(Crossposted in a lot of places, sorry if this floods your f-list.)
I swing my legs back and forth in the plastic chair I’m sitting in. The wrestling room smells like sweat and pizza, and around me all the good and virtuous of my high school filter around, their ear-marked New International Versions clutched to their chests like the shields they imagine they carry in lieu of the Crusaders. My mind temporarily wonders at the morality of people who worship a group that invaded a foreign land “in the name of God,” but then I remember I’m supposed to be the quiet and shy girl in the wheelchair, and I certainly can’t tell the most revered people in school that their hero worship might be a bit misplaced.
I run a bit on the fringe of this crowd of beautiful people, the best athletes and Christians in the school. Unlike them, I’m lanky, and rather than the typical Abercrombie and Fitch jeans and pink t-shirt, I wear a flowing skirt and a t-shirt with a tree on it that says “Hug a Tree” that makes them all look down their noses at me. I’m sixteen, and all I want is to be friends with this people who practically are in line for sainthood. The reason why I’m even allowed at this gathering is that it’s a meeting for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. When looking at me the only thing correct about the title is “Christian,” and even that can be debated. In my mind, “Fellowship” is a group of fictional characters trekking through Middle Earth, and I certainly don’t see any hobbits here. And “Athletes…” well, I’m certainly not an athlete. It certainly wouldn’t be wise to make me run a lap, and your basketball team definitely won’t score with me on it. “Scoring” isn’t in my vocabulary, no matter which form of the word is being used. I have a condition where I commonly fall to the ground shaking, which does not ingratiate me to the opposite sex, even if I wasn’t a hippy nerd railing against global warming while watching anime.
Today we’re going to have a testament, where one of these lovely beacons of hope tells us how they came to know Jesus. My best friend, Bobbi, loves these things. Bobbi gets on a little better than me with these people, but I can’t figure out why. She also watches anime, and is a bit more obsessive about merchandise then I am. It could be her consistently good grades. I’m smarter than she is, but my constant absences make it impossible to maintain good grades. Generally, I do whatever Bobbi says. I’m terrified of her not being my friend. The few times I’ve not listened to her and done what I wanted have gotten me in trouble. Like when I dated her friend Rick. Things went pretty well between the two of us, but Bobbi’s shunning bothered me so much that I broke it off quickly. I had had to beg my mom to take me out of town so that I could stand him up for homecoming. A few years later, I’ll date Rick again and it will be the worst relationship of my life, but it will be enough to make Bobbi stop talking to me. Meanwhile, she sits next to me, eagerly awaiting the meeting’s start. I nibble on my slice of pizza, grimacing at the taste of pepperoni left behind by the pieces I peeled off. I had been a vegetarian for two years, so the taste of meat was a bit nauseating.
Amanda steps up to the podium, her eyes shining with the light of God. I sit back in my seat, acknowledging grudgingly that this definitely going to be a long one. I pull out my sketchbook to try and punch out the five sketches that are due next period in Art. My drawings aren’t very good, but they aren’t appallingly bad. They’re overly influenced by anime and Disney, but there’s something nice about drawing bubbly schoolgirls with cute sidekicks. The world’s simpler for them. All they have to worry about is gaining the affections of some ridiculously pretty and angst-ridden man, and drawing them is very easy. Because I’m so bad, I like art that is easy or forgiving. So anime and oil painting tends to be a favorite of mine.
“Hi guys!” Amanda says, pushing her flat ironed hair behind her ears. Amanda’s one of those really “miraculous” people. She used to be fat, to be blunt. I certainly never thought anything was wrong with her, but now when you see her standing next to her identical twin sister, who is still fat (poor thing), it is obvious how much she changed. I wonder for a moment how it must feel to be her twin, to see what you could be if you just devoted a summer to starving yourself and throwing up constantly. Amanda’s a really Christian girl. If she were Catholic, she would already have a stained glass window devoted to her, but she’s Protestant, and according to Grandma Winky, they’re all heathens. I shrug, and look up at the shaky podium at which Amanda stands. “Guys, first, I wanna tell you that God loves you. He loves everybody. Now, I’m gonna tell you my story.”
