Eleanor Kirk P.O. Box 249, Cottonwood, AZ, 86326 (928) 646-3572
October 24, 2004
Re: A Desperate Silence
A Desperate Silence is the story of Jillian Tasaki, a beautiful, talented Christian wife,
who knows that God hates divorce, but the day her eye hemorrhages from the stress of
living with a man who refuses to talk to her, she wrestles with the dilemma of how
strictly to interpret that prohibition.
Although her seemingly perfect family, youth leader husband, super achieving sons and
adopted daughter, is the envy of her small Hawaiian church, Jillian is alone, locked into a
desperate silence by an awful secret. When her husband suggests she see a Christian
therapist, she tells the counselor of the childhood molestation that left her feeling too
contaminated to relate to others, a human machine dedicated to pleasing God to gain his
As she loses the vision in one eye, Jillian‟s spiritual eyes are opened. Convinced by her
therapist that God already loves her just the way she is, she steps out of her machine
mode into a living relationship with her heavenly Father and invites the Holy Spirit into
her life. The tidy house on Lanai Street soon becomes a spiritual battlefield. Her husband
and son stop attending church, but after she rebukes the demon tormenting her adopted
daughter, the girl is baptized.
When Jillian‟s husband buys an apartment and moves out, she has abandoned her
perfectionism enough to understand that God actually makes provision for divorce.
Suitcase in hand, she bids farewell her island home and boards a jet bound for a life of
freedom in Christ.
This 110,000 word novel is complete and available on disk.
I am a freelance writer, high school teacher and member of the Sedona Christian Writers
Guild. Dr. Ronda Chervin published a few pages from this novel in the e-anthology
Images of Grace.
The tidy little house on Lanai Street hadn‟t experienced a peaceful evening in
weeks, but Jillian had thus far managed to hide her turmoil from its other inhabitants.
Tonight was different. If she had been a pressure cooker, the safety valve would have
blown ten minutes ago. She tried to muffle the moans she could no longer suppress as she
rocked back and forth on the cane-backed dining chair, long, slender fingers over her
eyes. A mug of raspberry tea cooled, forgotten on the corner of a bright yellow placemat
where a heavily underlined Bible lay open before her. She closed it gently. I can’t look
again -- not now! Why is this happening to me? Wrapping her arms protectively about
her queasy midsection, she rose and turned to stare out the open window. Across the
silent, tree-lined street, a sliver of moon cast a silver glow on the glassy waters of
Hawaii‟s Kaneohe Bay.
A tall, slender figure in a white nightgown, she tucked the shiny, chestnut curls
that fell to her shoulders behind her ears and held her breath to listen to the soft murmur
of her husband Don‟s snuffle. Sound carries well on the damp, ocean air, she thought. I
mustn’t make any noise that might awaken him or one of the children.
With a sigh of resignation she slumped into her chair, opened her Bible and
forced herself to look at Psalm 23. An anguished sob escaped the lips she had pressed so
tightly together. The lines still curve downward. That has to mean new veins are again
growing in the retina of my left eye. She put a protective hand over her stomach, which
felt as though she‟d just swallowed a good-sized rock. Oh God, I don’t want another
laser surgery that leaves another blind spot.
She dug her toes into the green shag carpet and stared at the mug of raspberry tea
she‟d made to calm her roiled stomach. She dipped a finger into the berry brown liquid—
lukewarm. Why do I keep waking up at 2:00 a.m.? Why do I feel so empty? I won’t be
facing an empty nest for years. Her eyes followed the familiar lines of the green and
yellow wallpaper. After twenty years in this house, she suddenly felt as though the walls
were closing in on her.
“What‟s the matter?”
Startled, she looked up to see Don squinting in the light, almond eyes mere slits
beneath a tousled, mass of wavy, jet-black hair. His baggy blue pajamas straightened
slightly as he pulled himself up to his full five foot one and three-quarters inches. She
trembled with hope. Would he listen?
“It‟s my eye.” Her voice sounded strangled. “I‟m seeing curved lines again.” He
stood silent as a statue in the moonlight, his dark, handsome face an inscrutable mask.
“Please…I might not feel so anxious if you‟d talk to me. This silence is killing me.”
The wrinkled pajamas twitched slightly. Then he turned, mumbling. “No, I don‟t
….” She couldn‟t hear the rest. He disappeared down the darkened hall, leaving her
alone. She shook her head to clear her thoughts. How silly of me to hope he’d listen. He
wouldn’t even listen to my secret when we were courting. An persistent thought wrestled
its way to center stage. My “perfect family” is an illusion. She let her eyes wander over
the kelly-green couch and bright yellow chairs in the next room as she wondered why
she‟d never realized that before. Scanning her memory for the first inklings of this all-
too-obvious fact, she realized she‟d had a suspicion fifteen years earlier, the day before
Jeremy was born. She let herself remember.
Cross-legged on the shag carpet in front of her mirrored closet doors, she had
watched her vast stomach ripple with the baby‟s exuberant movements as the sweet,
lemony smell of plumeria blossoms wafted in on a gentle breeze that fluffed the sheer
white curtains. Outside, a cardinal chirped insistently. Hawaii was a beautiful place to
live, and she‟d always known that Don, who grew up in the islands, would never be
happy anywhere else. She rocked gently back and forth as she spoke, more to the air than
the bulging woman in the mirror. “How was I to know that he‟d spend the time left over
from his busy teaching schedule working at the hospital?” She rubbed her ripe midsection
as her eyes filled with tears. Bowing her head over her squirming middle, she prayed,
“Lord, please help me. I can‟t make it by myself. I feel so alone…so depleted.”
Forcing herself from her reverie, Jillian walked to the sink and dumped the cold
tea. Yes, that was the first time I let myself think that something might be wrong. Plopping
the soggy teabag back into the cup, she added hot water. A faint smile curled her lips as
she remembered the warm joy that had filled her when she held Jeremy‟s warm, sturdy
body in her arms. She sipped the hot liquid, scarcely aware she was doing so. Fifteen
years was a long time to bottle up the things she needed to say, and tonight she felt as
though she might explode if she couldn‟t abandon the illusion of perfection long enough
to tell one human being of the ache in her heart, an ache so all-encompassing that she
could no longer paint a veneer of hope over it. God, have you abandoned me too, she
wondered as she set the empty cup gently down in the sink.
She sat down at the table determined to think, to find a way out of this monstrous
illusion. Two weeks earlier she‟d had a plan. Fingering the woven yellow placemat, she
forced herself to remember. Her plan had been born of pain. Not that anything had
happened. Nothing ever happened. Life went on as always, everyone else connected with
one another while she remained excruciatingly separate. She‟d waited patiently for Don
to find time for her, but before he finished one project, he started another. After years of
waiting, she determined to talk to him. Two weeks ago, when the boys had grabbed their
sleeping bags and headed up a nearby hill, she seized the moment.
Don had been sitting in the chair opposite hers, watching through the window as
the last of the sunset pinks and purples faded from the sky. She handed him a tall glass of
fresh-squeezed orange juice, and he twirled the tumbler in his small hands, playing a
bright, tinkling tune with the ice cubes.
She took a deep breath. “There‟s something I‟d like to discuss with you.”
She leaned forward, trying to sound nonchalant. “I was wondering how you‟d rate
our marriage on a scale of one to ten.”
The tinkling stopped abruptly. He stared at the table as wrinkles creased his
tanned forehead. Jillian held her breath as he laced his short, brown fingers. “About a
Her mind reeled. He knows! Maybe there’s hope. Urgency edged her words.
“Would you like to talk about what we could do to make it better?”
“No,” he said flatly. “I don‟t want to talk about it.”
