June 28, 2006
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the hottest as hell of times.
Intellectually, Babe Heffron realized that a Louisiana summer was hotter than a Pennsylvania summer, but this was bullshit. Humidity was not supposed to be at 100% at four AM, and yet here it was, in all its suffocating glory. Babe couldn't sleep; even with the central air pouring through the old house, he could feel the moisture on his skin and sweat made his clothes stick.
Ralph was still asleep, nothing short of the roof ripping off the house could wake him. Gene was passed out on the couch, the light from the TV flickering across his exhausted face. His scrubs bore evidence of his long day, everything from finger-paint prints to pink calamine lotion. He'd come home for dinner, only to rush out again when some neighborhood kids stumbled across a patch of poison ivy.
The house creaked with the breeze coming off the swamp and Babe had to steady himself on one of the door lintels. The house was old, though not in the same way his house in Philly was, brick and mortar spackled together and cracking through the centuries. This house was made out of wood, dragged out from the swamp, no basement, swaying and groaning with the winds. It was full of windows, from back when air conditioning meant nothing but opening the blinds and letting the breeze blow through.
Babe wasn't used to the sound of the house, and in the middle of the night, his imagination got the best of him. It reminded him of all those sleepovers at Bill's Grandma Pugliese's house in the Poconos. All those nights in blanket forts, telling ghost stories, with Bill's big brothers scaring the crap out of them all night, using all the creaky floorboards and loose panels of the walls to do their work.
Part of Babe already missed Philly and it'd only been a week. He'd grown used to the sounds of the city at night; the Broad Street Subway line running on its track, the ever present smell of the Delaware in the air and all the good and bad that came with living in Pennsport. There was a rhythm to living in a city, each one had its own different soundtrack and feel and the sounds became a soothing white noise.
The Louisiana countryside wasn't quiet. He always grew up thinking the country in the south was different from the country he knew in Pennsylvania and Jersey, but Bayou Country was full of its own nighttime sounds, made all the louder by the absence of the familiar noises Babe expected.
Babe moved from the living room to the kitchen, briefly recoiling in disgust when his feet hit the linoleum floor and felt its coating of humidity. Old houses came with old drafts, Gene said, and no matter how hard they tried, the kitchen never took well to the central air. He poured himself a cold glass of water from the pitcher and sat down at the kitchen table. A myriad of medical books and journals littered the surface, Babe was only able to recognize about half of the jargon due to all the times he had helped Ralph study.
He was paging through the most recent issue of JEMS when the kitchen door banged open. He jumped, spilling water all over himself and the magazine.
"You're going give me $10 to replace that, Heffron," Merriell said. He sauntered into the house with a smirk on his face that told Babe he had opened the door like that on purpose.
"Tell me the truth, Shelton, you were raised by gators, right?" he asked.
"Even worse and meaner, old drunk Cajuns. They hunt gators, boy, and try to beat the lip out of you." Merriell's smirk was lost in the darkness, but Babe heard it in his reply.
Babe refused to rise to that bait and instead made an act of checking the clock. "What's got you here so late? Or early?"
Merriell shrugged, throwing a uniform shirt over one of the chairs, "Long day at work is all. Didn't feel like driving back to St. Francisville, not when I'm working in Lafayette tomorrow."
"Why don't you pick just one city to work and live in?"
"Some of us don't just have one home, Heffron." Shelton pulled a beer out of the fridge and hopped up on to the counter. "I don't know what news coverage is like in Philly, but we had this hurricane and this flood about a year or so back. It sort of took up all of our resources. People like me, learned in the way of battle-field triage, we're pretty damn important in deciding who really needs some help and who just needs a kick in the ass."
"Or maybe you're too afraid to pick a place to put down roots because life's always shat on you?"
Merriell shook his head and put his beer down. "Don't act like you know me, Heffron. I have my roots in people, not places. You get a bit older and you'll learn that."
Merriell leaned back on his hands. He made his study of Babe obvious, trying to freak him out, most likely. But Babe had grown up with three sisters, four brothers, and all the Guarneres and Spinas. He was the king of staring contests.
"You ain't as nervous as your friend, Spina. Don't flinch or nothing after our first meeting. Kind of remind me of someone, Heffron. You got any family in Alabama?"
Babe did blink at that. "Uh, no. Why?"
