The Light

A Novel 
by: Robert Hammond

(Prologue and Chapter 1)

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PROLOGUE

By the time you read this I’ll be gone.

I woke up blindfolded and tied to a chair. A distant voice whispered, “Have you seen the light?” I shook and struggled desperately to loosen myself from my bonds.

A California earthquake rattled my apartment and I woke up from the dream to see books falling from the shelf. Once again, I had fallen asleep at my desk while working on my latest manuscript. Scattered stacks of yellow legal tablets surrounded me. I rubbed my eyes and looked around the room. I turned and saw the framed Picasso drawing of The Unknown Masterpiece hanging on my wall at a crooked angle.

BANG! BANG! BANG!

The sound of somebody pounding at the door. I mumbled, “Who is it?”

“Are you awake?” Grace Hanuman entered the unlocked door of my apartment and looked around the disheveled living room. She picked up a book that had fallen from the bookcase and whispered the title, “Parsifal.” She gazed at me with intense curiosity as I straightened the Unknown Masterpiece on the wall.

“Do you remember that Abel’s sentencing hearing is today? It starts in less than an hour. You are coming aren’t you?”

“Ready when you are,” I said, still rubbing the sleep from my eyes.

“I’ll see you there.” Grace headed out the door.

***

BANG! BANG! BANG!

Abel Adams snapped back into reality as the judge’s gavel slammed against the bench. “I hereby sentence you to eighteen months in the county jail.”

As I sat in the back of the courtroom with Grace, I watched in disappointment as the bailiff handcuffed our childhood friend and dragged him off to his fate.

Little did I know that everything was about to change in ways that I could not have possibly
imagined. Eventually, Abel would ask me to help write this book, revealing the story of his life, a spiritual journey so profound and surprising that it is almost impossible to comprehend. You may not believe what happened as I can scarcely believe some of it myself. But, like gravity, some things are true whether we believe them or not.

CHAPTER 1
BIRTH TRAUMA

Have you seen the light?

Cast from my Eden,
Like when I was first born.
Naked and ashamed.
Afraid to be touched
Or even to be seen
By anyone.
Just let me go back deep inside
My solitary womb
Where I was safe.
It’s not my time yet.
I’m not ready to come out.
Please don’t make me come outside.
Just let me stay here
In the darkness of my safe cocoon.

If this is life
Then I don’t want to be here.
Keep your cold, metallic tables,
Your antiseptics,
And your blinding lights.
For I don’t want to see or feel anything.
It hurts too much
And only Demerol
Can ease the pain

Have you seen the light?

Who is Abel Adams? He closed his eyes so nobody could see him.

Wednesday’s child. Double Pisces. Scorpio rising on a February midnight beneath an auspicious new moon. Abel’s father, an Army Lieutenant, parachuted from a C-119 flying boxcar into the black sky over Southeast Asia on a dark mission with the 82nd Airborne Division.

His mother screamed in agony and loneliness. An eternity of darkness gave way as contractions jolted Abel from his place of peace and safety. He pondered the fundamental question, Who am I?

I AM THAT, his rhythmic mantra reminded him, conscious of all that was around him since the moment of his conception and before the beginning. Then sudden pain. The umbilical cord wrapped itself around his neck like a hangman’s noose. He was drowning in an amniotic sea of primordial pain. Where once two heartbeats pounded as one, now separate rhythms sounded. The delicate balance had begun to break. Poured out like water, all his bones were out of joint. My God, my God. Why have you forsaken me?

The Three Assassins, Fear, Guilt, and Resentment, stalked and surrounded him. Like roaring lions tearing their prey, they opened their mouths wide against him.

Then sparkled the warm tingling sensation as the sweet taste of Demerol dissolved the pain. Abel melted into a sea of bliss as he surrendered to its seduction, and everything turned into magic and light.

The slap across his buttocks awakened him again to the pain of his new life.

He gasped for breath and cried. Who am I?

Loneliness embraced him as he opened his eyes and stared at the bright white ceiling.

His groans became thoughts forming from the void like new galaxies, spinning forth as the light of ten thousand stars.

***

When Abel was two years old, his Aunt Delilah gave him the juice of brandied cherries before Thanksgiving dinner and he became so alive and outspoken during that his performance spellbound everyone at the table. She prophesied, “This boy’s going to be a preacher one day.”

Abel’s father taught him how to pray: “Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.” Abel pondered the implications. If I should die before I wake? My soul to take? My soul to take?

Abel’s family lived in a predominately-black neighborhood in Norville, Maryland. He attended an all-black nursery school while his father pursued his doctorate in Applied Physics at Banneker University, a private college catering to the black bourgeoisie. In
one of Abel’s first memories of him, his father lay slumped across a heap of textbooks, exhausted. His mother worked as a secretary while his father finished his degree.

