7th Heaven, the Savior of my Teenage Years

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Does anybody know how I feel?

Sometimes I’m numb, sometimes I’m overcome

Does anybody care what’s going on?

Do I have to wear my scars, like a badge on my arm?

For you to see me? I need release.

~ ZOEgirl, “Scream”

 

One day, when I was thirteen, I was at the apartment of some fundamentalist family friends after church, friends that were like grandparents to me. Their apartment was one of those ones that was specifically for old people, or, if you wanted to be nice, you’d say “seniors”. It had accommodations built in for people with disabilities. We called these friends Pop and Nanna. We were all sitting together on Pop and Nanna’s couch watching TV with them, and they introduced us to a “good family show” called 7th Heaven. My mom and dad called it a soap opera and they didn’t like soap operas, but because it was Pop and Nanna’s house, they respected them enough to let us watch the show. My family and I were watching an episode of 7th Heaven in which one of Lucy’s friends cut herself. I don’t think anyone else was really paying the show much attention, but I for one loved 7th Heaven, it was a world I wanted to live in.

I was completely and utterly mesmerized. I sat through church that evening and made all the motions of singing the hymns and listening to the sermon, but my mind wandered to Lucy’s friend who had the razor blade hidden in the bathroom and who could cut herself any time she felt like it. I never remembered the name of Lucy’s friend, which was unfortunate to me, because she seemed like a savior.

 

***

 

When I got home that night, I immediately went to the bathroom, but could not find an appropriate utensil with which to cut myself. Eventually I settled on a large safety pin, merely because it was the only thing I could find that was small enough for me to smuggle into the bathroom undetected. I ran a bath, because that was the only way I could excuse being in the bathroom for a while. I was careful to lock the door. While I lay, relaxing, in the deep, warm, water, I pulled out the safety pin.

Hesitating, I psyched myself up, wondering if I had the guts to do this thing that seemed so amazing. Laying naked in the lovely warm water, I brought the pin up to my left wrist, and made a small scratch. It hurt, just a little, but nothing that I couldn’t handle. So far, so good. I made a second scratch. And the more scratches I made, the more excited and exhilarated I became. Watching them bleed was an amazing relief. I had found my drug.

Drying off from the bath, I realized that I would have to cut myself in a different place than my wrist if I wanted to keep it a secret, and the secrecy was part of what it made so amazing. So, after I was done drying off, and while still naked, I cut into my shoulders, but much deeper than I had cut into my wrists.

 

***

 

My church proselytized on the street outside the shopping mall and in front of Hungry Jack’s, the Australian version of Burger King. In fact, all the Hungry Jack’s cups, wrappers and paper bags had “Burger King Corporation” stamped on them, and the logo was exactly the same it’s just that the large hamburger said “Hungry Jack’s” instead of “Burger King”. We used to go to a Hungry Jack’s on the other side of town after church every Sunday night to eat dinner. But this Hungry Jack’s was in the city, right across from the mall. In Australia the stores are not open 24/7, or indeed not even till 9:00 most nights. Stores in those days tended to close at 5:00 PM, except on Thursday nights. Thursday nights was “late night shopping” when the stores in the mall and the grocery stores would stay open till 9:00 PM. They chose Thursday’s because those were the days that the seniors got their pensions and those on welfare got their checks. Every second Thursday, like clockwork.

We would harass the people walking across the street to Hungry Jack’s or those coming from Hungry Jack’s to the mall which was the more likely scenario, and would hand out gospel tracts, while trying to talk to them about Jesus. We were supposed to be constantly converting people to Jesus, in order to maintain our fundamentalist cred. After all, those that were “unsaved” were going to hell, and God would hold us personally responsible for their souls going to hell if he had put that person in our path and we had not shared Jesus with them.

I worked for that Hungry Jack’s for a while. I had gotten permission from management to wear a skirt instead of the uniform pants, but only if it was a long skirt because they were worried about stuff like fryer oil burns. Never mind that the female managers were allowed to wear knee-length business skirts. But my religion didn’t allow knee-length skirts anyway, so long skirts worked for me.