"Just curious," Merriell said. He looked at the clock. "You should go get some rest. Gene will run you ragged tomorrow at the clinic. Got to get ready for Fourth of July, always a lot of burns to treat this week. If you don't want him beyond pissed off at you, I suggest you go back to bed."
"Gene," Babe scoffed, "pissed off? Is that even possible?"
Merriell laughed. "You'll learn, Heffron. Gene's a slow burn, but once he goes, you duck and cover." He hopped off the counter and put the beer back in the fridge. "You can stay up as long as you like, I can't tell you what to do. Just ask yourself if you want to deal with screaming children on, what, five hours of sleep? A boy like you can't have learned how to do that yet."
"You don't know me either, Shelton. I haven't had more than five hours of sleep since I was a baby."
"Suit yourself," he said, strolling into the living room.
Babe watched him pause over Gene and shake him lightly, more careful with his voice than Babe had thought Merriell capable of being. He whispered to Gene in that Cajun-English-French dialect so many people here possessed and Gene responded with a nod and a shrug, hoisting himself up from the couch.
"Edward," Gene called, "I know this weather's got to be uncomfortable for you, but I need you alert with steady hands tomorrow. Why don't you go on back to bed, okay? Take one of the ice packs in the freezer with you."
"Do you ever stop being a doctor?" Babe asked.
In the light of the TV, he caught Gene and Merriell exchange a look. Babe don't know if what he had said was right or wrong, but a tired smile made its way across Gene's face.
"Let's see if you stick it out long enough to find out," he said.
Babe ducked back into the kitchen before anyone could catch him blushing like the 12 year old girl Bill always said he was. He hurriedly grabbed one of the ice packs, noting no less than ten in the freezer. He put it over his forehead to try and hide some of his face, but from Merriell's laugh, he didn't feel too successful.
Babe just prayed all his nights didn't end, and his mornings start, like this.
December 27, 2006
Julian was dead to begin with. Right now he should've stumbled inside from some late night indoor block party. He should be sliding on the black ice of Philly streets, trailing bits of snow and slush behind him, with Babe hanging at his side.
Instead Babe was here, at four AM, two days after Christmas. Here being the kitchen of the Old Thibodaux Boarding House in St. Boniface, Louisiana. Here being far from any Ma Heffron's home. Here being anywhere but Philly, with its blood stained snow banks and Julian on the ground, clutching at his chest while the blood gurgled in his throat, trickled off his lips; Pennsport's sidewalks thick with the smell of winter, city, blood, and bullets.
Four AM and Babe couldn't sleep. Ralph and Gene tried to stay up with him, but Ralph had his own grief to take care of and Gene was already exhausted from a round of late-night medical emergencies. Renée and Anna had flown out last week and only God, the Devil, and himself knew where Merriell had gone.
He looked up when the screen door slammed. Merriell was stumbling in, his uniform shirt thrown over his shoulder, the symbol for Acadian Ambulance barely visible. He stopped short when he found Babe at the kitchen table, looking almost like a raccoon with his wide, surprised eyes.
"I could've sworn Spina said he was gonna put a valium in your ice cream," Merriell said.
He smelled of sweat, antiseptic, night air and the swamp. Gene carried a similar scent, but his got mixed in with the perfumes from all the old ladies too scared to go into the big cities for check-ups and the lollipops he bribed the kids with when it was time for their shots. Merriell smelled more like city streets and the slight bite of winter air even here in the middle of the swamp.
"Long night?" Babe asked instead of confessing that the ice cream only had stayed down for ten minutes before he puked. A phone call from Julian's mother had set off a whole new cycle of nauseating grief.
"Holidays are a busy time of year full of people getting drunk and flying through windshields. Or tourists driving straight into the swamp. Thanksgiving through Mardi Gras is the busiest time of year in my business. No idle hands on these arms."
Merriell walked over to the table and pulled out the chair Babe had his feet resting on. He had learned three months ago that all his glares were lost on Merriell Shelton, so he settled for a sigh and some obviously rolled eyes.
"It's not like you said this seat was taken. And a properly raised boy would have offered the chair up anyway." Merriell sat down and lit a cigarette, completely ignoring the house rules and the "No Smoking" sign hanging above his head.
"Funny how you don't look like my Grandma King," Babe said.
