Every few hours, a nurse handed me two small Dixie cups: one filled with water and the other with pills to ease my auditory and visual hallucinations. I swallowed them both and looked around to realize the nightmare never ended. The missionaries rotated shifts at my bedside, whispering prayers, while watching Latin American programming on the wall-mounted television. I slept the numberless days and nights away, unable to process what truly occurred and secretly questioned what the faceless commander would do next.
For the majority of the day, I was in a deep sleep, but still not finding rest as one would hope. My body appeared still and unconscious. My mind became a pop-up book as the commander turned each page, and with each pop up, I had no control. I prayed that a peaceful landscape or a gentle ocean wave would appear, but he gave no mercy. Instead, the faceless commander’s army mocked and hissed insults that wrapped around my spirit like a boa constrictor suffocating its prey until death’s door cracked opened and immediately shut again. A never ending torture of the mind. The faceless commander himself demanded nothing from me. Instead, I could feel his breath whispering directions to his legion around me. When the medical staff asked if I had physical pain, a lie would escape my lips with a simple yes. My answer guaranteed me a pain pill with hope to sleep longer and subdue the faceless commander’s military orders. But nothing gave me relief.
My mind became a pop-up book as the commander turned each page, and with each pop up, I had no control.
One morning, I woke to see a familiar face sitting to the left of me in a cushioned chair. It was my colleague Kaleb, who often found reprieve of everyday pressures by being an amateur comedian to those around him. Upon seeing me awake, he turned to tell me a joke or two in order to push death’s air aside. His energy level was muted compared to his charismatic demeanor I grew accustomed to just months ago. I smiled at one of his corny jokes and used the little strength I had to push myself further up in the bed in order to make conversation. For me, small talk has never been a part of my disposition and certainly not in times like this. So instead, I dove right into the visions that kept waking me up.
“Is everything I see from God Himself?” I asked.
Kaleb gently shook his head, uncertain of where I was going, as his eyebrows tightened curiously waiting for my response. As I began to tell him one of the dreams that I had, His body became stiff but I didn’t allow his disposition to deter me from telling him what I saw.
“A slender man in a tank top and running shorts sprinted across the desert as if sprinting an endurance race. The runner paced himself towards an unknown destination surrounded by only the dust particles exploding from beneath his feet into the dry air. The relentless desert sun pounded on him with no vegetation or human structures or cloud in the sky to give relief from the heat. It seemed peculiar to see how quick of a pace he kept despite the natural elements that were up against him. He made huge strides as his arms glided back and forth next to his torso. The pounding tempo of his feet against the dusty road were testaments to years of training.
At this point, I became uncertain if he was running towards something or away. A sharpened machete intruded the vision from the heavens, slicing off his right arm at his shoulder, which dropped onto the dusty floor like a brick falling from a third story window. Strangely, no blood or water escaped from his shoulder, which immediately scarred over. The runner’s unchanged demeanor matched his unhindered tempo as he quickened his pace down the sandy path. It seemed as though he welcomed the attack. He kept running leaving his right arm to decay in the sand behind him. Within moments, the orphaned, rotting limb turned into dry bones then into dust mixing itself with the sand the runner kicked up behind him. A sudden sandstorm came as the runner disappeared into the horizon and an eerie audible voice announced, ‘You aren’t a part of this anymore.’”
Finally breaking from my visual stimuli, I looked over at Kaleb once more and said, “And that was it. The dream ended and I woke up. What does it mean?”
Kaleb didn’t immediately respond; instead he was silent and looked perplexed. His lips pinched together as if wanting to give a response, but unable to. I should have given him time to process, maybe even pray his way through what I was asking him—instead I ignored his uncomfortable silence.
Though he couldn’t talk, this was the first time I spoke so freely, so I continued. I wanted to ask him, Do demonic forces truly exist? Was I insane? Was the dream make-belief? But instead, I decided to share my next dream.
“An oak tree stood tall and alone as its branches and leaves sprawled into the bright sapphire skyline. A short wind gently shook the leaves as if announcing spring had come to its sole audience member - me. As the branches reached across the sky, its roots pushed deeper as if waking up from a hundred year slumber. Each individual leaf was detailed with the deepest of greens. The branches stood strong with a slight give to worship the heavens as the wind passed through again. The tree knew its purpose: To offer comfort to passing travelers from the midday sun. A natural refuge from a long journey.
Like the prior dream, the machete reappeared from the heavens swiftly cutting down a significant branch. The large limb quickly fell to the earth like the runner’s arm did to the desert floor. The leaves burst into flames upon touching the soil, which soon engulfed the discarded lifeless wood. The fire burned until only its ashes remained. As the flames subsided, the commander’s voice echoed again ‘You aren’t a part of this anymore’ and a quick burst of wind dusted the ashes across the hillside as if the branch never existed.”
‘You aren’t a part of this anymore.’
Kaleb offered no profound response as I began to explain how I grew up with the belief that homosexuals were not Christians. I also told him how my family believed those who committed suicide were bound to hell. And if a person does not repent the moment after he sins, he is certain to eternal damnation. Once saved, always saved was a myth to us. A moment’s prayer does not keep a man in eternal glory. No, a man’s negligent attempt at perfection marks him to eternal damnation. If I was ever saved, I had run out of chances. Homosexuality with a suicide attempt became the scarlet letters against my salvation. The dreams pointed to my eternal reality as I rationalized my theological framework.
The IV fluids dripped louder as the one-sided conversation closed. Kaleb sat and smiled as I dozed off into another page of the commander’s colorful, twisted pop-up book.
It was all so biblical, wasn’t it? All homosexuals must die. All homosexuals must go to hell. The gay population could never be a part of God’s kingdom. Dry bone dust and branch ashes flying into the air were enough to confirm what the commander had said as truth. We, the homosexuals, headed into an eternal grave of hell, where we would not rise again.
