Natalie Steel [Chapter Two] Getting Real // Part 2

November 9, 2012

While the month August had been a peculiarly hot month, there seemed to be a change in the wind. Today, there was a difference in the temperature. Something was taking place. A storm was brewing off in the horizon. The sky grew mysterious as the ever pressing darkness of the clouds in the distance rolled nearer and nearer to the Steel’s small farm.
            Several feet away from the house, propped up against the northeast side of the barn, overlooking the pastures beyond, Natalie sat perched on a bench dwelling on her emotions. The tears streaming down her warm and rather flushed cheeks became chilled by a sudden gust of crisp, cold air. Natalie shivered. Wrapping her arms around her body, she tried her best to shake off the instant chill. In her time of grief, Natalie had been unconsciously slipping away. She was letting the guilt drag her down into a depression that threatened to suck her dry of any hope and happiness that she might have left. And that whole inspirational realization she had had a few days back was lost to the wind. Whether she intentionally ignored the tug at her heart strings, or just didn’t realize that God was trying to get her attention, Natalie fell farther and farther into the deep abyss of her inward self. She dared not to expose her raw emotions to the world. Throwing causation to the wind would only make her feel worse—so she thought. And Natalie would keep thinking that until someone forced her to come to the realization that this selfish impulse to be secluded and reclusive would only ruin her instead of “protect” her. That wasn’t what God wanted of her, and that was definitely something Gracie wouldn’t have wanted from Natalie, either.
            Natalie, too involved in her thoughts, did not notice her brother Ben approaching her. He was a tall, masculine teen with handsome Native American features. As Ben came closer to Natalie, he couldn’t help but smile. He knew she was hurting. Why, it was only natural to grief over a friend. But he thought it was pretty silly that his sister would take her grieving to such an extent that it would threaten her sanity. He sat down beside her and let out a sigh. The wind tossed a section of Ben’s long raven black hair into his eyes and with one finger, Ben tucked the locks of hair behind his right ear. He then scooted a bit closer to his sister and laid a hand on Natalie’s lap, giving it a tender pat.
            “Cheer up, Nat.” Ben’s voice was deep, and the adorable country accent of his made it almost impossible for Natalie not to look at him. She appeared to Ben as if she had aged. Her eyes were dark due to the lack of sleep. Her skin was pale. And her once beautiful black hair had lost its sheen.
            “I can’t.” Natalie said flatly. Her eyes were red and her nose appeared to be stopped up. She sniffled and wiped her eyes. Ben dug deep into his pants pocket and retrieved a hanky. He handed it to Natalie who took it eagerly. Attempting to wipe her dripping nose se was caught off guard by the sudden blast of frigid air that hit her from the left side. Ben braced Natalie to keep her from toppling onto the ground. He cared less about what happened to him, but Natalie was in a fragile state of being, that was first and foremost on his mind. Sitting Natalie back up, Ben tenderly wiped any hair from her face. He was startled to see that his sister looked like a ghostly picture of death.
            “The wind is blowing hard, Nat.” Ben said observing the weather that made its way for the family farm. “Better get inside, don’t you think?”
            Natalie shrugged. She didn’t care. Not even if a huge gust of wind swept her off her feet and carried her far away from home. The only thing that mattered to her at the moment was that Ben would leave her alone. She wasn’t in the mood to talk about—Gracie. And Natalie knew that that was exactly what he was pocking at. He was such a nosey brother, and Natalie hated that about him.
            “Go away.” Natalie said as she rubbed her arms. It was getting colder. The wind was picking up, and it was irritating Natalie’s eyes. Squinting to lessen the irritation, Natalie looked at Ben with a distasteful look about her countenance.
            Ben got the hint of Natalie’s displeasure. “What’s your problem, Nat? Why are you being like this?”
            “You won’t understand, Ben. Just leave me alone!” Natalie wiped her nose again. It was bright cherry red and very dry.
            “No. I want to know what your problem is, Natalie.” Ben’s voice was sincere and alarmed. He stood up and turned to face Natalie. His height was intimidating, even to Natalie who was 5’10. “Gracie is dead, Natalie. You need to stop blaming yourself and move on.”
            Natalie felt slighted. She wasn’t ready to move on. And how dare he tell her what to do! He was her younger brother, not her father. “Gracie wouldn’t be dead if I had been a better friend.” Natalie blurted out in a guttural tone. Her face was lined with anger. Natalie turned away from Ben who was staring at her. It was as if he was staring right into her sole. She just wanted to get away. But where else did she have to go? “If I had stood up for her, she’d still be alive!”
