I sat quietly on the couch, concentrating on taking one breath after another. I’d scrubbed the floors, the bathrooms, the countertops; scoured kitchen grease off the overlooked crevices of the canisters; I’d written, or tried to, and spent hours editing other people’s manuscripts, losing myself in their stories; but I hadn’t been able to work feeling into my limbs, or into anywhere else in my body or spirit. I felt like my brain was taped up with bubble wrap and packed in a forgotten crate somewhere.
Invisible Friend Jesus sat quietly beside me. He didn’t have the air of someone waiting for me to speak, and for once he didn’t distract himself reading Cat Fancy or trying to knit. He didn’t ask me if I was okay, or tell me everything would be alright. If he had, son of God or no, I would have broken his jaw, and I’m sure he knew that.
“I knew this was going to happen,” I said. “Ever since you told me, way back almost a year ago, that I should just stop trying to fix things and let you handle it, I knew. I mean, it didn’t take a genius to figure out what was going to happen, the way things were going. But I still fought so hard against it. I didn’t really believe or understand you, when you told me to stop struggling. It didn’t make sense to me that I should just ‘let go and let God’, because how could I just give up personal responsibility when I knew I wasn’t acting right?”
He stretched his arms over the back of the couch and gave me his little smile. “People have a lot of ideas about what it means to ‘act right’. Think about it this way: when you’re writing a story, what does it mean for a character to ‘act right’? Does it mean they always have to do the ‘right thing’? That they’re always selfless and kind and morally correct?”
“No, it just means they have to act in character.” Invisible Friend Jesus lifted an eyebrow, and I winced. “So that’s my character? A bad person? And you’re cool with that? I thought religion was supposed to be about rising above your base nature to become a better person.”
Invisible Friend Jesus sighed, settling further into the couch cushions and crossing his legs. “God made each and every one of us in his image. It’s a slightly distorted image, true, because the physical realities of living in this world can surely twist a spirit out of whack. But still, God knew us in the womb, and loves each and every one of us just the way we are.”
“So that means that there is no sin? That we can just do whatever we want because it’s ‘in character’?” I scowled incredulously. “I’m sorry, Invisible Friend Jesus, but that’s not very enlightened.”
His smile got gentler and more amused, and he tapped his long fingers on the couch back. “That’s not what I’m saying. We sin when we do things against our true nature, things that separate us from God—who is our true nature, since we’re made in his image. God is big and complicated; He is all things, and there are a lot of different ways of being one with Him, depending on a person’s personality. But, like I said, the world is a messed-up place. It can get in the way and separate us from God by causing us to act out of hurt, anger, greed and loneliness. It can cause us to do things that hurt ourselves or others.”
My eyes filled with tears again, stinging and burning since I’d cried so much already, and I sniffed and dried them on my shirt. “I really tried, Invisible Friend Jesus. I tried to do the right thing and not act in hurtful ways. But I couldn’t get myself to stop… I tried to make him happy, but I couldn’t…”
I pressed my chin to my chest and squeezed my eyes shut as my body shook trying to contain and control all the bullshit I was feeling. Invisible Friend Jesus took my hand. I could feel the scar on his palm, and the callouses on his long fingers from all his knitting, cross-stitch and other weird projects.
“Listen, Tinkerbell,” he said. “When you were drinking like a lunatic and spending all that time away from home, what did you do?”
I sniffed. “I got better. I mean, I had to work at it, and pray myself half-crazy, but I got better. I’m really proud of myself for it.”
“And you should be. How about when you first moved to California and you were really angry, frustrated and fed-up, yelling at everyone all the time?”
I wiped my nose on my wrist, but didn’t bother with my eyes anymore; they felt swollen to the size of softballs and I didn’t want to touch them. “I worked at calming down, and got a lot better. But Invisible Friend Jesus─”
“You’re not perfect, it’s true, but luckily no one who’s rational expects you to be. Nobody’s perfect. Not even me.”
I giggled, which made a snot bubble swell and burst out of my left nostril. Invisible Friend Jesus burst into snorting laughter for about five minutes, because he’s a jerk, but he finally got himself to stop and conjured a tissue from the pocket of his white suit jacket.
I blew my nose and looked at him with a furrowed brow. “But you are perfect, Invisible Friend Jesus.”
He rolled his eyes. “No, I’m not. Have you read about some of the stuff I did? I was kind of a dick sometimes.”
I gazed at him thoughtfully. “Yeah, I always wondered about that stuff. You know, calling gentile women dogs, and all that.”
