Trigger Warning: This story contains descriptions of assault and rape.

I don’t believe in heaven.

I was raised on a steady drip of Jesus and a Heavenly Father who created me, and who not only knows my name, but also cares deeply about each and every decision I’ve ever made and will ever make. It’s a lot of pressure to put on a kid, making you believe you hold the results of eternity in your small, dirt-smudged hands, and that lying about putting your dime in the tithing jar will get you banished to outer darkness forever.

Too many traumatic things happened to me at too young of an age for me to buy any of it. I tried on and off over the years to dive in and become a true believer, but for me, it always ended up feeling wrong.

So imagine my surprise when I met Jesus after being assaulted and raped.

A friend asked if her son, who was on parole, could stay with me for a few days because he wasn’t allowed in her building. I said yes. I was a frequent meth user at the time and my decisions weren’t often well-thought-out or in my own best interest. Her son, who I’ll call Matt, was in his late twenties and had a very hungry way of approaching life, as if he would never be able to get enough of anything. When he looked at me, I felt like lunch after a famine.

Matt slept on my couch. On the second evening he was there, after a couple of beers and reruns of Seinfeld, we smoked some meth out of a broken light bulb, using a lighter underneath to burn and liquify the powder. He added a small amount of something from a baggie to our second smoking round. He told me it was just some coke to amp up the experience.

I was both in and out of my body. There was a lot of pain, but then there wasn’t anything at all.

Whatever it was, it wasn’t just coke. After a few moments I got physically ill, the room started spinning, and I started vomiting. Matt crossed the room to help me sit up so I could throw up into a trash can. He patted my back for a minute. I realized my eyes wouldn’t stay open and I got scared. Matt told me everything was going to be okay. And then he pulled my right arm behind my back and pushed me down to the floor.

The next half hour or so was like a movie. I was both in and out of my body. There was a lot of pain, but then there wasn’t anything at all. I was aware of everything and then I was aware of nothing. My arms and legs wouldn’t move the way I wanted them to. It sounded like everything was underwater. I could smell my own vomit everywhere.

Eventually, I heard Matt walk out of the room. I was on my back, trying to open my eyes, and a new wave of nausea hit me. I knew that if I didn’t turn over, I’d drown in my own vomit, but I couldn’t get my body to move. I didn’t feel afraid; it was more of an abstract conundrum. A puzzle I could do nothing about.

That’s when Jesus showed up. I knew it was him because I’d seen literally hundreds of likenesses of him since infancy. My church preferred the huskier, happier, healthier version of Jesus, with flowing brown hair, blue eyes, and a ready smile. Conquering Jesus. A lumberjack in flowing white robes, good-natured, with a hearty laugh, ready to tussle.

Jesus leaned over and then sat down next to me. He had a beard and substantial eyebrows. Little things, like how his face had pores and he possibly could have used a nose trimmer, stood out to me. I was aware that I wasn’t breathing, but it didn’t really matter. Time was standing still, and the fact that my eyes suddenly worked really well told me that time was also running out.

Jesus looked at me for a moment and then asked if I was ready.

Jesus started to tell me the story of the Good Samaritan. If you aren’t aware of that one, it’s the tale of a Jew who was beaten and left by the side of the road. Several travelers pass him by, but it’s a Samaritan who stops and helps him, even though Samaritans and Jews didn’t exactly get along at the time. I watched Jesus’s mouth move while he told me that the moral of the story is that we should love our neighbors and be kind and good to everyone.

I couldn’t talk, my mouth being full and all, so I just listened as Jesus went on to tell me that even now, as I lay there dying, it wasn’t a bad thing that I had tried to help my friend by letting her son stay with me. He mentioned that help can come from anyone and I shouldn’t be choosy.

Jesus looked at me for a moment and then asked if I was ready. I nodded my head yes and he reached his hand down. I grasped his palm with mine, expecting him to pull me up to the heaven I didn’t believe in. Instead, after holding my hand a little too long, so I could feel the clamminess between our palms, Jesus docked one of his bare, hairy-knuckled feet on my exposed ribs and roughly shoved me over onto my stomach, letting my arm drop awkwardly and painfully to the floor.

I heard the door close. I coughed a lot. I vomited some more. My throat felt like I had swallowed knives of fire, and it was hard to talk or breathe for days. My arms and shoulders were both super tender and I had bruises everywhere, along with several cuts from the smashed light bulb. Other injured parts of my body wouldn’t exist for me for several months.

As I contemplated my drug-induced, near-death visit from Jesus in those first few moments after almost dying, I was really glad I hadn’t grown up with the starving, emaciated, bleeding-from-the-head version of Jesus. I don’t think that dude would have had the strength to turn me over.