Delta Winds: A Magazine of Student Essays
A Publication of San Joaquin Delta College
The day was no different than any other; at least I didn't think so when I awoke. The TV that was kept tuned to the cartoon network twenty-four hours a day was blaring out old Roadrunner cartoons. My roommates were arguing over who got the last piece of cold pizza, and of course nobody respected the fact that I worked the graveyard shift. As I said, it was a typical day in the life of a down-on-his-luck, doesn't-care-anymore security guard. As usual I had to be at the construction site at 11 pm sharp, dressed and ready for nothing, because that was the only thing that happened out there in the middle of nowhere, nothing.
After about thirty minutes of lying there wondering why I should even bother to get up, I got up, showered, and got dressed. Grabbing myself a box of Ding-Dong's for dinner, I stumbled on out into the darkness to my car. As I climbed in and looked around, I let out a groan. My car looked like a city dump. There were cigarette wrappers, soda cans, old bags of stale chips, and a three-day-old hamburger still in the wrapper. It was a perfect reminder of just where I was at this stage in my life. To top it all off, it seemed that even the weather had turned against me. It was raining a cold hard rain, the type that gets under any type of jacket or raincoat and chills you to the bone. I remember driving down the levee toward the construction site wondering what else could go wrong.
After a fifteen-minute drive, five of which was navigating the muddy old levee road because it was the only way to get there, I parked, grabbed my flashlight and radio, took a deep breath, and ventured out into the bitter cold. I had been told by some of the other guys that they never even left the car when they were out here, especially in the rain. So after a minute or two of temptation, I cursed the fact that I would not feel right accepting money (even minimum wage) and not doing the job. I started my trudge through the slush and the mud. After about thirty minutes of seeing and hearing nothing but the rain crashing down on the equipment and myself, I headed back toward the car and the warmth within.
I'm not sure even now why I did it, but I turned back and spotlighted one of the bulldozers with my flashlight. At first I thought it was a trick of the light showing through the rain and shadows, and my own imagination. I mean, who in their right mind would be out here this late in this weather? But, there they were, right in front of me pulling the battery out of one of the bulldozers. There were three of them, the eldest probably no older than fifteen. I figured that once they noticed they had been spotted, they would run like rabbits, which was fine with me. I certainly wasn't going to chase them. The reaction I did get took me completely by surprise; they all started laughing.
I never knew what hit me; it all happened so fast. I saw the three kids running towards me, I felt a sharp pain in the back of my head, and my left leg had been knocked out from underneath me all at the same time. It occurred to me as I was falling that the first three kids hadn't even reached me yet. So, there had to be at least two more. Regardless of the numbers, it was plain that I was in serious trouble. All I knew at that moment was that I was in for the fight of my life. Despite the fact that I had never actually lost a fight in my entire life up to that point, I had no chance of winning this one. After the first couple of blows, everything started getting hazy. There wasn't a spot on my body left untouched and I could no longer lift my arms to fend off my attackers. At first, I wondered when they were going to stop and leave me to bleed; then reality set in, and I realized they weren't going to stop. As the blows from fists, feet, and boards rained down on me, I could hear the heartless laughter that I feared would be the last thing I ever heard.
Staring up at my assailants through a cloudy red haze, I couldn't help but wonder if any one of them would have any regrets when it was all over. I remember thinking they were all too young to fully realize the consequences of their actions. I knew that I should feel angry and hateful towards these young kids, who were savagely beating me, possibly to death, but I didn't. Having grown up the son of a southern Baptist minister, I did the only thing I could think of at the time, pray. It's funny the type of things you think of in a situation like this. I mean, my whole plan for revenge on these five kids was to include them in my final prayer.
As that last thought went through my mind, I started laughing out loud. That's when it dawned on me that the beating had stopped and my five attackers were gone. I propped myself up onto my elbow and glanced around as best I could through the mixture of blood and mud that was blurring my vision. When I looked to my right, I was nearly blinded by a bright light with the silhouette of a figure standing in the middle of it holding some type of object. As the figure moved closer and I cleared some of the blood away from my eyes, I could tell what the object was. I commented that I was sure glad that my angel carried a shotgun, and, for the third time that night, I heard laughter ring out, only this time it was welcome.
