About 7-1/2 years old. I’m on the right, holding two snakes. This is on Burnt Island, on the Canada/USA (Minnesota) border, in the Lake of the Woods. Those fish tasted mighty good around the fire on those cold Summer days, better than snakes, which, fried up, taste just like chicken!
The purpose of this second installment of bits and pieces from my autobiography (1) is to demonstrate how it is that just because bad things happen to people, it doesn’t mean that they have to be controlled by those bad things, and doesn’t mean that they are “damaged goods” (as they horrifically say in Queen’s English), necessarily turning into what they have experienced; and (2) it is to show any doubters, any atheists, any string pullers and manipulators, anyone involved in social engineering because they themselves are in despair because they in fact did become “damaged goods” as it were, that God is in charge, and will lead the way to heaven for those willing to go to heaven, so that they can leave the “damaged goods” bit behind. As with the other posts in this short series, this is all aimed especially at some people who should know better, for their conversion, as was mentioned in Flores for the Immaculate Conception (utterly inappropriate edition). So, let’s move on to some preliminary comments, and then jump right into the attempted murder and rape, and then the revelation from the angels. Like my vocation, these things have nothing whatsoever to do with me.
Just to say: however knocked about I have been in my life, however stupid I have been, I have never lost sight of the greatness to which each individual of whatever age or circumstance is called. Each child bears within himself, within herself, an entire universe of wonder and greatness, and more, so much more, needing to be filled to bursting with the indwelling of the Most Holy Trinity, being able to rejoice in all humble thanksgiving in the enthusiastic friendship of Jesus with them.
Just to insist: children are bearers of the weight of the glory of God, called to love with God’s love, with that love I first knew consciously at 28 months old when I received my vocation to the priesthood (see the previous post in this series: (1) Father Byers’ vocation: 28 months old). It is this love – greater than all the heavens and earth, a sovereign, personal love – which gave me hope, which gives me hope, for myself, for others. God is so good and so kind, however much people can otherwise be just so very evil. It is such a crime to shatter innocence…
I say that about my friend, whose innocence had been ever so violently shattered, perhaps by his own brothers, his own father. The Lord does permit real evil to happen to us, though only so as to draw an incomparably much greater good out of the evil, all for our benefit and that of others. But I find it amazing that my innocence had not been shattered then, even as this friend later tried to murder and rape me. This wasn’t a coping mechanism which the angels brought to me. It was, instead, simply an active recognition of their presence. Love cuts through the mind-games of evil.
So, here we are, in media res of a friendship of a couple of years. In that time I came to know very quickly that there was something tangibly scary about his brothers and father. I had never even met them, nor his mother, no one from his family, besides him, ever. But I was warned again and again only to come there when they weren’t around. This friend of mine was always on the lookout for their arrival, and would grab me frantically, telling me to run with any noise he heard, his eyes filled with fear, his very self shaking with fear. I was scared, but I didn’t want to abandon him. Friends don’t abandon friends, do they? This was all so foreign to me, but I stuck with him.
We were the same age, though I don’t ever remember seeing him at any school. I asked him about that once but he just mumbled something incoherent and I thought I had better leave it alone. At any rate, whenever we would go on an expedition to look for innocent trouble, so to speak, climbing the steep banks of the Mississippi or investigating construction zones or rummaging through airport hangers, he would erratically run away. Perhaps he was afraid of being punished for making trouble. Perhaps he was afraid of real friendship.
He once stole my little Schwinn Sting-Ray – perhaps to run away from home – but then he returned it two weeks later, letting it drop on the driveway in a heap in front of me, under his feet, almost as a kind of challenge, looking at me defiantly. He insisted with a strained, high-pitched and loud voice that he wanted to go to our basement. “Basement…” thought I to myself. I hesitated, noting a sort of madness in his eyes, a madness I didn’t give much heed, however, since I wanted him to see I was looking indignantly at the condition of the bicycle. He ignored this, as if nothing material in this world had any relevance to anything. He was incredulous that I would waste time on the bicycle. Odd for a 7-year old, thought I, 7-year old that I was. He was hardly able to contain himself, glaring right into my soul, almost shrieking that we had to go to the basement… now! This scared me. I was hesitant.
