Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Jesus Letters

Dear Jesus,

What’s up? Mom doesn’t take us to church anymore so I figured I would write to you in case you were mad. Today Billy Stevens came over and he told me that his Dad shot a tiger in his backyard. I don’t know if I believe that. Billy makes a lot of stuff up. One time he told me that once a giant panda came into his living room while he was watching Power Rangers. Billy told me he morphed into the green ranger and then kicked the panda. The panda never came back. But I don’t know if I believe that. My brother Carl says Mom doesn’t take us to church anymore because they ask for too much money. Why does the church need money anyways? I didn’t like church that much (sorry), I usually just thought up good stories to tell Billy Stevens, but I’m writing you this letter because I don’t want you to get mad at me for not going. Hope you are having a nice time in heaven.

Your friend,

            Todd folded his letter up and placed it in one of his mother’s envelopes. She kept them in her desk, next to the box with the gun in it and below the porcelain jewelry box with the condoms inside. On the outside of the envelope he scribbled the word Jesus and hid it underneath his shirt. Outside the weather was warm and inviting and Todd could just scarcely make out the figure of Billy Stevens playing in the next yard over. He darted behind the house quickly as he didn’t want to explain to Billy what he was doing.
It had been yesterday that Todd had spotted the tree. It had always been there of course but as he approached the tree walking home from school on Friday he had noticed something different about it. The tree’s branches were intersecting in such a way that it looked like they were forming the shape of several crosses. The knothole in the center of the tree was still there but next to it, in the bark, was the face of a man. Todd had remembered his mother telling him about a lady who had seen the face of Jesus in a tree, and even though this face looked more like Willy the bus driver, Todd decided that it must really be Jesus. He walked to the tree and placed the letter in the knothole. Suddenly a Nerf ball collided with his face and he fell to the ground.
            “Ha Ha Todd you idiot!” It was Billy Stevens and Todd suddenly regretted coming outside.
“You looked like such an idiot when you fell down you were like, “Ahhh I’m falling down cause I’m an Idiot”, Billy began reenacting Todd’s fall and seemed to add several exaggerated screams and body spasms.
“Hey wanna come over and see the tiger my Dad shot?”
            “Shut up Billy, your Dad didn’t shoot a tiger.”
 “Yeah he did and it’s in our garage in a trash bag. My dad had to put it in two extra large jumbo trash bags because it was so big and so Sammy wouldn’t go eating it.”
            “Why would a tiger even be in your backyard?”
            “I don’t know it’s weird there’s like animals everywhere. Last week a giant panda came into the living room when I was watching Power Rangers and I kicked it.”
            “Right…well-- I have to go, my Mom’s coming home soon.” Todd still did not believe Billy but he feared that maybe he did have a tiger in his garage, and that would only make Todd look like a fool. He began walking back to his front door and snuck a peek at the Jesus letter still hidden discretely in the knothole.
            “Hey idiot!” Billy’s voice yelled loudly from the tree.
“Don’t fall like an idiot anymore! Ha Ha! “Ahhh my name’s Todd and I fall and I look like an idiot ahhh!” Maybe you should try wearing a helmet you idiot and then maybe you can”-
The slam of the screen door cut off Billy’s voice, and Todd ran into the kitchen to finish washing the dishes before his mother came home.

 “And then my Dad turned his back and the hyena ran at him and jumped on top of him. And my Dad kept yelling at me to get his gun and shoot it, so I ran and I got my Dad’s gun and I shot the hyena! It was awesome! Way cooler than the time I kicked the giant panda.” Billy and Todd were walking home from school. Billy hadn’t seemed to notice that this was the third time he was telling Todd the story. Todd decided it would be easier to say nothing than risk getting hit in the face with a Nerf ball.
            “Hey what’s that piece of paper in that tree?” Billy was pointing at the knothole in the tree and Todd’s pulse began to quicken. Todd reached for the paper- there was no envelope, only a piece of paper folded up with the word Todd printed on the outside.
“What is that?” Billy asked, but Todd was busy reading the letter and completely lost in thought.

 Hey Todd,
Not much is up with me. Thanks for writing it can get pretty boring up here in heaven. As annoying as Billy is I’m afraid he’s telling the truth, except that the time the giant panda came through the living room door he was watching Barney not Power Rangers. I don’t mind if you don’t go to church, and to be honest I don’t really like it either. like I said heaven is pretty boring, so feel free to write as much as you want.
Keep in touch.

