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  • Many who find
    Themselves
    On the
    Mohave desert floor
    are
    Unraveling

    Leonard Knight found himself on the Mohave floor back in 1984. His beat up truck broke down truck just outside Slab City, a trailer town south of the Salton Sea, a place where people gather who wish to drop out, get off the grid, and flip a bird to the Man, whoever that Man might be.

    Leonard didn’t want to flip anybody the bird.
    He gave up that cussing stuff up back in 1967; it was a Wednesday; it was 10:30 am. That was in the moment Jesus Christ took hold of Leonard’s heart and he never let go.

    Leonard emerged from that van into the sun. As his website recalls it, “His unbridled enthusiasm for the Lord, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost was mostly misunderstood. He went from church to church to share his new-found knowledge and always met resistance among the church leaders. Leonard's idea was simple like it says in the Bible: accept Jesus into your heart, repent your sins, and be saved.”
    And then, as Leonard explains, “Shut up about it.”
    However, church leaders argued, “No, Leonard, it’s not as simple as that.”

    “YES, IT IS!” Leonard exclaimed, but the churches turned him away. So, he did what some Christians do, he looked to heaven above.
    What did he see? A hot air balloon! Everyone around him chased the balloon to read what message was sewn in the fabric that made it soar. This is when God spoke to Leonard; that’s when God gave him the call.

    “Well, I’ll be. That’s what’ll do. I’ll pray for a hot air balloon to help me spread my message that God is Love.”

    For a decade, he prayed, and although Leonard knew, he just knew, that this balloon was his call, God didn’t seem to be handing out any hot air balloons. For a decade, no balloon at all.

    Then, somewhere in the 70’s, somewhere on a cold Nebraska night, Leonard’s truck broke down and he got himself an idea.

    On a cold Nebraska morning, Leonard went to a local thrift store and bought himself a sewing machine and some bed sheets.
    “I’m going to build that hot air balloon myself, the world’s largest balloon to glorify God.”

    (Beware those cold Nebraska nights, they lead to ideas like these.)
    For the next decade, Leonard sewed and sewed, and to put food in his belly, he drifted from place to place working menial jobs.
    His plan and his drifting led him closer to the sun and in 1984, his truck broke down again; this time, he was in the Mohave with nothing left to do, but check on his balloon. What he found was the balloon was…

    Unraveling.

    A decade’s worth of work rotting in the desert heat.
    Leonard sighed, took out a small can of paint and made a new plan. He was going to build a small monument to God.
    That is how Salvation Mountain began.

    Shrapnel
    Dust
    Following
    That which came
    Before

    Some people are consumed by Jesus, others…Tolstoy. Christopher McCandless, like Tolstoy, was born a bit of a prince. He was born the son of a NASA specialist and Hughes Aircraft and raised in an affluent Norman Rockwell Washington DC world.

    However, not all was well in Denmark. If one were to examine the McCandless’ family portrait for more than a minute, it would reveal hints of late night rage and secrets a family often keeps. For Chris, this was all he could see, but he played along as long as he had to; he lettered in cross country; he graduated from Emory University with honors. By all accounts, Chris would continue the McCandless legacy; he would be part of the fold.

    And then, like Tolstoy, he renounced it all. He cut up his ID cards, credit cards, donated his remaining college fund of $25,000 to OX Fam and disappeared.

    This is how Alexander Supertramp came to be. Supertramp, a fly on the wall of the destitute, the down and out, the hard time folks. He found this far more real than the false kingdom from which he came.
    Alex would write in his journal at night, "So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more dangerous to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future.”

    Rage against convention is what he did and he moved from place to place. Eventually, as happens with many who wander, Alexander Supertramp, like Leonard Knight, found himself on the Mohave floor in the winter of 1991. This was when Alex met up with some friends at Slab City.

    By this time, Leonard Knight had been working on his little monument to God for nearly seven years. Funny, what the glory of God can do. What had begun as a gallon of paint in tribute to God was now going on over 10,000 gallons of paint; a small painting on the ground had taken over a desert bluff, a cacophony of color representing the Sea of Gallilee, Biblical Verse such as the Lord’s Prayer, the Sinner’s Prayer, hearts and many times over…Love, Love, Love.

