White Hat

Matthew 28:19-20


As if the whap-whap of the windshield wipers wasn’t enough to drive him nuts, the squint-eyed headlights that made short, wrinkled stabs into the night just made it worse. “Lord,” he said, “gimme a break. Been driving for six hours. Straight. In a frog-pounder of a storm. Comin’ down out of the mountains now, should be getting close, now. Can’t see a whole lot in this storm. Man, I need a rest.” He flexed his shoulders and neck and wished again that he was home. He shivered.

Ahead, neon winked at him with one eye. He kicked the truck down two gears and coasted his 18-wheeler into the parking lot. “Ahh, here we are, here we are, Decker’s Diner, home away from home. Thank. You. Lord.”

“Sarah, coffee, please!” he hollered from the doorway. She grinned. She liked Tom Morgan, always glad to see him. “Comin’ up, Tommy lad. Sugar?”

He took his jacket off, shook his head like a wet pup.

“No sugar, kiddo. Black’ll do. How’s the old man?’

“Still slaving over the hot stove. Say hi.”

Tom looked through the pass-through into the kitchen, saw Decker sitting down, reading the newspaper.

“Hey, Decker! How’s it goin?”  He waved.

“Night like this? Whaddya think? Lucky to have any customers – even you.”

“Hey. Make nice. You’re lucky to have me anytime, Bud.”

“Yeah, right. Want anything to eat? Got some nice trout.”

“Mmm.  Sounds good. Maybe later. Just a cup for now.”

Tom dropped onto a counter stool and sipped his coffee and gazed around the room. Only one other customer was there, a worn-out looking blonde staring out the window. She swung her red and puffy eyes around the room to see who had come in, avoided Tom’s eyes. Without thinking, she reviewed the bruises on her face with tentative fingers, and then gingerly touched her black eye. Her short blonde hair showed dark roots and hadn’t seen a comb or brush for no telling how long.

Tom looked at the waitress, raised his brow. Sarah shrugged, shook her head.

He got up and walked over to the girl, couldn’t tell how many of the half-smoked cigarettes in the ashtray were hers, but guessed most of them. Couldn’t tell if the small puddles on the table were off her raincoat or tears.

“Hi,” he said.

She watched the storm, didn’t answer.

“Name’s Tom.”  Her fingers picked at a chip in the Formica tabletop. He sipped his coffee and watched the rain with her.

“Get lost.”  She had a raspy smoker’s voice.

“What’s your name?”

“Go away.”

He hesitated. “Mine’s Tom.”

“You said.” Pouty fingers picked away more chip. “Chris.”

Tom sat down at the other side of the booth. She glanced at him, saw lines around brown eyes that seemed wise, compassionate. But so what. She looked down, then at the rain again. A pair of tears slipped away, wandered down her cheek.

“I’m not here to make a pitch, Chris, but I can tell you’re hurting. I just wanted to tell you I can help. Maybe. If you’ll let me.”

She glared at him. “You a dealer?” The edge of her voice was hard enough to cut.

“No! No, nothing like that. I just want to tell you about my best friend. If that’s okay.”

“Stick it in your ear, Jack! I‘ve got enough problems!”

“Want some fresh coffee?”

“No! What part of ‘go away’ don’t you understand, bozo!”

“You sure?” Anxious, uncertain, he started to stand.

“No. Wait. Yes. Okay. I’ll, uh, have some coffee.”

Tom waved at Sarah, help up his cup, pointed to it. She brought a full, fresh pot, poured with a want-to-please smile. Chris didn’t speak until Sarah was back behind the counter.

“So,” said Chris. “Who’s your friend?”

“Chris, will you look at me?”

She looked up. Tom said gently, “He’s Jesus. My best friend is Jesus.”

Chris slammed her cup on the table. “Great! Now I got me a do-gooder! Don’t I have the luck! And you’re gonna save my soul. Terrific. Go. Leave me alone”

Tom stayed where he was. “Chris, why don’t you hear me out? Besides, what have you got to lose?”

A cloud blew across her eyes, leaving bleakness in its wake. She finger-combed her hair. It didn’t improve anything. “Okay, White Hat, take your best shot. You only get one. But you gotta know, I think all men are weasels and skunks. And you’re a man.”  She drew those last words out, bathing them in venom. She lit another cigarette, blew the smoke out, sneered.

“Chris, I was down so far for so long, the bottom looked like up. I expected to die before I was forty. But then I learned about Jesus Christ. He changed my life. Actually, he saved it.”

He took a deep breath. “Chris, I’m an alcoholic. I was a serious, dedicated  drinker. Everywhere I went, everything I did, everyone I talked to called for a drink. I couldn’t do anything without having a drink. I drank every weeknight, got drunk every weekend. Sloshed. Blitzed. Wasted. Did it for years, made great excuses to justify it. Problem was, those excuses were lies.

“Inside, I was constant pain. I was convinced I was worthless and I used alcohol to numb out. After a while, it didn’t help, but I kept on drinking because I didn’t know what else to do. During my down time I did a lot of really rotten things, mostly to people I cared about. Lost my wife, kids, everything.

“One day, a guy I know told me that my life didn’t have to be like that, that there was a way out. When he told me the way out was through Jesus, I said the same thing you did. I didn’t want any of it. But I listened anyway. That was five years ago. I’ve been sober for three.”

He stopped to see if she was listening. He went on.

“It wasn’t easy. I fought with alcohol for two more years. Finally, with the help of a Christian AA group, I managed to shut it down. Never could have done it without Jesus.”

“Oh, come off it, White Hat! You’re an alky, big deal. Alkys are grains of sand on the beach. You don’t know nothing about me, ‘bout what I’ve done. I mean, I’ve done it all.”  She paused, looked out at the storm, made the Formica chip a little bigger.

“You say you’re an alcoholic, you don’t know jack. Look at me, man! I’m a 42-year-old whore, have been since I was fifteen. I’m a junkie, White Hat. There aren’t any drugs I never used. I had a kid I, social workers came and took her away ‘cause I couldn’t raise her proper.  Don’t know where she is, wouldn’t even know where to look. My rotten jerk of a pimp beat me half to death earlier today. When he was done, I figured I couldn’t do this anymore, so I hitched the first ride I could get, just to get away. This is as far as I got. I got no money, I’m strung out, and Joey’s out there somewhere, lookin’ to pound me into strawberry jam, or worse. And now you’re telling me that Jesus is gonna kiss it and make it better? Get real!”

They stared out at the rain in silence, Tom, feeling the pain of his past, Chris, engulfed by the pain of her present.

After an eternity, she said, “So what am I supposed to do?”

Tom looked at Chris, watched the tears trickle down her face.

“There’s nothing He won’t forgive, Chris, but He’s where you need to start.”  Tom reached across and touched her hand as she wept, quietly, sorrowfully.

“How about if I pray?”

“Yes, please. Please pray.”

He took her hand. “Dear Jesus, here we are before you, feeling lost, helpless. We know, Jesus, that our lives without you are lives without hope. You’ve told us that we need to stay connected to you if we’re going to do anything, that we can’t really do anything on our own. Lord, Chris needs your help and I pray for her this night. Bless her, pour out your love on her, give her the strength she needs to come to you, to hear your truth. Let her know you’re there, that you’ll never go away. Show her the way, your more perfect way that you have prepared for her. Save her life, Lord, help her to get free of drugs, let her know your peace, your joy. And Lord – that peace you told us about, the peace that passes all understanding – please give that to Christ, too. Thank you, Lord, for your love and for your grace.”

They were silent for a few moments. Then Chris said, “White Hat.”


“White Hat, you know, no one’s ever cared about me without wanting something in return. You’re the first.”

Over his cup, he smiled at her joy and hope along with his own. Her blue eyes had a sparkle that looked new.

“I think I want to get my life together.” She looked squarely at him.

“’Great, Chris. And give some thought about what I said.”

They sat without speaking for a while. Tom asked, “Chris, where do you want to go from here?”

She told him.

“Well, hey, that’s right on my way. C’mon, I’ll give you a ride. I might even know a couple of folks there who can give you a hand.”

She grinned at him. “Okay. Need to go to the ladie’s, tho.”

“I’ll wait.”

Tom stood near the door, took his jacket off the coat rack and put it on. Sarah stood next to him. “Another one for the King, huh.”

“One for, Jesus, kiddo.”

“Amen, bubba. See you next trip.”

“Sure thing, Sarah. Have a good night.” He waved on his way out the door. “Decker, see you soon.”

Tom opened the door, walked out to the parking lot. He looked up and said, “Thank you, Lord. Thank you for Chris. And thanks for Decker telling me about you. And thanks for the opportunity.”

In the night sky, he could see stars, sprays of diamonds on black velvet. The storm had passed.


Copyright © 1986 Peter K. Schipper

White Hat first rights originally published as Meet My Best Friend in Sunday Digest, Dec 1986-Feb 1987,

Section 10 of 13, Feb. David C. Cook Publishing Co., Elgin IL.