God, Guts, and Guns, Part 4: Where Do We Go From Here?

This post is part of a series. You can read part 1 hereread part 2 here, and read part 3 here.

It’s not lost on me that when I talk about leaving evangelicalism, I sound like someone who has left a cult, and I wonder if the only difference between a religion and a religious cult is the membership size, because I know what world I escaped. Not just the world I described in this series, full of gun-toting children and rampant racism, but a world in constant fear of whatever enemy they’ve made up this time.

Meme from Twitter. @CrappyFumes writes: Evangelicals don’t think life is supposed to be good. They think life on earth is supposed to be a crucible that tests if you’re fit for heaven. If evangelicals take over society the quality of life for everyone is going to steeply decline. Count on it. @CrappyFumes replies to own tweet: Like if you think our society is obsessed with punishment now…these people literally think that death for a believer is a merciful release from a world of earthly sin. They think death should be looked forward to. They don’t want to improve society. They want apocalypse.

A world of panic: I was too young and dressed in pink to be targeted during the height of the Satanic Panic in the 1980s, but I certainly knew whom and what I was supposed to be afraid of. I recall a time when my youth group invited a “former Satanist” to come and tell us literal horror stories about demonic possession through the powers of heavy metal music and Dungeons & Dragons. (That’s right kids, season four of Stranger Things hits differently if you remember the Satanic Panic.) Looking back, as someone who has regained her senses and no longer believes in demonic possession, where the hell did my youth group leader find this guy? Was he vetted at all? Would it have mattered?

A world of censorship: There was always someone on me about the types of fiction I preferred. I’ll never forget the time a youth leader (who was also the director of the summer church camp I attended) stood in our kitchen and warned my mother about the fantasy novels I enjoyed because they were put out by TSR, the same publishers as the Dungeon Master’s Guides. In the director’s mind, these books were the path to Hell and my mother should take them and burn them right away, lest I burn later. I remember how my stomach dropped, because those fantasy novels did more to guide me and stop me from succumbing to my own depression and anxiety than the Bible ever did. To my mother’s credit, those fantasy novels still grace my shelves. Burning books never sat well with my mom—and she didn’t like being told what to do in her own home either.

A world of purity culture: Put simply, purity culture sucks for women and girls. Outside of being made to believe that our value is intrinsically linked to the social construct of virginity, we are also held responsible for the thoughts and actions of pubescent boys (and grown men). We are taught to embrace a “Modest is hottest” dress code to signal to worthy young men that we are worthy young women, but more than that, to protect men’s minds from turning to lustful thoughts, thus protecting ourselves. It’s the open door to full victim blaming when someone does hurt us. “What did you expect when you’re dressed like that?”

Of course, boys are instructed to keep themselves pure as well, but there’s always been a bit of a *wink, nudge* to it. Straight, cisgender boys can’t get pregnant, and since (outside of STIs and STDs) nature doesn’t do much to hold boys accountable, evangelical Christians don’t either.

Which leads to women and girls not having any rights or resources left at all.

I am so grateful I got out. But now, having put it all behind me, my biggest fear is that I’ll be forced back into that cult. This time, my fear is justified and based in reality.

Anyone in the United States has a right to their religion and the freedom to practice it. However, those of us who don’t share those beliefs should have freedom from those beliefs. Meanwhile, the evangelical goal is to rebuild the government in the church’s image, and with the Supreme Court overturning Roe vs. Wade, and siding with performative prayer on the football field of a public school, it seems that they’re winning.

We were always implored to pray for our leaders and representatives. There was often talk during election seasons about Christian candidates and who stood for our values. But the final straw for my mother came in 2004 when the politics came directly from the pulpit and the pastor told the congregation how they should vote. I had left the church by then, but I recall how upset my mother was when she told me how the pastor said that Christian values should be the priority when voting. That in God’s eyes, morality was more important than the economy, foreign affairs, climate, or anything else, and from that perspective, “George Bush was God’s candidate.” That was it for my mom. She got out, too.

