(Reading Time: 10 minutes)
All my life, I believed God was a woman. I never assumed otherwise. After all, it was my father who had told me so. It wasn’t until I was well into high school did I even begin to fathom the possibility that; A, there was no God, and B, if there was, he could very well be male.
My father is a well-known artist, primarily known for his writing. To the uninitiated, he is the great Nestor Warswith. A pen name, obviously, but only because he dropped his first name, Rajendra.
What is lesser known about him, however, is his prowess as an actual artist. His sketches with the felt pen have brought to life the most seemingly inane objects. And his watercolours have, literally, reduced simple visitors in our household to tears.
The watercolour that most resonated with me as a child was, of course, his painting of God. She wore a black dress with her hair tied up. She seemed to be laughing at all the humour in the world, and was simultaneously smiling it away.
Her head was tilted away, as though to get out of the way of me trying to read her expressions. She was beautiful, as God is, and appeared to be larger than the whole world.
Her smile revealed crooked teeth. “Those are where the entirety of the earth’s mountains and valleys are,” my father would say. Her eyes were black beads. “Those are universes far away,” he would add. And her body revealed an untold strength. “Which you need,” he would always tell me, “To deal with the heartache of this world.”
From the time I could begin to even utter words, in times of great distress or danger, I would find myself racing to the painting of God and praying. My father would see me and come and stand behind me. We would pray together. Then, when we were done praying, he would lift me up in his strong arms and let me kiss God on the cheek.
For some reason, I would do this even after I realized that this may not be God. Even when I began to fathom that God may not be a woman or, more importantly, may not even exist it would still give me great strength to go up to her and pray to her image.
And whenever my father saw me there, he would silently come and stand behind me. We would finish praying, and I would kiss her cheek.
The morning of my eighteenth birthday was no different. I had finally mustered up the courage to ask my father to tell me about his marriage to my mother, and my subsequent conception. Quite ridiculous, really, that I would be so scared of such a subject. We had never really discussed sex in our household though. And we had never talked about how my father and mother had met.
Somehow it felt as though this was by design. Nestor Warswith was married to Theodora Warswith, a successful business woman. She was the vice president of a venture capitalist firm Phoenix Lion. In many ways, she was married to her work and was required to travel often. When I didn’t have school, I went with her and father joined later. Most of the time though, he stayed behind with me. If my father was the artistic genius, Theodora was the breadwinner. Because he never had to write for money, he was capable of producing work that was entirely honest. “I am only what I am because of her,” is something he reminded me of everyday.
As I stood in front of God’s picture this morning, I felt the presence of my father behind me. I kept my eyes closed and finished praying.
Please, God, I thought. Please give me the strength I need. Give me the tools to ask, and receive.
I already have, I heard back.
I recoiled and physically jumped into my father.
“Woah!” he exclaimed, half amused and half concerned. “Everything alright there, buddy?”
“Yeah,” I replied, not sure if I meant it or not. “Yeah, I think it is.”
I eased up to God’s painting. I kissed her on the cheek and stepped back.
Was that my own voice, I thought, or what the fuck is going on?
“Alright then,” my father said, successfully shaking me from my daze. “Happy eighteenth, son.”
He smiled and handed me a cake, with the words ‘We Love You Anyway’ on it. I couldn’t help but laugh. Apparently, it had been a running joke that it would have been a lot nicer if I had been born exactly four months earlier, on February the second. Instead, I’d been born on June the second. “I just think it’d have been cool if your birth digits were 02, 02, 2020,” he would faithfully say every birthday.
I laughed again to myself.
“What’s wrong?” he frowned, a look of recognition washing over his face. “Too much?”
“No! No, it’s not that. I just wanted to ask you something. Something kinda’ important.”
“Sure. Of course.”
“It’s about, well. It’s about how you and my mother met. About how I came to be.”
I looked as his face turned a different color. A wall came up, immediately hiding his feelings. I fought through it.
“Baba. Please,” I said. “It is important to me.”
He swallowed hard and nodded.
“Sit down,” he said, his entire demeanour changing. I did so and he joined me. The entire room suddenly felt charged. The distance between his seat and mine, all of six feet, felt like miles. The bare walls and glorious bookshelves had never felt so menacing. I tensed up, fully aware, and refused to release.
“Alright,” he said, looking directly at me. “Where would you like me to start?”
“From the beginning,” I replied without an instant’s hesitation, before adding, “Please.”
He sighed and leaned back. He took a deep breath and then went into it.
“You know I came to this country in 2013. For my creative writing MFA. Well, your mother was in the same college. There’s a lot you don’t know about your mother. She was actually in my class.”
“Really?” I exclaimed, despite myself. “Sorry, go on.”
He chuckled and then continued, “Really. She was an extraordinarily talented writer and gifted beyond belief. The second I saw her. Well, I knew I loved her. Something in me was simply set on her.
“She wasn’t necessarily on the same page though. I don’t blame her. I was a boy. I was all of 22 and she was already 25. I was turning into a man, whereas she was already a woman.
“But I knew there was something there. And I knew she knew as well. She had just so skilfully blocked it off, that I did my best to block it off as well.
“Only. She was a lot better at it than I was.”
My father then walked over to the table and picked up a packet of tobacco and some rolling paper, both mother’s.
“Baba!” I exclaimed, mortified. My father had not taken a puff since the day before I was born. This was absurdly out of character for him. “Baba, what are you doing!”
He said nothing, for what felt like an eternity.
“You’re right,” he said, finally. “I’m sorry.”
He got back up, walked over to the table, and put the objects back inside. He then came over and sat down, visibly shaken.
“Thank you,” he said.
