I follow my mother into the courtroom to watch the trial of an innocent man. The audience’s soft murmuring silences. Familiar faces from my childhood and strangers gaze our way.
My uncle huffs and glances side to side, likely searching for someone to share his vexation about his baby brother’s illegitimate daughter and her adulterous mother attending Dad’s murder trial.
Familiar shame settles around my shoulders. Does my uncle still believe he can protect his affluent family name? Doesn’t everyone know of my existence by now?
In the next row, my refined aunt snaps her thin lips together and faces forward.
Mother stands tall and strides down the aisle. Her thin shoulders back, she looks stronger than when I lived with her. I hesitate before turning sideways and following her across the front row to a seat. Why must she have a close-up view when I confess what I’ve done? She’ll believe my actions were her fault, when she did her best to raise me.
I rub the aching scar on my right hand. The mangled skin on my palm pulls so tight I’m unable to extend my fingers. Did everyone know how I acquired this damage? I lean forward to glance across the aisle to the prosecutions’ side.
My half-sisters, Lorna and Rosemary, sit next to each other on the front row—Dad’s legitimate children. His posh wife’s profile remains stoic beside them.
A soft smile lights Rosemary’s round face, and she waves at me.
Lorna glances at me then faces front. She tosses her dark locks over her shoulder and her red mouth forms a straight line.
I force my lips to return Rosemary’s smile before leaning back against my seat. Lorna must suspect the truth, that I killed our father. I’m the murderer who should be on trial here, not this poor man.
How could they believe this kind, gentle soul was capable of going into a rage that would leave the carnage I had? How could they blame him? As if he knew my thoughts, the defendant turns and our gazes meet.
His thoughtful face blurs. I blink back the sudden tears, and raise my chin, willing my gaze to speak, “I’m going to do the right thing. I’m not going to let you pay for this.”
He turns his head to the side; his kind eyes full of love implore me.
I look away. This makes no sense. He knows I’m responsible, and he’s still here willing to take my place. Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised. He has always been there for me even when others let me down. I shake my head. There’s no way I can allow him to suffer. Not after all the kindness and mercy he’s shown me. If only I could muster some of his bravery and speak.
The judge calls the court to order and the prosecution presents their case, but the accusations make little sense. Is this really the time to mention Dad’s failings?
The prosecutions next words sour my stomach. The date of his death is correct, but my father’s body hadn’t been found in the park where I left him.
Pain shoots across my right palm, sending my left thumb to rub the deep gashes, and taking me back to that hot Texas evening when I was sixteen with perfect clarity.
I vowed when Dad contacted me again, things would be different. I would talk to him instead of taking his gifts in defiant silence. This time, I’d describe how Christ had changed my life. I’d offer my forgiveness even if he didn’t offer his. I would explain about being baptized and how my decision to live as a new creation meant I had to relinquish my hate.
Tennis practice had run late, so Dad had agreed to meet at the park near my high school. I sat at the base of a mesquite tree and waited. The sun sunk behind the trees and darkness fell on the park before the streetlamps illuminated his stocky silhouette strutting across the playground.
Releasing a sigh, I stood. He hadn’t forgotten.
He stopped in front of me still dressed in his business suit and glanced at his Rolex.
Had an emergency with a patient kept him late? In the dim moonlight, his smug expression confirmed my fear. He didn’t believe he had done anything wrong.
Hands on his hips. He offered no apologies for being late or his lack of involvement in my life, for branding me a secret sin. Merely the expectant smile of a man who believed he had finally bought my esteem. Won my silence.
A rhythmic creak sounded nearby. A swing swayed in the breeze. As a child, I had fallen and busted my knee at that exact spot. He hadn’t been there to comfort me. As I grew, I wanted a man to love me, above all with a pure heart. Not for my body or what I could do for him.
A gust of wind brushed my ponytail behind my shoulder. This was the same park where I had pushed away nice boys because I couldn’t let them close. I couldn’t trust their intentions or their claims of faith because Dad had professed to believe the words in my Bible, too.
How different my life would be if I’d had been raised by a man with a strong foundation of faith. If I’d been one of those girls whose father stood up for her against injustice and loved her. Had my half-sisters known that kind of safety?
My fingernails bit into my palms. Rage filled my heart and roared from my lips. One after the other, my fists struck his chest. The force of my anger and his shock must have brought him to the ground.
I continued pounding, unsure when the dagger appeared in my hand. His wet blood covered my hands. The blade slipped and my own flesh sliced along the razor edge. I screamed at the piercing pain, but didn’t slow my assault. He had to pay for all the agony he had caused me, to suffer like I had all those years of knowing my own father hadn’t cared about me and wouldn’t acknowledge my existence. The villain needed to feel the pain he had caused when he convinced Mom to lie in order to keep me a secret, and understand the shame that rooted in my flesh because of him.
