Other Sinful Things Chapter 1
I know I’ve said this many times over the years, but this time I think I’m serious. I just can’t take it anymore. I promised you I would be strong, but each day my strength is weakening. It’s getting harder and harder to live with Dad. I know sons are supposed to honor and respect their parents, but you don’t know what it is like living with him. Well, maybe you do. I just guess you listen to him more than me. Anyway, God. I just wanted you to know I feel like I can’t take it anymore. Dad says God challenges us each day. He says you put obstacles in our way to test our faith. I just don’t think I have any faith left.
Sorry I’ve failed you.
I guess this sounds kind of silly, but I write God all the time. I write especially when I am having trouble with things, and that seems like all the time anymore. Most of my problems center around my dad. You see, he’s a big time minister. When I was little, I had trouble talking about what was bothering me. So one day, he handed me a pencil and a little notebook. I think I may have been about five then. Anyway, he told me if something bothered me, that I should write a letter to God. He said God reads everything.
When I started writing, things were simple. The first time I wrote a letter to God, it was because Charles stole an apple from my lunchbox, and I called him a bad name. That night, I opened up the notebook, and I asked God to forgive me of my sins. At five, calling someone an asshole was a big deal. If Dad had heard me, he probably would have made me stand before the congregation, and then he would have spent the next ten minutes using me as an example of how young people are straying away from God and following the wicked ways of the devil.
He did that once when I was twelve. I was climbing around on the roof, and I slipped and fell. I didn’t hurt myself, but when I hit the ground, I hollered out rather loudly, “Shit!”
Unfortunately, I fell outside his study, and he had the window open and he heard me. He came to the window, but he didn’t look out to see if I had hurt myself. Instead, he hollered out, “Jacob, come into my office. Now!”
It seemed like it took forever to get off the ground and walk slowly to his study. I knew what was awaiting me for I had been through it many times before. I had heard him warn parents many Sundays, “Spare the rod, and spoil the child.” And he lived by that saying. On more than a few occasions, I had experienced the rod. Well, not really a rod, but a switch from a sycamore tree in the back yard. When I was ten, he had pulled me out into the yard, made me climb the tree and cut a branch he had pointed out. I can’t even recall what I did to get whipped that day. I probably didn’t move fast enough when he told me to do something.
When I entered his study, he was waiting. He had the switch in his right hand, and he was hitting his left hand with it. My skin crawled from the sharp, cracking sound it was making.
He then hit his desk sharply with the sycamore stick. Tears started to stream down my cheeks as his dark brown eyes stared angrily at me. They seemed to turn black as be began to admonish me. He shouted, “The Devil is in you, Boy!” He waited a second before he shouted, “Well?”
I jumped and muttered, “Yes, Sir.” I sniffled, but I didn’t dare cry. “Crying is for sissies,” he had warned me over the years. He would then relate stories of how men in the Bible, like Noah and Moses faced hardships and didn’t cry.
“Even the Good Lord as he hung on the cross didn’t cry,” he warned me. “And no son of mine is going to be weak. The Devil makes men weak. God gives them strength.”
As he sharply whipped his left hand with the switch, he began to rant about my sinful transgression in the backyard. Not once did he ask me if I had hurt myself. He was more concerned with exorcising the demon within me that had made me blurt out that sinful word.
When he had finished, he approached me with the switch clutched tightly in his hand. “Now, Boy,” he said angrily. As I stifled back my tears, I turned toward the wall and pulled my shorts and underwear down to my knees.
I heard him pray, “Dear God, save this boy from the Devil. Forgive him of his transgressions, so that one day he will earn a place beside you in Heaven.” My body trembled as I stood exposed to him. I jumped when he hollered out, “Now, Boy!”
I muttered, “Forgive me, Jesus. I know not what I do.”
The first hit is the worse. You know it’s coming, and you know it’s going to hurt. And it does. It is almost like your mind blocks out the others, usually five or six depending on the sin. That day earned me a dozen or more. I don’t know because I didn’t count them.
When he finished, he turned me, and with myself still exposed, he had me bend down on my knees to pray. He knelt down and put his hands on my head and once again, he asked God to save my wicked soul. When he finished, he stood, looked down on me with disdain, and then he left the room.
