"Look at what Caitlin's wearing," my classmate whispered to her friend as I walked past her locker. She had an ugly smile on her face. "She's TRYING to fit in." They both burst into giggles. I pretended that I hadn't heard them as I continued past, but my heart sank. And then a fierce, angry determination came over me...."I'll show them...." I muttered under my breath.
Once again I was in darkness. My twin brother with whom I shared a room always fell asleep quickly. I enjoyed wrestling with him during the day, but I dreaded the wrestling match I faced each night. Out of the darkness imposing thoughts seized me like, "What would happen if I were to die tonight?" I didn't want to die, but it was the uncertainty of what followed death that really terrified me. In the morning after a particularly long night of struggling to fall asleep, I approached my mother in the kitchen.
There were three things we never talked about in our family growing up: money, my dad's alcohol problem and God.
There wasn't a lot of extra money so I started my first job at age 11 weeding flower beds for the neighbors. I always had a job because I wanted money in my pocket. Alcohol abuse colored everything we did as a family. Was Dad sober enough for us to do what was planned? I never invited friends to our home, I was embarrassed by what they might see or hear. As a teenager I had to go to the club, put my dad in a car and drive him home.
As I nervously peered down at the ground 100 feet below, my balance shifted. In a brief moment of blind panic, I realized I was going over the cliff's edge.
There was no turning back. That's how I felt when a group of friends took me rock climbing a few years ago. The idea sounded like fun - until we arrived at the rock face and put on climbing gear to rappel down. I've never been fond of heights and didn't take much comfort in my only lifeline being a climbing rope thinner than my index finger.
"What's the matter with you? How can you not know the answer to that question.....it's in all the newspapers? What world are you living in?"
Such a tirade being thrown at a shy, sensitive teenager by a social studies teacher in front of her peers can bring humiliation and shame. It can not help but reinforce her own feelings of insecurity and self-doubt.
Even though this happened to me over 40 years ago, it still hurts to think about it.
I used to think that I could find favor with God by going to church and reading the Bible. Many times I tried to live a good life, but eventually I would fail and not live up to my expectations. I wanted to do good, but was not able to be consistent. I could not change the person I was, although I really tried.
My Mom was the daughter of an itinerate preacher. She saw to it that my brother and I attended church every Sunday, beginning at a very young age. However, as I grew older, I drifted away from the teachings of my youth only to make a lot of mistakes.
But God wasn't through with me yet. It was many years later as I waited for my daughter at a bus stop that a little old woman with a kind face asked me, "If you died tonight, do you know where you would spend eternity?"
I was known in my family as "Little Miss Sunshine," and my friends called me "Goodie Two Shoes" but I knew I wasn't perfect.
My family didn't go to church when I was young, but at age 5 I started going with my neighbor. I learned about God, Heaven, Jesus, and that Jesus died to forgive my sins so I could go to go to heaven when I died. I wanted to go to Heaven but I didn't understand how.
I grew up feeling insecure and afraid. My father was either away from home or drunk. My mother was also usually gone. She had to work long hours to make enough money to take care of four children and pay the rent. I often feared that something horrible might happen to my parents and that I would be left alone. I wanted to be sure that I was a good child so that they would not leave me. I wanted everyone to think that I was a good boy and worth loving.