Chapter Eleven: An Unpleasant Revelation
Frustrated, Roj flew off into the thickest of the icy clouds, where the rain shot through her from every angle, tossed by the wind. She tumbled in the sparkling drops, savoring the experience which was not really 'feeling,' but some other way of knowing the temperature and structure and interaction of the shower.
Even when I was a little girl, I heard people saying that you had to have "Faith" in other people, in circumstance, in God. "Oh," they said when things went wrong, "you just have to have faith." What did that actually mean? That you should just accept whatever happens, and say "La la la, I'm okay with all of this" even if there was disaster? "I have faith in you," people said to one another, and didn't that mean that they expected the other person to do what was right, or what they thought was right, or what was agreeable to the person who was having the faith? And then there was the faith in God thing. In sermons, in literature, in grannies patting your arm, you'd hear, "Have faith in God and everything will be all right."
For Roj, growing up, faith meant obeying all the rules and trying to be a nice person. By the time she was out of high school, faith took a back seat to watch out for yourself so that she didn't get date-raped, or beaten up by some angry black chick who saw her red hair and pale skin and decided that made Roj an automatic member of the Ku Klux Klan.
Off to college, faith got left behind in her parents' home. Grades and classes and job left no time for pondering deity or trust -- beyond the basics of 'you won't kill me, will you? -- or fatalism.
Mr. All was sort of right. All I did in those years was eat, sleep, work, and wake to eat again. A sense of shame washed over her. That was all I did. I WAS like an animal.
Faith, if there was such a thing, had been easily set aside. No one but religious freaks had faith on their agendas. At the top of the list of appropriate agendas had been employment, and adequate income. Get a job at a fast food place -- Loser. Teller at a bank -- okay. Line work in manufacturing -- loser (unless it really paid well). Commercial advertising -- cool, possibility of going great. Accountant -- loser (could be good money but what a boring life).
After employment had been looks: style and appearance were so important, get the right shampoo, buy as many foundation clothing classics at Macy's as possible, fill in the gaps at Dress Barn or Forever 21, stockings and undies at WalMart. Life was about looking fine and competent, or at least looking fine and sexy.
Faith had been nowhere on the horizon at all. She had forgotten all about faith until one morning when she woke up, looked at Matt in her bed, and found herself thanking God for having met him. He had proposed to her, and she had accepted, and she'd felt her heart connected to him at some level far beyond sexual pleasure. With him, in agreeing to be his wife, she'd felt completed. The joy that she knew had reminded her of all the pathways they could have taken, making them passing ships in the night, but instead, that one pathway had brought them together; her life, she had known, would never be the same again. Who she was, and what she would do was at that moment forever linked inextricably to Matt.
It hadn't been like random molecules bumping into each other, like sensation-hungry bimbos and horny-boys in a singles' bar, looking for orgasms to rack up on their sexual resumes. Matt was different; there had been a light in his eyes that was like adoration when he gazed at her, a wonder and an awe. He hadn't dated her for entertainment; he was a serious suitor. He had been as tender to her in opening the door of a restaurant for her as he had been in kissing her goodnight. His everyday demeanor had been swaggering and arrogant, but it was only a mask he dropped when he was with her; for her alone, all his masks were forgotten, and the individual he would bring to their marriage was apparent -- a man offering up every bit of his self, his independence, to be with her.
In her eyes, in return, although she had first seen him as an attractive man worthy of a second glance, she had seen something so elevated as to make her heart wish to be united with him forever. Whatever Candace Zoe Rogers had been before she knew him, that being had been fundamentally changed from "stranger" or "date" or "girlfriend" into Roj Of Matt's Love. A different creature had emerged from their union.
She had had faith in Matt.
"Maybe that's that what faith is, then, to give your heart over and trust in someone?" she said, thinking that perhaps Desai would weigh in.
"Guess not," snickered a mocking voice. "Because he was shoveled home the other night by some chick who took his pants and shirt off and had him on the sofa with her. If that's faith, I'll take pizza any day."
"Yeah, I'll bet you would, if you could get it. My guess is that you get dumpster diving if you get any eats at all. Get lost, you piece of junk, that was me that was the chick, stupid."
That was it. The depressing voices who told her to lose hope came to her when she was uncertain. Was faith being certain?
Looking back at her life, she could say that she had had faith in her parents. She had been sure, as a kid, as a teen, that they would never let her down, even during those times when she had been warned about bad grades (and been resentful) and when she had been out too late with her friends and had been grounded for her transgressions (and again was resentful) -- her parents were still there, and honest, and straightforward. She trusted them to be there, no matter what. She had not been certain of their approval or their support, but she had had faith that they would do their best to act in her interest.
Was faith being sure that one's interest was being guarded?
You couldn't do that with God. There was no proof of God, unless you looked around you at Creation and said, "Wow, that was some good work by someone at the Top." Such a stance would require a belief that at the core of things was this Supreme Deity who wielded a baton and led an orchestra of atoms to form an exquisitely beautiful and utterly astounding array of molecules.
