Joellen takes a stand.
On Sunday Joellen and Brent went to church with the children as usual. They sat and listened to Pastor Immerhaupt’s sermon and then he told the congregation that he was officially retiring. He introduced North Karlson as their new pastor. Afterwards, everyone went up to say goodbye to old Pastor Immerhaupt and to welcome Pastor Karlson.
“I’m going outside,” Joellen said to Brent. “You take the children. I need some air.”
“What are you talking about?” Brent took her by the shoulder. “We have to go up there together. Look. Everyone’s going up as families. You can’t just walk out without saying something and welcoming the new guy.”
“I’m going outside,” she repeated and brushed his hand off her shoulder. It was obnoxious the way he referred to North as “the new guy.”
He took hold of her upper arm then and spun her towards him. “No you’re not.”
“Let go of me,” she said.
“Mommy, what’s wrong?” Noreen looked up at her mother’s face.
“Nothing, Norey, Mommy just needs some air.”
“Mommy’s going to get some air later,” said Brent, whose voice was now taut.
They walked up the aisle with Brent holding her arm and the children in front of them. When they got to Pastor Immerhaupt, Brent shook his hand and made the customary noises, thanking him for everything, telling him he hoped retirement was good to him. Pastor Immerhaupt called him “my boy” and nodded a lot.
They moved on to Pastor Karlson. Brent shook his hand first and then introduced the children.
“This is Noreen, our little angel,” he said and pushed Noreen up to North Karlson. “Say hello to our new pastor, Norey,” She did as she was told, and when she had the chance she stole a look at Billy Wendell, who was standing to one side, sticking his tongue out at her.
“And this is our big boy, Jamie.” Jamie shook Pastor Karlson’s hand.
“Do you know my wife, Joellen? Oh that’s right, she helped with the rummage sale, didn’t she? She’s a great helper, Joellen. Isn’t that right, Sweetie?” He laughed, still holding Joellen’s arm.
“Joellen can speak for herself,” she said and wrenched her arm free.
With her hands balled up into fists, she walked stiffly back down the aisle and out the front door of the church. When she reached the sidewalk, she realized she had nowhere to go and would have to face Brent again. She was afraid her anger would boil over before she was ready, before she had all her cards stacked in a neat pile ready to play. She felt she was being stupid. But she also felt out of control. Letting Brent push her around all the time. He was calling the shots. How could she sleep in the same bed with him now that she knew? How could she go on with everyday life as if nothing had changed, when everything had changed? When, in fact, she had changed?
She saw them coming from the church. Brent’s face was pale and he was holding the children by the hand, something he never did.
He led them to the car and opened the door. Joellen watched them as if she was witnessing a movie being made, as if these weren’t people she knew but strangers playing the parts of her family. Her eyes were doing something weird, and at the edges of her field of vision everything was vibrating and bright. She watched Brent walk up to her, but it was as if he was just part of a movie she was watching.
In a raw voice full of rage he said, “Get in the car, Joellen.” She followed him and got into the passenger seat. He slammed the door and she watched him walk in front of the car and get into the driver’s seat. As he passed the headlights she had an urge to slide over and turn the key and drive away before he could get in.
They drove in silence. In the back seat, the children sat mute all the way home.