CC image courtesy of Shade Ardent, sagebrushMoon Studios.
Shade writes at The Unspared Rod.
My eighth grade year found me in the public school.
I had been kicked out of the small IFB church school that I had been attending. Suddenly the world was larger. I had been told that the public school was filled with Satan worshipers who would force me to believe in evolution. I was sure that rock and roll music would steal my soul, remake me into Satan’s servant.
So I entered the school, and found an entirely new world. I, a shy and awkward kid, found a world where the most painful thing that happened was being made fun of. There were no mysterious fists striking me as I walked past, there were no mobs on the playground. At that school, paddling was not done. There were no mysterious calls to the principal’s office. There was no mandatory daily chapel service. There was just more and more learning.
Today, I know that that school was still heavily influenced by the churches in the area. Still, it was eye-opening. While they didn’t teach evolution or the dreaded sex education, I found that there was room to be who I was without as much punishment. There was room to question the world.
In the church schools, I had been socially isolated. Somehow I was always getting it wrong with people. I would misread intentions, and find myself repeating something that was supposed to not be said. The punishments were severe. Today, I know that this was due to being autistic, that it was normal that I didn’t understand the social cues being given.
Back then, I didn’t know; I just knew I was different.
Fast forward to my senior year, and they pulled me out of public school. I was to do homeschooling. While there was no explanation at the time, I can connect at least one reason to this: a couple of weeks before they pulled me out, I had broken up with the boy I had been ordered to court. Exposure to a not-so-fundamentalist group of girls at summer camp had infected me with the idea that I could say ‘no’ and that it would be respected.
I, with my long hair, skirts, modest clothing, I was too wild. I, who was still socially inept, without friends to influence my questioning. I, who didn’t dare listen to rock music, who worked so hard to believe everything the church said was true.
I was too wild.
Being ‘frugal’, they saw no reason to invest in homeschooling materials. They worked the system to get the county to send a teacher to me once a week. I worked on my schoolwork in solitude, never quite sure that it was a real education anymore.
I was terrified that I wouldn’t be allowed to graduate, that I would be trapped at home. At the same time, I was relieved to be given a reprieve from school. I found it so exhausting, trying to understand all the people and the social groups. I would find myself at the mercy of the popular kids’ laughter one day, and the next I was separated from everyone. Doing my classwork without that pressure meant I could finish a lot faster.
But it also meant I was isolated.
Even influenced by the local churches, the public schools I attended had begun to give me glimpses of a different world. There was history, science, math all rooted in provable facts. The bible played no part in my educational days any more. There were no verses to memorize in every class, no reflections back to the bible to prove whatever was being taught was true.
Questions were welcomed.
This, perhaps, was also part of why I was pulled from school. Fundamentalism and autism are a poor mixture. Everything they said was true, I tried to believe. I forced belief on myself with Abraham’s sharp knife. I cut away my unbelief over and over again. There was no room for questions, for doubt.
Another part of how autism affects me is that I need things to make sense. I need to be able to line them up, ordered beauty, geometric fractals piercing light. Fundamentalism did not lend itself to order. Oh, they tried to teach that it was the most ordered thing, but their elaborate methods of laying out what was ‘of g-d’ and what was ‘of the devil’ made things complicated.
Still, I tried to believe.
I tried to stifle the questions. I memorized more verses. I answered every question I had with accusation, I found myself more and more guilty. To punish myself, I would pray over and over every night, hoping that this prayer would be heard. All while knowing that the bible told me that if I had sin in my heart, that my prayers would never get higher than the ceiling.
And so my prayers hovered in the room. Broken-winged, they flapped about the room, choking away any hope I had of being forgiven. Each night, I added more black-wing prayers to my room, until I wondered how anyone could breathe in there. I was glad of their invisibility, I wanted no one to know just how many prayers I prayed that never reached heaven, and I hoped that g-d would keep my secrets.
In the middle of suffocating, the questions grew. I had no one to ask, though. So they, too, became broken-winged thoughts, tangling with the prayers. Sometimes I thought they were fighting, the questions and the prayers.
I never knew who I wanted to win.
I desperately wanted the absolution that would come with forgiveness, but I knew my prayers could never find heaven. I found myself rooting for the questions. I found myself longing for someone to ask them of.
I never found that person.
Once I was homeschooled, I thought the questions would stop. I thought without the world’s influence, I would stop inventing questions. But they piled up anyway. Heavy branches that sliced away dark from light. They tangled belief into shadow, until there was no breathing. Terrified, I tried to silence them. I wanted to believe.
In that world, belief was the safest thing.
So I pushed the tangle of thinking, of questioning, away from me. I pretended they didn’t exist. I pretended my prayers were being answered, that I was finding forgiveness. I memorized more verses, I served more at church, I tried so hard to be the perfect christian. I tried to study and show myself approved.
I was required to use the bible as my proof text for everything from math to science. Even the papers I wrote for history had to be done through the bible. I wrote a lot about authority structures, and how they needed to be respected, I wrote about how politics needed to do more to support the authority in place. I was no longer allowed to have new ideas, to question old ones.
The bible was true, and that was all I needed to live.
And I suffocated.