“Jon, you awake?”
The pounding on the door was a sledge hammer on my head. The autumn sun was streaming in my window. It felt like a warm washcloth on my face. It seemed to say, “Stay right where you are, go back to sleep.”
“Jon… you in there?”
I recognized the voice. “Black Jack, is that you?”
“Yeah. Hey, Jon, can I borrow your deodorant?”
Black Jack’s always borrowing something. You’ve got to love him. I could see him before I opened my door. He’s standing there in his underwear, just out of the shower. He’s a guy who should never wander around in his underwear. The guy’s 100% muscle, flab, and hair – all over. Yeah – 350 pounds! He’s a lineman everyone would want on his team. I can’t imagine playing four quarters against him. You’ve got to go home bruised.
I’m a defensive end. Second or third string, depending on the coach’s mood. I don’t play much, but I love the game. I wasn’t great in high school, either. I’m not going to be a star, you know what I mean? I probably should have stayed with basketball. But the coach was a jerk. Tried to motivate me by yelling. Pissed me off, and I quit.
My dad cried when I quit basketball. He saw how hard I worked. It was a tense time. He thought I was quitting for the wrong reason. I figured it was none of his business. I still think so.
You shouldn’t just quit in a quick decision. That’s why I am so stressed. The more I get into criminal justice, the more I don’t think it’s for me. Problem is, I have no clue what’s for me. Why am I on this earth?
I was right. There was Black Jack, standing there all hairy, dressed in his underwear, picking his wedgie. Doesn’t matter – we’ll be friends forever.
“Hey man, that was an awesome party last night, don’t you think?”
“Yeah, I thought it was pretty cool,” I said, as my mind wandered to the girls in the corner. “Hey, do you know who those girls were with that redhead? She is really hot.”
Black Jack shook his head, “No. I think they were friends of girls from the sorority across the street. Hey, man, thanks for the deodorant. I’ll get it back to you later.”
“Yeah, that’s cool. I’ll see you later. You going to Skip’s tonight?”
“You want to go?” Black Jack asked as he went down the hall in his underwear.
“Yeah, a bunch of us are meeting over there for a few beers, around nine.”
I closed the door, went over to my bed and sat on the edge, looking out the window. The lady in the house next door was taking out the trash. Matt was talking to some guy by his car. My mind wandered to a couple of months back, when I was home for the summer.
“Jon, you all right?” my dad asked. We were in the kitchen. I had just come in for lunch, from the field. We live on a tree farm. I told you my folks were over-achievers. They bought this land just before I was born. It was an old, neglected farm in northeast Indiana. My dad grew up in Michigan. My grandparents had some friends, so the story goes, who had a cabin in the north. They planted trees. My dad got the idea that someday he’d plant some trees.
My parents moved to Indiana because that’s the last place my dad was a pastor, before he went full-time into consulting churches. That’s when they bought the farm. It was a rundown piece of land, not good for crops. My parents bought it with the idea of planting trees. They got into a government program and ended up planting trees every spring for twenty years, by hand.
I grew up on this farm. When I was in grade school, my dad put me on the big John Deere tractor. I could hardly reach the pedals. My mom was petrified. I didn’t really like the work my dad tried to get me to do. I liked spending time with my friends a lot more.
As I got older, my dad introduced me to fishing in our lake and deer hunting in our woods. The trees they planted grew larger. As I grew up, a young forest grew up – all around our house. As I got older, the farm grew on me – it got into my blood. You know what I mean?
On our farm, there were always projects to do. There was always work. As I got older and started lifting weights for football, I could do more. I learned more, too. I learned to service our tractors. I learned how to mow with the big tractor. I learned all about chainsaws. I learned how to prune trees.
During my college years, I had several jobs during the short season between the last day of school in the spring and football camp, which always started the 1st of August. I worked several jobs – Home Depot, Carter Lumber. But, I always worked a second job at the farm. It helped to have spending money.
I had been cleaning a field where they were going to plant 10,000 trees the following spring. That’s when I ran into my dad in the kitchen.
“What?” I asked.
“Are you all right?” He asked again. “You’re not yourself. You’re short to your mother and you just don’t seem happy. What’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” I snapped. It was my usual answer to anything…..and he knew it.
“I think you are not sure about your chosen career,” he said.
I was stunned! “How do you know?” I said as I looked him in the eye.
He smiled, even laughed a little. “Well, first of all, I’m your father. Second, I guessed.” He continued, “Jon, lots of people study for one thing and end up doing something else. Cut yourself some slack.”
I responded, “I’m just not sure about my degree in criminal justice.”
His smile disappeared. “Jon, a degree is a degree. You’ve worked hard for three years. Finish. Finish well. And then, do whatever. Most people never ask what your degree was. But they all want to know if you’ve got a college degree.”
It made sense. What bothered me – and what would haunt me – were those words: “and then, do whatever.”
In the weeks that followed, I felt lost in the woods with no compass.
The J-Dog Journey:
Where Is Life?
by Kent R. Hunter