Class of '96
May 25, 2006
I just sent in a check and RSVP card for my 10-year high school reunion. I have no idea why I'm going.
A couple months ago, Dooce wrote very eloquently about why Big Love makes her, as an ex-Mormon, uncomfortable. Oddly enough, the very next Sunday, The Sopranos featured a go-nowhere storyline about a fundamentalist Christian pastor visiting Tony in the hospital while on a break from a protest about pharmacists being forced to dispense birth control pills. Tony expresses concern about dispensing Viagra, correctly drawing the line from point A to point B in the drugs-that-have-to-do-with-S!-E!-X! spectrum. The pastor smiles and tells Tony that he’d never have to worry about Viagra, because of procreation-blah-blah-blah-double-standard-cakes. He then attempts to witness to Tony and get him to accept Jesus into his heart.
The whole scene unnerved me like crazy. I had to leave the room.
I grew up in the fundamentalist evangelical Christian church. I was a
born-again Christian. I went to private Christian schools my entire life. And I
was into it.
Every Sunday morning, Sunday night and Wednesday night were
spent at church, no matter what, and my weekends were filled with at least one
youth group activity. I didn't have any non-Christian friends. Instead of Girl Scouts I attended Pioneer Girls.
I attended pro-life rallies with my parents. I thought homosexuality was a sin. I thought Rush Limbaugh was funny when he called women feminazis. I thought environmentalists were stupid. Global warming was a hoax. I believed in an extremely literal interpretation of the Bible and Creationism. Carbon dating was a conspiracy. I didn’t think you could go to heaven if you voted Democrat.
My sex-ed class taught us that it was possible to get
pregnant from dry humping and women could only achieve orgasm when there was a
penis present. (A penis you were MARRIED to, by the way, because YOUR CLITORIS
(Actually, I don’t think they covered that part of our anatomy, as I vividly remember turning to a boyfriend while watching Monty Python and asking him "What's a clitoris?")
I had a raging eating disorder, a compulsion to hurt myself
and enough guilt to put an entire Catholic catechism class to shame. I got bent
out of shape at sleepovers when my friends wanted to watch Dirty Dancing, but
was myself a virgin mostly on technicalities.
I never drank or smoke or did drugs until after graduation (when I promptly started doing all three, in a single night), living instead on a few emotional highs on teenage youth retreats where they basically made us sing praise songs over and over, standing up, on empty stomachs, until the oxygen supply to our brains ran low and the endorphins raged and suddenly everybody was crying and rushing to the altar to be reborn-again-again or confess their darkest sins and promise to never let their boyfriend feel up their shirt again.
I don't know why I’m going to this reunion. I don’t even
know why I'm writing this. These words will sting and sadden members of my family
and my fingers are shaking just from dredging up the memories. I'm sure I'll
get all kinds of hatemail and tracts about damnation and hellfire in my PO Box.
Don’t bother. I've seen them all. I used to give them out myself.
My dad was diagnosed with cancer when I was in the ninth
grade, and people at our church told us that if we had enough faith, God would
heal him. Although radiation eventually
sent the cancer into remission, I always blamed myself for not having enough
faith to simply pray the tumor away.
One of the graduation requirements at my high school was a mission trip. Our class decided to go to Jamaica and build a church. Which...great. Because if there's a group of people with 5,000 extra dollars lying around, it's broke-ass high school students who are trying to figure out how to pay for college in the fall.
I was a financial aid student to begin with, and had let my guidance counselor talk me into an expensive private Christian college in the Midwest that my family couldn't afford. ("Faith!" He told me. "God wants you to go there, and He will provide!") (Guess what: He didn't.)
So I (along with a bunch of other students) respectfully asked to be excused from the Jamaica trip. There was quite a lot of anger from the teachers planning the trip, for reasons I still don't get, and it was only after much protest that a second, local trip to clean up a homeless center in the west Kensington area of Philadelphia was planned.
I was sitting behind two teachers on the bleachers
in the gym one day and heard them discussing the t-shirts they were having made
up for the Jamaica students.
