(Written in 1998)
I am a prodigal daughter. This is my true story.
I was eighteen when I left home. It was September. Dad and Mom were gone that Saturday attending a local fair. Mom was manning the evangelism booth, handing out CRC tracts. I gloated in the sweet irony of this fact. My mom, out seeking converts, while I turned my back on her and her faith.
I was tired of arguing with my folks about my boyfriend, Mark, and about my lifestyle choices. I wanted independence. I was an adult.
I loaded my friend Monica’s (name changed ~ privacy legislation 🙂 car with my meagre possessions – my clothes, my record player, a few books. My younger sister, Edith-Ann, cried as I packed up and left. She would be the one who would have to tell my parents when they came home. I didn’t recognize what a terribly cowardly act that was for someone who was an “adult”.
I was excited about “being on my own”. Monica seemed to have plenty of freedom in her life. She could go to school dances, date whomever she pleased, and use the car whenever she wanted. She was the youngest in her family, and the only one still living at home. I pictured my room at her house, a clean, pleasant room of my own, and the freedom to stock the fridge with a case of beer if I wanted.
I had no idea where Monica lived. We drove deep into the rural outback of southwestern Ontario and finally came upon a ramshackle square farmhouse, half-hidden by untended lilac bushes and an overgrown lawn. It shook mycourage somewhat. I had pictured a lovely split-level home with manicured landscaping.
Monica’s mom was not what I had pictured in my mind, either. Monica was vivacious and petite. Her mom was old, much older than my mom. She had a huge formless shape, wrapped up in an apron, and her coarse white hair had no semblance of a style. She welcomed me with a gentle toothless smile.
Monica’s stepdad was scarier. He grunted at me, and then never spoke to me again. His shirt was always half-opened, revealing long grey chest hair, and matching hair streamed from his nose and ears. A war vet, he stomped through the house on one leg, rocked in his rocker and read farm papers. I was completely repulsed and kept my distance.
The bathroom was another surprise for me. There was no shower, only a claw foot tub. The water in that area contained strong sulfur deposits. The washstand and tub were coated with brown stains. The wallpaper was peeling away from the walls and the carpet was matted and discoloured. I felt queasy everytime I had to use the facilities.
My first night revealed the depth of my culture shock. The bedroom was huge and sparsely furnished. The lineoleum was merely laid on top of plank flooring, cut to fit around a large, black stovepipe that was against one wall. The curtain was just a piece of material tacked to the window frame. Everything was dingy and I dared not peek too closely into corners. I slept fitfully, and awoke in the middle of the night to scratching sounds that made my heart pound. Mice? Rats? I lay trembling, overwrought with the emotions of the day and the strangeness of my new home. I wascompletely afraid to get out of bed, lest I step on a mouse. Finally, the continuous noises compelled me to lunge out of bed and fly to Monica’s room.
She laughed uproariously at my nervousness and explained that it was merely birds trapped in the stovepipe. That did not make me sleep any easier.
I landed a Saturday job at the Golf and Country Club, so I could pay my room and board. I had never worked eight hours straight in my life before. I made soup, buttered mounds of bread, set tables, and served coffee and dessert to the curlers. Then I cleaned up. It was a busy day.
Sunday was my day to do homework, since I no longer had to go to church. My English paper that term was on existentialism, specifically on Sartre’s play, _No Exit_. I immersed myself in existentialist philosophy, convinced that I was creating my own reality by taking on the responsibility of choices. I told myself that it was a more honest and realistic way of approaching life than the medieval Christianity my parents espoused where someone else told you how to live your life and handed you all the “do’s” and “don’ts” already detailed.
I called home every Sunday to let my family know that I was OK. My mom could only talk to me for a few minutes and then she would break down. It became more excruciating to call with every passing week. She sent a letter to me via my brother Fred who went to the same high school as I did. In her cramped handwriting and poor English, she declared her love for me and outlined the ways in which she had tried to show me that love throughout my life. It made me cry in the third floor girls’ washroom. But I was stubborn. I would not have rules. I would not go home.
As Christmas approached, my resolve weakened. I could not stay any longer in that drafty farmhouse where they ate strange food like chicken dumplings and spaghetti and never conversed during a meal. I had my freedom, but I was miserable and lonely. I could see Mark whenever I wanted, but between my job and his job, it was not often enough to fill up the empty spaces. I wanted the coziness of my own family, my brothers and sisters. I asked my parents if I could come home and if they would allow me to continue dating Mark. They graciously agreed.
Things were different when I went home. It was strained. There was a distance that took many years to bridge. In a few months I went away to university. Years later, I began to comprehend the agony my parents endured. Someone had suggested to Mom that perhaps I had moved out in order to have an abortion. That thought tormented her for many months before she dared ask me. I assured her that was not true and I was outraged at the rumour. But looking back at my reckless and rebellious teenage behaviour, I’m not surprised now that someone might have hit upon that idea.
There is more to this tale that I could tell you, but let’s move ahead some twenty-five years and reflect on my true-life parable. I’m forgiven. God forgave me. My parents forgave me. My community forgave me. I’ve even forgiven myself (well, almost). My selfish, individualistic soul has been reborn. I’m not the same person I used to be. Today I teach in a Christian school, I sing in a Christian choir, I am part of a Christian community. I’m asked to pray at meetings and to read Scripture in church. I’m forgiven. It’s a miracle.
And now I understand other parables. I know that I’m the lost lamb the shepherd sought. I’m the coin the housewife would not give up looking for. I’m the worker who came at the end of the day and did only an hour’s worth of work, but received full pay. Hallelujah.