Jesus in a Tie Dye Shirt

Skye O'Toole

When I was young, I lived in a new development in Denver. The trees were only saplings then, and had to be held up by wire and wooden posts. A few blocks down, there was an empty lot, riddled with prairie dog holes and leftover metal from some forgotten skeleton of a building. In the center sat a teal minivan, its wheels long deflated, painted with all sorts of colors and images our little minds couldn’t understand. A small garden grew around it, groves of dandelions and clovers and five-pointed green leaves we didn’t know what to call. There was no fence, but a collection of odd items served to corral them; an overgrown watering can, a wooden cross, a homemade McGovern ‘72 sign.


We would go there every Saturday, and chase each other around the van, careful not to trip in the prairie dog holes. When we fell to the ground, we were caressed by the sun’s rays and our little bodies shook with relentless giggles. We got dirty, but it was fun, and the soil was warm and the air clean, and our lives so innocent and full of potential that we didn’t mind that our clothes were soiled, though our mothers did.


"He would show us how to make wishes as we blew on dandelions, never losing patience when we struggled."


Mr. Scott lived in the teal van. Every Sunday morning, he would be awakened by our giddy cries, and he would walk out into the sun and laugh as we somersaulted and cartwheeled and threw clumps of dirt at each other. If one of us skinned our knee, he would be the first at our side, armed with some homemade medicinal rub. My parents didn’t mind; their lives were busy enough with three jobs and four kids and an angry grandmother who lived in the basement.


When we were deflated from running and laughing, and fully coated in dirt and sand, Mr. Scott would beckon us over to his garden. He would show us how to make wishes as we blew on dandelions, never losing patience when we struggled. Then he would do it himself, and point as the seeds were carried by the wind into the ether. When we asked him what he wished for, he told us he wished for world peace, and that he wanted everyone to come together and be friends. When I told him that sounded boring, and that I wished for a horse, he chuckled and patted my shoulder, telling me that soon enough I would understand.


When it got cold, he invited us into his van. It was cramped, and you couldn’t see the walls, as they were blanketed in trinkets of all kinds. But it felt like home. A guitar hung from the wall, and when I asked Mr. Scott to teach me how to play it, he guided my fingers through some chords, humming along to the abomination I made. Even though I sounded terrible, he never gave up on me, and when I got sad he would take the instrument and play a little tune and said that soon enough I would play it, too.


All around the van there were crosses, except they were painted rainbow and Jesus was smiling. When I asked him why Jesus was colorful, he told me it’s because he prayed to a Jesus in a tie dye shirt, one who believed in peace and love and good children, just like me. I told him that the colorful Jesus was prettier than the Jesus at my church, who was sad and made out of bronze. He smiled and told me that Jesus was a happy person, recounting stories of him loving the poor and orphaned. I smiled back, and told him that he was a happy person, just like Jesus.


But we soon grew out of tag in the garden, and no longer wanted to be covered in dirt for Saturday dinner. Still, Mr. Scott stayed in our hearts. Sometimes, when I walked near the lot, I could hear him play a sad song, where the guitar wept. Despite what he said, I would never learn how to play it. I watched as his beard became gray, and his van overgrown. The big developers grew interested in the lot. I was expecting it, though I still cried when I saw a police car whir by me. I chased it down five blocks. The cops were there, leading Mr. Scott off the lot. His van was already gone. He smiled at me and mouthed something. I never said anything back.


Now the trees are large and block out the sun. Mr. Scott’s van is scrap metal, and the lot has been converted into luxury apartments, big gray ugly things. Sometimes I walk around them, trying to imagine a carefree seven year old jumping and laughing and covered in dirt. There’s a man by her, one who is always happy and loves good children. Every so often I’ll stand where the van used to be, and pray to Jesus in a tie dye shirt that Mr. Scott is still laughing, somewhere.