You mean I never told you how I found God? What, never? You won’t believe me anyway. I mean, I wouldn’t. Oh you still want to know? Ok, here’s what happened.
It was a few years back and I was on a road trip. Sheila had left me a couple months before and I was looking for something. Not God or religion, or anything like that. I suppose you could say I was looking for myself, although I didn’t know it at the time. I just had the urge to wander.
I was just passing through the town, on my way somewhere more interesting. It was that kind of town, if you understand what I mean, just somewhere to pass through, a few houses, a bar, a dilapidated church. A two horse town, if they’d had another horse. Nothing to write home about.
My car had broken down a couple of miles back and I had walked into town to see if there was a mechanic, or even a car rentals place anywhere nearby. It was easily ninety degrees in the shade though, my head was pounding and my legs were tired, so I ended up heading straight to the bar instead.
I was blinded by the gloom when I first walked in, couldn’t see much of the dingy exterior to start. A bored barmaid gave me a tall glass of water and I chugged down half of it without stopping. Then I ordered a bud and looked around for somewhere to sit, blinking the sunspots out off my vision. The bar was empty except for me and some old guy at the end of the bar, nodding into his whiskey, so I wandered to the other end of the bar, sat heavily and laid my head on the table.
Everything from the last few months seemed to catch up with me then – Sheila leaving, losing my job, gambling away all of my money, being stuck in this ghost town that was hotter than hell.
“Oh God!” I groaned into the table.
“Well it’s hardly my fault is it?”
My head snapped back up so fast I nearly gave myself whiplash. How the hell had he gotten across the bar so fast, and so silently? He was eighty if he was a day.
“Sorry, what?” I said, but I didn’t really care what he had said to be honest. I wasn’t looking for company, I just wanted my headache to clear. It was filling my whole skull, pounding in my brain like a crazed, caged animal wanting to escape. If I could have taken the top of my head off to let it out I would have.
“I said it’s hardly my fault.” He repeated, sipping his whiskey. “It’s your bad choices that led you here. Free will – it’s a bitch, ain’t it?”
“I guess” I said, in as non committed a tone as I could muster. I really couldn’t be bothered with the local crazy that day.
“Oh you guess, huh? You’d rather you didn’t have free will, that I just told you all exactly what to do, like children?”
I looked at him then, really looked at him, straight in the eyes. I couldn’t tell you what colour they were now, just that they were old, too old for his face. I couldn’t work out why I thought he was so old before, he didn’t seem it now. His face was sort of…ageless. I will never forget the guy, but I couldn’t tell you a thing about what he looked like now I come to describe him.
“I’m sorry…what are you on about?” I tried to make it clear that I wasn’t the least bit interested, made my voice tired and snappish and fed up, but you know what these crazy guys can be like.
“I was just saying, it’s not really my fault if you messed things up with Sheila. I mean, she gave you enough chances didn’t she? You chose gambling over your relationship. Free will. You can’t come crying to me about it now.”
I stared at the guy some more. I mean, I have met some nutters in my time, but I had never met one who claimed to be God. Clever how he threw those little details in really…except I hadn’t told him about Sheila had I? Or the money? I frowned, and it just made my head ache more. I decided he must be one of those con artists, like the ones that tell your fortune by noticing the small details about you.
“I bet thinking about free will and determination is a bit heavy when your head is pounding” he said, and then he leant forward. He smelled of old books in long forgotten rooms. He laid his hand on my forehead and I wanted to pull away but I couldn’t, I just froze.
Have you ever been hit in the face really hard? I mean so hard it doesn’t even hurt, not at first, you just get that blinding light and then your head spins? It was like that. It didn’t hurt, but it was so bright it was like I could see the headache for a moment there, and then my head span and my vision wavered and I felt a bit sick. When I could see again, my headache was gone. Not like it felt a bit better, like I had never had a headache to start with.
I was dazed. “How? ” I asked.
He chuckled slightly and winked at me, like a grandfather does at his grandson when he has taught him a clever little magic trick.
“Perk of the job” he said then finished his drink.
