Ice queens were first girls broken by fire. Women don’t enter the world holding icicle bouquets for their future partners. No one is born frozen.
A black man, wooden cane in hand, limps his way to the coffee shop entrance where I wait. He feels like my grandfather after stroke and bibs and overalls my grandmother stitched by hand: kind, slow, in need. His hand replaces mine, opening the door wider. “Somebody didn’t raise you right, young lady.” He smiles as rain washes us.
Newborns emerge from the womb shivering and hungry and pissed off, but new babies are intuitively receptive. From the moment they greet light, they yearn for warmth and community. Babies communicate before they speak words. They insist on begin held.
My son was born an old man: a purple, wrinkled ball whose perfection was evident to everyone in the operating room but Shadow. Eli’s father seemed stuck on our howling child’s white skin and ginger hair; he had specifically ordered a mini him, complete with rugby ball. To save my life and Eli’s, our baby was cut from my body and whisked to a NICU where he ate through a feeding tube in his nose. From my wheelchair, I cradled my five-pound ball of contempt until love and pink and blue receiving blankets warmed him.
Shadow didn’t smile at Eli’s birth. He picked a fight before and was silent after. I told myself that he was tired because of the workout he left. I told myself he loves.
The tricky bit about warmth is that it comforts and scalds; source and intent dictate its healing and destructive properties and whether or not girls, in particular, are cloaked in protection or danger or by something in between. Campfire. Fourth of July. Inferno. Cozy. Exciting. Terrifying. Fires flicker before they blaze against the wind.
We sit at the Corner Bakery. Over my chicken salad and his sweet tea, Shadow describes the book he could write about how to kill his ex-wife. He lays out its chapters. I can pass a lie detector test, he says. My gut sinks. My face flushes hot. I tell myself that his humor is dark. During our lunch date, Shadow is still married to his ex-wife, but he’s broken up with the girlfriend he kept at the gym where he works less and less because of his devotion to me.
Fires flicker before they blaze against the wind.
Long before Shadow’s words cast me as an ice-queen wife and mother in family court, his words wounded. Charm morphed into darkness whenever our front door closed. In our home, Shadow waged a deliberate war against my dignity until little of my spirit remained.
His words linger still.
Eli will love you, but he’ll love me more, he said. Healthy competition, he said to first-time mom tears. To make you a better mom. I was pregnant with my first child and his fourth. Too busy and too many doctor appointments, he said about missed sonograms. During the months when I bled and lived in a hospital bed: You know I don’t like hospitals. Tired of concrete and gray skies, I closed my blinds. I spent most days and every night alone, and I befriended the nurses who fed and loved and stayed. Eli’s grandparents brought us strawberry ice cream. Shadow had few words until Eli and I were home.
Then Shadow’s words tumbled out. Eli is not Harper; he is all Shadow and no light. I was reminded, in ways too shadowed to write here, that I was unworthy of time, commitment, or mercy. Broken dishwasher, mangled marriage, fictitious legal claims: my fault because I was not beautiful. Not lovable. Not enough. Accusations and resentments danced and blended until they became every ice queen’s song.
On bad days, Shadow was my judge and jury; he swore and pranced and laughed at my fear. On good days, I was his afterthought; he sulked and ignored. I was our blue gingham sofa or our red recliner. Forgettable. Unseen. Nothing at all in front of little ears that heard, little eyes that saw, and a big heart that remembers.
Shadow charmed before he intimidated. Charm works easily on girls turned women turned shadowland ghosts. A compassionate man offered to love me more than Shadow wanted to possess me, but I chose the charmer who “needed” me. I paid for Shadow’s food and shelter and for birthday gifts for three abandoned girls. I paid with soul credit. Convinced that girlhood shadows deemed me undeserving, I stumbled away from true love. My green eyes were open when I walked into fire.
If I could go back, I would choose me. I would give my younger self permission to discover her place in eternity. I would encourage her to chase community rather than men. I would give younger me the stack of books beside my bed today. I would teach her about God, marriage, motherhood, and vocations. I would be her overprotective parent. I would insist that she understand how committed relationships were designed to work before committing to anyone.
I would tell younger me that faithful kings needn’t belittle their queens. The King of heaven and earth determines her worth. He calls her daughter. Ewe lamb. Loved. The Author of Truth points to a carpenter on a wooden cross and calls her enough. Confidence grows in service to others; it doesn’t announce its bravado to the world.
