Ray was a laser beam shot from outer space to our shelter. He had been off and on the streets for over twenty years. He had moved from place to place and we could never find his place of origin. He was living in our shelter and we were attempting to assist him in finding a way to leave the streets behind. In our interview he insisted he wanted to work even though the staff had doubts about this; they referred him to the Employment Training Center. His counselor was a woman named Carol who was a beautiful and caring twenty-something I was friends with.
After a few days in the shelter I quickly realized he had severe mental health problems. He would have outbursts where his arms gyrated and head jerked around like the mad man he was. He was easily upset and too quick to go into his store of eccentric behavior. He had delusions of grandeur and was confused that we were not consumed by his all powerful presence. Most of this I knew by report not first hand. I told the staff if he were to go into this behavior while I was there, send him to me. I wanted to observe it firsthand. As with most of our clients who had been in the shelter I had made an effort to befriend him and had had a few limited but cordial conversations with him. Ray had also made sure I knew when he had done his chore or what problems he was having. In other words as the person in charge he was prepping me for some future assistance.
The day came when the staff had to make a ‘referral’ of Ray to me. My door was open and I could hear him coming down the hall, arms and head in full operation. His voiced was raised and threatening me if I did not make things right. When he entered the room I motioned for him to sit. He would not and stormed all over the office. I immediately stood up and said in my Marine Drill Sargent’s father’s voice, ‘Sit down or I will physically throw you out of this office.’ Ray looked at me and saw I was serious and sat down but he continued to rant and move his arms in exaggerated motions. I told him harshly to shut up let me finish the paperwork I was working with and then I would be with him. Again he observed me and did as I said. We talked; he calmed down (although he did mutter under his breath a couple of times). We talked and I could see the mental health track was the one he should be on.
The next day the Carol from the Employment Training Center called a little distressed. Ray had exploded at her and refused to believe that he could not work. This in itself was not an unexpected occurrence but what was unexpected apparently he had written her letters that were laced with terroristic threats. The letters were anonymous but it was evident that they came from Ray. In the letter he had also threatened me and my offspring (whom he had never met) and stated he had a gun in a locker at the bus station across the street he would use to carry out the threats. Unfortunately for Ray he had crossed a line; we called in law enforcement. The appropriate authorities for anonymous terroristic letter threats were the FBI.
I had conferenced [word choice] with Ray about the letters and how this was a dangerous thing to do if he wanted to stay out of jail. But he had become obsessed with letter writing. He could not stop himself even after the FBI agent had visited him and gave him strict threats if he was responsible for the letters. Now I was not really afraid of Ray; he was 5’8 and less than 120 pounds and was easy to physically intimidate. But the threat of a gun in a locker and the threats to Carol were snowballing into something Ray did not understand.
Ray’s next letter threatened the FBI agent too. This is the one thing in life you do not want to do, threaten a federal law enforcement officer. At this point the letters were sent off for a handwriting analysis to determine if it was indeed Ray’s handwriting. Ray freely gave a sample of his handwriting because he was convinced he was innocent. A subpoena was issued for the lockers in the bus station to see if there was indeed a gun. Through this all we knew Ray was probably not a real threat; when Ray was not agitated he was quite affable. He had a sense of humor and was actually kind. He probably had a crush on Carol and in his letters between the threats were courtship overtures to Carol.
So when he saw Carol and the young FBI agent together he became jealous. The FBI agent and Carol were not dating but were definitely a possibility if Carol was not a client. This is probably the thing that led to Ray’s next action. Ray in his newest letter talked about the great government conspiracy to keep him and Carol apart. The government conspiracy involved Carol, the FBI agent, and myself.
But it was his action the following day that doomed poor lovesick Ray. There are two buildings in Savannah that house the regional FBI agents. Ray hid in the bushes by the door of one of them and waited for our young FBI agent to exit. After sometime he was rewarded. He jumped out at the agent yelling, ‘she is mine and I will kill you’. What happened next was probably not in Ray’s plan. The startled agent threw Ray to the ground, pulled out his revolver and pointed it at Ray. Within seconds agents who were inside and saw the incident came out with guns in hand charging the scene. There was Ray who was terrified, the agent would later report, and over ten FBI agents with guns drawn surrounding him.
