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Atheism + Darkness = Hope

A creative writing piece

It was a dirty little corner in the back of a short, dark hall. Spiders had strung webs up along the rough, wooden walls, and the cement floor was covered in dust, dead bugs and the occasional waddling beetle. The purpose of the hall was to split, in half, the dorm building that I was living in for the summer. The run-down structure was one of three others, and it sat in the midst of the woods, a fitting place for the live-in employees of Shenandoah National Park.

When I wasn’t working the front desk of the park lodge, I lived at the end of that dirty little corner, behind a heavy door that was painted in what must have been a teal color of some sort; only now, it had been faded by the years and was beginning to peel. In black Sharpie, someone had written the names of old rock bands around the tarnished, gold knob.

I didn’t spend a whole lot of time in that secluded corner. Who would? But late one night, as I stumbled back to my room, burning with anger and frustration, I stopped in that corner. It was in that awful, dank hall that I realized one of the most important lessons of my life: I was not God, and out of all the defeat that had blackened my emotions, I found hope.

It all started with Daniel, one of the lodge’s kitchen staff, and I liked Daniel. I liked Daniel a lot, but more as a friend or even a brother. I wanted to see him succeed, but he had failed so many times before…

“I don’t get it. What is it with your obsession with Daniel?” Reid, Daniel’s roommate and one of the lodge’s bar backs, asked me late one night, a glass of gin in hand and a grimace scrawled across his dark features. “He’s not even a nice person.” We had been hanging out in Reid’s room with a group of friends earlier, but only Reid and I remained, and with a vengeance, he tackled the subject that apparently had been bothering him for a while.

I looked away from his disapproval and stared at my reflection in a darkened window. “I know.” The words came out choked, and I cleared my throat, hoping that he hadn’t noticed.

I felt defeated at the cold truth in his statement. Daniel had stolen from Reid, even threatened to kill him, and although I was fairly certain that Daniel would kill himself before he ever killed Reid, I supposed anything was possible.

I shifted my gaze, and my eyes caught Reid’s in the window. He was still waiting for my answer.

I turned and shrugged. “I don’t know,” I said, truthfully. My thoughts raced to organize themselves and make sense of the tangled mess of my emotions. Daniel was always so hopeful, so determined to change his wayward habits like drinking, smoking, stealing and lying, and yet, he never did. When I asked him about it, it was always, “I’ll start tomorrow,” or, “I know. I really shouldn’t have. That was a jerk thing to do.” Reid had known Daniel longer than I had, and he was tired of the excuses.

“I guess…I just…” I stopped stuttering and pressed my lips together. The room felt so warm, and the muscles in my body were so tense that I was surprised that they hadn’t snapped from the strain. My eyes flickered towards the door, the angst and adrenaline rushing through my body, screaming to be let loose.

“You can’t save him, Elise.” Reid finished off his gin, and I noticed a drunken sheen begin to inch its way across his black eyes.

Inwardly, I flinched. I knew that, yet that was exactly why I was desperately trying to find new ways to help Daniel. It wasn’t as if he had a lot going for him. A few months ago, his father, a man Daniel had never been able to spend much time with, but whom he had admired immensely, had hanged himself, leaving his few possessions to his son.

Reid wasn’t finished. “We’ve all tried. Nothing…literally nothing you do will be any different. I mean,” he paused, shrugging, “maybe you’re the one to get through to him, but I don’t think so.”

I gritted my teeth, hating the wisdom of his words – the very words that felt as if he had physically punched me. Reid knew loss too. His own father hadn’t exactly been the best role model either. He had left Reid and his mother years ago, and Reid never talked much about him.
“You have to let Daniel go.” Reid seemed to soften a bit, and some of the tight anger left his tone. “He’s going to hit rock bottom. He needs to hit rock bottom. Nothing else is going to wake him up.”

In my mind, I pictured Daniel falling down a black hole, ignoring every hand that reached from the darkness to catch him. Suddenly, the rock floor rushed up to meet him, and he landed in a broken, bloodied mess.

I blinked a few times, hoping to scatter my morbid thoughts, but the image stayed in the back of my mind for months afterwards, haunting me when I least expected it.

“I’m going to go.” I stood. “It’s after three, and I have to work tomorrow.”

Reid didn’t reply. Instead, he poured himself another glass of gin and threw it back like a shot. I resisted the urge to rip the alcohol from his grasp, and to remind him of the constant rejection Daniel received. After all, it had just been a few months ago that his girlfriend of 10 years had left him for her much older boss. Daniel had been heartbroken, and still was. I knew it was useless, though. Reid had caught his own girlfriend sleeping with a friend of his not much longer than a year ago, and so I left, slamming the door in my wake.

As soon as my feet touched the damp earth, I ran. I ran as if I could leave Reid’s words behind, and I ran as if I could run Daniel from my mind, but I could do neither, and when I reached the door of my room, I leaned my head against it, breathing hard and feeling trapped in my own mind.

Daniel walked across my thoughts, and I could see him as if he were really in front of me: the shaggy, dirty blonde hair, the blue, blue eyes that shone with so much emotion that they sometimes hurt to look at. I saw his tattoos, his crooked smile. I could hear his voice and the way he held some words longer than others, the product of growing up along the Florida beaches and hanging out with the surfers and skateboarders there.

I dug my fingernails into the ugly, blue-green paint on my door. I thought of Daniel’s mother, a woman who chose to ignore him most of the time, a woman who had stopped inviting him home for the holidays and a woman he fought with until they could no longer live in the same house.

I wondered how many of the things Daniel told me were true, but then I remembered that much of what he said concerning the darkness of his past was mentioned under the influence of alcohol.

Yet still, he remained optimistic, falsely optimistic. He was only lying, trying to convince himself that he was crawling out of the blackness that he had sunken into.

“What will he do after Shenandoah closes for the season?” I had asked Reid one afternoon while we were hiking.

He had only shrugged. “You think I know? He can’t go back to Florida, ‘cause he’d just be walking into a lawsuit.”

I had paused slightly in my step to ask why Daniel would only be walking into a lawsuit if he went back to Florida, but then I kept walking, picking up the pace. I didn’t want to know.

Paint chips fluttered across my vision like little bits of confetti, and I pulled my nails from the door. I had asked Daniel later where he would go when the park closed for the season, and he gave the same answer. He didn’t know.

I leaned my back against the door and let my knees buckle, sinking down until I was curled up on the disgusting, damp concrete. What if Daniel killed himself? What if he drank himself to death? Some nights, I was almost convinced that he would.

“You can’t save him.” Reid’s biting reminder.

I closed my eyes and started to pray. I thought I was supposed to be a witness, God. I thought that I was supposed to reach out and do everything that I could possibly do to help him.

You can’t save him. You can’t save him.

I opened my eyes and glared into the dark, silently shouting, Screw you, Reid! You’re an atheist and don’t know what it means to be a Christian! Being a Christian means helping people! It means showing them that there is a God!

I suddenly halted in mid-thought, as I realized what I had been blind to. Of course I couldn’t save Daniel, but God could. I didn’t know if I wanted to sink into the dirt of my little corner or laugh. God had just given me a tongue-lashing through an atheist, and here I was, sitting in a filthy corner having a tantrum.

I slowly stood and brushed myself off. As I turned the handle on my big, ugly door, I quietly prayed Daniel over to God and left him there. His chances at redemption were much greater in the hands of the Savior than in mine anyway.

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