 “You got a letter from Jesus?!” Billy had been reading over Todd’s shoulder and his face looked even more shocked then Todd’s.
 “How did he know I was watching Barney? Only my Mom knows I watch that show! Wow! Did you ask for anything sweet?”
 “He’s Jesus Billy, not Santa Claus.”
 “Whatever, I told you all that stuff was true and you didn’t believe me! What else have you been telling Jesus about me you idiot!” Todd didn’t really care what Billy had to say and for the first time Billy seemed to be the one who was jealous of somebody else’s story.
 “Nothing Billy look I have to go…” Todd started to run to his house.
 “Hey wait! Wait! Tell Jesus I didn’t put the cat in the washing machine!” Billy’s voice became lost once again in the slam of the screen door.
The next day Todd’s head was filled with excitement and anxiety over what his next letter to Jesus would entail. The first few hours after getting the letter were more of a shock. Todd had moved around the house like a possessed and smiling zombie. When Carl had asked what was wrong with him, Todd only shrugged and went to his room to smile in private. 
In school, Todd’s class was reading Tuck Everlasting, a book that previously Todd had found very interesting, but now only seemed to get in the way of his daydreaming. At first Todd had thought about the obvious questions, “Is there a hell?” “What is God like?”, but then he decided that those must be the most boring questions in the world to Jesus. He was probably asked ones like that on a regular basis.
As the teacher called on different students to read aloud, Todd dove deeper and deeper into his mind to find the most interesting and perplexing questions he could think of. Just when Todd had been deciding the correct way to ask Jesus “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” , and more importantly what that actually meant, the teacher had called on him to take over reading. Todd quickly found his place and read on,
"I was having that dream again, the good one where we're all in heaven and never heard of Treegap." Todd read on but decided daydreaming would have to wait until after school.
            After school was out Todd ran home as fast as he could. By ignoring Billy’s shouts and wheezes from behind him (Todd had avoided him all day), he had made it home in no time. He ran into his room, startling Carl who seemed to have been just rolling out of bed, and opened his backpack to take out a fresh piece of paper.

Dear Jesus,

What’s up? I just got home from school and couldn’t wait to write you a new letter. Billy was so jealous of the letter you wrote me, he started shouting to everyone about his hyena story from on top of the jungle gym. I guess maybe he thought more people would believe him if he said it louder. Anyways I’ve been thinking a lot and I really want to know, who is your favorite baseball team? Do you go to any of the games? What do you even do up there in Heaven? Oh and also my brother Carl is really lazy, is that going to happen to me when I get older and start growing facial hair? I think that’s it for now.

Your Friend

            Todd took the letter and put it in another of his Mother’s envelopes. He then quietly snuck past Carl in the bathroom, and out the front door. When he was certain there was no sign of Billy he hurriedly stuffed it into the Jesus Tree and ran back inside to watch from the window.
 “What are you staring at?” Carl had suddenly come into the kitchen, making Todd jump.
            “What? Oh. I uh thought I saw a weird dog.”
            “A weird dog? What the hell does that mean?” Carl looked out the window with Todd, “All I see is that loud fat kid. What is he doing?” Todd reluctantly looked over towards Billy’s house, where Billy was jumping up and down and yelling something that could not be heard through the glass. Carl opened the window.
            “TODD!!!! HEY TODD!!!” Billy was getting more and more tired after every jump. Carl stared unaffected at Billy’s antics.
            “You better go out there Todd, it looks like he might have a heart attack soon”, Todd rolled his eyes and stomped outside.
            “What do you want Billy?”
            “Did you get anymore letters from Jesus?”
            “No. And you better not have told anyone about this.” Todd had previously thought about telling other people, but realized that he wanted his alone time with Jesus. Other people like Billy would just ruin it with dumb questions about tigers and hyenas.
            “I didn’t I swear” Billy looked scared for a minute and Todd stared him down. “OK fine. I told Walter”.
 “Don’t worry he just thought you were a weirdo”.
 “Great”, Todd felt a wave of dread come over him.
 “And..also no one might talk to you for a while” Billy was rubbing his feet in the dirt, a smile slowly creeping on his face.
 “Great Billy. That’s just really great.” Todd began walking back to his house.
 “Hey want to come see the hyena? It’s probably still in the garage.”
 “No.” Todd said his back stilled turned to Billy.
 “I’ll show you the gun I shot it with”
 “No. I don’t care”
 "Sammy keeps pooping everywhere I could show you that..” Todd stopped in his tracks.
 “No..gross. “
 “Well I just thought we could find like bones in it maybe.” Todd shook his head and ran back inside his house.
 It seemed to take twice as long for Jesus to write back this time. The only window Todd could look out of was the kitchen window, and Carl would always ask him questions if he stayed there for too long. So Todd distracted himself and periodically stopped to wash dishes that had already been cleaned just so he could look out the window. A few hours later, Jesus’ letter arrived.
Todd ran as fast as he could to the tree, and back to his house. Just as he closed the screen door, he could hear Billy trying to make a run for it. He took the letter to his room and read it over.