"Maybe she's a shape shifter." Merriell threw his jacket down and put his feet on the table, something he would never do if Gene was in the room.
"You know he's going to sense you getting germs on his kitchen table while he's sleeping," Babe said. Gene had this uncanny way of always being there when you were about to do something wrong or stupid.
Merriell just smiled and blew out a few smoke rings. "I know how to deal with Gene-Baptiste," he said. "I got enough peanut butter brittle squirreled away to distract him for life. What I don't know how to deal with is you. I could try to be like the old men, tell you about all the blood I've seen, all the young boys I've watched die, but I don't think you need more death talk. I could get all lapsed-Catholic to lapsed-Catholic and take you down to see Father John, but you don't look to be in the mood for any speeches on the Faithful Departed. I would prefer to take you into Lafayette and get you drunk off your ass, but then Gene would have my balls and I'd like to keep those where they are. So tell me, Heffron, what can I do for you?"
"I got some manners buried deep in here and I'm in a pretty good mood right now. Don't waste it; it only comes around once every five months."
Babe had to think about that one. It wasn't often that Merriell gave himself over for a carte blanche questioning. Babe knew he was being pandered too, knew that Merriell was worried because Gene was worried, and the one would always do anything to make sure the other was happy.
But Babe was tired and he wanted to sleep and couldn't. He tried to lie down and he couldn't breathe. Every time he closed his eyes he saw Julian on the streets and everything smelled like blood. The TV was full of nothing but holiday shows and the last thing Babe needed in his life right now was some prefabricated holiday cheer. It was hard to think of peace on earth and good will towards men when he had a friend about to go in the ground.
It didn't seem right to be living in a world where Julian was dead. John, he was born John. It would say John in the obituaries, on the prayer cards, in the mass pamphlets, on the tombstone, but he'd always been Julian. Since second grade, when he was the fifth John in the class. He didn't want to be John J, so he became Julian.
And Julian was dead.
"You're seriously going to let me ask you anything?"
Merriell shrugged. He knocked off his ash into an empty glass on the table. "Outside of asking me to dress up in Renée's nurse scrubs, yeah. I don't need to know about what you and Gene-Baptiste get up to in the bedroom."
In the past five months Babe had come to know Merriell well. They had far too many of these mornings, hashing out their lives before the sun was up. Babe knew there was a lot of darkness in Merriell's past, that he spent so much of his life trying to get out of Cajun Country, but after going to war had decided it was the only place to come home to. That his mother spent hours working in a bait shop while his father was closer to the Gulf to work on the oil rigs, but the family still tried their damndest to stay close. That despite what everyone thought of him, Merriell actually did pretty damn well in school but never saw the reason for college until he got out of the Marines and everyone demanded a degree in place of his service. That first it was Gene's grandmother, then Gene himself, who stitched up all the wounds Merriell's mouth and temper earned him.
Babe knew all of this, and that there was much more to learn, but right now he didn't want any more memories about shared childhoods and deep family connections. So he settled for the mystery, the card Merriell had put on the fridge, with a Mobile, AL postmark on the envelope and a bird on the front. The card that made Merriell pause every time he remembered it was there.
"Okay, Shelton, tell me this. Who is the mysterious E.B. Sledge?"
October 17, 2007
Whether he should turn out to be the hero of this day, or whether it would be someone else, the afternoon and evening would show.
Gene's birthday. Last year, when he was still in Philly, Babe skated by with a phone call, a birthday card, and a Target gift card. Fran slapped him when she found out, but as Bill pointed out, Gene and Babe weren't officially dating at the time and they sure as hell weren't living together.
Last December changed all of that and now Babe was starting to go batshit. Birthdays were big things in the Heffron-Guarnere-Spina families. They tended to became block parties with most of the neighborhood going down to the bar to drink to another year. He wasn't afraid to admit he had no clue what to do, and most of his initial plans were shot down by scheduling conflicts and natural disasters.
So, going off of Ralph's advice that the best birthdays were just normal days made special in little ways, Babe hauled his ass out of bed to go buy a box of beignets from Gene's favorite café in Baton Rouge.
"Don't think you're driving all the way up to Coffee Call on your own," Merriell said from the couch.
"How the hell do you do that?" Babe asked. "Do you have a friggin' degree in stalking?"
