‘OF LOVE DENIED’
Introduction – A tragic confession
“Did I request thee, Maker, from my clay
To mould me man? Did I solicit thee
From darkness to promote me?”
– John Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’
“Father, forgive me!”
His trembling voice was drowned by tears. He didn’t care much about being overhead. Not this time. The cathedral was as quiet as a morgue that dark cloudy afternoon. It seemed empty, apart from him and the man of God. His cheap wristwatch was dead, as if time stood still for that horrific confession. It smelled like something burning. Maybe it was incense. Perhaps it was his soul. The reverend snapped his prayerbook shut like a judge passing a sentence, so dooming him without mercy.
“Father, forgive me!”
His whispering plea echoed in majestic halls. The temple’s beautiful arches and columns, gave a nostalgic feeling of a forgotten past, so empty and overshadowed by the dull modern era. It was an eerie vibe.
Tristan was twenty-one, long-haired and dark. He had an average stature and average looks, a lack of significance which he rarely neglected to project through his all-black cheap clothing. His brow seemed perpetually laden with dark thoughts. He was in pain. There were religious icons and old wooden statues in allegorical postures, looking down upon him with cruel disapproval.
Reverend Father Maximus seemed also made out of wood; lifeless, unaffected and cold, indifferently tolerating the noise of just another sinner’s usual petty confessions. They sat together on a bench, alone in a house of faith. The reverend probably didn’t suspect that Tristan, silently crying, was preparing to confess a sin much different from the others. Maximus’s grey eyes and middle-aged baby face wouldn’t betray any hint of emotion, a thing Tristan was desperate for in his most painful hour.
The stained glass icons of saints felt as if alive, with their austere faces diligently inspecting Tristan’s every move, his single whispering frightened word. The statue of the Christ on the Cross almost came alive under the dim candle light; at least that’s what he hoped for.
“Father, forgive me!”
Reverend Father Maximus had his usual icy expression, a trademark of men of God, all too comfortable with hearing overdramatic cries for forgiveness. His arrogantly austere attitude and skinny deprived body were probably serving his goal to inspire respect or maybe evoke fear. Thus, he was ensuring his children’s adherence to his directions along the path to salvation. He was apparently bored, pointlessly staring at the floor.
He had met Tristan a few weeks back, or was it months? It was hard to keep track of all the miserable pitiful people who only remembered God whenever they faced a dire problem. Hypocrites. He forced himself to resist the urge to hate them. There was something special about Tristan, though. It wasn’t clear when he started showing up for mass or for charity events, but when Tristan had his first confession, Maximus realized that he was no ordinary case. Tristan had been going on about having sex for the first time and that he had felt guilty because premarital intercourse had been a sin. And most of all, he’d felt guilty about encouraging his girlfriend to sin. He had suffered with the thought of her burning in Hell but, as he’d explained, their passion had been ‘impossible to resist’. The reverend then had wondered about the remaining number of Christian followers if every person who’d had premarital sex would’ve been shunned by the Church. Sometimes the details in the Bible were there to serve as a general guide. Otherwise the ‘holier than thou’ reverend would’ve been excommunicated for secretly indulging in the occasional marijuana smoke, his one vice which he had recently stopped resisting. He couldn’t help but feel that their first confession had ended prematurely. What if Tristan had been unable to find the words to say something important, a set of words that could have maybe averted whatever grave deed he was trying to confess now?
Tristan recalled the same memory. That first confession with a new priest, who he’d hoped to become a much needed mentor. If only he had found the words to express to the reverend then what he’d truly felt; a sense of guilt by betraying God. A guilt for succumbing to the Devil’s influence. If things had gone differently, then maybe none of this would have happened!
“I don’t forgive anyone, my son”, he finally managed to say. ‘My son’, he called him. It was the first time that Tristan felt patronized by being called that. His profound rage towards that condescending remark was too weak to surface. The tears didn’t help.
“Only God has the power to forgive our sins,” the Reverend added with a tiring tone. He assumed an austere expression, and hadn’t bothered making any of his typical bad jokes in his usual futile attempt to come across as more trustworthy. Maybe he could sense that he was about to hear something unusually unpleasant and inconvenient to his afternoon schedule. He’d reached the edge of madness with all the sick things people had confided in him day after day. Yet this hypocritical reverend was Tristan’s only escape, now that the world was burning.
