I was born into a dysfunctional and abusive family which led to a divorce and remarriage into yet another bad one.
Pop came to one of my swim meets one summer. I had injured my back so I was not going to swim, just coach the team. It looked like another close meet with Swarthmore Vanderbilt Country Club.
The first meet they were ahead by a few points going into the last event. I swam anchor and clearly touched first underwater. It wasn't seen that way by the judges. They ruled it a tie and Vanderbilt took home the trophy. Got to learn to touch above the water!!!!
When it came time for the return meet at their pool, my back was all plastered up from a back sprain earned at diving practice. I couldn't enter any events. Everyone pleaded with me to swim.
OK, I ripped off the mustard pack like some kind of hero and stood on the starting block wondering if I could even finish the first event.
"On your mark," said the starter.
Oof, hard to bend over.
"Bang!," went the starter's gun.
I got touched out in the 50 yard freestyle. But our second and third place kept us in the meet.
Then I turned over and won the 50 yard backstroke. I drank up half the pool. Backstroke is not my thing. Every point counted.
I didn't enter the diving because I needed to save myself for the last relay. I wondered if that might cost us the meet. Brian surprised me and took a first place. We really needed those points.
Thirty minutes later it was still nip and tuck.
It would go down to the last event: mens 200 yard freestyle relay, again!
You could hear the crowd noise all the way across the golf course.
My back was real stiff. I have to ignore it. Brian went third and was battling to lessen Vanderbilt's lead. Their anchor man had already beaten me in the 50 free.
I really needed a good start. I took a chance and leaned dangerously over the water from atop the starting block as Brian approached the end of his leg. My body was completely over the water as Brian touched. The anchor of the Vanderbilt team and I dove together.
I was so stiff. I started windmilling and got behind. I could see he was half a body length ahead of me.
I calmed down, stretched out my stroke, got my rhythm back and then sped up the tempo. We were neck and neck.
At the wall, I reached out and touched first on top of the water.
Someone lifted me out of the pool. We had won and the roar was deafening. Everyone hugged me. I was lifted up on someone's shoulders and then sent flying back into the pool. The whole team jumped in with me to celebrate.
Pop saw it all. He had no idea about my swimming. He took little interest in me. He was totally amazed and shocked at what he saw that day.
When we got home, he reached out and grabbed my upper arm. On the one hand he said he was amazed how good I was. And on the other hand, he remarked with fear in his eyes how strong my arms looked, how big I was getting. He went over to the kitchen door and opened it. He said, "Watch this!"
He slammed his fist into the center panel.
The wood door shuddered violently and crashed closed.
Mom looked on in fear.
"Just remember, the old man can still deliver a punch," he said.
Mom mumbled something I didn't understand to Pop.
One morning, several months later, Pop smashed the back of his hand across my face. It caught me completely by surprise. I forgot which color tupperware mom kept the Fleischman's in. I inadvertently used Pop's spread instead of the oleomargarine.
It didn't hurt that much physically, but the emotional pain was excruciating. I went outside and broke every window in the garage door through angry tears. Then I came in and announced that he would never touch me again like that.
Mom apologized for Pop's behavior. Then she told me that the windows would come out of my allowance.
There were new rules too: Mom said she was to ring the dinner bell once and I was to come down to get my tray and bring it up to my room. She said that she was to wait a few minutes until my presence was not evident downstairs and ring the bell twice so that the rest of the family could come down to eat together without me. I would have to eat all my meals in my room by myself from now on.
Christmas, Thanksgiving, Birthdays, I was told to pack my bags for an overnight stay at a friend's house.
I hardly ever saw Pop again. He constantly complained through mom that he could hear my steps on the stairs coming down from my room in the attic. So I had to tip toe like a thief all the time.
The final step of isolation leading to banishment from the family began shortly after I turned seventeen.
GETTING A NEW FAITH
Doug and I became friends in Junior High School. I spent a great deal of time at his house with his family. Once they even took me on a vacation to Peconic Bay, Long Island.
Life at home in solitary confinement was terrible. I jumped at any invitation to spend time with them. Doug's family were all church goers. They went to the same church I did, all by myself. When I was seventeen, they invited me to a Billy Graham Crusade at the old Madison Square Garden. I said yes because I enjoyed being with Doug's family. I had no idea what it was going to be like.
Our seats were in the highest section. The podium looked tiny from there. It actually wasn't very interesting either. After we did some singing along with George Beverly Shay, a preacher named Billy Graham got up and started telling us about being sinners. We had to make a decision that night to repent of such a lifestyle and make a commitment to follow Jesus. I was shocked at what that meant. I was going to hell unless I lived better and did something about all my wrong doing in the past. I hadn't seen myself as all that bad a person who needed to be straightened out. This outing turned into something horrifying.
I told Doug that I wasn't going to go down to the arena floor to make a decision to repent. I had no confidence that I was capable of following through all my life.
Over the next five minutes, my section was completely vacated except for me in the middle - totally exposed to TV cameras and the surrounding crowds. Everybody I knew was out of sight. I quickly got up out of my seat to go with the crowd so I wouldn't look conspicuously unholy. I followed hundreds of people down the narrow steps all the way to the arena floor. We sang a few hymns and prayed. My mind wasn't on any of this. I was worried that I'd never be able to find my seat again. I couldn't find my ticket stub that located my seat, now so far away. I was virtually lost with no money in my pocket, no way to get home.
The crowd started to move. I wasn't paying attention to what was going on. I moved with it like a cow moves with the herd. There were more ramps to walk down below the arena floor.
I put a name tag on my shirt I got from a table on the left and moved forward with the rest of the crowd.
Then everyone spread out in a huge underground area with building columns all over the place. A subway appeared at the far end and rumbled on.
I looked for familiar faces amongst thousands of people. It was overwhelming. I was lost forever!
"Robert?", someone said to my right.
I don't recall the man's name. He said he was a school teacher.
"How am I
going to get home," I said. "I can't find the people I came
He tried to calm me down assuring me that I would be taken care of. Then he quietly explained how Jesus Christ died for my sins and if I trusted in Him I would have everlasting life.
All of my concerns left me. I was made to realize that I certainly did have a problem with God and could not reconcile it any other way but to trust alone in Christ to handle it for me.
That's why I didn't want to come down in the first place. I knew there was no way I could sufficiently repent of my sins for the rest of my life and make such a commitment to live every day for God in order to be saved.
The teacher explained,
"God so loved the world, Robert, that includes you and me; that He gave His one and only Son, Jesus, to die on the cross for our sins; so that if you believe in Him you will never perish in hell but instead have everlasting life with God in heaven."
He told me from that moment on I would go to heaven. And he showed me several verses that verified this.
I forgot all about being lost in NYC.
The teacher prayed with me, thanking God for saving me and as we finished, Doug's entire family appeared and we went home a happy group.