Staging-A little girl sitting crosslegged in a tent holding a Teddy Bear.
Sarah-(speaking to her bear). “I don’t know how this all got started or how it’s going to end, but right now everything seems so strange and so wrong. At first I missed our apartment, then I missed our motel room, then I missed our car——now I’m missing a lot of things. I’m only ten years old and I don’t know a lot of things, but I do know it’s wrong to not have a home. Everybody needs a home. A place with a lock on the door. A place to do my homework, a place with a kitchen, where mom can cook good food and the bed sheets smell fresh and clean. I like to listen to the rain on the roof of our tent. My mom use to say that I should pretend that we’re on a long camping trip. but I don’t think that’s so. There’s no bonfires, no s’mores, no sound of crickets. Only the sound of big trucks driving by fast, they drown out the sound of the raindrops on my tent. I pretend that the sound of the raindrops are a song.” (She sings along to the sound of raindrops).
“Rain, rain, go away.
Come again another day.
Baby wants to play.
Rain, rain, go away.
Rain, rain, go away.
Come again another day.
All the family wants to play.
Rain, rain, go away.”
(Her voice is drowned out by the sound of traffic.) “I like to play hop scotch, but I don’t have any chalk and besides, there’s no playground here. My only friend here is my Teddy Bear. I sleep with him at night. He protects me.
My daddy use to say that he’d always protect me. But one day he went away and never came back. My mom said he is sick and has lots of problems. When I asked her what his problems were, she just shook head and said he had lots of devils in his head. Sometimes I think he got tired of me, got tired of saying things were going to get better——when they never did. He must of gotten tired of this pretend campout. Maybe he just got tired of pretending things would change for the better. I wish angels could help my daddy. Maybe they could chase away his devils. I’d like to believe there’s angels even in this horrible place.”
Bear, (Sarah pretends she’s the bear and speaks in a high pitched voice) “I wish I could move, because if I could, I’d give you a hug and keep you safe. I’d always be your friend, no matter what. Do you have any friends to play with?”
Sarah, “I only have you and one other friend. His name is Johnny. He walks me from the school bus to my tent.”
Bear, “He stands up for you and protects you?“
Sarah, “One time walking from the bus this man came up to me and asked if I’d like to see his kitten. I knew that I shouldn’t of, but I love kittens, they’re so cute and cuddly. He said, I bet you can’t guess what color that kitten is? I said, is she maybe orange with green eyes?” He gave me a high five and said I was right. He said the kitten was down the path, just a short walk to the river. I told him that I suppose to come straight home. He said that if I went with him, I could name the kitten any name I’d like. I always wanted to have a kitten, and if I did, I’d name her April because my birthday is April third. He told me that was a perfect name. He said I could take her home with me. I followed him down the path and he said I could hold his hand cause the path was steep. He took my hand and held it very tight. I thought that this man was dirty and had messy hair and an ugly beard. I thought, if he can’t take care of himself, how could he take care of a little kitten. I tried to pull away, but he held my hand even tighter. I tried to twist loose and started crying. He said we were almost where the kitten was. I kept crying and screaming for him to let me go. That’s when Johnny showed up and cracked that mean man in the face with his walking stick. This made him fall on the ground and Johnny kicked him in the belly. He said if he ever saw him around here again he’d kill him. Then, Johnny pulled out a knife and waved it in front of that guys face. He put a deep cut across the ugly man’s face and then he said, “If you ever think of hurting a child again, let this scar remind you what happens to freaks like you.” He walked me back to my tent. He got down on his knee’s and said I should never, ever talk to strangers. He said that there’s bad people out there who steal little girls. He said these little girls never come home again, and never see their mother’s again. He said from now on he’d walk me from the school bus. And he does. If there were such a thing as angels he’d be mine, he’d be my guardian angel.”
Johnny, (Johnny pops his head into Sarah’s tent). “Hey shorty, I got a surprise for ya. You like surprises don’t ya? Ya won’t believe this. Well, I was going about my business collecting cans when this church van pulled up and started handing out baloney and cheese sandwiches. I got one for you and one for me. (tosses Sarah a sandwich). These church people all got in a circle around me and started to pray over me. I felt something strange in my chest. I don’t know if it was Jesus or just heartburn from the baloney. Then they gave me a $25.00 voucher for the Goodwill store. I ran into Crooked Neck Tony and I traded the voucher for fifteen bucks cash. And here’s the surprise. The Nickelodeon Theater is having a Disney film festival. I got us two tickets. Matinee’s are made for rainy afternoons like today.”
Sarah, “Oh my gosh, my favorite all time movie is Cinderella. Do you think it’ll be one of the movies they’ll be showing?”
Johnny, “I don’t know, but we’ll find out. I know this much, it’ll be warmer and dryer than this leaky tent.”
Sarah, “I love theaters. They’re warm and they smells like buttered popcorn. Do you think we could get popcorn?”
Johnny, “For sure. I have money from the cans I collected this morning.”
Sarah, “Movies are the best. In the darkness nobody can see you——everyone’s the same. They take me away from the real world for a little while. I like when the lights go down and it gets real quiet. Sometimes I forget where I am or even what day it is. I know that movies are only make believe, but maybe dreams can come true.”
(Sarah sings) “
‘When you wish upon a star
Makes no difference who you are
Anything your heart desires
Will come to you
If your heart is in your dream
No request is too extreme
When you wish upon a star
As dreamers do
Like a bolt out of the blue
Fate steps in and sees you through
When you wish upon a star
Your dreams come true’
Johnny, “That’s a good song. Yeah, there’s magic in that darkness. In the movies there’s always happy endings. Every wish that becomes a reality starts with a dream. Don’t let anyone step on your dreams shorty. Here, put your coat on, let’s go see Cinderella.”
(It’s a new day and Johnny is walking Sarah back from the bus to her tent.)
Johnny, “How was school today shorty?”
Sarah, (Her head is down, she sighs, she looks sad). “It was fine.”
Johnny, “What do you mean fine? Did something happen at school?”
(Sarah remains silent).
