Skip to content
FREE U.S. Shipping Over $120*


Demons Behind Me Safe House | Personal Stories - Raw & Unedited

Jeffery R.

by James Thelen 09 Apr 2024 0 Comments
you asked for it, well here it is.  My earliest clear memory was watching my mother die on the kitchen floor when I was 4. We were home alone that day, and I was watching television in the living room around mid-morning when I noticed that the kitchen sounds — the crinkling of bags, Mommy’s knife against the cutting board, cupboards opening and closing — had stopped. I left off watching Bugs Bunny and walked around the corner into the kitchen. Mommy was lying on the floor in front of the sink. Her legs were sprawled strangely in different directions, and one of her arms lay pinned underneath her. I couldn’t understand why she was so tired that she would sleep on the kitchen floor in the middle of the day. She didn’t look comfortable at all, and she had left the water running. I went back into the living room to finish the Bugs Bunny cartoon.A while later, I went back to see if Mommy was awake yet, but she was still asleep in the same position while the faucet ran and ran. I began to feel scared.“Get up, Mommy!” I shook her over and over. But she didn’t wake up, no matter how loudly I called, no matter how hard I shook her.I would never hear her voice again. *** On the evening of the day I became an orphan, our house filled up with police, paramedics and weepy family members. My father trudged around with a waxy, disconnected look on his face. After all the commotion died down, my great grandparents excused themselves and took me home with them.I don’t remember my mother’s funeral or much of anything else for the next several weeks. Of course, I had no concept of death. I was upset at my mother for going away. My feelings alternated between anger, sadness and warm memory fragments of Mommy playing with me in the yard and dressing me up in tiny plaid suits.A few months later, my father remarried. Shortly after the wedding, we moved into an apartment on the outskirts of Chicago.My stepmother, Peggy, hated me, apparently because I was a visual reminder of my father’s previous marriage. I was another of her unpleasant chores.One evening I awakened in the middle of the night to a throbbing pain in my face.“Daddy, look!” I said, standing in the doorway of his bedroom. “My face is cut.” It was my simple way of describing the deep scratches in my left cheek.My father got up and washed and bandaged my face. “Looks like the cat got to him,” Peggy said. He went along with the assessment, but I heard my grandparents arguing with my father and Peggy about it a few nights later, when they thought I was asleep.“Those scratches weren’t made by a cat,” my grandfather said as they sat in the living room. “Those are people scratches. We want to know what’s going on here.”Two months later, Peggy gave birth to my half brother, Paul. I was too young to add or to know about the nine-month gestation period. My father’s infidelity would be an unpleasant discovery for later.One evening not long after Paul’s birth, Peggy laid two large knives at the foot of Paul’s bed. When my father arrived home, Peggy told him she had caught me in Paul’s room with the knives.“I found a chair in the kitchen underneath the knife case,” Peggy said. “Richard must have used it to reach the knives. Something needs to be done.”The something was what Peggy had wanted all along — to get rid of me. After a few more months of such focused loathing, my grandparents stepped in. My grandfather was a Chicago police officer, well connected enough to have my father banished from government work if he didn’t play along. My father, an auditor for the IRS at the time, had no desire to have his livelihood upturned, particularly with a new wife and an infant son to look after.“We’re going to adopt Richard,” my grandparents insisted. So I went to live under their roof. For the next several years, life was considerably less tumultuous. I found myself sharing a house with my aunts and uncles, whom I had previously seen only during holiday gatherings or other special occasions. Life was filled with non-descript little-boy things — elementary school, Sesame Street, Tonka trucks and erector sets.I was the Golden Child. For some reason, perhaps the tragedy that had caused me to come live there, I was given preferential treatment. My 19-year old uncle Philip had to share his room with me. I could do no wrong. When Christmas came around, there were always piles of presents for me under the tree.Around my 10th year, my siblings/aunts/uncles began to come of age and move out of the house. In some way, the changed atmosphere, along with my grandparents’ worsening alcoholism, altered my status irrevocably. My grandparents began to be mean to me. Between that shift and my age, I had more than enough reason to lose respect for the house rules. On one occasion, my experimentation with matches inspired my grandfather to tie me to the washer and beat me with a police belt.Something was happening to their minds. One evening, after my latest display of independence, I lay in bed while my grandparents stood outside my door and discussed which knives they should employ to punish me.