Chapter Four: Things to Come
The shadows would grow deep. They would set upon us as quickly as a bolt of lightning finding its way through the thick clouds above. The screams, the terrors of the night, the haunting need to run from something I could not see.
The night is still upon us. I feel Chelsea’s cold hand upon my pounding sweat peppered chest. She is quiet but reassuring; my gasps and screams are fading into the controlled rhythm of a calm desperately clawing its way back into my body. They are back. They were those shapes of horror, those visions of death. The darkened men are there and the monsters too, holding onto small ankles and wrists, the pain and the searing of flesh and then nothing, always nothing. We have been married for a year and a half now. The first year was nothing close to the honeymoon we’d thought it would be. Instead, the bondage of my past came with me.
There aren’t enough words to describe the pain of what came next. Who could know it? Who could understand the gut-churning, heart-rending pain? Widows know. They know it all too well. Some widows lost their mates even though warm, familiar bodies still occupy the space next to them at night.
It is the devastation of losing the love of your life. Losing the good, and the bad too, but so much of the good went into the void of blackness after just twelve months. Memories of a lifetime seemed to be flushed down the drain, and I was left with a shallow pond of confusion and no one to tell me what to do next.
It wasn’t overnight, but within a few short months of our one-year anniversary, I went from being Nate to someone else. A man Chelsea had never met, a man who did not have the insatiable passion for exploring this world, for finding the gardens of beauty hidden in plain sight. I used to see so much joy in even the smallest of things like pebbles of acorns scattered across the freshly mowed grass, the sound of water falling from one rock to another, or the cold touch of Chelsea’s fingers knit between my own. I had memories of walking down the streets of Rocky Mountain towns snacking on Snickerdoodle cookies and then feeding deer popcorn to her great surprise.
They were such sweet delights; the warmth in my chest was a fire for her. A love that knew no limits and could not be restrained, our shared dreams for the future filled with our children laughing as we walked down the paths of tomorrows.
All of it, every scrap of bliss, was washed down the drain of a monster called forgetting.
“Who am I?” The words passed my lips as I stared into a mirror desperate to recognize the face looking back at me. My hair had been cut short; my brown wavy shoulder length hair once so recognizable had been cut back and styled. Business casual attire now covered what had always been tight fitting t-shirts, or none at all, flip-flops and shorts. There was now a razor sharp knife strapped to my chest; it never left my body, ever. I hungered for its nearness; I desired it more than food in my belly or water down my throat. The need for sharpened steel to be in arm’s reach was a primal, insatiable craving. Soon there were pistols under pillows and burner cell phones with bundles of money stashed in puzzling places. There were secret caches of supplies buried under uprooted trees and boulders hundreds of miles from home. I no longer enjoyed the day, but instead, I craved the night when the world slept and I restlessly made my way into the familiar cracks and shadows of alleys and backyards. I found my fingers turning everyday items into tools for a forgotten shadowy hunt.
I was a stranger to myself. I didn’t know where they found this man in the mirror, but he was not me. If he was not me then who was this face staring back at me? Who was the man in the mirror? What do you tell your wife when you change your name, your passions, your hobbies and everything she’s ever known you as? What do you do when you don’t remember your best friend’s name, the church you’d served at for seven years or the place you used to work? Where do you go when the memories in your mind are now clouded with shadows of things you’d never known?
What do you do when you have schematics and plans for weapons, missions, and tools you’d hardly touched, used, or heard of filling your mind? Where there once used to be memories of soccer games and high school pranks, there was now the need to plan and prepare for scenarios of chaos unleashing themselves upon the world.
What would you do if you woke up to a stranger in the mirror standing in a body decades after you’d seen it last? No one had ever told me there was more than a me in this mind, that there could be a we; the truth is I was a man of many. One body stuffed with many broken pieces of a systematically shattered soul. But that truth was still a vapor passing through the fingers of forgotten memories.
