Stonework is published by Houghton College, a Christian liberal arts college located in New York’s rural Genesee Valley. Stonework seeks a diverse mix of mature and emerging voices in fellowship with the evangelical tradition. Published twice a year, the journal reflects the arts community at Houghton College where excellence in music, writing, and the visual arts has long been a distinctive.

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  • Issue 6
    Poetry by Paul Willis and Thom Satterlee. Fiction and interview with Lori Huth. Essay by James Wardwell, and student poets from Christian campuses.
  • Issue 5
    Poetry by Susanna Childress and Debra Rienstra. Fiction excerpt by Emilie Griffin. Art from Houghton's 2007 presidential inauguration and a forum on women writing.
  • Issue 4
    Matthew Roth--new poems. Diane Glancy--from One of Us and an interview. John Tatter-on gardens and poetry. The Landscapes of John Rhett. Stephen Woolsey--on the poetry of Jack Clemo. James Wardwell--on Herrick.
  • Issue 3
    Poetry by Julia Kasdorf, Robert Siegel and Sandra Duguid. Fiction by Tom Noyes. The portraits of Alieen Ortlip Shea. An anthology of Australian Poets
  • Issue 2
    Thom Satterlee - Poems from Burning Wycliff with an appreciation by David Perkins. Alison Gresik - new fiction and an interview. James Zoller - Poems from Living on the Floodplain.
  • Issue 1
    Luci Shaw — new poems with an appreciation by Eugene H. Peterson & Hugh Cook — new fiction and an interview

Tuesday, November 14, 2006


~Laurie Dashnau

I will restore unto you the years the locusts have eaten... Joel 2:25

The wind howled as the snow fell briskly, fog forming on the hospital room window. My eyes were drawn to the porch of the house across the street, particularly to the bright red, handmade wreath of hearts that adorned the house’s front door. Two toddlers, a boy and a girl, soon came bounding up the porch’s stairs. Despite nature's fury, the children reached out to run their index fingers along the exposed top step and then tousle the hair of a man whom I presumed to be their father. No sooner had they done that than their father scooped them up, one in each arm, and proceeded through the doorway. While the snow and the fog prevented me from seeing the expressions on the faces of these three strangers, I interpreted their frolic as an act of endearment, an intimate family moment I was sharing in by happenstance.
Shivering, I turned from the window and made eye contact with my brother, Jim. Silent sentinels, we must have stood there ten minutes or more before the tears streamed down our faces in tandem. When the heart monitor skipped a beat, we made our way over to my father's bedside. A week earlier, after pneumonia had taken its toll on him even though he was only sixty-one years old and in relatively good health, he had stopped breathing. Since then, the doctors had pumped up his body with so many steroids that he was barely recognizable. Now, fragile shell of a man that he was, I longed to reach out to him, to connect with him, to tell him that I loved him and that everything would be okay. If that actually were possible, it would have been the first February 14 in twenty-five years that I had given him more than an obligatory Valentine’s Day card.

Twenty-five years ago, I mused, Jim and I were just like those children. Suddenly, I was transported back in time. There I was, sitting on our family's living room sofa, smiling broadly as I asked for a nickel in exchange for my father's imaginary haircut, complete with an imaginary Barbisol shave and a stick of Wrigley's spearmint gum for my father's good behavior. Though I was lucky to end up with two pennies for the services rendered, I was a happy five-year-old. My father was thrifty, and more delightful than the money was the pleasure of running my fingers through his thick, wavy brown hair. As an added bonus, my father would sometimes offer to give me a piggy-back ride on his sturdy back afterwards, but only if I did a first-rate job. Consequently, these grooming sessions often turned into half-hour-long events during which I first sat on his lap, then skipped over to the makeshift barber's tray (most often a first aid kit) for yet another Barbie doll comb, and finally returned to stand behind him on the couch cushions, always commenting about his make-believe growing bald spot. He, willing playmate, would inevitably gasp as if horrified by the revelation.
There had been all too many gasps since those days, several ending with me looking out the window as paramedics placed my father on a stretcher and shut the ambulance doors, red lights whirling but no sirens blaring. When I was six my father was first diagnosed as being mentally ill, a diagnosis not met by his or others’ gasps, but instead shrouded in silence. Over the years the specific category changed, from schizophrenic to manic depressive--and the treatments changed dozens of times, from electroconvulsive shock therapy to Zoloft and lithium and all of their pharmaceutical cousins--but my father's gasps remained the same. He gasped after he had thrown dishes across the kitchen, blaming my mother for not understanding the pressures he faced stocking groceries at a store that set quotas for eighteen-year-old, muscular boys rather than skinny, thirty-five-year-old men. He gasped before he struck me when I yelled back at him during one of his fits of rage. He gasped while he went through one of his high periods and struck up conversations with neighbors he had never met before, telling them inappropriate "jokes" that prompted my brother and me to scurry inside, embarrassed. And almost inevitably, his gasping was coupled by finger pointing, pointing that underscored his "you-better-watch-out" glare, or, in his manic moments, his "now-listen-to-this" bravado. That finger pointing had so seared its mark on me that well into my adult years, when I saw someone else make the same gesture (regardless of what it was intended to convey), my heart raced and my eyes fell downcast.

