I hadn’t been to church in seven years, but here I was, walking hand in hand with some guy I barely knew in the clothes I had on the night before making our way to his church. I felt sick. The sun was burning down on us and my dress kept getting stuck in between my thighs. My hair was unwashed and matted at the nape of my neck and my heels chipped away at the scabs that had formed last night while my shoes filled with blood, but Jack was happy, smiling at me.
I met him at the coffee shop next to my house and he seemed nice enough – I didn’t know just how nice at the time – so when he asked me on a proper date, I agreed. And when he asked me to attend church with him after he made me cum, I couldn’t say no.
I tried my hardest to smile back at him, “So what exactly am I about to walk into?”
“Well, it’s small. Nondenominational, mostly young people-”
“That’s a thing?”
“Of course it’s a thing,” he said. He hadn’t stopped smiling yet, “What denomination are you?”
My ankle buckled underneath me and I stumbled. I felt the remainder of the scabs rip off my feet. I reached for Jack’s shoulder to balance myself and he placed his left arm around my waist to catch me. I should probably think it was sweet, but my stomach churned and I felt my hangover resurface and I wished I had eaten something that morning.
“Thanks,” I said, putting enough distance between us so that his arm would drop, “I haven’t really been to church in awhile, but I used to go to a Lutheran church with my father every other weekend when I was a kid.” He took my hand again and we continued walking down the street.
“Why every other weekend?” I’d never met anyone who smiled so much. It was unsettling.
“I’m guessing your parents are still married.”
He laughed then began to turn right into the entrance of an old theater. A woman with blue hair stood in the doorway waving us down.
“Wait, where are we going?” I asked.
“Church,” he said.
The blue haired woman smiled and shook our hands, “Welcome. Jack, it’s great seeing you again and it’s even better to see you brought a new face. My name is Gina, it’s great to meet you.”
“Hi, Gina. This is Amy. Amy why don’t you go inside and get some coffee, I’ve got to catch up with Gina, I’ll just be a minute,” Jack said.
“Alright. Nice to meet you, Gina,” I hesitated then headed into the dim light of the theater.
To my surprise it was still a functioning business. I could tell by the faint smell of popcorn, the promotion for Fiddler on the Roof playing that afternoon at 3:00 p.m. (a play I had never seen, but had owned the album for several years), and the fresh stain of soda on the confetti patterned carpet beneath me. A group of people about my age, perhaps even younger, gathered around a cart holding a portable coffee machine. I had to squeeze through three layers of them, all dressed in pastels, and was forced to dodge each welcoming conversation that I did not want to be apart of.
I filled a small, Styrofoam cup with black coffee and took a couple of napkins to stuff in the back of my shoes, then made my way to a corner on the side of the room.
People were laughing and talking with those around them while I hid and tried to fuse myself into the wall. There was always some type of fear that I had whenever attending church that I could feel in the pit of my stomach and I felt it now. With a smile stapled onto each person’s face and the awful floral patterned sweaters and the nude panty hosed old woman clinging tightly to a worn bible made me feel sick. Almost like they were huddled around me, pulling me closer in to them, begging me to join. There was always something cultish about it. I stared down at my coffee and tossed it out.
“Hey, what are you doing over here?” Jack found me and he wasn’t smiling so much so I calmed down.
“I just needed some space,” I said.
“Are you alright?”
He smiled again and I held back the urge to vomit all over the faded carpet. He put out his hand, “Come with me and we’ll find a seat.”
Jack led me into the first room on our right and I expected to see a place of worship, but instead I could hardly see anything, only a cloud of scentless smoke and tiny blue lights.
I coughed, knowing intelligently that the smoke most likely caused by a fog machine would not have irritated my lungs, but it seemed like an appropriate thing to do. When my eyes adjusted, I noticed the many rows of red cushioned theater seats facing a large stage that held a top of the line drum set, a guitar and bass on separate stands, and three microphones.
“Are you sure we’re in the right place?”
