I open the door, eyes burning and jaw tightening as I swallow around a knot in my throat. A few steps out, and the warmth of indoors still lingers in the space between my shirt and my skin. Slowly, awareness of frigid air and slow-falling snowflakes creeps in from my fingers, then my nose, but it’s not until I’m well into the cutting night air that I realize the consequence of a jacketless walk home. Overwhelmed, I pry apart the arduous bodily awareness from the last half-hour of class and sit on the damp but not yet snow-covered bench.
It shouldn’t affect me, especially because it has been so much worse. I’ve experienced the hot flush of shame, the cold weight of embarrassment in religion class when another student confidently declared that people like me should kill themselves, if only as a preventative measure against sin. That statement was an outlier. Most often, I’m indifferent to the careless, obligatory gospel connections teachers drop, leadened to the floor at the end of class. The ones that excitable peers scramble to pick up and elevate into something fallaciously applicable to a trivial encounter they had at the supermarket or in the hall the week prior. When she says the words today, they don’t hit the floor. Instead, they fall out like saccharine cubes that should have dissolved into an ocean of washed-out religiosity, but instead become buoyant—an aggravating anomaly that I’m compelled to observe, all while treading two feet away in the same water myself.
The separation slams back together and I become aware of reddening fingers, steamed breath, numb cheeks, and the shivering weight of shirt on skin. Unsure of the time elapsed, some region in the back part of my brain sounds alarms, insisting that I go home. Paranoia fills the dark corners left unlit by evenly-spread light posts, but despite my unease, those sugar cubes demand that I delay, doubt, and digest. I ridicule the whole mental charade’s unmistakably juvenile dance, but in the absence of people, the pretense is less humiliating. I am my only audience; although, perhaps He is also mindlessly attuned to this moment.
I realize I think of God as a “him.” Maybe the upset causes me to petulantly stigmatize God as a man, or maybe it's the desperate cling to tradition, to doctrine, in times of stress that deepens the masculine branding of God into my mind. I don’t know which one is worse: pure sacrilege or charading belief. Does it matter?
I stand up and begin the walk home.
With each stride, I see with clarity the night's puppeteering show; it strings the waning moon and pulls it parallel to my own pace so that each step closer is matched with another step apart. With each fleeting moment, the light digresses, shrinking colder and growing dimmer. Still, I fixate on the heavens, searching with earnest eyes, and wonder: am I sentenced to gaze only into a mirror of celestial light, never to see its glory?
The squares of sidewalk lie in rows of two as far as my perspective allows, so I distract my walk by balancing between them. It’s foolish, but I can’t help but categorize the experience: rejection of faith on one side, acceptance on the other; acceptance of self on one side, rejection mirrors it. Mixed pairs. The snow’s thick glow softens the barrier between concrete and expiring grass. If I indulge in impending, drooping tiredness, the peripheral scene blurs: it is just me, boundless halves, and the bleak partition.
Somewhere, this path rises into a high wire on which imbalance could end me. The wire’s height immerses it into a night of obscurity, and if I were to fall, nobody would know where I fell from. Intuitively, I know countless others have cautiously traversed the same path, but no matter if their journey was a white-knuckled, grasping struggle or that of a practiced aerialist, their walk has gone unobserved. To be seen is to subject oneself to an exhibitionist’s fall from grace—defenseless to the finder’s tactless misconstruction of naked, shattered remains.
Despite the danger, the view is beautiful. I think of Emma, whose presence makes the world a work of living art. If God really did paint the cosmos, in all its infinite shades, I think each of us started as our own dashes of color on a limitless palate. Emma’s color must have been right next to mine—a stain of blue beside a stain of green—with our edges blended together so that somewhere between us, the separation is indistinguishable and we share a hue. Now more than ever, I’m selfishly glad that she is on this wire with me, that I’m not alone. Sometimes, it feels like we are the only people on this height.
The mirror in the sky reflects her image in a thousand kaleidoscope scenes of laughter and light until she is all I see. Her visage cushions the sharpness of the wind, immersing the center of my chest and the backs of my arms and the tips of my fingers and the frosted ends of my toes and the numbed exterior of my cheeks and the burning tips of my ears into a river of freshly warmed laundry. She is pure and real and human and whole. I look at her and see a life of innumerable possibilities. Amidst the callous night, she opens a window spilling out amber light that draws closer to me with each step, beckoning with covenants of safety and hope.
Still, I am on the wire and there is no hurtless way down from this height—leaning too far in either direction guarantees a fatal fall. Still, I look at her and hope that we can become two nameless, beautiful silhouettes in the golden night, racing down a wire as we invent new and unconventional rhythms. And with her, maybe the clouds will clear and others can see us, not personally, but truthfully.
Presently, I enter a 6-digit code, tap the snow from my shoes, open a new door, and see her cleaning the kitchen. For a brief, endless moment, she doesn’t see me yet. When she turns, her face lights up, and I feel myself preening at the attention, basking in her warmest sunlight. For her, I’ll stay on the wire. The realization is sickening as much as it is freeing, and there are no alternatives. Spent apart from her, heaven would be a cruel hell, so there is nothing to do but long for a life that He has eternally withheld.