Posted in Nonfiction, Parenting

Acceptance Is a Drug.

Acceptance is a drug: a rock, a vapor, a potion. Some children first feel its rush in the womb, when a mother’s rhythmic, loving touch pulses through skin and blood and fluid. Her voice tunnels down through warmth and darkness. She says: I love you. She says: I can’t wait to meet you. She says: You are mine.

Other children remain unconvinced of acceptance and its potency until they emerge from the birth canal and find a father, beaming and open-palmed, the picture of pride.

And then there are the children whose acceptance has been cut, laced, or diluted. One or both of their parents may be absent or absent-minded; inattentive or attentive to a fault, but only when enforcing discipline or inflicting abuse; or desperately distracted by the pursuit of their own acceptance.

In other cases, parental acceptance, though satisfying, just simply isn’t enough. For these children, the need for notice, for desire, for praise and validation, is all-consuming. They huff high GPAs; snort three-day school suspensions; cook off-handed compliments until they’re concentrated, then inhale them till they swell inside their chests and crackle.

No, for them, simple acceptance isn’t enough. There must be a headier love, love in its pure powder form, love that can be sifted through fingers, run across teeth, licked clean off a surface.

As with any addiction, there is more than enough blame to go around. As with any addiction, blame is futile; it does not yield solutions.

What it begets is shame.

It makes the girl whose chase leads her into the arms of another addict feel mortified when the act she believed to be a private transaction of passion hits the harsh light of day. It makes her feel mercilessly flogged and without safe haven or sanctuary. Criticism stones her in the public square. Men touting themselves at surrogate fathers will screen her one of most intimate, most illegally disseminated moments, then speculate that this has happened to her because her mother is out “being empowered,” rather than providing undivided attention to her child. He will not acknowledge or apologize for his voyeurism, even as he concedes that the exposure and proliferation of the act makes it child pornography.

There will be over-simplification: The addiction suggests a lack of home training. The addiction is everywhere, manifesting itself in children in exactly this way every day; it will work itself out, if only it isn’t exploited, if only we avert our eyes, if only the children grow up. The addiction requires the help of an agency or institution, it belongs to laundry list of drudgery assigned to social workers, court-appointed counselors, and youth pastors.

It is never a personal problem. It does not require self-reflection. Because we didn’t give or receive oral sex at 14. Because our mamas loved us. Because we had the good sense not to compress our mistakes and our flaws, our naivety and experimentation, onto video and upload them to YouTube.

It isn’t our problem because our daughters are 15 and 18 and 21 and they aren’t yet sexually active. Because we parented them “right.” We grounded them, spanked them when they needed it, set content filters on our televisions and laptops, requested them as friends on Facebook.

But as long as this can happen to one girl, succumbing to the throes of thwarted infatuation, as long as one son thinks he will become a hero through sexual conquest, as long as friends will hold a camera and look on, stifling snickers or sitting in silence, as long as a video of children having sex can go viral within hours of upload, there is plenty of work left for us all.

Posted in Fiction, Maranatha (novel excerpts)

Maranatha: Chapter 11.

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– Chapter 11 –

The Law Offices of Cooper, Willis, and Dunn were in an office park near a shallow manmade lake. Shady elms encircled the lake and ducks flitted back and forth between the brackish water and the long grass. When Maranatha pulled into the labyrinthine parking lot, she angled her car into a spot under one of the trees, even though the building she wanted was much farther back in the complex. She stared out at the water for a while and at a pair of agitated ducks, boxing one another with wildly flapping wings. Then she leaned forward, resting her chin on her steering wheel, and gazed up at the sky.

She couldn’t see the sun, obscured as it was by tufts of cloud, but its beams barreled down in angled rays; and she imagined God holding a scepter refracting the light. Maranatha had always thought of God as air, intangible and shapeless unless He compressed Himself into something small enough for her attempt to fathom—like a white giant in a robe with stone tablets, holding a scepter of sun.

Jesus, on the other hand, was always very human to her. She had no doubt that, if she shuttled back in time two millennia, he’d be there. He’d have rebel eyes and a wry grin and she’d be madly in love with him, so in love that when he died, she’d cut her own wrists and hope to die along with him. But then, as she awaited her end, the gashes she’d opened would seal and her life, so amazingly spared, would be listed among the last of the pre-resurrection miracles.

The Holy Spirit seemed something else entirely. It was what she felt when she made bad decisions, constantly, impartially observing. It was what the “something” whenever she heard the words, “Something told me to…” It was the complicated scriptures that still floated up to her, all these years after she’d memorized them. The Holy Spirit hovered and always felt really close by, too close sometimes, like a person whose slightly stale breath you felt clinging to your barely conscious face, as he checked your vitals.

Maranatha liked the way she imagined the Trinity. It helped her to conceive of each branch in a very personal way. She’d never told anyone of the grand tales she’d spun, dating back to early girlhood, of God as avenger and Jesus as rescuer and Holy Spirit as conscience and key. She feared accusations of blasphemy from people who were part of her old life—Anne and all the old church folks she might meet during the course of the trial. And she feared skepticism and ridicule from the people who were part of her life now—the academics at the colleges where she taught, the few acquaintances she still knew from college, her Tuesday Night Writers Circle.

It was a part of herself she’d learned to fiercely guard. Holy Pentecost Academy had been cruel. Sometimes, it was even vicious. But she’d stopped believing that anyone there represented the God she knew by the time she was ten years old. After that, their behavior stood on its own, apart from what she thought Christianity was or what she hoped it could be.

Holy Pentecost was just a nightmarish Evangelical factory where she’d been trapped until she turned eighteen. She’d been reminding herself of that her whole adult life. The Academy was just something to get over; it didn’t hold the truths of her faith and she shouldn’t allow it to shape her future.

Of course, that was nearly impossible to accept, no matter how many mantras and positive confessions and “forgetting those things which are behind” sermons she heard. This was why she needed to sue the school. She needed sit among people who knew, and talk about how deeply this place scarred its students’ souls.

Continue reading “Maranatha: Chapter 11.”