Hey Todd,

Let’s see... I don’t really have a favorite baseball team. Actually I don’t really have any part in baseball at all. People think me and God help out their team but it’s not true. Baseball is just fun to watch, and I like all the teams the same. Picking favorites just wouldn’t be fair, helping teams win wouldn’t be fair either. Have you ever seen “Angels in the Outfield”, pretty bogus if you ask me. And if Christopher Lloyd was an angel I’d go insane. In Heaven I pretty much do nothing. I walk around and talk to people, and sometimes I watch TV. It’s very relaxed and a great place to live, but I like to visit the earth for more excitement. Well anyways, there is no easy way to say this, but God has decided that there will be an Apocalypse. That’s why there was a panda and a hyena in Billy’s yard. The animals know it’s going to happen so they go a little nuts. I’m sorry this has to happen, I’ll fill you in on the details when I know more. Sorry again. Oh. And no. You don’t suddenly become lazy once you get older. Carl is just a lazy person. You should tell him to start going to school or he’ll have to become an auto mechanic.


 Todd put the letter down and racked his brain trying to figure out just what an Apocalypse could be. After some time he gave up and threw his bedroom door open.
 “Carl! Hey Carl!” Todd was shouting wildly.
 “What do you want?” Carl emerged sleepily from his room, despite it being so late in the afternoon.
 “What’s an Apocalypse?”
 “Why do you want to know what an Apocalypse is?”
 “Just tell me come on.” Carl looked confused but then made his way to the kitchen where he began pouring himself a large bowl of Corn Pops.
 “The Apocalypse is the end of the world. It’s when God comes down and judges everyone”. Carl stopped to ponder and pour in the milk.
“But pretty much everyone’s gonna die because no one is really good anymore. Especially us because we don’t go to church, and especially you because you say mean things to fat kids”
Todd was aghast. The end of the world? He couldn’t understand why God would make this happen now, especially when his friendship with Jesus was just blossoming. He hurriedly got another piece of paper and ran back into his room.

Dear Jesus,

Are you sure there is going to be an Apocalypse? I’m not sure I want to die just yet because well I’m only ten years old and my mom promised me I could get a new bike for my birthday next year. Also the end of the world sounds kind of scary. Why is this happening? I hope maybe you can tell God to not come down and judge everyone. Thanks.

Your friend,

 This time he didn’t put it in an envelope, but just ran outside as quickly as he could and stuffed the letter into the knothole. He wondered how long it would take and he worried that the Apocalypse would happen before he got his answer.
He waited patiently the next few hours, periodically checking to see if a new letter had been placed in the knothole, or if the world was coming to an end. Finally just after dinnertime Todd spotted it. A new piece of paper folded neatly and tucked away in the knothole. Todd wondered how the letter had appeared without him noticing, but then quickly realized he was dealing with Jesus and Jesus had to have ways. Todd ran out to get it and began to read.


I’m afraid there’s nothing I can really do. When God wants something done he tends to get it done. But I told him about you and I think you’ll be okay. The apocalypse is supposed to happen soon, but if you want, you can meet me at the playground at 7:30 and we’ll talk.

P.S. Don’t bring Billy.

 Todd ran inside to look at the time. The flashing blue light on the microwave had said 12:00 for months, and the clock on the wall only had four numbers which Todd felt was too complicated to read.
          “Mom!” Todd’s mother was talking on the phone and shot him a look.
          “What Todd?”
          “What time is it?” His mother glanced at the clock and told whoever she was talking to, to hang on a moment.
          “Almost 7:30- Todd? Todd! Where are you going?”
          “Uh I have to- meet um Billy...at the playground, I’ll be back...I think. Ok bye!”
          The screen door slammed shut, and Todd ran off towards the playground.

