(This is the serial release of my book Hello, My Name is Phillip. You are welcome to share these posts with friends, and welcome also to buy the book here. The story picks up as Phillip eavesdrops on an important conversation.)
It is Mr. Clay, from the church. He stands there, smiling that wide grin of his.
“Come in,” the lady tells him. Mr. Clay kind of looks like he has been melted and poured into his clothes and overflowed them. He looks nearly as wide as he is tall but has the kind of eyes that sparkle. His black-rimmed glasses never seem level across his nose but slant one way or the other with the frames at their maximum stretch around his large, round face and over his ears. I like him because whenever he sees me, he calls to me and says, as he does now, “How’s my little Champion?” and then usually he ruffles my hair.
Today, after he greets us, he says to the lady, “Is there someplace we can talk privately for a few minutes?”
“Sure, come sit down in the living room. Phillip, you and Skye go upstairs for a few minutes to play, okay?”
Me and Skye head up the stairs. But instead of going all the way to my room, we sit on the landing. I then can overhear the conversation between them. Mr. Clay starts.
“Dorothy, you said you saw pornography on the screen on Michael’s computer. In his history, it looks like he has been visiting sites for the last several years, several times a day. Thousands of them. From what I saw, which was too much, actually, they’ve become increasingly violent. He has a deeply seated problem. None of them were child porn, which is good, otherwise he would be in jail, but still the addiction is clear and vile. I called an emergency Sessions meeting last night and we agreed that he will need to step down as pastor for the time being. He has been with us for a decade and what he has done with us has been good. However, this secret life seems to point to some other issues.
“Last night, we spoke also about you and Phillip, wondering how this might have impacted you, your relationship with Michael.”
Mr. Clay waits silently. The lady sniffles before she speaks. “Until last year, John, on Phillip’s birthday, I too have been so far from Jesus. I had drifted. The relationship between Michael and I has been caustic for years. It was then that Jesus shook me awake. Since then, I have seen how wrong-spirited I’ve been and how much I needed Jesus to change me. He’s been working on my heart.
“This past year has been remarkable, with Phillip’s music and with growth in my relationship with Phillip and Jesus. I began to back away from the arguments with Michael that had characterized our lives. I began to speak gently in response, except, when I didn’t. The blow up yesterday morning was the worst one we have had in a few months. What I saw on that screen disgusted me with Michael, and with myself for allowing his behaviors to continue. Phillip has not wanted to go into that office room for years, which made me wonder if Michael was using that place for something more than work. Phillip seems to have radar for that kind of thing.” The lady pauses. And right then, Skye lets out this long, wide, loud, yawn, changes his position on the landing, and curls up again. Frantically, I signal to him to be quiet and sit still as stone. The moment of quiet passes and Mr. Clay speaks again.
“The Sessions Committee does not want you to be abandoned or to feel abandoned. As of today, we are beginning a search for our new pastor, but in the Presbyterian Church that process will take a while. And it could be, depending upon how Michael responds to all we are seeking to do, he might be able to return to us.”
“Beginning this weekend, we have hired an interim pastor. For you, we agreed on two things, first, we would like to pay you half of Michael’s salary for the next three months until you can find work to support yourself. And second, we have committed ourselves to working with Michael to get him healing. I called him to tell him our decision and he got angry, yelled, and hung up. So, that second part might take a while.” Here Mr. Clay chuckles.
“What has caused you to be so gracious to us?” the lady whispers so quietly I almost can’t understand her.
“Oh, that’s easy. We love you. We love Phillip. Miss Jeanne’s husband, Stewart, is on Sessions and spoke up on your behalf and felt that Phillip needed to remain in his wife’s classroom. He said she and Phillip have a special bond. Also, I found something else in the computer files which since I was already snooping, I opened. In this file, it was a journaling file, I found Michael’s heart.”
I hear Mr. Clay pull out a piece of paper and hand it to the lady. She opens it and begins to read it, aloud.
“I’m torn in half, two worlds. The one on the screen, and the one out there, with Dorothy, Phillip, and the church. I’m half a man, half a soul. I don’t have hope, I have pretense. I don’t have a life. I am searching for something that would fill the void but am finding only death. I talk about you, God, but don’t know you. I don’t know what happened tonight, but Dorothy encountered Someone, she says it was Jesus, and Phillip clearly knows the same Someone. And Maggie and Henry know this Someone too. God, I hate myself…”
“John. I never even knew he noticed or saw us. This must have been written after Phillip had run away after his birthday. That’s when my life changed.”
Mr. Clay says, “There’s more. Here is an entry dated January 31st. It was after he had been away that month for spiritual renewal.”
“Well, he took an anger management course,” the lady says, sharply. “So, he told you all it was for spiritual renewal. He said he had spoken with you.”
