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Crushed Innocence

A Journey into Promise




Cheryl Welch






Copyright 2017 Cheryl Welch


All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including photo copying, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system now known or to be invented, without permission in writing from the publisher or the author.

All Scripture references, unless otherwise indicated, are from The Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

ISBN: 978-1-945975-53-0



Edited by Peter Lundell



Published by EA Books Publishing, a division of

Living Parables of Central Florida, Inc. a 501c3

EABooksPublishing.com

at Smashwords




Smashwords Edition License Notes


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Dedicated to

those who have

journeyed with me.





And to Jesus Christ

a constant companion and faithful guide.



Table of Contents



Acknowledgements

Chapter 1: The Dad I Never Had

Chapter 2: Life and Death on My Own

Chapter 3: Getting Lost, Getting Found

Chapter 4: Filling an Empty Hole

Chapter 5: Stepping Forward, Stepping Back

Chapter 6: Down and Up with God

Chapter 7: Diving into the Deep End in China

Chapter 8: No First Lady

Chapter 9: Going for the Long Haul

Chapter 10: Mother’s Day for Half a Year

Chapter 11: Peaks and Valleys

Chapter 12: Soaring

About the Author




Acknowledgements

With Love and Gratitude

My words are inadequate to express my appreciation for all those who have walked with me in the writing of this book.

For my dear friend Eva White, who kept daring me to write my story. You gave me courage. Thank you. I love you!

For Lisa Ravenhill and LiHua, my writing friends in China, whose encouragement helped birth this book.

For my prayer and financial supporters

For Matias and Samantha Arredondo, leaders of the School of Writing at University of the Nations. Thank you for critiquing the manuscript with such care and insight.

For my editor, Peter Lundell. Your expertise made this a better book. Thanks for your encouragement and for the privilege of working with you.

For Edna Rehkopf, who never stopped asking, “How’s your book going? How can I pray for you?” Thank you.

For my dear friend Heather Saville, and my sister’s Tammy Postill and Wendy McKague for being caregivers, as I recovered from a broken ankle, while writing this book. I love you!

To my early readers who encouraged me with wise and generous feedback. Thank you Eva and Rich White, Myrna and Carey Molberg, Nancy Dekker-Nairn, Mickey Nott, Esther Ho, Yvonne-Nicole Betancourt, and Sandra Tjart. Your input and suggestions made this a better book.

For treasured friends, near and far. You know who you are. Thank you for holding me in prayer.

For readers of Crushed Innocence: A Journey into Promise. May you know the nearness of God’s presence and the trustworthiness of his love as you read.

And to the Holy Spirit who patiently spurred me on and helped me overcome all my fears about why I couldn’t write this book.

“Let everything that has breath praise the LORD.” (Psalm 150:6)

Chapter One

The Dad I Never Had


Dad was sober. That made it a good day. I forgot the smell of alcohol, the yelling, and Mom’s endless pretending that things were fine. I was glad to forget because Dad was being nice. I could be a happy seven-year-old kid, which made this day special, a day I’ll always remember.

My little hand clasped in his, my father pulled me around the outdoor roller rink at the family campground where we were vacationing with my seven brothers and sisters. I was giddy with excitement, laughing and giggling, while the outdoor speakers blared, “Come on, Baby, Do the Locomotion.” We joined the line of skaters forming a writhing snake to do the whiplash. I put my hands on my dad’s hips. He reached back, grabbed my little hands and held on tight. Off we went. And I was flying, flying!

My usually cautious expression exploded into a radiant smile. Everything was going to be all right. Suddenly I was laughing so hard, I couldn’t hold on. I waved my hand in the air as I spun away to the rink’s edge, quickly followed by my dad. I snorted, trying to catch my breath, but the waves of laughter kept coming. I stared at him wide-eyed, not knowing what to expect. Would he be angry? Would he yell at me?

But his usually flushed face and angry eyes were drawn into a playful smile. A lock of dark hair flopped over his bushy eyebrows. His face glistened with sweat. He reached out his strong workingman’s hand and pulled me back onto the rink. Away we went.

With each surge of laughter, I released some of the tension that had built up between us. Perhaps my body could not contain it any longer. His laughter sent an odd joy through me. For a fleeting moment I felt the pleasure of what it was like to be with a real dad.

***

As I got older my dad’s drinking binges grew more frequent. Weekends were the worst. One Saturday after my swimming lesson, I came home to find my dad sitting alone in his reclining chair, a beer bottle in hand, watching the baseball game.

I cleared my throat, “Ah, hi, Dad,” I smiled shyly. “I passed my swimming test today.”

His eyes stayed silently fixed on the TV screen.

“Hey, you want to see my certificate?” I held it out. No response. “Dad, the instructor said I’m at the top of the class.”

