I wonder what kind of day it would have been if it didn’t start with reading about a five year-old who died in her sleep…if I didn’t have to wonder if it was just a biological failing of her body, given that she was on a feeding-tube and had serious medical issues to begin with…or if maybe the caretaker, parent, mom, or whomever, had used a pillow during the child’s sleep to make sure she didn’t wake again. The fire department transported her, with a police car following…and then the officer stood-by to relay the status update to his sergeant…so we would know if they needed to roll homicide detectives…just in case. I wonder what kind of day it would have been if the next notification I received wasn’t that some adult child found their parent dead in their bedroom with their body wedged between the bed and the night-stand…or if another message that I received hadn’t told me about the dead body that the city’s building inspector found when he was making a visit to one of the apartment complexes in town…or that one of the fire department’s truck-crews was on its way to the grocery store to buy their shift’s food for the day and found a dead body laying somewhere…just laying there, out in the freaking middle of the day on a sidewalk or in the greenbelt between the lanes of traffic…or if the dispatcher hadn’t needed to tell me that an officer was assaulted by some guy he had pulled-over for blowing through a school zone….
I wonder what kind of day it would have been if another dispatcher hadn’t told me that there was a “real” unknown-trouble hot call being worked on the central tactical frequency…the caller, of which, had reported that he found a Navigator in the parking lot that had blood all over the driver-side door and steering wheel and seat. Oh yeah, and about an hour ago he had seen a 50-some year-old white guy walking behind the buildings carrying a bloody bed comforter. What kind of day would it have been if we didn’t end-up finding that 50-some year-old white guy with seven bullet holes in his chest…and then sent officers to the Navigator’s registered-owner’s house in another city to talk with the man’s wife…to check on her and then ask about her shot husband…. “He left for work a couple hours ago…maybe a little later than usual…yeah, he works around such-and-such an area.” The officers thanked her for her time and then made some phone calls back to our dispatcher and patrol supervisors. A little while later, the officers went back to the man’s house and asked his wife if they could come in and take a look around. “Sure…come on in.” They found blood and…. What kind of day would it have been, if when the medical center called the woman to come down to identify her husband’s body…it hadn’t taken her two hours to get down there…to learn that her husband had been shot seven times and taken two bullets directly in the heart…and then managed to drive from his home in that other city to his work-place in the middle of our city…what kind of day would it have been?
When a different neighboring city’s dispatchers called us and asked that we check a certain vehicle leaving their city and coming into our city with four or five people inside who didn’t want to be inside, but were being driven against their will out and around and wherever…and we broadcast the information and an officer thought he was behind the vehicle and many more officers arrived to watch and follow and help when and how they could…and somehow that vehicle turned in front of or behind and into an alley or neighborhood and parked in some dark invisible place and we lost them and didn’t know where they could be…but those four or five people had dark skin and said they had been kidnapped…what kind of day would it have been if that hadn’t happened?
Later that afternoon, what kind of day would it have been if we hadn’t come across a drop-house, a den or lair of human coyotes who steal and smuggle and rape and kill and extort and abuse people who trusted them to bring them to a better life across a river and imaginary boundary that exists on maps and in minds…and officers set an inner and outer perimeter to catch all of the fleeing coyotes when they ran…and we caught four bad-guys and rescued four good guys and gals and called ICE to come and get “their” people….
And what kind of day would it have been if a caller hadn’t found that little two year-old wandering the street in his diaper and striped tennis-shoes…hadn’t called us and said “Please come get this baby…yes, I’ll stay here until you get here, I couldn’t just drive by and not stop”…like so many people do sometimes.
What kind of day would it have been if the young man hadn’t called to tell us that his friend was going to kill himself…had a gun and was going to do it…and was going to leave the apartment door unlocked for us…what kind of day would it have been if he hadn’t refused to come out of the apartment when we got there…if he would have just come out on his own…but no, we had to call it a barricade and call-out the dogs and the SWAT guys and restrict the channel so the dispatcher didn’t have to work any other traffic…just listen to me…to us, as we work this mess…all for a guy who wanted to die, but was too chicken or too undecided to do it after telling everyone that he was going to…and we set-up our police camp and command-post outside his door and around the corner and pretended that there was a real boogey-man inside who was a threat to himself and others and we were coming to protect the “others” from him in case he decided not to hurt himself, but them. What kind of day would it have been if we had packed our shit and just walked and driven away from that guy who didn’t want to come out…?
What kind of day would it have been if the mom or dad or aunt or grown cousin of that little diaper and tennis-shoe clad two year-old had come looking for him so we didn’t have to place him with Child Protective Services…if they had even noticed he was gone?
What kind of day would it have been if that other neighbor hadn’t called us to tell us that a woman was chasing her eight year-old son through the apartment complex holding a knife in one hand and a belt in the other…running and yelling “Get back here, you little shit-head…I’m gonna beat yo ass!” What kind of day would it have been? “I don’t think she’s right in the head,” the caller told the 9-1-1 operator. She had left her one year-old and six year-old kids in the apartment as she ran and chased her older son. An officer cleared after a bit and asked that we roll the counselor/crisis-team van from the fire department to take care of the other kids.
And what kind of day would it have been if there weren’t constant and insistent messages flashing on my computer screen all fucking day long about police needing to come to this school and that, this hospital and that hospital or this aunt’s house or grandmother’s house or CPS worker’s office to take this report and that report about some loved one or trusted one or some stranger or some assistant coach hitting or bruising or fondling or fucking some child who was just going about their days and lives trying to be a kid over the weekend or last week and he’s still got bruises…and the 16 year-old girl woke-up this morning and she was naked and groggy and it was burning and hurting between her legs and she doesn’t know what happened or how she got where she was and she just called her mom and she called us…and the Spanish-speaking father called us to say that his 14 year-old son was walking home from the store and a truck full of Mexicans had pulled-over and grabbed him into the truck and then stole his cell phone and wallet and had beat him and touched him “down there” and…what kind of day would it have been if another dad hadn’t called to report that he found text-messages on his 17 year-old son’s cell phone talking about how he was having sex with the dad’s 26 year-old girlfriend…what kind of day would it have been?
And those were just some of the things that happened in only eight hours of a single Monday at 9-1-1 and police dispatch…just one shift…in the fifth or sixth largest city in the country….
My name is Josef Müeller and I can remember when I was a child and used to run the path behind the town where I lived in Germany. The town was called “Bischofsdhron” and was named such because it was located near the ruin of a castle that had, in centuries passed, been occupied by a bishop of some renown. I can’t speak to the town’s acreage or square-kilometer coverage, but I know we entered the town after crossing a stream at the bottom of a hill and proceeded up the hill, taking the main road, to an intersection of sorts where we could proceed or turn one of three different directions and exit the town into the various meadows and hillsides or forests that were found along the town’s borders.
If one were to continue in the direction of the main road, which my memory of the various awakenings and settings of the sun would indicate to be southward, one would take a lesser-used road, Idarwaldstrasse, past the sportsplatz and into the forest where one would encounter even less-traveled logging trails that led to only god-knows-where. I do know that my friends and I found a set of railroad tracks and more forest in that southern direction during our several wanderings, but we never came upon another town or settlement of any sort.
Proceeding westward from that particular intersection, we would pass what my parents and other adults referred to as “knob hill.” I don’t know that I was ever made privy to the reasoning behind the rubric, and it doesn’t make any more sense to me now than it did then…unless the people who lived up there were a bunch of dick-heads…but, I don’t know. The road or street we lived on, Sonnenstrasse, which led to a neighboring town named “Morbach,” passed several other homes where the Americans lived. It also passed the house of the Burgermeister, or mayor, of the town. If I remember correctly, the man was rather old and stooped and gray-haired. He was also something more of a symbol than an actual participating entity in the town’s affairs. I was told that his daughter did more governing or directing than he did.
