20. The Trip, Chap. 7: The Wall, 1973

The Wall, 1973 (Ch. 7)

August 15, 1973 – They stopped the bombing of Cambodia yesterday, “in accordance with the Congressional prohibition.” So said the radio, if you can believe anything they say. I don’t. They’ve lied to me too much. All I can think of is Lt. John Ryan. This whole country is as polluted as the Ohio River.

Speaking of which, I’ve been staying out of the Ohio River since that first day. Charlie has laughed at my miserable feet and teased me for the last five days about the “nature-boy crud.” But things were going pretty well ‘til last night. Charlie and Judson have been reminiscing about old times and debating over W.S. Merwin and Garcia Lorca long into the night; we’ve watched old movies on TV for hours daily; and I’ve been going on long walks around the neighborhood and along the river – not in the water.

Despite my folly with the Ohio I am fascinated still by the big earthen levee, which seems to run for miles to the east, upriver. To the west toward town, as I discovered on my second day of walking, it’s a different story. Last night it was almost the end of the story.

Maysville was a fairly quaint town, quiet little business district, a few old factories, an old residential area spread out along the river banks, lots of streets like ours, dead-ending into the levee. Not much to do there, especially if you had no money. We went across the river one night, into Ohio, saw the construction site where Judson worked – or didn’t work, as the case might be – and went to a night spot. I got pretty drunk, Judson drove us home, and I busted out that pesky back window that wouldn’t open. I was lying in the back of the van watching the night go by and the next thing I knew my little axe was in my hand and I was swinging it up at the window. It busted out pretty easy, one good smack and it was open. I guess I just needed some air.

Boy, did I feel stupid the next morning, when I walked out and saw that broken window. Cardboard and duct tape were the best I could do toward fixing it. This was turning into something of an Okie Odyssey.

The days were long and boring, with too much TV, not enough food, and not enough conversation. I did lots of walking, trying to stay sane. I explored the area upriver one day, cruising for a few miles along the earthen levee, and then one day I decided to walk in the other direction. I set off west along the wide top, expecting to be able to follow it all the way to town. Above the trees that obscured the course of the levee itself I could see brick chimneys and towers, so it seemed an interesting possibility. As I followed the curve of the dam past a grove of cottonwoods, I saw that up ahead it was darker and appeared to have some sort of structure on top of it. I quickened my pace, curious to see.

As I approached closer, suddenly I realized what I was seeing. I stopped in slight amazement. The path along the earthen mound ended abruptly and a great, high brick wall took its place. As I stared at the wall with its sheer drops on either side, I got another one of those weird little shivers. There was something vaguely frightening about the wall. But I kept walking ’til I came to it.

The top of the wall was only a foot or so above the top of the levee where I stood, and was nearly a foot wide, smooth and flat, easily walk-able – given no missteps! – but looking down at the water lapping at its base 30 or 40 feet below, I decided it wasn’t such a good idea. I stared down its length for some time, irritated with the wall and with myself. I remembered climbing water towers and fire towers in reckless abandon during my high school years, but this was a little too intimidating. Besides, that little chill down my spine when I saw it made me wary. Finally I walked away, came down from the levee, and returned to the little house.

That night, bored with more movies, I began reading Salinger’s Franny and Zooey, as Charlie had been urging for several days, ever since he had pulled it off Judson’s shelf. At first it seemed to have little relevance to my life, but I was enjoying the story, so the next morning I continued reading. By the time I finished it I was crying and couldn’t stop. I went out and sat on the back steps and sobbed. I wasn’t sure why.

The story of the Russian pilgrim traipsing around looking for instruction in how to “pray unceasingly” seemed like a parable of my own desultory spiritual life. It all seemed like a foolish chase, up one pig-trail and down another. My childhood passion for Jesus had been eclipsed by an adolescent passion for the purity of abstract truths logically derived, and college had introduced me to the exquisite sufferings offered by an existential god. The US Air Force and its friends were teachers in the way of hedonism. Even my post-war escapism I usually managed to define as some sort of spiritual quest, an exalted seeking after the perfect experience. All of it was clearly as foolish as the pilgrim’s simple-minded notion that some Biblical phrase – a random comment from a man’s letter! – might hold the key to ultimate truth, if only he could find the proper way to understand it.

