9. Isolation

“For whoever finds [wisdom] finds life
and obtains favor from the Lord,

but he who fails to find [wisdom] injures himself;
all who hate [wisdom] love death.”
Provers 8:35-36

“Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; 
he breaks out against all sound judgment. 
A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, 
but only in expressing his opinion.”
Proverbs 18:1-2

She stepped out into the predawn morning, thankful for the darkness that concealed her activities. A lone street lamp provided just enough light for her to make her escape. The cool desert air felt good on her damp skin, but she knew this temperature would not last long. Once the sun peaked over the horizon, its rays of warmth would begin to bake this city into its usual dry, suffocating heat. The heavy duffle bag tugged on her shoulder, weighed down by all of the possessions she held dear. She’d packed enough clothes to last her for at least a week or so. That gave her plenty of time to find a place to do laundry. 

Walking over to her Toyota Camry, she pressed the unlock button on her fab and heard the doors click. She opened the back seat and threw her duffle bag in with a thud. Her heart pounded in her chest, and the excitement of her escape gave her a thrill she hadn’t expected. She looked down at the athletic shorts and t-shirt she wore. Sweat from her exertion had made the clothes cling to her. She planned to change later into something more attractive, but for now, this outfit was perfect for a quick exit from this place. 

When she turned 18 back in January, she had received a large sum of money that she had been completely unaware existed. She still couldn’t believe that it was all hers. It had further surprised The Sister to learn that her aunt and uncle had not touched any of the money, though they legally could have used it to help provide for her needs. Instead, they had taken care of her at their own expense. This knowledge had challenged The Sister’s perspective of her uncle slightly, and she realized how ungrateful she must have seemed to him over the years. But then, she’d thought about how awful he had been to her on many occasions, and she dismissed any sense of guilt over her attitude and actions.

Her parents hadn’t been wealthy by any stretch of the imagination, but apparently, they had been wise with their money and had no debt. Their will had specified that all of their possessions and assets were to be liquidated, and the profits placed into a trust for their surviving children upon their deaths. Her parents' meager savings had been multiplied by the sell of their many assets, and since The Sister was the only child left, it had all been given to her and her alone. It was with this money that she would fund her new life. 

She realized she’d forgotten her wallet on the kitchen counter, and she rolled her eyes in frustration. She hadn’t wanted to go back in, fearful that she might wake Aunt Charlotte. She didn't care about rousing her uncle. She had already told him in anger that she was leaving, and she was pretty sure he’d had a look of relief spread on his face at her words. But…she didn’t want to hurt Aunt Charlotte, not really. She had always been so kind and gracious to The Sister. She had been the best person there could be in the absence of her mom. 

A pang of sadness ripped through The Sister’s heart at the thought of her mom. It had been ten years now. Ten years! She wouldn’t wish on anyone the unbearable grief she always carried with her. It was like a weighted bag had settled in the middle her heart, always there pulling her downward. Even in her happiest moments, she still grieved. The only solution she had found to help alleviate the pain even a little were the drugs and alcohol she consumed with her friends. She had a stash of drugs in her duffle bag for just that reason. 

Creeping back into the house, she smiled to herself at the memory of the Christian counselor Aunt Charlotte had taken her to for a while when she’d learned of The Sister’s use of drugs. Her name was Yvette. The Sister had only gone a few sessions, and she’d largely resisted Yvette's efforts to help. It wasn’t that she didn’t want help, but she was terrified of letting someone into her deepest pain. She didn’t think she could survive letting her grief out; it would kill her. 

Over the years, she’d constructed a stealthy wall around that weighted bag of grief in her heart. Nothing and no one could touch it because it was her pain to bear. But Yvette had said one thing at the last session she’d attended that struck her heart. In fact, it rang so true to her that she knew she couldn’t go back to see Yvette ever again. She was getting too close to the truth of The Sister's reality.

