Sunday, August 12, 2012

Growing Up Adventist: Part Two

When I was a child, I felt I had the mark of the beast already burned into my forehead.  We were taught at church, that in the end times, all the chosen would have to flee to the wilderness because we would be persecuted and the persecutors would have the mark of the beast engraved on their foreheads and on their hands.

I wondered what this mark was, but no one could tell me.  "You'll know", they'd just say, nodding knowingly at one another . This was taught in Sabbath School, the lesson study for church kids down in the church basement, divided up roughly by ages, although it was a small church.

We got stars if we did our lesson study every day of the week and the more stars you got, well, it could add up to getting a jewel, for your fake paper crown.  We were told once we got to heaven, we'd all wear crowns and they would have jewels in them to represent each soul we had saved.  I asked once "How do you save a soul?"  I was told, "you bring them to church and after that's it's up to them."  I didn't want a crown.  There was nothing worse I could imagine than a bunch of people running around in gawdy bejeweled crowns.

I already knew people who were not in the church and seemed much kinder than anyone I knew in the church.  I once asked about this and was told it didn't matter how good a person was if they had not been saved (come through our church's doors).  This worried me terribly, to think some of the people I knew would be thrown into the lake of fire, the Adventist equivalent of hell, simply for not coming to our church.

It was very important to my parents, my father especially, that we earn our lesson study stars.  But we cheated.  We never did any lesson studies until late Friday night, right before church the next day, in a furious  and lorded over session at the kitchen table.  We did all seven lessons as fast as one could possibly do them, sometimes in as little as 15 minutes, on Friday night then lied about it the next day in church and got our stars.

I thought early on I had the mark of the beast because my father told me so and because no one on earth seemed to care if I lived or died.  This impression dawned on me slowly.  The insults doled out constantly by my father and allowed by my mother were a good start down that road.  A trip to Disneyland when I was little sealed the notion in my young head.

My younger brother got lost.  We were on a busy escalator, with at least two ramps going up and two going down.  My parents took off with my older brother to search for him.  I don't know why, to this day, they left me there like that.  My father took one of my hands and planted it on the smooth rail at the top of the escalator and told me to stay there and not to move an inch or he would throttle me when they returned.  They all took off, allegedly to find my younger brother.

But they never came back.  I waited and waited.  Zillions of strangers went by, huge crowds of them, on both sides of me.  I waited until it was uncomfortable to stand any longer.  I waited until I couldn't wait anymore, because I had to go to the bathroom.

That's when the angel stepped in.

I was sure she was an angel.  She had a long flowing breezy skirt and long hair.  She approached me with a motherly way about her that I had never experienced with my own mother.  "Are you lost? You've been here a long time."

I shook my head "no" and immediately coughed up the whole story, because I had to go to the bathroom so badly.  She said "You come with me."

I said, "I can't.  My father will kill me."  I never in all my life referred to my father as "dad".  He wasn't that sort of a person.

She said, "Well then, he will have to go through me first."  Just like that, off I went with a complete stranger!

She took me to a bathroom and then for ice cream.  I was in heaven and I wanted to stay with her.

She was nice to me!  But then she said she'd have to take me to some nice people and then make some phone calls.  "I don't think they're coming back for you," she said, almost in a whisper.

"Don't worry, it will be o.k.," she said, smoothing my hair.  She took me by the hand again and off we went.  We went to a security building, lost and found, and there, sitting around like nothing had happened, with security people, even joking with them, was my father.  My mother was there, too and both my brothers. They did not seem surprised when I was brought in, and barely noticed I was back.  Inside, I was churning, in both anger and fear.  They had tried to dump me, I was sure.  I was sure they'd do it again, too.  I clung to the woman's hand fiercely.  She looked sad but had to hand me back over.

I don't recall anything else about Disneyland.   I was not much for rides or Mickey Mouse.  I got car sick just riding in a car, in the back seat.  I got car sick all my young life until I left my family.  Then I never got car sick again.  I wonder if it was the family car leaking exhaust or something.  It made going on a road trip very rough.  Pretty soon, I was given dramamine before any trip, which caused me to be sleepy for days.  I was unable to really have fun on camping trips due to the after affects of that anti motion sickness drug.

After that I knew something was wrong with me.  My family did not want me.  And my father said such horrible things to me.  The people near when he said such things must also think those things, I reasoned, because they said nothing and did nothing to stop him.

Later, way later, when my parents moved from the house I grew up in, to another, they got themselves a post office box. The number of the box?  666.

In Adventist lore, that is the number of "the beast".

It was them, not me.

But by then, I already knew that.

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