Her heart turned to stone, but she couldn‟t give up, not yet. “I can understand that
you don‟t want to talk about it now, but maybe you could give me some idea of when we
could discuss it. In two weeks? A month? Or …?”
His eyes wandered to the window. “I said, „I don‟t want to talk about it.‟” He
emphasized each word without raising his voice. Don never raised his voice. The echo of
ice on glass resumed as he sipped the last of his juice, placed the empty tumbler in the
sink and walked away. Her long-awaited conversation was over—before it began! The
defeat stung bitterly. He’s locked me back in solitary confinement, she thought, but this
time there’s a small light in my cell, the realization that he knows the marriage is in
That night Jillian had curled up on the couch numbly clutching her Bible. Like a
thousand dollar vase blown over by the wind, her precious “Plan A” lay shattered. She
didn‟t have a “Plan B,” not yet. Opening her Bible to the book of Ephesians, she read,
“Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord, for the husband is
the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church.”
Next, she reached for The Christian Home, a small volume the church considered
a definitive marriage manual. “Wives should discuss their marital problems only with
God or, in dire need, a woman from the congregation,” she read. That would be fine if I
had a woman friend, but I don’t have any friend, unless you count the man who teaches
at the church school. “What do you want me to do, Lord?” she whispered. “I see only
two alternatives, divorce and death. The Bible says you hate divorce.” She waited for an
answer that didn‟t come. “All right then. Divorce is out of the question.”
The words of surrender that had sounded noble two weeks earlier now produced a
deep sense of horror. Invisible iron bands seemed to squeeze the breath from her lungs.
“Lord, help me,” she gasped; “I don‟t want to die! I‟ve got to talk to someone.”
A prominent psychologist who specialized in families instantly came to mind. She
had seen his film series, listened to his radio programs and read his books. He is a man,
she reasoned, but writing a letter is not the same as talking. With a sigh of relief she
snatched a packet of notebook paper from the file cabinet and placed several sheets
before her. “Dear Doctor….” As she wrote, her thoughts spewed out with the force of
molten lava fountaining into the night sky. To her amazement, the jumbled mass landed
on the paper neatly organized.
“My husband‟s love and respect seemed to have ended when I no longer brought
home a paycheck. Don‟s the only child of a doting mother who, though very poor, gladly
scrimped to give him every expensive toy he wanted, from amateur radio equipment to
flying lessons. Now he seems to expect the same from me. I cut the family‟s hair, bake
bread, cook from scratch, sew our clothes, make drapes, reupholster the furniture and buy
my clothes at the Goodwill.”
The faint scratch of pen on paper was strangely comforting. She felt a little less
alone with each page she filled. After the fourth page she stretching her arms and
indulged in a protracted yawn.
“He seems dissatisfied with my efforts,” she wrote, “even though the money I‟ve
saved has allowed him to travel to Alaska, Samoa, New York and California. He‟s
revived his interest in amateur radio and undertaken more expensive hobbies like
SCUBA diving and sailing. Although he‟s gladly paying slip fees for his twenty-five-foot
sailboat, there‟s no money for the load of dirt I want to fill in the back yard.” She put the
pen down to massage the kinks in her neck as a rooster crowed in the distance.
Compelled to finish, she picked it up in her cramped fingers.
“Don‟s mother Victoria selected our beautiful model home before we arrived in
Hawaii. She owns half of it, even though he‟s easily able to make the payments. I‟ve
painted the house several times. Don refuses to make repairs. When forced to fix
something, he acts resentful for days. He rarely mows the lawn and won‟t ask the boys to
do it. The kitchen steps have crumbled. The bathtub is rusted through. The yard‟s a
jungle. I haven‟t grumbled because I want to be submissive, Christian wife, but I seem to
be trapped in a desperate silence. What should I do?”
Done! She felt an anticipatory tingle as she signed her name, carefully creased the
pages of flowing script and slipped them into an envelope. Then she crept into bed beside
the snoring Don feeling felt calm enough to take a quick nap before the alarm went off
and another perfect day began for the “perfect family.”
Deftly knotting her favorite royal-blue scarf, Jillian pinned it securely to one
shoulder of her white blouse, tossed her reddish brown curls into a carefully orchestrated
jumble and fingered a few wispy bangs over her forehead. She scowled at her reflection
in the vanity mirror. Those black circles under my eyes make me look like a zombie. On
her way through the kitchen, she scooped her keys from the counter and donned her
Liz, chomping her way through a monstrous bowl of granola, called out, “Bye,
“Bye, yourself. Don‟t forget to lock the door when you leave.”
Jillian scarcely noticed the sparkling, silver waterfalls an early rain had splashed
into each crevice of the green velvet slopes of the Koolau Mountains. Distorted letters
leered at her from each sign she passed, unrelenting reminders of her dismal dilemma.
Soon the invisible iron bands squeezed her chest so tightly that her breath came in
shallow gasps. Emerging from the Pali Tunnel, she let her eyes wander from the Waikiki
shoreline, jagged with high-rises, to an inky blue horizon, as distant as her hopes. Just get
me through this day, Lord. I’m so tired.
The moment she began to climb the stairs at Hirakata University, the oppressive
tightness in her chest was gone. Taking an exuberant breath, she bounded up the second
short flight and fairly skipped into the office. A pudgy colleague looked up from the tiny
sign-in desk. “Wow, Jillian, that scarf is gorgeous. You look like a model in that outfit.”
Professor Tasaki sighed with relief. At work she could relax. She knew exactly what was
expected of her and accomplished it with excellence. Her Japanese students spoke
Spanish with flawless accents and wrote it almost as well as the English they‟d studied
for a decade.
Teacher mode carried her through the day, but as she drove to her emergency eye
appointment that afternoon, the iron bands again tightened across her chest. Panting, she
pushed open the mauve door of Dr. Liu‟s fourth-floor office and submitted to the familiar
routine: burning drops in both eyes followed an hour wait in a darkened cubicle. Every
dismal scenario she could imagine had paraded across the giant screen of her mind in
vivid Technicolor before the specialist, a slight middle-aged man in a white lab coat,
strode purposefully into the room and scrutinized her eyes in silence. “I‟ll need a
fluorescein angiogram before I can give you an accurate diagnosis. Get your pictures
taken today. We‟ll discuss the results tomorrow.” Here we go again.
In a back room, a diminutive Japanese nurse injected a yellow dye into a vein on
the back of Jillian‟s hand. “Look straight into the camera. Good! Now follow the black
arrow.” The shutter clicked repeatedly as Jillian tracked the pointer through blinding
flashes while the background morphed from fluorescent yellow to pink to green.
When the nurse finally turned off the camera, Jillian numbly groped her way to
the underground parking garage, where she slipped dark plastic lenses behind her
prescription sunglasses and started the car. The dazzling afternoon sunlight transformed
the four lanes of traffic that choked the one-way street into a dizzy dance of light and
shadow. Okay, Lord. You’re on. I have no idea what I’m seeing. Making it home turned
out to be the easy part. No matter how hard she tried, the only thing she could think about
the rest of that day and long into the night was what Dr. Liu might say. The thought of
another surgery turned her stomach to a slab of granite.
The next afternoon she held her breath as the harried specialist again shone a
powerful lamp into her dilated eyes.
“I‟m sorry to inform you of the growth of a new vein in the retina of your left
eye.” The hint of apology in his voice surprised her. “Unfortunately, this new vein is too
near your central vision to laser.” He flipped on the lights and traced an angry red line on
the florescein angiogram clipped over a lamp on his desk. “Any attempt to intervene
would cause blindness.” She swallowed dryly as he scribbled on her chart, mumbling,
“Histoplasmosis.” He swiveled to face her, his smooth face noncommittal. “Did you ever
live in Ohio?”
