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Third Place: "Jesus Stalks" 

Jesus won't stop calling me. I block his number on the caller ID, but he gets a new unlisted number and the calls pick up. He leaves long messages on the answering machine and when it cuts out he calls back and keeps talking. I don't even listen to the messages anymore. They all start the same: "Alia, it's me ... Jesus."

That's usually when I hang up, because I know from there it will be a long rant about how much he wants me back, how much he loves me, how he'll forgive me for everything. Like most ex-boyfriends, Jesus acts as though I'm the one who needs to be forgiven.

When I block his number for a second time he starts calling my roommate. I come home from work late one Friday night and she's sitting in the living room, her legs draped over the arms of the sofa, watching TV.

"Jesus called for you," she says.

"You know," she says swinging her feet down to the ground. "Jesus really loves you. You should return his phone calls."

"He's OK," I say, not making eye contact. "But things are kind of over between us."

"I'd sure be glad to meet a guy like Jesus," she says, looking off into space. "All the guys I meet lately are such jerks."

Here's the thing about Jesus. Everyone loves him. They think he is this great guy, that he's sweet and caring and all about helping other people out. And it's true. Kind of. The thing is, Jesus only does nice things so that people can tell him what a great guy he is. He tries to take credit for everything. A beautiful sunset, a particularly charming infant, a wonderfully delicious meal, there Jesus would be, trying to steal someone else's thunder. Many a night did I have to listen about how praise was heaped on everyone but Jesus. If someone thanked Billy for a especially thoughtful gift, if someone praised Ezra's good taste or made a comment about an attractive dress Katie was wearing, by midnight there would be Jesus pacing around my living room trying to figure out why no one had thanked him.

Eventually he'd wear himself out with anger. He'd take off his Birkenstocks and curl up in the fetal position on my living room floor. A typical Jesus temper tantrum. I'd leave him there like that and turn off all the lights and go to bed.

In the morning, he'd be fine again and he wouldn't bring it up. But eventually I learned that whoever had offered up the praise that particular evening now had a particularly nasty boil, or their car wouldn't start, or had run out of milk as soon as they'd poured themselves a nice big bowl of cereal.

I don't know what Jesus liked about me in the first place. I don't do anything for everyone. I find that kind of exercise to be tedious. But from the start, Jesus thought he could change me, make me someone different from who I actually was. When we met I had just come out of a string of bad relationships. Boyfriends with the typical and tedious problems — can't commit, cheats, mommy issues ... you know, the usual.

I met him in a bar of all places. There Jesus was in the parking lot offering everyone a ride home from the bar after last call. And even though I don't usually go in for guys who wear sandals, I was all about Jesus that night. Yes, I'd a few drinks, so I went up to him, slung my arms around his neck and murmured

"How you doing, handsome?"

This is how I know I was drunk. Sober, I would never call anyone "handsome."

Jesus pulled me off of him and gazed into my face.

"Do you need a ride?"

On the way home Jesus told me how cute I was, how I was worth dying for because I was absolutely adorable. I vaguely remember giving him my number. I only had a fuzzy image of the whole thing the next morning when Jesus called to see how I was feeling.

A week after he reaches my roommate, Jesus starts calling my work phone. He sings gospel songs into my work voice mail, even doing the hand claps. I distinctly remember telling Jesus how much I hated gospel music. How I thought it was a tool of the oppressed buying into what their oppressors offered them without questioning it.

I can't decide if Jesus is actually doing it to make me mad, to torture me in all the small ways he knows I am easily tortured or if this is really an earnest attempt to win me back.

We had been dating about six months the first time I took him home to meet my parents. I had been standoffish about making a real commitment to Jesus. I mean, who makes a commitment to a guy they meet when they're drunk and in a bar? Also there was this ex of mine who I sometimes still talked to, though we mostly ended up talking about Jesus and all the problems we were having. But I thought that maybe if I took Jesus to meet my family he would see how serious I was. Jesus' big thing is family. He is almost obsessive about it.

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