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The Debt Collector & The Heathen

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The debt collector was incessant.

He wouldn’t go away. For a week, there he’d be, waiting outside school and becoming increasingly angry. Classic debt collector.

I was 9. He was 10, going on 11.

Adam was his name, and he liked football too. He was in his final year. It was a small school and only a few people played football. Adam was a midfielder and so was I. He wanted to go pro and so did I (either that or a fighter pilot). We were arch rivals and hated each other. 

Today’s game was intense. The score was 0 – 0. Just a moment left.

The whistle went. The end. A tie. Back to class.

“Penalties after school to decide the winner,” Adam said.

We all ran back inside to learn about gravity for the first time. 

Miss asked the class, “so if the earth’s spinning at 465 meters per second, then what holds us to the ground?”

A kid called Michael tentatively put his hand up.

“Yes Michael,” said Miss, “what do you think it is?”

“The carpet?” he answered.

penalty

It was the penalty shoot out. The decider. Adam was up. He scored easily. I was next.

“Bet you miss,” he said.

“Oh yeah? No way.” I snapped.

“£2 says you miss,” Adam snapped back.

“Fine. £2.”

I stared intensely at the goal, decided where to aim, and ran. I struck the ball with all my might and willed it into the back of the net. It was not enough to want it, you had to will it. It flew and flew through the air, soaring calmly and beautifully like an eagle before gravity returned it to Earth. Beckham would’ve been jealous.

And then it went wide. Well wide. A miss.

We’d lost. Adam’s team had won. And now I owed him £2, which is a lot when you’re 9.

“Pay up, kid.” Adam shouted, as though he was Jack Nicholson in The Departed.

A deal was a deal. But I didn’t carry around that kind of cash. Are you crazy?

“Gotta go,” I said nervously, just before running away, “I have a swimming lesson.”

There was no such lesson that evening, though. The swimming lesson was an excuse to get out of having to deal with Adam. He was scary. Not someone to mess with. It was okay to mess with him on the pitch but not okay on the playground.

Adam suddenly went from football rival to savvy debt collector. And he wasn’t just a businessman. He was a business, man. Every day not paying Adam incurred an interest rate of 20p per day. Real loan shark rates. I had to think this through.

cowgirl

Misslette The Singing Cowgirl started to tear up, soon after she demonstrated the art of yodelling in a small room in Texas.

“I could’ve taught Heathen 101,” she said, as the memories came flooding back. “I was a shining example of a Heathen. I did all sorts of things that I’m not proud of. But when I was serious, I cried out to God. And I said ‘If you are really God, prove it to me.’”

“And on September 28th 1992, at 7.10 in the morning, I was staring at my ceiling, and just thinking ‘my life is out of control, I can’t quit drinking’. My skin would burn, my nose would burn. I would have to wake up and put liquor in my coffee. I cried out to God and said ‘I need help. If you’re real, help me.’ And that morning, I heard the audible voice of God. And you know what He said to me? ‘DO NOT DRINK TODAY!’, that’s all He said. And it scared me to death.”

Anyone can feel like they’ve hit rock bottom. Whether it’s addiction, work, a debt collector, physical health, not getting picked to go pro, anxiety, depression or any other countless thing that is taboo and doesn’t get talked about.

Clearly those things suck. But when we notice them, even when our days have become bleak, we are presented an opportunity to act, clean up, move on and get better. Because regardless of the specifics or our beliefs, it’s easier to be moved to action from a personal experience, even if it’s a terrible one, than to be moved to action from anything else. So it’s not all bad, it’s just a learning experience.

“People can think I’m crazy all they want,” Misslette half-joked, “but 20 years later I still haven’t had another drink.”

wheelbarrow

It was embarrassing, as a 9 year old, to a) lose at penalties and b) be a target atop a 10 year old’s debt collection list. So I didn’t dare tell anyone about the reason behind starting a very sudden refreshments company.

On the Saturday morning, I filled up a jug of water, then raided the cupboards at home and eventually found some plastic cups, a foldable table, and two bottles of concentrated juice. Throwing it all into a wheelbarrow, I walked to the nearest field.

The field had a footpath through it, which attracted a decent amount of leisurely walkers on a weekend. I unfolded the table, propped up a sign that read ‘Drinks For Walkers – £1 each’ in all capitals, and then sold 6 drinks to some thirsty walkers.

Adam was waiting at school on Monday. I handed him the money, which had gone from £2 to £3 with interest.

“Yeah, whatever loser,” he said, irritated that he wouldn’t be able to keep profiteering, the savvy little shit. “Another penalty shoot out at the park tonight? Double or quits.”

“Can’t. Got a swimming lesson.”

We never spoke again, and then I quit football forever and spent the remaining £3 on stick-on biker tattoos.



Vague Direction: A 12,000 mile bicycle ride, and the meaning of life.
Available now: Amazon.co.uk | Amazon.com



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