This was originally published in the Mille Lacs Messenger in February of 2003. I was thinking about it today, and although it’s a bit early to celebrate, may your VD 2015 be just as memorable.
When I was 21, I hitch-hiked from Kansas City to Santa Rosa, Calif., in pursuit of a woman with whom I was madly in love. She was on a quest for Truth and Jesus, and I figured I’d join her, if finding the Truth also meant finding true love. A few days after I arrived at her aunt’s house, she went to a service at a charismatic church and was “slain in the spirit.”
I had stayed home that night, and when she came back she had a glassy-eyed look and a story to tell. As the preacher spoke, she felt herself being lifted off the floor and over the row of chairs in front of her, where she collapsed on the floor.
“You have to get born again,” she said. “It’s like nothing I ever imagined.”
I had been born again — more than a few times, in fact. I was looking for something different this time. Finding Truth and following Jesus sounded great, if it meant wandering the hills of northern California in a monk’s robe, begging for my meals. But if it meant I had to believe in miracles, heal the sick and speak in tongues, I wanted none of it, so I hopped on the next Greyhound to Oregon, where a friend of a friend lived.
I arrived in Ashland late at night and went to the Log Cabin Tavern, my friend’s old hangout. It felt great to be in a place I’d heard so much about, even though I didn’t know anyone within 500 miles.
I didn’t know where I’d stay, so I just drank a beer, grinning broadly and waiting for a revelation. It came in the form of a tall, bearded man who approached my table.
“You have such a nice smile,” he said, “I just had to come over.” He introduced himself as … I’ll call him Dwayne, and we struck up a conversation. When I told him I didn’t have a place to stay, he offered me a bed, so I finished my beer and we walked up a steep hill to his home.
Dwayne lived in a caboose that sat on a short length of railroad track. His small lot was surrounded by more typical houses. Inside, the caboose was decorated with railroad paraphernalia — Great Northern signs, flashing lights, engineer’s caps and model railroad cars.
I marveled at the décor and felt myself in the middle of a great adventure. Then Dwayne spoke. “You can sleep with me if you want,” he said. “Or you can sleep out here.”
But for common courtesy, I would’ve smacked my forehead with the heel of my hand. “Of course!” I said to myself. “How could you have been so naïve?”
My dad had told me a similar story about the time he was propositioned while hitch-hiking in California, where he was stationed back in 1944. “Sorry, Dad,” I thought. “I should’ve listened.”
I snapped back to the present and told Dwayne, “I guess I’d rather sleep out here.”
“That’s okay,” he replied. “I won’t hassle you.”
The night was pleasantly uneventful, and the next morning Dwayne made one more play. “It’s always been a fantasy of mine to take a picture of someone naked,” he said. I assumed he meant I would be the naked one, not him. I declined, and again he said, “I don’t want to hassle you.”
Dwayne took me downtown, bought me breakfast, and pointed me in the direction I needed to go. Before I left, though, we stopped in the bank, where they were serving heart-shaped cookies with pink frosting. That’s when it hit me. It was Valentine’s Day.
I’d abandoned my girlfriend on Feb. 13.
Proselytized in the morning; propositioned at night. Life was indeed an adventure.
Which was the greatest nightmare, I haven’t decided yet. But that’s one Valentine’s Day I’ll never forget.