The dream I had in the treehouse haunted me, but it didn’t stop me from heading back there every chance I got. Today was no different. It was the perfect day to curl up with my sketchbook, and lose myself in the scratching sound of my pencil, as images leaped from my mind to paper. I leaned against the old barrel, and drew until my fingers ached. I loved this space, and dreaded the day I would have to leave it behind, but summer’s end was getting closer and I doubted my mom would last here much longer. Regardless, I was still optimistic because one thing I’ve learned about the human heart is with every beat it plays a melody of hope, even when we try to stop the music to avoid the pain.
I gathered my art materials and began placing them on the barrel when I noticed the top of the barrel was loose. Placing my stuff back on the treehouse floor, careful not to drop any pencils between the old wooden slats, I slid my fingers along the top of the barrel, and lifted a section. This discovery brought about that melody once more as my heart beat faster, reaching a crescendo of hope. I lifted the heavy lid off the barrel and dropped it on the floor. Then, I turned my back to the barrel feeling suddenly overwhelmed.
More than anything, I wanted to find something that would bring me closer to the truth about my family, anything that would provide a piece to the puzzle I longed to complete. Without warning, I dropped to my knees aware of the rough wood on my skin but also aware this moment was bigger than me. I had reached a point of need so deep I hadn’t known until now how much I craved answers, how much I yearned for guidance.
“God, I know we haven’t spoken since fourth grade when Mrs. Jamison forced us to bow our heads each morning and say a silent prayer. I’m not sure why I’m speaking to you now other than I’m tired. Not the kind of tired where your muscles ache and your eyes refuse to stay open sending you into darkness even though you’re still craving light. My heart is exhausted, God. I’m afraid if something doesn’t change soon, I’ll lose that tiny spark that allows me to believe this isn’t all. I fear losing that daydream in my heart, the one I can only exist in as I’m floating between sleep and wakefulness. You know, right before the rays of morning light flood my room and reality blinds me.”
The wine barrel’s presence behind me is so great that I turn half expecting it has inched closer to me. It’s now or never. I take two strides toward it and peek over the top. At first glance, my heart plummets into the darkness of its interior as I believe it is as empty as I feel in that moment. Then, I catch a glimpse of something green. On my tiptoes, I double over the side of the barrel and reach down into it. My fingertips graze the feel of leather and an indescribable emotion courses all the way up my arms and to my chest. It must be one of my grandmother’s journals! I hug it tight before placing it alongside my sketchbook, and reach down into the barrel once more. I grab hold of another book and pull it out. It has a navy cover on it with a zipper and a handle. I open the zipper and find a beaded bookmark set to John 8:32 with one line underlined:
“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
Those words ring in my ears as I whisper them over and over, and my grip tightens on this bible that must have belonged to my grandmother as well. I flip through the pages and see passage upon passage highlighted or underlined with notes jotted in the margins. I have never held a bible before, never been able to quote a passage or make a reference. It is like a foreign language to me as I turn the pages. I slam it shut and gently open the front cover. My eyes are fixated on the front page as my lungs struggle to fill with air.
This Bible Belongs to: James Porter
I’ve never seen my father’s name on anything other than the notebooks I would doodle on, writing both my parents’ names over and over in different styles. I had Althaea and James in bubble letters, cursive, and block letters in the margins of several notebooks.
Tears fill my eyes as it is my first real connection to my father. This is his handwriting. I cling to the bible with trembling hands, lost in the feel of it, lost in the realization that my father held it, lost in the question, “Did he ever hold me?”
Finally, I set it down beside me because my curiosity wins once more, and I take another peek into the depths of the barrel. I reach in and stretch my arm down to the bottom, moving my hand along the sides, feeling around for another treasure. And, just as I am about to give up I feel a small piece of cold metal and wrap my fingers around it. I bring it up to the light and upon closer inspection see that it is a necklace. A tiny silver compass hangs from its chain. I place it over my head. It lands on my chest, and I quickly grab it, covering it with both hands against my heart. I have so many questions, but am distracted by the slow heat now warming my hands. The wind suddenly picks up and I let go, afraid my art supplies will blow away. As I crouch down, the wind dies as suddenly as it took flight and the pages of my father’s bible are open to a passage he must have highlighted long ago.
Matthew 7:7 Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.
Instinctively, my hands cover the tiny compass once more and though its warmth still seeps into my skin, a chill runs down my spine. As I reach for the bible, I realize the journal is face down, balancing on its spine, pages hanging through the slats. I pull it up and flip it over. This is not my grandmother’s journal.