Ava grabbed one of the Bibles from the pew and feverishly flipped through its pages, the crisp sound of crinkling oilskin finding its way to my ears amidst the continual drone of Ava’s sobs and sniffles. I knew Ava to be easily carried away by her emotions, but even I was shocked as she began to tear pages out of the Bible and throw them, all crumpled up, to the floor. It took several moments of watching the desecration before I decided to intervene.
I reached for the Bible, but Ava turned away from me. Before she did so, however, I recognized a rabid look in her eye, the one of a weary, sorrow-riddled human who has had too much to bear for far too long and is finally expressing the emotions that have been welled within her heart. Her hair fell in front of her face, and I could only imagine how it furthered the watercoloring on her face as it paint-brushed her mascara all over. She finally threw the Bible to the ground and cried out, “You lied! You lied! You said you would take care of him!”
When it dawned on me that Ava was speaking not to me but to the God symbolized by the bronze, malnourished Jesus, more embittered tears slipped out from between my own eyelashes. I lifted a trembling hand to turn Ava back toward me. She let me. “Oh, Ava….” This time, she leaned into me as I placed my hand on her back, then wrapped both my arms around her. At long last, she relaxed into me, and I felt her resistance flee as she welcomed my embrace and absorbed my empathy.
“He loves you, Ave.”
I meant Peyton, but when she whispered, “Then why did he let him go to the hospital?” I knew we weren’t talking about the same “he.”
For all my well-versed responses and well-meaning beliefs, I couldn’t think of an answer. So I only tightened my embrace and rested my head on hers, hoping that the words my lips could not express could still somehow make my way into her heart.
Abruptly, Ava drew away, wiping off her face. She paused, her red-rimmed eyes meeting my own. “Oh, God,” she muttered. “Oh, God.” She bent down and began to pick up all the pages she’d strewn across the floor.
A ray of sunlight, tainted red, snaked its way through the anguish in the air and illuminated the pages as Ava retrieved them. She put them back in their proper order and attempted to knead out the creases from where she had thoroughly wrinkled them. She pressed them against the seat of the pew and sniffled quietly as she worked through the mess she had created. “I’m sorry I lost control like that.”
“We both love Peyton,” I responded, catching Ava’s hand and forcing it to stop working out the wrinkles. “I can’t blame you for hurting.”
Ava offered me a brave smile, tentative and tremulous though it was. Those rubbed-raw hands of hers were still tremoring slightly, manifesting her nerves through the almost imperceptible fluttering of the pages. “I’m just dating him,” she admitted. “He’s your brother. I shouldn’t have cried all over you.”
“We’re all just doing what we have to.”