The 2am Man

Pretty much everywhere I’ve lived has been a thin line between “ghetto” and “acceptably safe and comfortable.” Sometimes I’m dealing with persistent cockroaches, and sometimes I’m dealing with random cars blowing up in the parking lot. But wherever I live, I go to sleep knowing that
Unless God watches over the apartment, 
The locks are locked in vain. 
Unless God builds my protection,
The walls are there for nothing.
Psalm 127:1 (my translation)
That sentiment has kept me through many questionable events and strange occurrences, which I hold onto as proof that God is good. He protects me when no one else is around and gives me opportunities to be a beacon of his love when no one else will.
Back in college, I worked restaurant jobs. I never kept them for very long–I bounced from one to the next out of boredom or stress or my flippant feelings of the place. One such job had me working the closing shift on Friday nights, which meant I didn’t get home until around 2am. It didn’t bother me, really. Everything was quiet and peaceful at 2am. And if it wasn’t for all the lights in my parking lot, I’d get to see the stars.
But one night, I came home to a lot more commotion than usual. Some guy was trying to get a car to stop for him as they drove through the parking lot. They stopped for a brief moment, but drove off while he tried to talk to them through the window.
I watched the car leave and the man collapse on the sidewalk–most likely drunk. He happened to be sitting right in front of my building and there was no way to get to my apartment without passing him, so I made a bit of a wide circle around him as I headed for the door.
The man looked up at me and raised a hand like he was reaching for me. “Help me!” he said. “Please. Just let me use your phone. I just got jumped and I need to call my girlfriend. I just need to call her.”
I stopped in my tracks. He didn’t sound drunk. He sounded desperate. The man tried to get up to walk toward me, but I could tell the effort was painful and he ended up crawling more than walking.
I couldn’t just leave him there. But I recognized that I was alone in the parking lot at 2am with a strange man. So instead of showing him immediate pity, I decided to be “smart” about the situation and get another set of eyes on me. So I lied. “My phone is in my apartment,” I said. “Let me go get it.”
My plan was to get one of my roommates to watch me from the window and call the police if anything went wrong. Usually at least one of them was awake watching some late night TV. But when I opened my apartment door, there was no one and nothing but darkness.
I took a moment to think about my options and decided to call a friend of mine in the same apartment complex. He usually stayed up all night playing video games, so I was sure I could get him to help. But he didn’t pick up his phone.
Looking out my bedroom window, I could see the poor man on the sidewalk, groaning in pain and trying to crawl his way down the sidewalk until he could find someone else to help him. But there was no one else out there. No one else saw him at all. Even the men that drove off didn’t really see him.
“God,” I prayed in the darkness of my room. “You’re the only one that’s watching me now. There’s no one else. So keep me safe.”
Then I took my cell phone out of my pocket and went down to help the man. He had crawled to the other side of the parking lot by that point and was sitting by some bushes, crying. “Here,” I said, “You can use my phone.”
He called his girlfriend and asked for her to come get him, but before she would, he had to resolve a bit of a fight that they had had earlier. I felt a little bad listening in on their relationship problems, but I couldn’t just walk away while he had my phone.
After he hung up, I sat and waited with him for his girlfriend to arrive. It seemed wrong to just leave him there on his own. “What happened?” I asked.
“I got jumped,” he said. “They beat me up and took my wallet…” it sounded like there should have been more to that, but he just stopped and shook his head.
“Do you want me to call the police?”
“No! No, I just need to go home to my girlfriend and get some rest. She lives in one of these…”
Now that I was close to him, I could see the bruises all over his face, arms, and legs. Even though we sat well away from the light, his bruises were deep purple stains on his skin.
We sat in silence a while longer. I wanted to reach out and put an arm around him, but I was afraid that it’d only hurt him more. In that moment, he didn’t feel like some strange guy in the parking lot. I may not have known his name, but after sitting with him on the curb and listening to him sob, he felt more like a friend that I was trying to comfort.
…A friend that didn’t want me to call the police… as suspicious as that was, I didn’t think on it too long. Shortly after that, his girlfriend came running from the apartment building right next to mine.
“Oh, baby, what happened!?” she ran up to us in a dress that was too tight to really run in, and bent down to put her face in his. “Let’s get you home,” she said, completely ignoring my presence.
I got up and walked back to my apartment building, turning to see them hobble back to hers.
That night has taught me that fear should not stop me from doing the right thing. God watches over me, even when no one else does. He saw what happened to that man, and he put me in a position to help him–to be a friend to him in the darkness of the night.


