Sean Paul Murphy, Writer

Sean Paul Murphy, Writer
Sean Paul Murphy, Writer

Thursday, December 7, 2017

THE PROMISE - Chapter 7

This will be the last sample chapter of my memoir, The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God, published by TouchPoint Press, that I will be posting on the blog for the time being. I thought it would be best to end on an upbeat note, but, rest assured, things don't work out as I intended.  If they did, there would be no book!


7 – Mission Accomplished

LATE APRIL 1979.

By any objective measure, my efforts to bring Kathy into my life had been a complete and utter failure.

My daily three-mile excursion past her house kept me trim, but it only produced a few conversations that, to my knowledge, led to absolutely nothing. I never found the courage to ask her out, let alone express my feelings. I also had no idea if she had any feelings whatsoever for me. If she did, they couldn’t have had anything to do with anything I had said or done, because I hadn’t said or done anything.

Left to my own devices, I doubt we would have ever dated. It was coming up on the second year since I received the promise. I was nearing the end of my senior year at Curley. Next fall I would be going to college. The following year, she would also be headed to college. Unless something happened soon, we would drift off into our own separate worlds.

I was at a loss, but I never lost faith. Something would happen. And it did.

One Saturday night, Kathy came to our house on Rueckert Avenue to hang out with my sister Jeanne. I started telling her about a feature film I had just bought called Night of the Living Dead. The low-budget, black and white horror film, directed by George Romero, was a real eye opener to me. When I first saw it, I found it genuinely jarring and disturbing in both its violence and dark tone. This influential zombie opus changed the way I looked at film, and I had written a glowing review about it for the Curley newspaper.

Kathy told me she’d love to see it. Jeanne wasn’t interested, but had no problem with letting me show it to Kathy. My projectors were up in my third floor bedroom. She came up to my room. Alone. We sat on the floor with our backs against the wooden frame of my bed and watched the ninety-six minute movie, which was longer as a result of my manual reel changes.

I couldn’t believe it. The girl of my dreams was in my bedroom. Alone. For almost two full hours.

Did I put the moves on her? You already know the answer to that question. I shockingly didn’t even try to slip an arm around her shoulder. What a waste! Isn’t that why guys take girls to scary movies in the first place? To give the girls, and themselves, an excuse to hold onto each other? But no, I was still too shy. We just sat there and watched the movie. Or, in my case, tried to watch the movie. My heart was racing. I occasionally peeked over to catch a glimpse of her. I’m not sure if I ever caught her sneaking a peek at me.

It was late when the movie ended. Kathy thanked me for showing it to her and said she enjoyed it. Then she went downstairs, said goodbye to my sister and walked home. Alone.

She later told me she hoped I would offer to walk her home after showing her such a scary movie. I wish I knew she felt that way. I would have been happy to walk with her. As it was, I was afraid I would be crossing the line by offering to walk her home. Fortunately, it would only be a week or two before we could openly talk about our desires, with the help of Jesus, director George Romero, and Kathy herself.

The next time I saw Kathy was on May 8, 1979. The date we subsequently celebrated as our anniversary.

It started like any other day. I was walking my route. I found Kathy sitting on her porch swing, smiling and happy. She waved me over. We sat and talked amiably, as we had before, on the grass in the shade of a tree on a small rise that marked the border of her front yard. She told me she had to go to the library in Parkville. She asked me if I wanted to go with her.

Did I want to go with her? You bet I did! This was unbelievable. We were actually going to go somewhere together! It wasn’t a date, but it was still a dream come true! Or should I say a promise.

Thank you, Jesus!

Kathy had just gotten her driver’s license. She drove us out Harford Road into Parkville, a small, suburban community in nearby Baltimore County in her mother’s mid-seventies Plymouth. I have no memory of what we said or did at the library. I can only imagine that I followed her around like a puppy dog with a big, goofy smile on my face while she did her schoolwork. When we got back to her house, she asked me if I wanted one of her school pictures. I certainly did. She went into her house and got one for me, and wrote a nice and encouraging little message on it that even used the L-word.

Now the ball was in my court. Kathy had done everything except ask me to ask her out. 

At the time, I viewed myself as the pursuer. I was the one who dreamt of her. I was the one who walked the long, lonely miles. I was the one who prayed and kept the faith. In retrospect, it is obvious that something had changed within her since I received the promise.

In our first meaningful private conversation after I heard the voice, Kathy obviously didn’t consider me a romantic possibility. If she had, she wouldn’t have been asking me about Charlie Woods. It would please my ego to think I had done something to cause a change in her attitude, but I hadn’t. I only had a handful of meaningful conversations with her over the ensuing year-and-a-half. I dare say none of them were characterized by any particular wit, sophistication or romantic savoir-faire on my part. I hadn’t displayed any! I’m sure it wasn’t my physique either. I was a short, gangly guy with a relatively big nose and totally unruly hair. My only physical attributes praised by girls were my long eyelashes, but, trust me, few girls got close enough to see them. I was shy, naïve and immature. My strengths were a good sense of humor, persistence, and, although I didn’t know it at the time, the ability to love very deeply if given half the chance.