“No, that’s not sharp enough,” my grandfather was saying.“Well, the one you’ve got isn’t nearly big enough,” Grandmother said.“We don’t want it to be too big,” Granddad came back. “It’s got to go between the ribs.”Fortunately, I never had to find out whether there was real murderous intent under the alcohol that night. My Aunt Monica came in time to overhear their discussion, after which she took me home with her while they cooled down.My grandparents descended into drunkenness and rage. At the height of their impairment, they each drank a case of beer every night. They began to have violent conflicts. The house shook as they overturned furniture and hurled objects through windows. My grandfather began using his fists on Grandmother, but nothing was done since he was a police officer. Finally, a series of strokes disabled him, and around the same time, my grandmother suffered an aneurysm that degraded her mental capacity. A crippled quasi-peace settled over the house. By this time, I was 13, doing mostly whatever I wanted and helping myself to my grandparents things, including their booze. Now, when my grandmother discovered my misdeeds, she growled at me. It was at once safer and more frightening than it had been before. None of my friends ventured into the house anymore.After my grandfather passed away, my Aunt Marcy moved into the basement of the house with her husband, Jared, both to help care for my ailing grandmother and to parent me. By this time, it was clear to the entire family that I had been short-changed in every way during my upbringing. Because there had been no cohesive structure in my life, I had invented myself in haphazard, self-styled fashion. I was 15 years old and had come to enjoy calling my own shots. My adjustment to life’s thrashings was to assume a posture of strength and confidence. I was smart, capable and moved to dominate the scene wherever I went. I was going to rule the world.Hence, Jared’s well-intentioned effort to parent me was a failure. I was a bitter, angry young man, still smarting from the loss of my mother and mistrustful of adults. I had lived for years in self-indulgence with the view that other people were there for my use and pleasure. The sudden imposition of boundaries by my well-meaning uncle-in-law was unacceptable. I began rebelling against him and my Aunt Marcy with gusto. I smoked pot as often as I could get hold of it, drank alcohol, shoplifted, and ignored my curfew.I didn’t think much about it, but my antisocial behavior was fueled by bitterness toward the God, whatever and whoever he was, who had stolen away the only person I had ever loved. From time to time, gauzy images of my mother’s smiling face penetrated my angry consciousness. When they did, I clenched my fists and swore I would pay God back for what he had done to me.One day, my aunt and uncle announced that we were going to move from the city into the suburbs of Chicago. I was completely opposed to the move. While the house was being repaired in order to put it up for sale, I went around damaging the work to sabotage the move. But in the end, there was little I could do to thwart it. All our worldly goods were soon packed into the back of a U-Haul traveling away from the only place I had ever called home.Once ensconced in the suburbs, I quickly set out to establish myself in the way I had grown accustomed. I started a gang called the Morgan Park Motorheads, which dominated the park it was named for. Meanwhile, I resumed my daily routine of drinking, drugging and larceny.“You don’t know what you’re doing to yourself,” Uncle Jared told me more than once. “It’s easy to burn bridges now. The problem is, someday you’re going to need them.” But I was immovable.When I turned 16, Aunt Marcy and Uncle Jared threw in the towel.“You’re on your own,” Uncle Jared said. Weariness and exasperation creased his face as he said the words. We were sitting in the living room of their new apartment. Aunt Marcy sat next to him on the couch, and I could see both anger and sadness in her features.“What, because I won’t march to the beat of your crusty little drum?” I said sarcastically.