One person stood out. He'd been sitting by the fire for quite a while when he suddenly stood up, turned and began walking with purpose straight toward the window that my face was framed in. I'd turned away hoping to disappear into the safety of darkness, when I felt the grip of someone's hand on my shoulder, sending me into full survival mode. How old? How big? How many? All the information I'd be needing to craft an escape plan as the encounter unfolded. Turning toward my captor, our eyes met. On the exterior, she was a soft, pretty girl. But who was that large angry looking fellow that had me by the arm? I knew then what my next move would be. "Sir, I'm so hungry," I said. His grip relaxed.
Boxing was my stress relief technique before leaving the Wall Street rat race a few years prior. I was fast, and I knew how to stun someone without really hurting them. Staggering back a few steps wobbly legged, he just sat down. "Perfect!" I thought. I'd be gone and well on my way back to my tree house before he'd gotten his senses back. Yes, tree house. Woodstock had changed all the rules, and I was taking full advantage. On the surface, I was doing fine, stinking rich in fact. But life had lost all of it's luster. Something was missing. So, I abandoned my dry, lifeless existence altogether and took the advice of Timothy Leary, "Tune in, turn on and drop out."
Running, facing backwards for a last glimpse, my eyes found her. She was standing unshaken, hands on her hips, waiting for what she must have known would be my inevitable final look back. Turning back around, I increased the pace to a flat-out run, not realizing that things were about to take a drastic turn as I ran down the path through those cold, empty, moonlit woods. Slowing now, to a rhythmic trot, each step in perfect sync with my breathing, I geared up for the long run ahead, turning from time to time to check for anyone following. The steam from my breath swirled behind me before disappearing in the chilly night air. I'd always loved connecting with the natural world around me. But when it came to people, it was never long before things simply went to hell in a handbasket. "So, this girl connection?" I reasoned, "Just some outward projection no doubt, of my own internal psychic mumbo-jumbo. "When I get home," I thought, "I'll put some fresh water in the bong, load a bowl of dried homegrown flower tops, toke up and tune out."
Just then I heard footsteps from behind me so I sped up, rounded the next bend, ducked behind a tree and waited. She wanted to meet me, and I was letting her pass by. As I stepped out onto the path, she stopped, turned, walked up and stood directly in front of me, and inches away, placed her hands on my head and began passionately calling out, tears streaming, to her God on my behalf. She then lifted her hands from my head, stepped around my dumbfounded, statue like form, and walked away. There was no sleeping for me that night. All I could do was relive again and again, the warmth of her voice, and the tenderness of her breath against by my face. I had to see that girl again, that beautiful hippie girl.
I didn't want anyone in my life then, especially a boy, that
boy. But his soul seemed within my reach, my touch. A precious human soul. I
couldn't just turn away and let him go. So, I ran after him. "I'll find
that boy," I thought, "and put him in God's hands, then walk right
back to my life, and won't think of him again." And that's exactly what I
did. The next morning I was outside hanging laundry, and there he was, Daddy,
standing at the edge of the trees. He came storming toward me like a
steamroller when he saw me. So, I did what I'd done since I was four, ran in
the opposite direction. I went in the back door of the building, then straight
out the front, and down the path that I knew would lead to that boy. Funny, somehow,
we hadn't really met yet, he and I.
# I was
out on the porch, taking in the fresh morning air when she
appeared. "Hi! I'm Dezzie, can I crash at your treehouse for a
while?" She blurted. She was out of breath, doubled over and gasping for
air, able to get out only a few words at a time, and she kept frantically
looking back down the path. She then bolted up the rope ladder like a Navy Seal. "No sir," I answered. "I haven't seen anybody like that. I'll
keep an eye out and call you at the number you gave me. You're welcome
sir!" As I leaned over the porch railing, watching Dezzie’s dad disappear
down the path, the reality suddenly gripped me, that my moment had come. That
beautiful girl was waiting behind me, that warm, soft beautiful girl, love
itself. And I had to turn and face her, and talk to her. I'd done a tour in
Vietnam. I'd been a Wall Street tough guy, but I was utterly undone. There would
be no deception, no crafting of an escape plan now. With both hands clenched in
a death grip on the porch railing, and her dad disappearing around the bend, I
was out of time. "So how 'bout it, can I sleep on your porch or not?"