I nodded, dumbfounded.
“Every day, for three years, I would wake up in the morning and draw a picture of your mother. I’d draw the picture, and write a poem on the back. I never missed a day.”
“Do you understand what that means? I never missed a day?”
“It means that we were not together. No, not by any stretch of imagination. And yet, I was still unfailingly sketching her image and writing my words.”
He stayed silent for several minutes. I did not dare interrupt him.
“She was with other men during that time. And why shouldn’t she have been. She knew nothing of my care for her. She knew nothing of my protective nature towards her. She knew none of it.”
“But that doesn’t mean it didn’t exist.”
“So, I was there for her. I cared for her. And that intimate connection we both had developed. I continued falling further and harder in love.”
“And, to my great delight, she fell back. She finally saw me. And it was because I finally started seeing myself. I had turned into an adult. I had become a writer. I had turned all the raw material in me into something much greater.”
“I became lauded back in India for my work. I became a known name here in the States for my words. And I became an international success shortly thereafter.”
“And do you know why that happened?” he asked me.
“Why?” I said, despite already knowing.
“Because of your mother,” he said, with a twinkle in his eye. “I knew that if I ever wanted her in my life, I needed to be the best I could possibly be. I knew that if I ever wanted her to stay in my life, I would need to be there for her.”
“And not there for her emotionally. There for her physically. I would need to be able to provide a life for her to live comfortably in.”
“So, I kept reaching and reaching upwards. I scrambled my ass to the top. I knew I needed to get there. Because I knew she needed me to be more than myself. She needed me to be extraordinary, in order to take care of her.”
“I already fulfilled her emotional needs. I loved her to death and back. But she needed more, and she wouldn’t say it. I knew your mother better than anyone else though. And I loved her more than anyone else possibly could.”
He finally slowed down, and I understood why. His breathing shifted slightly. He was about to tell me how it happened.
“So. Your mother was in love with me,” he continued, “And I with her. Only, she didn’t know it. And yet, I did.”
“So I decided to propose.”
I swallowed hard. This was a huge step and, for some reason, I felt like I was right there next to him despite sitting in his living room more than 20 years later.
“I collected every single drawing and poem I had made of and for her and put them in order. Then, I went and met her.”
“I gave the book to her best friend and roommate and asked her to give it to her that morning. On every page, I wrote ‘Will you marry me?’
“And I waited outside her apartment. She lived in Old Harlem back then, and I was much further away. I hung around in a shitty coffee shop all day long. I knew she would be reading and viewing the book all day. I was just going to wait for her to finish. After all, there were more than 1,000 pictures and poems.”
“As she neared the end, her friend and roommate called me and I came up to the apartment. I walked in, got down on one knee and asked her to marry me.”
“Poor girl, she was sobbing her eyeballs out. She rushed into my arms, kissing me ridiculously. And then she started whacking me.”
He took a moment to laugh violently at this. I sat transfixed, and in mild horror.
“I had this knack for making her cry all the time, always with good tears,” he explained, hurriedly. “Anyway, she said yes. And we got married that week at the court.”
“A few years later, you were born. And that was the happiest day of my life.”
“But, I don’t think she felt the same way.”
I sat up, more than alert. This was not the kind of information I had been hoping to uncover.
“Your mother loved you. So so much. But I think she thought there was more out there. Beyond you and I. She kept talking of the sacrifice she was making. The life beyond us.”
“She wanted more for her career. For herself. For her art. I don’t think she ever realized that I would have sacrificed my entire career for her art. That I would have sacrificed my life for hers. That I would have given up everything for her.”
He remained silent. I opened my mouth. Words refused to come out.
“She left immediately after you were born. She let me keep you, but she would have nothing more to do with me. And us. I remember the day she walked out the door.”
“Something in me snapped that day. I tried to keep her, but I think I tried too hard. I knew it would be the end of her if she ran away from you. From us. And I’ve always known her.”
“I’ve always known her best.”
He looked up at me, and read my thoughts. “No,” he said, “She’s not with us anymore.”
I looked away.
“She moved on,” he said quietly. “And Theodora. Well. Obviously, and technically, she’s your stepmother. I think you’ve always known that on some level though. She married me two years later.”
I felt something ugly rising up inside me.
“Hey,” he said. “She loved you. Your mother. She loved you very much. Don’t you ever think otherwise.”
I struggled to speak. To say anything. I finally heard words come out of my mouth.
“May I see her,” I found myself saying.
He looked at me.
“My mother,” my mouth said for me. “May I see her.”
I felt my father’s eyes bore into me. After what felt like ages, he got up. He went into his room and reappeared several minutes later. He then handed me the bound book he had used to propose to her.
“She was the one who gave you your name,” my father said. “There used to be a famous American playwright whose last name was Wallace: Naomi Wallace. Hence: Wallace Warswith.”
I looked down at the bound book in front of me. I began to turn through the pages of my mother. Time flew by me.
I suddenly stopped.
I turned around to the painting of God on the wall. I looked back at my father.
And, for the first time in my life, I saw the tears flow unyieldingly down his beautiful cheeks. I saw him crumple inwardly at the lost woman of his life.
I turned back towards the painting, seething with rage.
It was clear now. God was not male. Nor was she female.
God was dead.
And she had killed my father.
She had killed him without a passing thought. A man who had gone on loving her ever since. A man who had told his son that that woman was God, despite her being everything but. A man who would never stop loving her.
Is there anything fair about this? Is there anything right? Why?! I found myself asking the questions, somehow expecting answers I knew were not coming.
It’s never been clearer, I suddenly realized, burning hotter than ever inside.
God is dead.