Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Messiah Complex

My babysitter, Martha, had some pretty unusual beliefs. She believed in making chocolate milk in a jar, not in a glass. She believed Full House to be a funnier show than Mr. Belvedere (come now!). She believed in reincarnation (if I didn’t behave, she’d warn, I’d come back as a pig or a cockroach). She believed in communing with the dead. And, she believed she was Jesus, the Son of the Most High God, returning to the world to share a message of redemption and judgment.

I had no reason not to take her at word. In fact, I took her words quite seriously, often asking her questions about her f/Father and about how I might arrange a next-life return as a rich-and-famous movie star. At the age of 10, it did not strike me as particularly unusual that Martha was Christ reincarnate; I just felt lucky to be babysat by the daughterson of God.

I believed Martha to be omniscient, which is, of course, a prerequisite for being God or the direct offspring thereof. Case in point. As is not uncommon with children, when I was just a wee buckaroo, I had a strong aversion for bathtaking. Perhaps unlike other children, it was not the time or effort that I disliked; it was, rather, the total and prolonged immersion that I did not care for. Thus, I developed (and taught—to my brother) a procedure I cleverly coined the “fake bath”.

This is the protocol one would follow to take a “fake bath”.
  1. Enter bathroom and securely close door.
  2. Pour bath.
  3. Turn water off.
  4. Remove clothing.
  5. Don pajamas.
  6. Pace back and forth in bathroom.
  7. Every third or fourth lap, audibly stir water to mimic sound of frolicking in bathtub.
  8. Sprinkle clothes and hair with bath water to mimic not-fully-dry look.
  9. Soak wash cloth in bathwater.
  10. Carefully dampen towel (this is tricky and crucial—not too damp and not too dry).
  11. Allow 15-20 minutes to elapse.
  12. Drain water.
  13. 5 minutes after tub has completed draining, emerge from bathroom.
The “fake bath” was not a cheap gimmick. It took as much effort and concentration as a non-fake (so-called "real") bath. But, I convinced myself, it was worth the cost.

I was halfway through a “fake bath” (pacing and occasionally stirring the bathwater) when Marthagod knocked on the bathroom door.

“Are you in the bath?” She knew I was not.


“I need to come in and get something out of the closet.”

“No, you can’t. I’m naked,” I lied.

“I worked in the nursing home. I’ve seen hundreds of old men naked.”

“But I’m not an old man.”

“Never mind that. I’m coming in.”

“No, Martha!” But it was too late.

The door slid open, and I was in my pajamas--not in the bathtub as I had advertised. I did what occurred naturally: I fell to the ground, prostrate before Martha, like a sinner before an angry God. I had been exposed as the “fake bath” taker I was. I was face-down and ashamed. “Get up,” she commanded. I did as I was told. She undressed me, and I stood before her a limp noodle of a preteen. Then she bathed me.

I recently retold this story to my parents, and my mother claims to have suspected my “fake baths”. She says I often emerged from the bathtub smelling no better than going in, though she was not sure if it was due to inefficient cleansing or the complete absence of cleansing. My mother, while praiseworthy on multiple counts, was not, like Martha (it seemed), omniscient. (Were I ever to revive the practice of "fake bathing", I would include an additional, new step: deodorant.)

One spring morning, however, the jig was up. Martha was driving my brother and me to school when a careless motorist swerved in front of our car, nearly causing an accident. Martha lost her temper and committed a grave offense: she swore. My brother and I looked at each other. We both knew what this meant: A perfect being would not swear (we’d get our mouths washed with soap if we as much as uttered half of what she had blurted. This lady, while clearly possessing incredible powers of wisdom and knowledge, was not perfect. God, we were taught, was perfect. Therefore, Martha, was not Christ II.

An adult in our situation (having the existence of his or her deity disproved) might have experienced crushing disillusionment. My brother and I, however, felt great pride. “Busted!” said the look in his eyes. “We totally got her,” I thought. “She is so not Jesus.”

I recall these days with a sort of bizarre nostalgia, and I wonder who was in fact crazier: Martha, the self-declared comeback Jesus kid or my parents for hiring and maintaining her as our babysitter after it became clear that she believed herself divine. My parents may not be totally at fault: she did come highly recommended—both by her previous employers and by her Father (or so she told us). Perhaps my folks gave in to the idea that she was in fact Messiah, Jr.: who better to entrust your children to than Martha, the son of God?


Russ Parker said...

best evs

Velvet Sacks said...

Oh.My.God! In addition to writing a very funny post, you managed to put together an animal combination I've only heard once before in my life. Considering where we lived at the time, it was either 1970 or 1971. I asked my two daughters what they'd like to be for Halloween. They held a brief consultation, then announced they'd like to be a pig and a roach. Do you think you may have known my daughters in a previous lifetime?

Andy said...

This story made me jealous of you for two reasons.

1. I have never had the opportunity to spend that much time with a fake Jesus before, but I hope to someday.

2. You have an iron-clad example of something your parents did wrong by hiring this person. During an argument with them, it would be much better to mention that then what I generally say to my parents: "You had various stupid actions of which I can neither specifically recall nor explain."

Lisa said...

"(Were I ever to revive the practice of "fake bathing", I would include an additional, new step: deodorant.)"

You haven't revived this method of cleansing......have you?

Your Non-Omniscient Wife

yajeev said...

No, I haven't revived the method, though you may have noticed that I have, on occasion, forgotten to apply the aforementioned deodorant.