There was this large, twenty-something man that was somehow threatened by LGBT people, and religious people, and he constantly tormented me. I had happened to be unlucky enough, that, since the onset of puberty and beyond, I had large, wire-like, thick black hair growing from my neck. When I could afford it, I got it waxed. But on Hungry Jacks’ wages it wasn’t like I could afford to get it waxed very often. My father had long tormented me about this hair, telling me I would never have a boyfriend because I was ugly. Apparently, Jason agreed.

“Hey Katy, you’re so fucking ugly, and obviously gay.” Jason would say.

“I’m not gay,” I said.

“And why do you have that ugly hair on your chin? Are you a tranny?” Jason asked.

“No, I’m not. I don’t even believe in that.” I said piously.

“Everyone can see you’re a tranny.” Jason replied. “No woman grows hair like that. I bet your tranny self likes you some dick, too. You’re a gay tranny.” Tears began to stream down my face, which was unfortunate as I was the one handing the food out of the drive through window. Jason was the order taker. Customers could see I was visibly upset, but thankfully didn’t mention it. The manager on duty, Dustin, relieved me so that I could take my break.

I sat outside on the footpath, crying. It was hot and sunny, and I looked up to check that nobody was coming across the street and took off my name badge. My name badge happened to be a pin-on name badge, which suited me just fine. I turned my left wrist over, and with my right hand, I opened the pin on the badge and began to dig it into my wrist, making cuts as deep as I could with the tool that I had. If I’d have had access a better sharp object, I’d have done that, but I was already taking a risk by cutting in a public place, so I tried to inconspicuously use what I had.

“Katy!” I heard someone call. They were beside me in a flash, grabbing my wrist. Someone else grabbed my name tag from me. I looked up and saw Kathie holding my wrist. Kathie was a mixed bag. Sometimes she was nice to me, and sometimes she wasn’t. I guess today was a nice day.

“Katy, why are you doing this? Is it because of what Jason said?” I nodded, tears running down my face. The other girl who took my name tag went inside. I guess she went to inform Dustin of what was happening because suddenly, Dustin was beside me. Considering that when I went outside almost ten minutes ago, Dustin had had a drive through headset on, he’d obviously found someone to give the headset to in a matter of seconds and was out the door.

Dustin was one of the managers that I didn’t particularly care for, he was rather impatient, and he had his own posse, I suppose because he was young and handsome, as that posse consisted mostly of teenage girls and I obviously wasn’t one of them. He treated his posse well, but if you weren’t part of his crowd, he could be mean. However, he also was obviously not a terrible guy, because he seemed like he truly cared about me that day.

He and Kathie plopped their butts down on the footpath beside me and talked gently to me. Kathie still held my wrist, and whoever took my name badge hadn’t given it back. The footpath was hot, but nobody seemed to care.

“I can’t believe you would do that.” Dustin said. I looked at the ground, the concrete of the parking lot staring back at me. Tears were streaming from my face.

“I’m sorry, Dustin.” Dustin put his arm around me.

“I’m sorry too.” Dustin said. “I’m sorry that you feel like you have to do this.”

“I have a little problem.” I said.

“I can see that.” Dustin said.

“It’s because of what Jason did to her.” Kathie said.

“Is that true?” Dustin asked.

“Yes.” I said.

“I didn’t know he was harassing you that much.” Dustin said.

“Yeah, it’s every time I work.” I said.

“Are you ok for right now?” Dustin asked.

“I don’t know.” I said honestly. Dustin, being young, wasn’t quite sure what to say or do, and he was the only manager on duty.

“I have to call Jesse,” he finally said. Jesse was our restaurant manager, and was older than all of us, had kids of his own. But he was far from old, I doubt he was even forty. I don’t know exactly what Jesse said to him, but next thing I knew I was being told that I needed to finish my shift and they assured me that Jason would not be finishing his shift that day.

Later on, I heard through the grapevine that Jason had been written up and sent home that day for tormenting me to the point that I hurt myself. After that incident, it seemed like people were more conscious of what went on between Jason and I, and they tended to intervene so that it didn’t get to that point.

