Growing up, religion wasn’t an important part of my life. As a child I generally understood who God and Jesus were, but the only time I stepped foot in church, I was put in a play group in a separate room. Even at a very young age, something about it felt weird to me. The old man watching us kids seemed preachy and prudish. Even as a child I wanted to roll my eyes at almost everything he said. Every game we played and picture we drew had to reflect the world and how great it was and how great all the people were and all that crap. The other kids were obedient and gullible, but the whole time I just wanted to say, “Oh, PLEASE.” I remember getting animal crackers as a snack and I was entertaining all the kids by pretending to drown them in my apple juice. “Oh nooooo!!!” I would yell in a Mr. Bill voice as an elephant careened off the rim of my cup into the liquid. I had everyone giggling, but the priest (bishop, reverend, pastor, sexual deviant?) was openly disturbed. When my mom asked how it went after, I told her I never wanted to go back. So we didn’t.
Fast forward about 14 years later. My boyfriend’s grandfather passed away and I agreed to attend the funeral with him and his family. Although he wasn’t very religious himself, he grew up going to church, and had to do a communion, so as a result understood what went on inside those white-washed walls. When he told me the service would take place in a church, I was immediately intimidated. I was going to be in front of my boyfriend’s entire family, including many members who I hadn’t even met, and I had absolutely no clue what the rules of church were. It was a joke to me. But suddenly I couldn’t be funny about it. When we walked through the heavy wooden doors, I got goose bumps.
Maybe it was nerves, but there’s something about a church that feels as uncomfortable and eerie as a cemetery. I’m sure it has the opposite effect on some people, but those people possess a quality that I don’t: faith.
So I filed in behind everyone, my eyes frantically skipping from one thing to another: the guy on the cross, the old dude in all white, the pews, the stage, other random shit I had no names for. I slid into a pew and sat between my boyfriend and his mom. All that was going through my mind was, Fuck fuck fuck. I was going to be banished from this family forever after my performance in a religious establishment.
For the next hour I had to dumbly take cues from everyone else. Everyone stood, I stood. They sat, I sat. They kneeled to pray, I kneeled and kept my eyes open and looked around and wondered what everyone was thinking about.
Have you ever had two televisions on at once, on the same channel, and noticed there’s the slightest delay? When you hear everything half a second later? That’s how the whole mass sounded with me in the room. As they were finishing “Amen,” I just started saying it. They mumbled something about our father, and I did a second later. They did the sign of the cross, and I quickly copied, saying Austin Powers’s line in my head: “Spectacles, Testicles, Wallet and Watch.” They sang songs and recited…. poems? And I had to stand there in silence and feel like a complete asshole.
And then the time came. They said something about eating Jesus and drinking his blood, and everyone began to file out of the pews and line up in front of the Pope Wannabe. I anxiously looked at my boyfriend.
“Do I go up?” I hissed in his ear. “If you want,” he replied as he moved past me. I looked around; no one else was staying in their seat. I didn’t want to be remembered as the girlfriend who refused to eat Jesus. I got up and stood in line behind him, wringing my hands. I observed what everyone in front of me was doing. It was unnerving.
“Do I really have to let them put it in my mouth?!” I hissed again. He shook his head. “Just put your hand out. You don’t have to drink the wine.” I didn’t even consider it – hello backwash.
As I inched closer and closer to the most stereotypical looking church guy ever, I strained to hear if I had to say something. “Amen”? “Forgive me father for I have sinned”? Those were the only church-like lines I knew from movies.
Finally it was my turn. I gave the old man a nervous smile, stuck my shaking hand out, and he placed a small, round cracker on it. I looked down at it curiously and turned away, going back to my seat.
“Put it in your mouth!!!” He suddenly hollered with a look of absolute horror. It was silent. Everyone turned to look. Before I could even think, I angrily spat, “I AM!” and shoved the cracker in my mouth. I threw him a quick glare before storming back down the aisle. I could hear my boyfriend snort from the pew.
“What the FUCK was his problem?” I asked, chewing. “This tastes like shit by the way.”
He laughed and shook his head. “You’re supposed to put it in your mouth right away, like right in front of him.” I looked around me, at this place of “acceptance” and “forgiveness” and “virtue.”
“How the fuck was I supposed to know that?” I was heated, but mainly due to the obvious burning in my cheeks. For the duration of the mass I had been doing fine besides my slight delay, and now the priest, of all people, embarrassed me in front of about 60 members of my boyfriend’s family. At a time when it was dead silent and the casket of their dead relative was a few feet away from me.
“So it’s just assumed that everyone knows how this all works? And they can be mean to anyone who didn’t have to sit in church every Sunday being bored to death?” He shrugged and stayed quiet, knowing any response would only fuel my anger. “Fuck him,” I huffed, crossing my arms while he stifled laughter next to me. “It’s a priest, Kelly.” I shot him a look. “And I’m an atheist. That doesn’t mean I’d be rude to him.”
I apologized to his parents after but they were already aware of my incompetency at a church. “I can’t believe you yelled back!” The mom hooted. My cheeks flushed red again – my response had simply been a kneejerk reaction. Nothing felt worse than being publically humiliated in a foreign place. I already felt like such an outsider, like such a fraud, and he just proved it in front of everyone. During a fucking funeral. Where everyone was welcome. But of course, if a priest were to yell at anyone in church, it would be me.
“I thought they were supposed to be like, sweet and patient and holy and all that shit,” I grumbled as we filed out of the church, still hung up on what happened. My boyfriend shrugged again. “Maybe next time, just don’t go up.”