Original post:


My Counselor

My chronic episodes of loneliness usually attacked me in the night when everyone I knew was out with the neon lights and world-erasing music.

But one time, I had an episode in the middle of the day. It happened some time after I had met the angel man in the middle of the night. This afternoon, the college campus felt more empty than usual as I made my way back to my dorm. I didn’t want to get there. There was nothing to do and no one to see. So I walked as slowly as possible on the longest route I knew.

It wasn’t long enough. And as much as I hated the emptiness around me, I was uncomfortable with seeing people. So after running into two or three strangers, I decided to get off the path. I ducked under some low branches to explore a little piece of the campus I had never seen before. It brought me to small, man-made pond. And following what must be some crazy instinct in me, I sat down next to the water’s edge and stared into it as if in a trance.

It was peaceful, but it wasn’t making me feel peaceful. The peacefulness was outside of me—all around me. While on the inside, I burned.

Every once in a while, I’d hear someone walking on the path nearby and look up to see feet through the underbrush. They passed me by without notice. I didn’t want them to notice me. But then again, if they did happen to see me, I wanted them to come running to comfort me.

Once again, I cried out to God for someone to talk to. Someone to notice me and say, “Hey, what’s wrong? Wanna be best friends? Tell me everything you feel right now.” Not that I knew how to put anything into words. Some sincere company would be nice.

“I don’t care who it is,” I told God, “I’d talk to anyone, just give me another chance! I need someone!”

There was a sound of something coming through the trees behind me. I started thanking God and turned around to meet my new best friend.

A giant turtle, big enough to ride on, slid down the slope behind me and came to rest within reach. He looked me straight in the face and then pulled himself into his shell. And sat there, unmoving.

“Har, har,” I said out loud to God. Where did this thing even come from? There was nothing behind me except a small group of trees and the sidewalk leading to the campus apartments. Surely, a turtle that big hadn’t walked across the cement path without drawing a lot of attention. Seriously, if I’d curled up into a ball, I’d be the same size as the turtle.

But then I thought, Well, maybe this was who God wants me to talk to. Maybe talking to this animal will bring me peace. …Or maybe God is laughing right now.

I considered the turtle. If it was God’s answer to my prayer, it could be therapeutic to talk to it. Or I could look like a lunatic. I made several honest attempts. I opened my mouth and then closed it again without making a sound—terrified that a real human being would hear me and laugh.

Finally I gave up. The turtle wouldn’t even poke its head out of its shell. It didn’t want to talk to me—or listen to me, rather. And as fascinated as I was at this giant (and no doubt ancient) turtle, I was starting to feel restless sitting there in what could only be God’s idea of a joke. With a small amount of anger towards the situation, I got up and pushed my way through the trees, back to the cement path, leaving my counselor behind.

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. 

John 14:16-17

Weekly Writing Challenge: The Sound of Silence (a.k.a. The Angel Man Story)

When I first started college, I was coming out of some of my worst years, emotionally and mentally. I wanted to make a fresh start for myself, but that hope began to fall in before too long. I’m not entirely sure what set it off. It was probably a combination of things. But in any case, it precipitated several nights of wandering across my college campus looking to be alone, or to be found.

One of these nights, I was a little worse off than usual. It didn’t matter that I had caring friends that would have come if I had called. I still felt isolated beyond help, like the world was behind glass and I was locked away from it. I could see people congregate in the courtyard and imagine how I’d walk up and meet them. But I couldn’t make myself get near. By 10pm when the library closed, I was curled up under an arched bridge on campus. I was watching the turtles. At least that’s what I told myself. Shortly after, the college grew silent and the building lights went out. It was just me and the street lamps. And the turtles.

I don’t know how long I stayed there. I was losing my perception of time, even with the clock tower in my face. I wandered around the agricultural building and then followed the road off of campus. When I finally looked up to see where I was, I had walked into the off campus apartments. The ones that carried all kinds of stories of drug busts and murders. They were cheap living if you didn’t mind a little bit of risk.

