We speculated that they’d shove bicycle spokes through our calves, we’d “heard” of it being done before to our brothers and sisters in other countries. But in the name of god we were ready to take it. We were almost giddy knowing that no matter how great the pain we would endure the torture and that shortly after we’d receive the reward of an “earthly paradise”.
Growing up in a fundamentalist christian religion was fun to me, there were more picnics than the average person gets to enjoy in their life, there was interesting stories and there was the undeniable feeling of knowing that we were right.
And there were dreams. Dreams of the end of the world, the intricacies of which rivaled any apocalyptic blockbusters of Hollywood. From very young we were prepped, warned that we might be split up from our family, tortured, tested. Images of concentration camps were used to bolster our resolve, if others before us had “stayed faithful” surely we could too. These warnings followed me into my sleep, my mind running with these scenes, hiding in creeks waiting for militia to pass by, not knowing where my family was but trying to survive on my own, meeting people not knowing whether they were friend or foe. And it does not escape me that these themes still prove reoccurring in my waking life also.
I wasn’t really afraid of these things as a child or young adult either, strange as that may sound. Sure I wasn’t looking forward to the pain but when you think its for the ultimate good you have a pretty strong resolve.
I’m the baby of the family so I was lavished with the finest goods from far off lands… well not exactly but in contrast to my older siblings I did not have chores as they did so I was “spoiled” by their accounts. By their accounts I was also lazy and messy and overly sensitive, not sure I disagree. I was a latchkey kid, I was pretty sure I was supposed to go to school, and then when I got home, not cause any problems. Sitting inside watching tv was the safest. After all playing outside and possibly hurting myself was a big risk, I knew we didn’t have the money for that. Anxiety about possibilities? Check! But I was happy. I loved playing with my barbies and playing board games with anyone who would take the time. Above all I knew not to cause problems or burden anyone, my siblings were perpetuating more adolescent turbulence than my parents could handle so I didn’t add to it.
I liked my church friends. As a teen I was excited to go and help with the church activities because of the socializing. Whether it was preaching in our neighborhoods or cleaning the church or assisting in any other function of the organization it was almost always worth it because of the social aspect. In true church girl fashion I was good and followed the rules. I believed with all my mind, told others about “the truth”. And in real church girl even slightly “naughty” things were big thrills. Late night trips to the beach with friends where as repressed teens we would talk about others in the church that were weird (in retrospect, those weirder than us), cozying up slightly to a boy, the sexual tension in just a smirk or a brush of the arm was the most we puritanical virgins could hope for, well that and perhaps a lascivious conversation that only slightly alluded to what none of us had ever done. Not to say that any of us were ready and willing to through away our devotion for these things, we just all truly longed for the day when we could enjoy carnal adult activities as they were intended, as married man and wife. Many hurried to this finish line, marrying the first person they dated within the church and often this was before they could even legally drink.
Dating within the church structure was… confusing. A ratio of what I would venture to guess is 5 females: 1 male made for a shooting fish in a barrel mentality for the men and a slim pickings feeling as a woman. And of course rather than fostering a respect of emotional health within relationships the older members would make light of young love while putting undue pressure on chastity. Joking in one breath about young sisters being hot’n’bothered over a suitable brother and in the next strongly cautioning that they never be alone together without chaperons and that if they were dating they better be well on their way to marriage.
My dating experience within the church about to this:
-Blind date: fun, Blues Traveler concert (I do not regret that concert at all!) and a man who would never contact me directly, rather only inquire about me through the friends who set us up.
-Preaching date: arrangements were made to go preaching together (note: women and men were usually not assigned to work together for chastity’s sake so things like this were noticed by the congregation), an older lady in the congregation insisted I preach with her as there was no other sister for her to preach with, the guy and I ended up getting lunch after (alone! what a thrill!) and I ended up inviting him to a dinner party (specifically arranged to get some more time together and show off my amazing domestic abilities) and my friends basically watching how we were interacting all night. Said man moved away, end of situation.
-Friend date: best friend and I figure why not give dating a shot, we share a few dinner dates, feels just like we’re friends still but I’m mentally trying to give it a chance, I go out of town for a weekend, he’s dating someone else when I get back. Fin.
Throw into the mix some oddball crushes and you have the extent of my dating life in the church.
At 16 I took the plunge. No, not marriage. Who in their right mind would let their 16 year old make a life long dedication like that?! No. I made an even more consequential decision, I got baptized. I answered all the questions they asked of me, I knew the answers, I this was the next step, and I believed it. Over the next couple of years I preached and finished high school and started working. Nothing was super special, just living and waiting for the end to come.
At 18 I moved out of my parents house. I’m happy I did, I learned to survive on my own, which would prove more vital in more ways than I could imagine.
Not much happened in the next few years, and maybe it was the boredom that led me to do it, or the fact that I was a 23 year old with a great body and killer hormones that needed to be indulged but whatever it was, I met up with an old friend from high school who had been asking me to hang out. Was I going there to have sex? I don’t think so, I think I was hoping for a good make out session though. But I did sleep with him. It wasn’t bad, it wasn’t great, but it was fun. I knew instantly I would be in trouble but I didn’t feel guilty like I had been told I would.
Still not foreseeing the events that were about to unfold I did what I was supposed to do in the church, I told the elders. They held a couple meetings about it and gave me a warning since I was repentant and said I wouldn’t do it again. They even had a woman from the church agree to teach me the bible again. Unfortunately for her the pieces just weren’t fitting together anymore. I didn’t believe god was upset with me. I felt connected to a part of myself I had been detached from. I didn’t believe homosexuals were wrong. I no longer believed there was one truth. While I was happy I was realizing my own core beliefs I realized also what this would mean for my status in the church. I couldn’t go on sitting at sermons and nod along in agreement, pretty quickly I realized the religious label I’d carried my whole life was in stark contrast to my actual beliefs and spirituality.
People leave in many ways, some fade, some opt out willingly and some get kicked out. I chose the last because I wanted to avoid being branded an apostate, a title assigned to those who know the truth yet willingly leave. I thought getting kicked out some might take pity on me as a misguided one and not shun me so harshly. On a Tuesday night the elders announced I was no longer one of them and from that moment they didn’t speak to me. My friends haven’t said a word to me for years and my family is constantly reminded not to see me unless it is “necessary family business” (the majority of my family haven’t seen me for years either).
I still have dreams of the end of the world. They are filled with interesting plots, heavy action and special effects and sometimes my family is there. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that my mind will never stop trying to figure out the equation that equals me having a relationship with my family again. Until then I’ll dream of the end.