There he was, going around mumbling “Jesus Christ have mercy on me a sinner” all over the Russian countryside, and here I am now, on this pointless pilgrimage. Seeking what? Salvation? Truth? A good time? Emotion washed me off the steps and into the yard with Lorca. I cried on the dog’s shoulder and she licked me in sympathy and understanding. Then she began barking and jumping, urging me to play. I grabbed a stick and we played around in the back yard, laughing and running and jumping ‘til we were both panting.

I sat back down on the steps and tried to sort it all out, but nothing seemed clear. After a few minutes rest, I found the heavy scythe that Judson had been using to try to reduce his four-foot high grass to a mow-able patch and began swinging it. Soon I was sweating and panting heavily. I got one good swath cut across the side yard before my arms gave out. More exercise, I thought, that’s what I need. Less thinking and more working. I put up the blade and went in to find some lunch.

Charlie was watching TV and drinking coffee. “Interested in a little lunch?” I asked.

He took a sip of his coffee and closed his eyes. “Sounds revolting,” he hissed.

I didn’t press the issue. Not that there was much to offer in the kitchen. Judson was not big on cooking. I found some cheese, Saltines and a little flat Coke and ate in silence at the little Formica table. Lorca whined at the screen, so I went out and fed her and refilled her water bowl. She licked me appreciatively and began eating. “You’re the most communicative one around here, Lorca,” I said softly, smoothing her sleek black coat as she gobbled the dry food.

I lay in the grass for a while, scratching Lorca and watching the clouds through the pinnate pattern of the pecan leaves. When I heard the TV silenced and then the bedroom door slam, I got up and went into the house. Back to bed, I thought. Worn out from all that TV. I pulled out my notebook and began writing, trying to make sense of all the conflicting feelings the Salinger book had stirred up. I was near dozing in the hot, airless room when a knock came at the front door. I opened it to a striking-looking middle-aged woman smiling and holding a flat of very ripe tomatoes. “Hello!” she said sweetly. “Is Judson here? I’ve got some tomatoes for him.”

“Ah… no m’am,” I said. “He’s not here. Ah… come in!” I pushed the screen open and she stepped back.

“Thank you! I’m Angeline Lambert, I’m his landlady and I just thought he might like these.” She maneuvered the box around the screen and stood smiling.

“Oh. Okay.” I wasn’t sure what to say. “We’re just visiting. I think Judson’s at work. I don’t know when he’ll be home, but I’ll give ‘em to him.” Judson was actually in Memphis visiting his girlfriend, but I wasn’t sure how the landlady would feel about our presence, so I felt safer with this story.

The landlady was looking at me intently, smiling sweetly. She wore her black hair in a ‘Fifties Flip and her straight skirt and soft sweater fit nicely. I noticed she had beautiful, kind eyes and a softly lovely face. Her gaze was making me uncomfortable, so I reached out for the tomatoes. She didn’t release her grip on the box, but leaned slightly forward, looking straight into my eyes. “Can I ask you something?”

“Sure,” I said, feeling really uneasy now.

“Are you saved?”

I almost upset the box of tomatoes in my surprise. “Ah… Well, that depends on what you mean by that,” I ventured. “I don’t like organized religion, but I was baptized when I was seven or eight, so I guess I’m saved.”

“Oh, that doesn’t have anything to do with it!” she said brightly. “You just have to have Jesus in your heart!”

“Oh. Okay.” This was starting to get weird.

“You know…” She slipped one hand over mine as we stood, both holding the tomato box. “You look like you want to be saved more than anybody I ever saw.” She was beaming in deep sincerity now, and I could feel myself caught by her eyes. It felt like she was coming on to me.

Boy, I must be desperate, I thought, but I could only stammer, “Oh yeah?” and smile uncomfortably.

“Do you mind if I read you some scripture?” she asked.

“Ah, no, I don’t guess so… come in… but I…”

“Good!” she said, at last releasing the box of tomatoes to me and walking into the living room. I set the box on top of the TV and watched as she sat on the couch, producing a Bible from her shoulder bag. “Sit down!” She patted the couch beside her, and I obliged.

She read me some passages from the little Bible, familiar passages about “all have sinned” and “whosoever believeth.” I tried to tell her that the believing part was a problem for me, but she just shushed me and put her hand on my knee.

“Listen, honey. It’s not that hard.” She turned to a small card in her Bible that was labeled ‘Soulwinning: Sharing the Joy of the Lord with non-believers.’

