shoulders. His eyes never left his wife as he silently sat in the tub. She took the washcloth and washed his face first. ‘Do you know what the bible says about a married couple? Song of Solomon says in chapter 8:10 ‘I belong to my lover, and his desire is for me.’ Jake’s eyebrows went up and he smiled. Loretta found several verses to speak to her husband of as she bathed him.
‘Back in chapter five it says, ‘My lover is radiant and ruddy, outstanding among ten thousand. His head is purest gold; his hair is wavy and black as a raven. His eyes are like doves by the water streams washed in milk, mounted like jewels. His cheeks are like beds of spice yielding perfume. His lips are like lilies dripping with …’
She never got finish the verse as Jake grabbed for her and kissed her into silence. He rose from the bath and held her close. He was dripping wet but it didn’t occur to either of them. He carried her as if she weighed nothing and slipped her under the covers.
As he was kissing her neck he asked, ‘What else does that book say?’
With a shaky voice Loretta told him. ‘His lips are like lilies dripping with myrrh, His arms are rods of gold set with chrysolite. His body is like polished ivory decorated with sapphires. His legs are pillars of marble set on bases of pure gold. His appearance is like Lebanon choice as its cedars.’
‘hmmmm, well now that’s pretty nice Loretta! I’m not all that but let’s see what I can come up with.’ Jake’s hands made circles on his wife’s back and rolled her over so he was lying on top of her.
Loretta smiled and finished with ‘His mouth is sweetness itself; he is altogether lovely. This is my lover, this my friend…
'Though thorns appear to block my way
Still I will praise you and I will say
Your joy will be my strength and song
Yes, I will praise you all night long'
Loretta was in a euphoric state as she went through her workday. She smiled as she poured coffee and answered the locals routine teasing with a smile. She walked home after her shift was over and praised God for all that had transpired during the past few weeks. Jake had been coming home straight from work and they were enjoying their evenings together.
Today, Loretta noticed an old friend as she stood at her mailbox. ‘Well hello Loretta! I was hoping to run into you. Have you given anymore thought to taking our nursing course? We still have an opening and are in desparate need for someone such as you.’
Loretta remembered how happy she had been with the idea. ‘You know, I had put it on the back burner but perhaps now is the time to go and see about it. I’ll talk to my husband tonight. I’ll call you with my decision tomorrow. OK?’
The woman smiled and nodded her head. ‘Good, I can’t wait to hear from you. I know you will make a fine caregiver Loretta.’
That night as Loretta was bathing her daughter, she wondered what Jake would think of the idea. Nellie splashed in the sink as Loretta continued to bath her. Jake came in and sniffed the air.
‘I think I smell soap! Is that you Nellie?’ He bent over and tousled her hair as he kissed his wife. ‘I think I’ll go get out of these clothes. See you in a minute.’
Nellie grew tired after she was put into pajamas and soon she was off to sleep. The apartment was quiet. Jake sat on the couch reading his paper. ‘Jake, I ran into Bertha from the hospital today. She said they still have an opening for the nurse aide training course. What do you think of me trying it? It would mean more money.’
Jake put the paper down. ‘Well, more money could mean we can get out of this little apartment. Sounds good, what are you going to do with Nellie though? This would mean you would start out working 3-11 right?’
‘Oh, her baby sitter wouldn’t mind having her in the evenings. I all ready checked that out when I considered this last year. I could check again though.’ Loretta could feel herself getting excited. It had always been her dream to go into nursing.
Jake put his arm around Loretta. ‘Go ahead sweetheart! I know you want to.’
‘Really Jake? It might mean you being alone in the evenings for a while. I mean, once the course is over I could try to get a day shift.’ She looked over at him with sparkling hazel green eyes.
‘I want you to be happy Loretta! Go for it!’
The next day Loretta walked over to the hospital rather than going next door to borrow the telephone. ‘Just think, I might make enough money so we can afford our own phone.’ She knocked on the door of the director of nursing and Bertha opened the door.
‘Come in Loretta. I was waiting for your call. This is even better!’
‘Well, I would like to apply for that opening in the nursing training course. I talked it over last night with my husband and we agree this is something I should do.’ Loretta crossed her legs at the ankles and clutched her purse on her lap.
‘Good, well I will just go get the papers for you to sign then. I’ll be right back.’ Bertha rose from her desk and went into a room behind the office.
Loretta glanced around the office and took in the smell of antiseptic and other smells that you would term ‘hospital smells’. The desk had a black phone and several notebooks. The floor was white tile and the furniture was dark mahogany. Loretta was just reading the diplomas on the wall when Bertha returned with a manila folder.
For the next hour Bertha went over the course rules with Loretta. She would need a white uniform, regular stockings and white shoes. Her hair had to be off of her collar and nails had to be trimmed with no nail polish. Make was to be at a minimum. ‘We’re not here to entice the people. Why folks think nurses are sexy is beyond me. We usually have uniforms with spots from bedpan spills or vomit on our shoes. You’ll need a pair of scissors for removing dressings and I can get them for you. I have several pairs. Here is a list of the hours you will need to be here. It’s a twelve hour day for four days a week for four months. After that, you’ll be working swing shift to familiarize yourself with all facets of the facility. Have you had a tetanus shot?’
