Losing my Religion – Part 3
Continued from Part 2
At the tender age of 21, I spent a lot of time being ruled by fear. I worried about making poor decisions (though by this point I’d already made a few). I cared a lot about what people thought of me, and I feared judgement. I was afraid of letting my family down in some way. I was afraid I’d run out of time, that Jesus would return before I’d had a chance to live my life to the fullest. I was afraid he’d catch me at a bad time, and I wouldn’t be welcomed into the Kingdom. I was afraid to think for myself.
When my friend Sarah asked me to join her on a trip to Oregon to visit her family, I said yes, because I had always wanted to see the Pacific Ocean and to have a travel adventure with a friend. But even so, I was scared. I was nervous about flying. I’d only flown a couple of times before, but always with my parents or with Gram. It would be my first time navigating a big airport all alone, and flying across the country. What if something went wrong?
Well, things did go wrong in a major way. When I got back to Connecticut afterwards, I was a wreck. I cried every time we watched the news. I constantly suffered from headaches and felt physically ill from worry. Nights were restless, my dreams filled with people screaming in terror as they leapt from burning, crumbling buildings. I dreamt of thick, black smoke obscuring the skies, and being far away from my family, with no way to get to them.
I really didn’t know what to make of the terrible events that had happened on 9/11. Were they signs that the world was about to come to an end? Many Christadelphians I knew were sure it was the End of Days. Did I need to break up with Dave and go back to the Christadelphians and beg for forgiveness before it was too late?
That fall, I started going back to meeting, motivated by fear. Being back in the fold after “living in sin” for a time was awkward. Some people treated me like the prodigal son, while others basically ignored me. I continued this tenuous relationship with the local meeting for the next couple of years, while secretly still living with Dave. I would often escape to Vermont on the weekends, so that gave me an excuse for not being at meeting every Sunday.
Debbie and I attempted to rekindle our friendship. By this time, she was engaged to be married, and asked me to be one of her bridesmaids. I was hurt that she hadn’t asked me to be her maid of honor, since we had spent the most of our teenage years devoted to each other and I had expected to continue our best friend status to infinity and beyond.
Instead, she asked her sister-in-law to be the matron of honor. After her sister in law, was her actual sister, and then Jason’s sisters. I was number 5 or 6. (I don’t remember how many sisters there were!) Looking back, I wish I’d just politely declined, because it turned into a year of awkward social engagements and feeling like the odd one out most of the time. And let’s be honest, I would have been a horrible maid of honor, because I wouldn’t have even known about all the duties I would have been expected to perform.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Dave and I were having major issues with our relationship. It’s not surprising, since I was dealing with so much internal struggle over figuring out what was right and wrong, and feeling frustrated because Debbie’s life seemed to be going along just as she had planned.
I would beg Dave to go to meeting with me, because, if he could just become a Christadelphian, all of our problems would be solved! I could stop living a lie. Being a sensible man, he politely declined these requests. He told me over and over that he was not interested in joining any religious groups and that I was free to do what I wanted, but to stop asking him. I would get mad at him for being so stubborn, and I would cry because I didn’t know how else to respond to conflict.
I kept trying to hold on to some semblance of life within the Christadelphians, which meant I had to pretend that Dave didn’t exist when I was with them. It was like I had two personas – the holy churchgoer, and the day-to-day me. I don’t know how Dave put up with me for so long. I really needed to just make a decision, but decision-making was extremely difficult for me in those days.
Instead of talking or addressing our issues, we just tried to ignore them, and we certainly did not have a civilized discussion about them. It got to a point where we were just living together sort of icily, and not enjoying each other’s company anymore. I wish I could go back to those days and bestow some of my current wisdom on my then self… though I guess I had to go through it all to gain that wisdom.
That summer Dave and I broke up. I quit my job and moved back to Vermont (Yes… again.) You may notice the pattern of me literally running away from everything that was difficult to deal with. Retreat to Vermont!
While I was in Vermont, I was happy to be close to my family again, especially my youngest brother Nick, who was 11 at the time. Leaving him behind the first time I’d moved out (when he was 8!) was very tough, so I was glad to be able to be close to him again. I don’t remember much about that summer except that I listened to Dar Williams’ The Beauty of the Rain album on repeat for most of it and I cried a lot.
Debbie and I had signed up to teach a children’s class (obviously – they wouldn’t let women teach a grown-up class!) at a bible school in August, so once again, I packed up my bible and my head covering and hit the road. I had a brief fling with an Australian guy (a long story that I’ll spare you) and thought that perhaps I could settle into the Christadelphian lifestyle with Mr. Australia.
However, I missed Dave with my whole heart. We would talk on the phone and it was like coming home for my soul. Mr. Australia and I did not connect in the way that I would have liked. It turned out that he liked me a lot more than I liked him, which was a new experience for me.
At the end of that summer I moved back to Connecticut, this time renting a room from Debbie’s sister and her husband while I looked for my own apartment. I continued to try to press myself into the Christadelphian mold. I tried my hand as a Sunday School teacher. I did scrapbooking nights with the other sisters.
Despite these efforts, I really couldn’t take it. I couldn’t do it. My soul was screaming for freedom. I hated having to be careful what I said, for fear that I would say something wrong and be judged for it. I longed to have conversations where someone wouldn’t toss back a bible verse in response to a thought or question I had.
I hated feeling like a second-class citizen. Women were not allowed to do much other than teach Sunday School or play the organ on Sundays. Oh, and prepare food, and clean up afterwards, of course. While I’d never had ambitions about standing behind the pulpit myself, the more I saw the old-timey roles of men and women in the meeting, the less I could bear it.
I felt myself growing closer to people at work – people of “the world.” Dave and I were still friends and I had found an art center in town where I began spending more and more time. I even dated other guys, thinking perhaps I could rope someone else into Christadelphia, though I was getting more and more comfortable with the idea of life outside of that bubble.
One Sunday morning after I’d moved into my own apartment, an intense feeling of dread came over me as I got ready for meeting. I did not want to go. Every fiber of my being was resisting. Yet my head was telling me I had to go. If I didn’t go, people would say negative things about me and judge me.
Hyperventilating and sweating, I called Dave to ask him what to do. I couldn’t make a decision for myself. He told me that if it was important to me to read the bible or to commune with God, that I could do that by myself. He suggested that I go for a hike, as it was a gorgeous sunny day. The thought of climbing up Chauncy Peak and being able to overlook the whole town calmed me. I changed out of my Sunday clothes and put on hiking clothes and hit the trail instead. I felt a thousand times better being out in that sunshine.
Inside, I knew it was time to make a big decision. For real this time.
Part 4 is when it gets real serious.