Tag Archives: children

The Fish in the Mirror: Get Out While You Can

I first published this story and picture on my other site. The story is based on a story in Louis Borges’ Book of Imaginary Beings- which I highly recommend. I wrote it hearing it in a British accent, if that makes any sense, and my apologies to Great Britain.

There have been times in my life when I thought I should be trying to save the world. I came to find out that the underlying reality of both my self and the world were quite different than I had thought them to be.

I ended up having to save myself. From salvation. yaaaaaay.



A long time ago, when the world had just begun turning, mirrors were different then they are now. In those days, mirrors weren’t just looking glasses- you could walk right through them- into another world. And the people who lived on the other side could walk right out. They might sit down and take tea with you, if they felt like it.

But it happened that they didn’t feel like it. I don’t know how it began, but they say that the mirror people decided that they would like to live in two worlds, not just one. They gathered up all their armies, and came pouring through every mirror on earth. It wasn’t going well for our earth people, I’ll tell you that.

It was then that the Great Yellow Ancestor arose. The Ancestor was the Emperor, all the way over in China, across the sea. He made a wyrd, a mighty spell, and changed their fates. His magic took hold of the mirror people and swept them back into the mirrors.

It did more than that, too. He put a curse on them. From that day forward, instead of coming and going in their own world as they pleased, they were forced to mimic the ways and clothes of the land they had tried to invade, as punishment. It was so bad that they couldn’t even look like themselves. They had to look like us, in our world, and copy us exactly in whatever we said or did.

That’s why, when you go and look in a mirror, a mirror person comes and looks out at you- looking like you do. It’s the magic of the Yellow Ancestor at work.


Oh come on, Sophie! I asked you a serious question! This is too much, even for you! No one listens to ‘wives tales, or wherever it was you heard that. You’re acting dense.


Well it’s not a ‘wives tale, Freddie! A learned man wrote that in a book, after he read it in a book that the learned men in China wrote, who were probably told it by Confucius himself! You’re the one who’s dense.


Well at least I’m being serious.


You aren’t either. You’re teasing me to see if I can answer. You don’t really care.

You should care, you know.


Why on earth would I care about mirrors?




If you’re not going to answer, I’m not going to stand here and watch you pout.


Because of the Fish.


The fish? What are you talking about now?


The Ancestor’s magic isn’t going to last forever, Freddie. One day the Fish in the mirror will wriggle free of the spell. He’ll swim out into our world.

And then it will begin again.

There won’t be any Yellow Emperor to save the earth this time.


More nonsense! Can you imagine? People like us getting free!


The Brush

I remember screaming. We were in the kitchen and I was about five or six.

“You witch! You witch!”

If I had known any worse words I would have used them. And this wasn’t even a spanking.

She was brushing my hair. Jerking her brush through the tangles. She was in a hurry and had to get it done as quickly as possible. But she was always in a hurry- no matter what. She was never going to be done with- whatever it happened to be.

My hair hung down my back, not quite to my waist.

I am, now, what in other parts of the earth would be considered an adult. An old maid. During short lived middle ages, I would be on the express train of old age headed for the broken bridge of death.

All of my mother’s children are still children- even the ones long out of high school. Living in their bedrooms in her house. Washing dishes to put themselves ahead in the competition for her favor. Baby sitting for people in the richer side of town as their ‘jobs’.

Their lives are passing.

She’s tired of them. She’s told me she feels guilty. Well of course. She had told them the purpose of their existence was to have children and also that it was sinful to be attracted to anyone or to pursue a relationship. They were supposed to wait for someone to buy them out of the store window.

Her store window was in the middle of a field and never did any advertising.

She never tells them she was wrong. She never even hints that they should pursue lives of their own.

They’re still waiting.

My baby sister is only eight. My grown up sisters are semi-raising mommy’s youngest children for her.

Now I’m not remembering. Now it’s a party. A family who is friends with our family (because Mom/’s family only interacts with other mom/’s families- not other people) is there and- in the middle of the party- my sister is brushing my sister’s hair.

Because we’re in too much of a hurry to stop for parties.

I’ve watched Mom brushing baby sister’s hair. She has trained baby sister to stomp her foot when it hurts- to grit her teeth and growl if it’s too much.

