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Alternative Chapter One
And why I went a different direction
I cut more than 10,000 words from my first draft of Hidden Song of the Himalayas.
One guiding principle for trimming was this: never let the reader get bored. As one beta reader so insightfully asked:
“When are you gonna get to India?”
I loved this first chapter one. It highlights how much Joshua and I changed in India. But in the end, I cut it and many other sections, both to adjust the “pacing” of the book and to make plenty of room for Indian friends’ stories.
Only a handful of people have read this chapter, which I call “Happily Ever After.” Until now.
I hope you enjoy it!
Happily Ever After
(Alternative) Chapter One
We didn't have to be perfect. But Joshua and I, we were going to be happy. Our house would always smell like pumpkin pie spice and our windows would cast bright, clean squares on the carpet. Our future children would go on hay rides and tell knock-knock jokes and build forts in cherry trees. Our inner lives would be as stable as the big red barn at the Bar-Double-O ranch.
Nobody would need Prozac.
Gardening seemed like something normal, happy people did. Al, our rancher landlord, plowed me up a rectangle of brown earth in the middle of the side yard, even though it was July already, and Joshua helped me put up a fence. I bought seeds: basil, spinach, corn, beans. Then I buried them.
Every day I watered the ground, sometimes dropping on all fours to look for the sprouts. When was something going to happen?
That afternoon, as I had for many days, I dragged a hose to the plowed-up brown patch. But what I saw there made me drop the hose and stare. Delicate wisps of green poked out of the soil. I felt cold all over my arms, as though I’d just seen Lazarus walking around in his shroud. I knelt. This was "normal"? You bury a dry seed, and then, almost without effort or observation, something arises?
I touched the soft green sprouts, then watered them, careful not to disturb their fragile roots.
Back inside out one-bedroom cottage on Al’s farm, the air was cool, because we’d opened the windows at night—free air conditioning, we called it. I looked around the living room. Nothing was expensive, but as far as I was concerned, everything was perfect.
“We have so many towels,” Joshua sometimes said, peering into the cabinet where I had lined up all the bands to face the same direction. “Why do we have so many towels?”
“They were wedding gifts,” I said. “I like them.”
“It seems like a lot for two people.”
“Do you know what it’s like not to have enough towels?”
“Do you know what it’s like to help someone move who has eleven hundred boxes of stuff?”
We repeated this conversation several dozen times. Joshua realized the towels were off-limits. And I downsized something else.
This was one of the great things about us. We listened to each other and adjusted. I liked that. Maybe, if we adjusted enough, we would stay happy forever.
Joshua was already inherently happy, with happy memories and a natural ability to squeeze extra life out of life. His smile was always on the verge of a laugh. He bounced when he walked and walked fast, but I didn’t mind following, because he always knew where he was going.
Now we were out of college, in our first home with our first real jobs. Joshua worked for a church and I taught music at the church school, and everything was just right. Balanced. Like a baby bird on a branch, about to fly for the first time.
That evening our white comforter rested cloud-like on my legs, the pages of my Bible spread open over it. I read the story of Abram, and lost myself in the green hills of Canaan, imagining what it would be like to give up everything for Jesus. I glanced up from the Bible. Joshua sat cross-legged on the floor in shorts and a t-shirt. He was reading, too.
I smiled at the back of his head, where his blonde hair lay in little curlicues. He hopped up and set his Bible on the nightstand.
“Ready?” he asked.
“Yep,” I said. He flicked off the light, and we prayed together. Within seconds, Joshua was asleep. But I stared into the darkness, and concentrated on a dull ache in my heart. I longed to follow God wherever He led. But what if He lead me away from my white picket fence? This was all I’d ever wanted: an ordinary life. God wouldn’t take away what He had given me—would He?
I remembered a dream I’d had in high school: In it, I was a bird, soaring high above the hard ground, with a seed in my mouth. I dropped the seed, then flew to the ground after it. The seed had broken, and I was filled with grief thinking it would never grow. But then, in the place where it had fallen, a giant tree stretched up out of the ground, its arms flooding with leaves as it stood. From all around, black wings fluttered into the branches of the tree. Then I heard a voice: “Abigail, this is your capacity to love.”
What does it mean? I wondered.
These deep thoughts relaxed into wandering ones. I wouldn’t think about it. We couldn’t be missionaries now, anyway. Twenty thousand dollars of school debt stood in our way. And my character needed adjusting. For starters, I worried too much.
I took off my glasses and set them on the nightstand next to me. A curtain billowed, brushing against my hand. I lay back down, and closed my eyes, and breathed in the cool, sweet night air. Frogs hummed. I sighed.
And they lived happily ever after, I thought, and slept.
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Wondering what’s next? A teaser for November’s theme: There will be music involved. :)