Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Salvation's Kiss

Michael had long dark hair and shockingly blue eyes, and he looked like a colder version of Jesus. I sat on the bench with him, on the side of the mountain in Tennessee, and I told him everything, without once crying. I was 15 and a half and already the stories I told awed and amazed him. He had no idea life could hurt so much.

I think that naivete was part of what made him so beautiful to me. Originally I approached him because, in the whole lame Bible camp I was gonna be stuck in for the next 5 days, he was the kid that looked the most like my friends. "He looks like he listens to Marilyn Manson" I thought, and approached him. He was my best friend from that day until five years later when his new wife told him he couldn't ever talk to me again. That still hurts, and it was years and years ago.

He told me once that talking to me was like getting hit by a Mac truck - my feelings were just too strong, too negative, too much for him. Too much for everyone, I kept being told. I told him my life's story over four hours the day we met, before sloppy joes off trays in the camp's cafeteria. We went whitewater rafting together, splashed in a swimming hole together, and read the Bible together. Over the course of the week I felt more and more the quickened emotional intensity that I'd come to associate with a moving of the Holy Spirit, during each night's worship service - a three hour mini-concert of talented guitarists, pianists, drummers, and singers; each song glorifying God.

That last night, I broke down completely. Standing in the midst of the music hall - a building with wood floors, roof, stage, and wrap-around benches, but open to the starry expanse and the mountain view on two sides - I was brought to my knees with an overwhelming sense of shame and a desperate need for repentance. I cried my heart out into the floor, as my fellow youth group members - a group of teenagers who had barely tolerated each other a week ago - laid hands on me, to comfort me and pray for me.

I asked Jesus to come back into my heart. It was the last of my series of altar call conversions, on July 28, 1998, and it is still the one I take most seriously. I knew then that I was a Christian in my own right, and not just as the child of Christians. This was when I picked Jesus for myself, when I decided I wanted nothing more in this world than to be close to Him. I had always felt a certain sense of inferiority to other Christians, like Michael, who had two-parent homes. Because so much of Christianity is based on the metaphor of a fatherly god, and because I was 15 and had only met my father a handful of times, I felt like verses about "God the Father" were almost an attack on my bastard child state.

That night Michael, and a few others from his North Carolina youth group joined mine to pray for me that I would feel God's love in my life, like a father. I never really did, but less than two years after that my dad took me in when my mom kicked me out, and I got to feel my real dad's love, such as he knew how to give. And how it came about that my mom told me I had to find somewhere else to live, midway through my junior of high school, all ties back to Michael and that night.

That night worship lasted not three hours, but five, and I was still one of the last to be there, sobbing on the wood floor. On the walk back to my cabin with Michael after, I was on the greatest endorphin high of my life. The closest I've felt to it in the years since was the amazing rush of love and joy that came over me at the birth of my son, after four solid days of labor. Michael and I knew we probably wouldn't see each other again - we lived 1200 miles away and were both 15. He had already told me he was going to save his first real kiss for the altar - a kind of supreme premarital celibacy. I was about equal parts impressed and incredulous. I was already having sex.

But that night, standing outside my cabin, my white shoes scuffed with the red clay earth, Michael kissed my cheek. It planted an instaneous and almost insatiable need for him to actually kiss me. It was like a spell, that kiss. and I think some part of me thought that if I could earn the kiss of someone so pure, maybe I wasn't all bad.

... (I'm gonna write stuff here some other day! Thanks for bearing with me, Anteaters. Writing a book is hard.)...

I tortured myself with a false image of Michael for years. He was supposed to be this perfect, passionate, evangelical, beautiful poet, who never sinned or looked at other girls. But of course he wasn't perfect. Although he was a beautiful, passionate, and evangelical poet, he also looked at other girls. He got girlfriends. He kissed a girl named Venus and I felt hollow inside.

Nineteen months after I met him, I hopped in the red '88 Ford Escort hatchback and drove twelve hours to see Michael, and to get him to kiss me. He did, but it wasn't enough to save me. By the time I arrived, my mom had already torn through my phone book and figured out where I was heading. Michael's mom knew I was coming before he did. I didn't understand how my mom knew where I was going, since I hadn't even come up with the idea myself. My ex-boyfriend Ron had suggested it, because I told him I had to get away from my mom and my life, I was going absolutely crazy.

....(on the way back my car broke and i hitch hiked with all my stuff the rest of the way home, including a night spent in a 7-11 bathroom because it was indoors and i could lock it to sleep for a couple hours)...

By the time I made it home, it wasn't home anymore. Mom had gone past livid in the days I'd been gone, and moved on to an almost austere serenity. She was not touched by my plight; it was the consequence of my actions. I had brought this on myself, and she'd now say she never even kicked me out, that I left voluntarily. (Yeah, right.)

This is all really rough, y'all. I'll fill it in and smooth it out. Damn, I forgot how "in love" with that boy I really was. Huh. In the end he married a preacher's daughter, one who fell into the "good preacher's kid" model, instead of the bad one I fell into.

I am (really) glad it didn't work out though, because I'd be very surprised if he's not still evangelical, and I love being an atheist. (Love it, you hear?!)

The picture at the top is of the actual swimming hole in Ducktown, Tennessee where I spent a fun afternoon with my youth group. :) I have pictures of all us girls wearing our one-piece bathing suits with shorts over them. Ah, Bible camp.

This was the first time I ever went to camp. My brother and sister both went with our choir before he got sent away and we moved to Iowa, but mom says I was too young to go. Oh, and I originally didn't want to go to camp, because I was pretty much convinced that church and Christians were lame at this point, but Giggy told me that she would pay for it and that there was whitewater rafting. Yes, I got sucked back into Christianity for another ten years over whitewater rafting.