When Love Is Stolen
“Can you make it?” my
brother Jacob asked, as he helped me out of the car. I had just checked out of Stanford Hospital, where Jacob was being trained as a cardiologist, and would be staying at his Redwood City home for a week.
“Yes, I’m fine,” I answered, standing as straight as I could – which wasn’t very erect, since I’d had abdominal surgery 3 days before. It was a myomectomy, which is the cutting out of uterine fibroids. In the not-too-distant past, such a condition was treated by removal of the uterus itself, which meant the woman could no longer have children. Most women with fibroids get them around age 35, after they’ve had babies, which is significant since fibroid growth is provoked by pregnancy. Here I was, never having been pregnant, and only 29. The message was clear that I could never have children; attempting to do so would ruin my health.
Holding my arm, Jacob led me into his house. His wife Annalee followed with their five-year-old daughter, Emmy. Annalee’s appearance was even more fragile than her name; she was tall, underweight, had shoulder-length dishwater blonde hair, and a wispy voice to match her looks. Yet, that was the only thing fragile about her; she had no trouble keeping up with highly active Emmy. In college, she had been a member of Up With People, touring the U.S. as a dancer. She was still in good shape.
We all entered the house. Jacob cleared a space on the couch, and I sat. Emmy went over to the TV, and Annalee told her, “Wait, Auntie Raven needs to rest awhile.”
“That’s ok, she can watch,” I said.
Emmy put in a Jungle Book video. “That again,” Annalee groaned. “She’s been watching that video at least 5 times a day for the past week.”
“Later, after I’m rested, I can tell her some stories about Pinecrest,” I answered.
Brightening, Emmy turned off the TV. “Can you tell me some now?” she asked.
“Sure.” My response was weak, but seeing the relief on Annalee’s face when Emmy had turned off the TV roused me to make the effort. “How about Daddy’s last summer there? He was 16, and getting to be too old for camp. He drove us over 200 miles to Lake Tahoe without getting tired. Everyone was surprised. They didn’t know that Daddy’s good friend, Jerry DeCou, had taught him to drive while he was still underage.”
Puzzled, Emmy asked, “Who’s Jerry DeCou?”
I looked at Jacob, stunned. At a highly critical time in our lives, Jerry had been a major positive force. I couldn’t believe Jacob had never mentioned him to his daughter.
“I never told you what happened to him, did I?” Jacob said quietly.
“N – no, what happened?” I stammered.
“He was murdered.”
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The year 1973 was a turbulent time for Jacob and me. The child
care agency had been trying to remove us from the abusive foster home for years, but they had a hard time finding another placement for us. We were a classic case for the “special needs” category; we were African American, way past babyhood (I was 12, and Jacob was 15), and a sibling set, one of which was a girl. Not only did this make us hard to place, even if they found a home, we would most likely have to be separated. That’s probably why we ended up with those abusive foster parents in the first place.
However, when I was ganged up on yet again in school, which this time resulted in my getting a black eye, and the foster parents did nothing about it, social worker Mrs. DeVries decided they’d waited long enough. Jacob and I were moved out at the end of the school year, spent a month at Pinecrest summer camp, then sent to live with our father and his girlfriend, even though we were not welcome there. We stayed for 7 months, until the agency found another home that took both of us.
Our father and his girlfriend lived in Livermore, a cowboy town 40 miles southeast of Oakland. It was supposed to be racist, but we encountered very little of it. In fact, I wound up becoming quite popular, being considered an exotic, and Jacob had the great fortune of meeting a Christian group at his high school. One of the members was Jerry DeCou, who had already graduated. They were all part of a contemporary Christian ministry called the Salt Shaker, which was supported by several churches in the community. The center was a store building with a front porch, open normal business hours; they gave away free New Testaments and tracts that explained about accepting Christ. The place was decorated somewhat hippie style, with reddish-tan shag carpeting and the walls covered with posters containing Christian sayings. One that really spoke to me was a poster of a guy leaning against enormous stone columns, with the caption, “I’m lonely.” In the lower right hand corner was Jesus’ cross, with the response, “Come meet My friends.” This was very appropriate for a place where high school and college aged kids would often get together and jam on their guitars, singing “Jesus Rock”, and even dance to the Lord. Pastor Calvin, who was not much older than the kids, would give Bible talks, and discuss modern day issues with the group.