Because mommy can’t slow down long enough to NOT hurt her children. Ever.

She would rather be somewhere else, but she refuses to go. She would rather her children were somewhere else but she will not give them permission to leave. Even when she’s started to hate them.

Now my sister is ripping though baby sister’s hair with a brush.

I swim through the mass of people. A load of fake smiles plastered over skulls. God.

I get to them.

“I can do it.”

Sister’s body shifts to shoulder me out and she says something. She doesn’t want me to. Little sister keeps her face impassive. Her fists clenching and relaxing. At the age of eight, she could be a spy.

She’s asked them to cut her hair.  They wont do it.

A figure lurching behind me. Long hair hanging almost down to her waist. Long skirt. A voice made of artificial sweetener.

“Practicing to be a mommy?”

More of her teeth show. This question is the breakfast cereal of champions- the question asked of five year-old female children who can’t possibly not be five year-olds until they get taller and start earning their salvation through childbearing.

Bile rising. Sour in the back of my throat. I smear a fake smile across my skull, say words, and slide back into the crowd. Out of the room. Out of the house. I stand in the dark and breath.

You smiling fucking bitches. I’m not practicing for anything. I’m trying to keep my sister from being hurt.




The Great Whale

We haven’t been talking much. Something keeps us.

The religion of perfect peace in this house, perhaps. It creates an atmosphere too heavy to disturb.

I admit I’m gone a lot. Mostly I’m at work. When I’m home I’m on the internet often, swimming in the blessed invention of the laptop private pool of otherness. Or playing with the little kids. In games you don’t have to say the what is and isn’t.

She’s gone, she’s at home canning bushels of pears, she’s at church in the woods with the four or five families that still come. The only people who are her people. All others are untrustworthy- the sea in which The Remnant must stay afloat- preferably without wetting the hems of their robe. She chooses the Remnant. She has no one else.

My sister.

What would happen if we talked? What would we say?

The headlines. A boy, twelve years old, was out playing in a park. Imaginary monsters swimming through his eyes, he brandished his defense against them- an imaginary weapon. Whatever fear crawled closer to him- in the air of a world where death drives the streets slowly and buys coffee while it sizes up the passersby- he would defeat. And the air would pull back and happy and proud he could breath. He had won. He can beat the monsters. His teeth flash like black Peter Pan; the Child Whom Pirates Cannot Kill.

In the air of a world where fear takes the shapes of those it consumes and uses them to its own ends, a shape not quite gone picked up a phone. In the twilight of security, what was left of a voice cautioned, “It’s probably a fake.”

Fear wants to know what’s real but fear can’t ask a child. Can’t be led by a child. Can’t lead even a child to safety. Fear is too unsafe.

Fear asks the Authorities. Can you check? Can you tell me?

Death set down its coffee.

When Death arrived on the scene, two seconds went by. Then Death’s shape was revealed.

Without justice, said the long dead father, what is a nation but a great robber band?

The Child lay dying and Death stood over him, watching him die.

The Pirate whom Time Forgot.

Or was it us?

If one of these little ones causes you to sin, tie a millstone around their neck and drop them into the heart of the sea. Then stand and watch them drown. Jesus didn’t actually say that last part, but we can infer from our knowledge of biblical principles.

One of the last times we talked about anything more other than pears or changing clouds her voice was lacing itself with anger.

“I think pointing out race IS racism! You are making the problem by talking about it!”

When she had still just learned to walk and talk they poured cold water over her head. She had been sitting under the table crying at the top of her lungs. Her wail had cut off as she gasped, unable to breath.

In God there are no shifting shadows. If you see such things, your eyes are wrong. If your eye is wrong, put it out. The only tears allowed are blood.

As I float in my pool of hurt and strange, escaping from the perfect light and peace in which, for other reasons, I do not exist, my brother plays on the floor.

A Child of the Remnant. A child in what we are sure, this time, finally, are the Last Days. They must be. Everyone is against us. Already, he is afraid. His body has begun to grow, stretching him past the legs of his jeans. He weeps and clings to his too small clothing when they throw his holey safety away. He pulls back from new things as if burned, running to people who once hit him daily and call him an idiot, begging to know what’s allowed. His Authorities.