“All you have to do is read this little prayer along with me, and if you want it with all your heart, you’ll find the power to believe.” She pointed to the line on the card and began to read: “Jesus Christ have mercy on me a sinner.”

I sat, shocked, my mouth open and my eyes filling with tears. It was the Pilgrim’s ‘Jesus Prayer’ – the same prayer he had been told to repeat over and over in his heart in fulfillment of the command to ‘pray unceasingly.’ All the emotions of the morning came flooding back and I collapsed into the landlady’s arms, sobbing uncontrollably. She stroked my head and murmured sweetly to me, and after several minutes I regained control.

“I’m so sorry,” I said, “it’s just that I….” My throat caught.

“Don’t worry about it, honey. I understand. Jesus understands. Just say the prayer, and even if you don’t think you mean it at first, you will if you keep saying it.” She took my face in her hands and stared into my eyes. “I see a beautiful soul in there. I just know it wants to be saved.”

My emotions were in tumult. All this touching stroking and deep gazing was beginning to stir more than my soul. “Oh yes, I do, I want it!” I gasped, reaching out taking hold of her shoulders. She suddenly gave a great sigh and pulled me to her, holding me tightly, my face buried in her neck. She began to pray aloud, alternately hugging me and raising her hands in the air, ecstasy bathing her face in tears and laughter. After several minutes of this, she bowed her head in silence, then slowly raised up and looked into my eyes with such intensity that I kissed her hard on the mouth. For a moment, she kissed back, her mouth open and her body arching into me.

Then she pulled back, shaking her head. “Ah! The desires of the flesh are strong, but the desires of the spirit are stronger!” she said, grasping my shoulders and looking at me sternly. “Try this with me again,” she said, turning back to the card in her lap and patting my leg. One hand resting on my thigh, she began repeating the prayer slowly, glancing at me and nodding her head to urge me to join in. I looked at her, smiling. Finally, I said the line with her, but unconvincingly.

“There you go!” she exulted. “Doesn’t that feel better?”

“But I don’t really feel it,” I protested. I sat back heavily, my hand resting on her knee just beyond the edge of her skirt. Her skin was smooth and soft. She covered my hand with both of hers, closed her eyes and sighed. As we sat there in silence, suddenly there was a thump from the bedroom.

Her hands came up and her eyes popped open. “Is there someone else here?” she asked.

“Yeah,” I said heavily. “Charlie’s in there sleeping.”

“Charlie?” Despite the sweetness of her voice, she sounded irritated.

“Yeah. He’s a friend of Judson’s from Florida. We’re traveling together.”

“I see. Well. I guess I’d better be going.” Her irritation was clear now, her smile wooden. She quickly popped the little card back into her Bible and returned the Bible to her purse. Standing up briskly, she smoothed her skirt and looked at me. “Just remember, honey, Jesus loves you! And please tell Judson I hope he likes my tomatoes!”

“Yes, m’am, I’m sure he does… will. Those are some nice tomatoes.”

“Well, maybe I’ll bring you some more if you’d like.”

“Yeah, sure. Sounds great!”

“I’ll do that. Now you just keep saying that prayer and you’ll be fine.” Her voice was bright again.

“I don’t know. I don’t think I can do it without your help.”

“Oh, then, why don’t you come to church with me on Sunday!” She seemed proud of herself for coming up with this new tack.

“Ah… no. I don’t think I could handle that.” Church was definitely not what I had in mind at this point.

“You think about it, honey. I’ll stop by anyway. We’re going to help you get to know the Lord.”

“Yeah, well, maybe so. I just have a hard time with all this believing and faith and stuff.”

“We all do, sweetie. You just keep saying that prayer and you’ll see that what I told you is true.”

“Okay, I’ll try. Thanks, Miz Lambert.”

“Just call me Angeline, honey. Now what is your name?”

“John…”

“Well, it was nice to meet you John! ‘Bye now!”

“Nice to meet you, too.” I stood in the doorway watching her walk to her car. She pulled off, painted fingernails flashing as she waved, and I stood several minutes staring after her, trying to understand what had just happened.

I took the tomatoes into the kitchen, washed them, and made myself a tomato sandwich. They were not as good as the Carolina tomatoes, but they were okay. I washed the few dishes, scrubbed the counters and sink, and took out the garbage. When I came back in, Charlie was leaning into the refrigerator, pushing things around and grumbling.

