Harper wasn’t sure where the picture had come from. Perhaps it had fallen from her Bible when she took it out; but at any rate, it was a surprise to see the old photo of Ava and her husband lying on the rug in front of the bookcase. She had not even thought about Ava’s ex for years—many years. I guess because it seemed more a blip on the screen of a longer life—hers and Harper’s. But as she picked up the wedding photo of those two smiling faces, it all came back to her in a flash.
“I can’t do it, Harp. It’s not going to work. I need a divorce!” Ava plopped down in a chair at the kitchen table, and Harper poured her some tea.
“I mean, everybody has rough patches; and it’s only been eight months. Don’t you think you need to give it more time?” Harper tried to tread carefully since Ava was on the verge of tears. They had only become more than casual friends over the last few months, and since Joe always begged off any couple dates, she did not really know him.
“He is not who I thought he was. Not by a long shot! And I’m scared and tired of facing this alone. I thought he was passionate, honest, disciplined, and of course a devout Christian. But he is none of those things. He is a hypocrite—through and through! And I will not lie and play along anymore!”
“That seems a little harsh, Ava. What do you mean?” Harper wanted to support her friend but also did not want to gang up on Joe who could not defend himself. She really had not spent much time with him, but any time they did chat, he seemed friendly enough, and I guess one would say kind.
Ava continued. “When he first came to The Gathering Place, I along with most of the other single girls in the college group were gaga over him. He was . . . is . . . handsome, articulate, and seemed to be committed to the mission of the church. He carried his big blue leather Bible with him any time he showed up, and he talked all the time about getting involved in some of the outreach programs and the meal program for the homeless. He seemed, well . . . perfect.”
“I didn’t see when he first came because Graham and I had already transitioned out of the life group, and we spent most of our time away at school. You and I really didn’t know each other that well either.”
“I know. I wish we had been friends then; maybe you could have seen through him. I was on the verge of transitioning out of that group, too; but when he showed up, I kind of stuck around. I mean, honestly, Harp, I thought he was the one. I put out fleeces about whether we were meant for each other, and everything seemed to be falling into place.”
“Fleeces? Like Gideon fleeces?”
“Well, kind of. Don’t ask me what they were because it seems really stupid now. I think I was just getting desperate, thinking that either I would never marry or that maybe the rapture would happen before Mr. Right came along. You probably never got into that escapist theology like I did; and I didn’t sell all my stuff and sit on a mountaintop, waiting for the Lord to return, but it really did affect some of my decisions. And this, obviously, was a big one.” Ava bowed her head and picked at her cuticles, which were already raw. “And then there was the chemistry. He said and did all the right romantic things, and I fell hard.”
“Did you guys not do the marriage counseling at church? It was really helpful for Graham and I. And to be honest, it doesn’t prepare you for everything—there are still a lot of adjustments and iron sharpening iron jazz that comes with the commitment of marriage—but it is helpful to kind of give a roadmap of where you need to be heading. Even after three years, we’re still figuring a lot of stuff out. We’ve had problems, but counseling helped to see areas that might be dealbreakers in the relationship.”
“Dealbreakers! Yeah, that would have been helpful, but Joe said counseling was only needed for immature Christians, and that pampered my ego, I guess.”
“So how long did you date before the wedding?”
“Two months? I had no idea.” Harper refreshed their tea, but Ava did not seem very interested in anything but talking.
“I’m done. I don’t want to do this anymore.” At that, Ava wept. Her sobs were uncontrollable. Harper had no Kleenex, and she did not want to insult her by giving her toilet paper, so she grabbed a clean white tea towel off the stove to hand to her. Harper had never been one to hug as a Christian ritual, but with her friend weeping, she carefully put her arm around her shoulders and just let her cry. Ava’s tears finally subsided, and she sat silent and unmoving.
Harper hesitated to speak, but softly said, “So, you say that he is not who you thought he was. Do you feel comfortable telling me who he really is? I want to be careful here, but it might help if I know the issues you are facing.” Harper returned to her seat and waited.
Ava looked up and more softly than perhaps the words deserved recited a long list: “He drinks . . . a lot; he does not want to have children, when before he said he wanted a big family; he said he was looking at a promotion at work, but I found out recently he only works part time at the plant, and we have been living off an inheritance he got from one of his grandmas—which has run out; when he is not at the plant, he has been spending time in the next county at the casinos, and he has accumulated some gambling debts; he told me he is not sure he even believes in the deity of Jesus anymore, or maybe even whether there is a god, and he just needs time to ‘process.’” Ava took a deep breath. “Is that enough?”
“Wow, that’s a lot actually. I don’t know what to say.” Harper was taken aback. This was not just some marital adjustment issues.
“He was romantic and kind at first—like the first couple of weeks—then all of a sudden, sex got rougher, and if I didn’t want it when he did, he called me names. He would apologize in the morning and be all sweet again; and I would forgive him. But now he seldom apologizes.”
“I had no idea! I am so sorry, Ava. Would you say he is physically abusive?”
“Not that much really, but I feel like he is capable of more, especially when he drinks.” Ava wiped her eyes again and sighed. “I think the hardest thing for me is that I wanted so much for God to give me a lifelong godly partner. But I don’t really blame God. I blame myself for not waiting. I tried to shoehorn someone who looked the part into my fragile, pathetic life because I was so afraid I wouldn’t have sex and find true love before the rapture, and now I am paying the price. But I will not pay it anymore.” At that, Ava sprang to her feet. “I’m done. It’s over! And I can’t go back because I’m scared. Please, Harper, help me?”
To say Harper was shocked by the revelations of her new friend was an understatement. Two months of dating is not a long time to know whether someone is a good fit, but this guy sounded pathological; and she feared for her friend’s safety. Harper not only agreed to help, but fearing that Ava could be in danger for having exposed her husband, she drove her to the pastor’s house who arranged for Ava to be lodged in a safe house while things got sorted out. And they did get sorted. Divorce papers were signed. A restraining order was served after Joe left some threatening messages on Graham and Harpers’ phone, as well as the pastor’s. It all finally blew over. Joe moved to another state, and Ava picked up the pieces of her life. But she was never the same.
Harper gently fingered the photo. She tucked it between the pages of her Bible again. I’m sorry, Ava. How could I have forgotten? I forgot your pain. I forgot who you used to be and how betrayed you felt, not only by Joe, but by yourself.
Harper fell to her knees. God, I’m sorry for somewhere along the line dismissing Ava from my life, for holding her at arm’s length for so many years. Have I betrayed her, too? I don’t even remember how the change in her happened—the change in her and the change in me. And I don’t know how to not see the obnoxious person she is to me right now . . . and to see who she was and who you want her to be. Lord, I am not entirely sure I am willing to have my life get this messy, but I am willing to be willing. Thank you for opening my eyes and reminding me that you are not done with her yet. Or me.