Runnin' on the Rez: A Story of Redemption

Submitted for Contest #25 in response to: Write a short story about someone accomplishing one of their resolutions.... view prompt

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Jan 23, 2020

Holiday

Jimmy Runs-Like-The-Wind lived on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in southern South Dakota, just north of the Nebraska border. He, like many of his people, lived in very poor conditions. He lived with his grandmother, grandfather, and eight cousins, in a single wide mobile home. He didn’t know who his father was, and his mother stayed drunk or high all of the time, trying to escape the hard life that she knew on the reservation. This kind of life was really hard on him, but it was all he knew. 


He had gotten his name because he was an incredibly fast runner, even when he was very young. He had capitalized on this by joining the track team in middle school, where he excelled at short sprinting events. He ran the 50 and 100 meter dashes in addition to the 100 meter hurdles. He had also won the Presidential Physical Fitness award in elementary school. 


Now, however, high school was becoming hard on him.  He was a 16 year old sophomore. He had no vehicle, so he had to either ride his bike or the bus to school. He really didn’t have money for shoes, and had to depend upon donations of shoes from charities. They sometimes didn’t fit right, they were uncomfortable, and they were almost certainly not going to help him get a track scholarship, which, as he saw it, was his only viable way out of the extremely poor and trying conditions on the reservation. While he was an excellent runner, and probably capable of setting state records with the proper equipment and training, he didn’t have the money or transportation to participate in “travel meets” – track meets outside of school where he could get more experience and college scouts would be more likely to see him compete. He was feeling particularly down on this night, New Year’s Eve, as he sat on the corner and drank with a couple of his friends who had stolen a bottle of whiskey from an elder on the reservation. 


As he was hanging out on the corner with a couple of his friends, the local pastor, Pastor Tommy Red Eagle, drove by. He saw Jimmy sitting there drinking with his friends and decided to go talk to them. He pulled up in his pickup truck.


“What’s up, guys?” he asked. 


“Not much, pastor,” Jimmy said, hiding the liquor bottle behind his back as he spoke to him. 


The pastor pulled into the empty parking lot beside them. 

“Whatcha hiding behind your back there, son?” he asked. 


“Nothing, man!” Jimmy answered defensively. 


“Hey what business is it of yours anyway, preacher?” David, one of Jimmy’s friends, asked, somewhat aggressively. 


“I’ll tell you what business it is of mine.  Jimmy here goes to my church. I’m God’s shepherd of his soul. I am supposed to watch out for the sheep of my flock, to make sure they aren’t hanging out with WOLVES,” he replied.


“No wolves here,” David replied, to laughter from Billy, another never-do-well that Jimmy had recently fallen in with. 


“Seriously, Jimmy, are you drinking?” Pastor Tommy asked him.


Jimmy hung his head in shame and produced the bottle from behind his back. “Yeah, we are,” he said, somewhat ashamedly. 


“Listen, man, what good is that POISON gonna do you?” he asked. 


“I don’t know, man,” Jimmy replied. 


“I’ll tell you what it’s gonna do. It’s gonna steal your incentive to work, to thrive, to amount to anything in this life! THEN IT’S GONNA KILL YOU. That’s all it’s gonna do!” Pastor Tommy said. 


“It’s not like there’s much here to live for anyway,” David replied, “Look at this place! It’s not like there’s any jobs here, any money here. What else is there to do?”


“It’s true that there isn’t much good going on here, but if you want better, you have to want to get out and find a way out of here! And you’re not going to do it by drinking this poison!” he said, leaning over and grabbing the bottle from Jimmy, before dashing it on the pavement. 


“DAMN MAN!!! What the hell!!! That was OUR liquor!!!” Billy yelled angrily. 


“Number one, watch your tongue, young man. I remember when you were a little kid. You used to come to my church. You need to get back in. And number two – that stuff is illegal for underage kids like you. Be glad I’m not a cop. They would do a lot worse to you than throw it away. And number three, do you know what that poison does to our people?  There’s a reason why the life expectancy here is so low – and alcohol is a big part of it,” he replied. 


“Jimmy, you seem to be the only one here with any good sense. Would you like to take a ride with me in my pickup? We can talk, and I’ll get you some food from the diner if you’re hungry,” Pastor Tommy said. 


Jimmy looked over at his friends first, then back at Pastor Tommy. Fortunately, Jimmy hadn’t drunk too much yet, so he only had a slight buzz, and was still thinking clearly.


“You ain’t gonna leave us and go with that loser, are you?” Billy teasingly called out. 


Jimmy knew what was right. His grandma and grandpa, although poor, were very good people. They were the only sober adults in his family, and that is why all of the kids had ended up in their trailer – they were the only adults in the family that were left alive, and that were responsible enough to care for the kids.  They made sure all of the kids made it to school during the week, and to church on Sundays. They read the bible to them. They tried to teach the kids right from wrong. They also taught the kids their Native ways to pass down the knowledge. Thinking about all of this, Jimmy slowly nodded his head and courageously walked over towards the pastor’s pickup truck, knowing that this would put him at odds with his friends. 


