His neck had been craning so far left he could have been trying to listen to his shoulder.
When the usher stood up to help the old woman return to her row, she pointed a shaky finger in his direction, asking who this man was, and the usher replied, oh that’s Mrs. Pae’s grandson, Yosep, and the old woman clucked her tongue once, shaking her head back and forth, which made the usher grimace and retreat to her seat near the doors, but she remained standing instead, the day’s program tapping against her thigh while the frown on her face drew the attention of the lead singer of the praise team; he always wore those collared shirts folded around cardboard and sold in plastic packaging, always a size too large for his small frame, the fabric sagging under his armpits as he raised the microphone to his face, and his shirt stretched out of his tucked shirt enough that he could probably jump off a mountain and glide around safely; and he asked the usher if something was bothering her, and she pointed to Yosep, which was his name pronounced in Korean, or Jo-sep, for the Koreans who got his name in Korean wrong, never Jo-sef, as it would be pronounced in English; and she asked the lead singer behind her palm if he agreed with the old woman’s assessment about Mrs. Pae’s grandson; and he nodded yes, to which he had more to add, and they both looked at each other with the recognition that the old woman was right to cluck, their tongues pressed to the roofs of their mouths in unison; and after the pastor blew out the candles at the end of sermon and walked to the door to greet everyone with his wife, Yosep being one of the first people out after the grandmothers with walkers, the lead singer tapped Samonim, the pastor’s wife, on the shoulder to explain the situation; and while Yosep leaves church after his obligatory hellos to his cousins and his aunt, nodding at his uncle who volunteered as a parking attendant in the morning who was just about to open his mouth to remind his nephew about being double-parked, while he passes another church volunteer who tells everyone walking out the dining area that they really should stay to eat something before leaving, despite most of them already having better lunch plans, Samonim walked over to Mrs. Pae, caught mid-slurp of her seaweed soup, and told her the truth.
“It has come to my attention that your grandson was caught sleeping during service.”
Mrs. Pae frowned and licked her teeth, certain there were red pepper flakes from the never fermented enough church kimchi stuck in the smile she was not about to offer Samonim.
“And one more thing.” Samonim paused the way the pastor always did before a grand point to be made. “He’s always on his phone.”
How could Mrs. Pae know this about her grandson, who took her to church every Sunday and accompanied her since he was a child?
Her grandson, whom she often reminded on their drives to church that she wiped his ass when he was a baby and raised him in Hawaiʻi while his parents worked in Seoul.
Who played Jesus’ human father in the Christmas play two years in a row during his elementary school years, cast into the role just because of his namesake even though it was after the rainbow-colored coat wearing kid who always had weird dreams.
Who for weeks practiced and later recited Psalm 23 in front of the whole congregation, the King James version that made each verb sound like a lisp.
Who knew how to find any passage in the bible.
Who could nameth all the books, prophets, disciples, as fast as the PokéRap that played at the end of every episode he watcheth while lying on the leather sofa in the living room post-homework.
Whom she often found kneeling over near his bedside in prayer before sleep.
Whom she once caught placing his hand over the heads of his teddy bears lined up in a row as he made his way down and blessed each one of them because he had seen the pastor do this to church members.
She turned her head away from Samonim, a pharaoh from news of plague.
Mrs. Pae looked around the dining area for signs of her grandson. Nowhere. She had planned to ask Yosep to drive her to Palama Supermarket, or at least take the rice cakes she covered with another small plate for him to eat later. He never liked the beans inside them or how dry they were, even though they were really healthy for him. She wondered if he had gone to the university to study in his office because that was just like her grandson, the focused type. Always hardworking. All because this boy read the Bible from a young age and wrote pages of verses in a marble composition book, memorizing them even. She told him as much. This is why you can write and study poetry. God gave you the gift of writing, like the apostle Paul who was meek. It’s because of these things you study English so well.
“So will you talk to him?” Samonim touched Mrs. Pae’s shoulder. She flinched.
“This is so unlike Yosep,” Mrs. Pae said.
