Robert writes: "I am 65 years old, but a kid at heart. Just started attempting short story writing after recently retiring."
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.
I had 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.
Talking 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.
Dezzie 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 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.
(© 2017 Robert Palmer – All rights reserved. Written material may not be duplicated without permission.)