    Love is what Knight mentions when he recalls meeting Supertramp. He mentions how he loved that boy; so many people loved him. He mentions how Tramp sat on a paint can one day and read to him. At the time, Supertramp was consumed with The Call of the Wild and he was hell bent to be in Alaska by the summer of 1992.

    I try to picture that day. Two spirits afire; one with words, one with paint. Truth and love; for Leonard Knight, they were one and the same; for Alexander Supertramp, there was a distinction. He would write in his journal as he headed North out of the desert sun and towards the midnight one, "Rather than love, than money, than faith, than fame, than fairness... give me truth."

    Seven months later, this distinction would starve him to death.

    Ready to submit
    They
    Arrive
    Unflinching
    Sun
    Heat
    Wind

    I met him when I was twenty-two, or rather I heard him. My nose buried in Henry Miller at the time in some Colorado café. I kept trying to focus on the written words, but this booming velvet voice kept talking about place to place, and God knows, I am a sucker for place. It was at this moment that I decided never to look at the face that owned this voice. Perhaps, it was disappointment I feared, perhaps, it was something else, but there was something about this voice that I wanted to avoid or, at least, keep at bay.

    This went on for months. I would go to this café to read and then BOOM. velvet, velvet, BOOM, velvet, velvet. This voice kept distracting me.

    I would speak my first words to Jeff Kelly on Easter Sunday. I was twenty-three. I didn’t plan it; I had every intention of spending the day avoiding my family with my current loser boyfriend at the time (Some people collect baseball cards; they are smarter than me). In the end, Jeff Kelly was unavoidable especially when a conversation turned towards God.

    “What a bunch of shit, “ BOOM, velvet, velvet interrupted in such a way that made Shakespeare sound like an illiterate.

    “Excuse me?” I replied; although this voice completely caught me off guard, I was not going to back down. The resistance between Jeff Kelly and I forged an alliance. BOOM, velvet, velvet would become important to me.

    One might suspect this to be the beginning of some love story. It was not. Our hearts were to be saved by others; no, ours was a relationship based on wounds.

    It is here that I could get into the theme of the sins of the father, or I could explore the theory of seven generations to solve a sin, because these themes are certainly here. However, for Jeff and I, the problem stemmed from the mother; they even share the same name.

    Once I overheard a stranger observe, “While some men are at work, some women pour their fear into their children.” Sometimes, strangers say the strangest things.For Jeff and I, there were no truer words; our mothers contained oceans of fear; We had both spent our childhoods flooded with how fear manifests: addiction, lack of protection and invalidation. Shunned and stunted, we grew, yet we were strong enough to stay afloat and in our more lucid moments, we would make a run for dry land.

    For a decade, Jeff and I swam in this sea. We would tread water together and tell each other tales, make each other laugh and then we would whisper about going for the shore. We encouraged each other; He found reprieve in the Renaissance Fair; I found some peace by heading West. However, the tide would turn and we would find ourselves from the place where we wanted more than anything to escape, home, Colorado Springs.

    I returned home for a final time when I was thirty-three; the same age that Jesus hung from the cross. I had sold everything in Cali and moved back home to help my mom get a divorce from a man who was seldom described as nice.

    Within three days of my arrival, Jeff floated beside me.

    “How long are you here?” he asked.

    “You’re not going to believe this…I moved back.”

    “Why?”

    “I don’t know.”

    “I do.”

    BOOM, velvet, velvet.

    A few nights later, in his tiny little apartment, Jeff served me up his childhood on a plate. He left nothing out. Sometimes, my eyes would focus on his beautiful Black Irish face; other times, my focus on a Tasmanian Devil sitting at the floor of a closet.

    When we finished the meal, tears rolled down my face. I tried to digest it, but I was so full of my own childhood. I went home that night and throw up.

    For the next six months, I watched Jeff try to stay above water. He bought a motorcycle; he met the love of his life. Yet, something pulled him under; it hung him by his neck in the closet where that devil sat. His friends would find him dangling; he had hung alone for nearly a week.

    Or did he drown?

    His love would say it best, “It was as if once he was able to open his heart he simply bled to death.”

