Arly was the apple of her father’s eye. Carl came home from work every day to the sound of pattering feet and the sight of Arly running to him, arms reaching out. She would sit beside him at dinner and recount everything that happened that day, and he adored it. He usually watched an hour of sports or played World of Warcraft on the computer each night but other than that his evenings were hers, until he tucked her in with her little teddy bear and told her a story.
The stories were usually about a battle that had to be won; a man fighting for his one true passion. Sometimes in the stories the man fought to save a city, tame a wild horse or save his lover.
Arly loved the stories. She loved her father. But she also loved her mother and knew that her mom was sad.
One night, after Carl had finished a story of dragons and wizards and about a man fighting to save a princess, she said, “Daddy?”
“Yes, my dear.”
“Do you love mommy?”
“Of course I do, honey.”
“Do you love her like the man in the story loved the princess?”
Carl knew his pause said what he didn’t want to say. He spoke, “Of course, my dear.”
“Then why don’t you fight for mommy?”
Carl came up with some made up answer, kissed his daughter goodnight and went to bed. he didn’t know that would be the last time he would kiss Arly.
In the morning his wife, Darlene looked out the window and asked Carl if he could take Arly to school that day for her. “It really snowed last night,” she said “and you know your car is a lot better in the snow.”
Carl was in a hurry and knew he didn’t have the time to wait for Arly to get ready and still get to work on time. “Darlene, you know I don’t have time for that. Just drive really carefully. Take it slow. pump the breaks if you slide. You’ll be ok.”
“Please, Carl. It looks really bad. Can you call in and say you’ll be late?”
“Darlene, listen. I have to get to work so I can provide for this family. You’re over-reacting. It’s only five miles away.”
On the way to work, Carl thought about his decision. He was pretty sure Darlene was over-reacting, although the snow was still really coming down. But then he remembered what Arly had said. ‘Why don’t you fight for mommy?’ Instead of fighting for her, he hadn’t even offered to help.
At 9 AM the ambulances finally made it to the accident. The snow was worse than expected and it took an extra ten minutes to get there. Arly was already gone; bloodless and silent in her mothers’ arms. People came around, helped as much as they could, but finally resorted to cursing the snow and letting Darlene say one last, long, bitter goodbye to her daughter in her lap.
During the days and months after Arly died, Carl drew himself tightly into a shell. He used his work and sports and video games (the only battles worth fighting anymore) as a distraction from the pain. He kept telling himself there were a dozen things Darlene could have done to avoid the accident. He didn’t want to face the truth.
Darlene, on the other hand, knew that all she had left was Carl. She did what she could to love him.
“Darlene, will you please stop making all that noise! All I can hear are pots and pans clanging together! I’m trying to watch my football game!” The TV room was right next to the kitchen.
He had to ask her the same thing every now and then and eventually the clanging of the pots and plates stopped all together.
Other times Darlene would play the piano which was in the same room as his video games. “Darlene! I know you like to practice the piano but I can’t freakin hear what the other dudes are saying in the game. I need to be able to hear in order to play this game, ok?! I’m sorry.”
Even in their bedroom, when he finally tore himself away from the video games she would try to keep him up. She would come out of the bathroom and say, “Carl, I got these today. Do you like them? Do they fit me?. . . Carl? . . . Don’t you want to see?”
His tired head was already on the pillow so he didn’t turn around to look at her. He said, “Darlene! I’ve got to work in the morning. I’m exhausted. I’ve got to make the money you seem to keep wanting to spend on Clothes!!! I know we mourn in our own ways but just remember spending money isn’t going to help the situation.”
Like he requested, after a few weeks, she stopped trying to cook when he was watching sports and never tried to play the piano any more. And when he came up to bed, she was already fast asleep.
Then one morning there was a huge snow storm. Darlene woke up first and said, “It doesn’t look like you’ll be able to go to work today.” She looked over at him. “It was a year ago today, Carl.”
Carl peeled himself out of bed and squinted out the window. the snow was half way up the doors and completely covered the cars. She was right. There was no way to get to work. He looked at the date on his watch. Sure enough. It had been one year since Arly had died.