“Fine! Be that way! See if we ask you to hang out with us anymore!” David yelled, as Jimmy got into the passenger side of the truck and shut the door. 


The pastor then got in on the driver’s side, cranked up the pickup truck, and turned on the heat. 


“So, how’s life been treating you?” he asked Jimmy.


Jimmy sat there quietly for a minute before responding. 


“I don’t know,” he replied.


“Well, is it good or bad?” the pastor asked. 


“Not great, to be honest,” Jimmy replied.


They drove on a couple of miles in the truck before pulling into the parking lot of the local diner. They got out of the truck and went in to eat. 


“You hungry?” Pastor Tommy asked Jimmy.


“Yeah,” Jimmy replied. 


“Good, let’s get you something good to eat and you can tell me about how life’s been treating you,” Pastor Tommy said. 


They went in, sat down, and the waitress brought them a couple of menus. 


“What can I get you two to drink?” she asked. 


“I’ll take a hot tea,” Pastor Tommy said. 


“Coffee and a glass of water,” Jimmy replied.


“Coming right up,” the waitress said, as she went to get their drinks. 


“So, Jimmy, how’s life been treating you?” Pastor Tommy asked again. 


“Not too good,” Jimmy replied. 


“Why not? What’s wrong?” Pastor Tommy asked. 


“Well, everything. For starters, I live in a crappy trailer that’s almost falling apart. It’s me, my grandparents, and my eight little cousins. Grandpa built bunks for us all, but we’re stacked like cordwood in the bunks. I don’t have any room to myself or any privacy.  I don’t have enough clothes, and the rod in the closet is broken. Our clothes are all mixed up on the floor. My cousins are all little kids. I love them all, but they’re under my feet all the time. There’s not enough room for us. It’s ice cold in there. We don’t have enough heat. We have a couple little space heaters. That’s it. And it seems like there’s never enough food. And the water here is polluted and nasty. It can’t be good for us. I want to get out of here soooo bad!” he said.


“Well, I can certainly understand that. Do you have any prospects to get out of here?” Pastor Tommy asked. 


“Well, the only thing I have, and it’s looking less and less like I’m gonna have a chance at this, is the fact that I can run.  I can run my as- , sorry Pastor, my butt – off. I’m a really quick runner. I won a few track meets, and I was told by my coach that I could probably get a scholarship if I could afford to get decent track shoes, eat enough protein, work out, and join a travel track team that goes to meets in the off season. But let’s face it. I’m broke. My family’s broke. We don’t have any money. Grandma and grandpa can barely afford to feed us. It’s looking more and more like I’m gonna end up like everybody else here,” he said. 


Pastor Tommy could tell this really depressed him. 


“Yeah. I’m sorry. That’s gotta hurt,” he said. 


“It DOES!” Jimmy said, as a tear ran down his cheek. 


“I know you don’t want to end up like your mom or your dad, or most of the rest of the adults around here,” Pastor Tommy said. 


“Wait – you knew my dad? I don’t even know who my dad is!” Jimmy said. 


“Yeah, I knew your dad. I knew your mom real well too, years ago when we were in school,” Pastor Tommy said.


“What were they like? How did you know them?” Jimmy asked. 


“Well, here’s kinda how that went down.  I was in love with your mom. She was the most beautiful girl at our high school. I think everybody liked your mom. But, as you know, she’s a party girl. Probably still is. When’s the last time you saw her?” Pastor Tommy asked. 


“Man, it’s been a long time, back during the summer. I’d say…about six months ago,” Jimmy replied.


“What was she doing then?” Pastor Tommy asked. 


“Well, she blew into town, I think because her and her latest guy broke up. She swore she was going to quit drinking, quit poppin’ pills, go straight, and go back to community college, you know? She still had booze on her breath when she was saying all of this. She was even slurring her speech a little bit. Then two nights later, it was Friday, she got all dolled up and went back to a nightclub with one of her friends, and I haven’t seen her since,” Jimmy replied. 


Just then, the waitress came back. “Here’s your drinks. Do you guys know what you want to eat yet?” she asked. 


“Yeah, I would like a double cheeseburger platter with fries,” Jimmy replied.


“That sounds good, I’ll take the same,” Pastor Tommy also replied. 


The waitress thanked them, took their menus, and went off to put in their orders.


“So tell me more about how you knew my mom and dad,” Jimmy said. 


“Well, so anyway, I was in love with your mom. We went out a couple of times. She kinda liked me, but I was already saved, and I already knew I was called to be a preacher. I knew I was going to college to do that. She wanted no part of that lifestyle. Your daddy was a really good football player. He was a running back. That’s probably where you get your running speed from. But he was also a “bad boy”. He loved to party. He loved his liquor and his pills. He would go play football on Friday nights. Your momma was a cheerleader. She followed him around like a little lost puppy dog. He was mean to her though. He beat her, ran around on her. But he kept her supplied with liquor and pills. And once she got hooked, she was hooked. I never had a chance,” he said. 


