Monday, June 24, 2013

sometimes i write stories #5: faith (I haven't fully edited this yet :) Beware of typos!)

   "To show humility," Adam tells me when I ask him why he believes in God. "My faith is my acceptance that I'm only human and that there's a greater, eminent being watching over us." I nod. "I really couldn't even imagine being atheist. My religion's so important to me. I mean, I've been brought up Catholic my whole life."
    "Well, I've been atheist my whole life," I respond. My mom used to be Christian, but after my dad left her and reality smacked her down ‘so hard not even God could pick her up,” (that's how she'd phrase it), “she stopped going to church."
    "Ah," Adam replies. "But," he pauses. "No offense to your mother, Simon, because if my life took such a downward turn, I'd probably lose faith too... but I'd always try to to find it again." I looked into his brown eyes.  "Because that's when you need God the most those times when it seems like you're furthest away from salvation."

    A few weeks pass where we don’t encounter the topic of faith. Then, Adam invites me to go on a church retreat with him. He describes it as a kind-of camping trip away from all everyday distractions so we could channel all of our focus into getting closer to God. I agree to come out of curiosity and the desire to spend more time with my friend.
   On the bus up into the mountains, Adam makes an effort to introduce me to everyone. I’m more of an introvert, though, so this basically goes as follows: “Hey,” Adam would say. “This is my friend, Simon.” They’d say hey or hi or hello. I’d awkwardly smile and wave like the penguins from the movie Madagascar when they’d try to escape. At one point during the bus ride, everyone bursts into a Jesus-song. Adam has his guitar (he plays in the church’s band), and strums with passion, at the same time singing louder than the person who wrote the worship tune probably intended it to be sung. I just watch him go. The sunlight bleeding through the scratched-up school bus window caresses his face. He has this glow about him. I swear this is what angels in heaven look like.
    By the time we reach the camp grounds, it’s dark outside.  First, we head to the dining hall for dinner. Then, I follow Adam and the other teenagers plus adult supervisors to the camp’s main activity center. It’s decorated to look like a chapel, religious posters stuck on the wall and a cross at the front. The room is carpeted over the wide stairs that go from end to end of the room making up the entire floor, five huge wide, shallow, steps, until the front where it’s raised like a stage. I never leave Adam’s side during the activities or prayer. He never lets me, always guiding me along with him. We go to the cabins, and we bunk together. We talk about music until we fall asleep.
   It’s Saturday. Our cabin leader, Michael, wakes us up at the crack of dawn. Adam’s a  heavy sleeper, so I have to climb up to his bunk and shake him a few times before he drifts into consciousness. I don’t want to though because he looks so peaceful when he sleeps. His untidy blonde hair falls over his forehead.
    At the breakfast table, Adam says, “So, I’ll make you that worship CD. I know you’ll love Matt Maher. And the lead singer of Hillsong United has the voice of an angelplus, they use a lot of electric guitar and drums so it has that alternative-rock sound you like.”
   This one guy at our table adds, “Yeah, both of those artists are great. But you can’t forget Chris Tomlin.”
   Adam laughs. “Of course, not, Jake. Thanks.”
  “Tomlin’s his fav,” Joseph, Jake’s brother and the youth band’s drummer explains, taking a seat beside Jake. “I personally think Tomlin’s kinda cheesy though.”
  “Cheesy?” Jake scoffs. “You did not just say that. He’s like, my role model! Hey- don’t make that face!” Jake proceeds to toss his napkin at Joseph. “Anyway, Simon, right?” Jake looks my way, and I nod. “What other stuff are you into? ‘Cause Adam did say you’re new to the whole worship genre.”
  “I’m really into alt-rock,” I admit.
  “He loves the sound of guitars,” Adam adds. “And he plays, too electric mainly, and last night, were talking about how knows like, all of the songs off of Fall Out Boy’s newest album.”
  “No kidding! I’m a fan of F.O.B, too,” Jake says. I smile while eating my blueberry muffin.
  “Same,” Joseph interjects. “I’m going to their Save Rock and Roll concert this September.”
  “Aw, no fair,” I say as I chew some eggs.
  “Would you want to play some songs with us during worship today?” Jake asks. “I know Michael brought his spare electric, and we could always use an extra guitar.” I nod excitedly.  
  After breakfast, the adults divide us into different groups; Adam and I get separated. I tell him I’ll miss him. He laughs and says not to worry. “I’ll see ya soon!” he tells me as he smiles.
   None of the guys I met during breakfast are in my group either, so I’m kinda bummed. There are six of us teenagers and one adult leader. Our leader’s a girl who’s a freshman in college, Phoebe. She’s just a year older than me, but she exerts an aura of maturity. Her loosely curled brown hair is pulled up in a high ponytail, and she’s wearing a pretty floral sundress.
  “I like your dress,” I tell her.
  “Thanks,” she grins.
  “Where’d ya get it?”
  “Forever21,” she laughs. “I don’t think I’ve ever met you before. What’s your name?”
  “Simon,” I say. She introduces me to the rest of the group who all know each other already through the church’s youth group program: Allison, Morgan, Arian, Kendall, and Zachary.
  “The theme of the retreat,” Phoebe tells us, “is Faith.” She tells us how our faith makes us who we are as Catholic-Christians. We believe in the Holy Trinity, in Saints, in the goodness of God. Then, we go around and tell stories about instances when we felt our faith in God challenged or strengthened.
 “I feel my faith in God being strengthened right now,” I admit. “I’m technically an atheist, but, I don’t know. Just being here with so many people with such strong faith just makes me think that a God really does exist.” Phoebe starts to cry. She walks across our seated circle and hugs me. The day goes on with the same sentimental feel.
   During periods of free time, I stay with Adam. We’re in the recreation room. “I challenge you to a ping pong duel,” Adam announces, handing me a paddle.
  “Oh, no,” I try to refuse it. “I’m seriously the worst ping pong player in the whole world.”
  “Aw, come on, Simon,” he waves the paddle towards me. “I’m pretty bad too.” I laugh and take the paddle.
  “Fine. You’re going down.” Adam’s not bad at all. He’s kicking my ass right now. “Whatever happened to, ‘I’m pretty bad, too?’” I ask, missing the plastic ball for at least the twentieth time. He just laughs. Then, he comes over to teach me how to properly hold the ping pong paddle.
  “Here,” he tells me, hiding my hand beneath his. “You hold it like this.” I look up at his face. His short blonde bangs are disheveled. I’m jealous of his hair’s sunny highlights that my dark brown hair could never have naturally. His eyes are brown as ever.