Loretta said no. Bertha told her to return the following day and she would issue her scissors and give her a tetanus shot. ‘Don’t I have to take a test first?’
Bertha laughed, ‘Of course, but you’ll pass it. You were a smart student when we went to school together. Don’t worry!’
Loretta was given a pencil and she sat at a nearby desk and began taking the entrance exam. Within thirty minutes she had finished it. She looked it over to make sure she didn’t miss any questions. ‘Well, I guess this is it.’ She handed Bertha the test.
‘Sit still, I’ll correct it and then you can go home without worrying.’ Bertha went over the test and made a few checkmarks. In five minutes she smiled at Loretta. ‘Just like I thought. You passed with flying colors. You just need to brush up on a few spelling errors but that’s no big deal. Welcome aboard! I’ll see you tomorrow.’
Loretta was elated as she went to the diner to tell her brother. ‘Oh sis! That is great! Looks like I have to hire that part time girl full time now! She’ll be happy. I’ll miss ya though!’ He picked up his sister and spun her around. ‘Just think, my sister is going back to school! I’m so proud of you!
After a few weeks of working twelve hour shifts, the novelty wore off but Loretta’s determination remained intact. She found that she missed Nellie’s bath times though. As she was bathing the patients she would engage them in conversation and she’d tell them about Nellie. Many patients asked her to bring the little girl in to see them.
Loretta learned quickly how assist the nurses and care for the patients. She enjoyed all parts of her job as it was an adventure for her. Turning and positioning patients, bathing them, changing dressings, feeding the patients and ambulating them became routine for her. She learned which patients were diabetics and which ones could not be trusted alone.
When the training course was over, her new routine began. Loretta worked one week days, the next week 3-11 and the next week 11-7 for a month. Jake began doing more housework to help out as Loretta found herself quite tired from the swing shift.
‘Don’t worry Loretta. I know how to do laundry and dishes. I’m going to be fine. Your brother said we could go over there some nights for supper too while your at the hospital. Nellie and I will survive.’
The long hours of training came to an end and Loretta gained her diploma. She had opted to work in the long term care section of the hospital. The opening for that part was on 3-11. Jake frowned but said it was all right.
Jake had begun to go downstairs and spend time with his father after he ate dinner at the diner. Some days he would take care of Nellie to cut down on baby sitting costs. He looked forward to Loretta’s days off. They would go for a drive and go on a picnic or catch a movie.
Loretta glowed when she brought her paycheck home. She had never made so much money. ‘Look Jake, I make more money than I ever did!’ Jake looked at the paystub and showed little emotion.
‘I’m proud of you.’ He said and walked away. Loretta enjoyed her life and came home with all sorts of stories for Jake. To her dismay, Jake wasn’t too interested in what she had to say. She figured he was tired.
One day on her day off she told Jake she wanted to go shopping. ‘I need some new clothes and I thought I’d buy you something too.’
Jake turned to her and yelled. ‘I don’t need you to buy me anything! Just because you make more money than me doesn’t change the fact that I take care of this family and not you!’
Loretta was speechless. She turned around to answer but was caught by the stench of dirty clothes and the sight of a pile of dirty dishes. ‘I guess I should stay home.’ She prayed silently for patience and strength as she began to clean the apartment.
Jake had been itching for an argument and grew angry when it was denied him. He grabbed his hat and went out the door and slammed it behind him. Loretta heard the tires squeal as he drove away. She continued to clean the apartment and by seven p.m., she sat down with Nellie.
It dawned on her that Jake was not coming home for supper. She began to think of what Jake had said before he left. ‘I never thought I was in charge. I thought we were in this together.’ As she cleaned up for the night and tucked her daughter into bed, she was reminded of what the pastor had said long ago. She and Jake had different mind sets. Their foundations were different. Her heart was filled with joy at learning a new trade and having the ability to give to their family. The learning had been difficult and she had been tired from the grueling hours. Yet, in the back of her mind she had stored away the joy of being able to do something for the family.
She lay awake in the dark wondering what Jake had thought. ‘He is jealous of my paycheck? He thinks I am looking down on him?’ Be with Jake tonight Lord, keep him safe. I will have to make sure he knows that I don’t. ‘ A spirit of peace came over Loretta as she lay there thinking of her many blessings. Her daughter was home and not in foster care, she had a chance of a new nursing career, she had food in the house, a roof over her head, she could see, speak , hear, understand and she could sleep in clean sheets.’ She fell asleep counting her blessings.
The following morning she woke up to find her husband laying next to her. She smiled at the wavy hair covering his eyes. She must have been too tired to hear his return. All of a sudden she felt nauseous. She got out of bed and barely made it to the toilet to be sick.
Slowly, she made it back to the bed. ‘Funny, I don’t feel sick. No temperature. ‘ Just then she thought of something else and began to laugh out loud. She had been so busy with her training and being wife and mother that she forgot she missed a few months of her menses.
