Rune Rofke - Glenn Emery
All day I was on edge. On one hand I couldn’t wait for this charade to be over. On the other hand, I dreaded the outcome. I kept telling myself that this wouldn’t be like the vicious and instant rejection I had always experienced from Christians. These people knew me. We had become friends. We liked each other, and I had made clear I wanted to stay with them.
At Pete’s house everyone was festive and upbeat. They were eager to hear my story, and then we’d get on with the celebration. Outwardly I smiled and chatted amiably, but there was a crushing heaviness in my heart that only became more unbearable with each passing minute. The unfailing good cheer around me made me cling to a tiny shred of hope that the evening would turn out all right. All my instincts said otherwise.
The reason was obvious: I had deceived them. That was all that mattered. That was the headline. No need to read any further. They would not care or be able to relate to my reasons for wishing to keep my identity hidden up until now. That was beside the point. I had not told them the whole truth, I had withheld vital information about myself, and that fact trumped and negated everything else. And they were absolutely right. My fate was sealed.
For the past 24 hours I had been reflecting heavily on Jesus. Not to be melodramatic, but there were a lot of parallels, I felt, between his situation and mine. On some simplistic level, I believed I had experienced some of the same things he did. It went without saying that it was probably going to have the same ending. Symbolically, of course.
I kept coming back to two fundamental issues: the Unification Church and the Divine Principle. In my mind these were two distinct and separate things. To everyone else they were one in the same. I kept thinking: What if I had never heard of or met or joined the Unification Church, that I never had any association with it or with Reverend Moon, knew absolutely nothing about them? And what if I knew Divine Principle? I saw no contradiction in those two suppositions. I could have this knowledge in my head and not be part of any organization. If the organization was keeping people from hearing the truth, why not remove the organization from the equation and let the truth be judged on its own merits, rather than guilt by association. To me this made eminent sense. I had come to Athens to teach Divine Principle, not to try to sell anyone on the Unification Church.
So even though my mission was about to go down in flames, I took some solace in the fact that over the past several weeks I had indeed been able to teach some of these folks a great deal of the Divine Principle, at least many of the most important, fundamental points. And I took further solace in the fact that the things I had said -- had taught them -- were not rejected as blasphemy or heresy. They had listened to parts of the Divine Principle and been able to consider it by itself, without being hung up about what it was called or who was behind it. It was the free exchange of ideas on a purely intellectual level without bias or negative emotions getting in the way.
Perhaps I was rationalizing my behavior. But the simple fact was it could not have happened any other way. Not with this particular group of people.
Despite the good-natured fuss over me, I ate my dinner in relative silence, and afterward borrowed Boo’s 12-string Ovation to play a couple songs. One I wrote during my stay in Athens. The other I learned from them, called “Prepared Ye the Way.” Not only was it a fitting sentiment to my sojourn here, but it was a beautiful melody as well and I had practiced it many times and could sing it very well. It was probably the most visible and respectful way I could show them I had joined them, if they would have me. Looks of approval came from around the room. Finally I put down the guitar. All eyes were on me.
“I’m a member of the Unification Church, a follower of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon.”
I didn’t get much further than that. It was over.
Desiree was the first to fly out of the room, a blurry, teary streak. Kevin was right behind her to provide the much-needed shoulder to cry on. I supposed he owed me some thanks, though I doubted I’d ever get it.
Everyone else was stunned. In just 15 words, I had lost them completely. I spoke for a few minutes, thanked them for everything, apologized for the deception, tried to explain how there really hadn’t been any other way for them to get to know me or vice versa, and repeated my heartfelt desire to remain part of their community, if they still wanted me now that they knew everything.
You’d have thought I had taken a shit and was eating it. The revulsion was instantaneous and absolute.
I was sort of hoping for an answer immediately, one way or the other, but I guess that wasn’t realistic. They needed some time to discuss it. Martin was the first and only one to speak. He said he would try to convene an emergency meeting of the congregation the next day at the church, and they would decide then whether they would still accept me or not. I wasn’t hopeful. I asked if I could be there, to make my case in person. He said no.
I glanced at Pete, but he just shrugged. It was like he was saying, “Sorry, buddy. It’s out of my hands.”
Of all the people there, only Boo came up to me afterward. She hugged me and thanked me. She asked me if she could walk with me. I said sure. We walked back to my little house, which was mine for one more day. Thank God Phil was gone or I’d be heading back to Indianapolis tonight.
I told Boo I felt very embarrassed about how it had turned out. I felt like a bad and terrible person for not telling the truth, even though I knew the truth would end my relationship with them. I was very depressed. I told her how much I loved it here with them, that I wanted to live in Athens and start my life over, that I didn’t want to go back to the Unification Church in Indianapolis. But I also knew things few other people knew, and I couldn’t erase that from my head just to make everyone happy. If they accepted me, it would have to be me for who I was, not who they wished me to be. Boo was so sweet to me. She was the only one who didn’t judge me. She alone accepted me for who I was.
