This was a facebook note I published on November 12, 2008 under the title "The boy who saved my life", it's a more detailed story about how what kind of theist I used to be:
I'm sitting here in my room. It's 6:31 in the morning. I should be asleep. Instead I'm playing Samson on my guitar, arpeggiating every chord in a haphazard but emotional way. I'm not a very good player. I've only been playing for less than a year, but it's not the point. It's the most beautiful song in the world. There's never a time when it plays that I'm not thinking of him.
I want to tell this story about his kindness, but I'm going to have to start out by talking about myself first.
I was both an above and below average Christian growing up. I wasn't allowed to go to church, but I was thoroughly home-churched by my eldest brother. I certainly didn't pick up religion from my parents. My brother got saved at camp Silver Tomahawk when he was in middle school, I think it must have been a boyscout camp. It sounds like one, I know nothing about it except for what I've told you so far. Ever since he was a very passionate and evangelical Christian. I must have been late into age four or early into age five (I figure because I know it was the first year that we were living in that house on Winchester Place) when he instructed to me to get down on my knees and pray for Jesus to come into my life. It didn't occur to me at the time that it was something that should alter the course of my life forever. It was just a little girl, following the instructions of her beloved brother (eight years her senior). From then on I could be considered Christian. I can remember when I was younger I would kneel down beside my bed to pray before bed. (You had to pray before you went to sleep, of course, because if you died that night without praying for forgiveness you risked being damned to eternal hellfire for whatever you had done to anger God during the day. I don't think that I sinned very often, but God is a rather unpredictable chap and he probably wouldn't have seen it that way. It's better to take precautions.) When I got my first real best friend, Nichole, I learned the habit of praying while laying down to sleep. I wasn't ever really comfortable with it, it seemed terribly uppity not to kneel before God, but when I was with her I prayed in bed. As a compromise I would kneel in bed, but she would just pull her little rosary out from under her pillow, close her eyes and run those strange little beads through her fingers, and when she was satisfied, return them to their safe place and resume conversation. I always felt like an outsider among Christians. I remember this kid Arius in first grade asked of me (his confusion/dismay was perfectly innocent, I'm sure) since I didn't go to church, didn't that mean that I didn't love God? I nearly cried. I'm still angry with him about it, but he doesn't know that. I should be angry with his mother for putting such things into his head, but I'm not. I'm angry with him. Here I am, twenty years old, and I'm this angry with the memory of a first grader. I only went to Church with Nichole twice. St. Batholomew's, a Catholic church. I got horrible looks from my mother, I wanted to make my best friend happy but my mother made me feel terribly ashamed. I don't even understand it now. Neither one of my parents was atheist, you know. She a lapsed Jew, and he a lapsed Christian I suppose. It was just something you weren't supposed to talk about. So there I am, a third-grader at St. Batholomew's, shaking in the pews... here in the house of God for the first time. Terrifying, mystical, sacred. Nichole isn't paying attention, she's bored... but I sit transfixed in this majestic palace of stained glass, red carpeting, and wooden benches with soft pink cushioning and some strange apparatus for people to fold out and rest their knees upon not to mention that imposing bronze statue in the center of everything... that half-clothed, emaciated, bleeding Christ. There's a great deal of shifting position and I can only ape the people around me, ever one or two steps behind. I don't know the routine, I don't know the hymns, I don't know the prayers. The ritual of communion was particularly intimidating. I had no idea what was happening. There was some sort of gesture I was supposed to do in order not to receive communion but go through the line anyway, (it must be rude to stay seated), and in any case, I botched that. I did not end up drinking the wine but I did end up eating a Eucharist, even though I was not supposed to, apparently, since I had not been properly baptized. Nichole's mom was a little dismayed, I asked her what it was and she only said "something very special". I suppose that's for the best that I didn't understand the full significance then. After mass came CCD. I don't know what that stands for, but that some sort of bible class. Nichole and her brother Christopher would always have to rush on Sunday mornings to read one old testament book or another to fill out the worksheets for that class. CCD was really lovely, there were stickers and rewards for attendance and correct answers (I believe that they were going to Six Flags at the end of the year), and I learned a great deal from that one session: how Satan was like the prosecutor, God was the judge and Jesus was like your defense attorney, and you were on trial for your soul... so you had better rely on Jesus to protect you and represent you to God. Although, I can never remember praying to Jesus beyond that initial prayer. I always prayed to God. Beyond his admirable appearance in scripture, Jesus always made me somewhat uncomfortable. I think I'd be just as apt to pray to Isaiah or Samuel as I would to Jesus. I don't have an answer as to why, perhaps I just have problems with authority. I remember that the CCD teacher was saying something about baptism and I raised my hand, "what if you haven't been baptized?" I asked. Her eyes went wide with horror. A pause. "You *better* have been baptized," was her answer, then she moved on.
