I recall tonight how I once would sit in the dark, early hours of the morning outside on the patio of my old apartment, and compose in soft whispers poems to encourage a woman I’d recently met over the internet.
Only a few months before she’d reached out to me with an email introducing herself. Besides her introduction, the email also contained an account of her troubles, her apologies for possibly bothering me, and the explanation that she had no one else she could talk with.
She’d been raised by an physically abusive father and a facilitating mother, but she had long ago forgiven both her father for his beatings, and her mother for condoning his beatings. Her troubles weren’t with her past, but with her present.
In her late teens, she had married the first man with whom she’d had sex. It wasn’t that she loved him, nor that he loved her. It was just that, the way they’d been raised, they both assumed for religious reasons that they must marry because they’d had sex. After all, they now were no longer pure enough to marry anyone else. Fortunately, they could atone for their impurity by marrying.
They decided to become African missionaries, but those plans collapsed when they discovered she was pregnant. He got a job then as one of the pastors of an Evangelical megachurch. Eleven years later, when she first emailed me, he had risen to become the senior pastor, second in the church’s hierarchy only to the founder himself.
“If we divorce”, she wrote, “He will lose his job. He’s not an abusive man, nothing like my father, and he’s good with our children. But he doesn’t really care for me. He wants me to be an ideal pastor’s wife, and I am not sure he either knows or cares that I’m not that; that I’m not that person he wants.
“I’m just now discovering who I am. Is it strange that it’s taken me so long to do that, Paul?
“I have lots of friends, but I’m not close enough with any of them to discuss these things. They are all members of his congregation and they want me to be the same person that he wants me to be. The person I’m not.”
There was a lot more to her troubles than just those things, of course, but what I appreciated most about her was that she refused to hate her husband, refused to disrespect him, and she still gave him his due — even while recognizing that she was miserable in their marriage, that she felt trapped and oppressed, that her hopes and dreams were bleeding out of her.
For a while, she was uncertain about divorcing him. In the end, though, she decided it was for the best. As it happened, I knew someone quite a lot like her, only male and single. Eventually, I introduced them. A few years later, the last I knew, they were still together.
The Stolen Star Child.
Once a man took his daughter’s dreams —
You know, the visions she had for herself —
Took them, even before she knew she had them,
And gave to her his cheap, second-hand fists instead.
So she grew up not fully knowing who she was:
A Stolen Star Child, knocked off-course in the universe.
I found her a few years later on, married by then
To a preaching man and his congregation
Who wanted to make her the wife she was not,
But wanted not the wife that she was.
There was even some part of the Stolen Star Child
Who wanted for herself what they wanted for her,
And who would have turned her gold into lead for them,
Before cheerfully taking the next rocket ship down to hell.
Despite it all, I felt her enter into my heart that first midnight
To settle there among my dry twigs with a great flutter of wings.
Still, there was nothing I could really give her
So I went looking for her dreams instead.
And now I spend my hours fueling colored patio lamps;
Hoping they’ll someday light her way back to the stars.