I was sixteen the first time God truly spoke to me - I just didn't realize it at the time. When you come down to it, God speaks to you every day that you open your eyes and come to the uncomfortable realization that you are, in fact, still alive. His words are written in your heart with every beat, in the very air you breathe, because He is everything around you and in you, through and through, balls to bones.
But for Him to actually speak to you personally, that's a big deal. That's something that doesn't happen to everyone every day. Or maybe it does, and we normally don't pay attention. However you work it out, He handed his words down to me.
It was snowing, bright and white like powdered sugar. I wasn't really paying attention to that fact, except for the part that I needed to adjust the gyros on Deathscythe's legs for better traction. By then, the fight was pretty much over for us; we were cornered and out of options, and I figured that was that. At least I'd have something vaguely pretty to look at while I died. Then Wing burst into the air like a fucking metal angel with the fire of God in one hand and the lash of vengeance at the controls, and Heero cut his way into the underground bunker and ended it.
As I watched Wing tear itself apart, raining down fire on the enormous blast door that covered the place, that was when God spoke.
This was what he said to me: Don't be afraid, my son. Never let the tears overflow. Watch and understand.
I didn't hear it like a voice in my head or anything. In that case I would have been turning myself over to the men in lab coats the minute the war ended. No, I felt it in my heart, from the balls of my feet to the roots of my hair. The fear for Heero, for us that had been turning my stomach into a giant gordian knot melted away, and for the first time in my life, I fucking got it.
That night, I slipped out of the end-of-war festivities and wobbled my way into a tiny stone chapel that stood nearby, plastic champagne flute still clutched in my hand and crumbs all over my shirt. The chapel was pretty enough, not that I really noticed. It was a tiny wayfarer's affair, with one main stained-glass window of the Sermon on the Mount and two smaller side panels, one of the Visitation and one of the Resurrection. Neat little bookends for the big JC's life.
I left my drink on the altar and laid out on one of the pews, staring up at the carved angels on the ceiling that were wobbling in the dim, buttery candle light. "So I lived through it again, you old bastard," I said, flipping a drunken salute, "now what?" I started crying, then, messy tears that soaked into my hair. I wiped my nose on one sleeve and clutched my cross - Father Maxwell's cross - in the other hand so hard that it left an impression in my palm that took hours to fade. I ended up sleeping on the pew that night, and the next morning Father Thompson woke me up. He didn't mind when I cussed about the crick in my neck, and he fed me bread and cheese out of his fridge, then didn't call the police on me when I stole his silverware and sold it to a pawn shop. It gave me just enough money for a ticket off world.
God spoke to me again when I was twenty, hanging out in the back alley behind a club, smoking my second joint while a guy in leather chaps fondled my ass. Someone had given me a shot laced with something extra; I hadn't cared what I was drinking any more. The world seemed to be running back and forth like oil and water, and I puked between tokes, christening a black bag of trash. That seemed to be it for the guy on my ass; he made a real disgusted noise and went back inside when I started winding up to puke again.
Miserable and unable to walk a straight line, I wove down the alley, catching my feet on tangles of trash and piles of who-knows-what. At the end of the alley was where I found the bum. I smelled him before I actually saw him, and it made me puke again. Grimacing at the sour taste that filled my mouth, I tried to scramble out of the alleyway and just ended up kicking him in the leg, which set him groaning.
"Sorry," I muttered, wiping at my mouth.
"It's okay, kid," he said, turning to regard me with one crusted eye. "Didn't do any permanent harm, and I expect to be dead in a couple hours anyway."
The utter calm of him was like a slap in the face that sobered me up for a second. "You want me to call you an ambulance? What's wrong?"
"Nothing that hasn't always been wrong. It's my time, I can feel it. Hand of Jesus is reaching down to me, kid." He smiled, and coughed. It was a wet, nasty sound. "The war fucked my lungs, and I think they're finally giving out. Rather just lay down here than have a tube down my throat for the last few days of my life."
