Here’s a preview of the novel “Four-Ninety and Holding ~ As the Sparks Fly Upward” written by: M.B. Varville-Rodriguez as told to her by Marahlena, the main character of this novel. It is based on actual events and chronicles the process of surviving an emotionally abusive relationship, reinventing life, and embracing adventures that lead to unexpected blessings. More excerpts to follow next month!
Time to Check out Chapter One and Two
Four-Ninety and Holding ~ As the Sparks Fly Upward
By: M.B. Varville-Rodriguez
“Yet man is born to trouble, as the sparks fly upward.”
Marahlena closed her eyes and inhaled deeply. An aroma of lavender and mint invited her to melt into the warm sheets beneath her unclothed body. Another cool linen cloth discreetly shielded her from above as Frank gently caressed her forehead and temples. The scented therapy oils and soft cello music transported her to a place somewhere beyond the room…who knows where. The melody sounded so far away. Marah didn’t care. Her body began to feel lighter already; almost as if it were floating away, detached from her pain. She was a 5’4” mass of stress and muscles so tightly knotted that she could almost imagine them as one of those thickly knit sweaters from the 1960’s; made of itchy, hot, breath restricting wool.
The massage therapy room enveloped Marah in warm, earthy copper hues. Ambiance lighting, controlled by a dimmer, enhanced the sensation of being surrounded by a soothing aura. She wanted to embrace this heavenly peace after her harried day at school. Her eventful day involved caring for a room of crying babies…all teething in unison. (Oh but she loved those adorable, chubby little faces so eager to receive attention and ready to absorb everything she had planned for their daily activities.) Marah’s long, thick, brown hair with natural red highlights was pinned up away from her neck with a large lobster claw clip. A few stray strands rebelled and cascaded from her ear to her shoulder. Frank brushed them aside and applied more warm oil. His deep, gentle voice instructed her to deeply breathe in then exhale as he dug his thumb into the right side of her neck…the side that gave her the most grief.
She obeyed his request. Her smooth, clear, porcelain skin was beginning to gain a soft pink tone as blood flowed to her extremities. Marah felt her lungs suck in oxygen as if it were her last breath before a deep dive. She slowly released the pressure and exhaled, hoping to ease the pain as Frank pulled and stretched the muscle fibers that had become scarred and resistant. She waited expectantly for the rush of blood to her ears at the end of each stroke from Frank’s expertly trained hands. Remodeling the scar tissue was excruciating, intense, necessary, and had a sweetness that made her want to cry out. But she held back. She was an expert at masking her discomfort; both emotionally and physically.
There was a sensation of being fully present within that moment of pain. It made Marahlena acutely aware of her physical neediness. She focused on her aching body, how it responded to touch, and how much of her physical trauma had been connected to the emotional upheavals she had endured over the last five years. Marahlena was proud of herself for scheduling this session. It had been a huge chunk out of her budget, but she knew that if she didn’t go ahead and sign up for the monthly sessions, she’d always find some excuse not to take care of herself first.
She flashed back to those early years when she traveled by plane, before she even knew what her future would become. Those years had been so adventurous, yet she never fully appreciated the amazing life she was leading. The pre-flight safety protocol was definitely applicable to what she was experiencing in the present. The advice to put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others was relevant even though on the surface it seemed self-serving. Marah had thought long and hard about that when she signed the contract for monthly session at The Spa. Somehow she realized there was no way she would have the physical energy or spiritual architecture necessary to rescue the family in the midst of crisis if her soul felt incapacitated and breathless.
Frank continued his therapeutic ministering as Marah allowed herself to be stroked and pulled and stretched at his command. It didn’t matter that her body was being tested in ways the previous therapists hadn’t pursued. This guy was the one she needed. Frank Sablan leaned over her with his six-foot-four-inch frame supported by well chiseled muscles that defined his purpose. There was a strength and endurance required of his chosen profession that necessitated intense preparation at the fitness center across the street from The Spa. He maintained a regimen of cardio workouts and weight training five times per week.
