A few things happened over the next couple years after that first communion that were to impact a number aspects of my life’s journey and my religious behavior over the decades to follow.
First, as I mentioned, my mom got sober for the last time, meaning it stuck. She got into Alcoholics Anonymous and the program worked for her. She encouraged me to get into Alateen. She knew her drinking, and my dad’s drinking, drug abuse, and disappearance from my life had impacted me, but I thought everything was just A-OK. That said, I learned a lot of my best lessons about living life from a bunch of recovering drunks, and I was exposed to a number of varying perspectives and concepts of “god.”
During this time, my father finally sobered up for a good long period, probably the best period of his life, when I was around 14. He came back into our lives, as my mother never wanted to keep us from seeing him as long as he was sober. I got to see a lot of him, and we actually went to dozens and dozens of AA meetings. I learned a lot from those drunks too. Drunks who have gotten hold of just how fucked up they are can be pretty wise, let me tell you.
The third thing? Well, when I was twelve, we had a family friend, a lady, over our house for dinner. We had seen a lot of her lately, but I thought nothing of it. From my seat at the dining table, I could only see the refrigerator at the opening of the kitchen – the rest of the room was hidden over to the left. My mom and this lady were in the kitchen working on dinner. I happened to look at the fridge to see the dim reflection of my mom and this family friend – you got it – making out.
Mom was gay. Wowzers.
I didn’t say anything to mom – pretended I hadn’t seen a thing. I told the three closest friends I had, who, it turned out, were actually good at keeping secrets. This was the early 80’s, and being accepting of gay people was just coming into vogue, thankfully. So my friends encouraged me to just accept it and wait till she said something to me, and that seemed best to me too.
When I was fourteen, my mother still didn’t know I was aware of her sexuality. We had moved to Santa Cruz to be closer to my mom’s parents, and, of course, to get out of our redneck town and live in a more progressive place.
My fascination with the bible was actually on the rise again. I didn’t go to church, but I had an old King James bible that was my mom’s when she was younger. I read sections of it here and there, but couldn’t get through a lot of it because of the language. Still I tried. I was on the couch, reading some incomprehensible part or another. My mother sat down in her chair across from me and said, “I have something to tell you.”
Pause – “Could you close your bible?”
“Okay.” I closed it.
She hemmed and hawed for a minute or so, and finally I just said, “Mom, you’re gay.”
She was genuinely surprised. “You knew?”
“For a couple years now.” So I told her I loved her and that I was happy for her. We hugged and that was it. For now just remember that exchange.
My first real exposure to Evangelicalism came at the age of 15. Now living in Santa Cruz, I had gotten involved in the music department again, and there was a girl I was enamored with who was involved in youth group at a church called Advent Christian Church. I got involved, started learning some of the songs, went to a couple weekend/overnight camps, all to be around this girl.
I never did get the girl, but somehow got it in my mind that I needed to get baptized. I later found out how that got into my mind, but let’s save that for later.
Anyway, I came home and announced I was getting baptized. My mom thought that was stupid, because I’d already been baptized, but she would have let me anyway. But my dad called and challenged me. He asked why I wanted to get baptized. I really couldn’t answer. He wasn’t a big fan of organized religion anyway, but he made it clear that if I could give him a good answer, he’d support me. I couldn’t, and he didn’t, and he talked me out of it. It wasn’t long after that I stopped going to youth group. That coincided with said girl making it clear that it just wasn’t going to happen. Imagine that.
This was in the fall of my sophomore year of high school. Later that year, in the spring, that girl was forgotten, because I met the woman of my dreams. We’ll just call her “T.” She was shy, gorgeous, very down-to-earth, and wickedly funny, once she let you in. I met her in April, pursued her (stalked?) for two months, and by June we had fallen in love. By July we were inseparable and had announced to the world that when we got out of high school we were getting married. Of course, nobody believed us, but we couldn’t care less.
For the next two-plus years we were pretty typical American teenagers, irreligious, locked at the hip and lips, working part time, finishing high school, and so on. We were also typical statistically, in that we were very (and safely) sexually active. While that seems like TMI now, it comes into serious play in our Christian experience, but I’ll get to that when the time comes.
Around the time I was 17, T came home from her job busing tables and mentioned that a nice young man named Ernie (remember that name, you’ll hear it again later) had led her in a “sinner’s prayer,” that she believed in Jesus, and suggested we start going to church.
Boy did I lay into her. I was not nice about it either. I’d like to say that it was rational clarity that drove my reaction. It wasn’t. I was just pissed because I felt like this guy was getting a little too personal with my fiancee, and I was having none of it. I also had no intention of going to any damn church.
So that was the end of that. She didn’t fight me on it. I’m not sure why. We went on being the same teens we had been.
I graduated high school (T had graduated the year before) and began working at a music store in Capitola, a beach town near Santa Cruz. As a classically trained singer who fancied himself destined for the opera stage (no joke) it seemed like it would be Nirvana.
Not quite. Things were about to take a huge left turn.