I have wondered how strange I might have appeared, as a German nine year-old, wearing my cut-off blue-jean shorts and a yellow t-shirt, pulling an American G.I. Joe jeep and trailer by a string, as I headed out of Bischofsdhron one summer morning, walking the Morbach road. I think I may have seemed a bit odd. I might have looked rather “American” in my German-ness…or maybe it looked like my mother was German and my father was in the American military, stationed at the base nearby…whatever it was or appeared to be, it was just me wearing American clothes that I had gotten from the charity box at church and playing with American toys that I had received at the German-American community’s friendship toy-drive Christmas party a few months earlier. Anyway, the G.I. Joe was dressed in full camouflage gear with his black combat boots, shiny green helmet and plastic brown rifle, sitting behind the steering wheel, and appeared to be driving the WWII jeep that was pulling a trailer that contained a tripod-mounted rocket or bomb launcher. I don’t remember if there was another G.I. Joe in the passenger seat or not, but we were going to Morbach. I don’t know why I chose to make the journey, either, but it was summer and there was little else to do. Another little tidbit is that the road to Morbach passed through a forest where rabid bats were known to live. Whether that was a rumor supported by truth or entirely fabricated is unknown to me. What I do know, however, is that I spent several long minutes looking skyward, craning my neck and squinting my eyes to see if I could find any bat-like creatures hanging in the branches of the oh-so-tall pine trees that lined the Morbach road.
Anyway, again, I’m telling a story here, or making a confession, really, and it has nothing to do with the Morbach road or my pulling a jeep anywhere with a little string. It also has nothing to do with that time my friends and I stole two kilos of bratwursts from the metzgerei, or butcher-shop, and ran off into the woods to roast them wonderfully and deliciously over a fire made of pine branches…. Ahh…we stood there watching their skins split and turn dark brown and then black as the juices dripped into the fire and made that greasy smoke that clings to your hair and clothes for hours afterward, telling the world and our parents and the metzler’s son what we professed we didn’t do on a certain springtime Saturday afternoon. That’s another story and one that doesn’t deserve much in the way of confessing. Not today, anyway. I’m just giving you the setting, that’s all, so you can understand or see where I was, maybe.
So, there was a path that ran the length of what I understand to be the western edge of Bischofsdhron. In some places it was cobbled, but mostly it was a white-ish crushed rocky kind of sandy stuff that had broken slate and shale mixed in with the dirt. Maybe it was decades-old construction detritus that had been swept in between the buildings and crushed and worn into a walkway over the years…I don’t know…but it started as something like an walkway or narrow alley behind or near the town’s primary school and led to the bottom of the hill, again appearing as an alley or pathway that came out from between two buildings that fronted another road that also led to Morbach. This road took a course at a lower elevation and entered the town from the northeastern to slightly northern border. The majority of the path skirted our town, having the backyards and gardens or backs of houses to the right (east) and empty fields or rolling hills on the left, or western side. As the path re-entered the town proper, it passed between a couple houses and a rickety, aged storage-shed that resembled more of an out-building from a no-longer existent barn or farm complex.
I had passed the houses and shed dozens of times on my way to and from the bus stop on schooldays and during the innumerable weekend and summer-time forays throughout the town and its surrounding countryside and hills and forests. The wooden planks that comprised the sides and door of the shed had been bleached gray by the elements and were barely held in place by a remnant of rusted nails and twisted wire. The bottom edges of the planks had been gnawed by rodents or had otherwise been chipped and were rotting away and any passerby could see some rags or old clothes or other manner of fabric material that was being stored or had been discarded in the shed.
On this particular day, as I was hiking up the path, I turned and looked into the window of the house on my left and saw an older man in a faded and dingy whitish gray tank-type t-shirt holding-on to a little boy’s arm with one hand and hitting him with the other, bashing him in the head and shoulder and arm as the kid ducked and thrashed and squirmed and tried to block the assault. The man’s free hand wasn’t open…the fingers were curled into a fist and his arm was cocked-back as his eye caught my movement through the window. He lowered his arm and turned to face me full-on…watery, red-rimmed eyes swimming in their hate and rage, glaring at me now, forgetting for an instant the little boy in his other hand. He yelled through the window at me – “What are you looking at, arshloch?!” The boy turned, as well, and I saw his crying and pleading eyes and reddened cheeks and bloodied nose. I felt his heart pounding in mine and could smell the old man’s rage and sweat and filthy breath filling the tiny room, suffocating the little one’s desires to do anything but survive the moment. In that instant of wondering why the man had called me an ass-hole, I kept my eyes fixed on his and started to turn my body to walk away, but my foot slipped on the slate and sandy dirt of the slanted and sloping pathway and I lost my balance. I fell sideways and back and crashed into the ancient shack on the other side of the narrow track. A board broke and my hand slid along the rough surface, picking-up splinters and scraping the skin from my palm and forearm as I tried to keep myself from falling full-length onto the slate and other rocks in the pathway. I regained my balance and looked back into the window as I reached blindly for my school bag. All I could see was the boy’s back as the man dragged him through the doorway and out of my view. There were muffled shouts that came out from the other room and back into the little kitchen where I had first seen the man and boy. As I stood there and looked through the window at the remnants of sausage and potato on their dinner plates, I couldn’t understand anything that was being said, but I heard the boy cry-out a couple times after particular shouts from the man and what I thought was the smacking of a hand on flesh. Memories and sensations of dread and having done something wrong crashed through my mind and added to the pounding in my chest. My father had done the same to me many times and I’m sure it wouldn’t have sounded any different if some passerby had been close enough to our house to hear it when it happened. Their rage was the same, the other man and my father…and it looked the same as it fell on the boy and me…from our fathers.
A few days later, I happened to pass through that alley pathway again. I walked slowly and listened carefully before I rounded the corner and turned up and into the walkway that led between the boy’s house and the shed. I don’t know where the thought came from…other than from having witnessed the boy getting a beating those few days before, but for some reason, I decided to light a match to the cloth that was sticking-out from beneath the worn and tattered edge of the shed. Aside from my anger at the boy’s father…and my own, I’m sure, I can’t imagine what other motive would have possessed me to do so. I knew the dangers of playing with matches. I had received a couple beatings for merely lighting them in the house while my parents were outside or somehow occupied and out of my sight. I was nine years-old and knew what fire could do, yet I lit the rags anyway and sped off, pumping myself up the hill as fast as I could, out of the alley pathway and beyond.
I don’t remember the events immediately following that particular afternoon’s misdeed and I can’t recall how long I waited to make a trip up or down that walkway again, but eventually I did. There were no longer any rags or clothes visible from the path side of the shed, and given the fact that I was the hoodlum who had started the fire, I knew well enough not to linger too long or show too much interest in whatever I happened to pass in this particular juncture of the alley or passage. My hasty survey of the damage showed that the bottom 18 inches of the shed door had been burned in a near triangle-shaped pattern that didn’t seem to have burned very long. The man, or boy, or someone must have seen the smoke from their back window and rushed outside to extinguish the fire.
One might say that I’m lucky I didn’t get caught. I do feel a certain level of doubt that I would have survived the beating I would have received if I had been discovered. That’s probably too strong of a statement regarding my father’s harsh treatment of me when I was a child, but it might be more accurate than I’ll ever know. I feel fortunate, today, to have found that the fire was no more extensive than it was those many years ago. Considering the proximity of the other buildings along the path, the results could have been much worse. And I wonder, still…what does it mean that I set fire to the shed? What outcome was I hoping for that afternoon? What was I looking for…why did I do it? Could it have been the desire to burn those images of hate and rage from my memory, or was there some deeper drive or force that compelled me to do something that I knew was so wrong?