“Yes. . . for two years . . .seventh and eighth grade. Why?”
He shrugged. “We usually see this condition in people twice your age, that‟s all.
There‟s a virus in the Ohio River Valley that can cause it.” He placed the papers back in a
manila folder and stood up.
“What happens if you don’t operate?”
“The new vein may leak.” He said it as matter-of-factly as if he were reporting a
sports score. “I‟d like to see you once a month to monitor your condition.” Before she
could think of anything else to ask, he was gone.
No surgery. But this is worse. Or is it? Maybe God will heal my eye. She
stumbled to the parking garage and climbed into the car. On the seat lay the stamped and
addressed letter she had written to the prominent psychologist. No sense mailing it. He’s
much too busy to read it anyway. Let’s just concentrate on making it home.
Getting onto the Pali Highway at rush hour was tricky business under ideal
circumstances. On that blurry afternoon, she gripped the sweat-slick steering wheel with
white-knuckled hands as her dilated eyes scanned the creeping column of commuters.
Not a break for miles! But if I stop on the on-ramp, someone is sure to rear-end me. Her
right foot was reaching for the brake when a friendly driver waved her in front of him.
Whew! Ducking into the bumper-to-bumper traffic, she relaxed her grip on the steering
wheel, knees suddenly weak. Thank you, Jesus!
Pulling the visor down to block the sun‟s reflection in the chrome bumper of the
truck in front of her, she pondered the fact that a total stranger helped her the moment he
saw her need! What would life be like if I didn’t have to hide everything?
She drew in a sharp breath as a red sports car cut in front of her. Crazy driver!
Braking to reestablish a comfortable distance, she watched the little convertible execute a
series of audacious lane changes. That guy knows how to get what he wants. Tears filled
her eyes. Those nasty eye drops.
Hugging the right lane on the mountain curves, she recalled the gynecologist‟s
advice. “Relax and stop trying to be perfect, and those frightening extra heartbeats will
disappear.” Right! Since when is trying to be perfect bad? Kaneohe Bay sparkled in the
distance as Jillian‟s mind replayed the childhood tapes recorded in her mother‟s
exasperated voice. Jillian Marie, you have all the grace of a carthorse. I pity the poor
man that marries you. If you had the sense the good Lord gave a goose….
Jillian stepped on the brakes a little too hard and stopped abruptly at a traffic light
with a long, four-way pattern. Drumming her fingertips on the steering wheel, she
reviewed a recent summer when her mother Marilyn, a voluptuous, blue-eyed blond Don
brought to Hawaii every year. That year Marilyn had brought along her five-year-old
grandson, a keg of dynamite topped by luminous blue eyes and a sandy crew cut.
“Okay, Bobby. You can ride Liz‟s bicycle on the sidewalk,” she conceded after an
hour‟s wheedling. Minutes later, Bobby raced home with blood on his head, screaming
like a wounded rabbit, followed by the man whose car he‟d bashed after running a stop
sign. After the police left, Jillian suggested they establish some workable boundaries for
the rest of Bobby‟s visit.
Marilyn pulled a tissue from the pocket of the new lavender muumuu Jillian had
sewn and dabbed the corner of her eye. “You think your family is perfect! I‟m taking
Bobby home on the next available flight.”
As polite tap of the horn roused Jillian from her reverie, she turned the radio on. I
felt more worthless and ugly every day, she remembered. First, I couldn’t sleep. Then my
mind began to slow. She gripped the steering wheel with twice the necessary force as she
moved through the intersection. Don wouldn‟t talk, she remembered. When I left him a
note explaining that I felt as though I were being sucked into a black hole from which I
might never return, he just crawled into bed and turned out the light.
A tiny smile touched her lips as she remembered kneeling beside the bed, long
legs folded under her, face buried in the celery-colored spread. As Don snored, she
silently begged, O God, please don’t let me fall into that black hole! I’m afraid I’ll lose
you, and you’re all I’ve got.
The reply was instantaneous. “You‟ll have to let yourself feel something then.”
Silent tears soaked the bedspread. God hadn‟t forgotten her! She groped for a
tissue in the darkness as a long-forgotten decision came to mind. He can’t mean that
resolution I made when I was nine? Sure, I wanted to be a robot then, but that was a long
time ago, before I gave my heart to Jesus. Don snuffled in his sleep. “Please help me,
Lord,” she pleaded. “I don‟t want to be a robot anymore. Give me back my feelings.”
Her stomach churned with the memory of God‟s answer. I felt all right: pain and
fear, pain and fear, PAIN AND FEAR! That’s okay, God. You showed me something
important. Now I see that Don agrees with my mother. They both think I’m worthless.
Who wouldn’t want to be a robot?
As she pulled into the carport and switched off the engine, Jillian the Robot was
singing along with the radio. Christian music dulled the ever-present ache. She locked the
car and stepped into the house, still wearing the sunglasses she‟d need for several hours.
As she laid her purse and keys on the kitchen table, Liz, sprawled on the couch in tight
pink shorts and a rumpled orange T-shirt, looked up from the Reader’s Digest.
“Hi, Mom,” she chirped. “How come you‟re wearing sunglasses?”
“I went to the eye doctor.”
“How‟s your eye?” Liz persisted.
“It‟s fine,” Jillian lied, “Just fine.”
Pastor Shaun Kinsey laid his open Bible on the walnut pulpit as his deep-set eyes
searched the upturned faces of his congregation, well-to-do men in business suits seated
with their stylishly coifed wives. The lanky clergyman ran a bony hand through his
thinning brown hair as the drone of a lawnmower drifted in through the open windows.
“Some people here today are in crisis. They come to church week after week looking for
help they never find. Do you know who these hurting people are?”
Next to her husband in the third pew, Jillian inhaled the sweet fragrance of fresh-
cut grass as she turned to judge Don‟s reaction. His head drooped, eyes closed. A silver
thread of saliva hung from his parted lips to his purple paisley tie. Embarrassed, she
smoothed the skirt of her white polyester dress, one of two she considered good enough
for this sophisticated congregation. Luke, intent on the sermon, glanced at his father and
shrugged. Jeremy and Liz‟s had their heads buried in the papers they‟d received in youth
The wiry pastor jabbed an energetic finger toward his Bible. “The church that
ignores the plight of hurting members is slighting its mission. Jesus Christ ministered to
those in crisis, and this church would do well to follow his example.” The scratch of a
child‟s crayon intruded on the silence that followed this closing remark. After humming a
subdued amen to the closing prayer, the organ roared into a Bach fugue, rudely
awakening Don, who stumbled to his feet at the end of the long line of worshipers that
jammed the aisle. He fidgeted as each member shook the pastor‟s hand.
When the Tasakis finally reached the door, Pastor Kinsey grasped Jillian‟s hand
firmly. “May I speak to you for a moment?”
“Yes, of course.” She ignored Don‟s impatient stare. “Today‟s sermon was
The pastor cast a quick glance into the empty sanctuary, then shook hands with
the children before turning back to Jillian. “Enchanted Lakes recently became the first
church of this denomination to join the Stephen Ministries program. Three leaders have
already been trained on the mainland.” He pulled a paper from the pocket of his gray suit.
“We‟re in the process of handpicking a dozen people to serve as our first Stephen
ministers, and we‟d like you to be one of them.”
She gasped. “But I‟m not a member of Enchanted Lakes.”
“We understand that,” he said with an easy smile. “We‟ve selected one person
from each of our other churches on the windward side.”
“What exactly is a Stephen minister?” she wondered aloud, ignoring the fact that
Don stood, hands on hips, tapping his foot in disgust at the unexpected delay.