            “Natalie, God obviously had other plans for Gracie that you wouldn’t have been able to change, whether you wanted to or not. She’s not dead because of you!” Ben stated painfully. His heart was pumping; his brain was spinning with words and sentences, thoughts and ideas. He wanted to get his point across right that very moment. He wanted to be the one that made Natalie see the error of her ways. He wanted to be the hero. Ben also wanted to slap sense into his sister, and yet, he wanted to hold her at the same time.  
            Realizing that he was being selfish when wanting to be the “hero” and solve Natalie’s problems in one swift movement or pep-talk, Ben took Natalie by the shoulders and knelt down on one knee. Until this moment, Natalie had never realized just how black Ben’s eyes were. They were deep and mysterious, yet so calm and compassionate.
            “No, no, no, Ben! She wasn’t supposed to go like that—not by suicide.” Natalie clasped her face into her hands and began to sob. “She was too young to die!”
            “Yes, and some are. But it’s not for us to decide when a person dies, Natalie.”Ben looked at Natalie with tears in his eyes. Leaning in closer, Ben took Natalie into his arms and held her close.
            Pulling swiftly away from Ben, Natalie spat: “Yeah, tell that to those who kill people for a living.” Her face was grave. Her body stiff as cardboard. She was a picture of lifelessness, mournfulness and hopelessness.
            “Or to those who choose to die?” Ben asked in retaliation. “Look Natalie, no matter what you wish you could have done, it won’t change a thing now. Stop dwelling on what you should have done and start focusing on what you can do to prevent this sort of thing from happening again.”
            What was Ben to do?! He couldn’t deal with this. He was about to give up, when he felt a strong tug at his heart telling him to continue in his mission. God, I don’t know what to do. She’s like a rock—unmovable and jagged. She’s never going to listen to me. Help me! Ben pleaded. Yet again Ben pulled his sister into his arms, this time holding her tighter. Natalie grunted with displeasure and tried to jerk herself loose from Ben’s hold. He was too strong, and Natalie was too tired to attempt to escape. God! Why are you making me go through this?! Natalie thought to herself as Ben tried to regain his composer without losing his hold on Natalie, or his thoughts and feelings inside.
            “It’s not going to make a difference what I do now. I’ve screwed up my only chance to save my best friend.” Giving into the embrace of her brother, Natalie felt relieved, but she was still opposed to listening to any of his reasoning. Burying her head into her brother’s chest, Natalie continued to be confrontational and said, “And yet here you are telling me that it was all some sort of plan God has for me? Yeah, like God really has a plan for me! Are you blind? Or are you really that stupid?”
            “No.” Ben stated bluntly. His tone was a mix of aggravation, concern and exhaustion. “I believe that where one door closes another door opens. You may have failed to be the beacon Gracie needed, but that doesn’t mean you have failed your mission and purpose here on earth. Natalie, God doesn’t want you to blame yourself for not “saving” Gracie. It’s possible that she would have shot herself still, even if you did stand up for her. People are unpredictable. You can base everything in life on what others do.”
            “Leave me alone! Go away! You are wrong.” Natalie again tried to get away from Ben. This time she began to beat on his chest with her fists. “You don’t know what you are talking about! Gracie is dead because of me. It’s my fault she’s dead. It’s my fault—my own!” Natalie said in a sudden outburst. This wasn’t like her. She was never one to lash out irrationally. At that moment she realized that Ben was right. She needed to snap out of this emotional darkness that had consumed her. She was a captive in her own skin, and if she didn’t cry out to Jesus for help real soon, the chains of her emotional baggage would be the death of her.
            “If you don’t wake up and realize that Gracie’s death was not your fault, you could possibly end up heading down the same path. And I don’t want that for you, Nat. Neither does God. You have a purpose and God will reveal that to you in time. You just need to focus on the good in life and strive to be that change in the world, rather than dwelling on the evil and the what-ifs.”

Natalie Steel [Chapter Two] Getting Real // Part 1

November 2, 2012

       Dear God, Natalie said silently to herself. I cannot deal with this toiling of my emotions. There has to be some way to escape this feeling of guilt! Natalie wanted to scream, to cry, and to keep her emotions bottled up inside of her. Maybe, Natalie thought, it was better if she tried to disregard her feelings, to push them aside and ignore them as if they never existed—the less she had to think about, the more likely she wouldn’t have to deal with her emotional baggage.The next morning, after the somber first entry in her journal— that would later on become the very recollection of her life’s story—Natalie was still distraught over the death of Gracie. It was a great deal too much to bear and Natalie tried to tell herself that it wasn’t her fault that Gracie had committed suicide. But there was a powerful force that constantly plagued her and played with her emotions— telling her that she had everything to do with Gracie’s death.
