The other day I was IMing with my high school best friend, Bethany. We are both pretty awful at keeping in touch with people but she still knows way more than I do about our high school friends and what they're doing with their lives. Who has babies, who's on their third husband, who's in jail. The good stuff. Somewhere in the middle of the conversation she mentioned that my first high school boyfriend - who we shall call Robert, as that is not his name - now preaches part time.
What? I typed. He's preaching? Where?
At their church, she typed back.
Oh dear, I typed. Then, thank you God thank you God thank you God. Thank you God you knew what you were doing.
I breathed a sigh of relief, once more for the way my life has spilled about, running over pages and pages, in ways I never expected. I remember struggling with those feelings of this is not the one for me. I so wanted him to be my one, although I can't quite remember why. He was a perfectly nice, decent person, came from a nice family, all of that. He had a car by our sophomore year and one of the best things about being his girlfriend was that he would pick me up from school, and when school was over, drop me off at home. I can smell the inside of that car as I peck out these words. Robert was the nicest of young men, no parent could ask for a better first boyfriend for their innocent daughter. We didn't kiss for the first six months- could you ask for a more chaste relationship? I think not.
I still remember the first time I went to a 'sing' at a church in his denomination - I can't really explain his denomination but we'll just call it a small country Baptist church where girls who wear makeup, well, they're not quite Jezebels but they are certainly flirting with danger. My church (Missionary Baptist) was strict but looked almost lenient compared to theirs. Anyway, so I went to hear people sing, and when the first person opened her mouth, I almost fell out of the pew. Not from the Spirit, but from horror. I scanned the faces of the congregation, looking for some sign that the sound I was hearing surely wasn't the sound THEY were hearing, that perhaps I had fallen into a timewarp tunnel straight to hell, where people thought they were singing but were truly only hitting every fourth note with a measure of accuracy. And keys were strewn about willy nilly, with no thought for the circle of 5ths. It was dreadful. And no one really knew it, and if they did know, they were sworn to some secret pact where the password is always the same - "Bless their heart. They sure do love the Lord." Then they kept on listening to the out of tune piano, and beating time with their heels.
Call me catty, call me mean. I'm going to get deeper with this. I look at where I was then - God almighty, fourteen years old and heartbroken at sixteen when he went away to singing school and fell for some girl from Bogalusa. I remember I watched all of Forrest Gump waiting for him to come see me, waiting for the sound his car made as it came around the curve. I was devastated when he broke up with me, and let me tell you, I do a pretty good job with heartbreak. It fulfills all my dramatic tendencies. When I love, I love hard, and I don't let go for a long time. This is all starting to sound like a Fleetwood Mac song.
Yet to think - who would I be, if I were still with him? If we had a perfectly appropriate country church wedding, with sherbet punch, and mints in the paper cups? If our dreams always led us back to within the county line? That instead of reading Vogue and A.S. Byatt and Kathleen Norris and Donna Tartt, I would read - who knows what? Surely an author who didn't say 'fucked unto the Lord'? Would I have stumbled and found my way, found a church which welcomes questions, validates my voice and my gender, which requires their ministers to be educated, to ask the hard questions of life and faith? Or would my voice have become so small, my questions rolling under the feet of the head of household, the head of the church? Would I have been happy in the tiny box of life so simply lived, or would I glance out my kitchen window while washing dishes, praying for Jesus to step out from the clouds, to whisk me away?