(Note: Lola = grandmother)
“Peace be with you.”
“And also with you.”
The cold water lingered on my forehead, traveling slowly before settling on the lines in between my eyebrows. Even though it had been over thirty years, stepping foot into the church was like riding a bicycle—you stumbled and swerved at the beginning until you got your bearings again. I looked down at the open casket, taking in a cleansing breath as I stared at your face, pale and peaceful. A stark contrast to how I’d describe you when you were alive.
Our father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name;
You’d always been the ultimate authority figure of the household—the final say in anything and everything. Curiosity was a mistake, and when you were challenged, it was not ‘the Asian way.’ Eventually, I was numb to the feelings of powerlessness—grinding my teeth to the sound of mom’s whimpers as you choked her. Even though I lacked friends, muffled cries and salty tears were familiar companions.
Thy kingdom come,
Kneeling behind a church pew felt different at this age, but as I whiffed the wooden smell of incense burning at the altar, it transported me back to all those Sundays as a child. The first time we arrived in the church courtyard, the sun’s rays reflected off the stained-glass window. I’d squint at the kaleidoscope of bright lights, catching my breath as we walked inside.
Week after week, I’d laugh with my brothers, who stood on the kneeler to say their prayers, their little bodies too short. You’d scold us for being noisy, but we were protected in church because you wouldn’t hurt us in the house of the Lord (in front of others). Funny how church became my refuge—a safe place from the Bible you wielded with a heavy hand.
Thy will be done,
I looked up at the cross, curling my lip as I studied His crown. The Lord made us all in His image. But every rose had its thorns, and even shadows dwelled in the most illuminated sanctuaries. A subtle hint of original sin, something we all brought with us into the world. It varied from one person to another, and depending on the eye of the beholder, could be forgiven.
Most things could be atoned for, anyway.
‘What would your Lola back home think?’ you would ask me as I looked at the floor with reddened eyes. If America was so evil, then why did you bring us here? It was hard to be different from the other kids. My skin was not porcelain, my eyes were not beautifully blue. A lunchbox filled with rice instead of potato chips, my black hair was a pimple in the blond sea of heads at school.
My chest tightened as I covered my ears to drown out your words. Is my love… broken?
My affection for the boy next door was not ‘the Asian way.’ You blamed my American friends, as if they told my heart how to feel. Did you play any part in Adam moving away? I suppose it didn’t matter in the end. My stomach churned as I yearned for your approval—I needed it like the drugs that kept the shadows away at night.
So when I fell in love with Adam, I married Eve instead.
On earth as it is in heaven.
The women in front of me wore black veils over their faces. It reminded me of how mom hid her ‘oopsie doopsies’ with makeup. Lucky for me, you never touched my face—long sleeves covered heavy arms that pulled my shoulders low on hot summer days. We all hid behind different shields. Would you ever tell me what you were running from?
“He’s in a better place now,” they said to me. I narrowed my eyes, wondering who they were. Why didn’t I know them? Were they with you whenever you were ‘working late’? I sneezed, wishing they hadn’t worn cheap perfume for your funeral. Knowing you, they were gifts that mom didn’t want.
One of them clutched her rosary, gliding her hands across each bead as she muttered memorized prayers. I remember the first one you gave me—plastic pearls of blue as bright as the sky. Oh, how I cherished it, trembling with every prayer, asking the Lord to transform me into something worthy of your love. ‘People like me’ didn’t deserve to be in Heaven, but would He grant me my wish someday?
Give us this day our daily bread,
Week after week, I clenched my teeth as you accepted the wafer and drank the wine. You were worthy of His body and blood, yet I was not. Despite the drunken nights, the bruises you gave mom, the flirtatious whispers that tickled other women’s ears, and my bones that you broke… you were absolved because you loved the Eves and I loved the Adams.
And forgive us our trespasses,
I averted my gaze when she squeezed my hand. Our vows all those years ago were nothing more than empty promises, but we made it work. We raised our three children with an unspoken covenant, staying with them long enough to get them to college. You taught me how much our actions affected others, and I wanted to give them a better life than mine. But after the divorce, they hated me all the same.
Perhaps we are destined to repeat the mistakes of our fathers.
