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Let’s talk about the day we will die. The day you, me and the dog will die. It’ll be a Wednesday – I’ve always enjoyed Wednesdays – and we’ll die in the middle of the day when the sun is shining, some kind of juxtaposition, the opposite of pathetic fallacy. We’ll spend our time before this day waiting. We’ll wait for death together. Death is ugly and cruel and the only beauty in it is the unknown, the possibility of something after, it begs the question of religion. What do you believe? Where do you think we all go? Do you know who you are? Do you know where you’re going?
I was an altar boy at a Catholic church for years. I spent my mornings in school listening to stories of God and Heaven and the Angels. Good people go to Heaven, bad people go to Hell but this is all subjective, that’s what we were taught. Bad people can repent, not want to be a bad person and they will go to Heaven. You have to be sorry. But what if you’re sorry for the wrong things? A family friend turned to me one evening and said, “You must have found it so hard. Standing on that altar and being gay.” I’d never thought about it, never thought that was the reason I ‘left’ the church and my leaving was both physical and theological. In truth, leaving physically, at the age of fourteen, saying to my mother I no longer wanted to spend my Saturday evenings playing dress up, was easy, there was simplicity in my selfishness. I simply didn’t want to waste my youthful evenings in church. It wasn’t until years later that I thought to myself what was God? Where am I going?
If, by the logic of a lot of Catholics I am going to Hell for my life choice then why should I stand in a house I am not welcome? Many of my friends believe in God and all of them believe being gay is not anything to be sorry about, that God loves everyone regardless of who they choose to love and I like to believe that. After years of thinking of what I believed a friend of mine asked me, “So, do you consider yourself Atheist?” I said, “No, I’d consider myself Agnostic. The idea that we die and that’s it, is too bleak to consider. I want to believe there’s something good waiting for us after this life.”
I will die last. I will watch you die, then the dog, possibly a lot of others but I will die last and this isn’t my choice. My curse, my punishment from the universe, the punishment of age and life is to watch you die. As a child, I will have watched the world continue to help you grow, build you up, and then I will watch it rip you down. I will not be able to help. I am incapable. Incapability leads to the feeling of uselessness which results in a lot of waiting. Waiting to die, left with your mind and the house, an entrapment of walls and doorways, a staircase landing the key to up and down, to closed rooms, barred off areas. Will you die in one of these rooms?
“Do you pray?” my friend asked me once. “No,” I said. “You should,” said friend said back. “I have a problem with praying,” I said. “I guess I don’t know who you I’d pray to.” “Whoever you’re praying for,” said friend replied, “pray to them.”
Prayer was something we had to do. We had to chant the prayers to our teachers and the rest of the class. We had to join our hands. We had to bow down, stand up, complete the ritual that goes on and on, a continuous loop of obeying and chanting. I used to pray as a child. I’d get on my hands and knees, I’d join my hands together, I’d pray to God. I’d ask God for help. But now I have my own rituals.
Sometimes, when I’m alone, I’ll cross my fingers. I’ll squeeze them tight so I can feel the bones rocking together and I’ll wish for something. To me, the force of my fingers ignites the wish. Whenever I see a dandelion clock – which my mother had us call ‘fairies’ – I catch one, hold it in my grip and make a wish. I let it go up to the sky, watch it drift and fly. Those are my little rituals, my little pieces of prayer. They’re things I’ve done for years, things I may always do and I always ask for what can be done, I don’t ask for miracles. People tell me miracles do happen but I like to think I’m realistic, that’s why I ask for what can be done.
“The Bible is in the non-fiction section. We don’t have it in stock.” God has run out. It is belief. The Bible is a book of language and stories. We didn’t have a Bible in my house. We did once and that was because my sister was given it at school for free. My grandfather had a large, old, leather-bound one and, as an Irish tradition, he kept locks of his children and grandchildren’s hair within the pages – he used to swipe a piece of hair off the ground when we had haircuts. That Bible, along with all the other books in his house, began a religion of its own – the religion of imagination, fiction, poetry, horror stories, dragons, talking snakes, Eve, Adam, Eden and Golgotha. I wonder where I go and I wish that was within the ink-blotted pages. To fall away only into my mind with its fictions and stored stories, perhaps it is a form of madness.
Is talking to someone alone not a form of madness?
Is making stuff up not a form of madness?
Is religion not a form of madness?
Aren’t all the best people mad?
On the day you, me and the dog die, I will not pray. There will be no mementos of my pray life or the new formed rituals, there will only be my bare fingers, which will be empty and weightless. In moments such as these, in the cornered moments, barred up against walls and questions, there is no such thing as pray because you are not alone – devastated, heartbroken, perhaps – but not alone. Being alone accomplishes so much and when I’m finally alone, when I’m alone after you and the dog have died, I will be with my head. My head, my religion, my God, my Goddess, whomever I choose to honour, to pray, to think, to thank, to plead, it will be something of my own creation, my own belief, a testament to my life that you and the dog helped create. And when a little part of me dies too, I will speak in my mind, to you, watching it fall away in the stars.
Thomas Stewart is a Columnist for Litro NY and has had his fiction, poetry and essays published at The Stockholm Review, The Cadaverine, Storgy, Vada Magazine, Anomaly, Agenda Broadsheet, among others. His debut poetry pamphlet, 'Creation' is forthcoming from Red Squirrel Press. He has an MA in Writing from the University of Warwick and a BA in English from the University of South Wales. He enjoys folk music, horror films, suburban fiction, watches, cooking, patterned jumpers and beat poetry. He is afraid of the dark.