By Nick Mattos, PQ Monthly
1) In the holiest of places, a pool sat atop the backs of seven marble oxen. I am in the baptismal room of the Oakland Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, wearing a white garment, climbing the steps into the proxy baptism font. I step down into the water, the ornately-painted ceiling high above me, three men in white suits sitting high above the font and another man waiting for me in the tank. I am 19 years old, the warm water up to my waist, the baptizer taking my right wrist tightly in his left hand. We are about to send a dead man to heaven.
2) “I wonder if everything I do, I do instead of something I want to do more — the question fills my head.” I am 16, sitting in my bedroom listening to Ani Difranco croon from the speakers of my boom box, and these words cut to the quick of me. Through my open window, the hot air of the summer night blows in with the sound of the cows lowing in their pasture, settling over me as I sit on the floor beside my bed. I am young and queer and anxious for something other than this farm I grew up on, hungry to get away to a place that I’m not even quite sure exists. For now, I listen to Ani on my boombox, and everything I do, I do instead of something I want to do more — but I don’t even know what it is that I want to do more.
3) To make something esoteric and complex overly simple, Mormons practice proxy baptism, or baptism for the dead, because in their theology virtually everyone will eventually come to believe in the truth of Mormon doctrine. However, some will only do so after they die. Those who do so after death (in “spirit prison”) need someone on Earth to get baptized on their behalf so that they can ultimately go forth into heaven. However, this isn’t quite as gracious a thing as one might think; Mormons also believe that there are multiple levels of heaven, and that most won’t get into the highest, “true” heaven without a lifetime of striving. To put it another way, everyone goes to heaven — but even in heaven, most will still yearn for a higher-up state that will not be attainable.
4) Refresh, refresh, refresh — my thumb keeps hitting the icon on my telephone’s touch screen. Grindr presents me with a grid of photos: men giving their best come-hither smirks beside headless torsos, green dots indicating that they are somewhere looking at their screens as well. I am 27 years old and sleepless in a bed that feels much too large, my apartment much too empty, for just one man to be in it. I’m not even horny; when I’m honest with myself, I really just want a man to tell me I’m wonderful, to sigh softly in expression of the great pleasure he takes in my company, to show me where my skin ends with the touch of his own. I never thought I’d be here, hitting refresh, refresh, refresh, hoping that one of these men would ignite something in me, that he’d come over and give me a proxy for what I actually wanted.
5) The baptizer bends his elbow to 90 degrees, holds his right palm open as though ready to strike me. “Brother Nick Mattos,” he says, “having been commissioned of Jesus Christ, I baptize you for and in behalf of Werner Albrecht, who is dead, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.”
6) “Eventually, I think you just have to decide to hitch your wagon to something.” I am 29 years old, sitting with a dear old friend of mine who is explaining why he’s attempting to be in a relationship with someone he doesn’t actually love.
“I mean, he’s nice enough,” my friend says, staring down at his whiskey. “He’s cute enough, and definitely likes me a lot. He’s a good cook. I think he wants kids, too.”
“Is that all you want out of a partner?” I ask him. “Just nice enough, and cute enough, and a good enough homemaker?”
“The sex is good enough, too.”
I find myself losing my patience with him. “Is he really who you want to be with?”
“He’s close enough for now.”
“Do you think he’d be upset to know that he’s just a proxy for the relationship you actually want?”
“He would — so, I wouldn’t tell him,” he says, and takes a hard gulp of his drink, his eyes focused on nothing in particular.
7) “Amen,” the baptizer declares, and the question fills my head: if Werner gets to the lowest rung of heaven and knows that he still fell so short of glory, won’t there still be something he’ll want more? How will he contend with that yearning? Will it gnaw on him the way it gnaws on me sometimes? I feel the baptizers right hand on my back, and he pushes me backwards. My knees buckle, I see the ornate ceiling, the white-clad men watching us from above, the vast space between what we want and what we settle for — and, in proxy for a man caught somewhere between the earth and eternity, the water swallows me.
Nick Mattos can be reached at email@example.com.