“Man. I’m sorry. I never knew you and my mom were an item…” Jimmy replied. 


“What happened to my dad?” Jimmy asked. 


“Him and another guy tried to rob an armored truck, not too long after you were born. It didn’t turn out too well. Both of them got shot to death by either the armored truck personnel or the police. Nobody’s quite sure which. Either way, they were doing something they shouldn’t have been doing, and they paid for it with their lives,” Pastor Tommy said. 

“Man, that’s awful! Nobody ever told me that,” Jimmy said. 


“Yeah it is,” Pastor Tommy replied. 


“So is that why you never got married?” Jimmy asked. 


“Well, yes, pretty much. Yes, I was in love with your momma for a very long time. And I never found anyone else I loved as much as her, so I never got married,” Pastor Tommy said.


“Wow. I’m sorry. She’s hurt a lot of people,” Jimmy said. 


“Yes she has. But let’s talk about you. What are your plans for the future?” Pastor Tommy asked. 


“Well, like I said, I love to run. I’d love to get a track scholarship and go to college. I want to run track and, hey, if I’m good enough, I’d like to join the US Track and Field team and do international meets. But I need money. I need good track shoes. I need transportation to go to meets. I need protein supplements and good food. And I don’t have none of that right now,” Jimmy said. 


“Listen, how tight are you with those boys you were with out there tonight?” Pastor Tommy asked. 


“Honestly, I could take them or leave them. I mean, I like them…they’re my friends, but I know they’re up to no good. I don’t want to end up like them or most of the adults around here. I’d drop them in a minute if it meant I’d be getting a better life,” Jimmy said. 


“What would you major in at college, if you got the chance to go?” Pastor Tommy asked.


“Culinary Arts,” Jimmy replied, without hesitation. “I want to be a chef.”


“That’s good. You already know. You didn’t hesitate a bit. I like that. A man with direction,” Pastor Tommy said. 


“Here you go, guys!” the waitress said, as she sat their food out in front of them. 


“Thank you!” both of them said simultaneously.


“Y’all need anything else?” she asked.


“No, that’ll be all,” Pastor Tommy said, as she went back towards the kitchen. 


Jimmy started to pick up his burger and eat.

“Hey…what are you doin’? We gotta say grace first,” Pastor Tommy said. 


“Oh yeah, sorry Pastor,” Jimmy replied.


They both bowed their heads and Pastor Tommy prayed.


“Our dear Heavenly Father, we thank you for this food and ask that you bless it for the nourishment of our bodies and for your service, in Jesus’ Holy name we pray, amen,” he said, as Jimmy echoed his “amen”. 


Then they both began eating, but still talked in between bites. 


“Well, I have a question for you. Are you really saved?” Pastor Tommy asked him. 


“Yes sir. I am. I asked Jesus to be my Lord and Savior when I was twelve. You should remember it,” Jimmy replied. 


“I do remember it. I was just making sure. Now, here’s the thing. I do see something good in you, that I never saw in either your momma or your daddy. I see it in you, just like I see it in your grandparents. You love the Lord and you want to do what’s right. I’ll tell you what – if you want, and if you’ll promise me you’ll do right – I’m gonna help you,” Pastor Tommy said. 


“Help me? Like how?” Jimmy asked.


“Well, for starters, I’ve got a decent sized house. I have good heat. I could give you your own bedroom. Get you some track shoes, even give you a small salary / allowance for protein, joining the travel team, etc. Can you ride a motorcycle?” he asked. 


“Yeah. I know how to ride,” Jimmy said. 


“I have a decent used motorcycle in my garage. I almost never ride anymore. But I’ll let you ride it if you get your motorcycle license and learn to drive it safely. In return, I want you to do some things for me,” he said.


“What’s that?” Jimmy asked. 


“Number one, you help me around the house and around the church. Mow grass, keep the landscaping looking decent, clean up the church after Sunday services, clean up around the house, feed the chickens,” he said.

“Done,” Jimmy said. 


“In return, I’ll do everything I can to help you be the best student and athlete and Christian you can be. I’d love to see you make it to college and make something of yourself, whether you end up as a chef or a track star,” Pastor Tommy said.


“Man, that’s awful nice of you!” Jimmy said. 


“Like I said, I see something great in you that wasn’t in your mom or your dad. But I still care about your mom, and that’s the least that I can do,” he said. 


“Well, I’ll make a New Year’s Resolution right here and now, to be the best student, best athlete, best Christian I can be,” he said. 


From that moment on, Jimmy was practically adopted by his pastor. He learned to ride the motorcycle and got his license. He brought his grades up to straight A’s and got on the honor roll. He kept up his end of the bargain and the pastor did as well. 

Soon, colleges started actively recruiting him, and he ended up with a track scholarship.



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