Here in this hospital room, I thought, I'd give anything to see my father point his finger. Two or three times visitors had reported feeling him lightly squeeze their hands when asked to do so, but the doctors were not even cautiously optimistic. In the room next door, another man about my father's age, and with my father's same form of pneumonia, was left to die after his family made the decision to remove life support. It was only a matter of hours before a sheet was placed over him and his body was rolled away to the basement morgue. A few hours later another pneumonia-stricken man was wheeled into the same corner of the I.C.U. One of the nurses, excusing her inattentiveness to the patients as she phoned her friends one after another, remarked that little mattered in a place where everyone was almost certain to die sooner or later. For the first time in my life, I myself had been tempted to finger point. Appalled, I left the room and waited down the hall until the next nurse came on duty.
Another week and countless nurses’ shifts later, my brother and I again stood at my father's bedside as my father defied the odds and regained consciousness. Half opening his eyes and then closing them again, blinking them randomly and then focusing on individual objects like infants do when their vision is developing, he wore on his face a mixed expression of awe and frustration. We had been told that he might have amnesia when he awoke, but he quickly alleviated our fears by titling his head toward each one of us when asked to show that he recognized our names.
After his repeated attempts to talk failed because of his respirator and feeding tube, my father lifted his arms just enough, pointing unsteadily towards a desk, for us to surmise that he wanted to write down something. His letters were chicken scratch, indecipherable dots, and crossed lines. The anger rising in him when we, like game show hosts, posed twenty questions to him--questions including "Do you want to know today's date?," "Are you trying to tell us you're in pain?," and "Is it too hot or cold in here for you?"--was exceeded only by his anger when we took away his pencil and paper and commanded him to rest. Four tries and a full hour later, we were able to recognize three letters: "I," "N," and "S."
" your insides hurt?" we queried.
He shook his head no.
"Insulted?" we offered, realizing that anyone in a paper-thin hospital gown might well feel that way.
Another negative head shake.
Suddenly, in a soft, tentative voice, my mother ventured, "Insurance?"
Bingo--a nod.
"It's all covered," she reassured him, in response to which he sighed heavily, his body going limp as he rested his head on the pillow.
I looked at my mother, my mother looked at my brother, and then all three of us, the solemnity of the occasion notwithstanding, laughed with abandon. It was a good
sign, a turning point in my father's several-month-long recovery.


One week later my father was moved out of the I.C.U. and into a regular room, and a week after that he was released. Only then did my mother choose to tell him of his
brush with death. Only then did my father begin to comprehend what a month's worth of lost time meant in the larger scheme of things. My mother phoned me and said that my father had bawled when she told him about the countless prayers that God's will be done, no longer accusing others of not caring as he so often had done during his previous hospitalizations for his mental illness, but instead realizing and being overwhelmed by their genuine concern. My mother also said that my father wanted to speak with my brother and me. Though I never had known my mother to lie, I was skeptical. I had long avoided conversations of any sort with my father and didn't even know how to go about one. If I said nothing, would he break the silence by saying something off-color, as he so often had done in the past, making me not only uncomfortable but also mad, feeling violated as a woman and as his daughter? And if I extended a small gesture of kindness, perhaps telling him that I was glad to see him doing so much better, would he, as he also had often done in the past, blame me for not really understanding how hard things were for him, distancing himself once again addressing me as “You People”?


“You People!” he had shouted dozens of times through my years in elementary and high school after coming home from work and being put on suspension or fired from work once again after talking back to his manager, glaring at my mom, brother, and me from the kitchen table, where he often sat for hours at a time. “You People just don’t understand me! In fact, You People--You People are the ones who have made me this way!”
“No, we have not!” my brother and I, I especially, would sometimes be feisty or foolish enough to retort. “You are responsible for your own actions.”
“You People!” he would repeat. “You People!” And with that came what in the best of terms would be called a meltdown and would be followed by a flurry of phone calls by my mother to see if we could stay with my grandmother for a few hours or the night or if my father’s psychiatrist would recommend and authorize yet another hospitalization.


So there I sat on the family sofa, a week or two after my father had come home, my eyes glued to the carpet, feet tapping, stomach queasy. What was it that my father wanted to say now? I wondered, equally if not more worried about how I would respond, or, perhaps even more accurately, fail to respond.
Dim light shone through the window, the March afternoon sun fading. Overwhelmed by the tension of the moment, I was reminded of the words attributed to C. S. Lewis in William Nicholson's play Shadowlands. Knowing that his wife, Joy Davidman Gresham, had cancer, but not knowing how long her remission would last, Lewis half-prayed, half-pleaded with God, "Give me blizzards and frozen pipes, but not this waiting room of the world." That's exactly how I felt. True, my father was out of the hospital, and I was literally out of the waiting room. Yet ironically, I almost wanted my relationship with my father to go back to what it had been like before he almost died. I was so afraid of the unknown that I almost longed for the all too painfully familiar.
But then there came another turning point. Tears streaming down his face, my father choked out, "I…love you."
I wish the words had come more easily to me, but I faltered as I reciprocated, " you, too." I swallowed hard. It was the first time in the decades after those hair-grooming days that I remember such a fond, albeit strained, exchange taking place.


Since that day when I discovered that I could say those three words and truly mean it, I still have found it difficult to really talk with my father. But my life will never be the same. One time recently, when I visited my parents and my father asked me how I was and made a comment about me needing to be careful not to become obsessed with work and, as he put it, “end up like [him],” I began to panic.
“Knock, knock,” he said.
I could feel my face going pale even as I started perspiring, fearing a crude joke would soon follow regardless of whether or not I responded with “Who’s there?” Nevertheless, I remained silent even while planning to excuse myself.
“Knock, knock,” he repeated.
“Who’s there?” I conceded.
“Orange who?”
“Orange you glad I’m going to drop that subject and that I won’t be telling any more knock-knock jokes?”
Both he and I laughed. In that moment, I somehow knew he realized a lot more than words could ever express. In that moment, I sensed that, in the future, I possibly even might be able to let down my guard a little when talking with him. And finally, in that moment, I began to realize anew that a part of my childhood of which I had been robbed by spending most winters after school visiting my father in the hospital's psychiatric ward--and when I was at home, cowering in fear--had been restored.