As we forgive those who trespass against us;
When I sipped from the cup, the crimson liquid jerked my memories back to your leather belt as it slapped against my tender skin. My mouth pinched as I washed blood-crusted clothes in the bathtub, retching from the odor of wet, rusty paper clips swimming in a pool of tears. The only thing I feared more than your Bible was your fist.
And lead us not into temptation,
A master of deception, you concealed your flaws instead of revealing them. No one could judge the things hidden behind the veil. Divorce was not ‘the Asian way’ of living; yet it was acceptable to flutter from one woman to another as long as you had a ring on your finger and a wife willing to look the other way. But I couldn’t follow in your footsteps. Eve deserved better than that.
So when I remarried later in life, you rebuked me. He was always my 'roommate' or my 'best friend.' Even though the world had moved on, you were still stuck in the past. I rubbed the back of my neck as you cursed me for acting ‘like an American’ and that ‘Lola would turn in her grave’ if she could see me now.
But deliver us from evil.
Is the afterlife the same as they taught us—a binary Heaven and Hell? Or is it like the high school cafeteria, where everyone sat at different tables? Thinking back on it, I never really had a tribe to call my own, aimlessly floating between different worlds. I was always too dumb for the brainiacs, too scrawny for the jocks, too awkward for the cool kids, and too guarded for anyone else.
I stared at your tombstone as the raindrops pelted on my forehead, lamenting on thoughts buried within me, too deep for tears. I wondered if you were up there right now, watching me, judging me. You’d always said ‘people like me’ didn’t belong in Heaven. Is it a place only for the ones who followed all your rules? For the men who loved women; the ones who went to church every Sunday; the ones who honored their fathers; and the devout who erased their sins with vacuous prayers while sipping on grape juice and chewing on stale crackers?
I laid the rose on the granite stone and looked up at the sky, a mosaic of white and gray. Leaning back as the rain washed over my head, my soul finally escaped from the holy shackles of your conditional love.
Are you waiting for me in Heaven, Father? If so, I’ll ask Lucifer to save me a seat in His kingdom, instead.
My lips pressed together, I walked away from you for the last time—my breath transformed into air as I finally exhaled, becoming the person I’d always wanted to be.
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Wow. This was so, so, soooo good, J.C.! As a gay man myself who was raised in a Christian household, I cannot begin to tell you how much I related to this. I was literally shouting at my computer screen reading this, I was that invested. First of all, it was a great move to weave in the Lord's Prayer throughout this story, especially when you see how the different parts relate to the section that follow. Ex: "Our father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name," which come directly before a section describing the patriarch father who IS in ...
Thanks Zack. Appreciate your kind words and the time you took to read and review. This story was something I've been holding inside for a long time - parts of it fiction, and other parts real for me. Also a gay man growing up in a Christian household, there was a lot of inner conflict in my formative years. I'd remember saying the Lord's Prayer and the thoughts that would go through my head, which is how this piece came out. Good luck to you as well!
Came back to congratulate you on your (second!) shortlist, friend! I was rooting for you this week, and I'm glad to see this piece get recognized. Totally thought you had a winner. Great job!
Thanks Zack! I appreciate your kind words and encouragement. We've got a great little community here. I quite enjoy reading your stories each week and will be rooting for you, too!
I just listened to your podcast and had to read this. This was amazing, and Im going to say your best (of what I've read so far) I wrote one with a similar theme that actually upset me to write, and this story gave me some of the same feelings. Love it.
Thanks Jaden! This one is definitely very unique from my portfolio of work, but it was an interesting one to write. I find that writing can be so therapeutic, especially for pieces like this that tow the line between fiction and nonfiction.
I would be interested to see what you think of mine. My father's son. When you get a chance.
I loved this- it reminds me of the end scene of Godfather where they alternate Connie's son's baptism (with Michael as godfather), with horrible bloody murders (making him The Godfather of the mob). You do a great job illustrating the contrast between the words of the prayer with the MC's alienation, pain, and marginalization. Beautiful! Can't wait to read more of your work. :)
Hi Daphne! Thanks for stopping by to read and comment! I really appreciate the feedback. Glad you enjoyed the prayer throughout the narrative. I was trying something new!
