This was an actual text from my dad, Thursday night. That phrase (embarrassingly enough) was my screenname for years, and I don’t think my dad knew that, so I was intrigued and felt good and responded immediately.
“Am I coming over for Easter?”
I retreat to my parents’ house for every single holiday. We don’t really do “holiday stuff,” like, if I went home for Thanksgiving, we wouldn’t give thanks, we’d just eat and enjoy each other and play Nintendo Wii. My dad, maybe, goes to church late at night or very early in the morning for Easter. Easter is a big holiday for Greek people, but not for me.
“We’re going to Boston. Do you want to come?”
And, because I was drunk, because I was irrational, because I have nowhere to be, ever, I said “Yeah! Let’s go!” And I imagined my parents and I on our road trip, I would make them play Paul Simon, I would annoy them and mention every small taste of success I’ve experienced since quitting my job, I’d show them I was okay.
I got a text from my aunt moments later and she was excited that I’d decided to come, because really, who wants to hang out with a couple all weekend? Not me, and not her, and her last text to me said simply, “fab.” I felt good. I felt like maybe getting out of New York this weekend was perfect.
Then I freaked out. I remembered that, unlike Thanksgiving, unlike New Years, Easter is a religious holiday. I thought, “I can’t go to church.” I expressed this to my roommate as we were sharing wine. He said, “It’s an hour of your life, it’s an experience, won’t you just write about it?” And I said, “Yes, I will, you’re right.” But it was a lie, I couldn’t go, I would cancel on my parents the next day.
I don’t know what my parents do with regard to church. My mom doesn’t go. My dad might not, either. The last time I went to church with my dad, we came home and fought and I said, “I DON’T BELIEVE IN GOD. I’LL BE 18 NEXT EASTER. I’M NEVER GOING TO CHURCH AGAIN.” We screamed at each other until my lungs were bloodied and I’d lost ten pounds. But holy fuck, was I not going to church ever again. I hated that shit, I hated it. I hated it since I was 11, when my dad made me sign off of AOL while I was talking to the object of my infatuation and made me go to Midnight Mass, and instantly I didn’t feel well; the incense and the bells and the fucking language I don’t speak made me sick.
Thing is, Boston meant being with my aunt, being her guest; and while my parents would never try to force me into church, she might. And as her guest, I’d feel obligated to not make a scene. And I decided, not years ago when I fought with my dad, but recently, that I would never go to church again. It has nothing to do with religion, surprisingly. It has nothing to do with the incense and the bells and the Greek that I don’t understand. It has to do with my ex-boyfriend.
We went to church twice. The first time, we weren’t “official” yet. But we liked each other, maybe more than that. We were at a point where he would indulge my every whim; I’d suggest something that my friends had already said “no” to, and he’d make sure that I got to experience what I wanted; needed. In this case, I wanted to go to a nondenominational church that was held in the back of a bar I’d been to on several Sundays. I’d sit at the bar while people from the neighborhood would filter in and order beers and pile into the back room to hear Tammy Faye Bakker’s son, Pastor Jay Bakker.
So one Sunday, we went together. We ordered beers and sat in the back room and listened to Jay, a recovering alcoholic preaching in a bar, and we traded smiles. We are both “that person” that will do anything to say, “We did that.” It wasn’t hard to convince him we should go to “church,” we both wanted to have stories.
I hadn’t been involved in anything that resembled religion in years. But as I listened to a sermon about forgiving yourself, and as I saw my soon-to-be boyfriend listening intently, and as I thought about everything I’d done wrong in my life, which is a lot, I felt something. I felt like I was being ‘figured out,’ I felt like I was holding on to dark shit, I felt like I loved the person who came there with me, maybe just for a story but maybe to support me in something that I’d kind of pushed excessively, that maybe I knew I needed. I cried.
The second time we went to church was months later, toward the end of our relationship. It was our last day in Madrid. The drinking and the time change had affected me; made me sick. I was cranky, I begged for a nap after lunch, so we went back to the hotel for an hour and relaxed. We were angry with each other – he was mad at me for being grouchy, I was mad at him for being mad at me.
After my nap, we left the hotel for the night and spoke two words to each other. We boarded Line 1 and were silent until we saw a few drunk Spaniards on their way to a futbol game. They were making fools of themselves and we looked at each other and smiled; or maybe he took my hand, or maybe he made sure I got a seat on the metro, who knows anymore – any one of those seemingly insignificant gestures that ends a cold war. We liked each other again.
We got off of the metro at Cuarto Caminos, ten stops away from our hotel, and decided to walk back; see parts of Madrid we’d neglected. Within a half hour, we made it to Iglesia. We stood outside of the church, and he said, “Let’s go in,” and I was unsure; I felt too evil, I felt wrong. But I looked at him and I looked at the church and I said “okay.”
We walked in on the tail end of a service. The church was packed, the pews were full, and people spilled into the corridor just to listen. We stood behind them. I looked around me, at my boyfriend, at the senior citizens surrounding us; I observed how everyone seemed to be able to pay attention except for me. I saw a side table with sealed envelopes resting on it; I took one and stuffed it into my purse. I still haven’t opened it.
The service ended and we pushed against the current with urgency, we needed to see everything up close. We walked by mostly abandoned pews; there were a few viejas who had stayed behind to pray. They kneeled down, they did the sign of the cross, they believed in something.
My boyfriend, he led the way and I followed, I touched the pews, my eyes lit up like I’d seen a Christmas tree for the first time. Soft, gold light spilled over his face and I saw him for the millionth time and the first time. I was new, he was new, we were new. We walked by the pulpit and it washed over me, the idea that this was the one place I never thought I’d belong, church, I hated it; but then and there, I belonged. I belonged because we were there together.
My brain thought, “i love you i love you i love you” on continuous loop, like it was the only thought I’d ever had; the only words I’d ever known. My heart so soft and swollen that I couldn’t feel it beating anymore. I thought, “I will go wherever, if it’s with you.” I loved him. I Loved Him. And like the tethered women who had stayed behind to pray, to have their last words with God; I believed in something, too.
Our relationship deteriorated rapidly after Spain; afflicted with Stage IV cancer once we returned to America. We broke up four days after Valentine’s Day, a month after our trip. Our Trip.
I won’t go to church because I don’t want to remember who I was the last time I was there. I was capable of having unconditional faith. I loved. I believed.
I don’t believe anymore.