Todd Stevens

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This weekend, I went to visit my parents in Kansas. I had not been to my childhood home since 2014. I spent some time poring over old cards and letters, old pictures too. I was awash, still am, really, in memories of different chapters of my life, junior high, church camp, high school, college.

The summer before my senior year in college, I interned at a church in upstate New York. I uncovered many letters from the kids and adults in the congregation, pictures too, of the friends I made there. Fond memories.

And then, somehow, nestled in the warm, I remembered someone I had not about thought about for a while: Todd Stevens.

Todd Stevens was a guy that had lived in Syracuse. (Don’t get too excited, this isn’t going to go where you think it’s going to go.) He was tall, athletic, handsome. (Seriously, not what you think.) He’d been a baseball player for the Syracuse minor league baseball team. He’d been married, but his wife left him and while I was interning, Todd Stevens came back to town, to go through the things in his storage unit and purge part of it and ship the rest back to his life in Kansas.

The minister I was working and staying with had told me all about Todd Stevens before he came to visit. “Todd Stevens is a great guy, terrific ball player, the whole church went crazy for him. He’s from Kansas too, you’re going to love him.”

We picked Todd Stevens up at the airport. Looking like a young Kevin Costner, he was as charismatic of a presence as the minister had promised. For a handful of days, the three of us, the minister, Todd Stevens and I tooled around Syracuse, golfing, going to baseball games, cooking steaks on the grill. The minister’s wife was out of town, so it was just our unlikely trio.

I did not feel I measured up to Todd Stevens. Short with glasses, paunchy stomach even though I was finally skinny after years of being the fat kid. Trying to act as masculine as possible while still bringing whatever it was that was unique and sensitive about me to my first ministry.  When Todd Stevens came to church on the Sunday during his visit, the old ladies and the young kids and the moms and the dads all reacted to him the way I wished they would have reacted to me, he was their golden boy.

“What have you been up to, Todd Stevens? We’ve missed you.” It couldn’t have been easy for him. The minister and I had been there at the storage unit, as Todd Stevens pored over his own memories, memories of a life with another person that was cut short not long after it began. Separating toasters from photo albums, baseball gear from blenders, Todd Stevens started to cry. I was a kid, 20 years old, Todd, just a few years older than me. At 25 or 26, his life was going in a completely different direction than what he had anticipated. A few years before he’d been a professional baseball player married to his college sweetheart. Now he was a divorced assistant manager at a sporting goods store in rural Kansas.

Somehow, Todd Stevens and I did form a bond in our few days together. So, I wasn’t surprised when on the night before his flight back to Kansas he came into my bedroom to ask for a favor. (Again, I’m not kidding, it’s not that kind of story.)

“You know Loyal and Bev have been so good to me, I don’t want to ask for anymore favors. I have three boxes that still need to be shipped back home but I’m out of money. Can you take the boxes to UPS this week after I leave? I’ll send you the money when I get home.”

“I can do that.” Like everyone else, I too had fallen for Todd Stevens.

“Oh man, that’s awesome. And just to say thanks, I’m going to send you some K-State hats and t-shirts! Cool. Also, do you want this blender?”

“Sure!”

The day after Todd Stevens left Syracuse I went to UPS to ship his three boxes. It cost me 30 dollars, which was kind of a lot of money for me then.

Days passed, then weeks with no check and package full of K-State memorabilia. I had Todd Stevens’ address and I sent him a letter, asking as delicately as possible, when he was planning on sending me my $30.

The summer ended and I sent him another letter, this time giving him my college address. “Don’t worry about the cap and shirt, just send the $30.”

I never got my $30 and I never heard from Todd Stevens again. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not the worst thing that ever happened me, not by a long shot, but for years, I did wonder what happened. Did he intend to pay me back and then lose track? Was he purposely deceitful? Was he a pathological liar, not completely in control of his grand promises? Did he suffer a fatal heart attack on the sidewalk outside the post office, clutching my check and Wildcat T-shirt in his hands as he fell to the asphalt?  (Active imagination.)

I do think about Todd Stevens from time to time. I’m not wounded, and I do think it’s funny. I know I sound like the paper boy in Better Off Dead, I want my 2 dollars, a never ending refrain. Also, I know now that the memory stuck with me, in part, because I did go crazy for Todd Stevens. I felt things about him I couldn’t articulate at the time, a crush calling itself admiration.

Wherever you are, Todd Stevens, I hope you are well. I hope your journey has offered you joy and love and peace. I hope you created a family, work a job you like, found purpose. I know what it feels like to think your life is set in one direction and have it veer in another.  I know what it feels like to break a promise.  This weekend, as I sifted through the memories of old friends and old crushes and even old conflicts, I was reminded of what a gift all of it is.  That decades later, I can close my eyes and see the three of us, you, Loyal and me, playing golf on a cool, green June New York evening, me vexed that I couldn’t drive or pitch or putt as well as not only you, but also a 60 year old man, all of it, it makes me smile. And then it almost makes me cry.  Life, it speeds by. How could there ever be a debt when you gave me something worth so much?

Guest Blogger: Theresa Barnhart

carrie-closet-1040kk052410-500x399A few days ago, some friends of mine suggested to me that I ask my Mom to write a guest blog.  When I asked her about it, she hesitated initially, but I think the idea appealed to her.  She IS a writer, she’s been writing me letters since I was 12, when I went away to camp for the first time.  If you think my writing leans toward the sentimental, you only have to read the following to see where I get it.  Enjoy:

I was asked to write a guest blog for Ray. I told him I wouldn’t know what to write.  Later, after our conversation, I thought, yes, I will write about my summer experience.  First, you have to know that I save everything.  I have boxes, manila folders and file cabinets filled with my memory keepers.  We have eleven closets in this house and I bet I have some memory keepers in each one.  Does it sound like I am trying to find an excuse not to get rid of the Christmas cards or baby teeth from my son’s mouth or those special drawings and homemade cards from my grandchildren?   Of the eleven closets, three of them are walk-in, including the closet in our bedroom that doubles as our tornado safe room. I have tried all summer (school starts next month, I work at the high school) to get rid of some of these boxes and folders and other paraphernalia. I started with a box here and a folder there, not finishing  one.  I got rid of a few things, but I just couldn’t part with a newspaper article about my son and his bunny rabbits and how they came to live with us.   Another newspaper article about a play called “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” with a picture of a boy with a bag over his head.  I knew it was my son even with the bag over his head, a mother knows these things.  Right?  So back in the folder with these other special treasures they go.  Now back to the safe room, my closet.  One afternoon, the tornado sirens started, so I gathered my dog Ruby and a chair.  Why a chair? I knew if I sat down on the floor it would take a tornado to get me up.  There we sat, Ruby and I,  only Ruby wanted to look in my boxes where some of my treasures were stored.  My thinking was, if there is a tornado I wanted to save my treasures or at least the ones in my closet.  As I tried to get her nose out of the box, I discovered what one might call the “mother lode”. I found three accordion folders!  Each one had hundreds of papers in them dating from the mid 80’s through the mid 90’s.  I had written down appointments, how many hours I worked, prayer requests, praises, books I read, movies I’d seen, movies I wanted to see, personal thoughts and prayers and more. Well, I couldn’t shred them ’til I read them, so you can guess what happened.  I shredded a lot, but I couldn’t part with all my memory treasures.  I guess there will be another summer to clean out those treasure boxes.  I still have all my Christmas cards, birthday cards, etc. from this past Christmas and birthdays.  Next summer for them!