“Nothing to eat in here!” he said, looking around as I came in and set down the trash can.

“The landlady brought a box ‘a ‘maters.” I pointed to the flat on the far counter.

“The landlady?” Charlie asked in surprise.

“Yeah. She tried to save my mortal soul, too. Had me saying the Jesus prayer. But the tomatoes are okay, if you put enough mayonnaise on them.”

“Sounds disgusting.” He found a bag of brown rice in the cupboard, measured a cup of it into a pot, and began rinsing it. “So you had a heart-to-heart with the landlady?”

“Yep. It was pretty fucking strange. I just read that Salinger book, you know, the one with the Russian pilgrim and the Jesus prayer…”

“Franny and Zooey.”

“Yeah. That’s it. Well, this fucking lady starts reading me this same prayer off some little card she carries and practically forcing me to say it and telling me that’s all I had to do to be ‘saved,’ and I was freaking out.”

Charlie set the pot on the stove, and began salting the water. He shook his head, looked at me and sat down at the table to wait for it to boil.

I couldn’t shut up. “And the weirdest thing, I think all that praying and shit got her hot ‘n bothered! You know, she got all turned on. I mean, she… she tried to come on to me.”

“Repressed sexuality,” Charlie said matter-of-factly. “That’s what’s going on with all those Christian folk. You should’ve let her save you!” He squinted at me, feigning an evil smile.

“Shit, man. She must’a been close to 50! It was weird.” I stared at my feet and shuddered slightly. I was glad he was listening for once. I was nervous about talking to him about it at all, afraid he would just ignore me or ridicule me. But I needed to talk this out a little, try to sort it out for myself, find a way to laugh about it. “She just kept stroking my head and hugging me and squeezing my leg and begging me to say this prayer. It was so weird. I mean, I never even heard of this prayer ‘til last night, and now she comes up with it today. It was just too strange.”

Charlie shook his head and got up to check his rice pot. “Pretty strange,” he laughed. “All these Christians are strange to me.”

“No shit!” I sat in silence. Charlie puttered around the kitchen. I felt a little better for talking about it, but I was still shaky inside. After a few minutes, I went out the back door and walked around in the little yard, then sat down under the pecan tree and tried to think about something else. Anything else.

When I came back in, Charlie was finishing up rice and soy sauce. He offered me the remaining rice and began to clean up the pot as I ate. “We should get some beer tonight!” he said cheerfully. “It’s Friday night!”

I concentrated on my rice. “Maybe so, but it’s only Thursday,” I said without looking up, searching my bowl for an un-hulled grain I heard scrape against my chopstick. He finished cleaning the rice pot and walked into the living room. I heard the TV come on, followed by the heavy clicking of the channel selector knob.

Charlie was still standing in front of the TV turning through the channels when I came into the living room. Of the twelve channels on the selector, only three were clear enough to watch. Two others had pictures of varying quality. Everything else was snow and static. He was changing the channels rhythmically, pausing on the good channels no longer than on the vacant ones. The effect was mesmerizing. I stood and stared for several minutes, then sat down on the couch and picked up an old New Yorker. I stared at its cover. After a moment I realized that the landlady’s prayer was repeating in my mind, and in time with the clicking of the channel selector.

I shook my head violently, slammed the magazine down and went out onto the front stoop. I stared down the street toward the levee, then sat down on the steps. I was sitting there scratching at the concrete with a little pebble when Charlie came out.

“I sure could use a beer!” He sat down next to me. “Don’t we still have a few dollars?” He was smiling and his voice was cheerful and friendly.

“Yeah, man. I think so.” I was wary of his smile.

“Well, shit. Let’s just take a walk up to that quaint little old store and see if they might have a couple of quarts we could pick up. You never know what might come up. We might have company tonight. Shit, the landlady might even come back to see us, and I know she’d just love a glass of beer.”

I laughed. “Yeah, right.”

“Come on, man!” Charlie was up and skipping down the steps. “This place is starting to get to you. You need some fun!” He jostled my shoulder and laughed. “You look like you need a drink.”

“Yeah. The landlady said I looked like I wanted to be saved. I guess it’s the same thing.” I smiled. It felt good to be laughing and joking with Charlie. Almost like the old days in Orlando. I was ready for some of those good times again. A beer was starting to sound better and better.