“Am I supposed to give a crap?” He flicked his hand lazily to signal my departure, and mutely sucked his beer until it was gone.

I remained. Quieter now, “Maybe you can come watch me next Saturday. We’re having a competition.”

He brushed away my extended hand, his voice rising, “Do you think I have time for that? I work all week to put food on the table for you kids. Get someone else to go with you. Now get out of here! The guys are coming over, and I don’t need you getting in the way.” He cracked opened another bottle of beer.

My mom waved me into the other room. “Sherry, just leave him be,” she whispered.

“But Mom, don’t you care? Aren’t you going to do something?”

“Sherry, shut-up. That’s enough!”

I stomped off to the upstairs bedroom shared with my two sisters. It was our place of refuge, where we could leave the chaos. I stretched out on my bed for what seemed like hours, trying to shut out the noise of the lively bash that had started downstairs. Posters of the Jackson Five and Donny Osmond peered down from the light blue walls. A box of travel magazines and brochures sat on top of my comforter, which I’d pulled haphazardly over the unmade bed. I flipped through the pictures and daydreamed about escaping to those faraway lands.

I wanted to run away from everything I knew. I was frustrated that I couldn’t fix my dad’s drinking problem, and angry because my mom wouldn’t. My daydreams had me running away to live in one of the attractions at Disney World, and seeing Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. I daydreamed about living in a little house on which the sun shined most of the time. I’d spend a lot of time hanging out in that sun, swimming in the ocean, and building sandcastles on a white beach.

Few memories survived my childhood. Perhaps my mind mercifully shut out most of them. But impressed on my memory and a weekly highlight was visiting Grandma with my siblings. Old-style English fish and chips or Shake ‘N Bake chicken were the usual fare. Her buffet was filled with vintage chinaware she had brought over from England. Even though she was stone deaf, she was a brilliant lip reader. Nothing escaped her notice.

One time my brother cussed. Grandma scolded him, “Don’t you swear in my home!” He later said to us girls, “I bet Grandma isn’t really deaf. She’s probably been faking it all these years.”

Sometimes at Grandma’s we’d watch American Bandstand. I loved watching the dancers. It made me think of the times I watched Mom and Dad waltz at banquets or wedding receptions. Mom’s eyes shone as she placed her delicate hand in Dad’s; he placed his hand on her waist and whisked her onto the ballroom floor, where they gracefully twirled around as if they were professionals.

My grandma had the gift of smiling. Happy smiles creased laughter lines around her eyes and cheeks. Her face would light up with delight when she said, “A cup of tea, my dear. Let’s have tea.” It was always made in a china pot, milk in a little jug, with proper teacups and a plate of sugar-coated cookies.

When she planted kisses on my cheeks, warmth spread through me, and her saliva moistened my cheeks. I knew she loved me; and I loved her. I didn’t want to go home after those wonderful hours because I knew my dad would already be sloshed. No one was courageous enough to tell him to lay off the booze, or even to say when he’d had enough.

I felt that if my dad stopped drinking, everything would be okay—and it was up to my mom to do something.

One day I sat at the table, foot tapping up and down like some dumb windup toy. Mom stood at the stove, cooking.

“Mom, why does dad sit around and drink all the time?”

Her eyes moved with the alertness that comes from continual stress. I think she was waiting to see if someone was listening. With a jittery hand she held the frying pan.

“Sherry, your father works hard every day at his job. Having a few drinks is how he unwinds.”

“But Mom, why don’t you do something? Why don’t you make him stop?”

“Sherry, just be quiet. Why are you always trying to make trouble?”

A wave of nausea surged through me. I didn’t know if it was the smell of the greasy bacon in the frying pan or the blank look of denial on her face. My mother rarely showed emotion beyond fatigue.

I took in a deep, ragged breath before placing my folded hands on the table. Neither of us uttered a word. What was there to say? The nagging voice in the back of my mind spoke of nothing but doom ahead. But I kept my mouth shut. Mom did nothing, and Dad drank on.

***

One afternoon I tiptoed down the stairs to the bathroom. My dad and his drinking buddies from the Legion, where he often went after work, were sitting around the kitchen table. I could tell he was quite drunk now because the beer bottles had given way to liquor bottles.

I tried to avoid looking, but I couldn’t help glance in their direction as I snuck past the kitchen doorway. It was too late.

In his drunken stupor Dad slurred, “What are you staring at?”

I was mortified, frozen on the spot. My mind scattered like a scared rabbit.

“Just who do you think you are? You think you’re pretty damn smart, don’t you?”

Disgust, almost hatred, filled his face as it reddened with rage. “You’ll never make it in this world, you piece of junk.”

I soaked in the brutal laughter as his friends roared and egged him on. In front of everybody, I couldn’t believe he could be so cruel. Clinking ice cubes swirled the whiskey in his glass. My face went hot and red as a beetroot.

