TW: child abuse, gun violence
The bishop began his homily, but I was only half paying attention. I could feel sweat gathering in my hands. Did I really want to do this? A year ago, I would’ve said,
“I’m never doing this!”
But now, I wasn’t so sure. Last year, I had stumbled in here. I had no home. No family. Well, not anymore. As soon as my parents found out what I did, they slammed the door in my face and told me to get lost. No real family would do that to you.
That thought seized me and tightened its grip around me. I slid down the “thinking about my family hole”, which was filled with questions, guilt, worry, anger, and feelings. Yuck.
Had Aris gotten into Harvard like she always wanted? Were Arnaud and Alya in juvenile detention again? Was Zeth losing figure skating competitions? Was Zizi in the hospital again? Did they forgive me for leaving them? Did they hate me? Had they changed a lot? Were they doing well?
I had nothing but love for my sister, brother, stepsisters, and stepbrother. My parents, on the other hand. . .
Marshall Perez and Zabella Perez. The parents I used to love. I found it amusing that I don’t love them, given the fact that God and his prophets had specifically written in the Bible many times, “Love your father and mother.” And my stepmother, Aina Perez, who had secretly married my father and had three whole kids with him. By the time my mother found out, it was too late.
Aina Perez was a great person. . . For about three minutes. Then she showed her true colors, which was the colors of a terrible person. She was rude and abusive. I was sure she was secretly a kidnapper, robber,murderer, or terrorist. Aris knew what she was, but she never told me, “because it would scar me for life”. Yeah, right. Aina was terrible to me and my siblings and step siblings, hitting us (either with a chair, a weight, a plate, a ruler, or literally anything) at every opportunity, screaming curses at us, throwing us out the window (I’m not kidding), and taking care of us in the worst way possible. I won’t get into that much detail.
Aina would lock us up in tiny rooms only she knew about, usually filled with something we were really, really, really scared of, and put us in there for a day with nothing. No food, no water, nothing to entertain ourselves.
The six of us all had their own. Mine was filled with creepy pictures of spiders, big and ugly, splattered across the walls. If you didn’t think that was so bad, there were real spiders in there, too. Dozens of them. Some were the size of my hand. Being in that room would never get away from my memory, no matter how much I try. I can still remember the haunting sound of their crawling, the sight of those big spiders, the feeling of ripe fear.
The younger ones, Zizi, Arnaud, and Alya used to come to me after they had spent their time in their own “fear rooms”. I would comfort them and do my best, but they never quite got over their experiences. Aina had scarred all of us, even the older ones, Aris and Zeth.
I’m explaining to you the boring, typical, and constantly repeated cliche: when your stepmother is terrible to you. But that’s just my life.
I wasn’t sure how Aina got away with treating the six of us like that, but she did. She was the only adult at home. Mother and father were always working, always away on some business trip that was more important to them than their own children and stepchildren.
When they did come home, Aina would change and act like the best person in the world, but still be terrible to us. Our parents, distant and ignorant, never noticed what she did to us, nor did any of us tell our parents about it. Probably because of the threats. My parents saw how “wonderful” Aina was, and how “naughty” we were. They always took Aina’s side.
Eventually, all of the bad qualities of Aina (trust me, there’s a lot of them) seeped into my father, then the bad qualities got into my mother. They all became terrible people. If you lived in my house for even a day, you would see that I’m correct.
Aina had kicked me out because I had told the police that I spotted her joining the crowd to storm the White House in a riot. She had been carrying a gun. I saw her shooting people. She killed at least one person. My parents managed to get Aina out of jail, but they blamed me for the money they had to spend and agreed with Aina kicking me out. I was seriously wondering if my parents were blind to the real Aina.
In the ten months, two weeks, and four days I had been kicked out and living on the streets, I had become sick, thin, smelly, hungry, and half-mad. These people had no reason to help me.
But they did. They took me in to live here. They did everything they could to make me happy and comfortable. They gave me food, shelter, comfort, education, entertainment, and more. In return, I had to do something for them.
I had to go to church. I had to follow their religion. Christianity.
It was honestly a big favor to do. Adopting into a new religion, especially when you’re a teen, is no easy task. Before, I was an atheist. I relied on science. The rules of science and God kind of contradict each other.
But I had gone to church for a year now. I sang hymns, read the Bible, listened to sermons, and prayed. I’m not sure what had gotten into me to believe. I guess it just felt right. I was pretty sure that made absolutely no sense. But I still believed.
Unfortunately, my faith was still “newborn”. It had only a year to grow. Compared to other people here that were my age, that was nothing. Could I do this?
I had to. I was sixteen now. Everyone had to do this at sixteen. I was no exception. I could do this. God is with me. I just had to rely on my faith and speak the truth.
I could feel hundreds of eyes on me. It was time.
The bishop said,
“Do you reject Satan and all his works and all his empty promises?”
That was easy. I responded,
“Do you believe in God the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth?”
That was easy, too.
“Do you believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was born of the Virgin Mary, was crucified, died, and was buried, rose from the dead, and is now seated at the right hand of the Father?”
“Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who came upon the apostles at Pentecost and today is given to you sacramentally in confirmation?”
What did that mean? Okay, don’t panic. Break it down into parts. The Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life. That I understand. I know what apostles are.
The Pentecost, on the other hand. . . I should know this! Was it the day where the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus’ disciples, causing them to speak different languages?
