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September 18, 2023

All Things Being Equal

By Bernie Pilarski

I confess to almighty God
and to you, my brothers and sisters,
that I have greatly sinned
in my thoughts and in my words ...

"Aiden, turn your music down," I shout. He is in his usual prone position on his bed. Well, maybe not a shout. If I were to be completely honest, the music wasn't that loud. You could have a reasonably normal conversation over it, but reason was not going to be my strong suit this morning. The music was a rap group that I found particularly irritating. I remember my parents hassling me about my music when I was young and thinking to myself that kids should be allowed to explore music on their own, and for the most part, I've done that with Aiden.


I don't know if he's stoned or stupid; he's fourteen, so I suppose it could be either. Or both.

"Turn down the god-damn music."

"Sheeze," he says like I've violated the Geneva Conventions, but makes no apparent move toward the speaker dock holding his phone.

I move to the shelf holding the dock in which the phone had been loaded, snatch the phone up, and throw it, much harder than I really intended, across the room and onto Aiden's desk. It ends up in pieces, and I have to assume it's broken.

"Jesus, Michael, what the hell are you doing?"

"Turning your music down, moron."

"You broke my frickin' phone." It is insured, so I'm not too worried about the phone, and several days without a phone might be good for Aiden. I guess. I don't really know. I didn't have a phone when I was a kid, other than the landline in my room. God, I'm not that old, am I? "What am I supposed to do now?"

"You're supposed to get ready," I say.

"For what?"

"For church. It's Sunday, remember?"

"Are you goin'?"


"Then why do I have to go?"

"We've had this conversation."

"Refresh my memory."

"Because your mother wants you to, and I said so."

"Doesn't she want you to go?"


"Then why don't you go?"

"Because I don't see any point to it."

"Neither do I, so why should I have to go?"

"Because you are not old enough to recognize pointlessness."

"This conversation is pointless, isn't it?"

Aiden was my partner's child. He was six when I moved in with Jessica. I have tried to be responsible toward him, for Jessica's sake, but the truth of the matter is that I don't and never have really liked him. It's nothing personal, but he's not mine and I don't want any. He calls me Michael, not Dad, and that's at my request, not his, but I'm fairly sure he is good with it. His father died in Afghanistan in 2002 when Aiden was two. I feel for him, I suppose, but we all have our problems, and besides, he was too young to know any different.

... in what I have done
and in what I have failed to do ...

Jessica and I had talked about getting married, although there was some confusion on her part about what I was saying. We had been seeing each other more or less casually, and had spent a couple of weekends in Reno together. I liked her. I had known from talk around the office that she was widowed, and all I wanted to know was if she had ever thought about marrying again. I don't remember how exactly, but that somehow got interpreted as a proposal, one that was taken as seriously as if there had been money involved, and it was then that I found out she had a kid. She wanted to put off any final decision until I had time to decide if I could accept Aiden as part of the package. The deal was that I would move in, and we would live as a family "for a while."

I was twenty-six back then. Jessica was twenty-four. Neither of us had much stuff, so the decision to move in together wasn't all that complicated, and there was no commitment other than to see what happened. At least that was my understanding. It was like test-driving a used car. I know that makes me sound like an ass, but I was twenty-six. I wasn't looking for, nor did I particularly believe in marriage, but I liked the idea of not sleeping alone. After a while, we could go our separate ways, and since there were no commitments, then no harm no foul.

I assumed that Jessica felt the same way. I didn't actually ask her, but it seemed like she would.

"Mike," Jessica says to me. She had been in the shower when the whole phone thing went down.


"Aiden says you broke his phone."


"Then why would he say that?"

"He's your kid."

"Jesus, Mike. Can't you even make the effort to be a little concerned about him?"

"I'm not going to get between you and him. I know how that turns out."

