Christian Short Stories
Love's Holy Backlash
By Web Ruble
Web Ruble writes: I am a retired newspaper reporter of some 40 years, and a couple of those years I was religion writer at The Oregonian, Oregon's largest daily. Now I am a novelist and short story writer. My wife Norma and I live in Fairview, OR but split our time between there and Tucson, AZ where we are now until about April 15. We are lay leaders and deacons at Smith Memorial Presbyterian Church in Fairview, OR (near Portland). We also are volunteers on Thursdays about nine months out of the year in a soup kitchen in Gresham, OR.
Stop living in the past and glorifying those alleged events that have you turned inside out. It is unholy.
'Twas an e-mail. How could I get a message from the Holy Spirit electronically?
Impossible. Yet there it was. Pure. Simple. Direct.
Almost falling off my chair, it bowled me down. I couldn't believe it. I stared at the screen in disbelief. Then I accidentally sent it into cyber space. I tried to retrieve it. But it was gone.
I frantically tried to think where it might have come from. I thought perhaps some Ouija Bird I knew had sent it as a taunt or a joke. But the more I thought about it, no. Very few knew about my recent turmoil. Let alone a fact that almost no one knew anything of those "events" of a half century earlier.
To grip the magnitude of this moment, I had to let my mind recall (still one more time) an event just a few years previous.
'Twas in 2005. We of the syndicate -- a bunch of exiles from my old port town on the Washington coast -- had lost communication with a fellow emigre. We had been sending him a newsletter. But his responses had stopped. Usually when someone dies, a widow, or a widower, or one of the children sends us back a message saying please don't send the newsletter anymore. Stevie has died and none of us come from your backwater.
But no. We had received nothing. We kept sending the newsletter but it just went out on the postal pony and vanished. No ghost rider from the sky or ogre from the woods ever brought anything back. Hmmm, peculiar. Perhaps he had died after all.
I -- Tovar Czonka -- knew I soon must drive down to that valley town and check out the address where we were sending the newsletter. The day was ripe. My wife was visiting out of town, and No. 1 son was convalescing from a bicycle accident by sleeping most of the day. I had the day to myself.
So I put my axled wheelbase out on the gray asphalt and motored 80 speedway miles south to that valley town where our fellow emigre had lived. After a labored search I found the address. No one was home, but a neighbor told me that Steve, indeed, had died three years earlier.
That settled it. I would report back that our comrade had shuffled off this vale of tears, and we could stop sending him our stupid newsletter.
But there I was, still in that valley town with half the day left. I decided to scoot across and take some photographs of the building where my small college was born before it relocated during the Great Depression to the city where it is now.
I did so and came home.
The college had named part of its quadrangle for that valley town so the next day I went to photograph that college quadrangle. I would juxtaposition the quadrangle shots next to those of the building where the college was born. The idea was to present it as perhaps a collage to the college or one of my college compatriots as a gift. First get the pictures. Then decide what to do with 'em.
If I had only known what a soul-shattering, devastating-deed that would trigger.
It was summer and I was on campus almost alone. However, there were about 20 diners -- a 30th reunion of some sort of Peace Corps-like college student mission to Peru -- gathering in the quadrangle area.
We exchanged nods and bits of information, but my days on campus preceded those reunited missionaries by more than 10 years. So I wandered off, slowly tracing my own ancient memories.
I wandered this treed lane, then that one. The rose garden. The swimming pool. The garden pool. The classy steps leading up to the manor, then past the dormitories where my girlfriends had dwelled.
One of 'em -- Sheila -- had been more than special -- a wonderful, super b right, fun-loving woman whose memory I was still in love with after 49 years. She had been student house mother there and I had come there so many times, summoning her for dates and dances. I was cool with that memory and tripped down to the college chapel to say a prayer before I went to my car in the stadium parking lot for the drive home.
I departed the chapel still feeling good and got to my beater. I glanced back at Sheila's old dormitory and other campus buildings for a final look.
Then it hit me -- like an avalanche. No doubt a small breeze was blowing, but I was burning. The parking lot-fringing hedge was shimmering like a burning bush. I was hot, dizzy, and my solar plexus was churning. I heard myself say, "Oh Sheila ! I'm still so in love with you. Oh how I need you now to show me. We could walk hand-in-hand through all our old haunts, and share our laughs as we used to do. I need you -- to put this whole lonesome visit into context."
I don't know quite what happened next. All I remember was blubbering and seeing the campus for that last time over the "burning" hedge. I was sick, delirious, and in a confusing fog.
The next thing of which I was conscious was pulling into my driveway. I don't remember my beater limping across town, crossing any of the bridges, or dodging traffic. Nothing. I was just home -- still devastated as a lost desert coyote.
Did it pass within a few hours? No. It hung for weeks, months -- almost two years. I was a noodle, an emotional mumbler, a bucket case who'd two or three times daily would retreat to a private nook and cry out prayers. I couldn't sleep. I couldn't eat right. Even my concentration was circling the drain.
Why? After all, the collision of events I was recalling had been a half century earlier. Moreover, it was more intense now than it had been then. Huh? How could that be?
Perhaps it was guilt. You see, I was convinced Sheila and I were meant for each other. I simply had to have Sheila in my life. I had been convinced -- at the time and later -- that she was the one I was meant to marry. I could not shake from my vision her comely face, those crescent curls, her giggle, her hit of humor, her warmness, her sensational smarts, and other charms. We thought alike. We even could tell what the other was thinking about most things, although I never was certain exactly how she felt about me.
