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My father not in heaven.
This is the first line of my new prayer. It begins and ends there, right where my father wakes up during the funeral service, falls out of his casket, coughs and stares at me.
It begins there because it didn’t end there like it should have.
My father is still alive. He died three years ago from stage four Lymphoma. It was awful—he really fought it though from heaven and back.
When he fell out of his coffin, I cried like life was crazy, hid under my chair and prayed—Please don’t let this be a dream.
It took one night for me to change that prayer—Please don’t let this be real.
I couldn’t decide what I wanted more, my father alive or my father back from the dead. They seemed like two very different things, because one is not the other. Because one entails a media circus, questions about life, people at your door, praying to you, asking for guidance—if maybe you couldn’t heal their foot or the cancer in their eye. One is a whole lot of Hell and the other is just something sad kids pray about.
The media was everywhere, along with people in droves. They swarmed my tiny house. A spotlight shined through my window in case my father might wake up and end world hunger by kissing my forehead goodnight.
The TV news slept out front. The sick and dying slept out back.
My father ate cereal and communed with God in the bathroom. I opened the door to see if it were real. The entire room was filled with water and fish. I stared into the ocean, into my bathroom, trying to eavesdrop and realized God wanted nothing to do with me—so I slammed the door. He wasn’t ready to talk to me yet.
And now he’s afraid to.
Outside, on my front lawn, they asked, Is it true? Are you the son of God?
No. You want my father. He’s not his son though.
He’s not God’s son. He just met the guy, that’s all.
What about your mother?
Is she coming back, too?
I don’t know and neither do you. No one does.
What about your father or God?
I’d ask them, but they’re swimming in the sea right now.
Holy shit, they’d say, and push pass me so they might talk with my all-knowing dad.
The truth was that my father didn’t know everything. He just knew the one thing no one else did. He was the only guy, outside of the Bible, to ever come back from the dead.
Just my father.
And later me.
It’s the one question we all have in common—what is there after life? Everyone wants to know. Just like they did then. The people camped on my yard asked the same thing, wanted the same thing, needed the same—hallelujah. They wanted my dad to tell them they were right or that their pastors told the truth—that if they were good, they really would go to a place called heaven.
Excuse me kid, if your father doesn’t mind, do you think he could just explain what’s good, what’s bad, and more importantly, whether it matters at all?
Oh, and be sure to ask him, what’s after death? Get details.
Sure thing, sir, consider it done. I’ll make sure to ask my pops what happens if you follow every rule in every book about everything God.
Those people, those vagrant souls followed every move my father made. They wanted him to be their saviour—their peace and purpose in life.
But I wasn’t sure then, and I’m not now, that my father was the guy they really needed. He wasn’t the same. Death changed Dad—because, maybe, death was death, even if you woke back up.
When I asked my father about the afterlife, he smiled and told me that God wanted us to be his family and that we were in for some trouble.
That same night someone threw a torch on our roof, and someone else did too, then another person threw something through my window. There was so much smoke that I thought for sure I wouldn’t have to ask about the afterlife ever again.
But when the smoke cleared and we were secured in a nice hotel with armed guards, I did—What’s waiting for me in death, Dad?
Nothing, he said.
What? I asked.
There’s nothing waiting for you. We’ll die alright, but our little family isn’t going to heaven. Not like the others. Not to stay.
I swallowed hard and stared at my father, realizing that I had been damned out of blissed eternity.
I can’t go to heaven? I asked.
We’re God’s family for a reason, he said. You can see it, but never have it. It’s not for us, son, we have a job to do. A calling.
He wants us to suffer like you can’t imagine, son. To show others how.
To show them? I asked, but in my mind, my dark, little mind, I already knew I wanted them to suffer, to burn right alongside me in a hellish pain of not knowing heaven.
We’re going to, too, said my father. We’re going to show the world what it means to suffer and still love someone so great.
He took me by the shoulders, looked at me with the biggest smile, and it burned me when he said, We’re going to tell them what we see, son, about the reward that’s waiting for them.