She got out of bed and fixed coffee. When Jake got up, she offered a cup to him. He sat in his chair and was quiet. ‘Jake, I have to tell you something.’
Jake sat up and looked at his wife. ‘ok’
‘I do not want to fight over my paycheck. As far as I’m concerned I am just trying to help you. I really enjoy the work, though it is hard and tiring. But, I’m not competing with you. Plus there is something else.’ She waited to see what his reaction would be.
Jake just scratched his head. ‘ok’ He looked bored and his face was sober.
‘I think I might be pregnant.’
She was not prepared for his reaction. He grinned and his eyes lit up. ‘Really? Do you think so? I’ve been trying my best!’ he began to laugh. ‘Course, you might need to take a little leave of absence from the job.’
He reached over and kissed his wife. ‘Whatever works is fine. A baby! I’ll do it right this time, you’ll see! A baby! When is it due?’
Loretta began to laugh as well. ‘You know, I never thought about it. Just then little Nellie walked over to the table and put her head on her mother’s lap.’
‘Well, I will speak to Bertha as soon as I find out.’
Loretta sat on the wooden pew with little Nellie squirming next to her. She gave her daughter a pencil and let her make circles and scribbles on the back of an old envelope as she tried to listen to the sermon. Pastor Salks was speaking in a loud voice and telling the congregation to turn to Psalm 84.
“It’s fine to praise God when everything goes well in your life, but how loud do you offer up praise in the dark days? He’s the same God of the rain as he is the sunshine, same God of the righteous as the unrighteous, same God who gives and same God who takes away.”
Loretta thought on that for a moment before turning to the passage. “verse 5 is where I begin my sermon…” the pastor said.
“Blessed are those whose strength is in you, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage. As they pass through the valley of Baca..” The pastor stopped a moment. He paced back and forth on the pulpet reminding Loretta of a stallion too restless to remain at the starting gate. “I wonder if you know what Baca means? It means weeping! It is a desert time of struggles and trials as we pass through life on our way to meet God. They say the pilgrimage to the temple passed through the valley of Baca in bible days. I do not know if there really was a valley. But this I do know, we will someday pass through a valley of weeping as we make our way through this life. How will you respond to it will depend on your focus on the Almighty one. You can be blinded by the hurts, betrayals and millions of obstacles that Satan puts in your way or…you can look up in spite of your surroundings and praise God through it all. You see, we don’t need to always see where we are going if we see our way to let God guide us. If we can grab hold of Jesus, we can have joy no matter what is going on around us.”
Loretta felt a sudden rush inside her stomach. The child she carried was still, it wasn’t that. She felt like someone had thrown water at her. Loretta looked at little Nellie and found her asleep with her head next to Loretta’s side. Loretta knew that she had experienced something indescribable. She understood what the pastor had said. True, she had tried to pull herself up after the last year of suffering. Yet, she knew now that her joy would not be in anything but obeying the Lord.
Silently, she bowed her head and prayed. “Lord, I do not know what lies ahead. Just keep my eyes focused on how I am to respond. I will find my joy in you.” Loretta went home in a quiet peace of mind.
Jake helped out at home when he wasn’t working. Loretta continued to work until her sixth month of pregnancy. The pregnancy went along smoothly and by July, a healthy auburn haired girl was delivered. Grampa and Uncle Henry were beside themselves as the child was brought into the house. ‘Well, what did you name her?’ asked Grampa.
Loretta smiled as Jake explained. ‘Well, this child is going to be named after that race horse that one by a nose…’Vickie Dawn’ . Loretta explained something else. ‘I allowed him this chance to name the child because in truth, this baby is a Victory for us. Also, Dawn is a perfect way to announce a new beginning.
The men smiled as Loretta put the babe down into a bassinet. Soon, the neighbors and family all came in to see the infant. She slept through it all for a time, and then loudly announced when she’d had enough. Her fists went flying and a loud wail pierced the air. ‘she’s a fighter’ said her grandfather.
The house soon turned into a busy place with two little ones. Nellie enjoyed being big sister and Vickie followed Nellie with her eyes until she learned to move about. Nellie was more reserved than her younger boisterous sister. Loretta smiled as she saw Nellie become an instant babysitter at the age of six. ‘Where have these past years gone?’, she thought.
One evening as Loretta had just finished feeding the baby and tucking Nellie into bed, she heard a loud crash. Looking out the window, she was horrified to see her husband’s car had crashed into a tree just outside their driveway.
Martin and Henry ran out immediately as Loretta watched. Her first thought was that Jake had gone out and gotten drunk. He’d been staying away from bars, except for occasional Saturday nights. Tonight though, he was not drunk. He seemed in a fog as his father and brother helped him to Martins door.
Loretta went downstairs to see for herself. “I’m ok, I just got a little faint there and couldn’t stop myself from going out. I was just too tired from work is all.”
Martin’s face was pinched and Henry turned away. “Well, maybe you should take tomorrow off.” Loretta suggested.
Jake did agree to stay home for one day only. He returned back to work without further incident.
