When You Meet God,
Could You Tell Him
1. You shall have no other gods before me.
I worshiped at the size-15 feet of the first boy to tell me he loved me. My prayers went unanswered, but my texts never did. It wasn’t true love or even puppy love, but I needed saving and saving me made him feel righteous. He raised me from ripped-jean knees and kissed me until I swear, I reached nirvana on my tiptoes. I nailed myself to him instead of to the black cross scarred into his skin. It mocked my refusal to believe in anything besides a boy who believed in everything but me. I thought we reached the afterlife with our broken hearts still pumping, but there was hell inside the heavens of his eyes, and he would not let me save him.
2. You shall not make idols.
My favorite God came out night after night, and I was too romantic a person to not believe in its poetry. The moon was consistent, and I craved reliability in a house that was anything but stable. Its soft glow illuminated my bedroom as it crawled up from the corner of my window. I talked to it when I wasn't listening for my father’s stumbling footsteps. The moon heard my silent cries when God himself turned a deaf ear and pretended not to hear me.
3. You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.
She called it the heaven tree because she thought it looked like a cloud and smelled like heaven. I thought it looked like a cotton ball and reeked like cheap perfume, but my older sister sat beneath it and prayed to the maroon rosary that our grandmother left for her. I ignored the heaven tree in the daylight, but sometimes, long after the sunset, when I was lit only by the moon, I tried to talk to Him. He never answered. “You’re not listening because you’re not real. If you were real, you wouldn’t have left me here.” Year after year, my sister waited for the blossom of spring, but it stopped blooming. God couldn’t keep the heaven tree safe. When the man with the chainsaw chopped it back down to earth, my sister cried, and I smiled.
4. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
Sundays once started in Sunday school, but now they end in the praising of a porcelain god. My mother used to bribe me with candies in churches, begging me to sit still, pay attention, listen to the priest. My friends handed me shots in basements, and I took them gleefully. Sundays were for hangovers, for homework that should have been done long ago, for books I had not yet read, and for Netflix series I watched too many times. Sundays were not for praying unless it was for forgiveness.
5. Honor your father and your mother.
My father had a liquid God of his very own. Every day he baptized himself all over again, cleansing the sins of his previous nights, erasing the memories of past mistakes that I could never forget. His breath reeked of his holy water, and it sprayed all over my face, but I felt punished, instead of blessed, for the original sin I couldn’t remember committing. This was not fair or just, and I wondered how God could be my Father if my own father could not. I left them both behind in a flooded house, but my feet did not feel washed of them.
6. You shall not murder.
His heavy footsteps stumbled up the stairs. I counted them in my head, one, two, three. There were exactly 43 steps until his feet stopped at my door and his rough palm turned the glass knob. I prayed that he fell. I prayed that my father fell down the staircase, snapped his neck, died, and forever left his wife and daughters in safety. If he died, he’d go to hell, but if I were the one that wished for his death, I’d be sent there with him. Or maybe this home was my hell. Maybe my father built me a playground in an Inferno, and God let me burn with him for far too long. Eleven, twelve, thirteen. Maybe my soul was as seared as the fallen ash of his cigarette buds.
7. You shall not commit adultery.
There was no ring around my finger, but instead, a necklace that hung heavy around my neck. The promise was there in a cliché infinity symbol that felt like a collar indicating ownership. High school is too young to make such a commitment, so I couldn’t stop playing with it, even when the boy who did not give it to me stretched his arm around my shoulder in the bed of his pickup truck. His green eyes looked down at my lips, and I ducked my head away from his stare to pull up the chain. It cut my chin and came into the view of his gaze. The words I did not have the decency to give screamed at us in the silence, and he knew he had to take me home. It was not a sin I could commit, but God knew how much I wanted to.
8. You shall not steal.
I found my mother’s diaries in a box underneath her bed. The upper right corner of a brown leather cover had the number 40 etched into it. She kept them all, hid them in rotted boxes. The journal wasn’t mine to take, but it was all about me. I read every page like it was a bible, flipping through it as if it could save me. She dedicated each word she wrote to the guardian angel that hovered above my shoulder and the light of God she saw within me. I didn’t recognize the little girl she described. I stole the journal, hid it beneath my pillow, and read it cover to cover until I gave up trying to remember.
9. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
My chemistry teacher woke me up from a nap I should not have been taking in the middle of a class that I had no chance of passing. A concerned voice asked me if everything was alright, and I tried to hide my embarrassment behind a curtain of long hair. “I’m sorry. I’m fine. Just tired.” I didn’t tell him I hadn’t slept in months. I didn’t tell him that the nightmares and panic attacks kept my eyes open no matter how badly they burned. I didn’t tell him that monsters were real and that God was not and that the world didn’t take pity on the innocent when the demons were in charge. I just told him I would try harder, but he would have to fail me anyway.
10. You shall not covet.
My mother talked to God every night before bed and told me that He always answered. Sometimes I’d lay there with her and listen to the silence of her conversations. I was jealous of her blind belief in something bigger than herself, bigger than us all. It was faith that defined my mother to her core, but I was not capable of that kind of trust. She lay there with her eyes closed, and I watched the serenity overtake her. Her deep frown and pinched brows softened slowly until the dark circles and worry lines were erased. With shaking hands, I laced my fingers and pretended to pray. I wondered if I tried hard enough, maybe just for a minute, I could fake faith well enough to fool even myself.
Carly Mastroni is currently an MFA student at Lindenwood University. Her recent publications include creative nonfiction essays in Thin Air Magazine, Hippocampus Review, and Ore Ink Review.