I cast a sidelong glance at her profile as she sits in the rickety brown chair next to me--her eyes blank, her face riveted. She is not used to this place. The gleeful, amateur artistry on the walls, the dirty basement floor, the well-dressed and made-up figurines that fiddle with their fingernails as the message drones monotonously on from the aged lips of the man at the head of the table--it's all so alien to her; I can feel it as undoubtedly as the impatient tapping of my foot against the cold, hard floor. I know that she thinks she does not belong here. I look at her almost startlingly white face, the palest in the room; her large, enveloping brown eyes, reigned by sharp, dark brows; her skinny little legs; her electric pinkish-red hair. How mundane the rest of us must look in comparison to the utter shock of her features in this place.
We don't wear the same shoe size, so she couldn't borrow my dainty gold ballet flats like we had planned. She had to wear what she had brought: her three-pound-each black boots with flames inching up the sides, pentagrams on the toes. I told her not to worry: nobody looked at feet. I guess it was kind of a lie.
On my other side, my friends are whispering and giggling, writing notes and applying makeup--which I am accustomed to. The teacher doesn't seem to notice.
"So Jesus came to Mary and Martha's house, where they were mourning Lazarus' death. When he arrived, Mary said--can anybody tell me what Mary said to Jesus? It's John, chapter eleven, I believe."
Olivia glances at the open Bible on our laps, as though surprised it hasn't burned her yet. And then she speaks--bravely, confidently, but so, so softly--"'I believe You are the Messiah.'"
I have known her for about five years now, and I've always admired her versatility; that ability to make the best of any situation. Wherever she goes, she doesn't try to fit in--but she always tries to contribute.
I am proud of her.
"'If You had been here, Lazarus wouldn't have died,'" Chelsea paraphrases from across the room, solemn and pretty. Church-pretty.
"Exactly," pronounces the teacher with a warm, withered smile. "Good job. Mary said that if Jesus..."
And he goes off again on some tangent that I am not listening to, because I am looking at Olivia and Olivia has looked down.
Her hands are folded, the way they never are, and her eyes are wide and unseeing as she stares at the slate-blue floor. I feel a pang of guilt at the conspicuity of her sadness and her smallness in this room. I never should have brought her. Olivia should never look this lost.
Last night on a crowded dance floor her eyes were there, where we were, creasing and smiling. You could see her purple-and-red braces because she laughed. Her skin was the same shade as it is now, but it wasn't ghostly, it was lovely--like if you put powder on a tiny china doll and flickered all those multi-colored dance lights over it. There, she walked around and her long red dress and her cranberry hair and her crazy black heels and the temporary Chinese tattoo on her back attracted compliments and smiles and friendly recognition.
Here, they attract stares.
Last night she took my hands in hers and we spun and swung around like fools, her leading me because she dances like a dream and I can't dance to save my life. It was like chaos, like freedom, like the wild motion of sisterhood and all the love that latches us the way our hands latch and cling. Olivia is complex and amazing. She is whirling and shaking and rolling and radiating life.
I bite my lip in the stillness. Her hair is throwing color against the white. Her eyes are tired.
"Are you okay?" I murmur finally.
She lifts her head and slightly raises her eyebrows at me. With her eyes still empty, she nods. Looks away.
Then, suddenly--and for just a moment--my empathy is so acute that I swear I become her. And out of nowhere I can see God. So clearly.
This is who God is. God is a white wall and a cement floor and a Jesus-loves-me Sunday school lesson. God is the stone-faced redneck boy and the giggly, pretty girl who couldn't care less that Jesus does. God is the man who doesn't answer my questions, who ignores my attempts; the woman who judges the very nerve of me to be myself; the ones who whisper about me from a safe distance and wonder why I am here until it's time for me to walk again, unaffected, away from it all. God is whatever the hell they want Him to be. God is a lie.
So one more walks away from the building all stained with white, and she'll never walk in again. One more returns to her true friends later that evening in total relief, her clothes skewered, her body relaxed and at home, her eyes again vivid, and she laughs to them about what she learned in church that morning with those crazy little Christians. And they laugh with her, because it's never made sense to them either. The only reality is love; beautiful, all-conquering love--which, judging from their brief tastes of the wonders and the salvation of Jesus Christ, He most definitely is not.
One more walks away, but it doesn't matter. How could it? Christians are all the same. Jesus loves them, this they know; for their Bible tells them so. But Jesus does not love Olivia, because she is different and because she is Olivia.
I'd like to think that God would be like me, and love her more on the dance floor. I'd like to think that if He were here now, she would be the first to feel the warmth of His touch on her hands, as real and as accepting as my own.