The boy, John, sat beneath the aged, black-barked mesquite tree and pressed his knees together to keep from pissing himself. Burning cramps tore into his bladder as he fought with determination to stem the flow of hot urine. Tears streamed down his dirt-smudged face and carved miniature riverbeds through the powdered clay. He spied a tiny black ant crawling up his tattered shin and flicked it away. Bloodied eyes sought the thing in the sand, looking yet to snub its life. “Six legs and three body parts of thin plastic,” he thought, “they kinda smell like…crushed ants”…acrid taste when he licked his fingers. More ants scurried about smelling the stink of one of their own dead. He picked-up another and used his pocket knife to slice off its head. The ant’s jaws’ opening and closing stopped a few seconds after the legs ceased in their final crawl into the dark unknown. Mesquite pods lay around the boy, snapping in the heat, revealing black-brown beans. Sweat mingled with tears, angry teeth grated enamel, fillings, and stolen raisins. Beating wings, doves and pigeons fleeing his thrown rocks, splinters and chunks of limestone, lava, and scat.
In the house, the drunken man looked absently at the marks that John’s teeth had left on his knuckles. The sodden eyes twitched unsteadily as one red gash blurred into three and then one and then two. He shook his head violently and shoved his curled fist in front of his eyes and used his other hand to steady the shifting one so that he might better analyze the damage. “Lil’l fucker,” he slurred. “Lil’l FUCK! Where’r you? Where’r you, godDAMit?”
Nobody knows what’s going on. Nobody can do anything. There is nobody. Fat bastard beats his face every day…kicks his ass. Fucking ribs are torn from their moorings and his goddam wrist must be broken again. He cried in a pain that echoed off his thoughts of murder and death. What he wouldn’t do to kill that fucker! Damn pickle bucket cut his cheek today. The coffee-can is gone. An evil beats in his head like a foul pulse coming from a putrescent heart. He can only see a haze as he wonders if it can be stopped in time. A scourge is teeming on an unknown edge as he contemplates faraway sounds. The dirt smells like rust, metallic blood, ocher. Hate.
Anger breathed into itself, a prominent, forceful being whose dictates reigned. None other stirred or dared to resist its call. He spoke as king in his court, an unruly sovereign who spread grief and malice with every uttering; strife. No thought but for the self.
Seconds and minutes wound into each other as he listened to the bean-pods snap in the heat and…he wondered where he would be if he could crawl inside the tick of a passing second. How far inside a second could he crawl if one of them would stand still and allow him inside? And in that small space, where would he get in? “Is there some kind of door or a squiggly mirror kind of thing that I’d have to step through to get inside? And is it really a ‘tick’?” he thought. Was there some real thing that kept one second separate from another one?
Would anyone care to look for him? If they discovered what he’d done, they’d have to rewind all the hours and minutes and seconds that had passed around him and then find the one second that he crawled into. Then they’d have to figure out how to open it like he did. And once they were inside, they’d stumble around in its eternal dark, searching blindly for the clues of his passing.
The boy, John, slowly drove the knife blade into his wrist, piercing skin and vein and tendon and scraping sideways against the bone, he pressed down and in and pulled up and sideways along…eyes closed and jaws clamped shut, squinting against the pain and rush and then. “Let me go,” he thought. “All I need is the right second, and I’ll be gone.” One passed, and then another, and another…. His aching bladder relaxed as those and his seconds and minutes passed…and his urine flowed hot and fast and slow and gone and darkened his pants and soaked the dust and dirt and shadows…. “Just let me in,” he whispered, “Please…just let me in….”
The ants’ tiny feet were red and sticky and caught the dust and sand as they walked to and fro under the shade of the ancient, black-barked Mesquite tree…among the heat-burst bean pods…as the sun beat down on the splinters and chunks of limestone, lava, and scat. The pigeons and doves returned and then…skittering, bobbing…wings flapping and away and back…and settling the dust and the ants walking to and fro….
“Matt,” he said, walking to the door, where he looked out the window for a couple seconds, nodded to someone, and then turned back to face me, “can we talk now?” He leaned against the doorjamb, eased his hands into his pockets, and then stood there with his legs crossed at the ankles, waiting for me to respond.
“Sure, Reverend,” I responded, still reclining against the yellowed, brick wall. Crossing my arms, I looked over to the nightstand where I noticed that he had placed the book face-down on the nightstand. Leaning over to right it, I continued, “Yeah, we can talk now,” I said, after clearing my throat. “Where’d you like to start?”
Without even pausing to think, he said, “Why don’t we start with why ya shot that man.”
“I thought you came here to talk about God?” I tossed back.
“Well, I did, but I tried that already and it didn’t work out too well,” he said, shifting onto his other foot, looking past me at the wall, “so this time, I wanna start with why you shot the guy…and then maybe we’ll try to bring God into it again.”
“Ok,” I started, “Why did I shoot him? Because he needed to be shot, that’s why. He was a murderer and he deserved it. And besides…I just snapped…remember? The witnesses and the newspapers and the shrinks all agreed that I just snapped. So, I must have ‘just snapped.’” I smiled at him, fixing his blue-gray eyes until he slid them from mine and sought the inanimate comfort of the nightstand and the red chair.
“I don’t believe ya,” he said, while he walked over to his seat, drew it a foot closer to the wall behind him, and then sat down. Adjusting his shirt, and then his belt, he leaned closer to me and said, almost in a whisper, “I just don’t believe ya, that’s all.”
“And that’s your prerogative,” I snapped, sitting upright again, quickly, “You don’t have to believe me.”
“The way you’ve been talkin’ here makes me wonder if ya really ‘just snapped.’ You’re mad and ragin’ one minute, sad and almost cryin’ the next minute, and then mad again…I wonder if ya didn’t do it on purpose. Anyway… will ya tell me how ya knew him…yes, or no?”
“I don’t know if I should,” I said, as I got up and walked to the door. “You’re certified as a counselor by the state, aren’t you? I mean, in order to be employed by the department as a counselor, you’ve got to be certified, right?” Looking out the window, I saw the deputy in the control room and hoped that he’d be coming to the door to tell the Reverend that he needed to leave soon.
“Well, yeah,” he said, leaning back in the chair. “I have something called a CPC certification with the state that says I’m a professional counselor.”
“In addition to being a minister, or a reverend,” I said to the window, “right?”
“So everything we talk about stays right here… and you can’t talk about it with anyone else, right?” I turned to face him and fixed his eyes again.
“Right,” he almost stammered, “Why do ya ask?”
“Because I need to talk about it…I need to be able to purge what’s inside…unburden my soul…let it all out…right?” I said, smiling at him, “Isn’t that what you said?”
“Well, fine then…I’ll talk with you…and it doesn’t go anywhere.”
I walked the few steps back to the bunk, kicked-off the pink flip-flops, slid up next to the wall and crossed my legs Indian-style. I folded my hands and leaned forward to place my forearms on my knees, and staring straight into his eyes again, I started to talk. “Alright…I knew the guy from a call I went out on last March. It was a domestic violence call and things were pretty messed-up in the house when we got there. The place looked like shit, garbage everywhere – holes in the walls, the light fixtures had been ripped from the living room ceiling, and the bedroom doors had been torn from their hinges. Crappy diapers and dirty dishes were laying everywhere. The guy had been beating his girlfriend and throwing the kids around…three kids in the house and none of them were his. This fucker was about five-eleven and weighed close to one-seventy-five…not really big, but wiry and strong in a dangerous kinda way. He’d been gone for three days doing meth and came home to get some money from the girlfriend and she was givin’ him shit for being gone so long. Like I said, the kids weren’t his and they were yelling and screaming…scared of him…you know? He’s pissed-off and starts destroying the place. The neighbors said he was yelling that ‘the fuckin’ kids are always screaming and can’t she make them shut up’…an’ it never seems to end with them. Anyway, we got there and tried to calm everyone down…my partner took the guy outside and one of the other officers took the girlfriend and a couple of the kids into the family-room and tried to get the girlfriend’s side of the story. I was sitting in the living-room with the youngest one watching Tele-tubbies and Barnie videos…the baby was about eighteen-months-old…didn’t deserve to live in shit like that….”
