Thirteen-year-old Tim Neisler was behind the wheel of his dad’s ’76 Chevy Monza watching the scam going on outside his passenger side window. Ricky, scrawny and about 40, was in the passenger seat leaning out the window and holding what was supposed to look like a wad of 20s, but was actually twenty 1-dollar bills wrapped in one 20-dollar bill. The scammee was Rafa, the heroin lord, sitting in the driver’s side of a-just-pulled-up white Trans Am, with his girlfriend in the passenger seat.
Tim’s knee bounced like a piston as he watched the deal go down while he scanned the perimeter. Rafa took the money and handed the heroin to Ricky.
“Go,” Ricky said under his breath.
Tim gave the car enough gas so as to not appear that he was trying to get away with something. With a slow but deliberate push, Tim started a forceful ramble, gaining speed with every foot.
“How we doin’?” Ricky frantically asked Tim, whose eyes were locked on Rafa in the rearview mirror.
“Good,” Tim said nervously. Just then, Tim saw Rafa’s Trans Am smoke his way into a screaming U-turn. “Crap!” Tim yelled as he floored his rattletrap. “Here he comes!”
Rafa raced up to Tim and began to punch his back bumper with his front fender. Rafa passed and screeched to a stop in front of Tim, cutting him off. Rafa kicked open his door and flashed a 10-inch blade.
“Give it back to him!” Tim yelled to Ricky. Rafa’s girlfriend, scared by the ordeal, screamed hysterically. Rafa walked toward Tim with murder in his eyes. “Ricky. Give it back!” Tim yelled again. Ricky, in a panic, threw the foil of heroin toward Rafa’s girlfriend—and Rafa saw it sail through the air toward her. But only Tim saw that the foil landed right in her hand. In her panic, she threw the foil back at Ricky, landing in Tim’s backseat. And Rafa did not see that.
Tim backed the car away in a hurry and flew down the road. A mile later, cops pulled Tim over and told him that they had received reports of an altercation between a Monza and a white Trans Am. Tim said that he knew nothing of it. He then gave the cop a cockamamy story about having to drive his dad’s drunk friend home to keep him safe. The cop, looking straight into Tim’s 13-year-old eyes, let him go—without even asking for a license.
As Tim pulled into the driveway, his dad was nervously pacing. Tim was excited. He knew this was his crowning achievement—he had raced through the streets at 13, ripped off the notorious Rafa, had a knife pulled on him, and had even slipped the police. He had arrived with the crown jewel: a dirty, wadded up foil of heroin sitting in the backseat.
But there was no hug. No, At’a boy. No, I love you, son. Tim’s dad ran up to him, “Where’s my dope, boy?” he yelled.
Tim’s heart sank. “In the backseat. Go get it, you junkie.”
Tim was seven years old the first time his dad said they were going on a “run.” He acted as his dad’s look-out, shoplifting items, being chased through parking lots, and making countless trips down to Mexico. That’s where Tim would be told by his dad, who had difficulty walking due to ghastly, infected needle wounds on his legs, to walk the streets in search of someone who would pay for the stolen merchandise.
Once the cash was in hand, Tim’s dad would drive to a dilapidated house, go inside, and then reappear with heavy eyelids and a smile.
Even though Tim hated seeing his dad dope sick and riddled with pain, or jabbing a needle into his arm to keep alive, he loved him. Besides, he knew his dad loved and appreciated him too.
But as the years went by, Tim saw more signs to indicate that the love that he believed was there, really wasn’t. Like the time his dad made him hit a store that Tim told him all his friends would be in. But Tim’s pleading didn’t matter. After being caught by the manager and run out of the store for all customers to see, he offered not even the slightest of apologies for the embarrassment. Tim was devastated.
Then there was the time Tim’s dad learned that he had some money. When he asked if he could borrow it, Tim knew he would never see it again and said no. He got a backhand to the face.
With his dad’s desperation for the next fix reaching ever greater levels, his belief that his dad loved him began to turn into something that more resembled desperate hope.
That is why, six years later, on the night Tim and Ricky stole Rafa’s dope, all of Tim’s remaining hope extinguished.
A year later, Tim’s dad took him on a road trip to Chicago. They hit stores in every town all the way through the Midwest. But every single drug deal went bust as he was ripped off again and again. By the time they reached Chicago, he hadn’t gotten high in weeks. He had gone through withdrawals and was looking good.
Then one day he took Tim to the train station. Before getting on, Tim’s dad turned to him. “I’m not going back,” he said. “You know that, don’t you?”
“You’re not going back to California?” His dad shook his head.
“Well,” Tim said, “I’ll come back in the summer to live with you. Okay?” Seeing his dad clean, he loved him more than ever.
Tim got a call from his dad at Christmas, but knew by the sound of his slur, he would never hear from him again. And he never did. He would learn later that he died of an overdose.
Many years went by with Tim in and out of prison on drug-related busts. As he talked with all the fatherless inmates he got to know over the years, he realized that a boy without a dad is like a powder keg with a lit fuse. And his life was no different. His fatherless life was the impetus for all his pain and bad decisions.
One day when he did not find himself in jail, he went to a Billy Graham revival, curious as to whether the God he had heard so much about could be of some help for his life in shambles. As he listened to the invitation for all to receive the love of the Father in heaven, Tim was overcome.
“Father,” he said to himself. “I can have a father who loves me?” Tim cried without restraint. And then he heard a voice. “Tim, I have so much for you to do.”
“What?” Tim asked through tears. “How can You use someone like me?”
“You don’t have to understand. Just believe.”
For God, the only thing Tim ever needed to achieve was to simply have faith.
POSTSCRIPT. Tim is the Point Loma Associate Campus Pastor of Outreach and Rock Your City Events.