Tony would tell you he still believed in God. “Hey, I still believe in the Lord, bro,” was how it usually came out, and as he said it he would raise his palms up and lower his head, like he was surrendering. I think maybe that’s what Tony really was doing—giving up. I think maybe he started doing that a long time ago, back when his wife first tripped.
That happened about twelve years back. Tony can tell you exactly how long it’s been (he always had it down to not just years and months, but weeks and hours). It was at Myrtle Beach on their honeymoon. They’d spent the first day down in the sand and were heading back to their room when his wife stumbled. Just like that, no reason. There wasn’t even anything there for her to trip over. They laughed (Tony would tell you that, too) and shrugged it off to being punch drunk on love.
She tripped four more times that week. By the time they packed up the truck to head back to Virginia, Tony’s wife was still laughing but Tony was not. It was like a voice started whispering in his ear, telling him something was wrong. It was a heavy whisper, thick and deep with what sounded like a chuckle buried deep down in the words. Tony would say that voice was God’s.
He asked his wife to go to the doctor. She laughed, he begged, she relented. They found the tumor in her brain a week later. Six months after holding his wife’s hand on the beach, Tony stood in front of her casket.
Tony would tell you about those six months if you asked him. I think that was part of giving up, too. You come to a point where you’re tired of keeping all your wounds covered and you think they’ll heal better if they get some air. You think if you do that, all those hurts will dry up and peel away.
He’d talk about how his wife knelt by their bed and prayed through tears for healing, and how he knelt there with her, crying more. He’d tell you how the church pitched in with everything from housework to meals and how both of them truly thought everything would be okay. And if you had the time and the inclination, Tony would describe how the cancer made his wife forget who he was in the end, and that one of the last things she said was, “I don’t understand.”
She’d gone crazy by then, but Tony swore his wife was in her right mind when she said that. I think he was right. Sometimes a bulb burns its brightest just before it flickers out.
He gave up on God. Believed in Him, but didn’t love Him. Couldn’t. Tony said it was impossible to love someone you couldn’t trust, and he couldn’t trust God. God took away the woman Tony loved and left him with only empty places.
He tried coming up with a label for himself. Tony couldn’t call himself a believer, but he couldn’t call himself an atheist, either. Nor was he agnostic. He said being an atheist or agnostic would be a lot better than what he was. It was easier to just think there’s nobody up there watching, that we were all stuck in some sort of cosmic accident and just had to make do the best we could. But Tony saw too much in his life before to think that. He’d rather have no God than a mean one, but he was stuck with the mean one.
I don’t understand. That’s what Tony’s wife said. And those three words pretty much define how he lived his life after. Tony thought his wife was in heaven. Thought, too, that he’d get there one day. He’d been baptized (“Washed in the blood” is how it came out), and he was counting on that to make up for the gulf that had grown between him and the Almighty. He wanted to see his wife again, but he’d prefer God to keep away from them once he got up there.
Tony moved away a year ago. The town had too many memories, and he had too little patience. I heard at the post office yesterday that he’d killed himself shortly after. I guess he didn’t have patience for living anymore, either.
I wonder where he is now. I don’t know. But I like to think Tony’s with his wife now. I like to think they’re walking upon a greater beach in a greater place. His wife never trips, and the light upon them is one that never fades. I like to think he found God again in that very last instant, and he found that God had never left. That God had been loving Tony just as much his joys as in his empty places.