That’s exactly what it was like. An epiphany.
It was 2:46 in the morning. I know this because I’d started playing a little game with myself trying to guess the time at night as I woke up off and on, whether it was the nurses checking on me or just waking up from the bed being so uncomfortable. After a week in, I needed something to pass the time. I’d awaken, look at the room, the level of dark or light outside the window, listen for the traffic, to conversations down the hall, then try to tell the time before looking at the clock to my left on the wall. I was getting pretty good.
When I woke up to the revelation that I’d sue Reverend Alamo, I guessed it was nearer morning that it actually was. I thought I could see the slightest hint of morning twilight growing from the mountains in the east. It must have been the moon or something. It wasn’t even three. I had hours to go before it was time to stir. Before things woke up along that hospital wing. No one was awake who I could have called and explained my realization, talked out my ideas. I’d have to wait for daylight.
I don’t recall most of the accident. I was already out cold before my car hit the tree head-on. I didn’t feel my face impacting the steering wheel, nose first. Or my legs getting pinned and broken. My hand burning. Who’d have wanted to be conscious while all that was happening? Lucky me.
I’ve attended the Reverend Jackie Alamo’s services at least ten times. He stops through Labor County once or twice a year. He uses the local university basketball arena, that place where they hold the monster truck rallies and Shriner Circus. It packs in 15,000. He can almost fill it. Like it’s a Tim McGraw concert.
I used to take dates from church to go see Alamo. They loved it. I’d get tickets for as close to the front as I could afford, up near the action, which got pretty expensive. Alamo had a way about his preaching. It’s like he could lull the whole place into a spiritual trance, get you feeling like anything was possible. Wasn’t that the goal, I suppose? To believe in miracles. Real miracles. After all, to believe in Jesus is to believe in miracles, not just way back then, but up to today as well. He’d say, “If you want a miracle, be the miracle!” Alamo preached and healed in a way that made it feel okay to believe, as if he wasn’t the usual snake oil slinger.
We’d be so worked up after watching all that screaming and healing we’d end up skinny dipping out on the river. I’m surprised we didn’t evaporate it up we were so hot. Any preacher who’d assist me like that in getting lucky was alright in my book.
So, yes, I was a believer, I guess, whatever that means. That can be something different for whoever you ask. Mamaw swears he healed her scoliosis. My third cousin Ronald claims Alamo cured his chronic hemorrhoids, right there in the middle of a service. Said he could hardly sit on those hard arena chairs one moment, the next moment the pain was gone and Ronald was tossing his blow-up donut into the aisle and doing a little happy dance. Ronald said it’d been worth every penny he’d given over the years during the offertory.
Everywhere Alamo goes people claim they’re getting healed by this man. Some when he lays hands on them, some just sitting in their wheelchair across the arena floor. He gives the invitation after an hour of singing and another hour of holler preaching and they line up by the hundreds. He claps the palm of his hand right to their foreheads as fast as his deacons can walk, limp, or roll the afflicted across the stage. Once he begins there are twitching bodies all over. He’ll aim is hand out into the first few rows and zap a few and the aisles fill with half-conscious mumblers. The band and choir grow louder the crazier it gets. Some are even healed from great distances. That’s how I ended up here in this hospital bed. Here with nothing to do but watch a clock in the middle of the night.
Reverend Alamo runs a public access show on Channel 6 on Tuesday evenings. Prayin’ at the End Times, it’s called. It simulcasts on the radio as well. He’s got singers on the show, guest preachers, he interviews people. There’s usually a small crowd in the studio made up of guests and family. Enough to say plenty of Amens and Bless their hearts through the hour.
He says since it’s impossible for him to pray for everyone individually, and since God responds better to specifics when it comes to prayer, he takes the week’s prayer requests and puts them all in a round fishbowl and pulls the “Lucky 7” at the end of each show.
“Lord, Ms. Greene wants her son to quit the pills!”
“Jesus, Lord, help the Mayes Family get through Papaw John’s colonoscopy alright.”