The next time I worked where Jesse was the manager on duty, he called me into the party room, a room that was part of the dining room but separated by glass, and with glass doors to get in. The point of the party room was that kid’s birthday parties were held in there, the ones that Hungry Jack’s themselves provided to parents for a rather hefty fee. One of the Hungry Jack’s staff would dress up as a fairy or a pirate, and Hungry Jack’s would provide kids meals and cake, some games, and whatnot. The kids would then run around the playground for the rest of the party. Jesse sat in a booth and motioned for me to sit on the opposite side of the booth to him.

He looked at me in a way that felt like he could see right through me. I saw a little bit of pity, but mostly sternness. I couldn’t look him in the eye for very long. I looked at the table. It hadn’t been cleaned properly. There were small pieces of lettuce on it, and a smearing of mayonnaise. I looked at Jesse’s shirt. As a manager, his shirt was blue when ours were red and yellow. Clown shirts, we called them. I looked at the glass separating us from the rest of the dining room. It had fingerprints all over it.

“Look at me” Jesse said sternly. I looked at him.

“What were you thinking?” He asked. I shrugged.

“I don’t know. I’m really sorry, Jesse.”

“Were you trying to kill yourself?” Jesse asked.

“No, I was just upset.”

“Is that something you usually do when you’re upset?” I looked at the ground. The ground had dirt on it and needed mopping.

“Yeah,” I finally answered, unable to look him the eye. I traced the dirt patterns on the floor with my eyes.

Jesse shifted in his seat uncomfortably. He slid my name badge to me from across the table.

“Don’t let me hear of it happening again.” Jesse said.

“It won’t,” I said. I felt so stupid. I should have waited until I got home, or at the very least, went and sat in the car to cut. He dismissed me with a wave of his hand.

 

***

 

There is a fountain filled with blood

Drawn from Emmanuel’s veins

And sinners plunged beneath that flood

Lose all their guilty stains

~ “There is a Fountain”

 

I am not sure that theologically I agree with the words of the hymn There is a Fountain anymore, but it was the words to this hymn that totally changed things for me at the time. However, I believe that God meets us where we were at, and I was a fundamentalist who, although seriously misguided, loved God and longed for a deeper relationship with God. With my understanding of atonement at the time, the song made sense. To be honest, I’m not settled on what my theology about atonement even is, but I’m working on figuring it out because the whole substitutionary atonement thing where God killed God’s son as an abusive dad because God was mad about sin just does not make sense to me. But hey, at the time, substitutionary atonement was the only understanding I had ever had and was not aware that there were other atonement theologies out there.

I had just learned that I was pregnant, and the fundamentalist church I was in was quick to reinforce the Christian persecution complex by teaching us that since we were fundamentalists, the “ungodly government” would come and take our kids over anything. One lady claimed that the government had taken her kids because she only had a half-gallon of milk in the fridge instead of a whole gallon, which I now know to be a blatant lie but at the time I bought it. The government was persecuting us because we home birthed, home schooled, didn’t vaccinate and we spanked our kids. They didn’t tell the rest of the story, of course.

I can’t cut myself anymore, despite the fact that I’m crazy and deserve it, because if I do, the state will come and take the baby when it’s born, I told myself. And for a very long time (twelve years, to be exact), I resisted any urges to cut myself because I loved my kids and wanted them. I was unable to do it for me, which is sad, but again I had to work with what I had and that was a good start. Now I am to the point where I do not cut myself because I am worth more than that.

One evening while I was still pregnant with my oldest child, we sang this hymn, and as far as cutting myself was concerned, it totally changed my life. I was wearing a maternity dress that was red and had sunflowers on it and was about thirty years out of fashion. It was my favorite maternity dress because the others were from my mother-in-law from when she was pregnant twenty-five years before, and those were out of fashion when she wore them. I hated all of those dresses with a passion. My hair was doing its whole messy spiral curls and frizz thing, and I was tired. I was focused on my clothes and hair and wasn’t really paying attention. Then they turned to this hymn, and the pianist started playing.

Jesus bled for my sins, so I don’t have to bleed for them, I said to myself. And whether that theology was right or wrong, it was enough.

