We all want to believe that someone, somewhere, would die for us

Lena Ziegler

In sixth grade, D spent all of one recess asking me to say dirty words, because she liked the sound of dirty words but didn’t want to go to hell for saying them. I, of course, didn’t mind dirty words and the idea of an eternity flame-licked and skin-charred didn’t seem quite as terrible as the possibility of a recess when D might decide I wasn’t the funniest person she ever met. Since my own eternal salvation must not have been of great concern to D, I embraced the challenge to sling together the most heinous of wordplays I could muster to impress my new best friend and secure damnation like a good deal on Hotwire.  

 

So quickly, the phrases tumbled out of me, whispered and silly, and D howled into the sky, her head tossed back, with her beautiful mouth stretched wide and her perfect teeth gleaming, while she bellowed in laughter, spinning around on her swing until the chains crunched, uncomfortable from all the twisting. Keep going, she’d urge. Don’t stop. You’re hilarious! So I kept going. I didn’t stop. And our stomachs hurt, but D was laughing and I was important, so more and more profane I became, until finally I had run out of words and all I had left to say was: fuck Jesus. FUCK. JESUS.

 

The laughter stopped as D kicked the red, earthy mulch beneath the swing set and straightened herself toward me. What did you say? she asked, her tone an accusation. I thought it was funny, I said, not sure if it was even true. Jesus died for your sins. I want to believe I responded to this with a snarky, But did he? with one eyebrow raised and a smirk like I was somebody, but probably I just said, Oh, oh I hadn’t heard. She continued: He died for your sins and it’s like you don’t give a crap. I didn’t know what to say. The only thing I knew about D and religion was that her parents bought her a brand new pair of adidas pants and shoes for Easter and she paraded around in them like name brands meant nothing, which I guess they didn’t. Eventually she went to play with someone else, and I spent the rest of the recess swinging alone, wondering how I could go from making someone so happy to making them leave me in a matter of minutes.

 

I’ve always taken sacrifice way too far. This is probably the only thing Jesus and I have in common, minus the long hair and parading through life with a gaggle of broken men following close behind. There is no good reason I have heard for why Jesus, in all of his wonder and glory, had to bleed in agony, like some deer hanging in a hillbilly garage, draining his insides out, hemorrhaging brightness and suffering—a bizarre prize for existing. It’s a little heavy-handed, if you ask me. But then for two-thousand years, everything I wrote was about sacrifice and the noble act of carving into my bloodied self, ripping myself limb from limb, and dismembering my spirit for a glimpse of belonging, so what do I know anyway.

 

Because, see, D didn’t mind the idea of my burning in hell if she could spend twenty-five minutes laughing first, and I didn’t mind giving her that because to be loved, even if temporarily, was always more important than being saved. I once begged and pleaded like a scrappy fool for a man with no holiness to love me eternally, and when he wouldn’t I wrote a list of everything I hated about myself so he would know that I knew I didn’t deserve kindness. He accepted the list and we never spoke of it again. But inside, somewhere, I am burning still. Inside, I believe, the sacrifice was bullshit. And I believe, no doubt, Jesus would agree.

Lena Ziegler (@lena_ziegler) is the author of MASH (The A3 Press) and editor and co-founder of The Hunger. She was a finalist in the Autumn House Press 2018 Fiction contest and the 2017 Goldline Press Non-fiction contest. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Indiana Review, Split Lip Magazine, Dream Pop Press, Requited Journal, Yes, Poetry, The Seventh Wave, Gambling the Aisle, Literary Orphans, The Flexible Persona, Anti-Heroin Chic, and others. She holds an MFA from Western Kentucky University and is pursuing her PhD at Bowling Green State University.