All of those kids in school they had churches and had their own little in-groups with pot-lucks and dances that I wasn't part of... even though I was a Christian too. When they'd ask me why I didn't go to church, I'd explain that my parents didn't let me. It was odd for them but they'd accept it. I vowed to myself, and to God that once I graduated high school and I could practice my religion freely I would go to church every Sunday. Until then, it was just a waiting game. But I was not less dutiful a Christian, I'm sure of it. How sincere and studious I was about it. I didn't think God would hold my non-attendance against me, but thinking about it now, God's a nasty fellow who just might have damned a kid for that.
There was a difference between me and them, though. Mostly in that I thought about theology all of the time, I read the bible. I knew the stories, and I wanted to know all of the stories... I didn't even own my own bible then... all of my religious education was second-hand... sitting on the floor of my brothers' room as he read to me out of his musty burgundy bible and explained it. I remember camping out in the backyard along side my brother in the mildewy tent. He, being a boy, got to camp places like Philmont and Big Bend, I, being a girl, camped in the backyard. Birds flew across the morning sky and he told me, "some people think the dinosaurs turned into birds." He scoffed. I scoffed appropriately too. We laughed and moved on.
Yes, we were that sort. Adam and Eve literalists.
Through the course of my life I was probably "saved" about three times. Not that I ever backslid, but someone would tell me to say that prayer for salvation and I'd do it again, just to be safe, in case the previous times hadn't worked.
I was extremely faithful, but even I could see that God was a beastly fellow. And over the years as my mother descended into madness I suffered so much. So many tearful prayers went unanswered. Furthermore, why was Adam's punishment finite but Eve's infinite. Why was God punishing me, I bemoaned every month... and was it a sin to take pills to lessen my pain if this pain was divine punishment? Why did only I wonder these things? These weekly churchgoers had no answers for me.
This youth group First Priority lent itself to me in high school and I joined unhesitatingly even though Chelsea had warned against it. Why haven't I gotten to Chelsea yet? I will, in just a few sentences... it's hard to find the best order for co-occurring things. Once again I was outsider. Once again there were no satisfying answers. Once again I was deeply uncomfortable.
Chelsea. I have to talk about Chelsea now. I knew Chelsea tangentially through Nichole, and through some misadventures that I'll omit from this note my relationship with her far overshadowed the one I had with Nichole. The thing I had most in common with Chelsea, I think, was a deep distrust of authority figures. She had that innately, but I? It's hard to trust authority when your mother is literally insane, your father is absent and your teachers are morons, (and if not morons, bound and gagged by foolish policies). Chelsea was an atheist and always was, and she, like the boy in this story, is extremely bull-headed. She would accost me about religion and I would have to yell and block her out. To even entertain such wicked thoughts of no God was blasphemous. Blasphemy, the only sin that can not be forgiven. I felt so terrified and angry every time, how dare she put me in immortal danger at every whim, torment me so... I didn't want to be a sinner in the hands of an angry God.
