“Jesus Loves Me”

Whack!

The small child steps forward, dressed in his Sunday best.  His shoes scuff across the black asphalt; gray apartment buildings are all around in narrow alleys. They tower over him; vast grey plains shot through with windows and balcony apartments.

“Sing! I told you! Sing now!  ‘Jesus loves me’,” the man holding the whip – a stick, actually, tugs him and yanks him forward.  “Now sing!”

The child stumbles forward, and one word escapes his frozen lips.

“Jeee . . . zzuuss.”  It sounds more like a plaintive cry than part of a song.  His lips are blue and he is shivering in his thin ‘church-going’ coat.  There is winter in the air; they are in Germany, and it is cold as hell.  His smooth soled shoes offer no traction and there are ice spots on the road.

“I told you – sing!”  The rod comes down, spoiling the child’s next step and he stumbles.  The hand instantly yanks him up – hard and so painfully his shoulder joint hurts.  They are on their way to church like they always do on Sunday. It is right on down the road.  It’s probably less than a mile down the road, but it feels like two. It is hard to judge distance when you are being beaten and a small child.

“Come on now,” the harsh voice above his head says as the hand tugs again, pulling him forward.  “We’re gonna be late because of you.”

WHACK!  The stick comes down again.  The parent has the child by one hand, urging him forward with stick and voice.  His mother and brother stumble on behind; their heads down, they aren’t into witnessing this thing.  They’ve seen enough to know. It’s business as usual – family business, between father and son.  Nobody sticks their nose in. Not unless they want it cut off.

The stick whistles again, biting through the boy’s linen pants.  He’s glad he has long underwear on.  They pad the blows some.  ‘Long Johns’, he calls them, though he doesn’t know why.  That’s simply what they are.  He wishes he’d brought his coat.  His father, mother, and brother have one on.  His brother and mother have their hands shoved into the pockets of theirs.  His hands are cold.   He must have simply forgotten it, he thinks as he remembers seeing it hanging off the back of a chair by the door in the front room, within those massive beige walls.

“You wanna go to church, don’t you?”  The voice asks a dangerous question.  This morning he already gotten it wrong once.  He had said ‘no’, believing their lie that it did not matter if he went or whether not.  He didn’t like this thing: this constant going to and fro from a place he’d already been.  He wanted to do something else – sit down and play in his room.  Anything but go to church with them.  It was boring.  And it was old.  And he hated this church. It was so plain.  It was not the church he remembered from back home.

But all that had changed when his father had got home – from Thailand, that is.  His father had come home a changed man, a ‘born again Christian’ determined to raise his children with born again values now that his whoring was done.  He wanted to his children to know something better; he wanted them to accept god – and accept him as an adequate substitute for Him.  Anything which would give him some power.

And now his son had beaten him – beaten him at his own game.  By simply denying that there was one – by merely refusing to go along with his religion.  It was an affront to his face.  He’d already had the child reading the religious books – of all religions – comparing them to his own, showing ‘them’ (his own family) his was superior – and thus HE a superior being for believing all those words.  And they’d better go along with him or else.  His eyes narrowed, taking in his angry, out-of-breath wife.  She was one he couldn’t control . . . his eyes swung wide, then down to his hand.  However, these others . . .

“Sing the phrases, damn you!” he said, swinging the rod wide albeit a bit wildly.  It came down across the child’s cheek, striking him with the end.  The child burst out in tears, crying, his hand flying up to grasp his cheek, stinging in the cold.

“Oh! I’m sorry!” the father said most sincerely, dropping to one knee.  He stopped the small shuffling procession of family out there in the cold, and drawing the child’s hand away from his face, looked at him in concern.

Little Mikie looked up at him.  In his eyes was a hard golden light.  His lips pouted.  He could see his father’s eyes dancing behind the smile; see there was no pain within.  This man delighted in hurting him sometimes; carrying him to the edge of terror – and yet he could bear no pain. Not himself.  And Michael smiled with bittersweet knowledge. This man was a wimp before him.  And yet he held the power.

The man suddenly stood straight back up, his back arrow straight, and looked on down the road.  He tugged on Mikie’s hand – so hard he again threw him off balance, and Mikie’s foot slipped on the ice.

“Come on – we gotta go.  We’re gonna be late.”  He frowned and scowled and looked down.  “It’s because of him.  If he hadn’t given us so much trouble this morning . . .”

Ahead of them the church was looming.  It was a plain square white building with a plain white steeple tacked on.  It looked a lot like the endless barracks Mikie had seen – the same long white plank siding, the same white noneness of color – there are numbers stenciled on one corner – the right one, about four inches high, and there are five numbers, black. 30___ something or other . . .

From the church comes the sound of worship – singing.  Daddy dragging Mikie forward – the whip applied a final few times – Mikie hears:

“Jesus loves you, yes he does . . . .”

and wonders: Is it true?  For (as the hand drags him forward with an even greater urgancy; the stick is thrown away as his family nears the church – no one wants to see them getting beaten – and his father wants to hide this thing – it is normal to hide) . . . if Jesus loves me why doesn’t he save me from HIM?

If Jesus loves me does this mean . . . (thoughts turning towards the beatings; this went on a time or two . . . or three or four or five) . . . this is what love is supposed to BE like?  This constant beating and nagging and praying for something that will not come from a cruel god that does not love you . . . but says He does?

Is that what Love and God is?

And dragging up the stairs . . . those endless stairs to heaven, Mike finds . . .

he hates himself once more.

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