Who Taught Me How To Hate

There’s a story I’ve never shared. Never spoken of. Because. I know its words are divisive. I know its words cause harm, anger, mistrust. I know its words are not welcome. But, these days, I’m already unwelcome. So, it’s time to tell the story. Time to start putting into words the truth.

Disturbed, the musical group, has a song on their newest recording, named, “Who Taught You How To Hate?” I mention that here, because here is where I answer that question. I have no doubt I hate. It’s something I’ve been taught. And, once learned, it’s a lesson that can’t be unlearned.

Here’s the direct, blunt answer. Who taught me how to hate? The Christian Church.

Oh, I know, that sentence just shut down almost everyone who would have read this post. Everyone who needs to hear the words below has stopped reading. But, I’m going to tell the story anyway.

It ended, and it began, in August of 1976. A single day that changed the course of my life permanently, and guaranteed I would one day walk away from all churches.

The high school aged youth group of The Narnia Baptist Church went on an end of summer retreat to a place in Syria, Virginia. It was the third trip the group had made to that location, and my second trip to that place.

The Director of Youth Activities for The Narnia Baptist was Jane. I loved her as a friend then, and to this day, if she asks me for assistance of any kind, I will find a way to help. I understood she had genuine concern for me. I understood that of all the people, all the young people like myself, in that group.

It was on that trip when I finally admitted I did not understand the world the way I was supposed to understand it. On a Saturday night. I told Jane I knew something was wrong with my life. I knew it wasn’t a lack of faith, or a lack of God, or some flaw in my understanding of my religion. It was something inside me. Something that prevented me from being like the others in the group.

Everyone in the youth group had paired off, as teenagers do. They’d found girlfriends, and boyfriends. They’d experimented with dating. They’d experimented with many other things as well, including drinking, illegal drugs, and sex. Again, as teenagers do.

I was 17, never been on a date, never had a girlfriend, never tried any drugs, and was waiting until it was legal for me to try alcohol, if I elected to try it. I was also an honor roll high school student, headed toward a college education.

And I declared to Jane, that night, I knew I was different, I knew I reacted differently than the rest of the group. That was the first time I remember the words I hear in my head endlessly. “You can’t be that way. You can’t live like that.”

That’s all the explanation I could get. The way I lived, the way I did things, was wrong. I suppose it would have made life easier for me if someone could have explained why I couldn’t be how I was, why I couldn’t live as I did.

And why I couldn’t feel what I felt.

From that day forward, everyone in the church group tried to correct my behavior. Jane certainly tried. She was most tolerant, really, of my problems with life over the following school year, and the summer of 1977. She also suggested I obtain help, and helped me set up sessions with the church pastor.

Imagine, if you will, being a 17 year old, informed by everyone you know, everyone you care about, every friend you have, that you can’t live the way you live. That you can’t feel what you feel. That you have to change.

I remember the many Sunday nights, after church, when I drove the family station wagon, filled with friends from church, to eat pizza at Pizza Hut. Always, I was the odd numbered human. There were five of us, or seven of us. And I was always the odd number, the one, the single person.

Sometimes, I felt like I didn’t belong, like I wasn’t part of the group, and was only being allowed to tag along, because no one wanted to tell me to go away. And, over time, that changed. Over time I became the odd person outside the group. Allowed to sit at the big table and eat pizza, but when the pizza was gone, it was time for me to be gone too.

The same feeling of it being time for me to be gone spread to Sunday evening church services, and I soon found myself sitting alone at those services, with no one to talk with after those services. That continued to spread, until I was left with no one to talk with on Sunday mornings.

It was the first time I’d been isolated by any group.

In my senior year in high school, I got a part time job as a grocery bagger at a store. When that store started opening on Sundays, at first I told them I didn’t want to work on Sundays, because I had to go to church.

A month later, I told them I could work on Sundays. The isolation at church had reached the point where I knew no one would care if I wasn’t there.

And no one did. No one asked where I was, what I was doing, why I wasn’t there.

In my first year at Old Dominion, I tried to return to church on Sunday mornings. At least long enough to attend the pre-church bible studies. That didn’t work out. And that’s when I heard the next words I’d hear endlessly.

I spoke, more out of desperation than anything else, to a friend. Katie. I asked her if I should find help. “You need help, Mark.”

Those words ended my time at that church. I did visit during the next four years, to check on someone who mattered to me, although I never said anything, and never spoke to anyone of why I kept visiting every few weeks. Her name was Billie Sue Cruz.