I knew a guy who lived there. And maybe that’s why I had walked in that direction. I desperately wanted someone to talk to. But I didn’t have anything to say. And I didn’t want to listen to petty talk or even intellectual talk. To me, they were both just as shallow. So I didn’t go to his door. And I didn’t go home. I found myself stuck on the sidewalk. I looked at all the buildings around me and thought about how many people I was surrounded by, but none that I could say anything to.

I sobbed. In the middle of the night in a sketchy, poorly-lit street, I stood on the sidewalk and sobbed. I begged God to give me someone that I could talk to. Just anyone that would listen to me–really listen to me–and sympathize. I begged Him over and over again. And then I stood there. I don’t know how long I stood there. I was waiting for an angel to appear. Or maybe that guy I knew. I’d settle for him.

But an angel didn’t show and neither did that guy I knew. I was starting to shiver and shake–not so much for the cold, but for all the crying. So I decided it was finally time to crawl back to my dorm. If I could make it through the night, I thought, tomorrow would be a piece of cake.

I turned to leave, giving one last look over everything in case I missed the angel, and then I took a step towards the school. A dark car passed me and turned into the apartment complex–so close to me that I made eye contact with the driver. And not just a glancing eye, either. The man stared me down as he turned into the complex. I took a deep breath, hushing all of the rumors of danger in this area, and kept walking–faster.

I heard the car park and the door slam. Then I heard him walking. I was two blocks away from campus–and the campus police. I had the call stations mapped out in my head. “Hey!” He called to me.

I froze. I don’t know why I froze. Except that his “hey” wasn’t the threatening kind. So I turned around.

“Are you high? Or just depressed?”

“Depressed,” I said, trying to laugh at the thought of me being high.

“You wanna talk about it?”

I did. With every part of me, I did. But I didn’t know what to say. I couldn’t even pinpoint what was troubling me so much. And then there was the practical part of me that saw that I was alone with a strange man in a bad part of town in the middle of the night.

“We don’t have to go anywhere. We can stand right here and talk about it.” It was like he was reading my mind. Or my face, more like.

But I still didn’t know what to say and the practical part of me was starting to scream. So I shook my head, “no.”

“Well, alright,” he said. But he didn’t turn away. I did.

I turned away from him and walked back to campus. He didn’t follow me. He stood there and watched me go.

By the time I was back on campus grounds, it hit me–he was my angel. He wasn’t shining with light and floating down from Heaven, no. He was dark and drove a beat up car. But he was everything I had begged God for. He had done everything right. And I had turned him down. I had walked away.

The original Writing Challenge Prompt:

Offering Everything

I once met a man named Jason on a lonely downtown street in the middle of the night. In a time when I needed someone and had no one, he reminded me that God is always there.

I sat on the wrong side of a heavy barrier chain, which was meant to keep people a few steps away from the river in Wilmington, North Carolina. I wasn’t going to try anything. I just wanted to be close to the water and watch the currents. Like, real close. The town was dead quiet. The only living thing I saw was a rat that ran over my foot without giving me a second’s thought. I had kind’a hoped it’d stay. Anything to make me fell less alone.

Jason shuffled cautiously towards me from the street behind. “Are you alright?” He asked. “You’re not gonna jump are you? You’re awfully close to that ledge.”

I stood up and looked him over. He was bony, dirty, and disheveled. His clothes hung off of him like sheets on a wire.

I had seen him just a few nights before. I had watched him beg a man for some money. He explained that he was trying to find work and had even asked a store if he could clean their windows for some food. But they had thrown him out. The man had turned him away. So I had offered him some money, but he politely refused to take it and in a gentlemanly gesture said, “I’m not going to take money from a lady.”

Here he was again with his hands stretched out–not to beg for help, but to offer it. Without getting too close to me, he asked me to step back over the chain and away from the edge. I did. The irony of this scrawny, homeless man trying to help me was overwhelming. He had nothing, but he knew what I needed. We hugged. His ribs stabbed me and his shoulder blades pressed on my arms. He felt fragile.

He told me his name and we started talking. He said he used to live further north, but then his wife divorced him. He moved to Wilmington to get a new start, but couldn’t find work and had soon lost his home. The night that I first saw him, he was arrested for begging–a controversial new law to keep tourists happy. This night at the river was his first night out of jail and back on the streets–just in time to be a friend to someone who needed one.

He never asked me for money, but I offered it to him again. This time he took it gratefully and said he was going to find a homeless shelter. That was the last time I saw Jason–the man who reached out to me in my time of need and offered the only thing he had.


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