OK. I understand I've been a little infrequent lately. I've got some veritable excuses for my inconsistent blogging: I'm fucking busy. So, I figured I'd post a story I wrote. I'll publish it in parts because it's pretty long. Plus that'll give me a couple days to take a break, after which I'll come back full force. Bitches.
Church Camp (Pt. 1)
I was supposed to come back a better man, and in many ways I think I did. Perhaps, just not like one would expect. I've decided to lock away my bible, hang up the cloak I got for being in the church choir, and stop pretending to speak in tongues. And it wasn't as hard as I would have thought.
You see, where I grew up, going to church on Wednesdays was a social event, or maybe more accurately, an obligation, but it wasn't too bad all the time. Hell, I should even thank the Lord for a vast number of girls I dated through high school. The great majority of my high school "firsts" happened at a church function or was somehow related to church girls or church property. And, to make it worse, the youth pastor's son was the only one out of all of us that had a fake I.D., which was a little awkward at times.
"Hello, Pastor Ryan, sir, is, uh, Matt home? Some of the guys are studying tonight and we wanted to make sure he was coming," I'd say with my voice trembling.
"No, he's not, Kerry. I think he might be on his way. Is there anything I can help you with?" he'd prod.
"Nope. Thanks. The Lord has already blessed me in so many ways, Pastor Ryan."
"That's what I like to hear, Kerry."
Matt wasn't as faithful as his dad. Occasionally, he and I would stay up late after everyone had either left or passed out and belligerently one-up each other over religion. He would ask me questions as though I were the pastor. He'd always harp about how arbitrary religion is, and wondered how different life would be if he and I were born in, say, Turkey. I'd just nod—I didn't even know what the hell "arbitrary" meant, but it sounded like a word I knew. Matt was a smart guy, and fun to be around. I was glad to know him, glad to know I wasn't the only one that questioned religion. I was also pleased because, being that he was the pastor's kid, he was fairly popular in our community and at our school; therefore, I was somewhat popular by default.
Church camp, however, was where you separated yourself from the rest of the pack—where you took a step toward abundant self-satisfaction, landing you somewhere between megalomaniac and holier-than-thou. According to statements from past attendees, you weren't zealous for God unless you packed up and trekked to the retreat in Silk Springs for a week.
I decided to go on a whim. My mother was thrilled at the idea. My father, on the other hand, was extremely wary—"Just what are you tryin' to pull, boy?"
"Stan, leave our son alone. He's trying to make a change in his life," my mom snapped. My dad is a no-bull-shit kind of guy. He saw right through me and suspected I was going for the wrong reasons. I'd convinced myself, if only temporarily, that I was going for the right reasons. I imagined coming back with riveting stories to tell friends of mine who didn't make it to camp—even if I embellished a little. They wouldn't know; they didn't go to church camp.
I packed enough clothes for two weeks. I had this weird phobia any time I went on trips. I thought of all the possible scenarios for when I might need to wear this or that; I ended up catching quips about my petticoat packing job. I went to Wal-Mart and purchased every travel-sized toiletry I could find—not necessarily because I needed to. But who buys anything at Wal-Mart because they needed to?
Silk Springs is about a two-and-a-half hour drive from Morristown. The bus was scheduled to head out at 5 a.m. I tried unsuccessfully to fall asleep around nine the night before and ended up nodding off around 2 a.m. Needless to say, when I arrived at Morristown First Assembly of God at 4:30 in the morning, the excitement that had kept me up until the wee hours of the morning had alluded me and left me sluggish and dangerously irritable. I figured I'd be able to catch a few zzzs on the way up to Silk Springs, hoping I wasn't the only one that had missed out on precious sleep.
We had no more than driven to the on-ramp for the interstate before Courtney, one of the student leaders of our youth group, turned around and, smiling ear to ear, sprang into song:
"I can only ee-ma-junn, what it will be like,
When I walk, by yer side..."
It wasn't long before others joined in. Their voices assembled to create a woeful, inharmonious chant. Right as I felt my ears were about to bleed, I started to doubt more and more this all-loving creature in the heavens above. To add to my despondency, images of corpses coruscated before my eyes, thanks to every funeral I'd attended that played the same song. I could hear Lindsey in the back, the girl who could actually sing, taking this moment as a sign that it was her time to shine for Jesus. She sat up in her chair, closed her eyes half-way to where it looked like her eyes were rolling back in her head, and sang her little heart out. Every thirty seconds or so, I could hear Chad, one of the youth group leaders whom I happened to go to school with, break into a fit of speaking in tongues.
"Shamalakalama. Shing, shong shibbitybobba!" he shouted over and over, with an adamant look of determination on his face. Thankfully, I'd brought my walkman.
I dozed in and out of sleep on the way there, sporadically interrupted by bursts of laughter and loud blasts of music from Derrick touting the latest Christian rock band he'd found. Christian rock—now that's an oxymoron if I've ever heard one.
The last time I woke, I asked where we were. The driver, who was hired and not a member of the church, quickly shouted: "Fifteen minutes! Only fifteen more minutes." I bet he could only ee-ma-junn what it was gonna be like when that bus ride ended.
Chad noticed I had taken off my headphones and asked my neighbor if he could trade seats with him.
"Kerry. Hey, man, listen up. Me and the guys have been talking, and we have an idea," he said, his eyes beaming like he was about to deliver groundbreaking truths that would rewrite history books.
"Dude, we're gonna fast."
"What?" I asked. I knew what he was talking about, but I just wanted to make sure that he did.
"Dude, a fast is when—"
"I know what a fast is, Chad. Why did you decide to do this?"
"Well," Chad said, then moved his eyes away from mine for a second, then looked back at me after he'd figured it out, "it's what Jesus did. We're gonna suffer like Jesus did."
"You're gonna suffer like Jesus did, huh? That's stupid. Suffering in those days was like being forced to eat cereal without milk, wipe your ass with a cactus, and watch non-stop reruns of 'Designing Women' all day. Times ten," I said.
"It is not stupid. So are you gonna do it or not? ... Matt's doing it."
"Is Matt my dad or something? I don't care. No, I'm not fasting."
By the time we reached the camp, twenty-eight of the thirty people on our bus had jumped on the bandwagon. The only two who hadn't were me and the bus driver, and he didn't really count. Everyone decided they wouldn't eat or drink anything except saltine crackers and water. I tried to talk to Matt about it, but he wouldn't. He simply replied, "I need this, man."
Campers exited the bus like it was 1968 and they were headed to an Elvis concert. The guys kept their cool, practically patting each other on the back with every comment, while the girls traded ideas of how fasting that week could affect them for the rest of their lives, all their voices turning into one giddy, high-pitched whine. I grabbed my suitcase and asked one of the counselors to direct me to our room.