“A few people have noticed, and I wanted to personally let you know first.” The pastor’s wife gave Mrs. Pae a small frown. “I know he’s a good grandson, and the Pae family is so important to the church body. But this is something to address before it gets any worse.”
A warmth circled around Mrs. Pae’s neck. It could’ve been a red man in a cape behind her. Someone in a well-tailored suit and slicked back hair. A shadow with glowing eyes. It didn’t really matter what he looked like because she never intended to meet him.
She knew this feeling to be the devil’s breath trying to choke her with his whispers, Your grandson is mine.
Already Mrs. Pae had to reprimand Yosep and remind him every Saturday to wake up early the next morning. She wanted to arrive before the service started at ten thirty, not right when it started. As she shuffled into a row and gestured her intention to pass by the obstacle sitting at the end of the bench, the glares of other elderly Korean women laser printed a cross of tardiness on her shoulders that made it that much more difficult for her to transverse knees. One time Mrs. Pae’s handmade purse, put together with leftover fabric at the dress shop she worked at as a seamstress, slapped right into the side of the face of the grandma who would soon no longer give her the best papaya from her Chinatown trek, which meant Yosep wouldn’t get them diced and saran-wrapped in a bowl for later. She had been so ashamed. Of course it was possible that the son of God could sweat blood.
Mrs. Pae blotted her lips with a folded napkin before speaking. “Thank you for bringing this to my attention.”
Samonim nodded and leaned in closer. “By the way, I should also mention that I don’t think he’s ever gone to the Friday young adult service at seven. He should really go to that. I think it would be good for him.”
Mrs. Pae smiled and reciprocated the nodding. Samonim walked away and made her rounds to the other elderly women, smiling and nodding some more, maybe even spreading the word about her grandson. Gossip, the noise that only locusts could make. The heat in her neck travelled to her face, and she could feel it diffuse into the room. Mrs. Pae thought about how to deal with her grandson. The seaweed soup bubbled in front of her.
Yosep yawned while driving back to his apartment. A nap was in order. He got home at two in the morning this Sunday, which had given him about seven hours of sleep. Not nearly enough considering he periodically woke up every hour with a dry mouth. He had to lean over his bedside to take a sip from his water bottle left there to ensure he wouldn’t have that bad a hangover the next day, but this never really helped.
Because during the sermon, he could at least resort to resting his eyes. There were multiple prayer moments where he could linger longer after an amen, or he could feign being one of those people that close their eyes when they are seemingly listening with such intent that they need to block one sense to enhance another.
But he would have to nod occasionally like the bobble-head that can only agree. But what did it matter if he had headphones in his ears, the English translation on an iPod shuffle. Among the non-Korean husbands dragged along to church and the occasional old haole dude, Yosep was the only full Korean who grabbed the headphones. He wouldn’t turn it on, but he wouldn’t dare plug the jack into his phone to listen to a podcast or music either. He didn’t want to risk noise leaking. The translator recording the previous day always sounded like she had a cold and a stuffy nose anyway, so why bother.
Yosep had always considered this hour in church time for contemplation. With his left leg crossed over his right to from a pocket of space near his crotch, he scrolled through the articles he opened in Safari that he meant to read throughout the week. Sometimes, when his shoulders would ache from staring down too long or his legs got numb, he would watch the praise team perform and frown at the lead singer, whose microphone was much too loud and who always had the tendency to recite the next set of lyrics before singing them, as if everyone in the church didn’t already have each song memorized. The kind of man who would queue three to four songs that only he had the range to do if you took him to karaoke. He sang with such fervor even clinical strength deodorant couldn’t help this man who made puddles under his angel wings that carried him toward the glory of God.
Yosep did always pause his phone routine to listen to the choir because his mother used to be a part of the team while she was in Hawaiʻi. Singing and Jesus seemed to work better than her anti-depressants that helped alleviate the stress she accumulated from waitressing at a yakiniku restaurant. He remembered listening to her hum or sing softly while doing dishes in her red rubber gloves, just a few notches above a whisper, as if she was saving the full force of the song for Sunday.