I did the best I could with the confusion of a past I didn’t remember. I dumped the real contents of my memories into a five-gallon bucket and buried it in the basement. I took the pictures of a man named Nate and shoved them in a shoebox left on a dusty shelf. I found the keepsakes and the knick-knacks of dates with Chelsea and stuffed them in corners of totes and left them for a time when someone else who cared about them might resurface and love them again.
I couldn’t face them because they weren’t my memories, so how could I keep them around? They haunted me and confused me more than I could understand. Instead, I pressed into the fringe corners of society where I found the itch between my shoulders finally get scratched. I prepared for the end of the world I knew was coming. The End somehow I always knew I was made for, where monsters battle men, engines of chaos from the Days of Old surface to sift the wheat from the tares. I remembered things that were lost in the years while Nate was running our life.
Soon Chelsea could plainly see something very different in me. When we would go out together, I went by a new name, Jason. I had a new first name, middle and last, all of it was there. As Jason, I could remember police and first responder scanner frequencies, give out dozens of different identities, everything from Social Security Numbers to other mother’s maiden names and where I went to elementary school in a small Midwestern town I’d never heard of. There wasn’t the faintest concern with morality and laws were only applicable to those who did not understand how to use them for their gain. When I would step out the door, there was an entirely different person ready for me whenever I needed to fade into the shadows and disappear from prying eyes.
Jason could remember the way to hide from surveillance cameras, license plate scanners and how to melt into the crowds. He could shift from one person to another, a chameleon able to fade into the emotional surroundings of the people he was with. He remembered how to make bullets that fragment and ones that pierce through hardened targets or reinforced windows. He could weave fabrics that cloak signals and conceal digital footprints. He remembered how to hone an edge on steel that will pop the hairs off his arm with the slightest touch. He remembered how to lose a tail and scramble his messages into code that could only be read with a cipher locked in his mind. So much to remember and yet I forgot how to love the woman I was married to, and our marriage was falling apart ever so slowly.
She woke up to a stranger; his name was Nathan, and though he had the same body as the man who stood with arms wrapped tight around her just a few years ago, there was something different in his voice and in the way he held her hand.
He trembled and startled when she touched him. He shied away from her; the touch seemed to burn him. He did not desire her; his apathy was poisoning their dreams. Their shared desire for children now became hers alone. Instead, he was terrified at the mere thought of this. With the throwing of some hidden switch, “happily ever after” faded into the sunset of someone else’s dreams.
I so badly wanted to love her. Honestly, the longing I had to understand what was going on was there, but it was intentionally hushed down to a whisper. I longed to crave her embrace, but every touch felt like needles pricking exposed nerves. We kept up our charade, we played the part of a couple but our intimacy was non-existent, and my addictions and bondage built and grew.
I ran to my familiar addictions of substances and porn, dark passengers who had poisoned my life since I was a child. At impossibly young ages I was made familiar with sexual perversions no child should know, the incestuous abuse had defiled me long ago. The need to alter my state of mind was insatiable. I could not bear the present; the past was a void full of terror, death, and pain. I chose to avoid it like the plague it was. With a prescribed pill, I could slip away and fade into the oblivion I craved. The guilt would come with the sobriety, the dread of shame for my lusts, which could not be satisfied.
Small victories would come: sometimes there would be weeks strung together where I found miraculous freedom in rivers of The Father’s peace. Then the raft of my life would crash into a boulder of terror, the dread of forgotten memories. Back to those poisons I would go. I had been sober from alcohol for years, but one addiction would be conquered only to have another substance take its place. I went from alcohol to prescription pills for the chronic pain and soon other substances that were along the graying edge of socially acceptable. I was a man desperate to escape. I was a man who needed to hide from the madness of memories that felt like they belonged to another. Who would save me? Who could save me? The prayers I prayed were sincere. No amount of time spent in churches could save me, no amount of two am prayers for forgiveness gave me relief.