A few months later, Loretta left her two little ones with her father’s new housekeeper and went back to work. The schedule was hectic but her work was rewarding.
Everything was going well until Jake came home drunk a few weeks later. “They fired me for no good reason. They called it a ‘lay off’ but to me it’s the same thing. I’m fired!” Jake spent the evening downstairs with his father and later made his way up to his bed.
Loretta knew this was quite a blow for her husband. He considered himself the breadwinner of the family and had been upset that her paycheck was higher than his all ready. Now, her paycheck would be the only money coming in. Loretta went to the sink and prayed as she washed the plates. She then got her work clothes ironed for the next day.
Jake slept until 10 a.m. the next day. He told Loretta he was going to go look for work. Loretta prepared herself for a long day. She gave the children a bath and took the children downstairs to the babysitter. Grampa Martin was always glad to see them coming. ‘Bring that little bundle to me’ he said as his housekeeper took Nellie to the bus stop.
The days of Jake looking for work turned into nights. Some days he never bothered to come home. Loretta worried he had taken ill and had sent the police looking for him a few times. The answer came back, he was at a bar.
Christmas was just a few weeks away when Loretta received a knock on her door at 9 a.m. Loretta’s husband wasn’t home and she worried something had happened. She opened the door and was surprised to see a strange woman standing there. The woman had new shoes and a fancy dress on. She wore a black hat with a feather. One of the latest styles, Loretta realized. ‘I need to speak to you about Jake.’
‘What? Did something happen? Where is he?’ Loretta began to tremble.
‘Oh, he’s fine. He’s at my place sleeping. May I come in? This is a personal conversation.’
Loretta stepped aside and smelled strong cheap perfume as the woman walked by. Her black and white dress looked like it came from a fashion magazine. Her black patent leather heels and bag gleamed and Loretta noticed red nail polish completing the ensemble. ‘Looks like a hooker’ she thought.
The woman didn’t sit down. She took a cigarette out of her purse and lit it before asking if it was all right if she smoked. She put one hand on her hip cradling her hand bag and waved the cigarette around as she spoke. ‘My name is May, there is something you should know. Your husband wants to come live with me. You see, we’ve been dating. I know this is strange, but we are in love.’
Loretta’s head went into a spin. ‘Jake has a wife and children. Why didn’t he tell me himself? Get out of here!’ Loretta didn’t wait for any answer, she shoved the woman out the door and threw the coat down on the ground below.
Loretta didn’t go in to work that day. She sat on the couch and went between fits of rage and then tears. She shook and trembled. Martin came upstairs when the children weren’t brought down. He sat next to Loretta.
‘Honey, what is it?’ he slipped his arm around her and tried to comfort her.
Through tears and hysterics, Loretta relayed what had transpired to Martin. Her father in law’s face went pale. ‘Now, we need to wait until we hear Jake’s side of this Loretta. We can’t hang a man just because of one woman’s story.’
Martin decided to wait with Loretta for that day. He took the children downstairs and his housekeeper Marie, watched them. At 8 p.m. Jake walked through the door. He looked disheveled and his hair was a mess.
Martin could see that he wasn’t drunk. He went downstairs quietly.
Jake sat on the edge of a chair and rested his elbows on his knees. “Loretta, I know May came over here. But, she lied to you. I don’t want to go live with her.”
Loretta was tired and too upset to think well. The pastor’s sermon and how she felt after his sermon kept running through her mind. ‘Lord, how on earth am I supposed to respond to this?’ She remembered the grounds for divorce and one was adultery.
Jake went on as his wife did not say anything. ‘Look, I can’t find work and it’s been tearing at me. I went out to the bar just for a few drinks. May was just there. I don’t know how it happened, I didn’t plan it. It just did.’
Loretta felt the knives of betrayal flaying her soul. ‘So, you had a one night stand?’
Jake stared at his shoes. He took a deep breath. ‘No, we’ve been together a few times. You were always working and when you are home, you are always too busy for me.’
Loretta began to laugh. ‘Too busy for you? You stopped helping with the housework and so I had to do it. I’ve been working my tail off by myself. I told you that I am trying to get a day job. I wouldn’t even have taken this job if it meant messing up our relationship Jake! What have you done?’
Loretta was screaming and she knew it but could not stop. ‘You got laid off so you go have a few beers and grab the first dame that lays eyes on you? Not once, but a few times? I never would have known if May hadn’t come waltzing up to my door dressed like a hooker! Is that your type Jake? Some gal who wears feathers in her hat and high heel shoes. That the kind of gal that makes you feel more like a man? Well, go back to her! I don’t need you! Grab your junk and get out! I’m all done worrying about you!’
Jake stared at his wife and knew she wasn’t kidding. He got up and took a bundle of clothes and stuck them in a bag. Without a word, he breezed by his wife and descended the stairs. Martin met him near his car.
‘You really gonna give up a good woman and family so as to go after that dragon I saw prancing in here? Jake, have you lost your mind.’
Jake felt like the biggest loser of all time. ‘No, I finally got me a gal who can drink me under the table and party all night. She lives uptown in a swanky apartment. I’m sick of this, get out of my way!’
