Sunday, November 19, 2006

The Book of Hope 8: Faith, Hope, and Chanting

When I told Kerry Will had dumped me, she was like, "That's great news, hon--we all hated his guts. Plus he was lousy in bed anyway, you said." And it was true, sex or whatever with him always sucked. but that didn't seem to matter somehow at that particular moment. Weird, isn't? It should of mattered a lot, but sometimes it just doesn't. So then Kerry got out her laptop and calculated the length of my 'Heartbreak-a-Thon." This is a formula we all worked out one night together when we were really drunk: it's like how hot the guy who dumped you was multiplied by the number of times you had sex plus a week for each time you have to see him after the dumping added to one-half the length of time you were together. "Wow," she said when she was done, "Just a couple months. Almost painless! You are going to be so over him so fast, bitch!"

And I shoulda been, because the formula always works. And yet...I wasn't. The Heartbreak-a-Thon just seemed to drag on and on all spring. Maybe Kerry hadn't done the math. Or maybe it was me who hadn't. I was beginning to reluctantly face some highly unpleasant facts about myself. Number one: I might say I wanted a certain type of guy--kind, loving, sensitive, etc etc, but the evidence was starting to seem pretty persuasive that I was actually attracted to a totally different type. Like the exact opposite, in fact. Instead of getting over Will I found myself moping around the campus, making excuses to myself to walk past the business school building just in case I ran into him. And I actually tried to dig up more gossip from people about his wife and his serial seductions. Why? Was I some kind of masochist--secretly a 'sub' like purple-haired Krystal? Though frankly the thought of sexually sharing any guy with someone with that much cellulite made me feel nauseous. I couldn't even comfort myself that he had good taste. Or, after I found out about him and Sharon, any taste. Basically, he was just confirming all my worst prejudices about guys that I'd like formed in junior high school watching my brothers' sorry sexual careers--you know, the knowledge that men will shag anything that moves or bleats (one is now divorced, the other in pastoral marriage counseling). But, if I'm honest, for a period of several months back then I still would have taken him back in a heartbeat.

So, unpleasant fact number two: I'm an emotional weakling. A wuss. A wimp. A pushover. But not for anyone else but geezers like William apparently--several younger normal guys tried their luck with me that year, and I behaved really badly, sort of leading them on just a little bit and then seizing on a minor deal-breaker and then picking some weird kind of passive-aggressive fight over it, then not taking their calls or answering their texts. What was up with that? I couldn't believe myself! So then I started to wonder--was I actually meant to just be alone the rest of my life? Or did I need some guy who was too thick to notice when he was being chilled? Or too feeble to run when i was chasing him? Was my ideal man even older and more decrepit than William? A geriatric invalid maybe--in addition to being sly, greedy, manipulative, mean, selfish and sexually predatory (but basically indifferent at the same time)? The Mothership had gone out with one or two men like that, however, and I had felt no great thrill of attraction when I'd met them (quite the opposite!), so I clung to that thought for comfort.

But that's why, when the subject of the perfect man came up that night at the beach a year later, I blurted out, "I want to be f-cked by a god!' Because I suddenly realized that was what I actually did really want, literally--if I was gonna get hurt anyway, I might as well get hurt by the Homeric hubris of some sort of larger-than-life figure. I wanted Leda's or Europa's fate, I didn't just want another pathetic college thing with some pathetic aging loser professor. I wanted to star in an epic. I mean, I was like, "OK, I admit there's something all gross and Freudian going with older guys and my feelings about my dad and whatever--so what? I guess I've gone over to the Dark Side..." Maybe I wasn't so different than the Satan-worshipping Sharon and Krystal after all (well, hopefully except for the cellulite!).