Okay. Lots of fellows have survived stuff like that. But this had several peculiar aspects:
1) We had both transferred from that small college at the same time (without one having knowledge of the other) to the state university.
2) I continually tried to lose myself on that much larger campus but kept running into Sheila. She'd show at the same social functions. She'd point me out to her sorority sisters. She'd show up out of nowhere and button my collar, saying stuff like "There, now you won't get frostbite of the trachea."
And 3) The military draft caught up with me and I entered the army. She wrote to me during training. When the letters came they'd elevate me to Shangri-la. One day I remember the mail carrier intercepting me on military maneuvers, and I read her letter while lounging in a muddy ditch. It sent me right to the tree tops. I just had to have her in my life. There was no question. Oh, I was so in love.
Several weeks later I came home on leave. Somehow (I don't remember just how) I had made arrangements to see her on campus when I passed through on my way home some 260 miles farther up the road.
Arriving in the neighborhood of her dwelling place an hour early, I had planned not only my whole day --but perhaps my whole life -- around those next few moments. This was to be BIG . . .perhaps the biggest moment I'd ever have. So an hour early was more than worth it.
I spent it sitting out in front of the College Side Inn with a friend I had known vaguely before. I saw her moving up the sidewalk across the street. My heart soared, and anxiety augured me. It was about 10 minutes before we were to huddle.
It was all I could do to be Joe Cool and ease by her "manor." But I did it. I knocked on the classy oaken door. She opened it. I saw her comely face and grooved on her welcoming manner (although I don't recall now how it was). And I was off this planet with emotion.
The drawing room had a fireplace. A many-logged fire was burning. Cozy. 'Twas still early afternoon so we had the place to ourselves. She had cleared out her afternoon, of course, to chat. (Because she was such a serious student, it sort of surprised me). It was just right. She was such a vision. This was not to be a frivolous conversation, but a serious one.
After a while, I said something like, "I'm trying to figure out how to keep you on ice until I return (from more training and then an indefinite period overseas)."
"You can't," she said.
I looked full into her gorgeous face, which for once was not comic.
"Well, I didn't really expect so. I'll probably be gone three years. What I'd like to know is . . .is there a chance you'll still be available when I return?
"Yes, I, WELL, maybe," she said, nodding with a most serious look on her face." 'Twas not what I had hoped but much better than what I had expected. That moment my heart did a do-si-do around love-sick city. I did a mental back-over flip.
I don't remember details of what happened next. I just remember skipping up 13th Street, headed for the cosmos and bus depot. I was floating on air: "Just think, I may have her in my life forever!" Love has no dimension like I felt at that moment and the days immediately following.
The tragedy of it was I never saw her again.
That's right. When I walked away from her dwelling house, I essentially walked out of her life. When I think about it today, my heart stops and I get weak.
What happened? Well, to make a short story shorter, I married someone else and so did she. I married a foreign lass I barely knew, partly because the family she was staying with coaxed me into it, saying her visa had expired and she'd soon go home (to her country), and wouldn't be in the USA when I returned.
Things were not going well in training -- I had a serious hearing defect -- and consequently in a tide-cresting dim funk, I made a terrible decision. I decided to go along with the family and marry the girl. Oh, what a shame!
Then came the worst part. I wrote a letter to Sheila and told her I had found this wonderful girl blah blah blah and we just the other day got married.
Nevertheless, I got 2-3 cheery letters from her while stationed in Germany snow stuck and hard by barbed wire, mine field, and electric fence of Czechoslovakia. She was coming to Germany to see her father -- a colonel in the Air Force -- on the other side of the country. A compadre of mine was stationed near her father, and was going to help her with travel arrangements.
I met with our mutual friend later -- both of us on pass in Heidelberg -- and he said that Sheila was a little unsure of herself, but probably would marry her high school chum. I was heartsick again.
Several weeks later, I got another upbeat letter from her. She was pregnant with her first child and lived in New York with her husband who was going to graduate school at Columbia University. She longed for the warm Oregon spring rains, as did I. I felt good about it, as I assumed she had found someone better. And she was SO deserving.
Sheila and I -- both married to someone else -- nevertheless had exchanged a few letters. I was more than heart struck and wondered when her husband would make her stop.
Well it happened soon thereafter. The letters stopped. And I was forever cast into morose sorrow.
Years later, I found out -- from that same mutual friend of ours plus one of her woman friends -- that she was devastated when she received my letter saying I had married.
What a terrible thing I had done. I needed to tell her that I never stopped loving her. That she easily had been my first choice. After my burning bush encounter at the college some 49 years later, I had felt compelled to message her through my friend. But by this time he was out of touch with her.
Then came the message on the internet. I just didn't know what to think. I had prayed for relief from the torment. But I hadn't counted on an electronic missive.
A year or two later I was in Arizona, having late-morning coffee with a retired minister, and fellow author. I told him elements of the story.
I said I had always considered the Sheila episode as a triumvirate relationship -- between her, myself and God. First, he said the whole "burning bush" cascade and the subsequent electronic message was probably "God reminding you that you did a terrible thing."
Then he asked, "Did you pump God into it while you were courting her?"
I said that I couldn't remember.
He said, "That's probably the reason it didn't work out.”
"Yes, you see . . . you needed to be a Christian first and Sheila's life companion second."
(© 2010 Web Ruble – All rights reserved. Written material may not be duplicated without permission.)
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