“You’re out of control,” Uncle Jared said stonily. “We didn’t take you into our home so you could use it for a flophouse. You don’t follow any of our rules. You’re destructive. And you’re a complete ingrate.”“I didn’t ask for your charity,” I snarled back at him. Before long, the brouhaha moved from the house down the steps and onto the lawn.“Here, have your crappy watch back,” I said, unclasping the gold watch they had given me for my birthday. “I never liked it anyway.” I hurled it at him, but it went through the screen door instead, making a satisfying tinkle and a mess of shattered glass.“Get out of here, NOW!” Uncle Jared bellowed, standing up and advancing toward me. His face and neck were nearly purple.I turned to leave with a contemptuous swagger, jumped into my car and drove away.I moved back into the city and lived in my 1967 Ranchero for a month. While I gathered my resources for better lodging, I continued attending school, where I discovered I was a natural on computers. Both to see what I could do and just to be a jerk, I got on a classroom computer, infiltrated the school mainframe, printed up a whole batch of faculty payroll checks and brought them into the office to flaunt my handiwork.“You’re banned from all the computers,” Principal Walters growled at me in his office the next day. “You’re lucky I don’t throw you’re a** out of here.”I got back into the system, changed the access codes and locked the faculty out of the system. That afternoon, I was once again in Principal Walters’ office with three school administrators scowling across from me.“You realize you can’t attend school here anymore,” Principal Walters said. It was more of a statement than a question. “So we tallied your credits. You have enough to graduate. If you give us the codes, you can take your diploma and go.”As I strutted out, Principal Walters called after me, “Just in case you were wondering, you’re not allowed on these premises anymore.”I knew he wanted to do more to me, but because my ragamuffin emancipation had left me without any family authority over me, he had no way of imposing any real punishment. Through a hundred situations just like this, I had learned I didn’t have to pay for my misconduct. I counted myself too smart, quick and clever to get hit. And for a long while, it seemed to be true. *** I joined the Air Force when I was 17. The idea came to me as I stretched out on a mattress in the unfinished basement of a house belonging to my friend Philip’s parents. They had heard I was camping in my Ranchero and invited me to their home. However, after a few months of gazing at floor joists and bare concrete, I knew I couldn’t stay. I had plans to make my presence known in the world, but here I was living like a vagabond and drinking like a fish. I felt like I had no future. So I went down to the recruiter’s office that afternoon.When I submitted a near-perfect ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery), the recruiter told me I could literally do anything I wanted in the Air Force. I told him I wanted to be a nuclear weapons specialist. The fact that I would end up working with nuclear weapons (the most powerful device in the world) meshed well with my grandiose ideas.Within a few weeks, I arrived in Lackland, Texas for boot camp. The rigorous training might have challenged me mentally and physically if it hadn’t been for my artistic ability.I noticed my drill instructor assembling a podium out of oaken wood. When he commented that he was less than satisfied with the finished product, I drew up some designs and showed them to him.“I can paint this pattern on the front of the podium and spice it right up, sir,” I told him.The sergeant studied the sheet of paper for a moment, then looked up at me with a delighted grin. “You can make the front of my lectern look like this?” he asked.“Oh, yes sir!”All of a sudden, I was dodging all the worst parts of basic training — KP, GI parties, long runs and anything else I didn’t feel like doing. It was the kind of thing that always happened: my talent and shrewdness permitted me to get around the requirements. It had been happening to me for so long, I thought it was my birthright.After basic training, I went to Lowrey Air Force Base in Denver. Advanced training was well within my grasp, and I seldom broke a sweat. I made great money and stayed in plush quarters. It was too easy to forget why I had joined the military in the first place, especially with a gentleman’s club right across from the barracks.There was no age limit for drinking on the base, so at the tender age of 17, I was soon drinking profusely, supplied with large weekly checks, a high-limit charge card at the club and a great affinity for the