            Natalie had awakened to a day rich with the assurance of promises and new beginnings. However, Natalie had no interest in stopping to admire the daily gifts that God presented her. She was distracted by a feeling. Where and when had this feeling developed? The feeling invaded the very center of her bosom; a cool sensation had overcome her. Was this what peace felt like?
            It felt less like peace, and more like an Icy-Hot patch that had been placed upon her heart, as if trying to calm down the very nerves that threatened to burst from her chest.  It was a feeling that she could not describe and barely understand. Something had taken place yesterday afternoon, something that had served to comfort her, encourage her, and yet at the same time, create a feeling of fear and resentment.
            In a hurry to escape the maddening structure that seemed more like a prison than a place of refuge and strength, Natalie pushed her way through the kitchen filled with all ten siblings clustered curiously close to the counter, eying Mrs. Steel’s first batch of Apple pies and freshly baked bread.
            While Natalie struggled to make her way through the crowd to the kitchen door, she felt her mom’s piercing stare upon the back of her bare neck. Stopping for a quick second to look back at her mom, Natalie’s stomach began to churn. This involuntary churning of the Natalie’s stomach was not because her mom was repulsive. On the contrary, Mrs. Steel was a pretty lady with smooth and intricate features: an oval face with high cheek bones, full lips, an angular chin and a captivating smile. This sensation of instant nausea was from the nerves that threatened to suck the very life out of Natalie.
            The suffocating strangulation of hopelessness and guilt had forcefully invaded and had become intertwined into every fiber of her being.  Natalie was about to lose her nerves; her mom’s glaring black eyes seemed to dig deep into her very soul. It was as if Mrs. Steel was reading her daughter like a book. It was as if she knew. Did she really know what was going on in Natalie’s life?
            Mrs. Steel, like all moms, did inquire after Natalie’s reason for being unexplainably hasty to leave the house. Mrs. Steel obviously had read what was on Natalie’s mind and therefore knew what she was up to. She had heard all about Gracie’s sudden death from the neighbor next door. In fact, only two days after Gracie’s death, the news had spread through the little town of White House, Tennessee faster than a wild fire. The gossip that went on behind doors about how and why Gracie had died was something Mrs. Steel cared little to know about. But what she did care about was her daughter. She wanted to somehow make it all better. But how could she? How could she, as a mom, mend the broken spirit of her tender and youthful child?
            Natalie began to shrink back and clutched tightly the back of the Windsor chair idly stationed at the kitchen table. Her mom’s stare became more intesified with each movement Natalie made in an attempt to alude her mom’s unaviodable dark and luminous eyes.  It wasn’t out of fear—in fact, it was out of an uncharacteristically and unfathomable introversion that Natalie had recently developed due to the death of her friend, Gracie.
            Natalie knew there was no other way to get out from under her mom’s heavy stare. It was evident that Mrs. Steel knew about Gracie. Was Natalie’s mom disappointed in her? Was she disappointed in the way Natalie had handled the situation at school? Natalie lowered her head in disgrace. She was afraid to look her mom in the eyes. She was afraid her mom would see right through her and rekindle the raw emotions that she had so desperately tried to suffocate.  
            “Steel children,” Mrs. Steel said in a firm and authoritative tone. She looked at her children who had stationed themselves in arms reach of the goodies on the counter, and said coolly, “…I need you to leave at once. Go outside and play. I do not want to see you in this kitchen again until lunch. Understood?”
            The Steel children understood clearly and they ran out of the kitchen. The Steel children knew all-to-well that when their mom told them to do something, it was best that they do it the first time. Procrastination or the inability to follow the rules resulted in punishment. And more often than not, the punishment fit the crime. Rarely was there a moment when they children were allowed to get away with anything. Mrs. Steel believed that discipline was a major ingredient to a child’s healthy development. However, she also believed that the showing of grace and mercy also played its own important role.
            “Without Grace and Mercy one cannot learn. God gives us these gifts, so that we can grow, mature and develop.” Mrs. Steel would often tell her husband after dinner. This long and drawn out debate of how to raise a child usually resulted after Mrs. Steel had disciplined one of the boys. Sometimes Mr. Steel would chime in, but he was usually left listening to his wife chatter endlessly about how parents taught to teach their young. “If we are constantly haggard by punishments and scolding, how will we ever learn was true love is? God uses different methods of teaching, and so must a mom and dad if their children are to amount to anything in this world.”
            As soon as the children left the kitchen, Mrs. Steel turned her attention more directly onto Natalie who was beginning to wish it was a school day.  Unfortunately, it was a Saturday, and she was trapped between a closed door that beckoned to her and her mom’s iron stare. Natalie prayed her mom wouldn’t say anything; she hoped that she would let the matter rest. Please, please, please! Don’t say anything, mom. Just let me go outside. Please! Natalie wanted to cry out aloud. She knew there would be no getting out of talking to her mom; and even if it was a brief moment of dialog, it was sure to seem like an eternity to Natalie.
