“Ok,” Jacob was ready for a confession, but Mark’s approach immediately concerned him. Because the usual types of issues, Mark would have told Jacob about. So, the questions and fears rushed like a river over his consciousness. Lying? About what? (And the dream left Jacob’s mind in the midst of it all).
“Well,” Mark continued. “I don’t know if it’s ‘lying’ per se. But – whatever – I haven’t told you about something. Something pretty big.”
Jacob felt his chest get lighter, the intense lightness of sudden anxiety, because so many options pushed themselves like a bulldozer through that realm we often call possibilities. The most common thing pastors mess up is their marriage, usually because of naked woman who aren’t their wife (either in flesh or in pixels). So, obviously, that ploughed through Jacob’s mind, in questions like, Who? What? When?
“Now, before you freak out,” Mark interrupted Jacob’s speculative worst-case scenarios, “I’m not leaving my wife or anything like that.”
“Good,” Jacob said, and the normal weight of normal curiosity displaced the lightness of terrified anxiety. “So no gay hookers or anything?”
“No,” Mark answered. The flatness of his answer, without any response to Jacob’s attempt to lighten the situation, made the seriousness of the situation feel yet more grave, and the lightness in Jacob’s chest came back slightly.
“It’s related to something we’ve talked about a little bit,” Mark said. “You know that I do things all the way. I don’t go halfway.”
Jacob knew what Mark was talking about. He’d seen it in the way he did everything – from how he played sports to how he preached.
“Well, like I’m saying, we’ve talked about how that can have a negative side, you know, working too much, being too aggressive. Not being compassionate. You know what I mean.” He didn’t pause to let Jacob interject that he did, in fact, know what Mark meant. “Well, it has to do with that, and in and of itself it’s not necessarily a bad thing. But things have gotten a little out of hand. Frick man, I don’t know how it got so big. It just snowballed, and, honestly bro, I’m not sure what to do. I haven’t told anyone yet, and it’s been eating away at me like a fricking piranha. I know I need to tell you, before it drops me to the floor. Before it fricking kills me.”
In Jacob’s psyche those words converged with the thoughts of merely moments before, the thoughts that had been only momentarily displaced. Emotion and fear collided with emotion and fear and both impulses accumulated into a coherent and almost tangible unity. The real world and Mark blurred into background and Jacob saw most clearly his visions of the night, where marshmallows and paintballs were transformed into lead slugs that dropped men dead. Where Mark, was knocked flat-backward, parallel to the earth. Moments away from gasping his last.
Mark had stopped talking.
At this point, Jacob knew only that Mark was in deep, maybe a six-feet-under pine-wood box type of deep. Jacob had been prepared (somehow) for something like this, and the weight was being transferred to his own shoulders. How can I explain the experience of those moments for Jacob? I could use words like “terror”, “confusion”, or “despair”. I would have to string words like these together in way beyond my ability. Even then, though, I think I would miss it.
And Mark still had to tell Jacob what the “something” was.
“Just freaking tell me, man,” Jacob said, finally, laughing one of those forced, ironic laughs, meant to break tension, that resounded no true humor or laughter.
“Well, you know how we started those poker nights? Anyway, after that I started playing on-line, you know, just for fun. But that started getting old, no challenge or fun in it, so I deposited like fifty bucks in an account on the website, you know, figuring that it would make it more fun. Plus, what’s fifty bucks in the scheme of things. I’ve thrown away more than that on shoes.”
Mark was talking really quickly at this point.
“Anyway, I played some,” Mark continued, “and I won some, but eventually, my account didn’t have enough money in it to play anymore. Well, things kind of freaking spiraled out of control.”
“So. How much are we talking here?” Jacob said, strangely relieved, having expected something worse. But this – this was only money.
“Well, Amy and I had about eight grand in savings. That’s gone. And—”
“Eight grand?!? And you haven’t told Amy? Bro, she’s going to freaking cut you man!”
“Just—Just—you’re not helping me here. Just let me finish.” Mark looked intensely nervous now. “Well, so the eight grand is gone, and when that went I took some advances on a couple credit cards. Well, three credit cards, and um, Amy doesn’t know about any of this.” Mark paused for another moment. He sucked in air, in a resigned and terrified way, a “Here goes nothing” way, like catching his breath before he jumped off a cliff. “All told, I’m down over thirty grand, counting the eight from our savings.”