The woman walked into the café and up to the lady at the front podium. She was college-aged, with black curly hair that sat like the end of a mop on her head. It fell about halfway down her ear and was even all around, covering her face slightly.
“How many in your party?”
“Oh, it’s just me. I’m meeting someone here. but I don’t know what he looks like. ”
“Blind date?” she said, with a wry smile.
“You could call it that.”
God, who was sitting at a table by the window, started waving towards the woman at the podium.
“I think that might be your man,” she said looking over at him.
The woman remembered the description Tom gave her, and he seemed to be the only one in the room who fit it. So she tentatively walked over.
“Jean! I’m so glad to finally have met you, “said God.
“Hi. Me, too.”
She didn’t sound as sure as God did, but she sat down nonetheless. Things were getting serious with Tom, and she knew this meeting had to happen at some point. He was religious – and I mean really religious. He was going to Mass every day and would talk about abstract theological points that made almost no sense to her. But Tom was kind, and he actually cared about her and that was a welcome change from the guys she’d been with before. If getting coffee with this guy was what she had to do to keep him around a little longer, it wasn’t too much to ask.
They sat there awkwardly for a moment – God looking at her and smiling, and she kind of looking at him and kind of smiling, rocking back-and-forth a bit.
“How are you?” said God. “How are things with Tom?”
“They’re good. He’s a good man.”
“Yes, he’s a good man. Or at least he’s trying to be, and that’s all we can ask of anybody, right?”
“I suppose so.”
“How are you guys doing staying pure? Is he keeping his hands off you?”
Jean realized immediately what she had just said. “Oh my God! I mean… shit, I just said ‘God.’.”
“Fantastic Jean,” she thought. “First five minutes and you’ve already managed to swear, take God’s name in vain, and let him know you wish Tom would just fornicate with you already.” This was not the impression she wanted to make with the Almighty. Her mind started wandering, and she began to think about what Tom would say after hearing how this conversation went. She imagined him telling her in that sanctimonious voice he pulled out whenever he started talking about the Bible that he felt like God wanted them to break up. But before she could think about it for too long, she noticed God shaking a bit in his chair.
He was actually laughing. “I am so glad Tom knows you.”
“Tom knows a lot about doctrine, but he doesn’t know much about life. Head in the clouds, and feet nowhere near the ground.”
“I don’t know what Tom sees in me. I’m sure there are tons of girls at his Catholic college he could go for who would be better.”
“Well, to be honest, part of the reason he likes you so much is because you aren’t like all of the Catholic college girls. You are… looser – little more rebellious, and he kind of likes that.”
Jean smirked a bit.
God went on: “And that’s not a good thing.”
The smirk disappeared. Jean looked down and to the left, so that her hair entirely covered her eyes.
“But that’s not the main reason he likes you. Mostly, it’s all the little things about you that pull together and make you Jean. But I don’t want to talk about Tom the whole time. Tell me about yourself.”
Jean looked up, “What do you want to know?”
The way he said it – slow and deliberate – made her realize this conversation was going to be a confession, but she felt – after meeting him now and hearing him laugh and not scold her for her slip of the tongue – that God was not like Tom. Something in her told her that she was safe. So she resigned herself to the fact that God was no good at smalltalk and dove in.
“Everything… OK. But, please, could you keep this to yourself? Tom hasn’t heard everything about me yet. I’ll tell him, I promise. I just don’t know if we’ve been together long enough for him to handle my history. I am not ready to share all of this with him.”
“I understand. That’s fine. ”
She let out a deep sigh, collected her thoughts, and spoke, looking out the window.
“I grew up in LA. My mom was… amazing. She is kind, strong and everything I want to be. My dad was an asshole.”
“He was abusive. I remember him yelling a lot growing up.”
“Is he in your life now?”
Jean looked at him directly. “No, thank God. I mean, thank you. I haven’t talked to him in years, and he hasn’t made any attempt to contact me.”
“It must have made life really hard – him being like that. Were you happy growing up?”
“I guess. It’s not like he was bad every minute of every day. And when I got older, me and my friends could just get in the car and leave when he was.”
“What were your friends like?”
“Oh, you know how it is in high school… friends by happenstance, mostly. Pot probably bonded us together more than anything else, but a few of them stuck. One of them, Stacia, has a little boy and lives up in Oregon. I talk to her almost every week.”
“I guess more than pot bonded you together.”
“I guess so.” She smiled and got lost in memory.