“A lay counselor trained to assist another person through a personal crisis.” The
pastor nodded toward the fellowship hall. “We‟ll meet here at the church four hours each
Sunday afternoon for ten weeks of training. Then each minister will be assigned a
member whose life has been devastated by a death, divorce or other crisis.” Pastor
Kinsey‟s nine-year-old daughter, tall and slender like her father, skipped up and stood
beside him, long blond hair shining in the noonday sun, and he draped a lanky arm across
her shoulders before continuing. “Your job is to walk through the crisis with that person.
Most of what we do is effective listening.”
Ignoring Don‟s tug at her sleeve, Jillian said wistfully, “What an exciting
opportunity to be of real service!” Too bad there’s not much hope of Don letting me
participate. With his theory that I should be paid for every hour of volunteer work, he’s
already livid that I’m on the school board.
“Each Stephen minister will meet weekly with the person they‟re helping,”
Pastor Kinsey was saying, “and we‟ll get together for training and supervisory sessions.”
Luke flashed a grin that showcased his perfect teeth. “Mom! That sounds great!
You‟d love it!” She glanced at Don‟s eloquent scowl.
Luke nudged her elbow. “Go ahead, Mom, sign up.”
Sensing that Don might hesitate to squelch his son‟s enthusiasm, Jillian turned a
sweet smile on her husband. “What do you say? Can I do it?”
“Oh, all right!” he growled. “Sign your name and let‟s go!”
“I guess I‟m in!”
Pastor Kinsey grinned, “Great! Training will begin in three weeks. I‟ll send you a
Don shooed his family into the car and muttered all the way home, but nothing
could stifle Jillian‟s elation at the near miraculous turn of events. She was going to be a
Stephen minister! What an irony that the one person who has no one to talk to should be
chosen to listen!
Three weeks later Pastor Kinsey, casually clad in a white polo shirt and khaki
trousers, shook hands with each of the candidates as they assembled around long tables in
the fellowship hall. “Welcome to the first Stephen Ministries training session. Mrs.
Sumida, Chloe and I will be serving as your leaders. In addition to the twelve trainees,
I‟ve invited Dr. Emery Winslow, a Marriage and Family therapist who‟s a member here
at Enchanted Lakes. He‟ll be keeping us on track.” Nodding at the blond woman seated
to Jillian‟s left, the pastor suggested they begin by introducing themselves.
Jillian wrote down the names of her classmates. They were an interesting mix.
Joan was about thirty-five, Jim nearer sixty-five, an energetic senior with a shaved head.
Several mousy, middle-aged Japanese and Filipino women were next. A smile curled
Jillian‟s lips as her eyes rested briefly on Emery Winslow, a stocky, gray-haired
gentleman taking copious notes on a yellow legal pad. As Pastor Kinsey handed each
person a royal blue loose-leaf binder bearing the white Stephen Ministries logo, Jillian
smiled, confident she would easily rise to the top of this new class.
Pastor Kinsey opened his manual. “On page five you‟ll find a list of emotions.
Each person has the right to experience the full range of his emotions, not just the
positive feelings, such as joy and peace, An important part of the Stephen minister‟s job
is assisting the other person to identify and process the full range of his or her emotions.”
Jillian stole a glance at the hefty redhead to her right. She was nodding! That’s not
right! The church book on parenting says mothers should smile all the time, no matter
how sick or sad they feel. She surveyed the room. No one else appeared troubled.
Pastor Kinsey held up a bright red book. “I‟ll be giving each of you a copy of
Your Perfect Right, a classic text in assertiveness, which we‟ll study in a few weeks.”
She squirmed. “The concept of expecting others to honor my rights sounds
unbiblical to me. Shouldn‟t Christians be more interested in turning the other cheek than
sticking up for their rights?”
Pastor Kinsey ambled to her table with the air of a confident cowboy about to
challenge a competitor to a shooting match. “When Jesus rode the donkey into Jerusalem,
the priests insisted he tell the children to be quiet. Did he?”
Her mouth felt dry. “No. He told the priests that if the children stopped shouting,
the rocks would cry out.”
He beamed. “Right! Jesus was being assertive, taking control of the situation.”
She nodded, cheeks burning. He’s right. I never thought of it that way. This class
was going to be harder than she‟d imagined. As the afternoon progressed, her mind raced
to sort the new ideas, many of which contradicted beliefs she‟d held for decades.
Three weeks into the training Pastor Kinsey distributed a questionnaire that
seemed almost scandalous to someone like Jillian. “Do your religious beliefs bring you
joy? Do they make a positive contribution to your life?” I don’t judge my beliefs, she
fumed inwardly. They judge me! But as she thought about the uncomfortable questions,
she realized that if she were to judge them, she‟d have to admit that they were more than
a little painful.
She was careful not to mention any perplexing new ideas to Don, who still wore
the same haircut he‟d had when they met. He‟d seemed grumpier than usual since Luke
left for college.
One afternoon in early September, Jillian was stirring freshly cut basil into the
spaghetti sauce when Don burst through the door with a scowl. “Something bizarre
happened to me on the way to work,” he said with obvious agitation. “When I got close
to the school, I could hardly breathe, and I was actually shaking! After fifteen years at
Pauahi, I thought I could handle anything, but having a woman chair the science
department!” He rubbed his neck. “She wears so much perfume the whole office smells
like Liberty House!”
Jillian shrugged. “Maybe she needs something to bolster her confidence.”
“I‟ll say! She must‟ve spent a year‟s salary on clothes. When a guy becomes
chairman, he looks exactly the same that day as he did the day before.” He dropped into
the nearest chair with a groan.
She set the cast iron skillet off the burner and turned to face him, her lips
puckered as though she weren‟t sure she should continue, but she took a deep breath and
plunged ahead. “Last week a psychologist who‟s sitting in on our Stephen Ministries‟
group showed an interesting videotape by Dr. Donald Joy on the relationship between
men and women. The film reminded me of your difficulty with the department chairman,
so I asked if Dr. Winslow could help you adapt to having a woman in a position of
authority over you.” A glint of hope flashed in Don‟s dark eyes. “What did he say?”
She and placed a business card on the table in front of him. “He said he could
teach you a few coping skills. Who knows? Maybe he can help you get your cholesterol
down to a safe level.” She prayed silently as Don eyed the card with suspicion. He picked
up the phone. The call lasted only a minute.
“I decided to go for the package deal,” he announced. “Five sessions. I start
Don was beaming when he got home the next afternoon. He pulled a large tin
funnel from the cupboard and held it over his head, small side down. “Dr. Winslow has a
wonderful way of explaining things,” he said. “He told me that people often take in
everything others say, but it‟s better to turn your funnel over and use it as a shield.” She
chuckled as he plunked the funnel down on his wavy black hair. Her oriental version of
the tin man from the Wizard of Oz grinned smugly. “That‟s what I‟m going to do at
Thank you, Jesus. He actually went to therapy.
Her joy was short lived. Don lasted three sessions before he decided he has all the
tools he needed to survive with the Wicked Witch as department head.
Jillian was driving to church a week later when a shimmering gray splotch
suddenly obscured a portion of the road. She forced herself to focus on the image from
her good eye as unavoidable questions intruded. What if I lose the vision in my left eye?
What if I lose the vision in my right eye too? What if…? The relentless questions
dominated that day and most of the night.
The next morning she was reaching for a cereal bowl when a sudden pressure
gripped her heart. Wobbly kneed, she stumbled to the couch, only to feel another
squeeze. I can’t sleep. My eye is hemorrhaging. I can hardly breathe. Now something’s
wrong with my heart.