“Help Mr. Jenkins with his ‘special problem’ with the ladies, Lord!”
Stuff like that.
He has a special guest every show. Someone who needs relief from some ailment by some “good old-fashioned healing.”
He was talking directly to me that evening. I knew it just as plain as day.
I’m not a regular listener to Reverend Alamo’s show, but we don’t have that many radio stations around here, so I just happened to land on his show and stay during my fifteen-minute drive home from work.
The topic of migraines caught my attention. He was interviewing a little kid named Frankie who suffered awful migraines. So bad he had to be homeschooled. He’d have them every day, his mother said. He’d have to take a nap in a dark room for an hour or two once they hit. It was debilitating, especially for a little kid in third grade. He shouldn’t have to be dealing with that. It was worrying his poor mother Joann to death over the boy.
My problems with migraines waited until my mid-thirties. Fine one day, literal blinding migraines the next. I was at a music store in town, talking guitars. A tiny blind spot popped up to the right of my sight, but I thought nothing of it. Until it started growing. Then lightning streaks began pulsing down along the blind spot. The blind spot got even bigger. I had to sit down. I was half blind. My head started hurting. I thought I was having a stroke. It set off a panic attack.
It was a “migraine with aura,” the doctor said. At first, they’d come and go. A few times a week then nothing for a month, then days in a row. No sense to it whatsoever. But they’d gotten worse, minimum, one or two, a week. They’d make me late for work or I’d have to go home early. Call in a sick day. Ruin plans. A constant anxiety.
Alamo was talking up a big game on the radio with Frankie, the migraine boy.
“This affliction, brothers and sisters…this neurological ailment…back in the olden days, when Jesus walked with us in the flesh…I’m sure a migraine episode would have been interpreted as some form of demonic attack…and perhaps the Lord himself would have thought it was some kind of devilish possession – and I ain’t saying the Lord would have been wrong, but who are we to say we know all the workings of the brain? Who’s to say the Great Liar doesn’t have a hand in causing such a chronic pain and discomfort in a boy’s life, causing his poor mother to worry like she does?”
He was actually opening the door to Satan having some hand in migraines.
“We’re gonna do what we can to help you, son, okay?” he said softly to the boy. “Let’s pray for Frankie,” he began, but before he started, he added, “and y’all keep in mind that next month – June – is countywide Migraine Awareness Month as declared recently by our County Judge Executive and county board. Remember to wear your sparkly silver ribbons, y’all.”
I was paying attention, but half-heartedly up to that point. Sure, the little kid had migraines. Him and me and a million others. But then he homed in on me, or at least it felt like it.
“But Frankie here ain’t alone in his suffering, brothers and sisters in Christ! Somebody out there’s got the same problem as little Frankie here! The same bad headaches, these awful migraines,” he said, sounding like he was only a breath away from having a fit of tongues. “I feel they’re on the road tonight – listening right now to the show. Lord, you know who they are. Where they’re at out in the big world tonight.”
I laughed. This would really hit home with the few that have migraines who just happen to be listening in on this station at this very moment. For all I knew that might have been only me at that moment. The more he talked, the more it felt just like that. Alamo calling out to me across the radio waves on a Wednesday evening. I’d just had one earlier that morning, out of nowhere. I was almost late to work over it.
“You know who you are. You and Jesus. Frankie and me are gonna pray for a healing. For him. For you. Whoever you are!”
Alamo got louder and more excited. I was paying very close attention by now.
“Lord, you are the Great Physician!”
But why just poor little Frankie? Why just me listening right now?
“You know what’s causing these headaches, these terrible migraines!”
What’s up with all this picking and choosing, why not cure it all in one swoop of the miraculous healing hand?
“Reach down your healing hands and take this burden…”
I might have started out intrigued by Alamo, but I have to say, I was getting angry by then. Alamo was like this – convincing one minute, ridiculous the next.