Because that's the weirdest thing about surviving a really bad 'haunt', as Mrs Grandy called it. Suddenly you gotta admit that the supernatural is, you know, like for real. And sometimes that totally reaffirms your belief in religion, too. I've had this debate both with liberal Christians (who believe in god but not the paranormal) and with physics grad students (who believe in the paranormal and even reincarnation, but not in god). But ghosts are clearly mentioned in the Bible, like the one conjured up by the Witch of Endor, as well as devils, giants, nephilim, and even the succubi that tempted Adam. And clearly if ghosts exist, that also implies some kind of life after death, right? Even if it's pretty nasty. The fact is, you never seriously believe in something like the supernatural, I mean really believe it, until it happens to you. And then you pretty much want to forget all about until you feel distant enough to it in time to sorta look back and, you know, mull it over. And when I finally did, I realized that Will was actually sort of right--I do believe in just about anything, like even demons and vampires and gods. As well as God, I mean. Because when you think about it, the Blessed Saints in the Catholic Church serve exactly the same function as the lesser gods once did. I mean, my grandma used to pray to St Anthony to help her find her glasses--and to St Bridget to help her move her bowels regularly. I'm not kidding. You could even argue that gods or saints are simply Jo's 'tulpas', created out of a mass need or adulation, like celebrities or rock stars. For example, the reason I so totally worship Madonna is because she symbolizes all the things I want to be but aren't, like brash and assertive and unafraid to live life on her own terms. And able to dance really well. Millions of people like me 'worship' her--and probably if she didn't exist, we'd have to invent her. Just like we were inventing 'the perfect man' that night at the beach.

And at least Madonna is based on someone real. Most of the saints were, to be perfectly honest, not real people anyway, but just stolen over the centuries from local gods and divinities. This process is called 'syncretism', and it's pretty much the subject of my PhD dissertation, which I promise not to bore you with. Well, not too much anyway. Just remember two things: syncretism and Finland, OK? Because they are way important to the story later on. You will be quizzed!

"Did I tell you guys my big news?" I asked, after I'd said all that silly stuff about my perfect man (remember, we were getting drunk in front of the fire, so dumb talk was allowed. Even compulsory). "I'm going to Finland next month! I got a grant to research my dissertation there." A Mothership and tax return grant, but they didn't have to know all the sordid details.

Chris gave a loud sniff and was like, "Why would you want to go there? It's a boring country full of drunks who carry knives." The Swedes don't like the Finns very much, I guess, but in fairness the whole time I was in Finland I never saw a single knife. Lots of guns--even housewives go out and hunt elk--but no knives.

So I was like, "But that's why I'm going. Because the Finns are so culturally isolated that the first Christian missionaries there had to give up trying to spread the Gospel literally and just adapted it to Finnish legends. For example, in Finnish, even God and Jesus were given names out of local mythology. And since the Finnish pantheon originally came from the Lapps, that means even to this day weird hybrid divinities worshipped in Neolithic times are still being fed 'tulpa' power." The rest of them stifled yawns, so I went back to talking about men. By the way, Chris finally got back to me--she actually bothered to come look at my blog, which is more than I can say for Kerry or Jo--so I'll be uploading some pictures of us at Christmas together. The top one I took with my usual genius for shaking the camera, the other one I used the timer for--then decided it wasn't working and walked toward it just before the flash went off. Typical!

"OK, let's review," Jo said, picking up a pen and pad like she was writing my answers down on a checklist. Then she handed them to me. "Here, Hopey, you do it. Number one, your perfect guy is old, right? Really old?"

But I was like, "He doesn't have to be old! Just knowledgeable about the world. And sophisticated. He could be any age."

"Just write it down. Number two, military service?" asked Kerry. Since she was from Savannah, she and I shared a thing for guys in uniform.

"Sure, it might be nice if he's served," I said. "I'd be comfortable with that."

"Three, what does he do for a living?" I didn't care. Just not an academic, I said. But he had to love reading books like I do. And be, you know, attractive. Did he have to be successful in business? Rich?

"Actually, I'd prefer that he used to be rich but gives away all his money for me. Just like I want him to be, you know, a total Casanova, but give up all other women because I'm his perfect soul-mate. I want him to give up everything because he's so crazy about me. Just like in that Jack Nicholson movie--I want him to want to be a better man because of me!"

So Jo was like, "You want him to leave his wife for you?"

"No wife, no kids," I said firmly. "No way! And there's just one more thing. I seriously really want him to be a god. Why settle for mere mortals when you're indulging in wishful thinking?"

