Missing Pieces

Missing friend

When you really come to accept the influence that spiritual evil can have on the mundane world, it's hard not to see a sinister unseen hand behind the more tragic and puzzling events of your life.

To be sure, you can't discount apophenia--seeing patterns where none exist. The human brain is a pattern recognition engine, and it will impose false order on chaos.

Then again, chaos is meaningless without order, and we know that the order of the universe contains more than is dreamt of in natural philosophy.

I had a friend back in high school. I'll keep the exact span of years in reserve to avoid doxxing both of us. It was between the wars in Iraq. Only 15% of American homes had internet access. People still rented videotapes.

Though our friendship began during my high school days, he and I attended the same school only briefly. Accounts differ as to whether he transferred voluntarily or was expelled. To this day, I don't know the answer. But I do know other things that set me to wondering darkly these days.

Most of us in that tight-knit circle knew about the drugs--mostly fleeting dalliances with lighter hippie fare--and the booze, which became far more serious. Another acquaintance once recounted a visit to the dorm room where our mutual friend lived alone. Empty bottles filled the table, shelves, and windowsill. This acquaintance--quite the party animal himself--expressed amazement that anyone could have consumed that quantity of alcohol in the time claimed and survive.

At this point, you might be forming images of a childhood spent in a broken home, passed between bitterly warring parents on alternate weekends. At the very least, you've probably got one parent pegged as an inveterate drunk. You'd be wrong on both counts.

My friend's sad situation and difficult disposition largely remain mysterious. He came from a stable, respectable home under the care of Christian parents, both sober as judges. Yet he always displayed a subdued yet abiding hostility toward them and their faith.

Before I continue, I must impress upon you that my friend was not an irredeemably dissolute monster. He could be the most generous, affable, and loyal comrade one could ask for. In terms of technical and artistic talent, I've met few to equal him.

That said, a conversation from early in our friendship surfaced in my memory lately and has been haunting me like a bad dream.

A year or so after we'd started hanging out frequently, my friend--though still a minor--had moved out of his parents' aged but stately house within walking distance from the parish school.

At the time, he was sharing a crowded two-bedroom flat with a rotating cast of teenage ne'er do wells in a commercial part of town replete with mostly empty strip malls. Always possessed of a dogged industry, my friend fell into the role of Mr. Mom, keeping the lights on and the frayed carpet free of crumpled Taco Bell wrappers.

One gray winter afternoon, my friend was driving to the comic book shop near his flophouse with me and another friend my age in tow. Out of the blue, he mentioned his involvement in a local Satanic group. When my fellow passenger and I expressed doubts, he further claimed to have sacrificed a German Shepherd.

A heavy silence filled the boxy European import at that point. My friend turned on his tape deck, turned up "Killing an Arab" by The Cure, and never spoke of his occult dabblings again. None of us spoke of it. My friend did later allege that he'd been attacked and nearly killed in his room by a snake, but nothing else of occult significance.

Like I said, my friend could be the most companionable guy in the world. But no one who knew him would deny he had a dark side--and anybody who ran afoul of it did well to watch his step.

Once, after my friend had shaved his head on a lark, the driver of the car stopped next to his at a red light rolled down his window and called out, "Bet you can't believe it's gone!" while pointing to his head. My friend got out, kicked off the other driver's mirror, and said, "Bet you can't believe it's gone!" before getting back in his car and driving off into the night.

Another time, a careless BMW driver made the mistake of cutting my friend off in traffic. He tailgated the bimmer all the way from the mall, across town, and into the next county. When the offending driver parked on a residential street and fled the vehicle for the safety of his suburban home, my friend smashed every glass component of the BMW with a 9 iron, returned to his car, and left the scene.

On the whole, it's safe to say that my friend led a rather isolated and frustrated life. He was never able to form deep relationships with the opposite sex despite his sincere desires. His artistic genius--I don't use the word lightly--was foiled by malignant perfectionism, absolute refusal to compromise, and extreme difficulty working with others.

I recall one brief respite from the storm of his tumultuous life. When Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ hit theaters, my friend went to see it with a girl he fancied from his college Christian fellowship group. He'd openly admitted being a selfish person before, but he told me that seeing the movie made him, "... feel like not being selfish."

The calm in the storm didn't last long. He and the girl soon parted ways, and my friend never spoke positively about Christianity in my hearing again. He did take a deep and deliberate plunge into communist politics. After college, he bounced around between three of the bluest states in the union before disappearing--as of this writing, for good--some years ago.

