From A Child’s Bible, Lessons from the Prophets and Writings by Seymour Rossel.
1. “Oh, dry bones! God will breathe life into you,” said ______________.
If the prophet Ezekiel comes to my house I will show him my home mausoleum, located on top of the bookshelf in my living room. Look, Ezekiel, here’s my mother in the silver ice bucket that she won with my dad in the 1965 Husband and Wife Tournament at Hollywood Golf Club in Deal, New Jersey. I would have mixed a little of my father in there with her but robbers stole him, in his hermetically sealed brown plastic box, out of my mother’s jewelry drawer back in the ’80s.
I also have my first husband Tony and our stillborn son, whom we called PeeWee. Originally each was in a red covered urn with a cardiac shape, a big one and a little one, but PeeWee’s smashed when my second husband threw a ball for the dog. I tracked down the young potter, who was older by then, and he kindly made a replacement. It was much larger than the first, as if the ashes might have grown by age 17.
2. “All your children are dead,” said ________________.
All 10 of Job’s kids, seven boys and three girls, whom he worried about constantly, were having dinner at his oldest son’s house when it was hit by a tornado — that’s what the messenger told him. My friend Ellen was home when she got the call about the car accident on the way to the birthday party. Every day Ellen wakes up and gets this news again. Audrey’s dogs Mocha and Cookie are still waiting for her to walk in the door; it has only been three years.
None of my children are dead, except Peewee, and I have let him go. I could not hold on to a sadness that size for very long. Now it is absorbed in the bones and the fluids of my body. I have three other children who have survived their lives so far and I have my dachshund, who is exactly the size of a baby. In the morning when we are rolling around nosing each other, I say “I love you” over and over and he puts his paw, a big paw for such a short leg, a tawny paw with roughened pads and curved black nails, on my cheek as gently as if it were a hand.
3. “Do you still believe in God?” said ________________.
This was Job’s wife, a nudnik renegade at the end of her rope after watching her husband’s reaction to the loss of their children, their possessions and his livelihood. He just sat there on the floor, scratching his oozing sores with broken shards of pottery, something like the pieces of Peewee’s urn. What happened to her after that is not totally clear. It seems she stuck with him. I have a tattoo of my ex-husband’s initials on my right shoulder blade. It turns out I made a bigger decision when I got those initials tattooed on me than I did when I married him. We were able to undo our marriage but I cannot undo this tattoo. It has been absorbed into the material of my body. After considering having layers of my skin removed by laser, or having the tattoo somewhat hidden by a much larger tattoo of something I chose only for its camouflage potential, I began an affair with my ex-husband.
4. “People should be happy when God punishes them for doing wrong,” said ________________.
Since I started having health problems and had to quit drinking, I have become more and more extravagant in my fantasies of indulgence. I want to stay up all night doing cocaine and drinking Veuve Clicquot. Or have carloads of OxyContin delivered from pharmacies in Canada and wash it down with hits of ecstasy and tumblers of gin and grapefruit juice. I think this is approximately what Job felt, although he expressed it somewhat differently, at least in the King James Version. But instead of being allowed to climb back up into his mother’s womb and sleep forever, or even wash himself clean with snow water, what he got was a parade of moronic friends like Elihu coming over to make insensitive comments, which just shows you how realistic the Bible can be.
5. “If you were really good, God would answer your prayers,” said ________________.
6. “You are being punished even less than you deserve,” said ________________.
7. “God’s justice is always straight,” said ________________.
You are being punished even less than you deserve? Bildad, Zophar, Eliphaz, what were you thinking? Not straight, not just, not God or good, that’s for sure; it sounds more like Old Testament S&M to me. Why do we always want to make people’s suffering their own fault? He was drinking. She was careless. He refused the operation. They were not wearing seatbelts. The door was not even locked. She used poor judgment, she did not listen, she wore a short skirt. Enough, Mr. Potato Head, find someone else to torture with your theories and your chit-chat. Job, did you think of getting a dog?
8. “I am nothing. Forgive me,” said ________________.
Said Job, of course, who would have said anything at that point. Apparently it all worked out well for him. He got a new house, new kids, patched things up with the wife. His boils healed and he lived 140 more years. What I think is, he just could not hold on to a sadness that size. That is the one gift we have against all this trouble: our weakness. Things go wrong, people are dopes, your body is fragile, the ones you love can’t help, even your children are crushed in the unfeeling vise of time. But if you don’t kill yourself or become a hopeless addict or die some other way, you go on and more things happen. Eventually, some of them are good things. Ask the Jews. Ask anyone. Someday, when we are 140 years old, I will ask my friend Ellen.
Marion Winik writes “Bohemian Rhapsody,” a column about life, love, and the pursuit of self-awareness. Check out her heartbreakingly honest and funny essays twice a month on Baltimore Fishbowl.