I felt like my ailment, my burden, was just a prop for his show, for that moment of attention he craved. I’ve been on the fence about the guy. I’d get something useful from one of his sermons, have a good date from the experience, doubt most of his healing theatrics but walk away thoroughly entertained. Even inspired. It was something to do.
But now? Now the whole obviously staged routine was just pissing me off. Alamo was just using Frankie and his mother. Hell, he was using me and didn’t even know me, some blank face out there with a convenient headache problem.
“Screw you, Alamo,” I remember saying, reaching for the radio dial to find another station.
People say, the next thing I knew, this and that, etc., and it can be an exaggeration. It’s true, though, I reached for the radio knob, there was a spark like a shock, and the next thing I knew I was coming to in the hospital. I’d gone off the road straight into a tree. My hand was scorched, which confused everyone since there was no fire in the car. I’d bashed my face into the steering wheel (the airbag had been deployed before and not replaced when I bought it). The dash had dropped and pinned my legs at the knees, causing fractures.
The doctors and nurses inquired about my hand.
At first, I couldn’t remember what I’d been doing at all, but after a day things focused back. I explained what I’d been listening to and the explosive spark when I’d reached for the radio. They figured I was confused and checked me again for a concussion. No, I insisted, I remembered clearly now. It was coming back to me. I reached to turned the station and the radio exploded and everything went black. Next thing I was in the hospital.
Electrical malfunction, obviously, the doctor figured dismissively. The nurses nodded. Why argue? I hardly knew myself. But with my injuries I had days to lay around thinking on it. Better details came to me what had happened. Alamo’s show. The kid and his mother. Migraines. The more I remembered, the angrier I got.
After my “epiphany,” I called up an old friend of mine. Ramsey Middleton and I went to school together. He attended law school and came back home and set up a solo practice downtown. I called him up from the hospital. He came to visit, and we talked. He didn’t doubt me. Didn’t doubt my story. He didn’t need to, he said. His job, he said, as an attorney, was to listen and tell me whether he thought I had a case. I did, he said. A good one.
But, I wondered, how could a preacher, miles away, who didn’t know me, didn’t know where I was at the time of incident in question, be held responsible for my accident?
“Answer me this,” Ramsey asked, “Did he cause your accident?”
“Yes,” I said. I truly believed he had.
“What caused you to have the accident?” Ramsey asked. I felt like I was in a deposition.
“Getting shocked and knocked the fuck out by the radio in my car,” I said.
“Right. And what caused that? A malfunction?”
“Not as such,” I said.
At this point I had to make a decision, didn’t I? Had the good reverend sent his healing vibes out over the mystic airwaves and zapped me? Or, had I touched the dial of my radio at just the precise moment it malfunctioned with a long-overdue short and knocked myself out from the electrocution?
I’d been in the hospital for a week and a half. I’d thought hard on it. Had I experienced a migraine in that long. Not that I remembered. How long had it been that I’d gone a week or more without a bad headache? Had something the doctors given me helped? Was it the simple relaxation? Change of environment? Diet?
Or was I healed?
“Commit to something,” Ramsay encouraged. “It’ll dictate where we go with this. If you’re serious.”
Oh, I was serious. This guy was going to pay for this.
By the next day: no migraine. I was ready to commit to the idea of being both miraculously healed and the victim. Healed through a miracle man. The victim of that same man of God’s ability to reach out willy-nilly and zap people without their permission, healed or not.
I called Ramsey up and told him where I’d settled on my commitment. Definitely healed. Definitely a victim.
Our plan? Invite Alamo to come see me, a fan and frequenter of his services, explaining my recent and serious injuries. Maybe he’d visit. We’d spring our accusations on him.
He’d deny any involvement, of course. Ramsey saw it like this: Alamo would claim he’s not responsible for injuries, which means he’d have claim one of at least two things — one, that I wasn’t “touched” by the Spirit through him through the radio, basically that it didn’t happen, though it could have, since he’s talented like that, but I was lying, or two, that because he’s a fraud, the whole thing’s impossible to begin with. One makes me look like ambulance-chasing fool. Two makes him a crook. Which do you think he’ll claim?
