by Douglas C Atkins
I was the boss’s son and everyone knew it. Seducing women was easy because they all felt if they nabbed me it would be their ticket out of poverty. That happened to be my lifestyle back in the early eighties. The girls were all cute, curvy, and sensuous… young. In their early twenties. Some with young children. They thought they were using me, but it worked both ways. I used them for my own gain. They thought I had what they needed, so I used them for sex. I lived as a misogynistic fool, I just didn’t know it.
My drug habit, alcohol abuse, and lust drove me to the same type of women, those who would party as hard as me. Getting high, drunk, was a channel to passionate, certainly drug infused love-making. I had no sense of any type of god in those days. I assumed the universe and everything in it, was created by some sort of Supreme Being, but I could not possibly have cared less.
Along the way, I got a married woman pregnant. It was a typical office affair. Jeannine was my secretary. We flirted. She was eager. The idea of an affair was irresistibly alluring and vibrantly thrilling. We thought no one knew about us, but certainly everyone did. Our secret must have been the center of the gossip grapevine. In time, she had our baby girl, but I didn’t care. Although, Jeanine took one particular picture that I treasured for years. Our baby sat perched on my shoulders, drooling, clinching my hair, wide-eyed and with an infant’s expression of joyous excitement. Regardless, how could I love a child when I couldn’t possibly even love myself? We parted ways and they moved from New England to Florida.
Time went on. In the mid-eighties, I met Cathy, a delicate, petite girl. She was different than the rest. Her purity radiated innocence, where the others spent most of their spare time catching a buzz. Of course, there were exceptions, but not many. I guess the main differences between Cathy and the rest was her beauty, but also, unfortunately, the fact that her body had been plundered by childhood illnesses. I had fallen in love for the first time in my life. I stood exactly a foot taller than her tiny four foot eleven frame. Her perfectly straight, dark brown hair nearly reached her buttocks in back, with always evenly cut bangs above her slender face. Cathy was one of the most beautiful women I had ever met. We married.
My whole world changed. I straightened out, thanks to Cathy. She offered me womanly things to replace the drugs. Her father was a recovering alcoholic, so she was adamantly against drinking. I loved her dearly which empowered me to successfully stop. My head was finally clear of drugs and alcohol, and I knew very well, that I would have either OD’ed in some gutter, or been sentenced to jail if it wasn’t for her.
In a few years we had a son, Justin. I loved him more that I had ever loved anything else. I spent hours each day playing with him – good guys and bad guys, his favorite past-time. He also had this thing about lining up his Matchbox cars and trucks in neat rows. Justin had so many he could put them in order from one side of the room to the other. We would each have a car and shoot it toward the other’s. “Crashing cars,” we called it. “Dad, will you play crashing cars with me?” My answer was always a resounding, “Yes, I’d love to,” and I did.
Justin held so much importance. I had always thought of kids as a burden, a means of entrapment, and now this one was my whole life.
As my love for Cathy and Justin continued to deepen, I started to wonder about my daughter. What was she like? Was she a happy child, like Justin? How did she do in school? What were her favorite toys? What did she look like? Her mother was pretty. Was there a resemblance? Did she like hugs? These questions consumed me. Finally, Cathy and I were determined that we were going to be part of my daughter’s life. We started looking for her and her mother, and just as we found them the most horrifying news came to us.
My daughter had just been murdered!
She was not the victim of a stray bullet, a robbery gone bad, or a drunk driver. Her death was savage! She had literally been butchered. Even though I never knew her, I knew I was partially responsible for putting her on earth. These dreadfully weird feelings about her and her murder started boiling within. Not so much as my having feelings for her. How could I have? We never met. I never had anything to do with her, so what right did I have to involve myself? And she never knew me… what would the implications be if I involved myself? I could not announce to the world that I was her father. I had no right to disrupt her world. Would the media smear her mother? After all, her husband never knew about me.
I became so confused and angry, I spiraled down and started hating God.
I didn’t even know her, but soon, what must have went through her mind in her last minutes haunted me. The sheer violence sent me into a state of shock. Horrifying nightmares immediately erupted as did hallucinations during my waking hours.
I was unable to work and spent time in a several hospitals. But Cathy was my only peace. She talked me though and in a few years I was feeling better. Just as I was learning to live with it, the worst thing of all happened.
I realized my daughter’s murder was my fault.
Like a flash out of nowhere, the truth was that if I had been a real man and accepted my duties as her father, she never would have moved out of state, and so, never would have been put in harm’s way. The guilt of knowing I alone bore the burden of my daughter’s murder was too much to accept. The nightmares and hallucinations returned, but ten times worse. I was hospitalized many times and attempted suicide three times, but by some miracle, something or someone intervened each time. Fortunately, these last second reprisals prevented my success.
