The sun rose early in Clara’s apartment, not that it mattered, she’d been awake most of the night anyway. How dare the sun rise as though nothing was wrong? And, to add insult to injury, the alarm went off reminding her she had no reason to get out of bed, no reason for it to be beeping, no reason at all. She could hear Ringo stirring protesting that it was morning. Unlike every other weekday morning for the last five years, Clara did not get out of bed. She lay there, eyes closed, allowing the brightness of the sun to make warm streaks across her face. What am I gonna do? She groaned and turned her face into the pillow. She had no idea how long she laid there, but soon her stomach ached, reminding her it was time to eat. Reluctantly she made her way to the kitchen and pulled out bread along with peanut butter and jelly. No matter what else happened in her life, she could always count on a PB&J.
She carried her sandwich and water bottle over to the couch and opened her laptop. She was hoping there would be an email inviting her to a job interview. That’s how she would wrap up the story if she was telling it. The perfect ending. Girl gets dismissed, girl struggles in faith, God pulls through in nick of time, girl gives God the glory and life goes on to happy ending. The perfect Hallmark movie. But, that’s not how it unfolded in her real life. In her real life, she opened her email and found the internet bill was due. “Great,” she muttered to Ringo who’d joined her in the living room.
The day seemed unending. Clara never felt the need to change from her pajamas. She went to bed feeling like less of a person, and even more depressed. In thirty days I’ll have no place to live. The reoccurring thought felt like a gut punch. She’d never felt more helpless. As the darkness enclosed around her, she stumbled to bed knowing she’d never sleep. Instead, she’d cry into her pillow as she had for more nights than she could remember.
The countdown began the next morning, twenty nine days until eviction. Clara rehearsed a conversation with the Landlord over and over in her mind. She kept coming to the same conclusion, she was destined to be homeless. And jobless. And worthless. All the times she’d been told she would be successful, and that life would brim with opportunity felt like rotten fish she’d passed in a dumpster last week. They stunk. Adulthood was overrated. She wanted to go back to the days of play with no responsibility. Back when her biggest concern was a spelling test on Fridays.
Each day, like clockwork, she’d get up and check email, hoping to find some good news, a job lead, anything. She was down to twenty three days until eviction and her stress levels were beyond any she’d known. She couldn’t bear to pick up her beloved Bible, it made her angrier. God had brought people back from the literal dead and yet He wasn’t providing for her. What did that say about her? Was she not even worth the time it took to breathe hope into her current existence?
Twenty two days until eviction.
For reasons she couldn’t explain, Clara woke up feeling the need to walk. Until this morning she hadn’t wanted to go out. The only time she saw the sky was when Ringo needed to go to the bathroom or if one of them needed food. She pulled her hair back in a ponytail, tied her shoes, hooked the leash on Ringo’s collar and started for the door. She stopped cold in front of the plain brown piece of wood that stood between her and much needed fresh air. She put her hand on the knob but couldn’t move another muscle. What was wrong? Why was she frozen in place? It was then she realized, she’d been coping with fear by being angry. She was afraid. Terrified, actually. The world that once felt like a great adventure now felt scary and uncertain. Her mind began to swirl with thoughts, excuses, of why she didn’t need to go outside. Ringo barked and it shook her, she couldn’t let him down. He was so excited to go anywhere these days. “Okay, buddy, we’re going.” She steadied herself, took a deep breath, and opened the door. The hinges creaked and the smell of eggs cooking down the hall acted as proof that life was indeed, still happening.
It was getting cooler, fall was making its grand entrance. The city was a mixture of Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas decorations. Clara’s senses were overwhelmed as she walked. There were blinking lights, jack o lanterns, spider webs, Christmas trees and the smell of pumpkin spice. Normally, she’d complain about one holiday overshadowing another, but for some reason, today, it was okay. She needed the distraction of colors, lights and sounds. The sidewalk was a little more crowded than usual so she scooped up Ringo and carried him around the block and two streets over to a small dog park. Clara was relieved to see an empty bench across the park. She opened the rusty gate and set a squirming Ringo on the ground. He took off running as though he’d been cooped up for days. “What’s your hurry, boy? You act like you’ve been cooped up.” Then Clara smiled, even as her heart stung a little. Ringo had been cooped up. She couldn’t fault him for his show of pure joy. She wasted no time heading straight for the bench. She could hear Ringo barking and playing with the other pups as she sat down and stared off into nowhere. Her mind was always wandering these days. Nothing made sense and she was tired of trying to make sense out of it.
Clara sat with her head down, glancing up once in a while to make sure Ringo was still contented to play. She didn’t even notice someone had sat beside her until he broke the silence. “Which one is yours?” She was startled and it showed. “I am so sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you. Please forgive me” Clara brushed an unruly piece of hair out of her face and nodded. She had no intention of striking up a conversation with a perfect stranger in the middle of a dog park. She looked down again, picking at her nails, hoping he’d take the hint.
He cleared his throat, not to be brushed aside, “which one is yours?” There was an awkward silence. “The small black one,” she replied without looking. This did nothing to clarify since half the dogs were black. Clara knew this and hoped her reluctance to say more might be enough to send him packing. He didn’t speak again but before she could be thankful Ringo came running, begging to be held. “I guess it’s that black one,” he said tersely in her direction. She picked up Ringo and made her way to the gate, never looking back. She didn’t have time nor energy to deal with an overly friendly stranger.
Ringo’s breath was heavy in her face and the cool air of fall whipped at her pony tail. “Look at you breathing hard, little one, you must’ve had so much fun.” He licked her face in agreement. “Let’s get some groceries, boy.” Clara spoke quietly to him and headed away from the park. Right then her phone rang, and she was quite certain she looked like a circus act trying to dig it from her purse while holding tightly to Ringo. Finally, when she could see the screen, she let it fall back into the abyss of her bag. She was feeling accosted by well-meaning people today, Laura would have to leave a message.
“A thousand may fall at your side, and ten thousand at your right hand,
but it shall not come near you.” Psalm 91:7