“Oh, he did, and he was honest, which is why I approved his plan. He said he had totally lost his temper and done something terrible. He said he needed a chance to change, didn’t deserve anything but needed a break. We approved it as spiritual renewal leave, and I understand that this course was part of that.”
“Okay. I’m just glad he did not lie to you,” the lady responds. “He was gone that month at the Abbey where the course took place.”
“Read what he wrote here, Dorothy. This is the man we need to help.”
Again, she receives a piece of paper and reads it. And this time she doesn’t read it aloud and begins to cry in earnest. Mr. Clay waits and says nothing. Then the lady speaks, “This, this here, this is the man I fell in love with. He has been absent for years, a decade or more even. Where is this man, John? How do we find him under all the layers of the mess that has been put on? I feel like he has been playing a role with all of you for a long time and been a different person at home. He’s a ‘Dr. Jekyll Mr. Hyde.’ And it has been getting worse over the last few years.”
“That’s what I felt as well. There’s a hurting man, here. He needs help to find himself. Well, that need is clear from how he has been using his computer. Considering how he reacted to hearing our decision, I know that he will not yet be open to help, unless…” Here Mr. Clay pauses and then continues, “unless we can somehow access this person, this sensitive, hurting person. That’s why the Sessions Committee and I are planning an intervention. We have hired a mediator to help us get through to him. We are meeting with the mediator a week from tonight to learn how we might work together to help Michael hear. Although Michael won’t be our pastor again, anytime soon, we cannot just let him be hired someplace else. He needs to get help first.”
“This is a remarkable kind of response,” the lady says.
“Well, if there is anything we want, it is to respond in a way that is befitting to who we are, and Who we follow. It’s not as if any of us are without our own needs, hang-ups, and hurts!” Here he laughs this booming laugh, as I hear him thump on his enormous barrel of a stomach. The lady laughs too. I stroke Skye’s hair.
“We are aiming for an intervention in a month, on a Saturday. It will take that long to prepare it. We are not asking you to be involved, obviously. We have enough people with stories, and we have enough evidence from his computer to help Michael face off with his own heart. Our hope is that he will respond and receive our help. We have found a program for him to be involved with which has a good success rate helping men both deal with their porn issues and deal with their hearts. It’s clear from that piece you read, that there is past hurt none of us knew about.”
“Even me,” the lady says. “He never mentioned this to me.”
The man with the car wouldn’t be coming here to live with us for a while, for certain. People were helping him get different and better. I breathe in this deep, satisfying breath.
“Now, we are beginning to send you half of Michael’s salary beginning next month for three months. Will that be long enough time for you to find work?”
“Yes, absolutely. I’m very employable,” the lady says. “I was planning to work again during the day when Phillip starts school anyway, so your extra will help immensely. And we are in a good place financially. One thing Michael does well is save money. We have six months expenses in savings. That brings this to mind, how will Michael be supporting himself? And where will he be staying?”
“That I don’t know,” says Mr. Clay, “And neither did anyone else on Sessions. We do know he did not go to his parent’s place.”
“I’ll let you know if I hear anything,” the lady says. “He will have to be in touch in order to get his clothes. He certainly cannot come back here unless something changes. By the way, did you clear all the history on his computer?”
“Yes. It is wiped clean, having saved the history onto a flash drive as evidence for everything he was involved with.”
“Good. I cannot thank you enough,” the lady says. I can hear them standing up. It is obvious by the sounds of effort Mr. Clay makes, getting to his feet. Skye and I sneak upstairs all the way.
“Phillip,” the lady calls to me, “Come down and tell Mr. Clay goodbye.”
I come back downstairs, and Mr. Clay bends over, ruffles my hair and I do what I never do, I step forward and hug him. He chuckles and ruffles my hair again.
“Thank you for that hug buddy,” he says.
“Goodbye, Dorothy.” Mr. Clay says, shaking her hand. “Remember, we are all praying for you and for Michael and Phillip in this time. Don’t hesitate to call Margaret or me if you need anything.”
“I cannot tell you how much I appreciate this,” the lady says, hands on each side of her face.
And with that, he walks out the door, and as she closes it behind him, she turns to me, and smiling down, says, “And you, you little spy, you were listening in, weren’t you? I heard you going up the stairs before I called you down. And I thought I had heard Skye yawn from the landing. So, you heard, did you?”
I nod, sheepishly. It does no good to try to hide something, when you have been found out.
“That’s a good thing, actually, except you don’t need to know what daddy was doing. But you can know that he won’t be living with us for a while unless he does the work he needs to do. Our lives are going to change a bit. You deserve a home where there is love, Phillip. Everyone does.” She pauses. “And we haven’t done a very good job with that by you these years. Also, I have not spoken to you about the possibility of working. I have been thinking about taking up a job when you start school. So, that will add changes to our lives, too. But I think it will work out okay.”
She hugs me. I hug her back. “You better go practice your piano, friend. We need the house filled with color.”
I look up surprised. She keeps surprising me.