What I feared more than the guilt, the shame, or the apathy of my marriage was the dreams. I had too many dreams that were ripe with killing and death. The dreams of daggers plunged through kidneys and slid behind Adam’s apples then tearing out throats. The chanting of things I did not understand and vomiting after wretched acts of killing was through. What were they? Oh God, what was this I saw in the night, in the stillness, while my wife slept beside me?
Who were these people I saw over and over, a child sneaking into manicured high fenced estates and slipping between security passes? Why did I see a wolf – this creature stalking me in my sleep? There were so many questions and yet there were never any answers. I drowned the mysteries into oblivion; I hid them with vials and pills. Then nothing happened when I slept, and I passed from awake to asleep to awake again. I went to work, and later when I got home, Chelsea and I watched TV shows that temporarily filled our house with laughter or scratched the itch of boredom until we went to sleep and did it again.
Scattered into these days were random get-togethers with my dad. Out of nowhere, he would invite me to stay with him in the mountains or in the deserts of that hellish place. Memories would fade with every trip, and I would return even more of a shell of the man I’d left as. Chelsea noticed but said nothing. What could she say? What could explain the change that she saw in me? What could bring understanding to this madness of our life? On and on we went. The lion of destruction had found my throat and left Nate perishing in the depths of our broken past.
Two words which change everything. At this moment, just as He has done so many times in the past and will do even more in the future. The God of Mercy interjects Himself into the scene. He reaches His Mighty Right Hand into the depths of our death and sows in a seed of life. The seed comes with seven letters etched on its surface: answers.
Answers were on their way; they would not come quickly at first. At first, they would be a trickle, a pebble tossed into our pond of confusion rippling out for a moment before the waters grew placid again. One by one He would drop them into the waters and let us contend and recover from the little ripples. Soon those ripples turned to waves of curiosity and our need to know and understand built into a pang of hunger that exceeded the cravings for escape, secret caches, and even the blade.
The answers to come would set Chelsea and me on a path to freedom and understanding. No one warned me the path to life was established firmly in the midst of a war-torn landscape. Where we were headed was a ruinous land through
the valley of the shadow of Death
Beneath the Waves
The answers were not abundant, not at first. I was a man on fire, and I needed something to quench my thirst. He came to us with wisdom and Truth. The God of our Redemption was coming through.
We stepped onto the shores of the lake; its waters stilled to a glass. Carefully chipped stones were in my fingers. They are called chert – a flint-like stone used by the Native Americans who lived here long ago. They treasured these stones and knocked the rocks’ hardened surfaces into useful tools like arrowheads, scrapers, and blades. They are thick and red, burnt after their useful edges had been worn smooth.
I was watching the waters and waiting. I was holding onto the icy fragments of a memory, which chilled my soul. I was hoping it would pass and move on, but it lingered. It lingered on the fringes of forgetting the place where no man hopes to be. The pain, the hurt, the sorrows… I just wanted to weep, but tears fled from me. They were hidden away in the memories.
I drove back to the waters of a lake in the rocky forests up in the mountains at nearly 9,000 feet high. I worked here for a summer, a winter and a fall. These were the waters where the answers started. Hours-long commute day in and day out gave me the ability to start listening, to have space to be quiet and left alone. The drive up the canyons would wind through more than rivers and dirt roads. They would wind through the canals of chaos peppering my past. It was there I began to hear the truth. I started to know what it was I had come through. Not all of it, just a whisper. But the whisper was peace, understanding, and truth. I saw then that redemption was coming for me.
I stuffed the rocks deep into my pocket and walked on. I scanned the edge of the shoreline, praying as I went, asking The Father to make clear to me the reason for it all. I needed to know what I forgot. I needed to know what it was that made me crave these secret places or to explore the caverns and dark depths. I walked on the grasses and pine needles growing thicker along the shore. I stepped into the soggy soil, and the water pressed over my boot and soaked in. Its icy tendrils ensnared the soles of my feet before clawing onto my toes. For two years I had feared the waters that once brought me relief.
