Thursday, March 14, 2019

#Vss365 Part 1-In the Beginning

  By (sort of) popular request I present to you, in roughly the same character format as it originally appeared, but maybe in a more readable form, my story posted as part of the #vss365 writing exercise.
 By way of disclaimer, this story is only semi-autobiographical. People presented in an unfavorable light have had their names changed. Conversations have been condensed, and some events are told out of sequence. Some people are amalgams of more than one individual.
  But there really was a Steve, and there really is a Darnel.

  Shane re-positioned the ice-bag on his face. It felt like his eyeball was trying to push its way out of it's socket. But he had started that fight on purpose, and he knew that as soon as he could see clearly, he'd do it again. His boss looked disapprovingly at the black eye, and asked Shane, "Rough night? You know, you really ought to spread out your self-abuse a bit, give yourself time to heal."
 "Ah, what's the fun in that? Besides, I almost won."
 "'Almost' can get you killed."

After work, Shane took the trolley downtown, There was still a place or two down there he hadn't been banned from. He was easily a block away when he saw the crowd, and heard the shouting.
 Assembled loosely on the corner was a group of well-dressed people. Some were holding signs, some were passing out literature. One fellow was saying something to people as they passed by, struggling to be heard over the traffic.
 Protesters? Shane wondered.  Too late, Shane realized one of the crowd was addressing him.
"Can I give you something to read?" The man pushed a small pamphlet into Shane's hand. He didn't seem angry at all.
"What are y'all protesting? What's this all about?"
 "We're not protesters. We're out here telling people about Jesus!"
Shane nodded absently. He was from the South. He knew all about Jesus. He didn't have time for this. He looked past the man to the neon lights.
"Well, good luck with that."
"One more thing. That tract I gave you has my number on the back. If you need anything,,"
 Who gives their number to strangers, Shane thought. I gotta lose this guy.
"No, I'm good."
 The man followed Shane's gaze to the front door of the bar.
"No, you're not."

 He made it to the watering hole, and by the time the night was over,a scratched cue ball had led to a fight, and though Shane avoided both ejection and arrest, he did find himself passing blood the next few days. Good times.

Months went by and Shane had virtually forgotten about the encounter on the street corner. Life was a repetitive blur of riotous living followed by recovery. But then it happened.
 "Shane", his boss said "we need to talk.". He closed the door behind him, and sat down. "What you do on your own time is your own business, but you keep coming in here not ready to do the job. Beat up, drunk." Shane looked down at the floor. "I don't even know what to tell you, you're a good guy, but....your...appetites are killing you."
 Shane kept staring at the floor. Ashamed.
The boss threw up his hands. "Get some help, or get it under control or..." The last option hung in the air, unspoken.

 Shane decided not to go carousing that night. Instead he sat in the dark in his apartment and listened to the wail of sirens. The phone rang.
"Hey Shane." It was one of his fighting buddies.
"What's up?"
 "I've got some bad news. That girl you been hanging around with? Liberty?"
 Shane scoffed "You do know that's just her stage name, right?"
"Well, whatever, man. She ummm..she killed herself, man."
"Did you hear me?" Shane hung up and sat in the dark some more.

 Shane sat there in the dark, a million miles away from the small Southern town of his childhood and felt like he didn't have a friend in the world. He had carved for himself a life of revelry; a thin veneer that disguised a hollow world of death.  But what other life was there? I can't just sit here, Shane thought. He grabbed his jacket and a piece of paper fell out of the pocket. He picked it up. It was some sort of religious pamphlet with a handwritten number on it and the name "Steve".
   Where in the world did this come from, Shane asked himself.
  He flipped through it, but it was beyond him. Jesus stuff. Lots of red writing. Thees and thous. Suddenly he remembered the guy on the corner, and the standing offer.

 The phone rang once, then twice. Then an answer .
"This is Steve."
"Hey umm, you don't know me, but we met once."
"It were downtown..with the signs."
"Sure. what's up?"
 Shane suddenly realized he didn't really have a plan.

"Things are ..pretty bad on this end, and maybe I could...get some advice?" Even as he said it, it sounded stupid. It sounded weak and needy. It sounded like he wasn't in control of his life. Like someone who watched Oprah.
"Sure. where do you want to meet at?"

 The coffee shop was relatively empty. Shane got there early, put his back to the wall, as was his custom, and waited. Several times he started to bail, to just walk away. Things didn't seem that bad outside of his dark apartment. Then Steve walked in.

 Shane found himself talking. He told Steve everything. He told of his little hometown and of his move to the big city. He told him of the girl he'd lost, and of the raging fire in his soul that alcohol could not quench, of death and sorrow and pain. Steve listened.

