Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Second Time Around

I sit in worship service, enraptured, not by the sermon that I'm trying so diligently to focus on, but on the couple two rows ahead. Their body language illuminates the newness of "we", this Sabbath day marking eight in their life together as one instead of two.

It's not his shining face that captures my attention, although the glow is apparent even in his shy silence. It's not his arm wrapped tightly around her, pulling her close in physical oneness.

It's his left hand.

Unconsciously, he removes the platinum band his bride slipped on fourth finger in forever promise. It is mesmerizing, watching him continuously slip it off and on, off and on, sometimes twirling it 'round his fingers, other times trying it on another to see if it fits better there.

With each movement, the ring's newness catches the lights overhead, flashing out in Morse code that this circle of cold metal against warm human flesh just doesn't feel right.

I remember this.

The band. The union. It's still unfamiliar, comfortable ruts from years of togetherness not yet worn deep enough to make him feel naked without this symbol of eternity.

Watching them took me far away from the sermon, not to my wedding when I shyly slipped a circle of gold and joyfully spoke loving vows of for better or for worse, but to another day five years later when in the deepest pit of despair, I placed that band on his hand a second time.

There I was, sitting at my office desk, trying valiantly to grade student portfolios as I waited for the phone call from an attorney whose name I didn't even know a few weeks ago.

I had received my instructions--wait. Don't come. It could take hours. Just. Wait.

And so, I waited. At one point, I walked next door to my colleague's office, shut the door, and the solid woman she knew turned liquid as I spoke of horrors that had been unfolding in obscurity over the past few days.

My husband, a man whose constant faith is lived out in deed rather than in word only, whose heart knowledge of quiet grace has shamed me at times for my lack, who has not received so much as a traffic ticket since he was a teenager--this man was now accused of fraud after submitting falsified medical records that a client had dropped on his desk a few weeks before.

The law demanded that someone had to pay the price. With the client denying any knowledge of any wrongdoing to save herself from prison time, my husband was the only one left to blame. In a society that believes all lawyers are crooked anyway, it wasn't much of a leap.

He was led like a lamb to the slaughter. And there was nothing I could do but wait.

With our attorney by his side, my husband turned himself in at the State Police's headquarters. In a scene unimaginable to me still, his hands were cuffed behind his back before the officer placed him into the back of a police cruiser, husband's arms and hands numb by the time they reached the parish prison for "processing."

All the while, I waited for the call to come. Come for the other part of myself.

When it finally did, I found the interstate completely shut down due to a wreck. A thirty minute drive turned into an hour, then two.

Now, he waited for me...in the eyes of the law, a worthless, numbered criminal in orange jumpsuit to be housed in a single cell with other criminals behind ignorant bars of steel.

Once there, it was too much to process, too incomprehensible that this level of injustice was possible, to terrifying, this being on the wrong side of the razor wire. How could I be here?

Filling out the paperwork, signing whatever our attorney told me to sign, sitting on the well-worn wooden bench against the far wall, I tried not to make eye contact with the tattoos, the rough attire, the bad language flowing freely around me. I didn't belong here, me stupidly dressed for work in burgundy organza blouse, black pencil skirt, and heels while stories of being picked up for illicit drugs spun around me.

Our attorney acted more like a father figure than a paid lawyer, quietly telling me he wouldn't let me "back there" to see my husband, saying I didn't need to see him like that. I could have told him it didn't matter--the image is still stamped in my mind five years later. I would swear I did see even though I know I didn't.

The man who walked out of the prison that day was not the same man who had risen from my bed that morning. With a bag of his personal effects in hand, he opened the passenger door, a broken man who was just starting on this path that would break him again and again until he withered from a 42 to a 34 inch waist.

There were no words for this moment. In that gravel parking lot, engine running, we leaned across the center console, foreheads together, clinging to each other as one clings to a tree in the windy spirals of a hurricane, simply breathing in and out the ragged breaths of emotions that could find no expression through human words.

It was then that he pulled open the paper bag and removed his wallet and wedding ring. He just held it there, halting words speaking of being stripped of this part of himself.

As I had five years earlier before God and family, I took it once again, felt the gold's coolness in my palm. This time, though, the ring was less shiny, marked by time and life's battles.

For better, for worse. Once more, I placed on his hand the symbol of our covenant. This trial would break and bend us, but it would not divide what God had put together.

(A couple months ago, I asked husband permission to share this part of our life's story. He asked that I wait until after the event's "anniversary" in April. While we live in victory through Christ, each Spring brings its own sadness in reminders of these ever-present wounds, all we have lost...and all we have gained.)


  1. Heartbreaking and yet beautiful, Jennifer. We do both gain and lose, and all at the same moment.

  2. Dear Jennifer,
    Thanks for sharing this story.

    Of course I would have wanted more details, and as I read it, many questions come up hoping for answers.

    But what you have chosen to share with us is enough.

    I appreciate being a part of your story in the reading of it.

    That's the beauty of blog land. For those who choose to be a part of the process, the door is open. For those who'd rather not be involved, simply click the mouse and move on.

    But I want you to know there was pain in my heart as I read your words, but the love that sustained you both "for better of for worse"... fortunate indeed is a man who finds a wife who will stand by him through thick and thin. And blessed is a woman whose husband is willing to love her the way (in a small way, of course, but the willingness is what counts) Christ loved His church...

    Much love to you