He gave up trying to be productive during contemplation time. Mostly, he just thought about sex, had and not had. Eventually he had stopped trying to write poems on the back of envelopes meant for tithes. Why not just completely give in to his own distractions, devices? What a clever justification, he thought. The last time something really exciting happened, the only thing Yosep ever looked forward to, was hearing someone’s cellphone go off in the middle of service. There was nothing better than watching the offending churchgoer scramble to find the phone, at which point disarming a bomb would end up being the easier task. Such destruction was already caused by the looks of utter contempt and disgust on the faces of surrounding people. Better yet if the pastor paused after being disrupted in his practiced speech that Yosep knew was written and concealed on his podium. Even better if the offender finally succeeded in silencing the phone but took it a step further and turned it off, and if it was a flip phone, even better, another dying sound to punctuate the disaster as an aftershock.
Of course, churchgoers started taking precaution and turned off their phones, Yosep noticed, because it has been many days since the last incident, and his was probably the only one on.
He sometimes wondered about the lives around him. Do all Korean American churches have a confluence of old people, or just this one? Rows of bob cuts sat before him, grandmothers wearing their brightest and most patterned clothes, silk and elaborate. A lot of their blouses looked like they had been pressed against wet paintings, or could be accompanied by the sound of disco. Many of these women wore their best jewelry, some ordained in pearls, showcasing duty-free designer bags gifted by family member that probably held nothing but old receipts and still took at least a body of space on the pew. They were already the most uncomfortable seats when they weren’t crammed, when personal space gave way to the scent of perfume, cough drops, or worse, Salonpas or Tiger Balm, or even worse, the anxiety that any healthy young man would get in the radius of a sneezing or coughing old lady. It was always better to sit in the back on a fold-up chair instead: to avoid those weird smiles old women sometimes give to a dashing Korean twenty-something straight out of a soap, you could be a talent, they insisted, to which Yosep responded with his smile–shrug combo.
Most of the time, Yosep was just hung-over and tired as hell.
During post-sermon fellowship, normally he would eat soup with a dollop of rice mixed in at his usual spot in the dining hall and dump all of the kimchi meant to be shared for the table of four into his bowl so he didn’t have to waste time chopsticking back and forth. Then the young adult church member who recorded the translations would sit by Yosep and remind him about the Friday service and how he should check it out, and she’d soon ask how many books he read or how many pages he read or what was the longest book he’s ever read because who goes to graduate school for English, the medical student wondered. I can’t believe you read for fun. I never read complete books anymore. Yosep smhruged, a new word that could work, he thought. That’s because you dedicate your life to just reading and jumping around one book, plucking passages like flowers from the same field. He brought the bowl to his lips to signal that he was finished and dropping the conversation once he tossed his metal utensils inside.
“Nice seeing you.”
“If you’re not doing anything, you should come out on Friday night services.”
Oh, I’m doing something, he wanted to say. Drinking goat’s blood. Choking an Instagram puppy. Listening to Led Zeppelin backwards. All at the same time. I’d do anything not to go.
“Sure,” he said, high-pitched in that way when he really meant it. “Okay. Maybe.”
On this Sunday, after the first prayer following the worship, Yosep had remained praying for the rest of the hour and caught himself before falling off the chair. Forgetting the elderly this time, Yosep left without waiting for the slow shuffling of feet and scooting of tennis balls on carpet and went straight to his car.
After the long yawn, Yosep felt a wine-cork twisting in his happy trail region that moved in opposite directions.
He sped to his apartment and stabbed his key into the doorknob.