“Stupid. That’s what you are, good for nothing,” he snarled. With my eyes cast down, my legs wouldn’t move. I wanted the earth to open up and swallow me. I felt every pair of eyes on me like predatory beasts eager for a reaction.

My lips trembled and my dark lashes brimmed heavy with tears.

“Ah, poor Sherry can’t take it. Don’t be such a cry baby.”

I retreated to my empty bedroom and cried silently. But I vowed to myself that from that day on I’d never again let him see me cry.

The party moved from the kitchen to the living room and got into full swing. The needle on the record player scratched across the surface, then bounced until it dropped into a groove and blasted out a peppy song. Someone shook the tambourine. Then drum sticks on the drums. Boom-bang-boom-bang-smash-crash! My dad had good rhythm. He could make them sound as quiet as a tiptoe or as loud as thunder. Voices jabbered over the loud music, bouncing remarks back and forth like a kid’s rubber ball. The stuff they talked about seemed weird. “Is that your sister? No way, I thought only ugliness ran through your family.” Other things made no sense to me. My teachers at school never talked like that. I closed my bedroom door, grabbed two pillows, and covered my head to drown out the noise. When I awoke it was late afternoon, and downstairs was quiet. I assumed my dad’s friends had left. Most likely he had passed out, in his recliner, watching TV.

At dinner that evening my siblings and I sat in silence. Mom dutifully served the meal. My brother Barry elbowed me, pointed toward the window, and whispered, “Hey, Sherry look at that!” As soon as I turned my head, he snatched a piece of fried chicken from my plate. Barry was the joker in our family, always teasing and playing pranks on us. I stole a glance at my dad hoping he wasn’t watching. I constructed volcanoes from the mashed potatoes, anything to keep my eyes on the plate and not on his sardonic grin. The trick was to do everything right, be sweet, and smile.

***

One day a couple from the Salvation Army came to our home. They introduced themselves as Mr. and Mrs. Hewlett. Their round faces, rosy cheeks, and sparkling eyes felt cheerfully out of place in our dismal home.

They asked my parents if they could to take my three sisters and me to church. Dad slammed the door in their faces. They came back a second time. Dad wasn’t any friendlier. Then a third. Eventually Dad consented and waved them off. Maybe he realized it would get us out of his hair for a while.

The following Sunday my sisters and I arrived at the church—a feast for my senses: I heard organ music and smelled fresh flowers brought by the fussy old ladies who dusted even when there was none. I watched children chasing each other to their parents’ exasperation and the delight of lonely widows.

The children in the choir fidgeted and whispered through service. The old folks in the congregation flicked exasperated eyes toward them all through the sermon. But when they sang, all was forgiven. Their sweet voices burst through the open doorway into the streets. Later I joined the choir. If somebody asked us children why we sang so well, we’d answer that it was for Miss Blanchard’s chocolate cake. She baked one every week. After the choir gowns were collected, we each got a large slice.

Every Sunday, and sometimes Friday night, I went to their church. Often eight or more of us kids piled into the back of the Hewlett’s green station wagon. No seat belt laws in those days. After church my sisters and I would have lunch in their apartment or at another church member’s home. The sweet smiles from Mr. and Mrs. Hewlett warmed my cold heart, and the many hugs from the church members made me feel so loved.

From the corner of the church playground, I watched my Sunday school classmates play. How could they be happy when I felt so sad? A part of me wanted them to feel my pain too, so I wouldn’t be so lonely with it, but part of me was glad they couldn’t. It was private after all. My eyes suddenly swam with tears that I quickly scrubbed from my face.

At the front of the church sanctuary on the wall, a banner read: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” I recited that Bible verse over and over again.

I was ten years old when I received Jesus Christ as my Savior. This ushered me into a different world. At home I was so timid. I had to fight for attention amongst my siblings. One sister, three years younger, was popular and confident, so I tagged along with her. It was easy to hide behind her. But at church I was happy because people were kind and paid attention to me.

Unfortunately, the joy was squashed when my dad got a new job assignment, forcing us once again to move away. He worked for National Grocers. He’d set up a business, train staff, manage it for a while, and then move on. In my short life this was already our thirteenth move. The Hewletts tried to follow up with us, but because our number was unlisted, we lost contact with them.

That was the year my dad started ignoring me, after years of taunting and abuse. I was confused. And my mom was too busy raising eight children. She had little time to play with us or just sit and talk. I felt like the child nobody knew, nobody heard, nobody listened to. Some of my siblings may have felt the same way. The odd feeling inside me was familiar, but I didn’t know how to define it. I wanted to smile and laugh along with my friends, but something grabbed my heart, wanting to crush it to pieces. The new brightness inside of me was gobbled up by something dark. And I didn’t know what it was.

