I drop the ornate cedarwood box in the middle of the woodpile latch open. Pictures, movie tickets, wristbands from concerts, a teddy bear jostle around in it. I move the outside wood around to partially bury it. The fibers from the teddy bear curl and change color in heat. Wiping my face I am nauseated by my melodrama. I decide to leave this summer camp where I have been working at Lake Lure. All the other college-age staff are going to Asheville for the night, it’s the weekend. I am far behind them at this point for wanting privacy for this. I get in my car and drive down the gravel road out to freedom.
My music blaring an unreasonable cacophony, I drown out everything. I’m stuck in autopilot curving these winding roads around the mountains. I come to the turnpike to board the highway. Turn right to Asheville, left to Charlotte. I turn left. I have no clue where I am going, I know I have to be back that same evening. I drive for miles and miles playing every breakup song I used to skip. After what feels like a second later I am driving through downtown Charlotte. I sense that I haven’t come far enough. I drive through to East Charlotte, the dangerous part of town. I finally arrive at my destination and I am surprised that it’s Tremont Music Hall. I’ve been to countless shows here, I have no idea who’s playing.
The music loud and boisterous is surrounded by a stoic wall of white hipsters in uniform. It always strikes me as comical. Surveying the room, I hear God through all the noise and singing. A crowd of faces, young women, who look exactly like Carol. I thought was she was unique. Someone I was going to be with forever. Yet here I stand in a sea of Carol’s and hear God whisper, “She’s not that unique.” I sigh, stay ten more boring minutes, then leave. I drive quietly during the long hours back to camp. I walk through the squeaky screen doors of my cabin, fall on my cot and rest in a deep peaceful sleep.
I board the 7 AM flight to LaGuardia with only my carry-on luggage in tow. Fifteen years older and a grey patch has sprouted on the chin of my beard. I’m headed to New York on a mission to hand out coats to the poor through a local church near Jackson Heights. I grab my seat tightly glaring out the window at the water. It’s as though I can reach out and touch the water when landing. The businessman next to me, quiet the whole ride, now reassuring me that that first time landing in LaGuardia is always a kind of a doozy.
The bus ride to Long Island City where we are to meet up reminds me of Japan. Everyone faces forward, afraid to make contact. The driver intrepid on the road is smiling like a politician. We’re now handing out flyers on the street, asking if anyone knows someone who could use some help. Encouraged to take a particular route, I tell the organizer I’m gonna be heading in the opposite direction, to the park alone. He raises an eyebrow but candidly agrees.
I’m thinking that to know anyone well, you have to be available. I’m doing my best to do exactly that walking the park, keeping my ears open. I’m searching for God in the sounds of the Long Island city bay. The water’s movement, the echoes from the architecture re-purposed of old haunted factories. In the jingle of small dogs going on a run with their owners. I don’t see anyone who looks homeless. I am beginning to doubt my decision to come when I see a man far off at the end of the dock.
He notices me as I make the long wide-open trail to him. I’m carrying colorful flyers so I don’t doubt he figures why. I hand him a flyer, tell him the event, smile and go on my way. But the long walk back I hear God chime in; “I want you to go listen to him.” I stop to make sure I heard Him correctly. Then I protest. I don’t want to do that. Patiently, God tells me again. I explain how this would be very embarrassing and double down on my mutiny. At this point, I feel God’s irritation, but He calmly reassured me, “Just do it.”
Reluctantly, I begin to walk the long wide-open path back to him. I notice he is smiling, maybe giggling. I’m even more embarrassed with every step. Ashamed to look him in the face I explain to him how it might sound crazy to him-and how I never do stuff like this- but that God told me to come back and to listen to him. Now he is laughing out loud and I am feeling about an inch tall. He abruptly apologizes, “I’m sorry I’m not laughing at you, it’s just that after you gave me this flyer I was thinking, and I prayed for the first time I think.. Basically asking God if you’re out there please send someone to talk to me. And here you are.”
Just as surprised as he appears, I sit down next to him as he tells me his story about how he was sitting at the end of this dock thinking about ending it all. How he’s never felt more alone in his life. How his lover cheated on him, started to demonize him, and was leaving him for another man. How he couldn’t even get closure as he was being cut off entirely without explanation. How he felt used and discarded, worthless. I listen for the better part of an hour without saying a word. What he’s saying resonates with me as I am in this moment in the middle of a custody battle. I recount to him how I was cheated on, demonized, and discarded as well. We both sit silently on the bench in solidarity for a moment.
After it passes, I tell him my story about the burning wooden box, the journey to Charlotte, and the sea of Carol’s. I tell him how my ex is looking for something in men she will never find. How she crushes her romantic partners under the weight of her unrealistic expectations by trying to put them in the place of God. How we all will always be crushed when we do this, and how they will always be left with an aching feeling of emptiness. I gently explain how God is healing me. How I don’t need a romantic relationship anymore, but now I’m not afraid of them either. How God is binding me up and putting the pieces back together. I tell him I’m sorry for what he’s going through, and I tell him that the church around the corner that I’m working with would love to be there for him if he wanted that. He said he may check it out. We pray together, I hug him, begin the long walk back. I’m thanking God that whenever I ask him to show up, He always does.