“Yes,” Jack said, “They don’t have a building of their own just yet so the theater lets them use it every Sunday morning and Wednesday evening.” He started forward, heading for a row close to the front. I stopped at a row in the middle and yanked his hand backwards. He turned around, smiled again, and put his arm out for me to lead the way.
I noticed a giant paper mâché cross in the right aisle with a television placed at the top like a star on a Christmas tree as we took our seats. It featured a video of a man’s face with a beard in complete agony. I chose to ignore it.
“Do you want to know something interesting?” he asked.
“Sure,” I said, attempting to control my expression.
“John Wilkes Booth once performed on this stage. Right here,” he said.
I swallowed the lump in my throat.
We sat in silence while the congregation filed in. Four people in jeans and t-shirts walked onto the stage and everyone clapped. The lead guitarist had long hair and spoke in a soft voice to welcome all of us home. Everyone cheered. Home was an old theater to them.
They started playing their music and I searched for a hymnbook. Jack said there wasn’t one and pointed over to the cross where the television screen now displayed the lyrics.
“They only play originals,” Jack said, pulling me up to stand with him and the others.
A synchronized light show accompanied their original performance. A few people in the congregation held their hands in the air, open palmed, and jumped up and down. Some were crying. I lost my voice and was unable to sing along, even when Jack nudged me and leaned down to sing in my face. I could not bring myself to do it.
After the concert was over, we all took our seats and a preacher in ripped jeans and a plaid shirt took the stage. No vestment for the nondenominational. He, too, had a soft voice.
“I’d like to thank everyone for coming today. As you know, we’ve been discussing our dating lives as children of God, but today I wanted to discuss marriage and our duty to have children,” the preacher said.
Jack took ahold of my hand and I couldn’t remember if he wore a condom the night before. I looked at him, my eyes wide, and he nodded. I don’t know if he knew what I was asking.
The preacher groaned on for several minutes. I grew bored, but I felt better. This is what I was used to. I started to ignore him and to think of what I wanted for lunch. Then moved on to my plans for the coming week. What I wanted to accomplish. What I wanted to rid myself of. What excuse I was going to give Jack if he asked for another date.
I felt good, but then the preacher started crying, something I was not used to, which forced me to listen to him again. He whined for the last moments of the service about his addiction to porn. How his whole life used to be surrounded by porn. How his wife forgave him for watching porn. How God forgave him for watching porn. How he would do everything in his power so that his son would not watch porn. Then he ran off the stage embarrassed, I assumed.
“Do you think he’s headed home to watch porn?” I whispered to Jack. He didn’t laugh or even smile.
The lead guitarist walked onto the stage, “Alright, guys, that’s going to be it for today. Sorry we ran out of time for communion, but if you are interested in taking part in it this afternoon, there should be some left over in the cups next to you. Go with God.” Everyone clapped then immediately left. I was too curious to get up and leave with Jack and the rest of the congregation. I looked for a cup the guitarist had mentioned and found one a few rows in front of me. Inside were smaller, magenta cups, about the size of a NyQuil cap. On the lid, written in cursive, read, “This is my body, which is broken for you: Take, eat: do this in remembrance of me.” Manufactured communion.
I peeled back the lid slowly and there was a tiny cracker. I licked the top of my finger and touched it, it stuck and I brought it to my mouth. It was stale. I then pinched the second lid, pulling it back to reveal a sugary grape juice then downed it. It was too warm.
I laughed out loud.
“So, where would you like to have lunch?” Jack found me and walked up behind me, then placed his hand on my shoulder.
I hesitated, knowing I would have been well prepared for this moment if the preacher had control over how much porn he watched, “Well, that’s very nice of you to ask, but I think I should go ahead and head home. I’ve probably wasted enough of your time.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. Come on, Amy. They are playing Fiddler on the Roof here later on, I’ve already bought two tickets. We can come back after we’ve had a bite to eat,” Jack smiled, but this time I was not repulsed.
“I’ve never seen Fiddler on the Roof.”
“Then that settles it,” he said then reached for my hand, leading me out of the theater and into the burning sun.
Mount Juliet, Tennessee, BFA Writing