When she graduated from high school in 1982, she moved away from that church. And I didn’t return until December of 2010.

By June of 1985, the damage was permanent. I’d learned to hate myself, to deny what I felt, what I wanted, what I cared about. Because, “You can’t be that way. You can’t live that way.” I learned to become what people wanted me to be. I learned to study people, to discover what type of behavior they expected of me, how they expected me to behave, what types of behavior were acceptable to them.

Being who I wasn’t, being what I wasn’t, and fitting the expectations of the people around me, became a feedback loop. If I followed that pattern of behavior, people left me alone, they didn’t tell me how to live, how to behave, how to think. They didn’t tell me I couldn’t be like I was, couldn’t live like I did.

I learned to deny myself.

I learned to hate myself.

I don’t blame anyone for what happened. Let me say that now. I don’t blame Jane. I don’t blame Katie. I don’t blame the group. I don’t blame The Narnia Baptist Church. It’s not worth blaming anyone. What happened happened. It’s the past. I can’t go back and redo it. It’s done. It’s over.

In the summer of 1980, when I was 21, the old group from The Narnia Baptist Church got together one last time, and made a trip to Syria, Virginia, and the retreat center there. I had just completed my 3rd year of college, had a part time job at a grocery store, and was earning enough money to pay for a car, thanks to the generosity of my parents, who allowed me to live at home, and paid my college tuition. I paid for my text books. I paid for my insurance. I paid for the paperback books I read. I paid for the music I listened to. I paid for the comic books I read. I paid for the repairs on my car. I paid for any trips I made to watch a movie. I paid for any dates I went on. I Syria, Virginia.

On that Saturday, at the retreat, the group got on their swimsuits, shorts, and shirts, and headed to the swimming hole in the mountains a few miles from the retreat. At 21, once again, I had to be the lead car that showed the others how to get to the parking for the trial that lead to the swimming spot.

And on that walk, I was the one who stopped what he was doing, and helped others up and down the hillsides along the trail in the mountains as the group made its way to and from that mountain swimming hole on that Saturday afternoon.

I even climbed down the hillside on the way back, beside Jane, to make certain she was OK.

And I heard the third set of words I hated passionately. “Good Old Mark.” I knew she meant it as a compliment. But those words stung in ways I could never have explained to anyone. Those word said I was who I was supposed to be. The observations I’d made of what the people of that group expected me to be, wanted me to be, were confirmed. I was as I was supposed to be.

And I hated every minute of it. I hated who I was, what I’d become.

On that swimming trip, I didn’t swim. I wasn’t part of the group. I stayed away, climbed the hills around the swimming hole, hid from the others, and licked my wounds.

And I watched them. Just in case something happened. And I was needed. Because, to keep everyone from saying those words, “You can’t be that way, you can’t live that way, you need help,” I had to maintain that image, that routine, that I was who they needed me to be.

I’d learned what I’d been taught. I’d learned I couldn’t live the right way. I couldn’t be the right way. I’d learned to burn myself to ashes, to keep myself away from others, so they could be happy. So I wouldn’t bother them, or disturb them, or disrupt them.

So they didn’t have to deal with me. The hated one, whose feelings, and thoughts were always wrong.

So, when you ask me, “Who taught you how to hate, Mark?” I have to answer with honesty.

The Church.

I’ve tried returning to the Church several times in the past 20 years. Each time has failed. Not because I didn’t try. But because of what I have seen every time I tried.

I spent several years attending a church down the road from where I now live. It was called, at the time, God’s Place, and was Episcopal. In the three years I went there for Sunday morning services, I watched that church die.

It started when the Episcopal Church in the US elected an openly gay man as a church bishop. People, loyal Episcopalians, abandoned their church when that happened, as they declared the Episcopal Church had turned its back on God. Some of them pushed for God’s Place to separate from the Episcopal Diocese.

Then, the pastor’s wife left him. She moved to New Jersey. When she left, a slow decline in the regular attendance of the church began. I would learn why when the church pastor went on a mandatory six month sabbatical.

While he was away, the Episcopal Diocese placed another ordained pastor in his place. Before the six months ended, the church staff spoke with the pastor, and then with the bishop of the local diocese. What followed was in investigation of inappropriate sexual activity by the church pastor. That investigation not only revealed the inappropriate sexual behavior, it also revealed inappropriate manipulation of the church’s funds.

That church imploded, and wound up sucking itself into a black hole, never to be seen again. People split into two groups, those who believed the pastor, and those who believed the investigation.