 The playground was deserted and Todd stood for a moment at the entrance. The squeaking of metal and the wind rushing past his ear made him shiver as he scanned the playground. A figure was sitting on the swings. He looked exactly like Jesus was supposed to look like, only different. He wore a baseball cap and a plain white T-shirt; he was smoking a cigarette and kicking his feet gently into the dirt. Todd walked over slowly, unsure of how best to approach. He stood there with his hands in his pockets and gathered up his courage.
          “Hey Jesus”, Todd said quietly and Jesus leapt from the swing. He threw his cigarette to the ground and then immediately grabbed another one. After lighting it and inhaling deeply he looked at Todd.
          “Hey Todd” Todd smiled weakly, and felt like he might throw up. “What’s up?”
Todd thought about this question. What did he mean “what’s up?” Todd felt it was pretty obvious what was up. The world was about to end, and Todd and everyone he knew was going to die.
 “Nothing.” Todd replied, the strange smile still imprinted on his face.
 “Are you okay?” Jesus asked, and Todd felt it best to be honest.
 “No.”,Jesus sighed.
“Well let’s sit down. We can talk.” Todd nodded in response as he and Jesus took a seat on a wooden picnic bench. There was a heavy silence and Todd felt like he was in his guidance counselor’s office, trying to explain why he didn’t want to be Billy Stevens’ friend. All the thoughts in his head came bubbling up. He had so many questions, so many fears that he didn’t know where to begin.
          “Jesus?” Todd asked, a hint of fear in his voice.
 “Mmm?” Jesus replied, getting out another cigarette and struggling with his lighter.
          “Am I going to die?” Jesus inhaled for what seemed like hours to Todd. Finally after exhaling a monstrous cloud of smoke he replied,
          “It’s complicated.”
          “One time I asked my Mom why she keeps a gun in her desk. She said it was a little complicated. Is your answer a lot or a little complicated?”
          “Hmm.” The question seemed to puzzle Jesus, as he rhythmically breathed in and out his smoke.
          “Your Mom keeps a gun in her desk because she has intimacy and trust issues.”
 “Oh”, Todd said quietly, trying to wrap his head around what that meant. He watched a bird fly into a sleeping tree. “That doesn’t seem so complicated.” Jesus half shrugged and half smiled. Todd continued on.
          “So...me dying or not is more complicated than that?”
 “I think” said Jesus while stomping out his cigarette on the ground. “That you will know what I mean when the time comes. - And I know people always say that”, he quickly said as Todd opened his mouth. “But trust me. I can’t explain it. Unless it’s happening.”
          “Is it going to be scary?”
 “I don’t think so.” Jesus stood up to leave and patted Todd on the back.
          “Don’t worry so much. You’ll do fine. I have to do some things. When things start to happen come back here to find me.” Todd nodded, and then looked suddenly at Jesus.
 “What kind of things?”
 “Animals mostly, tornados, red skies that sort of thing.” Todd nodded his head slowly and felt like he may faint. Jesus reached for another cigarette.
          “Why do you keep lighting cigarettes and putting them out?”
 “I like the way it feels when I light them.”
          “Okay, see you Todd.” And Jesus walked off, whistling a song, his cloud of smoke lingering behind.
          The walk home had Todd more scared than ever. Around every corner he expected a wild animal to jump out and rip him to shreds, or a tornado to come and suck him up. He had almost reached his front door when Billy Stevens ambushed him, the severed head of the Hyena clutched in his arms.
          “Hey Todd!” Billy yelled despite the close distance between them, and shoved the head closer so Todd could get a better look at it. “Look. It’s way cooler than your Jesus letter.”
          “Oh shut up Billy.” Todd walked straight into the house, the screen door slamming shut in Billy’s stunned face.
Three days had passed, and the end of the world had still not come. Todd walked through his days with a constant feeling of dread and fear. He no longer cared what Billy Stevens said to him, or that he got bad grades on his reading quizzes. These things didn’t matter because soon Todd’s life wouldn’t matter. His thoughts were consumed with dying. He tried to imagine what it would be like to die. To not have any thoughts and to not be a person any longer.
Todd remembered going to see his grandfather at the hospital on the day that he died. He had gone to get a drink at the cafeteria and when he came back his grandfather had passed. When his mother wasn’t looking, Carl had dared him to touch the body. He remembered how cold his hand had felt, how plastic and dead it had felt only minutes after he had died.
On the fourth day Todd sat at the dinner table picking at his cold peas. His mother never let them leave the dinner table unless they ate some of their vegetables. Todd had tried to eat the peas, but his heart hadn’t been in it. Todd’s mother looked up from the end of the table while she balanced her checkbook.