Or was it the day the Lord was going to kill every firstborn in Egypt (the tenth plague), but the Israelites followed God’s commands and avoided the tenth plague, therefore getting out of Egypt?
Wait. That was the Passover. Not the Pentecost. The Pentecost is the first one.
So what is the question asking?
Oh. I’m stupid. The question was actually simple. If I believe in the Holy Spirit. The rest of the stuff is just the Holy Spirit’s job description. Okay.
“Do you believe in the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting?”
Yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes.
“This is our faith. This is the faith of the Church. We are proud to profess it in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Everyone in the Mass said,
The laying on of hands went by quickly. Then, it was the anointing of Chrism.
The Chrism was brought to the bishop. I walked over to the bishop. My sponsor, the man who found me, Isaiah, placed his hand on my shoulder. That made me calmer. Isaiah was like the caring father I never really had. He announced my name to the bishop.
Although I changed my name to Esther once I came here, for the sake of me not getting tracked by my parents, I still had to use my birth name. It made me cringe every single time I heard my old name, but I had to deal with it. I couldn’t break our church’s traditions.
The bishop dipped his right thumb in the Chrism and made the sign of the cross on my forehead. As he was doing this, he said,
“Zunairah Perez, be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
“Peace be with you.”
“And with your spirit.”
I didn’t have to talk alone in front of so many people for the rest of the ceremony. I felt a huge weight get off my chest. I hadn’t embarrassed myself. I relaxed.
The rest of the ceremony passed quickly. At last, it was over. My friends rushed over to hug me and give me flowers and cards. My “adoptive parents” (it wasn’t official) Isaiah and Ruth were close behind. I smiled at how sweet they were all being and thanked everyone. I had finally done it after months of worrying.
For the first time in years, I felt completely happy and at peace. Out of this world. I remembered months ago, when I had considered leaving because I had to attend church.
I was glad I thought otherwise.
Later that night, I was reading books to distract myself. I had been constantly thinking about my family these days, which was stressful, painful, and rather annoying. As I was about to throw my book across the room for having my favorite character die, someone knocked on my door.
“Who is it?” I called.
When nobody answered, I looked outside the peephole. No one was there. I unlocked the door and scanned the hall. No one was there. That was strange. I closed the door and sat back down on my bed, starting to read again, deciding not to damage the book. Maybe my favorite character would come back to life somehow later. Maybe he wasn’t dead.
A moment later, a hand was over my mouth. Was this another practical joke Sarah and Jonas were pulling? (If you're starting to wonder if everyone in the church was named after people in the Bible, my answer is no. Just most of them.)
A knife was held to my throat. I considered freaking out, but they’ve pulled off more dangerous ones than this before.
A voice said,
“Struggle and you’re dead.”
That definitely wasn’t them. A distant memory tugged at me. I should know this voice. I wanted to ask who they/she/he was, but I couldn’t exactly talk.
The person dragged me out into the hall. I checked my watch. It was ten thirty at night. Only Isaiah and Ruth would be here. Maybe they could help. How could I let them know some person was kidnapping me? I couldn’t exactly call anyone for help, given that I didn’t have a phone and a hand was keeping me from talking. I couldn’t defend myself, probably because my knife was back in my room and this person was strong, based on the way they/he/she was holding me and how big they/she/he was, so I couldn’t exactly punch this person to get out of this.
That left strategizing, stalling, and talking. That’s just dandy. Talking is especially useful when your kidnapper specifically puts their hand over your mouth, which is the universal sign for, “shut up”. And when your kidnapper has a knife. Like I said, talking is extremely useful in situations like this.
The kidnapper dragged me to the nearest exit and opened the door, and I was immediately hit with the brisk Autumn air. I wished I had been wearing a jacket.
My kidnapper got me in a car. A Nissan. There was a scratch on the back, big and noticeable. Huh. He shoved me in the backseat, which smelled like lavender. They patted the knife in their pocket, along with their gun, reminding me that they/she/he was armed, and sped off West.
My kidnapper drove for what seemed like hours. They had turned up the radio and opened the windows. I felt incredibly bored. The music was that one genre I hated, and I hated being in cars, especially in the backseat. I also hated opening windows in a car. That was odd. How did my kidnapper know exactly what I hated? A suspicion started tickling at the base of my throat.
The car lurched to a stop. My kidnapper turned to face me, and I gasped. Although she was cloaked, I could now see her eyes. I was now sure of her gender, along with her identity. Her eyes were small, round, and the color of honey, the type that you would find out in the wild, and would cause a swarm of hornets to chase you and sting you if you tried to eat it. Her eyes were, I admit, beautiful, but also deadly looking, like she was mentally thinking of new forms of horrific punishments that could scar you, both mentally and physically. I never wanted to see those eyes again.
She took off her hood, and her locks of brown hair spilled onto her shoulders. Her skin, which was almost as dark as mine, glinted in the moonlight. She smiled, but it didn’t reach her eyes.
“I’m taking you home, kid. Don’t try to escape. I’ll put an end to an attempt to escape quickly.” Aina Perez said to me, her voice filled with no emotion. Her tone also suggested that she would end me as well if necessary. Unfortunately, I like being alive. Being dead would be extremely inconvenient for my health. She continued, “You’re in for some surprises when you get home. Just you wait.”