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DONNA E. SMYTH YES, JESUS LOVES ME I am locked up in here, they are punishing me for something I have done or have not done. There is some confusion but one fact at least is clear: I have transgressed. The bars are proof of that, bars to the right of me, bars to the left of me. I look out at the white world through bars and watch the barred shadows on the floor. I have been listening to them talking, they say the river out there is frozen. When they brought me here the water was a black sheen and beyond it the fir trees, black too but now white, everything white. I listen to the wind, it rushes down from the north to bring more punishment to us, punishment on the inside and the outside, there is no getting away from it. It is always there. Sometimes I think it is easier to be inside where there is no mistaking it. When I was on the outside I often used to go for days at a time, carefree with my hands in my pockets, whistling. I would forget the inevitability of the rabbitpunch to the kidneys or the kick in the crotch. Then I would be writhing in agony once more while they, furious, pummelled me. The newspapers always said they wanted money or drugs but I knew better. As soon as I was released from the hospital it was my turn, sweet jesus, to jump from the shadowed alley. I was without mercy, merciless. When I was a child my mother scrubbed me and sent me to Sunday School where they said, Jesus loves you. For awhile the pink sentimentality of it held me spell bound, especially at Christmas when Christ and Santa Claus were indistinguishable, a sweet sticky confusion of love and greed. Perhaps it was not deliberate deception but when they told me there was no Santa Claus I was shocked beyond belief. It was obvious to me that in another two years they would tell me that Christ Jesus was also a fiction. Unable to endure the thought of waiting, I tormented my poor mother by begging her to tell me the truth so I could walk into the adult world with the lies of childhood left behind me. Naturally she gave me a sound licking with an old belt my father had left when he absconded. If I had had my wits about me, I would have known instantly what she was trying to say, how perfectly the expression and the message coincided. But I did not, I am sorry to say, and so I entered into a murky area of guilt and anxiety, believing and not believing, confusing and compounding belief with the awakening Cerberus of sexuality. I thought of Christ and masturbated. I went to 45 church and, when the rest of the congregation prayed, I said under my breath, shit, fuck, puke; shit, fuck, puke. Later I added prick and, last but most delicious and mysterious, cunt. So it was that I came to know the hairy backside of God where in the darkness there is flowering. Which is not to say that I was not occasionally attracted to the light, not only occasionally but regularly, so that a certain rhythm of advance and retreat, retreat and advance, permeated my life at this stage, at all stages. I would give up smoking and drinking and return to my wife with the determination to devote myself to the service of others, to be understanding and forgiving and not to cuff the kids around the ears in case of brain damage. My wife was not troubled by this cyclic rhythm, chiefly because she was absorbed in her own slow-beating pulse. When she breathed, it was like listening to a whale stranded on the beach. I knew each time I returned I would find her in the living room in front of the television. My gift of repentence was a twelve pak of beer which she accepted without expression. Once she was not there when I returned and the kids explained that she had gone bowling. This change of routine seriously...


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pp. 45-52
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