We’d find out.
Half a week later the Reverend Jackie Alamo said he was coming to visit. Ramsey and I were ready.
“Lord, son, bless your poor heart,” he started as I rattled off my injuries. “Two fractured legs just above the knees. A busted nose.” My eyes were just then starting to clear up from the awful bruising. “My hand’s still healing from the burns,” I said, shaking my head.
“Was there a fire, son?” he asked.
“More of a big spark that burnt me, when I touched the radio…” I began.
He nodded, taking it all in.
“…at just about the time you were praying with that kid with the migraines, and his mother, on your show…remember?”
Alamo blinked once, looked around, at Ramsey and back to me.
“You were listening to the show, were you?”
“Yes, sir, I was. And I’m one of those people I guess you were reaching out to with that migraine prayer you were doing.”
“Well, I hope you’ve had some relief, maybe, from them…since?” he asked, a little sheepish suddenly.
I nodded, “Yes, sir…I think maybe…I’ve been cure. It’s been almost two weeks. No headaches.”
His eyes widened and he gave a little gasp.
“Glory to God!” he sort of yelled, but not loud enough to disturb out in the hall. “That’s wonderful news, young man!” He was excited. “When you’re better we should have you on the show. People will love hearing about your story…”
I continued, “The shock came from touching the radio, preacher…that you were sending the healing through.”
He smiled, proudly. “I have no doubt, young man! This wouldn’t be first time we’ve had healings from a distance through faith, yes, sir!”
Ramsay interrupted about that time. He’d shoved his hand into his coat pocket and produced a manila envelope. He handed it to Alamo, who looked up at Ramsey and at the envelope as he took it with is hand.
Ramsey smiled his “gotcha” smile and said, “Mr. Alamo – you’ve been served.”
Alamo’s eyes got even bigger. “What the hell’s this, buddy?”
My, how his attitude suddenly changed.
I continued, “Right as I got shocked and burnt with whatever you were serving up over the airwaves, I blacked out, you see, and didn’t stop until I’d wrapped my Toyota Corolla around a big sycamore. All this is from that car wreck, you see?” I nodded at my injuries.
Alama looked up from scanning the letter.
“And you’re suing me? Why would you do such a thing?”
Ramsey chimed in. “Now let’s not play dumb, Mr. Alamo.” I noticed how Ramsey was refusing to call him reverend or preacher. “It is our contention that your special and miraculous powers are what caused these injuries. What caused him to wreck. My client’s lucky to be alive.”
“You can’t blame this one me!” he whispered, pointing at all of my injuries.
“You heal people, don’t you? In person and from a distance?”
“God does, son, not me,” he countered.
“That’s not how you sounded just now. A little while ago you sounded very much willing to accept that you’d been party to a miracle. Even responsible. Wanted him to come on your program to show him off,” Ramsey reminded Alamo.
“I can’t help what God causes!” Alamo hissed.
“You’d blame this on God,” I asked, holding up my charred appendage.
“Yes! I mean, no!”
Alamo was getting really frustrated. He tried calming down.
“But if you are cured,” he tried again, “why question it? Sometimes God trades us one thing for another. Maybe this unfortunate accident had to happen, along with your healing?”
Ramsey jumped in. “You’re going to make that argument in front of a jury of your peers, sir?”
“Are you shaking me down, young man?” he asked Ramsey. “It wouldn’t be the first time someone tried costing me some money over a healing supposedly gone wrong.”
“Oh, is that right?” Ramsey said. “Good to know. Look, preacher man,” Ramsey tried again, “You either did or didn’t heal him? He says he’s healed. Is he healed?”
“I won’t call anyone a liar who says their healed by the grace of God, no sir.”
“Is it possible you helped heal him by means of his listening to your program?”
“That’s possible, yes.”
“Is it possible your healing caused him to wreck when it happened?”
