We met when I was little, maybe 3 or 4 years old, I can’t remember. It was inside this big brick building, lots of colorful windows, endless rows of brown benches. It smelled like dust and old people — which wasn’t surprising since it was filled with dust and old people. I remember that there was a lot of standing and sitting and standing and then sitting again, a lot of reading from these crusty red books (I couldn’t read back then). I was itchy and hot, because it was summer, and my thighs stuck to the hard wooden benches my mommy called “poos” — she yelled at me in whispers, “STOP scratching,” but I couldn’t stop scratching because she made me wear this horrible white dress with lace and red ribbons and a stiff layer of petticoats beneath the skirt even though I had tried to explain to her and Hahlmuhnee that it made way more sense to meet Him wearing my favorite yellow t-shirt, corduroys, and jelly shoes. Hahlmuhnee had her eyes closed the entire time anyway like she was sleeping so it’s not like she could see what I was wearing, but then she would yell “Amen” or “Hallelujah” at random moments into the quiet and I would jump like someone traced a finger up my sweaty bare back.
I can’t remember the exact moment when I met Him that day…whether it was in some shadowed corner of the chapel after the benediction or outside at the picnic during the three-legged races or maybe while standing in line with mommy to shake hands with the old man with the black robe who yelled at everyone from the front of the building…I honestly just don’t remember.
But that was the day I met God.
Over the years, we became pretty good friends. We’d sort of hang out every Sunday, but mostly because my parents made me. Still, it’s hard not getting to know someone when you see Him every week. Sometimes, just because I sort of grew up with Him, I’d tell Him things that maybe I wouldn’t tell anyone else or I’d kinda look for Him on Sundays — He was like that guy you wouldn’t sit with at lunch but you went over to his house after school, when no one was looking, you know? Yeah, it was kinda like that.
In high school, there was a shift in our relationship. I guess by that time, what we had was substantial enough to label a “relationship” and I didn’t care so much about being in with the “cool crowd.” We started hanging out even on weekdays. I’d go to His place on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays just to sit around, eat, talk, jam on the guitar with Him…and of course, on Sundays. I told Him things that I didn’t tell anyone else, cuz I really felt like He got me. I remember I’d tell my friends about Him at school — how cool and amazing He was — and they’d look at me as if I were dumb, like He was nothing more than an elaborate imaginary friend, only He was even worse because He also did things, like make people hurt and cry and judge people and shit. But I didn’t care. He was my friend and I wore my loyalty around my neck on a silver chain, a cross-shaped “FUCK YOU” to all the intellectual elitists who discarded me as a fundamentalist imbecile.
And He made all sorts of promises to me. He promised me he would have my back if someone got up in my face. He promised me he would listen to me about anything and everything–from the boy in my World History class who wouldn’t stop scratching his balls when he thought I wasn’t looking to whether I could get into a good enough college despite what my parents deemed to be “not good enough” grades to how badly I wanted to toss caution to the wind and pursue a career in music. He promised me He would give me the best advice, that He would open doors for me that I didn’t even notice, that He would share with me all the secrets to successfully navigating the ups and downs of New Trier High School. He promised me that when things got bad, He would carry me over the rough spots until I regained strength enough to walk on my own two feet and even then, that He would be there for me to lean upon.
He promised He would never leave me.
But right when things were soooo good, right before I left for college, when I really thought that He and I were going to be Best Friends Forever, He up and disappeared. College was like one long torturous pathetic scavenger hunt for Him, scouring the pages of Derrida, Saussure, Pascal, Dostoevsky…in the spaces between Words, searching for Him within the perverse incense of tattoo parlours or the sterile magazines laid out like a deck of cards in the waiting room of my therapist’s office—never quite finding Him at His house despite still going there every fucking Sunday without fail. It was like, all of the sudden, He’d gotten too cool for school, or something, and He didn’t even have the courtesy to say “See ya.” He stopped showing up, He blew me off, and the worst part about it was, I kinda needed Him then more than any other time I could remember. Things were so fucked up at home and fucked up in my head and I’d sit in my dormroom waiting for Him to show the fuck up, hoping and praying that He’d just show up.
But He didn’t.
And so, I found someone else.