I still run into my friend's mother, father, or sister around town. They always ask if I've heard from him. I haven't in years. Neither have they. I can tell by the half-scared, half-hopeful look on their faces that they miss him.

If there's a silver lining, it's that we're pretty sure my friend's still alive. Word is that every once in a while he'll blow into town unannounced and crash with an old buddy who's since tied the knot and fallen away from what's left of the old gang. Supposedly, our friend holes up in his buddy's house for a few days without talking to his other friends, his family, or anyone. He blows town again before anyone else knows he was there.

Whatever he's wrestling with, he's determined to fight it alone.

Do I know what turned my friend into a restless, self-exiled nomad? No, I don't. Even his own self-confessed escapades must be taken with a grain of salt, since he was also given to telling tall tales back in the day. The incidents with the snake, the dog, and the BMW may never have happened, though his cousin witnessed and can vouch for the post-head shaving altercation at the stoplight.

I do know that sometime in high school, my friend abandoned his childhood faith and never looked back except for one brief glance over his shoulder.

St. Augustine once said that the purpose of your life could be to serve as a warning to others.

These are evil times. Lions are prowling just beyond the failing firelight. It's dangerous to go alone.


  1. I will pray for your friend.

    The modern world is a very alienating place that encourages separation and isolation, and some people really shouldn't be alone.

    It's dark out there.

  2. I wonder very much whether he was victim of or witness to sexual abuse from a nominal member of the faith or family. The confusion, the impulsive violence, and trying to be Good while believing that Good itself is a vile lie?

    1. That was the first question I asked myself when trying to puzzle out his erratic, borderline contradictory behavior. I have no solid evidence one way or the other, but on balance, I'm inclined to answer in the negative.

      I'm the kind of guy people naturally confide in, and I do not betray confidences--ever. My friend and I were close as brothers for twenty years. In that time, he told me secrets about himself that rival the issues you mention for sensitivity. If he had been abused, I'm confident he would have told me.

      Add to that his siblings, both older and younger, who have all gone on to lead happy, productive lives. They grew up in the same house and attended the same schools. Abusers don't stop unless they're stopped. If a clergyman of family member had abused my friend, surely one of the siblings would have been similarly victimized.

      Then again, do we ever know anyone as well as we think? I wonder.

    2. Yeah. Sometimes things don't have neat start and end points. Well, often. And yet, and yet, he smacks of trauma in this brief telling. Who knows?

  3. Recently discovered this inner-locutionary who hears Jesus, Mary, and various saints. I believe she gets true private revelation, sites that vet same like catholicplanet.com agree, the bishop concurred, yet it's awaiting official approval. Judge for yourself

    In any case, this particular message I just listened to is shockingly apropos:

    (Note, yes it's funny, Jesus's words in an Irish accent; she lived there awhile)


  4. I meant to post this yesterday, but blogspot's 'sign out' button is exactly where the 'publish' button should be, so instead of posting my comment, the site ate it.

    I honestly hold out more hope for folks who are actively hostile to the faith than for those who just don't care. There's an internet commentator who has noted that the opposite of love isn't hate, but indifference. Someone who hates is still invested, at some level. (On this note, I aspire to care so little about the MCU and other prog-verged dumpster fires that I don't even feel the need to say I don't care.) Perhaps this is part of why Jesus told the church at Laodicea that he would prefer that they be hot, or cold, rather than lukewarm. It is possible your friend has been living his life at the foot of Jacob's latter, wrestling with God or some calling to which he does not want to surrender. Scripture tells us that a child trained up in the way he should go will not depart from it when he is old, that the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable, and that He Who begins a good work in His own will carry it on to completion, that the Word of the Lord does not return to Him void, and finally that the Lord can restore us the years that the locust as eaten. Assuming for the moment that your friend is a part of the Body of Christ, but on a prolonged prodigal binge, it seems certain to me that he will come back to us before the end.
    If he is not yet redeemed, perhaps he will be like the thief on the cross, or like Boromir coming to his senses and pledging his allegiance to Aragorn with his dying breath. Love always hopes.

    On a lighter note, perhaps we shouldn't use the Sword of the Spirit to break pots, cut grass, and slaughter chickens. :)

    1. Thank you for the trenchant and insightful exegesis. God truly has revealed His mercy in Scripture. I take comfort in that.

    2. I managed to type 'latter' rather than 'ladder'. Drat!