Growing up, I used to daydream about hopping off the school bus to a cold Yoo-hoo, a fresh pack of Dunkaroos, and all the makings of a blissful afternoon watching Mowgli hop around the jungle in his loincloth — just like all the other kids.
Problem was my family didn’t own a television. It wasn’t that my parents couldn’t afford one — it simply wasn’t allowed.
“Are you Amish?” That’s always the first question. And, no. Call it a cult, a sect, a faith, what have you I was raised in a conservative non-denominational Christian-based religion with a long list of no-no’s. Other than televisions, forbidden items included (but were in no way limited to): drinking, drugs, swearing, movies, makeup, jewelry, mini-skirts, tattoos, and premarital sex. Automobiles are widely accepted (and used!).
So instead of Disney, I had to settle for the next best (original?) thing. I was in second grade when I set to work reading Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, barely understanding a word. Still, stumbling across the name of a familiar character (Kaa, Baloo, King Louis) made me feel like I wasn’t completely isolated from my peers and that momentary surge of warm glow-y feeling made it all worth it.
The reality was that I didn’t fit in. I was tall, awkward and painfully shy; the girl who would get in trouble for reading books during class and wore a skirt at least once a week (a compromise with my mother — generous, considering girls in pants was another no-no).
I was different, but looking back, I made it 100 times worse by being so insecure about it. I remember friendly classmates would try and chat me up about the latest episode of Dawsons Creek or Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I would just smile awkwardly and shrug. More than anything, I just wanted to disappear.
I didn’t fit in in the religion, either. Early on, I can remember looking around the Sunday morning meeting (our equivalent of church) at all the others actively listening with shining eyes and thinking it was all some kind of elaborate joke. It all seemed too surreal to be true, yet it was widely preached that to question church doctrines, “The word of God,” — was Satan poisoning the mind of spiritually weak individuals. Looking back, what I perceived as my own flawed character was just a healthy curiosity.
No matter how hard I tried (and oh, how I tried!), I never felt that religious zeal the way everyone around me seemed to. In both aspects of my dual
existence, my strategy was the same: blend in and try not to draw too much attention. I was ten or so when I ‘professed’ — the faith’s traditional right of passage where the individual stands to their feet in front of the entire congregation and ‘professes’ their choice to serve God. Professing meant that from then on, you were to take part in meetings and Bible studies. This meant reading scripture and preparing a ‘testimony’ or mini-sermon of sorts; metaphorically, what Twitter is to blogging. My friends would all talk excitedly about the night they professed; about how they could ‘feel God calling them’ while my cousin said she felt she was being physically pulled to her feet by some invisible spiritual energy. For me, the driving force was the knowledge that I was the only one left, and people were starting to talk.
At this point you’re probably wondering what religion I’m talking about. There is no actual name for it, but internally, practicing members refer to it as, “The Truth” because it is, “The one true way [to redemption].” I was 12 years old when my mother suddenly stopped attending meetings. Up until that point, she had been born, raised, and even met my father through the context of the religion. To this day, the majority of my extended family are practicing members. It was the only thing she had ever known. Looking back, it must have taken an incredible amount of courage on her part. At the time, though, I was absolutely devastated. My mother is a kind, loving, generous soul, but given this turn of events, I was certain that she was going to burn in hell for all eternity.
Read Part Two
Photo by pareerica