Frank’s physical preparations combined with a well-balanced diet protected him from absorbing any negative energy that emanated from his clientele. Many came to him with a variety of ailments and emotional catastrophes that could pull him into an abyss if he wasn’t cautious. His financial security also depended upon his ability to maintain a professional distance while still making sure each client received his undivided attention during their customized sessions. This level of integrity made him one of the therapists most in demand. He always had a full calendar and his attentiveness was well rewarded in the form of gratuities.
Those gratuities allowed him to live comfortably since the hourly wage paid by his employer was paltry compared with the preparations required for each customized session. He always exceeded his client’s expectations, yet his employer was often relentless in evaluating the overall cash flow per therapist. He had recently cut his curly, jet black hair to resemble the style of a seasoned member of the elite military “Special Ops” forces. Frank’s girlfriend of two years, Sheliza, had been shocked and a little disappointed that she would no longer be able to grab a hold of his tight curls to pull him closer during their love making. She eventually realized how much sexier it made him to have such a clean, uncomplicated look. Frank smiled at the memory. Marah knew that Frank had once actually considered joining Special Forces so he could later receive assistance with college tuition. Three months after that thought he decided it would never work. He only wanted to answer to himself – taking orders from no one.
Marah thought back to the day Frank shared how he and Sheliza had met. Frank had just finished teaching a fitness session for seniors at the hospital. He felt his stomach rumble and headed for the cafeteria. As he rounded the corner toward the cashier, he accidentally bumped into Sheliza. She spilled her mango pineapple smoothie and Frank grabbed a handful of napkins to help her clean up the mess. When he finally looked up their eyes locked. Sheliza stood up and straightened to all of 5’2” of her petite frame.
Her long black locks framed her face in subtle waves. One bright purple streak accentuated her hair. It was swept to the right side of her head and secured with a silver filigree barrette. Frank was struck by her emerald green eyes and bright smile. He apologized for bumping into her, extended his hand in introduction, and offered to buy her another smoothie plus whatever she wanted for lunch. She returned his admiring gaze and accepted the invitation. The two spend the rest of their lunch break sharing grilled chicken sandwiches loaded with avocado slices and mayo, details about their jobs, personal interests, and the latest movies showing at the Premiere Cinema on 8902 Seawall Boulevard.
Their conversation had been easy and honest. Frank had never experienced that kind of instant connection with anyone prior to Sheliza. Marah recalled feeling somewhat wistful when Frank had shared his confession. She too had felt that way about someone years ago. That memory never fully faded. Long after she married and had children, the remnants of unrequited love still lingered; especially during periods of intense stress and restlessness. Frank admitted to Sheliza from the beginning that he was at an impasse regarding his next career move. The idea of Special Ops and his recent dismissal of the decision to apply for the program was still fresh. He loved his work with the hospital wellness program, and wondered if there were ways to further develop this passion.
Two months after Frank and Sheliza had decided to pursue a relationship, she brought up the idea of checking out the Physical Therapy School at University of Texas Medical Branch. She was already a third year medical student with a strong desire to became a Pediatric Neurologist. Frank wasn’t too sure about committing to that type of long term education plan, but agreed to think about it more. He talked to several students in the program and arranged to meet with the admissions representative before finally reaching a decision to enroll. Aside from the need to maintain this massage therapy business on the side, Frank had never been happier with his new career choice.
After graduating from UTMB at Galveston with a Master’s Degree in Physical Therapy, Frank decided to work in Pediatrics. However, massive tuition loan repayments created a need to take on a second job. He further honed his message therapy skills and created a name for himself at The Spa. Marah appreciated Frank’s skill and dedication to his work. A feeling of momentary contentment followed each session and surrounded her like a warm towel after a long, cool shower. He made Marah feel more aware of her body than anyone else had in a long while.
Marah recalled asking herself after that first session, “How long has it been since anyone touched me in this way for any reason?” Frank was the epitome of a professional therapist. He always adjusted the sessions according to her level of pain to make sure he didn’t overdo the deep tissue massage she required. He always made sure that the massage bed had been warmed prior to her arrival. This eased her discomfort and helped her melt into the sheets. Now, she listened as Frank’s soft, deep voice quietly breathed into her ear, “Relax, Leyna. Just breathe deeply. Slowly exhale.” A tear began to slide down her cheek…a slow, haunting tear. She didn’t try to stop its exit or halt its journey.