So, when you see some clown saying outrageous things, like how we should rethink the separation of church and state or how this is a Christian nation, and think it’s just for clicks or for show, it’s not. Know that they’re pandering to a base that is very real, very serious, and a lot larger than you think (approximately 90-100 million people in the United States identify as evangelical Protestants), and their radical messages have been pumping through church loudspeakers for decades. If there’s any point I want to stress, it’s that the “weirdo fringe” isn’t that fringe, and they’ve been planning and preparing for a long time.

People with black hair, black clothes, and tattoos walking single file up concrete steps. Text reads: Heading down to the 50-yard line to pray.

I see variants of the meme shared here. Black-haired folks with tattoos and black clothes, presumably Satanists, marching to the 50-yard line to say their own prayers. I have a laugh and throw the horns and hail Satan because—to be clear—I don’t actually believe in Satan anymore. But then it occurs to me, accompanied by a horrible chill that rolls up my spine, back down, and settles in my gut: evangelical Christians do believe in a literal Satan, and that a literal war between Good and Evil is coming. To some degree, we’re playing into their hands when we share these memes. Evangelical Christians relish the idea that they might be proven right in a field of battle, but even more? That those of us who they believe to be wrong will be punished, doomed to burn for eternity in the Lake of Fire, and that they will have had a hand in it. The cruelty is the point.

Still, what option do we have but to push back? No one wants to live in a country run on religious ideals. We’ve been told to fear those countries often enough by the very same people who would turn the United States into one. I believe there’s something in The Much-thumped Book about a person who can’t see the plank in their own eye but criticizes someone for the speck in theirs (Matthew 7:5). Outside of speaking out and voting accordingly (blue), one of my favorite means of pushing back is to file a complaint with the IRS to revoke the tax-exempt status of any church engaging in political activity. This is a capitalist society; hurting their wallet hurts their power.

As for me personally? I reflect on how I’m no longer comforted by a cross on the wall of a hospital room. For me, the cross doesn’t represent Christ’s sacrifice, but rather the worst times of my life. I don’t join groups because I don’t trust them. I think about how the first time I ever really felt peace was the first time I considered that it might all be bullshit, and if I felt relieved by that rather than afraid, then what did that say about my belief? I chuckle when I think that maybe that youth leader/camp director was actually kind of right about my path to the dark side as a purveyor of some of the same creepy stories I’d been warned against and the author of this piece, though it wasn’t really the fantasy novels or the comic books or the secular music that did it because…

I also can’t stop thinking about a sermon that same youth leader/camp director once gave, feeding us the poisonous evangelical lie that we will be held responsible for the souls we didn’t save. I wonder what awaits the people whose actions are directly responsible for turning people away from Christ.

God, Guts, and Guns, Part 3: Jesus Loves the Little Children

This post is part of a series. You can read part 1 here and read part 2 here.

A rural church on a nice day. Text says: "You'll find bigots anywhere, but a rural church is a good place to start.

…All the children of the world…

But once again, it seems that some people have a hard time with the definition of ALL.

Instances of racism in my early years in the Methodist church weren’t nearly as abundant or as cruel as they could have been. My mother sat on the charity committee that decided which families received a turkey and a box of food from the church for their holiday meals, and so the lower income racists of the congregation feared that offending her might result in a leaner holiday for them. Ironically, my mother would never have held their bigotry against them because Jesus told us to love our enemies. So, I was aware, every holiday season, that my mom delivered boxes of food to people who absolutely hated us.

Maybe it was my mother’s unrelenting dedication to showing Christ’s love by example, but somewhere along the line, it became cemented in my brain that I, too, had to be a good example, not just as a Christian, but as a Christian of color. It was up to me (and my family) to change the small minds of our small town. Once, when a little racist girl from my school attended the Vacation Bible School class that my mom taught—and had really good time—I was excited that, “Maybe we changed their minds, and I’ll be allowed to go to her parties now.”

How naïve I was!

