She was, I think, the last friend I had in that church. She was, I know, the last reason I had to be there.
It was in that place where everything went as wrong, and as badly, as it possibly could have gone. It was in that place where I learned to pray to God in Heaven, as I looked to the stars in the night sky, “Father, let me die. Let me die, please. And set me free from this hell.”
I remember so many stories. The time the church’s youth director spoke with me, as we watched the water tumble over rocks, and swirl around tree roots, and branches, by a mountain stream, on a Saturday night in August, with the stars hidden from view by the trees. The only sounds being our words, and the words spoken by the stream.
“There’s something wrong with you, isn’t there.” It was a statement, not a question. I knew that when she spoke the words. Words that echoed in my soul. “There’s something wrong with you, isn’t there.”
How do you answer when someone says those words to you? Defiance? Anger? Rage? How about when they say those words, and you know, beyond doubt, that you are not like everyone else. That somehow, some way, that you can’t understand, you’re different.
I was different. And I knew it. As I knew that being different was the absolute definition of there being something wrong. I was different. That meant there was something wrong with me.
“Yes. But I don’t know what. And I don’t know how to fix it.”
There are so many stories. The time the church pastor spoke with me, “You need to stay where you are in the sanctuary. Not come forward. You’re already right with God. If something in the service speaks to you, be thankful. But stay where you are.”
That was the day the lights in the building went out. The glow of hope. The sense that maybe, perhaps, with luck, and God’s guidance, and will, I could figure out what was wrong with me. With those words, from the leader of the church, that was gone.
I watched, on Sundays, as people walked into the sanctuary, smiling, hopeful. It was like the inside of the building lit up, that light shining through the windows, leaking to the outside world. Except, I was not welcome to be part of that light.
That light avoided me.
So many stories, and yet, they’re all the same. The time the youth went on one last retreat, one last trip, for the memories, I suppose. When they had me, a 19 year old college student, lead the car train to the resort. It was the first time, the only time, we got there on time. With no incidents. With no problems.
How, on that trip, the same youth directory who told me there was something wrong with me had trouble with her footing, climbing down a steep hillside coming back from the mountain swimming hold we all went to. And no one saw that, but me. And no one was beside her, to help her, to catch her if she slipped, but me. And no one noticed at all when we got to the bottom of that hill, and she smiled at me, “Still the same good old guy, aren’t you.”
The same good old guy who dreamed of driving his car, at full speed, through the front door of the church one day, in a desperate effort to escape the bleeding of my soul, only to stand in the rubble, laughing, as God found yet another way to keep me alive, and prolong my agony.
I stopped going to that church. Except for Sunday morning classes, before the service. She was there. I couldn’t let her be wounded as I had. I told God, I didn’t ask, I told him. “I’ll be here. In this place. As long as she is. To do what I can to keep her safe.”
And I left the day she did.
That was the day the light shining from the church, a light I could never be a part of, a light not meant for me, turned orange, and red. The color of flickering flames.
I never returned to that place.
I wrote this for week 141 of Miranda Kate‘s Mid-Week Challenge. You can learn about Miranda’s challenge here. The stories people share for the weekly challenge are always little works of art, crafted with words, meant to be shared, and enjoyed. Please go read them all.
So fitting to the picture & hopefully cathartic for you. Wounds that cut deep sometimes never heal fully. Xx