By: Chris Wilkensen
They hit it off at a bar and went to her place after last call, partly thanks to the drinks. He came on her blouse, too excited to wait for her to take it off. She laughed, trying to be cute and hide her own anxiety. It had been months since either of them had been physical.
It took a few days on each of their beds until they finally completed the task. On his nightstand was a porn-filled iPad, on hers was a book by a televangelist, for passing time when they weren’t with each other.
“I really like you. I don’t say that to everyone.” She rolled over and closed her eyes, following a successful time underneath the sheets.
He hesitated, trying to think of a good response.
“You’re my savior,” he said after seeing her religious book, trying to be dramatic.
“That’s a strong word, not to be taken lightly. What did I save you from?” She yawned.
“I thought it would be better to say than superhero. Loneliness. Unhappiness. The list goes on.”
“That’s nice, but never call me a savior again. There is one and only one savior.” She was inebriated too, falling asleep a minute later. Regretting what he said kept him awake for hours, despite the amount of alcohol they both drank.
Waking up, he asked how drunk he got last night. She, in fact, was drunker. He asked in order to test her memory, hoping she didn’t remember the conversation.
“You say really stupid things when you’re drunk,” she said.
“What I meant was that you have been a great thing to happen to me. What should I have said?”
“Not savior. I mean, no man will ever be my savior. Only Jesus is my savior.”
“Savior is my favorite Rise Against song, played on the radio all day. Why don’t you write them a letter?”
“Now isn’t the time.”
He fell silent after that, leaving it up to her to respond.
“It’s fine. It’s just a word. I don’t know why I overreacted,” she said.
Their clothes lay on the floor almost nightly for the past month, sometimes neatly folded, sometimes in a messy ball, but always fluid-free. His time increased from two minutes to whenever he wanted to finish. Vodka helped him feel less but last longer.
During that month-long stretch, he once asked her if drinking was against her religion. The words slipped out. He was upset at her because her tolerance strengthened to the point of matching his. She responded by preaching to him about Jesus’s first miracle.
For their one-month anniversary, he took her to a fancy steakhouse, where a plate of food started at $30. He was hoping that would be enough for her, that she wouldn’t feel the need to order any booze.
“It goes well with the food. I don’t go to places like these that often. You really should try one of these just for yourself.” She ordered a few margaritas to go with her salmon, caring more about her exterior health than her interior health.
“I have to drive.” He took a couple of big sips of her margaritas per her request, but refused to buy one just for him.
“That’s fine. We’ll pick up a bottle of something on the way back to my place,” she said.
On occasions when he was the sober one and she was the drunk one, he likened her to a stranger. He went into the liquor store with her. They agreed upon Grey Goose because of their special day. She was tipsy, telling the usual clerk it was their one-month anniversary. The clerk wouldn’t give them any type of small freebie, despite the several times they had bought from there. She complained about that on the drive home.
“I’ve changed more because of you than you can know. The old ‘me’ would have told you that you’re going to hell if you don’t accept Jesus in your heart,” she said, right before she passed out.
“I don’t want to share my heart with anyone, except you.” He pulled the covers over them both and grabbed her hand.
He looked down at the floor, where the empty vodka bottle lay. She always has to bring up Jesus, he thought. For the most part, he supported her pursuit of religion. If she had something to believe in or depend on, then she would eventually look to alcohol as a means of happiness less often. That was what he found out in his research about alcoholism. But he was still waiting to see some of those results, for her to cut down. If nothing changed, he would have to try something more drastic.
After a couple of more months, indeed, not much veered from the norm, but he stuck by her side. Despite the times he would have to hold her hair behind her head while she vomited, he truly enjoyed her company. At three months of dating, she chose the perfect time – when he was almost asleep due to intoxication – to ask a serious question.
“What would you say if I asked you to come to church with me tomorrow?”
“Yeah.” He answered that spontaneously, but he had been secretly waiting for an opportunity like that. Maybe I haven’t been supporting her enough, he thought. It was his way of showing his support in her God. He fell asleep shortly afterwards, feeling her kiss his neck. She, on the other hand, couldn’t fall asleep due to overexcitement.
In the morning, his collared-shirt and khakis replaced the spot where she lay. He could barely wake up, he drank too much.
“I’m sorry, but I’m not really feeling up to going to church today. I’m way too hung over.”
“I’ve gone to church when I had food poisoning. You’ll be okay,” she said.
He laughed and threw on those clothes. They brewed some coffee and took two Tylenols each before driving to church.
After the service, filled with song and dance, he decided it wouldn’t be so bad if he gave Christianity a shot. After all, he was a baptized, non-practicing, unconvinced Catholic. When they got back from church, they immediately did it, her breathing sounded louder than usual. They only drank one night that week, compared to almost every night prior.
