|Jan/Feb 2003 fiction|
Neither one of them knew, and maybe that was the point. Dave and Melinda had been together for three years and they were happy. Their friends all admired them for it. If there was such a thing as true love, it certainly existed between them. They would do things common to their peers. They would go out drinking and dancing, throw loud parties. They lived the life of youth. They would also do things uncommon to their peers. They worked hard at their careers, planned for the future. They lived the life of maturity.
This particular night they were lying in bed reading when a question was posed: "Is there one thing in the world that, in order to have, you would sacrifice everything you now have?" Neither one of them knew, and maybe that was the point. They didn't even remember which one of them had asked.
"Like a material possession?"
"Whatever you want."
"Like world peace?"
"Sure, I guess, but something less clichéd."
"Like a person?"
"Like the Dali Lama?"
"Well, I was thinking of my mom or dad, but then I thought of you because purely out of logic, I would have you longer."
"But we don't count. You already have us."
"So it would have to be something that I would sacrifice all of you for?"
"Yeah. You would be alone and destitute for the rest of your life, but you would have this one thing."
Fifteen minutes passed in silence, neither of them so much as looking at the other. Then Melinda said, "I say no."
"No, there is no one thing that I would sacrifice everything for."
"Can you think of something?"
"What is it?"
"Well, I know you won't agree."
Dave paused, knowing that he would have to justify his answer, "I would want to know everything."
"Are you kidding?"
"I can't think of a bigger curse."
"Why do you say that?"
"Just because it would be a curse."
"Right. Listen, I know that that is supposed to be the wise choice, a horrible responsibility and all that, but I don't see it that way. Ever since I was a kid I've thought that the biggest tragedy in my life was that I would never know everything. I was always precocious kid and that just made it worse. It was like running a race, being in front, looking back and seeing the closest person to you is a whole lap behind. That's a great feeling, but I wanted to have already won."
"I still think it's a curse."
"Think about the benefits. You would know what it was like to be Hitler, but you would also know what it was like to be Gandhi."
"How is that a benefit?"
"You would achieve complete fairness."
"So, if anyone had any questions about anything I could help. I would be the perfect teacher."
"Maybe I just don't get it."
Dave paused then, "How about this? Anybody ever ask you for directions to a place you didn't know?"
"How did you feel?"
"Awful. I hate that."
"That's what I'm talking about. I would be able to give directions to everyone in the world. That's what I mean by perfect teacher. If anyone had a question about anything, government, relationships, physics... shit, even programming VCRs, I could answer it. I'd be like Jesus Christ, the ultimate servant."
"I get it now. I still think it's a curse though."
"That's fine, but that's what I would choose. How about you?"
Melinda smiled and looked down. At this point their books had been put away and they were both facing each other sitting with legs folded. Dave smiled and said slowly, "Spill it."
"Alright. As you were talking I realized that you were only relieving yourself of an insecurity. I have a similar one that I would gladly sacrifice everything to be rid of."
"Well, we've talked about this before. You're more secure in your atheism than I am."
"So, you're always saying that religion is just a psychological defense mechanism. Something in our heads to protect us from the idea of death."
Still smiling, "I wouldn't say that I'm always saying that, but..."
"You know what I mean. I just feel inside me this agnostic doubt. I realize that it's just my defense mechanism, but I can't help it. That's it."
Dave's smile faded, "That's what?"
"That's what I would want. To have your security in atheism."
Fifteen more minutes passed then Dave said, "Wow. That's it, huh?"
Silence. Nothing needed to be said. They lay back down, pulled up the covers, and turned off their respective lamps. They didn't sleep for hours. Their thoughts were the same, but not about what had just been said. More so over what was said in all. Lying together, back-to-back, not touching, they each understood. They had told the person they loved most that they would gladly give each other up to get rid of an insecurity. They each felt horrible guilt because neither one of them actually meant it. As they lay there they knew that the only thing they would sacrifice everything for was each other. Since they already had that the question was invalid, and they realized that they were the most fortunate people on Earth. They had everything that went into an ideal life.
They silently decided to apologize in the morning, and they slept.
Melinda woke first. Somewhere she had never been. A city. New York. Chicago perhaps. An alleyway. The smell of trash. She was sitting, hunched over beside a dumpster. It was cold. She noticed that she was barely dressed. Her clothes were worn and tattered. She could smell herself. She sprang to her feet and ran out of the alley. She was on a busy sidewalk. Pedestrians walking by ten in a second. None of them looked at her. She ran to the street to hail a cab, but none stopped. She asked people where she was. No one answered.
She saw her reflection in a store window and knew what happened. Slowly she made her way to the street again. As she stepped off the curb she knew that she would never again own anything. She knew that she would never again bathe. As the car hit her she knew that she would never smile again. As she was propelled through the air she knew that she would never see Dave again. And in that final second before her temple hit the curb she knew, without the slightest thread of doubt, that there was no god.
Dave awoke in a wheat field. In Kansas. Wichita. He knew exactly where. He could've told anyone who asked exactly where he was in whatever language that person spoke. He knew that ¼ mile north-northwest there was a 43-year-old man named Irving Paul Walters trying to fix his 1992 Honda Civic that had broken down on the side of Route 204, equidistant from Bill's Surplus Store and Ancient Acres Retirement Home. Dave knew that the problem with Irving's car was a faulty intake valve that was still covered under warrantee. Dave also knew that Irving didn't know either one of these things.
Dave knew that if he walked at a comfortable pace could fully inform Irving in seven minutes and thirty-three seconds. He also knew that Irving wouldn't believe him. Dave stayed right there in that field.
He looked at the wheat. He knew the mathematical growth rate of each singular stalk. He knew that he had been wrong before. He knew that he would not be like Jesus Christ. He would not be the ultimate servant. He knew that human beings as a race had become suicidal and parasitic. He knew the reaction every individual person would have upon hearing his advice. He knew that he would die of exposure in eleven days. He knew that he would not move. He knew that it had not been worth it. He knew that Melinda was dead. These facts were not the reasons for his self-imposed death sentence. The reason was another fact entirely.
He would stand there for eight more days before he collapsed not because he could never go back. Not because Melinda was dead. He would lay in that spot with the wheat growing around him and the bugs biting his face for three days after his collapse because he knew. He knew that not only had he destroyed his happiness, and not only would he never again retain it, but he knew, the way he knew everything, that there was a God.