Barry was missing. He probably wandered from home. He was a down syndrome 30-year-old in their dangerously depressed rural town near Wichita, Kansas. Most of the storefronts were boarded up, but the meth labs were big business, even just within the 10 blocks and 1600 people that made up Happyville. Yes, that was its real name.
Karen drove through the streets with tears of fear. What if she saw her son face down in a ditch? What if people had hit him with a baseball bat as they sped by in their cars like they did to all the mailboxes. The 'ruling party' in Happyville were the post-high school, jobless, drunkard or druggy young men. Strong and big from slinging hay for their farmer fathers for years, but now resentful and losing teeth because they turned to drugs after getting out from under their parents' 'oppressive' roofs.
"God," she whispered as she looked at a couple of druggy middle schoolers walking in the road. "Help us. Our hope is almost gone."
When she eventually opened the door to her house, tissues falling out between her clasping forearms, Barry was there, bruised and bloody, sleeping, slumped over and drooling on the arm of the sofa.
"Oh, thank you, God. Thank you. Thank you," Karen whispered as she examined him tenderly. It was just scraped elbows and a strange red scuff on his cheek. Maybe he had just fallen on some concrete. She had tried so hard to raise her son well. She tried to instill in him the passion to help people, even in a town where everyone only helped themselves. But she also knew full well there was no hope for him to really ever be much more than a super market bagger, or a mediocre janitor.
She didn't want to wake him so she knelt down and rested against the couch by him, with her arm gently brushing his back. And she prayed, quietly crying, "God, why is this so hard?"
When she paused to catch her breath after a few minutes she heard, "Trust me. I'm doing a good work." It was Barry's little voice.
She looked up, "What, hunny?"
He acted a little bit annoyed that she was asking him to repeat himself. "Trust me, mom. I'm doing a good work." And Barry closed his eyes again to go back to sleep. But before he did he mumbled, "That's what he told me."
Two years later, an interesting book was published and gained popularity. It was called Happyville and was by a former resident. It was about a defunct rural midwestern town, rife with meth labs and boarded-up storefronts. And though it did not end well, the whole book of horrible characters doing horrible things hinged on one scene.
The scene was the calm between the convoluted self-serving drama and power-play posturing of a meth lab, and all the young men and women that find themselves in that orbit. They had just cooked up a new batch, packaged much of it up to sell, and all 14 of the people in the house were settling into their own meth-induced comas.
Then out of the blue, a thirty-something, overweight man with down syndrome opened the front door. The main character was a 25-year old, former-straight-A-gymnast girl who had lost all hope, having fallen victim to the vicious meth cycle. She saw the down syndrome man wander in through the front door from where she was strewn out on the living room armchair. Sun rays came in with him, like he were an angel. Then he saw her and her blackened eye and broken lip, and started to walk toward her as if he wanted to help. She saw the pure-hearted, concerned look on his face and it was unlike how anyone had looked at her for a long time.
Before he got to her, her boyfriend and another man intercepted him, landed a punch on his cheek and shoved him down the steps outside the front door.
But it was that moment when he looked at her in which she saw exactly how far they had all drifted from that pure goodness she used to know. The characters all ended in jail or dead but the last scene was her alone in a cold rehab cell remembering how that man had looked at her and wishing with all her heart she could see the world more that way again.
And this novel became the exit catalyst for many who had lost their way to drugs. They resonated with the life the author had depicted so accurately, and the down syndrome man depicted in such sharp relief the goodness they had all lost. The novel showed people where they would end up before they actually got there, and it gave them the vision of the goodness they were losing, before it was too late to get up and chase for it again.
When you're feeling like hope is lost, it is a comfort to know that he can do a good work through what feels like the darkest of times.
I am doing a good work in you and I will not give up until its completion.
Raw Spoon, 2-26-21