At ten to five Don breezed in the door from the hospital. Spotting Jillian on the
couch, he halted his flight to the bedroom. “My mom will be here in a few minutes,” he
gasped, “and you‟re not dressed to go out to eat.”
“I can‟t get up. I‟ve been having adrenaline surges all day.”
He strode to the couch in his white lab coat and peered down at her as though she
were a specimen. “Dr. Winslow taught me to shout „Olé!‟ and step aside when the bull
charges instead of grabbing him by the horns. With a smug smile he handed her Dr.
Winslow‟s dog-eared business card. You might as well use my last two sessions.”
Another miracle! Thank you, Jesus.
After work the next day, Jillian stood before the therapist‟s ornately carved
double doors of Dr. Emery Winslow‟s modest office in the lower floor of the large two-
story house he had recently purchased a mile from the Tasaki home. Feeling frightened,
embarrassed and deliriously happy at the same time, she nervously tucked her white
cotton blouse into her skirt. Why am I grinning like a Cheshire cat when my stomach’s
tied in a double knot? She pushed the doorbell.
Dr. Winslow threw the door open in a hearty gesture of welcome. A barrel-
chested man with the large hands of a manual laborer, he was an inch shorter than Jillian
but seemed easily twice her size. He was wearing a gray sports coat over his lavender
aloha shirt. “Hello,” he said, shaking her cold hand. “How are you?”
“A little better than yesterday,” she admitted. “I haven‟t had any adrenaline surges
since Don said I could come.” As Jillian followed the stocky therapist down the hallway,
she realized that he reminded her of her grandfather, the one man who had loved her
unconditionally. Maybe God is giving me one last chance.
The therapist opened the door to a large room with a row of plate glass windows
that admitted the late September sunshine. “Take a seat anywhere,” he offered with a
vague gesture toward the front of the room. “I‟ll be with you in a moment.”
The walls of the huge room were lined with bookcases, many with two rows of
books on each shelf. Shorter bookcases made of planks and cement blocks ran the length
of the wall under the windows. Taller bookcases partitioned off the back half of the room,
which was filled with stacks of boxes arranged in neat rows. A small chair upholstered in
peach-colored corduroy sat with its back to the door facing a tan recliner.
Piles of books and magazines littered the floor and covered the desk in the corner,
on which a tiny Macintosh computer sat flanked by rows of more books. An unframed oil
painting of a dark forest with one beam of light falling on a broken stump hung above the
desk next to a pen-and-ink drawing of an enormous male lion cradling a tiny cub
protectively between huge forepaws. She got up to investigate the papers taped to the
bookcases. Among the enlarged cartoons, she found a copy of Dr. Winslow‟s doctoral
diploma and his license as a Marriage and Family therapist.
This man must be incredibly intelligent. I hope I can understand him. This may be
harder than the Morse code I learned to get my Extra Class Amateur Radio License.
The psychologist‟s return startled her, and she scurried to the peach-colored chair
as he picked up a clipboard. “Would you prefer the recliner?”
She shook her head vigorously. Reclining was unthinkable.
He positioned a flip chart beside the recliner and rapidly sketched an iceberg that
barely protruded from the water. “Your mind is something like this iceberg,” he said,
tapping the tiny portion above the wavy waterline with a broad forefinger. “Most of it is
invisible. We see only this tip, which represents the conscious mind, but most of your
thoughts and feelings lie below the surface in this portion we call the subconscious and
unconscious mind. What‟s down there is causing your anxiety.”
She perched on the edge of her chair, heart racing, as a million alarms rang in her
head. What is so terrifying? She studied the therapist‟s kind face. A silky wave of gray
hair fell over a broad forehead beneath which sky blue eyes that hid a hint of sadness
smiled at her through metal-framed glasses. His rounded cheeks tapered slightly to a
square chin with a shallow dimple. It was a handsome face, though lined with age, and
she wondered why she felt so apprehensive as she looked at it.
Then she knew. Breaking her desperate silence was taboo. The alarms in her head
were screaming, “Don’t tell! Don’t tell! Don’t tell!” But she had to tell, and now! When
he stopped speaking, she summoned all her will power, reached into her purse with a
clammy hand and drew out an envelope. “A month ago, I wrote a letter to a prominent
psychologist. I never mailed it. I thought you might like to read it.”
He sat down in the recliner and tore open the envelope. She held her breath as his
eyes moved slowly back and forth across the pages. Once finished, he tucked the sheets
back into the envelope. “I‟d like to hear something about your childhood.”
She blushed. “My childhood?”
“Not to assign blame,” he said with a reassuring smile. “Just to get an
She took a deep breath. Was someone finally going to listen?
Strikingly attractive in the white muumuu she reserved for Friday evenings, Jillian
placed Don‟s favorite glass oil lamps on the table. The house was sparkling clean except
for the legal papers sprawled across the embroidered tablecloth. She thumbed through the
sobering disclosure forms. Do I really want to take this horrendous step?
The idea of his wanting a separation still seemed preposterous. If he managed to
find the courage to tell his mother, he would surely balk at revealing his bank balances.
She gathered the papers into a stack. He was due at any moment. Fortunately, they had
the house to themselves. Luke had been working on Kauai for several weeks. A car
pulled into the carport. Lord, give me wisdom. She fluffed her freshly washed hair.
He burst through the door, acknowledged her presence with the briefest of nods,
then strode to the sink and began measuring water into the saucepan he‟d used a thousand
times since volunteering to cook supper on Friday nights. She had always considered the
waterless cookware a token of his love because he‟d bought the expensive set the week
they were married, before either of them had a job!
He lit the elegant glass oil lamps. The ramen had never tasted better. She waited
until he was finishing his tapioca pudding to slide the four-page document across the
table toward him. “These are the papers you‟ll need for the separation.”
His short fingers shuffled the numbered pages. “What‟s all this?”
“It‟s the first step in the separation process. After we each disclose our assets on
these forms, we‟ll be ready to sit down with the lawyer.”
“Lawyer?” His eyes narrowed. “I thought this was between us!”
She returned his steely gaze. “It is between us, but we can‟t manage it without a
lawyer. You‟ll notice on page three that Mr. Calvert suggests you hire your own lawyer
to represent your interests.”
He snatched up the dessert bowls and stalked to the sink. “Right! So I can get
ripped off with lawyer‟s fees? No way!” He drizzled dishwashing liquid into the sink and
turned the water on hot.
She picked up a dishtowel. “You don‟t need to hire a lawyer. If we can come to
an agreement with my lawyer, you won‟t need one. Anyway, we both have to sign the
papers before they can go to the judge.”
“Judge! I have to go to court?” He scrubbed the bowls vigorously.
She carried the rest of the dishes to the sink. “I didn‟t say that. A judge just reads
the papers. If everything looks equitable, he signs them without seeing us.”
He scoured the pan, shaking his head. “What a mess!”
“I guess it is. Did I mention that separations are designed for people who plan to
work out their differences and get back together? They expire in two years.”
He put the pan in the drainer and swished the last of the soapsuds briskly down
the drain without comment.
“Before I spend all this money, I want to be sure I‟m doing the right thing.”
He squeezed out the dishcloth and draped it over the faucet before turning to face
her. “Don‟t you get it? I‟m never going to live with you again.”
She stared at him, bewildered. “You said you had to live in the apartment for a
year . . . to qualify for a lower mortgage rate. I thought . . .you said you were coming
back here next year.”
He crossed his short arms over his chest. “Not next year, not in a million years!
I‟m never going to live with you again.”
Her insides felt as though they had just melted. She took a shaky breath. “In that
case, a separation is not what we need.”
He scooped the disclosure papers from the table, and she stumbled numbly to the
carport to watch the Honda CRX disappear into the darkness. I’ve trusted that man for
thirty years, she thought. How can this be happening?