grog. Soon, I was doing nothing but attending school and drinking.It was a continuation of the same story: because I was intelligent and high-functioning, I could go around like a slobbering drunk and still score in the top ten percent in my classes. Between classes, I would visit the vending machines in the hall, where I employed a new trick I had learned to get free sandwiches. Somehow, I figured out how to keep the lazy Susan turning after the door was already open. I would pay for a single sandwich, open the door, then grab another ten sandwiches for free as they marched by on the track. I even taught the trick to my buddies. *** I was stationed at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri. It was my first permanent base assignment. I received another raise in pay, bought a brand-new motorcycle and settled into the nightlife there. It was my misfortune that the base housing was directly across from the NCO club, where I lived whenever I wasn’t on duty or in classes. At the club, I met my first wife, Stephanie, a winsome, lovely girl impressed with my hot wheels and my Air Force career. We married within a few months.Stephanie’s father was my First Sergeant. When we got married, Sergeant Lowell pulled me aside for a talk.“Son, there’s no question you’re bright and capable. Why do you insist on doing things that get you in trouble?”I leveled with him. “I’ve got a drinking problem, sir.”“Oh, it’s not that bad.”“If you don’t believe me, check my bill at the NCO club.”So he did, and they told him my bill for the month (with a week remaining) was $1700, which in today’s dollars was around $4500.Sergeant Lowell came to see me in the barracks the next day. “You’re going to Severin Air Force Base,” he told me.“Oh wow. That sounds cool.”“You’re not transferring. You’re going there for rehab. You’ll be there for 45 days. You will attend AA meetings, sober up, and when you come back here, we’re going to go on with our lives.”The idea of doing rehab was onerous to me. However, I found a silver lining. Over the past year, I had grown bored with my job, but whenever I asked to cross-train, I was turned down. Now that I was headed to Severin, I learned that no known alcoholic was allowed to work with nuclear weapons. This was my ticket out of being bored to tears for the next 20 years.I had outsmarted everyone, again.I arrived in southern Texas and discovered that Severin was a mental institution.How in the world did I end up here? I thought. No matter. I approached my stint in rehab as I had approached everything else in my young life: I mastered the system. I learned the rules, the politics and the people. While the staff there learned nothing about me, I learned everything about them and how they went about treating Air Force drunks. I exhibited all the caring, sincere sentiments they were looking for, spoke the recovery language, and even became the patient foreman before I had been there two weeks. Nothing changed. King Richard had done the usual and taken charge. I flew through the program in spite of going AWOL one night to have both forearms tattooed off base.Back at Whiteman, I was told I had two choices: be a cook or go into MWR (Morale, Welfare and Recreation). I chose MWR, which had me helping run gyms, recreation centers, NCO and Ermine clubs. In spite of spending so much time working with alcohol, I stayed sober.Stephanie and I were far from being in love, but we kept a house together, partly because I was still under the authority of Stephanie’s father, Sergeant Lowell. Two years crept by, during which I did my job well, looked after my affairs and stayed away from the drink.“You’re going to Avon Park, Florida,” my commanding officer informed me after another year had gone by. My adventures at Severin were all but forgotten. Stephanie’s father and mother were being transferred to San Francisco.So Stephanie and I did the Next Thing in Florida, where I bought my first Harley Davidson and got a dozen more tattoos. I was what might have been referred to as “Nouveau Air Force,” but it worked. I got involved in area biker clubs and kept at my Air Force duties. My superiors didn’t have an inkling anything was brewing, and it wasn’t, for the moment. I even had lunch with General Norm Schwarzkopf.I got the note when I least expected it: Richard, I’m sorry. I can’t do this anymore. Being separated from my family is killing me. I’m going to San Francisco. I wish you the best. Stephanie I filed for divorce without shedding a tear. I had long felt that Stephanie and I were doing little more than playing house. It didn’t escape me that I was now a highly paid single man with an enviable career, a dream lifestyle and a Harley