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“Rob, it’s John. I don’t know where the hell you are, buddy. I know you’re walking your spiritual path, and I get that, but c’mon. Look, you’ve got demons. I get it. You were there for me when I put the bottle down, but you’ve gone too far from the rez this time. PRIME booked the first card of the year and I don’t know what the hell to tell them. They have you against that lunatic Arthur Pleasant..”
Never forget thy fall, O Icarus of the fearless flight, for the greatest tragedy of them all, is never to feel the burning light. Has Rob flown too close to the sun? John drops his head, resting a giant hand across his forehead.
“This is bullshit, man,” John continues in his distinct southern drawl,”to leave me hanging here. I begged, borrowed, and stole to get you on this roster. You’re on a winning run. Don’t fuck this up.”
John Gordon pauses. Over the seasons of his life he has learned the importance of silence. A breath, a beat, a strategic pause. Call it whatever you like. John’s realizes he doesn’t always need to be talking. Sometimes more is said in the gaps.
“I miss you, buddy. Love you, man.”
It wasn’t uncommon for Rob to go dark. Some people work their shit out with a therapist or in a notebook and some in a motel room with a bottle of vodka. This feels different, though. Like an haircut from an hedge trimmer. All this religiosity. The sobriety. Hell, Rob hasn’t even called Charlotte and that leash never gets too long.
Has the astronaut’s tether come undone on the space walk? Is Rob to be forever adrift in that dark vacuum until he’s reduced to ash and returned to the very stardust we’re all made of?
Time will tell.
It’s been twenty-seven days since Colossus. Twenty-seven days and what seems like fifty thousand miles. The landscape has gone from flat to mountainous and back to flat multiple times. At times there is nothing but desert or barren crop fields as far as the eye can see and Rob feels so alone, like all that’s left in this world is inside the van. That great big emptiness out past the windows of the old VW might just swallow him up. Maybe he deserves that.
“Brother Rob, how’s your soul doing today?” The long haired driver asks him just as he has the day before. And the day before that. Maybe he died in New Orleans and this is purgatory and he is damned to hear this forever. Every day starts with this line of crap and an awful headache. Every day it makes Rob inches a bit closer to evicting all of the teeth from Brother Johan’s skull one by one. Rob picks up the styrofoam cup of cold coffee from the cupholder between them and swallows half of it in a single gulp. This coffee isn’t iced or cold brew, it’s just lost its magic. Like the passengers of this van, its current state is questionably different from what its creator intended.
“I’m fine, thanks.” Rob responds. He feels the cheap coffee grinds in his teeth and chews them while looking at the rest of this ragtag group in the rearview.
In the beginning of this voyage they were just a chariot for Rob on the hunt for the false prophet. A means to an end, just like most people in Rob’s life. A or B in the equation solving for whatever X currently is. Whatever he’s sure will be the sustaining fix. But unlike most, these people won’t go away. At some point they overheard Rob conversing with the Father and since then, well, it’s been different.
Six of them cram inside this van. It was three when Rob started riding with them. He reminds himself constantly that they’re just a means to an end.
It’s the Father. He’s smoking, sitting in the back between Meredith who now goes by Moonbeam and Tod who is just Tod with one D. They don’t see him. Nobody but Rob does. Rob still tries to be discreet when communicating, but the group is now listening, trying to catch a glimpse of Rob’s communion with the Father. They’re always listening.
“I told you that you wouldn’t be alone. Do you think Elijah chose his Elisha because he thought he was a “really cool guy”? Form follows function. This is faith, not always being able to choose. They are lost, Robert, waiting for their shepherd. These people are like clay and you are the sculptor. They will assist you in finding the one who prophesizes false idols and delusions.”
Putting potential responses on the scales, Rob just acknowledges Johan with a nod. Who names their kid Johan? Even worse if he picked it in his “spiritual rebirth” era, Rob thinks. He reminds himself he’s trying to lean into this, though, as the Father has yet to lead him wrong. Not yet at the point of blind faith, not quite rebelling at every turn.
