Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Adam's Tree-fort

   The phone rang at 2:38am. 

   I can remember the precise moment. I sat straight up in bed and looked over to the digital clock on the bookshelf. The numbers that announced the time lit up like they were neon. I fumbled around for a second and then found the phone and held it to my ear.

   “Is this Pastor Ev?”
   “Yes, who is this?”
   “This is Paul...you know...from the Wildwood Apartments?”
   “Sure Paul, what’s going on?...It’s kinda late you know.”
   “Yeah, I know...but I got a problem...a big problem, and I didn’t really know who else to call.”
   “What’s going on?”
   “Well Pastor Ev, I’m calling from the police station...”
   “The police station!?”
   “Yeah. Terry and I, we sorta had a bad argument...and well, she pulled a knife and was really gettin’ crazy, so I called the police and they took her away and now I’m down here tryin’ to work things out.”

   I rubbed my eyes with the heel of my palm and groaned into the phone. Paul was the manager of the apartment complex that we had previously stayed in. It had just been a few weeks earlier that we had moved out of the apartment and into the home we were now renting. He was a recovering alcoholic. The way he spoke of the time that he drank, you could tell that they were dark times, and that the balance walk he stepped these days was built on sheer determination to survive. His position as manager at The Wildwood was his last chance, a bone thrown him by a friend who didn’t want to see Paul’s life disappear down the neck of a bottle.
   Terry showed up at the swimming pool in the center of the apartment complex one summer afternoon about six months earlier. Her 13-year old son Adam was swimming as my wife and I were relaxing in the pool chairs reading. Terry spent most of the time building on her tan and working her way through a pack of cigarettes and three or four beers. She asked Rhonda about borrowing one of the magazines she was reading and they began to talk. I have always appreciated that my wife is able to carry on a legitimate conversation with just about anyone. From a superficial perspective, there could not have been much the two women had in common, but Rhonda always takes that as a challenge to see if she can develop some type of foundation from which she will eventually try to share Christ. This time was no exception, and soon, despite their many differences Rhonda had won Terry’s friendship. As Rhonda learned bits and pieces of Terry’s history, we discovered that her journey was one of short-term relationships, broken hearts, bad choices and scarred emotions.
   Inside of a week from their arrival pool-side at the Wildwood, Terry and Adam moved into Paul’s apartment. It’s hard to understand the logic used by people we care about sometimes. From the outside looking in, seeing Paul and Terry together was like standing on the side of a road watching two cars bound for a head on collision come at each other from a mile away. We liked both of them, and it was hard to know what to do to stop what appeared inevitable.
   We had several guys in the youth group about Adam’s age and soon he was a regular part of the church program. He never talked much about his past; his feelings hid deep inside the false bravado that lots of 13-year-old boys wear like a suit four sizes too big. Eventually though, some of that wore off in the security of the church youth group, and at a summer camp cabin with support from four or five other guys praying with him, he gave his life to Jesus.
   That moment was far removed from this one. Paul’s voice echoed in my ear,
   “So, can you help me out with something Pastor Ev?”
   “Well, I’m not sure what I can do to help you out in this case Paul. Maybe it’s time for you and Terry to come in for some counseling...”
   “I’m not worried about us right now. I was thinking about Adam. It sounds like they won’t let Terry out of jail until tomorrow and so he’ll wake up without his Mom around. I wish you could meet him in the morning and explain to him what happened...I don’t think that I would know what to say.”
   “I’ll meet him there at the apartment in the morning. What time does he usually leave for school?”
He gave me the particulars and I hung up the phone, explained the conversation to my wife, set my alarm, and lay my head back on the pillow trying to get a few hours of sleep.
When I got to his house the next morning, Adam had already gone. I didn’t catch up to him until after school that day. I watched the road leading into the apartment complex, and when I saw him walking toward me I pulled the car up beside him and motioned him to get in. We drove over to the apartment.
   “What’s going on Ev? Why did you pick me up?”
   “Well... did you miss seeing your Mom this morning?”
   “Not really, ...her and Paul stay out late sometimes. They go out drinking or dancing and they don’t get home until real late. She’s hungover so she doesn’t get up until later.”
   “I see, ...well, she didn’t get up this morning because she wasn’t there.”
He dropped his head, but the expression on his face remained stoic.
   “Where is she?”
   “She’s in jail.”
   I explained the circumstances of the evening prior. His face never changed expression.
   “Are you okay?”
  “Me? Are you kidding. I knew it was just a matter of time. We don’t stay anywhere too long. She always says she’s not going to drink anymore, and that this boyfriend is different, but everything always turns out the same. I think the longest I’ve ever lived anywhere is two years. We’ll probably be moving from here soon.”
   He looked straight ahead out of the car window as he spoke. His words were hard and cold. They fell out of his mouth like ice-cubes.
   He shook the blonde hair out of his face and looked up at me.
   “I’ll be fine....” he said.
   Everything about him looked calm, but when he reached down to grab his backpack from the seat between us, I could see that his hands were shaking. He turned to open the door.
   “Adam, wait a second. Where are you going? What are you gonna do?”
He thought for a second and then shrugged his shoulders.
   “I don’t know. Go watch some TV maybe. Do my homework. Hey, wait a minute. You wanna see something?”
   “It’s really cool.”
   “What is?”
   “I built this tree fort. You want to see it?”

