“A knock on the door in the middle of the night never means good news…”
and in this case, it didn't.
I sleep light, so light that when one of the kids drops a stuffed animal it wakes me, so the light knocking on the door had me out of bed right away. I found my glasses in the dark and made my way down the stairs to the door. The light in the hallway was already on.
I could see him standing there, looking down at the step. He was getting ready to turn and walk away. His car keys were already out in his hand when he looked up and saw me looking at him. His face was a combination of week smile, relief and brokenness.
Odd, I thought, that he didn't come around and let himself in the back way. Everyone that is a part of us, knows to just come in the back, and he is one of ours. He knows he is one of ours. I've been telling him over and over. Yet, I can see in this moment, he really doesn't believe it or he wouldn't be there on the other side of the glass with those eyes.
I came down the last three steps with my hand already reaching for the door and my eyes begging his, hold on. As I opened up the door, his hands fell down by his side and he began to mumble, "I'm so sorry, I..." and he trailed off as he looked down at the ground again.
Rain began to splatter on the step as I said, "It'll be OK," and reached out to his arm to bring him in.
"Come on, come in here, it's raining."
He stepped inside and I closed the door behind him.
I wanted to reach out and pull him in close for a hug, but I couldn't. It would have been a weird kind of awkward. We were close and knew each other well, but not in person. It had been a long time since he stood in my home. We both felt it.
In the same way, he was one of ours, one of us. He belonged to us, to me. I knew somewhere deep, buried and denied, he knew it too.
The quiet and dark of the house in the smudgy part of night wrapped around us. Ever so gently I touched him and brought him around the corner into my living room. He was looking around a little. Things were different from the last time he was here. Not a lot was different, but enough and his nerves were already on edge. I could feel them.
"Wanna take your coat off? Stay for a while? Need a drink? Food?" I was trying to make him comfortable, at ease, before I dug into the wound. It was there. I could feel it.
"Nah, I'm good," he said, hushed and slow. For a moment he just breathed. He let himself sit back and closed his eyes. He was telling him self to relax.
Quietly, I put my hand on his arm, "You're OK, Aaron. You're here now. You made it OK? It's safe. You're home."
I looked over and tried to see his eyes in the dim. He wasn't going to let me see.
"What brought you Aaron? What's going on?"
"I don't know. Really. I'm OK. I'm not sure why I'm here. This is dumb. I'm OK. I'm sorry I bothered you and woke you and..."
"Just stop. You came here for a reason. Something in you said run and you landed here because you knew it would be safe."
He was shaking slightly and his body was straightening up to get up and go.
I got closer, put my hands on his shoulders and forced a look in the eye, "No, stay. You're not going. Not yet."
Aaron let himself be pushed back into the sofa. His sigh was ragged and strained. He was at the end of himself in some way.
"Talk to me."
In the silence, I could see his mind struggling to find the words for all the things, for anything. There was so much he didn't even know where to begin and he didn't trust himself in front of me. He knew if he started it would be too much. Too revealing, for both of us. He wasn't ready.
"It's OK. I know," I said, as I placed my hand on his.
We sat, in the dark, just listening to the rain for a long time.
"I don't even know what to say or where to begin. I'm not even sure there is a problem or what it really is. I just..."
"Let's start with tonight. What were you doing tonight?"
"That's the thing. It was ordinary. Nothing. I finished work. I met a friend for an hour or so, then I had dinner with my family. After dinner I was at church, then back home for more work. While I was working I was texting with friends and such. I was online a little."
"OK, sounds pretty average, what happened?"
"I don't know. I guess I just sort of lost it. I got a little off I guess." He looked around and looked back at me. "It's like it all got too real all at once."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, it's like the fake parts were clear and like I couldn't fool myself anymore. That doesn't make sense does it?" He was getting frustrated with himself trying to explain it to me.
"Don't stop, try again. Keep talking to me until I understand. Please?"
Aaron sighed, he looked up at the ceiling, then at his hands. He was ripping the skin at the side of his nail.
His hands didn't reflect his age at all. They were thin and bony. His legs were too. He was in shorts despite the cold late fall weather. He always seemed to be in shorts. I always thought he was thin. Years ago, when he was a regular constant part of our household, he was thin. But it struck me now, caught my attention. Painfully thin.
"I'll try. It's like I know that I am doing all the things I am supposed to be doing, you know? I am working. I am involved at church. I talk to my friends. I read my Bible. I pray. But," and now the words began to pour out in a rush, "I just feel fake. I feel empty. I feel like I'm alone and failing and I'm nothing and everything is stupid and pointless and out of control. It's like I'm drowning and standing still and running all at once. I feel like I'm living and talking God and Bible and Jesus and yet I'm just a huge hypocritical liar and it's only seconds before everyone finds out. I don't even know how to explain all this."
His hands were shaking. Aaron shook his head and looked down again.
"You just don't understand, I can see you don't. You think I'm crazy. Hell, I think I'm crazy. Wait, good Christian just swore, see, I'm loosing it."
"Hey, take a breath here, its OK. I don't think you're crazy. Not at all. At least not any more crazy than the rest of us sane people."
I waited for him to look at me and when he did, I began again, "Look Aaron, I've been watching you for a long time, not all weird and creeper like, just watching you because you intrigue me. You're interesting and smart and complex and complicated and I've been waiting. I've known this was coming and I've been waiting for the moments. I've wondered would it be all at once or would it be like this, little slips and cracks at moments when you couldn't understand."
He was looking at me like I was insane now.
"Just listen for a minute," I said, "Please. You are a person in a vice and it's being twisted tighter all the time. Sometimes you are the one turning the vice, sometimes it's someone else, sometimes it's imagined and sometimes it's real, but it's happening. You are feeling more and more trapped and caught and stuck and you aren't sure why, but the thing is, you are sure. You do know. You know all of it, you just don't want to know it. When we allow ourselves to know the things about ourselves we don't want to know, then they become real."
Aaron shook his head ever so slightly and I noticed through the window over his shoulder that dawn was near.
"If you admit things to yourself or say them out loud to another person, they are real. All those doubts about your faith, about yourself, that you never want to deal with. The ways you punish yourself, the things you deny about you, they all pile up and hurt. It kills from the inside out."
"But it shouldn't be like this. Faith should be enough. I know it should be. It should be enough for me. I am doing something wrong that in this life that I can't make God be enough for me," the words choked out of him and he dropped his face down.
He was up and moving now, tense, afraid and angry.
"You're wrong. You know nothing about me. You like to create drama. I'm fine. I'm not doing this with you. Not now," he looked at me with the ragged eyes of a cornered animal, "I can't do this right now."
In a moment he was out the door and walking down the road. He never parked where I could see his car and I watched him round the corner in the break of dawn, striding away with fierce steps until he was out of sight.
I stood in the dim light for a moment, looking at the space he had just filled. Then I turned the lock on the door and went up the stairs. I slid into my bed and suddenly felt how cold I was as I curled into my pillow. Eyes closed I played it over in my mind, seeing details I had missed and drifted out to sleep.