Gas escaped with each step as he stripped off his clothes on the way to the bathroom. For a moment he thought he was walking on a fart piano instead of the tiles lining the hallway. He kneeled over before the toilet. Specks of light brown toilet paper dust that had fallen after wipes coated the rim. How many times did this throne become a be-vomited altar for his weary confession? Nothing would come out, but he would have to hurry before he ruined the memory foam bath rug from behind with what must’ve been the wrath of digested cheese pizza and hot sauce. He hooked his finger into his throat, groaning like a goat grabbed by Abraham. What could he possibly have to give besides bile and orange juice with pulp? Saliva dripped down his wrist. Yosep contacted his stomach rapidly, as if he were being punched by the holy ghost, which Yosep had always imagined as a shiny cloud.
He stopped and thought about every other moment he had spent doing the exact same thing. Kneeling. He should be allowed to sleep in on days like this. Nothing came out. He tried to dig his finger in deeper and scratch the walls of his throat. He wanted to tell his grandmother that he didn’t want to go to church. Nothing came out. What was sin but someone else’s finger pointing at you? In this case, it was better if it was his own.
His groan took the shape of liquid and sloshed into the toilet water. His head pulsed behind his ears and in his temples.
Yosep’s first bible had been an illustrated Old Testament, the cover bearing cartoon animals in pairs and smiling around Noah. The bottom of the bible was also adorned with rows of fingertip-sized stickers, photos taken with his parents when they visited from Seoul during summers, in booths that let them pick various backgrounds. Yosep always in the middle. As a family they went to Los Angeles in front of the Hollywood sign, held their breath with puffed cheeks underwater surrounded by reef and fish, a jungle, to the moon, and even to a beach, though they would go to an actual one later. He would linger over the cover and think about his parents working in Seoul. He contemplated how the light blue cardboard that he could palm and cover on his globe could account for such distance. He would pray for them, and everyone. Although he knew that God was there, everywhere in fact, his mother and father seemed farther than God.
Dear Lord, thank you for this day. Please watch over my family and my friends. Please help my grandfather quit smoking and drinking. Please let me one day live together with my parents and live in a house together. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.
Mrs. Pae walked by his room and paused at the doorway, caught by the image of her grandson kneeling over by his bedside, the arch of his back making him look like a smooth pebble. The glass door to the balcony screeched as her husband walked back into the apartment. She heard aluminum clang against the floor. Ay, shibal. He would lay out his floor mat and sleep in the living room soon, claiming it with his stench.
Yosep was already getting older, insisting that he could wash himself and shower with some privacy. Such a sudden yet expected change. Yet he was still her little boy. Her only grandson. A good boy with the Lord watching over him. She walked back to her desk where her sewing machine sat, since she often took her work home and did favors for people who needed adjustments or fixes. She turned on the lamp and read what she would soon know by heart.
In bed, Yosep massaged his right hand. Sometimes it stung if he gripped the pencil too hard when he wrote lines of scripture over and over. He tried to remember what the Korean word for deer was again. His grandmother had made him attend Korean school on Saturdays at the church. There, learning about the bible doubled with learning hangul. They often sang praise songs. When would he ever see a deer in a context where he would need to know how to point it out to someone else who was Korean? As it panteth for the water. When he was caught drawing on the illustrations in his workbook and making the people hold weapons like laser guns or get eaten by sharks, who also sometimes had lasers attached to their bodies, the teacher made him raise his hands and hold them in the air for ten minutes without letting them down. He could feel the blood draining, his elbows and shoulders creaking as they grew heavier by the second. He felt dizzy and lightheaded. His head pulsed in his temples and behind his ears.
Years later, he would refuse to comply to any praise leader or pastor’s request for the churchgoers to lift their hands to collectively reach toward the glory of God. Instead, he would pocket his fingers or cross his arms, imagining that someone just asked everyone the question, who’s stupid, to which the answer would be unanimous.
Yosep returned to his workbook. He wondered if the teacher would tell on him, which would only make his grandmother give him more scripture to write back home.
He already had a hard enough time speaking English, which meant constantly proving that he could do so without the accent his grandfather had, like hiding the scent of something fermenting in the jar of his mouth. Speaking Korean became another ordeal entirely, language as kung-fu where the real violence was the awkward Korean dubbing the thoughts in his head. He didn’t know how to explain why he was caught for being distracted.