This “someone else”—he was charming and sweet, most of the time. He had thick black lashes and a skater haircut, a mouth always on the edge of a goofy laugh. He liked to hang out with me, and this was really important at the time, because he helped to fill all the blanks that started cropping up around me like ugly yellow dandelions. He bought me a dozen roses after one month of “hanging out,” he took me riding on his motorcycle down the wide grey streets outside of campus, while swathes of endless cornfields served as something like a chaperone. He kissed me on the patio of his one bedroom apartment, and I like to imagine that it was some sort of major turning point in my life, complete with a glorious sunset, a dreamy weeping willow, and the soft embers of his cigarette ashes to whisk our hearts away down the path of “first love.”
I don’t know. Maybe He got jealous…Because things started going really badly just a few weeks after that first kiss on the patio. My boyfriend wasn’t so nice to me, all the time. When things were good, they were good. But when things were bad…he’d say things, ugly things. He’d yell. He’d hurl the worst words he could find and watch as they tore into my skin like darts. I’d stuff my fingers in my ears or bang my head against the wall, slip into a hot shower or sit in the closet, let the smell of our clothes wipe away any sign of injury like a stale rag. And every time this would happen, I’d wonder how much longer I could stand and how much stronger I could be and how much of my love he’d used up this time and how much of me was left for the next time. In those moments I would hope and pray again that He’d show up and that He’d make it all stop and tell me that it was all some really horrible tasteless joke, that of course He had never meant to leave me and that He’d never actually gone anywhere, that I’d just failed to see Him the whole time or something.
But He never showed up.
And so the years with my boyfriend began to accumulate like the hatch-marks up my arms. We got married. Nothing changed. Those years became white and raised and puckered, as he grew louder, angrier. When I couldn’t soothe his pain, he got drunk. When tequila didn’t work, he yelled. When yelling didn’t work, he’d bang the dashboard with both his hands until I jumped in my seat or jeer out the window “get in the fucking car right now you bitch” while a family of bicyclists stopped to watch my shame or knock the phone out of my hands when I threatened to call his mom or kick the keys out of reach when I tried to keep him from driving drunk.
Every time he got mad at me, I would remind Him of all those promises He’d made to me–about having my back, listening to me, shouldering the weight of my tears when they grew too heavy for me. I would sit in the closet of our master bedroom, my knees pressed against my chest and I would say out loud, “God, if you’re there, please please please don’t let him do this to me again.” I wanted more than anything in the entire universe to save my marriage.
Amid all this, every once in awhile, I thought maybe I saw His shadow, that I caught sight of the end of His sleeve or that I heard the fading echoes of His glad and familiar voice just around the corner and my heart would do a double flip and I’d run with tears already welling up in my eyes because even though I wanted to scream and yell at Him for leaving me behind, all I really wanted to do was collapse into His arms and lean lean lean and never ever fall because I could never lean into my husband that way. But it seemed He was always just out of reach.
I broke up with Him in the closet.
It was the walk-in closet of our master bedroom. The one we shared—my husband’s shirts and jeans and ties stuffed into the corner, while my handbags, shoes, dresses and blouses took up the rest. I honestly don’t remember what it was, this time. Whether it was because I made some off the cuff remark at dinner that embarrassed him or I gave him the “wrong look” when he tried to talk to me while I was on the phone. I can’t remember what set him off, but I can remember how my knees splintered, pressed into the carpeting inside that closet, the way the heels of my hands burrowed into my eyeballs because I didn’t know how else to plug up the tears , the smell of cigarettes still staining my husband’s flannel shirts clawing with the scent of cold sweat as the air ripped one sob after another from my body. I can still taste the salt and dirt that lined the wrinkles in my palms as I bit down on my hands in order to shut off my hiccuping, because I knew that he would hate me more for crying, that my only hope was to stay as silent as the pews inside that closet or else I’d soon hear the pounding of his footsteps between the pounding of my heart followed by the pounding of his fists on the door until the four walls of my sanity began to stagger under his fury, his blinding pain.
And I remember the sound of my voice — I remember how it trembled, how it shook inside that closet that was at once suffocatingly claustrophobic and terrifyingly infinite with its quietness in this here-and-now-line-in-the-sand moment that stretched out like a green sky from my mouth:
“God, if you don’t make him stop, we are done.”
And his fists continued to pound.
Read about how I made up with God here.