The wounds from my childhood caused me to believe I was unlovable and without intrinsic value. Whether these beliefs were conscious or unconscious, they formed the basis of my identity.

One night when I was twelve years old, curled on my bed in a fetal position, the urge to cry came and went. The sadness seemed to actually flow through my veins and deaden my mind like a poison to my spirit. It dulled and killed off other emotions until bleakness was the only survivor.

“It is my fault that Daddy doesn’t love me,” I whispered to myself.

Tears flowed unchecked down my cheeks and dripped from my chin. I felt completely alone. Then out of nowhere I heard a gentle voice speak to me: “Sherry, you are special to me. I love you. And one day you will understand why your life has been the way it has.”

I sat up on the edge of my bed, eyes wide as I looked around the room. No one was there. Who would speak to me? I didn’t know, but a small smile played on my lips.

An unusual calmness settled over me as I melted back into the pillow and drifted off to sleep. Peace like the sun’s warmth surrounded me. For a long time I wondered where this voice came from.

I longed to hear it again.

Chapter Two

Life and Death on My Own


My childhood sadness and depression festered into anger and bitterness. I longed to graduate from high school and get as far away from home as I could. If I couldn’t do that, I wanted to travel to the tourist destinations I’d always dreamed of.

One time I sat at the kitchen table, painting my younger sister’s fingernails as she practiced her multiplication tables. Dad and I got into a heated argument. My sister tried to look inconspicuous by hiding her eyes. Eye contact meant trouble. It meant getting the blame for something. Her hand shook so badly that I had to hold it down while I applied the nail polish. I’ll never forget how fearful she was.

It does something to you—growing up knowing how fragile peace is, that it can be shattered at whim by an angry person.

Occasionally my grandmother would come to our home for dinner. I looked forward to her visits, but I cringed when Dad leaned into her face and taunted her with a glass of whiskey. “Hey, want a little snort?” He moved his hand with less coordination than a concussed troll and slurred more than he spoke. “Whiiiissssskeeey.”

Grandma’s back stiffened and she pushed his arm away. “Allan, behave yourself now.”

He rose unsteadily and tilted his head as he took a swig of the amber liquid, then staggered toward the living room, and flopped onto the sofa. The very sight of him, drunk and despicable, churned up anger in me. Again.

My heart sank as I watched the play of emotions upon Grandma’s face. It crushed my already bruised spirit. She glanced over at Mom and shook her head in disgust.

I wondered if this is when the seed of shame got wedged inside of me.

When Grandma was in her seventies, she fell and broke her hip. During her time in hospital my dad never visited her. I argued with my parents to bring her home to stay with us. They ignored me. To spend more time with her, I became a volunteer candy striper at the hospital. I sat by her bed, and we played her favorite card game, euchre. Grandma always cheated, and I pretended not to notice.

Now when my dad was drunk and made me the brunt of his verbal abuse, I retaliated with the same. His temper was like TNT, and once the sparks started to fly off his tongue, I had little time to duck and cover. My family’s dysfunctional attitude demanded I stay quiet and wait out the storm, but I couldn’t help but spar with him. Like trained boxers we circled one another, my kid gloves came off, it was fighting time.

One day I was in the kitchen, washing dishes, when my dad taunted me. “Hey, four-eyes, turn around. You can’t even look at me, can you?”

I swung around when he jerked my ponytail. I wanted to cry but rage filled my belly. I felt my ears getting hot. I glared at him and spat out, “What did you say? How dare you!”

A sneer formed on his face, only adding fuel to my wrath.

“You think this is funny?” I snapped.

He leaned forward, his eyes bearing straight into mine, “Four-eyes, you’re such an idiot. Aren’t you?”

In a war of words of who could hurt the other one worse, we were at each other’s throats like savage dogs fighting for dominance.

My fists clenched, and burning fury hissed through my body like deathly poison, as I spewed out “When I finish school, I’m outta here. I’m gonna get my own place; make it a better home than this s---hole you provide. You’re not a Dad, you’re a loser!”

His face reddened, just a tone lighter than my own crimson.

Words flew from my mouth that I had previously never even thought, let alone said aloud. I knew instantly from the look in his eyes that I’d hit the mark. In that moment our relationship shattered like glass shards. And it would never be repaired again.

With an air of finality I tossed the dish rag onto the counter, turned on my heels, and walked away, as if I were going for a stroll in the park.

“I’ll show him I can make it in this world. I don’t need him,” I mumbled under my hot breath. That day I vowed I’d never let anyone hurt me again.