“You mustn’t question the Lord,” Maximus continued. “His purpose towards each and every one of us is unknown and especially we, His chosen, mustn’t question His love for us,” he continued with a deep sigh of mental fatigue. He probably vomited the exact same bullshit several times that day.
“As a priest, I’ve heard it all.” Maybe he didn’t mean to sound so proud. Or maybe he was trying to convince himself of an expected efficacy as a man of God.
“You can tell me anything,” Maximus continued while raising an eyebrow. He was trying to sound proud this time.
“You don’t understand, father. I am a sinner of the worst kind. There is no forgiveness for me,” Tristan whispered as he threw his long hair back away from his wet face. He had a month’s worth of stubble. Although there was a striking resemblance to the typical franchised Jesus, he looked sinister and a complete mess.
“My son, you have been a member of my church for months now. Don’t doubt yourself! You are a sweet boy who regularly attends my sermons. The Lord will reward you. We’re all sinners, but if we confess before Him we instantly become absolved,” he said, not knowing that by now Tristan was slightly beyond redemption. That little speech was heartwarming, though.
Tristan hadn’t gone there for just another overused textbook lecture. No. He had had too many tormenting questions inadequately answered with ‘have more faith’ or ‘have more humility’ or ‘have less sex’, convenient advice coming from a man who knew nothing about it. Tristan’s problem was kind of real. He desperately needed specific instructions from a divine authority on what to do, if anything could be done. He didn’t need any more vague philosophical trash that only served to aggravate him even more.
An acute suspicion that his trust in the Reverend was hilariously misplaced creeped inside his mind. Maybe this priest, like the one before him, Father Joseph, couldn’t help him either, now that he finally needed true spiritual guidance. He felt excluded from God’s plan.
“I honestly doubt that such a sin can be forgiven,” he repeated. “I can’t forgive myself. I don’t want to! The pain, I need it, it keeps me going.”
“It’s not in your power to forgive yourself or not. Only the Lord can do that,” Maximus replied as the automaton he was. Tristan grinned, surprisingly enough. He couldn’t help but dwell on the thought of how stupid the reverend sounded. Maybe this sudden urge for blasphemy was proof that he was truly possessed by a demonic spirit, as they would have had him believe over and over, planting such hellish thoughts into his disturbed psyche.
“Always have faith, my son!” the priest continued. “It’s all part of God’s plan.”
What a tiring and vapid cliché! Even then, at the pinnacle of his faith in Christianity, Tristan could detect worrying holes in that belief system. He failed to see where a hopeless child dying of hunger in a location where they’d never heard of God had a place in His plan. And his need to find faith, any kind of faith, was the reason he felt the necessity to go to that damned monastery, just a couple of weeks earlier. Now he wished he’d never left his girl to visit that accursed place. If only he hadn’t gone there. What if he’d stayed? What if none of this ever happened?
“I killed her!” He finally found the courage to say it.
“Faith.” There, he said it. Coincidentally enough, his beloved girlfriend’s name was Faith and he did’t realize at the time that her death would also bring about the death of his faith in God. The definition of tragic irony, indeed.
“What do you mean?”
“I killed her. The girl I was seeing. She’s dead and they’re probably looking for me. Her name was Faith, remember? Her name was Faith.”
A fresh river of tears ran down his hairy face. He still couldn’t believe she was gone. He still couldn’t believe what he’d done. If only he could somehow turn back time, just a little bit. Just a little.
Thunder rumbling and then an uncomfortable silence followed. The cloudy afternoon suddenly turned darker. Maybe it was the tears in his eyes that skewed his perception of light. The awkwardness which followed Tristan’s horrid confession felt unending.
“My goodness! How? You can’t be serious,” cried the reverend, now apparently upset or maybe just doubting the sanity of this young man. He assumed a defensive posture, ready to retreat. His heart was pounding. It wasn’t the first time he had had killers confess their crimes to him before they got arrested, or before they shot a bullet in their mouths or one of their eyes. He was now scared for his life, maybe more than expected from a man of God. He wasn’t really supposed to feel such attachment to earthly life. He also felt zero guilt about it.