 “Todd did you want the red or the blue bike for your birthday? I can’t remember.” She started to shuffle through the papers and bills in front of her. “I must have written it down somewhere but it must have been on the back of a bank receipt or something because I can’t find it.”
          “It’s okay. I don’t need it anymore”.
          “Don’t need it anymore? But it’s all you’ve been talking about since your last birthday.”
          “It’s fine. I can just use my old one”
          “I thought that fat kid popped your tires” Carl said from the living room, his head still focused on the TV.
 “Yeah- well I fixed it OK?” Todd got up from the table and ran out the door.
          “Todd! Your peas!” His mother called after him.
          “There’s no time for peas”, Todd mumbled as he left his house and began to walk towards the playground again. He couldn’t stand it any longer. Why did this have to happen now? And why was it just him that would be saved?
Todd was so consumed with his thoughts that he barely noticed the two lions creeping out from the woods near his house. They looked at Todd and then made their way towards the back door of the kitchen. Todd set off in a run ignoring the gunshots coming from Billy’s backyard, and what he took to be his mother’s scream echoing from the kitchen. He didn’t stop running, not even when Billy came running from his house trying to punch a gigantic black bear.
          “Todd! Hey Todd! You never told Jesus about the cat in the washing machine did you?! I told you to tell him I didn’t do it!” Billy struggled with the bear then gave up and ran towards the Jesus tree.
“Todd! I was just kidding about you being an idiot!” Billy’s yells became quieter and quieter and as Todd looked back he could just make out Billy’s round body making its way up the tree and trying to avoid the bear that was slowly edging closer.
By the time Todd had gotten to the playground, the wind had started to pick up. Pieces of trash were tumbling across the ground, and the sky was getting darker. Jesus sat on the swing just as he did before. Todd ran over and this time kept his fears of speaking behind him.
          “Why? Why not my family, why me?” Jesus turned to look at Todd as the rain started to fall, and the sky turned a light pink.
 “Because you wrote me the letter. No one writes letters anymore. People are too busy with their lives. But you were different. ”
          “So? I just felt bad and I didn’t want you to be mad at me”
 “And so it worked”, Jesus smiled. “While people were busy worrying about their money TV shows, you were worried about something far more valuable. You were wondering about me, and if I got bored, and you helped me. Everyone else is too consumed.” Jesus said as he got up from the swing. “I know this is a terrible thing.” Todd felt that was an understatement, as the sky was now as red as blood, and he could hardly see through the rain.  “But it had to be done.”
          “Why do I have to go alone?” Todd thought he could see Jesus thinking this over.
          “Well I suppose the other option would be for you not to come”.
Todd stood still. Dying was too terrifying a concept to face. Todd thought of his mother. He thought of the way she smelled and how her hands felt against his head when she would tell him his hair was getting long. He thought of her scream that had come from the kitchen, and how she probably had not had enough time to get the gun from her sock drawer.
          “Todd?” Jesus had walked to the entrance of the playground. “If you’re going to come, we have to leave now before the tornadoes start.” Todd turned his head towards Jesus and saw two bicycles at the entrance.
          “Is that the bike I was going to get for my birthday?”
          “It is.”
Todd took one last look around. The streets were a mess, and the rain was so heavy the ground look like it was about to collapse. Todd looked at the bike and took a deep breath.
          “Do I have to wear a helmet?” Jesus laughed and got on his bike.
          “Not anymore Todd.” Todd closed his eyes and got onto his own bike. His fears dissolved as he gripped the bike’s brand new handle bars. He imagined he was back on his street and riding his bike home from school; with the wind in his face and the realization that he was free. Free from Billy Stevens and his annoying stories and free from the world. Leaving on that bike would mean leaving the fears of dying behind him. That to Todd made him feel safe and less anxious. Jesus had been right, the decision would be complicated, but in the end, Todd knew what he had to do.
Todd looked over at Jesus who nodded and they began to peddle off down the road.
          The red sky was opening slowly and the rain continued to thunder down. They had just peddled over the hill as Todd looked behind him and saw the tornadoes shoot out of the sky. Jesus and Todd talked about baseball as they rode off into the red sky, and away from the end of the world.


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