“So, it upsetcha….”
“Yeah, it upset me,” I said, as I stared at the yellowed bricks behind the Reverend’s head, “…but it was ok…things would be alright there. We’d take the guy away and maybe things would turn out ok…it didn’t usually happen that way…but maybe this time it would.”
“Why this time?” the old man said, leaning his head sideways, trying to connect with my eyes.
“Because maybe it was due. Maybe it was over-due,” I said, scooting off the bunk and standing-up again. “It can’t be shitty all the time, so maybe this time it would turn-out alright.” I walked to the door and looked out the window again. “Maybe your God would see fit to have the girlfriend press charges this time and we’d be able to lock the guy up and she and the kids would be safe.”
“And…?” he asked, looking down at the ring he was spinning around his finger again.
“She just wanted him to leave the house…first she was mad that he wasn’t there and then she just wanted him to leave…for the night. So we took him to a friend’s house, didn’t make a report, didn’t file any charges…just took him away,” I said, still looking out the window.
Looking at the back of my head, the minister asked, “And whadya think about that?”
“I figured we’d be back again anyway, in spite of what I hoped…” I said, turning around, but looking past him, “I thought…”
“I thought it was going to be the same as it always is…this shit never ends…it’s all fucked-up,” I whispered, “…and we’ll be back.”
“And were ya?” he asked, looking for my eyes again.
“Oh yeah…about a week later…” I stared at him, “this time he was hitting the kids…and literally throwing the little one across the room. Said it would never shut-up…always crying…following the girlfriend around the house crying…and it just wouldn’t stop. We took him to the station this time and booked him for child abuse…but since the kid’s injuries weren’t life threatening, the bond wasn’t set very high and he managed to make bail within a couple days. And then we were called out there again….
“Ya don’t have to go on if ya don’t want to,” the older man said, getting up and standing next to the nightstand.
“Right,” I glared, “…and it was Sunday. I was off-duty and doing a five-oh-eight detail for the church around the corner from their house….”
“A five-oh-eight detail?”
“Yeah, you know, traffic control,” I snapped, “…anyway, I’m waiting for church to let out and my radio goes off with the hot-tone and dispatch says there’s a drowning at an address right around the corner…yeah,” I said, staring at the space between the old man’s eyes, “…at their house. I’m the first one there and no-one else knows CPR…so I start it…on this same eighteen-month-old baby that I was watching Tele-Tubbies with a couple weeks earlier…doing fuckin’ CPR on him….”
“And where was the mom and her boyfriend?”
“Mom was there freakin’ out, almost fell into the pool herself, and the boyfriend was standing in the background with a beer in his hand trying to look all sad and shit. He would watch me and then look toward the back of the yard. I glanced up at him a couple times, standing there in his thin, worn-out t-shirt that had yellow rings under the arms, wearing tight, faded blue- jeans that had holes in the knees and were frayed at the bottom, holding his goddamned beer, tapping the side of the can with his middle finger as I was hunched over this baby trying to make him breathe…I hated the guy…I FUCKING HATED HIM!,” I yelled. “I blew two times into the baby’s mouth…and then did five chest compressions…and two breaths…and five compressions…and Fire got there pretty soon and I was able to stop…and I was hating that mother-fucker with every ounce of my being…and crying…and clenching my fists…and wanting with all my soul to shoot that fucker in the face for killing the baby…and hating YOUR God in his FUCKING heaven for being a lousy, piece-of-shit protector for this baby…where was the baby’s goddamned guardian angel? They said nobody had been in the back yard for months…the guy wandered out there to look at how green the pool was and the baby must have followed him out there…RIGHT! The baby is going to follow him out into the back yard…and the plastic toys in the pool? ‘Oh, they were left there from the summer.’ “BULL-FUCKING-SHIT!” I screamed, “…there were no algae marks on them from where they had been floating there for months…they weren’t faded and cracked from the fucking sun, and there were fucking beer cans all alongside the pool…with beer in them…the same kind that mother-fucker was holding as he stood there watching me do CPR on the baby….”
“Matt,” the old man said, trying to soothe me, “…God is in control of everything….” Walking over to me, reaching out a tentative hand, he said, “He isn’t going to allow…”
“You are SO full of shit!” I said, turning away, “God isn’t in control of a FUCKING thing! Are you blind…are you fucking stupid…are you even listening to anything I’ve been saying to you!!?? Shut the fuck up and get out of here!”
“But, Matt…,” he said, pleading, “Matt…please….”
“Get the FUCK out of here and take your FREAKING God with you!
“So, you didn’t just snap…you meant to kill him all along…Matt…?”
I turned around, walked over to him and got right into his face, “You’re goddamned right!” I whispered. “I meant to do it! I wanted to scream with joy as the bullets tore through his chest! ‘There, mother-fucker,” I still whispered, “how do you like that?!’”
“But…but, the Bible tells us in Romans that…‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord’…”
“Yeah…well God is DEAD…so vengeance is MINE!”
I returned to my bunk, sliding my pink flip-flops across the black- speckled, white, linoleum floor and sat down to the accompaniment of the complaining bedsprings. I leaned against the wall and folded my arms, pausing mentally to process his words and formulate my response. There would have been a certain pleasure in unleashing my rabid thoughts like a crazed hound and letting them bite the old guy…hoping that they would infect him with my disillusion and disgust for the God that he apparently loved.
Still leaning, almost haughtily, against the yellowed wall, I responded, “You know something, Reverend…I don’t think you and I know each other well enough for you to broach the subject of God in the context of my life and the situation that I’m in…it just doesn’t seem right…I mean…in this regard, you don’t even know me, and it’s presumptuous of you to assume that we’re on the same page where God is concerned….” I paused again to let the words hang there like loosed dog-hair in a faltering breeze.
Thinking this was an opening, he started, “But I thought….”
I wasn’t ready for what he thought, and this was one topic that I didn’t need to discuss with someone who was nearly a stranger to me…angry at everything, I didn’t want to listen…it was still my turn…the acid thoughts that I had been brewing for the last several months still needed airing…I didn’t have any patience…so I interrupted…after looking up at the mismatched fluorescent light tubes in the ceiling, I leaned over and grabbed my ankles, trying to hold-on to myself, trying to keep my confined, yet racing mind under control; and then, with my chest pressing against my legs and my hands, white-knuckled, squeezing my ankles, I elbowed my way into his words…it was unexpected…I was embarrassed and scared of myself, but I couldn’t stop…red faced and with my pulse pounding in my temples, I nearly growled, “What if I told you that GOD had commanded me to kill that man…that mother-fucker…what would you think about that?” Staring at the black speck in the floor that was directly in front of his left shoe, I rushed on…“Or what would you think if I told you that your God is DEAD and that’s evident by how fucked-up the world is…what would you say THEN?!” I yelled… “WHAT WOULD YOU FUCKING SAY THEN?!” The words echoed, and bounced, and ripped through the air, thrashing the currents of rage and inconsideration and pretence and posturing and falsehood and all the other evil and imagined shadows and ghosts that plundered and dashed in the black silence between us. The taste of algal mold flashed in my mind as my aching jaw and lips pressed together, restraining my urgent, pulsing tongue…baby flesh coated in verdant bubbles and slime and his diaper soggy with green water that was running across the dirty pool-deck…making little rivers of thickly flowing mud that redirected themselves around beer cans and the dirty tennis-shoes of the man standing there…. “Yeah,” I growled through clamped teeth, “you thought we had talked before so I must be ok with God and all of that, right? Well…I’m not.” My raging, fiery-brown, tear-filled eyes slung themselves back up at him, daring him to respond…I whispered, “So, do you really want to talk, Reverend?”