Maybe it was those particular words. Maybe not. But my father’s blind explanation of what laid ahead of me, the staggering weight of those words, crushed my soul and cast me down—it sent me to my knees.
But I wasn’t praying.
Kneeling there on the hotel floor, fists full of cheap carpet, a sense of hate washed over me, over my skin, now hot, now burning, now red with my annoyance.
And instead of comforting me, my dear old dad threw open the blinds, and told the crowd of people outside what he had told me—we were going to show them the way.
But I think I had a different idea of where to.
He lifted me to my feet, brought me to the window. I thought, he wants me to wave. He pulled out a 9mm, shot me point blank.
He did it to show the others how it worked, how we were to suffer, not them.
He did it to put a bullet through my skull to explain to the world how I would come back.
He did it to tell them how beautiful it was.
He did it for me to wake up and rejoice, to praise the other side and say, It’s as real as the grass underneath your feet, people. All you have to do is work for it.
But I didn’t say a thing.
I didn’t hear the bullets come through window, the ones from the government-issued rifles. I didn’t hear the screaming or the helicopters in the air. Not a thing. Not even my father’s bones splintering as he was taken down by sharp-shooters stationed across the street.
I was dead. Then I wasn’t.
I heard the gasps when we stood up, brushed the glass off ourselves. I heard my father say, This is what it means to be loved. I heard the people applaud. I watched their smiling faces, the happiness found in my healed head, in my father’s words—and I knew I wanted to take that away from them—so I decided to leave.
I decided to tell a different story from my father, to tell them what they always wanted to hear. Whether they knew it or not.
There’s nothing after this. You’re nothing. I’m nothing. My father is a liar.
Your father too.
Like the priest and shaman who told you never to swear.
It’s been three years since I’ve seen my father, since we’ve parted ways and I became the fatherless son of an entire people. I told them I was the truth-bearer, that the man who I once called my father was misguided, only wanted to give them something to believe in, and in doing so, caged them, causing misery and pain.
And I said, I’ll set you free.
Three years and I’m not sure what he looks like anymore. Three years and on TV they show him with a beard.
But I know that’s not him.
They’ve got him locked away. They’ve even taken one of his kidneys out to see what happens when it’s transplanted into someone who can really die.
They’ll probably try his heart next.
And who can blame them. No one believes him like they believe me.
He’s probably underneath the White House. Hell, I’m not sure I could even see him if I wanted to, but then again, they might let me because a whole lot of people believe in me now.
So many I could tear the world apart.
Because I told them. There’s nothing there.
The sea in my bathroom? That’s something my sad misguided father had me tell reporters. He wanted to get what he could from all of you—for you. He wasn’t thinking. My father’s awful like the ones who told you that you could be saved, the ones who said you would live in harmony, you would see your dog again, the ones who praised you, shamed you, told you not to have sex with him or her or them. Those men, the ones who said you were going to Hell because you were awful—it was them all along—they were the awful ones—not like me. I’m nothing like my father.
I tell them this and they believe. It’s what they always wanted to hear. That they’ve been scammed. I tell them what my father told me—there’s nothing waiting for you.
And it frees them.
To do whatever they want.
They believe. Because, like my father, I’m the only one who knows, the only one who’s waking back up.
And when I do, I tell everyone the same thing—nothing. It was nothing and it’ll be nothing for you.
The naked mashing bodies in front of me, the spilled blood, all of it rejoices and howls when I announce there’s no rules to live by, no God to abide by—there is only today.
Gunshots and screams. A celebration of my words.
Tears and flames. Loved ones thrown away.
Hoist me up on shoulders and I’ll tell just how black it’s going to be when you die. How scary the nothingness is that awaits you.
Let me be your guide.
And when the non-believers shoot me with their high-powered rifles from far away buildings, screaming, Damn him. He’s the devil. Don’t listen to that boy, I smile for a few moments in Hell, surrounded by my new believers who never seem surprised to see me, standing above them on my fiery mountain.