 "Tell me Shane, what do you think is going to happen to you after you die?"
 Shane wasn't expecting a question. He was expecting advice, like how to get a grip on himself.
 "I don't know. I've never thought much about it."
 "I'm going to talk to you like you're a man, OK?  I do this because you need it." Shane nodded. "For a man to play with death like you have, and not be prepared for it, is stupid."
 A pause.
"Wait. Your counsel to me is to call me stupid?"
 Steve shrugged. "Would you rather I lie to you?"
  "I guess not."
"Great. So what happens to you when your luck finally runs out?"
 Shane shrugged.
"Heaven? I mean, you've told me a lot, but I daresay you haven't told me everything. You haven't told me everything God knows about you. If God laid your whole life out before you, every thought, every deed, every intention and gave you what you deserve for how you've lived.."
 "I've done some good stuff."
"Congratulations. Enough to undo the bad? Outweigh it? Outrun it?"
 Shane didn't have an answer.
  "The truth is, you've made a mess of things. And you're smart enough to understand that actions have consequences." Steve tapped the table with his finger. "Your sin is killing you, and damning your soul, Shane."
 Shane felt a hot flush invade his cheeks. "Right, so that's why I called you. I want to do better."
"Commendable. But it won't help. You're condemned already. You cant unring a bell, you cant unrob a bank."
A quiet stare. "So there's no hope."
"I never said that.
  For the next several minutes, Steve told him about Jesus. But not the Jesus Shane had half-learned about through the cultural osmosis of growing up in the Bible Belt. This was Somebody quite different. To his credit, for once in his life, Shane kept his big mouth shut.

 If this had been a really bad Kirk Cameron movie, Shane would have fallen to his knees in blubbery repentance. But he didn't. He listened quietly, asked one or two questions, and then thanked Steve for his time. But he thought about it. A lot. And he kept Steve's number.
  One thought in particular wouldn't leave him alone. Shane had no problem with the idea that God was just, and holy. It made sense that sin would offend God and even anger Him. It even made sense that sin carried with it a penalty. That wasn't what bothered him.  What bothered Shane was the idea that God loved sinners. His enemies. Loved church folks? Sure. But loved drunks and bar fighters and deviants? Loved people who proved by their lives that they didn't love Him? It ran so contrary to Shane's own nature that it puzzled him.
 He was familiar with the concept of God 'loving the ungodly', but it was hard to look at his own life and see anything there that would attract the concern of Someone holy and pure. Frankly the whole thing unnerved him. Maybe I should read the Bible, he thought.

 Shane was a pretty smart guy, and pretty well-read. But this Bible (that he bought on clearance and hid from his drinking buddies) was beyond him. Maybe Steve can explain some of this, he thought.
 As it turned out, Steve had one night free a week; Thursdays. "We can meet at the coffee shop and talk. I'll do my best to answer your questions."
 Shane didn't really want a regular commitment; he just wanted some answers.
"Let me call you back."

 Shane sat in the club where 'Liberty' used to work, nursing a drink. Was it always so dark in here, he wondered. The rhythm of riotous living was as familiar to him as his own heartbeat, yet he felt completely alone. Plus, his conscience gnawed at him.

 You're a real piece of work, Shane told himself. Steve has a wife and a family and he's willing to meet with you, answer your questions, be your friend. But you can't bear being away from the dark, can you? Shut up, Shane told himself.
  Fine, he told his conscience. I'll meet with him. And you'll be sober? Yes, I'll be sober. I'll behave myself at least one night a week. He walked out of the club, and reached for his phone.

 "I have to be honest, I thought I'd never hear from you again." Steve chirped as he sat down across from Shane.
"I've been meaning to ask you, why give your number out to strangers?"
 Steve shrugged. "Done it for years. Nobody ever calls."
A goofy grin.

 And so it began. Every Thursday the two men would meet, and every Friday Shane would be free of hangovers and black eyes. Of course there were still 6 more nights to the week, but Shane found that it was harder and harder to enjoy the revelry.

 Shane quickly discovered that his mental image of Jesus was all wrong. He pictured a nice guy with little kids on his lap telling people to be nice. The reality was very different. It was strength and compassion and righteousness. He saw a man, but more than a man.

 And the more he saw, the worse Shane felt about the sort of man that he was, the larger the chasm appeared between him and Him. It seemed more and more improbable that mercy was available for someone who had wrecked their life.

 "So, Shane, now that we've covered some of the basics....what's your problem?"
 "Umm, I don't get what you mean."
"Well, I'm glad we're meeting, but if all you do is die in your sins with a little more information than you had before I don't think I've helped you any."
 "Do you talk to everybody this way?"
 "It's a sign of respect. So what about it?"
 "About what?"
"Your sin. You need to do some serious business with God."
Pause. "Yeah, you're right."
  Sedentary self-important armchair theologians would blow their fuses, strip their gears, and wear out their dusty Greek lexicons trying to quantify ,explain and define what happened next.One of God's enemies surrendered, and the filthy rags of perdition were traded for the imputed righteousness of God's Son. Under the right circumstances,a little bit of repentance goes a long way.There was no fanfare. No choir of angels. No beam of light piercing the far-flung heavens to light upon the brow of the repentant, By all outward appearances, it was quite anti-climatic. But the real story was just getting started.

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