A young man slowly strolled down a worn sidewalk of an urban neighborhood. With hands in pockets and steps in rhythm, his eyes nostalgically gazed at the old homes passing by. “Too many years,” he thought.
As he passed by a house with an old man watering his plants, he stopped to observe the old man’s yard, well kept and clean. The old man, noticing the young man gawking, turned off his hose and indecently remarked, “What?” The young man smiled. “Nothing, I just.. haven’t been here for awhile.” “So?” “I grew up here. By the time I was in pre-school, I had moved away, so it’s nice to visit for the first time.” The old man shrugged and wagged his head as he turned his hose back on to continue watering his plants. The young man, finding this humorous, continued on with a reminiscent aura surrounding his composure.
Then, as he turned right into the next block, the corner of his eye caught a house halfway down the road. His steps grew shorter and shorter in length as he drew nearer. “Hasn’t changed much,” he thought.
*HONK HONK* What?! He looked to his left to see an oncoming car, then looked down, only to realize that he was on street pavement. Before he could reac-
Fingers, he twitched his fingers. Were they there? He sure hoped so. A tunnel seemed to form within his vision. Meanwhile, a flickering light seemed to grow brighter and brighter at the end of the tunnel. Noises began to grow louder and louder. Did he hear cars? Murmurs? Children? Yard workers? A whizzing-
*WABAAM* His upper body jerked up as his hand flung to press against the side of his head. A baseball slowly rolled away from him as a teenager stood across the road, not knowing whether to laugh or apologize. The young man stood up in confusion, quickly looking all around him as if preparing for either a brawl or death. The teenager tilted his head in confusion, waiting for the young man to burst out in anger because he got hit in the head with a baseball.
“Did… did you see that car?” The teenager scratched his head. “Uh… what?” “Tha-that car, I… I thou-… well it wa-… and I-” The young man felt the side of his head; it was beginning to swell up. After taking his hand off his head, he felt his arm and then patted himself on the chest. He then proceeded to do a thorough examination of his limb functions. He looked up at the teenager. “I-… I think I’m alive.” There was an awkward pause. “Can I have my baseball back?” The young man laughed as he picked up the baseball. “Yeah, sure.” After tossing it across the street, he did a 360-degree spin to take in the urban panorama.
He stopped and winced as if thinking that he was thinking something absurd. He retraced some steps that he thought he had taken before and then stopped beside a well-kept house. A middle aged man was watering his plants where an old man had once stood. “How… similar they look,” he thought. Shaking his head as if trying to get rid of a thought, he went back to the previous street. The houses seemed to be the same, but.. they look younger. It seems as though they have lost years upon years of aging. Even the sidewalk which he was standing on had once again recovered its smoothness and color. In fact, trying to recollect old memories, everything seems to be the exact same way that he had remembered.
Even.. that house. His house. His home. It matched his memories to perfection. “No,” he thought while shutting his eyes extremely hard. “Just, no. Never. Never ever.” The sound of a bicycle zoomed by. The young man opened his eyes to see a paperboy tossing newspapers to the door steps of all the houses. “Hey! Hey, you!” The Paperboy stopped to see the young man waving his arms. “What.. what’s the date today?” “Why, it’s the 2nd.” “No, no. I mean, the year!” The Paperboy let out a hearty laugh as he shook his head and began peddling once again. Hesitantly, the young man walked over to a nearby house and nervously picked up a newspaper.
After staring for more than a few seconds, his eyes widened in horror as the newspaper came crashing to the ground. He began walking away from the house, but his muscles seemed to be locking up. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to faint, stop breathing, or laugh in disbelief. His subconscious seemed to be debating which one of these options to embrace first. Maybe the latter mixed with the second.
The young man, beginning to shake uncontrollably, sat down, putting his head between his legs and folding his arms above his head. Thoughts seemed to be escaping him, not that he wanted to keep them in the first place because it’s best to not hold those kinds of thoughts captive. Why? Well, why hold something captive if the captive is stronger than the captor?
But then something caught his attention: a sound. He looked up to see his home, the exact place where he had spent his early childhood years. The sound was that of a two-year-old, stifling an innocent giggle while making his face into a masterpiece using chalk. Various colors composed this young canvas, and to the young man, this seemed delightful. So removing his arms from above his head, he stood up. The toddler’s clear, adorable eyes caught sight of this motion and locked on to the young man.
His breath vanished. Those eyes.. they were so familiar. The toddler, in response, tried to stand, but realizing that his momentum was not to his advantage, plopped back down to his imaginary palace. His eyes illuminated with humor as his tiny fingers clenched his colorful array of chalk pieces.
The young man, looking both ways, crossed the street. The toddler’s smile compromised his chubby composure as a friendly high pitched laugh welcomed the young man to his side of the block. The young man stood on the sidewalk, afraid to take another step forward. But nonetheless, the sight of this familiar toddler penetrated his already weakened defenses, and he walked up to the side of the house where the toddler was located.
