I feel I should confess. I used to worry that I had not suffered enough. Honestly, I had not suffered at all. I mean, someone did kick our door in at three in the morning, because of the ‘80s and Ronald Reagan and Crack Cocaine, but they didn’t hurt us. They got my mom’s purse and seven bucks. In 1990, I got hit by a drunk driver and lost my spleen and that did hurt like hell, but it was just a spleen. It’s almost the most sufferless organ you can lose. It was my coming of age. It made me a better person. The worst things that happen to me always end up being the best. I worried that I was the Anti-Job. God and the Devil had gotten together and thought it was funny to fuck with Job. See how he’d react. If they could do that, maybe they were capable of the other side. Maybe they could take me and never fuck with me. See how I’d react.
My wife and I used to play a game called Hypothetical Suffering. What would you do if? How would you feel if? Could you take it if? It might have started from wondering how we’d do in the Walking Dead. What would we be capable of? But it turned micro. It turned darker. What if I got cancer? What if my brother was arrested for a major crime? What if I wanted to try heroin on my 50th birthday? We wanted to know what we would do for every possible if they threw our way.
I was the preacher’s kid, but my wife was the one who grew up worrying about God’s watchful eye. I never worried about stuff like that, but then my dad didn’t say to me what hers said to her. Just remember, her dad said, God sees everything you do. Everything! I didn’t worry about God. I cared only briefly about something similar to this when I was thirteen, and my grandma died, and people said she was looking down on us. What if she saw me doing things she didn’t like? Like maybe how often I was masturbating. Oh, Allen. Oh, no.
I didn’t fear God though. There’s a lot of people in the world if you think about it. I figured God was too busy to watch all of us. That’s a lot of prayers to listen to. A lot of people taking your name in vain. That’s a ton of kids masturbating. God would get dizzy keeping track of all of that. I guess I believed in a dizzy god. I don’t think he thought we’d catch on to being watched. I don’t think he thought we’d contemplate the meaning of life. We started going there and God said, Oh, shit. This is getting complicated. Then we started thinking about him, and he said, Fuck this. I’m out of here. I’m not saying God was a deadbeat dad, necessarily, but I am saying God couldn’t take the heat. He got dizzy. He left his kids behind. He got the fuck out.
But the non-suffering life had to come to a halt, didn’t it? In the last week of February, my dad went into the hospital for a small kidney infection. He’d had kidney stones before, and he’d always gotten better. He did have a lung disease and an oxygen tank he took everywhere, but that was just his style now. This time he went in on a Thursday night and by Saturday he seemed to be getting better. He talked about going home. He talked about his college days like they were yesterday. He told my wife not to bother with reading Melville. Life was too short. That night, he appeared in my dream, and he asked me, Are you ready?
The next morning, they rushed him downstairs to the ER. I got there in time to help with the decision to go on the ventilator. He told me to take care of my mom. I said I would, of course, but I never got to tell him that I was sorry about calling his God a deadbeat dad. I never got to tell him how long I had discounted suffering. And then we spent a week with him on the ventilator giving his body one last try. I told my daughter how he’d asked me in a dream if I was ready. I told her I thought I was. As best as I could be.
Then only a week after he died, the whole world went to hell. I couldn’t escape ventilators on tv or dreams of losing my breath or of loved ones losing theirs, and I wondered if maybe this is what he had asked me about. Was I ready for this this? Not his death, but mine. Not his, but ours. Or what if he was asking if I was ready to live? I worried if even in this shitty world I was still being given more grace than I deserved. If even in this shitty world, I’d suffer less than my share. What if I’m more alive now than I’ve ever been? What if I’m more dead? This makes me dizzy too, but it doesn’t make me want to get the fuck out. This makes me want to stay. I want everybody to stay.
I wrote this in the Spring of 2020 and it was originally published and since removed from Hobart due to one editor’s dive into shock offensiveness in some self-delusion of artisitic freedom that led to a hostile takeover of the site’s actual art.