I don’t know why Kathy became interested in me. My only explanation is that God had gently turned her heart to me the way He had turned mine toward her. 

God had worked it out in His own way, and, in my experience, that’s the way He always did it. Any time He gave me a word of knowledge, He would fulfill His promise on His own. Despite my desire to pitch in and help, He never needed my assistance, and the events usually came to pass in a way I didn’t anticipate.  

In His time. Not mine. I believe that’s what happened here.

I honestly doubt I would have ever even considered asking Kathy out on a date if I hadn’t heard His voice. He brought me to her. I had given Kathy no reason to be interested in me. When it came to looks and charm, she was definitely out of my league. I can only assume He drew her to me.

God had orchestrated this whole relationship. In His time. In His way.

Now I finally stood before Kathy, the girl I had dreamed about for nearly two long years. She was looking at me expectantly. Waiting. It was my turn. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but it was something along the lines of: “Hey, remember that movie we watched, Night of the Living Dead? The sequel just came out. It’s playing at Golden Ring Mall. Do you want to go and see it?”

I wonder if I stammered? If I did, it didn’t matter.

“Yes."

Wow. She said yes.

Actually, inviting her to a movie at Golden Ring wasn’t a very smart move. I spent a lot of time there with Jim and Bob. Those were the glory days of shopping malls, and the two-story Golden Ring Mall was the retailing crown jewel of the Eastside of Baltimore. Teenagers flocked there, all intent on meeting members of the opposite sex. Bob thought it was a good place for us to meet girls, but, as usual, it became a good place to watch girls from a safe distance. The problem with taking Kathy to Golden Ring Mall was that I didn’t have any transportation. I didn’t drive. I didn’t even have my driver’s license. What was I going to do? Ask Bob to give us a ride? Nah. Or my parents? Yikes. Disaster! 

Fortunately, Kathy said she could get her parents’ car. The movie, George Romero’s horror masterpiece Dawn of the Dead, was extremely crowded. We were forced to sit in the front row, craning our necks to look almost straight up at the screen. That didn’t prevent me from boldly putting an arm around Kathy’s shoulder. Despite the fact that my arm gave her a terrible crick in her neck, she never asked me to move it. I didn’t move it either, even after it fell asleep and began to ache. This was still a dream come true.

After the movie, Kathy drove me home. She pulled over and parked a little up the street from my house. Throughout the course of our relationship, she often laughed at the timidness of my words when I asked, “May I kiss you?”

She said yes. And I kissed her with a tenderness and passion I never dreamt myself capable of attaining. I always kept my heart tightly locked, but those chains melted that night. I think Kathy and I both surprised each other and ourselves. My first kiss wasn’t just a kiss. It was a veritable tidal wave of affection and emotion. I always knew Kathy was sweet. I knew she was kind. I didn’t know how passionately alive and affectionate she was.

It was an exhilarating and happy surprise.

The windows quickly fogged. I don’t know how long we sailed across this undiscovered sea of desire, but it was too long. Kathy had a curfew. She had to get the car back home, but we always needed one more kiss. Finally, she reluctantly managed to pull herself away. She got home late to the disapproval of her parents. I, on the other hand, could have walked straight to the window of my third floor bedroom. 

Praise the Lord.

Kathy wasn’t my wife yet, as promised, but this evening completely justified the faith I had long placed in the Lord’s word. It was unbelievable. I was a changed man. I literally didn’t consider myself capable of both giving and receiving such affection. I held her and kissed her, and she did the same to me. To a shy boy sitting in his attic room, still shaking with excitement and disbelief, it was a miracle. The best kind.

Years later, a friend of mine, John Noble, wisely said, in the midst of a male-bonding weekend on the beach after he broke up with his first real girlfriend, “First love is the best, because there’s no fear.” 

He was so right. All the fear in me dissipated overnight.

I knew I would be able to tell her anything. I knew I would be able to be my authentic self around her. I felt completely secure. Why not? I knew we had a future. It was God’s will, and if God wanted it to happen, it had to. Right? There wasn’t a single iota of doubt in my heart. God’s will was my will. My relationship with Kathy would tie together the desires of both my heart and my soul. For good or evil, the two were now inseparable. 

How could I be afraid of her? The concept of fear was absurd. At least to me.

Kathy’s parents, however, expressed some fear. Or at least some firm disapproval. She came home late with the car after our first three dates. Her parents would have been even angrier if they knew what had happened on that third night. After our scheduled activities, we decided to drive out to Loch Raven reservoir, a large man-made lake north of Baltimore City that provides most of the city’s drinking water, to find ourselves a nice romantic lovers’ lane. We parked in a secluded area and began making out again. The windows were soon so fogged we didn’t notice the other car until they flashed their high beams.

