Sometimes you have to take a leap of faith. Like it or not. Everybody knows that.
You take a lot of them really. When you choose your wife or your husband. When you pick out a house in the remote little beach town of Costa Rica, California because your company has just found a position open for you there. When you find out you’re about to be a father, twice on the same day. Or if you’re going to be a mother, perhaps, especially if you’re going to be mother. When you pick out a kitten from the pet rescue, you take a little leap of faith each time.
Perhaps most especially when you pick your church, even though it turns out to be a forty- minute drive to the other side of town. Because the pastor is a track-star from some forgotten-Olympics, blond and a touch of gray, who owns three Vita-Nutrition stores also has a dynamic personality and the voice of a seraphim, you take your leap. But wait that’s not all, of course not. He also plays guitar with the acuity of a Hendrix during hymns and choir, and your athletic wife says “he plays divinely.” What’s more, although you think she sings like a goat, she has joined the choir, and so you take the ridiculous leap of faith because forty minutes each way isn’t so long if the services are good. Happy wife, happy life. But then again, maybe it’s more like a cliff-dive. Some leaps are faithier than others.
So this then, is your real-life wife, you took the leap of faith and married her, Denise, and she loves you with her whole heart. She’s lately taking up weight lifting to lose weight. This is your real house on Smarteen Street in the City of Costa Rica, California. Your kitten is your real kitten, not just a kitten that you hope for, but you in fact can see her mewling at your ankles for her favorite treat, your lunch. You’re not crazy, she’s really there at your ankles doing figure eights and she loves you with all her little cat-heart . . . at least until someone else is eating a hamburger freshly grilled and spiced with a little season-salt. Mrs. Catsandra Clare who you imagine is the author of the Night Hunters series, book one, Bowl of Bones, book two, Bowl of Dust Bunnies and in progress, she’s working on Bowl of Lost Soles.
And this track runner and body builder with the blond hair and a little rhone, and with the four-door Porsche and the family support payments the size of my salary is the real pastor of the Real Life Forgiveness Church. Forgive me, but I could use a drink, oh, I mean, I accept You into my heart, and voila; forgiven. I do accept You into my heart but I don’t like this guy, forgive my . . . not liking my pastor. I guess I’ll get used to it, but I could tear my hair out, or his, if I wasn’t so pudgy and un-fit from many years of bringing home the bacon, eating it, and then going back to ten and twelve-hour work-days to bring home some more bacon, and eating it again and again and again.
Denise’s church calling as congregation secretary requires her to work so late counting tithing, offerings and seeing after the building and the billing to the utilities and arranging food deliveries to the poor and whatnot, that sometimes she comes home later than I do. Sweaty too, very sweaty, she’s found an all night gym so that she can make sure to work out after working late and of course she says that I should try it too. Why not? There’s a branch of that gym near my office. So I checked it out, indeed it’s open all night which makes sense because of all of the office buildings in the area.
Denise also makes sure that the orphans are fed, and the widows are clothed and Bibles and magazines are sent to the member-inmates in the local jails and prisons. Although there aren’t many, Pastor Chet likes to make sure that they are looking forward to coming back to their wives and children once released. So he also sponsors work-out programs and exercise for many of the wives so that their husbands will have someone to look forward to seeing after their time inside. Other husbands who must work late find little reason to stray, says my wife. “Don’t you think?” while modeling her new bikini for me. So I think, so I think indeed. That’s a good day, and there are good days, many of them, just fewer and fewer and sometimes it’s starting to feel like the good days are days after having a fight and we’re making up again. You have to be careful of those days or you end up in the PTA for a fat lot longer than you expect.
Denise mentions casually that an awful lot of the tithing and offerings that come in, also go right back out again to “Chet’s” ex-wife in the form of alimony and child support. Yes, the widows and orphans are clothed and fed, “but they can be helped so much more if only his ex and kids were more reasonable.”
I answer, “he should find an attorney and ask a judge to make it right.” But anyway the church lights stay on, it is cool in the summer and warm in the winter and his Porsche loan is never late. Okay sure our van was once late once last year, but whose fault was that, I was at work all day? I’m about to reply that his suits are tailored from the floor up instead of pulled down from the rack like mine but hold my tongue instead, why bother? She sees me sometimes but rarely hears me anymore.
On just a few occasions I leave work early and drive the hour to the Real Life Forgiveness Church where my wife labors away as his nearly free certified public accountant, or at least as his glorified bookkeeper. It isn’t Denise’s favorite when I show up unannounced, she prefers to work on numbers alone because noises and people distract her.
Depression gestates into coronary cancer. I miss my family, and when I get home from the gym now later than ever, the girls are always asleep and Denise is either not home yet or already fast asleep herself. How long can I wait this out? I suggest moving but am shut down harshly, “the girls change schools again, no way!” So in a round about way I convince Janie and Jilly’s pediatrician that they need a dryer climate away from the coast. It works so well that he even recommends it to Denise a few weeks later on without any prodding from me. She picks out a different pediatrician within a week instead. Goodbye, Doctor Early and hello Doctor Shumway who, turns out, is a friend of Pastor Chet with an office even closer to the beach than the church is.
Eventually my emotions fall so low, that my ex-brother-in-law would have said that I’d hit Rock-Bottom, which is why he is my ex-brother in law. Because as my Denise’s sister likes to say, “He is a all too familiar with rock-bottoms,” she finally left him. This is Aunt Jilene’s huge leap of faith, I tell my daughters, dumping him. I’m starting to wonder if it’s a plunge I ought to take myself. Without the kids and the cat, just me off on my own in a new country, perhaps with a new name, in van near a lake never seen before. I’m going to leave her to her Secretarial Calling and her track-star pastor, and apparent chiseler of all things tithing and taxes.
