Taking the Punch

switched on


April 15, 1987. Taxes due. I flew home that day. I’d left work early, claiming a doctor’s appointment, and for once had the house to myself. I took three bites of the sandwich I’d bought along the way, then wrapped it back up and stuck it in the refrigerator. I washed my face, and getting changed, put the radio on. Shimmying into my clothes, I locked hands, arms uplifted overhead, a flying out-of-body experience—completely naff. Swinging through the open doors of the upstairs bedrooms; I was ready. I believed this as strongly as anything I ever knew.

Half an hour later, walking down the street, nervous energy bounced around inside me like billiard balls just racked and broken. Everything was ahead of me after waiting for so long. I’d been waiting forever. A few people passing by gave me curious or disapproving looks. ‘What’s up with her?’ they must be thinking—a strange looking woman, crazy and unguarded, looking like blast-off was imminent, the countdown already begun. I hadn’t felt this way in years. Rounding the corner to the church, a middle-aged man walking towards me ran a quick sexual appraisal and winked at me. I smiled back, ‘Not dead yet!

However, my psyche was too out of shape to carry such a payload for very long, and on reaching the church it all collapsed, depression settling in, sinking down. I didn’t want to go inside now; I was tired. I stood in front of the old facade, scanning for the holy, unable to discern it, unable to go further. A sense of super-reality gripped me and I could see myself acting out my delusions. Was I crazy? If so, when did that happen? I couldn’t have said at what point my sanity turned.

Doubts, one after another, assailed me. What if Ross Fowler was not as advertised? Blind like Bishop, or soulless like the zealots who used seekers merely to get down the righteous path. Never having painted a clear picture in my mind of what he looked liked, I sunk to the level of thinking perhaps God was not reflected in his face after all. Perhaps he was ugly. How could he rescue me?

Instead of going downstairs to the lecture hall, I went up the main stone steps and slipped through the doors into the darkened quiet church proper. I sat down in a pew in the back. The inner sanctum was empty, the last rays of sunlight slanting through the stained glass. I welcomed the silence and serenity; the rarefied atmosphere sheltering me. Assuming the prostrate attitude of a reprobate seeking redemption, I rested my forehead on the back of the pew in front of me, arms flung forward, breathing deeply, rhythmically, trying to slow down my racing thoughts. I was suffering a crisis of newfound faith.

Not an artist, sadly, I had to admit; certainly not a genius; yet I wanted to leave my mark. I wanted to throw whatever little weight I had on the side of truth and beauty. Stand witness against injustice. And, yes, I was looking, had always been looking, for a guide—all alone I’d lose the path. If Ross Fowler did not come up to speed, would I be able to carry on? I ran through a catalog of my weaknesses, lashing out at my lack of self-sufficiency. Why need help seeing the stars? Why was it so hard? Paralyzed, blind, and left in the ashes. I felt like that at times, but I knew I could move, knew I could see; sometimes I could see great things.

Lonely and about to give up hope. I needed to have a nod in my direction before too long. This is what I required of this man. Just be there. And there he was. Be somebody like me. I believed that he was. If my instincts were wrong tonight, then I would have to admit I was completely at sea. But despite all the fears I could muster, all the usual demons summoned, I could not budge the soul certainty that I was no longer lost.

My anxieties dissipated, and after sitting quietly for a while, head pressed against the pew, eyes staring at the floor, a second wind came in—just on time. Raising my head, focusing on the lilies on the altar, a happy certitude took up motion again in my veins, spreading warmly like honey. Yes, I believe. I really do. Deep down, I really didn’t care what Fowler looked like or about any other niceties of his personality; I’d passed that point long ago. Passed so many points I had nothing left to do except do exactly what I wanted to.

I rose from the pew and tiptoed back out to the main church doors. Putting one hand on each door handle, I pushed them forward and open, exposing the brightening street scene and darkening sky. Parents with their christened children, brides and grooms, the newly ordained and the newly departed all made this same exit, but none amid more expectations than this dreamer. It was getting late. Down the steps and around the corner. As I reached the stairs leading down to the basement entrance, the light above the transom switched on. Another sign? People were coming down the steps behind me. Better go. Hand on the knob, I took a deep breath, blowing it out through puffed-up cheeks. I opened the door and went in.


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