His huge eyes were staring at me and I could see the delicate tip of his fat, pink tongue running back and forth across the edges of his top and then bottom teeth. The light glistened on his scalp through his thinning hair and I noticed again the bulge that hung over his belt. The minister had his hands resting in his lap and the middle finger and thumb of his right hand absently spun the gold ring that was on his left hand. He swallowed hard and licked the thick cotton from the corners of his mouth and looked around the room like he had forgotten where he’d put the iced-tea that he didn’t have but desperately wanted at that moment. He cleared his dry throat and hesitantly began, “But…but you’ve got to think about God…” he said unsteadily, “you’ve killed a man…and…things aren’t going to be the same…never again.” His bewildered eyes sought the remote ends of the ceiling, and then the bedpost, and then the wall behind me, and finally, reached nervously over to my own eyes. The man swallowed again, then licked the corners of his mouth again, with his eyes still timidly on mine…waiting….
“You’re right, Reverend,” I leaned forward again, “they aren’t ever going to be the same. So what?” I snapped, “We’ll all go on living. You’ll live your life and I’ll live mine. I’ll deal with whatever comes my way and you’ll deal with whatever comes your way.”
“But what about your soul?” His words stumbled as he swallowed thickly, still spinning the ring on his left hand, “What about your eternity?” he asked urgently. “Aren’t you concerned with that?” Now I was looking around the room like I’d lost something. I know I had thrown the words out there…they were still echoing in my own ears.
Exasperated, I said, “Haven’t you been listening to me?” I looked sideways, eyes wide with searching, first one way and then the other, like the words might have landed somewhere on the floor, or maybe on the bed or nightstand, and I could pick them up and throw them at him again. “Haven’t you heard a word I’ve said? LISTEN! I don’t believe in your God, therefore, there’s no SOUL to consider and my ETERNITY is going to consist of rotting in the ground…you know…worm food, just like YOU!”
Again the silence became tangible in the cell. The minister sat there on his red chair, looking at me and then looking away. His eyes sought the corners of the ceiling again, as though they could provide him some sort of comfort…or maybe he was looking up there to find reassurance from his God, I don’t know…but after several long moments, when I thought he was going to excuse himself, possibly offering to return at some later date, he stood and walked the two steps over to the night-stand and picked up one of the books.
“You know anything about Cormack McCarthy?” he asked, looking sideways at me. Not waiting for a response, he continued…looking at the back of the book, “Mostly western stuff, huh? You like his work?”
“I do like his work,” I said, leaning back into the wall, trying to decompress a little, “and, no, it’s not all ‘western stuff.’ His stories are beautiful written, and violent, and real to life, yet they help me disengage from my own life for a while, that’s all.”
Turning to me again, he offered, “And become involved with what’s rotten in someone else’s life, huh?”
A little smile touched his mouth and I wondered for an instant if he had been putting on an act earlier…there was a little too much intelligence in his eye as it caught mine in that smile’s moment.
I leaned forward to rub my eyes, not wanting to start-up with him again. “Yeah, you could say that,” I answered into my hands, “I can become involved with what’s rotten in someone else’s life without actually becoming involved. It’s safer that way” I mumbled, while pressing the heels of my hands into my eyes.
Replacing the book on the night-stand, he turned to me, “What’d ya say? ‘Bout bein’ safer?”
I removed my hands from my face and said, “It’s safer that way…becoming involved in someone’s life without actually becoming involved. Stars swirled in my eyes as I turned to look at the man. The department insignia on his shirt was dancing with the stars in my brain and I had to close my eyes to answer him. “You can care about what happens and know that you don’t have to do anything about it because it’s just a story. It’s from inside someone’s imagination. Yeah, I can read about their shitty life and then put the book down and they go away. It’s that easy,” I said, almost choking, wiping my blurring, tear-filled eyes, “…it’s that safe…inside the book.”
To be continued….
The cold eyes of the courtroom cameras didn’t blink or flinch in alarm as I un-holstered my department-issued sidearm, rose from my seat and emptied the magazine into the chest of the man on the witness stand. The spectators and court officials, silently watching in absolute confusion and disbelief, sprang from their seats and respective positions and either ran from the room, hit the floor looking for cover, or did what their official duties required of them. Two of the sheriff’s deputies tackled me from behind as I stood there like the crucified Christ with my arms outstretched and my head thrown back looking into a heaven that I no longer believed in. My knees were jammed into the floor as I felt the deputy’s shoulder crash into the small of my back. My head slammed into a dark, wooden bench and stars burst into my eyes like nighttime sparklers on the Fourth of July. The gun that had been dangling from my right hand had fallen to the carpeted floor and lay there, spent and empty and trembling in my eyes as if it were the violent beast itself who had executed this tragedy. “It’s Code 4!” I yelled into the carpet. Blood and lint and dust found my tongue as I yelled again “It’s Code 4!” The burning and peeling of scraped-off skin from my cheek was numbed by the pressure the other deputy applied to my back as he drove his knee into my spine and pushed my head into the floor as his partner pulled my arms behind my back and grabbed my own hand-cuffs from the black leather pouch attached to my utility belt and secured my trembling hands…. “It’s Code 4,” I whispered to the floor, “It’s Code 4….”
No doubt you’ve heard reports or watched the news and seen stories about people who have just snapped and gone ballistic on someone. It is usually a complete surprise, otherwise the person wouldn’t have been said to have ‘snapped.’ The people around me that day might have believed that I snapped. If there had been someone privy to my thoughts for the past several months, they would have seen this as completely premeditated, calculated, and intentional. But there were no such people. There was no other person who knew what had been mulling over in my mind since March of last year. They were thoughts that I tried to hide even from myself. I was embarrassed when I looked in the mirror. It was difficult to meet my own eye. Other times, I just ignored the storm that was brewing inside and tried to conduct myself as normally as possible. I caught my wife looking at me a few times with an almost puzzled look on her face. She said that I looked like I was somewhere else and the looks on my face kept changing, contorting as I had whatever imaginary conversation with myself. I would quickly smile and ask her what was wrong and she would give some bland answer like, “I thought you said something,” or “Are you alright?” This only happened a few times in these months, so I think the recent events probably caught her off guard too.
I’ve seen three psychologists and a couple psychiatrists since the shooting. It was kind of bland psycho-talk, asking questions about my childhood, my parents, the job, my marriage, and the relationship I have with my kids, etc. They concluded, somehow, that I must have broken-down from the pressure of the job and the disparity of life…and on and on. The last psychologist said that a condition of temporary insanity was definitely a strong defense…again – he went on and on.
And, of course, there was the department chaplain. Reverend Ron, as everyone called him, came to see me and offer his counsel, words of wisdom, prayers, understanding…or whatever. He and I had talked in the past so he must have thought we had some commonality of thought or experience and that I would enjoy talking with him, or be able to derive some kind of peace from the words and testimony that he would share with me. He came to see me after I’d been in jail for about a week…had to see me in my cell because they didn’t want to let me out of PC, or Protective Custody; an officer who was now a prisoner wasn’t safe among the general population.
Reverend Ron had entered my cell with a less-than-confident look on his face; it was almost sheepish, somehow. The dark blue polo-shirt with the Department emblem over his heart was stretched tight across his over-sized belly and he had to adjust his belt as he sighed and sat across from me on one of the red plastic chairs that had been brought in from the control room. I had stood as he entered and greeted me, and then sat again on the metal-framed bunk that was bolted to the wall on the far side of my cell. There were a few awkward seconds in which we both looked at our surroundings and wondered if we could each feel more uncomfortable in the others’ presence.
“Ya doin’ ok in here, Matt…are they treatin’ ya alright?”
“Yeah, I’m doing alright, Reverend, and aside from the occasional green bologna, I don’t think the food is any worse than I was used to eating before I came in here.” After a brief chuckle, I added, “It could definitely be worse, though…I mean…I could have a big, hairy cell-mate who thought I was cute, or something, heh, heh, heh….”