"Every breath you take, Heffron," Merriell said. "Ain't my fault you're too much of a civilian to check your perimeter. I'm going with you. I always get free food in there."
Merriell nodded. "They respect us working grunts at the Coffee Call. Haven't been there in ages, been spending too much time down here."
Babe cursed under his breath. He was not looking forward to his drive. He especially was not looking forward to this drive half-asleep with Merriell as his passenger. "I can't believe I'm driving 60 miles away for doughnuts," he said aloud.
"Beignets, Heffron," Merriell corrected him "and ones attached to memories. The rare times Gene's dad stopped through Louisiana while he was still in this world, Grandma would always take us up to the Coffee Call. She slipped us some café au lait while we waited for Frank to roll out of his tour van. Gene lived off those beignets when he was doing his internship. He loves that place, you love him, you drive 60 miles to get him his beignets on his birthday. Call it Cajun math."
"No one should make this much sense at 4:30 in the morning."
"It could be worse, you could be driving down to New Orleans."
The bastard had a good point. "You know, Baton Rouge is not so bad," he admitted.
"Don't fight Cajun logic," Merriell said.
"What're you fools getting up to this early in the morning?" Gene rasped, coming down the stairs with the familiar limp of the over-exhausted. He was still in his scrubs. With Renée and Anna both out of the country with the Red Cross, Gene was the only full-time health care professional at the clinic.
"Gene-Baptiste, why ain't you sleeping?" Merriell asked.
"Because you two are down here having coffee hour, and because Babe has yet to master the art of slipping out of bed. And you, Merl-Francis, need to shut it."
"It's not like either of us have a lot of practice with this things," Merriell said. He waved one of his bare feet at Gene. "Your Grandma spent an awful long time getting me to speak English like civilized folk."
"And she went to her grave cursing that. God knows ever since then you've never been able to shut up," Gene said. His hair was sticking up like a porcupine and pillow creases covered his face.
Damn it, Ralph and Bill were right. Babe was so very fucked.
"Babe," Merriell said sounding something approaching pissed off, "you best cut that light before you see me mess up your boo's pretty face."
"Just remember that if you mess up my face I can't heal you the next time you get jaundice."
"My eyes were yellow!"
"Merriell Francis Ambrose Shelton, the only part of you that's ever been yellow for a medical reason is that spine of yours when you got caught by your mama gambling away your lunch money with Adam Thibault."
"You best be careful, Gene-Baptiste, or I'll be giving you your birthday licks with a baseball bat."
"You'd have to get your peeshwank ass up first."
"His what?" Babe asked. That was one he never heard before, and he'd been on drinking binges with Bill, Joe Toye, Luz, and Ron Speirs.
Merriell got all bright eyed and sat up."Mais, cher, you're going against your own rules. No talking Cajun in front of the foreigner, remember."
Babe was confused as hell, but he needed to get out of here before he hit the morning rush into Baton Rouge.
"I'm going to stop you two before we get World War III up in here. Gene, I'm sorry for waking you up, go back to bed. Happy Birthday, and we'll see you on the other side of the alarm clock. Shelton, get your ass off the couch and into the truck."
"Where you going?" Gene asked.
"Nowhere," Babe said.
"Uh-huh. And nowhere can't wait until after sun-up?" Gene asked.
"It's a special nowhere?" Babe tried.
"Babe, you can't lie worth a shit," Merriell said. "We going up to Coffee Call to get your birthday breakfast. Go get you a pillow and some blanket and we'll take your stubborn coonass up there with us so you can get some fresh out of the oven beignets. Happy Birthday, princess."
Babe was looking for somewhere, anywhere, to crawl and hide while Gene looked the both of them over. It took him five whole very long minutes wherein Babe began to wonder if he needed to price out the cost of moving back to Philly when Gene started laughing.
"Ain't you boys too sweet," he said. "Beignets and banter, no better way to make a morning."
"And change those raggedy ass scrubs of yours," Merriell yelled, his voice following Gene up the stairs. "I don't want you embarrassing us in front of the big city folk."
Merriell fell back into the couch and smiled. Babe ducked the pillow thrown at his head.
"What the fuck was that for?" he asked.
"Heffron, you're good people. Gene don't smile like that for nobody."
"You so stupid sometimes I don't think you could find one of your snowballs in a blizzard."
Babe threw the pillow back and turned towards the door, ignoring Merriell's sputter from the couch.