Abel started stealing. He stole his dad’s pearl-handled penknife from the top of the dresser. He thought it would be fun to play with and show the other kids. His nursery school teacher discovered the knife in his pocket after he peed in his pants during naptime and had to change his clothes in the back of the classroom. His mother had to leave work early to
come and take him home. “If you ever do something like this again I will slap you into another world. Understand?”

He nodded and wondered whether she was referring to the knife or the pants peeing.

Later that evening, Abel heard the ice cream truck outside their apartment. He ran into the living room pleading, “Can I have some money for the ice cream man? He’s out there in the street right now!”

His mother wrinkled her brow and said, “No. We’re getting ready to have dinner and I don’t want you to ruin your appetite.”

“But Mommy, all the other kids are going to get some.”

His father hopped into the fray, “Didn’t you hear your mother? She said no.”

Dejected, Abel went into his room to pout for a while, when he suddenly remembered seeing some money on his parents’ dresser. He peeked around the corner and then dashed into their room, snatching a bill that was lying next to his father’s cufflinks and headed back for the front door.

“Dinner will be in twenty minutes,” his mother called to him as he headed out the door.

“Okay,” he replied, slamming the door behind him.

Abel returned a few minutes later, his arms laden with ice cream treats for their desert. His father looked up, wide-eyed and said, “What the… there must be twenty dollars worth of ice cream there!”

His mother turned and saw his purchases. She glared at him and put her hands on her hips. “Give me those and go to your room.”

***

In the summer of 1963, Abel’s family moved to Eden Valley, a sleepy little town along the northern California coast. The temperature was mild and the land was green with agriculture. The migrant farm workers came to plant and pick strawberries, grapes,
lettuce, broccoli, spinach, and artichokes. Just thirty miles to the south was the small community of Los Tecatos – heroin capital of northern California.

Abel’s father was hired as a physics professor at Eden University. The chancellor wanted to bring more “color” into the school. The board of regents agreed that having a black professor would set the school apart and make the campus livelier, so they gave Abel’s father a new Cadillac and paid him a handsome salary.

On Abel’s first day of school, he stood at the bus stop in front of his house. The bus pulled up and he stepped aboard holding his Leave it to Beaver lunch pail close to his side. He smiled nervously at the other children. A blonde haired boy pointed at him and said, “Look at Blackie!”

The other kids laughed and pointed.

Another kid patted Abel on the head and said, “Hey Blackie!”

Abel grabbed the boy’s hand and twisted it behind his back, causing the boy to groan in
agony.

The bus driver stood up and turned toward Abel. “You get up here right now and sit down, you little trouble maker.”

Abel let the boy out of the arm lock and walked to the front of the bus. The driver pointed
to the floor next to him and said, “Now sit there and keep your mouth shut.”

When Abel got to school, his teacher called him up to the front of the class and said, “As one of the only colored boys here you’re going to have to set an example for your race.”

Abel’s family lived on the predominantly white west side where they attended a predominantly white church and Robert was only other black kid in Abel’s elementary school. Robert sat in the back of the class, unnoticed.

Once, when Abel was drawing a house with a black crayon, the teacher told him, “Black is a horrid color.”

Abel hung his head. The teacher proceeded to read the story of Little Black Sambo to the class. He hid his face in his arms against the desktop, eyes closed, invisible. He dug his nails into the flesh of his forearms while the class stared at him.

Abel’s brother, Jesse, was born in 1962 and Abel was no longer the center of attention.

Some neighbor boys invited Abel to go exploring in the woods across the street from where they lived. They led him down a dark wooded path and then they started running. When he tried to chase after them, he ran into a swarm of yellow jackets. He could hear them laughing as he ran home screaming.

If only I could be someone else, he thought. Someone white.

Abel’s family went to see West Side Story at the drive-in. Fantasy and reality melted into one, as Abel became Tony, the white lead character. He was in love with Maria, the Puerto Rican girl whom he could never have, trapped in a cycle of self-destruction and mixed-loyalties. He choked back the tears at the ending when they sang, “There’s a Place for Us.”

He found his identity in that larger-than-life character on the screen, the leader of the Jets. The next day, the school playground became the stage for his fantasies, as Abel zigzagged across the blacktop, chasing the other kids with an invisible switchblade.

The bell rang and the kids lined up to return to class, laughing about the dramatic lunch hour, patting Abel on the back for his amazing performance. As he stood in line, snapping his fingers and singing “The Jet Song,” a teacher grabbed him and said, “You’re coming with me.”

“What did I do?” he asked, holding his arms out to his sides in feigned innocence.