The older man just smiled, and looking at my crisply made bed and the gray, metal nightstand, he said, “Ya got anything good to read in here?”
“Got a couple magazines, some Cormack McCarthy, Tim O’Brien…and a Bible…of course.”
“Ya doin’ any reading in that Bible?” he asked me, with hope, raising his shaggy eyebrows.
Shifting a little on the bunk, I responded, “No…not much…can’t seem to get into it lately. Somehow the material doesn’t go with my environment, if you know what I mean.”
“Yeah, I understand. Your mind’s kinda boggled-up with everything that’s goin’ on?”
“Yeah…kinda boggled-up,” I mimicked, smiling at his country tone.
“Well, that’s kinda what I come up here to talk with ya about, Matt. Thought ya might want to just open-up…ya know…kinda like purgin’ yourself of what’s inside. Ya know what I mean?”
“Oh…I don’t know, Reverend. I don’t know that I should be talking with anybody about what’s goin’-on inside my mind. I already talked to the psychologists and psychiatrists…they came to see me within the first couple days…said things would probably be rather unsettled for a while…you know…adjusting to my situation and the new surroundings.”
Reverend Ron sat there, nodding his large head…looking at one side of the cell, and then the other, finally looking at me again, “Yeah, I figured they’d a been here already, that’s kinda why I waited as long as I did to come and see ya.” Leaning forward now, the older man effected a genuine look of compassion and said, “And how are ya really doin,’ Matt? How are ya doin’ way deep inside…ya know what I mean…way down in that quiet, private place that we don’t often go?”
I stood and turned away from the man, faced the glossy, yellow-white of the brick wall and responded, “I’m doin’ just shitty, if you really want to know.”
The older man sighed and adjusted his belt. “Oh…I imagine ya are…and have ya talked to God at all while you’ve been in here?” I turned to meet his beckoning eyes, and with a quizzical, sardonic lilt to my voice, I said, “Have I talked with God?” Piercing his eyes now… “Yeah, I talked to God…but…” pausing, wondering for a moment if I should embark on this endless train ride… “but I don’t know what the hell good it would do. He’s not going to answer me….”
And now, near angrily, I said, “Because I’ve tried talking with Him before and He didn’t have anything to say back to me…that’s why.”
The guy leaned forward and, donning his practiced, sympathetic air, he countered, “I know it’s probably hard to see through any of this right now…probably hard to hear Him talkin’ with ya…but He’s there… just waitin’ for ya.” He leaned back again and gave me his yearning, thoughtful attention; now it was him, and not his God ‘just waitin’ for me.
To be continued….
Although I had known of the guy for about two years, I had never seen him. That didn’t matter, though, when he walked into the room to sit before our foster-care review board. There was no one else he could be, and the fact that he was there was at once disgusting and disturbing. If he was here, that meant that he was out of jail. And if he was out of jail, after all this time, that meant that he must be out, as in released, and free. I was suddenly filled with revulsion. For these past two years, I had only known his name and the relationship that he had with other names, a couple of which did have faces. And now he has a face. My hatred could now become tangible, for it was no longer attached to a simple thought. It was something real, for the name, the idea that had, up until now, been the mere combination of letters, or symbols that were so aligned to cause me to understand that the entity was just, and only an entity, a notion, an idea, a concept, and now a thing. Literally, a thing. Not a person who was capable of human feelings of compassion, sadness, desire, love, tenderness, appreciation, consideration, or even respect – as it might apply to another being aside from his own. The murdering bastard was finally flesh. The evil something that I had only read about for the past two years, when considering what would be best for the murderer’s son, was now a breathing entity whose physical substance demanded consideration.
So, he entered the room following the case manager, approached the table, and following the case manager’s lead, pulled out one of the rolling chairs and sat down. The look of arrogance, real or defensive, was worthy of a slap in the face. The way he looked around the room like we were waiting for him, wanting to speak to him, or listen to him, was unsettling. How dare he present himself to our board? How dare he breath the air that moves freely about the atmosphere, take up any of the sun’s rays, be nourished by human concern or thoughts. How dare his heart beat. How dare he demand respect as a human being, in his appearing before us today. Goddamn and curse him into nonexistence! May he rot in the worm-ridden eternity of nothingness that is the most far below acknowledgement. He doesn’t deserve a thought.
Ernie, the man before us, murdered his stepson two years ago. That isn’t true. He murdered his girlfriend’s three-year-old baby. Again, the boyfriend murdered the girlfriend’s child. Are we so little removed from the wild that we have to wipe out the previous male’s genes so that ours can thrive? Is this yet another argument for the strong forces of nature that are still within our souls, our bodies, and our existence? Can this be? Can we forget that we have become civilized, ‘higher’ thinking…yes, thinking, aware, conscious organisms…can we forget that and revert to the animal that lurks inside us? Are we supposed to expect that what he did is ok just because he is, after-all just another animal? No!
Of course not. Of course not – it was criminal what he did. It was an abhorrent act. He should be strung up by his balls and stabbed with a screwdriver until he dies. I’d like to be the one who….
He walked into the room, as I said, following the case manager, and took a seat in front of us. He is about twenty-three or twenty-four, Hispanic, about 5’10”, maybe 165lbs, maybe more. His shiny, black hair is cut short on top and then combed back. The sides are shaved to a military closeness. Reddened acne-spots mar his otherwise pale skin. He has a slight mustache and goatee, slight because his age and breeding won’t allow it to come-in any fuller at present. His front teeth are slightly bucked so he has to consciously close his lips over their belligerent protrusion. He has very dark, brown eyes, possibly even nearing the color of black. His eyes never met mine so I can’t say for sure. And in saying that, I might add that the reason the meeting didn’t occur was not because my eyes were timid in their sockets, choosing to remain on his apparel or to flee to the corners of the ceiling whenever his might walk toward mine, hand out in greeting, while strolling across the plane between us. No, it wasn’t because of me. Maybe they didn’t meet because he felt the piercing darts that fired themselves from my unbelieving, hateful eyes, arch-like from across the table where eons of evolutionary time separated our souls. His eyes were haughty, though, and the eyebrows above them had that slight wrinkle that belied his feigned concern. That’s what I saw anyway.
Ernie was wearing a brown, crème, and rust colored acrylic sweater that had a gold zipper at the neck. The zipper head had a small chain with a loop at the end to facilitate in pulling the zipper up and down. The slightly baggy sleeves were cuffed in elastic that allowed them to catch at his wrists, where they could gracefully adorn the pale, olive skin which revealed blue veins and couldn’t, for a moment, distract the viewer with any amount of success from pulling their eyes away from his short, grease tainted fingernails. I don’t remember a ring, but I do recall that he had a gold bracelet of medium-sized links, with a typical slide-ring clasp, worn on his right hand.
Ernie is the biological father of Christian. Christian is also the son of Jane – a Philippina/Hispanic looking, very skinny, tall twenty-three year-old woman. Her affect is as flat as the boardroom table that separates us from Ernie. “I know she’s on something,” John said, those two years ago. “She is too out of it not to be.” But then again, her responses to our questions were also flat, which made us wonder how far her elevator went up to begin with. Jane’s sister, Angela, who is a couple years older, resembles her physically, but differs from her greatly in that she has a personality. Even in the simplest answers and statements, her tone and face are animated enough to reveal to us that there is a person inside the body.