It was twilight by the time we got back with the three quart bottles of cheap beer, a tall Colt 45, and a little change. Charlie had picked up a couple of Snickers bars and a pack of smokes on the way out. We had the candy bars for supper and split the Colt 45. I was still nursing mine when Charlie opened the first quart. He sat down on the floor, leaned back against the couch, and took a big drink out of the bottle. An old “I Love Lucy” episode was on TV.

“Jeez, man!” I said, laughing. “Pretty heavy-duty, drinking straight out of a quart!”

“Just trying to fit in with the local scene!” He laughed and took another swig. “There’s two more in the refrigerator.” I went into the kitchen and refilled my glass from one of the quarts, putting the bottle back in the refrigerator. This shit is bad enough cold, I thought. I sure can’t drink it warm.

Another sitcom and precious little conversation later, Charlie got up, dropped his bottle in the garbage pail, and came back with the other quart. “Here man, drink up!” he said, pouring my glass full again and then looking at the beer remaining in the bottle. He stood there holding the bottle until I finally got it.

“Guess you better kill that bottle,” I said.

“Yep!” he said, and sat down heavily. He took a long drink and burped. We drank in silence as the TV blared. Suddenly Charlie lurched forward and violently twisted the volume knob ‘til the set went off in the middle of an insecticide commercial. He wheeled and headed back to the kitchen, spitting out unintelligible sounds through gritted teeth and slamming the empty bottle into the trash.

In my mind, I replayed the commercial and realized he had shut it off just before the famous closing line: ‘hunts bugs down and kills them dead!’ When Charlie came back in with the last quart and resumed his place on the floor, I said, as cheerfully as I could manage, “Ain’t shit on TV for sure!”

Charlie glared at me and I asked, “You okay, man?” trying to sound casual.

“Sure. I’m fine.” He spoke without emotion, but glared at the TV. “Stupid fucking commercials. That’s all.” He sounded fine, but his eyes were darting around the room now as he drank from the quart.

“Yeah. It’s gets harder and harder for me to even watch TV, with all these idiotic commercials.” I was still hoping a little normal conversation might be possible. Charlie didn’t answer. His breathing was uneven, and he was drinking steadily now. “You sure you’re okay, Charlie?” I asked, nervous.

He turned abruptly as if surprised by my voice and stared at me, uncomprehending, cold, like he didn’t know who I was or why I was speaking to him. He took a long slow breath and blew it out harshly, dropping his head. Suddenly he jumped up and turned out the lamp, then crouched on the floor in the corner. “What’s up, man?” I said.

“Shhhh! Listen!” he hissed. He looked like a startled deer, eyes darting around again, head tilted, frozen in the crouch. I listened. All I heard was cricket sound, and far away, the roar of a truck winding through its gears. A cold shiver went down my spine. The cabin flashed through my mind. This was starting to be too familiar.

“What, man, what?” I whispered.

“Shhhhh!” he hissed again. Slowly, he crawled to the window as I watched, terrified.

“Man. There’s nothing out there….” I was determined to stay in reality — if I knew what that was anymore. “It’s just the crickets…” He grabbed my elbow, pulling me down.

“Get down! They’ll see you! Listen! They’re out there!” He was pleading now, not demanding, and I sighed and squatted with him beneath the window. I didn’t know what to say. Then I heard voices outside and a chill of fear ran through my body. I rolled over, looking out the open front door and saw, silhouetted against the lighted porch across the street, two figures strolling down the street in animated conversation. I held my breath, watching. They walked on, their voices fading.

“It’s okay, man, just some people walking by.” I laughed weakly, relieved.

Charlie was leaning against the wall, eyes closed, sweat drenching his face, breathing heavily. I put my hand on his shoulder and he jumped, eyes popping open. “They’re out there!” he rasped. “They missed us, but they’ll be back. We’ve got to get some help in here. Stay low and quiet, I’ll call in.” He was back in order mode now, and I was feeling sick panic.

“Charlie…” I tried to sound reasonable, but only got hissed at again. I leaned against the wall, desolate, tears streaming down my face, whimpering to myself: “Not again!”

But it was the same scene. Charlie crawling from window to window talking into his imaginary radio. I even recognized the names. After several minutes, he crawled back to the corner where I sat, patted me on the shoulder and told me not to cry, that reinforcements were on the way, that they were coming for us, they wouldn’t leave us, that it would be okay.