Racism and bigotry are antithetical to the teachings of Christ. Yet, I remember a number of occasions on which my mother had to wipe my tears and reassure me of that, because someone suggested that someone I loved was going to Hell. Not because of anything they did, but because they were part of a certain marginalized community, or not a Christian, or simply not the right kind of Christian. People had no problem suggesting that my dad wasn’t going to be in Heaven with me. Of course, it was chalked up to his being Catholic and not attending church and having nothing at all to do with the color of his skin, but a few of my white friends’ dads didn’t go to church with them, and no one told my white friends that their daddies weren’t going to Heaven. Or the time a Vacation Bible School teacher told me that my Mormon cousins were part of a cult and needed to find the real Jesus or—you guessed it—Hell. Or when my uncle died, and they whispered that he was most certainly in Hell because he was a gay man who died of AIDS. Never mind that he was one of the kindest souls that you’d have ever wanted to meet, a bit of a trickster, and exactly the kind of uncle I wish I’d had in my life for much longer.

My mother always made sure I knew, “That hatred is their twisted belief and misunderstanding of God, but it’s not true. We don’t believe that.” And I know that on a few occasions, she went to the sources of the nonsense and told them to watch what kind of crap they said to me. Still, the sheer number of times I had to be convinced that it was only a few, fringe bad apples suggested to me that the fringe was bigger than I was being led to believe. Eventually, my mom realized it, too.

Unfortunately, when the general toxicity got bad enough that we started trying other churches, and my mother no longer held the keys to the charity chest, I got to learn just how racist the white evangelicals in our little rural valley really were. 

The crown jewel was being told that I shouldn’t even exist. A “pro-lifer” told me that in my case, abortion would have been okay because mixed-race children are an abomination. Of course, it was twisted to sound like love, that God forbade race mixing for our own good because He doesn’t want us to suffer the hatred that mixed-race children face. Apparently, it’s easier to ask mixed-race kids not to exist at all than it is to ask vile racists not to be vile racists.

Turns out, micro-aggressions were the best-case scenario and a sign of acceptance. White kids looking to me to lead them in song and dance any time “Lean On Me” was played (because that’s obviously my thang), was a better experience than worshipping on Sunday next to people who attacked me with the N-word Monday through Friday at school.

Not in your church! Why, you’ve never heard any of this hateful stuff before! Well, let me ask you: Are you white? Are you straight? Was there ever any reason or occasion for you to have had to hear it? Because I assure you: Yes, in your church.

For the record, I know that #NotAllChristians are bigots. I personally know quite a few good Christians with proven records of calling out and standing against the hatred they see in their churches and communities, because they know that’s what Jesus would do. I’ve read numerous articles published recently (from both religious and secular publications), about Christians of all flavors taking stands against bigotry of all flavors. I’ve worshipped side by side with Christians who truly believe that Jesus loves all the children of the world—no matter their race, religion, sexual orientation, or gender identity. ALL.

But I have to wonder, if I hadn’t grown up mixed-race in a sea of white people, if my family hadn’t been so diverse, if I hadn’t been told that so many of the people that I loved the most were going to Hell, would I have ever questioned any of the other evangelical beliefs that caused so much harm? Would I have ever gotten out?

I shudder to think that if I’d ever felt truly accepted in the white evangelical community, I might still be one of them.

Next: God, Guts, and Guns, Part 4: Where Do We Go From Here?

God, Guts, and Guns, Part 2: That Time I Fired Dirty Harry’s Gun at Church Camp

This post is part of a series. If you missed part 1, you can read it here.

Meme of Clint Eastwood as “Dirty Harry” holding a .44 Magnum. The image text says: “Do you feel lucky, punk? Lucky enough to bet your immortal soul?”

So, do you ever tell a story that seems perfectly normal to you, but then everyone looks at you like they want to give you hot chocolate and a hug? Well, let me tell you about this one time at church camp.

It was actually a winter weekend retreat with the youth group I was part of at the time. Social activities with the church were always parent-approved, and if I recall correctly, I was grounded otherwise for my garbage grade in Geometry, so the choice to go was a pretty easy one to make. I remember some grumbling about not being able to bring outside reading material besides, of course, my own Bible. The X-Men comics needed to stay at home, but at least I’d have something to do with my weekend.