"They look great," the one teacher gushed. "The Philly trip kids are gonna be so jealous."
"Well, it's not our fault they didn't have enough faith to
raise the money," the other teacher snotted back.
I grabbed my books and hauled ass off the bleachers, glancing back just long enough to see the OH SHIT expressions on their faces before I scoured the halls for a fellow second-class missionary to immediately report what I'd just heard. NOT HAVING ENOUGH FAITH. The ultimate Christian insult. The Biblical equivalent to flipping the bird.
45 minutes later I was being screamed at by one of the teachers in front of her freshman study hall students. She called me a liar and a gossip and a troublemaker. She started to cry because she was NOT GOING TO LET SOMEONE LIKE ME TAKE AWAY FROM GOD'S WORK. She talked about what a good Christian girl I used to be and started saying things about the devil. I stared straight at her and didn’t flinch as she hurled insults at me. I narrowed my eyes and smiled, which sent her off on a new tirade of Crazy.
She finally calmed down and asked me if I had anything to say to her. She waited for my apology. I
smiled and said no. I saw her draw herself up with rage and honestly thought
for a split second that she was going to hit me. I sometimes think she would have if it
hadn't suddenly occurred to her that there were other people in the room,
staring at her with their mouths wide open.
We all went on our respective trips. I cleaned up hypodermic needles in the yard outside the shelter and gave the children's play area a fresh coat of paint. We wrote papers about what we learned and how we served God and how the trip prepared us for being Christians in the real world. I wrote that only thing I learned was that Christians can be real assholes to each other.
I wonder if that teacher is coming to the reunion.
I don't keep in touch with anyone. I didn't have too many close friends there anyway. I was a huge goody-goody dork for most of my time there, and then became the mouthy gossip who hated the school and everything it stood for and every person there by senior year. I started eating again and got an after-school job where I learned to swear and found that non-Christians were really fucking easy to get along with. I was in a car accident on my second-to-last day and barely made it to graduation. I left the Christian college after one overpriced semester when my dad's cancer came back, but I'd pretty much decided that it wasn't for me anyway. It was just like my high school, and I was fucking done with my high school.
But today, some of my former classmates seem like really cool, balanced people that I could probably be friends with now. Some of them read this site. Some of them married their high school boyfriends.
Some of them had babies instead of going to college. A lot of them still go to
the same church and live in the same towns where we grew up, while some of them couldn't move far enough away. The one girl I spoke to on the phone still said "oh my gosh"
and I remembered how saying "oh my god" would get you detention.
Part of me envies them for still being so sure of everything that I once held dear. Another part of me wants to run screaming from the room. Another part is only going to the reunion for the cash bar and the schadenfreude. And one last small part wants to wear shoes that cost more than their mortgages.
I'm still bitter as hell. I'm still mad as hell. And I'm still totally afraid of going to hell.
Last summer, when I was pregnant, Jason and I decided to find a church. For Noah. For baptism and Sunday School and…I don't know. A moral compass we're afraid we can't provide because of the all-or-nothing approach to religion we grew up with.
(Jason's religious upbringing was, if anything, even crazier than mine, except he attended the evil public schools.)
We found a church we liked and attended for several Sundays. I remembered all the words to all the praise songs and all the prayers and found that I still know the order of the books in the New Testament. The church seemed alive and vibrant and accepting. We contemplated becoming members and volunteering in the nursery and they sent us free coffee mugs.
Then one Sunday, the pastor started talking about the next
week's guest speaker. A young minister who was delivered from "sexual darkness
and confusion" to "sexual salvation."
Jason and I took one sideways glance at each other and got up and left. We never went back.
I'm not an atheist. I'm not even an agnostic. I still believe in something. I believe in God, but not in His people. I don't believe in the intolerant and legalistic bullshit that goes on in His name.
The word "Christian" carries so much baggage for me I almost bite my tongue every time I say it. I wish I knew how to fix that. I wish I could say the word with pride instead of rushing to clarify that I'm not like THOSE Christians.
I'm not the Christian I once was. But when you're taught that's the only type of Christian who counts, you can't help but wonder if you're actually nothing at all.