Rune Rofke - Glenn Emery
I’ve been in Athens for five days. It’s not going well. I was almost struck by lightning. I barely escaped being raped by a sex-crazed older woman and then being shot to death by a mean-assed redneck. And my best friend in town is an extremely disturbed refugee from The Ridges, the mental hospital across the river.
Right now it’s early evening and I’m in the Baker Center at Ohio University in a small lounge watching “The Great Santini” on TV with a handful of students. I don’t like this movie. I don’t know why. It pisses me off. I wish I were somewhere else, but I don’t know where, so I stay.
Truth is I don’t know where to go or what to do. I’ve been all over town and can’t seem to find where I belong. So I’m sitting here watching the great Duvall and feeling very lonely and depressed and very, very hungry. I need to meet someone I can talk to on a deep level. I’m losing energy from not having any meaningful give-and-take with anyone. I know this. Being quiet will be my doom. But all my conversations so far have been so superficial. Nobody wants to hear what I have to say. I scan the room for someone I can talk to, but everyone is fixated on the movie, schoolwork or someone else. I don’t belong here.
This is not at all how I imagined my 40-day pioneering condition would begin. One week ago, when we all gathered in Louisville, I was rarin’ to go. Now I feel increasingly pessimistic, and I have more than a month left.
I should back up a bit. The Indianapolis center is down to just four of us. Louise was an emotional wreck after her disastrous blitzing experience in the biker bar. I ended up taking her to the bus station a couple days later. She went home to stay with her parents for a while in Pennsylvania. Then Suzy and Theresa were called to New York to work at headquarters. And of course Gail left our Korean messiah cult to join the black Jesus cult. So in a very short period of time the population of our tiny center was cut in half. Now it’s just me, Carl, Carol and Nina.
We got our individual pioneering assignments a little over a week ago: Nina to Lancaster, Carl to Chillicothe, Carol to Marietta and me to Athens. Our collective plan was pretty straightforward. Everyone would take $20 to buy some cheap fundraising product once they got to their town, sell that to make enough to buy some more product, sell that until they had enough to rent a cheap room, and then stand out on a street corner each day for 40 days and witness and give lectures, and then fundraise as needed for food and rent.
The only problem with the plan, as I saw it, was that it was the same unimaginative and unproductive approach we’d been using for years with absolutely zero results to show for it. Street preaching is the pits for getting people to join. It’s just very rare for anyone to join that way. What really works is one-on-one contact with good, prepared people. That’s what they do in Oakland, where I joined.
So privately I decided I was not going to follow the agreed-to plan. I had other reasons too. First of all, I knew fundraising would be the surest, quickest way to sabotage the whole mission. Everybody in town would know I’m a Moonie, which to most people is worse than a leper, and that would be the end of it. I might as well go home. I had five years of solid experience in this regard to base my decision on.
On MFT it wouldn’t matter because I’d be gone in a few hours. Take the money and run. This time though, I wouldn’t be leaving. I’d be there for six weeks. So fundraising just seemed to me like an incredibly stupid plan, like throwing rocks at a hornet nest. All it would do is stir up a lot of negativity. Carl, Carol and Nina could do what they wanted in their towns, but I was going to try something else. I wasn’t sure what, but something.
The only thing I had been able to formulate with any clarity in my mind was that these 40 days were going to be an act of absolute faith for me. I was going to rely solely on God to guide me and provide for me. To make sure I didn’t chicken out, I resolved to take no money. The rest I would figure out when I got to Athens.
The day before the condition started we drove from Indianapolis down to the Louisville center, because all those folks were going out pioneering too. Kiyoko was staying with them now and wanted to make all of us a big meal to kick off the 40 days. It was very exciting and festive and everyone talked with great optimism.
That night while we were sleeping one of the Louisville brothers, a fantastic musician named Francis Buckingham, woke up screaming. Not some wimpy scream after which you then fall back asleep. This was a full-blown, chased-by-zombies, dismembered-alive, brain-melting, eyeball-hemorrhaging night terror.
