The Mysterious Tale of How I Shouted “Wrong-Eyed Jesus!”
A true story by Jim White.
Thanks to Jim White for this post (Luaka Bop © 1997 Warner Bros.)
“Don’t look so scared, kid. Sex is fun. It’s fun. You’ll like it. It’ll be a hell of a laugh for a little punk shit like you to have sex with a big old fat bastard like me … you’ll see.”
He slid his hand over and squeezed my thigh and started laughing. By now we were easily doing seventy, with my mind going even faster, thinking hard about this business of diving out of cars—how it always looks so simple in the movies but it really isn’t. A friend of mine had told me. You open the door and put your feet out and there’s the ground flying by sideways and suddenly you realize the movies have lied to you and there’s no way to land without smacking down hard and tearing yourself all to pieces.
Regardless, there was nowhere left to go, so I slipped my hand up to near the armrest and eased the lock up. I knew I had to do it all in one motion—yank open the door, square myself on the open frame and jump, then immediately get up and start running. I closed my eyes for a moment, trying to steel myself, took a breath, then jerked the handle as hard as I could, but nothing happened. I yanked again, but the handle just flopped back and forth in my hand.
“That door handle’s broke, boy.” He was sneering at me. “You gonna have to slide your little butt on over to my side if you want out.”
He started laughing even harder now and I guess the sheer terror of the situation sent me into one of those fits I get where I “see through things.” When that happens it’s like time stands still and I’m watching a movie in my mind. The place I saw through to was about thirty years past, judging from the clothes people were wearing and their hairstyles, and what I saw was this elderly missionary couple fresh back from Africa preaching at a tent revival.
They were all hot and bothered, telling that congregation this story about a miracle they’d witnessed with their own eyes while they were on their way to welcome some new “ambassadors for Jesus” to a rural station fifty miles south. They’d come over the rise of a hilltop and seen a column of black smoke pluming up from where the circle of church buildings lay. They got their binoculars out and sure enough, it was that notorious band of mercenaries who’d been terrorizing the countryside for months, killing every living soul that crossed their path. They’d set fire to the compound, hog-tied the new missionaries and were just about to chop them to pieces with machetes.
Seeing there was no time for the missionary couple to call for help or even try to intervene themselves, they began to weep and wail and stamp their feet in the dust, until in their despair those utterances of helplessness generally known as prayer began to proceed from their mouths. Before long the intensity of their imprecations became so fervent and lost that the only thing they seemed to be able to howl out was the name “Jesus.” “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.” That’s all they could wail.
It was a brilliant white flash of light above the burning mission that snapped them out of their trance. It was no optical illusion. Not a phosphorous explosion or cloud or puff of smoke either, but something else. Whatever it was, it was so fearsome that the band of mercenaries panicked and fled, leaving the new missionaries behind and very much alive. The older missionaries recalled how that flash of light hung momentarily over them and they beheld the telltale bright white wings, silvery gown and halo of a mighty angel.
The congregation was much impressed with the miracle story and saluted the missionary couple with a shower of amens and praise gods. Then, as the husband commenced to speak in tongues and wail the name of Jesus just as they did that day in Africa, the wife pulled back a black velvet cloth off a big easel standing up on stage, revealing a five-foot rendering of Jesus’ face that she herself had painted when she was “slain in the Spirit.” She’d given Him these pretty blue eyes, and as the crowd fell in shouting that name along with the couple, alls I could think about was how in creation could she have got Jesus’ eyes so wrong. It was the most wrong-eyed Jesus I’d ever seen. I wondered how they could be so blind as to not notice those ridiculous eyes and so I started hollering along with them, only adding the words “wrong-eyed” in front of “Jesus.”
The dirt farmer had started to move his hand up my leg, but when I began to shout out those words “Wrong-eyed Jesus!” in that daze I was in, well I guess it startled him somewhat because he stopped what he was doing. I was awoken just then from my vision and saw him staring at me all puzzled, and although I tried, I couldn’t seem to stop yowling out “Wrong-eyed Jesus!”