At dinner that evening, his grandmother brought up the teacher’s complaints.
“You should be studying really hard, you know? Your parents are working so much in Korea because they want to make a nice life for you here and buy a nice house.”
She told him to finish all of his food or else it would show that he was ungrateful for what God provided him, and that the devil would snatch him away in his sleep.
Yosep prayed the same prayer every evening. His blanket receded from his face and eventually fell below his chin, his chest, until he didn’t even care about being covered. The devil was nothing to fear as the years passed, just as much as the Lord was nothing to believe. Nothing changed. Prayer was just internalized therapy with a silent psychiatrist who moonlighted as an overbooked genie with bad reception. Eventually he stopped. He kept his eyes open during chapel service in high school. He sat firmly in his chair when those who wanted to renew their faith in Jesus stood up. He brushed off the clichés warring for his ear from his shoulders.
All of his prayers came true.
Even when his parents did move to live with him in Honolulu, they missed the full scope of his childhood. By then he learned that globes and maps cannot accurately represent space and geography, that to unfold a true map of the world would be to cover the world in paper, or at least that’s what he thought the Borges story meant in AP English. Since only having glimpses of one another every summer, Yosep didn’t know what to do with their constant presence, and he thought this was why prophets only had visions. This was why the full experience of God required death, or a bush and a light.
He couldn’t even speak to them much because he stopped going to Korean school, and never spoke Korean much besides with his grandmother. All he really needed to do to communicate with them was guttural agreeing, a deep uhhhhhh, ah-luh-soh. Years of that. Years of waitressing and driving a cab just so they could afford to put him through a private Baptist school, and college. They never knew what being an English major meant, neither did they ask or did he care to explain, even if he could. And when they moved back to Korea to start their own business again right before he started graduate school and moved in with his grandparents, he virtually stopped talking to his parents at all.
He wasn’t that kid who had so much to ask of God, the kid they were supposed to raise, abandoned, wondering about all the places left to go beyond booths.
Yosep would always know that going out on Saturday night to drink with friends meant knowing he would need to wake up in the morning to drive his grandmother to church.
A year ago, the evening his grandmother could smell the whiskey on Yosep’s breath for the first time in her life when he came home, she pleaded with him, asking if he wanted to become just like his grandfather and have a stroke and die too. His grandfather fell one day in the living room with the grace of an empty can. His grandmother had yelled for Yosep so he could call for an ambulance in English.
Whenever he burped into his fist, Yosep could smell his grandfather’s breath. In this way they became close, exchanged hellos. He understood why his grandfather spent so many nights on the balcony rotating through light beer brands, and on the special nights, a glass of Crown Royal. Like any good adult, he let Yosep keep the purple velvet bag, which he flipped inside out and used for marbles. Yosep considered his grandfather a holy man in his own right. Jesus touched his disciples after being resurrected to instill in them the power of the Almighty Father. Evoke his name to cast out the demons, to close prayers and open hearts so he may enter.
They say Koreans are drinkers, but Yosep knew better. He took after his grandfather in this matter. Every cup, a welcoming. An invitation. A cult of throat, stomach, liver, and piss, all following the mouth that led them.
His grandfather stopped smoking and drinking. Another prayer come true. He was sober for five months before the second stroke killed him. Other than his own breath, all Yosep really remembered of that time in the hospice was the smell of four squirts of goopy hand sanitizer that he circled around his wrists and rubbed down his forearms whenever he left the room. At his funeral, Yosep’s grandmother had told him that her husband was her cross. He saw this only once, the cross getting red from being dipped into his cultivated buzz, and angry after an argument with his grandmother. He pushed her to the floor. The cross causing her to stumble.
He didn’t have a word for it then, but that evening Yosep asked God to help his grandfather with his addiction. By his grandmother’s counts, he would be destined for hell. Yosep prayed for his soul, so that one day he would meet him again.
He had sworn to never become like this man.