Amanda goes on, her speech filled with “guys,” wanna,” and “gonna” like the pizza sitting on the table is full of pepperoni and spongy cheese. Amanda has a hard time eating, because she has anorexia. I snort, unimpressed, as other girls in the room sniffle. She tells of being discovered, of the fights within her family, the abandonment she felt from God and Christ. I feel the temptation to go to sleep like my father at Sunday
“So, my family decided to send me to therapy,” she said, and I notice that she’s wearing waterproof mascara, because it isn’t running with her tears. “And first, they sent me to this one lady, and I guess she was okay, but she was Jewish. And I totally refused to go to her because, y’know, I might be anorexic, but she’s going to Hell! I mean, she totally has her own problems.”
This makes me sit up in complete horror, gaping at the people around me. They’re laughing. For an instant, I wish I’m not shy, the bizarre wallflower who never says anything. I want to rage at them all, because the therapist she’s talking about is my therapist. I knew Amanda and I had been referred to the same person by our guidance counselor. The only reason I’m no longer anorexic is because of the therapist she’s talking about. I might have other health problems, but at least I’m no longer destroying myself. I had never considered her Judaism to be an issue. For some reason it never registered that Christianity meant condemning everyone else to Hell.
These good, perfect people are hypocrites. They sit there with their Bibles and their golden crosses with tiny birthstones dangling from their necks tanned from surfing at the beach, and find the idea of someone going to Hell to be a joke. I look at Amanda and see nothing than a selfish, vain, anti-Semitic bitch- I put my hand to my mouth in shock. I may not have spoken it, but I certainly meant it. Suddenly, I feel free. I stand up, pick up my satchel and sling it over my shoulder. I’m glad today is a day I’m not in my wheelchair, because it would have made leaving more difficult. I’d like to say that it’s this dramatic moment where everyone turns around, and I make a scathing speech about respecting others and hypocrisy, but really only my friend Bobbi notices, giving me a look of annoyance as though I’m embarrassing her. I toss her the finger and I know I’m going to get hell for it later, but I’m too busy walking toward the doors. I walk with a bit of a limp, and I feel my left side tingle a bit. The last thing I want is to have a seizure, so I pick up the pace to at least get out of here quickly. I go out the double doors and turn towards the library, where my other friends are eating lunch. I take about five steps before the tingling gets more intense.
“I… help… no…” I stammer at a nearby girl, who backs away very quickly as I fall to the ground, and everything goes black.
A seizure is incredibly annoying, above everything else. When I wake up, my entire left side is numb, and it will hurt later. Paramedics are standing over me, and I feel a wave of anger. Nothing is worse than having a seizure in school. There’s always a big crowd, then an ambulance ride where they stick me with an IV. I have tiny veins that supposedly “hide,” so I’ll be stuck three times before they get it set up right. Then I’ll go to the hospital and I’ll be out of school for a few days. None of my friends are around, and I feel a mix of relief and loneliness. It’s decidedly uncool to be taken away on a stretcher, but it’s always nice to have a friend nearby to maybe hold my hand and make the process a little less scary.
In the ambulance, I think back on the meeting. All I can do so soon after a seizure is think, because I can’t talk. I’m trapped in my head. I think about how the kids in that meeting, especially Amanda, will pray for me around the flagpole in the morning and my anger flares. I don’t want their prayers or pitying looks. I want to be far away from them, I want to be able to tell them exactly what I think of their prayers. I know though, that when I come back from this absence I’ll let them push me in my wheelchair. I’ll thank them for their prayers, and I’ll bow my head in prayer with them, staring blankly at the back of my eyelids. The more seizures I have, the more I doubt that God is listening. My Christianity is crumbling. Within a few years I’ll be agnostic, but it takes a lot of adjusting. In the beginning I feel guilty, and I upset a lot of friends in my decision. A few of them needle at me to come back, but I have no desire. That meeting will still bother me when I’m twenty-one and most of the people I knew in high school assume I died. The seizures eventually stop, and I get a diagnosis I can’t even pronounce. I move on with my life, and get a job I never thought I’d be able to have that I give a lot of credit for breaking me out of my shell and making me more outspoken and independent. People from high school are often surprised when they see me again. Recently, I saw Amanda in a restaurant, and I refrained from talking to her. We exchanged a glance, but I’m sure she wasn’t sure who I was. I probably would have forgotten her as easily if she hadn’t made that comment in her testimonial. Or maybe not, seeing as we shared so many experiences by association. In middle school we had shared the label of the “Anorexic Girl.” So, maybe she did know who I was. She probably does not know that her testimonial had the opposite of her intended effect. Rather than bring me closer to Jesus, it helped me to leave him behind with my seizures and all my other bad high school experiences.