I actually found this in an email sent from a friend in 2000. I had written this in college, while I was at Kent State University, looking back on my life after dealing with my family’s divorce, move, and breakup at the tender age of 14.
A maroon Subaru Legacy weaved through the winding roads, speeding through sharp corners, passing beat-up houses, miles of colossal pine, birch, willow, maple, and large, green fields prime for harvest. It sped past farmhouses, the ones with horses eating hay slowly, swooshing their tails and stomping their hooves across from one another. It raced past a few Pickerel Lake cottages and quaint residential homes with white picket fences. The car screeched into the driveway, and an older, blonde woman got out and walked to the door on the side of the house.
Ssomewhere inside, I opened my eyes slowly, hearing the distant sound of a doorbell mixed with an acute ringing intensely between my temples. I looked out the window, the sun’s sharp beams bleeding into my eyes as I tried to see what or who the hell it was.
She can’t be here already…please…please… be a dream.
The blurry figure slowly came into focus, the outline of a familiar woman waiting in the golden sun. I could almost see her eyes through the door of square box windows, yet there she was, bright and early as always.
My mom always had a bounce in her step, her blonde curls springing up from her shoulders, her white teeth gleaming, and her touch of foundation makeup that made her more prettier than most women her age. She was beautiful, but I would never tell her that.
Not now at least.
She waited there, her nose pointed and strong, and always tilted up.
Until recently that was.
I sat up quickly, the stiffness reassuring me that last night actually happened. I was watching her closely now, watching how she moved, how she held her hands on her hips, how her eyes flickered around behind framed glasses, always searching for something.
What a pain in the ass! I’m coming. Hold on. Can’t I miss church once, just fucking once?
My anger was much worse in the morning. Like a boiling tea kettle, it would whistle quickly and often. Everything moved too fast. Everyone spoke too loud. Everyone seemed impatient, including me.
My mind surged forward:
Sunday… is CHURCH! Sunday school… which means act interested, act like I’m ok, act like I believe in a black book written over a thousand years, act like nothing is wrong with me and that my life epitomizes God… Mr. Ovally… oh no… I didn’t do my homework… screw it, the old testament can wait…
I stood up and wobbled. There she was in full view. As she pressed her narrow face against the screen door, her wrinkled sapphire dress trimmed with golden flowers billowing out below her, I could see the impatience growing on her face.
My mom was acting a lot like me lately, but you’d never tell by her serene exterior.
I looked around. The T.V. was still on, and it looked like a hurricane had swept through the living room. There were Charleston Chew wrappers, beer cans, mountain dew cans, porn magazines, even a tin of mint “Skoal” dotted the room.
I hardly remember any of it. I quickly kicked the tin and beer cans under the couch. The doorbell rang again. Gabe was still asleep. Thankfully his parents were gone, and there was no way would a doorbell would wake him up.
A loud knock came followed by the door creaking open.
An overly cute, shrill voice automatically hurt my ears. “Is anyone home, Trevor?” she chirped, masking her own annoyance that I wasn’t waiting outside for her.
“Hold on, mom, I’m coming,” I complained. “I’m looking for my shoes.”
Where the hell — are my shoes?
I looked at the clock.
Why in the hell is she so early? It’s only 11:30?
“Mom, why are you here so early,” I yelled. “Church doesn’t start till twelve.”
“Yes honey, we are trying to actually get there on time this week.”
I could hear her scuttling into the foyer, where there were about ten thousand dirty old shoes (and probably a few dead animals) to walk over before you could venture into the living room.
That should slow her down.
I located my shoes underneath the couch but had a hard time putting them on. My head was pounding. My mouth tasted like evergreen cardboard and vomit.
Did I really throw up? Was I really swimming through the rows of their general store drunk? Did I really do that last night?
Gabe told me I had swallowed some of the chew and I believed him now. I knew I was a mess. I flicked off the T.V. and saw my reflection on the blank, black screen. My hair was stringy and greasy, molded together like an old dish of spaghetti and my eyes gushed a crusty film of mystery material that I tried to peel away with my pinky.
“Honey, why aren’t you ready,” she asked, as she poked her head into the living room. “I told you I was going be here at 11:30.”
“I’m ready. I’m ready. I’ll meet you in the car.”
There was a long moment of awkward silence. For some reason, this was happening more frequently.
Maybe if she didn’t treat me like a little kid.
I’m not your honey, not anymore.
“Honey, are you going to go to church like that?”
I didn’t answer, I didn’t have to.
The funny thing is I know what you are thinking, “She is your mom you little asshole, she gave birth to you,” but you know what, you don’t know what she did. I know you don’t because I haven’t told you yet. You might think you do, but you have no idea.
When I stood up to find my shirt, I looked back to my mom and I think she knew exactly what happened that night.
My mom’s sedan was fast, but we were still late to church. We’d always park illegally because all the parking spots closer were taken. Being late meant I got to miss singing the hymns.
Damn, that’s a shame, a voice as good as mine.