Davidson to boot.I took a side job as a bouncer and blackjack dealer. It didn’t occur to me to be concerned about working in a bar. As far as I knew, staying sober was as easy as everything else in life. I could do it in my sleep. But I didn’t. That was the year I both resumed my love affair with booze and married my second wife, Shari.My firstborn son, Trevor, came into the world in June of 1988, followed closely by Aliea in 1990. Things were deceptively stable. The Air Force had proved to be an easy career — so easy that having a family and working side jobs was quite manageable.The first sign of trouble came one afternoon when I arrived home and found a mirror in the bathroom with streaks of white powder on it.“What’s this?” I asked Shari, setting the mirror down on the coffee table in the living room.“I tried meth,” she said, the same way she might have said, “I got a speeding ticket.” Somehow, I wasn’t concerned. Up until now, I didn’t have any experience with “hard” drugs. It was 1990, after all, and most of the country, including us, had no idea how dangerous methamphetamine was. Shari told me she had used the stimulant effect to help her clean the entire house.Meanwhile, I decided to re-enlist in the Air Force. I was creeping up on the ten-year mark, and the thought of going for 20 years was attractive, particularly considering that I could then retire with partial pay and benefits.My comfortable middle-class world began to fracture not long after I signed for another term. While I was away at work, money began to come up missing. The house took on a punched, neglected look. It was constantly cluttered and dirty. Finally, I discovered that Shari had begun collecting AFDC (welfare). She had gone to the state and told them I abandoned her.Next, Shari began turning up with a new boyfriend — a meth dealer, no less. While I contemplated how to deal with this, I was called into a meeting with my Air Force commander, Sergeant-Major Briggs.“Mr. Fallon, your services are no longer needed,” the Sergeant-Major said crisply. “You will be leaving the Air Force.”I had heard about the reduction in defense spending, but I hadn’t seen this coming.“We will give you $22,000 to help you get on with your life,” he added.That was something I could get behind. Without giving it much thought, I signed the paperwork, collected my things from the base and returned home. I was a civilian again.I bought a new Harley-Davidson to soothe myself. Somehow, I couldn’t bear to look directly at the way my life was unraveling. That would be a reckoning for later. In the meantime, I got a job working as a whitewater rafting guide in Silva, North Carolina. It was a fantastic job, but there were environmental hazards; I was soon drinking profusely and smoking pot regularly. Before long, I broke down and tried meth with Shari. In a strange, toxic way, it brought togetherness back into my marriage for a time. I discovered how productive I could be when fatigue was taken out of the picture.The attractions in Silva staled quickly, so I moved the family back to Florida while I went to school to become a Harley-Davidson mechanic. I had always loved Harleys, so it was an attractive move for both personal and vocational reasons.Unfortunately, Shari’s drug use became obsessive as her grip on reality degraded. Our relationship became vitriolic. I could find no explanation for some of her actions. Once, she hit herself in the face repeatedly and then filed charges against me for battery. Later, she got an injunction against me, which prevented me from seeing Trevor and Aliea for six months.My meth use was off the charts. I stayed up for up to a week at a time, ostensibly because I needed the time and energy to solve my marital problems. But the drug became my replacement wife. It also helped cover my legal fees while I was fighting for custody of my kids. Now I was selling meth, both to raise money and to support my own habit. I sold my bikes and everything else I could get a few dollars for.At age 32, I had reverted to the ugly, self-centered person I had been at age 16. Only now I had the meth-monkey on my back as well. By this time, none of my friends would have anything to do with me.Shari and I eventually agreed that Aliea would stay with her and Trevor would live with me. We agreed not to make any child-support arrangements.I took Trevor and moved to Daytona, fully intending to secure a fresh start. I got a job at K-Mart as a receiving clerk and made the usual resolutions about saving money, etc. However, I couldn’t stay away from meth. My new life was kept perpetually out of reach as I made weekly runs back to Avon Park to score my supply.Our living situation was a disaster waiting to happen. We stayed with a live-in couple whose relationship was on the rocks. I came home from work one day to find the place in shambles — smashed lamps, overturned tables and blood splattered on the walls.