Invisible Friend Jesus sits with his bare ankle crossed over his knee, drumming the wooden armrests of his chair with his long fingers, and I’m collapsed at his feet like a penitent Catholic.
“Are you sure you want to put this one on record, Tinkerbell?” he asks.
I don’t answer him. I just lie there with my forehead on the cool tile, picking at a crack in the grout. “Remember when I used to go to psychiatrists?” I say. I don’t wait for him to answer, because of course he does. “I’d go in there and confess just enough of my sins to make them think I was truly fucked up. But I didn’t want them to solve my problems. I wanted them to give me drugs that would enhance them: the stuff that would make me stay up all night writing music and making life-sized sculptures of Greek gods out of chewing gum, or the other stuff that would put me flat on my back in a pleasant, drooly stupor for twelve hours. Whenever a shrink wanted to give me heavy diagnosis and some pills that made life less fun, I’d quit going.”
“That sort of confession doesn’t work with me, you know,” he says. “And I can’t write prescriptions, anyway.”
“Yes, but that sort of confession works with me,” I continue. “My whole inner life is a carefully-crafted lie, a fantasy that allows me to continue seeing the world as a place of beauty and meaning. I’ll hold on to that fantasy at all costs, tell myself whatever lies I need to, in order to stay in that happy place. I want the world to make sense. I want to believe even the smelliest gutter bum is the keeper of some eternal truth. I want to find something compelling in even the grittiest sorrow. I want to hold on to each, epic moment infinitely, fuse with it, be one with it.”
I can’t see his face, but even in his silence I can hear him smirking. He clears his throat. “Sure,” he says. “That’d be great.”
I sigh. I’m shaking now. “And when the real world stomps in telling me I need to pay bills or clean the cat box or make a dental appointment, it pisses me off. I’ll do whatever I have to do in order to make it go away. Sure, most of the time that means I just clean the cat box or whatever really quick so that I can retreat to my fantasy world, a place where cat boxes never need to be cleaned, without the stench to remind me that world is a lie. But it also means I do other things. Messier things. Stuff that’s maybe not so healthy or morally correct.”
He’s silent for a moment as I lie there trembling, my throat closing up, my forehead starting to ache from being flattened against the floor. “You’re not here looking for forgiveness from me,” he says, and the smirk is gone from his voice now.
“No,” I say. “To ask you for forgiveness would mean admitting I think I’ve done something wrong. Then I’d have to feel guilty, and work on changing my behavior. And I don’t want to do that.”
“But why not, Tinkerbell?”
“Because to me the whole point is that epic beauty.” I’m crying now, though I’m not sure why. “There’s no reason for me to go on if life doesn’t give me that rush. I may die in the next moment, but in this one, I’m alive.”
“Why are you here then?” he asks, and he doesn’t sound exactly happy.
“Because for me, that joy is the same thing as being one with the Divine. And you, of course, are part of that.”
I can hear his fingers tapping. “So you get that little rush you’re talking about from our conversations?”
“Yes, but not if I’m here to confess my sins and get yelled at.”
“Sure,” he says. “But you expect me to tell you it’s okay to act however you want?”
“No, but you shouldn’t yell at people just because they’re a little irresponsible and crazy sometimes. Some of us, it’s just in our makeup to be a bit maniacal. We’re made this way. And so we have to interact with the Divine in a way that makes sense to us. Some people seek God through prayer or meditation, thorough charitable deeds or whatever complicated thing works for them. My ex-husband finds God by taking massive amounts of weird drugs. And I do it through my reckless and impulsive behavior, and by living in my fantasy world. It’s all the same God, we just have our different paths to Him.
“People may not want to hear this, you may not want to hear this, but religion for me isn’t about morality, charity, penance, or going to church. You’re my Invisible Friend Jesus, and you know that if I want to down a whole packet of pseudoephedrine and take off in my car to Louisiana, you won’t be hiding my keys and telling me to stay home and organize the closets. You’ll be reclined in the passenger seat, your bare feet propped up on the glove box, grinning and talking with me about what kind of gumbo we’re going to eat when we get there. That biblical stuff, all those rules and warnings, is too convoluted and confusing. The only thing that makes sense to me, the only religious message that I believe gets us closer to the Divine, is what you say about loving our neighbors, about loving even our enemies. That’s the only sort of behavior that brings joy into the world, that cuts through the horrible bullshit we’ve created for ourselves here and brings us closer to that beautiful place of fantasy that I live in in my head. Because whenever we try to tell each other what’s right and how to behave, we’re just being judgmental, we’re pissing people off and making them feel guilty. We’re putting ugliness into the world and that is what tears us away from God.
“We may all have our opinions about abortion and evolution, homosexuality and climate change, and that’s fine, but none of that shit is what God is about. So, no, I’m not here for you to tell me that I’m behaving like a lunatic, and that I should grow up. What’s more, I don’t think that’s why you’re here, either.”
He’s quiet for a long time. My forehead is tingling and numb, and my knees are aching. Finally I can’t take it anymore, and I sit up.
He’s smirking again, and stroking his short, dark beard. “Fair enough, Tinkerbell,” he says. “On your own head be it.”
I let out a breath, rubbing my forehead.
He lifts his chin and looks down his nose at me. “Just as a disclaimer to anyone reading this who thinks you may have done something truly horrible, you haven’t, right?”
“Your kid and your husband are fine?”
“Yes,” I say.
“Happy and healthy? Well cared for? Not complaining about your behavior?”
“Okay then,” he says. “We’re good.”