After they stopped groaning and hooting at me, Chris said, "What sort of god? You mean like Zeus or Thor or something?" I gave the question some thought.

"More like Eros or Baldur," I told them. "A love god." OK, sounds crazy, huh? But after I listened to them talking and talking about their dream guys, I realized that I stood about the same statistical chance of meeting a 'love god' as they did of meeting the same kind of nice, sweet, decent, sensitive, good-looking, ordinary, everyday guys they were describing. And what's more, I can prove it, though this happened later in the story. A few weeks later, actually. But what happened next was, after I'd been out shopping on my own the day after, a bleak, overcast, blustery kind of day, I came home at a dark and dismal sunset to find the three of them dressed in nighties (well, Kerry was in a bathrobe) standing around the dining room table looking really weird. At first I thought they had bought seafood for supper and were trying to kill a lobster or something, but then I realized from the way they were chanting and from the spooky stuff on the table that they were preparing some sort of magic ritual...

So as soon as I realized what was going on, I was totally like WTF??? I mean, I had assumed that after Hell House, all three of them felt exactly like I did about the occult: In other words, basically, don't do it, girl! But as I said before, it was Jo who had put them up to it. She was the only one who sort of 'wanted to believe' I guess. And, sure enough, it was Jo who turned around at that moment and said, "Shhhh! We're bringing your love-god to life for you." Then I got it--it was a joke. So what could I do except go along with it? What they had done was turn the dining table into a kind of altar out of an old Hammer horror film. From somewhere they had found a black velvety bed-cover and were using that for a table-cloth--on top of it were a ring of candles and a pentagram that looked like it had been squeezed out of a tube of instant cake frosting. Inside the pentagram lay a crude little figurine of a man. So obviously they were playing with me. Great.

"So what book are we using?" I asked, trying to get into the spirit of the thing. "Our old buddy Cornelius Agrippa?"

Jo frowned at me but was like, "And the Book of Raphael. That's why we reckoned we needed notes in your handwriting."

"You baked my notes into that...thing?" I said.

"Soaked in wine. And your blood," whispered Chris dramatically. Blood, I thought? And then I was suddenly like omigod, I remembered I was having a really heavy period. Eek! "We were supposed to use spermacelli but we couldn't find any." (Well, I wasn't surprised to hear that--they didn't sell sperm whale secretions at Superfresh.) And I wasn't even gonna think about what they'd used instead. But naturally, Kerry told me anyway. "So we had to use human sperm," she said.

I was so surprised that I actually fell for it--and was like, "Shut up, really? Where did you get that??"

And she was like, "Know that really fit blonde lifeguard in the red jersey? I convinced him to come in a jar. Of course, I made it fun for him." Ewwww! Then I saw her and Chris exchanging glances like they were trying really hard not to lose it, so at that point I knew for sure they weren't serious. They'd probably just used melted candle-wax for the whole thing. And honestly, I think they sort of lost interest in the joke after that, in spite of Jo's best efforts to shush us and keep the so-called ceremony half-serious. She read some stuff aloud in Hebrew from the book, an invocation for a divine spirit to come to life, then threw the little mannequin into a crock-pot where he started to smoke up the place so badly that we had to open all the windows and toss him out into the back parking lot. But we were all pretty much used to Jo's cooking by now. And by the time we all went off to supper, I'd forgotten about the whole thing. It seemed like such a total anti-climax after Father Mac's exorcism that it was easy to believe that nothing at all had happened because of it. Well, all that happened was that I'd just been punked.

But as usual, I was wrong...

Continued here...


Blogger Rachel said...

That is the greatest equation Ive ever heard of :)

11:05 AM  
Blogger Isabelle Ashford said...

Hi Hope, thanks for your feedback on my mini blog, I have posted the next "episode" as you suggested! Linkage great :D

The equation rocks, you just had a problem with "Poking things that Hurt". I have this same problem, I don't know why I want to know about my boyf's exes etc/ things my ex is doing now or did at the time aaah girls are weird. Your friends sound hilarious. Am reading your blog slowly to catch up, its definitely brightening my mornings :)

6:56 AM  

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