May 24, 2011 3 Comments
I have a confession to make.
I was a Christian. A fundamentalist, evangelical, Southern Baptist Christian.
I will say that Christianity and Christians hurt me, but I also hurt others.
I am guilty.
I left behind those beliefs and stopped committing those actions many years ago, but in all of those years since, I carried a burden of guilt. The girls in that church, they were my best friends. I loved them. We spent so much time together–phone calls, church activities, sleepovers, and various outings.
Then, one day, it all came crashing down. One of the girls announced she was pregnant. She was fourteen years old. How did we respond?
We called her slut. We shunned her. We demanded she repent. We told her she betrayed us. She was made to stand in front of the entire congregation and apologize for having sex and becoming pregnant. We were drunk in our self-righteousness and our purity. We did not stumble as she had. She was a sinner. We were not. Or rather, we were not as big as sinners as she was. We were only sinners in the way everyone was. We were Good Christian Girls.
Eventually, she left the church. I cannot speak of others’ actions here, but when she left, she was gone. I did not call. I didn’t attempt to contact her in any way. I left one of my best friends out to dry–to suffer alone. I inflicted pain and suffering on her. Five became four. We said horrible things about her behind her back.
Soon, things came crashing down upon me, and I too left the church. I took a long, hard look at myself, my beliefs, and my faith, and I cast it out with the trash. I wanted nothing to do with such hatred, hypocrisy, and cruelty. I began a journey, a spiritual one, to learn, to ask, to find out in my words, “what I really believed.” It was a long process, and a story to be shared at another time.
But I did not, in all of this, reach out to this girl, one of my very best and dearest friends. At first, I was consumed by my own problems. But as the days, weeks, months, and years passed, she came to mind more and more often. I realized how awful it was, what I did to her. I realized what a horrible friend I had been. A terrible sister. How selfish. As I discovered feminism, I learned more and more just how fucked up what I had done had been.
I started to wonder how she was, but I was so ashamed of myself that I did not take that step to call and ask. I hoped she was happy. I hoped she was thriving, that her child was happy and healthy. I hoped beyond hope that she had found friends who loved her, who fulfilled her, who were loyal and supportive and true. I wanted to be her friend again, but I thought that I was undeserving. I let too much time pass. My transgressions were too great. I didn’t deserve her friendship.
Then, facebook. I added another friend from my church days–a boy who had also left. I knew his story, and I wanted to catch up with him. We were fellow rebels. He was the only one, in the entire church, who had stood by her. I was glad that he did, that she had someone who had turned out to be a true friend. When I saw their interactions on facebook, I envied their friendship, their closeness, and inevitably, I felt a surge a guilt anew for failing to be what a Best Friend should be.
I was overwhelmed by guilt and shame, yes. But I was also afraid. I knew that I owed her, at the very least, a very big apology, but I couldn’t make myself do it. I was afraid of what she would say and how she would react. I knew that whatever she said–if she chose to react with anger, and throw any and all manner of verbal invective my way, I deserved it. And if she chose to forgive? If she wanted my love and my friendship? I could barely stand to think about it. I didn’t deserve that. She was stronger than me. She was a much better person than me.
I knew also that I was going overboard with my guilt. I should get over it. I should just apologize. I shouldn’t keep dwelling over the past. I should do the right thing, and move on with my life like I hoped she had. One day while sitting with my computer, I took a breath, and sent her a friend request on facebook. I’d wait and see.
A few days later, I realized she’d accepted it. Whoa. This was a huge step for me. I hungrily read her most recent statuses, eager for news that she was doing well. It seemed so. Good. I breathed a sigh of relief.
Now I didn’t know what to do. She was happy, from what I could see. She didn’t need me dredging up the past with all its painful memories. Finally, I broke down and talked to Momma Beemer about it. We sat on the back deck of my older brother’s home, smoking cigarettes, while I opened up about my feelings for the first time. She encouraged me to reach out to her. To apologize. It was the right thing to do–Momma Beemer was sure that it would help to heal old wounds, perhaps rekindle our friendship, and be there for one another like we once were.
Then, a crisis. My childhood and adolescent friend was having a rough time. I can’t describe what I felt at that moment, when I read her facebook note. I wanted to help. I wanted to do something, even if it was only to be an ear. But. I had to apologize first. Before anything else, I had to apologize.
I sat on my couch, with my netbook in my lap, and started to type. I wrote words and sentences, and then deleted them. I was going to do it. I was going to be honest. I was going to admit to her that I had been wrong, that I made a terrible mistake, and I had hurt her. I was sorry. I’m sorry. I poured out my heart in that message. I smoked several cigarettes while writing it. I cried. I let the tears fall, and I brushed them away so I could continue to write.
I hit send.
I spent the next few hours on pins and needles. I was anxious. I smoked more cigarettes. I tried to distract myself, but I kept clicking on the facebook tab and checking.
Then a little red one hovered over my message icon. I hesitated. This was it. Click.
Tears were falling down my face before I’d even finished reading her message. One hundred and fifty-seven words to say: she forgave me. I’d hurt her, yes. But she forgave me for it. She doesn’t hold it against me–it meant so much to her that I’d apologized. She loved me. She called me sister.
I wanted more than anything at that moment to jump in my car, drive to her home, and hug and cry and blubber.
We weren’t girls anymore. We were grown women. We’d lost years. I wanted yesteryear–to pack an overnight bag, sit in a basement on pillows and blankets, watch movies and giggle maniacally like we did so many years ago. I wanted to prank call the boys, sneak chips and coke, and sit in a circle and confide our deepest secrets to one another.
When I left that church, I left behind childhood friendships. I lost that connection you have with those you grew up with, who know you inside and out, your past and your present. Ever since, the friendships I have cultivated had known only of the past I had told them. I didn’t realize it, but I hungered for friendships that stem from a long past. I missed not having to tell friends of my past, of my family, of my history. I missed having people that knew all of that already.
We traded messages back and forth, and soon graduated to texts and calls. One night, I invited her to stay the night. It would be the first time we saw one another in years. When she arrived, she hugged me, and it was the best hug I’ve ever had. We sat on my couch and talked for hours. About everything. You remember when we ___? Yes! And ___ said __? Oh man, that was funny. What happened after you left? (A lot.) Do you know ___ is married? Oh, fuck. Seriously? ____ won’t even look at me. Yeah, I don’t talk to them, either. They turn around and walk away when they see me. At ___’s funeral they pretended like nothing ever happened, like everything was the same.
We went out, picked up our friend, and got something to eat. We teased one another about this or that, and laughed over old jokes and reminisced about our days together in church. How wild it is how different we are now. We joked about making a tshirt. We dropped him off and went back to my place. We settled down and watched a movie. It was so late.
It was better than I could have imagined.
We still have a lot to catch up on–so many years cannot be made up for in a single night. But I hope that we can continue to stay in touch, that we will spend more time together in the days to come, and learn more about the women we have become.
I regret those lost years. I regret that it took me so long to do the right thing, and I will continue to regret that I did not do the right thing in the first place. Bigger than all of that, however, is love.
I love you, sis.