I was plunged into the luke-warm water, trying to remain in the sarcophagus position I was advised to hold. Awkwardly cradled in the ex-Nazi fighter pilots arms, I was exhumed from the watery grave with a ceremonial ring of water arching from my body.
“Do you accept the Lord Jesus Christ as your personal savior?”
“Yes,” came my mousy reply.
The music started, the same song always played for baptisms, just as there was a song for funerals and matrimony, this way the elderly members of the church had a clue for their required response.
I dragged myself out of the tepid waters, weighed down by the needlessly baggy clothing I had been provided with, even when they clung to you, they left a mystery in all the folds. I don’t know whose clothes they were, they weren’t mine, they must have resided at the church solely for emergency baptisms, or fools like me who only came equipped with a swimsuit.
The next in line for emersion was waiting patiently with a stoic look on his face. This one had even prepared a speech; savior’s pet. The only active part I took in my baptism was choosing who would perform it for me, a family friend who I felt most comfortable with. Otherwise, this whole endeavor was my mother’s doing.
There was much hinting in the weeks before the ceremony. These were disguised as part of the announcement, “we will be having a baptism coming up, if anyone else feels inclined to participate in a symbolic rebirth through Jesus, please inquire with your nearest elder.” My mom took this as a direct message aimed at me. I was the last of my age group that hadn’t yet partaken in this watery ritual. But, most likely, this was just their attempt to get the most out of a tank full of water. Even pensioners blessed with spiritual bounty only have so much material wealth to spare. It’s easy to look back on this occasion and put the blame entirely on my mother, although she is completely to blame for the ridiculous haircut I was sporting at the time, which repeatedly had me mistaken for a boy. I undoubtedly had some motives of my own. I felt the unworthiness as the tray of wine and bread bypassed me during the morning communion, the shame of my unadorned head when I was surrounded by lace. All of my friends had already been baptized by the time they were 6, some even claimed to have done so several times, and here I was 12, one birth short of the rest. What was most likely my main hindrance in perusing the matter could be attributed to my crippling shyness; the whole process of approaching the elders and having to undergo the mandatory Q&A, to ensure that no pagan was trying to sneak a dip.
As I made my way stage left upon leaving the tank I was handed a towel and given some hugs and pats accompanied by remarks of well-wishing. An added perk of any occasion in the church when you were young were the gifts. Most of them ended up being dunces, objects with feel good spiritual scriptures scrawled all over them, obvious re-gifts, but sometimes there was the odd gem, namely edible goods. I didn’t even mind the books. If anything, they helped my sleep better at night. They would become part of my nightly ritual. I had a fear of evil spirits, stemming from bible camp demon stories, and thought if I read some sort of spiritual text before going to bed it would create an invisible shield around me. But, as it turned out, I was only able to sleep more peacefully after I had given up the holy ghost. A standard gift for a baptism, for a girl anyways, was a head covering. I unfortunately had mine made for me by Florence. She was a sweet lady, she perhaps came a little too close to your face and held your arm a bit too tight when speaking to you, but she desired to reside in that grandmotherly role among us youth. Little did she understand that the young are cruel, especially when it comes to the elderly, and sweets are the only surefire guarantee of loyalty.
As I wore the elongated doily she had handcrafted for me, I enviously looked at my friend’s quaint lacy accessories. It looked even odder perched atop my big curly hair. Like a delicately fashioned landing strip for Jesus to find his way home into my soul.
Years later when we changed to a more liberal church, I was no longer obligated to wear a head covering. I was more than happy to retire my doily. Some still set in their ways held on to the custom a little longer, but soon assimilated to the hair liberation. Women were also allowed to speak and participate in the service here. Baptism’s still occurred, but it was no longer to prove to the church you were devout, but as part of a personal, spiritual journey.
The warm and welcoming environment with feel good sermons was a nice change from the fire and brimstone scare tactics I had grown accustomed to. But at this point it was already too late. I had seen the dark side of religion and the anger was already brewing.
My previous church couldn’t exactly be labeled a cult, but it did share some the qualities. This included kicking out members whose ways of life they didn’t agree with; a single father who started dating another Christian woman, a mentally ill man who’s mumbling during communion was determined as too distracting and disrespectful to god, and our youth pastor, who was a Calvinist (believed in the pre-ordained). The final straw came when one of the elders was asked to leave after he had become personally bankrupt. What resulted was a Kafkaesque show trail, and the splitting of the already dwindling church.
