I released Teardrop Road on June 23, 2021. I think it was a Thursday. It was pretty devastating to put it out in the world on the big stage. Having your secrets on a blog is one thing. The worldwide stage opens up doubts and fears that I expected but could never prepare myself for. However, this release is a win. It’s a win for me. It’s a win for my family. For mental health in general. And I hope if you’re in pain and you’re going through anything, any kind of abuse, any kind of loss, I hope this book can help you and that you can see it as a win. I’m celebrating the release of Teardrop with another blog blast. These are chapters of the second volume of Reality of the Unreal Mind, called Normal Street. I’m releasing a chapter from that book every two hours and fifteen minutes. This is the story of Hollow Man. This is the story of how I figured out love through a series of heartaches and confusing episodes. Because love is not easy to navigate for anyone, and it’s almost impossible for a shattered mind to prepare for their soulmate. Here is Hollow Man 6: Destiny Part 1.
I want to say it was the summer between my seventh-grade year and my eighth when Brother Charles finally got tired of the constant attacks at Harmony Baptist Church and left. It was not attacks as much as little pecks. Little bites of his pride and his solace. He had the impossible job of filling the shoes of Brother Heaven.
Heaven had founded the church. He had been a boisterous man with the spirit of the Lord in his belly and a wide and powerful heart. The legend of Brother Heaven was so great that Brother Charles could not compete, for Heaven had done miraculous things.
When the church was in its infancy, he had sworn that if the attendance got to over a hundred, he would preach while standing on the roof of the church. A few weeks later he was hollering down the word of God to those people staring in awe up at him.
He had an agreement with an AM station to broadcast his message every Sunday so those who missed church that week, or those who could not come in at all could hear the Lord’s Good Word at home or in their car.
He had headed up a building fund to add a wing onto the church and had reached his goal. He had committed so many wild and amazing deeds that the congregation had begun to worship him, and he had bowed out and gotten out of God’s way.
Brother Charles was a poor stand-in, and so after years of trying and failing to fill the shoes of Brother Heaven, Charles left for a different congregation in Lebanon, MO. We were without a preacher. The Baptist Commission lent us one as we went about the job of searching for a new preacher.
After six months, the committee of people put in charge of hunting a new religious leader had found their man in Brother Haste and we were all invited to the church one Saturday night to meet the man and his family and vote on whether or not he was our guy.
He was a rotund man with a great smile and an easy manner. He was straight out of a mission church he had set up in Nevada which taught Jesus to gamblers and card dealers. His family was looking forward to getting out of the desert and into the trees of Missouri. He had a wife, an older daughter, a boy, and his two youngest children were twin girls. One called Destiny. The other called Shine.
I will never forget the first moment I saw Destiny. She was standing in the fellowship hall among the lines of folding tables and chairs, her hands clasped behind her back, her head up as if gazing at God, with a blissful smile. She seemed to be filled with joy and she seemed holy.
I could not help but approach her, though I did not know what I would say when I got there. I stood before her and extended my hand. “My name is Jesse Teller. I need to know who you are.”
She giggled. The sound of it was musical and she shook my hand well. “I am Destiny. It is nice to meet you.” I looked at her again and Shadow looked up into her eyes breathless.
She was short and muscled, built like no other girl Shadow had ever seen. There was no fat on her body, just lean muscle and she was tan. She had a powerful body that was both masculine and feminine at the same time. Her smile was the sun. But her eyes, when she looked at me, were a smoldering fire of browns and blacks. Shadow did not know what to say to her, so he said nothing at all, and together they filled a comfortable silence. Finally, she laughed and said, “Have you met my brother?”
“No.” I could not tell her that I had only wanted to meet her. Could not tell her that though her sister was her twin, they looked nothing alike. They shared every feature. Build, smile, eyes and mouth. But to me they might as well have been different species. I could not tell her that I would be voting to keep her father. I did not know if he was a good preacher or even a good man, but I would vote for him anyway.
I simply wanted her near. I wanted Destiny to be within sight.
“What grade are you in?” I asked her.
“I’m in eighth.” I didn’t care. There was no way that I would have dated a girl from my school that was in sixth grade, but I would date her. Guardian came out to stare, as did Servant. They all came to look at the shining girl with the smile of light.
We talked for a bit longer before she left for the dinner. I met her brother. I met her sisters. By the end of the night her brother and I were friends. But every few moments my eye would stray to her. She seemed a light bright enough to fill the hollow body that ran through me. Maybe what I needed was a great person. A good person who could make me feel God. Maybe then I would be full. Maybe love, mixed with God, would make me feel that deep resounding hole less often, and less acutely.
We voted not to accept him. The vote was close, and the head of the search committee decided that since it was close, we would vote again. She wanted him. Said he was perfect for us. And even though most of the members churned at a second vote against a clear decision, the head of the committee was loud and persuasive, and she would not quiet her demand. She walked around the church talking to her friends and after about twenty minutes the vote was cast again. We had a new preacher.
And I had Destiny.
Was it a Godly decision? We will never know. The church grew slightly. It did not sway from its message. There were no big warning signs. There were no big changes made. But if you can judge God’s long game then this was not supposed to be our guy. Things would go as bad for Harmony as they could. Brother Haste would turn out to be the wrong guy for many reasons. But that was years away.