He winced. “I was having a bad day. But I got over myself and cured that lady’s daughter anyway. The point is, I’m a human manifestation of God, and humans are imperfect. I’m God’s way of knowing, and of showing the world, that He understands what it’s like to be human. That he knows how hard it can be, how hurtful. How it can break you sometimes and make you act in ways you aren’t proud of, and how sometimes you end up in situations where it seems like there is no way to ‘act right’, and so you just have to muddle through the best you can. But God loves us, not in spite of, but because of all that because, in the end, being human is a beautiful thing.” He gazed at me with his little smile. “So, anyway, enough about me. You were able to quit some of your self-destructive and hurtful behaviors…”
I grimaced. “But some of the other ones…one other thing in particular…I tried to stop, but it was like I couldn’t. I could only ever last a few days.” A lump rose up in my throat. “If I could have just…I mean, I really didn’t want to destroy my life like this.” I pressed the soggy tissue into my eyes, fighting back sobs.
Invisible Friend Jesus squeezed my hand. “Let me ask you one thing, Tinkerbell. How do you feel right now?”
Tears streamed down my face, and he handed me another tissue. “How do you think I feel? Shitty. Angry. Devastated.”
“Yeah? Well, I mean, that’s understandable. You were just ambushed with divorce papers after almost ten years of a relationship, and two years of…well, you know. Let’s not get into the details again. You’re bound to feel messed up about it. But how else are you feeling?”
I wrapped my arms around myself. Invisible Friend Jesus scooted over and put his arm around my shoulders, and I hid my face in his neck. I got snot and tears all over him, but he didn’t seem to mind. I took deep breaths, and I thought about his question: How DO I feel? My brow furrowed. “I feel…actually, I feel better, to tell you the truth.”
“Yeah. I mean, I’m pissed off and stuff because of, you know, how it happened, and how I tried so hard for years to make him happy, only to just fail and fail and fail…but, you know, other than that, I’m lighter. That pain and worry and guilt and desperation—all of it—it’s gone now. I feel peaceful.” I sat up, wiping my nose again. Invisible Friend Jesus gazed back at me with his serene little smile.
“That peace is where God is. That’s how you know you’re in the right place, doing the right thing.”
I scowled. “So God meant all that shit to happen to me? He wanted me to suffer like that?”
Invisible Friend Jesus rolled his eyes. “You know better than that, Tinkerbell. God doesn’t want people to suffer—God is the peace that helps us endure suffering, and avoid it when we can. But suffering happens no matter what. It’s just the way the world is. It’s a complicated and beautiful experiment…it’s part of what makes life life. Because, think about it: would you really want to read a story where nothing ever went wrong? Where there’s no conflict and tension? One of those stories where the perfect little characters hug and kiss and dance around baking cookies all day?”
“Shit no. I hate critiquing those stories. There’s no point to them. And I guess maybe you’re right, that it’d be boring to just sit around blissed out doing nothing all day.”
“It wouldn’t be life if it were like that. You’d never learn or grow or experience anything.”
“You’re right. But I mean…am I just here to entertain God? Give Him a good story? Is the Divine Plan just some sort of dramatic screenplay?”
“I’ve told you before the Divine Plan is a conspiracy theory, and you’re not here to entertain God. You’re here to entertain yourself, and write yourself into the best story you can. Your life may seem like it has a complicated narrative arc, with a lot of senseless and random shit happening, but you need to remember, the plotline doesn’t depend on just you: everyone is the main character of their own story, and those stories are constantly interweaving and clashing and shaping each other. It’s up to each person to learn and grow, find beauty and meaning, and craft their own narrative arc amidst the chaos. And sometimes, the plot that one person wants…well, sometimes the other characters don’t cooperate. That can be painful. It can suck ultimate shit, frankly, but the story goes on, and I know you, Tinkerbell: you’re a hell of a storyteller and you’ve got a lot of plot left in you.”
I wrinkled my nose, a grin creeping across my face. “Yeah, I got a few ideas for the next scene.” I pulled my knees up to my chest, settling back against Invisible Friend Jesus’ arm. “My life has crashed and burned more than most people’s it seems like, and I’ve had to start over more times than I’ve wanted. But, you know, this time, I don’t feel obligated to anyone—except my kid, and that doesn’t bother me, because she’s my little partner in crime. I love mobbing around with that girl, she doesn’t cramp my style except in the ways that it needs cramped. But, I mean, I don’t have anyone telling me what I need to do next, no dude that I feel obligated to follow around and try to make happy. I know the next scene isn’t going to be easy, but it’s cool that I get to write it the way I want this time. You know, as much as possible anyway. What I do next is my choice, and no one else’s.”
Invisible Friend Jesus’ smile widened, and he raised his chin. “True. Choose wisely, though, Tinkerbell, within the confines of your special brand of Tinkerbell wisdom, or you’ll just get bored with it or worse.”
I nodded, smirking. “Just help me out, because I get some crazy ideas sometimes.”
He laughed, stretching out on the couch with his back against the armrest and his bare feet in my lap. “Will do.” He got out his phone and started tapping away and scrolling through the Internet. “How about Utah? Or Puerto Rico? You could get a little apartment overlooking the ocean, write like Hunter S. Thompson, maybe teach English or whatever.”
I snort-laughed. “You’re an enabler, Invisible Friend Jesus.”
He shot me a smile over the top of his phone, but didn’t say anything.