    I felt the undertow brush my toe and I began to swim hard and there were times when I thought I’d drown. I went under and when I came to, I was old and washed upon the Mohave floor.

    Wear them
    down
    until
    they are
    no more
    than
    creosote
    the smell of rain
    in a
    barren place
    Relief?
    Or
    another sleight of hand?

    So there we were, ole Leonard, Alex Supertramp and me. Spirits standing in shifting sand. We looked at each other. Spirits faced with the decision: what now? We shrugged.

    At first, I followed Alex. I had just been weened from fear, nutrient of lies, so like Supertramp, I thirsted for truth; I wanted to bathe in it; I wanted be drunk with it; I wanted to roll with it on the ground; I wanted to go wild with it; I wanted it in between my teeth, and if it meant I followed Alex into Alaskan wilderness to be alone with it, so be it; at least I wouldn’t be living a lie. Step aside please and leave me alone.

    However, something kept getting in my way, something that had happened years before this tangled mess. Like Leonard, call it Jesus, call it God, call it what you will, but whatever it is, something grabbed me heart once and it has never let go. I like to call it Grace. Unlike Leonard, it wasn’t a Wednesday; it was a Tuesday. It wasn’t 10:30am; it was 7:36pm. I wasn’t in a van; I was in a GEO Metro, and I certainly wasn’t praying, I was listening to The Police and one of Sting’s lines hit me in the face.

    Mephistopheles is not your name
    But I know what you're up to just the same

    I had to pull over and I sat in that GEO Metro and cried all night. Anyway, since that night, I have never been the same. I sobered up, stopped blacking out, and I am proud to say I haven’t puked on your sofa in more than a decade. (Doubt me? Invite me over, I dare you; that stuff under the cushions? Not me! It’s that that guy over there); I even went to these meetings where strangers taught me how to say like Thank you and Please. They even taught me how to apologize and actually mean it. I am, by nature, that big of a dick. I had to be taught how to do these things explicitly and I still had questions about where I could find the loopholes. I was actually willing to pay someone off if they would show me the way around some of these moral things. (Still am, by the way; still am…whatch you got?). Unfortunately, what I discovered is if you sit in too many of those meetings, there becomes no way around those things especially Grace; she can be such a bitch. I found this out in the desert.

    Grace kept getting in my way as I tried to follow Alex and kept pushing me back towards Leonard.

    While Grace prodded me, I would whine.

    “But I don’t want to go with that guy…he’s old.”

    Grace would just look at me knowingly.

    I would bargain.
    “Okay, I’ll go with the old guy, but first let me go with Alex for awhile; I’ll come back. I swear. C’mon, just a little while. Pretty, pretty, pretty please?”

    Grace knew my tricks; Grace wouldn’t budge.
    Finally, I had had it. I kicked sand in face of Grace and screamed,

    “Fuck you, Grace, fuck you….look what you did to Jeff, LOOK AT WHAT YOU DID!”

    I screamed until I was hoarse. Grace just smiled; Grace knew what I needed and that was Love.

    Let this desert
    teach them
    to unlearn
    all that came
    before

    Jon Veitch came into this world a baby, but he had the shape of a bear. He was low hipped and hairy, and because a bear cannot rightly say no to a snack or two or fifteen (it just wouldn’t be right for a bear to say no), sometimes Jon would grow chubby. However, that didn’t bother Jonny none; he was just happy to be here on this earth.
    Snacks made him happy; his family made him happy; his friends made him happy; Playing made him happy. He was so dang happy most of the time that at times, he was hard to contain. What Jonny the most happy of all? Well, that was girls, of course. Gosh darn, giddy up, he loved them!

    One of Jon’s mamma bear’s favorite stories of Jon was when he was a little cub of maybe eight or nine. She dressed him up like a man in an Aqua Velvet ad, beige turtle neck, navy blue blazer and trousers pressed just right. Then, she placed him in the car and took him to one of her hair stylist conventions. Then she lost him; well, he wandered off as curious cubs often do…looking for a snack and maybe to look at a girl or two. His mamma bear looked for him everywhere. She looked near the snacks, no Jonny; she looked in the various groups of girls, no Jonny. Then, she looked towards the stairs. What did she see?

