Tommy finds himself adapting to being raised by his father with his brother and trying navigate in a broken world of family, friends and his quest for meaning in life.
Jeremiah 33:3 Call unto me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things you do not know.
Becoming a teen boy can be confusing. I often got second-hand information from my childhood friends when it came to the birds and the bees. My father just had that wrinkled grin and look in his eye that nature will take care of itself.
Living in the country, raised by my father wasn't all bad for me. My brother unfortunately found drugs to be his coping mechanism in a divided family. He'd leave the house and sometimes not come back until the early morning hours. It wasn't long before Robert was failing in school. No one could turn my brother around. He was bound and determined to finish his downward spiral.
It was the tale of two brothers. I liked school, except for math. I loved to read. I fell in love with the book To Kill a Mockingbird. It began my love for words and fueled a fire inside me to write. As I got older, I graduated to Truman Capote and Cold Blood, and I imagined what it would be like to write spellbinding words wrapped in a powerful story.
Two boys, a broken home, and two paths. One went to drugs and quit school; the other went to church and completed school. I would sometimes walk a few miles into the town of Brewerton just to go to church. I would walk in surrounded by strangers who hardly smiled, and it seemed like they wanted to get out as quick as they could kneel and do a sign of the cross. Walking back home alone it never dawned on me that I could talk directly to God, that he sent his son as a means to a personal relationship. It was a wilderness journey on a lonely road believing like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, I needed a marked path, a yellow brick road.
Since my father would be on the road with the railroad much of the time, I was often left alone to my own devices. Unlike my brother, I didn't mind cleaning the house, doing dishes. I liked things neat and tidy. It often paid off. My father would leave money on the kitchen table, and I found maid service profitable.
I took advantage of my freedom to a degree. Rick Nash became my best friend a few houses down. He came from a big family, a happy, loving family. I recall watching Rick's parents get playful with each other. All the kids bounding in and out of the house. I was fascinated to see two parents demonstrating real wholesome love with each other, despite the fact that they could barely put enough food on the table. I was jealous of my friend.
There were times when adults would make comments like, "You're friend isn't playing with a full deck." I recalled one night at my friends house when we were playing tag in his house, I had one of my first flashbacks. Running around the dining room table, I froze! I recalled things once blocked out, how my mother ran from my father around the dining room table. They must have thought I was one weird thirteen-year old. Then one night my best friend Rick called and said, "You can't come over here anymore. I don't want to see you around."
My father watched tears build in my eyes, as I stormed off into my room telling him what just happened. His softer side showed up. He told me, "Don't worry, I'll be your buddy, I'll be your friend."
In some ways, he was true to his word. He'd often take me out on to the lake and we'd go fishing. He'd untangle my fishing line without a single swear word. He took me deer hunting and would sit me down by a tree where I would fall asleep. One time we put on a deer drive in the Adirondacks and I lost sight of everyone. My older cousin saw bushes rattling and put his gun on me and nearly pulled the trigger! He said, "Hey man, where'd you come from? I nearly shot you."
It's interesting how you can look back on your life and realize but for this moment or another I almost got killed. In my teen boy brain, it didn't register how close to death I came. I was just glad my cousin found me, or I would have been lost in the mountains for good. In those early vulnerable years shaped my heart, but my heart leaked for something more, some way to make sense of a broken world.
As time went on, I hardly saw my mother. Her trips to pick us boys up became less frequent. I should have been like my brother. I should have hated my father for the abuse he'd done to my mother. But I couldn't find any hate in me. He was the one who cared enough to teach me how to be a man, and he didn't get mad if I cried. I couldn't hate my mother either. As a teen boy I resented her until the flashbacks came, and like jigsaw puzzle I would piece together what had been blocked out for so many years. As I matured into a man, I understood she had a history with men, a line of them that promised to love her and treat her with respect, but often they morphed into monsters.