Johnny, “Did you get in trouble or something? Did you remember to turn in your homework? Did somebody say something that hurt your feelings? I’ll go and talk to your teacher if ya want me too.”
Sarah, “No——just forget about it. I’m sick and tired of everything and everybody. Nobody understands.”
Johnny, (He stops and gets on one knee and holds Sarah’s shoulders). “I’m your friend. You can tell me anything. I’ll be your friend no matter what. What’s wrong?”
Sarah, (She hesitates before speaking). “Look at me. Look at my clothes, look at my book bag. Everything I have is old, torn and dirty. This stupid boy at recess pointed at me in front of a bunch of kids and said I was poor trash. He laughed and told everyone that I live at the shelter and that anyone who lives there is dirty and smelly like the monkeys in the zoo. He moved around me in a circle pretending he was a monkey, Everyone started laughing at me. (A teardrop roles down her cheek).
Johnny, “What’s this punks name? I’m gonna report him to the principle. I’ll kick his dads ass and make him apologize to you. Don’t people teach their kids manners these days?”
Sarah, (Sobbing) “I don’t know what to do, but I don’t want things to be this way anymore. Everything is so hard——people are so mean. I’m never going back to school. I’m gonna quit.”
Johnny, (He brushes Sarah’s hair back from her face and wipes away her tears). “Don’t ever use that word quit. Don’t ever be a quitter. Quitting is for losers and you’re not a loser. School is the way out of this place. Things will get better, I promise you that. And, I don’t make promises that I can’t keep.”
Sarah, “Yeah, that’s what everyone says. But everyone has let me down. Everything’s a mess. I don’t need any friends——I don’t need nothin from anyone.”
Johnny, “You can count on me. We’ll stick together and we’ll be stronger together. You can lean on me. We’re never gonna stop or quit or give in. Cause you’re Cinderella —-Right?—-Right?. Just like her, you’re gonna turn the tables on this thing and things are gonna turn out right.”
Sarah, “Yeah, I suppose. I don’t even need a glass slipper, I just need new socks and shoes. Why do people judge other people by the way they dress or how they look. It’s hard to make friends when ya don’t fit in. It’s not fair. I wish I was special to someone.”
Johnny, “Sarah, you’ll always be special to me. Someday things will be different.”
Sarah, “Yeah right, someday?”
(It’s 2am in the morning. Johnny is wearing a miners hardhat with an attached flashlight. He’s digging through a garbage ben. He’s singing as he’s retrieving aluminum cans. A cop approaches Johnny).
Cop, “Hey you, what the hell are you doing out here in the middle of the night digging through a garbage ben?”
Johnny, “I’m having a banner day, or should I say banner night? This is my eleventh bag of aluminum cans. The frat boys in those house over there must of had one hell of a party. I’ll tell ya this, when garbage juice rolls down your arms it’s sure gets sticky. I haven’t had a drop of booze, but I’m sure I must reek of alcohol due to it dripping all down my arms and on my pants and shirt.”
Cop, “Why don’t ya just wait till morning to go dumpster diving?”
Johnny, “I’m on a mission for Cinderella.”
Cop, (Scratches his head). “Are you on drugs, have you skipped taking your meds? If you keep talking gibberish, I’m gonna have to 51/50 ya.”
Johnny, “Look, I’m not crazy. Ya see I’ve served our country——three tours in the middle east. Look it here.” (He pulls up his sleeve and reveals a Special Forces tattoo). “I need to get enough money to buy Cinderella a pair of glass slippers.”
Cop, “Special forces. I guess that makes us brothers.” (He pull up his sleeve revealing a tattoo identical to Johnny’s). “I don’t know what your mission might be, but we’re brothers and I wanna help ya in anyway I can.” (He pulls out his wallet and hands Johnny two twenty dollar bills and a business card). “Look, this is a a guy who works at the Vets Center. He’s a good man. He helped me out a lot. I had a lot of problems adjusting when I first got back from my last deployment. They have a lot of good programs to help Vets get back on their feet. They can help with housing, job training, physical and mental health issues. Please, give them a shot at helping you.” (Out of respect, he salutes Johnny and Johnny salutes him back). “Hey, here’s some latex gloves I use when I’m frisking someone. They’ll help keep a little bit of the garbage juice off your hands.”
Johnny, “God knows, I’ve had worse things than garbage juice on these hands. Maybe some things never come clean?”
(It’s the following day and Johnny approaches the tent). “Knock, Knock. Anybody home?”
Sarah, (Responds in an unenthusiastic tone). “Yeah, I guess if ya wanna call this home. Come in.”
Johnny, (He enters the tent and sits cross legged). “I got something for ya.” (He reaches outside of the tent and grabs a new backpack and hands it to Sarah). “Go ahead, look inside the pack.” (She begins to pull items from the bag. There’s all kinds of school supples, hair berets, combs, brushes, shampoo, tooth paste and tooth brush).
Sarah, “ Is this all for me? How could you afford all this?”
Johnny, (He once again reaches outside of the tent and brings in a large bag). “Okay Cinderella, it’s not a glass slipper, but it’s a start.”
Sarah, (She reaches in the bag and pulls out a pair of shoes, socks and several outfits). “I can’t believe these are all mine. They’re so pretty, so, so— cool. I feel like a princes.”
Johnny, “Yep, just like Cinderella. I don’t know much about girls clothes, so I had the young lady at the store help me pick these out. Do you like them? Did I do good?”
Sarah, “You’re the best-friend anyone could ever have. I can’t wait to wear these to school. I’m gonna be the coolest kid in my class. I’ve never had things so new, so pretty. (She stands up and holds one of the outfits up in front of her. She smiles and give Johnny a big hug). “Dreams do come true.”
Johnny, “Yeah, sometimes they do.”
Johnny, (He’s seated at a desk at the Veterans office).
Veteran Representative, “Looks like all your paperwork is in order. You’re eligible for assistance with housing, employment training and counseling. You served your country and now it’s time for your country to serve you. Why didn’t you come in sooner?”