I wished I could flee my life. There were no chains on my legs, no locks on my door, and nobody to stop me from running. But I couldn’t. I had no money. So during high school years I found several part-time jobs. My parents told me if I could save up the money, I could go on the yearly school trip. I worked for my dad, stocking shelves at his store in town. I also had an after-school job at Mrs. Rogers’. She was an accountant and worked out of her home. I cleaned, cooked, and looked after her eight-year-old daughter. Mrs. Rogers paid me well. She was divorced and a closet alcoholic. I found empty and full liquor bottles hidden in different places in her bedroom. Sometimes she’d call me into her room and babble incoherently. Sometimes I’d pour her liquor down the kitchen sink.

I was terrified the day I arrived for work and found her lying in bed with her mouth wide open, eyes shut, and the bedsheet covered in blood. She had slit her wrist. I was only sixteen. I called my parents, and they phoned 911. Mrs. Rogers was hospitalized for two weeks, and her daughter stayed with my family. The whole thing really shook me up. Even though she offered me more money to stay on working for her, I decided to quit. Something about her gave me the creeps. During the last two years of high school I had a well-paying job working in the kitchen of a nursing home.

So during high school I saved up enough money to visit faraway places sooner than I had expected. I took three big trips to Spain, Rome, and Mexico. Exploring the world outside my postage-stamp existence sparked within me a hunger for adventure.

As stressed out as Mom was by my dad’s drinking and all the moving we had to do with his job, only once did I witness her anger. My dad said something that really upset her. She threw a duffel bag at him from across the kitchen and screamed, “Don’t you ever talk to me like that again!” My dad backed off. Inwardly I cheered her on. I wished she had told him off more often.

Because my dad worked for National Grocers, we never seemed to lack food. I remember our large freezer was always full of meat, and the fridge well stocked. And Mom was both thrifty and resourceful. She would regularly send us kids down to the bakery to collect the day-old bread and pastries that the owner left at the back door. I also trudged down to the meat market when they gave away liver.

Mom cut our hair and made our clothes. I often got hand-me-downs from my older sister and would complain, “Mom, why don’t I ever get anything new?” In an exasperated tone she’d say, “Sherry, you need to be content with the simple things in life.” She was right, but it took a long time for this to sink in.

I blamed my mom for not protecting us kids, and I resented her for not standing up to my dad. Our family had a ritual that whenever we left the house, we gave our parents a kiss good-bye. One time I was with two of my sisters, and as we parted they hugged and kissed my mom, but because of my resentment I walked by and went on my way. The hurt look on my mom’s face and my sisters’ stunned silence remains etched in my memory.

***

I left home at the age of eighteen. My first place was actually just a few blocks away from my parents, but it felt good to have a sense of control over my life. Many of my friends left home with their parents begging them to stay; mine showed banal indifference.

Years earlier I had imagined myself leaving home, mother in tears and father being stoic. I would pack a small car with oddly shaped bags and suitcases and head to college. Maybe that’s the way it might have been. But instead I left with my dad in the other room, pretending to watch a TV show, while my mother washed dishes. I could hear the plates clink over the canned laughter coming from the TV. There was no car or array of baggage, only cardboard boxes badly stuffed with hand-me-down clothes, macramé plant hangers I’d made in Girl Guides, bedding and towels from my mom, and a stack of travel brochures.

The only sound when I left was the door banging behind me, caught by the wind. Though accidental, I was glad for the noise. It punctuated my exit, the biggest full stop of my life. Now I had nothing but a blank page on which to write my life. I almost heard the ghost of my childhood whimper as I walked into the sharp breeze of late fall. I had grown up, and life shoved me forward.

I got a job at the Canadian Automobile Association, working as an assistant to the travel consultant. What was it with me and travel? I was trained to do trip-tiks—road maps for tourists, and helped them plan their vacation tours throughout North America. I wished I were the one going on those journeys. California was my dream destination.

At the age of twenty, I made the big move away from my family. I drove 3,300 kilometers to western Canada with a friend who went there for work. The economy was good, and jobs were plentiful. And I thought distance and space would help me forget the pain. That proved to be far from the truth. I was like a walking time bomb, angry at the world and anyone who looked at me the wrong way—or even parked the wrong way. One day I was searching for a parking spot at a crowded shopping mall and noticed a vehicle that had used up two spots. I jumped out of my car, tore off a poster board ad from a pillar and scribbled on the back in large letters a nasty note, threatening to report the driver, and stuck it on the front windshield.

The memory of my childhood prayer commitment to Jesus lay buried beneath all the garbage that had piled up in my heart. I was trying to figure out who I really was, or who I was supposed to be—all without God. As part of trying to carve out a new life and identity for myself, I read scores of self-help books and attended Adult Children of Alcoholics and Co-dependency Anonymous groups. The deep longing in my heart to be loved and accepted led me to some wrong places and wrong relationships.