I must admit, by this stage I was starting to think that that I was hallucinating the whole encounter, that I had finally lost it, the heat and the stress had broken my brain. Maybe I was sat in the bar talking to myself while the barmaid quietly called for help. Maybe I was collapsed by the road somewhere, dreaming all this while vultures circled waiting to feast. Hell, maybe I was still with Sheila, in our bed and the last few months had been a feverish nightmare and when I woke she would kiss it all away.
“Not happening son. You blew it with that girl good and proper,” he said “silly boy. She really cared about you.”
“I know she did” I whispered.
“Mary can we get some more water over here please?” He called out. “I reckon you could do with something stronger, eh?”
I was beyond trying to work out what he was on about by this point, so I just nodded. Placate the crazy, then get out, find a car, keep moving. That was my plan.
The bored barmaid dumped two glasses of water onto the table, slopping some over the side of the glass.
“You need to actually buy a drink sometime, Abe. You can’t sit in here all day drinking water.”
“I know lovely, I will. And may I say how very lovely you look today?”
The girl blushed prettily.
“Get away you old charmer” she said, and wandered back to the bar. The old man leaned in again.
“Her fella made a horrible comment about that dress this morning” he whispered “he thinks if he grinds her confidence down she won’t go off to the big city the first chance she gets”
“And will she?” I asked him, not really sure if I was playing along or if I believed what he was saying.
“Buggered if I know. Free will, innit? It’s a slippery customer. Is she looking?”
I glanced over to the bar.
“No, she is playing with her phone”
I know you won’t believe this, but it’s the honest to God truth. So to speak.
He dipped his fingers into the new glasses of water. They grew cloudy, swirled a moment, and then settled. The liquid had turned pure amber. I could smell that it was bourbon.
He must have seen the shock on my face because he chuckled again.
“I know you ain’t much of a wine drinker. Me neither to be honest. Here I give you grapes, sweetest most luscious taste in the world and you lot rot it down into something that tastes nasty for days and gives you a hangover. Free will again, see? I’m starting to think it was my biggest mistake. But what is humanity without it, eh?”
I shrugged, picked up the glass, took a big gulp. My throat burned. I couldn’t suppress the cough. He raised an eyebrow at me while I spluttered.
“That there ain’t water, son. Go careful like.”
“No kidding” I choked out.
“Now I know you. I know you’re thinking, this is some crazy man, I’ll humour him til he goes away, but tell me boy; if you did meet God, what would you ask him?”
I thought for a while, sipping the bourbon more slowly this time.
“I suppose I would ask what I’m meant to do now.” I said eventually. “I’ve messed things up pretty bad, it would be nice to have some guidance.”
He snorted then, and took a drink.
“What?” I demanded, “isn’t that what most folks would say?”
“Only every single blessed one of you” he replied. “No originality. No one ever asks how I am.”
“Well…If you were God….I am mean..,you’d be alright wouldn’t You? I mean, you’re God.”
“So that means I got it all figured out, yeah?”
“Well don’t you?”
“Of course not. See it’s like when you were a kid. You think Mum and Dad have it all figured out don’t you? Like they are totally in control. And then you get to realise, when you get to their age, that they are as clueless as you.”
“I suppose I never really thought of it that way.”
“No one ever does! It’s all, ‘God, please let me win the jackpot. God, please bring my kids home safe. God, please forgive my sins before I go off and repeat them again. Oh God, look at me having sex. Oh God, I think I’ve left the gas on. Hey, it’s Sunday! So we thought we’d get you up early to tell you we love you God!’ Love me? Huh! No one ever even wonders how I’m doing.”
So I asked him. Not because I was trying to make him feel better, but I genuinely wanted to know.
It was like he had been waiting thousands of years for someone to ask. He just let rip. I can’t even recall everything he said, how crazy is that? There I was talking to God in a bar in the middle of nowhere and I can’t remember what he said to me. I remember the loneliness though, the crushing responsibility. And the voices. The millions upon millions of prayers tugging at his heart and his brain.
“Why don’t you just answer them?” I asked at some point in the evening before everything went a bit wobbly round the edges.
“it don’t work that way son.” He said sadly, shaking his head. “it’d be the easy thing to do, but it wouldn’t be the right thing to do. It would defeat the whole point.”