I never physically saw Ray again. I received updates of his parole hearings because of my involvement in his case. So I knew he was on medication now and was apparently a model prisoner. Yet he was not being paroled anytime soon and if he was paroled he would not be allowed in the state of Georgia. It turns out Ray had a part of a gun in his bus station locker that could not be used to shoot anything. The letters were indeed his, the handwriting analysis concluded. I believe but am not absolutely certain that Carol and the FBI agent dated for a while. And as for me I received my conspiracy check for a job well done from the government two weeks later.
This is not a story from the past but a story that is coming in the near future. There is an ongoing debate in my household about having a dog. I am against it. Therefore, I have been labeled a dog hater by my wife. My children label me dream destroyer. Now I do happen to love dogs and try to keep dreams intact. But to hear them discuss the benefits of having a dog is like listening to someone tell you how to find salvation. I am told dogs will lower my blood pressure, make my children more responsible, provide love even when I do not deserve it, ward off evildoers from the house, make me exercise more, and nurture my soul as I take care of another creature in God’s world. It is like Jesus without the crucifixion part. Jesus walked on the water. Dogs can barely swim much less walk on water.
Now I know if the forces that be in this house really desired a dog without equivocation it would matter not if I held them hostage at gunpoint, we would have a dog. But somehow they claim I am unfairly holding them back from having a dog. This will be what they put on my tombstone ‘Here lies the cruel father who would not allow his family have a dog’. People will travel from miles away with their dogs to come to my gravesite and pee. Yes I have grammatically left it open for both the human and dog to pee on my grave.
Our house is too small I proclaim. They say we will get a small barky dog I hear them say. I do not want to be tied down by a dog always waiting at home I say. They say we will take care of it until we get tired of it I hear them say. They say ‘you will not even know it is here’. I hear them say ‘you will be regulated to your bedroom while the dog has a run of the rest of the house.’ I say our yard is unfenced and too small. I hear them say we will gladly cry consistently and persistently when the dog wanders off from the yard. So you will have to drive hours throughout the neighborhood searching for the dog’. They say I have a hearing problem; I say I have a knowing them all too well problem.
I by nature do not like the concept of pets or owning an animal. Animals to me have rights and one of those rights is not to be owned. My beloved argues that domesticated animals can no longer live in the wild. Maybe she is right. But one does realize that we keep domesticating more and more animals Domestication to me is the process where we make animals reliant on us for survival. But my children could care less about a philosophical dilemma I may be facing. What they hear is a heartless bastard who will not let them have a dog.
By now many of you are hating me. How can he hate dogs so much? But I want you to know of course when we finally get the dog I will love it. I will be annoyed when we have to rush home to walk and feed it but it will be me who plays with it the most. I will love the petting and personality of the dog. I will miss it when it dies. I love dogs.
A dog is in my future that is the story here. We will visit dog parks together. My family will be happy. Yet every once in a while they will look askance at me the former dog hater. It is just that I wish I really had a choice in the decision to have a dog. And once we have the dog, the narrative will be how much I thought I hated dogs. But look at him now rushing home to walk it in rain, sleet, or snow. Look at how he stays in his bedroom to give the dog more room. Look at how he rides up and down the streets when it is lost in an endless search for that dog he loves so much. This is the story I can wait to write.
One of my best friends in college was Mark Bryan. He was a cheerleader and dated Mickey Mouse. Yes I said it he dated Mickey. His girlfriend was the official person who donned the suit of Mickey in Disney World. She was a very cute woman. She was who if you were looking for someone to don the Mickey uniform would choose. Of course I had to as Thomas with the resurrected Jesus see the proof and was humbled when I realized my friend dated Mickey. He also came from privilege.His father was the equivalent of a chief of staff for Alabama governor Fob james. He had a stepmother who he did not like but neither did he despise her.
He was also my soul mate in college. He too was a religion major and he was way too fluent in Hebrew. We took what classes we could together and we were study buddies. He was a scholar at Hebrew and I passed. I was better at Greek. He was more of a traditionalist theologian and I was more of a on the edge of the deep end.
We were both avid weightlifters and spent hours in the gym pushing each other. He was shorter but more muscular. We studied and then we lifted and then we played. That was essentially what we did for each other pushed each other to stretch our minds and bodies. We were weightlifters on a dorm floor of Nerds yet we were the experts on the subject of religion and philosophy so we were held in awe. We knew on a Christian campus how to speak Christianese better than anyone. We fit in on the nerd floor because we were not quite nerds but we were outsiders looking at the world through different glasses.
