Context: Hillbilly Haven (Part 1)
That Sunday, their church had a celebration, a revival marking the end of Vacation Bible School. The kids did little plays on a makeshift stage outside about Jesus, Joseph, and Stephen, children in the bible with great faith. I sat next to Jake who was next to Caroline who was next to Chuck. Lucy had been in the performance, so she was sitting up front with the other kids. I listened half assed as the preacher yammered on about sin and the gracious glorious love of god. Him telling the kids that no matter what they faced in life they could trust in God to get them through. About opening their hearts to the love of God through Christ…
Then the preacher announced that “There are those among us who haven’t yet proclaimed their love of god, though they need him the most, they haven’t accepted Jesus.” Then he called on them to stand up, and “accept God’s grace to open their arms to his love, his grace, stand up, come to the front and let us welcome you into the arms of the lord Jesus Christ” It didn’t take Caroline looking over to me to let me know it was me the guy was talking about. I was literally the only person there who wasn’t a member of the church, the only kid who hadn’t been sitting in their pews every Sunday since birth.
How dare this dude put me on the spot! He announced his plea again that the “lost sheep” among them come and give themselves to Jesus, this time even he was looking straight at me. I looked to my left and right as if trying to help him identify the black sheep in their flock. Pun intended. Then the preacher announced that “all must come to the lord in their own time” and that “when you’re ready. The lord will be there to welcome you with open arms with forgiveness and love.
“Forgiveness?” HA! If anything, the lord better be standing there with an apology letter and a winning lotto ticket after all the shit he was putting me through. Everyone stood up and began singing Yes Jesus Loves Me. I stood up, refusing to actually sing along all while ignoring Caroline’s glare of disapproval that was burning a hole in the side of my head.
Then it was back to the awkwardness that was there when I first arrived. I stopped calling Chuck, Dad. Caroline and my chill time became nonexistent, but only because the kid’s had gone back to their studies so she was busy either teaching or carting them back and forth to the home school co-op. The following weekend, Chuck and Caroline loaded us all into the truck to meet Nona, Peggy, and Drew for dinner in Helen, a little town halfway between Atlanta and Blairsville. Crossroads had taken all the upper levels there to go camping there back when I was still raising hell. It was odd to think I would have been better off if I kept being a table-throwing little shit rather than work their stupid program.
Through most of the dinner, Jake and I held pinkies under the table and sat with our legs touching as the adults chit chatted. Jake wrote on a napkin that he didn’t want me to leave and handed it to me under the table which caused me to tear up. Nona looked over to me and asked if I was okay. I fake yawned and said I was just tired which sadly was everyone’s cue that it was getting late and that we had to go. Chuck paid the check. Everyone began exchanging hugs. Chuck and Caroline gave me hugs and the next couple of minutes were spent with me refusing to cry.
I hugged Jake told him to call me sometime whispered “stay away from orphan girls.” In his ear. The last person I hugged goodbye was sweet little Lucy who had been sufficiently preoccupied by hanging out with Drew for the past few hours. She gave me a huge hug and told me she’d miss me and that I was like her big sister. “I love you, I’ll miss you. Come back soon” she said. “Love you too hun,” I replied again caught off guard by her big beautiful horsie-faced smile. God… she looked so much like my little sister. It felt like I was losing Aiesha all over again.
I did not want to go. In my head I was screaming at the top of my lungs, PLEASE DON’T MAKE ME GO. As they loaded into the truck, in my head I was violently struggling to reach them as Nona and Peggy and my mom and my caseworker and all the staff from Crossroads drug me back to the car and strapped me in. As both cars drove in separate directions, in my head I saw myself jumping out of Nona’s Toyota and chasing after Chuck and Caroline’s truck begging them not to leave me. To not make me go back to DFACS. To not make me go back to the “real world.” To love me.
Maybe if any of that actually happened, I would have been riding back to Blairsville with them in the truck and the pipe dream Cass fed me would have come true. Maybe if I stood up in the middle of the church and proclaimed my love for Jesus, Chuck and Caroline would have proclaimed their love for me. But that’s just not how reality works. Maybe is a waste of time. As we drove away from the restaurant and back to Atlanta, I resolved to never again think about the life I almost maybe could have had with them.
Drew konked out almost as soon as we got on the highway. I laid with my head against the window listening to B98.5’s Delilah, thankful for the break from putrid Christian Contemporary music a la The Fish whose signal wasn’t strong enough to reach out to this area of the mountains. After Delilah played Tal Bachman’s She’s So High, a woman called the show to request Sarah McLachlan’s I Will Remember You for her father who had committed suicide.
“He’s in heaven now,” the caller said. Peggy, quipped back at the voice on the radio “Sorry honey, but you’re daddy killed himself. He’s somewhere, but he’s NOT in heaven”
Who the fuck was she? Who the fuck was she to condemn some poor woman’s father who obviously went through enough shit that he couldn’t stand to be alive any longer? How dare she? The last I checked, only god got to decide who went to heaven and who went to hell. If any of that shit even exists, who the hell made her the authority on it? And who was God to condemn someone whose life was so hard, they would rather be dead than have to endure it any longer.
Nona followed up with some garbage about how people manipulate the word of the lord to give themselves comfort, to which Peggy quipped back that just because it makes someone comfortable doesn’t make it right to say. The bible says…blah blah blah
They were so judgmental. So blinded by their own beliefs that they couldn’t understand what it was like for real people. Real people who had real problems. Problems bigger than getting knocked up at 18 or having a queer husband who stuck with you to raise all 5 of your fucking kids before leaving to finally be himself. They would never get it. I couldn’t stomach the fact that they couldn’t any longer. So that night, I also resolved that I was going to remove myself from their life. They were good people. But I just couldn’t stand to be around people who legitimately thought my life was the way it was because I didn’t pray hard enough. More importantly, I couldn’t be around people who stood as reminders of a fantasy life I could never have.
About a decade later Chuck and Caroline would end up adopting. A couple of teenage boys from the Lakota reservation that they did missions at. I always wondered if they replaced the “lazy Indian” comments with “lazy blacks.” For the sake of the kids, I hope they did.