I remember the summer that I was baptized. It was the summer of 1997, right before my sophomore year. My family had moved from the only home that I had ever really known into a new neighborhood, one littered with members from our church. We needed a bigger house anyway as my grandparents were moving down from North Carolina to live with us, but I can’t help but think that my parents moving me into that neighborhood was their way of trying to set me up to “win spiritually” or something. It worked, I suppose.
I went to summer camp at Camp Lee that year. It was the church sponsored camp, before the church could afford their own camp. We would lease out various summer camps each summer… I don’t remember much about that week. I don’t remember who I was in love with that summer — I think it might’ve been Travis, but that might’ve been eighth grade? It might’ve been Robin. Who knows. It doesn’t matter in the end — we weren’t allowed to have boyfriends in high school because, after all, boyfriends lead to fiances and fiances lead to husbands and we’re too young to have any sort of association to that stuff.
But what I do remember about that summer, is sitting the green carpeted building at Camp Lee… With screened in windows and a ping pong table. I remember feeling finally honored that the woman that was going to lead my bible study was someone I admired, Carolyn. I sat with Lisa and Ashley and Carolyn. I don’t remember who, if anyone else, was there… We talked about my immenient baptism and discussed how my savior died for my sins… The emphasis on MY sins. All of the colorful sins in all of my wild fifteen years /sarcasm. You know, that time I stole tictacs in the grocery store when I was six, slyly sticking them in the elastic of my waistband and then walking EVER so slowly as to not rattle the NOISIEST candy you could possibly ever choose to steal. Or maybe it was that time (you know, that ONE time) that I masturbated in my exploratory youth. At this point, I had only ever kissed one boy… Daniel, during gym class in eighth grade. I didn’t even really like him much — he used too much gel in his hair and had this weird sort of swoopy thing going on with it that I thought made his head look hard and plastic, a bit like a Ken doll. My little adolescent misgivings had really caused a man to kill himself for me?
I remember just thinking to myself, “Yes… Mmhmm. Let’s just get this overwith so I can get baptized and go on dates.” Because, in contrast to not being able to have boyfriends, we were nearly guaranteed a date every weekend. The brothers were supposed to “encourage” the sisters by taking them out and having good, clean, wholesome fun because, after all, if we weren’t out being encouraged by our spiritual brothers in Christ, we might be tempted to date a boy from school. And we all know that boys in school will try to kiss you in gym class.
When Daniel kissed me, he sort of sucked on my bottom lip, then my top lip. There weren’t any smacking sounds that I anticipated from kissing. Just… sucking. Which… sucked.
Anyway, I’m in this hot, steamy green building with stained berber carpet, sitting on metal folding chairs with my spiritual role models. My thighs are sticking to the metal of the seat and as I lift them, the striking chill of the metal distracts me from the self-slaughtering story of Jesus.
It’s July… In Alabama. And it’s really fucking hot.
And this makes it really hard to think about Jesus’ suffering. I mean, the lining on my bitty girl-bra is separating from the cotton padding and sticking to my virgin nipples. And the mosquito bites — Dear Lord, I’m so distracted right now. I know I’m supposed to be feeling a connection to you, but I just… I’m sorry. I’m not sure what that’s supposed to feel like.
So camp ends on a Saturday. Sunday is our “Congo Sunday” which isn’t to say that there are wild jungle animals swinging from trees… Well, there kind of is, but it’s not a jungle. It’s just a bunch of really boistrious Christians from all over Atlanta high five-ing and side-hugging and you know, encouraging one another.
My dad is there, with big fisherman’s rubber pants on. I’m there in a purple tshirt and basketball shorts. I wore my bra so that when I got wet, you wouldn’t be able to see my nipples. I don’t remember the details, but I remember my brother was down below the stage. All of the teenagers, many I wasn’t close to, were crowded around the stage below the baptistry, and my brother was recording me with this huge ancient video camera. My dad cried. I cried. He dunked me. And I felt this rush — likely the cold water, perhaps the wave of the roaring audience of thousands that had just witnessed my arrival into this new life.
I was baptized on July 27, 1997. I would denounce this entire ruse in the summer of 2001, only four years later.
I look back on this time in my life and I feel as if the person I am watching, walking through the hallways of my memories, was never really me. I wonder if everyone feels like this about their high-school self…