Tell him, tell him, what’s Good and what’s Evil. The Innocent can’t know these things for themselves. Only the Guilty.

He daydreams on the rug as he goes through his arsenal of toys. Orange capped, black, glossy and realistic as possible to protect him from the air he breathes. Imaginary weapons.

They never let him out to play with other children. Though funny and clever and lonely he has no friends.

You know what? Death will probably never stand over him in the streets. He may never feel safe enough to play there. And one day he will stand. Where will it be?

He’s twelve years old.

How could she possibly talk with me?

Who did this?

When I grow up I’m not going to be a pirate. I have no human enemy. Nor will I pursue such creatures. I’m going to be a whaler.

I imagine a harpoon, feel its weight and the grain of its haft made of nothing in my hand.

God, the imaginary monster, no real weapon can kill.

We are the only ones here.











“I’m so glad you’re home.”

Granny squeezed my hand.  We were laying on towels out at the end of a borrowed dock. The sun was sinking towards the trees at the end of the lake. The water treatment plant for the neighboring city  stood out across the water.  It was turreted like a castle and the bricks glowed in the silky clouds.

We had been swimming.  When I was a little tyke and she was a lifeguard, she taught me to swim.  The water had been clear blue and sparkling, then.  The smell of chlorine was in everything and I had coughed and spluttered until I learned to breath and let the water hold me.

The water was murky now, with things decaying and coming to life in it’s ripples.

She was talking mostly.  One of my aunts, her adopted daughter, was coming to visit.  My cousin, who had run away to California and had accidentally gotten a girlfriend pregnant. They had carried the baby to term and were getting married soon.

She wasn’t too happy with him.

She got on to the topic of outside events.  Her voice was disgusted and a little angry.  But quiet.  Everything was quiet here.

“To think of them criticizing Israel, when those people put their women and children deliberately into danger, so they’ll get killed and and they can whip up public opinion against the Israelis.”

The haze in the clouds was inside my head too.  Images from Persepolis flitted past.  The Iranian army had sent children out to clear minefields- clear them by stumbling across all the mines and detonating them.

They had put up little booths in honor of the virgin martyrs thus created to whip up public opinion against the Iraqis.

“The Palestinians deliberately fire from civilian areas, and the Israelis defend themselves! They have to!”

“Well.”  I said drowsily. “Maybe people think that those children don’t deserve to die just because their parents are weird. Maybe that’s the objection.”

“It’s the women too!” she put in.

“Uuuu- the women too, don’t deserve to be shot, just because their leaders put them in danger.”

“They just don’t think of their women as anymore than animals!” she shakes her head.

Animals- because they think it’s ok if they’re shot for the greater good? If you, too, think it’s ok for them to be shot for the greater good… what…?

The conversation rolls away into the lake.  Evil Obama.  Immigrants.

“They send their children over here and Obama decides to spend all our money on that.  It’s going to be the end of us!”

The ripples run under the dock.  Their sunward sides are living gold. Their dark sides are deep brown darkness.

“Everything ends eventually.   If we knew for sure it would  ruin us, why not go out doing… something worth while?”

“Well,  they should send them back. What do they have here? No parents to raise them… no…”

“Some of those countries are riddled with violence.  Guerrilla wars and the drug cartels… Send them back and they’ll end up dead.”

“Well, it would be better than them growing up without being raised right!”

I look over at her.  Her white hair and  bikini and the light from the water rippling across the under belly of the trees overhead.  I wonder if the world is real.  If I really did just hear her say that.

“Says the one not in danger of being shot!”

The best response I could think of on the fly.

There’s a pause, barely noticeable. The breath between the verse and the chorus.

“It’s like getting old.””she tells me. “It not that it happens, so much as not being able to do stuff.”

I wonder how that’s related.  Because… dying isn’t as bad as not being able to perform?

My sister stopped hanging out with Granny because Granny competed with everything she said.  And then, without telling her, left her out of a trip they had planned together and took someone else instead- because she was afraid my sister wouldn’t be able to hike as much as she could.

