Bald Girl in the Dark, by Jane Marczewski
Bald Girl in the Dark, by Jane Marczewski
There is a Jamaican woman I know, with rivers on her face, who tells the story of God. In the very beginning, there was a vast and damp emptiness.
The world was without form, and void. Only darkness in every direction. Sounds a lot like my world. Maybe like yours.
Two days before my 29th birthday, I made a clay bowl on a potter’s wheel. I found that it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been at it, one wrong move can suddenly make a carefully crafted piece unrecognizable, thudding around like a flat tire. Then the only choice you’ve got is to take the clay off and start over.
At the time, I didn’t realize it was a metaphor. My whole world was about to lose form.
On New Years Eve, I was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Innumerable tumors were found throughout my lungs, liver, lymph nodes, ribs, and spine. I was on the living room floor leaning over the report, head in my hands. Six months to live. Two percent chance of survival.
Someone snapped her fingers, and two weeks had gone by. I was in Nashville on a porch swing under a groggy January sky. My One Great Love sat across from me, hood over his brow, and lit a cigarette. I sat on a porch swing he had put together for me one tipsy midnight, years ago. He shook his head and looked past me. I heard him say our marriage was ending. I heard myself say, “But I still love you.”
Each time I blinked, I was in a new time and place. I was in my best friend’s kitchen as she shaved my head. I was on a plane to California to see a doctor who could maybe save me. I was sobbing into my mother’s chest. I was violently heaving on the shower floor. I was glazed over in a wheelchair, eye-to-eye with people I’d never noticed before, but was now in a category with.
I was a stranger in my body, far from home, cradling my own bones. I was a bald girl in the dark. I laid awake more than once imagining what it would feel like to be the kind of girl that gets to be loved. I know someone like that. She has long dark hair that hangs over the small of her back. Her eyelashes move in slow motion. She bakes bread in her bright kitchen window. Her husband smiles when he says her name. Her mouth is rosy.
My big brother crawled into bed with me, and laid his arm over mine. It was like we were toddlers again in matching red pajamas. In the night, my lungs whiplashed me awake for air. Each time I sat up gasping, he would roll towards me and whisper, “I’m so sorry, Janie.”
I wrote a prayer that night: Oh, Great Writer of Stories, do you have space somewhere for a girl like me?
One afternoon, I got a letter from a New York Times best selling author, of whom I am a huge fan. She sent a short note and some chocolate, and when I opened it, I collapsed on the bed sobbing. I ate the entire chocolate bar horizontally as tears soaked my pillow. I don’t remember what the note said, I don’t remember what kind of chocolate it was. All I know is that it tasted like God was trying to tell me he was sorry. He wanted me to know that there was some sweetness left.
A line from my favorite poem says this:
“There’ll be days like this, my mama said,
When you open your hands to catch,
And wind up with only blisters and bruises.
. . .
When your boots fill with rain,
and you’ll be up to your knees in disappointment.
And those are the very days you have all the more reason to say thank you.
Because there’s nothing more beautiful
than the way the ocean refuses to stop kissing the shoreline,
no matter how many times it is sent away.”
I haven’t come as far as I’d like, in understanding the things that have happened this year. But here’s one thing I do know: When it comes to pain, God isn’t often in the business of taking it away. Instead, he adds to it. He is more of a giver than a taker. He doesn’t take away my darkness, he adds light. He doesn’t spare me of thirst, he brings water. He doesn’t cure my loneliness, he comes near. So why do we believe that when we are in pain, it must mean God is far?
In the beginning, there was immense, immeasurable emptiness. But God was drawn to it like a fog to the sea. He stretched out His spirit over the void, and He stayed. If the stories I’ve heard of Him are true, surely He is nearest of all, to me. To us.
You see, the Creator is still here, where He has always been, hovering over the emptiness.
I am still reeling, drenched in sorrow. I am still begging, bargaining, demanding, disappearing. And I guess that means I have all the more reason to say thank you, because God is drawing near to me.
No matter how many times He is sent away.
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