As Dixie drove back to town with the autumn sun slanting onto her face, she realized she was headed to ‘their’ spot by the river. Her truck pulled into the dirt patch by the bank where she and Kenny had stopped at twice before. Dixie cut the motor and hopped out of the driver’s side, then leaned back in to grab the small notebook from the paper sack of Kenny’s belongings and the blanket from behind the seat.
Dry grass rustled under her feet and the song of the river supported and dominated every other sound. She spread the blanket under the oak tree and settled her back against its enduring trunk. Setting the journal beside her she rested her head against the scratchy bark, closed her eyes, and remembered the first time she sat in this place with Kenny, just weeks ago. The river sang to her, holding its memories deep within its breast. What had they talked about? God’s love. Dixie remembered she’d felt generous, expansive, telling Kenny that God loved him. His response had humbled her, “I know God loves me. I’m not worried about Him loving me.” Kenny hadn’t worried that his Creator loved the person he had created. He was worried about everyone else. That was the moment conviction had caught fire in her heart.
She reached out her hand, feeling the cover of the little notebook. Should she read Kenny’s personal thoughts? She knew she would. But she hesitated, looking for... for what? For permission? Putting the notebook in her lap she listened a minute more to the tumbling river song. God had brought Kenny to her, to teach her, she knew there were still things to learn. Opening the front cover she read the first page. He had written his name at the top; Kenneth Brian McNab. His middle name was Brian. The first few pages talked about his life at home, questioned his dad’s abuse of him, begged God to make him normal. Several pages in she read an entry from the night before he’d left home.
I can’t take it no more. Why would someone whip a person they love? My dad must not love me. Not if he can whip me black and blue. My backside is so sore I can hardly stand it. I don’t know why God made me this way, or even if he did, but I can’t change for a mean old cuss like him no how. I wish my mama was here. Maybe she would love me. Maybe she would tell him to stop treating me like trash. Well, I’ve had it. Robbie said I can come stay with his family so I’m going to. I’ll look for a job and be a productive person. I just want to be kind and helpful, I don’t want to hurt nobody. And I don’t want them to hurt me.
Dixie wiped a tear, and chuckled, remembering the first time she had met him. She had been so surprised when she picked him up. But she had seen that hurt in his eyes, heard it in his voice. She could never shake that image. Had she even noticed he’d been whipped? She couldn’t remember seeing him limp or flinch. Had she said the right things to him that day? She sure hoped so.
She read through the next few entries. One talked about the “nice girl” who had picked him up and given him a ride. He wrote about the lunch he’d had with her family and how fine they were and how he wished he could fit in, but he’d felt he stuck out like a sore thumb and they’d had to “put up with” him. There was an entry about Gabriel. He wrote about meeting “a little guy with more problems than me” and how he had “inspired me to be brave in tough situations.” He wrote about Joe, saying, “I wish he were my real granpaw. Nobody’s ever been so kind to me before. He doesn’t look at me as gay, he just sees me as a person. I can tell it by the way he talks to me. I don’t have to be nothing different than who I am to him.”
Then she came to the last entry, written the day he had died.
I been reading the book of John, like Dixie said I should, so I can find out who Jesus is. If Jesus is God, and he became man, so that we can know who God is, then we best listen up. I knew about Jesus but I didn’t know all the things John says about him. I’m going to make a list of what I’ve learned:
He is light, he forgives, he came to show us his Father (I guess that’s God), he heals, he is bread, he is kind, he’s the lamb, he is a stairway to heaven.
I don’t understand a lot of things that Jesus said. But he wasn’t afraid of talking to anybody. He helped all kinds of people, different people, even when the pharisees didn’t want him to. I always wanted to belong. I think I can see myself in these stories, belonging. He said hard things. He talked about life and death and sin. But I recon if he’s all those things this book says he is, then he gets to. I like the part that says he shines in darkness. Seems like I got a lot of darkness in my life and I want him to shine. My Daddy, and people at church, are upset about me being gay but I know that’s not the half of it. My heart isn’t like Jesus or what he says I should be like, it’s dark. I think if he wants to forgive me and if I can belong to him then he has the right to tell me what’s what. I don’t understand it all. I know I’m different and I might always will be. But he touched all kinds of people in John’s book so I’m going to ask him to touch me too. Jesus says I just got to believe he came from God and he’s the way back, and I do. I think I want his light, I think I want him, more than anything.
I don’t want to make things hard for Dixie. I know her mom and some folks at church don’t want me around, but I think her Daddy doesn’t mind. I hope I can keep going and learn more about Jesus. If Joe and Dixie will take me I’ll keep going, being near Dixie used to make me feel brave, now I think Jesus does.
I’m glad Dixie brought me to Joe’s. If I’ve learned one thing from him it’s that no person’s story is ever finished. He tells me - ‘who knows what part of their story you’ll find a person in, be patient, it’s not over.’ I like that.
Dixie didn’t even try to stop the tears, but she did close the book, and put it aside so they wouldn’t smudge the page. She had never seen Jesus from that perspective. The Light, traveling around Israel, shining in dark places and touching everyone, even the ones he wasn’t ‘supposed’ to.
Dixie leaned her head back against the gnarly skin of the oak and let the water sing a song to her heart. She couldn’t wait to tell Gabriel that Kenny believed. She wondered - what dark places did she need light shined on in her heart? What dark places in her town needed light? It seemed her world had had a healthy dose of it light recently. Her mother’s darkness had broken, already the freedom and openness that had swept through the house was refreshing. The secret had lost its power. Sadie had realized her friendship was more important than her image. Her dad had realized people were more important than public opinion or church politics. What about Dixie’s own heart?
Across the water a heron stood on stilts creeping up the bank, his head turned to the water, patiently watching for a fish. A squirrel scampered in the trees, knocking loose leaves that danced down to the blanket. She felt almost drowsy in the dappled sunlight. She was too tired to think anymore.