I never liked home. I used to pray for the day I could just pack up and move. I guess most people from the Appalachian part of Eastern Kentucky see the mountains as a sort of safety blanket. Something about the limited vision I guess they find some comfort in. However, for a homosexual teenage male, it's a prison. You will spend most of your time pretending to be someone you aren’t, hiding your true self so as to avoid persecution.
When I finally came out of the closet my parents were the first to know, I was immediately shunned by my whole family. I can still hear my mother’s shrieking cries coupled with my father’s violent screams. I have never seen his face get so red; I think his blood pressure doubled that day. After hopping from various friends’ couches for a few weeks, I finally left bum fuck Kentucky for upstate West Virginia. Moving there was a decent change, but not too many different aspects of Kentucky to really call it my home.
It was over three years later when I returned at the invitation of my mother, Christmas sympathy I suppose. She had written me a letter informing me that my father had finally decided that he could accept me, I thought it was bullshit but my mother has never, to my knowledge, lied to me. After a few letters of back and forth reassurances I decided that I would give my family a second shot. They obviously had suspicions of how my sexuality would change my lifestyle, but they probably never thought I would get married.
So I went back to Eastern Kentucky with my husband by my side, if they would accept who I was, then they could accept this. He was so supportive, always a smile on his face. You couldn’t see the nervousness on his face, unlike mine. We arrived on a Saturday night. When my husband, Joshua, appeared behind me through the door I recall an actual gasp from my mother. She nearly dropped the dinner platter she was holding.
I don’t feel that all of the details of the evening would entertain you as much as the last thing my father said to me before leaving for his bedroom. He looked over at me with a warm, surprising, smile and said, “Remember, Sunday service starts at twelve.”
Just in case you wanted to know everything, dinner was horribly boring. We all sat at the table, ate food, that's it. There was no conversation. Joshua tried to make small talk with my parents, but they just smiled and nodded. Anybody could tell that they didn’t want to talk to him, or let alone talk to me. After dinner, me and Joshua offered to help clean up the table and dishes. Soon as we offered, mom quickly snatched all the dishes and said, “N-no honey, that's fine I got it.” She sounded angry at me. All we wanted to do was help, maybe try to get some small talk said in the process. I guess not, though.
The next morning, I woke up to the sounds of my husband retching in the bathroom. Joshua was feeling very ill, the dinner must not have agreed with his stomach. In fact, when I left for the church with my parents I had to leave him by the toilet, waiting to vomit. Oh poor Joshua, when the service was over I planned to take him to the doctor. He might have a food allergy or something. Walking into the driveway I looked up to the window, to the room Joshua and I stayed in that night. He was looking out the window, hand pressed on the window. The expression on his face was a face of defeat. He must’ve felt bad that he couldn’t come to the service with me. I wish I didn’t have to go anyway.
My mother did most of the talking on the ride over. She assured me that my sexual orientation has been kept a secret and that no one had known. I was somewhat relieved because I know all of these old timers in the area are overly judgmental, but, I know in my heart that they were saving themselves the embarrassment by keeping it low key. In the car, mother was talking, I can’t really remember the first part of the conversation but she was talking about the new pastor they had hired the year before. “Oh, he is truly good, a real God-fearing man. He has a way of pulling you in and not letting go!” my mother would say.
“I just want him to stick to the scripture,” I said with a somewhat defensive tone. I could tell that my words had some effect on dad, he shifted uncomfortably in the driver's seat.
“Hopefully not too close,” Dad said. I think those were his only words on the ride over. We pulled into the parking lot of the church, finally. I was actually starting to want to go to service, just if it gets me out of that car with those two. Before walking nervously into the church, I was stricken with fear and uneasiness when I saw the church sign. You know how churches have those large signs that have whimsical phrases on them? There was one in the little yard beside the parking lot, which read the words “THEN I SAW A BEAST RISING UP OUT OF THE SEA. IT HAD SEVEN HEADS AND TEN HORNS. AND WRITTEN ON EACH HEAD WERE NAMES THAT BLASPHEMED GOD.”