she said matter-of-factly, sashaying over. She rested one hand on the railing
and looked over at me. #
resolved not to fall for this boy, but after hearing him speak, and looking
into his tear-filled eyes that morning, I lifted my arms slightly in his
direction, an invitation. He walked over to me, and with calloused, rough
hands, reached out taking mine, covering them completely. I felt safe with this
boy, Jake. He explained to me how he'd done "The whole Christian
thing" for a while, years ago, but that there was something missing. Then
suddenly as he was speaking, his whole demeanor changed. I felt his hands
pulling away, his eyes darted to one side. I found myself alone, standing in
front of a total stranger. Fear gripped me, but Dad was back. "Oh, I see
you found her." "Yes sir," the stranger replied. He backed away,
allowing me to pass by, brushing his jacket as I passed. I took another step,
then stopped. "Daddy, I'm OK," I said. I was of age, and Dad knew
that resisting would have been pointless. I fought the fear, and stood my ground
as Daddy walked away, back down the path and out of sight. I spun myself
around and faced Jake. He was wearing sunglasses now. Curious, I reached out
and slowly pulled them from his face, and looking up into his eyes, realized
that he had done some heavy drugs, and they were kicking in, now. He reached
out with one hand and took me by the throat. As I grabbed his wrist with both
hands, I felt myself being lifted up and off the floor. I began praying,
"Father forgive him, he doesn't know what he's doing." He slammed me
against the wall. "Where's Daddy?" I thought. He slammed me again and
blood spurted from my nose. Finally, he tossed my limp body across the porch
and walked away. #
to Dezzie that morning was the last thing I remembered when I came to my senses
out in the woods. I was not far from the house, it was
dark. When I found her, and realized what I'd done, I held her in my
arms and cried. Then for the first time in years I looked up to Heaven and
prayed, asking God to spare this wonderful girl. I thanked Him for sending her
into my life. She had painted me a picture with her own blood, of that which I
until then, had been unable see. #
recovered, and returned the building at the other end of the path, no longer
under the threat of being "rescued" by her father, who had finally
accepted the fact that his daughter lived in a convent, and was happy in the
life that she had chosen, as a nun.
It had been seven days of agony, since that wonderful day, turned black. I was down chopping firewood, chewing myself out, to push down the remorse and despair that would have overcome me. I had just thrown my axe about 50 yards into the woods, and yelled, "You idiot!" at the top of my lungs, when Dezzie rolled up from behind me on a dirt bike, climbed off, and in a cloud of dust, threw her helmet down and said, "You know what? You'll get no argument from me!" Every one of her 90 or so pounds, radiated unwavering courage. She then headed toward me like a lumberjack whose mother I had just insulted, and with her nose taped up, and a bruised swollen face, looked into my eyes with angry defiance, spit flying, and said, "So what drugs you on now, Jack ass!" Then she stepped back, still looking at me, folded her arms and just waited. I opened my mouth to speak, and without a word she hopped back on her motorcycle and disappeared back down the path in another cloud of dust.
On the following day I walked out to the convent, on the off chance that she'd meet me. My heart began to pound as I approached the front door, which opened just as I got there, as if she was expecting me, waiting for me. She took me by the hand and we went inside, into a small chapel, where we sat down on a pew, facing each other, her hand still in mine. As she spoke, I found myself gazing into her eyes, searching, exploring, clinging to the hope that I'd find the girl I'd lost. Then, suddenly her brown eyes twinkled, she smiled, and gave my hand a little squeeze. "It's OK Jake," she said. "I forgive you. But I am Sister Dezzie." My heart began to sink. She went on.
"You are my brother, Jake. I want you to know that God has not turned away from you as you fear, because He turned away from His son, when he was on the cross on your behalf. Walk in the warmth of His favor, and open yourself to his breath of life."
After the sun had gone down that evening, I noticed an orange glow in the distance, and the smell of smoke in the air. I ran, down the path toward the convent, the smoke thickening as I approached. I shot out of the woods and into the clearing to find the old wooden convent building engulfed in flames and with crash after crash, violently and systematically collapsing to the ground. I ran through the crowd outside looking for Dezzie, but she was not to be found. They later pulled Dezzie's body from the smoldering wreckage.
gave him an "Unspeakable gift." One that he desperately needed. It
was perfect. Not one thing could have been added to it. But, somewhere along
the way, Ozzie began thinking that he could connect with God on his own terms.
After a while, Ozzie's world came crashing down. It seemed that God was nowhere
to be found. Ozzie realized then, that the gift was indeed beyond his grasp,
and that there was not one thing he could do to reach it. It was simply a gift
"unto all and upon all them that believe." Ozzie embraced the truth
with great relief. He gradually began to see again, and began trusting God
again, better than before.
“Daddy told me not to pick up
strangers,” I thought, as I pulled over.
I watched him that night, in the
rear-view mirror of my pickup as he approached. His form gradually took shape
in the soft red glow of the tail lights. A limp, deformed arm hung in his
flannel shirt sleeve, swinging loosely at his side. The interior light
illuminated his features as he got in. Dangling strings of black oily hair
swung across his face as he looked over at me, slamming the door behind him.