Johnny, “After my third tour, I came home and I couldn’t get my feet on the ground. Everything seemed to be moving too fast. I couldn’t find my place in the civilian world. I didn’t want to go on another mission but I didn’t want to be back home, I was in a no man’s land. I was outside my self—— I was just going through the motions. I’ve seen some of the cruelest things humans can do to one another. A lot of bad things. I’ve seen and done things that keep me up at night——-I have night terrors. I just wanted to be left alone and numbed up. I once thought I had it figured out. I believed in duty and honor. Duty and honor? I don’t even know what it means anymore. When I was in a fire fight, I didn’t know or care what the politics were for this mess we were in. All I knew is that there’s a guy sitting next to me who would die for me, and I’d die for him. Isn’t that some kind of twisted love. I did a lot of bad things in the name of Duty and Honor. I came home with a bum leg and medals for valor, but I didn’t feel courageous. I felt angry, anxious, depressed ——lost. I was in a very dark place. I didn’t like what I’d become. I wanted my blood and bones to turn into dust. I was burned from the inside out out, My core felt like ash.—-I wanted to be gone permanently. No more me, no more pain.”
Vet Rep, “Look, there’s a group of Vet’s who get together weekly and support one another. These are guys who can understand the things you’ve been through. These are guys who can relate to your suffering. Don’t try and go it alone. You should attend a meeting and check it out.” (Vet Rep hands a card to Johnny). Why don’t ya give this guy a call and he’ll give you some details about the meetings. It’s a group of great guys and I think it would be something good for you. These guys are veterans like you who are facing some of the same things you’ve been dealing with. It’s no good to go it alone.”
Johnny, “I suppose nothing changes unless I change. I’m ready for a change. I’m ready for something different than the hell I’ve been living in. I admit it, I need help. I suppose I’ll give it a shot. I can’t keep running from myself.”
Group Leader, (A group of Vets sitting in a semi circle. Group leader speaks). “We have a new member today. Welcome Johnny. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about who ya are and what brings ya here today.”
Johnny, “My mother named me Johnathan, but everyone calls me Johnny. I think it’s my mother who first started calling me Johnny and from there on everyone called me that. I prefer Johnny, Jonathan is a bit too formal for a guy like me. So, What brings me here? (silent pause) I’ve been living on the street for the last five years. I guess I’m tired of what I’ve become. The cold nights and the long days didn’t use to bother me. I just wanted to get away from me and all the shit in my head. I’m tired of running from myself. I want to make peace with myself.”
Group Leader, “Peace? Without peace of mind we’re all doomed. We can become our own worst enemy.”
Johnny, “I’ve got medals that say I’m a hero, but I don’t feel like a hero. I know guys that never made it home and they weren’t given any ribbons or medals. They got a flag neatly folded into a triangle and handed to their loved ones. They received an honor no one wants. They call them a Gold Star Family. Ya see, I got stuck thinking about the past and things I couldn’t change. Someone recently taught me that there are things bigger and more important than me. I’ve been wasting precious time. Waisted time is something you can never get back. More time is something some of my comrades will never get. Some of them made it home only to die by their own hand. Ya gotta hurt pretty bad to go to that dark place. (Loudly says to himself) “FUCK. I need to to find a way out of here. I wanna get better, but I don’t know how. I’ve lost things that I can’t get back. (A long pause). I use to think that PTSD was something weak guys made up to ease their conscious. I’ve come to believe that war goes against what it is to be human. If you hurt someone, it will somehow come back to hurt you. And, if you help someone, that too will come back on you. (pause) I wonder, Is it ever too late to start over again? I’m gonna do something they never taught me in Special Forces training. (Pause) I’m surrendering. I’m surrendering all my mistakes, bad habits, all my selfish thoughts. It takes so much fucking energy to stay full of angst and hatred. I’m surrendering all my anger and self hate. I’m turning it all over to god, to a higher power. I wanna remember what it’ feels like to be forgiven——to be loved. Oh Jesus, I’m a tired old warrior looking for a little bit of peace.” (Johnny wipes a tear from his cheek).
(The members gather around Johnny and give him a group hug. There is the sound of quiet sobbing).
Johnny, (He opens a letter and starts reading. He begins to laugh out-loud. He screams “Yeah, Yeah, Fuck Yeah! I Can’t wait to tell Sarah.”
(Johnny runs to meet Sarah at the school bus stop).
Johnny, (Speaking excitedly to Sarah). “I got approved, I’m in. This time things are really gonna change. You aren’t gonna believe this.”
Sarah, “I have good news too. I made a friend today. Her name is Maria and she invited me to a sleepover at her house. A slumber party. She has two cats and a dog. We’re gonna play boardgames and watch movies and just do all those things that friend do. She lives in a nice house.”
Johnny, “Well that’s great news. How would you like to have a friend over to your house for a sleepover?”
Sarah, “That’s not nice to tease me.”
Johnny, “I’m not teasing. I got approved for housing through a Veteran Program. I’m approved for a two room place. Your mom can sleep in one room and you can have the other room for yourself. I’ll sleep in the living- room. We can cook are dinners in a kitchen of our own. We could be (Pause) We could be a kind-of self made family. What do ya think?”
Sarah, “Oh Johnny, is this true. And, did you say my own room, my own bed. Did you say we’d be a family. (She gives Johnny a hug). A self made family? I get it, we’ll be put together just like Lego’s. I can’t wait to tell my mom. She is going to be so very happy.”
Mom, (Johnny and Sarah telling Sarah’s mom the news). You what? Hey, I appreciate you walking Sarah home from the bus stop, but that doesn’t make you her daddy, or us some weird dysfunctional family. What do you get out of this? I’m not gonna be your ole lady, your girlfriend or your lover. What’s in it for you? I’ve had it with broken promises from lying men.”
Johnny, “I don’t want nothin. Sarah deserves better. You deserve a better life——-Maybe all three of us need a second chance. I’m not looking to make you my ole lady, or Sarah my daughter. We’ll just be roommates, but we’ll have someone to come home to. Someone to sit with and share our meals, we can talk about our day like other people do. Aren’t you tired of going it alone?”