“Tom told me you are going through the RCIA program.”
“Huh? Oh, oh yes, I am. ”
“How are you liking it? ”
“It’s all right.” she said in the most unconvincing way.
“So you are not liking it? ”
“No! I like it. It’s just hard to understand Deacon Mark. We were talking about Jesus dying on the cross last week, and he went on and on about the different theories of atonement. I don’t even know what ‘atonement’ means. I told one of the helpers afterwards, and she explained that it means you died for us so that we could go to heaven. I thought, well geez, why didn’t he just say that? ”
Jean started warming up and ran with it. “You know, Tom is the same way. He starts talking about some passage that correlates to the Greek in some other passage and I don’t know what to say. I feel stupid. ”
“Why don’t you tell him you don’t understand? Tell him to explain it better? ”
“And give him one more reason to dump me? I already know I can’t measure up to the good little Christian girls that go to his parish.”
“But he didn’t choose one of those Christian girls. He chose you. ”
This didn’t seem to cheer up Jean any. She sat there, looking down at a piece of string coming off her sweater that she was wrapping and unwrapping around her finger. She began to feel this meeting was a bad idea.
“Did you hear me, Jean? ”
“Yes, I heard you,” she said, still looking down at the fray on her sweater.
“And that doesn’t mean anything to you? ”
Jean gazed steadily at the man sitting across from her. “Do you really want the truth?”
“Of course. ”
“The reason Tom is still with me is because he doesn’t know me.”
“I know the boy. He’s not going to dump you because you don’t know Greek. ”
“No, it’s not that. I’ve done things.”
Jean hesitated, and stared down again. “Why did I say that?” she thought. She wanted to open up, but she also didn’t. In her own heart, closed in, she was safe. No prying eyes. No gossiping old ladies. No catty friends who pretend they care and then rip you to shreds when you’re gone. She didn’t want to open herself up again – not in front of Tom, and certainly not in front of God. But she knew there was no other way to her boyfriend. And something about the person sitting across from her gently tugged at her. She could end the conversation now and remain safe and alone, or she could invite God into the space she had walled off.
Finally she spoke. “If Tom’s family and friends knew where I’ve been and what I’ve done, they would force him to break up with me. I’ve slept with I don’t know how many guys. And I’ve done harder drugs than pot, that’s for sure.”
Now, if she had been thinking more defensively, she might have stopped at this point. She knew how to tell just enough to people to give them an answer that satisfied them without actually answering their question. But telling God about herself – fissures and all – felt freeing. She knew he wouldn’t tell Tom, and if anyone ought to know her inside and out, she figured it might as well be God. So she didn’t end there, and what she said was something more like a stream of consciousness. To start from the beginning:
“If Tom’s family and friends knew where I’ve been and what I’ve done, they would force him to break up with me. I’ve slept with I don’t know how many guys, and i’ve done harder drugs than pot, that’s for sure. I’m still trying to get over them. I’ve been sober for a year now, but I still feel the urge. In high school, I was suicidal. I’m on meds now and I’ve got a good therapist, but… you know, when things get difficult, I can spiral down pretty quickly. I don’t want to get out of bed – sometimes I literally can’t. And I’m not easy to deal with, either. There were some old boyfriends I chose to leave because they were mean and cruel. Other guys left me because I can be mean and cruel.”
She took a deep breath and let it out, and a tear started coming out one eye and down her cheek. It all sounded so much worse saying it out loud and in front of him. “You don’t have to tell me. I know I need to tell him all of this. I know I do. I just know what’s going to happen once I do, and I want to live in this fantasy a little while longer… the one where I’m a beautiful and innocent girl dating a good boy.”
She looked up, finally. She didn’t know what kind of reaction she might get from God. Perhaps he would scold her for not telling Tom all this sooner and leading his child down what was sure to be a path of sin. Perhaps he would ask her never to see him again. This all seemed both reasonable and inevitable to her. The relationship would end with a whimper. And she would retreat to her life – a place that was messy, but at least it was her mess, and only her mess.
“Jean, I want you to really listen to me.”
She wiped her eye, and pulled back the hair from her face. When God knew he had her attention, he gave his verdict:
“Tom is going to ask you to marry him. And I want you to say, ‘yes’.”
At hearing this, Jean shuddered. Shock and fear shot through her body.
“Oh no…. oh no oh no oh no…. You can’t be serious.”
“I am. Completely.”
“I was thinking of a fantasy somewhere between him dumping me and actual marriage. Not the whole marriage thing. I don’t know if I’m ready for that!”
“Do you love him?”
“Yes, of course I do!”
“And he loves you.”
“But, Lord, no. I mean, I’m not good for him.” She tried feverishly to figure out why this conversation suddenly took a wrong turn. “Yes, ok, I know what to do now: I’m going to tell him all about me, and he’ll see it’s completely foolish. I’m sorry… you’ve got me. I see now. He needs to know, and when he knows, he’ll do the right thing and let me go.”
“No, that’s not what I said. I said Tom is going to ask you to marry him, and I want you to say ‘yes’. And there’s no use in telling him what you told me about yourself. It’s not going to change his mind.”
“How? I’ll be descriptive! I’ll paint the most horrible picture of myself!”
“That will only make it worse. I told you, Tom knows his doctrine. And he’s also a hopeless romantic. It’s a potent combination. In an absurdly generous and tragic overture of love, I gave myself for humanity. Tom will only take your confession as a sign that he should do the same for you.”
“But he won’t know what he’s getting into! I’m his first real girlfriend. He’s infatuated. He doesn’t understand what living with a depressed person really means.”
“You’re right. He has no way of knowing where life will take him if he ties himself to someone who can barely do anything when she’s in the throws of another episode. He has no clue what it’s like trying to love a woman who’s grown up with abuse. And you have no idea what it’s like living with a pompous arm-chair theologian who will learn only by the sweat of his brow to talk like a normal person. Nor do you understand the multitude of ways he will let you down. And that’s the point.”
The conversation was getting more confusing by the second for Jean. “I don’t understand.”
“Love is beautiful. It can comfort you and care for you. But love, if it means anything, is always tragic. His burdens will become your own and yours his. And even in the best of circumstances, someone will die in the end. There is no way for any two people to know what mix of beauty and tragedy they’re going to get. That’s what makes the decision to dive in actually love.”
“I don’t deserve him.”
“Which makes the gift all the more sweet.”
Jean was still visibly distraught. Her life before Tom was crazy, but it was a crazy she knew how to live with. When the storm is all you know, the storm is home and the calm is the adventure.
“I could still say ‘no’,” said Jean.
The conversation lapsed into silence. Jean knew what God wanted. And she knew it couldn’t be done. Tornadoes are only good at destroying things, and she was a tornado – fun to see from a healthy distance, but terrifying the closer you get.
God leaned forward, resting his folded arms on the table between them.
“Let me describe two scenarios, and you tell me what you think. Scenario 1: Tom asks you to marry him, and you say ‘no.’ He walks away from the difficult conversation and you stay friends for awhile, but slowly lose touch. He goes on to marry some girl who’s nice, but doesn’t touch him the way you did – doesn’t feel like his closest friend, someone he feels like he’s known since diapers, even though he’d only met her a few months ago. You, for your part, go on alone for years because on the one hand, you still can’t bring yourself to say ‘yes’ to a guy like Tom, but on the other, he’s spoiled you and you can’t put up with the guys you used to. You’re caught in limbo for years until you settle, too.
“That’s scenario 1. Scenario 2 goes like this: Tom asks you to marry him, and you say ‘yes.’ The first few months go by and both of you realize there’s a lot more baggage to deal with than either of you thought – more baggage than most couples have to deal with. But Tom sticks it out because he’s so self-righteous, and you stick it out because you’re pregnant and you don’t know what else you’re going to do. And slowly, painfully, Tom actually turns into the chivalrous, heroic man he always wanted to be, but grounded by his dear wife, and you turn into the kind, strong woman your mother was, only more so. You become the good, innocent girl you always dreamed of being. You become a saint.
One scenario is safe and boring. The other is dangerous and full of life. Which would you rather have?”
Jean didn’t know which she would rather have. God hadn’t made the decision any easier for her. But that was the point. He didn’t want to tell her what to do. He wanted her to see all the terror, beauty, and consequence of each path. She sat with her thoughts for a minute, staring at the table. She was scared, but for the first time in a long time, she felt something new: excitement. Excitement that she could really have a new life, not just with Tom, but with God as well. She imagined herself getting married, having kids, and it frightened her. But then she remembered that it would be Tom she was marrying, and Tom with whom these kids would be coming, and a peace filled her heart.
And so, with a sigh, and a roll of the eyes, she said, very unconvincingly, “I guess I’m getting married.”