I stood and felt behind me. There were slight traces of blood on my hand. There always was from the sycamore switch. I pulled my clothing over my tender skin and left. I made my way to my room, closed my door, climbed atop my bed and cried. Only in loneliness did I dare to weep.
That was five years ago. Since I’m now older, and taller than him, he stopped using the switch. However, now his words bite into my soul deeper than any sycamore switch. Today, they made a deep and lasting impression.
His Sunday sermon started out like it usually does. He has the congregation stand while he calls upon the Lord to come into our souls and bear witness of his love. My mother and I sit in the front row. She is my father’s greatest admirer. I have heard her say since I was a little boy that my father is a true man of God, and that the Holy Spirit runs through his veins.
She nods and says, “Amen,” after almost every sentence he utters from his large, oaken pulpit. When I was little, I couldn’t see him unless he came out from behind it. As I grew taller, his face seemed to emerge like the rising sun from behind the pulpit. Now, I can watch as his face tightens as he rants about worldly sins, and I can watch as the veins in his neck protrude in anger.
Today’s sermon was on human failings, one of his most popular themes. As I’ve grown older, I am beginning to question why he devotes so much time to the subject. I would think that perhaps he struggles with his own demons, but I have never known my father to ‘be bitten by Satan’s temptations,’ as he calls them. From what I can tell, he lives the life he expects others to live.
Perhaps, if he had some recognizable failure, then the pain I am experiencing might be lessened. I could tell myself that since he is not perfect, then he cannot expect me to be. However, he doesn’t. He’s a bitter and cruel man, but the congregation views this as a strength of character. They see him as a warrior against Satan and evil. He has told them often that he will smile once he sits at the table with Jesus in heaven.
So today, his sermon began with the admonition of falling to the temptations of the Devil. Several times, I closed my eyes briefly until he would slam his hand down on his oaken pulpit to illustrate his anger. Then, I heard him holler out, “The days are now coming to an end! The Rapture is neigh. God said that the end would come when the world embraces the sins of the homosexuals.”
His sermons had often contained Biblical quotes about the sins of homosexuality. That was nothing new. However, today, he seemed to be directing his comments at me. His eyes flared with anger as he slammed his hand on the pulpit, looked down condescendingly at me and shouted, “Man sleeping with man, woman sleeping with woman.” He held his Bible into the air and shouted louder, “This goes against everything that God has written in this Good Book.” He then looked down at me and growled, “It goes against everything I believe.”
Even though I didn’t look over, I could sense my mother looking up at me. My face reddened as I felt everyone in the church was looking at me. They knew my father well enough to know when he was singling someone in the congregation out. He had a way of doing that. A rumor or hint of gossip could be either confirmed or denied by a single stare. Everyone shrunk from his admonitions, as I was now doing. Although I didn’t know why I was doing it.
He couldn’t be implying that I was a homosexual. I didn’t know myself if I was straight or gay. Living under his roof, I always assumed that any thoughts of sex was sinful and forbidden. While my friends talked about masturbating, I viewed it as a filthy and lustful activity. I was always afraid he might walk into my room late at night and catch me in the sinful act of pleasuring myself.
I was also prone to having wet dreams since I didn’t relieve my lustful desires. A nightly eruption as I slept couldn’t possibly be considered sinful. It was something that was entirely out of my control. Two years ago I considered asking my father for his advice about the subject, but I was afraid of his reaction. I was quite sure he would tell me that my curiosity was one of Satan’s temptations.
I cast my eyes upward when he slammed his hand back down on the pulpit. I could see the anger darting out from behind his cold, dark eyes. “The Lord is coming!” he shouted. He extended his Bible toward Heaven. “In the last days,” he warned, “We won’t know if man or woman walks among us.”
I was becoming confused. I thought he was directing his anger at me, but now he stood gallantly behind the podium and stared around the congregation. “You heard me right,” he stated again. “We won’t know if man or woman walks among us.”
My mother shouted, “Amen,” and began waving her hand into the air. Others soon mimicked her action. My father emerged behind the podium and stood before the stairs leading up to the altar.
He looked out onto the two hundred people who had congregated to hear his words. He spoke low and with a tone of warning. He then looked down at me and said angrily, “Watch your children, you mothers and fathers.” His voice grew louder.
“There is today a child of evil in our high school.” I looked back and saw others with puzzled expressions as they looked up at my father.
