Chapter 8 And the Truth Shall Make You Free
The hospital gave Kevin something to help him sleep. When he woke up the next morning, he remembered having a wonderful dream. He had been with Lily, but not the Lily with whom he had argued with the previous night. It was the Lily from the best parts of his life: kneeling and asking Kevin to marry her; the honeymoon at Niagara Falls, moving into their own apartment, learning that they were going to have a baby. It was all jumbled together – sometimes they were at the park in Canada, sometimes at Arcadia, and Lily seemed to be talking about the baby even though they had just gone through their wedding night. What was clear was that Kevin's subconscious was trying to tell him something, that he and Lily were meant to be together.
Or was it his subconscious? Kevin has never been into supernatural explanations, but now he wondered: was Lily's God trying to tell him something instead?
As his checkout time approached, his father appeared to help him gather his things. He told Kevin that the investigation had cleared him of the charges surrounding the shooting of Joan's assailant. On the strength of that, and Kevin's leaving the hospital, he had gotten permission to take a few hours off of work in the middle of the day.
"You must be very relieved," Kevin observed, "but you don't look it."
"No, there's another ordeal ahead," said his father. "I've already called Helen, asked her to get the family together. It's time that we had a big discussion."
An hour later, everybody was gathered in the living room: Helen, Kevin, Joan, Luke, Adam, and Lily. Will looked around at them. "All right. We're all adults here – even Luke passed his 18th birthday earlier this month. I don't have the right to order anybody what to do with their religious beliefs. But we're a family, and that means more than just a collection of seven people all going their separate ways. I don't want our lying to each other. So I'd like for us to talk over this situation honestly. Does anybody object?"
"I've been wanting to talk openly for ages," stated Joan.
"Let me say something," said Kevin. It might have been better to speak with his wife privately, but he knew that the whole family had already been dragged into the argument, and needed to hear the apology. "Lily, when we married we agreed to disagree about religion. I never anticipated this situation coming up. I'm sorry I've been behaving like such a boor. I know you love me, but I need to understand why you won't demand that God cure me, even if I disagree with it."
"I know," said Lily. "I didn't know how to bring it up to you -"
"Maybe we should let Joan start," Luke interrupted. "She's the one things happened to first."
"I started getting visits from God when we first moved to Arcadia," said Joan. "He took the form of a teenaged boy. A, um, very cute boy."
"In other words," said Will, "He came to you at a point where you were desperate for new friends, and in a form most designed to appeal to a teenaged girl. Didn't you find that suspicious?"
"I WAS suspicious," Joan confirmed. "I worried that He might be just a kid playing an elaborate practical joke, or a supernatural Thing trying to tempt me into doing wrong. After I came down with Lyme Disease I thought the visits were just hallucinations. But what convinced me was that things He told me to do had good ripples. They proved that I was working with Something that understood the universe, knew how things were going to work."
"Why didn't you tell us what was going on?"
"The first person I told was Dr. Dan, and he DID think I was crazy. And you let him send me to Crazy Camp, just on his say-so! Do you think I was going to tell you about meeting God on the street, after that, unless God backed me up?"
Joan looked angry, and their father looked chastened. "Did you tell anybody else?"
"Judith, at Crazy Camp. But at the time she and I both thought God was a hallucination brought on by my illness. I think, just before she died, she got a vision of the truth."
"How did the others get involved, if you were careful to keep it a secret?"
"I think I better answer that," put in Luke. "God let Grace overhear her Him talking to Joan one evening, and she told me. That was, let's see, the beginning of summer, 2005. Joan was terrified of being sent back to Crazy Camp, so Grace and Iswore not to tell anybody else, and decided to investigate on our own."
Will looked glum. It was looking clear to Kevin that the decision to send Joan to Gentle Acres had had disastrous consequences – bad ripples, to use Joan's clever metaphor. It had frightened not only Joan, but also Luke and his girlfriend, into keeping secrets from their Dad, and maybe from Kevin.
"Grace and I were skeptical at first, but by the end of summer we had found enough evidence to accept Joan's story, and then God started appearing to us occasionally," added Luke.
"That fall," Adam said, "it was obvious to me that Grace and the Girardis were hiding a secret from me, and I nagged Joan to trust me. She finally told me a year ago, at Christmas."
Thinking back, Kevin remembered how the three of them had made all sorts of wild decisions a year ago that amazingly worked out. Unmasking Ryan Hunter as a crazed vandal, persuading Friedmann to stick by his pregnant girlfriend, Grace Polonski befriending a Muslim who might have been expected to reject a Jewish girl. Joan defending a man who had been unjustly arrested, and later solving a series of mysteries on flimsy evidence.
His father turned to his wife, looking overwhelmed. "What about you, Helen?"
"My story's a bit different. I've been having odd dreams for years. In one of them, a few months ago, I was told what Joan was doing, and Joan confirmed the story when I visited her in college. It seems that my family has always produced a series of mystics, usually in the female line, going all the way back to an Old Testament prophetess named Deborah. I was supposed to be a Handmaiden of God, or whatever you want to call it. But there was that – that incident in college, which soured me on religion for years. So it skipped me and God recruited my daughter instead."
Everybody understood what she meant by "that incident". The brutal sexual assault that had left Helen traumatized for years, so that even now she was highly reluctant to discuss her feelings about it.