In December, 2010, I visited The Narnia Baptist Church. As I’ve said, I harbor no grudge, I don’t blame anyone for what happened to me there. Many of the people who used to be regular church goers there have moved on. They’ve found other churches, or they no longer attend any church.

The Narnia Baptist Church is dying.

And part of me finds this sad.

And part of me feels it was inevitable.

After a few visits, I knew I wasn’t meant to be there. I didn’t fit in. I never really did. So, I left again, for the final time.

In May of 2011, I visited another church. Far Away Baptist Church, in Chesapeake. I visited on a whim, someone I’d known in highschool was there, and had invited me. I figured it couldn’t hurt to try.

I wound up attending most Sundays until November. Sometimes, it takes a while to figure things out, and to understand what I’m feeling. But, it all became clear one Sunday, when my friend told me she had worked hard to grow the way people of that church thought of her. She’d put a lot of effort into controlling the image they had of her. And she wanted to maintain that image.

And the scars in me were laid bare.

I knew exactly what she was saying, because I’d learned to do that very thing at The Narnia Baptist Church. I tried to keep visiting Far Away Baptist, but I couldn’t. Everywhere I looked, I saw that behavior, where people manage, and control, what others think of them. Where people are fake, and behave as expected.

So, in November of 2011, I walked away, and I have never returned.

I won’t be attending another church.

It’s taken me decades to undo the damage the Church did to me. Decades to learn I physically am different. Decades to learn we are all physically different. Some of us have healthy, strong bodies. Some don’t. Some of us have healthy, strong social skills. Some don’t. Some of us live pain free. Some don’t. Some of us can walk into a church, and fit in. Some can’t. Some of us don’t panic when we visit a new store, a new restaurant, a new doctor. Some of us do.

It’s taken me decades to recognize the self hate I was taught by people who honestly thought they were doing their best to help me.

I’m still learning to take care of myself. I’m still learning to speak my truth. To speak my story. I’m still learning I’m not evil, not wrong, not broke.

I’m just different. With a clinically diagnosed Autism Spectrum Disorder, and permanent depression that’s biochemically based. And that’s OK. It doesn’t make me defective. It doesn’t make me wrong. It makes me different.

So, when you ask me, “Mark, who taught me how to hate?”

I have to answer honestly, “The Church.”

Who is teaching me to repair the damage done to my life?

God. And the people he’s put into my life that help me, including my doctors.

I can’t return to the Church. Some of us aren’t meant to be there. For some of us, it’s the worst thing we can do to ourselves.

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The Violence – Two

Sunday after Sunday, he goes to church.
Because it’s the right thing to do,
The thing you’re supposed to do,
Every Sunday.

He watches the other people of the church,
When the stand,
When they sit,
When they bow their heads,
When they close their eyes,
How they pray,
How they sing,
Every thing they do.
He watches it all.
Studies it all.
Memorizes it all.
So he can be like them.
So he can fit in.

He reads the bulletin,
Every word,
And tracks the lines,
Matching them to what people do,
And when they do that.
It’s a handy guide for him.
One he can use like a map,
Stand now.
Sit now.
Sing now.
Listen now.
All mapped out.
He follows it.
So he won’t stick out,
Won’t be different.
So he can be like everyone else.
So he can fit in.

He’s learned,
You see.
He’s learned it’s not what he feels.
Not what he thinks.
No one cares for that.
He’s learned,
You see.
To blend in.
So no one says to him,
“What’s wrong with you?”
“You can’t do that!”
“You can’t be that way!”
So no one calls him arrogant
For looking to heaven when he prays.
No one wonders what’s wrong with him,
When he doesn’t sing.
So he doesn’t do something
Different.
Or wrong.

He’s learned,
You see.
The words to say.
The way to dress.
When to smile.
When to frown.
When to laugh,
And cry.

He’s learned.
To fit in.
To belong.

To be one of them.

And he doesn’t care at all.
If all of it’s a lie.
If all of it’s all wrong.
It’s the way things are.
The way he has to be.

So he won’t have to be alone.

So he won’t have to be alone.

#MWBB Week 2.22 – A Tale Of Wrath : I Try

Brian sat in the church pew. It was Friday night, and the church was available for prayers. Those who wished to talk with God in private. The priest sat in the chair beside the altar, and was available for any who approached him.

Brian was thankful the church was available. He wished to speak with God. He needed to speak with God. When he closed his eyes, he still saw the blood on his hands. Her blood.

“She never listened! God! She never listened!” He didn’t speak aloud, his words echoed in his head instead. “I played the song for her, but she never listened!” Brian shook his head. “I even sang them to her. I did.”