Mom, “You want me to talk to you about my day? I’ll tell ya how my day went. It’s been shitty. Do you smell what I smell? It smells like that Porta-Potty sitting over there. It smells like garbage. It smells like lies and bullshit. It smells like people holding on by a string. Every time I’ve trusted someone it ends up making a fool of me. I’d rather go it alone than be betrayed again.”
Sarah, “Mama, I don’t wanna wake up here no-more. I gotta believe that this is our chance, our chance to make things better. Maybe our last chance to make things right. I get so scared when I see that worried look in your eyes. Please——-please Mama, I’m tired of pretending to be brave. This place isn’t meant for families. It’s dark and sad here.”
Mom, “Don’t be afraid of the dark baby.”
Sarah, “No, I don’t get scared when the sun goes down and it gets dark. I get scared in the morning when I first open my eyes. I get this awful feeling that things are never gonna change. I’m scared we’ll always have to live this way. I don’t have nightmares, I have day-mares. At night, in my dreams I’m free. I dance my fear away. I need this dream to come true or I’d rather just not wake up. I wanna wake up one day and turn my dream dance into real life.”
(The lights go down and a blue spotlight trains in on Sarah.The song “Fade Into you” by Mazzy Star begins to play. Sarah gets up and in a dream state dances around the stage. At the end of her dance she is standing in front of her mother).
Sarah, (Nearly in tears). “Please Mama, please don’t take this away from me. Please don’t take this dream away from me. Not now, not this time. I”m so tired.”
Mom, (She shakes her head hesitantly and sighs). Look what you’ve done, you’ve got her hopes up. Hope’s a fragile thing. If you take away someones hope, you take away everything. You end up like those zombie people walking around the shelter with that million mile stare. The ones with the cardboard signs that say ‘Anything will help’. Those are the ones who’ve had their hope drained from them. They’ve traded in their hope for the false peace that alcohol and drugs temporary provides. They’re dead already and they don’t even know it. I never thought I’d end up homeless——-homeless and hopeless, but shit happens. (Angry voce) If you give her false hope and then take it away from her, I swear to god————I swear to god almighty——— I’ll find you and personally beat you.”
Johnny, “The motto of my special forces unit was “Who Dares, Wins”. We are gonna win, I promise you that. I dare anyone or anything to try and stop me.”
Sarah, (She grabs Johnny’s hand). “Maybe we’ll get a kitten? Maybe we’ll have a yard with a swing-set? I can’t wait. Everything is gonna be better. I’m gonna wake up every morning in my house, in my room and in my own bed. I can hardly wait. When will we be able to get to move into our home?”
Johnny, “The guy at the Vet Center said that in a couple of weeks the approval will be finalized and we can start looking for are own home. Home? what a sweet word.”
(Johnny picks up Sarah at the bus stop).
Johnny, “Hey, look what I got ya. I got ya some candy, sodas and chips for your sleep over. And, here’s a ‘Thank You’ card for Maria’s Mom. It’s good to have manners. (Sarah hangs her head). What’s wrong? You should be excited about the slumber party.”
Sarah, “I don’t——I don’t need a sleep over or any stupid friends. I don’t need anyone. I don’t want friends who only care about being popular. Or, only like me if I’m wearing the right clothes with the right brand names. It’s not someones fault if they’re poor, friends should stand up for one another. All that other stuff shouldn’t matter.”
Johnny, “You’re right! What’s wrong? Did something bad happen?”
Sarah, “There’s not going to be any slumber party. Maria said her Mom doesn’t want her hanging out with kids who live at the shelter. Her Mom said that kids who live at the shelter have head lice and are dirty and she didn’t want them in her house. When we get our home, I’m gonna invite poor kids to come over and we’ll play games, listen to music, watch movies and we’ll find ways to make each other laugh. We’ll forget about all those unkind phony people.”
Johnny, “You’re right honey. Real friends will stand up for one another regardless of how they look or what they wear. A good friend doesn’t care about what someone is like on the inside. And, if someone hurts their friend, it hurts them too. And, if something makes them happy, it makes them happy too. I’m sorry that someone hurt you. But don’t ever let the mean people turn you bitter and angry. Be kind even when it hard to be kind to unkind people. What really shakes up mean people, is when you smile at them.”
Sarah, “Don’t be sad for me. I got you as my best friend and that makes me happy. I’ve got a family now and that makes me stronger.”
Johnny, “How bout we share some sodas and chips. We can go down to the pond and feed those ducks. When the train goes by, we’ll each guess how many boxcars the train is pulling. The winner get to take the candy home with them.”
Sarah, “I’d rather do that than go to some stupid slumber party.”
(Johnny sitting in the Vets office).
Vet Rep, “Well your vocational test scores indicate that your training to be a Para-medic is a good fit. It’s a two year program and I’ll be honest with you, it’s a damn hard program. We’ll provide financial support and housing. You’ll be expected to maintain good attendance and keep your grades up. Like I said, It’s a hard program and a lot of people washout.”
Johnny, (Pauses, intense and thoughtful). “Do you know what it’s like to be dead inside? It’s like being soulless. You have a body, you walk around on your legs, you breathe in and out——but you’re no longer alive. You slowly become invisible. People walk past you but they no longer look at you. It’s as if you’re a ghost and people can see right through you. And stranger yet, it feels good to be invisible. No one touches you, or speaks to you. No one offers you the ole “have a nice day” bullshit. But it’s good to be alone, cause you no longer believe in any of that “Have a nice day crap. Cause everyday is a new hell. But something miraculous happened to me. I found a purpose, a reason to keep going—-to keep believing and not give up in spite of all the fucked stuff this world can dish out. I got someone who’s depending on me. I have someone I want to make happy, someone I want to make sacrifices for. Because, when you love somebody, it’s not really a sacrifice, or a duty——-no it’s an honor to feel that. I’ll finish this goddamn program, I don’t care if I have to study 24 hours a day. Now that I know the “why’s” of what I’m doing, the“how’s” are going to come a lot easier. Because I’ve got a purpose, I’ll find a way.”