“I am. I’m responsible. I admit it,” Tristan said as the priest whispered prayers of forgiveness for him, as if they’d help. The young confessor then recalled the confidentiality oaths of priests, wondering if that applied to legal “sins” too. He didn’t fear the law. Foolishly enough, he didn’t even fear God’s punishment, an eternity in Hell. He felt deserving of retribution. He despised himself so much that he actually wanted to be punished. Maybe he wanted this reverend to break his oath, report him to the police and have him pay for his sins in this life too. He had nothing more to lose. The only thing he had left was his hate for himself.
“I killed her with my love,” he needlessly went on to add.
He wasn’t making any fucking sense. Maximus felt confused and unsure as to the validity of Tristan’s claims. Why would he say such a thing? Could it be that this troubled young man relapsed into alcohol and drug abuse, the thing that actually drove him closer to the Church in the first place?
Tristan frowned and wiped his tears with his sleeves. He had expected the reverend to at least seem a bit more shaken from such a tragic confession, yet Maximus was either a rock of calmness or a really cold son of a bitch. He wasn’t exactly sure what kind of reaction he was expecting from the holy man, though. Was it pity he was after? He felt pathetic.
“The purpose of life is to repent for the sin of Adam and Eve, and regain the Kingdom of Heaven,” Maximus purposelessly added. “That is the only reason we exist and the only task of our lives.” He started the usual garbage again. The repenting murderer then questioned himself on why he even bothered going there to hear the same goddamn useless wishful thinking when all he needed was solid support. He quickly realized that there was nothing priests or saints could do for him, so he was just wasting his fucking time again.
“I did’t ask to be born!” he cried. “I never sought heaven and I definitely didn’t want the sin of my forefathers!” He exploded in rage, haughtily in defiance of divine authority. His apparent demonically influenced rebellion against God had finally manifested itself. Now he was certain he was possessed by the Devil, which felt surprisingly comforting, as it somehow lightened the burden of responsibility for his sins. Maybe that’s why he really went there that afternoon. To have some “expert” tell him that the Devil had made him do it, to relieve him of accountability and tell him that it’s fine to feel better about himself, free of guilt.
“And I definitely didn’t ask to come to this life and love a girl so much only to destroy her,” he sobbed.
It was dark and so disturbingly silent. The flickering candles were dying. Both men calmed down, again seized by awkwardness. Reverend Maximus was shocked and paralyzed. His lip was shaking, and so was his left hand. The right hand was stayed by holding the Holy Bible tight, his only source of strength in a hilariously empty life.
After a deep breath, Tristan finally managed to come to a state of feeling nothing. ‘So this is what death is like’, he thought to himself as he lowered his head in forced humility.
A bright flash and loud thunder broke the deafening silence. The sound of rain always gave hope and a sense of renewal to Tristan, which he didn’t feel at that particular time. He stared at the reverend with a deathly coldness, trying to think of something to say first before Maximus opened up his fucking mouth again to spill yet another one of his condescending bullshit religious proverbs with zero essence. In such a case, the Devil might have swayed him to react violently.
“He was right, reverend. Father Joseph warned me that she would get in the way of my salvation. So maybe I had to let her go,” he said quickly as if in a hurry. “Maybe it’s the best for both our souls that she’s dead.” He doubted his own reason after listening to what he had just said.
“I’ve told you to stay away from that fanatic”, Maximus responded. “Don’t confuse yourself with other denominations. These thoughts of trying to find logic… It’s the Devil trying to confuse you!”
“These fanatics follow the Bible to the letter, unlike you,” Tristan found the strength to say. “Who’s to say that following it strictly is wrong and convenient cherry-picking is right? Who are you to doubt even a letter of the Word of God?”
“I don’t understand.”
“You know what, Father?” He stopped himself from committing more blasphemy.
Maximus was shocked. He didn’t expect such defiance from someone he knew as passively devout Christian boy, a true sheep of the flock. That boy was being erratic and psychotic.
“My son.” There it was again; ‘my son’. “I don’t know what to make of all this. All I am interested in is seeing true repentance. All sins can be forgiven by our merciful Lord. Do you repent for your sins?”
“Father Joseph told me that there is one unforgivable sin. And that is to blaspheme against the Holy Spirit.”
