Staff & Sling

Joseph E. Hébert, Ph.D.

98119 N 3745 Rd
Okemah, OK  74859
918 623 3078

Is It Too Late?

The clock in the living room chimed, and Amanda was startled from dozing.

"No! I will not fall asleep!"

She rose from the sofa abruptly, intent on waking herself, determined to drive the drowsiness from her head. She looked around the room, checked the clock, and went to the kitchen to get a soda.

That was the ticket. A soda would be just enough caffeine to wake her for the vigil at hand, but not so much as to keep her awake all night. After all, it was only 11 o'clock. Surely Jenny would be home soon, and Amanda intended to be awake to greet her.

"She's only an hour late," thought Amanda. "It's not like she's the first teenager to break her curfew on a Saturday night."

But for all of her self-reassurance, Amanda was worried. Jenny had never been this late before. On the other hand it wasn't as though she'd taken up with a new crowd of delinquent friends. She still hung out with the same kids she'd grown up around, the same classmates she'd been friends with her whole life. And they were all nice kids. Surely there was nothing to worry about. They'd probably just lost track of the time.

Jenny sat back down on the sofa, sipped her soda and turned on the television.

"Typical," she thought. "200 channels and nothing to watch." She began scrolling through the channels looking for something, anything, to take her mind off of her worries when the doorbell rang.

"That's not right," thought Amanda. "Jenny wouldn't ring the doorbell ..., unless she lost her keys! Of course! She lost her keys! That must be why she's late. She was looking for her lost keys. Brother! What next!?"

At once overjoyed and enraged, Amanda leapt from the sofa and barked as she opened the door, "Young lady! Do you have any idea what time it is? You'd better have a good explana- ...."

But Jenny wasn't at the door. It was a police officer.

There could be no good reason for a cop to ring her doorbell at 11 o'clock at night. Amanda steeled herself as she asked, "May I help you officer?"

"Ma'am. I'm terribly sorry to bother you at this hour, but are you Amanda Cooke, and do you have a daughter named Jenny?"

"Oh no! He asked about us by name. This can't be good," she thought. Her mind raced, "Okay. What does that mean? Obviously Jenny's in trouble."

"Yes. I'm Amanda Cooke," she answered. "Is Jenny in trouble?"

"Mrs. Cooke. I'm afraid I need to ask you to come with me to the hospital."

Amanda felt the color drain from her face as the strength drained from her legs. Holding the door in her left hand, she steadied herself by grabbing the door frame with her right.

"Is Jenny all right? What's happened to her? Is she hurt? How bad is she hurt?"

"Mrs. Cooke," the officer said in a voice that was firm, yet so overtly calm as to belie unusual sympathy, "I'm afraid I have some bad news. A young girl has died, and we believe it's your daughter, Jenny. I'm terribly sorry, but I need to ask you to come with me to identify her."

With a plaintive whimper that she felt more than heard, Amanda sank in the doorway as her heart sank in her chest.

Catching her, the officer helped her to steady herself. "A group of local teenagers," he explained, "broke into a vacant house where they were drinking and doing drugs. I was sent to investigate when a neighbor reported the unusual activity. While there I discovered a young girl passed out in one of the rooms. As you would imagine, most of the kids involved fled as soon as they heard me pulling up outside, and none of the kids I managed to take into custody knew the girl personally, but one of them believed her name was Jenny."

He went on to explain that he called for an ambulance and performed CPR while waiting for them to arrive. "Unfortunately," he said, "the EMTs were unable to resuscitate her. They transported her to the hospital where she was pronounced dead." He told her that the official cause of death would be determined by autopsy, but that all indications were that the girl had died of a drug overdose. There were a lot of drugs left behind as the kids fled.

He then explained that the mother of one of the other kids, a teacher at Jenny's school, had given him her name and address but that no one had yet confirmed the girl's identity. Once again he asked, "I am so very sorry to ask, but can you please accompany me to the hospital?"

As they drove to the hospital Jenny's mind raced. "This can not be happening. There must be a mistake. No one really knew that Jenny was dead." Though she hadn't prayed in years, Amanda began to pray silently.

"Oh! God! Please, please, please, please. Please let this not be Jenny. Please!! Please let this be a big mistake."

Amanda was surprised when they pulled into the hospital driveway. She couldn't tell if the ride had seemed unusually long or unbelievably short. She only knew that everything was surreal. She knew that she did not want to go inside, but that she had to know. She did not want to know that her daughter was dead, but she had to know the truth. The dread built up more the farther into the hospital they went, so she clung to the hope that it was all a terrible mistake.

Finally, at last, she stood outside a door bearing that ominous sign, "Morgue." She went in.

The officer, still with her, held her arm to once again help her steady herself as they stood beside a table. A hospital worker lifted a white sheet from over the face of the young girl lying on the table. Steeling herself, and holding onto the officer, she looked down to see Jenny's lifeless face staring back.

The officer's grasp only slowed her fall as Amanda collapsed to the floor.

"NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!" she cried.

Amanda sobbed violently and uncontrollably as the officer helped her up and into a wheelchair that the hospital worker had retrieved from nearby.

