“I never really knew what rock bottom felt like before…but now I do.”
Michaela shook her head. “You have no idea.”
“Well, tell me about it, honey.”
Michaela looked up at the red-haired waitress.
The name tag on the pink apron said Eileen and the pot of coffee in her hand sent up hazy tendrils.
Michaela forced a smile of thanks. “You wouldn’t want to hear it.”
“Sure, I would.” Eileen sat down in the booth across the table, set down the coffee pot, flipped her hair back away from her face, and crossed her arms.
Michaela caught a whiff of a chintzy apple scent, but couldn’t tell if it was the woman’s perfume or shampoo.
It vaguely reminded her of the candles her grandmother used to light and set out on holidays.
Oh, that was a long time ago.
And what she wouldn’t give to go back to those days.
“Come on now,” Eileen prodded. “I’ve got ten minutes til my shift ends, no customers, and two ears that are real good at listenin’.”
Michaela sighed and her almond-colored curls bounced as she shook her head. “I don’t even know where to begin.”
“Just begin at the beginning. What started it all?”
“Well, I guess it was back in April when it all started. My husband—Jonathan—he had a doctor’s appointment. It was just a routine checkup and the doctor drew some blood to check his cholesterol. Two days later we got a call saying the doctor wanted to see us in his office. That’s when we found out about the cancer. After that appointment, I felt like my whole world had just caved in, but that was just the beginning.”
Michaela paused and glanced out the window of the diner, watched pedestrians with umbrellas milling down the twilit sidewalks and cars splashing through puddles in the street.
“He started chemo. Pretty soon he couldn’t do his job anymore and they had to replace him,” she continued. “He got so weak he couldn’t do much more than just lay in bed. I had to help him do everything, but I couldn’t be there with him all day because I had to work. His mom came to stay with him while I wasn’t there. I had to get my work done, but my mind wasn’t there and neither was my heart. I made all kinds of stupid mistakes and I’d start crying and have to go hide in one of the bathroom stalls until I could get it together. I lost my job in July.”
“Did they know what was goin’ on?” Eileen asked.
“And they still fired you?”
Michaela shrugged. “What choice did they have? I couldn’t do the work.”
She toyed with a burger-shaped coaster and let out a heavy breath as she continued. “So we were both out of work and the hospital bills were piling up. Pretty soon we couldn’t afford our mortgage payment or our car insurance. So we couldn’t drive our car and the bank was foreclosing on the house. I couldn’t afford to get my daughter Becca the school supplies she needed. I was lucky to get enough food together to feed us three meals a day. Jonathan’s mom tried to help out as much as she could, but she’s on social security herself. Now we’re living with her and I feel like such a burden. Everything just seems to keep getting worse. Jonathan’s gotten so weak they’re keeping him at the hospital now. I’ve been looking for a job for the last four months and I just—I just don’t know what to do.”
She broke down in tears and Eileen handed her a napkin.
“It’s okay, honey, just let it out,” Eileen said reaching out to pat her arm.
Michaela sobbed into the napkin until she was able to pull it together and wiped her face. “I’m sorry.”
“Honey, you don’t have nothin’ to be sorry for. Nobody can be strong all the time. Sometimes you just gotta let it out. Trust me, I know.”
Michaela managed a small smile and sniffed. “Tomorrow’s Thanksgiving and Becca’s crying all the time because Jonathan won’t be home to celebrate with us. I want so much to make tomorrow special for her, but I can hardly afford a gallon of milk let alone a turkey.”
Michaela twisted the napkin in her hands and shook her head. “I’ve been on my knees praying for God to do something, heal my husband, let me find a job, allow me to give my daughter what she needs, but nothing’s changing.”
She looked at Eileen with desperate tears in her eyes. “What am I supposed to do?”
Eileen patted her hand and gave her a hopeful smile. “You do your best and let God do the rest. He knows what He’s doin’. You just trust Him and hold on.”
The bell above the door jangled and a customer sat down at the counter.
The other waitress went to take his order.
Eileen turned back to Michaela and sighed. “I sure wish I could hire you, honey, but I just can’t.”
Michaela nodded. “I understand.”
“But listen…” Eileen grabbed a napkin and pulled the pen out from behind her ear.
She scribbled down an address and handed it to Michaela. “Go to this address and tell ‘em what you just told me.”
Michaela shook her head and frowned. “But…”
“Nevermind. Just do it…and see if you don’t get a couple prayers answered at least.”
Eileen stood and went back to the kitchen.
Michaela stared after her and then looked down at the address.
She slung her purse over her shoulder and walked out to her mother-in-law’s car.
She drove to the address and found herself at a red-brick church.
She walked up the steps and into the warmth of the narthex.
The pastor was just coming out of his office with some papers and stopped as he saw her.
“Welcome. What can I do for you?”
“I…a woman named Eileen told me to come here.”
He nodded and motioned her into his office. “Come have a seat.”
She sat down in front of the large walnut desk and soon found herself relating the whole story again.
When she finished, the pastor stood and said, “Follow me.”
She followed him back to a kitchen and storage area.
“We run a food pantry here. As you can see, we have a lot of food and even non-food grocery items. We get it all in donations from the community. Feel free to stop by whenever you want and help yourself to anything you need.”
Tears brimmed up in Michaela’s eyes. “Thank you.”
The pastor smiled and pointed toward a chest freezer and a large box. “But, first, go look through that box and freezer and see if there’s anything you want. It all expires tomorrow and if nobody takes it, we’ll have to throw it out.”
Michaela walked over to the box and found cans of pumpkin, green beans, sweet potatoes, and French fried onions, bags of marshmallows, bread, and white potatoes, along with various other canned foods and cereals.
Tears slid down Michaela’s face and the pastor came up beside her.
He opened the freezer and said, “You might be interested in some of this too.”
Michaela glanced down and saw some frozen waffles, rolls, and pie crusts, along with several bags of frozen vegetables, but, first and foremost, a giant turkey sitting prominently in the middle of the freezer.
Michaela put a hand to her mouth and let out a sob.
She closed her eyes and whispered through her tears, “Thank you.”
The pastor patted her on the shoulder and hefted up the turkey. “I’ll carry this out to your car for you.”
He walked away carrying the turkey and singing.
“Come, thou Fount of every blessing,
tune my heart to sing thy grace;
streams of mercy, never ceasing,
call for songs of loudest praise.”
© Whitney L. Schwartz