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I have often wondered if there was a certain point in my life that I can look to as the exact moment that I went off-track mentally.

According to my mother there is.

“I knew something was seriously wrong with you when I caught you playing a game called ‘Baby Jesus.’ You were singing some song about Christ, rocking this little doll in your arms in such a sweet and loving way and, just when I thought it was the cutest thing I had ever seen, you suddenly swung the doll in the air and bashed its head against your dresser and screamed ‘Bad Jesus!’ It was then that I knew you were nuts. It’s probably my fault though; I did see The Exorcist when I was pregnant with you.”

I remember the game quite well. It was one of those childhood make-believe activities that were so popular with the Christian kids in my pre-school (kind of like playing house I guess, only more non-secular). Not one to participate in role-playing by choice, I stayed out of the Mary club until I was safely ensconced in my room where I could inhabit the part of the Virgin Mother myself (instead of being told that I could only play a peasant because I had “dark” hair and seemed “foreign” by the blond girls, thereby igniting my desire to play Mary at all costs). Finally alone and unencumbered by peer pressure, I spent my afternoons walking around my room with a towel draped over my head like a nun’s habit, before proceeding to physically abuse the doll I used as Jesus until I was exhausted.

Apparently, I had some issues I needed to work out .

My mother, who was not a religious person but felt that I had the beginnings of evil embedded into me, enrolled me into a non-denominational (but Jesus heavy) religious studies class after witnessing my doll destruction, thinking that perhaps it might do me some good to learn that one doesn’t knock the shit out of the King of Kings. Unfortunately, my class was run by a woman who hated children and proceeded to explain, in graphic detail, the kind of kid-hell that was in store for me if I talked back to my parents, didn’t pick up my toys, or asked questions like, “Does Jesus fart?” in class.

Despondent and a bit paranoid over my “church” experience, I flatly refused to return to class the following week, telling my mother in a Bones-to-Kirk, Star-Trekian like manner, “I’m not going back Mom.”

“You’re going to class and that’s final,” she retorted.

“You can’t make me,” I said.

“Wanna bet?”

She won of course, being that she was twenty-nine years older than me and my primary source of food and shelter. Dropping me off outside of the church, she gave me one final warning before I made my way inside, “I better not get a call from Mrs. ________, or I’ll give you something to complain about.”

I entered the class, found my seat, and tried to pretend I was anywhere else but there. In class our only activity, other than listening of the descriptions of burning lakes of fire, was art. Here we colored pictures of a white, blond, and perfect Jesus handing flowers to white, white children, or healing small puppies that looked a lot like Goliath from the television show Davy & Goliath, a show I loathed even at that young age. Right before we left for the day the teacher requested that we each bring in a bag of dried macaroni to the next class, as she had something very special planned.

I was hoping that we would be making Mac & Cheese, but I was so very wrong.

The next class I showed up with my macaroni, expecting a tasty treat, and thinking that maybe this whole church thing wasn’t so bad if there was some food involved, when the teacher announced that we would be creating, and I quote, “Macaroni Satans.”

Yes. Macaroni Satan. Which, after finishing, we were to burn while saying The Lord’s Prayer.

I shit you not.

Being five, I didn’t really comprehend the whole Satan-is-Evil thing, and, frankly, the burning in effigy was a bit too complex for my brain, whose comprehension level was on par with the most basic of survival skills like finding food and avoiding punishments.

I felt horrible. What did Satan do to deserve this kind of treatment? Not put away his Chutes-and-Ladders Game? I didn’t even know what he looked like. I raised my hand and inquired about his looks only to meet with the cold, dead stare of a woman who probably never felt the touch of another human being.

“Class?” she began, “what does Satan look like?”

A small boy raised his head and said, “A red man with the head of a goat.”

“That’s correct Adam. Did you understand that Elizabeth?”

I nodded even though I didn’t.

“Now get started, children.” The teacher said.

I was terrified. I liked goats, as well as the color red.

I thought about the goats at the petting zoo and imagined setting them on fire. In my head I could hear their pain-filled bleats as their flesh turned black and fell from their bones in gelatinous pools. “Why, Elizabeth, why? What did we do to you?” they would say before turning to ash at my feet.

Sickened, I quietly glued macaroni shells to construction paper in the shape of a man-goat then painted it in red Tempera paint.

When it came time for the burning, I wanted to bolt from the room with my picture of Satan hidden safely inside my shirt and run straight home. I thought that I could put him on the refrigerator with all my other paintings, where he could live. I thought that Satan might like being next to my drawing of Mt. Hood; he would probably like being up in the mountains, grazing on tall grasses, and then we could ride down the mountain on my sled.

Slowly I backed out of the room and made my way to the bathroom to hide until my mom picked me up.

I could hear the muted prayer from my religious studies class begin and then the smell of burning pasta wafting into the bathroom. I took out macaroni Satan and kissed him on his still tacky-wet surface.

“Don’t worry, you’ll be safe soon,” I said, sliding him back into the warmth of my shirt.

When the prayers stopped, and I heard the sounds of the class leaving the room, I left the sanctuary of the bathroom and blended in with the crowd. I walked out onto the sidewalk to wait for my mother’s car.

“How was class today?” She asked as I slid into the backseat.

I didn’t answer. The trauma of my almost-sacrifice was still too close to the surface. We rode home in total silence.

“Are you alright? Did something happen?” She asked again.

“We burned goats.” I said.

“What?”

I went to my room and removed Satan from my shirt. Looking at him, he seemed like such a nice goat-man, not someone who should be burned alive in the middle of a religious studies class. I decided to put the painting above my bed next to my framed pictures of Raggedy Ann & Andy, because they were red too.

My mom came in and asked me if I wanted to talk about what had happened. I told her all about burning Satan. She stared at the picture and back at me, likely trying to figure out what to say to a five-year-old about to align themselves with the Prince of Darkness.

“Satan…looks…very…nice.” She said.

“Thanks.”

“How about you change out of your good clothes, and I’ll make you some lunch?” she said.

“Okay.”

As I was taking off my dress, I spotted my Jesus doll lying in the corner of my room and the old towel I used when I was Mary. I looked over at Satan and said, “Don’t worry, he’s been a very bad boy.”

I could have sworn I saw Satan smile.

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