I don’t want to write about my childhood. Yes, it was unusual.
Yes, I was homeschooled for all twelve grades. Yes, I attended a church that encouraged children to lay hands on people for healing and to speak in tongues. Yes, my mother and father killed two people and kept their bodies in our basement for twenty years.
All these things might seem unusual and strange and traumatic, but let me try to explain. It will all make sense, and you’ll see I didn’t end up so badly. I’m fairly normal, I have a good job, I have a car, a small but comfortable house. I'm social, I have friends, I donate to charities, volunteer at a homeless shelter. I’m married with two kids. I drive my kids to soccer practice and help around the house and cook and clean and have fun date nights with my lovely wife. See how normal I am.
My mother was a hippie. That’s what she always said. She was in Woodstock and into free love and living in the moment and was hitchhiking across the country when she met my soon to be father. They started hitchhiking together and a man picked him up. This man was Dan Lemon. Dan Lemon, I’m sure you recognize, was one of the most popular preachers in the US. He’s talked to presidents and governors, and done all sorts of things. His books have all been bestsellers. He’s a Reformed Calvinist.
He preached at our church one Sunday about how utterly depraved and sinful we were. What great sermon. I thoroughly enjoyed it at the time. I mean, it sent me into a deep depression about my eternal fate, but apart from that, it was good. It only took me until years later to recognize how psychologically damaging it was to hear that I was a sinful piece of garbage and was going to hell unless I truly believed, really believed, in Jesus, and maybe he’d save me from the fires of hell because it was really his choice, to allow us to even choose him in the first place.
I didn’t realize until now that this wasn’t a good thing to tell an impressionable adolescent who might be a little more sensitive than the average already sensitive adolescent. It kind of colored things for me, a little, knowing how my soul was depraved and sinful and how bleak things looked. It didn’t seem to affect my brothers, who shrugged it off and went back to their video games and sports and girls. It only seemed to stay with me. Marked my soul. Branded me. Anyway, the point of this story is that Dan Lemon saved my parents, he personally laid hands on them (I know, kind of a big deal) and encouraged them to become part of one the local churches he was planting.
They listened to him and joined the church, settled down, my dad finished college, and soon everything seemed to be going really well for them. They had some kids, my dad got a good job, they were involved with the church. They had good friends, their children were memorizing Bible verses and were pretty well behaved and the envy of the other parents with kids. They liked their house, it was all pretty sweet. Until one night that Dan Lemon came to their house, about ten years after he first saved my parents.
He was with two young homeless kids. Dan, inspired by his old ways, had picked them up in an effort to convert them. Instead, they wanted to rob him. He had brought them to the house because in a strange coincidence he had been driving passed and the two kids—I say kids but they were seventeen or eighteen—told him to pull into our driveway.
Mom later used this as a sign of what was to happen, how God had preordained it. But I'm sure Dan had them pull in. He knew it was our house. They came in. They had guns. They told the kids to go upstairs and so we did. They tied up Pastor Dan. They told him to preach a sermon, but instead of saying Jesus he had to use the word Bozo. Like, I want you to accept Bozo as your Lord and person savior. Dan refused. They hit him in the mouth. Okay, they said, okay.
They took Dan’s wallet and watch and my mom’s purse and jewels, not that she had many. You’re probably wondering where my dad is in all this. Well, he was in the basement when he heard them come in. He got a shotgun that he stored down there. He burst into the room and hit one on the mouth and the other was about to shoot but dad blew him away, half his face going up on my mom’s favorite painting of two angels crossing a bridge with a young girl. The other guy was crawling on the floor, trying to get away. Mom untied Pastor Dan and he went over to the man and he said, Your friend didn’t have a chance before he died, but I’m giving you a chance right now to accept Jesus into your heart.
You mean Bozo, the kid said, and brought up another gun he had in his waistband and pointed it at Dan. They struggled, and mom joined the struggle and they got the gun pointed at the kid’s chest and mom pulled the trigger and he died.
It was quiet in the house. Really quiet. We were up in the room and only heard the gun shots and mom came to get us and tell us everything was okay, not to worry. Everything was fine, but we had to make ourselves busy for a while before we could come back down.
Back downstairs Pastor Dan was just saying, Oh my, Oh my. The thing is, Pastor Dan knew these two kids. That’s what came out later. Pastor Dan knew them and well, there’s no polite way of saying this, he was sleeping with one of them. Pastor Dan explained this to my parents, explained his sin, and how he had repented and how God had forgiven him, but if this got out then his whole ministry, God’s ministry, might be over. It’d be better if it never got out.
I know this is a lot to ask you, Pastor Dan said. But I’m asking you in Jesus’ name.