            Nonchalantly, Mrs. Steel began making her second batch of bread; she carefully measured flour into the large mixing bowl in front of her and started pouring the measured flour into the bowl when she motioned for Natalie to sit on the stool at the counter. Reluctantly, Natalie complied. With her jaw set in an earnest manner, Natalie directed her eyes away from her mom and positioned them onto the cooling pies that were only inches away from her reach. As Natalie’s mom continued to pour more of the measured flour into the bowl, she couldn’t help herself but to ask: “What’s wrong, Hun?”
             “Nothing,” Natalie answered with an indifferent air that made her mom feel violated and unwanted. She did it! I knew she couldn’t keep from asking me a question! Natalie thought to herself, rebelliously rolling her eyes. Natalie was in an awkward position. Natalie wasn’t in the best mood—her friend Gracie had just died and she wasn’t up to talking about her feelings. Gracie was still fresh on Natalie’s mind and the fact that she had “let” her die (which was absurd) was still too much to process so soon after she had learned the news. Natalie knew that her mom knew about Gracie, and knew that that was the reason she was prodding into Natalie’s personal life. She just hoped her mom wouldn’t get to personal.      
            “Nothing…?” Mrs. Steel said softly. Her words were barely auditable to Natalie who had preoccupied herself with picking pieces of crust off the apple pies. Mrs. Steel grabbed a spatula that was sitting off to her right and smacked Natalie’s hand with it. Natalie reared back in surprise, rubbing her hand in pain.
            “Ouch!” Natalie said as she gave her mom a mean glance. “What was that for, mom?”
            “To get your attention,” Mrs. Steel said kneading the bread dough vigorously. Sweat beads began to appear on Mrs. Steel’s broad forehead as she worked hard to release all of the air bubbles that were trapped in the smooth and sticky balls of rubbery dough. Slapping the dough over and over again with her hands, Mrs. Steel proceeded to roll the dough into loafs, and put them into the greased pans over by the stove. “Natalie, how am I supposed to help you if you won’t tell me what’s wrong?” There was a raw determination that had sprouted within Mrs. Steel’s bosom that Natalie hadn’t seen for some time; it was usually seen when she wanted the truth and the facts. Today was no different—Mrs. Steel was going to find out what was bugging Natalie, even if she had to badger it out of the girl.
            As Mrs. Steel placed the white loafs of bread into the hot oven, Natalie answered her mom’s question with a defeated and semi-annoyed reply: “Mom, nothing is wrong.” Natalie said. Silence. At this point, the silence and tension between mom and daughter seemed to infiltrate the already stiff and uneasy feeling within the kitchen.           Trying to avoid a heated argument, Mrs. Steel busied herself in an attempt to appear as if she wasn’t snooping into her daughter’s problems. She often did this in order to let her daughter cool off before poking and prodding any further into the long and extensive investigation of her daughter’s troubles and feelings.
            Remaining silent, Mrs. Steel walked over to the stove and took out a knife and spoon from the silverware drawer, a plate out of the cabinet from above and whipped cream out of the fridge across from the stove. Placing all of items onto the counter by the Apple pies, Mrs. Steel took the knife and the plate and cut a large piece of Apple pie and placed it directly onto the plate. After fiddling with the whipped cream container lid, Mrs. spooned the whipped cream onto the top of her pie. She looked at the decadent desert and her mouth watered. The gooeyness of the pie filling was sticky and fuming with the scent of spicy cinnamon and nutmeg.  
            “Oops!” Mrs. Steel declared. “…I forgot a fork.” She looked to Natalie with a goofy smile and retrieved a fork from the silverware drawer. Returning from her spirited flight to the silverware drawer for the fork she had forgotten, Mrs. Steel picked up her piece of pie, cut into the thick crust and took a bite. “This is really good, Natalie.” Mrs. Steel offered Natalie a bite of the pie, but her daughter refused. Once she was finished with her pie, Mrs. Steel retuned her full attention back to Natalie who was slumped in her chair bored and annoyed.
            “Now, tell me what’s wrong, Nat.”
            “There’s nothing to tell you. You already know everything there is to know. So, stop asking me what’s wrong!” Natalie said in offense. She stood up quickly and headed for the back door. 
            Mrs. Steel didn’t try to stop her daughter from leaving. If there was one thing she knew about her daughter, it was that Natalie was an explosive ready to go off on a moment’s notice. It was in Mrs. Steel’s best interest to leave Natalie alone, giving her time to reflect and cool down before she perused the problematic issue any further.