August 03, 2015
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Concerns or Questions?
All Things Being Equal, Part Two
by Bernie Pilarski (short, PG-13)
"How many fingers do you have?" someone asks you. The answer is easy -- you look at your hands and count them. But what if the questions you're asked lead to an answer that can't be seen?
Our Father, who art in heaven.
"Aiden, turn a light on," I say. He is seated at his desk, looking at a book. I presume he is reading, which I have to admit surprises me since I didn't know he actually knew what a book was. He is fourteen, and to the best of my knowledge interacts with his environment solely through his phone, which by the way, is in pieces on his desk, the result of an unfortunate miscalculation on my part earlier in the day.
"You'll ruin your eyes reading in the dark."
"No I won't. Reading in the dark doesn't damage your eyes; the worst that could happen is you get eyestrain, which is nothing serious and will go away after a bit."
"I looked it up."
"Fine, it's probably not the reading that will make you go blind anyway."
"What's that mean?"
"Nothing. Listen, your mother got called in to work."
"On a Sunday?"
"Yeah, on a Sunday. So we're on our own for dinner. You want pizza?"
"What do you want on the pizza?"
"Ham and pineapple."
"Besides ham and pineapple."
"What's wrong with ham and pineapple?"
"It's an abomination."
"I looked it up."
"You'll get what I order."
"Then why'd you ask?"
I wonder if it would be different if he was really my kid instead of just Jessica's kid. I simply don't know. Is there something about having actually engendered a child that makes it smell different, or feel different? I don't wish any harm on Aiden, other than occasionally wanting to kick the crap out of him for being stupid, and that's mostly when he seems to go out of his way to irritate Jess, or when he messes with my stuff. Otherwise, I try to avoid him as much as possible -- it's just easier that way. I figure another four years, and he'll want to move out.
I don't know what Aiden wants from me. Jess says that he needs a role model; that he looks to me for some kind of direction. I think it's that I just know stuff and he doesn't. I was cleaning the lawn mower the other day, and I had the air filter off, exposing the carburetor. Aiden started asking all kinds of questions about how everything worked, and finally he asked me if he could take it apart. I told him he could, but that the next time I wanted to use the lawn mower, it had better be in working order or he'd buy me a new one. I'll give him credit, when I went to use it, it was clean, started on the first pull, and idled smooth as can be, but that's got nothing to do with being a role model. I know what a kid wants. He wants to get his hands dirty playing with an engine. It's lawn mowers now and Chevy small-blocks later on, but it's all tinkering, and it's in a boy's blood. I could teach him a few tricks, make his life a bit easier, if he listened to me. He won't, of course, and I'm not going to chase after him.
"What'd you get?" Aiden says to me as I carry the pizza box into the kitchen.
"Why are you always such a dick, Michael?"
"What's on the pizza?"
"Yeah, I don't like all that crap all over my pizza." I set the box down on the kitchen counter and go to get a couple of paper towels off the roll for napkins. Aiden opens the box and sees that the pizza is half pepperoni and half ham and pineapple. He takes a piece and immediately takes a bite.
"So why did you go to Mass with us today?"
"Your mother asked me to."
"It's not the first time she's asked."
"No. It isn't."
"Did you used to go before?"
"No. Did you ever see me go?"
"What about before that?"
"No. I've never gone to church before."
"Why should I?"
"See? That's what I say, and then Mom says because God wants us to."
"How does she know?"
How does she know? How do any of them know? My grandmother was always trying to get us to go to her church, so much so that my father eventually told her to either stop bringing that bullshit into his house or stay away. So she kept quiet about it, until my father got sick. I was twelve. I went to the hospital with my mother, and we found Grandma crying in the lounge area outside Dad's room. I stayed with her while Mom went off into Dad's room. My grandmother told me to pray, pray, pray for my father, to ask God to heal him. God will listen to a child's prayer, she said. But Dad died. Since I had never really prayed before, I assumed that I hadn't done it right, but my grandmother said that God had wanted to call my father home, that it was all according to His plan. How did she know?
"Mom also says that my real father is in heaven, and that he watches over us."
"A bit of an uncomfortable thought." Aiden's father has always been a fourth person in our little family group. I don't think about him when we are in bed, but I've always kind of assumed that Jess does. Maybe not all the time, but it is only natural to think about other lovers occasionally. None of my ex's are dead, at least not that I know of, so they show up in my bed only when I want them to. She doesn't talk about it much, but I don't think Jess can stop thinking about Aiden's father.
"What do you mean?"
"Nothing. Don't worry about it. By all accounts, your Dad was a nice guy."
"Do you think there's a heaven, Michael?"
"Don't you ever think about it?"
"Nope." That's not entirely true, of course. The thought crosses your mind, you know? One minute you're alive, the next you're dead. One minute you've got plans, the next you don't. Is that how it is? Still, it's probably not something I can figure out, and those who have tried seem to have made a frigging mess of the whole thing, so I guess what happens happens. I'm not going to worry about it.
...thy kingdom come, thy will be done,
"Aiden says he thinks you're an atheist," Jessica says as we get into bed.
"Why, because I think Sarah Palin is hot?"
"You're a pig."