It’s kind of ironic how my mom parked illegally for church. Maybe I should ask her if that was the right thing to do. Before I could say anything, she simultaneously put the car in park, handed me a bill, turned the key off, and asked, “Here’s a dollar honey, can you give it to donation?”
“Mom, they don’t need our money, God doesn’t need money.”
“Pumpkin, just do what your mother says, ok?”
“This is stupid, why would God need money to exist? That just doesn’t make any sense.”
She got out and slammed the door, answering my question in the process. She darted across the road, her dress flailing behind her, trying to catch her slender legs. I got out and shut the door softly, prolonging the inevitable. I glanced down to make sure I looked halfway decent, but I was a mess, a total mess. I ran my fingers through my hair, feeling the grease slide through my fingertips, the tips matted together, draping over my ears and my eyebrows, curling down the back of my neck like a jungle vine.
Even worse, I may have still been drunk.
You idiot. Everyone will know.
I took my time getting to class, in fact, I was half-tempted to skip Sunday School altogether, but I knew D2 was in there, looking for me with his big brown eyes. I knew he would wave to me when he saw me. I loved that kid, even when I wanted to kick his ass for telling on me.
Unfortunately, I was in the high school class now, which meant we had prolonged Bible readings and discussions about God. Most of the time I didn’t understand a thing. I didn’t read the Bible anymore, and I never did my homework. But the real issue I had was everyone was just so sure about God in our class. They acted like they had all been touched by Him personally, like He had come from heaven on a white chariot with a rod of flame or something, booming, “Believe in Me, I’m real.”
Well, that had not happened to me yet, so I wasn’t sold. I rarely asked questions, rarely joined in conversations, rarely befriended my classmates.
I just stayed quiet, that was, until today.
Today was different. It had marked a year since I had moved away from my dad and I couldn’t pretend anymore. Not after my mom took us from Grand Blanc. Not after we cried and cried, begged and begged her to let us stay.
No, my life was never going to be the same here.
As I opened the doors to the Sunday School room, my palms were sweating, nausea crept into my lower intestines, and everyone was dressed in collared pastels, their hair politely combed and parted. They sat erect with their Old King James black Bibles open, and Mr. Ovally was seated at the head of the table smiling, waiting.
Everyone stared at me as I glided towards them.
Hell, I’m different… I know… you don’t have to stare… Hell, I may still be drunk for Christ sake…
I quickly sat at the seat farthest from Mr. Ovally looking down, averting my eyes. I knew they were watching me, I felt their glare and a hot wave of guilt choked me momentarily.
I know, I know. I never used to imagine myself touching beer or chew or… just any of that shit… Gabe, how did he talk me into that… you know what, screw them… they don’t know me.
I raised my eyes slowly when the slow, choppy sound of words from a student named Paul began reading a section of Genesis, “In the beginning… God created man…” His words became further and further away. “On the seventh day… Behold it was good… and Adam…”
I was looking through the wall, Paul was gone now, somewhere else in my mind. My thoughts, they wandered away from Mr. Ovally’s voice, away from Paul, away from these kids sitting around me, away from this church, away from this room, away from my life so filled with false hopes, lies, and chaos.
I thought of my lumbering father working in his garden far, far away, his black eyes focused, his hulking hands pummeling dirt. He wasn’t allowed to see us anymore. He wasn’t allowed to be near my mother. He wasn’t allowed to be my dad.
And it was her fault. My mom’s fault. What the fuck was I doing up here?
“Trevor, how do you feel about this passage?” Mr. Ovally asked.
“What?” I asked, looking up.
My teacher, his suit and tie squarely fixed, his eyes flickering with hope and sincerity.
“The passage about God and Adam. What do you think?”
I cleared my throat and looked around. Everyone was staring at me. Everyone was waiting. My sweat glands were already working.
“God and Adam?” I asked.
“Well, God and Adam are the same, but we don’t know it.”
“What do you mean, Adam and God are the same?”
I waited and shifted in my seat. Maybe this wasn’t too smart — to talk, to do anything.
Maybe I was still drunk.
Just stop, Trevor.
I took a deep breath as a new level of emotion hit me. “NO. Not just Adam. Man. Humans. Women. Us. You.
Adam isn’t real. God isn’t a puppet master telling him what to do. That isn’t how it works. God and Man can’t be separate if we came from Him.
What I’m saying is God doesn’t know names, he only knows souls.”
There was a long bout of silence. Everyone blinked at me, including Mr. Ovally.
“What do you mean?”
“If God knew our names, why would he let bad things happen to a kid he created?”
A beam of light poked through the painted glass window as Mr. Ovally shifted his hands to the black leather pebbles of his Bible. I noticed how his hands were a clean stark white contrast with the dark leather underneath his hands.
“Well Trevor, you see, God does things for reasons, and you might not know what those reasons are,” Mr. Ovally responded. He stirred in his seat now, flipping through pages, looking for something that might help me understand. His neck grew to a shade of red, and I saw a vein on the side of his forehead pumping furiously.