Luke Hart was president of Salt Shaker, but Jerry DeCou was a far more dynamic force. Every Sunday, he drove his van through Livermore, picking up little kids and taking them to church. He taught Jacob to drive by having him help out on the routes, even though Jacob didn’t have a driver’s permit yet. He also taught Jacob how to play guitar, a major privilege since Jerry was a virtuoso who wrote songs that were performed and sung regularly at Salt Shaker.
Jerry was the one who had led me to accept Christ. One cold Saturday morning in November, I woke up feeling depressed. Though I had friends, I didn’t know when I would be yanked away from them and sent back to violence-infested Oakland. I heard a guy playing guitar and singing on the front porch, and went out to see. It was Jerry, with Jacob. “Are we bothering you?” Jerry asked me, after we’d been introduced.
“Not at all. I love your music.”
“We’ll be heading to Butte Hill soon. Wanna join us?”
Once there, Jerry told us his story. “I was a heroin addict. I’ve been clean six months, praise the Lord. I was miraculously healed by God.”
“That’s amazing! How did that happen?” Jacob asked. I wasn’t particularly impressed. All I knew about heroin was that it was some type of drug. I had no idea it was the most highly addictive substance in existence at that time, that it took only 2 weeks of continuous use to get hooked, and once that happened, few people escaped its clutches. The process of withdrawing is just about the worst agony imaginable, and some people even died from it. Yet, the user’s brain was so warped, they would inevitably return to it.
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“I was on an acid trip,” Jerry explained. “See, I used other drugs
too. I was tripping, when it suddenly turned awful. Satan called to me. He was this horrible, hateful beast, and he was calling me to join him in hell. I’d never been so freaked out in my life. But then God appeared on my other side, and He was calling me too. He was this brilliant, soft, all-loving Being. I ran to Him, and He kept me safe until the acid trip ended.”
“God the Father?” Jacob asked.
“Hey – the important thing is that it worked. I never touched heroin, or any other drug, ever again. I suffered no withdrawals, either, praise the Lord!”
Though I didn’t understand the full significance of his story, I accepted Christ that day on Butte Hill. The next 2½ months were emotionally tenuous for me as I tried to live in a Christlike way in a home racked by sin, until I would be sent back to evil Oakland to live with strangers who I had no idea would be like. It turned out our new foster parents were an assistant pastor and his wife, and Jacob and I were sent to a Christian school, so our new home was an improvement over the former one.
Jacob and I kept in touch with the Salt Shaker crowd. President Luke Hart often came over and went rock climbing with Jacob. As Salt Shaker’s leader, he took special interest in us, though I personally thought he was too silly to be a leader. He constantly made jokes, to the point of being irritating, and he had a tendency to make promises he didn’t keep. However, he did get us to a number of guitar jams at Salt Shaker, and he was able to expand the facility to include a 24 hour telephone hotline staffed with counselors to help callers in crisis.
Though Jerry didn’t have much money (his parents were divorced, and his mother was struggling), he visited us as often as he could. It was his idea for us to pass out Christian tracts along Telegraph Ave. in Berkeley. As a dynamo guitar player, when John Denver reached megastar status, he went totally overboard with fandom. He cut his hair like his, got some granny glasses, and even wore a cowboy hat, which is serious business in Livermore if you’re not a cowboy.
“At least you’re going to a Christian school,” Jerry would tell Jacob and me. “Just stick with God, and He will help you make something good out of your life.”
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When I was 16, I returned home from my final vacation at
Pinecrest camp to live out the rest of the summer in boredom. Only 3 things of significance happened.
The first was when Jerry called to speak with Jacob, who was home from his first year of college. He spoke with me briefly, saying he had a wonderful young lady named Paula with him. I felt startled, but said nothing. Sure, I’d always found Jerry attractive, but felt he was too old and intense for me, so I never tried to do anything about it.