As they cross the horizon of one more dusty mesa, they reenter the modern world with a flurry of notifications pinging across the various cell phones. Service returns. Who knew there were still so many places on this earth without cell service? Rob’s phone vibrates violently and continuously in his lap as if it’s trying to shake some electronic form of dope sickness. He smirks as if to say “I’ve been there, buddy.” You couldn’t have convinced him of it when this trip began, but the peace of not having a ball and chain is enjoyable. Preferable, even. With a sigh of restlessness Rob pulls the phone from his pocket to investigate what he’s missed.
Thirty-five notifications. Rob is about to power the phone off when he feels the hot breath of the Father in his ear. This man knows nothing of personal boundaries.
“No. We run into the storm, not away from it.”
With an eye roll Rob begins scanning them. This feels like an overwhelming task, a pang of anxiety turning in his stomach as the notifications continue to roll in. Mostly bullshit, Christmas and New Years sales. Save 30% off our already marked up bullshit. News notifications: the world is still on fire and we’re all still going to die and inject yourself with diabetes medicine to cut back that stubborn body fat because you’re too weak to change your lifestyle. More of the same. The answer to contentment is charge more shit and push the bill out as far as possible, no matter the interest rate.
“You know better than that. So pessimistic in the morning. As always, you’re a few feet from gold. Keep digging, you’ll find it.”
A text from John. It reads:
did u get my vm?
Reading the words sends a shiver down Rob’s spine.
“Ah yes, there it is.” the Father quips from the backseat. Smoke plumes from his cigarette. He’s always smoking. God, how Rob misses smoking. Not the act of smoking a cigarette, but being a smoker. That first drag with a cup of coffee in the morning or the way it soothes the cold burn of funneling warm vodka down your throat. This is only exacerbated by the Father’s incessant chain smoking. “He never leaves voicemails. It must be important.”
The Father is right. John never leaves voicemails.
This phone, so small and dainty in Rob’s giant paw, is suddenly a thousand pounds. Suddenly it wields power. He knows he needs to lift it to his ear, but he can’t will his body to move. The neurons are firing, screaming even, but the body betrays him. A thousand scenarios run through Rob’s head. Is Charlotte ok? Has he been fired? Suddenly he’s Aladdin, free falling to the ground after being knocked off his magic carpet of following the whimsical demands from the Father. Back to his life.
“What are you waiting for, Robert? Into the storm.”
Reluctantly Rob raises the phone to his head. His oldest friend’s voice feels foreign somehow, but he can tell John is pissed. Relief washes over like a warm afternoon rain: no one is dead, he is still employed, John isn’t firing him. He’s even booked for a match at the first PRIME show in 2024. Aside from abandoning his love and his best friend, one might think things are going well. And the band plays on.
“Of course you are. You’re chosen, child. The key to the lock. Tell them to stop in the next town, there’s something you just have to see.”
“Johan,” Rob voice cracks as he calls out, “get off this exit. I gotta see a man about a horse.”
Rob always finds walking the empty halls of a church mid-day about as comfortable as a proctologist visit. And with a less exciting result. But here he is once again, listening to his cowboy boots clack across the cheap VCT tile of the wing they hold Sunday School in. Each room is eerily quiet and dark, the sun shining in through the windows highlighting just how lonely something can be when not utilized as intended. Follow the smell of cheap ass coffee to the lustrous room at the very end of the hall. This is where they stick the alcoholics and drug addicts- as far from sight as possible. Don’t want some church accountant to run across an alkie on his was to the pisser.
Lunch time meetings are always an eclectic crowd. Mostly housewives, businessmen, construction workers, and people who will absolutely convince you they’re just there to get their court slip signed on the way to the bar. There’s maybe twenty people in the room today and Rob sizes them all up as he heads to the folding table with the draconian coffee maker. Neatly stacked in a folding wire display rack are various A.A. approved pamphlets. Is A.A. For You? Do You Think You’re Different? Es AA Para Usted? Rob’s favorite catches his eyes: Your Own God.
