Fiction · 10/23/2019

Not Fatherlessness

Because I didn’t have a dad, I identified with two guys: Jesus Christ and Darth Vader.

Jesus was easy on Mom. She liked Jesus. She went to church all the time and kept a Bible in the parlor. She read passages daily, sometimes to herself, sometimes to me. Jesus, my mom was cool with.

Darth Vader, not so much. He killed a lot of people and was from a universe where there was no Jesus or even God. Mom didn’t like how I talked about Jesus and Darth in the same breath. One was her entire life, the other a silly robotman from a movie. I wasn’t allowed to see Revenge of the Sith because of all this — I watched it at a friend’s a year after it came out, but I knew what would happen at the end — everybody did. My mom had a point about Darth, even if he killed the Emperor at the end of Jedi.

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When I was older, my mom tolerated exactly half my tattoos. She accepted the big Jesus on my left arm, the Sacred Heart, stretching from wrist to shoulder, though she wasn’t a big tattoo fan. She despised the matching Vader on my right arm, just as big, Darth holding his red lightsaber at the same angle Jesus waved his blessing hand. She asked me to cover that one up while I was under her roof. I cut one arm off a bunch of shirts. She didn’t like me mangling good clothes, but she did let me stick around.

Outside her domain, I lived in tank tops. I liked for people to see who I believed in. A lot of people asked me about them. I said they were my guys. When they asked why, I told them they didn’t have fathers, like me. They pointed out that Jesus had a dad, God, and a stepdad, Joseph. They also said I had a dad, but I just didn’t know him. They said the prequels were stupid. One guy said I was actually into immaculate conceptions, not fatherlessness, that I should get tattoos of Mary and Smee Skywalker instead. I told him you can’t get other tattoos instead. And he should mind his own business.

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Right after that is when I got ripped. If you have flabby arms and people harass you about your Jesus Christ and Darth Vader tattoos, you tell them to mind their own business. If you are rock hard and can crush a pop can in your elbow pit, you can just jack them in the face. I lifted until I got to that point. With my guns always on display, I honestly didn’t have to jack all that many people in the face.

Soon after my transformation, my mom moved in with a guy. He was a big roofer with tattoos, though he had the normal ones, skulls and hearts and MOM. Mom of ten years earlier would have called Now-Mom a whore. Now-Mom said she was lonely. It had been too long since Dad walked out. Jesus wasn’t enough, she said. I told her He was only half the equation. She didn’t respond to that. I should have predicted as much.

Mom invited me to their house of sin to have dinner, play some cards, watch TV. I accepted after three refusals. They had something to tell me, she and David, her big new lover. David made chili mac in his crockpot. He drank light beer from cans and so did my mom — her fall was further than I’d imagined.

We ate the chili mac and drank the beer. I sat in a rocking chair and the two lovebirds snuggled on the couch. David found Empire playing on cable and we watched it, his olive branch. When the saber duel between Luke and Vader started, nobody spoke — it still gave me chills.

After Darth said, “No, I am your father!” and Luke fell down the shaft, the station went to commercial. David put the TV on mute. He and Mom sat up straight, holding hands. With a terrible James Earl Jones impression, he said, “I am your father.”

He and Mom had eloped. Like the Sacred Heart, Mom held her hand up in front of herself: She showed off her ring. David stood to shake my hand. I put my chili mac on the coffee table and got out of there.

I stopped by my church when I saw the lights on and sat in a pew in the back. Just my luck, there was a wedding rehearsal going on. When it was over and everyone else cleared out, the pastor sat down in front of me. He asked if I was okay. I told him about my mom and David, and he said he’d heard about that. We talked until he brought up my tats, claiming he liked them. I told him about the no-dad thing, and he said Jesus had a dad and a stepdad. He always thought Anakin had someone, too, that Smee was covering up some seedy Tatooine encounter. I punched him in the face with Jesus, then with Vader. He fell back into his pew, bleeding from his nose, and asked if I felt better. I said no. He offered to hear my confession. We went inside the little booths, even though he knew who I was. I told God I was sorry for punching the pastor in the face twice. The pastor told me that God forgave me. He had me say twenty Our Fathers and we called it a night.

My only regret about getting so huge was how my arms changed, how Jesus and Darth grew mangled and distorted. Darth’s face looked more like his helmet in the bonfire on Endor. Jesus wasn’t beautiful anymore, like He’d been stepped on but survived (of course He did). I started to wear long-sleeve shirts. Those warped imposters were nothing compared to the real things.

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Michael Czyzniejewski is the author of three collections of short stories, most recently I Will Love You for the Rest of My Life: Breakup Stories (Curbside Splendor, 2015). He serves as Literary Editor of Moon City Press and Editor-in-Chief of Moon City Review. In 2010, he was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship.