by Jay O'Toole
Hate is a two-way street as is compassion. Respect is given. Agreement is optional.
|The two huge front doors of Helfistt Baptist Church swung open revealing the bluest skies Matthew Marks could ever remember. It's great to be on the winning side, he thought. What amazing hymns! We're accepted in the beloved!
"Fantastic sermon, Preacher!" Matt shook Brother Jonah's hand with a firm grip. "You really gave 'em Hell, today! It was great!" But is that what you should be giving them, he wondered.
That was all the internal conflict he could take. For that reason, he had to leave. Through the crowd he pushed to the old Ford F-100, yanking the door open, and falling into a pile in the driver's seat, starting to bellow like a little boy.
What is wrong? he wondered. A minute ago everything was wonderful, now I'm crying like a baby. Where did that come from?
Joy over other people's pain is a heavy burden to carry, especially when that's really not who one is on the inside.
As one of the half-dozen traveling evangelists employed by Helfistt Baptist Church, Matthew Marks was known to be a fire-breathing preacher, who could bring Hell into any conversation or sermon "at the drop of a hat." His favorite subject was condemning homosexuality outright as a filthy activity, as inconsistent with anything holy and God-fearing, and as being worthy of everlasting suffering in Hell. In short, "being so-called 'gay' was WRONG, DAMNED WRONG!"
Still crying big sobs Matt started "putting two and two together." It's got to be that 'cookie man,' Jarrett Dresmacher, who moved into the next property a quarter-mile down the dirt road about two months ago. He's got 'gay' written all over him! So, why in the flippin' onion skins am I upset over him. The preacher talked about gays in Hell, again. I should be rejoicing and driving to the nearest restaurant for a T-bone steak dinner! Why should I be upset over a 'gay', getting what he deserves? He deserves it, doesn't he?
As the old saying goes, "The conscious mind sits in the driver's seat, until the unconscious slams on the brakes."
Tears painted the clean-shaven face of the big burly preacher as floods of memories turned him into a gangly youth.
Five senior football players surrounded him in the locker room. The biggest one wrapped his heavy arms around Matt's chest as the others yanked off shoes and pants and finally underwear, while Matt kicked and screamed, "Stop it! Why are you doing this to me?" and struggled to break free. "You really are a girl, Freak! What do you call that little thing? Doesn't look much like a girl or a boy! You must be one of those in-betweens, one of those...GAYS!" The terrible laughter, that haunted him down the corridors of his mind, crushed his spirit all over, again.
"I AM NOT GAY! I AM NOT GAY! I AM NOT..."
Shaking his shoulder was the pastor. "Are you okay, Brother Matthew?"
"Thanks for pulling me out of my daydream. I was working on a revival sermon I have to preach this week over in Cloverton," he lied.
"Sounds like you'll give 'em Hell, too, Brother. 'Bout time for lunch, isn't it? Want to come to our house?" he offered. "We're having 'Baptist Bird'."
"Oh, no thanks, Preacher. I had fried chicken last Sunday," he said. "I need to go home, catch a bite and work on a sermon."
"Remember to take a Sunday afternoon nap, Brother," the pastor said. "After all, it's 'the day of rest'."
"Will do. See you tonight."
"Right! Six o'clock on the dot."
As he remembered every tree, every turn, every inch of the thirty-mile commute out to his ranch, that he had dubbed, "My Little Neck of the Woods," Jarrett's face appeared in his mind.
Jarrett was not really offensive as a human being. He was well-spoken, well-versed and quite engaging. He was actually "easy on the eyes," and that made Matt's skin crawl because he was convinced that Jarrett was gay.
When the "For Sale" sign came down and the U-Haul appeared in the yard, Matt decided to pay a visit to his new neighbor. "It's good to have a new neighbor. I'm Matthew Marks. What's your name?"
"I'm Jarrett Dresmacher."
"What brings you to my little neck of the woods, Jarrett?" Matt asked in the attempt to be pleasant.
"I've been a fashion designer in New York City for twenty years now," Jarrett said. "I was ready for a slower pace. After all, I was assured that UPS & Fed-Ex actually have routes all the way out here." His chuckle brought one out of Matt, too.
"Oh. So, you're still in the business, working from home."
"Right. I'm looking forward to the next few months being Heaven on Earth."
"Speaking of that, have you been saved? Are you ready to go to Heaven when you die?"
"What? I just meant that my move out here has the potential to be pleasant and peaceful, but you're making me start to rethink that."
"It's a valid question. The best peace is peace with God," Matt pressed. "Have you made your peace with God?"
"I don't have to take this!" Jarret was firm, but starting to be upset. "I'm going to have to ask you to leave."
"But what about your eternal soul?"
"This conversation is over! OUT!"
Matt turned on his heels and marched out to the mailbox, where he had parked his F-100. There he paused looking in the direction of the house, wondering how to fix this introduction that went wrong. Jarrett still had his angry look with his finger pointing, "Leave!"
Turning into the driveway of his ranch house, Matt "woke up" from the latest "visit" of his unconscious. That didn't go very well, he thought. But I tried. He really deserves to go to Hell if he wants to. But why does it still feel like my problem?
The rest of his Sunday was nondescript. So, he headed back home from church after the evening service earlier than usual because he was ready to turn in for the night. As he passed Jarrett's mailbox he shook his head and kept on driving. I still don't know how to fix this.
After a light supper of toast and tea, he laid down with a good book after reading a passage from The Good Book. A few minutes later he fell asleep as the novel splayed on the bed.
At midnight Matt woke with a start. "What is it, Lord?" Even though he had become a hard-hearted, proud, harsh preacher over the years, he still knew that if something unusual happened in the night, it's best to suspect The Lord, first. After all, Jesus was his Boss.
The words came in a flash. "Get up. Get dressed. Jarrett needs your help."
"But Jarrett told me to leave. He hates me! I witnessed to him without getting to know him first. I don't know how to fix my mistake!"
"He may be finished with you. I, however, am not finished with either of you," The Lord said. "Fixing things is my department. Now, get going. You haven't a moment to lose."
"But it's the middle of the night," Matt countered. "He'll call the police when I knock on the door."
"Just go, and take your iPhone."
Still feeling foolish and uncertain about walking down a dusty old dirt road in the pitch black middle of the night, Matt started out his front door, pushing it to without taking the time to lock it.
The brisk air caused him to pick up his pace. Halfway to Jarrett's house, he saw his neighbor's roof burst into flames over the garage. At that point, he took off at a full sprint.
The smoke filled the air as he raced onto the porch. BLAM. BLAM. BLAM. He hammered on the door. No response. Waiting a scant few seconds he hammered again. Still no response. He tried the doorknob. It was unlocked. He pushed his way through the cloudy home in a hurry, calling out to Jarrett every step of the way through increasing coughs and hacks.
Regardless of bruised and battered legs, he pressed on in search of someone the emergency showed him he really did care about.
Smoke thickened as his adrenaline-laced nerves caused him to bounce off walls like a pinball as he jangled doorknobs and slammed through doors in a desperate search for Jarrett. Continuing raspy screams, "Jarrett! Jarrett! Jarrett! Jarrett!" no answer ever came. The last room down the hall to the left produced what felt like a desk and a table and a chest of drawers and a BED! "Looking" with his hands he found a big lump in the middle of the bed that seemed like a pile of wet clothes. It had to be Jarrett.
He was non-responsive. So, Matt picked him up with care, but still with urgency. Putting Jarrett over one shoulder he rushed down the hall as best he could, feeling for obstacles with his one free hand. The living room lit his way since the ceiling was already engulfed in flames. Careful to miss the furniture he ran through the front door in a flash as the interior corner of the room started to give way under the weight of the flames and charred timbers.
Matt laid his new friend in the wet grass a good distance from his burning home. They were finally safe from the hell-like fire. Feeling for vital signs with one hand, he dialed 911 with the other rushed by doubtful hope.
The rest of the night blurred with activity.
He came to the next morning as a big pile in a chair in Jarrett's hospital room. He was a life worth saving.
The antiseptic smells, the beeps and whirs of the machines, and the dancing line of the heart monitor broke the monotony of Matt's thoughts as he wondered about that first conversation when Jarrett was finally alert, again. What will the future be like? How will I be a good preacher, who still believes in Absolute Truth, while trying to maintain a growing friendship with someone, who may not ever agree with what I know to be the truth? What's it like to be friends with somebody, who's not a preacher?
Five days after the fire Jarrett blinked his eyes, saw Matt next to his bed, and asked, "What happened? Where am I?"
"Jarrett, you're in the hospital because of your house fire. I think you could have died if I hadn't carried you out to the front yard. You were already passed out from smoke inhalation."
"You carried me out of my burning house after I ordered you to leave? Why?"
"Because you are someone worth saving."
"But you told me I needed to make my peace with God."
"I say the same words to everybody because we all need to be at peace with God. The Lord stopped me up short years ago until I was brought to peace with Him. Then, He told me to tell others about this most important of all relationships."
"Thank you so much for saving me from the fire, but I'm still gay. What do you think about that?"
"Jarrett, I still can't embrace your lifestyle as being right, but I can embrace you as a human being, who is full of value," Matt said. "If you will accept me there as I have already chosen to accept you, then I believe we can start a friendship. After all, The Lord said that He is not through with either of us."
They shared a cordial smile as they each considered the fact that growing friendships do not require perfect agreement.
Word Count: 1996
by Jay O'Toole
on August 28th, 2018