Dear J Waves:
Picture this, if you will:
It is 1989, you are nine years old, and you are in church. You are sitting in the back, because your family is last to arrive every Sunday, what with there being shoes to tie, cuts to bandage, and a little sister to dress, because she is four and hasn’t kept an outfit on her body for more than 45 minutes since the day she learned to remove pants. You spy an old man with half an ear in the pew across from you, and you have an overwhelming urge to march up to him and ask him how it got that way because you feel he’d appreciate your childlike innocence. There is a guest choir singing. They are an important choir, you gather, because they have been formally introduced to the congregation by The Priest.
The Priest is a formidable man who stands in the church parking lot before and after each mass, sucking on a cigar and staring at the stars, at nothing. It’s quite possible he may be kind-hearted, which you believe is a prerequisite for a member of the clergy, but he does not seem to favor children. You remember speaking to him once, and it was when you were confused about a certain rule concerning the rosary, and you figured he would harbor such top-secret information such as whether or not it was permissible to wear one like a necklace. You asked him, and he leaned down next to your face and said. . .nothing. Just breathed. He smelled like bourbon, but you didn’t know that then. You identified it as such years later, when you began drinking it yourself. Perhaps he believed you were mocking him? You’d never be sure. He intrigued you, though, and you’d listen to his homilies to see if he would leach any information about his personal life that you could collect in order to build a personality for him. However, his homilies were often garbled and incoherent, a characteristic that you would also identify years later as the product of being drunk as shit.
You fancied yourself a Good Catholic Girl. And why not? While the other children were writing letters to Santa, you were writing letters to Jesus. Your father was a Good Catholic Man, and your mother was, well, your mother was a Good Woman. You weren’t sure about the Catholic part. She liked to write notes to you on the church programs during mass. These notes she would shield with the misselette so that your father could not see. The notes often made fun of Linda, the morbidly obese choir director and sometimes she would even single out members of the congregation and comment on their choice of hats or their snoring as they dozed lightly throughout the Responsorial Psalm. You felt delightfully irreverent during these memo exchanges, but you knew it was not okay to do this right before receiving communion.
And communion was another thing. You didn’t really understand it. Transubstantiation did not sit well with you. You found it eerie to be eating something that seemed so frail and delicate yet represented the Body of Jesus, who was strong and robust. You definitely did not like the idea of drinking blood; the notion of sanguine thrills was better left to Halloween costumes and books you weren’t supposed to read. And yet, you’d accept the Eucharist each Sunday without hesitation, and you would consistently fail to remember which hand went where when holding them out to The Priest, never having grasped the exact mechanics of the reception of the wafer, of the wine. It was much like the Sign of the Cross; you were seventeen when you realized that for the past twelve years, you had been touching the left side of your chest and then the right, and you felt stupid. It was like holding your left hand over your chest when reciting the Pledge of Allegiance; it just was not done that way, and you developed a horrific fear that people had been judging you silently this whole time.
Communion for you came to a screeching halt when you were sixteen. You were a walking disaster. You smoked clove cigarettes, you drank beer, you wore ripped fishnet stockings and Marilyn Manson T-Shirts and black lipstick and kohl eyeliner. You had a girlfriend named Lauren. The years of Catholic school were the seminal influence for your rejection of basic dogma; one day, it just did not make sense. You had been cutting your body up since you were twelve, and no one had noticed, not yet, anyway, and you preferred to keep it that way.
Your body was your temple, and you were ruining it, destroying it.
You made no distinction between divine intervention and free will. You figured, and had been taught, even, that God would provide a path, would intercede if things did not go the way they were supposed to. The Lord Works In Mysterious Ways, they told you, and you assumed that if you were doing these things without interruption from a higher power, then it must have been because it was permissible to do so. It never occurred to you that you were completely free to fuck your life up if you so pleased, and so you waited for everything to straighten itself out in the wash, as it were.
When things did not straighten themselves out, you did not blame Jesus, but you resented Him. You made up your own prayers to your own God, whose origin, description, and agenda were never fully developed. You were too lazy for that. Looking back on it all, you found it interesting that you felt the need to create a religion in the first place; such was the length to which the need for projected veneration was instilled in your mind. You couldn’t possibly have NO religion; it just had to be a DIFFerent one. Your father was heartbroken. You had too many questions and he couldn’t help you because he believed so strongly in the power of faith that any inquiries into the reasoning behind it all were dead to him.
You found yourself employing an ethnomethodological approach to the tenets of Christianity. You wanted to know the Why and the How, not the Who and the What and the Where. You weren’t blaspheming, you were wondering. No one could help you. It is always easier to reject than to accept, to shirk the responsibility than to burden yourself with ignored, albeit unanswered, questions.
You attended a Catholic high school, an all-girls school that taught you that, under Catholic doctrine, masturbation was unacceptable and sex was expressly forbidden, yet procreation was demanded. This made no sense to you. You brought this up in religion class one day, and someone mistook your curiosity for indignance and muttered, “Slut,” (a little too loudly.) You promptly responded with “Fuck You,” (just plain loudly). You were immediately transferred to another, identical religion class. You also were required to visit Miss Ramey, the school therapist, twice a week to discuss your alleged promiscuity. You found this intensely amusing, since Miss Ramey was actually a raging lesbian who, upon the school administration’s realization of her sexuality, was demoted from Twelfth Grade Religion teacher to Freshman Guidance Counselor within a week. And now it was this woman the administration deemed qualified to judge your “erroneous” sexual habits.