My aunt is only a few years older than me.  Her birth mother shut her and her brother in a room and stopped the windows with rugs, hoping that they would sleep all the time and not bother her.  Her first adoptive family had broken her arm and left the two of them  standing barefoot in the snow til they got frostbite.

Better for them to be shot?

I wonder if Granny hears the things she says.

Did she always talk like this? Is it new? There were so many things I didn’t notice before- did I just not notice?

She’s onto another topic.

“I can’t do those dolphin dives any more. You know, the one’s where you go over backwards and come up facing the direction you came from?  I’ve been doing those since I was twelve, like they were nothing! But ever since I crashed my bike, I haven’t been able to do them…”

She’s getting old, after all this.  She gets worried sitting alone in her house and calls my mom.  When Granpa was alive, she had an unused pump organ, covered with medals and trophies.  Running, swimming, triathlons.

Something’s creeping up on her now that she can’t get away from by running.  Can’t out swim.

I trail my hand in the water.  Water doesn’t frighten me anymore, clean, dirty , muddy or chlorinated.  It holds you up.  It’s your friend.

I am frightened of amoebas. Certain ones. If you swallow them, your body takes them apart, finds the pieces it can use and discards the rest.  If you choke on the water- if it goes up your nose- it’s a different story.  Safe inside the walls of your skull, your body can’t tell the difference between what’s you and what’s not you.  It has no defenses.

They begin to eat your mind.

When they’re finished, you’re gone.

It’s the risk you take,  swimming out here in the unprocessed water.

















Mom’s Art and Religion

I was shocked. I didn’t know such things were possible.

After spending years – at least two- treating books, pictures, and papers of every kind with respect, this was some kind of twisted revelation.

My mom finished cutting the photograph. She held up the piece she had cut out.
It was the shape of an oak leaf.

She fixed the photo oak leaf on the end of a tooth pick. Touching it to her paint, like a rubber stamp, she began stamping the shape of an oak leaf onto her painting of a tree.

Less than four years old, I sat and stared, wide eyed, at the thought of the millions and millions of leaves on every tree.


One year, when I was home from school for Christmas, mom had found one of her paintings from back in the day. Our house was full of Bob Ross style paintings done by great grandparents, but her paintings had all vanished a long time ago.

It was unframed, leaning against the wall for lack of a permanent home.

It was a painting she had made when she was a teenager- I think- before Dad and before us kids had come along.

It was almost photographic.

A deep well or pit, in an overshadowing forest. It had a worm’s eye view that looked up, almost out of the pit, but took in the sides and floor as well. The floor was deep clear water. Who knows how far down the pit actually went. A little strand of a waterfall was pouring over the edge of the pit, into the depths below. It glistened, shining in sunlight that must be finding its way through the canopy somehow.

Ferns hung over the edge of the pit and clung to niches in its sides.

They glowed in the murk around them, shapes made of green fire. Their veins and fibers visible, the ferns were suspended in time and space, perfect in detail.

Grandpa, her father, had died that year. She had found the painting in some storage room, while helping Granny clean out the old house.

After leaning against the wall for a while, it disappeared.

“I’m not your mom. I’m a crow.”

She was saying this in an almost joking tone of voice, but I was starting to get scared. She wouldn’t stop saying it.

“But Mom, if there were a crow living in your chest, controlling you, your heart wouldn’t work. You wouldn’t be alive.”

I was a little over five. Me and my two younger sisters and her were alone, out in the country house. We had moved here because the gun shots you could hear at night in the city scared her. But the empty sky at night, the wind moaning in the boards of the farm house, the endless solitude- they were scary too.

“Well, she’s not here. I locked her in the freezer and took over her body.” She grinned.

Eventually, she admitted that she was our Mom and wasn’t a crow.

Apparently this was her form of stress relief.

Nearly grown up, standing at the kitchen table I listened to Mom. She was talking about her younger brother.

“Oh, he says Grandpa abused him. But none of the rest of us remember it that way. He’s making it up.”


We were sitting at the kitchen table, with a piece of paper. Mom had sketched out train tracks. They were wide at the bottom of the page, as if you were standing on the tracks. They got closer together and smaller and smaller as they streamed away from you- till they met and disappeared in the center of the page. The horizon spread out like wings, from either side of their meeting.

