Not surprisingly, my first religious awakening was triggered by a boy. My family practiced a generic Christianity where we prayed before out-of-town car trips and when we wanted something. We bought sharp outfits for our once-a-year worship service on Easter, thanked Jesus whenever something good happened, and knew sin was bad and that we didn’t want to burn in Hell forever.
I wasn’t certain whether we were Catholic or Christian (or both) but I remember stewing in adolescent envy because my older sister had been baptized and I had not. Baptism had something to do with getting into heaven, my sister taught me, and I was already paranoid about my prospective afterlife.
As little as I knew about God, I was of course aware he didn’t approve of some of the things I did with other little boys. How odd—or clever—for God to later use my sodomitic lust to bring me further into his kingdom.
The thoroughfares in my childhood neighborhood had at least two churches per block, although it wasn’t until I was 16 that I met someone from our neighborhood who attended one of them. Patrick moved to Englewood that spring, presenting himself as a dope-slinging, basketball-playing, pretty-boy thug.
Patrick and I were inexplicably antagonistic toward each other during his first few weeks in the neighborhood, but by summer we were even more inexplicably best friends, which I hopefully filtered through a romantic outlook.
Contrary to his ‘hood persona, Patrick had been the valedictorian of his eighth-grade graduation, attended a private, all-male Catholic high school and served on the usher board at Second Birth Missionary Baptist Church—Major E. Robinson, presiding.
I thought Patrick’s churchgoing was sexy, and cherished learning about his true self versus what he projected to most people. I feared the end of summer would squelch our friendship/fling, and, desperate to extend the intimacy that was developing between us, I shared with Patrick how I wanted to strengthen my relationship with Christ; but, with so many churches to choose from, it was hard to sift the ones that were spiritually legit from those that operated as pastor-enrichment centers.
So Patrick began picking me up on Sunday mornings, or sometimes I would spend the night on Saturdays since we would have to be at church early the next day—Patrick for Sunday school, and me for new members’ class. I went on a born-again bonanza: I got baptized (finally!), joined the choir and, representing the “new generation” of Second Birth, delivered a rousing speech during the church’s anniversary.
I wanted to be the type of Christian who could pepper his conversations and observations with Scripture, wishing for a correlation between my devoutness and the strength of the bond between me and my best friend/boo. I hadn’t received official confirmation that God hated homosexuals, as Pastor Robinson thankfully avoided the topic in sermons, and I was far too closeted to walk into the new members’ class and say, “So tell me about the gay stuff.”
Patrick and I did not grow into lovers, but rather drifted apart in a few years with an, appropriately, inexplicable bitterness, and a tangible, mutual regret. He is now a millennial ghost, a reunion I yearn for with someone who has seemingly left no digital trail.
I am equally distanced from Christ, or any god, although that is not a relationship I miss. Still, I am grateful for precious memories of those Sunday mornings when, “My beloved spoke and said to me, ‘Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, come with me.'” (Song of Solomon 2:10, NIV)