Martin looked at his son a minute. He could tell a liar when he saw one. ‘You want to come live with me, you can. But don’t lie to me boy! You made a mistake with stepping out with that witch, but don’t bury yourself in hell with her! My door is open son, you hear? You need time to calm down and think it out, you just know you’re welcome in my place.’
Jake blinked a minute and inhaled a lung full of air. He put his arms around his father and hugged him without speaking. He then slapped him on the back and moved away. ‘I’ll ummm, I’ll call you later this week.’ Jake said it without turning around.
Martin knew Jake was all ready regretting the dame. He stood in the driveway as Jake backed out the Buick.
After Jake left, Martin went back upstairs. He spent a quiet time with his daughter in law over some coffee. He was honest with Loretta about what he’d said to Jake. Loretta told him her side of the story too. ‘No matter what happens girl, I love you!’
‘I love you too Martin!’
Loretta sat with her eyes staring out at the stars until the sun came up the next morning. ‘So, the Valley of Baca….I don’t much care for it. Lord, I need to have enough strength and wisdom to know what to do next. I have two babies now and a stinker for a husband. But, I also have you. I know I’m gonna fall down a few times before this is over. Give me the strength to praise you.’
Blinded by the tears and anger I simply cannot pray
I sit before you without any words, for what else can I say?
You are the God of yesterday, and today You are God still
Give me strength to praise you right, go beyond my will
For I am angry and betrayed and want to unleash rage
I know that I can never speak when I am at this stage
Let me love him as you love, and not from this woman’s heart
For my heart is cold from this abuse, you know it from the start
But if I can only touch your face and feel power from on high
I know that I’ll live through it all, for you Lord, not just I
To get beyond the grief and sorrow and just look up to you
For I am far too weak to stand, I’ll just leave it all to you
Loretta found joy in the morning as she got up and stretched. She knew the days ahead were going to be difficult. But her joy did not rest on Jake returning or even if all things went well. No, her joy was the one she had spoken to all during the night. She was tired yet energized as she began her day. She was focused on a path that was not easy, but the right one for her.
It’s not fair someone can break your heart
Yet you love them with all the pieces
At the end of a teardrop, your face comes apart
You wipe them off, but still see the traces
Loretta stumbled over her words and sniffed back tears as she explained her situation to Pastor and Mrs. Salks. The couple sat silently and listened with a silent plea to God for help to guide the distraught woman.
‘I know I am to forgive, but how much can I take?’ Loretta asked. Red rimmed eyes gazed across the room. The Pastor and his wife lived in a small two bedroom home on Saratoga Lake. A small dock was attached to their land and they kept their boat there. The home was the inheritance of Mrs. Salk. Her family had been from the Putnam’s whom the Gideum Putnam hotel was named after. Though Mrs. Salk was from money, she was a humble person who did not see herself above anyone. Each winter one could see Mrs. Salk going into town with her homemade jam to give to the parishioners of their church.
An oval rug with rose colored flowers graced the hardwood floor in the sitting room where they were. Antique French furniture with cushions gave the room a homey look. A few end tables with brass lamps and a oil painting of Christ’s last supper rounded out the room. The hall boasted a book case where several bibles and English literature nestled on polished shelving.
Loretta saw very little of this as she had been to the home several times and the curiosity of the antiques had faded.
‘Loretta..’ began Mrs. Salk, ‘Forgiveness is something we have discussed many times. Do you remember us saying that forgiveness does not mean we accept what the other person has done as being ok. It simply lets go of the power of the hurt that the sin has caused. It sets two people free while being obedient to Christ at the same time.’
Pastor Salk spoke next. ‘Do you wish to end this marriage now Loretta?’
Loretta took a deep breath and stared at the lake through the window. The afternoon sun was glistening off the waves causing a façade of stars to seemingly dance on the waters. It made her think of her marriage. ‘Perhaps I should stop kidding myself. I can forgive the sin, but when one thing after another keeps happening…it’s a pattern isn’t it? He isn’t going to change and I have two little ones to think about now. ‘
The Pastor took a deep breath and let out a weary sigh. It was never his intention to try to facilitate a divorce. Yet, Jake seemed to be a threat to the fiber of this woman. Indeed, she would need help whether she stayed with him or not. It seemed unlikely that the pattern would change before the children were grown. ‘Let’s pray.’
‘Dear Father, we ask for your guidance and clear word as to how to proceed here. We pray for Jake Lord, and pray for a softening of his heart. We pray for help for practical things for him as well. Let a job come up for him. But Lord, show us how to protect these dear children and give Loretta peace of mind as well.’
Pastor and Mrs. Salk directed Loretta to a lawyer who attended their church. Loretta knew him and within the hour Mr. Davies was in the room with them.
Briefcase in hand, he sat down and expressed his heart to try to help in any way he could. ‘I wonder if I might suggest that I send the information to him by mail rather than you putting yourself in a position for a possible problem. I hear he has a temper.’