Maximus frowned. What the hell was he talking about now? He didn’t know much about Father Joseph except for what Tristan had told him. The enigmatic Joseph was a Russian Orthodox convert turned priest, originally from Coventry or some other depressing town. What Maximus knew about Orthodox Christianity was that it represented the old fashioned backward version of Christendom, a strict and to-the-letter adherence to the Bible. Tristan’s new girlfriend was apparently of that denomination, or something like that, and so he found himself in those circles.
“My son, please! You must repent for whatever you think your sin may be?”
“No!” he shouted as he stood up in defiance. That might have been the first time he rebelled against anything in his pathetic life. He liked it. The reverend froze. He was bathed in cold sweat, his hands were shaking and his chest was pumping from the adrenaline taking over. To be fair, there was an unrepentant possessed killer in front of him, one who also happened to be well-built, a substance abuser and an intimidating psychotic. And all that was taking place in an empty church with no witnesses. Feeling his life being threatened, even he could doubt the power of his prayers.
Tristan slowly walked towards the exit. He saw a sign on the door declaring the tiring message: ‘God Loves You’.
“What the fuck does God know about true love?” he said to himself. “I leave God to the blessed. I’m damned. My fate was chosen for me.” He didn’t know why he uttered that blasphemy. He had no idea why those words came out of his mouth. Wasn’t he afraid? After all, he did have good reason to believe in the existence of God. Lack of faith was never his problem. Was there truly a demon possessing him, pushing him to do evil things? Was God really allowing this to test him and therefore ultimately strengthen his faith, as he was told so many times before? Why was he ever born? What was the meaning of existence and God’s cruel Guinea-pig tests? What was the point of his suffering? And why the hell couldn’t he shake Marilyn Manson’s cover of ‘Personal Jesus’ out of his head? He actually didn’t care. Admittedly, giving in to rage felt so damn good! That was it for him! He was done. The flock had lost its black sheep.
Slamming the main doors open, he rushed outside to the sidewalk in front of the church. It was dark and it was pouring rain. He was instantly soaked. It was a damp December in a dirty neighborhood of South London. The noisy cars and the stressful yuppies on their phones evoked an emotion of contempt and disgust in him, quickly followed by guilt for feeling that way. The cold wind pierced his skin. He was angry, in pain, and tormented by guilt. Watching busy people walk by him in those grey streets of that depressing city seemed surreal, much like a bad movie in slow motion or a bad dream after a night of heavy drinking. He felt invisible, unimportant and so distant from God and His way.
He kept thinking of what he was told; that his soul was cursed by the Devil and, therefore, he must have been a truly evil person to allow him to do so. As if he needed more guilt. God’s love had limits, and he was way passed them, all alone. He couldn’t imagine the fire of Hell being worse than what he felt.
She was the single most valuable thing he had in his life. He loved her more than anything and she was now dead because of him. What if he did things slightly differently? If only he could turn the clock backwards for only one day! If there were a Hell, then that moment was it. The Hell of wondering what could’ve been.
“I deny the Holy Spirit of God,” he murmured. That was the end of it. Or was it the Devil inside him doing the talking again? He closed his eyes and welcomed the rain, hoping that it would somehow wash his sins away, hoping that he would die and be with Faith in Heaven for ever, that they were both somehow free from the eternal Hell.
The confession was a mistake. These priests were all the same. They couldn’t really help anyone other than comforting weak people with Alzheimers who were too afraid to die. Tristan had visited one of the most secluded and sacred monastery of Christendom and still found no answers. So, he was a fool to think that this reverend, in a cesspool of sin called London, wouldn’t fail him again. What the hell was he expecting, anyway? To be absolved from blasphemy, demonic possession and murder, all in one tiny confession? Yes, that was it.
“I wish I were never born”, he said to himself. He flirted with suicide again. “I never asked to be born.”