God met me where I was at. It was something that was a big deal at the time, and still is. Theology aside, twelve years later, I love the first verse of that hymn because it was what reached me at the time when I was down and out. God can and does use things that are wrong or incorrect and flawed, simply because they make sense to us at the time and that’s the mindset we are in at the time. It’s why the twelve steps talk about God as we understood God, because God works within our limited understanding of God to work something beautiful.

 

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I’ve Been a Bitch and I’m Sorry

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O God, whose glory it is always to have mercy: be gracious to all who have gone astray from your ways, and bring them again with penitent hearts and steadfast faith to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of your Word, Jesus Christ your Son; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.” (The Book of Common Prayer, the collect for the Second Sunday in Lent). 

On Sunday I wearily entered the church, doing the usual motions like dipping my fingers in the holy water and making the sign of the cross. I even managed to bow right into the priest’s stomach when I bowed in front of the altar. I was not looking and was still trying to get the hang of the cane I am having to walk with now even though I’m only 34. I was embarrassed about using the damn thing and was worried about being judged for it. I was exhausted because I’d sat in two different emergency rooms for over twelve hours and followed an ambulance with my child in it three hours north in the middle of the night to another hospital over the weekend.

The service had barely begun when the Holy Spirit made her presence known. I was tired and really just wanted her to go away but evidently that wasn’t going to happen. We had barely gotten half-way through the opening prayer, the collect I quoted above, when she brought to my mind a very specific incident which to preserve the privacy of the other parties, I will not go into. It was a situation which had been fully and entirely my fault. I had not been kind and I had not been compassionate, in fact I had been mean. On purpose.

For the last four months at least, I have been claiming that my compassion meter is broken, and have honestly even mocked some of the problems of others, because I’m a bitch and I can be mean. I used the excuse that I had so much going on in my own life, my severely disabled ten year old was placed in an institutional setting and I was grieving for having “lost” him even though he is still alive. He’s three hours away in another city. My oldest son has been severely mentally ill. I am having some medical issues that are still being diagnosed. I’m a single mom raising four kids. So I just used my own problems as an excuse to not give a damn about anyone else’s, because I was grieving, and busy.

The problem with this is that I made promises at my confirmation which so far I have been about as good at keep those as the promises I made on my wedding day but to be fair confirmation isn’t a lesbian marrying a man in an effort to be straight and that’s just the beginning. One of the promises I made at confirmation (I have been baptized three times but never had a baptismal covenant but the covenant still applies to me as a baptized Christian and one who has been confirmed) is: “Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?” Which, after being asked that question by the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana, I replied: “I will, with God’s help.”

God’s help has been there, but I have not been making use of it. During Lent (which just happens to be my favorite season of the church year probably partly because I’m very introspective) I had decided to work on something in particular, but on Sunday the Holy Spirit threw the fact that I had not been kind or compassionate in my face. It was time to deal with it, there and then.

As I knelt to pray the general confession of sin with my brothers and sisters in Christ, tears came to my eyes when I said: “we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry, and we humbly repent.” The confession of sin done, I bowed my head, still kneeling, making the sign of the cross as the priest pronounced absolution on behalf of God. The Holy Spirit had shown up, I had listened to her, I had repented, and God had forgiven me. All in just under and hour. As I walked slowly to the altar with my cane to partake of the Eucharist, I quietly thanked God for bringing me to repentance.

This is what Lent is about. It’s not about fasting or giving stuff up necessarily, although those are great spiritual disciplines for Lent. Lent, for me, is about evaluating my relationship with God, what I need to work on. It’s a penitential season and it’s a necessary part of the church year. Lent is supposed to bring us to repentance, although repentance is certainly not limited to Lent. Because during Lent, we repent, and on Easter Sunday, we revel in and celebrate that Jesus is alive, that there was a resurrection, the very foundation of our faith.

I want to end this with an apology. I have had several people make comments to me about how I have been unkind to them or dismissive of their problems. If I have hurt you in any way through my callousness, please contact me so that I can make it right personally as best I can. Please forgive my meanness and my lack of compassion. But if you can’t forgive it, I understand that too.