I was friends with Hunter, Destiny’s brother, and he was an odd boy. Dissatisfied with the local school, the family had decided to homeschool and Hunter took to it easy. He spent most of his time outdoors. The back yard of the church sat on acres of property and he used that land to hunt and fish. There were a few big ponds filled with catfish and no shortage of deer and other critters. Hunter accepted the woods as his home and every time I stayed with him, he took me out there.
He had a mean streak. Sometimes when he found an animal still alive in his trap or one had survived his shot, he would toy with it a bit before killing it. Sometimes when he fished, he would pull the fish out of the water and watch it smother to death. He was fascinated with the way things died and he hit things a lot. Trees and rocks, he would swat with a stick or a machete. He would stab a slab of wood over and over again with his knife and he would do other things almost as disturbing.
One day someone stole his dog from out of his back yard at night. They even locked the pen he kept it in closed when they left. He was devastated. It was his first hunting dog and he had trained it and walked the land with it by his side for months. He looked at me the Sunday after it disappeared as he crumpled the church program over and over again.
“If I ever find out who took him, I will kill them.” His eye was distant and dark when he said, “I’ll take my time.”
Hunter was not a bad kid, he was just disturbed. He would grow to be one of the finest men I ever knew. He would become an educated family man. I call him friend today, but at this point in his life, Hunter was dangerous.
That is when my adoration for his sister became unbearable and I asked him if I could date her. He smiled. He lifted an eyebrow and nodded. “Hurt her and they won’t find you,” he whispered.
Guardian nodded solemnly and assured him that it would not be an issue.
Guardian came before Destiny and bowed. She was surrounded by a gaggle of girls and they all pulled back and stared. Guardian extended his hand to her and she took it with a giggle. He turned and very gently led her away.
He had begun to conduct himself like a knight. It seemed the easiest way for him to be what he saw in himself. He led her to a quiet section of the church and took her hand in both of his.
“I asked Hunter.” Her eyes smoldered and widened. “I asked him if I could take you in my arms as you already sit in my heart, and he said yes. Destiny, have me as your boy and you can be my girl. Destiny, do not turn me away.”
And she didn’t. She hugged him and he pulled back with his arms wrapped around her. Guardian had never wanted to kiss a girl before. He had been too tied up in himself, to self-conscious. But this time with her so close it seemed the most natural thing to bend his neck and kiss her lips.
He didn’t. He did not kiss her. He simply looked into her eyes and felt the warmth of her stare.
Rose was beside herself. She was so filled with joy at the idea of me and the preacher’s daughter that she shone like a bright penny. It was not the girl. Rose did not know her at all. A bug had bitten Rose. The Jesus addiction had hit her. She wanted the renown of being a Woman of God.
She smiled when she needed to. She prayed when she needed to. Blessed people and spoke the name of God whenever people were watching. She did not do these things at home. At home she yelled and screamed when she wanted to. She still manipulated the entire family, and she still possessed a rage held in check that only sometimes escaped her tight grasp.
My mother had become a Christian, and the power of it had her drunk. She stopped telling her family they needed to do something because it was what she wanted them to do and she started saying that her will was God’s will. She began to use the word of God against us. Began to wield His name and His Son as a weapon. The more she went to that church, the more holy she appeared. The holier she appeared, the slyer she got.
Many people find themselves in the Lord. They find hope, they find guidance. None of this is what happened to my mother. As the years dragged on and her rhetoric of the Lord became more pronounced, she became the worst version of herself.
She did not know Destiny at all. She only knew the girl was the preacher’s daughter and that meant renown. She told me a few weeks after I started dating her that God had told her that one day, I would marry Destiny.
We dated for a month. We went skating together. I couldn’t make my feet do anything when they were on wheels. They skipped and scooted, and I trembled, my body locked and uncomfortable. But Destiny held me up. She laughed beside me, and we went in our circles happy.
She came over twice and ate lunch with us after church. I took her on walks and held her tight to my body. Most of our time was spent staring into each other’s eyes. Her eyes drew Guardian in. They possessed him. They were a drug to him.
Shadow wanted to kiss her but every time he tried, Guardian pulled him back.
Servant fell in love with her. Every time he was with her, Rose told him how good a boy he was. Rose made sure he wrote Destiny and called her. She made certain he was good to Destiny.
Every Sunday he would take his trench coat off and give it to her when he got to church. The garment swallowed her up, but she wore it, and she looked right in it. Maybe this was the girl. Maybe this was going to be his wife one day.
She broke up with him after a month. Said she could not take it anymore. Said that Hunter beat her every day. He tortured her. Broke her belongings. Said terrible things about her and told her it would continue until she broke up with me. She showed me bruises.
Guardian wanted to kill him, but she broke down crying and almost screamed. She made him promise to still be Hunter’s friend. Made him promise to let it go and not make anything out of the way Hunter treated her.
See, Destiny was terrified of Hunter. None of us knew his limits. We knew his temper. We knew his habits. But none of us knew how far he would go or if he would stop himself once he was headed down a hard road.
When she handed me back my trench coat after church that final day, she was crying. Guardian was too.
Rose freaked out and threatened to go to Brother Haste. But I told her that he likely already knew and was doing nothing about it. It was the first appearance of darkness in the family. The first sign that things were not right. There would be more.
But for now, I had lost my Destiny. For now, she was out of my grasp.