She was showing me how to create the illusion of distance.

The closer anything was to that point, the smaller you drew it. That made them seem farther away.

She tapped the point with her eraser.

“That’s called the Vanishing Point”

She had spent her entire childhood drawing. She had drawn in sketchbooks, drawn on pieces of butcher paper, drawn while the kids had laid on the floor and watched TV together, drawn with chalk in the basement of her grandparent’s house. There was even a story about the bunk bed getting drawn on at night.

Mom had learned about the Vanishing Point. She knew how to use it.


At our Grandpa’s house, there was a stone fireplace. Grandpa had built it himself, despite how poor they had been most of the time. It was topped by a wooden mantlepiece- a single solid piece of wood, rugged, yet polished and smooth.

As a child, I would run my hand over the surface of the wood, marveling at the strange texture.

A lifetime before that, the beam had been laying on the concrete floor, surrounded by piles of unplaced stones and tools. It’s surfaces had all been flat and straight.

Possessed by whatever unmentionable emotion that had possessed him, my mom’s younger brother had gone into the room alone. He had taken a hatchet that was lying nearby. And he had smashed the entire face of the beam.

Then my Grandpa had walked in.

Over the mantlepiece, it’s warbled surface sanded deep enough to hide the hatchet strokes, was a pair of horns. They weren’t deer or elk horns, with multifaceted surfaces and many conclusions.

They were cow horns- almost as long as a man is tall. Their strong beautiful lines curved up into two graceful points.

They could impale you, I thought, if they swung just right.

They were Longhorns. My Grandpa was a Cowboy.

We were having Bible study, our morning routine. Sitting on the floor with my sisters, Mom was reading to us from Isaiah- Isaiah 64.

You come to the help of those who gladly do right,

who remember your ways.

But when we continued to sin against them,

you were angry.

How then can we be saved?

All of us have become like one who is unclean,

and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;

we all shrivel up like a leaf,

and like the wind our sins sweep us away.

“When it says filthy rags,” Mom pointed out to us. She had been reading up on it. “It means menstrual rags. It’s not just that the rags have dirt on them. It’s not just gross. It’s that that blood should have helped you get pregnant, but it didn’t. What should have brought life, was wasted. ”

Women were saved through childbearing. Menstruating was the result of God’s curse on Adam and Eve. Being pregnant erased the curse.

Our little brother was asleep in the other room.

“This is what our good deeds look like to God. Filthy menstrual rags. No matter what good things we do, without Jesus’ death, it’s worthless.”

Maybe I was eight. Maybe I was ten. Maybe I was fourteen. Every  year seemed the same, with the wind rolling past outside.


I crawled through the scrub, weapon in hand, scanning the trees through a paintball mask, watching for movement. Some shots went past me and I got up behind a tree, safe in the direction they’d come from. I peered out.

Across the gully, a mask appeared from behind a tree. I shot reflexively, and paint splattered across the goggles.

‘Dead’, the masked person got up and went to the edge of the trees, out of the playing field.

After the game ended we went to meet the dead, outside of the trees, and laugh and talk about the game.

It turned out it wasn’t my uncle who I’d shot. It was my crush’s Dad. The father of six boys, his oldest son was the same age as me. The boy claimed that the guys at the professional paintball course called his dad ‘The Jackal’. There were stars in his eyes when he said it.

The dad was impressed. “Good shot!” he complimented me.

I considered it lucky. I decided I needed to improve.

My mom’s younger brother was one of our few adult relatives who would play paintball with the kids.

I remember sitting, listening to him explain the difference between cover and concealment, watching him sketch out on a sheet of paper the different formations a squad could take to move under fire. There were combat manuals at his house that he refused to say how he acquired. Rumors about weekend training courses that he went to.

He was considered a little obsessed with self defence, but he never came across as a gun nut. He avoided things that would make him look like a hick. Or poor.

In our games, if he was on your team, he would organize the players more knowledgeably than the other dads. You, move- now you, cover him. And so we would move through the woods behind Grandpa’s house.


My sister, youngest of the three, was telling the story.