I try to pinpoint when exactly I came to the realization of the farce I was being subjected to. There were moments of doubt and questioning, a sense that something was holding me back from giving myself up completely to the faith. It wasn’t until an intervention was held by an atheist boyfriend, who gathered my friends and presented a thoughtfully organized binder full of facts that would make any doubting Thomas quiver, that I finally confronted my beliefs. It didn’t help that my best friend Michael, who is gay, was present. He is not the confrontational type, and would never be offended by anyone’s beliefs, but when I was asked if I believed he was going to hell because he’s a homosexual, as the scripture says, he did seem a tad offended.
The scripture I was choking on was damning, and not in the way it would for a sinner seeking redemption, but as a hypocrite having a mirror held up to their lives. It wasn’t as if I hadn’t realized it before. Making sure to set an alarm after my drug, booze and sex filled night in order not be late for the Sunday school class I was teaching. I wasn’t about to compromise on the pleasures of life for a God who didn’t even make me feel safe from psychos after watching Scream 3.
What I lost along with my religion were a group of people who I had considered my close friends, but once it became clear that I was becoming wayward, they didn’t have much time for me. What I gained, and which may bear some semblance to what those turning to religion say, was peace of mind. I was finally able to rid myself of all the superstitions surrounding religion, I no longer had to feel guilty for a lifestyle which I enjoyed and gave me more satisfaction than sitting around discussing what god really meant when he said, “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God and the word was God,” or playing board games and getting a sugar rush off hot cocoa. I was also finally was able to reconcile my logical thinking with my beliefs. Sure, science still needs a level of faith, but the results are a lot easier to attest to the patterned behavior of quarks than the whims of the omniscient.
I can see my religious friends shaking their heads and saying that I wasn’t able to stand firm against the pressures of the world, that I fell too easily into temptation, some may even still be praying for me, I’m sure my mother is, that I will once again find the one true path.I was once one of them, and I can understand how it is to perceive the world through the eyes of the redeemed, adorned with a WWJD bracelet.
Ultimately, religion became an explanation for our existence that was full of holes, these were filled with faith in an all-knowing, all-powerful god. Any belief, even scienists or athiests can fall into the same trap, feeling a necessity to explain away everything. In the end, I was much more comfortable accepting the mystery, I would prefer not to label myself as an atheist or an agnostic, at the moment I’m happy being free from any doctrine and am satisfied that there is no fool-proof answer out there that explains life, the universe and everything, except of course 42, which seems perfectly reasonable.
If I were to rediscover my headcovering a few years back, while I was still dealing with my anger towards religion and drunkenly arguing everyone I encountered on the topic, my first inclination would have been to burn it. But now I see that it should be kept as a relic, as I was part of a dying breed, and religion was all part of forming who I’ve become. If anything I should be grateful for my biblical upbringing, at least it provided me with an easy go-to essay topic in English class.
I don’t actually hate hipsters. The thing is, I kind of envy them. I would give anything to be one of them, but my parents aren’t rich enough, and I can’t conform enough to their individuality. Every time I go back home I’m reminded of how inferior I am. No matter how tight my pants are, or how genuine my cold disdain for humanity is it must shine through that I still thing The Black Keys are cool, that I work, and not at an approved profession, (I was unable to score the position of telepathically taking patrons orders at the local vegan brunch nook) or that I unironically think the Belushi Brothers are funny.
The last time I was home I was determined to get invited to one of their awesome, drug-filled snobfests. I hadn’t realized how bad the hipster epidemic had spread since I’d last been back, but I could almost make out the sneers as I walked down LoJo, as lower Johnson Street has now been renamed. I wasn’t off to a good start, especially since it was impossible to make eye contact with any of them. I checked to make sure I hadn’t accidentally worn my Gap sweatshirt by accident. I quickly realized I needed a little assistance if I were to make any progress on my way to hipsterdom.