Our first year of marriage I was so in love. I craved her and I longed to know her, yet looking at this face staring back from the waters of this lake, I hated that none of it was there anymore. I didn’t understand why I couldn’t love her or plunge into these waters and explore their depths.
There was nothing I loved more than swimming. The feeling of peace would wash over me when my head was in the depths. For months I’d prepared for dives holding on to boulders and running beneath the surface. I would hold onto lead weights, and Chelsea had even bought me an old cannonball so I could do it more efficiently. I named that old cannonball Earl. I took him with me to every one of my classes one year back in college. I would hold onto him and run laps underwater in apartment complex pools I had “let myself into.” Some apartment complexes were not so thrilled to have a man running laps underwater in their pools and were less than amiable at my endeavors for peace.
I needed the water; I needed to hold myself down there for just a minute longer, to feel the silence settle into my soul, to feel the warmth of the sun on my shoulders grow cool as I sank one foot deeper and deeper still. I learned to shallow dive into rivers and creeks and enjoyed the thrill and the rush of landing with inches to spare. I craved it more than the air. That summer with Steve back in Baltimore I’d dove headfirst nearly forty feet into a quarry I’d never seen before. The first time I landed wrong, the second time even worse. Steve’s sister panicked as she neared the edge and turned backward after already starting her leap. Her older brother had reached out and caught her as she tumbled towards the rocks. A spiny shrub with exposed roots had stayed her fall. Cut elbows, knuckles, and wrists were all she had to show for it. Jumping into action, we’d made a human chain and pulled her back. Then I had them break into ones and twos as we ran from the cops that got called on us for the innocent trespass.
Chelsea and I had honeymooned on the coast of Mexico where we’d laughed for days and swam in the waters. We were two lovers lost in new romance. I had left her on the boiling beach while I went out for a swim. I looked at her and smiled, waiting for her to join me. She drank on the shoreline and as I was a hundred yards from shore pumping my legs and feeling joy inexpressible, a tragedy occurred. I flicked my fingers as I broke the surface and my three-day-old wedding ring shot off into the ocean.
I plunged my head into the waves, hoping to grab it before it fell the twenty feet to the churning sand below. There was no sign of it and as I surfaced, I fixed my eyes on a focal shore point and began my search. I could not fathom leaving it behind, so I dove again and again. I spent minutes on the bottom until my lungs screamed threatening to gulp in the salty sea. I could not return to Chelsea empty handed with some ominous sign marking the beginning of our marriage “LOST.” Again I dove into the depths, passing my fingers and fretful gaze over rusty bottle caps, rocks, and shell fragments. The ring was made of tungsten, so surely it had sunk deep, and the waves were creating new sandbars and ripples every moment I lingered. Beyond my moment of fear, I began to pray. I found faith welling up as I asked The Father to grant me a miracle. Within my spirit, a story soared above my fear: a miracle of God for another ordinary man who was in need.
The story comes from 2 Kings 6:1-7 where the men are cutting wood in the forest near the Jordan River. One of the men is swinging his iron ax, chopping into trees that will provide his family a home. The iron ax head suddenly flies off its handle and sinks into the roiling waters. Crying out to Elisha, he asks the prophet of Yahweh to help recover it as it was borrowed. Elisha guided by the distressed man to the spot in the river takes a stick and drops it into the water, and up floats the iron ax head. There is no elaboration in the story; it’s more of a footnote than a focal point, but thousands of years later this story was centered in my mind. I knew it and believed the God of Elisha could still make iron axes or tungsten rings float.
Back in the waves, I dove with faith fueling my search, and He provided me a miracle. Scanning the bottoms, I passed over a few bottle caps and a piece of a broken bottle until there on the surface of a rippled sandy bottom was my partially submerged wedding ring. Grabbing hold of it, I let loose bubbles of belief knowing my God provides and still cares about the little things, like floating ax heads and wedding rings. Chelsea immortalized that moment with her pen and paper a few weeks later.