When she opened her eyes the following morning, the sun was shining just as it
always did. The previous evening‟s conversation seemed like a bad dream from which
she would eventually awaken.
Wednesday afternoon Jeremy plopped his motorcycle helmet down on the dining
table and helped himself to the lentil stew and brown rice bubbling on the stove. “You
wouldn‟t believe what I saw today,” he said, sitting down at the table, “a cute, five-year-
old Chinese girl with a dart sticking into her anklebone.”
Jillian passed her son the tossed salad. “Yipes! How did that happen?”
He filled his salad bowl, then raised his eyes and dropped his mouth, the picture
of wide-eyed innocence. “Her nine-year-old brother said he just happened to miss the
target. He looked like a little monster to me.” Jeremy wiped a brown spot where a
runaway lentil had landed on his blue hospital scrubs. “Thanks for dinner, Mom,”
“You‟re very welcome . . . drop by anytime,” She carried the dishes to the sink.
“Your brother‟s not around much since he went to work on Kauai.”
Straddling a kitchen chair backwards, Jeremy fixed serious, brown eyes on her
face. She had expected him to grab his helmet and go. That was the routine. When he
didn‟t budge, she sat down at the table, puzzled. He shook his head. “Dad doesn‟t care
about you any more. He‟s caught up in his new life, his new friends.” He shrugged his
lean shoulders. “I guess I‟m trying to tell you that you can‟t count on him anymore.”
Her eyes widened. The fact that Jeremy was the jovial jokester of the family made
his somber demeanor almost frightening. She stared at the faded carpet. What
transformed my easy-going offspring into a man with a mission?
“First, he cut you off financially,” he was saying. “Now, he says you‟re crazy, and
he doesn‟t know how much longer he can stand it. You‟ve hung on all these years for us.
Now we‟re all out of the house and living on our own. We’re okay. It‟s time for you to
think about yourself.”
Looking her in the eye, he delivered a long and well-researched speech that
mercilessly battering her fantasy that life would some day miraculously return to normal.
She sat in stunned silence, unable to deny a single word. By the time the teenager
strapped his shiny, black helmet over his stubbly chin, she had awakened from her dream.
As the roar of his motorcycle faded, she prayed, “Thank you for sending my son to show
me what I need to do. Now give me the strength to do it.”
A week later she sat in Mr. Calvert‟s office, pressing her cold hands together in a
vain attempt to still the deafening clamor in her heart. You’re breaking a commitment---
for better or for worse---till death do you part---you promised---God hates divorce. She
pressed her clammy hands over her heart, determined to fight the fear that swirled like a
fuming poison in the pit of her stomach. A gentle inner voice whispered, “Remember all
I‟ve told you, and don‟t be afraid.”
Mr. Calvert, Hawaii‟s leading divorce attorney, was a middle-aged, blond man
with a thin, plain face and unruly hair.
“I‟ve assigned my associate, Mr. Daniels, to your case,” he said, indicating a man
old enough to be his father. “He‟s had decades of experience as a family-court judge.”
The older attorney ushered Jillian into his office, closed the glass door behind him
and took his place behind a huge walnut desk. Mr. Daniels was a well-fed man who
addressed her as though she were a small child. “After I review your papers,” he said
with exasperating slowness, “Mr. Calvert and I will develop a plan for the equitable
division of your property. If your husband agrees with our plan, we‟ll be ready to file the
petition for divorce.”
“You said, „petition.‟ Does that mean it might be rejected?”
His smile displayed teeth yellow with age. “Not very likely. Divorce in Hawaii is
no-fault. The only ground needed is a mutual agreement that the marriage is irretrievably
broken.” He handed Jillian a sheet of paper with a large “X” on the bottom and an ornate
gold pen. “All I need now is your signature and a thousand-dollar retainer. Your bill may
be more than twice that amount, depending on how complicated the case becomes.”
She shook her head to still the critical voice within. “Am I doing the right thing?
My husband and I have been married twenty-seven years…I would never have considered
divorce if he hadn‟t moved out.” She shrugged. “He says he‟s not coming back.”
The ex-judge sat for some time with his chin in his hand before he said, “I‟m
afraid I can‟t answer that question.”
As Jillian‟s clammy fingers reached for the gold pen, nausea enveloped her. “I‟m
sorry,” she mumbled, holding her head in her hands. “I think I‟m going to faint.” Eyes
closed, she leaned back in the padded chair as a single thought emerged from the jumble
swirling through her mind. When something’s been dead a very long time, it’s okay to
bury it. With a trembling hand she signed her name, the name Don had given her a
lifetime ago. Who will I be when this insane process is over? It was a question she would
ask often in the next months.
Two weeks later she stepped jauntily into Mr. Calvert‟s office to deliver Don‟s
sloppily scribbled disclosure forms along with her carefully typed ones. The sun was
shining, the ocean was gorgeous, and she felt alive! Each successful negotiation of
downtown Honolulu made her feel more competent. Who would have thought that I’d be
able to drive around in Honolulu by myself!
A short month later, she was ready to present the lawyers‟ suggestions on the
division of property. Don agreed to hear the plan when he came the next Friday evening.
She studied his face as he set the bowls of ramen on the table. “Mr. Calvert claims
that although his office handles fifty percent of the divorces in Hawaii he‟s never seen a
case quite like this one. He says it‟s going to seem as if I‟m divorcing your mother.”
Don‟s lip curled into a sneer. “What are you talking about?”
She tried a more soothing tone. “I‟m talking about the house. In a normal
settlement with a marriage of this duration, the wife gets the family home, but in this
case, your mother owns most of it. I have only a quarter interest.”
“What quarter interest? That twenty-five percent belongs to both of us. Your
share couldn‟t be more than twelve percent.”
She stared at him, not quite believing her ears. “You gave your share of our house
to your mother, and now you want to take half of mine?”
His eyes were hard. “Of course!” he said calmly. “Where‟s my mother going to
get the money to pay you off if I don‟t?”
The lawyer’s right, she thought. I am divorcing Victoria, and in that case, it’s
high time she became involved in the negotiations.
An unsuspecting Victoria arrived for Sunday dinner that week. Luke, back from
Kauai for the weekend, suggested the Chinese restaurant they‟d been patronizing since
he‟d sat in a highchair. Jillian waited until the orders were placed and Victoria had
poured the tea into the tiny white cups. The matriarch was busily wiping the silverware
with her napkin when Jillian said, “I suppose Don has told you that we‟re considering a
Luke choked on his tea.
Victoria put her napkin down abruptly and said, “No, he hasn‟t.” Don sat silent
beside her like a well-trained puppy. Not one jet-black hair moved as she shook her head.
“You two should work out your problems and stay together for the sake of the children.”
She picked up her tiny cup and sipped the scalding tea while Luke stared at the ceiling.
“The funny thing is that the children are the ones telling me I need to do
something. I don‟t have many years left to prepare for retirement, and Don‟s plans don‟t
seem to include me. What am I supposed to do when I‟m old?”
Victoria‟s voice was icy. “You can go into a nursing home.”
Jillian stared at her mother-in-law as though seeing her for the first time. The
dreaded dragon lady who jerked Don around on a heavy chain suddenly seemed
pathetically small and weak. She’s never once accepted me, she realized. I’m nothing to
her. She wants to dump me onto the street empty-handed. A sudden surge of
unadulterated anger made Jillian feel as though she could easily demolish the pitiful
creature before her. The waitress placed bowls of crispy vegetables, fried noodles and
white rice in the center of the table. As Victoria busied herself filling everyone‟s rice
bowl Jillian decided she was more worthy of pity than rage.
