We awoke to local news reports: "Freezing rain has left the roads covered in ice and has caused more than 30 automobile accidents within the first hour of the morning commute." Really? We've waited 8 months to see Natalie and this is how the day begins? And then: "Four to five inches of snow is expected later today and will fall fast. If you are on the roads after 6pm, all bets are off."
As Lydia and I carefully gathered all of Natalie's Christmas gifts into a large rolling suitcase, Chappy stood nearby: "Don't worry, we'll get there today. We won't be able to visit with Nat as long as we planned, but we'll get there and we'll see her." We zipped the bag, began rolling it toward the door.....and so our journey began.
We had a two hour drive ahead of us into a town with just a handful more than 1800 inhabitants according to the latest census. We passed field after field blanketed in brand new cottony snow and glistening with ice. The two hour road trip brought back memories of another time and another place when Chappy and I made a two hour drive through ice and snow to visit a then three year old orphan called Natalia in Vidnoye Russia. I thought about the irony just before Chappy spoke it: "Oh my gosh, Mel, this reminds me of our trip to that run down orphanage." It was as if the Almighty planted the memory into our thoughts at the same moment. Surreal, yet perfect.
Our car ride was quiet for the most part, but sprinkled with bits of conversation about what we would say to Natalie or what we were expecting. The last time we saw her, she hated us....hoped to never see us again....and was determined to take her life and to ruin ours. Mental illness comes in many different forms. I can only speak of Natalie's. Hers showed itself as a character who was soft, gracious, and kind to those outside of our home, but as a cunning villain bent on utter destruction within our home. Her mental illness held us hostage with a furor and sliced us deep with razor sharp words, daily plunging into our gut and bleeding us out. The words and actions never come from the person, but from the disability. Unfortunately, that knowledge does not protect wounded souls or broken hearts.
My mother in law asked me not to take Lydia on the trip, and about half way to our destination, I began to wonder if she was right. She feared it would be too much for Lydia and worried about the consequences if the visit was not a good one. When I had mentioned her grandmother's concern a month earlier, Lydia stood her ground with such strength and resolve: "She's my sister. I walked through the whole break down with you day in and day out. I deserve to have this chance to see her for myself!" And so here she was with us now, a fifteen years old tucked into the backseat of a rented SUV. Her big chocolate brown eyes scanned the foreign landscape around her. I glanced back at her from time to time, trying to imagine what was going through her mind:
"Are you ok, Lydia?"
With a gentle nod and a bit of a shoulder shrug: "Yeh, I'm great!"
The words of a typical teenager. But I knew better, because I too battle the memory of what we endured those last months with Natalie. Seeing her sister would be facing much more than the rejection. For Lydia, a girl who has enough compassion to fill the deepest sea, this journey was about facing the enemy within Natalie who had stolen from her, lied to her, raged at her with the intensity of a wild fire, and even threatened to harm her while she slept.
On the one hand, she must have recalled the good times.....times when she and Natalie gently cradled their dolls as mothers, had tea at the imaginary royal table dressed as princesses, and of the hundreds of times they ran barefoot through the grass playing a never ending game of tag....giggling until tears streamed down their faces leaving trails of dirt as evidence of the great outdoors. But on the other hand, were the memories just as real of one who became as frightening as a monster. The one who caused her big brother to lock his bedroom door at night. The one who caused Lydia to sleep on the floor next to my bedside every night. The one who introduced fear into Lydia's world.
(continued tomorrow)----Thank you to all who have ordered The Loyalty Lock from Lydia. She is giving a portion of the proceeds to the therapeutic boarding school where Natalie is residing. The school is wanting to build a gym for their 20 female residents, and Lydia is determined to help make that happen. To order your Loyalty Lock, visit: http://www.loyaltylock.org/ They are $14.99 with a flat $2.00 shipping: