Hellanback may have been perfect for a short period after entering the world. From the time he began learning the spoken word, the fall from perfection began.

For as long as he could remember Hellanback's relation to his environment was strongly influenced by an Experience that remained in his mind at birth. He remembered knowing prior to entering the body of his mother. It was a fragmentary, heavenly memory. Perhaps he had been a water molecule in a rainbow, enjoying music and light on celestial shores. It was no knowledge of material form, but of immersion in warmth, harmony, joy, love. Eternal bliss. Upon learning a language, he thought the word most closely approximating his Memory was probably "Being in God."

As there was no form to his heavenly memory, also there were no words. He had been reluctant to leave that blissful state, he remembered a sensation that the state to which he was going would be far less pleasant, a feeling much like being lead onto a gallow, and having the noose tightened around his neck. However it was important that he go. The memory ended with a warm impression that, though he must go, he would return again.

From childhood Hellanback didn't speak much. But he listened carefully to "the preaching of the cross."

"Hellfire and eternal damnation," Pastor Koenig said, "await those who will not accept the Christ as their personal saviour."

"Will people who live on a jungle island and never heard of Jesus have to go to hell?" asked little Billy. He didn't understand how he could be eternally happy knowing that others were forever tormented.

"If they die never having heard of the Christ, they will be given an opportunity to choose before the judgment throne."

"Why doesn't everybody just get to choose before the judgment throne?"

"That is a mystery known only to God, who has power over all things."

"If God has power over all things why doesn't He just let everybody go to heaven?" Billy thought it would be better if everyone could share eternal bliss together.

"We're having a class here. We don't have time for all these questions." Billy felt foolish for pressing the subject.

He was confused by an apparent conflict between sacred words and societal actions. "God is Love," but heros were violent. "Thou shalt not kill," but executions, war, and TV killings were laudable. "Thou shalt not covet," but mortgage brokers were free to demand your money or your house.

He didn't like pain, but instinctively Billy felt that it was better to suffer harm than to inflict it upon others.

As Billy grew he began to feel as if his Experience had abandoned him to a hell of irrational contentions. He had something to say but didn't know how to say it. Early attempts to communicate his Experience were met with uneasy silence from his elders.

Once, after his older cousin Jean Mary died of a brain tumor, his mother, grandmother, and aunt were sitting in his aunt's kitchen, mourning.

"You shouldn't be crying," Billy tried to console the women. "Jean Mary is with God."

"But we don't know," his mother sobbed.

"I know there is a God. I remember God," the boy reassured her.

"You don't understand what we are going through." It was as if she didn't take him seriously. "Go outside and play."

*** ***

As all children, Billy was curious. What is "happiness"? He tried acquisitiveness, amassing extraordinary numbers of toy soldiers, comic books, baseball cards, stamps, and coins.

One day Billy was selling comic books at a stand on the street, when a young boy set up another stand across the street. Billy acted quickly.

"Where's the fire?" his mother asked as he raced through the kitchen, where she sat drinking coffee with a neighbor.

"Tommy's selling comic books," Billy explained. "I'm going to get my money and buy him out."

"That's my son," his mother boasted as he passed back through carrying Tommy's stack of comics. "If someone had gone into competition with me I wouldn't have known what to do. Cool as can be, Billy just buys him out. You can tell that he'll be a success."

Success? Billy thought. What are the values here? A hundred and twenty-four comic books, retail price - ten cents each for regular, twenty-five cents for giants - a total of $16.60. Second-hand selling on the street price $9.40, and he'd gotten the whole bunch from Tommy for a buck and a half.

Billy didn't think it was all that cool. Tommy was several years younger. He didn't understand the value of comic books. Billy sort of felt that he'd cheated Tommy, or at least taken unfair advantage. Was that the formula for "success," to take advantage of another's lack of understanding?

Automobiles didn't seem all that complicated, yet his mother didn't seem to understand how to build or even maintain one. She was always griping about how expensive it was to keep her Pontiac running. Did the mechanics take advantage of her lack of understanding for "success"?

Success seemed to be connected with survival. Unless someone was "successful," Billy's family wouldn't have anyplace to sleep or keep out of the rain and cold. Cold was painful, he thought it would be very uncomfortable to freeze to death, or even to sleep without walls.

*** ***

In the world around him there was not much talk of truth. Ideas of security filled the vacuum. By the age of fourteen he was miserable. He felt like his teachers had nothing worth learning to teach. By the time he reached the seventh grade most of what the teachers were teaching he'd already learned by reading books.

Media commonly intimated some link between sex and love. He sensed a connection between love and happiness. His fancy turned from philatics to females. Billy quit school and ran away from home to broaden his quest for happiness in the flesh.

In a short time pursuits of the flesh had ballooned into substance abuse.

First came cigarettes. At seven he'd sworn he'd never smoke. But now a girl who really stirred his hormones smoked. Models like Ronald Reagan hawked nonfilters for social satisfaction. Billy started smoking.

Then came booze. He was fifteen. She said she loved him, but wouldn't run away with him -- maybe she wouldn't be able to go to college, and what about the stuff her daddy could buy her? So he went to a friendly local liquor store and bought two pints of cheap wine. Under its spell he kicked in a jukebox, chased the manager out of a store with a chair, and when the cops came started swinging. The court awarded him sixty days in the county pen, where the premise "might makes right" was enforced.

Billy experimented with a variety of other substances, some of which proved to be just as addictive as alcohol but bore the additional burden of social stigma. He spent more years bouncing in than out of various jails and prisons. Sex, drugs, and social retribution often seemed like being trapped on an island by a Cyclops. But he was able to read and during his short stints at liberty he managed to learn nail-driving here, wrench-turning there. He acquired some appreciation for the way things are assembled.

*** ***

Toward the end of his twenty-first year, no less miserable than he had been at fourteen, Bill Hellanback got a steady job. He hauled the household acquisitions of a mobile society from coast to coast in a tractor-trailor rig. Every day new faces, new places. He held the job because he liked it. He liked traveling, he liked hard work, and he liked the freedom of the open road. He focused his drug abuse, for the most part, on alcohol. His switch had nothing to do with safety or society's attempts at gentle persuasion; it was more a concession to practical demands. The gear- jammer's nomadic existence made it difficult to locate local black markets and obtain alternative mind benders.

Fortunately, before alcohol and an eighteen-wheeler combined to permanently sidetrack Hellanback's progress and appetite for meaning in life, he moved the belongings of a lady from Milwaukee to New Mexico and ended up in her bed. He'd never laid a lady before.

Donna didn't drink. She was practical, stable, kind, lovely, a "devout Catholic," and fun in bed. Although they didn't have much in common, Hellanback thought she'd make an ideal mate. About a year later they were married. Hellanback settled in New Mexico, and began dealing in jewelry. He and Donna moved happily into a neat little three bedroom house. But his insensitivity was still enough to insure that their intellectual intercourse never matured beyond Bill's hypercritical assessments of the Pope, observations which Donna didn't find at all amusing. Just the same, Donna often told him that if he would just drive slower and stop drinking he would be perfect.. Just the same, Donna often told him that if he would just drive slower and stop drinking he would be perfect.