Close Enough

I parked my car two blocks away from heaven—close enough that I wouldn’t sweat on the way to the pearly gates, but far enough to sneak in without a trace. I didn’t want to desecrate anything sacred with the beat-up, unwashed, two-horned pale horse that brought me here, so I left it under a PayByPhone I had no intention of paying.

I walked around the horse to open the door for my passenger princess, just as my father raised me to do. I may not be a good man, but I am a gentleman. There she was, still held tight by her seatbelt, glistening under the approaching moon. My arm grazed her as I reached for my thermos and took a big gulp of water. It was nearly empty. I promptly undid the seatbelt, picked up the 16 oz. bottle of Buffalo Trace bourbon whiskey it was protecting, and poured it directly into my thermos. ‘That’ll get me through the night,’ I thought. It did. I only had one sip before I reached the driveway.

Shoes, sandals, heels, Birkenstocks, a Mini Cooper with checkerboard rearview mirrors and other adult-sized cars all crowded the porch and the lawn. They guarded the door like garlic to a vampire. At first, I didn’t take off my boots. I didn’t want to get burned. But once I peeked in through the window and saw everyone on standby like NPCs, I realized there was no sneaking to be done. I respected the rules and tossed my dirty boots onto the pile.

I sauntered in like a meat puppet in a room of vegans, greeted by everything nice under warm fluorescent lights, everything I’ve been fearing to illuminate, everything far too bright, everything, everywhere, all about God. Two gentle giants greeted me with smiles that could pierce armor. They were the hosts, a married couple, with white names plucked straight out of the Bible—both taller than me in height and morality. They offered water. I would’ve preferred wine. But I didn’t complain. I pointed to my thermos to not arouse any suspicion. ‘Water’s right in here.’ I didn’t have water the rest of the night.

I ungraciously uncorked my body onto a seat next to two friends who couldn’t be happier to see me. I nibbled on whatever hors-d’oeuvres there were and engaged in small talk with the precocious New York chick across from them. She told me about her newfound hometown of Miami Lakes. I told her the only thing that separates it from Hialeah is a bridge they struggle to maintain. I passed her a chip, nothing else came from it. She was taken by a Man I cannot compete with.

It wasn’t long until the event—I don’t know if I should call it that because it was just a group of 20-or-so millennials virtue-masturbating—finally began. We went around the circle taking turns saying our names, where we’d like to live other than the beautiful melting plastic pot of Miami, and how long we’ve been at Vous. Until today, I pronounced the ‘s,’ in ‘Vous’ so I knew this would go swimmingly. 

They said Australia, the south of France, New Zealand, Pompano Beach, and plenty of reasons why, the coast, the people, the food, the culture.  They said their names and how long they served, two years, six months, five years, seventy dog years. I was surprised to hear how many waiters found Jesus, but I’m not surprised that they’re his audience.

Lo and behold, it was my turn. Would I embarrass my friends and make an awful first impression as I always do? Hell would be a great answer. ‘I’m Ander. I’ve never been to Vous, until now. I’m a vou-rgin.’ I’m joking, I didn’t say that. I just said my name. ‘If I could live anywhere, it would be Spain. I won’t elaborate.’ It got some giggles due to its pithy nature, one-third the average run time of the other answers.

For the next hour, I took a sip every time a new person spoke. It was nice. I got to forget about my insecurities for a bit and just focus on theirs. Every idiosyncrasy captured my attention like the hors-d’oeuvres. One guy kept pulling his glasses up to his nose despite them never falling, another never closed his mouth, another couldn’t stay still, another was wearing a stupid hat. It was bliss.

Halfway through my thermos, we got to the sermon. Instead of college class intros, we did waterfall reading like elementary school. It was all about Him and his prowess in math. At this point I was certain I was in class. They said, ‘He adds, subtracts, multiplies, but never divides. He does it in ways no one understands. And it’s not His job to explain.’ This got me thinking. Where the fuck was He in my algebra and trigonometry classes? I failed so many questions by not showing my work. Every teacher said the same thing, ‘How did you get to the answer?’ I could’ve pointed to the ceiling and said God did it. 

Once we were done with math, once my whiskey had been subtracted, once the guy who met his girlfriend at church and made it his entire personality stopped preaching, I stumbled over other prayers on my way to the restroom and had the most existential piss of my life — more existential than when I saw seven of my dicks peeing into seven urinals on LSD — after which I made sure to tell the hosts about in vivid detail.

I returned to my assigned seat, elated, having finally released what everyone released tonight, but in liquid form. One of my two friends shared. The details are lost on me now, but I remember the feelings, the profound happiness and satisfaction that came with her being found, not just by herself, but by the mathematician up in the sky. Her words poured out of her body with the same ease I only find while pouring myself a drink. I wish I could remember more, but if I didn’t travel through life with this much ignorance, I’d be trapped in the past as I’ve always been.

Suddenly, right as I zeroed in on someone else’s tick, the circle collapsed. Everyone got up and started embracing each other. Just like that, it was over. For two hours they emptied their hearts and all I did was watch. For two hours I faced a bottle of Buffalo trace. For two hours I saw the light hug people the same way the dark hugs me.

I turned to my friend for a debrief. She asked how I was doing, as she had done the whole night with little taps of reassurance, but this time with words. I spoke, as I’ve been told, loudly. I didn’t realize what I said until a week later, when, over drinks, she revealed it to me:

‘I don’t belong here. This happiness. This light. I’ll just never get there.’