“Religion is the most powerful entity on earth. A phenomenon that has conscripted millions to give or sacrifice their lives without so much as a minuscule query about their chosen beliefs or particular ideology. And today thousands of years on despite the huge advent, discovery and the advance of science forensic or otherwise, millions are still prepared and equipped to fall or kill in the name of their God, their Holy Scriptures, their messengers, their prophets and their faith’.”
― Cal Sarwar
I know. I was supposed to finish this story last week. I really, really meant to, but as it turned out, the safe way for me to do this was to bring the memories to the surface a little at a time. So, I guess this is how I’m going to have to put the whole thing together without it tearing me apart.
The Great Geographic Cure
My story started here, and when we left off, I’d just met a friend of my boyfriend. The boyfriend who had begged me to leave a job waiting tables at the most popular tourist trap in town, The Glacier Brewhouse. It was Anchorage’s first brew pub. We made our beer on-site. I was part of the original crew, with my pick of dinner shifts, making more in tips than I make even now. And I was happy. But I never could tell that boy no; I didn’t know how not to come when I was called. I was horribly co-dependent, and being needed was my drug of choice. So I left my downtown parking spot and my crew and familiarity and comfort and I boarded a little plane to nowhere.
I had enough money saved up to rent a tiny house the locals call The Little Yellow MTNT House, but that was about as far as my money was going to go. So, I did what most people would do. I got a job. Or two.
Top to bottom: 1. Good eats from Glacier Brewhouse. 2. Downtown Anchorage (5th Avenue and H Street, to be exact). 3. Aerial view of the village of McGrath. 4. The McGrath Airport (Off to the right is the landing strip. Just inside is PenAir. To the left is the Cafe, where I worked the breakfast/lunch shift, 6 am-2pm; and to the left of that, McGuire’s Tavern, where I bartended 5 pm to 5 am. Sometimes the bar would be empty until 9 or 10 and I’d nap. Whoever came in would just poke me on the shoulder and order. They value naps in McGrath.
Wait. Let Me Back Up a Little
My boyfriend, Doug, had moved to the village because his sister’s family lived there, and because he couldn’t stop relapsing on crack and breaking into his parent’s store and busting open their safe and stealing all of their money. To complicate the problem, he had recently been diagnosed with Type I diabetes at 25, which is all but unheard of, and he was prone to going off on runners without his insulin and ending up in the ICU three days later with blood sugar in the 700s. Doug was part feline. He had to be, because he lived through things no one lives through, and he had that record on replay.
I’d been sober from booze and pot for about a year when I flew up, and Doug told me he was sober, too. I think it was during the same conversation he told me he had a job.
I am an awesome judge of character.
It didn’t take me long to realize that McGrath’s definition of sober was a little less strict than the one I was used to. I was met at the airstrip with a hug, a peck on the lips, and a hit of the stinkiest weed I’d smelled in years. In that moment, I rejected the weed. But my resolve didn’t last long.
Tom and Sara
Okay. Now we’re back where we started.
The first thing Doug wanted to do was introduce me to this amazing couple who had befriended him. Now, I know I’ve aired all of his dirty laundry here, but you need to know that Doug was adorable. And he could SING. Oh my GOD could he sing. He was this tall, skinny white guy who got asked to open for R&B concerts with Marvin Gaye and Otis Redding covers, which he performed to standing ovations.
Dude could work a crowd. And I was just an itty, bitty infinitesimal piece of a crowd. I was easy to work. So when he got all animated about this couple I was headed to meet, I had my guard down. I trusted him, even though I don’t remember him ever giving me a single reason to trust him. He was charisma in high gear. He could charm the skin off a snake. I’d never met anyone he couldn’t run a scam on — knowledge I gained along the way, after I was already done in — but here, in this place he went for healing, Doug had met his match.
They stood in the doorway, Tom and Sara. He was a slight man around 40, with wild eyes and the speech to match, and he hugged me right off the bat as he ranted about God’s plan, and God’s will, and his own plans and aspirations. He wanted to start a ‘church’. He’d been chosen. He was gathering his flock. And so on…
She stood in his shadow — all 4 feet 10 inches and 80 pounds of her. She was all of maybe 19, but looked younger, and she cradled in her arms the dirtiest baby I’d ever seen in my life. He clearly needed his diaper tended to, and the little shack reeked as only a place with no water and no windows can.
Tom patted Doug on the back and praised his good works, and told me about the extraordinary growing he’d done in such a short time.
He told me that Doug was to be his second in command in the Lord’s army. When he’d left Anchorage, Doug had left as an atheist.
Things change, I guess.
So, Tom preached. On, and on, and on. And I watched my boyfriend’s gaze, transfixed and adoring, as he worshiped this shaggy-haired, crazy-eyed, psychopath.
He didn’t stop for almost two hours.
His wife never spoke. She never raised her eyes to mine.
The baby never made a sound.
To be continued