“You know, the Bible says a lot of things that can help us in our grief. In fact, you can read through the entire book of Psalms and find a wide range of human emotion, including a lot of what I think you probably deal with — grief, sadness, fear.” She’d paused, looking deeply into The Sister’s eyes. Yvette seemed so comfortable with silence, almost as if she knew how effective it was at making The Sister feel vulnerable. She continued after a few moments, “But there’s a verse I think of every time you come into my office. Proverbs 14:13 says, ‘Even in laughter the heart may ache, and the end of joy may be grief.’ That’s what comes to mind when I look in your eyes. Even when your face smiles, your eyes never do. Your eyes are a window to your pain.”

No one had ever spoken so truly of The Sister’s heartache. She hated herself, hated her life, and if she could have ended it all by now, she would have. In fact, she’d thought often about simply taking her own life, but the great irony was that she was too afraid to take that step. So today, instead of ending all of her pain once and for all, she was finally doing something else about it. She was running from it.

She grabbed her wallet and took one final look around the kitchen. She felt ashamed about running from Aunt Charlotte like this, and a stinging sadness squeezed around her heart. She wiped a lone tear from her face and started for the door.

“Before you go…” The gentle words cut through through the quiet, still morning like a knife, startling The Sister so much that she jumped. 

Aunt Charlotte sat at the foot of the stairs. She wore her favorite pair of black workout capris and a soft pink DryFit shirt. The Sister remained still, trapped in her steps, unsure of how Aunt Charlotte would react.

“Before you go,” Aunt Charlotte started again, her voice quavering slightly, “I wanted to give you something.” She held a shoebox in her hands, tied shut with some string.

The Sister looked at Aunt Charlotte questioningly.  How long has she been watching me? How long has she known?

Aunt Charlotte, perceiving these unspoken questions, answered them. "Your uncle told me a couple of weeks ago that he believed you were planning to leave. I refused to believe him at first, but deep down, I knew the truth. I've been praying for you ever since, waking up every morning at 3am and waiting to see if that was the morning."

The Sister stood helpless as silent tears streamed down her face. She hated that this was how things would end, but this is how it had to be. She couldn’t stay here anymore. 

Aunt Charlotte stood slowly and moved her direction, holding out the shoebox with tenderness. There was no anger in her eyes, but a deep sadness was evident. “When your family died, I helped clean out your house. As you know, we sold or gave away nearly everything. I kept some things that were special to me, which you know about. You had also chosen different items you’d wanted to keep.” She paused and closed her eyes, as if she was reflecting on something. Inhaling deeply, she continued, “But as I cleaned out your parents’ closet and your brother’s beside table, I found a few things that no one else knew about. I saved them for you, because I knew you would need to look through them one day. I’ve waited for the right time to give this box to you. Now I know that this is the time.”

The Sister looked at the box, but her arms were frozen to her side. She was afraid of its contents, terrified of what they might do to that steel structure guarding her wounded heart. 

“This is what I need to do, Aunt Charlotte,” she explained, looking up to her aunt, trying to help her understand, desperate for her approval. “I have to go. I can’t stay here anymore.”

“Sweetheart, I have always loved you, but I have always known that one day, you would leave. I understand. I only pray that you find what you’re looking for, and that in some way, your heart can heal.”

They stood there, looking into one another’s eyes, and The Sister’s heart softened slightly. Everything within her wanted to fall into Aunt Charlotte’s arms, to weep the tears of a thousand days, to release all of the grief that pulled her further and further into darkness. But she couldn’t; she wouldn’t

Aunt Charlotte saw the hardness return to her niece’s eyes, and she shook her head slightly with understanding. She reached out and gently took The Sister's hand, placing the shoebox in it and softly wrapping her fingers around it. She squeezed her niece's hand and reached out to give her a tender farewell embrace. The Sister was stiff in her aunt’s arms, unmoving. She couldn’t give in, not even slightly, or she would crumble. 

“Take care of yourself, sweetheart. And know, I’m always here for you and will never stop loving you. It has been my greatest honor to raise my sister's daughter. I could never fill her shoes, but I have been privileged to try.”

The Sister pulled away and looked one last time at Aunt Charlotte. “I love you, Aunt Charlotte. Thank you for everything you’ve done for me.” With those final words, she turned to leave this house, this place of shelter, but never to her had it been a place she could call home. 

She needed to find home.