I remember going to church as a kid, I always hated being dragged here. I used to sit in the back with the other kids and doodle in the hymnals. I wonder if my superman drawing is still in there… The walls of the church were obviously painted over many times all these years, and you could tell it. Some paint was peeling around the bases of the walls. A large chandelier was hanging in the center of the ceiling, brightly lighting the church's walls and pews. Overall, the room was cold and deafening. It was quiet, but so quiet my ears began to ring. I found myself just tapping my feet on the floor just to have something to hear. I sat towards the back left of the church just so I wouldn’t have to converse that much with people if the chance arose. On the left wall, a large porcelain statuette of mother Mary was imbedded into the wall beside a window. Opposite side of the room, on the right wall, was an even larger statuette of Jesus Christ. He seemed to be in the stance of praying, his eyes looking up, fixed onto the chandelier. I have not been a religious man, but this figure of Jesus made me feel sad, which is odd. His eyes looked so... defeated, just like the look Joshua gave me earlier that morning.
Many people gathered into the church, slowly, as if they didn’t know where they could sit. Has someone told them a gay married man has stepped into their church? Are they nervous that I’m here? Regardless, I started to slump down in my seat and calm myself, I really didn’t want to make a scene. I have to admit the service started slow and admittedly I lost interest, I found myself staring at a bird outside of the window. The small animal kept tapping on the glass, fluttering its little wings. After it flew away I went back to the hymnals, looking over the songs I had once sang, wondering why if there was a God, he would make me like this. Why I was so different, and even why it mattered to everyone else that I was gay. I had a right to love just like they do, I shouldn’t be accosted just because my heart belongs to a human with the same parts as me.
The service did not begin like they did many years ago when I was a child. People would come in, shake hands, and sit down. After the crowd shuffled throughout the rows of seats, they all sat still, looking forward towards the stage. The stage had a large black curtain pulled. Back when I was a kid, the curtain was only closed if it was a funeral service or there was a church announcement to make. Time passed as we all sat in this large room, all eyes still facing the stage. There was no talking, only the people sitting quietly. Some people seemed to glance in my direction, but I paid it no mind. I don’t care if they know that I’m a man married to another man. This is my life and I cannot control how I feel about some things.
There was a very strange, foreign smell wafting through the air. It was almost metallic, yet hints of clean linen air freshener, I think.
Eventually, people started talking, as if there was no problem. They were laughing, you know, the standard church folk conversing about their lives. The large room got gradually louder. Damn, these church people were getting into it, I just noticed that they were in a full roar, singing and shouting; hell I heard a few people screaming in tongues. There was a muffled scream in the background, probably behind the stage's curtain, must have been the preacher's son, it sounded like it was coming from up front, damn annoying.
I really did not want to watch, it seemed so silly.
About four or five of the people were running up and down the aisles, eyes rolled back into their heads, spouting an indescribable sounding language. It was the sound of speaking in tongues. The slapping of their feet as they sprinted full force across the concrete floor was piercing. Laughing, uncontrollable cackling laughter was blasted from the wrinkled mouths of several older men across from me. One of the men turned around, looking right at me. His eyes were focused right on mine. He wore a face of anger, even though he was laughing. The other men eventually turned around as well, laughing so annoyingly loud, looking like their blood was being pumped with pure adrenaline. After a few moments, the roaring screams of the congregation simmered down. The ones who were running went to their seats and sat down, still breathing heavily. The laughing men who were staring at me all stopped laughing abruptly, as if their laughing was synced together. The lights dimmed, causing the whole room to fall silent. Everyone faced forward, just like how they did at the beginning of the service. The silence jerked me out of my daydreams and put me back in the church pew. What have I just witnessed? This is nothing like the service when I was a kid. Something is going on, and I don’t know what that is and I don’t want to be here anymore.
The metal hoops holding up the large black curtain were drawn back, pulling the curtain open, showing the large stage in front of all of us. The preacher’s son sat at the organ on stage, and played a fast, yet happy tune, loud enough to fill the entire church.
There was Joshua, up on stage, naked and nailed to a huge wooden cross.
I let out a shrill, faint cry as I read the words sloppily carved into his chest, “UNPURE MEN WILL BECOME PURE.”
I immediately lost my breath and covered my mouth to keep from shrieking any more. There was a sock taped in Joshua’s mouth, must have made the muffled screams I heard earlier, and I don’t know how I...
I just don’t know...
Why are they all staring at me? Why are they all grinning? Why are they all laughing at me? They all stood up, facing me. They all laughed at me, pointing. All I could do was cry. I wonder what the plan for next Sunday is.
Credited to Shawn (me) and Spooky the Bro