Mrs. Pae slapped Yosep’s chest, her eyes tearing up. “I raised you to listen to God’s word. Took you to church every Sunday.”
Yosep backed away, the heat of his blood swarming around his neck and ears like a helmet growing to envelop his head. Holy shit, he thought. He wanted to scream at her to shut up.
“You really are your grandfather’s grandson.”
When thinking back to this moment, Yosep would always remember the way she frowned as she said this.
His grandmother walked ahead of him into his room. She pulled cabinets of clothes and found a full box of condoms under his boxer briefs. She paused but this would have to be addressed later. Yosep rushed in, spilt faucet water on his shirt from the cup he was holding. She went for his desk and slid its drawers open. Old debit card statements, pens, a long white extension cord for his laptop charger, and underneath a notebook she found a cap, grabbed the neck, and yanked out a bottle of aged scotch.
Yosep screamed what she was to him. Grandmother. The sound of it strange. In Korean, he would never address her by name.
“Stop it. Stop it.
Halmoni, what are you doing?
He barely drank from the bottle, perhaps only a few swigs the one time he thought it would help his poetry. It was a birthday gift from a friend. It would help when he tried to write about his grandfather.
She recognized this temper. The stench.
Some adults made their children smoke entire packs of cigarettes in front of them, or finish bottles of liquor when these secrets became known. His grandmother would not take the same approach. He watched her as she poured twelve years down the sink. His heart cracked like the ice that it was meant to touch because he never drank it straight. He always thought that the drink should get weaker, as you do.
His grandmother put the cap back on the bottle, the cork giving its last dying squeak.
To Mrs. Pae, her grandson became an instant stranger.
She whispered, “Do you still pray?”
Mrs. Pae caught the bus home with plastic bags full of cabbage in her lap. Enough to ferment for months. She found Yosep’s key dangled from the doorknob. She could hear his snoring from the living room, where she moved to the closet to bring down the laundry basket. His tower fan was still on, despite her warnings that it could kill him if all the windows were shut.
The key, the fan, the socks he always left inside out were all matters she would have to save for later.
She passed his room and thought about that boy who always shifted in bed and kicked his foot around to find her leg, to realize that she was still there and that he was not alone. The boy who would ask his grandfather to make him a younger brother when he would grasp his belly, and other times charge his head into his grandfather’s stomach as a preface to a hug. Grandfather, it’s like you swallowed the earth. The boy who would cry as he prayed when he returned from the airport after saying goodbye to his parents. She knew what this boy prayed for, and so she prayed for this boy and that he would be heard.
The whites of Yosep’s eyes showed, making it almost look like he was awake. His lips curled open, a grinding to the noise he made. A language she understood. Exhaustion. The rumbling of a world, too much of it taken in at once.
She didn’t want to wake him. Mrs. Pae decided to let him sleep.
No questions about the night before.
“You should be paying attention.”
His grandmother watched him eat his dubu chigae for dinner, his spoonful of tofu steaming with the boiling heat of the red soup. Yosep scooped the rest of the multigrain purple rice that she always made into the bowl to soak up flavor. Tiny sweat beads formed over each blackhead on his nose. He knew his moment of negligence would reach her in some way. The back of his throat stung. His grandmother told him about how people in church always had good things to say about him, best to keep it that way. He expected wrath and was surprised by this mercy. Sunday is for worship. Grace. Though it can fall on other days.
“God is watching over us. You know that right?”
Yosep nodded. God is watching over us because everyone is God, he thought. His grandmother started talking about his keys and other discussion points.
He is a great foot shrouded in cumulus, and we are all his socks. We come in packages. Some of us get lost only to return. We shrink and sag. We tear. Mismatch.
If everyone is God, then everyone needs socks.
If he is a sock, his grandmother is his God.
This could be a poem.
“You keep making them inside out when you take them off,” she said. “Make it right.”
