It was the 16th of February, 1985, on a cold, dark Saturday in Red Bank, New Jersey, and I was determined to die having a good time.
I had nothing to live for. Just a thankless job as a gunnery sergeant in the Marine Corps. I was going to go to every bar I could find and drink myself into a stupor. Then, defiant in the face of my misery, I’d tell the world that I just didn’t care anymore, and hopefully end my life for good.
This is fitting, I thought as I swung a leg over my bike. I didn’t even have a car. Riding a bike to a bar was absurd—just like my life. God’s really let me go. I peddled off into town, shivering.
My wheels wobbled in the snow. I glanced over my shoulder before crossing the street. Another cyclist rode up behind me. Someone else is riding a bike in the middle of February? I thought. What a jerk.
I shrugged it off. My front tire wobbled all over the place. A darn flat. I walked the bike to a gas station and unscrewed the cap on my tire. “Looks like you’ve got air pressure problems.” Behind me stood a pimply young man wearing secondhand clothes. The other jerk on a bike.
“As a matter-of-fact, I do,” I said. “What made you pull in here?”
“I’ve been watching you,” he said. That startled me. Why would he be watching me? Maybe for the same reason I watched him. A couple of real jerks. Except there was an innocence about this kid. He couldn’t have been more than 20.
“Where you headed?” I asked.
“Anywhere and everywhere,” he replied. “How about you?”
I wished I hadn’t asked. “Just a little shopping,” I lied. “Nice meeting you.”
“Likewise,” he said, and peddled off. I filled my tire and screwed the cap back on.
My stomach growled and I stopped for a slice of pizza at the strip mall. With a little food in my stomach, I’d be able to drink more.
Now I was ready to begin drinking. The first bar on my list wasn’t too far. I left the pizza parlor and got on my bike. “Hi, there!” said a familiar voice behind me.
I wheeled around. The young man on the bike was standing there smiling. Where did he come from? “Early lunch?” he asked.
“Wait a second. How do you know where I’ve been?” I asked.
“I saw you go into the pizzeria,” he said. “Sheer coincidence.”
It didn’t feel like one. I needed to get rid of this kid. “Where are you off to now?” I asked, so I could take off in the opposite direction.
“Anywhere and everywhere,” he said, flashing me a grin.
“Well, take care,” I said. I peddled off as fast as I could.
“Hey!” the kid called after me. “Where are you going?”
What was up with this kid? I stopped on my bike. I should just keep going. But it was too late. I didn’t want to be rude. “Back to the barracks, I guess.” No kid would want to go there.
“Can I come?” he asked, eager as a puppy about the idea.
My head dropped. I couldn’t tell him to get lost. “Come on,” I said.
My plan to drink myself into a stupor was falling way behind schedule, but I led the kid back to Fort Monmouth, where I was stationed. We pulled up to the red-brick structure where I lived. “So this is it, huh?” the young man asked.
“Yep,” I said. “Listen, I’ve got to take care of a couple things before tonight. I should go inside.” I got halfway to the door before the kid stopped me again.
“What about tonight?” he asked.
I’m going to get drunk—alone! I wanted to shout. But I didn’t say it. Instead I thought of the last place a kid would want to spend Saturday night. “I’m going to church,” I said.
The kid didn’t miss a beat. “Great! I’ll see you at tonight’s service!”
I watched him ride off and fade into the distance while I thought about the events of the day. I left my room this morning intending to obliterate myself. Now, here I was, sitting on my bike outside my home, as the sun went down, sober as a stone. And all because this annoying, pimply kid couldn’t take a hint. And to top it off, I was going to church. You’ve got to be kidding me, I thought.
I got to church on time that night, but took a seat in the back so I wouldn’t miss my new buddy, the one I couldn’t shake. Funny thing was, he never showed up. Funnier still, I was disappointed.
Because I wanted to thank him for my sitting where I was instead of on a bar stool—or worse. I thought God had let me go. But it was me who let God go. So he sent an angel on a bicycle to chase me down and bring me back.
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