On the other side of the fence was the quasi-scientific model which said that all those weird nebulas in their vast number and all the galaxies in their uncountableness, and all the coincidences in all of humanity's history and all the beautiful animals and people were all random coalescences of atoms and nothing special at all, except that they were random coalescences that just happened to be unique and astounding.
And yet astounding and unique as the molecules were, there was no promise given by God that one's interests would be preserved. People, animals, plants, bugs -- they all died at some point, and whatever they thought was in their best interests was subordinate to what God decided should be.
That wasn't faith, either.
Had she thought of faith the weekend Matt had asked her to be his wife, Roj would have thought of faith as meaning they would somehow have a happy future together. Now she was dead, and so what did faith mean for her?
When she had been a little child, her teachers in weekly religious education class had told her that when people died, they went to Heaven, as long as they had been good. Yet here Roj was, having tried ... sort of ... to be a good person, having died, and now was still having to sort things out, finish some unknown key job.
Desai would not tell her whether or not she had been wrong or right in shooting off Thug Boy's knee. Was it possible that he (or she) didn't know?
Roj sank through the rain-shot clouds and landed on a roof of a tall skyscraper. She sat, letting the raindrops pass through her with their chilly tickles.
What is faith?
She'd had faith in Matt, that he would always do what was best. Even though the darling dummy didn't, and had tried to kill himself to join her, had been a hopeless drunk since her death. Wow. And yet she still had faith in him. She knew him to be good, she knew he would try to do good, as soon as he could.
Could. Was that the key to faith? "As soon as he can ..."
"He can, you can, they can, maybe they could, maybe they couldn't," another voice said. "The trick is that you will believe them. The fact is, they don't even have a chance."
"Why do you creepy voices keep bugging me?"
"I'm your Brother in Spirit, Sister. I'm here to set you free."
"Free from your delusions, of course."
"In what way am I deluded?"
"Oh, in many ways, Sister."
"Name me one."
"You noticed that you're dead, at least. But you also have to notice that you're not in Heaven. You think you still might get there if you do the right thing, but it ain't gonna happen. Humans can only do that if they're alive. You lost your chance before you lost your brains. You learned that when you were still a little baby. 'Do what's right so that you can go to Heaven when you die.' Remember that?"
Roj had no answer for him, because she had been taught that very thing. A confusion was clouding her thoughts. She felt she shouldn't be listening or conversing with this voice, but it seemed to have a point. "Why is Desai never around when these voices are bugging me, to help me understand?"
"Pah! That one fears us, that's why!"
"Because you might destroy him?"
"No, because that one knows we are right!"
She noticed that the voice would not say Desai's name. "About what? About me not going to Heaven?"
The voice became suddenly angry. "You! You miserable clod of filth! Listen to you, you only worry about your own feeble spark! You think that you're so important!" it hissed. "Your importance to yourself is like the cagebird who looks in a mirror and is content! The puerile spirit within you is wasted on your rotting flesh! You are all fools! We are right! Humankind is nothing more than a mistaken whim of the One, worms made from mud! Dirt given vocal cords! Folly! A senseless experiment gone wrong! None of you should ever have been allowed to survive, why anyone loves you is -- "
"Wow, you got some issues. Look, why don't you go away and leave me alone. All you anonymous things do is lie to me, so I don't plan on chatting with you any more."
Roj pondered what she had to do to make the voices stay away from her. She'd never heard voices when she was alive, so she'd never had to learn what to do to keep them at bay. Had she heard voices like this before her death, she would have probably gone to a church for some holy water, or a blessed crucifix, or carried a Bible with her. Never had to arm myself for spiritual annoyance, she thought. I didn't ever think I'd have to.
Recalling how relatively carefree her life had been, Roj was struck by a thought so profound that she felt like she'd been hit by a bus. I DID hear voices, though, didn't I? And I listened to them, and thought they were true. The voices she had heard, all her life, said the same things these spirit vermin were saying. That it didn't matter what the Church or the Bible said about things, that humans had to find their own way in the world, that spending precious hours sitting or kneeling in a building to hear about God was foolishly wasting time better spent exercising or playing. Don't worry, everything is fine for those who have money and good looks! Religion is old fashioned and for the weak of mind! Food! Drink! Romance!
Though she had thought herself fairly intelligent, she had spared none of that intellect to study the ways of the spirit. Like many, perhaps even like most, she had thought that eventually, when she began to believe in mortality, there would be plenty of time to become an old church lady, or volunteer in a homeless shelter, sit in a rocking chair and mumble prayers. If she had any conceptions of the afterlife, they were the common perceptions that when people die they become angels, or just go to Heaven automatically.
She had been wrong. And now, when she was confused and apprehensive about what she was and where she had to go, all the tools she needed were God-centered; she didn't even know how to begin to find them, or if it was going to be possible to strengthen her soul at this late date.
"I was really pretty stupid."
"Yes, you were," said Desai.