Next week, after the results from before, he made it more obvious that he would encourage her belief in God by following suit. He was a baptized, yet non-practicing Catholic, so he took her to a Catholic church, although she hesitated and tried to dissuade him. She left as people stood up once the homily finished. He caught up with her outside, but she wouldn’t even grant him eye contact.
“Can you believe that homily?” she asked.
“Honestly, I wasn’t paying much attention.”
“Hypocrites. They’re all hypocrites.” She began walking away.
“Who?” He followed her.
“All you Catholics,” she said. “I can’t believe those few readings could be so misinterpreted.”
“I’m only baptized. I don’t follow the religion. I haven’t been to church in years. This was a bad idea. Sorry.”
“Yeah, it was a bad idea. But it was sweet at the same time.”
He drove her back to her apartment. On her street, she broke the silence by telling him not to come upstairs.
“I just need some time alone for a while,” she said.
“I’ll be around when you’re ready.” He hugged her. He drank alone and cried that night.
She hadn’t answered his calls, texts, or Facebook messages in a week. He looked for her next Sunday at her church. He asked the attendees, but no one had heard from her either. In fact, no one talked to her much to begin with.
He talked to the minister about her too. The gray-haired minister had a problem understanding why she cut off communication with him. Then, he told the minister he and she went to a Catholic mass. The minister gasped and shook his head.
“Catholics mistranslate the bible,” the minister said. Then, the minister gave some examples, but the young man was only concerned about his girlfriend, not the differences in Christian sects.
He spent a lot of time wondering if something as small as a misconstrued bible verse justified why she still wouldn’t give him the time of day. Or maybe he made a real mistake, but he couldn’t recall doing something so egregious. After three weeks of her not responding to his texts, calls or messages, he quit trying.
It was hard for him, yet manageable. He got a night job to pass the time, so he wouldn’t spend so much time thinking about or regretting her. As the weeks passed, she less frequently invaded his mind, whether in the form of a memory or a rumination of what she was doing at a particular moment. Because he was working morning until night, he didn’t have time to drink or meet new girls. That was fine with him. He wasn’t ready for either just yet.
When the seasons changed, a miracle happened. She sent him a message that began “I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately…”
The first time they communicated in almost four weeks. She dropped the bomb that she gave up on God, that she wasted a lot of time on her life reading the Bible and similar fiction, that she hadn’t spent enough time living. All he responded with was how much he missed her.
They scheduled to meet up at a bar later. It was the same bar where they first met, usually empty and quiet, except for Friday and Saturday nights. He was too excited, so he came early. He ordered two Budweisers for them. By the time she arrived, hers was already warm. She smirked and awarded him a one-second hug. They went to an empty table in the corner.
“Hey. I need to ask you something important. What do you think about me giving up on organized religion?” she asked.
“I think you should do what makes you happy. If not participating in religion works, then you should do it,” he said.
She eradicated eye contact to take a long look down at her Budweiser bottle, lifted it to finish it. She sighed, then stood up to leave. He grabbed her wrist and continued.
“You didn’t let me finish. I was going to say that I’ve been thinking about going to church more often. It’s up to you what you wanna do. But you shouldn’t force it down someone’s throat, even if it’s your own throat. And you shouldn’t be asking me what to do, either. ”
“Answer? What is this? An interview? A test?”
She only nodded, before beginning to leave.
“Isn’t that what the devil did to Jesus? You know, I’ve been reading the bible lately.” He got up to follow her.
“You’ve been reading the bible lately?” She stopped.
“Well, the CliffsNotes version of the New Testament. Jesus was a good teacher. I learned a lot.”
“He’s more than a teacher. He’s a savior.”
“I’m not positive he was, but I believe in a lot of his teachings,” he said.
She pushed open the door.
He watched her walk away until he yelled, “I can’t look after you forever.” She turned to face him and stood still, while he got into his car.
Five minutes later, his phone vibrated. A text. He read “I’m sorry, maybe I’m not such a good Christian after all. You did nothing wrong.”
“One day at a time,” he texted back. “Tomorrow is another day. Another start.”
The chorus to Rise Against’s “Savior” played on the radio when he started the car. That song used to be one of his favorites, but it reminded him too much of her and became more hurtful than pleasurable. He slowed as he passed her, probably the last time he would ever see her. He changed the radio station.
(Chris is a scribe whose heart lives in Chicago and body survives in Asia for the moment. He passes the time by blinking his eyes and flipping through fine fiction. His work has appeared in Thoughtsmith, The Rusty Nail, The Story Shack and others.)