The next few weeks and months were a complete nightmare or at least that’s how I overdramatized them to myself. Feeling like I had failed at everything in my life and not ready to face up to it, I started to lose my sense of identity. For the first and only time in my life, I grew out my hair and started shaving less regularly. I started to gain weight; having thrown away 600 plus days of running, I was running two or three times a week if at all. I also got into emotional eating, enjoying oreos and too many things just to get through the day or night. My sleep schedule was sporadic at best and inexplicably I would wake up in tears or frightened from a nightmare I could not remember. My days of waking up in a good more were suddenly suspended.
The practices for A Midsummer Night’s Dream were the highlight of my life at that point. I don’t know whether it was ironic or appropriate that pretending to be someone else was when I felt the most at ease in my life. I had always been part of dramatic endeavors throughout high school and college but they were mostly an amusement. I started putting together these dinner parties that were murder mysteries that were fun but were also pretending to follow a character. I was pretending every chance I could get because pretending was now therapy.
Speaking of therapy, I went to it but and while it started well, it became one of the most dishonest things in my life. I had grown unreasonably mistrustful of almost everything and believed that the therapist was somehow going to report what we did in therapy to the school since he was employed by them. I therefore feared being forthright and also thought that perhaps if I could paint myself as better to him that maybe there would be a path back to all that had faded so fast. He never did either and merely reported whether or not I had shown up to our weekly appointments.
Shannon would not move back in for a while and during that time I was still regularly in contact with Natalie. There were times we even met late at night to see each other; we would pretend like it was to talk in person but there was rarely any talking. This was due to many factors but one of them was that I wasn’t sure how much I blamed her for my problems. She was proposing that we wait this out and that we then start a life with each other; she had a ten point plan that sounded incredibly attractive. I thought about it constantly and I didn’t pursue it as much because of the history I had with Shannon as the fact that it would almost certainly make sure that my career in the ministry wouldn’t be resurrected. A number of people were concerned with this; it bothered Shannon to no end that at times it seemed more were concerned with that than with the fixing of our marriage. There were days if you’d asked which one of those two I would pick if it excluded the other I wouldn’t have had a good answer. There were plenty of days I might have said both but just as many where I would have said neither.
I continued to try to connect with God, trying to listen for a direction, for some validation, for some hope or some measure of grace. While in retrospect I imagine there were things that I could have interpreted as such, at the time, I actively missed them. Joseph Charles, one of the theology majors, would come by and take me running, probably being responsible for about 80% of my runs during that time. Sal Garcia, another theology major would come by and just talk, carefully if not consciously avoiding anything heavy. Myron Widmer, one of the theology professors, said that he didn’t know what happened nor was it any of his business but that I should know there was a friend there. Julia and Orlando regularly checked on me. But where I focused was that by and large, lots of the psychology majors and professors were the people who were most prominently there. Professors like Dr. Fulton and Dr. Schneider were consistently there to lend an ear. Students like Winter, Christi, Rose were always lending smiles and were the few friends who kept coming over as if nothing had happened. Perhaps because I was uncomfortable with how I had failed my faith, the vast majority of people I was talking to at the time were people whose faith was not a significant part of their life.
But I was severely off balance and therefore rigorously not focusing on kindness. The gossip around campus was heavy with it almost all being focused on me. Shannon was amused once when while waiting for me in a campus lobby, a couple of students passed by and said hey wasn’t that guy the theology major who was suspended for having threesomes while sitting on a couch across from her. The academic dean scheduled a meeting with me to encourage me to not march because I was an embarrassment to the school and making sure to point out that the discipline committee had gotten it wrong and should have expelled me. The chair of the honor department, now a college president, was working hard at trying to convince the honors committee that I should not be allowed to graduate with honors. The professor of the theology senior seminar, now the chair, was bothered by how angry I was coming across in class and spoke to Greg King about how maybe it would be best if I took this class independent study to be less of a bad influence on the rest of the theology majors. What I missed then was that none of those things had happened! I was incredibly angry because there were people who had wanted harsher things but I overlooked the fact that none of those things prevailed.
That anger kept taking me to darker places where I was sometimes yelling at Natalie, other times at Shannon, other times at God, and not nearly often enough at myself. I am not sure which was the cause and which was the effect but in a vicious cycle, the theology department, both faculty and students, withdrew themselves from me and most of my friends became people who had little to no use for religion. I kept complaining to anyone who would hear about how we talked about grace until people actually needed it, not cluing in on just how much I had received. Dr. Paulson, the dean of the school, gave me the sagest advice that I would receive then but I would see it as nonsense at the time. She let me know that I was talking way too much and that maybe I should realize that through this time silence was a better route. She said “less is more” but I interpreted it only as one more person who was just trying to get me to sit down and shut up.
I got a new job then through somewhere that Natalie recommended me. It was a group home working with juvenile delinquents trying to straighten them out for the real world. The place was called appropriately enough New Horizons. The job they offered me was 8 hours on Friday evens and 15 hours on all day Saturday. This effectively meant that I was working the entire time I was conscious on the Sabbath thus ending my church attendance. This was a mixed bag because it allowed me to get some distance from it but it also let me think that I was fine if not actually better without church and God. I started to realize or at least imagine that I was far more like those juvenile delinquents than I was like the people at PUC. I was a minority, raised in poverty who had never been part of the main crowd; I was not like those privileged middle class kids who I’d been attending school with for so long. I decided to become a victim of my own life and interpret these events as not that big of a deal. It was just these conservative, republican up tight puritans who just had such a narrow world view who couldn’t handle it. When we have a hard time living with what we did, its amazing how many of us want to blame anyone but ourselves.
Natalie also needed an escape pod. She had always had an obsession with the biblical character David, making comments about his story and loving pieces of art dedicated to him. She started hanging out with a guy who she eventually began to date who was named David of all things. When the relationship was still relatively new and she and I were still meeting and not talking, she confided many things about him to me. She was disappointed if not angry that I wasn’t more jealous but at that point I was so emotionally exhausted I could have barely managed it if I’d tried. This, thankfully, led her to draw closer to him and away from me. He, never having met me, only had a limited perspective but as our conversations started to dwindle away she seemed to be painting a picture that I was a manipulative jerk and he was reinforcing it in his pursuit of her in a cycle that reinforced their connection.
There was even a time where I was talking with Natalie on the phone where I couldn’t figure out why she was vehemently denying some less than flattering things she’d said about him until I realized he was listening in. While we haven’t had contact since then, I understand she eventually married him and they are doing well together.
As I felt more and more alone during this time, my prayers eventually all but ceased and my care about these things then started to fade. God, his department and his church had failed me when I needed them most and those people who were most disconnected from those ideas had been there the most.