    Yep, there he was, Jonny, or was it Jon? He had positioned himself on the stairs so that he towered over the women that surrounded him.

    His Mamma Bear smirked; she, like everyone else, was quite charmed by her cub, but then…she did a double take, “What was that in his hand?” She closed in.

    “Jonny, NO!” She reprimanded him as she grabbed the champagne glass out of his paw. He didn’t care about the alcohol; it was the glass that he was concerned with; he found that if he held the stem just so, he looked like a man in the know and when a man has a look like this, well, we all know, the women just begin to flow. Mamma Bear put an end to that, but he was not in trouble, no. Instead, everyone laughed and laughed including mamma bear and most of all, Jonny. He laughed all night.

    The Aqua Velvet cub would grow into Dr. Love in middle school. He would put on some moon boots and a cape that his mamma bear had sewn him, and he would tour with his band Kiss. In middle schools everywhere, at least everywhere in the suburb of Rubidoux CA, Dr. Love would hit the stage and mimic every motion of Gene Simmons.

    Baby, I know what your problem is
    The first step of the cure is a kiss
    So call me (Dr. Love)
    They call me Dr. Love (calling Dr. Love)
    I am your doctor of love (calling Dr. Love), ha
    Dr. Love would lip sync and then bite the fake blood capsules near his back teeth. Blood would run down his face and this would make his ladies scream with glee.

    When he outgrew his moon boots and cape, he became a high school cheerleader where he was actually encouraged to throw girls in the air. And? Get this. Look up their skirts!!! Oh, there was never a happier cub.

    When he grew into a bear, he knew that he had to start earning his keep (snacks and girls weren’t free), but what did he want to do? He sniffed down his mamma bear’s paw prints and this led to her salon.
    Again, he was in luck. As a hairdresser, he got to do what he loved to do anyway. He got to touch girls, wash girls, smell girls, talk to girls, and play with girls all day. They even paid him for it.

    I guess this is where I fit. I let him touch me, wash me, smell me, talk to me and play with me for many years, and yes, I even paid him for it. He was my hairdresser and nothing else.

    Looking back, however, there were moments when a friendship began to forge.

    Take, for instance, the day that he tried to give me his Gopher Sex plates. As being a hairdresser often reflects, Jon was full of creativity. He was as full of creativity as Leonard Knight was; it manifested in everything he did. When he wasn’t cutting hair, he was doing arts and crafts and one of these sessions had rendered these Gopher Sex plates.

    As I sat in his hairdressing chair, he said, “I brought you something.”
    “Okay…” Not sure what else I should say.

    He opened a box that had been skillfully packed. He took out the plates one by one; these were plates that he had made at some random Color Me Mine store one day. As he unwrapped each one, I could see gophers in various forms of undress. Jon looked at me with guilt.

    “I’m a married man now and I just can’t have naked gophers in my house anymore.”

    I said I understood and thanked him profusely, but I had to pass as as they didn’t go with my current décor of naked birds and nudist fish. Naked gophers would turn my place into a regular Gomorrah.
    He wrapped the immodest gophers back up so very carefully and sighed,

    “Renee, Jesus has grabbed a hold of my heart and he won’t let go. It makes me want to paint only little kittens playing with string. Like those posters that used we used to collect when we were all kids, you know?”

    I did.

    We let the Gopher Sex plates go and Jon returned to my hair.
    Those little kittens would appear years later during another session of Jon doing my hair. A divorce had taken that spring out of his step, that wind in his sails. It was a suicide that had taken those things from me, and it had given me sight of other’s plight. I didn’t want this bear to feel as bad as I did; I tried to cheer him up.

    “Have you thought about doing those drawings of those kittens playing with string?”

    Jon stopped in mid air.

    “You remember that?”

    I couldn’t really forget things like Gopher Sex plates and drawing kittens playing with string although there are times when, perhaps, I would like to wash these things from my mind.

    All of a sudden, I saw Jon spring.

    “You listen to me,” he exclaimed.

    “Am I not supposed to?” I asked.

    All of a sudden, there was wind in his sail.

    “I like you,” he exclaimed.

    And then?

    This big ole bear tried to climb in my lap.

