There is nothing comforting about the hymns being sung. There is nothing angelic in the face of the man who calls himself an Apostle. He stands at the pulpit, wrapped in artificial light, and it makes the young girl's heart bleed.

She wants to have blind faith. She wants to be like her brothers and sisters, with their closed eyes and gentle voices. They sway in time to the music. She doesn't like the music. But she moves alongside them, eyes open and yet unseeing.

The sermon is short. It's short but long and filled with malice, vaguely disguised within the apostle's charming words. He tells them they are special, but she doesn't feel special. He tells them they are loved, but she doesn't feel loved.

She has been brought up by the bible. Groomed by old traditions and expectations, the lessons she learns she disagrees with. The book says that humans must love each other even when they do not. She is surrounded by hateful people. There is no agape; no unconditional, sacrificial love. She's not sure when she realized this. Maybe she's always known it to be true, because she's lived it.

Her father's eyes are tired. Her mother's are sad. At home she is caught between loving them, because she cannot love them both, even though she's tried. She is a perfect child. She gets good grades and doesn't argue; she listens well and shows affection where it's due. Her brother is different. He doesn't get good grades and always argues; he doesn't listen and he's never said “I love you.” She's said it. She's positive she has, but it has always fallen on deaf ears. Her brother gets an I love you back. She waits for hers and doesn't receive it.

She wants attention. Wants the agape that her Apostle preaches about. Her academic success is her ticket for affection, and she wields it proudly. She likes the tranquility that comes when her mom nods in acknowledgement. But as her mother naturally drifts back towards her son, the little girl thinks she's failed. According to the bible, her brother is wicked. According to the scriptures, she is just.

She is just, and nobody sees it.

She doesn't like Sundays. She doesn't like being told that she can't play with carnal children, that she can't have friends outside the church and that her going to public school is a sin. She likes her school. She likes her classmates and her teachers. She thinks she learns a lot.

Apostle tells her she shouldn't voice her opinions, that her thoughts are a child's thoughts and that she is too young to think for herself. The adults make the decisions. They tell her who to play with, who she'll marry, and what she's supposed to do with her life. They tell her that people of colour are different, that being gay is evil, and that the boy down the street, the one with autism, has a devil.

Back at home, she tests the waters. She wonders if being a good girl is all there is to life. Her dad works a lot. He works at the church after he finishes his job; his money goes to the church, too. They need a new car and their bills don't get paid, but it still goes to the church. The tithe is important, she remembers, but how important can it be when they don't get to eat, and Apostle has three houses?

Now her mom is angry at her all the time, and she stops testing the waters. Being a good girl is worth the peace at home, even as she waves goodbye to her dreams. Good girls don't have dreams. She knows what's expected of her, knows her journals and her wishes are filled with blasphemy, so she stops wishing and she stops writing.

You will never amount to anything. She hears this at church. Because women aren't allowed to be ambitious; they aren't allowed to become something—anything, other than what they are told. The family unit is important, she's taught, the man is the head of the household and the woman follows, and that is the only way. Even though the bible says God loves all his creatures equally, equality must not apply to women. There's something in her heart that cries out at this. Still she bows her head in servitude.

You will never amount to anything. She hears this from her mother. Because she is a woman, and a woman bares children. The little girl has never wanted a child. Her mother does not work, but she cleans. She cooks. The little girl does not like to clean or cook; her brother doesn't have to. Her brother can be anything he wants. He can do anything he wants. He's allowed to dream and make mistakes, but she isn't. And that's okay.

She asks God if she's doing well. If she's doing right. God doesn't get back to her, but that's okay too. Maybe he's busy.

But he doesn't get back to her when she feels like dying, either.

The church says her bad emotions are because she's entertained the devil. That her anxiety is a result of her bad choices and not her environment, and because she's anxious she's failed again—failed in the eyes of God and in the eyes of her parents, and she'll try to be better. She learns not to talk about her feelings, because her feelings are not right.

She listens to the yelling in her home. Her parents have feelings, and they don't seem good. Maybe her negativity has brushed off on them, and when she hears the word divorce, her world shatters. Good people—good families, don't get divorces. She learned that in church, too.