Those were the memories lost in the tote I’d buried away. I had looked through them the morning before coming up to the lake. They were my memories but not really. Ever since that summer, I’d be scared to go underwater at all. Scared to take more than a few strokes beneath the surface. The panic within would build to a crescendo. I would ache, I would scream, and my heart would nearly burst with terror. Their words echo within,
“NO, NO WE ARE DROWNING, WE ARE GOING TO DROWN!”
I just wanted to swim again, I wanted to be in the water to explore the depths and find buried treasures or lost ax heads, but fear so haunting I could taste it kept me back. The fear hid me beneath its knuckles grinding me into pieces like the chert in my pocket. I wanted to weep so badly; I just wanted to cry, to bury my face in the waters, and let my tears mingle in the midst of ancient memories. But I couldn’t so I didn’t, and I walked on the soggy boot leaking my failure on my long way back home. Home to the woman I didn’t remember, unable to conquer the fears I’d brought with me to these shores.
The days would go like this in an endless cycle, but I was an expert at escaping, a man ever on the run. I would wander in the mountains looking for treasures now forgotten in time. I would explore old mine shafts from the 1800’s. I would dig up rotting ruins with timbers cut by trappers and men desperate for gold. I would find bullets buried in the wood, nails forged on an anvil and squared on the edges. I would add these little treasures to my collection, a place in the front yard I’d named “Nate’s Beach.”
Nate may have fallen prey to that lion in the darkness but somewhere, deep in my soul, the echoes of his passions still sang a sad melody. I gathered my trinkets and left them in a three-foot section of our garden just in front of our door. Soon the pile grew with old bowling balls, chunks of pottery and blue hand-blown glass once containing fragrances favorable to a woman two hundred years lost. They were the remnants of lifetimes I’d never lived. They were snapshots from a time when they once mattered to men. Some were snapshots from my own time, like an antler from a survival expedition I’d lead in the mountains up north. Dozens of seashells from The Sea of Cortez, the Atlantic, and Pacific Oceans peppered the ground. Sands from the shores of fourteen beaches and sea glass, which had been tumbled from jagged to soft by thousands of waves leaving them without their edges and cuts.
His waves were about to pound upon the jagged edges of my hardened heart. The pebbles He tossed into my pond of confusion were about to become boulders, and soon tsunamis of remembering would tumble my rough edges smooth.
Nate’s Beach bore witness to the three sentences that finally made me strong enough to face down the mountains of madness and murder waiting in my past. That beach served to pull on the threads of this mystery and help me to unravel the lies, the deception, and threats.
A Miracle Named Grace
The end of the age of deceit would begin with words. Soon after walking upon those shores and driving home with a soggy boot, I did a dangerous thing. I put my fingers to these black and white keys and wrote down memories I had spent my whole life trying to forget. I obeyed my Redeemer’s pressing to put the pieces of my shattered past into written form.
The words came in a torrent, thousands upon thousands and then tens of thousands as parts of my soul seeped from their sorrow filled swamps and told their tale. It was the first time I ever wrote about the incest and The Family friends with their lusts. Even as I attempted to write, I soon realized how vulnerable and painfully naked I felt.
I could not bear to write in an exposed place. There was a need to hide myself to tuck myself away as I wrote these destructive words. In walked my safe harbor, Chelsea, the providence of The Father’s goodness evident in my wife. She built me a nook; she made me a fort in our spare bedroom where we painted scripture on the walls, and she could craft freely. She took sheets and strings and ropes and built me a nook you had to wind your way into. She made me a space that I could write in, tucked away from the world. A hiding place, it was a shelter of refuge I’d never known. We named it Hawk’s Haven.