    I am not that big; A bear on my lap could not be good. I tried my best to push him out. I tried for months to keep him out. However, every time I would see him from that day on, there he was with his paw on my thigh and a sneaky glint in his eye.

    Now, he would argue that it was me that started to hunt his bearness down, but I am no hunter. Plus, if I was going to start hunting, I wasn’t going to start with a bear.

    However, the truth is he finally wore me down until I couldn’t push him away any longer. Then, he plopped himself down and hunkered in. Basically, he pinned me down. When I opened my eyes, I looked at his face and he smiled back at me real big. I think he even licked my face. Oh geez, I couldn’t help it; I smiled back. In that moment of a smiled shared, there was Love.

    So, I guess the moral of this story is…

    What do you do the next time a bear tries to sit on your lap?

    Let ‘em.

    Why?

    Sometimes I still scratch my head, but I do know that when Grace and Truth saw me being squashed by this bear, they looked at each other and winked.

    "Good, now that we have Love… " Truth said.

    Grace interrupted, “We are complete.”

    With new eyes,
    let them see
    this stark landscape
    For what it
    is
    a blank slate.

    There is a rule in the wilderness: Don’t feed the bears. Bears feed you. Once my bear knew he had me, he gave me a hug and a kiss, climbed off my lap and said,

    “C’mon…I’m not going to let you starve.”

    This means snacks.

    In his kitchen, I learned that Jon liked his food the way he liked his women…saucy with a fluff and a curl. Even if he handed me a cracker, I knew it would be served with something like a pickle cut in the shape of a heart or a star. After the snacks, he would turn to me and say,

    “C’mon…”

    and there we would be at the sea, riding bikes or in foreign supermarkets looking for something, “Cute and creepy.” That’s what he would say.

    I would say, “C’mon” too, and I would take to place to place including the to my desert.

    “What do desert people do?” he would ask.

    “Sometimes, they soak.”

    “That sounds fun!”

    “Then, they eat at buffets.”

    “Eww…I like that too!”

    “And sometimes, they dance and dance under the big huge moon.”

    “Let’s go!”

    You should have seen that bear dance; he danced so hard that one time the band had to stop to comment on his mad dancing skills. Yep, that’s right. The singer just stopped, pointed at him with a big thumbs up and said,

    “Dude.”

    Jon did a spin.

    One day when we were thinking of what to do next, I said,

    “You remind me of this guy Leonard.”

    “Who’s he?”

    “He is some guy who is building a mountain to God way out there.”

    I pointed toward the desert sky.

    “Why does he remind you of me?”

    “I think he has what you have.”

    “What’s that?”

    “Joy.”

    “I want to go.”

    “C’mon.”

    We drove out to Salvation Mountain with the sole intention of giving Leonard a hug. By the time, we arrived to the mountain, Leonard had been working on it for nearly twenty years. The little monument to God that Leonard had begun now spread over an acre of what many call useless land. Prayers, heart, stripes and a sign that said, “Follow the Yellow Brick Road.”. As we stood at the bottom of the yellow brick road, Jon started to weep.

    “Man, I love Jesus.”

    A desert rat whispered behind us,

    “So does Leonard.”

    “Is he here?” Jon and I asked at the very same time.

    The answer was no; Leonard was in town for the day, but the desert rat encouraged us to walk around.

    “Leonard built this for God, but he built it for you too. He just wants you to love.”

    And we did.

    That day ended like so many of our other days together. When we were done sharing our worlds with each other, Jon would snuggle up to me, hold my hand, look at me and say things like,

    “A man isn’t really a man until he learns how to hold a woman’s hand.”

    “Oh, my Lovus Bear, I love you.”

    “Oh, little, little, I love you too.”

    And then I would climb into his lap.

    So this is a glimpse into Jon and I’s adventure. The world was before us to devour and we were going to try to get every taste we could, because first, we shared that kind of appetite for life, but also because we both knew that something was eating him up.

    And I am so, so sorry, but this is where the story turns to a sad place. A story is a little like life. Sometimes there are people who have so, so, so much that even their cells get excited; these are the one in three; the people with malignancy. So, yes, Jon had cancer; he actually had it his whole adult life.