My hate for God grew, and even though I never acted as a Christian someone told me of a Biblical verse that I felt was written just for me:
How long, LORD? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
Many years passed before I could live with this torturing guilt, but I gradually learned to accept it. Just as I started getting better, Cathy became ill. She had been my rock. The one to calm me down after a nightmare, talk me out of further suicide attempts, cuddle me through my dreadful visions. Her calm during my panic soothed me. She kept me alive. Now she was dying. This was mid-2008 and her life turned into 18 agonizing months in various hospitals before she passed. During those days, she died several times, only each resuscitation put her in even worse shape than before. Her last month she was in so much pain that she never slept and she cried in pain 24/7. A week before she passed, she mercifully slipped into a coma and died peacefully.
Now I hated God even more. There was no god that would allow such intense violence against my daughter and such unspeakable suffering my wife had endured. But I was okay with Cathy’s death. She had suffered beyond most people’s imagination. I realized she was finally at peace, but not me. Not even close.
Soon I started dating and met a widow named Terri in 2011. She astounded me. Where Cathy was typically serious and loved solitude, Terri was a very social woman. To this day, her laugh lights up my funny-bone… she laughs, I crack up.
Her husband had spent several years in a wheelchair before his passing and Cathy had spent ten. We shared that same bond as her late husband also suffered terribly over many years. We fell in love and married after two years.
Problem? She was a devout Christian. I hated God.
But I loved her dearly. One day she asked me to go to church with her and I agreed. I boiled at first. How could these suckers praise such an unloving god… a god that allows such misery around the world; such agony in my late wife and violence against my ill begotten daughter? When the band sang their Christian praise, I raged in anger, feeling that a Christian god only allowed pain, violence, and suffering.
But somehow, by some miracle, I gradually accepted God. There is a man that I know, a close friend who I had lost touch with. He lost not one, but three of his children. And yet, his faith never faltered in the slightest. How did he manage? I was so angry and he was at peace. I realized what a powerful influence God made in his life. Something more started to happen. I had these strange bouts of intense emotional states. I frequently became so overjoyed with love, I found myself covered in goosebumps or flowing with tears of happiness. For fifty-five years God had been absent in my life, these junctures of fervent sentiment made me believe they came from the Holy Spirit. Then there were these billionaires around the world giving their fortunes to charity, like Bill Gates vowing to eradicate malaria which would save millions of lives. In my mind, these people were angels sent by the Heavenly Father. Eventually, I accepted that there was a loving God, thanks to events like those, and my amazing Terri, the dedicated Christian wife, and a lot of counseling from our pastor. Through her seven grandkids, I saw the Lord gives miracles and love in abundance.
I was baptized on October 26, 2014.
Today, I am devoted to Christ like my wife, but I had to ask myself; Why did God see fit to keep me alive?
By the hand of God I had escaped overdosing on drugs, survived several suicide attempts, never crashed or killed myself or anyone else on my thousands of alcohol/drug infused nights. I lived through several near-misses with death. I once had severe pneumonia infused with anemia, kidney failure and sepsis, but God saw me through. Why did he keep me safe on my long rides home during the 18 months Cathy was in the hospital and I was surviving on 3 – 4 hours’ sleep a night? Why did I never fall asleep on the lonely rides home at two or three in the morning?
I came to the understanding that God intended me to meet Terri, so that, through her, I could come to know Him. He intended for me to love women, not use them as I did four decades in the past. I found that I not only loved Justin, now thirty-three, but every child I met, I seemed to have a fondness toward them. He shows His love and mercy by the thousands of small miracles He blesses us with constantly. Yes there are world disasters, and yet, millions of people are affected by Him. He has given me the privilege to collect the stories of many others who went through trying times just like both me and Terri encountered. My purpose of meeting these people, I don’t know yet, but I know He will tell me in His own time, and I am sure in some way, these mini-biographies are intended to help others suffering dire situations.
He has made it my mission that I tell everyone that no matter how dark and unbearable life becomes, God oversees all of us. When we face death, sickness, financial disaster, loss of work, natural disasters, family ailments, and any situation that badly affects us, He is there.
My two journeys have both taken me full circle. They have taught me how to love my fellow man, and to hold the Lord next to my heart. That women are meant to be revered and honored, never used. It’s taken me from distaste of a nondescript, hateful god, to a passionate love for the great Lord above. I have long lost my feelings for Psalms 13: 1 – 2 and have adopted Mark 12:30 – 31 which says:
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.
The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.‘
There are no commandments greater than these.
This testimony first appeared in Solum Journal Vol 1: Fall 2020.
Doug has won five writing awards including Honorable Mentions in the Writer’s Digest Annual Writing Contest (for Two Circles), and two in L. Ron Hubbard’s Writers of the Future Competition. He has two minor credits in Wired Magazine and Reader’s Digest, and is a past contributor to BetaBoston, the Boston Globe’s innovation and technology blog. Doug lives near Cape Cod with his wife where they totally spoil their grandkids.