If I Knew Then

          “If I knew then what I knew now…” How often we all say that. All too often. I know I say it way too much for my own liking – but I guess I had to learn sometime. Either learn or die miserable (although ignorant to how miserable I was). I wasn’t a good man then, and I don’t know if I’m a good man now. Can a good man do what I do and still be good? Can a good man do what I have done and still live a life of happiness?

          There are times where I wish my past actions were easy enough to sum up in simple sentences. Then I would visit a church and have a Father listen to my sins and tell me that if I accept something or other in my heart that I will be forgiven. But he isn’t the one to decide if I’m forgiven, is he? I don’t think so. The people I have hurt, the people I have wronged, the people I have passed my misery onto – they are the ones that I should ask for forgiveness. I’m still human, though. There are some doors that I think should remain closed. Just because I wronged you doesn’t mean that you have the right to try and hurt me. I don’t believe in that Eye For An Eye stuff. Not anymore.

          I don’t even know where to begin. Do I tell you just one story? Do I tell you about all the destruction I caused? Do I tell you how I sometimes have the thoughts to destroy myself still bubble up in my mind? Do I tell you I had a miserable childhood, that I was a misunderstood artist all my life, or that I should have been diagnosed as a sociopath as a child? I don’t know. None of those are true, anyway, so it doesn’t matter. All I can say is that I started out the first twenty-some years of my life like the mother from East of Eden. I was a shell. I was a fortress. I was cold. I wasn’t conniving or brutal, I was just lost inside myself. It’s a scary place to be lost, inside one’s self, there are no maps or signs to tell you which way is which. All you can do is either continue to wander about or stay where you are. Not exactly lose-lose, but definitely difficult. Darn it, I went all existential, didn’t I? I’m sorry, let me get back to where I was.

          Where was I?

          Oh yes, forgiveness. Again, if I could describe everything in a nice little neat package that would make things easier. But, it’s far too complicated and convoluted for that. There were the messes of ugliness – dominos that kept going long after my offenses had taken place – that I was still at the beginning of. Isn’t it a bit crazy to think about? I do something to someone, changing them. In turn, they do something off, something not-quite-right to someone else. And so the chain goes. Most of the time I can honestly say that nothing too horrible was done to me to start – it was just how I thought I should act. Or I didn’t think at all, I only acted. I didn’t care much about who I hurt or how – I only did what I did. Go figure. That’s how a lot of people go about life, and it is truly terrible. But, I didn’t know. For the most part, I didn’t care. Not past the surface, I didn’t. I thought I did, and I believed I had the depth of feeling and reason – but I also thought I was a sure thing for changing the world for the better and making everyone love me. Stupid thoughts and beliefs.

          So, what should I tell you, then? What changed? Or how? Does it matter to you? Will you believe me if I tell you? Are you even paying attention? You are? Then – tell me, what’s my name? Yeah. I got you on that one. A lot has changed, but I still have my sense of humor. That counts for something, right?

          The crazy thing is that once I started on my new path – something happened: I died. Flat out. And it wasn’t the revenge of someone that I had wronged in my so-many years of being an all out rat bastard, it was an accident. Well, it was an accident that needn’t have happened. Some asshole thought it would be alright for him to kill a bottle of Jim Beam and then drive his hummer straight into my bedroom while he was snoozing at the wheel.

          That was damn near fifteen years ago. Everyone thinks I’m dead, and from who I was to who I am now – I am a different person. Of course, I still have to commit some sinister deeds – that’s how I stick around. I have to whisper this or push this idea, or even give this thought or another to people.

          I should probably clarify, I’m being rude. I did die. I went to Hell. I work for The Wicked One, The Anointed Cherub That Covers – He lets us call Him Luce. Of all the bosses in the world (and beyond) He’s not a bad one.  As long as I do what He tells me to, I can do what I want with my free time. He laughs at my shenanigans, but He allows it. When I first started trying to make my amends with the people (and souls) I had destroyed He called me into His “office.”

          “Right then, mate.” He always started things off like this, it took me a while to understand that it was His way of trying to ease tension. Not that it helped much. It’s not often that you sit across a lovely pine desk from The Fiery One. His face was always relaxed, like He could slip off into a nap at any point. Almost always had this hint of a smirk, too. “I saw that you stayed up-top for a little while longer than I needed you to…”

          “Yes, My Lord.” I whispered. I was still new and didn’t know how to address Him. The hint became a full and toothy smile. His laugh is like an old smoker’s.

          “Do you want me to ask what you were doing?” I shook my head, keeping my eyes on the desk. “Are you trying to repent? Are you hoping to get to Heaven?”

          “That doesn’t matter.” I blurted out. One of His pointy eyebrows raised. I took the ethereal equivalent of a deep breath and told Him that I felt that it was what I wanted to do – and I quickly added “with your permission, of course.”

          “Of course,” He mimicked. He studied me for a long time before He said anything. “You know that you won’t get out of here. No matter how wonderful a saint you try to become now, you will always be at home here. You can’t change that.”

          “I know,” I nodded solemnly.

          “Well then,” He leaned back in His chair. He used His means to make me look at Him, He was gentle about it like a teacher seeking connection with their pupil. When I finally looked at Him I was given a lazy smile. “As long as it doesn’t interfere with what I want you to do, then do your worst. Or your best, as it were.”  I laughed too hard, it’s hard to gauge how hard you are going to react when you’re just a soul. He chuckled at me. Before I left His office He reminded me, “I’m sorry, but you’re here forever. At least you can make the most of it.”

          That feels like it was an eternity ago. Fun fact, when you’re in Hell the seconds go by like days, the minutes like years. I don’t know if that’s true in Heaven – but it stays that way when I go to land, too. Unless I take on a flesh form – then I have to adjust myself, because it goes back to the time that you all know and adhere to. Time is a funny thing. I used to think that I had plenty of it. Then, after several people that I knew passed, I used to say that life was short. Now, I know that time is just a huge fucking joke. Seriously. Luce jokes about it all the time, as do His servants. Everyone down there jokes about it! Michael even came to visit once, along with Gabriel – they even made a crack about only having a few minutes to get home.

          So, that’s how I’ve spent my time. I convince one man that he should extort his boss out of money and time off work – that’s what He wanted me to do that time. When I was done I went to help out the family of an “old friend.” I gave that old friend his first cigarette, his first drink, and his taste of the needle. I got that ball rolling. He’s still alive, but he’s not a person anymore. So, when I can, I go to his parents and try and help them out with some news about him. If I can find him, I get him food and clothes; I even got him into rehab twice. I keep expecting him to show up down below, but he’s still breathing. I can’t make him stop, but I can try.

           One moment, get a woman to cheat on her husband – the next, take on a form to take the razor out of someone else’s hand. This is how I spend my time above. Luce asks me about it from time to time. He wants to know if I feel any better about it. I always tell Him no. He shrugs and asks me if I’m going to keep doing it. I always smile as best as I can and tell Him yes.

          When I’m stuck at “home” I spend my time getting to know everyone. Do you know how hard it is to talk to some of The Fallen? The Thrones and Cherubim are so uptight sometimes… They’ve been down here long enough, you’d think that they have a sense of humor or something. Luce has a great sense of humor. He doesn’t mind me coming into His “office” once in a while just to chat nowadays. It took me a while, but I learned that He’s the laid-back one down here.


          I got off track, didn’t I? Oh Hell… See what I did there? I should go. None of this is going to do you doing any good – I know. You don’t need to know about life in Hell. All you need to know is –