“We’re leaving, son,” I told Trevor after cleaning up the mess. I hastily gathered our belongings and called a friend, Louise, who came to pick us up, probably anticipating the opportunity to join me in my meth frenzy. I spent the next two months loaded to the gills, trying to forget the ruin my life had become.King Richard had become a pauper. I was enslaved to a peculiar white powder, homeless, my family fractured, with no more possessions than could fit into a large Hefty bag. I knew I had completely failed my son.Although I was borderline psychotic, I picked up the phone to ask for help. Mike was my best friend, a thirty-something biker who lived up in Pennsylvania. To this day, I have no recollection of calling him. The only thing I remember was walking outside to see a beat-up old pickup truck out front. A skinny guy named Skip climbed out and walked up to me.“Are you Richard Fallon?” he asked without preamble.“Yes.”“Go in the house and get your things. You and Trevor are coming with me.”“What are you talking about?” I laughed. “I’ve never seen you before in my life.”“Just get your things. Mike Krause received your phone call yesterday. You told him that if he didn’t get you out of Florida within the next couple of days, you’d be dead. He sent me down here to get you and your son and bring you up to Pennsylvania. Don’t make me get physical. Just get your things and get in the truck.”We arrived in Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania 14 hours later. After a brief reunion, Mike took me aside.“Okay, this is how it’s going to be. You’re staying with me now. Whatever you do, wherever you go, it all goes through me. We’re going to get you clean.”I submitted to his control willingly, though I tested him initially. In the first place, my loss of functioning had punched a hole in my ego. Secondly, I had tremendous respect for Mike. He was one of those rare friends that you end up counting as family. He had often traveled to Florida so we could ride together. He was a brother to me and an uncle to my son. And he had responded jack-rabbit quick to a call for help I couldn’t even remember placing.During the time I lived with Mike, I looked after Trevor, who was 7 years old and going to grade school. I attended recovery meetings, managed my affairs and rebuilt my life piece by piece.Six months later, Mike helped me get into an apartment in Selinsgrove. Trevor grew like a weed. As for me, my head hadn’t been so clear for years. I started looking for work and quickly landed a job as a loss-prevention officer at Sears. I also joined the National Guard. While all this was going on, Mike kept regular tabs on me. He often told me, “Don’t screw up. Remember, you’re not the only one who’ll pay for it.” *** It would never have occurred to me when I was younger, but though I went through many tumultuous episodes in my life, I had a genius for re-inventing myself. I have been a military man, a drug dealer, a thug, a professional manager, a motorcycle mechanic, a highly-paid retail executive, an animal breeder and many other things. I have been like a chameleon all my life.I was married briefly to my third wife, Rhonda, based largely on our shared interest in animal breeding. During a time when I was looking for structure, Rhonda was happy to give it. She was the maternal type, and though I was her husband, I felt more like her son. She kept control of the money and the major living arrangements. She was far more stable and prudent in her decision-making than I was. Moreover, I went along willingly with her decisions at the outset.Rhonda and I made strong strides in the animal breeding business. For several years, we perfected our system, earned splendid sums of money and were even featured on “Animal Planet.” In the end, however, I couldn’t take being kept under her control. Over time, Rhonda had tightened the constraints on my behavior to ludicrous proportions. I was not allowed to attend concerts, make simple cash expenditures or even drink a beer. We divorced in 2003. *** I resolved to change careers (again) and was hired as the national sales manager for a huge pet-products company. On my first day, I was introduced to 17 women, all of whom worked for me. During the course of that day, as I went around getting to know the people I would be managing, I entered one of the offices and greeted the two ladies there. One of them, Tiffany, faced the doorway and returned my greeting. The other woman turned toward