As the depressed fugue-state cankers in my heart, I watch that moment of surprise direction and dumb-blind-luck which takes you from the failure you are to the heights of success you always dream of reaching. Chet Richards, the rock-star Pastor, Pastor Rich to most, Pastor Chet to the few who are chosen, slips on a stair right in front of me while heading up to the altar during one of his Thursday practice sermons. Denise had been going to every one of them as part of her secretarial duties, and today, I phoned in sick to the firm, to come be with her. Rosa the receptionist thinks it sweet, she also mentioned that a couple of SEC regulators had been looking for me and I hope that I don’t know why, though maybe I do but how the hell do they know, my firm’s clients don’t, so how the hell do they? But really, it’s just another reason to take a long vacation, whatever it is. My Denise and I had bumped into each other in the parking lot and walked into the church together. I had tried to hold her hand but she pretended to scratch at her earlobe.
I had been considering taking Janie and Jilly with me but I’m not interested in going to prison for kidnapping my own children, kind of an ironic way to defeat the purpose really. No, leave, take a break, eventually come back after things blow over at work and then file divorce, like everybody else. Deal with the regulators later if it’s even still an issue which isn’t likely.
Yet, there he is, falling on his face going up to the altar. Chet, the rock-star Pastor, or Pastor Rich to me because I don’t have a calling and I’m not one of the chosen few in his inner circle of close friends. Chet Richards, the guitar playing Crooner for Christians, tripped on a stair. No one else is here, no one else has come to the practice session.
Upon entering I catch that little look his face as he glances from me to her again after he sees me walk into the chapel a few paces behind her. That crest-fallen look of a cake that deflates fresh from the oven because you bounce it too hard while setting on the stove top. I see her hair shaking in the wind in the chapel . . . where there is no wind. I must have paled because he asks me, “you’re looking a little green there Kiddo, is everything alright? Maybe you should head on home?” Maybe he has a medical license I don’t know about and has diagnosed my stomach churning under my chubby belly, or he’s projecting.
In watching his face turn sour and her hair waving back and forth in the non-wind, I wonder why I ever confessed anything to him, ever. I want to tear all his blond hair out and leave only the grays. Again, that prison-thing doesn’t appeal to me so I let it go.
At the time of choosing this church anyone could come to the practice sermons and help him choose a turn of phrase or make things clearer or more understandable and rarely but just so often, less offensive. Not many, but at least a few always participate. “Aren’t practice sermons on Wednesdays?”
“Those are pre-practice,” says Denise.
“But you’re always home one Wednesdays?” I lamely ask like a boy scout trying to sell girl scout cookies.
She only glares at me.
But here now, here today, there is no one, just us three, and as he slips in slow motion before my eyes, and his guitar flies in one direction, and his other arm protects his face, the hand and face slam the carpet together with a thud. Somehow he manages to not get a visible drop of blood on the carpet. Not that I can see. I’m wearing a red shirt which I take off and hand to him, making sure to place the front of the shirt towards his face as I do. We get him to the bathroom nearest the altar to clean him up.
“Thank you,” he half smiles, “I appreciate not having to scrub that out of the carpet, and of course, I’ll buy you a new shirt. Of course. Maybe several.”
“How about just two. That’s about what carpet cleaners would cost,” answers Denise.
“Hmmpf.” Is all I can manage. Two shirts and you lay off my wife, how about that?, I think but not out loud. Besides I’m leaving anyway, aren’t I? I mean more than ever I am leaving anyway and California being a no-fault divorce state, what difference does it make now? When he reaches the sink, he hands me the shirt back.
Shirtless, in the stairwell, alone, my Denise seeing after her Chet in the bathroom, the door hinge shuts the door automatically. All I can do is shake my head at that arrogant door, shutting me out like that. I pull my shirt on and rub the now-flowing tears on my cheek with the soft collar. I slather one hand in his blood and crack the door open a little. It’s quiet, except for a quick giggle from Denise far down the stalls, but I hear the water running through the pipes of the building and into the sink still. Still washing his face and neck apparently. I run my bloody fingers over the door handle inside. Letting the door close again, because my wedding ring is on my left hand, I smash my nose with my right. I wince, croak like a little frog and start whimpering and crying. It hurts far more than I’d expected. It certainly hurts far more than he makes it look like it hurt him. Another reason to hate him. Through bleary eyes, I rub my blood on the other hand and silently breach the door a second time. I lightly slip my fingers over the handle and the door jamb. Quietly the door fits into his frame, and then I heave all my weight against the long metal handle I’m holding in my fists as though I’m holding it against a tidal wave.
I run soft-footed up the stairs to the roof, smearing our blood as I go. At the roof door, I smeared our blood on the jamb, knob, door, and heave myself against it hard on the outside. Digging my feet into the gravel in front of the door, I run in the treadmill gravel under my feet leaving a deep skid mark. When I peer over the edge of the little flat roof five stories high, I realize I’m on top of a crenelated castle. Below two men in suits step out of a long sedan and wave to a passing police car. They point at the front of the church and the police vehicle parks up on the sidewalk far below. I kick up the gravel all over the place while screaming my heart out, “Chet no! Please! Chet! Stop! Chet No, I don’t want to die!”
I snorted black drops all over, smear his blood on the top of the little wall then slide into third base on my knees in the gravel, smash my shin and grind up my side. Taking a few steps back and I bolt for the edge.
Twisting in the cool air like Mrs. Catsandra Clare so that I’m falling with the wind at my back, my wife Denise and her precious Chet arrive at the roof’s edge. Turning my head, I watch the police storm the front door, guns drawn.