From the front-row pew, reserved for the junior choir, I sat up straight, careful to keep my Sunday dress covering my knees while I kept an eye on Hologram Jesus in the ornate fake gold frame. He’d wink at me and when I winked back, he’d show me himself on the cross. I knew he loved me; the bible told me so. I’d dream about him sometimes, wake up with my palms stinging and my feet throbbing, tears dried on my face from thinking how he’d been teased and bullied. How his mother must have felt when they treated her son that way. How she must have cried when they killed him. I was kind of scared of him too, ever since I’d heard that woman who lived down the street, the one who wore hot pants and halter tops and smoked Salem Lights, tell my mother she’d once woken up to find Jesus standing at the foot of her bed.
Years later, I met a man with scars on his hands where he’d pounded nails through them after taking acid and realizing that he was Jesus. I couldn’t imagine how he’d managed to do the second hand, but it would have been impolite to ask and maybe the question would trigger bad memories. He’d punished himself for forgetting that he was Jesus and acting human, and for all his other sins. Impure thoughts, telling lies, stealing that dollar out of his mother’s purse. He’d thought of strangling the neighbor’s cat but only after Jimmy Wallace in 4th grade told that story about his cousin who’d been sent away to Juvie for the same thing. He wondered what that might feel like from both his perspective and the cat’s and decided he’d rather not know. It was a nice, friendly cat and he liked it. He was a smart guy. He read a lot. He knew things weren’t likely to get better and in moments of clarity, that scared the shit out of him. He grew up to be a kind man and didn’t want to hurt anyone.
Once he realized he was Jesus, it was a relief to know that he’d be put to death, but he’d still be around, sort of, and he’d be loved. And famous. He winked at me and I winked back before quickly injecting him with his weekly dose of the antipsychotic drug that would leave him with a shuffling gait and a vacant stare. With his fingers doing that pill-rolling thing, but there’s another drug for that. He’ll be discharged home tomorrow. Another mother in tears. Another kind of misunderstood hologram Jesus. One you wouldn’t want to wake to find standing at the foot of your bed, even though he wished you no harm.
Eileen Vorbach Collins’ work has appeared in SFWP, Reed magazine, The Columbia Journal, The Citron Review and elsewhere. Her essays have received the Diana Woods Memorial Award for Creative Nonfiction, The Gabriele Rico Challenge Award, and have twice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She is working on a collection of nonfiction essays about child loss and bereavement by suicide.
Photography by Fr. Daniel Ciucci