Gripping the steering wheel, I turned
forward, fighting back tears as he told me where he'd be getting out. When I
explained that I wasn't going that far, he said in a raspy voice,
"Yes....yes you are."
The only sound was the rhythmic
"Ka-thunk" of the tires hitting the joints in the pavement as we
silently drove down that dark, empty road. I wondered, "Am I really
hiding, here in the silence? Or is he perfectly aware."
Dad kept a loaded .38 in the glove box
of the pickup. I hoped it was there, and began waiting for an opportunity to
grab it. The man nodded off asleep, then caught himself, jerking his head back
up, then nodded off again.
“Was I over reacting?” alone, and
fighting panic? I turned my head. A sleeping monster was beside me.
In one quick motion, I popped open the
glove box, and grabbed the .38 revolver. As he turned toward me, I stood on the
brakes with both feet. And, with the tires screaming and the truck sliding
sideways across the pavement, I pointed, and squeezed the trigger. The sound
was deafening, concussive. The passenger side window shattered.
His expression turn to shock. I liked
that. I had the advantage, and gained a defiant, militant confidence.
As the truck slid to a stop, I fired,
missing on purpose again and hitting the window frame above his head. He began
frantically grabbing for the door handle to get out.
He threw the door open so hard, it
bounced back and hit him in the face. In a blind panic, he fell out onto the
pavement and scrambled off on all fours before managing to get up and disappear
into the darkness. “Just a pathetic, broken down old hobo,” I thought.
I put the gas pedal to the floor. I
had no idea what Dad had done to the truck, and what it could do. But with the
engine screaming, rubber smoking, and tires squealing, I hung on as it spun in
circles in the middle of that dark empty road, the headlights illuminating the
landscape with each pass, like a searchlight.
Then I saw him, running across an
empty field. With delight, I stopped the truck, climbed out and on to the hood,
held the .38 out in front of me with both hands, and unloaded every
remaining round into a hillside behind
him as disappeared into the trees.
I lingered there for a while
afterwards, in the warm stillness of the night, gazing up into the black sky,
the low rhythmic rumble of the truck engine vibrating under my feet. The forest
was filled sounds of the night. So alive.
"This is home," I thought.
"This is the life I want." I knew deep down then, that I was leaving
a part of myself behind. Something was giving way.
I got back in the truck, and with the
windows down, and the warm wind in my face, continued on my way without a care,
watching through the windshield as the full moon emerged from behind the clouds.
I felt no remorse. There was no worry,
no pain of any kind. Life was mine. The world was mine. I had strength,
wholeness. I was alone, and that was fine with me. I didn't need anybody.
Just then, the outline of a person
appeared, standing on the shoulder up ahead in the flickering light from an old
dilapidated gas station. “Another hitchhiker? but I hadn't reloaded yet,” I
thought, as I smiled to myself, embracing the “Tough girl.”
"This one looked innocent
enough," I thought, noticing his clergy collar in the headlights as I
passed. "A priest? Out here? In a ball cap?” I yanked the steering wheel
and pulled over, the truck tires crunching in the roadside gravel as I slid to
"How far you going?" he
asked. "I don't know," I said, realizing at that moment that I had no
He slammed the door, twice, getting it
to latch closed on the second try. Then looked up and said, "Yes, nice
night for a drive."
"Yep!" I said clearly.
"So, what's your name? asked the
priest as we pulled out and started down the moonlit road. "Dezzie!"
I said. “Nice name” said the priest, “A nick name?” “A bunch of my friends gave
it to me.”
“So, where do you want to get out?” I
asked, as both of us bounced around on the front seat as the truck hit some
potholes in the road. He thought for a second, then raising his voice over the
noise of the road, said, “Would it be OK if I just rode along for a while?” A
little bit taken by surprise, “Sure, fine,” I yelled back, trying to sound as “Who
cares” as I could.
“So, how ‘bout it Padre? what are you
doing out here? And, oh yeah, what name are you using today?” I asked, half
“Erik, Stokes,” He said. “Erik Stokes,”
Just then, he pulled off his clerical
collar and lifted off his ball cap. Clean, blonde hair fell over his broad
shoulders. “This is a beautiful, rugged boy,” I realized, turning away before
he caught me in a wide eyed girlie stare.
“I’m just trying to get home,” he
said, pulling his hair back with both hands as he stretched out.
Just then, for some reason, I began
thinking about Daddy. “Maybe I’ll find a phone and give him a call,” I thought.
As far as Ded knew, I was at a
girlfriend’s house at a slumber party. That's what normal 16-year-old girls do.
But, as Dad would tell you, I just never could get the hang of, “Normal.”