Pastor Dan called his wife over. She was a fierce woman, really fierce, known for her prophecies in church. I wonder if she foretold this. She begged my parents to keep this a secret. They would hide the bodies. They were in the right anyways since it was the boys who attacked them, so it really wasn’t a big deal to just hide the bodies for the time. They'd figure out what to do with them later.
My parents agreed to hide the bodies. It’s easy to judge them for that, but they were entranced by the power of Pastor Dan. That was their whole life. It was like God asking them to help, and who would say no to God? So they put the two kids in the freezer in the basement. They got both of them to fit inside—it was a big freezer. It was in a side room and they locked the door to that room. Pastor Dan and his wife left. And mom and dad cleaned up the brain and guts. It took hours. We went to bed. And life went on.
We were homeschooled, my brothers graduated, we weren’t ever allowed to go into that room to check that freezer. Even when one afternoon a detective came by. He was doing some follow up work that should have been done a long time ago. But even then nothing came out. It wasn’t until Pastor Dan and his church got caught up in a big scandal. It came out how they and others in leadership had covered up some junior pastors and members of the church who had sexually-abused kids. Then my parents decided they had enough, and told the police of that night long ago.
My parents were ostracized from the church, people couldn’t believe what they’d done. It seemed so horrible. How could they keep two dead bodies in the basement for all those years? How could they protect Dan like that? And it wasn’t like they were at fault for the home invasion. That wasn’t their fault at all, their only mistake had been hiding the bodies.
My parents went to prison for a short time. When they got out they were different, scarred, tired, beaten. Uncle Dan had resigned from the church and started a new one. He was doing okay, apparently. My parents were not. My parents came to live close to where I was living with my wife and children. They were the fun grandparents that came over. They took to the grandchildren. They were more affectionate with my children than I remember them being with me. My father said to his grandchildren, I love you, very freely and earnestly, and he started saying it to me.
Here’s what I haven’t said. I knew there were two dead bodies in the freezer in our basement. I used to go talk to them. At night I went down to the basement, and we’d talk for a little bit. The afterlife had made them friendly. We’d play air hockey. We had this old air hockey table from my grandmother, still worked pretty well when I was a kid. They were pretty good. They said during the day they weren’t allowed out of the freezer but at night they were allowed to roam around.
They said they wished they weren’t dead. Being dead wasn’t really any fun, it was more fun to be alive. One of them wanted to see his girlfriend. He gave me a phone number to call her. I called but the phone had been disconnected. He was sad about this when I told him that but soon we started playing air hockey and he perked right up, forgot about her.
They used to tell stories. They told me this one story about when one of them was a kid, he would always play these jokes on his sister. One time he locked her bedroom door from the outside bolted it shut and she couldn’t get out, so she had to climb out the window and she fell and broke her wrist. Another joke he played on her was to spread Saran Wrap over the toilet when she went to the bathroom so the pee splashed back up at her. Another joke he played was he took all her clothes and hid them so she didn’t have any clothes at all except her underwear. She had to stay in her room all day until her parents came home and made him give back her clothes.
One night my mom found us there.
Who you talking to? she said.
Brett and Devon, I said.
Who are Brett and Devon? she said.
They’re the guys in the freezer, I said. They like to come out at night. They’re not allowed to come out during the day.
She went over to the room with the freezer. The room was still padlocked shut.
Did you unlock this? she said.
No? I said
Are you sure? You can tell me.
No, I didn’t.
What do Brett and Devon say to you?
They tell me funny stories. This one time, Brett poured a bucket of cold water over his sister to wake her up in the morning.
Let’s go back to bed, sweetie.
Can I say goodnight to Devon and Brett?
Can you see them?
Yeah, they’re right here.
Okay, she said.
Good night, I said.
They said goodnight to me. They were going to play air hockey some more.
We went back upstairs.
She tucked me in.
It’s important to leave Brett and Devon alone, she said. You should leave them alone for a while. Will you do that for me, sweetie? Okay?
I remembered this conversation a little while ago. I hadn't blocked it out, I just hadn't thought about it for a while, my childhood friends Brett and Devon, the dead kids in my parents’ freezer. Amazing what you remember one night when you wake up at four am, the kind of thoughts going through your head. It takes a moment to realize that now you’re in a different house, that there aren’t any dead bodies in your basement, that you have a different life now.
You reach out to touch your wife to make sure she’s real, and remember that Brett and Devon are buried in the ground now, you’re sure of it, you saw it on the news. They’re dead and gone, and your life goes on. And as you're about to go to sleep, as your eyes are closing, you catch them at the foot of your bed, staring at you, smiling, just two friendly dead guys who want to say hi, and don’t know that they’re supposed to leave you alone. You sit up. You’re awake now. You look for them, but they’re gone.