"Did I ever tell you about how I was selected as a High School All American pitcher? I even did a year in the minors before my shoulder went out. Keep that in mind the next time you want to throw projectiles at me when I'm only on four hours sleep and you've just ruined my big birthday surprise."
"If all you got is beignets then I think you're in trouble."
"If you think I'm going to bring down some bad luck by telling you the rest of what I have planned for today, you're crazy." Babe pulled his sweatshirt on. "I'm not fueling your voyeuristic fantasies."
"Heffron, if I'd spy on you I'd go blind from all that white skin. Don't people up North know what sunlight is?"
"Some of us were raised to go outside with our clothes on."
"Where's the fun in that?" Merriell asked.
"You two are so fucked up," Gene said. He hopped down the stairs, smelling like Tide and toothpaste. "You ready to go or do you want to stand here and bitch all day?"
Babe wrapped an arm around Gene's shoulders. "He always been this demanding?" he asked Merriell.
"Nah, just got like that after we all had to call him 'doctor.' Been insufferable ever since."
Gene was about to respond when Ralph hollered down the stairs, "Will you three just fucking go already? Some of us are trying to sleep."
Merriell got off the couch in a long, slow stretch and sauntered over to the stairs. Gene was already turning his face to the side and biting his lip as if he knew exactly what was about to go down. Babe was about to ask when Merriell yelled out with a voice just below a bomb exploding.
"Love you too, Spina and see you in two hours! Sleep tight, okay!"
Babe desperately tried to cover up his own laughter, especially when the neighborhood dogs starting to bark, even more so when Ralph's response was a slammed door.
"Now we can go," Merriell said. He walked over to the kitchen door, holding it open, and gestured for the keys. "I'll drive and let you two get all disgusting in the back seat."
"We're not here for your entertainment, Merl-Francis," Gene said, tugging Babe towards the door.
"Gene-Baptiste, every living creature on this planet is here for my entertainment. Something's got to keep me going this early in the morning, and I'm planning on your backseat porno to provide the soundtrack all the way up to Baton Rouge."
"I need to go bleach my brain," Babe said.
"Too early in the morning for pleasantries and prudishness, Heffron, now get in the car and let us go."
Five o'clock in the morning on Gene's birthday and Babe had already lost control. Not that anyone could really be in control when faced with Merriell Shelton, but at least he was a good ally to have. Especially when he was willing to play driver.
Even if the bastard did blare Garth Brooks' Calling Baton Rouge as they pulled out of the drive.
April 18, 2008
There once lived, in a small town of St. Martin's Parish, Louisiana, one Mr. Merriell Shelton; a batshit insane retired Marine, who refused to admit he was terrifyingly in love with one of his brother Marines.
Normally, Babe would pay good money to see Merriell Shelton so thrown off his game and honestly terrified, but Babe knew well what it was like to face down the lifelong best friend of the man you were in love with. The evil part of him, the one that sounded like a mixture between Bill and Toye, told him to give Merriell as good as he got. The good part of him, the part that sounded like his Grandmother, Ma Guarnere, and Gene, told him to act like the decent man he was.
All this meant that when Babe heard the screen door slam around 4:00 am and a troubled stomping of feet down the wooden stairs of the back porch, he sighed and eased out of bed. He looked back at Gene, snoring out of exhaustion but still curled up in a way that could only be called adorable and shook his head. The things Babe sacrificed to keep the peace in his home.
He padded through the house, reveling in the relative quiet that never happened when all the occupants were awake. Some were still, at this hour. A strum of an acoustic guitar came from Eddie's room. Ralph was first shift at the clinic this month, so the twangiest of twangy country music sounded off as his alarm. There was some rustling coming from the guest rooms, but Babe wasn't sure which ones Sid and Sledge occupied.
He got to the kitchen, pulled a beer out for Merriell and a Sunny-D for himself and walked out to the backyard. Merriell was on the hammock Eddie had strung up during the summer. He somehow managed to rock in the hammock with an air of danger and petulance that only Merriell Shelton could achieve.
In three years they'd become close friends, only once Babe realized that Merriell treated mostly everyone like they were sub-par and Merriell realized Babe wasn't going to break his Gene-Baptiste beyond repair. There was something special about knowing you always had someone to shoot the shit with at four in the morning.