The weird thing was something had woken me up just moments before. I was lying there feeling vaguely uneasy and suddenly Francis sat straight up and let out a hysterical shriek to kill the living and wake the dead. It startled me so bad I nearly peed my sleeping bag. It took a long time for me to finally fall back asleep. That was some strange shit to start a 40-day condition.
It was real funny, but only in the funny-the-next-morning kind of funny. In the safe light of day, which was beautiful and sunny and lovely, Francis’ freaky nocturnal outburst gave us all a good chuckle as we sat around the banquet table that Kiyoko had prepared. She brought out bowls of miso soup with seaweed and tofu, followed by plates of sashimi and hand-rolled sushi, primed with soy sauce and sparked by tiny mounds of green wasabi. Then she brought us bowls of hot steaming rice with a single raw egg cooking in each one, and all kinds of Japanese delicacies I had never tried before. It was as fine a last meal as I could want before launching this adventure, and I ate as much as I could. No telling when I’d eat again.
I’ve often noted that a big meal plays tricks on the mind about fasting, and right at this moment my mind was being tricked into thinking I could go without eating for the entire 40 days. Skipping meals never seems difficult when the belly is full. Logically I knew the fullness would only last a few hours at most, but somehow I didn’t believe it. Taking no money with me and having no prospects of acquiring food after this morning seemed insignificant.
After breakfast we all said goodbye and the Louisville members went off to their assigned towns and we went off to ours. An MFT van dropped the four of us off at the interstate because we had decided to hitchhike to Ohio instead of take the bus. We were traveling light, me probably lightest of all. I had only a small nylon book bag with a small towel, a change of underwear, a T-shirt, a pair of socks, a toothbrush, and several small blues harps. I had sent ahead a small box of my books to general delivery at the post office in Athens that I’d pick up once I got there. Everything else I was wearing, which wasn’t a lot because it was so hot. Already it was over 100, and it wasn’t even 10 o’clock.
We paired up for hitchhiking, me with Carol and Carl with Nina. The pairing was purely practical: Our respective towns were closer to each other, so it made sense to travel together. But I was secretly happy to be with Carol. She was probably my best friend in the center and I always felt comfortable around her. We had a good rapport. Plus she was very tough, a strong sister. I liked that. It felt more like equals.
I would have been happy to travel with Nina too, but it would have been different, and not necessarily in a good way. I still found her very attractive and that was a distraction I didn’t need. It was better for me that she and Carl went off together.
Carl and Nina went first and they caught a ride going east almost immediately. That encouraged Carol and me, plus we were feeling good after such a delicious and filling breakfast. So when we didn’t get a ride after an hour, it was a little bit discouraging. The sun and heat can beat you up in a hurry out there on the side of the highway.
Eventually we did catch a ride in the back of a pickup truck with some metal-heads who were playing Judas Priest at full volume. We may have been sitting in the bed of the truck, but we had no trouble hearing the subtle nuances of each skull-crushing power chord threatening to blow out the back window. For the next hour, in addition to the oppressive heat and glaring sun, which I already mentioned, we had the hot wind beating the tar out of us with Satan’s favorite house band providing the soundtrack of our demise.
It took a few more rides to reach Cincinnati, and by then I was whipped and ready to concede defeat. And I might have if Carol hadn’t been there. She could see how low I was getting. She smiled sweetly and hugged me and somehow give me some of her energy to keep me going. I mean, good God, we were barely into Ohio and I was ready to pack it in.
We went into a small truck stop to cool off and regroup. Breakfast was a distant memory and I was famished. Carol was too, but we agreed she shouldn’t spend any of her “seed” money, and I, of course, had refused to bring any money, which right now seemed terribly shortsighted. We got some ice water and sat in a booth. As far as I knew, this was dinner.
“I’ll be right back,” Carol said. She went over to the grill cook and flashed her best fundraising smile. I could see from the cook’s body language exactly what was happening. A few minutes later she came back to our booth with a couple cheeseburgers. It looked like manna from heaven.