Christian, Jane, and Angela are not here today. It’s only Ernie and the case manager, and by telephone – his newly appointed counsel from the public defender’s office in one of the tall, multi-storied, brownstones downtown. Gail, Angela, Chuck, and I occupy my side of the table. Alexander had to leave for an appointment somewhere. He missed Ernie. He didn’t get to look at the empty eyes of the person who caused the death of Christian’s older brother. He didn’t get to look at the hands that must have viciously grabbed the tiny arm, and squeezed the tender, baby skin against the soft muscles as he threw him against the wall, or smashed his little head against the edge of the table, causing the terrible damage that made his brain and heart stop working. Alexander didn’t get to see Ernie’s nervous, murdering fingers twitching and rolling and rubbing and flicking one another as he sat there, haughtily expecting our attention, waiting for us to ask him a question or tell him what we were going to do for him so he could get his son back. Alexander, a twenty-six year veteran of the police department, didn’t get to look into the eyes of another rotten-scumbag-mother-fucking baby killer.
Several weeks later, just as Zachary’s hope of finding a Tonka Truck began to grow very thin, he was visited by one of the angels. “Master Zachary,” he began, “Joseph has asked me to bring you to Heaven’s Gate. He said that he has news. You must come quickly!” Zachary jumped to his feet and started running in circles about the angel’s feet. “What did he say? What did he say? Did he find a Tonka Truck for me? Did he? Come on, you have to tell me!” Zachary’s frantic questioning did nothing but make the angel smile. “Let’s go,” said the angel, “take my hand, and follow me.” Grabbing the angel’s hand, and turning quickly to look behind him, nearly tripping himself with the effort, Zachary yelled, “Grandma Lois! Grandma Lois! Come on! Joseph found some Tonka Trucks! Yippee!”
So the angel, Zachary, and Grandma Lois made their way to Heaven’s Gate. Zachary was certain that they could get there quicker if they ran, but the angel reminded him that they needed to proceed at a slower pace so that Grandma Lois wouldn’t be left behind. “Well, can’t you carry us there? Can’t you just pick us up and get us there as quick as a thought?” “I can do that,” said the angel, “but we are only supposed to do that when going down to the Earth, or when we are responding to some kind of danger. Up here in Heaven, we angels are to walk like everyone else.”
Some moments later, the trio arrived at Heaven’s Gate. They found Joseph, as always, just sitting there, rocking back and forth in his favorite chair, humming a little tune. “You found them! You found them! Where are the Tonka Trucks?” said Zachary, as he ran up to Joseph. “How did you get them here? Did one of the angels bring them up from the Earth?” “Slow down there,” said Joseph, “hang on just a minute. I didn’t tell the angel that I found any of your trucks. I just asked him to tell you that I had some news.” With that, Zachary stopped his questions, and with a suddenly very sad face, he just stood there, silent, and unmoving. “What do you mean?” said the little boy, “You didn’t get any Tonka Trucks? That’s not the news?” “Well, in a way, it is,” replied the old saint; “I have found the secret that will allow you to find them for yourself.” Zachary was confused, but when Joseph turned to look at Grandma Lois, the kind woman had a big, beautiful smile on her face, for she, too, knew the secret. “Zachary,” Grandma Lois said, “come here. Come here and listen to Joseph. I know you have already looked in every possible place, but just listen to what your friend has to tell you. He is going to share the secret that we all come to learn after we have been in Heaven for a while. Joseph is going to help you figure it out, so be still, and listen.”
“Zachary,” said Joseph, “come here and sit with me. Climb up here on my lap and sit facing me. There. Now, lean forward and rest your head against mine, like this. We are going to take a little journey, right here, where we are sitting. We’re not actually going to leave, but we are going to go far, far away.” “I don’t know what you mean, Joseph. How can we go somewhere if we’re not going to leave your rocker, if we’re going to stay right here?” said Zachary. “Close your eyes and listen to me,” responded Joseph, “just close your eyes.” Suddenly, Zachary could see inside of Joseph’s mind. “Wow!” he said, “how did you do that?” “Sit still Little One. Lean your head against mine, now, and just sit still.” Again, Zachary was joined with Joseph inside the old man’s mind. He truly did feel that he was going on a journey. He felt almost like he was being carried about on a wing, nearly flying through his friend’s thoughts and consciousness. Zachary felt warm, and at peace. He saw images of Joseph’s life, old people, children, statues, masks, flowers, and an unending sky. His friend was a wonderful man, thought Zachary. He was amazed at all the sensations, emotions, and states of consciousness that were new and strange to his little mind.
After what seemed to be a very long time, Zachary’s feeling of flight stopped and he could see that he and Joseph were standing before a magnificent, ancient building. “Zachary,” the old man said, “we are here.” Looking toward the arch overhead, the little boy, with Joseph’s mind, read the graven inscription ‘hall of answers’ and understood it to mean – ‘Hall of Answers.’ “This, My Little Friend, is where I find the answers to fill all of the holes that Hope brings. It is in this place, that I find my peace.”
In his mind, Joseph took the little boy’s hand and led him up the stairs, through the immense, wooden door, and into the great Hall. Zachary stood in awe of the thousands of shelves, racks, and stands that contained the books of Joseph’s knowledge. The old sage began walking up one aisle, and then back down the next, searching the stacks and piles of monstrous notebooks and ledgers, hoping to find that one hidden something. “Ah! I remember where I put it,” said Joseph, “follow me!” Back to the far side of the building, up two flights of circular stairs, and back again to the middle of the Hall, but on the third floor, the old man led his companion to yet another remote corner of his mind, where they found in a toppled pile, several ancient, cracked, leather-bound manuscripts. “This is it,” said the old man, “this is where the answer lies.” Joseph dug to the bottom of the heap and extracted three small, red, leather-covered books. Their golden edges were dull with time, and in the dim light, Zachary could barely make out the embossed letters of their title – ‘The Contents of Heaven.’
“In each of us,” said Joseph, “there is a precious, secret place that tells us of Heaven. These little, red books tell of my Paradise. Now that you have made the journey with me, Zachary, you are prepared to take that same trek inside of your own, little self.” Joseph’s tiny friend just stood there, hugging the old man’s leg, softly crying to himself, being overcome with the emotion he felt for his wise friend. Then, slowly, Zachary began to smile with the youthful realization that he could now find the Tonka Trucks that he so dearly wanted. “Can we go now?” said Zachary. “We’re already there,” replied his old friend, “just open your eyes.”
Later that night, many hours after Grandma Lois had tucked Zachary into his bed, the unconscious self of Heaven’s little wanderer continued to search the far reaches of his mind, hoping to find his own, ‘Hall of Answers.’ Whether or not he actually found his own ‘Book of Heaven’ is unknown, but it is my understanding that, shortly before waking the next morning, Zachary dreamed that he had found his beloved Tonka Trucks.
Jumping from his feather comforter, Zachary awoke with the full excitement of his discovery. “I know where they are!” he shouted. “Grandma Lois, I know where they are!” Running out of their cottage and down the path through the Cottonwood forest, Zachary continued running, skipping, and hopping until he came to Heaven’s Gate. “Joseph, I know where they are! I know where to find the Tonka Trucks!” And on he went!
One day, not too long ago, a little boy died whose name was Zachary. I wish I could tell you that he passed quietly in his sleep, that his little soul just couldn’t stay here on Earth any longer and had to leave, to go back to that splendid Heaven from which the souls of all the little babies come to us. I cannot tell you this, for it did not happen so.
In recounting this tale of truth, I must confess that the little boy died from wounds he received at the hands of a horrible monster that attacked him over and over again. The details of his death are too sad to repeat here, but let me say that he felt no love at the time of his passing. Never more alone did Zachary feel than when his little soul finally left his battered form to begin its journey home.
Where were the guardian angels, you ask, who were supposed to protect his life while on this planet Earth? That, I do not know for sure, but I believe they were there, for I have been told that their powers were greatly diminished by the same evil that consumed the monster who took Zachary’s life. The angels’ remaining strength was used to take Zachary home to Heaven, where he is to this day.
