I found myself lying awake around three or four on one December morning. I checked my phone to see if you had texted me anything. But you were asleep because still a couple hours from dawn and you probably went to bed at one or one-thirty. The last thing I said was, “Goodnight, Alice ~” to which you responded, “Night night.” Now I was awake for some stupid reason, probably waiting for you to say something better. I texted you, “God dammit,” because I was pissed I was awake and thought you would respond to that when you woke up. And eventually, the hum of the occasional car speeding down the road outside my window that woke me up lulled me back to sleep.
The next night we FaceTimed. In your pajamas, you sat there silently against the wall of your room decorated with polka dots you thought just looked nice. You were so quiet, you were almost just a painting as I sat there and took in all of it. Your chubby cheeks. Your slightly damp straight hair that was almost all brown save for the roots which were black. The fun squiggly curves of your lips. The thick-rimmed glasses you were wearing because you had already taken out your contacts.
I asked you to say whatever you needed to say to me. You took a few deep breaths before you told me that you thought we shouldn’t do this anymore.
You averted your gaze before I took a breath and asked, “Why?”
“Do you really want to know?”
“Yes, Alice. I need to know or it will kind of destroy me.”
I tried offering a slight smile to see if that would help.
“Okay, it’s because… I would… I value my faith most of all… and I would want to be with someone who also puts their faith first. I just would want for my spiritual life to be shared with the person I am with.”
“Oh… I see.”
“It’s just something I’ve been realizing more and more when we’re together. And the other night when you… I’m sorry, Arthur.”
“It’s… it’s okay.”
I swallowed and did not know what else I could say to you. I didn’t need you to elaborate. In that moment I was relieved it wasn’t something that actually mattered to me or was about some flaw so fundamental to my nature that it made me unlovable. Before, I had been also worried it would have been because I was an Art major or because I was an Art major with an English minor. But, in that moment I accepted what you said as something I couldn’t change. I resigned myself to the fact that no amount of roses or lilies or convoluted pickup lines or grand romantic gestures could change your mind. So I asked you not to fade and disappear like sea foam. You said you wouldn’t. You were my best friend. I asked you to stay on the line, and you did. And we talked about nothings for a while. At one point I said, “I guess next time I date a girl, I’m gonna make sure she has no principles whatsoever.” And you laughed.
I woke up again at three or four in the morning and waited until the unending sinking feeling subsided just enough let me fall back asleep.
I don’t remember much of the next few days, only that I still wished you goodnight every night and proceeded to stay up until the exhaustion would let me drift off quickly and that I explained to a few of my friends what happened. One friend asked why I couldn’t just become more religious, and I wondered that too. I assumed it was like confidence. If you pretend you’re confident, you will eventually become confident, or at least that’s what I keep hearing. Although, I’m pretty sure only confident people say that.
Soon I asked my friend Bryanne if she wanted to meet up and grab lunch or whatever. I considered asking her to meet by the church on the hill that overlooked our private institution but figured that would be too obvious. She said of course she would join me for lunch.
That Thursday, I waited for her in the cafeteria around two, when there were less people around. And as I waited, I kept my head bowed and my hands together to make it look like I was praying. I was actually trying to pray but I was running pretty low on topics of conversations with God. I just hoped Bryanne would come soon and see me in prayer so I could stop and act like a normal person. Eventually I saw her walk in with her jacket and scarf and I was sure to quickly make the Sign of the Cross before looking up at her and offering a melancholy smile.
After Bryanne took a seat, she asked, “Is everything okay between you and Alice?”
I smiled before I told her a story. Our story. Beginning with how you and I started off as friends, a pair of somewhat lonely people. How you and I gradually grew closer and closer over the course of several months. How we started texting each other goodnight and including a cute little squiggly line at the end of the message. How we were always the last single bit of each other’s days before we closed our eyes and even past that point. We were almost intertwined, like small plants whose stems had wrapped around each other after growing in the sun for some time. How one day you told me you were afraid of ever getting your heart broken again and how I told you I would never let that happen. How one night, after we had spent the day together, I, reading a long letter I had scrawled into my sketchbook with a half-used up pencil, told you how I felt. And you, too, told me how you felt. How we held each other in our arms for a while and then kissed and kissed and kissed and then had sex. How we were happy for a moment. How I needed nothing more. Even when we agreed to slow things down. How everything continued to be perfect until one night you forgot to wish me goodnight. And the following nights, you would either forget to say my name or type the cute little squiggly line. And you would slowly drift further away from me until one day I said something stupid and you decided not to talk to me. And how we talked that one night and I realized I might not be enough for you.