In your new religion class, you found yourself sitting in front of the most hopped up, boisterous man you had ever seen walk God’s Green Earth. His daughter was in the class with you. She was a cheerleader with an amphetamine habit, and she was two months pregnant, unbeknownst to her father. He clapped his hands a lot and said “Jesus Rocks” a lot. You figured this was a pet name for the rocks of cocaine he undoubtedly kept hidden in his Jazzercize sneakers. One day he dealt out an assignment to anyone who cared to bring a cassette tape of their favorite inspirational holy song to the next class meeting. He promised to take the class outside to the sunny, welcoming quad, where everyone could listen to music and get in touch with Jesus through nature and personal song.
The next day, you showed up, mix tape in hand. You waited your turn, apprehensively, because judging from the other girls’ subject matter, you had probably stepped over your boundaries a bit with your selection. Three girls had brought in Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On.” You had brought in Pantera’s “Cemetery Gates.” No one was amused. No one really appreciated it, even though it was the ONLY song that anyone had brought in with even a HINT of religious conviction. You’re playing air guitar to the solo, which is about thirteen minutes into the song, and the teacher bounces up to the tape player and cuts it off. He then quickly changes the subject and asks if anyone would like to sing her favorite devotional song for the class, right here, right now. One girl who fancied herself a thespian launched into an accapella rendition of the “Beauty and the Beast” theme song, complete with an impromptu interpretive dance number. The religious significance was lost on you, but you shrugged and politely raised your hand to volunteer your musical retort when she was done. Half the girls were crying with happiness at this point and you had never been so grateful that you didn’t consider Disney songs to be inspirational testimonies to the hardships of Jesus, able to move you to tears. You sang “Crucify” by Tori Amos. The next day, you found yourself removed from that religion class as well.
In your second new class, you found yourself sitting in the front row on the first day. The desks were arranged in concentric circles and most of the girls were sleeping before the second bell had even rung to begin class. The teacher emerged from behind her desk in the middle of the inner circle. She was about sixty with bright red, unruly hair, and she was wearing four different species of tie-dye and she was holding a box of mud. She walked around the room, distributing piles of it to each girl. When she got to you, you saw that it was actually clay, and your soul started to falter and fade. You were going to be taught by a hippie. And sure enough, she returned to her post in the middle circle and fumbled with an antediluvian tape recorder, and all at once the opening bars of “Imagine” began to soar from the tired, crackling speakers. She closed her eyes, breathed deep ten times in a row, and spoke softly and wistfully, obviously in love with her own mindset.
“I want to see you touch the clay, girls. Feeeeeel the clay, girls, Beeeeee the clay.”
They may say I’m a dreamer. . .
You must have been dreaming. You PRAYED, actually PRAYED, for the first time in years, that you were dreaming.
But I’m not the only one. . .
And you sure as shit weren’t the only one. Everybody was rolling their eyes.
“Are you kidding me?” you whisper to the girl next to you. You have to nudge her back to reality and repeat the question.
“Every fucking day, every fucking day,” the girl mumbled.
Every day you listened to “Imagine,” every day you began class by being coerced into molding the clay into the likeness of your inner soul. You constructed many things out of clay for the remainder of that school year: an AK-47, a shrunken Pygmy head, a large penis, a cigarette, a slot machine, and a one-eyed duck. Was this how you viewed yourself? You decided that as long as John Lennon was singing and Miss HippyDip was swaying, then it was a pretty accurate portrayal of your inner pain.
At least she wasn’t like your Freshman teacher who claimed that every morning she woke up at four in the morning and brewed two cups of piping hot Instant Folgers, one for her, one for Jesus. She literally sat across from the second cup and had a holy tea party with a physically invisible companion.
You had your sophomore year’s religion teacher fired, but it was an accident. He was young, precious, and very much of an overachiever. He was also intensely nervous about teaching Christian mannerisms to four classes full of pubescent girls who were taping pictures of Luke Perry to their ceilings and assigning euphemistic nicknames to their menstrual periods. He was also required to be especially careful around the dance team members, not just because he was exceedingly attractive, but also because his young bride was a religion teacher in the classroom right down the hall. Girls have a tendency to gossip.
You, however, had a tendency to feel an innate connection with socially awkward people. You trusted this guy. Since you never felt that you should be forced to attend Confession, since the Priest was not your personal friend and did not know your name, even, you chose the closest thing to Jesus that was available to you, which just happened to come in the form of Mr. Vidrine. You confessed all sorts of things to him. Things about drugs, your “personality disorder,” reasons why you cut yourself. Mr. Vidrine had no clue what to do with you. He apparently failed to alert the proper authorities (the proper authorities being the principal, the vice principal, and the lesbian social worker) and when the proper authorities caught wind of the situation, he was removed. None of you ever saw him again.
But enough about school. It’s the here and now that you’re worried about. Do you want to believe in something? Of course you do. You happen to believe in fate at the moment, because it is seeming to serve you well. . .fate brings you fabulously unkempt boys who listen to Tool, fate brings you great hair on Tuesday, fate brings you the last bag of Artificially Flavored Cheddar Sun Chips at Subway, fate brings you all these things and drops them at your doorstep for you to arrange in patterns and illuminate with thousands of points of light and assemble into a shrine, an altar on which you worship your good fortune.
But for now you will be satisfied with finding an equivalent to spiritual happiness in a long walk through the woods where you host a photo shoot on people’s discarded baby strollers. You will find a sacred median in the glassy-eyed late night parties at Brian’s, the events of each night prior coming to fruition when the tremolo of Ima Robot is on the stereo. You will achieve your redneck nirvana when the tattooed boys in heavy metal tee-shirts make you your shift meal exactly how you like it, when you’re about to take the winning shot in pool and he kisses you abruptly on the cheek and you scratch on the 8, when you open your paycheck and an unexpected bonus is staring you in face even though half of it belongs to the government.
And really, when you think about it, isn’t that enough?
Mandey, child of god.