“One time, back when we lived in the city, she told me that she had had other kids before us.”

My sister’s eyes got a little wide as she laughed at the joke.

“She said they didn’t mind her, so she put them on the curb and the garbage man took them away.”


None of my grandparent’s kids were named after Grandpa. None of them were named after Granny.

My Grandparents met when they were sixteen. One time (while they were broken up?) Grandpa had met some other girl.  In the endless stories Grandpa would tell me when I was nearly grown up, sometimes he would talk about her. She was a dream girl.

Her family moved away. He never saw her again.

My mom was named after the Dream Girl.

When my mom got to be a teenager, she became quite shapely and beautiful. She dated a lot of boys and would go on long walks with them, out in the woods.

One of them, an older boy, was very attached to her. He went into the Navy when she was  still just sixteen.  She broke up with him when he left.  He ended up becoming an alcoholic (and killing himself?). To his dying day he blamed her for his ruined life.

Granny has told me that she didn’t like my mom as a baby and toddler. Her first baby, the older brother, had been so quiet and compliant that she thought she had this parenting stuff figured out. Then my mom had come along and had a will of her own.

That little squirt made her so mad.

I remember my mom once telling me that when she was a teenager, she was so scared of her mom that she threw up every day.

But Grandpa would protect her. She was his favorite kid.


It was Bible study.  It was me and my sisters, mostly. The boys were too little to understand. She was explaining the Holy Spirit to us. She had, perhaps, run into some difficulty and was searching for a metaphor.

“The Holy Spirit is like an Alien.” she said finally. “It’s like, when you pray and ask Jesus to come into your heart, there’s this alien that comes down to live in your brain and control your body. After that, if you struggle against him and don’t let him control you, you’ll end up doing evil, ungodly things like you did before you were saved.”

It scared me so much.  I wanted so badly for her to stop talking- to stop saying this. I wasn’t able to make words come out.

I didn’t want an alien in my brain, controlling my body.

“But if you submit and let him control you, he’ll make you do good and be kind to people instead.”

She was completely serious.


“I wouldn’t run away.”

We were talking about the end of the world.  About people coming to kill you for your religion.

“I would just stand there- and let them shoot me!” she said.  She seemed exultant and a little blissful in her martyrdom.

I ran the pictures through my mind like a movie. In the movie, we were standing in the mouth of some cave, where we were hiding because we were Christians. Mom went out of the cave for no apparent reason, exultant and blissful, and was shot.

And I was left with a dead mother and five  younger children.


Papers were churning out of the printer.  They were churning out slowly, because of how old the printer was, but churning they were.

Mom collected them up, said goodbye, then was out the door.

Grandpa was dying.  He had fought prostate cancer for years and years now.

But this year he was dying.

Granny insisted on taking care of him herself, at home. She had been a nurse after all. She could tough out anything. She could do it.

The stress and grief and the weird things Grandpa would say on morphine seemed to be sending her into complete emotional and mental breakdown.

Mom was over there a lot.  Most of the time, it seemed like.  And when she was home, she was on the internet, looking up websites and printing off articles for Grandpa to read.

Their shared passion was the Apocalypse.  It always had been.  How God was going to destroy the earth and the human race- slowly- using meteors and plagues and starvation and Sci-Fi Demon-Locusts from the Pit of Hell- before destroying the universe and damning to an eternity of pain the vermin who had refused to love him enough.

I turned away as the car backed down the lane.  I was sitting with my baby sister, watching a fuzzy VHS video.

She was my mother’s eighth child.  She was two.  Everyone thought she was adorable. With Mom gone, she seemed to be alone all the time.

I was showing her the Ninja Turtles.  They lived in hiding, underground, taking care of each other and generally being awesome.  Their enemy was Shredder, of course, like my childhood crush had told me all those years ago.  But they had another enemy- Krang.

Krang was an alien brain, exiled from his own world.  Shredder had built a body and given it to him. Time and time again, the turtles kept Krang from taking over the world.

We snuggled together and watched the movie.  She loved it.


A few weeks ago I was at the store with Mom. We both had a few things to pick up. She was looking for something.

“Oh, where is it? This store is exactly like the one in Pontiac, but they put everything in different places.”