He stopped the swaying hammock with his foot, moving into the space Merriell grudgingly surrendered. Babe held out the beer, smiling when Merriell grabbed it and began destroying the label. It was a nervous habit he shared with Gene.
"Don't say it, I know I'm being stupid," Merriell said.
"I'd never be suicidal enough to call you stupid, Shelton. I want to see thirty."
"It's just. When it's just Gene, Sledge," he amended, "I can pretend, you know. I can pretend he's just another guy I knew once, stuck in humvees and tents, when we waited out the shamals and baked in the heat."
"But when he's with Sid he's not that guy?" Babe asked.
"No, he's some rich doctor's youngest son. The best friend of a future rich doctor. He's all," Merriell waved his hand, "money and education and shit," he said.
"Your best friend is a doctor," Babe felt compelled to point out.
"Who runs a free clinic, got sponsored by a crazy old man and the federal government, and who sure as shit never set foot inside the house of a southern aristocrat."
"Wow that's a big word," Babe joked.
"Shut the fuck up, Heffron," Merriell said with only half his normal venom.
"Look, Shelton, it's me you're talking to. I know what it's like not to fit in with the community surrounding the person you're in a relationship with. All I'm saying is that this is not like you."
"What, to act like I care?"
"Merriell, we all know you care and saying you don't care about what other people think is just bullshit. If we didn't care what other people thought about us American society would cease to exist. It's not like you to go wallow in a corner when faced with someone possibly underestimating you. You normally get overtly passive-aggressive." Babe started flipping his bottle in the air. "You of all people know that you can't cut someone down into little pieces and reduce them to what their family history and background says they should be. In all the small but important ways, you're living proof of that."
"Heffron, didn't know you cared."
"Shut up, asshole, this is my 'congratulations you're not yet an alcoholic' speech."
"If Gene-Baptiste were out here right now he'd be so proud to see how far your bedside manner has come."
"If Gene were out here right now we wouldn't be having this conversation because he already would have kicked your ass. Look," Babe paused, trying to find the right way to say what he wanted to get across. "Look, Merriell, for all your short temper and bitching, you are a strong, honest, loyal person. You make a friend and you stand by them for life, no matter how much they may fuck up. You got a whole family of friends at your back who can, honestly and legally, make a phone call and have your enemies taken out. If Sledge, and Sledge's family, can't see the worth in you beyond your worn uniform and languid speech, then fuck 'em. They're not worth your time and they sure as hell don't deserve your devotion. I don't think you have to worry about Sledge though, or Sid. They're here. They want to be here. I think Sledge has been dying to come here and now that he's here, for real, he ain't never gonna leave."
"Christmas, two years ago, he sent you a card. You kept that card on the fridge until the next one came a year later. In between that there were letters, e-mails, phone calls, every open line of communication and all of them had a hint of 'please, Merriell, invite me down there since my ass backwards Southern breeding won't let me just take charge of it myself.' You can just as easily find pelicans in Alabama, so I don't think he's only here for the bird-watching."
"We get any deeper into our feelings, I'm going to start braiding your hair," Merriell said.
"Fuck that, I want a manicure first."
Merriell laughed and laid back, letting the hammock swing. "Burgie told me I was being a coward."
"Burgin will learn, one day, just how terrifying it is to confess your feelings to someone you're not quite sure returns them completely. Most terrifying day of your life up until you have kids."
"You want kids one day, Heffron? Gonna leave my Gene-Baptiste all broken-hearted when you run off to find a girl and get a white wedding?"
"Merriell, I already have you and Ralph. I don't need any more children. You two got me up all hours as is."
"That's what I like to hear."
"So, we good? No more mental crisis until tomorrow morning?"
"I do like to keep our morning appointment."
"Why do I put up with your bullshit again?"
Merriell opened one eye to look at him. "Who else you gonna talk to at 4 AM?"
Babe could do nothing but laugh. This, all of this, was his life now. Sitting out in the middle of Louisiana swamp country before the sun was up, hashing out serious emotional problems on two hours of sleep, and knowing that he'd probably do the same thing come tomorrow morning. Some days he missed Philly, with his Ma's cooking and the white noise of the city behind him, but this was home now. The sounds of the swamp and his large extended family made each day interesting. And he knew, and he thanked whatever god was listening out there, he wouldn't have his life any other way.