Vet Rep, (Shakes Johnny’s hand). Keep going to your group meetings and I’ll be checking in on ya. If you need anything, just let me know. I believe in ya brother.”
Johnny, (He’s walking behind Sarah and is covering her eyes with his hands). “One, Two, Three,——-now you can open your eyes”. (They are standing at the front door looking into a small older house). “Here’s our new home.”
Sarah, (She stands still, transfixed by what she’s seeing). “What? How? Are you kidding? Is this a dream?——-Is this real?” (She walks slowly into the small front room). “This is our couch? This afghan is ours?” (She wraps herself in the blanket and spins in a circle). Oh my gosh. Look at all this, our own kitchen with a a stove and a refrigerator. We can cook our meals and eat our meals together, just like a family. We can talk about our day and laugh because we know we got each other.”
Sarah’s mom, “I guess we’re like a lot of families, a little crazy and dysfunctional, but still got each others back. I don’t want something for nothing. Now that I have a place to clean up and get organized, I’ll be looking for work to contribute. I’ve been praying for a sign, praying for a second wind——-I thought god abandoned me, but maybe this is my second chance. Johnny, I had my doubts about you, but maybe you’re our guardian angel. I feel a weight lifting.”
Johnny, “I’m no angel, but I’ve been to the gates of hell and I’m not ever going back there. I got one more surprise for Sarah.” (He walks down a small hall and slowly opens a wooden bedroom door).
Sarah, (The bedroom is freshly painted pink. The bedspread, pillow and sheets have a Cinderella print. There’s a desk that is set up for doing homework. She walks in slowly, as if in disbelief. She gently touches the bed, the dresser and desk, as if testing if they are real). “Oh Johnny, am I dreaming? Is this really happening?” (She sits down on the bed and quietly cries).
Johnny, “What’s the matter? I thought you’d be happy. Is pink the wrong color? I can repaint the room. I thought the bedding was what you’d like.”
Sarah, “No, no. I’m so happy. But I’m sad too. I’m so happy to have a home, to have you and mom. But I know that there’s so many other kids at the shelter who’ll never have these things. Everyone deserves a home, a family. One day I’ll find a way to help other kids.” (She walks over to Johnny and gives him a hug).
Johnny, “You’ve got a good heart Sarah, And one day you’ll find a way to be of service to others. This is your time. Your time to shine. I believe that with love all things are possible. It’s written in my favorite biblical quote. Corinthians 13:13 Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.”
Sarah, “You have faith——mom has hope ———and I have love. These are happy tears.”
Johnny, “I feel something I haven’t felt for a long time. I feel at peace.”
(Vets group leader). “Does anyone have anything they’d like to share?”
Johnny, “ I just want to thank you guys and the Veterans Programs for helping me. It’s been a long road, a hard road, but it’s paid off. I’m receiving training, housing and a financial stipend to help me get my life back. But most importantly, I’ve been fortunate to have you guys to listen to me and to believe in me. Honesty is the the best medicine for healing. In the past I’ve let friends, family and myself down. I lied to them and I lied to myself. I wasted a lot of time blaming everyone for my messed up life. But not anymore. I wake up in the morning and I’m glad to be alive. I had to find purpose again, and thanks to you guys and god, I’m here to say I’m feeling stronger. The past is the past and I’m letting that go. Today I’m looking forward. Life is always worth living, especially when I have others believing in me. I won’t let you guys down. I won’t let myself down.”
Vet Rep, “Ya know, it’s one day at a time. You’ve got your head right, but there’ll be challenges yet to come. That’s life, you got the good and you’ve got the bad——we all gotta find our own personal reasons to give life purpose. It’s a daily commitment. Stay committed to your values and the right choices will reveal themselves. We believe in you brother, we’re always here for you.”
Johnny, “I now have my mission. I’m not leaving anyone behind. I finally understand what duty and honor really mean——-Oo-raw!”
Johnny, (Enters kitchen, Sarah doing homework at the table, mom doing dishes. Johnny’s dressed in Para Medic uniform—-smiling). “How’s my people? I just passed my first quarter of training. Everyone in my class is young and committed, but I’m old and crafty. (Holds up his hands) These hands have done a lot of things in their time, but now they’re going to be taught to heal and save lives. Imagine that. These hands use to carry a weapon, now they use a stethoscope and a medic bag. I’m learning how to intubate someone, literally helping someone breathe, actually giving them the breath of life. It’s strange, by saving others, I feel like I’m saving myself. Maybe that’s the secret to life—-the more you give the more ya get back. It’s amazing how my life has changed once I decided to change my life. Now, that’s ironic. How’s that old definition of insanity go? (Pauses in thought) Oh yeah. Doing the same things over and over and expecting different results. I feel like I got a new lease on life. Man, I really want to thank you both for helping me get this far.” (He does a little dance and sings ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’ by Bill Withers). (Mom and Sarah join in).
Johnny, “Once I complete my program I’m gonna hook up with the boloney sandwich van people and provide medical services for folks on the street. Boloney for the soul and medicine for the body.”
Mom, “There’s a lot of people on the street who don’t have access to medical services. It’s hard to dig yourself out of a hole when you’re exhausted and sick. There’s a lot of folks out there that could use some help physically, mentally and spiritually. You don’t end up homeless overnight, it’s a slow agonizing fall from grace. And it robs you of your self esteem and self worth. I know this, cause it happened to me. When you’re poor, people look at you differently. It’s a look somewhere between pity and disgust. When you’re poor, it’s a slippery slope to get back into a world that’s turned its back on you. All of life’s pretty things just out of my reach. I’m gonna tell it to you like this——I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired. Today’s a new day and I’m ready for the fight of my life. Baby, we’re gonna do this.”
Sarah, “I’m doing homework in my home.” (laughs) “I don’t even mind doing homework cause I have a home to do it in.”
Johnny, “What are you studying?”
Sarah, “I’m learning geography. I’m learning all the names of the 50 states and their capitals. Someday, I’m gonna travel and see all these places, and maybe even Europe and Africa.”
