â€œGive it to God,â€ she said.
Iâ€™ve written this story a million times before. Iâ€™d like to do it differently, this time.
When I think of John, I never know where to start.
In the beginning.
We became friends in the first grade, John and I. But his shadow invades my few memories of kindergarten. John was around. Somewhere. Perhaps sipping from a school-issued milk carton; maybe asleep on a cot during school-issued nap time, when the lights went out and I, horizontal, stared at the ceiling. Six years old and already an insomniac.
I used to subscribe apathetically to Christianity. There was a church in the middle of nowhere, a white building with a dirt parking lot, surrounded by electric poles and straightaway roads, runaway roads, highways you take to evade. John didnâ€™t attend my motherâ€™s church; it was a black church; I think John was Catholic, I never asked him; he wouldâ€™ve enjoyed the music, the stomping and the showmanship–I think–while I flipped through Psalms and fought through urges to sleep.
I donâ€™t know if John is in Heaven or Hell; all I know is that I miss him less. Ten years since he died. Ten years. Once, I couldnâ€™t conceive of ten years into the future. In two months, Iâ€™ll turn thirty. Ten years thrice over. Each day, Iâ€™m forgetting him in triplicate. I donâ€™t even know what that means. All I know is that heâ€™s no longer here. Dead for ten years. A day in Heaven equates to 1000 years on Earth. If heâ€™s in Heaven, then John hasnâ€™t had time to look down on me. I donâ€™t know what that means.
â€œGive it to God,â€ she said. â€œIt is so–so–so–so helpful.â€ Her face scrunched as she said the so refrain. â€œFair enough,â€ I replied.
In a dorm room in North New Jersey, on a college campus, three bodies lie charred on carpet. Or asphyxiated, their faces ballooned to planetary proportions, sucking in Universe air, not receiving the expected, reciprocal favor of life renewed. Three spirits are pulled from their bodies; three spirits drop three tokens–one each–returning their priceless currency, life, to God. Give it to God.
In therapy, I surmised that Johnâ€™s death was a watershed moment for my psychosis. Ah, yes. He was eighteen when he died–my eighteen, too–and had all the futurework in front of him. Ah, yes. Johnâ€™s death frightened me; my sense of immortality ruined forever more. But. I buried grandparents and saw, on multiple occasions, squirrels spin themselves into delirium in the middle of an avenue, their skulls th-thumped by Pontiacs. I was well aware of death before I was old enough to voice it without parental and clinical intervention. Ah. Yes.
I did not attend his funeral. I do not know where heâ€™s buried. I do not know the names of the two other boys, his compatriots on a journey back to God, copper tokens in hand. I know the fire was arson. I know someone went to prison. I know Johnâ€™s parents, his siblings, though I have nothing to say. I only hope they remember him in triplicate, folding and refolding and folding his life into origami shapes–a buoyant swan, perhaps–and never forget, never let it slip, never give it to God. Holding on, carrying that weight like true blood families should. I was only a friend–a best friend, once–but only a friend.
â€œGive it to God,â€ she said to me, wanting to touch my hand, to breach clinical ethics. Which is fine by me. Rules are made to be broken in the name of human showmanship. Show me, I wanted to say, that you care. â€œFair enough,â€ I said in reality.
In my previous retellings, a million times over, I ended with the perfect final scene. Our last time in each otherâ€™s presence. Never for his benefit, though–the scene was used to flog myself into making the same life change still waiting in queue: be gracious and selfless with my time. Ten years and I still prefer loneliness, at times. Ten years and I rarely share my time; my family reads none of my work, because they donâ€™t know it exists. Ten years of the perfect ending–a parable in scene–but the lesson remains lost to me. Or thereâ€™s no lesson at all. I am who I am. God–help me.
â€œGive it to God,â€ she said, although I looked skeptical. I perceive religion as a series of tenets for weak people. People like me, if I dare to participate in honesty. I identify myself as a Buddhist, but I never meditate; an introvert is intimate with constant, persistent meditation; I need to wake up. â€œFair enough,â€ I said, giving God the benefit of the doubt.