***

I met Jay at a nightclub. He’d moved from Ottawa to Alberta to work on the oil rigs. He was lit up with a grin that boys wear when they have something mischievous planned. His sandy hair flopped over his brown eyes. Something in them felt so beautiful, so safe and warm. When our eyes locked I knew he was trying to make me feel special. He pinned me with a piercing look that made me forget my name. In that moment the rest of the people in the club seemed to cease existing. That first night we talked and talked, just the two of us. I felt he was a guy I could love forever.

When he later told me he loved me, I wanted it to mean he would defend me with his life, even if the odds were insurmountable. I wanted it to mean he would comfort me in the difficult and painful times, that he would dance and rejoice with me when times were good, that he’d never betray me or give up on me.

Six months later, at the age of twenty-two, our love was put to the test. I walked into the kitchen of my apartment toward Jay, who was visiting. Slowly lifting my eyes, I said, “Jay, I just came from seeing the doctor . . . and I found out I’m pregnant.”

He slid down off the kitchen counter top, moved towards me, and held my shoulders with his hands, “Cheryl, you know I care about you, but hey, I’m sorry, I can’t take on a responsibility like this. It’s too much.”

The words blew lightly out of his mouth like vapour but landed in my gut as shrapnel. I felt my insides tear and the blood drain from my face. I would have laughed, but he was deadly serious. I shook my head in disbelief, my brain scrambled to make sense of it.

The words from my father played in my head: “You’re good for nothing.”

My voice shook. “You’re kidding, right?” My eyes pleaded. “But what about us?” I couldn’t believe it. I thought he loved me. He was the only one who ever had.

“No, Cheryl, it’s over.” His eyes avoided mine. Then he slowly turned to go, shoulders sunken and hands in his pockets. Before I knew what I was doing, I stood in his way, and we locked eyes. The perfect distance for a kiss, but he shook his head. I could see my pain mirrored in his deep brown eyes.

“I guess it is.” I gulped down a sob and tried to keep my composure as he walked away. My heart broke to pieces, and my vision blurred in tears of regret. I desperately wished I could erase this dream-turned-nightmare and start over.

With each stride he took, my mind became more resolute, as the growing physical distance between us now became an emotional chasm. Closing my eyes and taking in a deep breath, I steeled myself to only think of my future from here on. My destiny lay squarely in my own hands.

I had never felt more alone in my life.

Desperate to know what to do, I asked a friend, who suggested I go to Planned Parenthood. I phoned the number.

“We can take care of this for you,” they said.

And the appointment was made, just like that. I went on my own. I didn’t want anyone to know. I walked through the office door, expecting to find a clean and welcoming waiting room. I thought I was in the wrong place. The dirty white walls were stark and bare, and the plastic-covered chairs were torn. The room had no fragrance of flowers, though some dried up remains sat in a container on the table. Two other women sat in the waiting room, avoiding eye contact. Anxiously, I sat in the cold waiting room for my name to be called.

“Cheryl,” the lady called out.

I walked through the door that would forever change my life. As I read the waiver, I hesitated.

The friendly-faced lady put her arm around my shoulder and said, “You’re doing the right thing.”

I signed my name to undergo a medical abortion. I was still early into my pregnancy, about eight weeks.

When I met with the Planned Parenthood counsellor, she said, “You are too young to have a baby. You’re single. You’re in college. You have a career ahead of you. And you are not emotionally or financially capable of raising a child.”

I was naive and vulnerable. She told me it was only a clump of tissue and assured me it would be a simple solution. Then I could go on with my life without the burden of a pregnancy.

Planned Parenthood set up everything: the flight to Seattle, the appointment at the abortion clinic, and the hotel reservation. Jay came by to give me the money for all the expenses. It was the last time I saw him. I didn’t realize that deep down all I wanted was for him to show me what was the right thing to do.

In the days before my flight, I continued my job as a waitress at the Westin Hotel in Edmonton, which is how I was putting myself through college. A young woman stood at the edge of the open lobby. She was tall and slim with long hair. She seemed to be watching me. After the last customer left, she approached the counter.

“Are you Cheryl Welch?”

“Yes,” I said.

“I’m Jay’s wife.”

What?!

“He left our daughter and me in Ottawa nine months ago to come out here to work on the oil rigs and make some fast money.”

I stared, speechless. My stomach felt like a brick.

“He told me about you and what happened. I’m glad it’s over between you two. I want my marriage to work, so I hope you don’t get any ideas about chasing after him.”

That scumbag! He’s married. He cheated on his wife. He used me.

I didn’t think she knew about my pregnancy, and I didn’t tell her. How could I? I actually felt sorry for her. I wondered how many other women he had fooled around with.

After that, I couldn’t get to Seattle fast enough. When I finally arrived, I was advised that there might be people outside the abortion clinic with signs but not to talk to them and to just run into the building. So on my way in I had tunnel vision to the door, even though no one was screaming or yelling at me. I didn’t even bat an eye while I completed the paperwork. I knew what I was doing, yet I chose to not let my emotions get in the way of what I needed to do.