We did not fit in with the other religious students. We were always willing to go on tangents of belief. Not because we believed them necessarily but we wanted to wear that point of view for a while to see how it fit. This disturbed the convinced believers. But because he was always excelling in the academics and I was always excelling at the other point of view our beliefs were held in suspect but respect.
Mark had a pastoral manner about him. He took interest in people to nurture their spirit. Part of his persona was to keep a ministerial distance from others. I always rankled him by ignoring his distance and getting in his space. But this rankling was what he liked about me. He was very confident. This made sense. He came from prestige, he was a great scholar, built, and a handsome cheerleader. And of course there was the mythical girlfriend who was the actual Mickey Mouse.
One of the things we loved to do was hike. And we hiked a lot. If the weather was good we would glance at each other and skip the next class and drive out to Oak Mountain State park. A park that at that time was not developed but was over ten thousand acres. The other religion students often looked at us in disbelief when we skipped class to hike. But we grinned and said god was not only found in a classroom but in the glory of the world. We encouraged them to come with us but they were not convinced God was in the woods. There was a waterfall that dropped into a pool that we swam in on more than one occasion. We often hiked for hours and never saw another human being. We seldom stayed on the trails. We were young and confident we could always find our way back to the car. After the hike we would go to his parent’s home for supper.
On one occasion Mark proved to us how a miracle in the Bible could be possible. We were hiking but did not want to get our feet wet. But we were trailblazing a trail along a creek, which meant we had to cross the creek several times. To keep our feet from getting wet we would grab huge boulders and toss them in the middle of the creek and step on them so that we would not get our feet wet. We needed an extra big boulder and we use our well gained weight room strength to pick up a boulder to toss in the creek so that we could jump from the edge of the creek to the boulder and to the other side. In the middle of the toss the wet boulder slipped from my hands and came crashing down into the creek onto Mark’s foot. And then the miracle happened. In an amazing feat Mark screaming words that should not come from a religion student’s mouth, walked on the water in a blink of an eye to the other side. I looked at him writhing in pain on the other side and realized I must too walk across the water so I stepped out in faith and went kerplunk. My feet were totally soaked and his were not. As I said he was the traditionalist, his faith was greater than mine. His foot was also fractured. But Mark manned up and we walked back to the car. To keep his foot from swelling anymore we walked in the creek to let the cold water work its magic. He declared I dropped the rock on purpose. I declared that he was Peter the rock that from which the church was made. He declared me not funny. I declared him Jesus for walking on water. He grimaced and gave me a look that said 'shut up'.
We had many conversations about where we saw ourselves in the future. We felt called but could not see ourselves as pastor of a church. But we always saw ourselves together taking on the world. I was the revolutionary he was the quiet man changing inside so that he had something to offer the world. We often except for the presence of the other felt lonely. We often felt inadequate to our call but a word of encouragement from the other would sustain us in our inadequacies. We were for a brief moment a mooring for each other.
Mark was an aesthetic and even claimed he was a virgin. Which I found no reason to doubt until Mickey came around and they seemed very comfortable in each other’s arms. Mark had traveled to Israel once and loved it. He wanted us to go together after graduation. He had devised a plan for us to go and stay for at least a year. We would live in a kibbutz. They would apparently let people come and live with them but they had to stay for a year. This idea became his obsession. It was not mine. He was constantly cajoling me to sign up. I demurred and offered excuses. He made his arrangements and was frustrated that I would not go with him. This began to create a subtle rift between us. He felt like I was betraying him. I felt like he was going into the middle of the desert to never be found again. I also knew he would like to disappear into the world. He had a lot of family and self-expectations that were on his shoulders. Our frustrations were in part we knew if he went down this path we would probably never see each other again. We were soul mates but the time had come to part ways. We were young but our futures were diverting quickly. We had been the sanity for each other in a country that prided itself in its religiosity yet had more of a cultural and taught religion than anything else. We were two men who wanted to live religion and experience the Eternal.
The last day we were together we laid out our challenges for each other. We pledged to each other that we would always be who we had revealed to each other we were. He left for the kibbutz. I never heard from him again. He disappeared into the desert. I got engaged a year later and went to seminary. These many years later I have traveled in directions I never saw coming and done things I would have never imagined I would do. Yet throughout it all I have tried to remain true to the young student of religion that I once was. In those times when I betray myself or grow tired of the struggle I imagine a John the Baptist figure coming straight from the desert with his Mickey Mouse girlfriend and kicking my butt. With that thought I return to myself.