Yesterday or so, someone advised me that if I didn't believe in Jesus I didn't have a soul, and no afterlife.All who are without God are dead already, and are merely counting down to nothingness. and so on. So, you know, therefore I'd never see Jesse again, and I was doomed, and so on, as such arguments often go. I realize his theology is a little off (in case you were wondering); I'm not even sure how much he believes such things. Sometimes christians get a little drastic, in their zeal to evangelize us. I usually answer people like that by pointing out that I wouldn't want to believe in an exclusionary God, and I wouldn't consider heaven any place where my two atheist sons couldn't be. Love me, love my kids.
At the San Gennaro festival in Little Italy one year, my kids' father (my ex) and I stopped at one of the game booths, consisting of darts, and a board with Bart Simpson's face on 10-inch circular targets, a balloon at the center where his nose would be. "You just have to hit the circle," says the barker, "and you get a prize. It's easy." Well, of course I can do that, for a buck a try. I hit inside the circle, and ask for my prize. "Well," says the guy, "you have to hit Bart on the face." I buy more tries, hit him in the eye. Where's my prize? "Oh no," says the guy. "You have to bust the balloon."
I probably could have, but I figured he had enough of my money at this point.
My ex, when we first met, took me once for a long walk on the beach at night; and gave me his spiel about his deep spiritual convictions. I mean, for hours. His soulful outpourings were, of course, exactly what I wanted to hear. Years later, on my own spiritual quest, I realized that most of what he'd said, he was just repeating from the same authors I was now reading. But it got him what he wanted. Even then, I let it go; because he never really claimed they were his own ideas. Later, when he became so focused on destroying my relationship with my children, I remembered his strong moral positions and I wondered where they'd gone. At a family counseling session I asked him that question, more or less, and he told me I had forced him to break his beliefs because of what a terrible person I was. In front of Jesse, who was just about to turn 13. Not long afterward, Jesse stopped living with me and moved in with his dad. Let me tell you, if you'll say something like that in front of your child, to his parent, and do the things he did to lure the boys away and destroy their trust, then you literally believe in nothing. But what did my ex in, morally, was that he convinced himself that what he was saying was true, and that what he was doing was right.
I on the other hand, tore myself apart inside wondering which was worse: to drag out the fight to keep them with me, where they would at least have the respite of my peaceful home when they were with me; or let them go, and have him in total control of what they believed, and how they lived. I can recall the physical pain of my fear in those days, vibrating through me so violently that I could hardly think clearly. I can recall vividly how I fought to make myself calm in the face of his onslaughts, his threats, his accusations. He was mad with the need to control me, to drag me back into that house. He never stopped to question himself until a few months before he died, but by then it was too late.
We all lie to ourselves to some degree, to make us feel better about our motives, for example, about our purpose and aim. I knew I was the better, safer, healthier parent, but I also just wanted my children. Blindly, an urge so deeply rooted in me that I couldn't countenance the loss. I would find myself wandering the halls of Jesse's middle school after he moved out, just to catch a glimpse of him, in gym, in class, anywhere I could see him. Making up excuses. I couldn't have been more desperate if he were any other basic need deprived. If only I could get him back before the breach his father had opened, widened too far for us to leap. If only I could cross it now, before it became a chasm. I failed. I overheard one of his friends one day, saying of me, "but you don't know what she's like," to another girl. I hated her a little, even though I knew she was just repeating gossip. Just what Jesse's father had said to her mom; what Jesse had been taught to say about me. What everyone in the kids' gradeschool had heard that made them cross the street when they saw me coming toward them on the sidewalk.