Gratefully, I reached out and took the hand that was offered to me, and slowly with a lot of help, I got to my feet. I turned toward this stranger who had just saved my life and wondered how he could have possibly stumbled across this site. The only way to the construction site was across the levee, and that led to a dead end. When I finally got a good look at my savior, I noticed that he was about six feet tall, well built, with dirty blonde hair and sky blue eyes. From the tan and the clothes, I would say he was a working man. The bright light that I had seen was coming from his pickup truck. He must have sensed that despite how I looked, I was going to be okay because the first words out of his mouth were "Let's go get some coffee." I told him coffee sounded great and followed him to the nearest diner.
We both ordered breakfast and settled down into conversation, mainly concerned with what had just taken place at the construction yard. He agreed with me that it was a shame that these young kids had no real idea of the ramifications of their actions. He had brought up a good point saying, "Between the glamorizing of violence on television and the lack of parental responsibility these days, it is really no wonder that they lash out over menial items." I laughed and told him that may well be true, but I would still like to turn them over my knee. The funny thing was that even after seeing and experiencing the violence and rage that can accompany a teenage kid we both understood the reality. And that is that they are still children.
It was kind of strange, this person had just saved my life, and now I was sitting down and talking to him like we had been friends for years. After about a half an hour of exchanging philosophies concerning modern society, it occurred to me that I never did thank him for interfering, or even ask him how he happened to come upon the scene. I finally asked him how he was able to show up at such a remote location in the nick of time to save my life. My new friend just sat back in his chair and smiled. He said, "You may have been losing the physical battle, but you were winning the shouting match." Apparently, he had been fishing on the other side of the levee when the whole thing started. He explained that he liked to night fish in the rain. I grew serious for a minute and told him that if he had not been there, I would be dead right now and that I owed him my life.
I don't know what kind of a response I expected out of my newfound friend, but instead of responding to my last statement he took a deep breath and introduced himself. "My name is Frank Parker [fictitious name] and, if you would indulge me for a moment, I would like to tell you about something that happened to me about two years ago." He then proceeded to tell me that he had lost his job, his house, and his wife to a nasty drug habit. He said he did not want to go into too many details because it was a really trying time for him, but that his habit had started because of the death of somebody really close to him. After he had lost everything and was living day to day on the street, he didn't really care if he lived or died. He told me that he had lost faith in God, humanity, and himself.
The next time he glanced up, I could see a tear in his eye and I was starting to feel very uncomfortable, but I couldn't help but ask him what happened. He smiled at me and he said that a very special person had saved his life. "I was literally at the end of my rope," he said, and "I had finally got up the courage to end my own life. I was panhandling in front of a restaurant to earn enough money to overdose myself when you showed up."
Shocked by this declaration, I asked him what he meant by me showing up. He said that he was asking for money by telling people that he was hungry and that I had invited him into the restaurant with me. I had told him that he could order whatever he wanted and that he was welcome to share my table, but he didn't have to if it made him uncomfortable. He chose not to dine with me, but he did take me up on my offer to get something to eat.
Now that he was telling me the story about the restaurant, I suddenly remembered the man. He had ordered biscuits and gravy, milk and an orange juice. I remember that because I was surprised that he hadn't taken advantage of my hospitality and gone for the most expensive thing on the menu. He impressed me so much with his courtesy that I had given him twenty dollars for future meals and told him that if he was interested in work, the Longshore dispatch hall was hiring extra men to help load the ships. I remember that my dad was with me at the time and had commented that he looked like a nice young man.
"Well son," Frank suddenly declared, wiping the tears off his face, "you had given me the money that I needed for the drugs I was looking for, but more importantly you gave me a glimmer of my faith back." He told me that he had taken the money and bought himself a pair of work boots, and was at the hall the very next morning. He said that it had taken him almost a year to do it, but with the job at the hall, and some faith in his heart, he was able to stop the drugs and salvage his life. He grinned at me and said that he had even been able to reconcile with his wife. When I asked him why he was able to recognize me when it had been over two years ago that I had bought him a small breakfast and given him a tip on a job, he said, "That's easy, you never forget the man who saved your life."
To this day I am not sure how to look upon the events that intertwined our paths so that we were able to help each other when we needed it the most. One thing is sure though, Frank was right. You never forget the man who saved your life. My father has preached to me my entire life that your actions today toward another person may very well determine how your own future will be affected. My father had a little saying that he would repeat over and over, and every time I heard it I would shrug my shoulders or roll my eyes. This episode in my life changed my perspective on that little saying. No matter how much it pains me to say it, nothing can change the fact that he was right; you reap what you sow.