I sat there in the cafeteria thinking about how I might have said too much but needed the catharsis. And a short while after my monologue, Bryanne told me, “I’m sorry, Arthur. But like, isn’t the religion thing something she should have brought up sooner?”
“I don’t know.”
“That sounds really tough. If I could do anything I would.”
You could tell her you walked in on me praying and tack on some other details about how she’s clearly making a huge mistake, I thought.
“Yeah, thanks,” I responded.
“I think you guys are meant to be together. I have faith that it’ll all work out eventually,” she said.
“Thanks,” I said. Jesus Christ.
The next night, I was hanging at my apartment with my roommate Steve. And despite the fact he was responsible for the floor being littered with empty beer bottles and cans to the point it looked like a cowboy’s target practice, Steve was a very conservative Christian. While we were playing Halo on the couch and he was downing his third beer of the night, I asked him, “Hey, so how would I like, make myself more Christian?”
“Does this have to do with Alice?”
“Hm, well it actually doesn’t take much, like you don’t need to know a lot of things or do a bunch of research or know all the names in the Bible. You just need to start praying.”
“Like, just pray. Whenever you need to. Just, when you have something to ask God, you just start praying. It’s literally talking to God and relationships need communication after all. And nothing is too small to pray to God about,” Steven said, rather impassioned.
“So I pray to God about… things I want? Ok, got it.”
“I’m just trying to figure how to get it in her head that I’m becoming more Christian without her thinking that it’s because of her,” I said.
“Why can’t it be because of her?”
“Because, I think she’d want it to come from somewhere else, maybe? Like it’d be more genuine and believable that way? I don’t know.”
“Well I don’t see anything wrong with telling her you want to be more Christian for her.”
“Okay. I mean, she didn’t ask me to try to become more Christian.”
The two of us were playing cooperative mode and Steve kept getting himself killed.
“Want a beer?”
“Oh right, you don’t drink. Why don’t you drink again?”
“I just don’t. I guess I want to be healthy and keep my body and mind healthy or something.”
Steve hit pause and put down his controller before he turned his face over to me. In the dim blue light, I could make out the most stupidly confident look on his rather elderly face which was complemented by thinning hair.
“You know… some might say my body is more pure than yours.”
I had to contain myself. “Because I’ve had sex with one person and you’ve basically never touched a girl? Steve, it doesn’t literally work like that.”
“Well, Jesus never had sex, but He did drink alcohol quite a bit if you’ve read the Bible at all. Therefore, my body is more similar to His than yours is.”
I took a pause before saying, “I guess your body is also gonna be dead by age thirty-three.”
We sat there is the silence for a couple seconds before he said, “Damn okay,” and turned on the video game again.
“Okay, that might have been going too far. You gotta admit it was good though.”
“It was all right.”
And not long later, when Steve had drank himself to the point he was terrible at anything the game required and needed to go to bed, I did my best to make myself comfortable on the couch. After forgetting to turn off the bathroom light even though I kept reminding him, Steve stumbled out of the bathroom, scratched his head and asked, “Did you forget you had a bed or something?”
I replied, “No, it’s just that in my own bed, I’d be reminded of her and I together and before long the loneliness and longing would take over. It’d just be a mess.”
“Okay. Night, then.”
That night I still thought about you. And when Steve got up to go pee for the fourth or fifth time, I texted you, asking if you wanted to hang out, hoping you and I could get lunch or play Munchkins or something sometime. I prayed a standard Catholic prayer or two, and then I lied awake for an hour before texting you, “Goodnight, Alice.”
The next morning, I woke up to texts from you saying that you would indeed like to hang out at some point. I nearly woke up Steve with my giddy gasp as I kicked the blanket from off myself and leapt from the couch. I was nervous. I needed to get everything right.
Eventually Steve rolled out of bed to catch me pacing the room and wondering if I should try to shoot for lunch or dinner and what kind of outfit I should wear. I turned to him and asked, “Do you have any cross necklaces I could borrow?”
Steve, more hungover than he would have liked to admit, rubbed his temples and asked, “What?”
“Even a bracelet would work.”
We had arranged to meet for dinner at the cafeteria on Wednesday, the night before our last exams, after which I’d fly out of this frozen wasteland known as upstate Maine back to the Bay Area and maybe everything will have worked itself out by then. Tuesday night, I sat in my room and thought about how I should handle this. I would wear my red scarf and black jacket, whose sleeves would be just rolled up enough that you’d see I was wearing a bracelet with the Jesus fish symbol. It even said Jesus. I’d hoped you’d think perhaps this was something I always wore but you somehow had just noticed, or maybe you’d realize I had the capacity for change and growth. That you’d realize that I did mean it when I said I’d do anything for you.
