Growing up my family was very poor. My father couldn’t hold down a job and my mother was working 50+ hours a week for a low wage trying to compensate. My parents were both alcoholics who dabbled in the drug world on occasion. They fought constantly. I saw things with my underage eyes that only refugees in third world countries have seen.
Living in a both verbally and physically abusive household I started seeking ways of emotional escape at a young age. My very first attempt at finding a vice happened when I was only 11 years old.
My first vice: God.
I had a best friend who lived next door to me in the projects, Heaven. Heaven and her family were active members in our local Lutheran church. Heaven was an obese girl who lived with her obese, younger sister and her obese, middle aged mom.
I don’t remember the initial church invite, I just remember riding with them every Sunday to the little temple where all my new family ate, laughed, worshiped and rejoiced. Soon I was attending more functions, church activities, camps etc. In was nice to be somewhere without yelling and drinking, where people didn’t call me names and hit me.
I attended my sanctuary for roughly a year.
That’s when it happened.
I came home from church one evening feeling light, with a smile on my face. I walked in the door and headed to the bathroom for my nightly bath when my mom stopped me. Her face and chest were puffy and red from her alcohol allergy, tears welling in her eyes. She said,
“You need to help the family. Our fate is in your (11 year old) hands. We can’t pay the rent. We are going to be evicted if you don’t do something. When are you going to church again?”
“There is a craft class on Wednesday night. We are making Easter crafts and a pot….
She cut me off,
“Wednesday? Does the pastor like you?”
“I think so. He’s nice to me.”
“Good. Wednesday you need to tell him you will be homeless unless he gives your family some donation money. I know those places make a killing. DON’T FORGET. If we lose the apartment it will be all your fault.”
With that she walked away.
I got into the bath with an enormous weight on my shoulders. How was I going to get my mom the money? We are going to be homeless if I don’t. I couldn’t live with the guilt of making my family homeless. How embarrassing! If I brought my family to church what would my new friends think of me? I pushed that thought right out (I learned VERY early not to care what people thought of me)!
I needed a plan.
I went to church Wednesday knowing what I had to do. I tried to enjoy my time there but I couldn’t. I was burdened down with guilt and trying to prepare for the manipulation that lied ahead.
At the end of the night Pastor John drove Heaven and me home. I don’t remember much about the car trip except the last few minutes. As pastor John pulled the car down our rotting, dimly lit street, I leaned up towards the front of the car and said to Heaven (who was sitting next to Pastor John),
“This is probably the last time we will be driven home together, I’m really going to miss you.”
Heaven turned her head around to face me. Confused she said,
“Why? What do you mean?” she asked.
“My family is being evicted on Monday, right after Easter. My dad lost his job and we can’t pay rent. We are going to be homeless.”
Pastor John was a holy man. There was no way he would ever let an eleven year old child and her family be homeless, especially around Easter!
Pastor John stopped the car. He waited for Heaven to get out, then said to me,
“Have your parents attend our Easter Sunday service, I will make sure the church helps you.”
And with that I got out of the car and returned to my family’s rescued apartment.
Flash forward: Easter morning. My parents, delighted with the news, had everyone dress in their “Holiday Best”. This usually meant my mother pulled the tags off of something new she just bought, clipped a tie on my dads shirt and pinned a plastic flower over a hole on a hand-me-down dress that I was given by a relative, but she had worn first.
My parents celebrated Easter morning with rounds of mimosa’s before piling my two brothers and me into our rusty Chevy Celebrity and heading off to my sanctuary. In the car they joked about having more wine at the church because it was the symbol of the blood of Christ. I reminded them that this was not a catholic church.
We arrived and I followed my family in, shamefully. My face was red and hot with the shame. I sat through the sermon and embarrassingly introduced my family to all my holy friends.
I knew I could never go back.
At the end of the service Pastor John took my parents into his office and presented them with a check. My mother took it like she was entitled, with a giant, plastic smile. Pastor John told me that he added a little bit more money than my family needed as so we could buy holiday groceries.
I remember one last detail of that day.
On the ride home my mother said to my father,
“Did you look at this check? I told Pastor John that we needed $500 to make rent. He said he put extra on there for groceries, this check is for $525. How frugal! What are we going to buy for $25? That won’t feed us for the week! I know the church could afford a lot more! He acted like he was doing us a huge favor. What a jerk.”
…and this is part of why I’m obsessing over Kia’s, I’m sure.