He stumbled down to the kitchen. It looked so barren and disinfected and cold. Darlene hadn’t cooked for months. He rummaged around and found the french press and made some coffee. He got a blanket and sat down in front of his TV. He clicked the remote but nothing happened. He growled and cursed the snow. He pulled the blanket around him and cursed his life. He finally decided he would try the computer. He got up and went to the computer room. He pushed the power button. It had no power either. He just sat in his chair, wrapped in the blanket, and fumed. His only passions in life had been stolen from him. “It’s way too quiet. If Darlene just hadn’t killed Arly. Dangit Darlene!” He kicked the leg of the computer table. the computer mouse fell off of the table and swung and hit the wall.
He sat in Silence. He looked out the window at the heavy, white blanket of snow. He thought of Arly and suddenly thought, “I’m too lonely to let myself miss you, Arly.”
He felt so empty. Without Sports and Video games to live for, to fight for, he was dry. But suddenly, now that they weren’t here, they seemed so shallow to him. What did they care about him? What were these things he had been fighting for?
He turned slowly around in his office chair. He saw Darlene’s piano. A stack of scribbled pages sat on it. He squinted at the title of the one on top. He rolled closer. The title was: “We’ve lost you” The following lines read.
My dear we’ve lost you And i’m afraid you’re never coming back in our vulnerable hour you withdrew And left me open to attack
I’ve called for you with this weak piano but was treated like a fool I’ve cooked to heal your injured soul but you’ve left me for the wolves
I’ve tried to win my lovers heart with beauty in our tower but i was ignored, left apart and slept alone our darkest hour
Carl looked and saw the stack of pages upon pages of his wife’s scribbled songs, crumpled from desperation and smeared with tears. He realized she had been just as devastated as he yet she had tried her best to fight for his heart. And he had deserted her.
On the coldest day of the year Carl’s heart melted. Something inside of him quelled. This was no time to cry. His love, so long deserted was in the same house. He realized his fault, and it hit him like a fist in the teeth. He only had to go to her.
He mounted the stairs with determination in his heart. His face set on the thought of Darlene. He would go to her and be everything she needed and more. He would rescue her from sorrow.
But when he opened the bedroom doorway his heart fell. All that he saw was her two feet sticking out from behind the bed. He ran to her. “Darlene! What have you done!”
He kneeled over her and touched her. She jerked and shoved his hand off of her. She was sobbing into a pillow on the floor.
“Oh, i thought you were dead. I’m so sorry, Darlene. I realize what I’ve done.”
“Get away from me.”
“You were never there when I needed you.”
“I’m so sorry. I didn’t realize that you were trying to love me.”
“You don’t realize that I cry on this floor for hours every day. And when I finally had the strength to come down and try to love you, you stomped on my heart.”
“Darlene! I know, I know. I’ve never been so mad at myself in my whole life. I’m ready to fix it. What can I do for you?”
“Just get away from me. Let me cry by myself. Arly couldn’t help the way she hurt me, but you hurt me over and over with no regret. I hate that stupid TV. I hate that stupid computer. I hate you. Get out of here.”
Carl lifted his hand off her and she shuttered. His heart was beating hard. Was this really happening? He slowly backed out of the room, his head in a daze.
He sat down in front of his TV. He scowled and gritted his teeth. He picked up the remote and pushed the power button out of habit. The TV of course still didn’t work. He stared at the TV with disgust. He had loved his sports more than his wife. He started hitting the remote against his leg, until it hurt. “No.” he thought. “I will need every bit of myself to fight for her.” He stood up slowly. The blanket fell off of him. He dropped the remote on the ground. He lifted his foot and stomped hard to crush it. It took three heavy stomps with his heel to crack the remote’s plastic casing. He had slain the first enemy. Then he looked up to the beautiful tempting hi-def wide-screen TV. He set his jaw and walked over to it. He picked it up and tugged it out of the wall. He walked it out the sliding back door. He pushed through the huge snow drift and threw the TV against the cold, snow covered corner of the cement porch. It screeched and banged and fell to the ground, its broken screen facing the sky.
