If you had expected yourself to move to small town America with an intention other than becoming enlightened with indie song lyrics and a loyal yet small local fan following, we would have to commend you. The facts are that you did move to small town America, and so here you are in your little house. You have no guitar. You have no indie lyrics. You have plenty of dreams though, and that’s what we’re here to talk about.
You have plenty of dreams and they’re wonderful; they talk about baptisms, they whisper in your good ear and then they move on to hunger and the broad God body, a body in our image, a body that’s yours, a body that you could have. (you could be your own god. your own god could be you. god your own could be youcouldbeyourowngodyoucouldbe —)
Your own God won’t even whisper in your ear anymore, and you think that’s kind of sad; but you won’t admit it to her, you can’t tell the Virgin Mary in your little one-story home that your God doesn’t even talk to you anymore. You remember when you used to talk, you remember when the cosmic customer service desk still took calls and you remember when it wasn’t even a customer service desk. You remember calling him Father.
When you were six years old, you had a bucket of marbles. It was something to be proud of, and you were; kids used to get jealous of it, but they eventually let it go. One day you tried to count them, but when you were six years old you could only count to a hundred and seventy-three and when you looked down, there were still marbles left. Then you realized that the world is bigger than your counting, and that really kind of messed you up. You told God about it and he nodded along.
So God got replaced, and you’re not sure what this makes him now; almost like an ex-girlfriend, with whom you had a relationship that was waning before it started, even though the honeymoon stage was at full potency, she seemed more real after she started to drift away, help other people instead of you. So now God’s kind of like your ex-girlfriend. And she’s not even that mean, she just doesn’t have the time of day for you anymore.
Here’s a joke: There’s a sandwich in the fridge, one that your ex-girlfriend ordered from that shitty restaurant you guys used to go to on dates. She thought it would be interesting to try something new, and you both laughed because it was the worst sandwich either of you had ever tasted — somehow it tasted exactly like the peeling brown wallpaper. She took it home and put it in the fridge as a joke — as if anyone would ever eat that sandwich, ha ha. It’s still there, and it’s been, what? seven years? Nah. Your real ex-girlfriend actually did that, dummy!
Now you’re eleven. You’ve just beat up a kid. You don’t know how that happened, honest, Ma.
The bucket of marbles is still in your closet. This kid used to play marbles with you, you remember him. He was a real champion, that’s for sure; nearly all of the disgraceful plasticky marbles in there are due to trading with him after losing again and again; you had that special relationship that girls would yank and twist and shove into a same-sex obsession had you been two late-twenties British TV-show stars. He’s laying on the ground. There’s blood on his mouth, and on his teeth (which you can see because he’s laughing).
“You think this is bad?” he said. He got up. “You think this is bad?” He spat on the pavement (splat); you didn’t see the blood hit the ground, but you would have bet that when it did it made the world’s ugliest rose.
Sometimes you lay down and instead of whispers you get echoes, variations on his blood and his words. They didn’t hit you hard then, but they kind of do now.
“You think this is bad?”
“You think this is bad?”
“You think this is bad?”
In the background the repeated sound of spit, splat. Spit, splat.
God wasn’t talking in your ear then. We think that, at that point, he was working mainly on responses and not proactive conversations or advice. God’s a little backed up. At that point it was just you in your head; you hadn’t discovered Chaucer, or Keats, or Whitman just yet. You pretty much told yourself whatever sounded good at the time, absolute bull compared to the stuff you get now. Back then, there were no exorcisms. No leaves of grass. There were no blood and guts besides the ones you took from the bodies of foes, and even then you questioned if they were even real.
What does that even mean, anyway? Of course we’re exaggerating all those back-burner thoughts. We’re exaggerating the blood and guts too, but come on, people love it.
You live in Boswell, Indiana. “The Hub of The Universe.” Sounded pretty cool to you after college with nothing to do with your life, and it looked cute. You have an adorable home that you live in with a statue of the Virgin Mary and no bucket of marbles, and definitely no ex-girlfriend. She skipped town right when things started getting boring. What a whirlwind girl.
You want to write a different book called Conversations With God. You know how you’d start it:
Hey, it’s been awhile. What’s been up in your life?
Uh. Nothing, really. Have … you been doing well?
Mhm. Lots of, um. Dead people where I am right now. A soft chuckle.
Your English teacher in sophomore year of high school used to get mad about the market on books. In turn, he made you mad. “People nowadays just want blood and guts and bones, even if they’re not real. It makes people make up problems,” he said. Well, what else should we want? you wanted to say. The books you give us leave us the same way we were when we began them. And that just ain’t the way it’s supposed to be.
People like him would complain about violence. People like him would complain about real sex. But people like him never complained about romance, never complained about the unrealistic expectations of relationships that the books they read gave them. They want rose petals and candles and white Zin, but when it comes to sitting across the couch, separate dinners, a crumbling marriage that they both know about yet don’t acknowledge because they just can’t take it, they don’t want to look at their fantasy land and find a version of themselves. You, personally, are glad that people want waning marriage and boring sex lives in books sometimes. People aren’t afraid of truths anymore, Mr. Artless Romantic English Teacher. The new generation thrives on understanding each other’s problems – we want to see each other’s’ insides and assure each other that we, too, are a brain piloting a slab of meat, and then convince ourselves and your God that that is not all we are. (Even though that’s his job.)
In fact, there is some debate on whether or not we even need God. Your peers are the new God. The words coming out of your mouth, those are the new God too. Why is he still here?
Let’s get ridiculously metaphorical. Here goes: nobody eats the sandwich because it went out of style. God bought it for you, and it tastes like romance and myths and unrealistic expectations for relationships, and both of you spat it out. You guarantee that none of your friends would be able to stomach it either, all that about sex/gender roles and original sin and revenge or whatever. Nobody does that stuff. Nobody needs that stuff. We need stuff that nobody does that’s actually interesting, and it’s been done before. In ridiculous metaphor terms: maybe that sandwich was the most disgusting thing you’ve ever eaten, maybe it’s just something that you’ve been fed your whole life that you’re just sick of. It could be both, too. All your life you’ve been fed the most disgusting thing you’ve ever eaten.
(And when it comes down to it, you still wonder how you managed to dodge that bullet. You were about this close to becoming another Mr. Artless Romantic English Teacher, but thankfully you could tell real shit from bullshit.)
You’re at your house, staring at the statue of the Virgin Mary. We need to have a talk, you say. It’s all going to come out now. Yeah? she says.
I’ve been feeling abandoned. I can’t tell if she’s even paying attention to me, I mean, was what we had even real? Am I just another worshiper to her? We were so close then, but now I think it’s time to break it off. We barely talk anymore. I mean, I talk, but there’s no response. I’m not some kind of atheist or anything, I’m just really disappointed, y’know? Everything’s falling apart, there are no miracles anymore. It’s making me so sad.
It’s like some sort of customer service desk. Or a deli counter. Take a number, wait in line, and wait to get called. There’s a million people in the deli and it’s kind of cramped, and all I want is like a sandwich or something. That’s all I want.
I’m not even sure if I believe in Heaven. It seems like such a dream – she’ll be up there with all her angels and I’ll actually get to be in their presence? That could never happen. It’s just a pipe dream. It’s like we’re at a party, and Heaven thought she could pull off a brown drape with her reputation. And there’s Hell in the corner, in a real nice slinky red dress, and she’ll actually talk to you, too. And what am I supposed to do?
I need help. I want my religion to mean something more to me than something to belong to. I want to feel like God loves me, I want to know that God can help me; I want to be able to turn away from the books for a little while and look to the stars. Besides that, I want to actually find something.