Many Canadians associate the west coast with granola munching, pot-smoking, mountain trekkers, that and Asians. In Victoria, the hippies still reign, and not the burnt-out zombies roaming Height and Ashbury, leather belts permanently embedded in their skulls since 1962. These are hippies 2.0. They may not have a war to protest or anyone shunning them for their long hair, although their habit of not bathing does provide them a wide berth, but they still profess ideals of living off the land, AKA not working, free love, although perhaps with a little added protection, and drugs. Therein lay my connection. Alcohol is said to bring people together, but as far as hippies and hipsters are concerned, it’s drugs. I have a few hippie friends left back home, some of my friends would even consider me a bit of a hippie, but I failed to pass the crystal healing test, so I don’t qualify. Nevertheless, I still managed to get myself invited to a Cosmic Caravan Carnival. Before going I made sure to down a bottle of raspberry vodka, which I shared with some Swedish exchange students down by the harbor, but I was still relying on obtaining something in the stalls to keep me going through the night. I can only feign enthusiasm for electronic music unassisted for so long, let alone the accompanying spastic dance moves. After ingesting some organic shit labeled Scooby Snacks I was beginning to have doubts about the success of my night. I had trouble convincing myself that the ginseng and honey were eventually going to start to kicking in. It didn’t help matters when the friend who I had come with, and whose house I was expecting to crash at, started making arrangements with several of the girls gathered around him. They were obviously attracted to this free spirit, who wasn’t even letting the frigid weather stop him from baring his chest, with only a thin layer of sequins and feathers to protect him from the elements. When I realized that I wasn’t going to fit into his plans for the evening, I stood awkwardly between the crowds of multi-colored folks, feeling as out of places as I always did in my hometown. I weighed my options, I could find a park bench, preferably away from the addicts, to rest until the first morning bus, or I could finally find out how long it would actually take to walk home from the city to the suburbs, my estimate being between 2 and 7 hours. That’s when a mustachioed boy approached me. He was wearing a coonskin cap, with a long feather earing dangling from one ear and the signature painted-on red pants. It was just a relief to finally have someone to talk to. He then proceeded to invite me to this after party that I had heard the others talking about as being impossible to get in to because it was sold out. As we started making our way, accompanied by his equally fabulously dressed posse, he pulled out a pill case and invited me to have my pick. I couldn’t believe my luck, and should have realized that he had ulterior motives for me, but I still had at least 6 hours to while away until dawn.
I had heard of this Sunset Lounge before, it was Victoria’s only after hours club, and it’s the closest we could get to a rave scene. Alternative seems like a half-ass way of describing it, just like calling someone who meditates occasionally, ‘spiritual,’ but I fail to find a way to sum up nicely the crowd I encountered there. That night I got invited to a swinger’s party, was confronted for advice on how to get rid of constipation in the toilet and given a pair of angel wings to accompany my flower child dance, which was finally accepted as a perfectly reasonable form of dancing.
Throughout the night my new friend kept a constant check on me and repeatedly told me how much he and his girlfriend liked me. I should have known something was up, but I really did need a place to stay, and they seemed nice enough kids. The girlfriend seemed even innocent of the fact that her nipples were clearly visible through her white lace top.
Back at their place, after showing me a trapeze they had constructed for their acrobat act and feeding me some gluten-free cake and an herbal energy tincture, the girl began to set up a bed for me in the living room. The boy chirped in that that wouldn’t be necessary, as I would be sharing their bed with them. I received this news as naively as possible. Perhaps they wanted to continue our discussion on how best to raise a captive monkey, or maybe they were just trying to lower the cost of heating by sharing body warmth. As we snuggled into bed I was informed that they had chosen me because I was special. I wasn’t sure if I should have felt flattered or insulted that they would think I was that easy. I wondered what sort of vibe I was giving off that they would perceive me this way. Was it my kinky hair or the curious owl tattooed on my back?
The next morning, as I made my way to the bus stop, I realized that maybe I didn’t quite belong with the hippies or the hipsters. Maybe it was all just part of another passing trend, like the emos and goths, and all I had to do was wait a little while and make sure to catch the next one early. Hopefully the next fad would harken back to the puritanical days of the early settlers, with laced up collars and proposals before kissing, and maybe by the time it rolled along I would realize that I was getting too old for this shit.