I sat alone in the waiting room. In the awkward silence the wall clock’s tick, tick, tick sounded like a hammer. Ten more minutes. . . . My heart was heavy. I was afraid. Waiting to be called, I began to have second thoughts. What would happen if I got up and walked out? No one else was in the room.

Frantic with fear, I quickly stood and bumped my leg against the coffee table, knocking over a vase of dried-up flowers. I needed to talk to someone. I felt so weak, so small. Aside from the clock, all I could hear were the thoughts ricocheting through my head. What am I doing? Should I leave? If I leave, what will I do? Who will help me?

Helpless, I glanced down at the wilted flowers on the floor. The petals brown and crushed. The realization of the moment seeped in. Warm tears slowly streamed down my cheeks.

Then the nurse walked in.

“I—I don’t know if I want to go through with this,” I stammered.

Placing her hand lightly on my shoulder, she said, “You have no other choice. This is the right decision. It will be over in a few minutes.”

Every room and hall of that abortion clinic was dingy and musty. The nurse had me change into a gown. She took me down a dark hall. The smell made me sick. I could hear whimpering behind a door. I was shaking. Her arm was firm as she led me into a room with one small window. She gave me a sedative that made me feel like rubber.

When the doctor came in, I wanted to scream, “No!” But I couldn’t speak. In silent submission, I lay down on the hard table and put my legs in the stirrups, trying to fight back panic and tears, hoping Jay would valiantly burst through the door and stop it from happening. I turned my head toward the wall. How stupid to think he would really love someone like me. What a fool I’d been.

The doctor prepared me for surgery. He never looked me in the eyes. Never talked to me.

At one point I groggily looked up at the monitor and asked the nurse, “What is that?”

She held my hand and said, “It’s just a fetus.”

The cold steel instruments invaded me; then stabs of pain. I felt utterly powerless. The high-pitched sound of the suction machine started up. What a horrible noise.

A poster was discreetly stuck to the ceiling so that as I lay there, I wouldn’t have to think about what was happening to me. The image of that picture burned into my memory. My baby was taken from me while I looked at people sunbathing on a beach.

The bottle next to the bed filled with blood. The hum of the machine signaled that the vacuuming of my uterus was complete. The mangled remains of my child lay in a trash can.

After the abortion procedure, I lay in the recovery room, or the “holding area” as they called it. As the sedatives wore off, my emotions overcame me, and tears streamed down my face. I cried silently because I felt too ashamed to admit that I knew what I had done was wrong.

“No sex for two weeks,” was the last thing the nurse said to me.

And that was it.

I left that clinic with an empty belly, a hollow cavity once full of life. I could not stop weeping. Back in the hotel room I dozed fitfully. As my eyes adjusted to the dark, I looked up and saw in my mind’s eye an image of a perfectly formed baby curled in a ball, floating in the corner of the room. I didn’t know if it was the Valium they gave me or if I was hallucinating. The baby’s head was bent forward in a fetal position, with little feet and toes, and small hands with fingers reached out. My eyes glazed over as I stared at the little figure until it evaporated into thin air.

Nausea swirled unrestrained in my empty stomach. My heart broke yet again, and I felt as if my blood had thickened to tar as my heart struggled to keep a steady beat.

My nightmare did not end with the abortion. Things only got worse. The next day, on the return flight back to Canada, I stared at my reflection in the washroom mirror. “I hate you. You will never be able to fix this.


Chapter Three

Getting Lost, Getting Found


After the abortion I lost my job at the Westin Hotel for not showing up to work for several days. I was too depressed and couldn’t get out of bed. I didn’t tell them.

I soon found another waitressing job at a busy, smoke-filled restaurant. I was in my early twenties, paying for college. I rushed around with my pen and notebook, hurriedly taking orders. My manager liked me and put my name at the top of the list to be called in for overtime hours. I’d run home and catch a couple hours’ sleep between shifts. Not surprisingly, an adrenalin rush took over.

After I received my diploma as a rehabilitation worker, I got a job with Catholic Social Services in a group home. But I kept waitressing on the side, and the days blurred together.

On the weekend I usually did a forty-eight hour shift at another group home for mentally challenged adults. During the night shift I slept on the sofa. One night I woke but couldn’t get up. I fought to open my eyes. I knew where I was, but I couldn’t move. I also felt as if someone were in the room or lurking outside the window—it was just my imagination, but it seemed so real. I panicked. A strong current surged through my body. I wondered if maybe it was an earthquake, so I tried to force myself to roll off the sofa but couldn’t budge. The paralysis and sensations gradually subsided, but this kind of thing later happened two more times. Finally I dragged myself to see my doctor.