With no memory of the return trip, Amanda looked around her living room. The house was quiet. The officer who had been so kind was gone and she was alone now. She thought. "I really am all alone now. No one else is coming home, ever again." Try as she might, she could not remember the last time she told Jenny that she loved her, and she began again to cry as she realized that now she never could.

The clock on the wall chimed midnight. "Could it be," she wondered? "Has it only been an hour?" It was too surreal. Surely it had been hours. It didn't seem possible that in the span of a single hour her whole life could be so completely upturned.

"How can this be?" She asked herself where she had gone wrong, what could she have done differently? Angrily she asked God, "Why? Why did you do this to me? What have I done that was so terrible that I should deserve this?"

And in that moment, even though she hadn't prayed to, or even thought about, God in years, she immediately knew His answer.

"Oh no you don't! You're not blaming this on me," she told God. But even as she protested she knew that she had suspected that Jenny and her friends were getting into mischief at times, and she had dismissed it as kids being kids. She remembered being young once, and she remembered doing some stupid things with her friends. "But we didn't die," she exclaimed!

On the other hand, she and her friends had never broken into someone's house, vacant or not. Oh, one or two of her friends might have snuck something out of their parents' liquor cabinet. And maybe she remembered some of them experimenting with one or two of the lesser narcotics.  But they never did anything like this, and they never got into any real trouble.

"That's the problem," she thought. "Kid's today are out of control. They have no discipline, no limits."

And as quickly as she thought it, in her heart she heard God answer, "And just who hasn't disciplined Jenny? Who hasn't set her limits?"

"But all of her friends, they have so much more influence over her than I do," she argued. "Kids today! It's just different than when I was young. I tried to make certain she didn't get in with the wrong crowd. But she spends all day every day with her friends. When does she spend any time with me?"

"When indeed?" Again, in her heart she heard God respond, "When does your daughter spend any time with you?"

"Well," Amanda answered, "I can't keep her at home all the time. She needs friends, to socialize. And she has to go to school. School! We all know what a cesspool the public schools have become. But I have to send her. I have no choice."

"Really? Her friends have more influence over her than you because you have to send her to school and then you have to let her hang out with them the rest of the time." God's response was as clear as if it had been spoken audibly. "You say it's the kids that are different today. Okay, let's forget about today. Let's just talk about tonight instead. You tell me. What's different tonight than when you were young?"

And, as is always the case when we commune with the Almighty, she immediately knew the answer.

When she was young she would never have been out past 10 o'clock on a Saturday night because her mother saw to it that she was in Sunday School and Church on Sunday morning.

Oh, she'd gone to public schools and hung out with friends that her parents didn't always like. But somehow she always knew there were limits. And, once she thought about it, she remembered that there were times when some of her friends pushed beyond the boundaries of those limits, but she had never followed. She hadn't really thought about it in the years since, but she realized that she didn't really remember any of those kids' names, or their faces or what had become of them. And in that moment she began to realize how much her mother had done for her by raising her in church.

And she began again to cry. "Why?!? Why, God, didn't you tell me these things before it was too late? Oh, God, please!?! Why show me this now? Why couldn't you have shown me this a week ago?"

Again, as quickly as she asked, she knew God's answer. "Do you really think dropping your daughter off at Sunday School last week would have changed anything? Your mother brought you to Sunday School, and Church, every week of your childhood. She didn't just drop you off, point to others and say, 'Look to them as an example.' She lived the example for you to see. What example did you live for Jenny?"

Again violently and uncontrollably, Amanda sobbed, "Oh, God! Pleeaaseeeeee! Help me! I will give anything..., I will give everything to go back and do it right. You're God, aren't you? You can do anything, can't you? God, please forgive me. Pleeaaseeee! Help me. Just do this one thing. Pleeaaseeeee! Just don't take away my Jenny!!! Please please please please please. Give me one more chance! Just pleeaaseeee, whatever you do, please don't say it's too late."

Then the door creaked as it opened and Amanda was startled awake. Disoriented, she looked around. The clock on the wall said 12:10 and the door was creaking open slowly. Slowly it dawned on her that she had fallen back asleep while channel surfing. The entire night's trauma had all been a nightmare. It had all been just a dream!

"It was only a dream! It was only a dream!" Silently, gratefully, she reassured herself, "Oh! Thank You God! It was only a dream!" And with an overwhelming joy of relief, unlike any she'd ever known, Amanda prayed, "Thank You God! OH! Praise You! Thank You God! You did show me while there was still time. You did tell me before it was too late. Thank You thank You thank You! I will do it right. Please help me Lord. Please help me to do it right while there's still time."

Looking up, Amanda saw Jenny sneaking in through the front door. Overjoyed and overwhelmed, she leapt to her feet and grabbed Jenny in a hug that startled her young daughter. Jenny, expecting to be in trouble, knew that something was different, though she wasn't sure what.

Then Amanda barked, "Young lady! Do you have any idea what time it is? You'd better have a good explana- .... You know what. We'll discuss that later. Right now, tonight, I just want to tell you how much I love you. Now, get to sleep. We've got an early morning tomorrow."