me as I entered.I couldn’t speak.In my early 20s, I drew a portrait of the “perfect” woman. I was so happy with the result that I had a tattoo artist render it on my bicep. Over the next 20 years, I thought less and less about the tattoo and the drawing that had inspired it. Until now. The woman — Sarah — who turned around to answer my greeting looked exactly like the portrait I had drawn.In an instant, I lost all my social skills. I backed out of the office babbling like a deranged man.Sarah thought I hated her. It took nine months of working in proximity with her to break the ice, so much did her perfection terrify me. During my first weeks at the company, I regularly lost my composure with her. My knees knocked whenever we were alone together.Eventually, I began to relax with her. We were together constantly, traveling from city to city selling pet supplies. Our work kept us in close quarters, where, at last, we began to click, more wonderfully than I could have imagined.One day, Sarah came in to work and I noticed her wedding band was missing.“Ken and I are getting a divorce,” she said when I asked about it.It doesn’t seem right to gain one’s soul mate through the provision of a failed marriage, but that is exactly what happened. However, it took proddings from several of my colleagues before I could even bring myself to approach her with a romantic overture. The word was that everyone in the building saw what was happening before I could even acknowledge the possibility. Apparently, that included Sarah, because one day, as I stopped by her desk to confer with her, she turned to me and said in a calm, gentle voice, “Just so you know…you and I are going to be together.”Sarah was much younger than I, extravagantly personable and the spitting image of my dream girl from so long ago. She was so desirable that she was positioned to accomplish what 40 years and the prayers of relatives had been unable to do.In a strange twist, Sarah’s affection for me (which resulted in our exchanging wedding vows in 2004) caused an awakening of her long-dormant faith in God — the conviction that God is good, ever-watchful, and never without grace and compassion for lost people. Those convictions began tumbling out of her mouth when we were alone together.“This life isn’t going to last forever,” she told me. “There’s something on the other side. You should prepare for it.”“Yeah, okay.” I always changed the subject when she spoke about God. Sarah was convincing, but it was a tough sell for me. Ever since I was old enough to understand that my mother had been taken away from me because of a brain aneurysm,I had considered God my adversary, a being undeserving of respect, praise or loyalty. My bitterness against God was so strong that it overpowered considerations of my own eternal fate.“I’m a soulless b******,” I told her more than once. “My past is my armor. That’s just the way it is.”But Sarah was at once persistent and gentle. Over time, her soft radiance worked its way underneath my anger. “One of these days, you’ll get it,” she said again and again. “And no matter what happens, I love you to death!”While these kinds of exchanges were going on, we learned that my son, Trevor, who was in the military, would soon be returning home from overseas.“You know how badly I want to see my son,” I told Sarah. “Maybe I should start putting out applications in Columbia.” This was where my son would be living upon his return. The first hit seemed like a winner: parts manager for the Harley-Davidson dealership in Columbia. After an examination of my credentials, the General Manager offered to fly us down for a lengthy interview.Sarah and I flew to Columbia and made the first trip to the dealership together. As we threaded our way through the city, I noticed a church set a good distance off the road. Then I took a second look.For as long as I could remember, I had despised churches, both because they were associated with God and also because, as I saw it, most of them were loaded with smarmy mealy-mouths. However, I felt none of my characteristic vitriol as we drove past this one.The church was black with lime-green trim. I saw several prominent signs in front of the building with the famous Angry Birds on them. It was a conspicuous way of informing passersby that they specialized in helping people deal with anger issues.As I took all this in, I had a thought that was completely out of character for me: Maybe this is a church Sarah and I could go and check out sometime. Maybe I’m supposed to see what the place is about.But the strangest things were yet to come.After we had been in Columbia for nearly a year, a salesman at the dealership came up to me at work and began unloading a bizarre monologue out of the blue. It may be that the only reason I listened to Hector was because of Sarah’s patient encouragement and the sighting of the Angry Birds church.