Soon the old computer was broken too, laying on top of it.
When Carl entered his bedroom again, he was ready to fight. A blanket draped over his shoulder like armor. Arly’s teddy bear was clasped in one hand, and a cup and saucer of coffee rattled in his other hand. He knelt down at his wife’s feet. She was silent, still clasping her pillow on the floor.
“My dear Darlene. I am so sorry. I am barely a man any more. And I am truly nothing without you. May I come to you?”
She lifted her head. He never talked to her anymore, and he definitely didn’t talk to her like that. She looked at him. “What did you break downstairs?”
Carl swallowed. “I broke the TV. And I killed our computer.” He looked up at her as if to beg a sort of forgiveness for destroying their stuff.
“Why did you did that?”
He just shook his head in his own shame and said, “I’m so sorry, Darlene. I have neglected my first love for a whole year.”
“It’s been longer than that. . . Are they really gone?” She hesitantly asked.
Carl nodded. “I killed them dead.”
A single, muffled sloppy laugh slipped out between her sobs. He laughed a little bit too and spilled a bit of the steaming coffee on her bare leg.
“I’m sorry I’m sorry. So sorry!” He put down the coffee and tried to dab her leg with the blanket and then realized that it was her grandma’s old blanket and gave her a frightened look. She laughed again. She sniffed and wiped her tears. “It’s ok.” She pulled her legs back underneath her and sat up. She was very slow at looking back up to him. She looked at Arly’s old teddy bear first. Carl held it out to her. She slowly accepted it. She held it to her face and smelled it. “I miss her, Carl.”
He nodded. She finally looked up at his face and saw his wet eyes. He nodded again to make sure she saw it. She looked down at the coffee spilled over and filling the saucer. She smiled and picked it up. She sniffed and sipped it. "You still remember that I like the vanilla creamer."
He nodded again. “It was way back in the shelf I had to find it.”
They both breathed in deeply and then she sobbed again. The coffee spilled all over her and she put it down noisily on the saucer. She doubled over, squeezing the teddy bear. Carl slowly reached out to her and started to put the blanket on her. When she felt his hand on her she flinched. He drew back.
This was going to be a long battle.
He sat with her for the rest of the day. There were times where she yelled at him, and he listened with bowed head and mumbled “I know. I know. I’m sorry, Darlene.”
There were times she cried and recounted memories of Arly. Each time she shot a glance at him to see if he remembered. She had always assumed he had been trying to forget Arly with all the TV and video games. Each time he would nod at the memory and tears would often come to his eyes.
As the sun went down on that quiet, white day Darlene had spilled most of three cups of coffee on herself and Carl had brought every blanket in the house to her to keep her warm. It looked like a giant nest tucked in all around her in between the bed and the wall as Carl shivered at her feet. “No, no it’s ok” he kept on saying. “I’m warm enough, keep the blankets. Do you need anything else?”
That night, though he knew she still was not ready for him to hold her, like he really wanted to, she said one thing that let him know there was hope. As her exhaustion overtook her and her eyes were closing in the maroon light of silent sky, she said, “Carl, would you tell me a story please, like you used to tell Arly?”
He nodded slowly. He swallowed the lump in his throat. He thought for a moment. It had been a long time since he had told a story. He swallowed again and began. “Once there was a man who was ready to fight to save his beloved bride. He knew there were many dragons in their past that he would have to slay, but he was ready to give up even his own life to save her.” Not one of his most poetic stories. But he got the point across.
He could see a smile creep across her face as she fell asleep. He whispered to himself. “I’m so sorry I'm so late, Arly. But now I know what I have to do. It’s time to fight for your Mommy.”
If we only knew that this, the fighting type of love, is the fierce love of our God for us. He is there providing for us our daily bread, and singing to us; he is fighting to win our love even when we mistake most of it as an annoying racket. But when we finally do hear it for what it is and turn to him, our battle has just begun. We must fight an incessant battle against our own temporal, selfish desires to love Him back. It’s not easy, but in the end, we believe it will be worth it.
How much passion and love must a man have to die for someone? Apparently that’s how much God loves us.