Imagine that you’re lost and always have been. You’ve never known where you come from or where you’re going. You’ve been alone as long as you can remember, floating on a broken raft on the open sea. You’re an orphan and can’t remember your parents. You’ve never had anyone who loved you for who you really are. You’ve never caught someone staring at you, eyes shining, face smiling, just because you are you. Like the way my daughters catch me looking at them now. You’ve always disappointed people and failed to live up to their expectations. You don’t fit in with them. You’re smart and so they pin their hopes on you, but you have no self-control and so you always screw up. You’re different, and it’s a burden for them that you’re different. And so they send you away. And then one day, you meet someone. And your eyes lock in on theirs. And you know. This person is going to change my life and it’s going to be beautiful and terrible like Rilke says (or, miserable and magical, like Taylor Swift says), and nothing will stop you from walking down this path. You couldn’t stop yourself if you tried, and you won’t even try to stop yourself, although you know that you are dipping your toe into waters of sin and abomination, and that God will be disgusted with you and punish you with death and eternal fire.
That’s how it was. We spent any time together that we could. We wrote poems to each other. We went on long walks. We talked about everything and nothing. As Walt Whitman said, “We were together. I forget the rest.” We sometimes sat in a field pretending to share Bible verses so that people would leave us alone, but we just stared at each other. We stood next to each other in prayer circle and squeezed each other’s hands, three times for, “I. Love. You.” We blinked at each other when we were across the chapel, three times for, “I. Love. You.”
And at night, I would cry myself to sleep, because I knew that I was a horrible, disgusting abomination and that I was dragging a person who was good and innocent into being an abomination with me. I knew that behind the scenes, there were angels and demons fighting for our souls, and I prayed every night that God would take away my feelings and that the angels would win. I fantasized that we would each develop feelings for men who were best friends, and we’d get married to them and have children that we’d raise together. The men would always be working, so we’d never really have to see them that often. We’d never be apart, but we wouldn’t have the temptation to commit sin. I wanted so badly to be good. I tried so hard to be the person that God wanted me to be, and I didn’t understand why he wouldn’t help me. I asked him to make her disgusting to me. I begged him to save me every night, because I knew I couldn’t really be saved if I had these feelings. I knew I was headed to hell, and I would sleep fitfully with nightmares of burning in fiery pits with murderers and rapists and child molesters. But I would see her every day and those images would slip away and I wanted to be around her all the time and I felt confused about why my heart kept leading me there.
One night, we were found out. We were caught kissing. A girl told on us. That’s how it was there. Girls gained power by ratting out other girls. You never knew who you could trust, so you never trusted anyone. We were called into the office, separately. “I didn’t know you could be this disgusting,” Mrs. P. said to me. “I’m so disappointed in you. God is disappointed in you.” We were put on “separation.” We were not allowed to speak to each other or even look at one another. They went through our things and destroyed our notes and poems to each other. We were taken out of our positions that we had earned with good behavior. She was put back on “buddy,” meaning that she had to have a girl with the highest level of privileges escort her around to make sure that she didn’t try to contact me in any way. For some reason, they didn’t put me back on buddy, just her.
The sermon the day after we were found out was about how gay people would burn in hell, how disgusting we were, how we didn’t know God and God didn’t know us. The pastor looked right at each of us, hatred and disgust on his face and he condemned us. The Lord said that we should be stoned to death, that we should burn in hell. But Jesus could save us if we repented and turned away from our sin. I sat, indignant, refusing to cry, refusing to give in to what he was saying about us. He was no one to talk. He was a man in his 50s, who had an “affair” with a 15-year-old girl who was in the school, and he had tried to leave Mrs. P. to follow her to California when Mrs. P. kicked her out for “seducing him.” But all was forgotten because he came back and asked God to forgive his sins.
I thought that maybe I was predestined to be an abomination. Maybe I liked being evil. Maybe I understood Satan better than I understood God. Maybe I deserved to burn in hell, and maybe I’d just accept that. I was hard, I was angry. I had spent such a long time trying to be better, trying to do what God wanted me to do, trying to feel like I had been saved and he had changed me. But maybe I just wasn’t redeemable. At the end of the sermon, during prayer time, I looked over at Her, and her entire face was red and she was sobbing, and it broke me, because I felt that I didn’t know her anymore, that she was sorry she had met me, that she would now pray for forgiveness for the sin of Me, that what we shared was only real to me, and that I had harmed her by going down this road with her. I started crying too. Her buddy asked her to pray, and I saw them talk for a long time and then they prayed. I sat in my chair and refused to pray or talk to anyone. I just cried and stared straight ahead.
The next day, Mrs. P. called me into her office and gave me a letter from Her. In the letter, she apologized for manipulating me. She said that she had been caught up in her sinful behavior and had pulled me into it and that she regretted it and was sorry for what she had done to me. I felt so angry that she had trivialized what we had and treated me as though I was some idiot to be manipulated. That she had seen me as some object in her path of sin and destruction. That I was a sin and not a human being. I was angry that she had jumped on the opportunity to be the first to confess her sins. I was devastated.
I spent all night crying after reading that letter. Mrs. P. had spoken about how She had confessed to manipulating me and that I had not been the one to instigate things, and so I would not be in trouble. I would just take a few days to myself and then go back to the privileges that I had before. She would finish her schoolwork and leave the school. I felt relieved that I didn’t have to start all over again, but I felt so sad and alone because what I thought I had with Her was not real, and someday soon, I would never see Her again.
The next day, we had our morning prayer circle. I looked down for as long as I could bear to, and when I couldn’t stand it anymore, I looked up at Her. She looked dead into my eyes and blinked three times: I. Love. You. And that’s when I understood. She made up the whole letter and took all the blame to protect me. She was leaving in a month and I had another year. She was trying to make things easy for me.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.” She had more of those things as a teenager than any of these grown adults would ever have.