June 23, 2016

The Renunciation

At the age of eight, there were already a number of things that alienated me from my peers, but their blossoming interest in boys was fast becoming the biggest one. Thoughts of Disney princes and knights did not entice me, outside of the possibility of riding horses. Similarly, the elementary school dating pool did nothing for me, not even some of the sixth graders upon whom my girlfriends were pinning their sights. Even at eight, I was only interested in a person’s direction in life. As far as I was concerned, ten-year-olds weren’t really people yet, and the idea of being in love with one was ridiculous. But around this time, a man in an impossibly clean white suit outside the local grocery store took it upon himself to share with me the good news about a friend named Jesus. Upon further investigation, I decided this Jesus character seemed to possess the ideal makings of a life partner: patient, compassionate, charismatic, comfortingly bearded. Jesus had a following, not to mention some impressive family connections, but none of that was really important to me. It was that he freely offered the kind of security that keeps you in your times of spiritual need, at your most lonely and drained moments. I had yet to learn how hard that is to find in a man, but it already sounded pretty attractive. I’m sure I wasn’t the only girl in the world with a little crush on Jesus.

I never expected to find him living in a basement in Arlington, VA. Honestly, by the time I found him, most of my girlhood dreams had been rubbed off by nearly two decades of experience. I’d accrued enough on the subject of men to doubt the possibility of dating one with a job that didn’t cheat on me, let alone a pillar of divine virtue. That’s why the early stages of our relationship became extended object lessons in faith.

Things I have in common with the insane: trouble sensing reality, object-oriented compulsive behavior, fits of depression, mood swings, seeing Jesus. Of these things, seeing Jesus gave me the most trouble. We dated for ten months, including two periods of white noise where we weren’t in touch, but not really done with each other. I’m relatively inexperienced with committed relationships, carrying on long-distance with the son of god was a challenge that I often felt incapable of seeing through.

“Do you want to do something today?”

It was New Year’s Eve, the first morning of his second visit. He’d arrived late the previous night, driving straight from the end of his shift and arriving at my Lower East Side apartment after 11. After exchanging some basic pleasantries and watching 15 minutes of kung-fu, we had sex for the first time. Unlike all previous times with other men, he made me come. If he was surprised, he managed to cover it well. I was shocked, basically resigned on some level never to achieve orgasm with another person in the room. I’d expected to wake up tangled in the lush catastrophe of his waist-length hair, but my bed was empty when I resurfaced from the deep, safe sleep that had begun with him beside me. My sleepy investigation found him reading in the living room where he greeted me with less arrogance than I’d come to expect from New York’s brand of morning-after protocol.

“We could go get donuts,” he offered. He’d brought me a French press coffee maker, and was already halfway through the first pressing. He got up for work earlier than I did, his internal clock was set for somewhere around 7 am.

“That’s a good idea,” I said. He quietly picked up on my personality, and it often surprised me how well he knew who I was. Though my affection for donuts was not precisely guarded information, it was a soft spot he’d identified on his own.

We were too far apart, though. If he had compensated for the distance with a little more tenderness; if he had ever, once, said he loved me, maybe things would have gone differently. Perhaps if I were raised in a more stringently Christian household, I would have known that for every Jesus, there is a betrayal. Or perhaps if I had been given any kind of moral compass whatsoever, I would have better understood that he was not the type of guy to favor the multi-channel dating that is the unspoken code of New York City. I was visiting Jesus in his basement apartment, the third of our brief get-togethers—three weekends of realtime to supplement almost a year of personal communication—when, during a discussion of whether or not we were in a committed relationship, it came to light that I had been sleeping with someone else. He shut down completely, and rolled away from me. I lay awake all night, until it was light enough for him to take me to the train station.

Back in New York, I decided to walk home from Penn Station, despite it being a windy evening. I found myself on a street corner, next to a guy in a long black coat, struggling to light a cigarette with matches I’d found in my pocket. The light changed, but we both remained on the corner; after the fifth match blew out without success, he spoke.

“Ever think someone’s trying to tell you something?” he said.

“All the time,” I replied. “I’m just waiting for Him to come out and say it.”

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