Dog whistling. As the people in the meeting speak it finally comes to Rob. Dog whistling drives his inability to see the forest through the trees in these meetings. They may say your God, but he hears Jesus Christ. And that makes it all taste like saccharine. A woman is sharing about how she feels guilty telling her boss she’s gone to see her doctor on her lunch break and is actually coming to a meeting. Some old man reassures her that she is coming to see a doctor, referring to Dr. Bob, one of the co-founders of Alcoholics Anonymous.
They all seem so clean.
“You’ve done well, Robert. Facing your perceived inadequacies. And here, in this room, you feel so apart from that it’s palpable to those around you. Why is that?” the Father leans in and asks Rob, the metal chair creaking.
“Look at them.” Rob whispers to the Father. “They all have IRA’s and a calendar planning what’s for dinner. I’ve always wanted so badly to be a part of this. But, I can’t. It’s just so exhausting trying to be a productive member of society.”
“Your problem is that you are constantly trying to live up to what you think others want you to be. You are a beast. Be a beast. Is the gorilla concerned about the expectations of zoo-goers? If a child falls into the gorilla’s cage does it not get maimed because everyone expecting the lion to be “domesticated”? No, the gorilla is just a gorilla and he doesn’t concern himself with questions about what others think he should be. Show them why you’re a gorilla.”
There is a brief lull of silence between shares. “I’m Rob and I’m an alcoholic.” Rob calls out.
“Hi, Rob.” The group unenthusiastically says in a monotonic sync. They don’t like him. His size and the bruises on his face and the cuts on his knuckles make them uncomfortable. But for once, Rob doesn’t hide them. He is reveling in the discomfort, each set of eyes looking away as he scans the room adding to his momentum. To this point the Father has been largely uninterested, but this piques his interest. Leaving his cigarette in the care of his lips and planting a hand firmly on both knee, he leans in with excitement.
“Thanks. You know, I’ve always had trouble connecting in here. I thought it was lack of faith, but I think I’ve found my faith. Now I don’t think it’s that at all. I think it’s all of you.”
Anyone who wasn’t paying attention before is now.
“Yeah, see I’ve been coming in and out of AA a long time. I could probably tile the Great Wall of China with all my white chips. But I couldn’t surrender before and I think it’s because I couldn’t surrender to all of you, to your false gods. It’s ok, though,” Rob puts his hands up now, his own excitement building, “because I’ve found a faith that works. See you all have tried to teach me that surrender meant being weak. Wallowing in defeat. Allowing the world to make me into it’s goddamn doormat. Well it doesn’t and I’m not. Not anymore.”
A well dressed man full of bravado begins to interrupt, but the old lady next to him puts down her crochet and lays a hand on his shoulder. She has seen all the ways this can play out. Sometime you are just meant to bare witness. One young man in particular is listening intently, raising his eyes from the floor for the first time since the meeting began. He feels like Rob is talking directly to him. Maybe he is.
“And you don’t have to, either. We can be more. We can be the cataclysm. I’ve read your book a thousand times. What does it say? Abandon yourself to God as you know God. Maybe the goddamn soothsayers in here dog whistling some antiquated prophet have stitched us up all wrong. Come, brother. Abandon yourself completely.”
“I’ve heard enough,” an old man pipes up from the back of the room. “Son, you can think whatever you want, but we respectfully ask you to not do it here.”
The tension is real, material, something you could shape with a chisel and hammer. Everyone is scared what happens next. Rob stands and at once the entire group retreats like the seas parted by Moses. They’re scared. Rob likes it, the feeling of power he has for the first time ever in one of the meetings.
“Your work is done here.” the Father hisses. “Time to go.”
Rob looks around the room one last time before leaving the room. Halfway down the hall he’s stopped by the young man running behind him telling him to wait up.
“What is your name?” Rob asks the young man while holding out his hand.
They shake hands, looking one another in the eye. L
“Lem. Lem Hawthorne.”
Neither know it, but this is a pivotal moment in their stories. In their lives. Maybe you believe in the Father, maybe you don’t, but this must be divine intervention by some definition. It is not a coincidence Lem Hawthorne, a homeless dingy lost at sea after a failed maiden voyage at Belmont Classic attended this meeting. This is the inception of Complete Abandon, whose story will be a cautionary tale for years to come in AA clubhouses, spoken only in whispers. With bespoke precision, the Father left a trail of breadcrumbs and led Rob to this moment and now he looks on with a grateful smile. The last time Rob was in an A.A. meeting he said the voice in his head was asking him how far he was willing to go.