The words of the song echoed in his head.

I try to say goodbye and I choke.
I try to walk away and I stumble.
Though I try to hide it, it’s clear.
My world crumbles when you are not near.

He even heard the words In Macy Gray’s voice.

“I explained, God. I did. And still, she wouldn’t talk to me. Wouldn’t hold my hand. Wouldn’t be with me. Wouldn’t love me.”

Brian remembered his frustration. His agony. Feeling she’d stabbed him in his heart. “I loved her, God!” He quietly cried, sitting in the church, unable to raise his head to look at the cross before him.

He’d bought flowers. He knew they were her favorites. White lilies. A dozen of them. He’d bought chocolates. Godiva, in a heart container. And a bottle of her favorite wine. He put on his best Sunday suit, the gray one, with pinstripes. A clean, white shirt. A white tie. He’d bought the tie to match the lilies.

He’d been nervous, sitting in his car, waiting for her to get home from work.

He’d been furious when she’d arrived with that other guy. “God, he should have known! He should have known she was mine!”

He left the lilies and chocolate in his car. He followed them to her apartment. He listened to her laughter, he could hear her in the hall. He didn’t know what to do. Everything had gone wrong. Nothing was like he wanted it. Like he needed it.

He remembered his shoulder colliding with the door, several times, the sound of wood cracking, then splintering. He hadn’t felt anything as he broke through the door. The two of them stood there, half-naked, staring at the door in horror.

He attacked the man. He grabbed anything within reach, to help him. The crystal clock on the table by the front door. Brian stared at his hands, but the memory wouldn’t go away. That clock, striking the man’s face. Over and over, until the man stopped moving.

She clawed at him. Jumped on his back. Pounded on his shoulders. Her fingernails scraped at his neck, and face. The clock struck her head. “I told you! I told you! I try! But you never listen!” Her beautiful face wasn’t beautiful anymore. Her beautiful neck bent funny. “I can’t live without you!”

Brian stood in the church. He screamed at God, “I told her! I told her!”

He closed his eyes, and saw the blood on his hands. Blood he knew he could never wash away.

He sat down on the pew. “Why, God? Why didn’t she listen?”

The police entered from the back of the church. The priest nodded to them, and pointed to Brian.

Wrath stood in the shadow of the cross and laughed. He kept laughing long after the police took Brian away.

591 Words
@LurchMunster


This is my entry for Year 2, Week 22 (Week 2.22) of Jeff Tsuruoka‘s Mid-Week Blues-Buster flash fiction challenge. Please, go read the other stories in the challenge.

#FinishThatThought Week 2-5 : Slipping Away

She whispered, “I forgive you,” as her hand slipped out of mine.

It was a lie. We both knew that. She remembered everything I’d done. Whatever it was I’d done. It was funny how I never knew what I’d done. I always said something, did something, wrote something, that brought an end to a friendship, or job. Something that forced me to leave another club, another church, another gym, another whatever.

With me, everything ended.

I never knew why.

But I knew people. I knew what they were going to do. What they were thinking. What they were feeling. I had to. It was what kept me alive.

I looked squarely in her eyes and studied their color. I saw the bottled rage hidden behind the façade of tenderness and caring. I saw the tension at the back of her jaw line. Subtle, covered over, disguised, so most would never see it. The nearly invisible lines to the sides of her eyes, caused by stress.

She was putting on her best face. Acting polite, caring, and forgiving.

I replayed what happened in my memory. I heard every word I’d said. I watched her listen. I watched her stand once more. I watched her stomp her left foot, one time. I heard her say, “Really?” And I watched her walk out of the room.

I knew every word I’d said. “They’re all like. Inside. Beneath the surface. Like cars. Pull off the decorations, the bumpers, the paint, the fenders, the seats, and all the cars become an engine with a drivetrain. That’s how they’re all alike.”

“They think the same. They laugh at the same things. They eat at the same places, and they eat the same things. They vote the same every election.” I’d looked into her hazel eyes, “I can tell you who they voted for. Every last one of them. And none of them told me.”

“You don’t mean that.” Her words echoed in my memory. “You don’t mean that.”

“Yes. Yes, I do. Because it’s true. And you know it.”

That’s when she’d stood up, and left. “Really?” It had been an accusation. Not a threat, not a question. An accusation. I’d never seen it coming. Her reaction was a surprise. I’d stood, unmoving, like a statue, for ten minutes. I’m not sure I’d even breathed. I didn’t move, as I wrestled with myself, in my head, trying to grasp what had happened. What I’d done, what I’d said, how I’d said it, that elicited such an angry, harsh response from her.