Alamo gave that some thought, probably realizing he’d talked too much already, mumbled something about calling his lawyer.
Ramsey said, “The way I see it, either my client is lying about being healed, lying about his incident, or you didn’t or can’t heal in the way we’ve described. That’s a lot of choices for a jury to dig through, if you ask me.”
Alamo didn’t like so many choices. He got up in a huff and pulled on his coat and walked for the room door and turned.
“I’ll see y’all in court, damn you!” he yelled, this time loud enough for the whole wing to hear him.
A few months later and we were in the thick of it. We’d learned just how tough Alamo’s private attorney, Jessica Hicks, could be. She’d first tried to get the whole thing dismissed on the grounds of frivolity, at one point calling us “simple idiots” for claiming such a thing as “damages by way of negligent spiritual healing.” Still, no migraines. A miracle.
During further discovery, Hicks said about me, “It doesn’t matter if he was healed or not. That’s beside the point. Only the plaintiff was in the vehicle at the time before and during the accident. All we have to do is show doubt as to whether he’s being truthful. We don’t know if he, in fact, suffered from migraines. We don’t know if he, in fact, was listening to the Reverend Alamo’s show that evening. We don’t know if he, in fact, was burnt by the radio. There are no witnesses. We just have to paint the plaintiff as a liar and a kook.”
Still, no migraine.
Ramsey told me he wasn’t feeling 100% on our chances. He said Hicks was used to fighting for Alama, that was obvious. “I’d rather not go to trial if we can help it, buddy,” he told me.
But I’d collected up my prescriptions from the doctor. I had copies of my doctor’s exams. Was I a migraine sufferer in the past? Indeed, I was. We could prove that. And I hadn’t taken my medicine in a while, so I had more than I should have. Every little bit of evidence would count, even if it there were objections.
My insurance wasn’t covering $23,560 worth of my treatment (so far) and we were claiming another $100,000 worth of pain and suffering. I was determined to press it, even though I’d gotten past the point of free advice from Ramsey and his bill, though discounted, was accumulating.
By now I’d gone two-and-a-half months without a single migraine. I was all in, convinced I’d been cured by a miracle. I wasn’t exaggerating. I thanked Reverend Alamo during a settlement meeting. He seemed stunned, at first, as if I was acting the part, but I think he saw through all the strangeness going on around us, past the lawsuit, past the attempts at proving this or that, and finally believed in his own miracle.
The more I agreed that, yes, this was a miracle, and that, yes, he’d helped heal me, the more he wanted people to know the fact. The more he wanted me on his show. Maybe it was due to so many of his prior healings being bogus. Hicks could tell Alamo wasn’t dependable when it came to sticking to his plead of “not guilty” of negligence. He might say it out loud, but his demeanor would be pride in the courtroom. Hicks sensed this.
Maybe Alamo just needed a win. For himself. And God.
I agreed to be a guest on Prayin’ at the End Times. To say how I’d been healed, once a poor sufferer of the Devil’s headaches. How I didn’t miss work anymore because of those awful migraines. I’d prayed with Reverend Alamo along with his other guest, an old man suffering from lifelong GERD, or acid reflux. His poor wife Sheila was with him. We prayed for his healing, and told anyone out there suffering with GERD and listening on the radio and plead with them to reach out and touch the radio dial for a great blessing. Amen.
I got a check in the mail a week later for $123,560.
Larry D. Thacker’s poetry and fiction is in over 200 publications including Spillway, Still: The Journal, Valparaiso Poetry Review, Poetry South, The Southern Poetry Anthology, The American Journal of Poetry, and Illuminations Literary Magazine. His books include four full poetry collections, two chapbooks, as well as the folk history, Mountain Mysteries: The Mystic Traditions of Appalachia. His two collections of short fiction include Working it Off in Labor County and Labor Days, Labor Nights. His MFA in poetry and fiction is earned from Wet Virginia Wesleyan College. Visit his website at: www.larrydthacker.com