But, O.K., I told him to follow me, never having had experience with such behavior. He had never been inside my house, much less the basement. It was our custom to make trouble outside, after all. I must say that I didn’t trust him in the least at that moment. My adrenaline levels were maxing out as I led him down the steps, trying to think of how I would flip him if he should jump me, trying to knock me down the rest of the way. I pointed to the small chest of toys that I myself hadn’t looked at for a number of years, to make fun of it, but he didn’t even look in that direction. He was scanning the room for something else.
I opened the cover to the keyboard of the small upright piano we had, explaining that some of the keys didn’t work. He slammed the cover back down shaking his head in disbelief at my lack of comprehension. He was mumbling something, but I couldn’t understand. He was wild-eyed. As he scanned the room again, I had a sinking feeling that something very bad, very evil was about to take place that very instant. I tried to ignore this, stupidly, opening the cover to the piano once again to see if there was any damage. That’s when I saw, out of the corner of my eye, that he was reaching out to the light-switch (what he had been looking for) with one hand, even while taking a switchblade out of his pocket with the other, flipping it open, lunging for me at the same time, wildly swiping with the blade this way and that.
Thank God there was a tiny window high up in the adjoining laundry room, which let in just enough light to enable me to evade his slashing. What kind of life did he live that I didn’t know about that he was already so handy with a switchblade? thought I. Although I would often fight with my older brother (though only once sending him away in tears), this was something altogether different. If I ran, I would get stabbed in the back. That was certain. Going into battle was the only way. But I didn’t know how to jump into this fray without getting killed.
As he lifted the knife to his shoulder so as to plunge the blade into my chest, with both hands I somehow grabbed his knife hand, and immediately commenced smashing the back of his hand which still clenched the knife against the metal corner of the chest freezer we had next to the piano. This went on for some minutes and I was using up all my strength. He would switch from hitting me with his free hand to using both hands on his knife so as to try to stab me. He had an iron grip on the knife, the point of which, incredibly, he turned in on my forearms even as I continued to smash his knife hand against the corner of the freezer. I thought I was a dead man, that I was going to die right then and there in a pool of blood, and was asking God and the angels for help. Had I let up for one second, even he wouldn’t have been able to stop the knife going through my heart and out the back of my chest so great was the strain. I couldn’t believe I was holding my own, but I was dismayed that he didn’t seem to be tiring at all. Although I had to keep on fighting, this was secondary compared to — how to say it? — an evident awareness of the encouragement of my guardian angel. And I was encouraged that I would not die, that my angel was making sure of at least that.
At one moment, when he was punching me with his free hand, with me seeing stars, he dropped the knife on top of the freezer with the other. I must have fractured quite a few of the bones of his hand on the corner of the freezer by this time. I managed to push the knife behind the freezer, but that made him go into an absolute frenzy of hitting and punching, at least with his one good hand.
This wasn’t about wanting a sparring partner. I did that with my next-door neighbor to learn techniques. I’ll say it plainly: in the midst of this, he tried to rip my jeans off. At first, I thought he was after the few coins any seven-year old might have in his pockets. But then I was utterly stunned. This fight was not in the least about fighting, though I think he would have repeatedly stabbed me, right to death, if he had had the chance. This was, instead, about something that, at that time, I could not understand.
I was completely flummoxed. I listened, but I could not believe my ears. He was begging me again and again – with such a hellishly despairing desperation in his voice – begging me, half mumbling, half shouting, half shrieking, half crying out for help, begging me to hit him even as he continued to flail away with incredibly powerful punches. I mean, I thought I was holding my own pretty well, though I was stunned into hesitation not because of the violence, but because of this beastly spirit inside of this, this… 7-year old. What in the world had happened to him? Who was this? Despite all my naïveté, I understood that this was about the trauma that was happening to him at home, that he was somehow having me role-play himself while he played the part of, I don’t know, his brothers and/or father. This was crystal clear to me, at 7 years old. He was a predator in the making, right then, right there, at 7 years old.
And yet, he realized this as well, and hated it. He was fighting for his own life, flailing away in trying to get my attention as he was doing so. He was trying to let me know that this was his last-ditch effort to be understood. He was at the end of his life right then, right there. He knew it. He was screaming for help. Screaming. For help. He could not go on anymore, not like this.