It was somehow okay for Frank to see this part of her. He had been a total stranger when they began sessions three months ago. Yet she had willingly and eagerly shed her outer layer and slid under the warm sheets waiting for his touch. Nothing about their first encounter seemed odd or illicit. Thank God for massage therapy. Marah wondered if Frank could see through her protective shell. Would he wonder if that solitary tear was the loneliest tear he had seen in forever? Would he care? Frank didn’t say anything as he adjusted her head to the other side and worked out the tension and tightness in her neck. How heavy was her head to create such a strain on her neck? She read somewhere that the human head can weigh from seven to twelve pounds depending on the person’s overall size.
Marahlena almost forgot where she was and suddenly heard herself saying out loud, “I feel like I’m always holding my breath – waiting for the next traumatic thing to happen.” There. She had finally said it and pretty sure Frank had listened, because he responded with a sympathetic, “Hmm.” So many truths that needed to come out. So many times she had been let down. So many promises to her had been broken. But how could she heal and move forward? Her body ached – a reflection of the emotional pain and heartache no doubt. Would it even be possible to heal and move forward? To forgive? How many times would she have to forgive? Seven times? Seventy times seven?
Marahlena opened her eyes, stared down at Frank’s feet through the hole in the massage table, and focused on her breathing as Frank continued to work his magic. “I want this feeling of peace to last forever,” she thought. “What do I need to do?” She couldn’t help but remember what had occurred a little over six months ago. Perhaps healing emotional scars involved recalling the traumatic parts – facing them head on and releasing the adhesions. Just like the taught muscle fibers. Maybe, just maybe, it was time to deal with all the pain.
If there's a book you really want to read, but it hasn't been written yet,
then you must write it.
- Toni Morrison
- Toni Morrison
Marahlena left The Spa feeling so energized that the manic buildup of foreign energy collided with her right brain creativity. She had to remove her foot from the gas pedal several times to avoid surpassing the posted speed limits. As soon as she parked the mini-van, she raced upstairs to her second floor apartment and in desperation nearly broke the key off in the lock. If it weren’t for that damned necessary trip to the bathroom, thanks to all the water she drank after her massage, Marah would have reached her closet even quicker. Marah grabbed a composition book from the coveted stash of notebooks she had hidden from her children at the beginning of the school year.
School supply sales from Wal-Mart helped her stockpile those fifty-cent “journals” that her three children loved to fill. That was her doing. From the time each one was old enough to hold a crayon, she encouraged them to scribble, draw, and write to their hearts content. Now she had to have her own secret box hidden in the back of her closet behind the jumbo sized box of tampons and panty-liners. It seemed like forever since she had allowed herself the luxury of sitting down to write.
Writing poetry used to be her absolute favorite activity. Writing provided a creative outlet for her thoughts and encouraged an honest expression of her deepest fears and secrets. The notebooks were her confidante; providing a companionship that her own husband had been unable to provide. Reading books may have been her first love, but learning to write had come in a close second. Now she hoped to unveil her experiences, one layer at a time, to heal the deep wounds and allow debilitating scars to fade.
The weight of the pen as she pressed into the wide-lined paper was oppressive. But this was a necessary step toward retrieving her soul. Long ago she had let it go of thinking she was doing it to save another; never realizing how her own life had been impacted until it was almost too late. She sat on the couch with her legs crossed, a soft blue rectangular pillow balanced on her knee, the school composition book propped open on the pillow. Marah waited expectantly for the black ink to start swirling around. She mentally attempted to list the events leading up to this moment. When finished, the list would help as she organized her thoughts, released her emotions, and created a story that needed to be told. Because the only way to finish this story was to get it started.
Regardless of how much pain this unearthed, Marah was determined to deal with it and let go of the weight that held her back from achieving her dream for so many years. Yet getting started sounded easier than the reality. She sat immobilized for several minutes, her right hand frozen, with a black ink pen suspended over that first sheet of blank, empty, lined paper. It had to be black ink too, because any other color made things appear less than permanent. Catholic school taught her that only black ink was acceptable for written words.