It was the police. They pulled up directly behind us, locking us in place and came sauntering up with flashlights. I bet they spent the rest of the night laughing about how scared they had us. They told us we were trespassing, but, after making us squirm a bit, they let us off with a verbal warning. Kathy was beyond relieved. She was so afraid of what would have happened if they had arrested us.

Even without knowledge of our close call with the police, Kathy’s parents were upset enough on their own. This was her third time coming home late. Her punishment was that she couldn’t use the car for dating anymore. 

No problem. I was ready to step up to the plate.

I had already taken drivers’ education at Curley, but I hadn’t bothered to get my driver’s license. Before I started dating Kathy, Bob Burgess and I were pretty much inseparable. I didn’t go anywhere without him, and he had access to his parents’ car. I didn’t need to drive. Now I did.

I immediately went out and got my license, despite the warning of my driving instructor at Curley who prophesied that I would kill someone behind the wheel. The guy who administered the driving test at the MVA shared his opinion. He got out of the car angry because, technically speaking, I had passed the test. Before he slammed the door, he looked at me and said, “I’ll be reading about you in the newspapers.” 

Who cared what they thought? Not me! I had Kathy. Nothing else mattered.

I had my license, and use of my mother’s Ford Torino. It was a multi-hued Frankenstein monster of a vehicle assembled with a hood and fenders from various different cars. It was generally free in the evening. So was I. I never remember having a curfew after we moved to Rueckert Avenue. Once, after listening to my mother fight with my sister Laura for an hour about what time she was coming home at night, I asked her when she wanted me to come home. 

“Anytime,” she replied.

Now I had somewhat regular transportation, though that first year Kathy and I still had to take the occasional bus over to York Road to catch a movie at the Senator Theater. We also spent a great deal of time walking up and down Harford Road holding hands. That was often nicer than driving.

Now that I had a regular girlfriend, it was time to secure a steady source of income. Bob Burgess and Jim Jackson were already working as bus boys at Thompson’s Sea Girt House. Sea Girt means surrounded by the water, and, once upon a time, the white tablecloth restaurant sat on a small peninsula in the harbor. Now it sat at the decidedly less maritime corner of York Road and Northern Parkway. It was one of the oldest and finest seafood restaurants in Baltimore. They had the best crab cakes in town, and that’s saying something. Baltimore restaurants pride themselves on their crab cakes, and the title of best is fiercely contested.

My buddies put in a good word for me. At the end of the interview the manager told me to buy some black shoes, black socks, black pants, a white shirt and a black snap on bowtie. Yes! I was now officially a working man. Since the restaurant management proved willing to work around my college schedule, I would remain on the staff for years. However, I suppose I could blame them for starting the process that ultimately made me twice the man I used to be. Employees were permitted to help themselves to the soups. I had cup after cup of their delicious cream soups. I actually had a bit of a belly by the time I left their employ.

So now I had it all: Transportation. Income. Someone to love. No fear. Well, maybe a little.

Kathy’s parents definitely worried about what we were up to. We were, too. We were good kids. Innocent. Moral. Early on in our relationship, Kathy told me she wanted to be a virgin on her wedding night. I respected that. And, quite frankly, that’s what I wanted, too. In my heart, I knew Kathy wasn’t a conquest. She was a gift from the Lord. I didn’t want to repay Him by jumping the gun sexually. It was an easy decision to make, especially since I believed I would ultimately be the recipient of her virginity on our wedding night.

While it was an easy decision, it wasn’t always easy to remain true to our better angels. We were normal, red-blooded American teenagers. Our hormones were raging. It was a daily struggle, not with each other, but with our own desires. There would be many times when one of us would prove weaker than the other in our shared resolve. Abstinence can only succeed in a relationship when both partners are truly committed to it. I don’t regret the decision, even though I would ultimately not be the recipient of her virginity.

Our biggest test came that first summer. Kathy’s family went away for vacation, but she opted to stay home alone. Well, not alone. I was there.

Her parents sternly prohibited us from being in the empty house alone together. Yeah, right. We very quickly disobeyed, and, just as quickly, we found ourselves upstairs in her bedroom. In her bed. Making out. But it didn’t feel right, for either of us, so we soon retreated downstairs. I don’t remember ever being in her bedroom on Westfield Avenue again. Nonetheless, despite our continued virginity, it was an absolutely lovely week. A lot of it was spent swinging in the hammock hanging between two trees in her backyard dreaming and getting to know each other.

As if to confirm that I was right in the center of the Lord’s will for my life, during my last religion class at Archbishop Curley High School, the friar took out the Bible and read my old familiar, thesis statement, John 15:16-17: “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you. This I command you: Love one another.” 

He said that was our mission in life. I couldn’t agree more. Still, the dark clouds on the horizon were creeping closer.



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