Lost and found

Author's note: Joan of Arcadia does not belong to me; I could never produce anything that spectacular!

Tell someone. You know that's what to do. Your parents, the school system, and even the kind folks on TV have pounded that message into your head since childhood. Yet right now you can't envision yourself doing that at all. There is, you realize, a huge difference between knowing what to do and actually having the courage to do it.

So you stand there on the Arcadian sidewalk and stare at the sky. It is a beautiful starlit night, like something God would be point out to you as an example of His "perfect system." He loves to remind you of His master craftsmanship and yet never will explain to you why imperfect things seem to happen in His "perfect" creation.

Why? you ponder, knowing all the while you aren't going to get an answer. Out of all the questions you could ask, it is the one He seems to eschew the most. It is also the answer you want the most. Especially now.

Fine. If You won't give me "why?," how about "where?" or "who?" Could You spring for that at least?

And where could you go? Not to Grace's house, you don't know what her mother will be like tonight, and as strong as she is, you know she can't handle both of you at once. Adam's is out, too; as much as you love him, you can't stand the idea of him touching you. The hospital? Forget it. Your parents would be called, your dad would kill someone, your mom would freak… You can't handle that tonight.

So you just start walking without thinking, figuring you'll end up wherever your feet take you. You trudge along, dreading your arrival and the consequences you'll be sure to face.

Everything leaves ripples.

Lo and behold, you end up at your front porch. You can't help but think this is His doing somehow, though you know He would just give a free will lecture again.

You attempt to enter unnoticed, only to be greeted by your mother and father waiting for you on the couch. At least, it feels like they're waiting for you. Dr. Dan would have probably come up with some psychobabble about the projection of unconscious desires or some such thing. You sure hope you can get out of counseling this time around or at least get a more competent psychiatrist, one that doesn't think he can "take God away from you."

You try to run past your parents into your room, but there must be something in your face that gives it away (You were never good at hiding your emotions, anyway) because they tell you to stop and ask if everything's okay.

Okay. Fine. Normal. Perfect.

You repeat these words to yourself in a silent mantra, knowing they are what you should say.

Yet for some reason you can't quite bring yourself to lie and collapse on your mother's lap, sobbing. She carcasses your hair softly like you were still a second grader, and they both ask you if you're okay. You wonder why they even bother to pose that as a question; you don't have to be omniscient to know the answer.

They want to know what happened, but you can hardly speak through your sobs. So they guess at words, offer up different scenarios, and tell you nod when the right one comes up. In the back of your mind, you can't help but think it's a perverted game of Twenty Questions.

After a few scenarios, you can't take it anymore. It exhausts you, draining your energy like that deer tick drained your blood. Everything sounds so horrible, and surviving one is hard enough. So you muster up your courage and say the word. It's a horrible, wretched, dirty word, and fits because it's just how you feel.

Molested.

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Out of all the places, you've ever been the hospital is probably the worst. It takes things away from people: Kevin's walking, your health, your faith, Judith's life. Now something more will be taken from you, but you can't quite put your figure on it. Your innocence? No, you lost that long ago when you realized that friends could die, that sports stars could spend their lives in wheelchairs, that ticks could kill you, that God could be silent… Your sense of dignity? Maybe a bit, but you've screwed up more things than you can count, dives, drums, and washing machines among them. Maybe that was the point of all those humiliating missions, so you could lose it bit by bit instead of all at once. Maybe that way it doesn't hurt as bad quite as bad. But you still know something will be left in the hospital tonight, and it's just a matter of time until you find out what.

The building seems to threaten you, taunting you with the painful memories it keeps.

Crazy talk, you tell yourself. But isn't seeing God crazy? And isn't it, at least for you, true?

Your parents hold you carefully and walk you into the ER. You feel very fragile and delicate, as though you might suddenly break or float away (Though you must admit, the latter sounds like a particularly wonderful option at the time). Dad walks up to the front desk in his "cop swagger"-that what's you, Luke, and Kevin deemed it years ago-and tells them that Joan Girardi is here.

He phoned in that you were coming while he drove you here, not as a father but as a cop reporting a case. He gave the basic info-your name, your age, the crime reported-simple procedure. Only you swear that you heard his voice crack ever so slightly when he said your name, as though he realized for that second that this wasn't quite the same as any other case. Then again, maybe you imagined it. You always were an imaginative child.

A nurse, a middle-aged woman, comes up to take you back to the examination room. She asks if you would like "Mom or Dad" (Why does the hospital staff always call them that?) to come. You decline, knowing there is no way on heaven or earth you would Dad to see this, and you don't want Mom to freak out. It might bring back too many memories for her. It wasn't the same, but it was close. Probably too close.

