About That Time I Was A Jesus Freak

Nov. 15, 2012
I just graduated with an English degree from a large university, and now I'm trying to escape northwestern Wisconsin. ...

It’s 2004, and my mom’s been crazy for months, ever since she started popping horse pills from their brown bottle and swallowing them with a pull of Diet Dew. Aside from smelling like a gong farmer’s ass crack, black cohosh is also known for causing “visual disturbances.” I don’t know what that means, but it sounds like a tidy explanation for my mom’s brush with insanity.

She insists on reading the Bible aloud every few days, as if she can make up for fourteen years of lax Christianity in four chapters a week. Every time she drags me away from illegally downloading Thursday songs and playing Volcano Run on Neopets, I get a little angrier. She whispers incoherently between verses and can’t contain her abrupt twitches and tics. Sometimes she closes her eyes tight and a fragment of a whisper rises to an octave within my hearing range but still beyond my comprehension. I’m so angry.

In my anger I antagonize her. I laugh during Song of Solomon (Your eyes are like the sparkling pools in Heshbon) and say things like “Jesus was a zombie” just to incite her. I try testing her by raising doubts, but the only beliefs I succeed in leveling are my own. So he makes me go to church. My soul is in danger.

What my mom doesn’t know is that I used the read the Bible every day after school. I studied the New Testament for 15 minutes every day and prayed after my reading. Sometimes I did it in the bathtub or on the toilet, but I figured God wouldn’t be offended as long as it got done. Bible study was boring, but I felt guilty if I didn’t complete my daily ritual. The danger of hellfire had been real to me since the first day of big kid Sunday school when the teacher told us not everyone made it to Heaven. Terrifying children into submission was the name of the game, I know now. Guilt will save your soul.

But my mom doesn’t know that. Faith is a private thing for me, never meant to leave my bedroom. I bury my Bible deep in a pile of books beside my bed and shove it under my pillow if anyone knocks while I read. My relationship with God doesn’t need interference from Christian rock bands or my mom or a pastor, but they interfere anyway. I hate church. I hate my mom. I hate Jesus.

Church is the only thing I dare to hate out loud. While the congregation sings “Call on Jesus” I zone out and pray for the building to catch fire, only to learn that when you call on Jesus not all things are possible. As bad as the singing is, welcome time is worse. I have to shake hands with doughy old people while my mom critiques my manners in silence, as if she’s ever tried to teach me proper church etiquette.

But thoughts of etiquette fall away on our best and last visit to church. The pastor asks the congregation to stand before dismissal. We close our eyes and bow our heads, and he prays. His intensity drowns out the words themselves, and he repeats everything until it becomes a chant. Minutes pass, and the chant goes on. I look around the small dim church and see bowed heads, arm raised in praise. I know it’s there, but I can’t sense the whirl of noise and motion from the other congregants. It’s as if everything is frozen in place by the pastor’s boom.

More minutes pass, his voice continuing to rise and fall from the pulpit. I half expect him to suggest we all don white robes and drink of a cup of poison together. It’s weird, but I like it. The urgency intrigues me. I feel restless and calm in one breath, stuck in a private moment with a hundred other people feeling the same thing. In those brief moments, I believe again.

And then it’s done. The pastor stops chanting. The spell is broken. We open the door and walk into the cold sunlight, and I remember my anger. I remark on the cult-like atmosphere of the closing prayer. My mom says nothing, but we don’t go back. No more church. Family Bible time tapers off too, just like my private readings months before. In time, my mom returns to normal.

It seems like the ending of some strange phase between mother and daughter and deity, but it’s not. We had spent close to a year dancing around each other, answering opposite calls. My ailment became my mom’s remedy. Her remedy became my rage. And the cycle will continue. Lingering doubt leaves lingering fear. The bottle of black cohosh keeps its place on the kitchen shelf. TC Mark

Betsy Rathburn

Betsy Rathburn

I just graduated with an English degree from a large university, and now I’m trying to escape northwestern Wisconsin. …

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