The next Sunday, Sarah decided to go to church.
She was originally from a Catholic family, but neither of us were really true church-goers, except on Christmas. Still, she said she suddenly felt the need to go appeal to a higher power for Arista's recovery. So that Sunday, she went.
I sat on the sofa watching her calmly bustling around the apartment, getting ready. She was even humming a hymn as she carefully combed out her hair. I was envious that she had something to put all her hope into; my family was not a religious one and I had never really turned to God before the accident.
She was heading towards the door when she unexpectedly turned back to me. "Why don't you come, Jason? I think it would be good for you."
I sighed. The truth was, I hadn't set foot in a church for years, and their huge emptiness almost scared me. But the doctor had told us to limit our visits with Arista, and I had nothing else to do. "Okay," I agreed finally. "I'll go."
The car was in the repair shop, so we took a taxi across town to the local community church. It was almost full when we arrived, Sarah in her nice black dress and me in a sweatshirt and ripped jeans and sneakers. She gently led me into an empty pew near the back, just as the sermon was starting.
I barely listened as the priest droned on about loving thy neighbor, but instead stared around the huge building at the towering walls. Colorful stained glass windows depicted Jesus's life, from his birth to his crucification, in graphic detail. The noise of the choir, the priest's loud monotone, the restless shuffles of hundreds of people...
I didn't feel like I was being watched by a great, wonderful presence. I just felt small and alone. And suddenly I jumped up from my pew and burst out the door into the sunshine.
There were white summer roses in bloom just outside the church door. I stared at them with misty eyes. Arista had always loved flowers, especially roses, and these were some of the most beautiful I had ever seen. I wished desperatly that she could be here to see them, but soon they would fade and die, and turn to nothing but brown dirt--almost the way that she, a lively, beautiful little girl, had faded into nothing; a shell of what she had been.
I couldn't stop the tears from coming as I sank down beside the bush with it's delicate white flowers. Each rose was carefully surrounded by a mass of thorns, as if the plant thought that they were enough to stop any larger, angrier predator from ripping the flowers away. Arista's thorns had not been enough to protect her, I realized. I was her father. I should have been her thorns, her shield, but no. Look what I had done.
"Dear God," I prayed softly into the roses, "Please, please, please make my Arista get through this. And I promise if you do, I will always be the perfect father. I will never touch a drop of alcohol. Please." I repeated my plea a dozen times and than just sat on the grass until the Church doors opened again and people started filing out, Sarah at the front of them, yelling my name.
Carefully I reached around the thorns and plucked a single rose from the bush to give to Arista. "I promise," I whispered one last time.