Does he have the depth of faith to do what is necessary?
Time will tell.
“Do you now see, Robert? Do you now see the path through eyes of faith?” the Father asks through a cloud of smoke.
The two men sit alone at the edge of a lake near the AA meeting. In the background, the young man is showing Johan how to check the oil on the VW. It’s amazing how far some people make it in life.
“Yes.” Rob nods.
The Father lovingly places a hand on Rob’s shoulder. “Can you stop the moping, then? It is unbecoming at best and you are better than this. You incessantly brood like a child who didn’t get their way, yet here I am offering you the keys to the kingdom. All you have to do is act in faith. Know that every step laid before you is a calculated part of my plan. Starting with the union you began today.”
“You know, Arthur Pleasant would make a wonderful addition.” Rob suggests, rocking his own head as if it were a snow globe and the snow were visions of the future.
“Now you’re using your brain.” the Father says with excitement. “I don’t think he is ready for that. His mind is too clouded by frivolous ideologies that he derives his worth from. You can help cleanse him of that, though. Write a letter offering parlay. Sometimes you have to hold the non-believers’ head under the purifying waters until they can see the way.”
Rob contemplates this for a moment before asking, “And if they can’t see the way?”
“Then you drown them.”
The clock is racing towards ReVival 41. Rob has seen Arthur in passing, watched some of his work. With a deep admiration, even. Few know pain like Arthur. The Father has helped Rob to see this as an undervalued asset. Rob sits with pen and paper, as instructed, and prepares a letter for press release.
You can’t begin to understand my excitement in hearing that we will share the ring at ReVival 41. You are undoubtedly a worthy competitor, capable of the type of violence few understand.
It bothers me how people misuse labels. Words have meanings. There’s a difference between impossible and improbable. But people throw around irate with little depth. It’s like coloring with the same 5 crayons when you have the surplus pack. Weak. Lazy. It’s improbable you’ll listen and be spared, but it’s not impossible.
Words matter. Arthur, you have labels. You’ve said it yourself you’re a sick man, but I don’t see that when I look at you. I see someone who’s been told he’s broken. You are beautiful, but you are misguided, clinging to labels like “communism” and “death match” and “sick”. At your core you feel like you weren’t made for this world, don’t you? You may work with the commies, but you still feel like a B Class Citizen. Why? Because you’re an individual and communism suppresses individualism. You are not a nameless, faceless red candle melting into the vat of red wax. You’re special.
So I offer you parlay, Arthur. I offer you a covenant. Give up your labels like I have and find the strength in surrender. These aren’t the dying embers of a great fire conceived in the minds of old men some measly hundred years ago like communism. No, this is something bigger. Join us. Be cleansed and help us cleanse PRIME. Be apart of something real, something that matters. Abandon yourself completely, Arthur. I will show you the way.
Or come give me a good fight. But know, my destiny is predetermined. You’ll be but another stone on the path.
I will complete my mission. I’ve gone too far, given too much up for this all to be for nought. We stand in the ashes of everything that stood in the way. Into the storm we must go, brother. The purification is here. Rest assured all those who stand in opposition will be put on the scales. Those who whisper the sweet nothings of false idols and waterlogged ideologies and the doubters will be weighed and judgement will be rendered. And it will be my hand that delivers justice. For I am the bearer of the torch. I am the Arbiter in these days of strife.
Come now, boy. Join me or give me your blood as a sacrifice. Either way, you’ll be apart of this legacy.
Wish you were here,
The neatly folded paper fits perfectly in the envelope. As Rob licks the seal, he thinks about what a letter can do. Bloodlines have been destroyed and kingdoms toppled, Rob thinks to himself as he holds the letter in the palm of his hand. It looks so small and meager, yet it can be so powerful. How many people have received a letter that altered the course of their trajectory? With a snort Rob stands up to put the mail in the post. It will find its way to Arthur Pleasant. How will it alter the course of his trajectory?
Time will tell.