The two-year-old gazed up at the tall young man. He wasn’t really all that tall, but from a sitting perspective and being two years old, he was a tower. “Uh.. mind if I sit?” the young man asked quietly. The toddler, still piecing the question together, gently smiled as if to agree to the tower’s terms of surrender. The young man sat down criss-cross in front of the toddler who was continuing with his artwork, revealing his mastery to the new intruder of his territory.
“Are you.. real?” whispered the young man. The toddler glanced up from his work, paused, and shrugged in innocent confusion. “Are you.. a dream?” This time, the toddler let out a giggle as if to mock the absurdity of what he didn’t truly understand. The young man leaned in a little closer and whispered even quieter, “Are you… wel-… ar-… are you m-..” He paused to rephrase such an improbable question. “Wh-… what’s your name?” The toddler looked upwards to the sky as if to think, and then let out a few familiar consonants and syllables; they were jumbled and spread out. It was clear that the toddler was in the processing of forming an uncontrollable stutter: something that would haunt him for years to come.
Despite all impossibilities: the consonants, the syllables, the stutter, and everything surrounding them… his worst fears had been confirmed.
The young man laughed. “You know, it’s funny. Everyone says, ‘well if I could talk to..’ well, yeah.. ‘I would say so and so, and really make sure that I made so and so clear so that so and so would never happen.’ Haha, well.. my mind’s blank. I got nothing.” The toddler squinted his eyes in a cute fashion and let out a high pitched chuckle. “Having fun, there?” asked the young man. The toddler slightly opened his mouth, thinking of how to respond. “B-b-b-bbbbb… bluh… n’ n’… r-red.. mmmm.. n’ n’… ye-yelow… n’ mmm.. n’ gggggg… gggggg… g-g-greeen!” The toddler let out a triumphant laugh of victory as he had thoroughly described his arsenal of weaponry in which no other child could possibly take away from him.
The young man smiled for a second or so, but then he turned his gaze to the ground. “If only you knew how rough things are going to get. All those years of kids clarifying to you how you already knew you talked. Don’t worry though, you’ll grow out of most of it… You’ll lose your best friend in the 6th grade, you know. Brain cancer.” He shook his head in reminiscence. “You won’t cry for at least one year after that because it won’t be until then that you’ll dare to remember the friend that you never were to him.” The toddler’s gaze was fixed on his quivering eyes. “People will think you’re the greatest at music for a long time.” An evanescent laugh escaped his breath. “But it’s funny because few of those people will ever know the tears of a boy who never quite felt that he was good enough. And what’s even funnier is that you’ll never stop crying about the fact until you come to the realization that you’ll never have to be good enough; you’ll just have music as a friend, sort of.” He sighed. “Once God gets a hold of your life, He’ll destroy you.” The toddler’s eyes widened at the two words, “destroy” and, “you” being in the same sentence. Nonetheless, the young man smiled. “But He’ll only destroy you for the task of rebuilding you. And all the while, you’ll cry a hundred times more tears than anyone around you would think you actually cried. Everything about you will be dragged through the mud, and in return, God will replace you, bit by bit, with Himself.” A smile spread across his face. “You’ll get a new smile! Your school photos will look horrible for years, but once God gets you, He’ll give you back the smile He always wanted you to have.” The young man’s light spirit in the moment dropped to a sorrowful tone. “And your personality will always be a work in the process. Humor will continue to be your facade.. your mask that you won’t let down for years.” The toddler tilted his head as if to inquire what was to happen with such a thing. The young man smiled. “You’ll become a man, and humor won’t be your identity anymore. You’ll be more. Eventually, your humor will be nothing more than the cherry on top of the icing. The icing? It’ll be your joy, your humility, your servant-hood… but the cake, oh… the cake. Jesus Christ will bake such a fine cake out of you; Him being the only ingredient, really.”
The toddler’s eyes fell into a dreadful confusion as to how he would be baked into a cake.
The young man, realizing that toddlers aren’t meant to think so deep, solemnly stood up and took a deep breath. The toddler took a high pitched deep breath as well. Dry of any more words to add, the young man nodded to his little friend and then turned around to walk away. But as he took his first few steps, he heard a quiet sound from behind him:
The young man stopped and slowly turned back around.
“Bu..-bbbbbbu… buh wat abot yu…?”
“Me?” The little toddler, in response, vigorously nodded up and down. “What about me?”
“Iiih it wort it?”
The young man kneeled down in front of the toddler. “Well, you see. With every stroke of color, Jesus Christ will get more and more glory.. so in that case-” The toddler, realizing that Someone needed help with coloring, held out one of his pieces of chalk, with an innocent sparkle in his eyes. This sparkle reflected a hidden tear that contrasted beautifully with his tiny, chubby smile.
“Theh ‘dis ihs foh youw C-C-CccColorer… Heh c-c-cccccc-c-can useh ‘dis.”
The young man grinned at such an offer. “Oh, buddy, no need. He’ll use you.”
Milwaukee, Wisconsin. May 2, 1998.