Johnny, “You’re still young with all your life still ahead of you. When you get older you’ll see many strange and beautiful places——I traveled to a lot of places when I was in the service. One thing I learned is that no matter what someones nationality, race or religion may be, we’re all a lot more similar than we are different from one another. It’s a big ole world out there and it’s full of adventure and challenges. It’s the challenges that make the victories that much more sweeter. Maybe someday we’ll take a road trip together.”
Sarah, “Do you ever wish you could start all over again. Maybe lived in a different city, worked at a different job——-fell in love and married and had kids of your own?”
Johnny, “No. In spite of all my mess ups, I‘m here now with you and I know this is where I’m suppose to be.—I’m where I belong. I have to believe that. Home is as much who you’re with as to where you’re at. What ‘might have beens’ and regrets keep ya stuck. I use to fight against the flow of life. I was going in circles and getting nowhere. I wake up now and I know that I can choose to do or be whatever I want——that’s is if I’m willing to fight and work hard for it. Rule number, don’t worry about what others may think of you. Breathe deep, walk with purpose. When something scares you, do it anyway. That’s how you earn self esteem and self worth.…….It’s the little things that make this life worth living. Things like giving someone a smile and a hello. The smell of fresh coffee in the morning. Taking walks and feeling the earth beneath my feet. I don’t know much about anything, but I know that life is precious, love is rare and compassion is something we all need.”
Sarah,“I think you know more about life than most. When I grow up I’m gonna be like you. (She pauses and is in deep thought). Can we go down to the food bank on Sundays and help out?”
Johnny, “And you Sarah are a very special kid. I think that’s a great idea. (Johnny laughs). No Sarah, when I grow up, I wanna be like you.”
Mom, “Well you guys can count me in too. It’s time to start giving back. No strings attached. Isn’t that what they call unconditional love?”
(The Food Bank)
(Mom, Johnny and Sarah handing plates of food out).
Johnny, “Hey, I’ll be damned how ya doing Thomas?”
Thomas, (Seated in a wheelchair). “I’ve been better. Last time I saw you was in Fallujah. If you think you’re gonna get some kind of thank you for saving my life, well you can go to hell. You should’ve left me there to bleed to death. What’s left of my life hasn’t been worth living. The days are long and the nights even longer.”
Johnny, “I always wondered if you made it out. Hey, there’s a group of Vets that get together and help one another. Would you like to come to the next meeting with me?”
Thomas, “Yeah, I made it out, but my legs didn’t. I don’t need a support group. I got better things to do than sit around and cry about life to a bunch of losers. I’m doing fine on my own.”
Johnny, “Where are are ya living now?”
Thomas, “I wouldn’t call it living. I have a tent over there by the freeway overpass. Ain’t America beautiful.”
Johnny, “Well shit, that’s kind of rough. Now that the war’s over, what have you been doing with yourself?”
Thomas, “You got that wrong. It’s never over. Not for me. It’s there in my head, waiting for me. I can’t sleep. I have these god damn firefights in my head. I’ve seen things I can’t unsee. I take a little something to find my sleep——to find peace—— I take something to quiet those demons i my head. I tried praying——— but the drugs worked better. There’s nothing as deafening as God’s silence. I don’t want your support group, your pity or your bullshit ‘bro talk’. You wanna help me? Then just leave me alone.”
Johnny, “Your life was saved for a reason. It’s not meant to be wasted. Look, here’s a card with the contact person who facilitates the group. Please, come and check it out.”
Tom, “Fuck you—-fuck your group. Don’t try and save my life a second time——I’d of been better off if you’d of let me die the first time. At least I’d be at peace.” (Johnny leaves the business card on the table next to Thomas’s plate).
(Johnny is kneeling over a patient giving CPR to someone in the street).“Come on! Don’t give up! Breathe——Breathe!.”
Para Medic Trainer, “Johnny it’s time to call it. We gave it all we had. Sometimes ya have to let them go.” (The Para Medic forcefully pulls Johnny off the patient).
Johnny, “What a shame. What a fucking waste. A kid in his twenties OD’s on drugs. There’s so many roads in life, but he choose this dead-end street.”
Para Medic, “In this business ya walk a fine line. Ya gotta have a thick skin, but you also have to never stop caring for each and every patient. This is a hard job.Your’e gonna see a lot of tragedy and suffering, but on occasion you’re gonna pull someone back from deaths door. Those successes will keep you coming back. Never lose your compassion, but never let your emotions cloud your decision making. Don’t be judgmental,—-use all your training and skills——don’t pretend you’re some kind of god—-No—- instead let god use you.”
Johnny, “How long have you been doing this?”
Para Medic, “I don’t measure my time in years, but rather in the days doing something that matters. I count the days I’ve been of service to others and not the bad days. And there will be bad days and good days. I prefer to count the good ones, not the bad ones. I’ve seen my share of car accidents, drug overdoses—-I’ve seen old folks take their last breath. But, I’ve also delivered babies and watched them take their first breath. I’ve restarted a heart or two. It’s a dance with death, sometimes you step on its toes, and sometimes it steps on your toes. Ya can’t have a glass heart that breaks every time things don’t turn out the way ya planned.”
Johnny, “I look up to you man. I really don’t know if I have what it takes to do this job. I’ve been in my share of firefights and seen death up close. I thought that by being a para medic, that maybe I could even up the score for the bad things I’ve done. I want to make a difference. I don’t want to change the world, I wanna a chance to change me.”
Par Medic, “I’ve watched you Johnny and you do have the right stuff to do this job. You’re making a difference and will continue to do so. Don’t be hard on yourself. The past is the past, every morning is a new day. Each day you’re born again. This life can make you hard or it can make you compassionate. Some mistake compassion with being weak or soft. But in reality, it takes courage and strength to be vulnerable and remain caring——to reach out and give without expecting anything in return. On the flip side of hurt is anger. Some patience may act out in anger, but under that emotion is someone who’s really hurting. We may never know the suffering someone is living with. We will care for others until they have the strength to care for themselves. Many are called but few are chosen. Like it or not, you’ve been chosen my friend.”
Johnny, “It’s a blessing and a curse, but I do feel alive when I’m doing this job. We’re righteous warriors. The Grim Reaper better get out of our way.” (They hight five each other).