   It’s a Saturday night. If I were at home, I’d be staying up watching Psych, practicing guitar, or playing League of Legends. I never thought I’d be jamming out with a bunch of fellow musicians who call themselves “The Jesus Freaks” instead, but I’m having the time of my life. Adam’s on his acoustic guitar and Michael and I have a riff-off on his electrics. Joseph’s on drums, Jakes’s on piano, and Adam and Phoebe are our lead vocalists. Joseph can do a ton of tricks with his drum sticks. He’s twirling them around. At one point, one stick flies onto the piano. Jake yells and chases Joseph around with the drum stick. “I’m gonna kill you!”      
   Adam whispers to me, “Who do you think’s gonna trip first?” The brothers race around an obstacle of music sheets, chords, cases, and various music equipment. “Okay guys,” Phoebe announces. “Let’s start from the top of ‘Hosanna’ by Hillsong United”
   “Yes! I love this song,” Adam yells.  Jake and Joseph head back to their places but not before Joseph trips over Adam’s guitar case. Michael offers me his guitar solo.
   “Really?” I say.
   “Yeah dude,” he replies, slapping my shoulder. “You’re awesome, like, even as good as me.” I smile at the compliment.
  “You’ll do great,” Adam encourages me.
  “Everyone ready?” Phoebe says into the microphone.
   The song starts off with a bit of drums and Adam’s goes in with his guitar. Phoebe starts to sing the first verse. It’s epic, the feeling of playing with an awesome band. I’ve only ever played my guitar alone in my room. When the refrain comes around a second time, everyone’s jamming out with passion. I feel the floor reverberate to the beat of the drums and strum of our guitars, and when Phoebe and Adam harmonize, I swear I have an eargasm. The rhythm flows throughout my entire body. It’s time for my guitar solo. Everyone’s really getting into it, their eyes closed, feeling the music they’re making, everyone but me and Adam who share a glance. I’ve never been so happy playing in my entire life. The song fades out, and I feel like crying because it’s over.
   The rest of the youth group comes in soon after, and I’m glad knowing we’ll get to play the song again for them. Now, it’s time for Confession. I’m not sure if I’m allowed to participate because I haven’t been baptized, so I’m technically not Catholic. Father Marin says it’s okay though. I decided to chose a priest from another city to confess to, knowing that after my confession, I’d feel awkward if I saw him around all time. I walk into the room and sit down on a chair facing a man dressed in all black except the reverend’s square of white on his collar. His name is Father Marcus, and his eyes are kind. Even after I spill out my secret, they remain kind. This is what I imagine the eyes of God look like.
   I walk back into the main activity room where everyone who’s completed the sacrament waits. The lights are off, but candles are lined up along the walls. Calming piano music drifts throughout the room. I smile at Jake who’s playing it. I sit by myself, close my eyes, and let the spirit fill me. I feel someone sit beside me. “How did it go?” Adam says, tears puddled at the corners of his eyes.
   “It was great,” I whisper, tracing the path of the tear going down Adam’s face before I brush it off. It’s late, so after everyone’s done with the sacrament of Reconciliation, we head back to our cabins. Adam puts his hand around my shoulder.
   “Thanks for coming on this trip with me,” he tells me. Adam’s face is so close to mine. I suppress my urge to kiss him and look up at the night sky. It’s full of stars.
   “See up there? At that one object that doesn’t sparkle like all the others?”
  “You mean that little dim star over there?” Adam asks.
  “It’s not a star,” I explain. “That’s Saturn. And that other star, also near the crescent moon. Together, it all kinda looks like-”
  “A smiley face,” Adam finishes.
  “Yeah,” I laugh. “It’s...” I trail off. He’ll think I’m cheesy.
  “It’s what?” he looks at me.
  “It’s like the face I make every time I see you.”