I remember as a kid encountering classmates who didn’t own TV’s. I pitied these forsaken children with their hippie parents who thought they were protecting their offspring from brain numbing rubbish. While instead they were unknowingly excluding their children from important cultural references for years to come. We felt it was our duty to invite them over after to school to catch up some mandatory viewing; otherwise how would they know which character to vie for during our lunch time Power Ranger playacts, or maybe it would be to our advantage, one less girl wanting to be Pink. I eventually became one of these kids. When I was just weaning myself off Barney and Sesame Street, ready for some harder stuff; to brave Goosbumps and maybe even test the waters of some dumbed down sitcoms, I was rudely forced into the company of those raw veggie eating, hand me down clothed, children of the Earth. But this wasn’t for any self-betterment on my parent’s part; it was, as usual, to save a buck or two. My father, always out for a long term deal, had made an investment in a satellite dish. This was not the satellite dishes that adorn the roofs of so many suburban houses; this was a satellite dish that sent messages to aliens. It was the size of a trampoline, and was probably why I was never able to get a trampoline; no room and no money. It scarred our backyard, despite my mother’s attempts to fence it off and disguise it in vines. Since part of the long term bargain was that we illegally picked up our satellite signal from our surrounding area, and everyone in the neighborhood was using cable our channel selection was limited and fuzzy at best. The only children’s TV I was exposed to being a promo for a Disney channel, which played the same episodes of My Little Pony every day, leading me to carefully rotate my viewing periods. Therefore, for the most part I grew up with the best of the oldies. When asked to make a personal profile in grade 4, I listed my favourite TV show as Green Acres. When we were given a colouring sheet of the Simpson family I mistakenly, and to the horror of the entire class, coloured Marge’s hair brown. A few years later, after we turned our house into a B&B, my parents finally conceded and got cable and I was eventually able to catch up with my peers, although mystifyingly Power Rangers was still off limits. My parents were convinced some poorly costumed villains fighting in broad daylight in a park was too frighting for me, little did they realize that it was in fact the martians from Sesame Street that haunted my dreams.
Nowadays, almost everyone I talk to chooses not to own a TV, and they say so proudly; they’ve been on the commercial-free wagon for 6 months and no low price cable package is going to tempt them off. I can understand, with computers you can watch what you want, when you want, and best of all, for free. (I just hope I’m not the only one prepared for this joyride to end abruptly any time soon.) The last time I was home and surfing the channels, after about, 3 years of being clean, I witnessed how far basic cable had degraded. I wouldn’t have thought it possible near the end of my TV viewing years, what with each new reality shows trying to top the others with ridiculousness and grotesqueness. I thought it couldn’t be beat after witnessing a bachelorette type show, where all the contestants wore wrestling style masks throughout, so the decision couldn’t be based on appearance, and it was hosted by Monica Lewinsky. Now the majority of the channels were devoted to shopping networks, there were a few more foreign channels and the few channels I was actually able to watch were ran the likes of Two and a Half Men, with whatever washed up cast they have managed to scrounge up at this point and dumb blonde bitches trying to tackle day to day tasks, breathing and so on. The only time I could stomach to watch was late-night.
Gone are the days of channel surfing, unless you constantly want to have your finger on the next channel button. And the sans TV option, is no longer the hippie family choice but the sensible one if you want to keep any wits about you. Let’s just hope that when our satellite finally does make contact with the outer realms, that it transmits Honey West rather than Honey Boo Boo, otherwise they may invade us for our own good.
Remember platform sneakers and blue lipstick, playing Girl Talk with your girls, in a room adorned with posters of Jonathan Taylor Thomas and The Hansons, Much Dance 2000 playing in the background. Or munching on Cool Ranch Doritos and slurping back Orbit while watching Jem or Darkwin Duck or TGIF. Maybe you recall painful waiting on dail-up internet or when cell phones where the size of your head.