Johnny, (He’s alone on stage holding a cell phone to his ear). “Wait a minute. What are you saying? Where is Sarah now? The emergency room? I’m coming right now. Hold on. Just fucking hold on.”
Doctor, (Johnny and Sarah’s mother are in the ER). “She’s had a seizure. We’ve taken a series of tests and things aren’t what we hoped for.”
Johnny, “What do you mean things aren’t what we hoped for? When will she be better so we can take her home.?
Doctor, “She’s may not get better. She’s a very sick little girl.”
Johnny, “Bullshit! The streets are full of druggies, drunks and people who don’t give a shit about their lives. And, you’re telling me that a ten year old girl who’s full of life is———is——gonna die? What kind of world is this? What kind of god creates a world like this?”
Doctor, “There’s a children’s hospital across the country in California that’s doing some clinical trials on some new treatments. I can call and see if there’s any availability for her in the program. If I can get her in the program, you’ll have to find a way to get her there.?”
Johnny, “Call now! (Johnny pulls his cell phone out and with an out stretched arm shoves it towards the doctor) I’ll find a way. I don’t care if I have to carry her on my back across broken glass and through a fire storm, I’ll get her there.”
Doctor, “Wait here, I’ll call from my office and get right back to you. I don’t want you to get your hopes up. Be aware, If I can get her in the program, the success rates have been negligible.”
Johnny, “I’ve faced worst odds and I’m at my best when somebody I love has their back against the wall. I’ll be in Sarah’s room. I’ll be waiting for your confirmation that’s she’s in the program.”
Johnny, (Enters Sarah’s hospital room). Speaks in a soft voice).” How are you doing?”
Sarah, “I want to go back home. This place scares me. All the doctors and nurses who come into my room all have this terribly sad look on their faces. What’s wrong? What wrong with me.” (She whimpers ).
Johnny, “You’re gonna be fine—-I’ll see to that. Do you remember that first day we met and how I protected you? Well, that’s my job. I’ll always look after you. We’re gonna take a long trip and get to a place where the doctors there can make you better again.” (He hugs Sarah. His cell phone rings). “I need to get this call. I’ll be right back.” (He walks into the hall).
Doctor, “Well the good news is they have one opening in the program. They’ll hold the space for a short period of time, but you’ll need to check into the clinic ASAP. If you can’t expedite the process they’ll have to provide the opening to the next candidate on the waiting list.”
Johnny, “I don’t know how we’re going to do this, but I will find a way.”
Johnny, (Walks back into Sarah’s hospital room). We’re going to go on a road trip. Have you ever been to California?”
Sarah, “No, but I’ve always wanted to see the Pacific Ocean.”
Johnny, “We’ll, there’s a place in California that will help you get well again. So, we’re headed there. Remember Cinderella? She had to be patient and try on a lot of glass slippers until her prince came along. Be patient, be strong, be brave.”
Sarah, (Hugs Johnny). Does that make you my prince or my frog?”
Johnny, “Ribbit! Ribbit!
Johnny, (Approaches church van).
Church person, “Hey brother. You looking for another ham and cheese sandwich? I got ya covered. Jesus loves you. Are you saved my brother?”
Johnny, “Hell no, I haven’t been saved. But satin knows who I am. I’ve sent him a few dead soldiers and civilians. I’ve shot, stabbed and choked anyone who dared cross my path. I don’t need one of your stale sandwiches—-I need money. I need lots of money. I’ve never pan handled, begged for money or asked anyone for anything. But right now, I’d get down on my knees and pray to Jesus, Buddha, Allah or even strike a deal with devil if it would get me some money. Ya see, I need a miracle. I got a little girl who’s very, very sick. I need to get her 3,000 miles to a medical facility in California. So, spare me any of your sermons about loving my neighbor or asking god to save my soul. I need god to save a little girls life. Do you have a prayer for that one? Do you have money for that? Where’s your Jesus when he’s really needed?”
Church person, (Comes around the van to face Johnny). “I don’t call myself a Christian, a Jesus Freak or even a Good Samaritan. We’ve all got our own reasons for being down here in this shit hole neighborhood. I bought this van for the church. It’s in my name. I’m down here doing penance. Ya see that alley over there? My boy, my son died there. I tried everything to save him. Tough love, soft love, but he traded his self love for drugs. He was in pain, suffering——- I didn’t know how to save him. I watched him descend into hell. I come down here cause I wanna try and save someone else’s son. I’m here to honor his life, to give it meaning or purpose. I don’t want him to have died for nothing. I bought this van cause I thought it might buy me redemption. But ya can’t buy redemption, sometimes there’s no second chance.”
Johnny, “I’m sorry about your son. But, there’s a little girl who’s banking on a miracle and a second chance. I believe things happen for a reason, the good things and the bad things. You could help tip the scale in her favor if you’d drive us to a medical facility in California. Even though you didn’t know it at the time, but you bought this van just for this moment. The flip side of redemption is mercy. Mercy is doing the right thing, even when there is no reward for doing the right thing. ‘Redemption’ you do for yourself, to relieve yourself of the hell this life can be. Mercy is what you do for others. Let go of your redemption, have mercy on my little girl. It’s in your hands. You have the chance to be a miracle maker.”
Church person, “You’re quite the persuasive messenger. We’re gonna need a lot of ham and cheese sandwiches to sustain us over 3,000 miles. Let’s do this thing. I hope you like country music, cause that’s what we’ll be listening too——-my van, my music. (He shakes hands with Johnny).
Johnny, “If I start to sing along, it’s going to make a long tone deaf trip seem even longer.” (They Laugh) “She’s very weak. We’ll need to put a mattress in the back. I can switch off the driving duties with you.”
(The song “Anchors” by Ruston Kelly plays. There’s a backdrop movie screen on the stage that shows vignettes of the three driving across the country. Finale shot shows them looking out at the Pacific Ocean).
Doctor 2, (Sitting in a Doctor’s office in California). We’ve got her checked in. We’re running some preliminary tests. We’re going to have to find a bone marrow match for Sarah. I have to be honest with you, the odds of finding a perfect match is extremely rare. The more people you can get tested for a match, the better.”