One of those rare nights when I didn't have the house to myself and my father was home, we watched television together. I enjoyed those moments, even if it meant I was his remote control. It was after all early 1970's when only the wealthy could buy a television with remote control. Back in the day everyone was competing to have the biggest most powerful antenna on their rooftop. It was the only way you could get more than three or four channels.
My father wasn't happy with the few choices on television. As I turned the dial, I stumbled into a Billy Graham crusade. My father stood, yawned, and then said, "He's a good man, you should listen to what he has to say." He left me alone with Billy Graham. He hadn't cared to stay and watch it with me.
I was always looking to improve my messed up life, so I took my father's advice. I sat down and watched as this man with piercing eyes and a sharp finger scanned the audience. I couldn't believe I'd ever seen that many people packed into a stadium unless it was football. It was a curious moment. I forced myself to listen, because what he said seemed foreign to me. Here was this great communicator, obviously, and I absorbed nothing of it. Then something happened!
As I sat there and the camera closed in on the preacher he looked into the camera as if he was looking at me. He said, "You can know for sure you're going to heaven. You can have peace in your heart beyond understanding, if you accept Christ as your savior."
Something weird happened in that moment. It felt like someone was inside me, squeezing my heart. What he said scared me, as he talked spoke of heaven and hell. Then it was over. People filed from their seats and rushed out on to the field. Tears pressed against my eyes. I didn't understand what happened. It was over, but the fear, the hunger, the hole in my heart leaked.
I rushed into my bedroom fell to my knees in the dark on the cold tile floor. I prayed what I thought was a real prayer for the first time. But I didn't know what to say to a God that seemed to be hiding from me. I switched from fear to anger. I told God, "I don't know if I'm going to heaven or hell, but if I'm not going to heaven, then it won't be my fault. If I go to hell, its because you sent me there!"
I curled into ball, blabbering away, having a mental breakdown. If my father had heard me, he would have called for the paddy wagon to come and pick me up. But I was never more alone. God wasn't there, or he was just avoiding me.
Through the tears in my eyes, I looked up to my dresser in the half-dark and spied a statue of Joseph and Mary, the ones who had Jesus. I was mad at them because nothing happened! Asking them for help was useless, lifeless!
After I cried myself to sleep, I woke up to a cold, crisp, but sunny morning. Nothing had changed. My teen brother was missing in action as usual. I didn't know if he came home. If my father was worried, he never said so. I'm not sure where my father went. Maybe he went to find him or pick him up at a friends house.
I made my plans to go into the woods and find God. Like Dorothy who refused to give up until she met the one person who could rescue her and send her back to Kansas, I was determined to challenge God to show himself.
I threw on my jacket and found my boots, because it was late winter and the snow had melted, but it was muddy. Before I left the house I took the small statue of Joseph and Mary. As I shot from the house and ran down the path of the garden into the woods. With a statue in each hand, I ran through the trees like a wild jungle boy, almost crashing, tripping, falling until I came to an embankment where the sportsman lodge that owned the woods still practices near it as a gun range.
I looked around, knowing I could yell as much as I wanted. I could see the railroad tracks through the leafless trees. I looked up into the cold blue sky and thin clouds where my world spiraled out of control, and became dizzy with anxiety and fear.
I fell to my knees. If it were possible, I would have strangled the statue of Mother Mary and Joseph. I begged God. "Show yourself. Where are you?! I can't find you. I know you are out there somewhere. Someday I'm going to find you."
In a fit of anger, I took the statues with my fisted hands and bore a hole in the soft ground until they were buried. I said, "There! That's all the good these things have done for me."
As I crumbled to the ground, exhausted, I looked up into the sky past the cathedral of trees. Done with words, I listened. Silence. Not a bird sang, no sound of train blowing its horn in the distance, not even a breeze stirring in the trees. It was deathly quiet.
Sadly, I stumbled to my feet, believing that God didn't really exist or that he didn't care.
But oh boy, I was wrong! He was there, listening, determining a path of unusual events that would defy any logical excuse in coincidence.
"The heavens declared the glory of God..." Psalm 19