Her mother tells her a lot of things. These things aren't good either. She doesn't know what adultery is, but she knows her dad wouldn't do it. She knows what bastard means, though. She's heard them argue; heard her dad's sighs and her mother's screams. But her mom loves god. She cooks sometimes and she cleans too, so her dad can ignore her biting remarks and scathing insults. The little girl wonders if her dad is as lonely as she is.

But the divorce never comes. Her dad becomes quieter, until he's silent. Her mother is loud, nearly vibrant, but it's nothing like the vibrancy of the sun. It doesn't bathe her skin in happiness and warmth as the sun should do. Her mother feels cold and mean. And now, the little girl knows she can't afford to slip up.

She hates going to church. She doesn't like being told what to wear or how to act, even though she's been acting all her life. The other kids don't like her too much, they think she's weird and quiet and call her the names she's heard from her mother, but the other adults love her. They like her obedience.

At school she's called those same names. She realizes that people aren't as kind as she is, but she can't figure out why, and says nothing. She eats her lunch in the bathroom and aces her classes. The little girl is not so little anymore. The rest of her life looms over her like a shadow and she wants to run from it. She's not prepared. She knows who she should be but it's not who she wants to be.

The church likes to talk about people. In the girl's mind, it sounds a lot like judgment. It sounds a lot like gossip and isn't gossip a sin? But she sees that as long as humans are subtle, many of them get away with doing wrong. The gossip bites her ears and she refuses to wallow it. The church tells her she's failed once again, when the people look at her with sharp eyes and tight lips. Outsider, they whisper.

She thinks this is fine. She has never belonged. Not at church or in her home, or even at school. She welcomes the loneliness and talks to God for the first time in years. She doesn't expect his answer this time, and isn't surprised when she doesn't hear it.

At home she is like a ghost.

She fights with her dad about going to church for the first time.

His disappointment is enough to rock her to the core. Her mom's shouts are enough to get her to go.

The church tells her brother he's a demon. He's not, she knows. He's in pain too and handles it differently than she does. She thinks he's human. He does not, and now he's never at home.

She learns that adults aren't always right, and that the church is usually wrong, and that she is tired of being someone that isn't even herself.

She learns that being a good girl will never be enough, because she is in turmoil and her home is in turmoil and the world is tilting, because there is a hole in her heart that has never been filled. She will never be enough, not enough to create the peace like she used to. And she is not okay with it.

The church no longer shines in white. It's dark and red, ominous to the touch as she puts her hand on the door because the hall now opens like the maw of a beast, instead of the tinkling of a bell. She hates the defeated gazes she encounters. She hates the sense of displacement, and hates her tears. God had failed her, this time. How dismal and grey the world seems.

People are not talented when it comes to what they're hiding in her hearts, she realizes, as she finally takes notice with seeing eyes. Life is not holy or sanctioned for them, even though it is what has been preached from the raised platform they've grown to worship. She can see their sadness and the fear, and their tiny sparks of genuine joy.

The little girl is no longer a little girl. She has her own thoughts and her own feelings, and even though they're not always good, she knows they're okay. She's not a good girl, but she is a good person. Many people were not good, but it didn't make them any less human.

The young woman thinks that the colour of one's skin, one's afflictions, or whom one loves should not matter. She knows she is not evil when she says these things, but winces at the conviction in her heart. She had not placed it there. The Apostle did. Her family did.

She's being stretched as a human being. Her beliefs are being tested. She's thinking for herself and making mistakes, but she's learning and finally living. She's also unlearning. Mostly hate, mostly archaic ideals, and it's been a hard. The lessons are hard.

She fails her first class, starts skipping school. Her dreams are rekindled and subsequently destroyed. She doesn't go to church anymore, and sometimes wonders where she'll lay her head at night when she doesn't want to go home. Her parents sleep in separate rooms, her brother struggles with authority, and the only thing that remains the same is her solitude.

For once, she is grateful for it.

She still doesn't know who she is, fully. She doesn't know what she wants or how to trust. She still balks at the concept of love. She appreciates the little things—the smell of rain on fresh earth, a daffodil basking in the sunlight, the fact that she's still a good girl, despite not being good.

She supposes she'll figure out the answers to her questions some day. She's still learning. After all, that is a part of growing up.

November 04, 2019 19:44

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