We found the office supply section. She stood in front of a wall of thick packages and contemplated.

“Copy paper is getting pretty dear” she said finally.

“Do we really need it, if it’s that expensive?” I asked. Dad, the family’s main provider, had a brush with cancer a couple years ago. Now his lymph nodes were swollen for no apparent reason.

“It’s more important to me that the kids can draw.” she told me and picked up a package.

“Do you ever draw any more?” I asked her.

“Oh, no. It’s been so long, I don’t even know if I still can.”


My little brother came to me.

“You know the Lego Bible, from the library?”

The seventh child. The older boys tend to leave him out.  He acts too young for his age- even according to homeschoolers.

He can solve math problems like its no one’s business.

“What about it?”

“Mom said it makes God look too mean.”

The Lego Bible was a big hit when it first came home.  Mom and the kids were admiring how exactly it’s photographs reproduced the Bible- in every detail- right down to Mary’s pregnant belly.  I couldn’t bear to look at it.

“How  so?”

“Well, like the story Jesus tells where the rich man makes a wedding for his son.  And then sends soldiers to kill people who wouldn’t come to the party.”

“I don’t know what to tell you. Jesus really did tell that story.”

“And Revelations.  It makes it look like God is killing people for no reason.”

“I don’t know what to tell you. God is so powerful, he could just blow the planet up and be done with it.  I don’t know why he does all that stuff in Revelations. But it does say he does it.”

His eyes flashed.  He thought he had a solution.

“But it was made by an atheist, after all!”

Well, it would be, wouldn’t it?  Not many theists seem to be able to picture the Bible as if it were really happening.

And even in such a simple way- using children’s toys as graven rubber stamps- who else would dare create photographic images of God?



My Life in a Shell

“Imagine if you suddenly learned that the people, the places, the moments most important to you were not gone, not dead, but worse, had never been. What kind of hell would that be? ”   -Dr. Rosen, A Beautiful Mind


When I was a young child, as soon as I was old enough to talk and ask questions, I suppose, I don’t remember it, my parents explained to me about Santa.   They explained to me about the big funny man at the store, or the drawings on cards we got, or my great grandparents’ remark.  There was a story, they said, that other people tell their children. About the North Pole and presents.  They tell their children this story, and they make it look like the story is true.  They tamper with the evidence- hide things from their children and make it look real.

My parents wanted me to know that they would never lie to me about Santa.  Never.

So that I would never have to wonder if they had lied to me about God.

I was a horrible child.  An evangelist.  A proselytizer.  I would stop other little children in the street and tell them that Santa did not exist. I would explain the trick.  The lie.

The years I spent growing up were in a house in the country.  There was nothing around us.  Nothing.  There were wide, wind swept fields. Sometimes an old farmer, wrinkled like a sunset apple, would smile and wave at the children as he went by. When you went for a walk, the sun hung in a circle overhead and the horizon hung in an even huger circle around your shoulders.  No matter how far you walked, it never came closer.

No matter how far you walked, you would never get anywhere different.

But it was alright.  Hidden in the quiet was God.

We didn’t go to town very often.  We had moved to get away from town.  My mom didn’t like it.   The neighborhood where we had lived was decaying, and the school nearby was frightening.  I don’t know what the school would have been like out in the country.  From kindergarten on, she taught us at home.

When I was about eight, we stopped going to church regularly.

We visited churches, often.  But we never went anywhere more than once or twice.   By that time, we would have found something wrong with them.  Or they would have found something wrong with us.

We would never seen them again.

The church we went to before hadn’t liked us much.  The church ladies hadn’t liked my mom.  My lasting impression of church from before is a horrible sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.  I was too young to understand the reasons, but I felt it. Oh, I felt it.  We were not wanted.

Their eyes would look through us when they turned our way.

It was the Sunday Morning Feeling.

Many Sundays we didn’t try to go to church.  My dad would get out his guitar and my mom got out her black folder of praise choruses.  My two sisters and I would sit with her, and to gentle guitar music, we would sing.  We sang the same songs every week.  The songs were simple and beautiful.  She taught us harmonies.