“Stop that hollering, boy!” he commanded, and even though I was trying because I knew it was a mistake to get a crazy man mad, especially with the car going so fast and all, somehow I just couldn’t stop myself. It was like I was possessed. I kept rocking back and forth in my seat yelping out “Wrong-eyed Jesus!” over and over like a cat in heat. It wasn’t long before the dirt farmer’s face went all chalky white and started taking on the contortions of some barely contained rage. Then he began muttering some fierce invective to himself and banging on the steering wheel with his
fists, telling me to shut up, shut up, shut up, but I just couldn’t stop my mouth from shouting.
“All right, that does it!” He braked hard and that crushing sound they always do on shell right before you come to a stop.
It was so dark with that wall of pines pressing down on us and the crickets mad with their singing and I wished I could just run for it, but presently I found myself unable to do anything other than rock and shout “Wrong-eyed Jesus!” I felt his terrible gaze fall full upon me and it about took my breath away. I gulped some air down as I felt this huge lonely ache rampaging· through the deepest caverns of my heart because I had an inkling of what base thought his head was consumed with, and it was a thought no human should ever entertain about another.
I caught a glimpse as he reached under the seat and produced the long, deadly-looking screwdriver that I sort of knew lay hidden somewhere within his reach. His hand shook violently as he pulled it out and I prayed he might be taken by a stroke or a seizure but he wasn’t. Instead he swung his free arm forward and smacked me across my chest, pinning me against the seat. As he lifted the screwdriver, I felt wash over me this immense wave of body heat coming off of him like he was about to explode. I thought this was the end of me but I could not stop hollering out. Something seemed to happen then, like a hissing sound-maybe he made it, I to
this day can’t remember—but the next moment, instead of stabbing me, he jammed the tip of the screwdriver into a slot beneath the busted door handle and twisted it furiously. I heard the lock spring free as he flung open my door, and screamed at me to get out.
Let me tell you I didn’t wait for a second invitation; I hit the ground running. I remember he bellowed out, “Good riddance to you and your Wrong-Eyed Jesus!” as he slammed the door shut. There was the sound of wheels spinning in the oyster shells, then catching on the rim of the asphalt as the Duster screeched away.
I watched his taillights disappear down the highway from a grove of palmettos way back off the road, and lay there quiet as a stone, until this steady hitch in my breathing pulled me out of that absence of mind that had swallowed me up. I looked down at my shirt and realized I was drenched in sweat and trembling all over like a crazy neurotic Chihuahua.
Now I could hear the familiar voice of that premonition laughing at me as it shrank away into the shadows, laughing like it had played a good joke on me or something, and I felt so angry that something so cruel and hateful as it could find refuge in my mind.
When it was clear he was gone I made my way back to the road and set off in the direction of home, wondering all the while at that strange incantation that had come flying out of my mouth. The words kept returning to me and each time they did I felt as though they were stolen, not rightfully mine to speak or think.
I walked a mile or so along this highway with those dark woods raging in silence on either side, remembering the corrosive heat coming off the dirt farmer as he leaned over to let me out. It was so strange to think that I had been saved from a horrible end by an unfavorable reaction to a bad painting in a hallucination. Myriad thoughts swirled around in my head like a mental tornado and so I hardly noticed the sound of a car coming until it was right up on me.
Thinking it might be him in that Duster, like maybe he’d changed his mind and circled back to finish his business, I dove down in the roadside gully overgrown with blackberry vines, but when the car came singing by I saw that it was only an old Ford driven by some lady in a nurse’s uniform, probably headed to a graveyard shift at that V.A. hospital. I picked myself up, pulling free of the thorns and started walking, calling myself “dummy” over and over, thinking how if I’d had half a brain I could be riding home right now instead of looking at a two-hour walk.
Tags: Jim White