Wow. This was brilliant. Using the Lords prayer to break it up was a great idea. So many good lines, well done and congrats on the shortlist 😀👏
Thank you for reading and commenting! I tried something new this week and was glad to see it was well-received. Appreciate the kind words.
This was amazing on so many levels! Well done J.C. Sad that only in death can you be free. Walk tall now.
Thanks for taking the time to read and comment, Melanie. I appreciate the feedback about this story. Some parts of this are autobiographical, and I am definitely in a much better place now!
You’re a very good writer J.C. Your story really stayed with me. It breaks my heart that the protagonist in your story viewed the faith through the prism of his father’s behavior. I have observed fellow Christians behaving abominably and I am truly stumped. Scripture tells us that not everyone who says yay Lord will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. That’s why our focus should be on Christ and no one else. Side note: I think it’s interesting that your initials are the same as our Lord and Savior.
Hi Angela, Thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment! I appreciate your feedback as I'm always working to improve. I agree that it breaks my heart when religion is used as a weapon. It was something I struggled with in my younger years, which is one of the inspirations for this story. Now that you mention it, that is interesting that I share the same initials with Him!
Hi JC! As an Asian American I really loved this piece. My favorite line was “… my black hair was a pimple in the blond sea of heads at school,” because really identified with that experience. I also really love how you wove the prayer into your story. I agree with you that going back to church is like riding a bike. As a Catholic, I thought you painted the beauty and comfort of the church beautifully as you juxtaposed it with the MC’s conflict. You did an outstanding job and this piece certainly deserved the shortlisting! If you have a momen...
Hi Amanda, Thanks so much for taking the time to read and comment. I'm glad to hear you connected with this piece. Like you, I grew up in an Asian American Catholic household, and I'm glad the experience translated onto the page. I'll definitely take a moment to read and comment on your newest piece!
Thanks for taking the time to read and leave a comment! Appreciate it.
J.C. I just now got a chance to give your story a thorough read. The way that the narrative blends the Lord's Prayer in with his memories of his father was quite pongiant. One of my favorite lines of the entire piece: My chest tightened as I covered my ears to drown out your words. Is my love… broken? Ahhh, you could have so easily said "Am I not lovable? Am I not worthy of love?" Or something to that effect... Instead, is my love broken really hit differently. I loved how you did that. And bless you for the final dig about sitting wit...
Hi Shea! Thank you for taking the time to read and give me feedback. I truly appreciate it. As a little kid, I remember saying my prayers every night with my father, to the point where it became auto-pilot and allowed other thoughts to flow through my mind. I tried to replicate that with this piece, and I'm glad to hear it seemed to work. Look forward to reading your next story, as well!
Interesting story, J.C. Admittedly, this is not what I usually read - this genre is not for me - but I was intrigued with your writing style. It flows well from one sentence to the next, and I never lost focus or was confused. I like the clever use of short sentences and how it ties in with the plot.
Hi Alex! Thanks for taking the time to read the story and comment. Not all stories are for everyone but I appreciate your kind words about style. I struggled a little bit with the prompts this week so this story just sort of... came out lol. Looking forward to the next one!
Congratulations on the shortlist, friend. I'm glad to see your work in the spotlight! Well done.
Thanks Alex! I appreciate the support and look forward to reading your next story, too!
This piece is so deep. It reminds me of the book Purple Hibiscus, with the main character's father being much like the one in this story. I feel like the character's journey with spirituality is very relevant, especially today, with the world falling apart. My heart was breaking as the sadness of the MC's life unfolded (Side note: the way you slowly reveal the character's struggle and father's abusiveness is incredible). The whole journey (for the MC and the reader) is cathartic, especially with "Amen" being the last line. I love how the sto...
I love that ending, how the MC's breath is like him letting go of all of his father's ideas of how things work. It's marvelous. I personally don't know anything about religion, other than me reading and listening to stories, and at moments like this.. I'm thankful. I feel for your character, in the way of not being accepted by a parent because of their love. The way you wove the prayer throughout the story was an excellent line breaker. It reminds me of the music animations my sister watches, where the YouTubers use Gacha Life(or something...