I did pray that night. I prayed the Our Father followed by the Hail Mary followed by the Glory Be followed by the Act of Contrition while I was sitting atop my bed. I was hoping it’d carve a proper pathway for God to enter through, and maybe the following night you’d somehow just notice it in me like a divine glow about my skin.
I let my head fall onto my pillow. I stared at the ceiling for a while before closing my eyes and trying to talk to God. “Hey, remember the first time, or at least the first time in my memory, I stepped into a church? I stared directly at the golden crucifix atop the tabernacle before looking up to Mom and saying, ‘I don’t like this’ and running towards the door. Heh, I suppose I’m just trying to break the ice. Anyways I’m sorry if I never really made you the number one thing in my life and not praying every day and going to Church maybe five times a year. I guess I just assumed you’d be cool with that. So, um, help me out here, if you don’t mind. Amen.”
I then made the Sign of the Cross and reached for my phone. I texted you, “Goodnight, Alice,” before rolling over.
And so after my painting final meeting the next day, I hastily made my way over to the cafeteria and grabbed a small table by the big Christmas tree by the window. I would have checked my watch but had the fish bracelet on instead, so I checked my phone for the time. It was just past five and we were to meet at five-thirty. I didn’t mind the idea of waiting. And as I waited, I turned to look at the dark night outside and could see the graceful snow falling and gathering just outside the window. It helped calm my disquieted soul for a little while.
And soon enough, Alice, I saw you enter the cafeteria. You were wearing a fuzzy green sweater as you shifted your head side to side quickly, looking for me. When you looked in my direction, I smiled and stood up. You gave me a hurried smile in return as you made your way toward me.
“Hey, kid,” I said, despite being just two months older than you.
“Hey, Arthur.” You were somewhat exasperated so you took a long breath before saying, “So um, I actually got shanghaied into driving my friend to the airport last minute. Her ride ditched her, so I can’t really stay. I’m sorry.”
Resigned, I tried my best to smile. “It’s okay. I understand.”
And after you saw whatever my eyes couldn’t hide, you paused and said, “I’ll see you next semester, okay?”
I nearly chuckled. “I’ll see you next semester.”
You then awkwardly nodded before turning around and heading on your way out.
I took off my bracelet and put it in my pocket as I began to feel a little ridiculous. I awkwardly stood up and left the cafeteria. I put my headphones in and began listening to “Last Christmas” by Wham!.
The next morning I found out my flight back home that night had been cancelled due to the weather. By the time I finished my last final at four that afternoon, all my roommates were gone and my apartment was empty. I took my wet boots off and plopped down onto the couch before staring at the wall for a good fifteen minutes. I then called my friend Bryanne.
“What’s up, Arthur?” Bryanne asked.
“God’s a little ridiculous, isn’t he?” I began. “The whole, sing for me every Sunday and pray to me and I will maybe make everything better but I’m just going to play coy for forever, it just doesn’t…”
I choked over my words for a little bit.
“It just seems a bit narcissistic, doesn’t it? Almost, creepy in a way. Having people devote their lives to Him. Just like taking this girl, and I’m not– I just, I’m not sure where exactly I’m going or if you need to hear it.”
“I’m sorry, Arthur.”
I took a breath. “I’m sorry. I just felt like I had to say… whatever it was I said. Thanks for listening, Bryanne.”
“It’s no problem, Arthur. Just keep your head up and have a nice winter break!”
“Thanks. You too.”
I then hung up and made my way to my room where I fell onto my bed and drifted off. I awoke a few hours later when it was dark outside and snow continued to fall. For some reason, I decided to put on my boots, my heaviest jacket, my beanie, and my scarf and make my way to the church that overlooked the campus.
I trudged through the snow which was halfway up to my knees on my way up the hill the church stood on. I could see the light and warmth glowing past the stained glass. I could hear the choir singing “The Holly and the Ivy” in perfect, harmonious voices that cut through the frigid air.
The holly and the ivy, when they are both full grown, of all the trees that are in the wood, the holly bears the crown.
I thought about how the ivy the holly grew with is forgotten as the holly shines in blessed glory. But I kept pushing myself a little closer and closer. Until I let myself fall onto my back and nearly sink into the snow. My breath rose above my face like wisps or ghosts dancing in the night. So I tried to laugh it off as I forced all my limbs to swing side to side, making a snow angel. As snowflakes fell softly upon my cheeks and melted, my arms were becoming nearly numb, so the wings of my snow angel were probably too small to carry me anywhere.
“God dammit,” I whispered. “Have faith in me, okay?”
I slowed my breath as I softly spoke.