I recall very normal, mundane things. Like how, in addition to my comics, I’d also left my coat behind. I’d taken it off while running around with friends at the pastor’s house before the trip, and had forgotten about it completely by the time of departure. So, I ended up wearing lots of layers the whole weekend. I remember some very normal teenage heartbreak when, shortly after arrival at the camp, a girl walked up to me and asked if I was who she thought I was, which I confirmed. She then introduced herself as the girlfriend of the “Good Christian Boy” I’d met at another Christian event and on whom I’d had a very significant crush. I hadn’t known he had a girlfriend. Thankfully, I was already well-practiced in hiding my emotions, so saving face wasn’t that hard. I might have been heartbroken, but I’d be damned if I let anyone know it. Sucky, but normal, teenager stuff.

I should also remind everyone that I’m talking about rural Pennsylvania, where the first day of buck hunting season and the first day of doe hunting season are holidays off from school. It is assumed that everyone hunts the American whitetail deer, and the age at which you can obtain a youth hunting license in Pennsylvania is 12. While I have never held a hunting license, I admit that target shooting is a lot of fun. I’m convinced that’s part of why we have such a gun problem in America. Just about everyone I know who has been shooting enjoys shooting. Conservative, Liberal, Progressive—it makes little difference. But I digress. The point is that there’s nothing weird about target shooting at a young age in Pennsylvania.

So, what, exactly, was weird?

Shooting a .44 Magnum—decidedly NOT a hunting rifle—while listening to the instructor talk about being good soldiers for Christ. While no one suggested that we go shoot non-Christians, metaphors about keeping our eyes on the target despite distractions from the outside, secular world made it very clear that there was an “us” and a “them” and that we had better be on the right side or Hell awaited.

It’s important to note that there were myriad other weapons available, which we all took turns firing, from handguns to rifles (thankfully, no military style assault rifles), to various bows and arrows. I only remember the .44 Magnum because of the smug smile on the instructor’s face as he put it in my hand and suggested that Dirty Harry’s gun was probably too much for me. (I did just fine, thanks.)

As the first line of this piece suggests, I hadn’t even realized that this wasn’t normal activity at a Christian youth event until I told the story to a handful of Catholic friends. “Oh yeah…The very first time I ever fired a gun was at church camp.” And that’s when I got that Red Cross, hot chocolate and a hug look. The more I tried to explain it away, the more it looked like I needed a hug and lots of therapy. It was concerning for them that I thought this was normal.

They were right.

I talked to my mother about the guns at the youth retreat years later, and she’d had no idea that shooting had been an activity. She’d never signed any consent forms for me, older than 12, but still a minor, to fire any weapons. But most importantly, I don’t recall anyone at all asking any questions at all about the activities. It was simply assumed that because it was church, it was automatically good and wholesome. All parents needed to know, all youth leaders needed to know, was that it was an evangelical Christian event.

Please check out any church or church sponsored activity before you just send your kids. You may not think they’re getting extremist messaging—and they may not be, but they very well may be. Ask the questions, no matter how outlandish and unnecessary you think they are, because you may be surprised by the answers.

If you ever question whether my Catholic friends were right, I need to ask you a question. The very same question you might have been asking yourself while reading and that I’ve asked myself a million times: “What if we’d been Muslims?” Or literally anyone not majority white and evangelical…

Next: God, Guts, and Guns, Part 3: Jesus Loves the Little Children

God, Guts, and Guns, Part 1: Background

Lately, I find myself in a lot of conversations about Christianity, the nature of Christ, and how the Bible is interpreted—or misinterpreted. My opinions are often dismissed by a certain demographic that sees my melanated skin and my mixed-race family and assumes that I’m a “big city liberal” who has never seen the inside of a small-town church or attended a humble Bible study.

That couldn’t be further from the truth.

A crowd of young people at an outdoor Christian music festival. Some people have their arms raised in praise.
Image from the Creation Festival Facebook page. The Creation Festival is an annual Christian music festival held at Agape Farm in Shirleysburg, PA (near Mount Union, PA), which I attended a few times in my youth.