“I have been told that there is a young man who has enrolled in Northdale High School,” he said as he began to descend the stairs. He looked down at Mrs. Emory, one of the octogenarians of our church. “His Lord given name is Samuel. That is a good Holy name.” he spoke reverently. Mrs. Emory looked up, smiled and nodded her head.
He then stepped out into the aisle, shook his head unbelievingly and said angrily, “But his mother enrolled him into the school with the name of Tiffany!” There was a collective gasp throughout the church.
My father dramatically slammed his hand upon his Bible. Everyone, including myself, jumped when his hand smacked the ornate cover. “Tiffany!” he shouted angrily. “A young man whom God deemed to be a man portrays himself to be a woman!” I watched as my father’s body shook with anger.
He stared out over the congregation, shook his head solemnly and then returned to the stage. He dramatically waited until the conversation had turned to silence inside the church.
“I’ve read of this happening elsewhere,” he muttered softly. He shook his head and continued, “I was hoping that our children would never have to experience this evil in their lifetime.” He raised his Bible into the air. “But that evil now lurks among us.”
He began to point his finger at the parents in the room, particularly those who had children in high school. “Watch your children,” he warned. “Perversion is among us. The Devil walks the halls of Northdale High School.”
The hair on my neck stood on end when he looked down at me and stated, “Keep your child close to you, and he’ll not stray from the Lord.” He then lifted his arms and told everyone to rise. He led the congregation in a solemn singing of “Just As I Am.”
Mother and I rode home in silence. She looked at me several times, and I knew she wanted to ask me about Samuel, Tiffany or whomever they call themselves. There was nothing I could tell her. School doesn’t start until next week, and since I’m not exactly a social butterfly, there is no way I would be aware of any of the gossip that might be going around.
Most students avoid me like I am some kind of a leper. They have since I first started school. The few people my age I talk to are those who attend my father’s church. And even then, they have little to do with me other than at Sunday Bible study.
It’s not that they don’t like me. They fear my father. They think that if they say something wrong in my presence, then I might tell my father. I would never do that, but I’ve never had a chance to tell them. I’ve heard the beginnings of their quiet conversations, but they always stop if they think I am in close enough to hear.
For just one minute, I wish I was like them. I wish I could go to a football game on Friday night, and maybe a movie on Saturday. But my father would never permit it. He thinks such activities are evil. Sports is the devil’s meeting ground, and I can’t even begin to discuss his rants about television and movies. In fact, we don’t even have a television in our home.
I have a laptop computer, but it has parental control. He monitors my activities regularly to make sure I’m not visiting sites that is filled with sin and temptation. I’ve watched him sneak into my room late at night and remove my laptop. A half hour later, he’ll creep back into my room and replace it on my desk. I know what he has done, but I would never confront him about it. If I did, it would only make him more suspicious. I feel like I’m choking now. All I need is for him to tighten his reins even more.
So I live the life of an outcast. I have no real friends other than the few students who talk to me occasionally. Because I live the life of a hermit, I read a lot. Of course my father has to approve my reading material. He wants to make sure I’m not reading anything the ‘devil has laid his hands upon.’ He also makes sure that I complete my homework assignments before I can do anything else. Which is funny because what else is there for me to do other than my chores and reading?
I’ll be a junior next week when I start school. I’ll probably be the valedictorian of our class, but not because I want to be. In fact, I tremble each time I think about having to give the valedictorian speech at graduation next year. I’m quite sure my father will write it for me. That means it will be laced with warnings about my generation being sinners, misfits and degenerates. I’m quite sure it will end with some prayer in which I will be forced to asked God for forgiveness of my classmates’ sins and transgressions.
Maybe I’ll get sick on the night of graduation. However, it wouldn’t matter. He’s made me go to school when I had severe colds and migraine headaches. I’m one of three who will probably graduate with a certificate for perfect attendance.
By now, you’re probably saying, “Poor Guy.” But I don’t need anyone’s sympathy. What I really need is a pocketful of cash and a decent car to help get me away from this place the night I graduate. My father has enrolled me in a Bible college thirty miles away. He wants me to become a preacher like him. I don’t know how to tell him I don’t want to do it. That is a conversation I’ll never be able to have with him or Mother. So I plan to run away- just leave. I don’t know where I’ll go, or how I’ll get there. However, I have a year. Maybe some escape plan with materialize by then.