Skip forward to college. I didn't get into UT, but I was in UTSA. I was accepted to *a* college. I was free, life could begin. UTSA was the best time of my whole entire life. It was during this time that Christians On Campus found me. This was what I had been waiting for. I could be a real Christian now. They were unusually aggressive, but I was glad to be theirs. But there was something really creepy about them. Hollow, is the best word I can find to describe those people. There was a kid named Larry whose evangelism made me super uncomfortable, and for this he said I wasn't a true Christian (which is the scariest fucking thing you could have ever said to me), and I was furious. But, being a Christian, and therefore compelled to forgive, I buried my emotions, said that the reason I got angry with him was that I was on my period, and apologized. He of course, being thoughtless, had forgotten. I went on a 12-hour-retreat with them which was chilling. 4,000 strong of these hollow zombies. The males and females separated automatically (even those who were married) because they were just so conservative, I had been wearing a sleeveless turtleneck which was apparently too revealing and they accosted me very worriedly (aren't you cold? I bet you're cold! Put on your jacket, aren't you COLD?!).
Once I got home I never came back to them... despite the (rather creepy) worried phone calls I'd get on my answering machine for the rest of the year until I moved away.
The next year I moved on to UT Austin, which was a much less happy place for me, the transition from high school to UTSA was brilliant because I was fleeing from tyranny and misery. But during college I had re-established a relationship with my father and had come to love his mistress as well, from home to UT was a loss of a happy family life and a gain of a shitty apartment, and a cold, friendless city. I was also leaving my beloved grandfather behind... my dying grandfather. My vocally atheist, dying grandfather. When I left, we all knew it might be the last time that I saw him, but he sent me away anyway... so fond was he of productivity. I suddenly found myself very desperately trying to form attachments in this city, just to make life somehow bearable. I had my eyes peeled for any possible boyfriend who might arise... That's where he finally comes into this picture. He was (and is) a genuinely lovely boy who appeared to be flirting with me... so I swung all of my affections into him, microanalyzing his every expression. For the sake of perfect form, I wish I could say that he loved me, but instead I'm telling the truth.
One night he had two tickets to a concert, an ACL recording event, which he'd won off that crazy Austin radio station he likes. He couldn't find anyone to go with him, even after going through his entire phonebook. Begrudgingly he asked me, and I skipped kendo (which I had hitherto been dutifully attending) to go with him.
I don't know how religion came up, I wish I could. I suspect it was me who brought it up. I had so many unsolvable problems with it, in my heart, I think I really did want him to undo it. He was shocked by the things I had forced myself to believe. (Things like, since everything in the bible is true the older Sumerian gods given cursory mention must be real as well, as well as magic, witchcraft, and necromancy). He was moved by the terror of hell that I felt and said, very earnestly, "Oh no! I don't want you to have to be afraid!" And he kept at me, asking little questions to try to undo it... the way that atheists do... it wasn't the logic that moved me but his earnest desire to free me. But the hellfire, that nasty hellfire... I quoted those scary passages to him and he reassured me, saying, that we would be in hell together, along with all the cool rock stars and scientists and we'd figure out who's crying and gnashing their teeth, (and send them to a dentist), and we could go skiing on that lake of fire... and it would all be alright, we'd be together.
This removed my fear just long enough for my brain to be allowed to work... then I could handle it logically and discard it. It was his earnest compassion that saved my life. I remember standing in that dark concert hall (Lucinda Williams haggardly singing her very spiritual dark music) and crying at the bittersweet implications of the loss of religion, but I was overwhelmingly happy. I, for the first time, felt the kind of overwhelming sensation of happiness and freedom that other people describe in their experience of being saved. Whatever else happened, I'll always have that... and I want you all to know what a special and kind person he is.
He is very special to me, and I loved to lay around in his room listening to his otherworldly music. There was a relationship after that. He tried very hard to love me, and I tried very hard to be worthy, but in the end it just wasn't workable. But that's just a footnote to the story.
I don't know why I wrote this out, whether it was for him, or for me, or for the atheists to know for their use... Perhaps some stories just demand telling.