  I lay down on my bunk reflecting on the whole day. I fall asleep thinking. Suddenly, I wake up to the sound of the world crashing. I jump out of bed, and as the lightning flashes outside, lighting up the room, I  see that Adam’s awake too. Michael tries to flip on the light. “Dammit,” he curses. “Power’s out!” He searches in the darkness for a flashlight. I feel Adam climb out of his bunk. He sits next to me in mine and holds my hand. He checks his watch; it’s 2 a.m. Michael opens the door to reveal a sight that’s probably the same one that guy Noah saw before the flood happened, and he had to build his giant arc. “This is a freak storm,” he yells over the pounding rain to all of us. Jonathan, the freshman kid in our room starts screaming. I look up to vaguely see the water rushing through the roof and onto his bunk at the far corner of the room. “Jesus Christ!” Michael shouts as everyone begins to panic. The five other boys scramble out of their bunks. We all try to pull on our shoes and jackets on. “Everyone, head to the main activities room,” he yells as the cabin’s floor begins to flood with water. I run outside with Adam. I’m freaking out, but suddenly, Adam bursts into laughter as the rain flattens his hair and his clothes to his body. He stops running.
   “Adam!” I try dragging him along, but he drags me instead, leading me to the muddy grass alongside the concrete path. He wraps his arm around my stomach as we plop down on the edge of grass. We slide down the muddy hill, tumbling and screaming the whole way down. We fall at the side wall of the rec room which is just a building down from the main activities room.
   “Cool short cut, right?” he yells over the noise. Lightning flashes, and I scream, hugging him for comfort. He laughs, and I feel his heartbeat as I rest my head against his chest. We stay in the rain long enough for it to wash the mud off of our bodies. Then, he takes my hand and leads me underneath the rec room’s overhang. He tries the door knob of the front door. It opens. “Let’s play ping pong!”
   “But we’re supposed to go to the main activities room! Michael’s gonna freak,” I retort.
   “Don’t worry about it. Just say it’s all my fault,” he smiles, pulling me through the doorway. He tries the light, and it doesn’t work. It’s pitch dark inside, eigengrau, the shade of black seen by the human eye in complete darkness, and we’re both dripping wet. “Aww.”
   “Adam, I think we should go,” I say. He lets go of my hand. I lose him. “Adam?” I feel around for him. Nothing. “Adam! This isn’t funny.”
   “Over here!” I follow his voice. I feel a towel in my hands. “I knew I saw some towels over here this afternoon. There’s a swimming pool just outside there.”
   “There’s a flashlight, too,” he turns it on. We dry off before sitting down together on the rec room couch. In a few minutes, flashlight bulb blows its fuse. “Crap,” Adam says, hitting the contraption.
   “It’s okay,” I say.
   “But I thought you were afraid of the dark,” he tells me.
   “When did I say that?” I reply, even though it’s totally true. He just laughs and wraps his arms around me. I rest my head on his shoulder. “Adam,” I tell him. “I love you.” It’s quiet for a long, long time.Then, I feel Adam kiss my hair.
    “I...” I wait. “I think I love you, too.” That was good enough for me. I kissed him, and then he indubitably kissed me back. We just sat there for I don’t know how long making out. I didn’t even hear the door open over the sound of the pouring rain. We only realized someone else was there when the lights turned on.
    “OhmyGod.” Someone’s staring at us. “Adam? Simon?” My hands were still entangled in Adam’s blonde hair and his in my matted brown curls. My glasses lay on the table. I felt Adam release me, and I put on my glasses. I see Phoebe, wide-eyed and confused, her floral dress clinging to her body. “We were looking everywhere for you two...” she says. “Adam,” she chokes out. “You’re... gay?” She says that like it’s a bad thing. I realize that, for a Catholic kid from Kentucky, it is.
   Adam looks at me apologetically. I squeeze his hand before he can deny it himself. “No,” I say. “I I’m gay. I justAdam’s not. I just took advantage of his friendship. I’m sorry.”
   Phoebe walks over to me and instead of slapping my face like I expect her to, she just gives me a hug. “It’s okay,” she tells me. For an instant, I feel relief. Even though these people were Catholic didn’t mean that they weren’t accepting. I mean, I thought “I’ll help you.” I look up at her, confused. “I’ll take away your demons. I’ll pray for you. Whatever it takes until you get better.” I start to cry.