So you walk back alone, following the nurse dutifully through the pale gray hallways of the University Medical Center. It feels as though you're walking through a graveyard; everything and everyone reminds you of Judith, the girl you couldn't save. The girl that God wouldn't save (At least, it felt like that to you.) But by some miracle, you don't become mad again because you keep hearing her voice saying that God was her "angel," finally seeing Him and finally finding faith.

You promise yourself this time you won't lose your faith. You hope.

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The nurse hands you a hospital gown and tells you to go behind the curtain and change. The thing is the same disgusting brown color you remember for your three week Lyme's-induced tenure here. Even in your crisis of faith, you somehow still found the energy to despise the thing, and you still do.

Upon stepping out from behind the curtain, you see that someone else, presumably the doctor, has entered the room. She's somewhat older than the nurse but not old enough to bear that description. Her hair is a light, bright blonde held back in a tight ponytail. You're glad to see it's not a guy, but you're even more relieved it's not God. Even though He's omniscient and created you and all, it still would have been unspeakably embarrassing for Him to show up now.

The doctor introduces herself as Dr. Lundstrum and tells you to get up on the examining table. You are to "lie back and try to stay as relaxed as possible."

Yeah, good luck with that, you think as you hop into the table.

The "examination" doesn't take that long at all, and it's more awkward feeling than painful, yet you know your face is probably bright crimson. This is far, far worse than getting your foot stuck in the washing machine.

When the doctor is finished, she takes off her gloves, washes her hands, and makes a couple of comments on your chart-you wonder if she thinks you're crazy after reading that thing.

She pats your hand and tells you to lie still while she speaks to your parents. Normally, you would object to the idea that your parents should know more about your body than you, but you're too tired and miserable to venture an argument (Grace still would, though). You just mutter a permissive "okay." As she walks out, you can't help but notice the unsettling expression on her face.

As you lie there, you try not to think about Judith, or Adam, or God, or Mom, or the events of tonight. Just for once, you'd like your mind to be a blank slate, harmless and benign. Yet you've never been good at that since meeting Him on that fateful September day. Throughout the months, He gave you so much food for thought that you pondered the possibility of your head literally exploding. Even when the Lyme's disease left you muddled and confused and crazy camp feed you its doctrine of extreme self-absorption, it never went away. You could never quite stop thinking about God and lessons and ripples and all the things on heaven and earth to which your eyes had been opened when you first saw Him.

So your goal is simply to make it until the doctor comes back in without thinking about important things. Futile, yes, but the simple fact you fight so hard to not think distracts you. It must work because by the time Dr. Lundstrum reenters with your parents in tow, you hardly thought of one of your taboo topics. You wonder if it would have gotten you through crazy camp without you going as, well, crazy as you did.

The expressions don't surprise you; Mom is visibly shaken; Dad looks troubled. He was never one for anger or tears; he must have actually yelled at you a total of five times in your entire life. Rather, he just gets this mixture of fear, anger, and sorrow on his face, and you gradually learned to fear it more than the berating your friends were perpetually complaining of. Tonight, it makes you want to shrink back against the wall because, even though you know isn't really your fault, you can't help but feel guilty.

The topic of their discussion is whether you should stay the night at the hospital. Apparently, it's not standard procedure, but the doctor is worried about what effects the stress might have on your "weakened state" It's takes you a minute to realize that they're talking about your Lyme's Disease, about how relapses are always possible and stress doesn't help you any.

God, won't they let you forget one traumatic experience here?

Just then, you swear you see a black doctor walk past, mouth "no," and casually wave his hand. His flippancy should make you mad, but it seems kind of nice that God will still snip at you for taking His name in vain. You really do get "snippy."

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You don't think your bed has ever felt so nice, so comforting. You wrap yourself tightly in the covers and thank Him that you are home, even temporarily. It was a hard but well-fought victory, and you realize Grace's rants might have a smidgeon of truth to them after all

They finally acquiesced and agreed to let you spend the night at home only if you agreed you would go back tomorrow and talk to their resident therapist-cop. You're supposed to tell her about the crime, things you couldn't bring yourself to tell Dad (who interrogated you right after you told him and Mom-even though it meant fudging department protocol a bit.)

You don't want to think about tomorrow or tonight or what it'll be like to tell Adam (You know you can't keep a secret forever.) You're just living in the present, in all its chaos, questions, and sorrow.

As you drift off to sleep, you think not the hospital or the humiliation but of the Bat Mitzvah, the zombie musical, the boat, the science fair, and countless other things you did. And you smile, ever so slightly, in the night.