Campbell Corner Essay Prize
D'Arcy Fallon: 2nd Place, 2001
my parents told me they thought I was in a cult,
I told them to Get Their Eyes on Jesus. That's
how I talked in 1972, when I lived at the Lighthouse
Ranch, a Christian commune perched on California's
raggedy northern coast. The ranch belonged to
a Eureka realtor-turned evangelist, Jim Durkin,
who believed a steady dose of scripture, hard
work, and self-denial could turn even the most
rebellious soul into an obedient child of God.
Living at the ranch on five, fog-bound isolated
acres overlooking the Pacific, we viewed life
as an apocalyptic struggle between good and evil.
Jesus was coming back at any moment.
believed demons danced in the air and angels flew
beside us. The simplest decision was fraught with
peril. Should you take a vacation to Disneyland?
Fast and pray. Is that hacking cough Satan's way
of keeping you home from church? Rebuke it in
the name of Jesus! The van won't start? That's
no dead battery, sister, but the Lord saying your
soul needs jumper cables. Along with 100 other
new converts, I tried to follow the Biblical advice
to deny myself, pick up my cross, and follow Jesus.
parents, who lived in the San Francisco Bay area,
were frantic with worry. What was I doing at the
Lighthouse Ranch? When would I come home? Could
I come home? All my pious talk about being in
God's will and having my soul "trained"
and "broken" by the Holy Spirit scared
the hell out of them. And when my spiritual love
affair with the Lord blossomed into a flesh-and-blood
infatuation with a young man at the ranch named
Forrest Prince, they figured it was time to pay
me a visit.
was young and intense, just 18, and filled with
a young man's fervor to serve the Lord. Forrest
was a prince of sorts, a country teen-ager
in overalls and size 13 tennis shoes. Everything
about him was oversized: Paul Bunyon shoulders,
well-padded thighs, and the beginning of a gut.
Forrest grew up in Plumas County, in the foothills
of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. His parents, he
told me, in case I hadn't guessed it, came from
pioneer stock. He mustered all that rawboned,
ancestral spirit when he sang and played the guitar
during Monday night Bible study and praise sessions.
He didn't sing or play well, but what he lacked
in melody, he made up in volume. Forrest sang
full throttle, with all the bellows open. His
powerful forearms were something to watch, hard
and ropy. I tried to think edifying thoughts while
he plucked his strings. Forrest had once confided,
partly out of distress and partly to gauge my
reaction, that he was a consummate masturbator.
keep offering it up to the Lord, but I haven't
claimed the victory yet," he told me one
night as we shared a bag of barbeque potato chips
in the ranch dining hall.
hard, isn't it?" I said, patting his hand.
"How does that scripture go again? Don't
do anything in the dark you wouldn't want people
to see you doing in the light?' "
it's something like that," Forrest said.
"You want a chip?"
weakness of the flesh didn't surprise me; I had
a sixth sense for secret sins. I could spot a
closet glutton, sneaky nose-picker, hard-core
pornographer or jack-off addict a mile away. Me,
I knew all about desire, I was as guilty as Forrest.
Prayer was the answer. Your body was a temple,
a sacred vase, and the Holy Ghost, like a rare
orchid plucked from a distant, steaming rain forest,
was supposed to dwell within your body. You prayed
to keep the container pure, filled up and spilling
over with God's living waters. If that didn't
work, you prayed that your bunkmates wouldn't
hear your quiet thrashing.
didn't love Forrest, but I liked the idea of having
a boyfriend. I wanted somebody a guy!
to sit with me on the bus on the way home from
church and cradle my hand. I craved having a person
I could confide in and discreetly neck with on
those nights down at the beach when the fog retreated
and God carelessly flung the stars like
a handful of children's jacks against the
indigo sky. Forrest was sweet and devout. His
intensity turned me on. Even now I believe that
high-octane sincerity combined with a potent
mixture of lust and faith can propel us
out of our sorry selves, if only we can harness
worked as a donut brother for Our Father's Bakery,
one of several businesses the ministry ran to
pay the bills. Every weekday morning, he joined
a dozen or so young men from the ranch who hawked
cinnamon rolls door-to-door in Eureka. In their
white slacks, white shirts, and white paper hats
perched rakishly on their heads, the brothers
were supposed to be godly witnesses, bright beacons
in a dark and craven world. The Glazed Raised
were $1 a dozen, but God's love was free and always
donut brother was assigned a route. In the rain,
through the fog, they pushed their wooden carts
down driveways, past barking dogs, taking care
not to get their wheels stuck in mud or dog poop.