I think I asked him what the point was, but I can’t remember if he answered. I don’t think he did, but who knows? Maybe I found out the point of the entire universe, life, creation, the whole shebang and I forgot it while I was getting shit faced on water with a dude who claimed to be God.
“Imagine” he said to me, somewhere around the fourth glass of water whiskey “imagine you’re a single parent yeah? But with billions of kids. And they are grown ups now, you can’t control them. And they are doing it all wrong and you can see where they are headed but you can’t do anything to stop them. That’s my life. That’s how I am.”
“But couldn’t you help a bit? Give us some guidance?” I said, “a book of instructions or something?”
He laughed then, for so long was worried he would have a heart attack, until his breath was just coming in heaving panting gasps.
“You don’t think I tried that?” He spluttered, “more than once! You know what happens when you try that?”
I shook my head, a little unsteady from the holy whiskey.
“They bloody twist everything you say! You pick a guy, right, and he is all pious and holy seeming and you think great, this guy will just write down what I say. But they never do”
“Of course not. They take your message and then they add what they think should be in there too, and they put in a few lines to make sure they keep their power base intact and before you know it your message of peace and love is now a ruddy great big book filled with hate and pointless rules”
“That must be frustrating”
“The whole thing is frustrating. I gave you lot all the tools to make a heaven on earth and what do you do? You make hell instead.”
He looked so forlorn I tried to comfort him.
“It’s not that bad. I mean, there’s good people out there.”
“I ‘spose. It’s all a bit late to change anything now anyway. This world was meant to be my greatest artwork, you know that?”
I was pretty drunk by this point but just did my best to hold up my side of the conversation.
“It is pretty great, God. The detail is amazing”
“Yeah, the hardware isn’t too bad, I suppose. Maybe one day I will start over, use it as a template.”
“You mean…The four horsemen, end of days, all that stuff?”
“What are you, some kind of nutter? You believe in the apocalypse?” He laughed again.
“Well right now I am sat here getting leathered with God, so I’m not really sure anymore.”
“Ha! Yeah I suppose that is a bit of an attitude adjustment for ya” he laughed again, sounding more genuine this time. “Don’t worry. I don’t really do apocalypses. So fifteenth century. If I start again it will be somewhere else. And Earth is genuinely the best place to have a drink and take in a show. I won’t scrap it.”
I don’t know why but I found that hilarious. I laughed until it hurt and then I laughed some more and I carried on laughing until I was sat there crying like a little boy, snot and tears all over my face, hiccuping and groaning and I couldn’t even have told you what was wrong.
“Come on son. I think you’ve had enough”
He helped me up and we staggered out of the bar. It was dark by that point, and freezing compared to earlier in the day. We staggered along the middle of the road, and I thought it would be hilarious to sing kumbaya. God didn’t seem to mind.
Eventually we reached the car, and I steadied myself on the hood as I threw up all over the tire. I cried the self pitying tears of all who throw up drunk and told God I was sorry.
“I know son. I always know.”
“For everything” I sobbed “for all of it.”
“I know, little one. I know.”
When I woke up I was sat in the drivers seat and God was no where to be found. The taste of bourbon that’s far too expensive for me to afford was still in my mouth, and my headache was back with a vengeance.
The car started first time, and I drove to the first motel I could find, took a shower, then slept for 12 hours straight. When I woke I got it into my head that I was going to go back to the town and ask Mary if she wanted a ride to the city, but I never found the town, although I looked for a good week.
I wish I had asked him if there was anything he needed from me. Like a personal commandment, you know? Something that hadn’t been twisted or spun. Maybe I did ask him and I don’t remember. But I reckon he would have said it was up to me to work it out.
A dream? No of course it wasn’t a dream. Dreams aren’t like that. It was probably the most real thing to ever happen to me. Fine, you don’t have to believe me, but that’s what happened. That’s how I turned my life around, stopped gambling, stopped running from myself. I’m doing all I can to create a little bit of heaven here on earth. I might not make much of a difference, but if we were all doing it, we’d make a difference then. Someone has to go first.
And that’s why I never pray early on Sundays, and I always ask God how he is getting on before I say amen. You don’t have to believe me, but that’s how I found God. Drowning his sorrows in a bar in the middle of nowhere.