Yosep pulled into the small lot and stopped so his grandmother could get out first and head upstairs to find a seat before the service started. She handed him an envelope with the offering she always prepared for him, even though the tithe should come from his own income. A couple of dollar bills inside. It’s always been a couple of dollars. Measly. But when he was a kid, it was even more difficult to drop the envelope into the velvet basket with handles being passed down the aisles. He may as well have been dropping in a Slurpee, a Melona bar, strawberry sour belts, packs of gum. How could God have spent these dollars any better. Yosep always considered taking just one bill to use for parking at the 24 Hour Fitness later. He could never follow through with this small theft.
The basket near the entrance was empty. No translation today. Samonim told him that they must have ran out of devices and headphones. Yosep reached for a chair to take with him and paused. He felt his right pocket. He had left his phone in the car cup holder. Samonim smiled and held the door open for him.
Yosep let go of the chair and looked for a place to sit among the pews. His grandmother was already seated next to the papaya grandma in the third row from the front, right in the pastor’s line of sight. He slid into the last row, and already he felt closer to the front and the rest of the church body.
There wasn’t enough room to cross his legs. He wiggled his hips and sat upright, hands on his knees like an astronaut with second thoughts. He bowed his head in the direction of his neighbor without repeating the morning greeting.
He ignored the praise team. The lead’s eagerness was being overcompensated for again with volume and teeth. Yosep scanned the room of bob cuts. He could see his grandmother from an angle, her head swaying side-to-side, keeping with the music, the curls from her recent perm bouncing.
This is how he would remember her.
Among the rest of these women, Yosep would sit around every Sunday and occasionally take notice: mothers wearing more makeup to hide their aging, and thus grief over being abandoned by their husbands who worked in South Korea while they had to watch over their kids, cook for them, speak to them in Korean, pick up what scraps they could alongside them as they learned a new language, the English that came to them as easy as eating; his cousins getting older, taller, to the point where they too would end up joining him in the adult service and listen to translations; hair graying into silver or white as bodies moved slower; regulars passing on to make room for other women who have always stayed; younger couples with newborns cradled by the grandparents who took care of them because they already knew how.
Yosep wondered if heaven was only really constituted by the state of mind you’re in when you die, a relief from the great exhaustion required to be. For a moment, Yosep considered that going to church every Sunday became its own sort of hell, as a proxy for his grandfather’s sins, his parents’ sins, at least he always had a guide on this path to the glory and love of God, and how many times could he suffer his lesson? Perhaps heaven and hell were the same for everyone and were actually the same destination. A place where you either thrived in worshipping God, or took this as punishment. The holy usher would force Yosep to sit at the front, right by the big toe.
A sobering thought: his grandmother only ever wanted to ensure that she would meet him later. In the same way Yosep once worried about his grandfather.
He could see her smiling as she clapped. This was the only moment these immigrants clapped and sang. He could never tell her that he didn’t want to go anymore. At one point he thought of lying to her and saying that he decided to go to a mega church like New Hope because Korean was too difficult for him to understand, but that would have been a bigger offense than taking tithes for parking. It wasn’t like Jesus could tell his Father, um, don’t you think that maybe this crucifixion thing is a little heavy-handed?
His grandmother smiled the most while she was at church.
He could stop going to church once she died. Only when she passed could he do as he pleased. Sleep in on Sunday. Drink. Smoke. Get a tattoo. Date a non-Christian woman.
Of course he thought this on every drive. It was better for him to think of this commitment the other way.
He would have to keep going to church while she was alive. This is how he would want to remember her.
Happy to see him as he opened the door for her to his car. They would arrive to church earlier than usual and take the elevator. His Korean would get better and he’d be on speaking terms with his parents. He would be able to understand what the pastor was saying even though he didn’t buy any word of it. Eventually, he would match her pace, her forearm hooked around the inside of his elbow as he led her to the spot that would become her usual. He would help her slide into the row and join her. He would leave his phone in the car or turn it off. He would keep his eyes open and watch her pray, glancing at the rest of the churchgoers as they muttered under their breaths their separate worries for all the difficult ways we’ve tried to inherit this earth.