I don’t often talk about my early years. Growing up mixed-race in rural Pennsylvania was exactly as much fun as you’d think. So, I don’t like to think about it. But be assured, I grew up in “God, Guts, and Guns” country, as declared proudly on bumper stickers plastered to trucks with gunracks mounted to their rear windows. I only share this background now because people often try to discredit my experience by focusing on what they think are discrepancies in my story when I tell it in pieces. “Well, are you a Catholic or a Baptist? Make up your mind. You’re clearly full of shit.”

Oh, how narrow their worlds must be!

The short history is that my father is Black, and he and his side of the family are Catholic. My mother is white, and was at the time in question, an evangelical Protestant. I was baptized Catholic at the insistence of my paternal grandmother, but when it came to my spiritual upbringing, my father declared, “I was an altar boy and went to Catholic school. God and I are square.” (When I shared this with coworkers at a Catholic magazine I briefly worked for, I had to pause to let them laugh before I went on. Apparently, this sentiment is common?) And so, if I was to be raised in church at all, it would be white, evangelical churches with my mother.

We started out in a United Methodist church (my brother was baptized Methodist, and I had been an acolyte), but due to some spiritual trauma my mother experienced there, we left that church in my mid-teens and tried out a handful of churches over the course of a few years. I specifically recall a Wesleyan church and an Assembly of God before my mother, brother, and I were baptized again (by full submersion) as Baptists. I think I was eighteen. Nineteen, maybe?

There are some people who have suggested that not staying in one faith community was part of the problem. That we had too many ideas from too many places, displaying a lack of faith from the jump. That if we’d stayed in one community, we wouldn’t have been affected by all the outside noise. We wouldn’t have questioned. If that seems hinky to you, if it raises the hairs on the back of your neck, it should. And that sentiment was among the more benign suggestions. There are some who have appallingly suggested to me that my problem is being from a mixed-faith and mixed-race family to begin with, but I’ll get to more on that later.

For now, what I need to make clear, what I need to regretfully confess, is just how very “in it” I was. My mother was a lay speaker and youth leader. She had been a counselor at the same summer “Jesus camp” I attended. Church was a twice-per-week thing, and Bible study was a given. I was often embarrassed by my mother’s insistence on Christian radio when carpooling with my friends, only to be ashamed by that embarrassment later when I sobbed all over myself during altar calls, rededicating my life to Jesus after a particularly fear-based, fire and brimstone sermon. On my knees shaking, crying, and begging for forgiveness and salvation from Hell.

It wasn’t just church, but activism, too. You want to talk about cancel culture? I learned about how a boycott works in Sunday school. You want to picket the porn shop down the street? I know how to organize that. And—perhaps most regretfully—you want to know about protests and marches? My first protest was a “pro-life” march.

So, I was in it, friends. Talked the talk, and quite literally walked the walk. I often cringe at the shameful things I said and did as an evangelical Christian trying to impose my beliefs on others because I was told that’s what good Christians do. But if there’s an upside to any of it, it’s that those evangelicals trained me (and I use the word “trained” for a reason). I understand the logic of their illogic. I know what their goals are and what they’re going to do to achieve them. And that’s why it’s time—past time—to write about it.

Next: God, Guts, and Guns, Part 2: That Time I Fired Dirty Harry’s Gun at Church Camp

Why So Quiet?

“Why so quiet?” asked no one of me, ever. Yet, here I am, writing my semi-regular excuse for neglecting to post a thing in ages. Come to think of it, I wonder what the ratio of actual posts to posts about why I haven’t posted, might be. But I digress…

A photo of fog on a lake reflecting nearby trees in full day but the lighting is dark.
Here’s a picture of fog on a lake for no other reason than that content with images gets more clicks. It doesn’t have a thing to do with this post otherwise.

Why so quiet? A while back, I wrote about how I needed to level up on the corporate side of my career, and I followed through. I made my day job my focus and my priority. I dug in and worked hard. I became more mindful of my tone when pushing back on policies and processes that were…inefficient. And hot damn! The work paid off. An opportunity arose and my name was suggested. I interviewed, and ended up with a dream role, one that I really believed in. I thought I was going to help save the world (as much as a content developer can, anyway). I even did that cliché go-getter thing where I viewed every frustrating challenge as an opportunity to problem solve and showcase my ability, excited to advance my career and do some real good in the world.