“I have to admit that you were wiser than I was,” Jillian said. “You got a divorce
when your marriage was over. I held on all these years hoping for a miracle.”
Victoria pushed her plate aside. “If we had known this,” she snarled, “we never
would have bought the house the way we did.”
“You‟re absolutely right. Buying the house together was a colossal mistake.”
Victoria sat in stony silence, her lips in a pout while the men picked at their food.
Jillian was the only one who ate heartily, unashamed that she had broken the biggest
family rule: Never upset Grandma.
The next Friday evening Don reported that Victoria had contacted her lawyer and
was devastated to discover that there was no legal way to deprive Jillian of her quarter
interest in the house. With that decided, he was ready to listen to Mr. Calvert‟s proposal
for a settlement. When the papers were ready a few days later, she paged him from the
teacher‟s lounge. The phone rang moments later, and she scooped it up. “Hello?”
His voice was tentative. “Someone at this number just paged me.”
“Oh, hi,” she said, amused that he hadn‟t recognized her voice. “It‟s me.”
There was a long pause. “Stacy?”
Jillian‟s cheeks burned. Stacy? Wasn’t that the name of the masseuse who wrote
to him on the mainland last summer? He was waiting. She swallowed. “No…it‟s me,
Jillian. I have the divorce papers with me. They‟re ready to go. You can sign them
today…if you have time.”
“Sure. Pick me up at the apartment in thirty minutes.” He sounded unabashed,
even cheerful. “You can drop me off at the hospital. I‟ll sign the papers on the way.”
“Okay, see you in half an hour.” She pressed a cold hand to her hot cheek,
wondering why she should be embarrassed when he wasn‟t.
He was waiting at the locked parking garage when she pulled into the driveway of
his apartment building half an hour later. Smartly attired in his white nursing-student
uniform, he jumped into the passenger‟s seat and hurriedly flipped through the divorce
agreement, scribbling his name on the bottom of each page as he directed her through the
crowded streets. When she stopped at a red light, he flung the door open. “It‟ll be more
convenient for you if I get out here,” he said. “It‟s only a couple of blocks, and in this
traffic I can run faster than you can drive. Turn right at the next intersection, and you can
get back on the freeway.”
She watched her husband sprint down the congested thoroughfare, dodging a
makeshift path between rows of cars stopped for the light. The papers he had signed lay
on the seat beside her. So that’s the way a marriage ends! It almost seemed funny.
Don was soon a block away, his hair a black dot above his white nursing uniform.
When he bounded onto the sidewalk, she pushed the divorce documents back into their
manila envelope. I might as well get this over with. Five minutes later she was on the
freeway, looking for the familiar off ramp that led to Mr. Calvert‟s office.
The Municipal Parking Garage was half a block from the lawyer‟s office. She had
grown to enjoy strolling past the bustling downtown department stores, and she smiled
when she caught her reflection in a window. No longer compelled to buy all her clothing
at the Goodwill, she was wearing an attractive suit she‟d found on sale at J.C. Penny‟s. It
made her feel like a new woman. She squeezed into one of the dozen, oak elevators in the
ornate lobby of the office building and pushed the tenth floor button with a sigh. Her
difficult task was nearly finished.
“I think I‟m finally finished with my paperwork.” She said triumphantly as she
placed the manila envelope on the marble counter in front of the receptionist.
The bespectacled paralegal took the envelope in her neatly manicured hands.
“Let‟s see whether we‟ve got everything we need. Yes, your husband signed each sheet
of his papers. What‟s this?” she laughed. “He signed the first page of yours, too?”
Jillian chuckled. “I guess he did. He was in a wee bit of a hurry.”
“Just a second. I‟ll print you another copy of this page.” The woman‟s long black
skirt swished as she disappeared into an adjoining room. Jillian sniffed the bouquet of
pink carnations on the desk. Pink carnations! The very flower I chose for my wedding!
How ironic that they should be sitting in front of me when I sign the divorce papers!
The secretary swished back into the room and laid the new sheet on the counter
with the others. “Here you go. Once you sign your papers, we‟ll be all set.”
Jillian‟s signature was bold. She no longer doubted she was doing the right thing.
The secretary‟s blue eyes sparkled behind stylish, silver-rimmed glasses. “You‟re
finished! Mr. Calvert will file for your divorce by the end of this week. The actual court
date will probably be three to five months from now. We‟ll notify you when your divorce
Jillian smiled. “Thank you for your help. This has been a difficult experience.”
By the time she pulled into her carport that afternoon, the bright glow of
accomplishment had been replaced by an overwhelming sense of finality. She dropped
her purse on the kitchen table, walked to the bedroom and knelt beside the bed. Folding
her hands over the familiar yellow bedspread, she prayed, “Where will I go, Lord? What
will I do?” There was no answer. Two months ago I thought I’d be living in this house
forever, she mused. Now, Don has agreed to buy me out so his mother can keep her
investment. When the divorce becomes final, I won’t have a place to live! She stood up
and gazed vacantly out the window. I’ve finished one step, but I don’t know what do next.
When perplexed, she often thought of Dr. Winslow. What had he said about
making decisions? Ah yes! Write down the advantages and disadvantages of your options
so you can see the big picture instead of focusing on the details. She took a sheet of paper
from her desk. If I ever needed to see the big picture, it’s now. She stared at the blank
page for a moment, then wrote down four categories: Housing, Employment, Church
Involvement, and Community Service.
Under “Housing,” she noted that Don‟s one-bedroom apartment had cost twice
what she would be receiving for her share of the house. Guess I can’t afford to buy an
apartment. Wonder how much it costs to rent one. She got up, found the newspaper and
wrote down several astoundingly high figures. Conclusion one: Living in Hawaii has
become an unaffordable luxury.
Under “Employment,” she chronicled the frightening fact that she had no job
security. Hirakata University, where she had taught for seven years, gave only one-year
contracts, and to make matters worse, the school was currently embroiled in an
accreditation crisis. Conclusion two: If I choose to stay in Hawaii, I may not have a job.
Massaging her stiff neck, she studied the third category, “Church.” “For the first
time in many years,” she wrote, “I have no church responsibilities.” She bit her lip,
remembering how Pastor Chang‟s support had evaporated when a visitor complained
about the worship songs that weren‟t in the hymnal. Conclusion three: My work at
Olomana is finished.
Under “Community Service” she penned in the subheading “Prison Work.” My
two years of weekly visits to a Spanish-speaking inmate at the State Hospital are over
now that he’s been transferred to the maximum-security facility on the other side of the
She penned a second subheading, “Toastmasters.” I served as president for over a
year, she remembered. Those thirty speeches taught me a great deal, she thought, but
they have a new president now. Maybe I’m finished with Toastmasters.
“Spanish Church” was the third subheading. Her eyes filled with tears as she
thought, I was an important part of their worship team for two years, but recently,
several more accomplished guitarists have arrived to take my place. Conclusion three: I
seem to have completed my Community Service projects.
She put the pen down and scanned what she had written. The big picture was
immediately clear. She felt as though a celestial hand had written, “FINISHED” across
each page. She stared at the papers, wondering how she could ever leave Hawaii. After
twenty-four years in the islands, the mainland was more of a memory than a reality.
Where would I go? What would I do?
The vast majority of those who left Hawaii moved either to Oregon, where the
ocean was close and the scenery delightful, or to Southern Nevada, where the climate was
sunny and the cost of living low. She would go to Luke‟s wedding in Oregon in the
summer and remain on the mainland. But where?
Her final semester at Hirakata University was an emotional roller coaster. Never
had her polite, Japanese students seemed more precious or her four identical daily
lectures more boring. In her heart she bade a fond farewell to her tiny octagonal
classroom with its semicircle of fifteen student desks. Gazing at the ocean through the
floor-to-ceiling windows, she thought of the hundreds of students she‟d taught in the
seven happy years that had re-established her professional identity. From the desk drawer
she pulled dozens of pictures of herself, wearing a lei, surrounded by smiling students.