Marah carried that premise with her throughout high school, college, and work experiences. She only wrote her documentation for case management notes in black ink. When someone handed her a blue pen to sign her name at doctor’s office visits, she produced her own black ink pen to officially document the transaction. So it was only fitting that this tome would begin with black ink. That made it official. But, how does one find a voice to explain the bad taste created by this tale? The sour, bitter remorse was so hard to digest.
One afternoon, several days ago, Marahlena realized her forgiveness quota was about to run empty. As she listened to the sounds of her three children playing at the McDonald’s playground, those insidious feelings of hopelessness had once more started to tease her; invading her thoughts at random opportunities. Her children, Emerson, Brosnan, and George Henry, had ended up there with Marah after one of Leo’s tirades. It wasn’t their first visit. She once told Frank, “It’s easier to remove myself and the kids versus confronting Leo about his enormous ‘Baby Man’ behaviors.” How could she expect the children to act right when they observed their father flying off the deep end of space?
Yes, she determined that writing about her challenges was the only solution to heal her hail-damaged soul, rebuild her life, and push forward toward a more peaceful existence for herself and for her babies. Marah reminded herself that she could draw on the strength that lay buried deep inside her heart. She had come from a long history of strong, adventurous, resilient women; women who like herself had found it necessary to relocate many times and survive the diverse challenges of keeping their families together. And so she began to write her own heroic tale ….
“Hi. My name is Marahlena.” Damn. That already sounded like the beginning to one of Leo’s AA meetings. “My husband is an alcoholic and I’m a recovering nice girl. At least I’d like to think I am. I may have entered into this relationship as a co-dependent, but years of managing a household in spite of my husband’s behaviors brought out a side of my personality I didn’t know existed.” Marah’s hand sped off seemingly on its own volition. “Nice” doesn’t always equate with “assertive.” It’s pretty damn hard for those two words to co-exist harmoniously. Marah closed her eyes for a moment.
She wanted to classify herself as assertive, no longer willing to accept emotionally abusive behaviors from anyone for any reason. That would take some time. Opening her eyes, Marah continued, as if willing herself to believe the words that flowed onto her paper. “I can be compassionate and helpful without losing myself or absorbing someone else’s stress. It is no longer important for me to feel obligated to enlist myself as ‘the fixer’ of problems.” Wow, that was reaching for the gold. How long had she felt responsible, the first born, the one who was supposed to set the example? How would she reconcile the fact that she believed her role as the oldest of seven children had become tainted by her failures?
“It is necessary for me to let go of my control issues and allow others to accept accountability for their circumstances.” She paused again and let the pen hang loosely from her fingers. Here’s the thing. People can be pretty good at drawing you in to their drama by enlisting your help as ‘the fixer’. But the truth is, once you step in and try to fix and improve things, even with their permission and blessing, you run to risk of being thrown into traffic. Those same people who confide in you and feed your ego with praise will push you into oncoming traffic when you let down your guard.
The same thing happens in an emotionally abusive relationship. You allow yourself to trust when the compliments flow freely and feel blind-sided when things aren’t going ‘his way’. That’s when the barrage of insults begins to tear you down. You’re left weak and in shock for days, weeks, even months as you struggle to comprehend where you went wrong. “Time to make a statement”, she said out loud. “I, Marahlena, am hereby ready to review my struggles, renew my life’s plan, reinvent myself as the assertive person I know I can become, and forever refuse to accept emotionally abusive behaviors. I will state my case and never back down.”
She desperately wanted to believe what she was writing. “People-pleasing is an illness, but you can learn to inoculate yourself and build up your immune system against this threat. It won’t be a simple task. This road is filled with potholes. Some are visible but others are disguised beneath a weak surface. Learning to navigate this tough terrain requires patience and a willingness to find that backbone.” So began Marah’s journey back to her heart to retrieve her soul. She had no idea how far she actually was from realizing her dreams.