I’ve barely completed the first quarter of my life (perhaps that’s wishful thinking, let’s say third) and I’m already being perpetually invited to walk down memory lane. I understand feeling nostalgia for your childhood; the carefree summer days, the creative possibilities that were viewed in every found object, slumber parties and first crushes, and the constant giddiness that was so easily stirred up, before cynicism crept into our bones. As we are making our transition to adulthood, much slower and reluctantly than previous generations, we say good-bye to our youth, make a clean break and move on to spawn youth of our own. Now, with Facebook and websites, such as Buzzfeed, I’m stagnating in nostalgia as I’m constantly reminded of every significant emblem or moment commonly shared by others of my generation. It can be fun to reminisce at times, but it’s also slightly disturbing. Should I be experiencing such bittersweet feelings recalling my past when it is just barely behind me. Not only is technology ruining certain moments I used to savor, such as the satisfaction when you finally remembering, ‘what’s-his-name, from that movie, you know…’ after it’s been bugging you (and as a result everyone around you) for hours, or running into an old classmate you haven’t seen in years, and instead of catching up on where your lives have taken you seen you last met, there’s no need, since you’ve been constantly updated on Facebook. But now the internet is messing with my memories; this has gone too far. Forty years from now I want to be walking with my child/grandchild/godchild (we’ll see what happens) and tell them how candy used to be 5 cents, we used to write with pen and paper, and didn’t have chips embedded in our brains that thought for us. Now, I stumble home from the bar with my friends and stopping at the corner store recall how 5 cents candies didn’t used to have taxes on them, how we should go home and youtube Strawberry Shortcake, oh my god, remember trolls, we could totally buy one off ebay.
Recently, while watching a movie that took place in the 1970’s which involved numerous interactions at the airport; it was about a terrorist organization, I felt a little envious at the ease in which they were able to travel in those days. Characters weren’t harassed in customs, walked freely even after displaying suspicious behavior, holding copies of fake passports was considered not enough cause to be held, and they were able to puff a continuous stream of smoke from their mouths throughout.
Every time I’m ushered through US Customs I feel as if I’m interrogated. It doesn’t help that I get nervous when faced with authority. Anyone who has the power to make things very unpleasant for me if they so wish and I feel the pressure of undergoing a test I’m bound to fail. The unsmiling, doubting faces make me question if I am indeed who I proclaim to be. ‘I’m sure I was born in Victoria, at least that’s what my parents told me, and…and, I’ve seen the birth certificate, it certainly didn’t look as if it’d been tampered with.’ Filling out my declaration form, I’m calm, I’m a world traveller, I know the routine, I’m cool and savvy when it comes to airports. The line is moving quickly, look how easily those citizens of the world are cakewalking through, all ages, races, modes of dress. Then it’s my turn, my heart starts to race as I make my way to the counter. What if they don’t believe me; is my story drill-proof. I don’t have a job right now, but I can’t tell them that, they’ll think I’m going to jump ship instead of catching my connecting flight and find work at the next farm I pass. I’m an English Teacher, I can hold that story up, I was an English Teacher not too long ago and can remember most of the facts about my job. They’ll ask me how much money I have on me, which, including the $20 stored in my wallet for a snack and a magazine, amounts to a little over $100. Am I even allowed to land on US soil with so little money to my name? I’m sure I’ll pop up on their computer as suspicious. Maybe after that time a friend and I were searched. We didn’t completely fit the hippie vagabond look worn by so many heading to California on a Greyhound, but were backpack toting and guitar strapped nonetheless. After recounting a story that didn’t quite hold, ‘So, you don’t know the name and addresses of who you’re going to stay with in California?’ Stuttering my reply, ‘I was going to figure it out when I got there.’ I was given a mild talking to about working illegally in the states. Come on, I was thinking, out of work, youngsters, who’s bag are filled with beat classics don’t come to kick it in Cali with an itinerary, plus I really did have family in Sacramento. My slight annoyance at being disbelieved and stereotyped was overshadowed by the fact that I was indeed coming down to work illegally, on a weed farm nonetheless, and I should be happy that I made it through at all. Or maybe they made a slight note when I was ‘randomly’ selected to have my dirty laundry sifted through on a return flight from Cuba. If anything, my Arab sounding last name would be a sure sign of compatriotism with a terrorist organization.
I manage to stumble my way through questioning, slightly flushed and gulping a few to many times, I vow not to make any detours on my way to my next flight, that no mysterious man in sunglasses handed me an unmarked package, and, a personal promise to myself, that I will avoid any more stopovers in the land of the free if at all possible. Now if only I were able to have that cigarette.