And then, without warning, they cut funding to the project and my contract ended.

Now, if you’re in the business of writing and developing content, particularly in contract situations, you know that this is common. The whole point of contract work is that you’re disposable, no matter how talented or experienced you are, and dismissal often has more to do with budget than performance. Still, in this case, I was very lucky. A spot opened up on my previous team and I was able to negotiate a transition into that role. I lost a project, but not my job altogether, and during a pandemic when lots of people did lose their jobs, I counted myself blessed and moved on.

But I was still (am still) heartbroken about that contract ending.

The only real thing that softened the blow was knowing that my fiction writing was still there, and I still had control over it.

So, the first thing I did was cut mental funding to a project.

The novel I was working on is on hold indefinitely because it read like my own personal therapy session spiced with ample shade at everyone I’ve ever met. The bloodthirsty demon I’d created to splatter gore all over the place did nothing to cover immature writing and hackneyed dreck that my work should have evolved well past by now. Maybe someday, once I’m finished working through all my personal shit, I’ll revisit that piece and make it something worth reading, but today is not that day.

I do have a project I’m actively working on. It began as a short story and has expanded from there. And the more I write, the more ideas I have. I think—and I don’t want to jinx it—but I think it might end up being a worthwhile novel. But that means it’s going to take more time. A lot more time.

And I’m watching the hourglass. I see said time slipping away. I know how long it’s been since I put anything viable out into the world (approx. 6 ½ years at the time of this writing), but y’all…let’s talk about the world for a second.

I am of the belief that for a writer to create a really beautiful piece—poetry or prose, fiction or non-fiction—the writer has to care enough about the human condition to pour all that creative energy into saying the deep, meaningful thing. Well, after the last two years of watching people ignorantly refuse to help protect each other against COVID-19, and the last ALL of my living years of hearing people’s heartless responses to social injustice, and that people are still not doing much about the climate crisis, all I really want to say to humanity is, “FUCK OFF! FUCK RIGHT OFF, RIGHT NOW! Get off my lawn. Lose my number. Delete my email. Don’t find me on the apps.”

And if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.

So yeah…that’s why I’ve been so quiet.

Social (Media) Distancing

Image of COVID-19 virus with Facebook and Twitter logos.Wait! Before you go, this is not another puffed up think piece about how social media makes our outlook worse. How, we’d all feel better if we put down our phones and walked away from the click-bait, so here’s my preachy internet content about how everyone should walk away from social media and internet content.  I don’t give a third of a turd about that. No. What I care about, what is bothering me perhaps more than it should, is that social distancing/self quarantine due to COVID-19 is making social media too damned social.

That’s right. All of you extroverted, day-dwelling social butterflies have been cruelly thrust into a world of pandemic where public gatherings are a really bad idea. The introverts’ world. So now, with nowhere else to go, you have flooded social media like the roof collapsed over the cool table and now you have to sit with the nerds in the cafeteria. Yeah, we don’t like it either.

See, we haven’t heard from you in months (because we don’t do meatspace and, with the exception of tagged pictures from your last major life event, your social accounts have been dormant), and now you want to pop in to the comments section with pearls of internet wisdom?! We already know the warnings, proverbs, and mantras because we were here learning them firsthand while you were living lives out in the fresh air. Like, of course you can’t trust everything you see on the internet, Karen. I was out here lookin’ like a fool with my own knee-jerk, reactionary sharing of unvetted memes when you were still trying to figure out how to pronounce the word meme. Yeah, I know the internet is an ugly place, Barb. You think I’m writing this to be a better person? Everyone who’s been here with any frequency at all knows that I’m fishing for the validation that comes from the clicks and the likes that I’ll say anything to get.

What’s worse? You all actually seem to want to connect, to use the internet in the manner it was intended. WTF is that?! That’s not how this works. How it works is:

  1. Shout your opinions, grievances, and whatever else is on your mind to the world from behind your computer
  2. Hide, delete, block any responses you don’t like or don’t want to see
  3. Walk away feeling like you’ve contributed something and really taken a stand
  4. But ultimately do nothing.