    The doctors found it when Jon was only twenty-two. He had been playing the drums and fell on the floor. Because he was such a silly bear, everyone thought he was kidding; however, when the doctors scanned him, they found something in his brain, a tumor in the shape of a clam.

    The doctors shrugged.

    “Six months.”

    Jon beat those odds by twenty-six years.

    You want to know why?

    He lived through his heart.

    Every once in awhile, though, that head would grab him and lay him out and it really started its war with Jon when he was forty-eight. I tried my best to fight it with Jon, but that tumor would just push me away and continue to take him piece by piece. My bear began to shrink; my strength became weak. I am not the only one who has seen this. If you are like me and have had to sit back and watch what cancer can do, then I know you; we’ve traveled to the same place. Some say Hell.

    There were seizures; there was a stroke; there were episodes; there were insurance issues; there was “nothing left they could do;” there were nursing homes; there was the inability to speak; there was hospice; there were times when he would just sit there; there were times when he just scream and then there was a phone call.
    His sister.

    “They’re saying today is the day.”

    I went there. He looked at me. My Lovus. He knew me. My little, little. I sang to him; ”You are my sunshine, my only sunshine, you make me happy when skies are gray.” His pastor prayed with him; Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death; I will fear no evil. His mother gave him swabs of cool water. You’ll never know, dear, how much I love... for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Please don’t take my sunshine…

    I took a break.

    When I returned to Jon’s room, I was expecting the worse. What I wasn’t expecting was Justin Beiber.

    Justin Beiber?

    What in the hell is Justin Beiber doing here holding a Bible and wearing a nametag that says Amway? No wait, I think it says pastor. Jon already has a pastor, a man Jon has known for years.

    Beiber looked at me with oozing arrogance.

    He looked me up and down as if I was in a court of law.

    “What church do you go to?”

    He asked me.

    “Excuse me?”

    Truth grabbed him by the jugular and slammed him hard against the wall.

    “Where the fuck is your humanity, Beiber? Look at that shell of man over there. No… you look at him good. He saved my life and today, I cannot save his.”

    Grace pulled me off.

    “You don’t want to mess up his bangs.”

    Love grabbed my shoulders.

    “Leave him alone, dear. He’s just a kid.”

    “You’re right,” and I did what I have found works best with brats. I ignored him.

    I returned to the man who had saved my life, my love. He looked at me. My Lovus. He knew me. My little, little. I sang to him; ”You are my sunshine, my only sunshine, you make me happy when skies are gray.” His pastor prayed with him; Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death; I will fear no evil. His mother gave him swabs of cool water. You’ll never know, dear, how much I love... for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Please don’t take my sunshine…

    By evening, there was a cadence. I would whisper “It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay, stroking his head and kissing his face. There were two others besides me in the room with Jon: a dear friend and Jon’s Pastor’s sister. It’s okay, it’s okay, stroke, stroke, kiss, kiss, it’s okay, it’s okay, stroke, stroke, kiss, kiss.

    A gasp pulled Jon off the bed.

    Truth.

    It’s okay, it’s okay, stroke, stroke, kiss, kiss, it’s okay, it’s okay, stroke, stroke, kiss, kiss.

    Another gasp pulled Jon off the bed.

    Grace.

    The pastor’s sister began saying the Lord’s prayer, this was Jon’s and I prayer.

    Our Father in heaven,
    hallowed be your name.
    Your kingdom come,
    your will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.
    Give us this day our daily bread,
    and forgive us our debts,
    as we also have forgiven our debtors.
    And lead us not into temptation,
    but deliver us from evil

    A third gasp pulled Jon off the bed.

    Love

    And then?

    My sunshine away.

    Silence
    Desert
    Whispers
    Back

    Motions. Ashes. “Can you sign here? It will be eight hundred to have him cremated and thirteen dollars for the certificate. An additional one will be eleven seventy-five. We take cash or credit card, no checks. Do you want to purchase a urn? We have a decorative urns, car urns, necklace urns even ring urns... check it out…here’s the catalogue. Keep it; it’s yours.” Church services. A friend speaks, “Why do we all love Jon? Because he was a good Friend, Father, Brother, Son, Husband, Uncle, and Man. Yes, he was all those things, but to me his was a Mentor.” Justin Beiber speaks, “Let us not forget Jon was a sinner.” Air.