School starts tomorrow, and I really could use some strength. Each year I feel like I’m just going through the motions, because I don’t know where you want me to go. Father’s sermon yesterday upset me. He always preaches about your love, but I can’t understand why his heart is filled with so much hate. I don’t know what to believe anymore. Are you a wrathful God or a loving God?
I hate the first day of school. It is always the same. I wait at the end of the lane for the yellow school bus to arrive. Mother stands on the porch in her apron, waits for me to board, waves goodbye and then dries the tears from her eyes.
She used to wait beside me at the road, but when I entered middle school I begged her not to anymore. It was embarrassing. None of the other mothers accompanied their child to the bus stop and made sure they got on safely. Other students would ridicule me unmercifully, and it only reinforced the social stigma that was already building around me. Other boys referred to me as a “Mommy’s Boy,” as I trudged red-faced to the back of the bus and plopped dejectedly down into a seat.
It took me weeks to finally convince her that I was old enough to board the bus alone. She wept on the sofa and stroked by blond hair back as she cried, “My little boy is growing up.” Finally, she relented. Now, she embarrasses me by waiting on the porch, but at least I can deal with that.
As soon as I board the bus, others began to giggle. I stood looking down the aisle, afraid to make my way to the back. I had to be careful to dodge a boy’s foot who thought it would be funny to watch me trip over it.
I was dressed in my usual attire: white dress shirt, black pants and black loafers. If I was wearing a black tie, I would look like a young Mormon missionary. Two years ago, I asked my father if I could wear ‘normal’ teenage clothes. I had to endure an hour rant about how young people’s dress was immoral and ungodly. All I wanted to do was wear a tee shirt and denim jeans. How ungodly could that possibly be?
As I made my way down the aisle, I could hear others snickering and giggling. I knew it was because of my clothing. Since my demeanor was quiet and demure, most students left me alone.
I took a seat on the last row and I stared out the window as the corn fields rushed past. It was a beautiful morning, but it just didn’t match my mood. Occasionally, I would glance forward to see other students sharing animated conversations. I imagined that most involved catching up on the summer fun.
The bus ride takes about twenty minutes to school from my stop. The distance is less than two miles, but there are numerous stops. As we neared school, the excitement began to build. Laughter and excitement filled the bus.
Then suddenly, everything became silent. I looked out the window to see what had happened to bring about such silence. A young girl was running from her home. She dropped a book on the drive, motioned for the bus driver to wait before she continued to run to get on.
She stood at the front and peered around. She was small and petite, maybe about 5’6. Her waist was so small, I thought I could easily put my hands around her. She had straight, long blond hair that flowed down around her neck. She had on designer jeans and a brown silky blouse. A large turquoise necklace clung tightly to her chest. I thought she was very pretty.
Several students began to giggle, and before long, the bus was filled with laughter. I didn’t know what was so funny. The girl appeared humiliated. She hung her head and slowly made her way to the back. For a minute, I thought she was going to sit beside me, but she sat in the seat opposite the aisle. Everyone had turned to stare at her. Giggles and muted murmuring continued to fill the bus.
I glanced over at her, and her hands were trembling. She sat looking down at the floor as she nervously adjusted the three books in her lap. Once, she glanced over at me, and our eyes met briefly.
She was extremely pretty, and I couldn’t understand why everyone had reacted like they did when she got on the bus. I would have expected the boys to react differently. Catcalls and whistles would have seemed like the normal reaction to a girl so pretty. Even the other girls on the bus didn’t appear intimidated as they usual do when another new girl enrolls in school.
I became embarrassed because others continued to stare. Each time the bus would stop to pick up more students, before the bus even began to lurch forward, they would be informed of the new student sitting in the aisle opposite me.
Once when the bus pulled off, I glanced over. She was peering out the window, and she appeared to be ignoring the attention that was directed towards her. As I studied her pretty features, I noticed the slight trace of a wispy mustache above her lip.
Suddenly, it occurred to me that this was the young man my father had ranted about the morning before at church. The student sitting opposite me was Samuel- or Tiffany. I wasn’t sure.
As I looked forward, most students had returned to their conversations. I glanced back over at the girl- or boy- and I saw her hands still trembling.
An unexplained surge of sadness overwhelmed me. It was soon replaced by fear.