   He carried his books to the apartment and threw them on the bed in his bedroom. I locked up the car and he led me out of the apartment complex, across the street. We hopped a ditch and in seconds were walking through a heavily forested area that could have been the middle of a wilderness jungle deep in South America if not for the far-off noise of cars rumbling down the road we had left behind us. Several varieties of fir trees reached high into the green canopy above us. Sunlight squirted past the higher branches, and blue sky peeked between those branches and fluffy, gray clouds that rolled above us. The further we walked, the less the cars could be heard, and the calls of birds, and soft sound of water gurgling down the Issaquah Creek finally replaced that noise all together.
   Suddenly, he stopped walking and lifted his arm pointing, “There it is.”
   I looked in the direction that he was pointing, but couldn’t really see anything except a fallen tree leaning against another tree. I looked quizically back at him. He smiled, then led me to the opposite side of the fallen tree. He pushed his way through some underbrush, I bent over and followed him and in a moment we were standing in kind of a dark green cave, just a bit of light entering from a place where a tree branch had been chopped off. There was a small wooden stool against an ancient log that formed the back side of the cave. There were posters tacked against the log. A picture of him and his mother was sitting atop the stump of another tree that had been taken some time ago. He reached behind a rock and pulled out a walkman and a flashlight. Then from underneath a covering of tree-branches that he had sawed off the fallen tree, he took a sleeping bag and a pillow.
   “See,” he announced, “I have everything here that I need.”
   I smiled and nodded my head. His eyes moved around the tree-fort with pride.
   “I come here whenever I just need to think. When I need to get away.”
   “Today is a pretty good day to get away I guess. What are you thinking right now?” I asked.
   There was a long period of quiet. Then he picked up the picture of him and his mom and sat down on the stump with me across from him sitting on the wooden stool.
   “You know, sometimes, I hate her,” his chin began to quiver and tears came to his eyes.
   He reached up and brushed them away immediately.
   “I really like it here. I don’t want to move again. I’m tired of moving all the time. I have friends...but I guess that doesn’t matter does it.”
   He looked up to me with eyes that begged for an answer, and I knew that I just didn’t have any to give. I put a hand on each shoulder and pulled him to my chest. For a moment he forgot about being tough and he just sobbed, his whole body shaking, tears all over the sweatshirt that I was wearing. I wished I could have been Adam’s Dad, and tell him everything would be okay. Yet, I knew that everything probably wouldn’t be okay. The future would play out much as he feared.
   “How about if we pray for her and Paul and for you too," I said. He nodded.
So we bowed our heads and I began to ask for Jesus to give reason and wisdom to the mind of a Mom that really needed it right then. I prayed for the hurts that she must have in her heart to be healed so that she might stay longer in one place. I prayed that she would see in her son the unique gifts and graces that the Lord had given. Then I said, “Amen.”
   Adam nodded again. He pushed away from me, wiped his face with his shirtsleeve, picked up the framed picture and stared at it again.

   “I don’t really hate her you know,” he said, still staring at the photo, and you could see the years of frustration begin to fade, as if some sort of new understanding about those years had come to his young mind. Slowly a smile spread across his face. He set the picture down, gently on the stump, then reached back to where the sleeping bag had been hidden and pulled out an unopened bag of Doritos. Until the sun set, we talked, laughed and reveled in the peace, quiet and understanding that enveloped that place. I often wonder about Paul, and Terry and Adam...especially Adam. It has been several years since we saw any of them. They moved on a few months later, all three of them. I can’t remember where, I just hope there was a spot for Adam to build a tree-fort nearby.

There is a place of quiet rest, near to the heart of God; A place where sin cannot molest, near to the heart of God... There is a place of full release, near to the heart of God; A place where all is joy and peace, near to the heart of God.” - Cleland B. McAfee