I was reading my email. Dawn that day had been spectacular, with clouds like embers of coal. “Red sky at morning, sailors take warning.” But the day had been pleasant and I wasn’t expecting a storm. I’d finished teaching my morning classes. In another half-hour, my office hours would be finished. By that time Abigail should show up with my wife. I had promised to take her to lunch. Leaning back in my chair, I clicked open the next message.
From: [email protected]
Subject: Thank you
Dear Professor Theophilus:
You may not remember me. We met briefly last year when I brought my brother Richard to the crisis pregnancy center. My name is Edward Tshuv.
I did remember him. I sat up straighter.
I want to thank you for what you did for Richard. He’s a different person these days. I don’t just mean that he isn’t depressed. His outlook on life has changed. The whole family has been influenced for the better.
By the way, he graduated, he landed a good job, and he’s engaged to a nice Christian girl. (Not Cindy. After the abortion their relationship stopped working for some reason, and she called it off. I’ve heard she isn’t doing very well.)
I recalled how lost Richard had felt because Cindy couldn’t understand why he was distressed. Later, some weeks into counseling, he confided that he was finding it difficult to trust “certain people” any more, and when I asked who, he included her. Relationships usually do break up after abortions.
But that’s not why I’m writing. I also want to thank you for what you did for me. I mean what you did for me indirectly, by helping Richard. Let me explain that I’ve always liked playing big brother to him, and I always thought I could fix things. I loaned Richard and Cindy the money for the abortion, and when he started falling apart, I told him he hadn’t done anything wrong. Instead of fixing things, I made them worse.
When Richard first started getting better, I was glad, but the reason he was getting better made me uncomfortable. The more he admitted his sin and came to terms with God, the better he got. But if all those things about God and sin were true, then I’d screwed up. He never said a word of blame, but he didn’t have to. It was just like in the story. The prodigal son comes back, the older brother gets out of joint. For a long time I was pretty cool toward him.
I don’t know whether you said anything to him about how to talk with me….
… but he wore me down with his patience. Eventually I realized a few things. To make a long story short, I’ve given up trying to fix things. I’ve also given up trying to do without Christ. Richard gave up first, so for once, he gets to be the big brother.
I put off writing you about these things, but I thought you deserved to know.
Sincerely, Edward Tshuv
So that was what happened to Edward. Thinking of Psalm 136, I let out a long breath of thanks. “His mercy endureth forever.”
So, apparently, does His sense of timing. The motto about red sky at morning chose that moment to come true.
Just as I was about to reply to Edward’s note, the thunderhead moved across my doorway. I sensed it before I heard it.
“So you’re the son of a b____ who ruined my life.”
I stared at the girl. Her pupils were so dilated that her eyes looked almost black. I wasn’t sure whether it was drugs or hatred. Hatred is a kind of drug too.
“I wanted to see the son of a b____ for myself.”
“Be my guest,” I said.
“Funny man. You’re such a son of a b____ that you don’t even know what a son of a b____ you are.”
“Why don’t you sit down and tell me?” She sat and crossed her legs. Her eyes roamed the room, taking it in with distaste.
A student walked slowly past the doorway, making a show of indifference.
“How did I ruin your life?”
“Don’t you know? Oh, I forgot. You don’t bother to learn things about the people whose lives you ruin. You son of a b____”
“Of a b____, yes,” I said. “That’s established. Who are you?”
“Of course you wouldn’t know. You’ve talked about me and warned people against me, but you don’t know who I am.”
“Do you have a name?”
She seemed to consider whether to tell me. “Cindy the whore. According to you.” Playing a role, she took out a compact and lipstick and applied it. “Richard told you aaaall about me. And you told him what he should think. I know all about your nice, Christian conversations.”
“Cindy, that’s not how it was. I can’t discuss my conversations with other people, but —”
She gave a short, bitter laugh.
“But I’ve never been a party to a conversation that ran you down, and I wouldn’t be. I haven’t warned anyone against you. In fact I’ve never said a word about you. I’m truly sorry that the two of you broke up.”
She pursed her lips in her mirror. “That might even be true. It doesn’t change anything. You still ruined my life.”
“How do you figure that?”
Another student walked slowly past the doorway, going in the other direction. We must have been quite a show.
She tilted the compact and turned her head this way and that. “You broke us up. Richard was just fine. Or he would have been. He was a little upset, that’s all. Then you filled his head with how we’d killed a baby, and turned him into a basket case.”
That was all wrong, but she had me at a disadvantage. I couldn’t tell her that Richard had already convicted himself of killing his child before meeting me. I couldn’t tell her that he’d wanted to commit suicide to atone for it. I couldn’t tell her what our conversations had really been about.
She pressed her lips together to make the lipstick even. “He never said what he was thinking, but he wouldn’t touch me any more. And every time he looked at me, I knew.”
“He was thinking, ‘There’s the whore that got pure, virginal me into bed. There’s the b____ who killed my child and made me go along.’ Well, you got your way.”
She snapped her compact shut. “I have to go. But I wanted you to know what you’d done to me.”
“I have something to say, if you’ll listen.”
She put on a look of innocent, wide-eyed attention and kissed the air at me. “All right, darling, but don’t be long saying it. I have to go turn some tricks and kill some babies.”
It would have been a good act if she hadn’t been shaking.
“It won’t take long,” I said. “Cindy, you’re putting terrible words about yourself in other people’s mouths, and terrible thoughts about yourself in other people’s minds. But you’re the one saying and thinking these things, and you can’t endure them. Don’t you see? That’s why you put them off onto other people. It’s not going to make the pain go away. You have to stop.”
Very deliberately, Cindy put away her lipstick and compact. She stood up. She slapped me as hard as she could. And she burst into hysterical sobs.
I was picking up my glasses when Abby swept into the room like the cavalry. It was as though she had beamed down from outer space. One moment she wasn’t there, the next moment she was saying “There, there, has someone been mean to you?” — Cindy leaning against her shoulder, sobbing and indicating me.
I felt an impulse to speak, but stifled it. Sometimes I think that I understand events. I knew I didn’t understand this one. And I’ve never been so delusional as to think I understand women.
“Did he give you a bad grade?”
Cindy shook her head and uttered some unintelligible words.
“Did he call you names?”
Another shake. More words.
“Is he just horrid?”
Redoubled sobs. A nod.
I cleared my throat. Abby made a warning face over Cindy’s shoulder, minutely shook her head, and waved a hand as though to say “Shoo.” She was right. My office was rapidly becoming no place for a man.
Glancing at the computer screen to make sure I had cleared Edward’s message, I grabbed my coffee mug and made my escape, surprising three lurkers in the hallway. “Show’s over,” I said. “Scram.” They fluttered away like startled birds.
I was pretty sure Abby knew what she was doing.
I hoped she did.
Copyright 2002 J. Budziszewski. All rights reserved.