    On the bus ride home, Adam tells me how sorry he is. He tells me that he loves me, he know he loves me, but he can’t be with me “in that way” because he believes he should love girls more in a romantic way. And he thanks me for taking the heat for him. I didn’t know it before, but I wasn’t the first boy Adam had kissed. Sophomore year, there was a boy he’d dated until his parents found out and sent him to Christian gay-to-straight conversion camp. A year. He lived in a camp where he was told he was wrong and fucked up and demonic for an entire year. “They told me,” he whispers, “that if I loved boys, I hated God.” I’m glad it’s dark outside now so no one judges me when I hold Adam’s hand and quickly kiss his cheek. “It’s not true,” he says. Adam’s right. He has the strongest faith out of anyone I’ve ever met, and he’s the one being persecuted. I feel pissed of at God that Adam has to suffer. I feel pissed off at God for giving me Adam while at the same time taking him away.

    (Two months later.)

It's dark outside. Lighter than eigengrau, because of the starlight and moonlight and the shine and sparkle dancing upon the crystal cross created by the collective efforts of these two light sources. The crystal cross is like a guard, a ten-foot tall guardian with its arms outstretched three feet wide in either direction as to protect the church sleeping behind it. But it’s also a welcoming figure; it’s outstretched arms look ready to embrace all who come near it. I creep beneath its wings and across the soft grass upon which it holds its post. No light pours from the crack beneath the church's front doors. I wonder if she's here yet. I hope she’s not here yet. I knock on the long wooden door three times. Then, a bit of light is cast from the bottom of the door just before it opens. Phoebe takes my hand and pulls me through. The door shuts behind us, the thud echoing throughout the entirety of the great empty room. Her flashlight is the only source of light. When she shuts it off, the world is eigengrau.
   We're at the main altar at the front of the church. We both kneel before it. Phoebe starts praying aloud because she believes her prayers are stronger when audible outside of her mind. She holds my hand. She says words no one else in our congregation would accept except God. That's why we come every night after Father Luke and Father Marin and Sister Caroline have gone. For a community who teaches people to be accepting, I'd be eschewed by everyone if they knew my... "sin." Phoebe believes these sessions are mandatory especially after I refused to go to the gay-to-straight conversion camp and even more so after “the Baptism incident.”