He crawled off again, back to the window, and I began to pull myself together. I knew I had to get out of the house. I had a plan. The next time he came back to the corner, I began to play along. “Damn VC!” I hissed.

“No VC in this quadrant,” Charlie said calmly. “These bastards are Lao.”

Now anger welled up in me and I wanted to scream at him, wanted to ask him how the fuck did he know who they were, but I just swallowed and said, “Well, they’re all bastards! I hope that chopper gets here soon.”

“The chopper won’t be back ‘till tomorrow night,” he said. “The boys’ll be here soon, though.” He sounded calm now. It was starting to seem real to me. I shook my head and tried to think.

When he crawled off toward the window again, I whispered, “I’m going to check the back door – be right back!” I didn’t wait for an answer, I just crawled off as fast as I could around the couch and into the hall. I stood up and looked back, He was looking intently out the front window. I eased down the hall, through the kitchen and out the back door. As I closed the screen quietly, I heard a noise behind me and froze.

Then I remembered: Lorca was in the back yard. I turned and saw her at the bottom of the steps, wagging her tail, ready to play. I tiptoed down the steps and petted here, hoping she wouldn’t bark. I glanced back at the door and then eased across the yard to the gate, whispering to Lorca and slipping out. I moved across the side yard away from the house quickly, keeping to the shadows, and headed down the street. I was breathing hard, and tears were flowing down my cheeks as I hurried along the street. Soon I was walking along the top of the levee, no idea in mind as to where I was headed, just getting away from the house and Charlie and the madness.

The fresh breeze off the river began to clear my head. It was a dark night, the stars sharp and bright in the moonless sky. I breathed deeply and tried to relax, but every few minutes I shuddered and the tears began again.

I walked rapidly for some time and without thinking about it, ended up at the brick wall again. But this time, when I got to the wall, I didn’t even break my stride, I just stepped up on it and kept walking. I was ten paces along before the rush hit me as I realized how dangerous this was, walking rapidly along the wall with the rooftops moving by on one side and dark water slipping by on the other. My head swam from the beer and the vertiginous effect of the two views, split by the wall rushing underfoot. Adrenaline began to flow and I breathed deeply, forcing myself to keep my head up and my attention focused on the wall ahead of me, ignoring the drop on both sides.

There was nothing to do but keep walking. Certainly can’t turn around, I thought, and if I stop, I’ll never get started again. Just keep walking. One foot in front of the other, don’t think about the edge, don’t look down. Look at the wall, keep walking.

The dark grew thick around me, and the water below seemed to rise up like a wall on my right. I stared at the shadows ahead, searching for the end to this new terror. The shapeless dark ahead only disoriented me further, and I began counting my steps, concentrating on the wall and making each step, knowing that it would soon end. Finally the comforting bulk of the earthen levee began to rise up on both sides, and I began to breath easier as the vertical drop grew steadily less. At last, the wall ended and I jumped off, falling to my hands and knees, weak and trembling. As I stood up and resumed walking, tears began to roll down my cheeks.

I remember little of the levee beyond the wall or how it led to Maysville’s meager downtown. I only remember walking and walking, crying and sobbing off and on, at some point finding myself walking on sidewalks. Suddenly I realized I was mumbling, “Jesus Christ, have mercy on me a sinner.” I shook my head in disbelief. That landlady really got to me! I walked along, unable to stop the prayer repeating in my mind. Walking along with my head down, I almost walked into a large sign set in the middle of the sidewalk.

I stopped and looked at the sign, and there, swimming in front of me in little white plastic letters on a black background, lit by a little florescent bulb, were these words: “Man does not become a Christian on his own terms, only on God’s terms.”

I read the words over and over, slowly absorbing their meaning in my emotion-saturated brain. I saw that just to my right was a large church, its four stone steps leading from the sidewalk up to a little foyer and two large, arched wooden doors with wrought iron hinges. I looked from the words to the church and back several times, my head pounding, the words filling my consciousness. All the emotion of the past two days welled up in me like a great fog, and I was filled with an aching for refuge, a longing to throw myself into the arms of Jesus.

I stumbled up the steps and into the arched opening, grabbed one of the large handles and pulled – but nothing happened. The door was locked. I pounded on the door and threw my body against it, crying out, but the door was as solid and unyielding as the stone before the tomb.

I crumpled to the floor crying, the Jesus prayer again on my lips, repeating over and over, “Jesus Christ, have mercy on me a sinner….”