Jeans, shirts, flip-flops, a jacket, socks, underwear and three packs of cigarettes. Once I got my toiletries bag in here, I’d be ready to go to Portland. I hadn’t been to the city in years, but the ever gray skies had left an impact on me. Always dress for rain when you go to Portland.
I was nervous, because Danielle was the only person I knew on this trip, and our relationship was shaky at best. She and I met at a hotel party quite a while ago, and since then, had gone on drives together and talked about God and music. I went to church with her once, but that was a nerve-racking experience; church people all accost the new person. Somehow, she had convinced me to sign up to go to Portland with the youth group at her church. In just a few hours, I’d be on an eight-hour bus ride. What had I gotten myself into?
I chain-smoked all the way to the church, knowing that I wouldn’t be able to touch a cigarette again for hours, let alone take a few relieving puffs off one. Oh God, I wanted to die just thinking about that! My sister pulled into the parking lot, said her good-bye and told me not to drink the kool-aid. That thought remained with me the whole weekend. My family didn’t go to church. My mom grew up Catholic, and my dad had a semi-Mormon background, but God was kind of a myth in my house. My mom wanted my sister and I to get baptized someday because she didn’t want us to go to hell. That was the extent to my religious upbringing.
I made my way to the room, tossed my bag on the first bed when I walked in. Four guys to a two-bed room. Awesome, looks like I’m sleeping with a stranger. And it’s a dude. I was still having regrets about coming on this trip. The guys came in, introduced themselves, Austen got in the shower, Jason went to the gym downstairs. It was just Shane and I, and now was my chance.
Vindictive thoughts raced through my mind, but I remained calm on the outside. “Sure.”
I sat down on the bed, bowed my head and closed my eyes, isn’t that how it’s done? Silence followed, then footsteps.
The footsteps came around the bed, stopped in front of me, and a pair of hands slapped down on my shoulders. They gave me enough of a jolt that my eyes popped open and my head shot up. My face asked the question, “What the crap are you doing?” Shane smiled and said, “It’s OK, I’m going to pray for you.” That didn’t make me feel better about the situation, nevertheless, I got back into the assumed prayer posture.
To be honest, I didn’t really pay too much attention to what the man started praying, because I was so distracted at the situation, which didn’t get any better. I heard the door open, followed by foot steps, then another hand landed on my left shoulder. Somebody else was touching me now. Shane kept going on what was probably the world’s longest prayer, but then the bathroom door opened, with more footsteps, then a hand on my right shoulder. I cracked my eyes open enough to see the top of a towel, and a red happy trail. Austen was a red-head.
I imagined a cleaning lady opening the door and screaming. I imagined myself screaming and running away. Then I was distracted from my own thoughts when Shane, with softness in his voice asked, “Jake, do you want to accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior?”
I said yes, repeated some words, and stood up. I didn’t feel good, and I think I looked like it, too. Austen said something akin to “Good job, I’m happy for ya.” and began to get dressed. I needed out. I grabbed a pack of Marlboros and my lighter, and stumbled out the door. Five cigarettes later, and I had the courage to return to the room.