There is a question that every teenager is faced with, but no one can answer. Most grow out of trying, but I never did. No matter how old I get, how many responsibilities occupy me, nor how inconsequential the answer may be, I find myself constantly faced with the question: Who am I?
What began as a snowflake of doubt has suddenly collapsed into an avalanche of guilt, and regret. And fear. Yet there is no one I am more afraid of than myself, because I cannot tell whether I am ill, or divine. There is only room for one being to claim ownership of everything: Me or God. This seemed like a novel little idea to me when I was eighteen, but over the course of the last five years it has come to dominate everything that I am.
I used to think that I was a real-life hero, come to help humanity. The idea first entered my head when I saw Josh Muller embarrass another kid in gym class when we were 15-years-old. While the kid was on a treadmill, Josh came up from behind and pulled his pants down for everyone to see. It just so happened that I was his spotting partner on the bench-press that day. And that was the first time I really seized the opportunity.
Josh asked for 120lbs on the bench. I gave him 180. Josh said it seemed off when he lifted the bar off its rest, this surmise being proven immediately true as the bar dropped down to his chest. His eyes looked like they were going to bulge out of his head. I put my hands on the bar, pretending to be incapable of lifting the weight, when in reality I was pushing down harder. He was too breathless to notice. He was probably numb by that time.
Luckily for him, Mr. Gilasco came by and helped him out. No one knew what had happened. I didn’t feel any satisfaction until I saw the kid who had been embarrassed, leering at Josh as he was helped away from the weights. That crooked, satisfied smile on his face was like an inexplicable nourishment to me. I knew right then that I had an important job to do.
Over the course of several years I found myself exploring this heroism I held. All the while, I have been placing two beings on a set of scales in my mind. Still I cannot decide who weighs more: Me, or God. Because God would never directly punish a man like Josh. God would not give the immediate satisfaction to those who are debilitated by the powerful. But I will. I gave something more earthly and instantaneous than any deity could. All the while, the question remained. Who am I?
I am a murderer now. I know that much. When it first happened, I felt like it was an accident, but as I went over what had happened in my mind again and again, I realized that every fucking bit of it was deliberate.
I was driving from Flagstaff to Paige on a winding mountain road. It was a two-lane, narrow highway pass that left nothing off one side but a skimpy looking guard-rail. Just inches beyond the railing was a sheer drop, revealing canyons and pastures hundreds of feet below. I wasn’t going fast. The one thing I absolutely know about myself is that I am cautious, if nothing else.
In my rearview mirror, I saw a guy not much younger than me, getting close to my tailgate. Normally I could care less about what happens behind my car, but this time I was disturbed, because I knew what he was planning. I saw him inching over the center line anytime the road straightened out for a bit. I knew he was looking to pass me. I knew that he must have no knowledge of the road at all, because if he had, he would never have even considered crossing the double-yellow when he did.
His car’s engine roared as he split away, coming up alongside me with the guard-rail and the cliffside to his left. A turn was coming up. I could tell that he could pass me just in time at the speed he was going. But just then, something snapped inside of me. I looked over into his panicking face and I saw what an obvious Goddamn fool this kid was, for endangering everyone on this road right now. I saw as plain as day his disregard for the life that was given him.
And then the scales tipped a little. God, or Me. Me, or God. He came up closer alongside me and suddenly I placed my finger on my side and God weighed nothing. I, on the other hand, weighed Everything.
I hit the accelerator as hard as I could, pushing the gas pedal all the way to the floor. A rush washed over me like nothing I had ever felt in any of my exploits from before. I looked over and drank in the fear prying his eyes open wide, lashing his gaze from me to the road, from me to the road, from me to the SUV now careening around the next turn. He slammed on the breaks, but it was too late.
I swerved right, giving the SUV just enough room to turn towards my lane, angling his vehicle so that it served like a ramp, guiding the bumper of the kid’s car right to the edge of the road. He hit the guard-rails head on, knocked them over and disappeared over the edge fo the cliff. It took the cops at least an hour to make it to the scene of the crash.
“I tried to slow down for him,” I lied. No, I bent reality. I made the universe turn for me, wrapping gravity around my fingers like a golden braid, twisting what had really happened into what is recorded as happening. I got light-headed from the feeling of control. “But it was too late. He just made a bad decision and paid the price for it.”
Sometimes I will lay awake for hours at night, unable to sleep. I will ponder my heroism, my new powers and my benevolence towards the virtuous of humanity. And then sometimes I will cry, for no reason at all. I will go from just lying there to crying my eyes out like a little child who fell and scraped his knee. Sometimes that sick, desperate feeling will last all the way through the morning, until I get out of bed and walk to the church down the street from me.
I’ll look up at the doors and I wonder if the red-carpeted interior would not melt my shoes to the ground if I were to walk over them. It is at those times that the questions come back harder than ever. Who am I, if not a monster? With no God to forgive me, I can only ask humanity to give me grace and love. And so I labor for your love. I labor more than anyone will ever understand.
When I “accidentally” ran my car off the road and hit a man who was physically harassing his son by the bus stop, I labored for your love. When I heroically forced my way into my neighbor’s burning house to try and save him, so too did I labor. When I hoisted his unconscious body from the bed, only to see pictures of naked children lying on his bedspread, I laid him back down and left him there to burn alive, for you. Because there is either God or Me.
And if you have no God, then at least you have Me.