The Light in the Storybook House

There was this beautiful miniature fairy tale house nearby when I was a kid. It was yellow, two stories, with white gingerbread trim. It sat on a big overgrown empty lot facing the main road in Jonathan Creek, surrounded by a few trees and pastures with cows. No one came and went from that house, but it sat there, lonely and perfectly preserved. I wondered if a witch lived there.

Them in the car said different. There was a man and woman who had brought my mother and I here and we stayed with them. I wasn’t allowed to believe in things like witches, and it wasn’t angels or the ghosts of your dead relatives who talked to you and looked after you. It was all the bright illusion of something unholy. He comes in like an angel of light. It was all demonic. Every now and then, a light would come on in the storybook house with no car outside, no sign of a break in the long grass.

“Demons,” the woman said.

The man shook his head yes. He was a man of little expression, but he grew impassioned when reading about God. I liked them a lot for keeping me safe. I guess they could even see the demons coming up in me, for he took the belt to my bare behind quite often to drive them out, and he seemed to find salvation in the act.

I guess I was born bad.

It was a bad time to be born.

I was never meant to be, but there I was. My mother took to her bed because she didn’t want this screaming demonized child in its crib. My father was overseeing all these congregations at the time, so he got up and went to his furniture store, then worked at his transport company in the afternoon, then he would drive a hundred miles to go counsel other people who couldn’t get along, husbands and wives, groups of elders, in all these congregations. When he got home, it was two in the morning and the demon child needed changing. The mother couldn’t get up and told him to do something with me, and when he said “no”, she said his eyes glowed. So maybe that’s where I got it from. It’s in the blood.

I used to just wander out the door in the morning when he was gone and mother was sleeping. The bad blood took him, too. He fell in with this demon woman, the one who gave my baby shower. Took up cigarettes and secularism.

So these people came and packed us off. It seemed like I was always in trouble. The kids at church were pretending to be horses, eating grass one day. But I was the one who got snatched up and shook.

“Looks just like Nebucchanezer, on all fours eating grass,” they said. I was a terrible two-year-old. When I didn’t eat what they gave me, I stayed strapped in my high chair late at night until I ate it all, keeping everyone awake.

Mother got her own place, but then I threw these temper tantrums and she would call the man up on the wall phone. I screamed and promised to be good, but he came anyway. I must’ve been the worst in the entire congregation. She was always passing me off to one of the men to take off to the restroom for a beating. There was one, I remember, who was real quiet and wouldn’t look me in the eye. His wife, I knew, was kind of mean to him and her girls. He said to be good and he wouldn’t spank me, if I promised not to tell. It was a pact. The rest I don’t remember.

I tried to be right, dress the way they told me, and I didn’t talk much. I had to be better than everybody at school. It was no good. I picked my own switches until the day I got some whacks across the backside and back of my legs, and I had done so much wrong it didn’t hurt anymore. I laughed. And laughed. I saw real fear in my mother’s eyes, and I knew the power was in my hands.

It was all downhill from there. The badness felt good in my blood. That changed when I started loving people, male people. I tried to be good again. Tried to be kind, nice. It wasn’t any good, not good enough. 

“Spoiled. Book smart, but stupid,” they said. No point in explaining. “Boo hoo. Cry me a river.”

So they started hitting me when they faced the demons, too. “God,” I said, but there was no answer. They hit and wrestled and choked and opened my ribs trying to find the good in me, until I laughed and laughed again and then they started getting that same scared look in their eyes. Because by then I was in my own possessed storybook house, where the lights are on but no one’s home, and I… am the way and the truth and the light.

Times of Crisis

Some people thrive in crisis situations. I am one of those people. I’ve developed an immunity.

It’s not that we are cruel, or hardhearted, or apathetic to the suffering of humanity, although this could be true in varying degrees. Don’t you see? It’s just all relative. That which we choose to suffer over is always going to be nothing in the infinite scheme of the universe.

I take pleasure in when anything false or fake or illusory is stripped away. This society, this illusion of normalcy, of civilization, of orderly patterns and algorithms of our meaningless days — sitting in traffic, going to an unfulfilling job to be treated like you are less than human for less than just enough return to survive, sitting in traffic again, paying bills, ignoring your family while they ignore you — this is the illusion that everything is running smoothly. But, by God, we have toilet paper. A man is providing for his family as long as there is toilet paper. Have you never had to go without? I ask. I used to enjoy picking which celebrity’s face I could use for that particular purpose, chosen from the newspaper of the stars.

My ex, Will, used to say that the most confirmed atheist will cry out “God save me!” in his dying moments. I disagree. But, despite being a raving lunatic, he was right about a lot of things.

During a crisis, all the superfluous, stupid things of this world fall away. It is there that you find truth. You see things for what they really are, a sleeping beast of chaos, and it is in that moment that you know what truly matters. Maybe it IS God. Maybe it is your kids, your friends, your love… and you will do anything to protect those things. It’s not about the money. 

My long-time friend came into the bathroom while I was brushing my teeth. Leslie is more of a messy domestic goddess, while I am the neurotic cleaner and organizer.

“I may have made a terrible mistake,” she says.

There were no eggs left in the deserted grocery store. So she offered, online, to trade her fresh baked bread for eggs. There were more responses than she could handle.

“I’ll never use that many eggs!”

This could go one of two ways. I’m so happy that the family has established some kind of barter system with the neighborhood. It’s a start. But, with the shelves being wiped clean of bread, I told her now we will have to fortify before there is a run on her bread.

These kinds of things are the true test of humanity. And if it turns out beautiful or ugly (both, I imagine) at least it will be real.