The next day I walked out to Strouds Run. This was the park with the lake I had been dropped off at on my first day in Athens, the place where I started walking into town and found 54 cents along the way. It seemed like a lifetime ago. I didn’t look for any loose change this time, even though my eyes barely looked up from the ground. My mind was somewhere else. It was in the church. I knew they were deciding my fate, but already I knew what the outcome would be. This would be my last full day in Athens.
I had been out here a couple times in recent weeks with Desiree and her friends, hiking the trails and having picnics, playing softball, throwing Frisbees. It was the carefree and happy life I was about to leave behind. I guess I wanted to say goodbye.
I sat on the dam and watched the water. I tried to clear my mind, but something strange was happening. All the bad and awful things I had feared they would say about me were being said. I could feel it. It felt like big fat nails being driven into my flesh. It hurt so bad and there was nothing I could do. I just sat there and cried and asked God to forgive me for fucking it up so badly. I never meant for this to happen. I loved them. I truly, truly did. I tried to show them every way I could at every opportunity. But it wasn’t enough. My deceit had spoiled everything and they would never forgive me for it.
I stayed out there all day, and when the sun started to go down, I walked back into town. I had already mailed my books back to Indianapolis. I had washed all the clothes I had worn and folded them and put them back exactly where they had been. I cleaned the work boots I had worn and placed them by the bed where I had found them. I swept and cleaned the whole house and put everything back the way it had been the day I arrived. I removed all the uneaten food from the fridge and threw it away and took out the trash. Even the box of Bisquick was empty. I packed my little book bag with my harps and few articles of clothing. When I left in the morning, there would be no sign I had been here.
I did not expect any good news, so I saw no reason to stick around the next morning. I was just about to leave when Desiree and Kevin came to the front door. Seeing her face broke my heart. I had hurt her so badly. It was obvious she had been crying all night. Her eyes were puffy, and she had scrubbed her face to try to get the last bit of me out of her pores. For the first time since I had known her, she was wearing makeup to cover up the pain.
I invited them in and we sat in the living room. She was wearing a forced, exaggerated smile. Clearly she wanted me to know that Jesus was the love of her life and had comforted her through the night. I didn’t buy it for a second, but I was not about to hurt her further by denying her this one little shred of salvation. So I told her I was glad.
I also told her I was sorry. I said I knew this would happen and I had tried to prepare her the other night. She brushed it aside. All was well. She had Jesus.
I wanted to kill myself. I just couldn’t believe how a platonic relationship like ours, so brief and nonphysical, could tear her up so badly. I would have done anything at that moment to take it all away. But I knew what had caused it. It was the forbidden fruit. The more I had pushed her away, the more she had wanted me. That formed a powerful bond that caused excruciating pain when broken. The knowledge of it just tortured me.
I recalled all the mornings she had left notes in my mailbox with the little hearts and sweet words. She had invested so much in our relationship. As much as I had tried to protect her from this moment, she had taken it harder than even I had imagined. She’d never know how much I loved her.
Kevin, however, was eager to reveal himself as the dickhead I always suspected he was. He was thrilled by this sudden turn of events. For him it was the best possible outcome. He couldn’t wait to tell me the bad news.
“We have decided that you may stay in Athens.”
“But…” I said. I knew Kevin was an asshole attached to a “but.”
“But you have to wear a sign around your neck identifying yourself as a Moonie.” He grinned from ear to ear. He was so happy. This was absolutely the fairest resolution, as far as he was concerned. I could stay, but in a way that ensured no one else would ever be deceived by me.
“You know,” I said, “in Nazi Germany the Jews were required to wear the Star of David so that everyone would know who they were. You don’t see a parallel in what you’re proposing?”
“Of course not. Totally different.”
“I see. Then you’ll wear signs too when you go witnessing around campus, identifying yourselves as charismatic renewal, is that correct?”
“No, we don’t need to. We don’t deceive anyone.”
“Sure you do. You don’t tell people everything. You wait for the right moment. Same as me.”
“No it’s not. Listen, Kevin. When I'm gone, I want you to meditate on what I'm about to tell you. I didn’t have to say anything about who I was. I could have crept away silently and nobody would have been any the wiser. But I didn’t want to. I’m proud of who I am. I want everybody to know who they’re dealing with. I am not afraid. And I owed it to you and to everyone else before I left. I came clean as I had wanted to do from the very beginning, and if I hadn’t been certain of how that news would be received, I would have done it immediately. I will accept the consequences of my actions. God knows what was in my heart every single moment of every single day I was here in Athens. I did what I felt was right and I did it as God guided me. You have no idea what this was like for me. It was sheer agony. But now it’s over and my conscience is clear. I’m sorry it didn’t work out. I truly, deeply loved you all.”
I turned to Desiree. “And you most of all.”
Kevin hadn’t heard a word I said. He just stood up. “I guess we won’t being seeing you again.”
He and Desiree left. I waited until they were out of sight. I pulled the door closed and dropped the key in the mailbox. I slung my bag over my shoulder and began walking toward the highway.