“Natan, que paso?” questioned Christina, my home health nurse. Christina walked in with her normal business attire, a white button up shirt, a black pencil skirt and heels to match. Her face showed grave concern and confusion. I was confident she first drove to Jared and Hope’s home to see me and then was directed to find me here.
“Nothing.” Ashamed and unwilling to discuss the details, I looked away, pretending not to know how I came to the hospital. She came to clean the wounds from my pilonidal surgery, which occurred a month prior. The same surgery, which enabled me to get all of the pain killers I thought I needed and without close supervision. A medical device called a VacPack sucked up any loose air and free-flowing bodily fluids and debris, through a tube connected to sponges squeezed inside the open wound in an attempt to close it. Medical tape was placed on the top of the sponges, around the tube and on my bare skin to ensure the suction properly occurred. Unfortunately, the long incision went from my waist down between my buttocks. In humility, I had to drop my pants every week to have Christina, the monolingual Spanish speaking nurse change the sponges.
That afternoon, Christina removed the VacPack tube, tape, and soiled sponges. She made an attempt to clean the wound. But with sadness and embarrassment for the two of us, she asked me to shower so I could clean off the dry charcoal remains from when my stomach was pumped. In shame, I avoided eye contact, took a deep breath as I left the bed for the first time in God knows how long. She moved the IV pole around the bed, which I humbly took and stumbled towards the bathroom alone. A male nurse rushed into the room due to a buzzing noise announcing I had left the bed.
The male nurse placed his hand on my back and attempted to grab the IV pole. I immediately looked at him and firmly stated, “No. I go alone.”
The bathroom had a removable shower head I could use to cut myself or the shower curtain to hang myself. Yes, within moments, I had already visualized it. But I knew now was not the time. Deep down, I knew the nurse wanted to keep me safe. And in my shame, I shamed him for graciously wanting to help.
I looked at the nurse again, who looked at Christina and she slowly nodded her head at him, affirming I would be okay. I needed time alone and to collect myself. I knew I would not make another attempt here. For me, an attempt is stewed on until a formulated plan could be executed. I didn’t make my first attempt until six years after my first hallucination. Why make a second attempt so close to the first? I did not want to be rescued. The nurses begun exchanging words in Spanish as I arranged the IV outside of the shower curtain and closed the bathroom door.
The shower water washed away the leftover suicide sweat. Black water circled down the drain as the charcoal washed off from my backside. I closed my eyes to imagine myself in another place—a world where this never happened. A world where I could find peace. I let the water pour over me and warm my naked body as I tried to imagine this place. I waited and waited and there was nowhere I wanted to be. Every place in this world was hell and every imaginary realm was the same… or worse if left to the commander. I turned the single shower knob and watched the water trickle to a stop.
I closed my eyes to imagine myself in another place—a world where this never happened.
I stepped out of the shower, dried off with a soft white hospital towel and slowly put on the hospital pajama pants. I had no recollection of how I ate, went to the restroom or who placed me into the pajama pants. Defeat overwhelmed me as I prevented tears from streaming down my cheeks. With a deep sigh, I opened the bathroom door to the concerned nurses, who suddenly stopped talking and stared at me. And with each aching step, I made my way back to the hospital bed. Back to my prison cell.
As instructed, I laid face down and pulled down my pajama pants as Christina slowly replaced the sponges with tape across my buttocks and secured the VacPack tube. She turned on the machine and a loud sucking noise filled the room, pulling the wound back together in order to heal. She pulled up my pajama pants after she finished. I rolled onto my side, so we could exchange a few words in Spanish. I smirked in an attempt to mask my obvious embarrassment and we said our goodbyes. Christina knew what happened. Why else would she be here in a hospital room?
The hospital room door stayed open, so the nurses at a nearby workstation could peek in to check on the suicidal American boy. I hated them for checking in on me. They would appear, check the IV fluids or distribute pills without saying a word. And unfortunately, my co-workers and leaders became rotating sitters and sat through those awkward social exchanges.
In a silent afternoon, my surgeon stormed into my room, rattling off a short speech in Spanish. I sat in shock and frustration from his furious tone matching that of an angry father figure.
I glanced at Hope sitting to my left then back at the doctor. My brain could not interpret his quickly spoken Spanish rhetoric. In anger and rebellion, I glared at the doctor and bluntly responded, “I don’t understand you.”
I immediately regretted my words and realized a reprimand would follow. If only he would punch me. I wanted to feel his anger. I wanted his physical wrath in order to avoid this emotional exchange. His neck muscles tightened and face reddened as he attempted to maintain his composure. His stern face tilted downward in my direction and firmly stated, “You understood me.”
The surgeon moved a quick 180 degrees and he stormed out of the room. I let out a small sigh and glanced at Hope to ask what the doctor proclaimed.
“The doctor said what you did was dangerous. You took the perfect combination of pills and it should have killed you. He also said you are lucky no harm was done to your body. All of your internal organs are functioning normally. You are lucky.”
You took the perfect combination of pills and it should have killed you.
Lucky? Should have died? It would have been a dramatic way to go. I knew he said more. And for me, death should have happened. All the gays must die. If only the doctor could assist in my final leg to freedom. Didn't he want to be part of it? I guess the doctor did not know the faceless commander either.
All I could manage to say was, “Oh,” as Hope changed the topic to my brother, Justice, coming to Costa Rica for a few days. Justice would leave the following week and my mother would arrive next. And with my mother, I would be returning to the United States. This is how a college internship ends. A leader who never led in anything. A leader too weak to be skilled in anything. A disappointment to self, others, the commander, and certainly God Himself.