Pastor Salks nodded his head. ‘Under the circumstances we felt it best if Loretta took the small apartment behind the house that we keep for emergencies. I can get a few of the men together and get her moved in tonight if it’s all right with you Loretta. Martha will be glad for a chance to help out with the children I am sure.’
‘Just let me at them precious babies! Mrs. Salks grinned her approval.
Loretta was amazed to have the plans put together so easily. ‘Can I first go talk to my father in law? I think he deserves an explanation.’
Everyone agreed that it was a good idea for Loretta to go home and speak to Martin.
Loretta was dropped off by Pastor Salks and she went to Martin’s door to knock. ‘I need to talk Martin, can I come in?’
Martin could see the tense look and smiled. ‘Of course you can sweetheart! You know that!’
Martin’s housekeeper made coffee and the two sat. ‘I am going to be moving away for a short time. I am going to be living with the pastor for a while. Jake and I need some time to sort things out, but I don’t think it’s going to work out for us.’ Loretta’s voice trembles as she tried to voice the words.
A gentle hand touched her shoulder and she looked up to see the older woman behind her chair. ‘Martin and I figured something like this, didn’t we Martin?’
The older man nodded his head. ‘It’s not what I wanted. But, I thank you for coming to tell me yourself. Jake will be wild. You know, I should tell you something. He’s not shacked up with that May West look a like. He’s staying with Robert. Course, that’s just a hole in the ground rooming house. I offered for him to come here but he’s so bone headed.’
Loretta thanked Martin for the coffee and hugged her soon to be ex father in law. ‘I’ll keep in touch Martin. ‘
Loretta decided to not have the papers mailed. It seemed so cold despite all that they had been through. She had prayed and felt the Lord had a better plan. She phoned Jake and asked to meet him in the park.
The wind blew softly as Jake stood waiting for Loretta. He knew without a word what she was going to do. He didn’t know how to react though. He knew this wasn’t what he wanted. Yet, he’d made every wrong move. He decided as he waited under the pine trees, that he wouldn’t stop her from divorcing him.
Loretta stepped into the shade and said ‘Hello’.
Jake reached out instinctively and hugged her. ‘hi’ He stepped back and felt a bit awkward. There was no easy way to do this though.
‘Jake, I think we need to have a little space for a while.’ She wasn’t sure how to tell him. The two of them stood with their backs to the street and Jake moved to a park bench. Loretta followed suit.
‘I want to get a legal separation.’ She said.
Jake was taken back because he had assumed a divorce was the word he would hear. ‘Oh, I see. Well, I sort of figured that out when you moved out. What exactly will a legalized separation do?’
Loretta licked her upper lip as she always did when nervous. ‘This will cause me to handle things with a lawyer. I am planning to care for the children until we can decide what we want to do.’
‘I ALL READY KNOW WHAT I WANT TO DO!!’ Jake shouted. ‘I want you to get back home!’
Loretta jumped a bit but she didn’t cower in fear or get angry either. ‘I know. We seem to have a pattern going on here though Jake and I can’t go on this way. I love you Jake, and probably always will. But, I can’t handle the drinking and now other women too.’ Loretta opened her purse and took out the papers. ‘Jake, I could have had these sent to you, but that is so impersonal. In spite of it all, I really don’t want to isolate you like some enemy.’
Jake’s insides were twisting and he was ready to explode until he looked at his wife. She wasn’t hysterical or angry. He had no idea how these things were done. People didn’t get divorced and tell him the details. He remembered he had made a promise to himself not to stop her. Yet, everything in his nature fought to lash out and make her come home.
‘I’m not living with that woman you know. I never went back to her place. I found a job too. I’m a maintenance man at a hotel. ‘The Milestone Inn’. I’m not a bum you know.’
Loretta turned to him and touched his face. ‘Oh Jake, I know that. In fact, I’d still stick up for you if someone said otherwise. This isn’t about you working or not Jake. You know that. I can’t keep up this merry go round any more. One month we are so happy I am delirious, the next month something happens and you respond by getting plastered and sleeping with who knows what.’
Jake got up and began to pace. He pulled out a cigarette and lit it. He took a few drags and tried to calm himself down. ‘I made a mistake that night, well for a week or so. But, I am more than the sum total of my mistakes. What makes you think you can handle a job and take care of two kids all by yourself?’
Loretta didn’t want to answer but she did. ‘Jake, that is what I have been doing for the past few weeks. You spent your last paycheck at the bar after getting fired. You stopped helping me at home that same night. Look, this is going no where. If you won’t take the papers, I’ll just leave. ‘
Jake knew the taxi service was across the street and she’d take off no matter what he said. ‘Just answer me this. What does God do with guys like me? You know, I see you go to church and pray and all that. But, oh forget it.’ Jake wasn’t sure what he wanted to know and he wished he’d never asked the question. He took the envelope of papers and said, ‘I’ll sign them. ‘
Loretta was startled by his questions. ‘Jesus changes guys like you if you ask him for help. Otherwise, you are headed for eternal life in a place much worse than this. You see, there are some things about death that people don’t realize Jake. There is the physical death, the body dies. But there is a spiritual death too. Your soul does not die but goes on to either heaven or hell. Eternal death is spent in hell where there is unspeakable torture that you could not imagine. You have seen man’s torture in the war, but God’s plan for hell was for Satan. That kind of eternal death is worse than I know to tell you.’ Loretta realized that she had spoken more than she ever did about hell.