In Hawk’s Haven, I would let the depths of my soul surface and leak upon the page. I would wail, I would sob not as a man but as a child, as a boy who’d lost his innocence and never had a say in the matter. I would crawl out of the nook realizing there was peace in speaking the truth. There was healing in tears and in the surrender of secrets to the Author of Hope, The Great Redeemer Jesus.
I found so much freedom in those early days. The pain was there, but I found The Burden Bearer present like never before. I found freedom building in my chest, yet the addictions lingered, the memories and voids still tormented my sleep. I wrestled with the invisible forces of myself and lost every time. I was not willing to let go until I received a blessing. I held on for dear life, knowing there was only death if I let go. I clung to that hope. Desperately, I dug my claws into the Word of God and begged Him to reveal to me what I needed to see to be free. I asked Him to heal me. I could not redeem myself, I could not save myself or my marriage, and I did not know how much longer I could take it, let alone how much longer she could. My Father, my true Father, knew; He had always known me and had answered my prayers so long ago. It was in fall of 2015 that our blessing came. It took a miracle to save this running man, and our miracle’s name is Naomi Grace.
She was entrusted to Chelsea and me even though for years we could not conceive. My abuse had rendered me damaged in ways we had been told and believed would make children a near impossibility. There is one, and only one God of the Impossible and His Name is Holy, His Name is Righteous. Yahweh Elohim, The Lord Our God, was not content for our life to be one forever filled with death. No, He is not willing that any should perish. He was the giver of our life, and it was time for us to be entrusted with a new life to help us face the death of our past and find hope burning brighter than the darkness.
Chelsea filmed the moment as we stood in our little bathroom realizing we would no longer just be a husband and wife but were something that I’d never truly known. We were going to be a family. Two hearts once beating now held a third. A precious daughter was growing and developing within my wife, and as sure as the sun sets over the mountains, in ten months’ time, she would be in our arms. The excitement faded as the fear-laced thoughts began to flood my mind. They were packed with pain, dread, and self-doubt, and the weight of their pressure drove me to my knees.
The next morning, I found my face in the carpet as I sobbed and screamed knowing I had no idea how to be a father. Just that morning on our way home with the pregnancy test, I’d confessed to Chelsea how I’d fallen back into my addiction with pornography. The tattered threads of our marriage could not bear the burdens of my bondage, let alone fatherhood. I knew I was not ready, but I believed if He’d entrusted Chelsea and I with Naomi, He would provide me what I needed to be a father.
In the salt and pepper fibers of my bedroom’s floor, I prayed with faith riddled desperation, “Father, heal me, please just heal me, whatever it takes.” I meant it with every fiber of my being. I needed to be a better husband, and even more so a better father than I’d ever known. I knew if I continued on my current path, I would bring my addictions into fatherhood and I could not bear the idea of that. So instead I set my jaw like flint and admitted my weakness and called upon the Name Above Every Name and received strength for the impossible journey being prepared for us.
If you’d told me that morning what was coming in the next two years, I would have run as far and as fast as possible. I would have run to my familiar creature comforts and buried my head in the sands of forgetting. This time, however, I had something to fuel the furnace of my fires. To give me the unshakable and unbreakable courage to face the loss of friends and family, the threats, the intimidation, the attempted assassinations, and the fury birthed in generations of bloodshed coming to hunt us down. That fuel was something I’d never known: it was The Father’s love.
His light filled, salt stained truth was the untainted, unadulterated, and unconditional love I needed to become set free. I needed a Father who would not curse me, coerce me, control me, or sell my body, spirit, and soul to grow in power and wealth. No, this Father’s love and justice was the most potent weapon I’d ever been given. For with it I would face the powers and persons who’d shattered my soul and made me a monster, a murderer, and a man of many. With it, I would find freedom in remembering, freedom in the grieving, and then one day I would find freedom in forgiving. In order for the healing to begin I would have to take a drive down to Texas where my faith would become my sight.