We prayed -- really quick -- and I took a bite. “How’d you do that?”
Carol giggled. It made her feel good to come through in a pinch. “I just told him the truth, that we were missionaries on our way to a special assignment and we had no money and we hadn’t eaten all day. I also told him you were sick. I hope you don’t mind.”
“Not at all. I do feel like crap.”
After eating and cooling off and getting some water in us we both felt a lot better. The sun was lower in the sky, and though it was still very hot, it wasn’t as hot as before. It would be evening in a few hours, and we still had a long way to go.
We spent another hour trying to catch a ride out in front of the truck stop. It was starting to look like we were going to be spending the night sitting in our booth after all.
“I think we should pray,” Carol said. I agreed. We held hands and bowed our heads standing next to the guardrail. Every time a car or truck whizzed past it blasted us with hot dusty air. We were about one-quarter of the way to amen when a big rig pulled over and tapped the air horn.
We raced over and scrambled up into the cab. The only place for Carol was in the sleeper berth, which is exactly where she went and what she did. The trucker was a godsend. He was heading clear across Ohio to West Virginia and would be going right by both Athens and Marietta.
He was a young guy, Middle Eastern I think, judging by his appearance and accent. He loved being a trucker in America. We chatted mile after mile through the growing darkness while Carol napped. I didn’t tell him I used to drive 18-wheelers. It seemed so long ago. That was somebody else, not me. I pretended I knew nothing about it as he described the complexities of maneuvering through a 15-speed split-shifter. He was highballing over the rolling Ohio hills, and on the downhill sides he easily hit 80 miles an hour.
“I’ll bet you didn’t think a big truck like this could go so fast,” he said on one of the downhills.
I bet I did, but I kept it to myself. “Wow. You sure are a good truck driver.”
He just grinned with pride and kept on going.
We passed Athens sometime around midnight but my plan was to stick with Carol all the way to Marietta and then double back in the morning. No way I was going to leave her alone with the trucker. I knew she could take care of herself just fine and she would get to Marietta without any problem because God would protect her. But if anything did happen to her I would never forgive myself. I couldn’t take that chance.
An hour or so later he dropped us off on the outskirts of Marietta, just shy of West Virginia. There were no streetlights where we were and no homes or buildings. It was very dark and very hot. We started walking toward the lights of town.
We hadn’t gone far when we came to a baseball field. It was called Pioneer Park. Carol and I both looked at each other and laughed. It seemed like a good sign. We decided to spend the night there in one of the dugouts. We stretched out on the bench, her lying in one direction and me lying the other, our feet almost touching. Carol dropped off to sleep almost immediately.
If I had to guess I would say it was in the high 80s with 90 percent humidity, maybe because we were close to the Ohio River, or maybe because it was July, or maybe both. The air was so warm and heavy it was hard to breathe.
I laid there in the near-total darkness, trying to get comfortable on that hard skinny bench, feeling like I was suffocating in the heat and humidity. I listened to Carol snoring softly.
A chill crept over me and I started to shiver. I knew why. It was because of the darkness and solitude and opportunity they presented. But as weak and flawed as I am, I could never betray her. Carol trusted me absolutely.
I pushed the chill away and fell asleep.
We woke up just before dawn, said a prayer and then headed into Marietta. We found the college right away. It was still very early and most everyone was asleep. We located the men’s and women’s dorms, slipped inside to grab quick showers, and then met outside.
By now the sun was up and the campus was stirring. The moment had come to say goodbye, and neither one of us wanted to. We held hands and prayed, but when we finished we didn’t stop holding hands. Instead we looked at each other. I wanted to kiss her so badly, and it felt like she wanted to kiss me too. We both knew we couldn’t, so we hugged long and hard. My arms wrapped all the way around her waist and I squeezed her with as much love as I dared, and she squeezed back. We spoke silently, and then I walked back the way we had just come to the highway.