“Richard,” he began, “I don’t know how long you’re going to be at the dealership here. Most people don’t last all that long. But I’m going to tell you something: I’ve been praying for you for a long time.”At this point, I inwardly debated whether I should politely excuse myself.“I can assure you that you’re exactly where you need to be. You’re here for a reason. I don’t know what that reason is, but I’ve observed you. I know you. And I’m here for you.”I didn’t know what to say. My usual response to such gushings was to dismiss them out of hand. But something visceral held me there. I felt a trust for him that I couldn’t explain or justify.Several weeks later, the dealership (lobbied by Hector, among others) gave permission for an evangelism outreach to be held in the back lot. Tents were erected, loudspeakers were set up and flyers were distributed.The evening arrived. Sarah had made a special trip down for the event, and the two of us stood swaddled in balloons listening to the meeting get underway.About twenty minutes into the event, I began to feel bored and walked back to the building to discuss some work-related item with the manager. When I returned, it had begun to rain. Hector was speaking by this time, but instead of listening, I strode back toward the building again to get my motorcycle. I was heading home.Then I stopped.I don’t remember what Hector said. All I remember is stopping dead in my tracks, which was odd because tent revivals were about number 762 on my list of things to do. Even more ironically, I was getting completely drenched as the rain produced a gentle roar on the asphalt and the tops of the tents.I turned and began moving back toward the main tent where Hector spoke. He was getting fired up now. His cheeks were wet.Sarah told me later that as she watched me do this confused dance from a hundred yards away, she saw the expression on my face completely change and my jaw hit the asphalt.I stood in the same spot with hardly a twitch while Hector spoke.“…this is what it means to belong,” he was saying. “Being there for other people isn’t just something we do for them. We do it for ourselves at the same time, but not in a selfish way. A person who doesn’t have someone to care for is like a finger or an arm cleaved away from the body. It is dying. Its life is spilling out. Left alone long enough, it is nothing but a slab of flesh. It can only live as a part of the body, and that means reaching out to help others.”Hector’s words cut to my heart. I realized that I was that disembodied arm, putrid and dying. I had chosen to walk alone through life, probably in the aftermath of my mother’s death. My estrangement from God, my self-reliance, my lifelong habit of bending everything to suit my own wishes — all of it had kept me in a famished state as I hopped from marriage to marriage, job to job, career to career. I saw the answer in an instant. All those years, I had taken pride in my lone-wolf status even as it asphyxiated me.Sometime later, Hector spotted me and came over. He looked me over solicitously for a moment.“Are you all right?” he asked.“Yeah, I’m fine,” I replied. “You know what? I get it.”Hector smiled and nodded. “That’s why you’re here.”As Hector prompted me, while the wind sprayed warm rain all around, I stood there and gave my life to Jesus.“Speak it aloud,” Hector insisted. “Use your voice!”“My life belongs to you, Lord! I’m sorry I stood away from you for so long. I was wrong. Don’t let me be alone anymore!”And he hasn’t.Hector recommended a church for me — the same one Sarah and I attend today. It is, in fact, the very church I noticed on my first drive through Columbia — black and lime green with Angry Birds on the signs.I went into Vive Church for the first time wearing blue jeans, leather chaps, a Harley vest covered with patches and pins, short-sleeve tee shirt, bandana, and my arms covered in tattoos. Never in all my life have I been received so warmly by people wearing suits and “civilian” clothes. Those civilians have become my extended family. They helped me shake loose from my past. I am convinced it is never too late for anyone to make it back. No one is too far gone to be saved. 


Prev Post
Next Post

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.

Thanks for subscribing!

This email has been registered!

Shop the look

Choose Options

Back In Stock Notification
Product SKURatingDescription Collection Availability Product Type Other Details
this is just a warning
Shopping Cart
0 items