The second happened a couple months later, when Jacob was about to return to college. He took me cruising to Livermore, and I suggested visiting Salt Shaker. He uncomfortably informed me the place no longer existed, that it had closed down and the building was now being used as a flower shop. Apparently, Luke Hart was too flaky to run the place properly, and there had been some complaints about the telephone hotline. I realized I hadn’t seen Luke in months. Jacob said there were other issues, but he didn’t want to tell me about them.
The third incident occurred when Jacob came home for Thanksgiving, and he finally explained about the issues with Luke. Jerry had become engaged to Paula, and Luke suddenly decided he wanted her, too. With lots of flirting, and telling her he believed she was God’s match for him, he stole her away from Jerry. Perhaps Paula was also concerned about Jerry’s previous drug use, when by contrast Luke had always led a pure, upright life.
Jerry responded by throwing all his worldly possessions into his van and running off to Seattle, nearly 1000 miles away.
“He called me last week to tell me where he was. He just got a job working at a pizza parlor,” Jacob told me.
“Uh – is he still a Christian?”
“No. He told me he had ‘dumped all that God stuff’.”
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I was horrified. True, getting a fiancé stolen, especially from
someone who had been your leader, is a terrible thing, but what about his miraculous deliverance from heroin? “Uh – is he back on drugs?” I asked.
“I don’t know. He told me he wasn’t going to use again, but they all say that.”
“So, are Luke and Paula going to get married soon?”
“No. He dumped her soon as Jerry left town.”
I was 8 years old when Jacob and I were first placed in foster care. I had no idea what was happening; no one explained anything to me. But by now, having just turned 17, I was able to figure out things for myself. Our father had allowed himself to be stolen away from our mother, who couldn’t handle it, and had become mentally ill as a result. Even though he’d stayed with his girlfriend, he was disillusioned the whole time. It turned out the following summer, he would leave her for someone else. Some people are easily stolen. No doubt Luke realized that, which, combined with remorse over what he’d done to Jerry, caused him to dump Paula.
I made up my mind never to steal anybody, or allow myself to be stolen. EVER!!! No one, no matter how charismatic or charming, was worth that!
“Why was Jerry murdered?” I asked, though I had a pretty
good idea what the answer was. Most likely, it had been a drug deal gone sour.
“Fight over a woman in a bar,” Jacob responded.
“When did this happen?”
“Apparently, it happened a few months after we last talked. Pastor Calvin told me three years ago, but it wasn’t until last July when I could bring myself to find out why.”
What a dreadful ending for someone with so much promise!
“Whatever happened to Luke?” I asked.
“To this day, he’s never married.”
I wasn’t the least bit surprised. I bet he never had any other girlfriends, either.
“I wanna hear about Pinecrest!” demanded Emmy.
“Not now,” Annalee told her.
“That’s ok, I can tell her some stories,” I said.
The doorbell rang, and Annalee answered it. It was Kaylan, who had brought her daughter Jennifer over to play with Emmy. “Tell her later, ok?” Annalee said to me.
Emmy took Jennifer to her room to play. Kaylan, a largely built woman, was as loud and blundering as Annalee was quiet and reserved. She came over and gave me a painful hug. “So how did the surgery go?” she asked me.
“I had no problems whatsoever.”
“Great! They didn’t need to take out your uterus?”
“No they didn’t.”
“So you are still able to have kids.”
“Well – uh…”
“You better hurry up, while you still can. Especially since you’re not getting any younger.” She gave me a look of pity.
Jacob rolled his eyes. I knew he disliked Kaylan, and only tolerated her because as their house cleaner, she made up for Annalee’s sloppy habits, and Emmy and Jennifer was good friends.
“Are you dating anyone now?” Kaylan asked me.
“I could use some help in the kitchen,” Annalee said pointedly. They both headed towards there. At the door, Kaylan turned around and said to me, “There’s someone I’d like you to meet. He’s currently separated from his wife, and I think you’d be great together.”
Looking her dead in the eye, I answered her emphatically. “NO THANKS.”
Have you ever had a lover stolen from you?
If yes, how did you deal with it?
© 2016 Ana Kolomeka