Jessica tried really hard to make it work for the first three years or so. She went out of her way to make me comfortable, and she coached Aiden constantly on how to behave so he wouldn't seem in any way bothersome to me, but then she got a really good job, and really good jobs almost always require a lot of time, so Aiden and I had figure more things out by ourselves. He sucked at that.

Now, five years later, things are more complicated.

... through my fault, through my fault,
through my most grievous fault ...

I can't remember exactly when Jessica got religion, but it was about two years ago she started going to church. Religion was something we had never discussed. That's not a sin, is it? I mean, I've never discussed aboriginal fire-stick farming with anyone either. There's no reason nor relevance to it, and for all I know it could be a virus, but about two years ago Jessica starts going to Mass on Sunday mornings. Said she was feeling "the need." It was about the same time that she found out about Nicole. Maybe it's what sent her back to the pews, but it was about two years ago that I met this girl at work. Jess and I were at a low point in our relationship. We couldn't seem to make it through the day without being at each other's throats. That's when things really got bad with Aiden, too. Nicole and I had lunch a couple of times, and stopped for a drink after work sometimes, but honestly nothing ever happened between us. I did, however, tell her I wasn't married, and that bit of information found its way back to Jessica. Technically it's true, of course. We never married. There might be some rules regarding common law marriages, I'm not sure, and it doesn't matter anyway. I'm thirty-four. Jessica's thirty-two. Eight years into this relationship, we have a lot of stuff, and going our separate ways would be complicated. There may be no commitments, but there are entanglements.

... therefore I ask blessed Mary ever-Virgin ...

"Mike, I need you to try to make this work."

I actually like Jessica. All things being equal, I don't want this relationship to end.

"What do want me to do, Jess?"

"Come to Mass with us?"

"Jess ..."

"You don't have to do anything. Just be with us and listen."

... all the Angels and Saints ...

"I'm sure Aiden wouldn't appreciate it."

"Aiden needs you."

"You're joking, right?"

"He doesn't know it, but he does. He's trying to be a man."

"He'll figure it out."

"How? How is going to able to that? How does he sort through all the shit that he sees and hears and decide what it is to be a man?"

"You want him to be like me?"

"He could do worse."

... and you, my brothers and sisters ...

"I can't be his father, Jess."

"I know, and I'm not asking you to. But I 'm afraid I'm losing him, Mike. I'm afraid I'm losing you. I'm afraid. I can't lose like that again."

"So what do you want me to do about it?"

"Go to church with us."

... to pray for me to the Lord our God.

"What good would that do?"

"I don't know, damn it. I don't know. But I've got nowhere else to turn, Mike."

People grasp at straws when they're desperate, I suppose. I can't see how not eating meat on Fridays, or whatever it is Catholics do these days, can be of any relevance to us. Religion is all hocus pocus. Still, you never know what can work. I had a cousin who saved her marriage with line dancing. She talked her husband into taking some lessons at bar near their house, and now that's all they ever do. I can understand that though, because at least you can get a beer between songs.

"Aiden," I say as he passes through the room.


"Kyrie eleison."

He stares at me with that vacant adolescent look that indicates that he hopes I will just go away if he just ignores me.

"It's from a song by a group called Mr. Mister. Did you ever hear it?"

He shakes his head. This is the best conversation we've had in a awhile.

"Kyrie eleison, down the road that I must travel ... blah-blah-blah. I don't remember most of it. It was big when I was a kid, and my mother used to play it constantly, it seemed. I was told that the words came from the Mass somehow. Do they still say that?"

"Yeah, actually. Mostly in English, but sometimes in Latin."


"Mom says it's from the old Latin Mass."

"Kyrie eleison is Greek."

He shrugs. "So?"

"Maybe I should check it out."


He walks on. At least I didn't break anything, and as I said, all things being equal, I don't want the relationship to end.

Article © Bernie Pilarski. All rights reserved.
Published on 2015-06-08
Image(s) © Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.
1 Reader Comments
04:02:22 AM
believable characters, realistic situation
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