As they hustled the goods, they whistled, sang
songs, and prayed. I imagined them hitching up
their pants, adjusting their hats, ringing the
doorbell, getting ready to witness to that face
at the door. Like Kabuki dancers acting out time-honored
roles, the brothers and their customers had their
roles down cold. In memory, I envision a housewife
staring at the gap-toothed young man with a 1,000-watt
smile in the doorway. He grins as he holds out
a sweaty package of Maple Bars.
she says, shaking her head, tightening the belt
of her bathrobe as she starts to close the door.
the tempo changes. When the man in the hat proffers
donuts, money changes hands, then his cute butt
high and rounded from so much walking recedes
down the street. Sometimes, invited in for coffee,
he steps over the threshold and into the chaotic
house. It's a mess. "The Price is Right"
blares on TV; the baby in the highchair is covered
with dried oatmeal, and sporting a diaper load
so potent the brother's eyes tear up. No matter,
because he is called to minister to this lost
woman. She isn't lonely or bored or, heaven forbid,
horny, no, she is being led to hear the Good News.
The brother holds her chapped hands as she bows
her head and prays the Sinner's Prayer, asking
Jesus to come into her heart.
a sugar fix, a curt word, a lunging, hyperactive
Airedale: The brothers never knew who or what
was on the other side of the door. Those of us
left behind at the ranch lifted those men up in
prayer. When Forrest returned after a hard day
of selling Buttermilk Bars, smelling faintly of
cinnamon and lard, he entertained me with stories.
I was up for it; I'd been doing the brothers'
laundry all day, pairing socks and folding gray,
long underwear in the wet, claustrophobic laundry
room in the basement.
lady over by the hospital invited me in,"
Forrest said one fall afternoon after work. It
was Indian summer, and the weather, after months
of numbing rain, was clear. Forrest sat hunched
over a glass of iced tea in the kitchen as I made
dinner rolls. Half of his forehead was beet red
from the sun, the other half which had been protected
by his hat, was pale as flour.
wanted me to pray for her bird."
come on! You're kidding!"
not kidding. Bubbles was the bird's name. Lady
said her bird was possessed by an evil spirit."
was I going to do?" he said. "Rebuke
it in the name of Jesus?" In a high falsetto,
Forrest yelled: "Satan, come out of Bubbles!
I command you. Come...out...of...that...bird!"
Forrest leaned over, grabbed a measuring cup,
pretended it was Bubbles, and began to pray. "Unleash
that bird's vocal cords, oh Prince of Darkness."
you're going to wring its neck," I said.
got down on his knees with the cup in his hands.
"Bubbles! Honey! Speak to me! Unbutton that
both laughed, a little uneasily, because for all
we knew, it wasn't impossible for a bird become
possessed by demons.
what did you really do when she wanted you to
pray for her, ah, for Bubbles?" I said.
looked a little sheepish. "I prayed for the
then what happened?"
praise the Lord anyway."
the way," I said, fishing a letter out of
my apron pocket. "You got a letter from your
mother was a faithful correspondent. Her letters
were penned in a neat cursive hand and filled
with motherly concern. She was worried about us
"going all the way," she confessed to
Forrest after he told her the Lord had "introduced"
him to a Wonderful Woman of God. I shuddered to
think what else he might have told her. Mrs. Prince's
letters were honest and direct and filled me with
wrote: "I know what you two are feeling for
each other seems right and natural, I know your
bodies must be urging you towards the completion
of a beautiful physical act, but it's best to
wait. Love, Mom."
beautiful physical act. My mother would've sooner
turned Republican than write a letter like that.
and I. What did we have? If we'd been "in
the world," we might've hung out together,
either by ourselves or with a group of friends,
but we wouldn't have felt the pressure to justify
our attraction. In the fishbowl of the ranch,
where every relationship was scrutinized and weighed
for its godly intentions, Forrest and I needed
to hurry up and find out if The Lord was bringing
us together or we were just going to be friends.
now my parents said they wanted to meet Forrest.