"So why does he think I'm an atheist?"
"He says you don't believe in heaven."
"Ah. Well I did say I don't think about it."
"Believe in heaven?"
"I just said, I don't think about it. How was work today?"
"You're changing the subject."
"Yeah, I'm trying."
"Okay, let's change the subject. I want to go to Communion."
"At Mass, when they go up and take the bread and the wine, I want to go."
"We're not married." "What's that have to do with anything?"
"We're 'living in sin,'" she says with hand gestures for the quotation marks.
"Then go someplace else."
For a couple of seconds, neither of us breathes. We are both trying to understand what I just said. I pretty sure I know what I meant, that Jess should look for another church that would give her what she wants, but when I heard the words, I guess I could understand it if she took it to mean she should find somebody else to live with who would marry her. She might have heard it that way, and that could explain the rather confused and pained look on her face. It's not what I meant, but then again, if I told her that that's not what I meant, I wouldn't want her thinking that I meant I wanted to get married just because she wanted to roll over for some religious thing.
"You don't think that I was telling you..."
"Mike, I know that you won't understand this right now, but it is something I have to do. There was a time for while after Aiden's father was killed that I hated being alive, and I hated God for leaving me alone. The more alone I felt, the more angry I got, and one day I decided that if God was going to turn his back on me, than I was going to turn my back on him, so I stopped going to church, I stopped praying, and I stopped caring about what he thought.
"I felt better for a while, like God was getting the punishment he deserved, but having gotten to the point of feeling like I'd won, I also arrived at the point of realizing how much I'd lost in the process. Do you know what I mean? What I thought were really good points in my argument suddenly seemed irrelevant. I was more alone than ever.
"And then, you came along."
"You. This is the part I don't expect you to understand. I honestly believe that you were sent to me by God to help me, that you were the means he used to get through to me."
Religion to me has always been a lot like one of those ink blot tests where you're shown a random pattern of ink splatters and you say "two monkeys humping," and someone now believes you're anti-social and have ADHD. There's a lot of jumping to conclusions in religion. I admit that the world exists, and it's not my invention. It came from somewhere, and if that source of the world is what you want to call God, fine, but how can you then attribute a personality to that source? How can you piece together all sorts of random and often contradictory actions in your life and say it is proof of God's existence?
"It's time for me to get my life back in order," she says.
"It's time we made a decision about marriage."
"Right this minute?"
She smiles. She reaches out and strokes my cheek with her back of her fingers. "Its been what, eight years that we've been together?"
"Something like that."
"It's time we decide."
"Just because some guy at the church says so?"
She sighs deeply, a sound of resignation. "Yeah. Because the Church says so."
"And you're sure they're right, even though they don't know anything about us, about our relationship, about what I think?"
"Why? What gives them the right to dictate how we live?"
"I don't know what gives them the right -- God, I guess. But how am I supposed to know what is right? How am I supposed to find out what I am supposed to do? I suppose I could turn on the television and listen to some quack doctor who sells advice and diet pills to women who are constantly miserable, or I could talk to my mother who has drunk herself out of three marriages. Maybe I would find happiness if I just bought the right car, you know one of the ones that comes with the promise of sexual bliss and marital happiness.
"I don't know how to make things work in my life, Mike, not really. But when I look at Aiden, and I think about where that life came from, when I'm with you, and I think about how you've been more kind to me than I have deserved, and in the quiet moments when the three of us are together, I become aware of how much a gift life is."
"What has all that got to do with a church?"
"The Gift Giver, Mike, the Church is a guide to the Gift Giver. It provides the back-story that I need to understand why I am here and what I am supposed to do."
"It's only one of hundreds of explanations for stuff. Everybody's got their stories."
"But I choose to believe this one. It's the one that I know; all things being equal, it's the one the feels right."
"What's wrong with not choosing any of them?"
What is wrong with that? There's no proof that any religion is any better than the others, and religions have been the cause of more wars than anything else. Or so I've been told. I guess I don't have any proof of that, really. What's wrong with me just minding my own business and getting along with life the way I see fit?
"I choose you, if you'll have me," she says.
"I thought we did that."
"We said we'd think about it."
"That was eight years ago. I'm still here."
"And I'm still waiting."
So now what do I do? Jess has backed me into a corner. It's like that whole thing with that girl Nicole again. Yes, I told Nicole I wasn't married, but I didn't mean anything by it. I never did anything with Nicole besides go out a few times. When Jess heard that I had said I wasn't married, she got really bent out of shape, but I told her they were just words, not to read anything into it. So now what do I say? It's not like we don't know where we stand -- hell, we both signed the apartment lease, and my damn car loan is in her name.
I go to the kitchen to get a drink, and Aiden is there. "What are still doing up? You should be in bed."
"Yeah, I'm going. You going to get me a new phone?"
"I said I would."
"Yeah, but when are you going to do it?"
"I told you I would get around to it."
"Yeah. I heard that before. I really need to have the phone this week, Michael, so this time could you actually do what you say you're going to do?"
"Go to bed, Aiden. I'm not in the mood." He's got no respect, that's his problem.
Article © Bernie Pilarski. All rights reserved.
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