Damn, Gina! Get with the program!

Y’all make me wish I could go outside and walk anonymously through crowded streets.

I suppose, instead, that I could be a leader here, walk you through this new world that caters more to my introverted kind than your extroverted one.  As the meme goes, Check on your extrovert friends because they are not okay. But, nah. I don’t owe you that. The only thing a truly misanthropic introvert can do in this situation is leave social media. It’s gotten too people-y in here and I MUST escape.

So, take this as my grand, dramatic declaration that I’m leaving social media in a virtual flurry of skirts and flip of the hair and staying gone for the foreseeable future, which may be two minutes, two hours, two months, or as long as it takes me to compose a really hot tweet.

Oh, you’re not familiar with this trend? You really haven’t been here in a while.

***

PSA: We’ve had some fun here today, but misinformation and disinformation on the internet are real problems in situations like the one in which we find ourselves. Ignorance leads to fear and panic (and I’m pretty sure there’s something about hate and the Dark Side, too), so for credible information, see CDC Coronavirus (COVID-19).

A Very Disney Villain Cabinet

Disney villain images from Google image search results. I do not own the rights (obviously). Please don’t sue me, Disney. I’m a Disney+ subscriber!

It’s an election year. While I avoid being overtly political in this space (though I think people can tell which way I lean), that’s not the case on my social media, particularly Facebook. In one of my saltier social media moments, I declared that in the unlikely event of a certain candidate’s nomination in the primary, I’d rather write in a Disney villain than vote for him for president. Thankfully, that candidate has since dropped out, but my declaration resulted in a challenge to appoint a cabinet of Disney villains.

Challenge accepted.

I stuck to animated features. Including the MCU, Star Wars, etc. made it a little too easy. I mean, who wouldn’t vote for Thanos, amirite?

Those who saw the original Facebook post know that I was leaning toward President Maleficent, but I couldn’t think of any other villain I’d want for Secretary of the Interior. So goes the story of another woman who’s too competent and good at her job to be promoted out of her department.

Scar and the Hyenas don’t appear in the cabinet because Scar and the Hyenas are Hitler and the Nazis. Even in a fictional cabinet of Disney villains made purely for the lols, I know better than to appoint Nazis to office.

So, without any further ado…

Disney Villain President, VP, and Cabinet:

  • President of the United States: Ursula (The Little Mermaid)
  • Vice President of the United States: Chernabog (Fantasia)
  • Secretary of State: Prince Hans (Frozen)
  • Secretary of the Treasury: Prince John (Robin Hood)
    Honorable mention to Scrooge McDuck (since he’s not really a villain)
  • Secretary of Defense: Shan Yu (Mulan)
  • Attorney General: Hades (Hercules)
  • Secretary of the Interior: Maleficent (Sleeping Beauty)
  • Secretary of Agriculture: Queen Grimhilde (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs)
  • Secretary of Commerce: Captain James Hook (Peter Pan)
  • Secretary of Labor: Lady Tremaine (Wicked Stepmother) (Cinderella)
  • Secretary of Health and Human Services: Doctor Facilier (The Shadow Man) (The Princess and the Frog)
  • Secretary of Housing and Urban Development: The Big Bad Wolf (The Three Little Pigs, a bit of a cheat since it’s part of the Silly Symphony series, not a feature length animated film)
  • Secretary of Transportation: Iago (Aladdin)
  • Secretary of Energy: Jafar (as a genie—phenomenal cosmic power; itty bitty living space) (Aladdin)
  • Secretary of Education: Judge Claude Frollo (The Hunchback of Notre Dame)
  • Secretary of Veterans Affairs: The Horned King (The Black Cauldron)
  • Secretary of Homeland Security: Gaston LeGume (Beauty and the Beast)

I Like to Give Halloween Presents

Image of 3 carved and lit Halloween pumpkins

Our actual pumpkins for Halloween 2019

And I have one for you!