Jake turned around. ‘Fine, I’ll just have these mailed back to you.’ Loretta would have been surprised if she had seen how white Jake’s face had gone. He wondered if what she said was true.
That night he went to see his father. His wanted to go upstairs and see his family. Knowing that they were at the pastor’s house did not bode well with Jake.
‘Who does she think she is? For that matter, she’s my wife and I’ve a good mind to go and get her.’ He slumped in the chair and continued to rattle off all sorts of plans. In the end, he fell asleep on his father’s couch.
Martin removed his son’s shoes and covered him with a blanket. He wiped his hand over the back of his head. ‘What on earth am I going to do with this?’ He shrugged and made his way to his room.
That night Jake had a nightmare. It wasn’t like the dreams from the war. He was in a cave that was lined with red burning coals. His head hurt and he felt his head to find burning coals attached to his hair. He tried to remove them but they wouldn’t come off. He woke up with his father shaking him.
‘Jake!’ Jake sat up and was unable to speak about the dream. ‘I guess I had a nightmare. Sorry I woke you.’
His father noticed how pale his son was but said nothing. He offered a drink of water and went back to his bed.
A week later, Loretta got a phone call at work. ‘You need to come to the emergency room Loretta.’ Martin said. ‘Someone found Jake blacked out on a park bench. He wasn’t drunk.’
Loretta raced to the emergency room only to find Jake sitting up drinking a cup of water. He looked embarrassed to see her.
‘Dad, I told you not to call her.’ He spoke to Martin who was sitting next to him.
The room was blinding white and smelled of antiseptic. Loretta normally smelled the hospital and it never bothered her. Yet, seeing Jake in a bed made her queasy.
She walked over to see him closer.
‘Look, it’s nothing. Just go back to work, I’m sorry Dad called. We are separated now and you don’thave to play the wife role. I’m getting out in a few minutes.’ He stopped just long enough to sip the water.
Loretta noted that he looked pale but other than that, he seemed ok. ‘Well, I’ll be going then. You aren’t driving are you?’
Jake scowled. ‘I could if I wanted, but no Dr., my father has graciously offered to drive. I might be better off driving myself though, he is a rotten driver.’
Loretta prayed a quick prayer for wisdom. ‘Look, Jake I think you should be with someone for 24 hours. Why don’t I make some arrangements and meet you over home in a hour?’
‘No!’ Jake’s face went serious and he gave her a look that said there would be no argument.
She nodded silently and left. Suddenly their relationship changed yet another turn. It was one thing to be angry and betrayed. It was an odd feeling to know he needed her but refused her help. Yet, somehow she felt like she should be with him.
She asked the Lord for confirmation. She spoke to her supervisor and the woman was clear. ‘I’ll schedule someone else for tomorrow Loretta. You go on home and check his vital signs every few hours. Call me here, or Patty tonight if you have questions.
That night, Jake heard a faint knock and watched from the couch as his wife, or legally separated wife came through the door. His father had gone downstairs for the night. Jake had been having dizzy spells and wasn’t sure if he could get off the couch.
‘Well, look at you. Florence Nightmare! Thank God, I’m a little dizzy and well, how long can you stay?’ He then noticed the bag she had. He smiled. ‘Oh, Loretta!’ His head sank back on the pillow on the couch and he went back to sleep smiling.
Psalm 23:4 ‘Even though I walk in the Valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for you are with me….’
Loretta watched the moon's glow over a silent street on Broadway Avenue of Saratoga. She had covered Jake up with an afghan but he kept kicking it off. Finally, she smoothed a clean sheet over him and he seemed to be resting. His right foot escaped even the sheet and Loretta smiled. For this was how Jake always slept, one foot bare to the air. It was almost as if he was prepared to take off at a moment’s notice.
The soft green glow from her small alarm clock was the only light in the room. It reminded her that it was 2 a.m. The silence gave Loretta time to wonder.
‘Why did Jake pass out? What did he mean when he said he kept blacking out?’ Jake’s voice interrupted her thoughts.
‘Hi’ Jake wiped his hand over his mouth and blinked in the darkness. ‘Loretta?’
Loretta reached over and took his hand. ‘I’m here.’
Jake took a breath and squeezed her hand. ‘Did the doctor tell you anything?’
Loretta’s heart began to thud. ‘Well, no. I did question him but he didn’t tell me anything. ‘
‘That’s because I asked him not to. I wanted to tell you myself.’ Jake sat up slowly and took the glass of water Loretta offered him. He took a few sips of the water and set the glass down on the coffee table.
‘Loretta, what do you suppose folks will remember most about me? Will they remember Jake the rake, or Jake the snake? I was wondering if folks will just remember me drunk and busting things, or would they remember only the bad things I’ve done?’