We have heard since the olden days that the pearly gates of Heaven are guarded by gloriously fierce angels with bright, flaming swords, who are ready at an instant to slay any evil being who might try to enter there. This is just a story, we find out now, that was created by some old, gray men who don’t like children, puppies, and the morning sunshine. The truth, we know, is that Heaven does have a gate, but it is not adorned with pearls. It is, instead, an old wooden gate with one of the boards missing. Furthermore, it is surrounded by brightly flowered bushes and has a spring to help it close so none of Heaven’s puppies and babies get lost.
The returning souls are greeted by an older, soft-eyed gentleman who is rocking there in an even-older, cane rocking-chair. On an overturned garden bucket, setting nearby, the old gentleman, Joseph, has a big book, and a balance. “Let me see your heart,” he says to the approaching wanderer. “Let me see whether you’ve been good or bad in your life on Earth.” You see, this is how a soul is really measured for entrance into Heaven. If one has lived a life of goodness and sorrow, their hearts will be heavy with love and suffering. The scale will tip and release the latch to the old wooden gate, allowing it to open, welcoming the traveler home. If one has been mean in their life on Earth, and has felt no sorrow, their hearts will be empty and the scale will not move. Joseph will tell this errant soul to go back down that long, hot highway to Earth and live there, yet again. When they have learned how to be kind, and how to feel the sorrow that saddens other people’s lives, they may return to Heaven and have their hearts weighed again. “I will gladly let you in,” says Joseph, “when you have learned. Until then, you must spend your life on Earth.”
This is where we find Zachary, now, standing before Joseph with the weakened, tattered angels at his side. “Hello, Little One,” came Joseph’s soft voice, “What are you doing here so early? Are you sure it’s time for your arrival?” Zachary’s tear filled eyes gazed at Joseph with an extreme sadness and bewilderment. “Master,” said the closest angel, “our little friend has come home. He was sorely abused by the Evil One’s monster and it was only by the slightest chance that we all escaped. Please weigh his heart so that he can enter into his rest. You must know that his has been a long journey.”
Leaning back in his rocking-chair, Joseph closed his eyes, and with a slow sigh, finally said, “You are right, my faithful friend, let us delay no longer.” Sitting forward now, Joseph called to Zachary, “Come here Little One; tell me about your life. Let me see what kind of child you have been.” Zachary slowly walked up to the old man, and putting his tiny hand into Joseph’s, climbed up onto his lap and leaned back as if to fall asleep. With his head leaning against the gentle gate-keeper’s chest, Zachary began to cry, saying that he didn’t know what he had done wrong, but it must have been terrible to receive the punishment that he had. Joseph tried to sooth the little boy, softly humming a tune, and gently smoothing his tousled hair. “Let’s see what the book says about you, Zachary.” Joseph flipped through several pages of the mighty book, and at last came to the entry about little Zachary. “What it says here, Little One, is that you have done nothing wrong. You have committed no offense, and your heart is full of sadness and suffering. The short life you had lived was little more than strife, neglect, and abuse.” After a pause and a click of his tongue, Joseph stood-up with Zachary in his arms, and held him close. Standing thus, the love from his heart passed into the tiny, sad heart of Zachary. Then, slowly, as if he were coming to life, yet again, Zachary stirred, stretched, and raised his head to look into Joseph’s eyes. “You are safe now, my little friend. The struggles of your life are over. From this day forward, you shall live in paradise, no longer tormented by the Evil One.” A beautiful smile slowly spread across Zachary’s face, lighting Heaven’s entrance with a glow that it hasn’t seen for many lifetimes. “Welcome home,” said the kindly saint, “enter into your rest.”
With these events, Zachary began his new life in Paradise. You may think that his “life,” as we know it, was over once he had perished, but for this new resident of Heaven, he was still a little boy, and his life was just beginning. Zachary could now run, and jump, and swing to his little heart’s content. Day after day, this little wanderer ran throughout Heaven, playing as he had never played before. In his running about, though, Zachary was searching for something that he just couldn’t seem to find. No matter which expanse of Heaven he explored, he still came back a little disappointed, again not finding the secret thing for which he searched.
One day, after a particularly long romp through the fields and by-ways, Zachary returned to Heaven’s gate to talk to his old friend. “Hello, Little One, how are you today?” Without slowing down to provide an answer, Zachary climbed onto the old saint’s lap and blurted out his burning question – “Joseph, are there Tonka Trucks in Heaven? I’ve looked everywhere, and I can’t find any.” Somewhat surprised, and particularly amused, Joseph glanced around and replied, “Well, I don’t know Zachary, I’ve never looked for Tonka Trucks in Heaven.” With a dejected air, Zachary slumped back into Joseph’s chest and mumbled, “I don’t know what I’m going to do then, that was my favorite thing to play with down there.” Joseph just sat there, rocking back and forth, humming his little tune, waiting for what Zachary might say next. After several moments, and with a certain burst of excitement, Zachary nearly shouted – “Do you think you could get someone to bring some up here the next time they go down to Earth? Could one of the angels bring me one?” “I don’t know,” Joseph said, “we’ll see what we can do. It may take some time, and I can’t make any promises, but we’ll see.” This satisfied Zachary for now, so he hopped down from Joseph’s lap, said goodbye, and skipped away, looking for another game he might play.
A short while later, when Zachary was running through the palm groves, he happened upon a dog sitting in the middle of a flower garden. Crawling behind a bush, Zachary lay down and pretended to be spying on the dog. It was very fluffy with gray and tan hair, had pointy ears, a black snout, and a curled tail. Our little spy was starting to come out from behind the bush when he noticed that there were two cats sitting there as well. The smaller one, colored orange and white, was leaning against the larger cat, who was gray, orange, and white, as if she were her mother. While Zachary thought the bright pink flowers looked like a comfortable bed, and couldn’t blame the animals for lying in the flowers, he was wondering why the dog wasn’t chasing the cats up a tree, “or something like that,” he said aloud. “Because they are friends,” came a voice from behind one of the trees. “You can often see them sitting or walking around together.” Turning quickly, Zachary saw an older lady leaning against the tree. “What? Hey, where did you come from?” said Zachary, “I didn’t see you before.” Stepping forward from the tree now, the woman replied, “I said they are friends, so that’s why he isn’t chasing them around.” “Oh . . . but who are you?” “I’m sorry,” said the woman, “My name is Grandma Lois, and I am the keeper of Heaven’s pets and birds. I’ve been following you since you left Joseph at the gate. I had heard that you were up here, Zachary, and I’ve been looking for you for quite some time now.” Zachary turned around again, and looking more perplexed than he did before, peered behind the tree, then glanced at the dog and cats again, who were just sitting there, looking back at him, and smiling as if they were part of some secret joke. “But, how do you know my name, and why were you looking for me?” “Zachary, I know all about you,” said Grandma Lois, “because I have been watching my granddaughter down on the Earth. She knows all about you, too, Little One, and by watching her, I have come to know you.” Sensing Zachary’s growing unease, Grandma Lois tried to comfort him. “Come here Zachary and let me explain. When a loved one dies and comes up here to Heaven, they are able to watch their family and friends back on the Earth. And sometimes, when we see that they are having trouble, we are able to help them. Well, my granddaughter has been trying very hard to fight the Evil One, but sometimes she gets tired and I need to help her out.” By this time, the animals had come over to get some love from Zachary and Grandma Lois, so while Zachary was contemplating the things he was being told, he absently scratched the dog’s ears and petted the cats, alternating his gaze from the animals to his new friend. “Grandma Lois,” said Zachary, “can I help your granddaughter too? Would I be able to help her be strong and fight the monster that hurt me?” The old woman reached down, picked-up the little boy, and held him close to her breast. With great big tears spilling from her eyes, Grandma Lois softly whispered, “You already do, Zachary . . . you already do.” From that day forward, Grandma Lois and Zachary were the best of friends. Whenever you saw one, the other was not far away. To be continued….