Shadow breathed fire from behind closed doors. Finally, in a penultimate act of destruction, he fired blows from beneath the flourescent lights of an open courtroom. He planned our roles: I was the ice queen who didn’t want or deserve a child, and he was the devoted husband and hands-on father whose love for his flawed wife was “steadfast.” His evidence was a photo of B-12 syringes and his word.
No amount of love or devotion or weary wishes upon distant stars can unravel personality patterns or make another human being whole. Only God redeems what is broken.
I wish I wasn’t so thick-headed. I wish it didn’t take me so long to understand that God doesn’t need me to meet him halfway in his renovation efforts. Now that my home is still and free of egg shells, I see God’s presence and sovereignty throughout every season of my life–and within every fire–and I am humbled by his willingness to chase me.
In the worst of my worst, God heard my pleas and shed tears over my broken. He saw my body curled into a ball beside my grandmother’s piano while Shadow ate dinner and watched football. God heard threats to take child from mother and laments about unrequited devotion. God saw and heard perversion and reactivity and was not deterred by Shadow’s capacity for destruction. God saw a puffed up bully burn hot at the center of a wife’s icy, egg-shell world, and he longed for us to seek Love in the ashes.
Today I revisit my memory of squandered, unplayed music, and I realize that God held me when I was curled into that ball beside my grandmother’s old piano. I write from a place of empathy and understanding. I love the young wife whose AS was not yet in remission, and I love my son’s father. I may not desire an unholy union with Shadow, but I love because of a carpenter and because of a boy child whose parents didn’t ask his permission when they chose this chapter for his family.
Now I see that Shadow is not my adversary; my adversary is the puppeteer pulling his strings. Shadow is just another angry child lost in the dark. I suspect that swollen muscles mask a pain deeper and more eternal than scars soothed by God’s safe, true words: by warmth written and spoken just for me. For Shadow. For all of us who lack.
Perhaps ice encases Shadow’s hurt like it protects any ice queen’s wounds. Ice makes a terrible shield, friends. Icicles break easily, and even ice thick enough to skate on melts under an angry sun. Ice isolates its kings and queens.
Pink. Angel. Ninja. The ice queens I know from group are mostly fragile, lonely ladies. There’s nothing frigid or regal about unchecked power and beauty set ablaze. These women struggle to trust that their scars were redeemed in Golgotha. I’ve been coming to group for two weeks. Ninja has been a part of this community for eight years. I get being too fearful to speak to a stranger with a notepad. I understand brains hesitant to speak truths to hearts that break. Our bodies are hard-wired to protect us from harm.
My name is not Harper. My son is not Eli. I omitted the darkest details of my struggle because these puzzle pieces feel too sacred. I don’t blog to expose a bad spouse or to indulge my own melancholy; I write to expose the One who works every detail for my good and his glory.
I write this meandering Tuesday night blog–cluttered with an abundance of metaphors that I don’t have time to edit–because this morning a women’s advocate spoke to ninth and tenth grade girls in my community. My friend asked these students if love should hurt. Fifty percent of the girls raised their hands. I’m not okay with this statistic. These girls are every girl. Pink, Angel, and Ninja are fictions names of real women with stories like mine. Every color. Every shade and texture of life experience. All of us the same.
I believe we advocate for mankind when we advocate for our girls. No one should be raised to anticipate a love that hurts. The human experience hurts. Love never hurts. Love is daughter, ewe lamb, loved.
Basic Rights in a Relationship:
The right to emotional support.
The right to be heard by the other and to be responded to with courtesy.
The right to have your own point of view, even if it differs from your partner’s.
The right to have your feelings and experiences acknowledged as real.
The right to live free from accusation and blame.
The right to live free from criticism and judgment.
The right to live free from emotional and physical threat.
The right to live free from angry outbursts and rage.
The right to be asked respectfully, rather than ordered.
Adapted from Patricia Evans, 1992, The Verbally Abusive Relationship
I pray that shadow-husband, Eli, and our broken world learn to chase Love rather than icicles. I pray that God gives my little story wings to fly. I pray for peace in your home and in mine, and I pray that when he’s older, Eli opens the door for a stranger in the rain.
“My own busted heart’s got nothing to give. But I don’t need to have things together before I can offer a cup of water, open the door, my hand, or reach out to help those outside. I don’t need to not be thirsty myself; I only need to know I thirst too.” ~The Broken Way by Ann Voskamp
Love and light,
photo credits: Harper Green