Jesus When I am Seventeen, circa 2001 AD
Masquerading as Messiah, Jesus darkens his eyebrows. Raises his hands as he walks down the church aisle while we all lift palm branches in mock adoration. Jesus clutches me a little too close on the Providence platform so his girlfriend in the fifth row will notice and seethe. I, too near, wipe the bruising make-up from his arms and cheeks in the tomb. Some woman moans about unjust death. Jesus doesn’t kiss me in the dark cave on stage. I leave him in the bleak lighting so he can change into his resurrection whites.
~ ~ ~
Jesus sits in a swivel chair screwed to the floor in front of me. I stare at my bean burrito and respond to the other Magdalenes fawning. I don’t like soap operas, I say. The others love them. Jesus agrees with his disciples that pro-wrestling is the male version of Days of Our Lives. I’m no longer hungry. The icy air is still too warm for my Dr. Pepper and it’s not getting sweeter. Jesus’ eyes are shallower than I can imagine.
~ ~ ~
I'm standing with all the other Magdalenes in the church kitchen. They make me nervous. They don't want to admit I'm one of them. They are all beautiful and tall. The dark-skinned one says she let her mother know if she gets pregnant the father is Jesus. Jesus has only ever held my hand. He's never kissed me. We did hug in the dark one night but it was brief. My face flushes and I look down at the cheap Formica counter. What beautiful children he will father.
~ ~ ~
Jesus catfishes me on MSN Messenger. He tells me his name is Jack Dawson. I want to laugh and point out the fact that Jack froze in the middle of the North Atlantic but Jesus continues to type about his run-ins with women. Magdalenes in hall closets and hickies on the couch when he was twelve, just after he told off some youth pastor. He tells me long necks are the most sensuous part of a woman's body, how he can never fall in love with a short-necked woman. I finger my throat, my fingers wrap around to the back of my hair. Jesus loves me, this I don't.
~ ~ ~
Jesus has catfished me. I know his true face when he tells the same typed story out loud to a group of youth in Garrison, Texas. His guitar is only picked with purple turtles. The fish are multiplying too fast too much bread too much wine and too many faces to control. Another Magdalene whispers "let it be" in my ear in the dark on the other lower bunk bed in our dorms. But Jesus fingers away the bra she throws at him and asks me if I'm tired.
~ ~ ~
Jesus tells me I am his therapist. He tells me when he was young, he saw a fire begin in the house next door to him. He closed the curtain. The house burned down. Jesus is taking Buspar. He doesn’t tell me how much. His parents’ divorce has truly hurt him. It’s difficult to have a father so far away. How those decisions bruised his heart. He can’t breathe sometimes for the pain.
~ ~ ~
Jesus stands next to me beside the church van. I cannot understand what he mumbles to me. I ask him to repeat it. Why are his words always so softly spoken? I smile and shake my head hoping this is the expected response. He looks disappointed and sits in the front seat while I sit with another in the back. I should have said yes. Always say yes to Jesus, I learned.
~ ~ ~
Jesus wears too much cologne. It lingers in the fourth pew where he sits so that two days later, I can lean my nose near his seat and breathe him into my lungs. I see many other Magdalenes do this too and I feel cheapened.
~ ~ ~
All of Jesus’ Magdalenes go out of the way. Together become unprofitable. One becomes a stripper. Another a professional trainer. One grows large and lives in the sticks, another has five children. Our wedding invitations are never sent. Jesus marries Rachel’s sister. We all imagine what goes on inside those tall shining walls. We linger, weeping and gnashing our teeth.
Jade Ramsey holds an MFA from Bowling Green State University and is the author of Yawns Between Strangers (Finishing Line, 2014) and Ghost Matter (Dancing Girl, 2016). She lives with her husband in western New York.
Jesus’ teenage years have always fascinated me. I imagine he had a charisma that attracted others, but was also struggling the way we all did/do as adolescents. I wanted to portray Jesus as a peer, someone who needed a friend. I also wanted to discuss the idea that it must be difficult to be someone to whom so many people are attracted.
What is one thing about you that people assume?
People always notice my height before anything else about me. I’m 4’11”. I think many people assume I’m concerned about it, but really I don’t notice my vertical disparity until I see myself in photographs. And, usually, after people get to know me, they forget how short I am.
What is your spirit animal?
I would say my spirit animal would be apocalyptic movies. I was traumatized as a child by a particular end-of-the-world film dealing with the return of Jesus and it has shaped/influenced my writing. Now, the apocalypse is usually what I dream about when I’m particularly stressed out; though it can also be my go-to when I need perspective, especially when I’m feeling like my mole-hill problem is “the end of the world.”
Rock, paper, or scissors?
I’ll go with paper. Books are made of paper. And books always win in the end.