Between Water Street and Drowning
I am only 22 but I know three things to be true; I know water can heal I know you can always write yourself into a memory I know when you’re falling you’ll always search for something greater than flesh to hold.
Yet, I cannot swim, I hardly write, and God and I are at a standstill.
I found God between my parent’s separation and puberty on 107 water street. I was thirteen; I had acne and depression with no words to define my emotional and physical turmoil. I grew up in a strict household and a small community where everyone was a reporter. Yet, I needed to talk. Prayer became a therapist, and church was the office. Everything I could not say to my mother for fear of being beaten or my community for fear of being talked about, I could say to God.
Going to church gave me an escape from everything. If my mom and dad were fighting, I was going to church. If the boys in the neighborhood were trying to creep, I was going to church. If I had to clean the house, I was going to church. It did not take long for me to have an intense commitment to my church. By the time I was fifteen, I had been baptized, I led Sunday school and took an oath of celibacy. I even began to envision myself amongst leadership in the church.
However, by the time I was sixteen I began to notice things about my church that made loving God go sour. I did not like how the young girls were always responsible for the shortcoming of the men. I did not appreciate having members commenting on my body and appearance. Most of all, I hated how shame was weaponized on members who fell out of line. I tried to voice my concerns to teachers and mentors in the church but all their answers came up dry. My concerns were like an echo in an empty chamber. A part of me felt I should make an exit but I had put so much hope in it that I decided to stay. My skepticism continued to linger but my desire to be accepted by my ministry overpowered it.
I thought that if I became more aligned with the church and the standards my concerns would be at ease. I increased my involvement within the ministry but nothing about my engagement seemed authentic. I was more afraid of stepping out of line than speaking to God. Church elders had divided the youth ministry into good kids and bad kids. Youth that were viewed as unfavorable were left to fend for themselves, no support. I still needed love and a place to go after school.
I wanted things to work so desperately that I once went to my pastor about sexual dreams. I just wanted to be pure for God; I just wanted to do church right. He thanked me for confiding in him and we set a time to pray over me. I walked into the church building alone; he arrived with another church leader. I was instantly embarrassed; we continued anyway. I was partaking in a deliverance prayer, so I expected it to be somewhat intense. That was an understatement for what occurred. Both pastors held me, we were praying, we were screaming. I was told to say the names of the people in my dreams. Names of men and names of women. Feeling hot and ashamed. We were praying, I was spinning, I was being pulled and tucked, I was screaming and then I was crying. I just wanted to do church right; I just wanted to be pure for God. The prayer session ended, both the elder looked pleased. My elder said “You should feel better now. Sometimes spirits just takeover us.” I felt immediately different after but not better, more like empty. I was in all types of pain. My pastor bought me three buffalo slices at the corner store then drove me home. On the car ride home he talked to me about different pizzerias he enjoyed and I nodded. His voice was merely background noise, as I clinched on to my body, trying to make sense of what just happened.I remember thinking of my body as a vessel of dirt. When I got home, I went straight to my shower. It was summer, the water was boiling. I cried all night and then went to bed.
It was in the fall of my sophomore year of college when I realized all the damage the church had done to me. The guilt I felt when I held my boyfriend, the shame I had when it came to my womanhood, the homophobia I had internalized was cultivated on Water Street. At that point ,I was over the church and therefore over God. I saw them as one in the same. Spring of sophomore year I took a class called Legacies of The Ancient World with a man who cared very little for religion. He walked into one of our class sessions having ripped the book of Genesis from his Oxford Bible. He then proceeded to cut the Bible’s ass in a very lackadaisical, academic kind of way. The old, church abiding me would have been horrified but the new more skeptical me was in awe. I had never seen anyone turn God and Holy Scripture into so much of nothing. He held inside him so much blasphemy and forbidden curiosity. The class was a breath of fresh air and a wake up call. All of the papers I wrote in the class dealt with the inconsistency of God and the flaws of the Bible. By the time the semester had ended I was as cynical as ever when it came to the church and God. I stopped going to church services and my bible became a paperweight.
The next two years after my sophomore year were spent creating as much distance from God and me as humanly possible. I was resentful. I spend a lot of time thinking about what kind of relationship I would of had with my body, my sexuality, my partner had I not been brought up in the ministry. I wanted freedom, whatever that meant. I was running. You never know how much something is apart of you until you run from it. I would have thrown out my bible along with my old clothes had I not been afraid of burning immediately after. I kept leaving God and finding him in everything; my family, my writing, my subconscious. I wrote a book of poetry the summer of my junior year and it was laced with biblical references. In the end I even titled it Bethlejiem. The dichotomy I was dying to create just would not occur. I was starting to wonder if maybe I threw out the baby with the bath water.
I found myself mourning one morning. With no other place to run, I had to confront I was feeling a bit hollow. Missing a lot of God and holding resentment towards church. I was torned. I was working hard to detach my traumatic experiences from the Glory itself. I even researched more accepting politically conscious churches to go but always got cold feet. Maybe my apprehension was due to not being ready to be back, or maybe it was due to not being ready to forgive. Maybe I stood outside of these churches wondering how many children’s personal journeys were being stifled with man-made expectations “co-signed “by “God”. Maybe I thought about all the “spirits” being removed that were just part of puberty. I wanted God with everything in me but without shame. At this point in my life I partake in double Dutch with God. One afternoon I could share a meme about an animal in Hell trying to reach God and can caption it “ME!!!!!”. The next day I could be reciting James 1:3 in my bedroom before going to bed. I do not know if I want to go back to church at all but I feel in my spirit that I need to go somewhere. I need to talk to someone, believe in something greater than me. I’m trying to learn how to swim I’m trying to write myself into existence I’m trying to be held