As spring burst into full bloom around the campus, she packed the few things she
planned to take in boxes she could carry. Thanks to Dr. Winslow, she now realized she
was entitled to her clothing and books as well as some household items. As for the
reminders of her life in Hawaii, she didn‟t want them. She donated her Allen organ to the
Spanish congregation. Her Yamaha piano went to Luke as a wedding present. That took
care of the big items Don wouldn‟t want around the house when he moved back. She
filled the empty spaces in the living room with boxes bearing neatly printed return-
address labels. Where should she send them? Oregon? Nevada? Father, please tell me
where to go.
She found the answer in church. Two months before her court date, she spotted
the woman who had invited her to share an apartment in Portland. She‟d gotten homesick
and moved back to Hawaii! Thank you, Lord. That settles it. I’m moving to Nevada. Dr.
Winslow was willing to store her boxes, so during her lunch breaks, she began taking
them to the post office. While standing in line at the mail counter, she occasionally felt
optimistic, but more often she was just plain scared. What if I can’t make friends? I’ve
never really learned. What if I end up miserable and alone? Maybe I should stay here
where I know so many people, even though it would be financial suicide. Every day, she
reminded herself that God wanted her to go to Nevada and his will was all that mattered.
One afternoon she finished her errand so quickly that she had time for a leisurely
stroll. As she stepped into the shade of a giant rainbow shower tree, she noticed a thrift-
shop sign in front of the corner church. Obeying a sudden urge, she stepped through the
sliding glass door. There wasn‟t time to look at everything. Is there something here you
want me to see? She cast a cursory glance at the racks of clothing. The last thing she
needed was something else to pack. The glass case under the makeshift cash register
caught her eye. Among several pieces of costume jewelry on the top shelf lay what
appeared to be a gold ring with a large diamond. She caught her breath. She wanted that
ring! But why? The woman behind the counter laid the golden circlet on the scratched
glass with a smile that creased a dozen wrinkles across her homely face.
Gingerly, Jillian slipped the ring onto her finger. It fit perfectly! The large “stone”
was really a faceted piece of silver-colored metal with a tiny rhinestone in the center, but
the little gem sparkled invitingly in the fluorescent light of the dingy shop. From a
distance, the ring looked amazingly real.
“How much is this?” she asked, wondering why she wanted the trinket.
The woman squinted at the tag dangling from Jillian‟s finger. “A dollar.”
“Fair enough. I‟ll take it.” She laid a rumpled bill on the counter and fidgeted as
the old woman‟s arthritic hands fumbled with the cash register.
Giddy with an unexplained joy, she dashed across the street. As the tiny
rhinestone sparkled in the sunlight, she suddenly realized that her purchase looked very
much like the engagement ring Luke had bought his fiancée a year earlier. It wouldn’t do
for a church member to see me wearing this, she thought guiltily, but it may be just the
thing to ward off unwelcome attention. She ran up the steps to her classroom and arrived
just as the bell rang, breathless and happier than she had felt in months.
Every time she looked at the ring, she felt a joyous peace commingled with a
stirring of excitement she couldn‟t explain.
Sunday afternoon the phone rang. Dr. Winslow‟s deep voice said jovially, “I
received an invitation to Luke‟s wedding in the mail today, and I‟ve decided to attend.”
“How wonderful! Maybe we could fly back to Nevada together.”
“If you like,” he said with a good-natured chuckle. “What do you have to be
thankful for today?”
She laughed with delight at the familiar question. “Well, I‟m finding a great deal
of pleasure in my latest purchase.”
“I bought a silly little one-dollar ring at a thrift shop. I‟ve decided it‟s a promise
of the new life God‟s going to give me on the mainland. In some strange way, it‟s helped
dispel the fearful second thoughts that keep dogging me.”
“That‟s great! A year from now you‟ll probably wonder why you hesitated.”
“I hope you‟re right,” she said wistfully. “It‟s just that I‟ve lived half my life here,
and it feels like home. I‟m not sure I‟ll ever feel this way about any other place. They say
Hawaiians don‟t transplant well.”
He laughed uproariously. “Courage, Jillian, you‟re not Hawaiian. You‟ll
She had to chuckle. “Thanks for helping me with this move. If you hadn‟t agreed
to store my boxes, I‟d have had to mail them all the day I left!”
“Glad to be of service,” he said cheerfully. “I‟ll talk to you later. Carry on
As her last weeks in Hawaii flew past, she felt less and less as though she were on
Oahu and more and more as though she were in a strange limbo between one place and
the next. When the semester ended, she turned in her last grades, filed her request for a
leave-of-absence and mailed her last box. Sunday she‟d be flying to Luke‟s wedding.
That Friday night, Don cooked dinner as usual. On his way out the door, he
handed her a check for the divorce settlement. She called Liz to say goodbye.
Liz‟s usually silly voice was dead serious. “Mom, I was just reading that Precious
Moments Bible you gave me. Let me get it. I left a marker here someplace. Yes, here it
is. In Matthew 5:32 Jesus says that a man shouldn‟t put his wife away. I don‟t think Jesus
wants you and Dad to get a divorce.”
“I know this is hard for you to understand, but Matthew isn‟t the only place in the
New Testament that mentions divorce. In I Corinthians 7:15, Paul says that if someone
who believes in Jesus is married to a person who doesn‟t, and the unbeliever refuses to
live with her, she‟s free to divorce.” She heard the rustle of pages. “Corinthians is after
Acts and Romans.”
“I found it.” Liz read the passage out loud, her voice muted with disappointment.
“I wouldn‟t be getting a divorce if I didn‟t think it was God‟s will.”
“Yeah, I know. You‟ll write to me, won‟t you?
“Yes, I‟ll write as soon as I have an address. I promise.”
“I love you, Mom.”
“I love you too. Remember that Jesus is always with you. Bye.”
After Jillian hung up, she toured the yard, admiring the variegated hibiscus she‟d
planted beside the kitchen steps, the soursop tree with its prickly, plump green fruit and
the banana patch. The tallest tree had just produced a stalk of green apple bananas she
would never taste. She stroked a set of baby footprints lovingly pressed into the wet
concrete she‟d mixed for the garden walls so many years earlier. It’s time to leave, she
told herself, but a large part of her wasn‟t listening.
Sunday morning, she tucked the last of her clothes into her suitcase. Lord, I know
this move is your will. Besides, no place on this earth is really my home. My home will
always be with you. She knelt beside her bed for the last time. “Father, thank you for
sending Dr. Winslow to lead me out of my desperate silence and show me how much you
love me. No matter what happens now, I could never be as miserable or alone as I was
before I met you. I‟m yours. Lead on, my King.”
Meandering through the busy concourse of Honolulu International Airport, she
savored the regal purples and reds of orchid and carnation leis and inhaled the sweet
pungency of pineapples and ginger blossoms. Her mind was busy sorting through
countless bittersweet memories of arrivals and departures: the summers Marilyn had
come to visit, the year the boys went to work at a summer camp, Luke‟s departure for
college and his visits home.
Minutes later, the Ala Wai Yacht Harbor, Diamond Head and Molokai Island
slipped silently past the tiny window of the plane. She found herself suspended between
the old life of shamed silence that lay behind and the new life of exciting possibilities that
lay ahead. As the jet whisked her through the pale blue sky, she pulled the lyrics of her
latest song from her purse and read them aloud.
“It is you, my Lord. It is you, my King.
You I follow in all my journey, only you.”