In all of this – however filled with adrenaline I was, however stressed all my muscles, however turbulent my emotions, however many stars I saw under the continuous rain of blows – I continued to be immediately aware that my guardian angel was going to get me through this, that I wouldn’t die right then and there, that I needed only to persevere in the fight. The Lord let the horror take its course even while preparing to draw such good out of such evil.
Since the knife was now out of reach, I tried to back off and run up the stairs, which took another few minutes, during which escape, he tried to rape me – a 7-year old trying ever so violently to rape another 7-year old mind you – though he had never succeeded in pulling my jeans off nor did he ever lower his own trousers. This wasn’t about sex. Of course not. It was about him trying to figure out what happened to him at his own house. This was about his having been violently raped for the umpteen zillionth time surely just minutes before coming over to my house. Though a predator in the making in this way, it seems to me that he was wanting to know if goodness and kindness was possible in this life, if mercy was possible, if hope was real, testing someone he trusted to know the answer, showing his worst to see what would happen. We’ve all done that, by the way, crucifying Jesus with original sin, with our own sin. Should you doubt that hope is what he was really looking for in all this mayhem, just keep reading. Meanwhile, I escaped.
I waited at the top of the stairs for him, utterly exhausted, not a little upset at such an experience, regardless of any feeling of security I had coming from my guardian angel. I was in pain with so many punches to my head. Some minutes went by. I was afraid for him. I was angry for him. What happened to him at home? But, all the same, he was the way he was, and I didn’t want to let him find his knife, but there was no way I was going down the steps again. My only objective now was to coax him outside of the house. I was on edge in anticipation of his coming up from the basement, but this time I had no fear. I had survived and knew I could do it again. He, of course, was trying to face what he had just done, terribly bewildered I’m sure. And I knew that. Eventually, he emerged from the darkness, asking, incredibly, to take the bike again as I ushered him to the outside.
His question about taking the bicycle angered me for some seconds and I let him know about it, asking him if he remembered what he had just done. But then, as we got outside… it happened… a terrifying-in-a-good-way rush of understanding, an enlivening dread terror before the magnificent, awesome, crushing weight of the glory of its truth, ripping me up into heaven even while shoving my face into the reality of man’s horrific situation before God all the more violently, a new kind of extreme sport for me. It was not a brightness. Yet, it was. The only way I can describe this glory is by praising the agility this truth had in letting itself be carried in all charity right into the midst of the hell I now saw. The living truth is powerful. It cannot be lessened, cannot be weakened. My guardian angel, it seems, was enlightening me about how he saw things.
The turmoil of the past few minutes was nothing compared to what I now beheld in front of me. Looking at this friend of mine, into his eyes… oh my… I can see them now, absolutely wide open, and him, sitting on the bike… disheveled, bleeding a bit, holding on to the handlebars of the bike with but one hand, holding the other hand, badly injured, in front of his chest that was heaving with hoarse, deep breathing, silent tears screaming with emotion streaming down his face, his whole body shaking quite violently, he being scared out of his mind at the hell he was facing in his life and the inadequacy of his own reaction to that hell, literally cringing away from himself as he sat there. He was suffering all of hell’s minions attacking whatever hope he had left. I hadn’t noticed his face so very much when he had arrived, being more interested, as I said, in the condition of my bike, which now I could not care less about, the same attitude he had when he had first arrived. Looking at him now just as intently as he was looking at me, I realized that I was afraid for his life as much as he was.
His words about riding the bike, with his one remaining good hand, into the front of a speeding eighteen wheel truck just one street over as soon as he left me added nothing to what I could already see of his spirit. He was utterly shaken – a mere shell of a little boy – at a loss now as to how to keep any shred of conscience he still might possess, at a loss of how not to take his own life. And he was looking pleadingly into my eyes.
