He started looking for God when he was two years old. An adult bent near him in the Toddlers’ Room at church and showed him pictures and talked about God, but God was not in the pictures. Aaron Fitzgerald kept looking. As he grew up, he looked for God, on various occasions, in his closet, by a stream he caught frogs at, and in a corner of the ceiling at church when the minister stood up and preached in a loud voice. God was not to be found in any of these places and at fourteen Aaron Fitzgerald decided there must not be a God, so he cheerfully joined his friends in shoplifting. They were eventually caught with a great deal of merchandise and the department store chose to prosecute. At sixteen, Aaron went to a minimum security institution designed specifically for young offenders.
One Sunday a minister with a collar came to speak with him and an old interest in finding God sparked him to ask the man a lot of questions. He looked at the minister and he listened to the answers very carefully. He was not satisfied. He neither saw God nor heard God in the man’s words. He insisted that the minister not visit him again.
Eighteen found him back in his parents’ house and back at his old school. He got together on weekends with the friends he had made ijn jail. One Friday night they stole a car, drove it while they were drunk, and ran over an old woman and her granddaughter. This time Aaron went to prison.
Prison frightened him. He walked in circles around the yard, men with rifles and machine guns standing above him and watching. Sometimes he would stare up at the brilliantly blue sky and cry out for God without moving his lips. But nothing happened. His parents would visit him, give him colourful tracts. He scanned them, saw nothing, threw them out, grew more and more bitter.
As soon as he was released from prison, he realized that he hated the cities, hated the people who walked around in them, hated the whole world into which he could no longer fit. He decided to get out, to put his hands on enough money and simply disappear. In six months’ time, he and four others had arranged the perfect robbery. They carried guns they were confident they would never have to use. But when they blocked off an armoured car on a side street, the guards came out shooting. Aaron and the four others fired back. They killed every guard. But the police arrived before they could escape.
The five of them were sentenced to death, but each of them had their sentence commuted to life imprisonment except Aaron Fitzgerald. He had planned the robbery, opened fire at the guards first and incited the others, and had never shown a trace of remorse over the killings. A chaplain came to visit him on death row but Aaron was a long way past seeing anything now. He told the chaplain to get out.
They came for him a few hours before midnight in the middle of April. They placed him in a room, sat him in a chair, shaved a patch of hair from the back of his head, shaved a couple of inches on each leg and both arms, attached wires. He was minutes from death. He was afraid. He gazed down at those sitting to witness his execution and he cursed them as loudly as he could.
A guard tightened the leather straps over his ankles and wrists, cinched them so fiercely his circulation was cut off and pain ripped up his arms. It subsided to an aching throb as the nails were hammered flush with his skin, then tore through his body with a ferocious force as he was lifted up on the cross and the cross was dropped clumsily into a deep hole. He had never experienced this intensity of pain before and he screamed.
Flies buzzed in and out of his mouth, the sun raked his face and chest, blood ran out of his hands and feet and out of his nose onto his chin and stomach. He was thirsty, his tongue was swollen, he could hardly get a breath because the weight of his entire body seemed to be crushing down on his lungs. He choked, he vomited, he gulped and gurgled for one more mouthful of air. He looked at the man dying on the cross next to him, a man obviously cut by whips, whose face was barred with lines of blood that had worked their way down from his lacerated forehead and scalp, a man sweating and struggling and gasping for breath just as he was, and looking at him Aaron saw. It was not the kind of situation in which he would have expected to find God. It was the last place he would have looked.