I have decided to leave names out of this to protect the innocent and the not so innocent.
In the Fall of 1986 I was entering my senior year of high school. I started dating a girl from my youth group. Her family lived in Bagley, a town of a 1000 people about 25 miles west of Bemidji. We hadn’t dated too long before she invited me over to her house to watch movies. When I got there it was a houseful: her parents, younger sister, brother and his girlfriend and her brother’s best friend were all there. Her parents, though, were heading out for the night and weren’t going to get back till late. I agreed with her parents that I would leave by 10 p.m. They left and the rest of us started watching movies. Her older brother and his friends were in their 20’s. Looking back on it now, I am guessing that they were told to stay around and check me out for before they too left. I guess I passed their tests so they left about an hour later. So it was I and my girlfriend (who was 15) and her younger sister who was 14 left alone to watch movies.
About 30 minutes after everyone cleared out, some local high school guys stopped over to visit. Both of the guys seemed pretty nice and were friends of the family. Apparently they too had heard I was coming and decided to stop by and check me out. For about the next hour the place got pretty busy. Local kids kept stopping by outside the house to check things out. The whole thing was strange. What I began to learn was that her ex-boyfriend and some of his friends were also some of the people cruising by the house. One of the guys who stopped over was their next door neighbor. He was a nice guy and trusted by the family. He told the 3 of us that the ex-boyfriend and his friends were threatening to beat me up or run me off the road when I left town later that night. I was shocked by the whole thing (this stuff really only happens in movies, right?) Things actually started to calm down around 9 p.m. all the traffic stopped, everyone left and we watched the end of the movie. I guess at this point I resolved in my mind that the whole thing was just a bunch of talk. At 10 p.m., like promised, I headed out the door. My girlfriend walked me to my car without incident. My girlfriend headed back into her house and I got into my car and slowly started to turn the corner and head down the next block. I got less than a block down that road and bright headlights snapped on in my review mirror. Apparently a car had been waiting in a driveway just a couple doors down and now flew past me and cut me off. If this was a movie, at this point you would be screaming at your screen telling the kid to stay in his car. Of course, I didn’t. I jumped out of my car and 3 guys jumped out of the other car. The first guy came running up to me shouting something and taking a couple swings. I turned my back on the other two as the ex-boyfriend and I began to struggle. The other two jumped in and pulled my arms behind my back. The ex-boyfriend now unfettered began to take some full swings. One of the first swings hit me in the nose breaking it again. I went unconscious. I am guessing that I was only out a few seconds. I woke up to someone or several of them kicking me in the head and in the back. I struggled to get to my feet while trying to protect my nose. There was blood everywhere. The two that had jumped in to help were now running back to their car. They had decided I had, had enough and were yelling at the ex-boyfriend to leave me alone. The ex-boyfriend begrudgingly walked back to his car yelling at me to never return to Bagley again. My response? “We will see about that.” Who did I think I was John Wayne? At this point the boyfriend started walking back towards me. His friends yelled at him to get in the car. He decided that his friends were right so he got back in the car. At that point I had no idea what to do. I really didn’t want to go back to my girlfriend’s house. I was bleeding everywhere and needed to get help. I wasn’t really sure how badly I was hurt, just that my nose was broken and wasn’t exactly sitting straight on my face. I had no idea where the police station was or if there was a hospital. So I decided to head back to Bemidji. I got just two blocks away and their car pulled out from a neighboring street and they began to follow me. You know when faced with danger they either say fight or flight? Well I had tried fighting and that didn’t work well with those odds, so now it was time for flight. I had a Camero so I decided to gun it and speed the 25 miles back to the emergency room in Bemidji. As soon as I got to the city limits, their car turned back and I was on my own. I rolled the window down as I raced down the highway. Blood kept coming down my face and through my nose. There was so much that I could cup it up in my fist and then toss it out the window. By the time I got to the emergency room, the bleeding had almost ceased. For the 2nd time in 6 months I was back in the same emergency room with a broken nose. The doctors took one look at me and said that my face was too swollen and they couldn’t do anything that night. I called my house and my mom answered and immediately asked me what was wrong. I ignored the question and asked to speak to dad. Again she asked me what was wrong and I insisted that she put dad on the phone.