Johnny, “I’m on it. I have some favors from some folks that I can collect on.”
Church person, “I can get the request out to my congregating. If there’s a way to help, I know they’ll put everything aside and do what’s right. Don’t mistake religion with compassion. Religion is list of rules and commandments, hells and heavens, but compassion is answering the call for brothers and sisters in need. Doing the right thing won’t get you coupons towards your future place in heaven. But you’ll sleep better at night.”
Johnny, “I’ll get a hold of my Vets group and I know they’ll all get tested to see if they’re a good match for Sarah’s treatment. I’ll have them put up poster requesting folks at the shelter to participate and get tested. Don’t confuse poor and homeless with useless and heartless.”
Doctor, (On a phone call to Johnny). “Well, it’s been a month and we’ve had four hundred and thirsty six volunteers tested. Sadly, there were no bone marrow matches. If we can’t find a match in one more month, then we’ll have to consider some other options.”
Johnny, “What are the other options”.
Doctor, “We’ll keep her comfortable and try some traditional treatments that may extend her life for——-“
Johnny, “What the fuck are you talking about. We didn’t come this far to just throw up our hands and say we give up. There’s got to be someone out there who’s a perfect match. Four Hundred and thirty six people ain’t shit. I don’t care how many days you’re giving us. I’m going back across the county and I’m gonna stop along the way at every TV station, speak at every church, Vet’s hospitals, every School, biker bars, service clubs and beg people to get tested to see if they’re a match—-I will complete this mission——mark my words!”
(Movie screen on the stage shows short vignettes of Johnny speaking at different venues. Painted on the side of the van in big letters “Be A Miracle Maker”.
Doctor, (On a phone call to Johnny). Well, it’s been sixty days and I know you have given it everything you got. I got to say that——“
Johnny, “Please don’t pull us out of the trial yet. Just give me a couple more weeks.”
Doctors, “You didn’t let me finish what I was saying. You might want to sit down. Believe it or not, we’ve found a perfect match. The only catch is this person doesn’t want to commit to being a donor until they personally speak with you.”
Johnny, “Holly shit! Tell me when and where and I’m there.”
Doctor, “He said he’ll meet you at the vet center today at 3:00 pm.”
Johnny, “Consider it done. I’ll be there.”
Johnny, (Sitting in a room at the Vet Center).
Thomas, (Enters the room in his wheel chair). “Ain’t it funny how things go full circle.”
Johnny, “What do you mean?”
Thomas, “When I came back home from the war I was emotionally and physically in a lot of pain. My finance had left me, I was disabled and my hope of getting my piece of the American Dream was gone. I was pissed and bitter. I hated the world, I hated life, I hated you for saving my life. I spent the last fifteen years self medicating and living on the street. I backed away from everyone who tried to help me. I was full of self pity and self hatred. I read your flyers about providing a bone marrow test and I thought, fuck that. Why should I help someone else. You get what you deserve in this shitty world. I went back to my tent and shot up enough herein to intentionally end this hell. I don’t know what happened, but I came to with the empty syringe still stuck in my arm. To my surprise I was still alive. I knew then that I’d been saved for some reason. At first I wasn’t sure why. But, everywhere I went, I kept seeing that little girls face on those posters. I felt this strange emotion, it was as if something was trying to burst out of my heart. I then let everything go. I let the weight I’d been carrying go. I stripped away the pain I’d been holding on to. I allowed myself to feel something I’d blocked out. I felt sympathy. I felt sympathy for everyone, because life is beautiful struggle. This made me feel a closeness to everyone. I broke down. I broke down and allowed myself to cry. Something opened in my chest. I felt a presence. Maybe it was god? I don’t know? But I no longer felt alone or abandoned. I got to thinking that maybe things do happen for a reason. When you saved my life all those years ago, I didn’t know that we’d meet again under these circumstances. Yeah, things do go full circle. I can see that now—-now that I’ve connect the dots.
Johnny, “Yeah, things have gone full circle.”
Thomas, “I found that card to the Vet Center you gave me and I started attending the group meetings. The group leader asked me to get tested to see I’d be a good match. I knew that a match was one chance in ten million.”
Johnny “Maybe it wasn’t chance?”
Thomas, “Maybe some things are meant to be. Connecting the dots from you saving my life all those years ago, to me being alive today and able to help Sarah completes the circle. The past, present and future are cosmically connected. I know now that my life has meaning. I’ve had the opportunity to help another, and helping others is what gives life purpose. I have one more request?”
Johnny, “Whatever you want or need my brother, I’ll get it for you.”
Thomas, “I want to meet this little girl who I’m forever miraculously connected too.”
Sarah, (Walks up to Thomas and holds his hand). Hi, I’m Sarah. I’m so glad to meet you.”
Thomas, “You’re one brave little girl. I have something for you. (He reaches in his pocket and pulls out a medal). “I received this medal for bravery, but I think you deserve it more than me.” (He puts it around her neck).
Sarah, “I want to thank you for saving my life. “
Thomas, “No, I think you got that wrong sweetheart. I want to thank you for saving my life. We’re somehow connected and forever will be. Johnny is like your step dad and I’m your step Uncle. It’s taken a while, but you gave me a second wind. Through you, I’ve learned that we are all connected. Love——-you can’t keep it unless you give it away. I met this crazy guy who owns a church van and he’s hired me to be a driver. He had the van retro-fitted so that I can drive it. This has become more than a job, it’s my life mission. An old soldier like me will do whatever it takes to complete his mission. I take vets to appointments. I take old folks meals and help them with their shopping. And now and again I hand out ham and cheese sandwiches for the church.
Sarah, “When I lived in the shelter I said that one day I would find a way to help others. Would you let me ride with you on some of your missions?”
Thomas, “Why sure. We’ll even let Johnny tag along too. What do you thing of that Johnny?”
Johnny, “Things do go full circle. We all save one another through service to one another.”
(Sarah hugs Thomas. Johnny gives both of them a group hug).