    After the retreat, I began attending the youth group because, even though they’re all homophobic as hell, I’ve never felt like I’ve belong to a group as much I belong with them. Well, until I got kicked out. I believe in everything they stand for (minus their stance on marriage) their values of faith, love, forgiveness. Lately, I’ve been praying for my mom, and things have been gradually getting so much better for our broken family, and when I’m feeling stressed, I pray, and it helps me. I don’t know what it is, but I feel better. Plus, “The Jesus Freaks” is like my second family. Well, was, because they kicked me out, too.
    You see, a couple weeks ago was the day of “the Baptism incident.” I knew I wanted to be part of the Catholic church officially. I wanted to receive the body and blood of Christ during communion. I wanted it so badly, but I didn’t want to hide myself from the people I trusted anymore. I emerged from my house wearing a white summer dress. My hair had grown out quite a bit, so I wore it out of my face with a floral headband. Before I could enter the church, Phoebe grabbed my hand and pulled me back. “Simon,” she gasped. “I thought you were getting better. You can’t go in there looking like that.”
    “Like what?” I say.
    “You look like a girl,” she tells me, exasperated.
    “I am a girl.”
    “No,” she pleads. “No, you’re a boy, Simon.”
    “Yes!” she shrieks. I reach open to the wooden door handle to let myself in. “You CAN’T go in there! You have know idea what they’ll think.”
    “It doesn’t matter what they think. They’re not the judge of me. God is.”
    I walk into the church.
    The congregation turns to face me. Gasps. Screams. Words of hate. The priest refuses to baptize me. Adam merely looks my way helplessly. I turn around and walk to the door. “Simon, wait!” Adam calls after me. He takes me in his arms. He kisses me in front of everyone. I haven’t seen him since.

    "Forgive," Phoebe prays. "Forgive," she yells. The tears drip my face, tears I can't see but feel. "And rescue Simon from the cult of faggotry,” I think about the letter Adam sent me a few weeks ago, “from homosexual desires and lusts,” telling me he loves me, “from soiling the sacred sacrament of marriage,” and saying that in college, away from his parents, “so that he may find true love with a woman and live a life free from sin and eternal damnation,” we can be together. So these sessions with Phoebe are worth it. Even so, I hate her words. Every time she speaks this way, I cringe. She doesn't see me, but I'm squeezing my hands and my nails dig into my skin. She doesn't see what’s inside of me eithera girl. Unlike Phoebe, I wasn't blessed with breasts and a vagina. That doesn't change who I am, how I feel. I’m only doing this for Adam. Phoebe tells me that if she believes I’ve changed, and we can convince Adam’s parents, they’ll lift their restraining order. I still can’t attend Adam’s church anymore though because of this. No more “Jesus Freaks”either. But I did find a new church, this little liberal Catholic community an hour away in the city where Father Marcus, the one with the kind eyes, preaches. I helped revamp the church band there, “The Disciples,” and, I can barely believe it myself, but they stand for gay rights. I mean, they even help fundraise for the Gay Rights ACLU initiative sometimes. I believe in God, the father almighty, maker of heaven and Earth, of all that is seen and unseen. I'm seen as a man. I'm unseen as a princess waiting for my knight in shining armor to rescue me from this hell. No, not completely unseen. It's like eigengrau. In perfect darkness, the human eye cannot see anything darker than this dark, dark, grey, but I know God can. I have faith that He can see me like no one else can. He can see me here in the darkness. He made me this way. He accepts me, I know he does. I pray because this is when I need God the most, this time when I feel furthest away from salvation. "Amen."

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