The teacher pointed to the principal’s office. “Shut up and come with me.”

Abel sat in the office for an hour before the principal came into the room. He told him, “We’ve talked with your mother and she gave us permission to proceed with discipline for your behavior on the playground today.”

“We were just having fun like in the movie,” he replied.

The principal stood up behind his desk and walked around the front where he towered over him.

“Stand up and slide that chair over here.”

Abel just sat there with his arms folded and shook his head.

The principal grabbed him by the arms and lifted him to his feet. “Bend over and hold onto the back of the chair.”

SWAT! The paddle landed squarely against his backside. He fought to hold back the tears, more of broken pride and spirit than of physical pain. Yet that was real too.

Who am I? Nobody. Nothing. Nonexistent. He closed his eyes so nobody could see him.

***

The next day Abel sat in his third grade classroom; he closed his eyes and pictured himself
standing before the throng. “Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the President of the United States, Abel Adams.” The applause was deafening.

Then he woke up.

“The President has just been shot,” the principal announced over the intercom just before lunch. A hush fell over the classroom. The teacher gasped. A couple of kids started to cry. The principal continued, “Boys and girls, I know this is difficult to understand, but I want you to all remain calm.” The bell rang for lunch.

Abel’s house was just a few blocks away from the school and he ran home as fast as he could. He always walked home for lunch and his mom was just putting some cream of mushroom soup and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on the table when he arrived.

“Abel. You’re just in time for lunch,” she said.

He glanced at the television, which was off. He stood there quietly, and then looked at her. “Mom, they shot the President.”

She shook her head and laughed. “You shouldn’t say things like that.”

“Mom, I mean it. They just told us at school. The President was shot.” He went to the television and turned it on. Walter Cronkite was narrating the tragic event.

His mother ran into the living room and watched the black and white screen in horror. “Oh my dear God…no!” Then she crumbled to the floor and lay there sobbing while Jessie ran to her and wailed. Abel stood there silently for a moment, then knelt to the floor and put his arms around his mother and his brother. “Don’t cry. Don’t cry. Please, don’t cry,” he whispered.

***

Abel soon developed a fascination with science fiction and fantasy novels. His favorite story was A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle, about a strange child who escaped the pain of reality through a time warp known as the tesseract. He longed desperately for a way to escape his present reality and travel into another place in time.

“I know what I want to do when I grow up,” he proudly boasted to his father.

His father seemed mildly annoyed by the interruption of his evening purveyance of the latest issue of Scientific American. “I thought you said you were going to be a nuclear physicist.” He flipped the page nonchalantly.

“No. That was last week.”

“So what’s it going to be this week, oceanographer?”he asked without glancing up from his magazine.

“I’m going to be a writer!”

“Writers starve to death.”

Abel turned on his heel and ran to his room, slamming the door behind him.

***

Abel was eight years old when he was baptized at Eden Valley Community Church. “Do you believe that Jesus Christ was the only begotten Son of God, who died for your sins, was
buried and rose again on the third day?” The Reverend’s voice echoed against the tile baptistery.

The water was cold.

“Yes,” he replied meekly.

“I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” The Reverend’s voice
disappeared as Abel sank beneath a sea of pain. The water entered his nostrils and he gagged.

He flashed back to his birth. Drowning in amniotic fluid. Umbilical chord wrapped around his neck like a hangman’s noose. He choked. Coughed. Gasped for air. Murderous rage. Hatred of God and angels sank beneath a sea of sorrow. Washed in the water of life. Surrendered to the eternal. Dead and buried with Christ.

Yes, he did believe, but…

So many questions yet unanswered. So many deeds undone. At age eight his heart had only just begun to lust for the Tree of Knowledge. Duality. Good and evil. An unfulfilled yearning pounded deep within him. His sins had been forgiven and he had only just begun to sin.

He emerged from the water of life, coughing and spitting.

“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound…” the choir harmonized.

Later that day, Abel chased his little brother Jesse through the house and pounded on his back with his fist as he ran for cover. Abel had caught Jesse playing with his toys without asking him. His rage exploded. “Abel!” his mom yelled. “Go to your room and stay there until you learn to calm down and behave yourself.”

“But it was his fault! He went through my stuff.”

She put her hands on her hips. “You just came from church, for goodness’ sake. Didn’t you learn anything?”

“I guess not,” he shrugged.

She frowned and took a deep breath. “Go to your room.”

He slammed the door as loneliness embraced him with a chokehold. He picked up his Bible from the top of the dresser and threw it against the door. “I hate you! I hate you! I hate you! You’re all against me.”

As his sobbing subsided, he sank into sleep. He dreamt that he was a butterfly, desperately seeking, desperately dreaming.

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