They drove up one weekend in October, a few months
after Forrest and I started dating. I can only
imagine the conversation between them as they
made the long drive north through the fog in their
white Volkswagen bus. My dad, who had recently
retired from the Army, was having a hard time
supporting a wife and five kids. My mom, disappointed
about losing all the perks they used to have in
the military, was tense. She'd been supporting
the family through a series of thankless secretarial
jobs. Money was tight, the future uncertain.
father (lighting up the first of many unfiltered
Camels): "So are we going to see the Dali
Lama, Jim Durkin? Do you think his excellency
will be in residence at the summer palace?"
mother: "Hell if I know, honey."
father: "What's the boyfriend's name again?"
mother: "Forrest Prince."
father: "Oh, good Christ."
my parents arrived, it was raining. Stepping across
the slippery, sodden grass, I showed them around.
Even as they made small-talk with Forrest, I knew
they were taking it all in: the crude dining hall;
the austere, windowless Prayer Room; the rustic
"office" filled with bins of dried lentils,
millet, whole wheat flour, and granola; the paint-by-numbers
depiction of the Last Supper; the telling smell
of poverty that swam above the Cloroxed floors.
parents took Forrest and me out to a smorgasbord
in town famous for its authentic Early American
costumed help, picnic-style tables, and homemade
bread. At the restaurant, you almost expected
to see Betsy Ross toting a kettle of beans or
dragging a wagonload of pumpkin pies.
long have you, uh, been at the Lighthouse Ranch?"
my dad asked Forrest.
beaming: "Well, sir, it's been about six
and what do your parents think about this, Forrest?"
My father leaned forward across the table, nose
to nose with my boyfriend. Forrest blinked in
surprise. He wanted to please my father. I did
too, but it was way too late for that. Was there
a right answer? Was this a trick question? Forrest
smiled uneasily and pulled on his earlobe. I felt
sorry for him.
father was in his military mode. I knew it well.
For years he'd been a front door court martialler,
grilling pimply Romeos who rang our doorbell.
"And you say you're going to be home ...
when?" he'd say to my date, consulting
his watch. "You say you're going ... where?"
He wasn't overprotective, he just suspected (and
rightly so) that we were up to no good. As my
date and I hustled down the sidewalk, my father
flung last-minute admonitions. "Don't smoke
any funny cigarettes!" "Keep a quarter
between your knees!"
my mother said, glancing around the restaurant,
"this is certainly something!" It certainly
was. The decor was an astonishing blend of Paul
Revere and Herman Melville: pewter mugs, harpoons,
tri-cornered hats, and fishing nets.
sure is a festive spot, honey," she said
to me. A waitress in a cotton pinafore sidled
over. "Can I get you anything from the bar?"
have some of your house white," my dad said.
iced tea for me," Forrest said quickly.
college plans?" my mother asked, hungrily
reaching for the bread basket. It occurred to
me that we were starving.
up to the Lord, Mrs. Fallon," Forrest said.
"I'm waiting on Him."
will you know?" she said playfully. "I
mean, will He mail you an application?"
ha, Mom," I said.
ate, chewing like squirrels stocking up before
me, young man," my dad said, "what do
your parents think about you living at the Lighthouse
had just tucked a big piece of buttered bread
into his mouth. His teeth were working hard. "Well,
Mr. Fallon -" he began earnestly. I watched
him chew. His ears were moving up and down as
he chomped. I stared at his Adam's apple, transfixed.
Finally he swallowed.
dad isn't happy about me living here, Mr. Fallon,
sir. He figures Jim Durkin is full of baloney,
no matter how you slice it. My mom, well, she's
a Christian. She loves the Lord and all, she's
saved, but she just doesn't understand why I can't
serve Him at home."
my dad said. He tapped one end of his cigarette
on the table, then reached for his lighter. Oh,
brother, I thought. Now he's slipping into his
Socratic mode. Ask him what time it is and he'll
give you the history of Big Ben.
can't you?" my father said.
can't I what, sir?"
dad inhaled and regarded the young man in overalls
sitting across from him. My dad's face was impassive
as he plucked a piece of tobacco from his tongue.
He studied it for a second before flicking it
away. "Why can't you serve the Lord at home?"
closed his eyes for a moment. It was as if he
was in the middle of a grueling math exam and
trying to recall a complicated formula. Forrest's
eyelids snapped open. I gripped the edge of the
Fallon, have you met the Lord?"
believe I have," my dad replied, "although
I know him by a different name, in fact by many
names. Buddha, Krishna, Mohammed, Jehovah..."
actually, it's" -- and here Forrest coughed
son, understood, and it's also Yahweh and Allah."
