The Face of God
The way I see it, the Tower of Babel was probably just a ladder and an idea: I want to see the face of God. But God doesn’t seem to like anyone questioning his wounding. That’s all I learned, reading the Bible during the few years I insisted on trying the church thing out. I wanted to understand the shape of the cross, how the triangle of the trinity fit in, all those hawkish corners and sharp edges making up grace. Instead, I spent the time ignoring the mottled syllables pouring off the altar to read the Old Testament again and again. I liked Old Testament God. He seemed more likely. He seemed prepared for my insolence. The church liked to do baptisms in the estuary — they called it a godly place, that space between salt and fresh, land and sea. I stayed home the day it was my turn. I never looked back, not even idly. But I’ve never considered any decisions I’ve made final.
Look around: what some people call miracles, I call deceptions. Like today in the news, I read a study that tried to console me by telling my sleeplessness: Don’t worry, in one out of four people, scientists found they could produce memory. Meaning, not produce memory, but trick the brain into believing it could remember things that never happened. My mother used to say, The human brain is a miracle. For years I’ve wondered if the way she mourned over my father could be real. Now I know: maybe not. Maybe she’s mourning something she made up. Maybe I’m mourning someone she made up for me, implanted. Maybe he was awful.
If God made this world, he filled it with people with faces like Rorschach blots — we only see something of ourselves in each other. Why wouldn’t we want to see the face of God? I want to know if it’s the same: a collection of keyholes and bananas, of bats and axes, of human faces and bodies, pieces and parts doubled and mirrored, dancing, falling in love. In high school, I told my therapist this. She asked me about my father and told me God was my stand-in for a male role model. She predicted I would always have problems with men, that I would always be looking for someone to answer my questions. I told her I didn’t believe in God. She said, Exactly. As if this confirmed me. She never held any inkblots up, just gave me a test that asked me how much I agreed with statements. I like gardening magazines, the color green, the voices in my head, being outside, laughing, etc. etc. etc. Strongly agree, agree, not sure, disagree, strongly disagree. I answered everything not sure because I wasn’t sure. About anything, but especially about absolutes.
If I had a ladder and any belief I know what I’d ask that sleepy face, bored with all the inquires: Why would you give me a man with hands like water and a mind like a sun cleaved in half, always rising, always setting, and a face I could see a person in, why would you give me a man like that if I wasn’t allowed to keep him? Or: was he real? Was waking up to strong coffee in a mug with a bear real, his knuckles white rapids when he held it out to me, the way his wrists cracked? Was dancing barefoot to records on Sunday afternoons real, was the desire real, the more than desire real, is it real now? Or: is the present memory, too? Is what I’ve become maybe only a trick of the light, the fasting, the spasming cry, the beaten feeling that refuses to go back to sleep in my chest? Should I be worried I made him up and that I feel like this for no reason? Could I really have imagined a face like that, a man like that? Could I really have imagined seeing for the first time?
Or: could he come back?
For all my climbing, I know what I can’t know: that mess of crabs and balloons would remain inscrutable, would only scatter my alphabet to the wind. I would never be able to articulate the answer God’s face gave me: I don’t know. Not sure. I don’t know.