Exhausted and breathing hard, I stood and dropped the knife in the blood that pooled at his stomach. What have I done? My anger had destroyed this man. I glanced around the dark park and waited, but only shadows from the trees danced in the wind. Not a soul climbed from behind a bush or fled down the sidewalk. Had no one witnessed my outrage? Could I be so lucky as to pretend nothing happened, and I was innocent of his blood?
I scooped up my gym bag and sprinted to the concrete bathhouse. There I discarded my tennis clothes, showered off the blood and changed into my school clothes. I wrapped my hand with the tape I used for my weak ankle. The searing pain said my tennis dreams were over, but I didn’t care.
In the darkness, my car sat alone in the parking lot.
When I arrived home, I went straight to my room and closed the door. A breeze sent the bent and broken blinds clanking against the window frame. I cranked up the stereo he’d sent, last month, on my birthday. I dropped to the soft bed he’d provided at Christmas. Lying on my back, I stared up into the attic through the gaping hole above my bed, and waited for the phone to ring or an officer to arrive at my door.
But no one had come and soon my life resumed. I graduated from high school and then college. The only reminder of that night was the painful wound on my hand. Unwilling to disclose it to anyone, I had healed it on my own. Occasionally, the injury would reopen and become infected, but each time I managed to press through the pain and conceal the lesion with lies.
I wouldn’t have returned home today if it hadn’t been for him. Folding my arms, I glare at the back of the man charged for my crime. Why would he take responsibility after all these years? He knows the burden is mine alone.
On the witness stand, my aunt raises her regal right hand and swears to tell the truth. Her glassy eyes narrow at me.
The hate in her expression has me sucking in air.
She extends her arthritic finger at me. “She killed him. He had to pay for what he did to her.”
I swallow, my heart beating faster. Panic stifles my voice.
A muscular black juror in the front row shakes his head. “She was just a kid.”
Next to him, a blonde woman focuses on me with kindness softening her young face. “It wasn’t right how he treated her.”
In the back row, a juror folds his beefy arms. “He denied his own child. She was his responsibility, and he failed her.”
No. They don’t understand. They pity me. Pride brought me to my full height. “She’s right. I killed him.”
Gasps bounce off the institutional walls.
“I didn’t mean to. I was just so angry. I hated him.”
The judge’s gavel clamors and the voices silence. “Child, your father died from a heart attack at his assigned time.”
“But I…but the scars.” I hold out my hand, but the gashes are gone. When had the dull ache disappeared? I lengthen my fingers and fist my hand. It works perfectly.
But I gave up tennis, a game I love. I no longer write poems because of the pain throbbing through my fingers.
“Child, don’t you know you’re innocent?” the judge asks.
I examine my clean hand. I didn’t kill my father. Relief washes over me. Dad never showed that night.
The defendant stands and turns to face me. “Why are you still living like you’re guilty?”
My eyes close. I should have called Dad sooner. Instead, he died never knowing I forgave him.
I shake my head and shrug. “I’m not. I never think of him. I’m a grown woman with a family of my own.” I suck in a breath and glance away. More blessings I hadn’t earned.
“Your blessings aren’t times you snuck by me. Relax, and be grateful.”
My husband. My children. Of course he knew about them. He had blessed me with the family of my dreams. I loved them dearly, but I didn’t deserve them. He must know, yet he had seen fit to bless me anyway.
I stare into his affectionate gaze. He had been the one to provide a mother to care for me, too. Mentors to guide me, songs that healed my soul, words that set me free. His action saved me. My throat tightens. That’s love. The real love I’d been searching for had been mine all along.
His eyes turn sad, pleading. “Don’t you see? You’re not capable of being righteous apart from me. Surrender and I will give you peace.”
I had tried for years to be good enough but the blackness remains. The guilt never left me. I must accept his offer and add to his burden if I want complete healing.
“Help me, let go.” The words escape my tight throat in a whisper.
Pleasure warms his expression. He grasps my shoulder.
Peace washes over me. “Thank you. I’m so sorry.” My response is so inadequate. “I know I don’t des—”
His fingertips press my lips. “I love you and will never leave you. Keep your focus on me.” Pointing at the door, he smiles. “Now go, be my witness, trust me, and obey my commands.”
I nod and walk to the door.
“And, Child of God,” he calls from behind me. “This time, remember you’re loved.”
Imagining a soft smile on his lips, I turn but the courtroom is gone. Maybe because my time has not yet come?
I stand in the park next to that old mesquite and smile up at the vast Texas sky. Dad’s okay and so am I. With Christ in our place, how can we lose?
May He strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father 1Thessalonians 3:13