Something inside me clicked open.
“Why do bad people have good things happen to them? Why is it that life is unfair for people that always do good? Why do kids die of cancer? Why is it that we take money for donations here, while there are starving people, dying people, people that could really use our money downstate, where I came from? What if what you believe your God is, isn’t actually real?”
There was few gasps and a silent vacuum sucking oxygen from the room. I think I heard Mr. Ovally say something about God and his love for people trying to do his will. My mind was spinning now, and I felt perspiration rolling down my armpits, creeping down my scalp onto my face, and I saw for the first time the way my peers’ looked at me, cautiously, like I was a criminal.
WHAT… what are you looking at… yes… it’s me, the kid who rarely says anything…get over it…
I looked down again, my hands were rolled into white fists, and the impatience was boiling inside me. The angry tea kettle was ringing in my ears.
What do these kids know? What does Mr. Ovally know?
Your life is your life, and my life used to be like your life, but now it isn’t.
What was true, isn’t always true. You know?
I think back, remembering my family, my dad, my brothers, my mother, all happily sitting around a dinner table holding hands saying prayers to a God that didn’t keep us together.
Now there were letters, lawyers, private investigators, quiet, solemn rides back to my father’s new house in the worst parts of Flint where he kept shotguns next to the doors, and everything I believed in was questioned. I remembered the day when my mom moved us up North, leaving my best friends that I had grown up with through grade school, my Genessee Star soccer teammates, my Kirkridge subdivision basketball buddies, and just everything I had ever known. Leaving them was not easy for me.
Hell, it felt like someone had shoved a spoon into my heart and extracted my happiness one scoop at a time.
I remembered crying in my bedroom for days. I didn’t understand. I didn’t understand why my mom was sick. I didn’t understand why we left my dad. I didn’t understand why my brother was kicking my ass. I didn’t understand why I was alone here with no friends.
I felt a tear leak down my cheek.
I was crying.
Shit, I was crying in public.
Who’d have imagined that you would be crying now, here, in Sunday school?
You fuckin’ baby… fuck you guys… fuck you for staring, for judging… I can make it on my own… I don’t need you, and God doesn’t know your name either…
I left the church after the last hymn, not waiting to talk to anyone, just wanting to get away from the palpable tension that surrounded me, that choked me. I went to the car and sat waiting, my thoughts rushing at me in incoherent masses. I tried to string it together. My life. My thoughts. My feelings. My emotions.
Why was I so mad? Who was I so angry at? Who’s fault was this? Would my dad come live with us again?
Fury rose. There were no answers. No concrete ones, at least. I let the tears come. I didn’t stop them. I didn’t dare stop them this time.
Screw Petoskey… who the hell names a city after the official state stone…only a place mom would pick… …this town sucks… at least I have Gabe, I wonder what he is doing, probably sleeping, no it’s one o’ clock, he is probably up by now…
I snapped out of my trance and quickly followed the sound with my eyes. I looked out the car window, but there was nothing. I checked the rear view mirrors searching for the imposter. Nothing. Then as I glanced over my shoulder, I saw him, my little brother D2, hiding behind the car in my rearview mirror.
His hair was shorter and blonder than mine, but it was clean and curly, hanging to the middle of his long forehead. He was staring at me with his two big, inquisitive brown eyes.
“D2222222,” I screamed through the window. “You little shit!”
His face was half hidden under the car trunk, his eyebrows dancing with the flickering sparkles in his eyes. I popped open the door forcefully, “You little shit, you scared me!”
“I know, I saw you jump,” he piped, laughing. I stared at him, jealous of his carefree attitude, of his positive outlook on life. He was eight years old and full of hope.
“Where you at Gabe’s again,” he asked. “I missed you last night.”
Pride and guilt swelled in my chest and a lump poked at my throat as I thought about how good of a brother he was to me, how good of a kid he was, and how he always checked in to see how I was.
“Yeah, I was. We just hung out and played video games like always. C’mon, get in, let’s listen to some music.”
“Okay, but I get to choose.”
“Oh really, you think?”
He bounced in, smiling, his calcium-stained teeth unsheathed as he glided into the backseat. I flicked on the radio, twisting the volume dial until I could barely hear myself think.
“REGUUUUUUUUATORSSSS. MOUNT UP…”
“No, go to 106,” he squeaked below the thunder of trembling speakers.
“No. This song is cool. Do you know Warren G?”
The music rattled the windows, the bass vibrated the car. I felt his knobby knees bouncing to the beat against the back of my seat. He was satisfied now, but I felt something else. I knew he was watching me. He always was. I could feel his eyes on the back of my neck, peering at me, wondering why I had turned the music on so loud in our church parking lot. He probably wondered why I had changed so much lately, why I treated mom so differently now.
I wish I could have told him everything would be all right.
I wish I could tell him that I had a real answer, but sometimes you have to just figure it out yourself.