Loretta grew restless with this line of thought. ‘Jake, I don’t think…’
Jake interrupted her. ‘No one knows how much evil I’ve actually done Loretta. I lay here and think, did I ever do anything worth anything? I don’t want you to answer. Just let me speak ok? You always see the best and I want to be truthful here. I’m scared Loretta.’
Jake sat back and rested his head against the couch where he’d been laying. Loretta remained silent.
‘Loretta, the doctor told me that the shrapnel in my brain might have dislodged somehow. I’ve been seeing double for a while. The past month, I’ve been too scared to take a drink very much. What if I get in an accident and it moves and kills me? But, I’ve passed out a few times and woke up wondering how long I was out. The V.A. hospital is covering my expenses. They are using some new techniques on me. But, I don’t know how long I can hold out like this.’
Loretta was astounded. Somehow, she’d expected Jake to live forever. ‘Jake, maybe you should be on disability and forget that new job.’
‘I want to work as long as I can. But, I don’t know how long that will be. Can you hand me one of those yellow pills over there?’ Jake took the bottle when Loretta handed it to him. In one movement he’d opened the top and gulped a pill down. The water sloshed as he put it down.
He looked over at Loretta in the dark. He could see her well with the moonlight coming in the window. ‘I’m so sorry Loretta. I’ve been horrible to you. You know, I’ve had a lot of women in my life. But, you are so different. I know the paperwork for our divorce is all set. But, do you think we could still be close?’
Loretta’s eyes sparkled as she fought to remain calm. She cleared her throat and said, ‘Love doesn’t always end when the divorce papers are finalized. I will never be far away. You will always own a piece of my heart Jake.’
‘I guess I won’t be going to heaven when I die.’ Jake had said the words so low that Loretta almost didn’t hear them.
She got up and sat beside Jake in the moonlit front room. ‘Jake, if you truly believe that Jesus is the son of God then you can ask him to take over your life right now. He is always leaning close to hear if you will call on Him. You once told me that you are not the sum total of all the mistakes you have made. That is true, in the end it won’t matter if I do all sorts of good things either. What will matter is if I asked Jesus to take over my life. Talk to him, with or without me. He will listen.’
That night, Loretta prayed aloud that Jesus would help Jake to understand. She silently prayed that she had said the right things too.
Before Loretta left him, she invited him to the pastor’s home for Thanksgiving dinner. Jake hugged her and sent her on her way. Thanksgiving was a month away.
The following week Loretta had decided to go back with Jake. Her mind was filled with thoughts of reconciliation. She scarcely heard the pastor when he talked about marriage counseling. ‘Oh, we don’t need that.’ She thought. She would overlook Jake’s bad habits of drinking now and then and his mood swings were understandable too. She had told him about salvation and he seemed to listen. She thought if Pastor Salk didn’t approve, then she’d just go to a different church. After all, it was her life.
Two days before Thanksgiving, Loretta got a phone call at work. Jake had been in an accident. He had apparently blacked out behind the wheel of is car. The car rolled over an embankment and he was at the V.A. hospital.
Loretta stood by his bed hardly recognizing him. He had bruises all over his body. He’d suffered internal injuries which caused him to vomit up copious amounts of blood. A nasal gastric tube was inserted down his nose. He had oxygen mask on. He opened his eyes briefly and tried to smile. At least, that is what Loretta believed. He suddenly looked at the ceiling and he was gone.
Loretta didn’t know how long she stood there. The nurses and doctors rushed in when the alarms went off but there was nothing they could do. Jake was dead.
The funeral was a blur and Loretta was in a state of shock for weeks. The pastor and his wife kept track of the children. Loretta's moods would swing from anger and despair, to clutching her bible and sitting in her rocking chair for hours. She expected every phone call to be Jake on the other end. Relatives came and went with shaking heads. Yet, in the end it was her children and the word of God which gave her the greatest comfort.
Loretta found comfort in this yet another valley. She was free to rededicate her life to Jesus, which she did. Each waking moment she talked to the Lord as if He was sitting next to her. In fact, He was. She learned that a wife can put no one in front of Jesus. Not even a husband.
She was 42 when she became a Christian counselor at her church. She didn’t go to college to get a degree in psychology. No, she used the word of God to be her teacher. The pastor backed her up as she led the women in her church. She counseled battered women, women who felt they NEEDED a man. Her message was simple. ‘With Jesus, you have all you need. His yoke is easy and His burden is light. He will give you the desires of your heart. Don’t look to any mere man to complete you. God is God alone.’
It gave Loretta great joy to watch her children grow and follow after God. One day, Nellie sat at the table with Loretta and opened up her bible. ‘John 12:24
‘I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.’
Nellie took a breath and spoke carefully. ‘Mom, I truly believe that dad was that seed. I do not think he minded being that seed that prompted you to go back full force into your faith. ‘
Loretta smiled at that thought. Later, when she was alone in her thoughts; the tears flowed unchecked. She would have loved to have had a second chance with Jake. But, God saw fit to take him away. The years had been hard raising her girls alone. Yet, she had never been truly alone. She smiled as she knew that the greatest joy came out of being in the lowest Valley.