    Vast it is before us, this desert sky. We survey the scene, Jon’s dear friend, a friend of mine as well and me.

    “Is Leonard here today?” I ask a man riding by on a bicycle.

    The man shakes his head sadly and says, “No, Leonard is in a nursing home.”

    “Is he coming back?”

    “I wish it was up to me to know.”

    He rides off and we walk back to the car. I take out a little sack.

    “Have you ever seen these?”

    I show Jon’s friend the ashes that I have mixed with glitter.
    We look at them, quiet.

    He hands me a burrito.

    I eat it as I look over to Leonard’s plan, to create a place for Jesus’ love.

    “Look what I brought,” Jon’s friend enters my thoughts.

    I look over at him; he is holding a plastic kitten that has a huge smile on it.

    “I found it in Jon’s stuff and thought we could put it in Leonard’s chapel.”

    Kittens playing with string.

    Perfect.

    Later, we place the happy cat in Leonard’s chapel made of windshields, adobe and paint. I spread ashes as we make our way to the top of the mountain. When we get near the top, near the cross, Jon’s friend releases Jon’s ashes into the air. They dance and land on Salvation Mountain.

    “Happiness only real when shared.” This was one of the last things Alexander Supertramp wrote in his journals as he starved in an abandoned Alaskan bus.

    We finish spreading the ashes and then go ride bikes.

    Good day.

    But I’m not done. I have to meet Leonard. To this, I have to stalk him, so I do. I’m not too proud to stalk an eighty year old man. Within two hours, I find out that he is in a skilled nursing facility in Somewhere San Diego. Within a week, I am there.

    “I’d like to see Leonard Knight,” I say to the receptionist.

    “Your name?” She asks as she grabs a sign in book.

    “Renee.”

    “Do you know the password?”

    “No. I need one, don’t I?”

    “Yep.”

    I don’t push it; I know the rules.

    “Thanks for taking care of him.”

    The receptionist smiles big.

    “It is our pleasure to have Leonard with us.”

    I bet it is. I walk away, drive North and wander into thoughts of phone messages that Jon used to leave. He left the greatest phone messages of anyone; so classic were they that several people mentioned his phone message talent at his funeral. Years before I dated him, I would save his messages, so I could revisit them when I needed a laugh. One of those messages sticks in my mind today.

    “We all know dogs can’t talk, but if they could talk, this is what they’d say…”

    Still makes me smile. Then, my mind wanders to Leonard.
    I imagine myself being allowed to see him. I see myself carrying a bible into his nursing home room. The room would look like Jon’s, small with many tokens of affection from the people that love him. Leonard would be sitting in his bed, small and weakened from his stroke, but the energy would still be there; it’d be in his eyes. When I came in, he would look at me, smile, but not speak. I would introduce myself.

    “Leonard, you don’t know me, but I want to thank you for who you are and what you have done.”

    I would share with him how much I admire his tenacity.

    “Not many people would spend ten years making a hot air balloon for God, watch it unravel, then pick up some paint and begin building another kind of monument. Most people would have given up, Leonard. Heaven knows, I have wanted to give up due to lesser things.”

    He would smile and move closer.

    I would share with him how much I admire his ability to love.
    “I saw you in that movie, Leonard. You know the one about that kid Alexander Supertramp? When the actor asked you if you believed in love, you said ‘totally.’ It wasn’t what you said that struck me, but the depths from where it came from. You love totally, Leonard. I can’t say that about myself; I have walls, because as a child, love me. But God has been giving me teachers and you are one of them.”

    He would reach out and grab my hand.

    I would share with him how much I admire his walk with Jesus.
    “I have a confession to make. I’m not a big fan of Christians. They do the meanest, most hypocritical stuff I have ever seen a group do. What I have learned from you because they are complicating things and trying to squish Jesus into their own view. You have helped me see Jesus more clearly, simply. Thank you. ”

    Leonard squeezes my hand and he won’t let go.

    We sit there until he falls to sleep. I say a prayer and leave.

    Then?

    I shut up about it.
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