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February 27th, 2017

Heaven
Saint Peter looked straight at me. I've been in line for twelve days and I know full well what happens if you pass the line before being called. The winged man maintained eye contact with me for just a bit too long, then yelled out "Next" in a voice meant for everybody to hear.

When I got near, he looked at me and flatly said, "Congratulations Shawn. You've led a virtuous life and have earned a place in Heaven. Please hold your arm out." I lifted my arm up and he wrapped a wristband around it, the kind you would normally see at a carnival.

I looked at the wristband. "Wait. How long do I keep this on? Doesn't Heaven last for all of eternity?"

Peter looked annoyed to have to go off script. "You must keep the wristband at all times you are in Heaven. And, yes, it does last for all of eternity." He sighed, "Now, please go in and enjoy your afterlife."

I nodded my head and walked towards the arched gate. I rubbed the wristband thinking about how this would feel to keep on for even a whole day. Oh well, it's heaven!

I never thought what it would be like the first moment you walked past the gates and saw inside. I think I've just assumed it would be great. But it was the smell that hit me first. You know how people say animals don't make into Heaven? Well, they're wrong. They're all here. Really, ALL of them.

I stood there just taking in everything when two figures approached me. Now I hadn't seen my mom and dad for over twenty years, but I recognized them right away.

"Mom! Dad!" They came over and hugged me. Maybe I just had a bad first impression.

My mom looked at me. "Come on, you must be famished. We saw you just had half of a bagel before you got in that car accident." She started walking off, so my dad and I followed.

"So we still have to eat here?"

My dad looked at me, "Oh yeah, everything is pretty much the same here. It's just you get the best of it all."

We walked for a bit and came to what looked like a hole in the wall buffet that I wouldn't normally eat at. Maybe this wasn't Heaven? But Hell seems like it would be much worse. Is there some middle option?

We each grabbed a plate and walked over to the serving area. I watched as my parents started scooping up quinoa and kale. They had to get those two things because those were the only two options available. Just lots of quinoa and kale. I looked at my dad, "Hey, I want a steak and potatoes. Where do I get that?"

My mom held onto my forearm with her free hand. "Oh honey. You get the best of everything here." She motioned towards the seemingly unending rows of quinoa. "This is it. This is the best for you."

My dad interjected, "Steak and potatoes might sound good, but it's actually not as good for you."

My mom grabbed another clump of kale, and said, "It's all organic too."

I slowly started feeling that everything might be okay as we talked over dinner. At least I have my parents to be with forever. I looked at my parents after putting our plates and flatware in the conveniently placed dish racks. "Okay so what's next? What do we do here?"

My mom said, "Well, we usually go for a run after eating. Everybody needs two hours of exercise a day up here. That's what's best for you."

I stopped walking. "Wait! Why are we exercising? I did that while I was alive just so that I could live longer. That was all a waste by the way. But why would I possibly do that forever now? What, am I going to die?"

My mom looked at me sternly. "Now, Shawn. You don't have to do anything you don't want to. Your body will just start getting older if you don't exercise it. It's up to you."

I looked at my body. It seemed like I was in my early 20s. "Okay, well I'm going to take maybe fifteen years off. Then I'll get back to that."

My dad piped in, "We'll be back in a few hours. Just walk down that way through those gates and you'll find your old house. I bet there's somebody there waiting to see you too." I watched them run away then headed the direction he pointed. Who would be there? I was never married or close with really anybody. Then I remembered my dogs. I ran.

I don't know how it worked, but my old house was the first thing I saw when I passed the gates. I ran, opened the door and was greeted by all eleven dogs I had lived with. Now, I'm a dog person. But I'm only a one-at-a-time dog person. Even though it was overwhelming, it was nice to give them all kisses again.

After some initial snuggling, I looked at them all and said, "I've missed living without you." Suddenly they were all silent and cocking their heads to the side. Oh shoot! I said the word "OUT". After the initial pause, they all went crazy. They ran to scratch the door, then back and me, just over and over. I walked over to the door careful not to step on any paws and saw eleven sets of leashes and collars waiting for me. It took about ten minutes to get them all attached, but we made it outside. It felt like I had to untangle my legs or a dogs legs every other step. This was not going to be easy. Then it started. They had to poop. Now normally it isn't pleasant to pick up after your dog when you take him on a walk. Well, I had to do it for eleven big dogs.

When I got back, my parents were waiting at the door. Wait, did that take two hours? I lifted the basketball-sized bag of poop so they could see it. "So, mom. What is the best at?"

"Oh honey. We told you since you were a kid that having a pet is a responsibility. Don't act surprised now."

"No! It's a responsibility that lasts a lifetime. Not for all of eternity!" I was half joking, but I had to stop and calm myself down. I looked at my parents, "This isn't heaven, is it? I mean I'm going to end up spending most of my time just taking care of all of my old dogs. And I don't get to eat the food I want. And I still have to exercise. And all of this forever. It almost sounds like torture. We're in the other side, in Hell, right?"

My mom laughed, "Oh honey, you're being overly dramatic. This is all the best stuff. You'll get used to it all."

My dad looked at me, "Just buckle down and get through it."