The smile on her face is the greatest gift I’ve ever been given.

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“I know people are hurting, I know people want help.  But if someone says they love God, and it’s His will that they have cancer, they might as well say they were asking for it.  Mom left the TV on in the afternoon more than once, so I know all about battered wives going back to their abusive husbands.  Seems to me that praying to such a cruel God is kind of like that.”

“Annika, are you saying God is a wife beater?”

“No you’re saying that.  The God I know doesn’t go around trying to hurt people to prove how powerful and almighty He is.  I don’t know that God, but if your God treats people that way, I’d really think twice about praying to Him ’cause basically you’re getting down on your knees to a sadist.”

Everything will be okay, they say.  God is with Annika.  He’s with me. Despite His suspicious track record, He won’t let anything bad happen to us.  God is good.  On that, they all agree.  Except for Grandpa, who appears to have fallen asleep with the Sunday funnies in his lap.

All I know is that it hurt.  It hurt a lot.  And if Jesus was sitting there with me – like Mom always says – the least He could have done is slipped me some aspirin.

“Monroe, are you having one of those conversations with yourself?  I’m right here, you know.”

“I know, I know.  I was just thinking.”

“It’s not healthy to keep everything inside,” she says.

It’s not too late to go back.  It’s not too late to pretend this never happened.  All I need to say is that we took a wrong turn.  It would be just like me to do that, but I’ve been like me for too long.

I already hate myself for letting it get this far.  These last two years have been like when you see a glass falling off the counter and you’re actually close enough to make the save, but you can’t.  Or maybe you just don’t.  It’s not like it’s happening too fast to react.  If anything, it’s the opposite.  You’re so close and the end result is so obvious; everything slows down.  You could grab that glass and tragedy could be averted, but instead you just watch, its contents sloshing in slow motion – and then, when it hits the ground, real time explodes shards of glass everywhere.  It’s not like there was nothing you could do – you were paralyzed by the moment.  It’s not like you wanted it to happen.  It’s not like you didn’t want to be helpful.  Only when you’re cleaning up the mess can you see how easy it would have been to stop it.

Strip clubs provide a fantasy that makes promises it can’t keep and the Church does pretty much the same thing.  It’s no wonder the believers are always trying to shut down  the titty bars; it’s their competition.

As I scan the crowd, it becomes clear that so many of these people are used to being invisible.  Especially the ones in wheelchairs.  People think that by not staring, they’re being compassionate.  And just to make sure that no one thinks they’re staring, they don’t look at all.  Maybe they think that makes them good people. But I wonder which is better – being ignored or being stared at?  To be invisible or to be an eyesore?

If you stare at anything long enough, it breaks down – beauty turns ugly, ugliness becomes beautiful.  I bet if you put a cancer cell under a microscope, then blew it up and put it on a wall in the Museum of Modern Art, people would look at it and say how beautiful it is.