The rest of the night was really a blur. My dad came to get me at the hospital. By the time he got to me he had already called the police and my girlfriend’s house. The police told him the best thing to do was probably head back to Bagley again so I could give my statement right away. So broken nose and beat up face and all, we headed back to Bagley again. This was really a long night. They took pictures of me, took my statement, called my girlfriends parents down to the station and they gave all the names of the kids they guessed were involved. I am guessing I finally got home around 3 a.m. The next morning I had my surgery. They knocked me out for it and re-set my nose. I think they placed a metal guard over my nose and taped it on to my face. I looked pretty rough for a couple weeks.
As with life, this didn’t exactly have one of those fairy tale happy endings. The two kids who had jumped in to help the ex-boyfriend both made statements generally supporting mine. They were both 17. One of the 17 year olds lived in a foster home and had been in and out of trouble in the past. He called me one day out of the blue asking for my forgiveness. He said he couldn’t get my face out of his head and couldn’t sleep at night. He said he needed my forgiveness. I told him he was forgiven and thanked him for making an honest statement. The second juvenile contacted my lawyer and asked for a deal to be cut. He wanted to get into the army and they wouldn’t let him in with a 3rd degree assault charge. We let him plead it down to a 5th degree assault as long as he met me in court, apologized and would be a witness against the ex-boyfriend. The ex-boyfriend was 18 at the time of the assault. He pled innocent to all charges. I’m not sure who is defender was, but it was an unenviable task. His two partners had already pled guilty and supported the story that I gave. He gave a different story and statement. I really don’t remember what it was but it somehow stated I was to blame….?
When our day in court came, things in my personal life had changed quite a bit. The girl I had been dating and had gotten beat up over decided to go back and date the ex-boyfriend. Confused? So was I. When we met in front of the judge, my family and friends and (now) ex-girlfriends family all sat on one side of the court. The ex-girlfriend and now boyfriend (again) sat on the other side. It was a quick hearing. The judge quickly ruled in my favor. The boyfriend went to jail for 7 days then served 3 months in a work program up by the Canadian border. He had to pay damages for smashing the window of my car, cleaning of my car from all the blood and my lost wages from a part time job. One of my friends recently reminded me that there was a group of my friends who weren’t satisfied how it all turned out and it was time to get a group together to show this guy some real justice (imagine a scene out of The Outsiders). I felt good that so many wanted to rush to my defense but also felt that wasn’t going to end up well either. Living in a smaller community, that of course wasn’t the last we all saw of each other. First off tat family still went to my church and youth group so I saw the ex-girlfriend a couple times a week. Also to spite the kid, I visited the family and showed up at some of their small town basketball games. And just to make things even tougher. The kid came with my ex-girlfriend sometimes to our youth group.
I had never felt so scared, humiliated, weak, helpless and betrayed in all my life. What got me through it was: family, friends, my youth leaders, faith and forgiveness. I learned that life didn’t read like a fairy tale novel but that you needed to deal with life’s problems and move on. The more time I dwelt on it, the more time I lost out on what was in front of me. Over time I learned to find some peace and also how to forgive. When my ex-girlfriend showed up with the guy who beat me up at my church, I was the first to walk up to him and shake his hand.
All of those life lessons learned at age 18 gave me an idea on what path to take 21 years later when confronted with the doctor’s diagnosis of incurable cancer. I am still learning today but am convinced that many of my life experiences helped me prepare for where I am now. I learned both physically and mentally that when you get knocked down you get back up-with God’s help, He will make it possible.
Micah 7:7-8 “As for me, I look to the Lord for help, I wait confidently for God to save me, and my God will certainly hear me. Do not gloat over me, my enemies! For though I fall, I will rise again…”