At that painful moment, standing purposelessly on a dirty sidewalk, lost in a dark wet buzz of smokey purgatory, a sudden and deep realization occurred in his mind. His focus suddenly shifted and it seemed as if he found a meaningful direction. It would be a spiritual quest. He knew that, although not admitting it, Faith was probably in Hell, eternally suffering infinite pain, paying for his sins, not her own. And the fact of knowing that was a Hell in itself for him. He would gladly join her. He’d gladly reject a compulsive love of a despotic God for the pure love he had for her. But what if she wasn’t in Hell? That girl was a saint. What if God was more merciful than He was portrayed to be in the Bible? What if Faith was indeed forgiven? What if there was no afterlife after all? He had to be sure. He would find out what happened. That would be his quest. He would read every book on every religion out there, he would travel to the ends of the world and meet every guru, saint, exorcist and demon. He would find out the truth about God and the human soul. And he would do it in his lifetime.
Instead of giving up and killing himself like a weakling, he would dedicate his life to a set of goals. He needed to prove God’s existence with tangible proof. He would then go on to find which religious version of God was the most accurate. He would find a way to purge his soul of all demonic influence, if there was any. Finally, he’d find out where Faith was, Heaven or Hell, and do anything possible to join her. Even in Hell, their love was powerful enough to endure the flame. His motivation for this Herculean task was a girl named Faith, someone he had loved immensely and passionately, and who had died that same day, leaving him devastated and obsessed with passion. Life seemed too long to wait until the deliverance of death, since death could reunite him with her. He’d do anything to gain divine favor and earn a place next to Faith; he’d even gladly join that damn monastery he so hated, if that was the price. Love was his strength.By then, he never would’ve guessed that fatal hate would soon become his most powerful driving force.
His trance was interrupted by the annoying ringtone of his mobile. It was Marius, the only friend who’d bear him and who actually looked up to Tristan. Why would he look up to a wretch like that? What a loser! They both never had a wide choice of friends. Tristan ignored the call. Lately, Marius had been getting annoying with his psychodramatic bullshit which were getting quite tiring.
His phone also had a message from Father Joseph who had made it his life’s purpose – at least that’s what he told Tristan – to make him turn from Catholic to Orthodox Christian. That would truly earn points for the afterlife for the fat bearded priest! Joseph was inviting him to another late night sermon. Hasn’t that fucking closet-homosexual priest heard of Faith’s death yet? After all, she was the one who introduced him to Joseph. He also ignored the message. He really didn’t feel like spending his night with a bunch of pathetic old people who were too scared to die and too messed up to live, inefficiently trying to score credit for an afterlife; a pointless afterlife of endless boring worship.
With a violent pull, he broke off the steel cross pendant he hadn’t taken off for years. For days it had felt like a blood-sucking leech he craved to be free of. He stared at it, questioning its importance. He tried to crush it in his fist and ended up cutting his palm. This probably symbolized the end of God’s grace for Tristan. If he said that he loved God, it would’ve been a tragicomical lie. No more praying, no more sermons and confessions, no more helping out the Church, no more fasting, no more guilt for succumbing to love and lust. It was the end of a futile attempt to drown his hate and rage. Now he just had to direct it somewhere else. He dropped the cross on the sidewalk as if it were worthless.
He felt the need to hurt himself again. Self-inflicting knife cuts or hot iron burns were among several cowardly suicide attempts carried out in the past with no true determination. They weren’t exactly a thrill for him anymore. So, he rolled a cigarette with liquorice paper and lit it. The flow of smoke burning his lungs symbolized slow death, maybe even a defiance of God. At the time he was not a smoker as such. He’d stopped smoking upon Maximus’s instruction. It was a sin to hurt one’s body, according to the Bible. Yet he always carried a blue pack of Old Holborn tobacco in his pocket, just in case. Just in case for what, he didn’t quite know.
As the deleterious fume choked his lungs, he contemplated on how he had gotten to where he was. Bursts of memories and emotions flashed through his consciousness; questions and reasonings, denial and despair. His love for that dead girl was stronger than anything. It was a sin to love another more than God; a violation of the Christ’s first commandment. In truth, he didn’t love the Lord with all his heart, soul and mind. He never did. He only loved Faith that way. He could touch her. He could feel her heart rate accelerate every time he kissed her. He could submit to a sweet surrender when she hugged him with all her strength, whispering ‘I love you’ in his ear.
For a moment, he forgot she was dead. Right then he knew that unbelievable things would soon happen to him, that his story would be both great and tragic, in this life and the next.
He flicked his cigarette bud at the doorstep of God’s temple. He never really believed in that shit, anyway. Not really.
But that’s not how the story began.