“Can you guys name something that lasts forever?” Pete readied his marker with an enthusiasm that bordered on parodic. He was one of the “cool” youth leaders. Even at that age, I knew the type—so wrapped up in his persona he’d deluded himself into believing he’d earned the class’s collective admiration. He twisted his purity ring nervously, waiting for a response.
A gentle rumble passed through our cross-legged throng of six-year-olds.
“Anyone?” Pete goaded. “Come on, there are no wrong answers here.”
I feigned fascination with the posters that adorned the walls.
Jesus is my superhero!
Let us love one another, for love comes from God.
There is a hole in us that only God can fill.
If I had a choice, I would’ve been anywhere but that carpeted gymnasium that smelled vaguely of sour milk. I gazed at the rickety air hockey tables Saint Daniel’s Parish had set up in a sad attempt to appeal to my lost generation. If I had a choice, I would’ve been tucked in the familiar darkness of my basement, lambasting the skulls of my enemies. I sighed contentedly as I envisioned the thousands of corpses lying in my wake, flooding the battlefield with an impossible deluge of pixilated blood.
At last, a brave hand ventured into the air. “A rock. You know, one of those really big ones,” the kid said, practically out of breath.
A murmur of agreement rolled through the group.
“Ok: really big rock,” Pete jotted it down, holding back a stream of objections ranging from erosion to the universe’s inevitable demise at the hands of heat death. “What else?”
My companions’ brows furrowed in an unprecedented display of concentration. I even caught myself forming a tentative answer or two.
A second hand shot up expectantly. “Schick Quattro Titanium Blades—the longest lasting razorblades on the market,” he straightened his spectacles in a triumphant flourish.
“Ok…” Pete humored him, holding back from the softball known as “rust” with all his might. “How about you, over there?”
“A good pair of jeans.”
“Alright, alright. I think we’ve established the durability of denim,” Pete pinched the bridge of his nose. “Can anyone think of something that’s a little more… eternal?”
The room fell silent. I turned my attention to the morning sunlight, glimmering through the gnarled branches of an apple tree.
“Anyone at all?”
In what constituted a B-movie performance at best, Pete leaned forward and cupped his ear, “Oh, I think I heard someone say something in the back!”
Our heads turned in unison, searching for the source of the alleged comment.
“What’s that?” Pete furrowed his pimpled brow, feigning concentration. “Your soul? Why, that’s an excellent answer!” He emphatically scrawled the word on the poster board, a big purple vein snaking through his neck. He stepped back for a moment, giving us a chance to absorb it.
“Ok, I think that’s enough for now. Who wants to watch some Veggie Tales?”
At the time, I didn’t think much of the exercise. It was just another obstacle in the way of my daily dose of high fructose corn syrup and pornographic violence. But now, as I feel the clock ticking away in my mid-thirties—my rosary growing heavier with each passing second—I comprehend the significance of the moment. The way Pete stepped back and allowed us to stumble headfirst into the biting truth of mortality. The way he dangled that four-letter word above us, like a table scrap to a pack of mongrels.
Derek Andersen is an Illinois Wesleyan alum, working as a copywriter in Chicago. His stories and poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Ghost Parachute, STORGY, Riggwelter, X-R-A-Y, and on WinningWriters.com. You can follow him on Twitter @DerekJAnd.