“Look what you’re doing to yourself!” he scolded. He said all my health issues—stomach ulcer, migraines, depression, insomnia, and nocturnal paralysis—were caused by my addiction to work. “You are working yourself to death. You need to stop immediately.”

But I ignored him.

One day at a department store I found myself wandering into the baby section. I stood there uncomfortably, shifting back and forth, avoiding the glances of other shoppers, my fingers stroking the plush fabric of baby blankets and sleepers. I had a strong urge to buy something. Then it dawned on me that my baby’s birthday would have been just a few days away.

The next day I sat on my couch, every muscle in me slouching. My arms and legs felt like lead weights. My eyes were fixed dead ahead onto the large maple tree in the yard. I sat like a potato all day long. As dusk fell I remained motionless, with no strength to move. I bit down on my lip, trying not to burst into tears. Crying wouldn’t help. It wouldn’t change anything. Sinking into the cushions, I almost felt that I’d become a part of them. I’m pathetic, and don’t even care. What’s the purpose of this life anyway?

I shut my eyes and imagined what it would be like if I went under water, and everything else somehow ceased to exist. All I’d see would be endless, dreamy water; all I’d hear would be the beating of my heart. I found myself wishing I could live my life that way, but if I stayed safely below the surface, my lungs would burn and crave oxygen—and bliss would become just another torment.

Every day became longer and harder to cope. Clothes and dishes went unwashed. Phone messages went unanswered.

I thought of suicide but was sure it wouldn’t work, and I honestly didn’t have the courage to try. Yet I would lie awake at night and will my heart to stop beating and my lungs to stop breathing. I waited and waited for my life to get better. Or to end.

Group home clients often had emotional outbursts, and we’d have to physically restrain them. One time my co-worker and I had to hold down a 240-pound Prader-Willi syndrome client. He knocked an open can of tomato sauce off the counter. It splattered onto my face and covered my eyeglasses. And my hands got badly scratched. Although I enjoyed the life skills training we did with these clients, the violence was nerve wracking. So not long after this incident I rethought my career direction.

***

Now in my mid-twenties, I went back to school to pursue a Bachelor of Education degree at the University of Alberta. One day in the library I was scanning a bookshelf. A man brushed by me.

“Why the sad eyes?” He smiled as he tilted his head sideways.

I managed a polite smile and walked back to the study table. A few minutes later he pulled out a chair and sat across from me. With his strong arched brows and deep brown eyes, he met my startled look with a charming grin. He wore a loose black silk shirt and trousers. The flecks of silver in his eyes and his pale skin made him devilishly handsome. My breath caught in my throat.

“Hi, I’m Ben,” he said confidently, looking straight at me with a playful smile drawn across his face, and staring deep into my eyes, “I think you need some cheering up. How about lunch?”

I couldn’t help but blush. It felt as if a hummingbird flitted in my stomach. But I didn’t want him to think I was an easy catch.

“Well, I don’t know. I’m kinda cramming for an exam.”

“Hmm . . . Well, you still have to eat, don’t you?” He reached out and touched my arm. “I’ll tell you what, how about if I tear myself away from you. And let you study. And we meet up in a few hours?”

My heart fluttered so that I could hardly breathe. Part of me wanted to say yes, and the other part of me told me to get a hold of myself. After all, why would this guy be interested in me when he could have someone with bigger breasts, a slimmer waistline, and more self-confidence? Our knees almost touched under the narrow table. I looked up from my book and let out a shaky sigh. In an instant he caught my eye, and before I could turn shyly away, a grin spread across his face. My flushed cheeks were a dead giveaway.

“Okay.” I nodded with a smile.

An hour lunch turned out to be the rest of the day. I found myself drawn in by his charm and humor. “Hey, that’s better,” he said, and would continue to say, whenever he got a smile from me.

Ben was working on his masters in psychology, but I didn’t know when he studied because I rarely saw him carrying books. In the following days I seemed to bump into him a lot on campus—in the library, the café, and the park I walked through on my way home. We began seriously dating, and spent many weekends at his parent’s lakefront cottage. His dad was a firefighter, and his mom a nurse. It felt good to be part of a normal family. I enjoyed being in the kitchen with his mom, doing meal preparation, while Ben and his dad relaxed outside on the lawn chairs. In the evening the four of us would sit in the sunroom, playing board games.

Six months into our relationship Ben proposed to me. I was graduating that year, and we decided to schedule the wedding the following summer, after he finished his thesis.

Upon completing my education degree, I was fortunate to get a job right away at a school in a rural community in central Alberta. We decided Ben would stay with me on weekends. One Friday night he roared into the driveway in his red pickup truck. After a few beers he started acting strangely, ranting and raving about something he didn’t like on the TV.


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