Back when we were all suddenly out of our jobs, I started writing letters to the editor every day. Then it was twice a day, and soon I was writing all day long. There were dozens of me: Amelia Wren, Colin Shaw, Julio something, a street musician named Wando, Jesus Christ—by which I mean that I thought I was Jesus Christ; I wasn’t really Jesus Christ. And I wasn’t exactly crazy, either, not the brand of crazy you usually see with Jesus Christs or expect from Jesus Christs in the day-to-day. I was more of a guy impersonating Jesus Christ and doing a piss-poor job.
So I was him—I was He—and I was a widow named Marjorie, and I was her nemesis Raymond, and also a Wyatt something-or-other, an agoraphobic crossing guard whose life was a real tragedy that no one, tragically, ever quite recognized. No one but me. I had a lot of love for Wyatt. Had there been a Shakespeare around to notice his nobility it would have really been something. Were that there were someone around to notice all of our nobilities. Not “our” our—Amelia and Marjorie and Julio and me—but all of us, really.
Raymond had a real bone to pick with the school board, which he thought was taking God out of the schools, as though God had ever really been there to begin with. Marjorie hated Raymond, and they’d have some gorgeous fights in the opinion pages about all manner of things. Fights in the literal opinion pages: I graduated a few of me up from letter writing to submitting op-eds, and then letters would flood in from people loving what I’d had to say, or hating it, or hating me, and while many of those letters were from me, many were also from real people, or from people who claimed to be real people . . . who can know? After a while I wasn’t sure if a letter was from me or from someone real—but not real necessarily, just from someone who wasn’t me. In time there were so many of me I couldn’t always tell who was me and who wasn’t.
Marjorie was just magnificent, all spittle and world-wrecking prose, so much dignity and clemency that you’d feel a kind of happy sorrow in your throat by the end of every letter. By the end she’d always be calling on us to rise and fight and find our oneness again . . . though not “again,” really, because we were never all one. That’s a cliché-ish sort of construction Marjorie would never use. It’s the kind of thing Raymond would say, now that I think about it—he always wrote his stuff as though there were some idyllic yesterday we all had to resurrect. Marjorie knew that wasn’t real. And if God really had been in the schools, the roof of the old schoolhouse that hid her away as a kid would have peeled back and a big sun-stirred pillar of air would’ve beamed down and pulled old Marjorie above for all to see. She was that big a talent. A lot of people you wouldn’t expect to be are. She would have written beautifully about Wyatt the crossing guard, but for reasons I can only guess at—tragic reasons or just the day-to-day—she never did anything with her talent other than writing letters and op-eds. That happens a lot, too.
I don’t mean to sound like I was ever against Raymond or looked down on Raymond in any way. He was smart, and he was successful for a while—he ran a chain of car dealerships, I think. So when gas prices started getting too high and those big trucks he sold weren’t popular anymore, everything must have really gone to hell for Raymond. His wife probably got so sad over that that she took one of those big SUVs from the lot, decorated it up the way you see high-school kids do at graduation—Goodbye, Class of ____!—and added some balloons and some tinsel and then killed herself right in that car. With carbon monoxide, the way they do. I sure felt sorry for Raymond then. And his wife—what a sense of humor she had!
So I don’t mean to disparage Raymond. He took citizenship very seriously, and he never existed just to make Marjorie look better no matter how often they sparred. It was never meant to be like that at all. Raymond wasn’t the writer she was, or the personality, but he did what he could, and for most of us that’s its own sort of brilliance. Especially after what happened to his wife. And to his credit, Raymond also was never overbearing in that way that inspired many a letter from me calling Marjorie to account. Bale J. Thornton, North Balen, thought she was everything wrong with America; Polly someone was especially harsh, though I always suspected Polly was actually Raymond. But in the end, Raymond did mean well in his way. He just believed that the past was a place, and he believed we could all return there.
There were many weeks when every letter published was one of mine, and there were a few when all the letters were mine and about my op-eds and picking bones with other letter-writers who were also me—and those would all run beneath six of my op-eds, too. There were some beautiful people in those pages in those days, not just Marjorie and the crossing guard. Paulo was a real fighter, dogged, all truth, and he worked like hell trying to convince us that the city council should be focusing less on building a luxury housing development on the old plating-factory grounds and more on relocating everybody right away, on re-opening the molybdenum mine outside of Cooper and getting us all out and working. I, me, me-me, tended to agree with Paulo-me on every count, though it had been me—it had been I?—who started the movement to bring a luxury development in. I can’t remember which one of me that was. Probably Tanya, who literally had no soul.
They never published Jesus’ letters or op-eds, which literally made me laugh, because if the real Jesus were to arrive on Earth he surely would be deemed too mad to ever get his message into the papers, especially on the extra-hot topics of housing developments or God in schools, where the competition is tough and editors tend to allow only one type of crazy through. Those are the sorts who show up at every council meeting to rant like maniacs about zoning changes or how a partial nuclear meltdown is no minor thing—the people Marjorie, the inimitable Marjorie, called “pathological citizens” not that long before she died.
I only strayed from the opinion pages a few times, usually just an obituary here and there. Wyatt won third place in a photo contest once, and Wando the street musician took out an engagement announcement with another one of me I can’t remember. Marjorie wrote the announcement—and as usual, she went too far. No one in her world was just proud to announce the engagement of so-and-so from somewhere, someplace, child of someone and someone else entirely, to another so-and-so who’d been born at some particular point in time. To Marjorie it only mattered that when a pair of somebodies fall in love, they become “aligned with a great eternal pity that has always been wiser than God.” Then she went off into a big reverie about how love only has power because it’s not survivable, which was in pretty bad taste in a place where people were dying all the time.
After a while I died too, and it doesn’t pain me as much as you’d think to say that no one mourned me in the opinion pages. I only wrote in a few times, and I’m not much of a writer myself, so I was mostly ignored. There was a lot less opposition to Tanya and Raymond after I was gone, though, and that was a pity, because in time Tanya became mayor and rallied public opinion around the housing development. The town never moved, and the mine never did reopen. Wyatt the crossing guard was just wrecked over that. He would have been so happy working in that mine.
I’d long had an idea for a story, a story about Marjorie and how in heaven you meet all the people who had been the greatest poets, the greatest minds, the greatest dancers who ever lived, and you’re expecting to see Shakespeare or Newton standing there, but it’s just some person. Some Marjorie who ended up hobbled for some reason—some poor soul assembled in heaven, made sane, shaken continually. I never really got around to writing the story, which happens a lot, too. Still, I always had it in mind, but when I got here I found out it was an idea I’d unconsciously stolen from someone else, a story I read long ago. I think it was by Mark Twain, but I could never find him up here to verify. That’s not to say that Twain went to hell. There is no hell. But there’s no Marjorie here either. Truth be told, it’s a lot lonelier than you’d think.