"Apparently my baby's in the line, too," said Lily, her hand on her swelling belly. "I had a prophetic dream last month, just because I was carrying my daughter. So Helen and Joan let me into the secret."
"Wait a minute," said Kevin. "If it involves both my mother and my unborn daughter, it would have passed through me. But I've never felt particularly holy."
"Like I said, it passes though the female line," said Helen. "Or maybe, like me, you were, um —"
"Preoccupied by my own tragedy, yeah," Kevin admitted. "I AM feeling a little obtuse, not to have noticed more things going on in this house, with my sister and younger brother."
"Don't blame yourself," said Joan. "I was TRYING to hide what was going on in my life!"
"Let's stick to facts, and not trying to throw blame around," said Will firmly. "Joan, what happened yesterday with the police investigation?"
Joan sighed. "I visited Mr. Noner yesterday, and spun the story a bit. I said that Adam and I were trying to reconcile a couple of computer nerds, which was true." Luke looked a little annoyed at the nerd reference, but didn't interrupt. "I said that when the situation seemed mysterious, I couldn't resist playing detective, because I had a friend named Veronica Mars who liked sleuthing around. Mr. Noner thought I was a bit of ditz not to have been more cautious, and I let him think so, because that got Dad off the hook."
"Thank you, Joan. But how did you know that Mr. Noner was the key person? I never told the family that."
"How do you think I found out? God told me. Though He's usually a lot more vague than that."
"Usually when He gives me a mission, She doesn't tell me why it's important, or exactly what I'm supposed to do."
Will ignored the odd shift in gender. "Dominance games."
"No, it's to encourage me to examine the situation, think things out on my own. Not just the facts, but the moral implications. I've gotten a lot better at it, over three years. I think I'm being trained for something, something crucial in my future."
"Buttering you up by telling you how important you are. 'You ought to be in pictures'; that was a pick-up line in my parents' generation."
"It's not like that, but it's not something I can explain. It's a feeling."
"Which He, or She, might be implanting in you."
Kevin suddenly felt cold. The idea of God sending him a dream encouraging him to forgive Lily no longer seemed so benign. But all Joan did was to repeat: "It's not like that."
There was a long pause, and Will finally said. "OK. As I said, we're all adults, and I don't think I can order people how to order their religious lives. But I think everybody should be more on their guard about what they're asked to do. If some mission affects the family, the family should know about it. And in the meantime, I'm going to use all the investigative skills at my command, and try to figure out exactly what this deity or whatever is up to."
Everybody started. Though nobody said so out loud, it was very ominous timing that the knocking at the front door came exactly after Will's hostile remark.
"I'll get it," said Kevin, who was nearest the front door. He didn't want his father to confront Whatever was outside, in case it was angry.
Kevin opened the door, revealing a rather tall, creepy-looking man in black. He looked like a archetypical undertaker. "I think it's time we talked," the man said.
Kevin looked back into the living room to see everybody's reaction. There wasn't any. Everybody, even Joan, seemed to have gone into a trance. Kevin turned back to the visitor. "Are you HIM?"
"You're upset because I have not healed you,"said the Man in Black, ignoring the question. "How badly do you want to be healed?"
"Very much so."
"The bottleneck is fixing the damaged nerve, which is beyond current science. But in a few years, scientists will learn how to splice in donated nerve tissue, though only if it's a very close match. The only suitable donor is your future daughter. Would you ask for a transplant from her?"
"No! I'd rather stay paralyzed!" shouted Kevin in shock.
"That's what I hoped to hear," said the Man in Black. He stretched out His arm – indeed it seemed as if He was literally increasing its length – and tapped the back of Kevin's neck. Kevin felt a tingling down his back, travelling down into an area that had felt nothing for years.
"Hey!" Kevin tried to rise up, but toppled back into the wheelchair.
"I said the damaged nerve was the bottleneck, not the entire problem," said the Man in Black. "Your muscles have not been used for years. Considerable therapy will be necessary, and much effort on your part. But that's within the reach of today's medicine."
"And I'll walk! Right? I'll walk! Thank You! But why couldn't You have done this earlier?"
"You needed to be prepared. For a long time you have been pre-occupied by your own tragedy, oblivious to what was going on in the life of your sister and brother. You needed to learn the truth, and make a selfless choice of your own, before you could be free. Besides, I work in mysterious ways," said the undertaker, walking off.
One week later, Kevin was sitting in the audience watching the Christmas pageant at the church. He was still in his wheelchair, but he would not be there forever. He watched proudly as Lily, costumed as the Virgin Mary with the divine baby in her womb, rode in on her donkey. He envied the parishioner playing the role of Joseph, haggling with the innkeeper. Maybe he would play it, some year.
Afterwards, during the manger scene, Lily was replaced by another woman who wasn't so visibly pregnant. The ex-nun circled around the makeshift stage unobtrusively and slipped into the seat next to her husband. On stage, an angel was reciting a liturgy: "Blessed is he who cometh in the name of the Lord."
Kevin still didn't understand the conventionally religious life. But at the moment he felt somehow in tune with the universe. The Hope of the Ages on stage, was matching the hope in his heart. He wondered if Joan felt this attunement all the time. It was like a new age beginning, both in the drama and in his own life.