Jesus loves you, Mr. Fallon," Forest whispered.
father regarded Forrest sadly. "I'm sure
he does, young man, I'm sure he does."
parents glanced briefly at each other, and in
that second, I saw Forrest through my parents'
eyes: a beefy hick playing at religion. They didn't
see him as a godly Donut Brother saving souls
and praising the Lord with his guitar; to them
he was a dumpling who needed unleash his imagination,
visit museums and read some books. A lot of books,
in fact. In the refraction of their gaze, I saw
myself as they must've seen Forrest and me: living
under a bell jar, believing in ghosts and demons,
miracles and prophecies, predicting the end of
the world ... and running out of oxygen. In short,
we seemed ridiculous.
was never going to marry Forrest.
parents drove us back to the Lighthouse Ranch.
Forrest and I sat in the back seat and held hands.
Maybe my mother made small talk; maybe it was
painfully silent. What was there to say, really?
My dad pulled into the ranch's parking lot, filled
with broken down cars and piles of discarded tires.
On the double, Forrest sprang out of the car.
Hoping for a graceful end to the evening, he opened
my mother's car door and leaned over to embrace
her. He miscalculated and banged his head on the
side mirror, really bonking his forehead. Forrest
winced. My dad bit his lip.
you OK?" my mother cried.
staggered against the front of the van. I knew
he wanted to shout or swear , but this was his
chance to be a witness to my parents. The Lord
had deliberately allowed this to happen, just
so Forrest could show my parents how a spirit-filled
man handles adversity. Sitting inside the car,
I watched as Forrest leaned his forehead against
the windshield. I saw his lips moving. What was
he saying? His eyelids fluttered and an imbecilic
smile creased his pale face. He looked like Casper
the Friendly Ghost.
you, Jesus!" Forrest sputtered, spreading
his palms wide and looking heavenward. "Praise
you, Lord!" Then he leaned over and kissed
my disbelieving mother goodnight.
was it. It was curtains for Forrest.
Forrest had uttered a "fuck!" or "shit!"
or even a mild "damn!" he could've redeemed
himself with my parents. They would've forgiven
him everything. After all, he was just a kid.
But Forrest -- like me and everybody else at the
ranch -- had to turn a bump on the head into a
sign from God.
parents drove home. Several weeks later, Forrest
and I broke up. One day a few months later, Forrest
told the elders in the ministry he was needed
at home for a few days. His parents were going
out of town and he needed to babysit his little
sister. He left with the elders' blessing and
never returned. I stayed on at the Lighthouse
Ranch for another year, and married someone older
and smoother than Forrest Prince, although not
half as sweet. In time, I would disentangle myself
from that husband and the ministry. Shedding the
husband was far easier than forgetting the person
I was at the Lighthouse Ranch. Decades later,
my stint as a Bible-quoting Jesus Freak living
in a Christian commune has become family lore,
a fantastic story about a prodigal daughter who
almost went over the edge.
you sure had us worried," my mother says
sometimes, lingering over a glass of Bordeaux
at dinner. "We thought you were a goner."
father, who doesn't smoke anymore, takes a meditative
sip of his coffee, and says, "Whatever happened
to that kid we met up at the Lighthouse Ranch?
What was his name again?"
I say slowly. "Forrest Prince. Bless his
my god, yes," my dad says with delight. "That
poor son-of-a-bitch. I sure felt sorry for him.
He seemed like a nice enough kid."
was," I say. "A very nice kid."
wonder what happened to him," my mom says.
"I wonder how he turned out?"
makes me uncomfortable when she says that, as
if we've settled into the final version of ourselves.
I want to tell her, hey, we're still turning,
we're not done yet, don't pass judgement on us
yet. But I keep it to myself.
live in Colorado now. I'm married for the second
time, have a 12-year-old son. Forrest lives near
Fresno, and has a son exactly the same age as
my son's. Recently divorced, Forrest drives a
truck for a living. His new girlfriend's name
is Kristi, he told me recently in a letter. Despite
our plans, life didn't turn out the way either
of us thought it would. I count that as a blessing.