My heart wept for Jesus. I felt His goodness in my fingertips, behind my ears, in my bones. I cried often thinking about the pain the evil men had caused him all those years ago.
Aunt Ruth had gotten the bright red winter jacket cheap at the secondhand store. I would have wished for a less conspicuous color. But at least it had a secret pocket. The pocket was right at the spot over my heart. In it I carried an old postcard showing Jesus surrounded by children and animals. He looked at them, at the children, and He saw them and He loved them. My heart ached. I wanted Him to turn His little paper head and look at me. I wanted Jesus to see me. I wanted Him to look me deep into my eyes and recognize me. In my dreams He would nod at me and smile and I could feel the other children watching. I would not look at them, at the other children. I would only have eyes for Him. And He would know. He would know about me, about me being good. About me being almost an angel or a saint. And because He knew all the rest, it wouldn’t matter. The yelling and the eggs. The darkness and the stairs. I would stand perfectly straight, my hands folded neatly over my skirt.
“My little lamb,” He would say and reach His hand toward me.
Sometimes I went to Him at once. Other times I waited a few seconds, relishing in the jealousy of the other kids, especially of Susie. Susie was greedy and had a rotten heart. I wouldn’t move until they had all seen me, seen the way He looked at me. Finally, I would run then, run straight into His arms, His soft hands on my back. His head would rest on my hair gently. I would be pressed into His warm chest, feeling His heart beat. His white dress would smell of strawberries and soap. I would keep my eyes closed so I wouldn’t have to see the hating faces around us. “I wish I was dead,” I would whisper then. Jesus would grab my chin and force me to look up at him. “Oh, little Lamb! It is a sin to wish for death, you know that.”
“I want to be with you!” I would cry and glittering tears would well up.
“Lamb. You need to be alive to show the others what love is.” He would stroke my chin and smile. “You have to do it for me.”
I would nod and smile too. A brave smile born out of courage and selflessness.
“That’s right, Lamb,” He would say because He could see me.
The pain was always the sharpest here.
I had dropped all the library books, my bag. I bowed my head and gathered up the image of Jesus one more time while they shouted, and the eggs broke over my face.
“You ugly pig! You smelly ugly fat pig! Here piggy! Oink-oink!”
I told myself that Jesus knew, I told myself that I had to forgive. I had to. For His sake. Because He loved me. Because I needed His love. I told myself that whatever they did, I would not run away. I would not hate, not scream, not weep.
I waited with my face in the dirt. Still, so still. I imagined my cheeks were bright pink, my hair braided and shining golden in the sun. I imagined He held His arms out toward me.
I waited so I could leave without anybody watching.