My sudden understanding in such horrific circumstances did not come from a been there, done that, condescending projection of self as is always hailed by psychologies of the lowest-common-denominator of self-referential stupidity. Instead, I understood because, then and there, I was drawn to put all this before the love of God that I had already known for years. God always uses our experiences – and I also had suffered some bad things – but what God uses is not anything that we suffer, but the hope we have gained in being brought into His love and mercy, perhaps also in conditions of suffering. He has us put others before that love and mercy, before that hope, not before our own ineptitude. This friend of mine knew all of my idiocy, and could not have cared less about that. He saw something else in me that he was trying to get to understand. The living hope which guides us is not distant, not cold, not ideological, not a mind game, not a coping mechanism, but is ever so personal, so… true, so… alive... It is a friendship with God that cannot but be manifested at such times despite ourselves. God wins out. Every time. If we are at all with Him.
We ended up in a long, but halting discussion, full of awkward silences, about family life and encouragement. The silences seemed so graceless precisely because they were filled with grace, leading, as they did, to honest, if only half completed remarks, which were cut off by his heart almost visibly being jammed hard into his throat with such a roller coaster of emotions.
It was one of the single most painful conversations I have had in my life, truly excruciating, because every word of understanding and advice that I was offering was coming to me for the first time, second by second, and not from me. I was very conscious of my inadequacy on the one hand, but had a very strong realization that my guardian angel was helping me on the other hand. The urgency of my listening to my guardian angel was wearing me out, even as my emotions and my brain were working way, way overtime. There was a life and death urgency and, of course, I myself had come literally within inches of having been stabbed to death, and raped. And I was physically exhausted.
But God is good. He made the conversation a success. My friend (and I still thought of him that way) didn’t want it to stop. He was changed by the time he left. Much calmer. Overwhelmed. He got what he was looking for. Hope. The problem was that he was headed straight back into hell. But he had a temporary reprieve. I only wish we had had the discussion firstly, skipping all the rest, but that’s rarely how things work. It is what it is.
Friends are not so easily offended when they can distinguish between being dissed as opposed to someone crying out for help, for life itself. We stayed friends, of sorts, in that seventh year of my life. And, as far as I know, he didn’t ride himself into a speeding truck, not that day.
There was nothing at all heroic on my part about any of this.If the Lord wanted to use me, that was up to Him. I had no say in the matter. And this gives one a certain freedom. I imagine that this is what makes martyrdom possible. It has nothing at all to do with our strength; everything is from the Lord, while the angels rejoice as they witness love that is stronger than death, a good introduction to heaven. This love is made clear with the forgiveness that the martyr holds out for the taking. It’s all about humble thanksgiving. Any of us could be in anyone else’s circumstances. There, but for circumstances and the grace of God go any of us. Anyone holding himself out to be better than others lies to God, to others and to himself, and is a danger to himself and others, giving himself a licence to kill or whatever else that is not new under the sun. I saw how much the Lord loves each of us.
My friend had gone back home, and, I’m sure, was subjected to more hell. Not good. And then it seemed like he disappeared from the face of the earth. I had asked some friends about him now and again, but they only repeated with much darkness and much fear that something unspeakable had happened in his house. None of them would ever say what it was. I don’t know to this day. Just the question would make them wide-eyed, frightened. Poor kid. I have to wonder if he had killed one or more members of his family. I had been thinking that if he wasn’t killed by his own family, or if he didn’t kill himself, he might have been snuffed out in a porno film. I don’t know, but as I myself was to find out, there was much of that going on in town, indeed, in that end of town, my end of town. But that’s for another article to follow in this series where you can read about how I myself became a kiddie-porno star at 12-13 years of age.
Think of this series of articles like moves in some sort of surreal chess game, but this isn’t a game, and it’s not surreal, though it may seem so at first to those who are playing opposite. They have lost the plot; they have destroyed souls; they; think that they themselves are irredeemably lost because of that, and so wreck havoc the way they always have, continuing to jack up the stakes to make it all the more interesting for themselves, holding the Church to ransom. They won’t stop at anything in what has developed into a lust for power, merely a game of pulling strings and watching the pieces move, but allowing themselves to be manipulated ever so very easily. They need to know that their victims might still have hope just as my friend was provided with hope seemingly impossibly in the midst of his living hell. They need to know that God, the Lord of History, gets His way, and that they can have hope in repentance before the Immaculate Conception’s Divine Son will indeed come to judge the living and the dead and the world by fire. Amen.