I had no clue.

The only option I’d had was to apologize for the words I’d said, and bury what I felt, what I thought, what I believed, inside, where no one could see it again, and hope she accepted my apology.

She hadn’t. Everything I saw when I looked at her told me that.

Another friend. Slipping away again. Soon, she would be gone. And I would be like always.

Alone.

497  Words
@LurchMunster


I wrote this for Week 2-5 (Year 2, week 5) of Alissa Leonard‘s Finish That Thought. Please, go read all the creatively shared stories in this week’s challenge.

#ThursThreads Week 112 : Just Like You

It was Sunday morning. Time to go to church.

I staggered out of bed. “Work, legs! Work!” I staggered into the bathroom, stripped, turned on the shower, and staggered in. The water was fucking cold! “Jesus!” I turned the hot all the way up. “Fuck!” as I felt my skin boiling away. I stepped out of the water, and stuck a hand under it while I adjusted it.

“I hate fucking Sundays!” I soaped up and rinsed, then washed my balding head. Then I turned the water off. “You’re fucking out of time!”

I got out, dried off, then shaved as I stood in front of the mirror. Standing there, starkers, I wondered about those guys that shave their nuts. The thought of even using an electric razor down there terrified me. “Maybe the use Nair or something?”

I got dressed. Even put on a tie. Had to tie that bitch three times. I got it tied, looked in the mirror, “Fuck!” and started over.

I hopped in the car and floored it, stopping at Hardee’s for a giant Coke, and a sausage, egg, and cheese biscuit. I ate as I flew down the highway, screaming, “Fucking idiot!” every time I had to change lanes to get around some slow ass bastard.

Of course I got there on time. And once there, everything was perfect. And after the service, all the old bitches said to me, “I wish my boy was just like you.”

Fuck yeah!

246 Words
@LurchMunster


I wrote this for Siobhan Muir‘s #ThursThreads, Week 112. Please go read all the entries in this week’s #ThursThreads. They are good reading.

#ThursThreads Week 90 : He Could Be The One

Arrogance and Pride hid in the shadows between two buildings and watched Simon walk past, on his way to church. Arrogance grinned and Pride reminded him, “Patience, evil one. Patience.”

After Simon passed, the demons followed him, creeping silently between the shadows on the sidewalk, staying out of Simon’s sight. They could feel the delicious anger raging in Simon’s heart.

“He could be the one,” Pride whispered.

“He is the one.” Arrogance replied.

They listened as Simon muttered, “Homos, trying to corrupt my church. I’ll show them.”

Pride and Arrogance fueled Simon’s fire, as they whispered in his ears.

“The nerve of them, thinking we will tolerate their sin!”

“Thinking we don’t know the words of our Lord and Savior.”

“Men sleeping with men is a vile sin. It says so in the word of God!”

Simon went to his office in the church. Pride and Arrogance, hidden in his shadow, followed him. As he reviewed the notes for the lesson he would teach that day, he muttered to himself again, “I cannot let them corrupt God’s children.”

And Arrogance and Pride fueled his anger once again.

“Call them out by name!”

“Tell everyone they will corrupt the church.”

“Unless we remove them.”

In the service, Simon waited impatiently as he sang praises to God and Jesus above, and prayed for God to grant him the strength to do what he had to.

And when he stood before God’s children on that Sunday morning, Arrogance and Pride stood beside him.

250 Words
@LurchMunster


I wrote this for Siobhan Muir‘s #ThursThreads, Week 90. Please go read all the entries in this week’s #ThursThreads. They are good reading.

#SatSunTails 57 : Celebration Arised

Celebration arised in the church on the day she arrived. They welcomed her with open arms, and commenced teaching her how to be a woman of the church.

The day she left home for the church I’d escaped, she took part of my heart and soul with her.

I’ve tried to tell her why I left the church. The way they treat women as subservient to men. Limiting how much education women can have. Teaching them to do whatever their husbands want. Teaching them spousal rape was normal, as was spousal abuse.

It took years to free my family from the church. To give her a chance to become a real person. Now, she won’t even speak to me. All I have left of her is the painting I made of her face. One day, that will be gone too. Even now, the paint is cracking, and slowly peeling away.

150 Words
@LurchMunster


This is my entry into Rebecca Clare Smith‘s 57th #SatSunTales. Please, go read the other entries. It’s a tough challenge, and brings out some wonderful tales.