"Are you sure?"
"Sure I am. I've been thinking about it for a while. I figure that unless you're getting hit by a metaphorical bus, comes a moment when you know it's your time. I figure there are worse things in the world."
I crouched down so that I was on the level with him. "You want me to stay with you?"
"If you don't have anywhere else you're running off to, that would be nice."
So I sat with him and listened to his breath burble and gasp, and he told me haltingly about what he'd done in the war as an Oz soldier, how he'd left his family behind, how he couldn't hold a job anymore and just decided to die on the streets. I held his hand as he passed out from lack of oxygen, then stopped struggling for breath.
And that was when God spoke to me again. He said: It's just another step in the road.
I left the guy's body in the alleyway. He hadn't seemed real concerned about what would happen to his remains, but I at least closed his eyes and buttoned his jacket up. I found my way home eventually, and I threw out all my stashes, then cut my fishnet shirt to ribbons with a pair of scissors. I ended up having to move the refrigerator to get to my cross; I'd thrown it across the kitchen in a fit of anger months before.
I fell asleep on the floor, still clutching it and trying to remember how Father Maxwell had taught me to pray.
The next time God spoke to me, I was twenty-four, and I'd finally gotten my shit together. I was running a junkyard by day, and volunteering at a local hospital as the world's oldest candy striper by night. I spent most of my time bouncing between the emergency room and the ICU, and it made the nurses give me weird looks. Behind my back, while they were drinking shitty coffee in the break room, they called me the death magnet. I didn't really give a shit.
That night, they brought in a kid that had gotten hit by a dump truck. It was a disgusting mess; blood everywhere, brains splattering the bright orange plastic of the backboard. She was already gone when they brought her in, really, but I stood patiently by the bed and held her hand until her brainstem gave up the ghost and she stopped breathing. I closed her eyes and then said a little prayer over her, which was when her parents came rushing in.
Mom was in a bathrobe, with her hair coming out of curlers. Dad was wearing a hardhat and a flannel shirt and covered head to toe with fresh construction dirt. Maybe it was even a dump truck from his company that mowed his little girl down. They both lost it, and I stood back quietly and let them, listened as they ranted and screamed and cried. I was pretty familiar with reactions like that by then. When they'd calmed down enough to notice me, I shook Dad's hand.
I said, "I was here when they brought your daughter in. I stayed with her the entire time."
His grip was tight to the point of pain, and tears were running from his eyes as he nodded. "Thank you," he whispered.
"I know that nothing can help the pain now, sir, but please remember what I say to you for later. Maybe it will help then. Death is just another beginning. You've lost your little girl, and I'm not going to try to feed you a comforting line that she's gone to a better place or anything like that. But no one ever truly dies. You'll remember her, so that way she's always with you in spirit. And as for the rest...take comfort in knowing that she's moved on to something else, and you'll catch up with her some day."
Mom clutched at my sleeve, he robe falling open to reveal a little more of her breasts than I really wanted to see. "Do you really believe that?"
"With all my heart."
And that was when God said: Now you're getting it, kid.
I've never seen a miracle, but I've seen a lot of dead people. I said that to a great man once, and I think he understood what I meant, and that he might have even believed it himself in his own way. He already knew that it was just another beginning. We might not have agreed as to what it was the beginning of, but that's not the part that matters.
Now I'm back to school for the first time in my life since chaos erupted on my colony. I'm learning to become a priest, and I talk to God every day. He only answers back sometimes, but he's always listening, because he's always there. Death is always with us. I'm not making the mistake any more of seeing death as an ending, as a bad thing. I'm not making the mistake any more of thinking that the God of Death is anything other than God.
At least once a week, I still go to the hospital and hold the hands of the dying. I may not be able to explain to them what is happening, but I think I help them feel God, and that's all that matters. Afterwards, I get myself a cup of shitty coffee and sit out on a grassy hillside nearby to watch the sun rise and the morning birds fly.
Because in the end, death may be the only miracle we need.