We sang as the years went by. We sang to God, who would hear us.  Who sees what’s done in secret, and, in secret, is there, like a  bright cloud, whenever two people meet in his name.

The Sunday Morning Feeling never went away.

Our house was an old farm house.  It was made of wood and plaster and wires that the mice might chew on, starting a fire while we slept. I often laid awake wondering what one thing I would try to take with me, if there was a fire.

When I was quiet small, no more than five or six, I had a toy elephant.  It meant more to me than anything else I had.  I couldn’t imagine how terrified and abandoned it would feel if I left it behind.  In a fire.

I could never have left it.

As I got older I thought less about the elephant. My books weighed more and more heavily on my mind.

We always had books around the house.  Mom read to us a lot and I learned to read pretty quickly.  There were always books.

They were color and voice and sound.  They were the scent of the jungle and the ice floe groaning around the hull of the ship.  They were the cry of an outlaw trapped in a cave- not knowing if he would ever come out alive- tormented by thirst.

“Oh, that someone would get me a drink of water from the well near the gate of Bethlehem!”

In books, you found God.

We had a lot of books about God.

We had books about how God had made the world.  He had made everything and was the reason for everything.  He was grace and beauty and truth.  He had made people- he had made them because he loved them and they were precious to him.  They were his image. But things had gone wrong.  They had done wrong.  He had driven them away, and they could never go back and be with him again.

Except there was a way after all.   A way that we knew.  It was a hard and terrible way, but it was possible.  God loved us, so much, and longed for us to come to him.

One day we could go and be with God.  Where he was.

As I got older the book became more complicated.  They never stopped being about God.  I read all the books my mother considered science.  They told me that it was all true, that there was a God and it all had happened the way the stories I’d listened to at night had said.  While the wind had moaned in the siding.

I read about the Flood.  I read about layers of soil and volcanic ash and trees buried upright.  I read about a warm moist world swarming with strange life and the strange terse accounts that ancient people had written, describing it.  I read about a sun always peering through a halo of rainbow light.

I knew that some people in the world did not believe these things.  But they weren’t like us. We knew the secret.

We knew the way to God.

I think the trouble is that I didn’t stop reading.

As I got older, the books became more complicated.  They were books of theology.   They were complicated arguments about the nature of being and morals and forgiveness and death.  I was lucky enough to go to a college, a small and weird place.  I suppose it would hardly have worked out any other way.  I read philosophy and the different versions of theology that have been created.  How they shifted out of and into each other.  I read about geometry and I read how people had spent generations attempting to square the circle.  About how some things are simply not possible.  How some questions have no answers.  Not because there are no answers.  But because the question is wrong.  Because sometimes we don’t even know what to ask.

Then I was on my own again.  Maybe I should have stopped reading then.  I didn’t.  I kept having dreams.

I started reading Jung. And then Claude Levi-Strauss.  I read about anthropology and the structure of the mind and myths and I started reading myths.

The dreams became vivid.

I read more myths.  I read, not the Greek and Roman stories I already knew, but Akkadian and Mayan and Chinese and Canaanite myths.  Canaanite- religion.  I read strange terse accounts of things that sounded at once utterly alien- and as familiar as my mother’s face.

I wasn’t reading for fun.  Not anymore.  I was reading because my life depended on it.

And I started reading science. Real science. I read geology and biology and anatomy and as much astronomy as I could wrap my mind around. I read things that my mom wouldn’t have let into her house in a million million years.  For fear that it would keep her children from finding God.

Life is different now.  Most of the time, it feels emptier and more cold.

But the God I loved was Grace and Truth.  I am not going to turn from him now.

Now that he’s dead.

I’m going back to see my family again in a week or so.  I don’t know what I’m going to say to them.  Should I try to explain the trick? The lie? Will nervous laughter or pointless anger give me away? Will they see change on my face?  Will they guess?  

If they guess, will they disown me?

If they don’t guess- If I don’t tell them- will I have disowned myself?

Which would be worse?

God has gone further from me than I could ever have imagined.  He’s gone further into the sunlight than I can see, and deeper into the quiet than I can reach.  Someday, I suppose, I will follow.  Maybe I will  go to him. Maybe he will be there, after all.

I don’t think he will come to me.