Halloween is my favorite holiday and I have been known to give Halloween presents, nice little packages of orange, purple, and green tied with black ribbons, but I never got around to it this year. While I always have the spirit of Halloween in my heart, if you’re friends with me on Facebook, you’ve likely heard me lament my lack of holiday motivation. Our pumpkins graced our porch for almost two weeks before the inspiration and the motivation struck to carve them. I’ve only visited Spirit Halloween twice, and as I mentioned on social media, I haven’t even tried to raise the dead once yet.

If you’re a frequent visitor here, you may also know that I’ve been struggling with writing lately. I’m stuck on my novel and fiddling with that has stopped up my flow of short fiction. Maybe it’s worry over it not being marketable; maybe it’s an issue of exhausting my writerly energy on assignments at ye olde day job (jobbe?), but whatever the case, it’s been an embarrassingly long time since I’ve finished a piece of fiction.

At least, that was true until I had an epiphany: I could write a story for a Halloween gift this year. I could do it just for fun (my roundabout way of saying that I edited my own work), to get into the spooky spirit and share a bit of it with others.

So, without further ado, I present a piece of Halloween flash fiction.

Click to read ‘Prophetic Dreams by yours truly.

Happy Halloween!

It’s All Fun and Games Until I Crack My Skull

First confession: I spend an inordinate amount of time in-line skating (rollerblading) and listening to 80’s pop music. I’m stuck in the 90’s, love the 80’s, and taking my skates and my music and hitting the trail is my favorite escape from the now. The trail on which I skate was once a railroad line that has been paved over and is a popular spot for all sorts of recreation. The section I frequent runs through wooded areas, farmlands, and marshes. Though it’s a popular trail, many trailheads and parking areas situated on the borders of nice suburban neighborhoods, it’s not nearly as busy as some of the trails in the parks closer to the city. That’s why I like it. I can feel like I’ve gotten away from it all on a trail that’s just around the corner from my house: just me, my skates, and that 80’s music. For the most part, alone. It’s one of the rare times that when I say I’m living the dream, I’m not being sarcastic.

Confession number two: I hate personal protective gear. Absolutely despise it. I wouldn’t wear it as a kid—it was off the second I was out of my parents’ sight—and up until recently, I refused to wear it as an adult. The shit’s uncomfortable: it inhibits motion; it itches; I just don’t like it. In addition, as a former figure skater, I’ve always been pretty cocky about my need (or lack thereof) of it. However, the “up until recently” coupled with the title should indicate where I’m going with this.

One minute, I’m skating, taking advantage of being alone on the trail to really get into the music and how my body moved to it. The next, I’m waking up, the right side of my face flat on the pavement, both tingling and throbbing. Both numb and in pain.

I’d fallen before, and the figure skater who is still very much alive within me knows that falling is no big deal. Get up; brush off; keep skating. But this time, for the first time ever, I couldn’t.

“Get up,” the voice said. Sometimes when people talk about accidents or traumatic experiences, they talk about how they weren’t really alone, like there was a presence with them. Some people credit a guardian angel; others have mentioned their higher selves. I don’t know what I believe the entity speaking with my voice inside my own head was, but whatever she was, whomever she was, she’s kind of a bitch.

“Get up,” she repeated, voice stern, no time for sympathy. I, however, was still rebooting and taking assessments of the damage.

Rebooting-Terminator vision

Still rebooting, kind of like a terminator.

I could feel my fingers and toes; I could move my head. Good signs, but there was something wrong with my vision. I was blind in my right in my eye. “Close it,” the voice said. I obeyed. “Can you see well enough with your left eye to navigate yourself out of here?” I nodded and responded to myself in the affirmative. “Then get up.”

I tried to push myself up, but my left arm wouldn’t hold my weight. You know those survival stories in the movies in which the hero digs deep into their spirit and proves that it really is mind over matter and all you have to do is want your body to work badly enough and it will? Bullshit. All of it. My left arm was useless.

“How’s your right arm?” the voice asked.

“Seems okay.”

“Then get up.”

I sat up and the world spun. I focused on the ground under me as the blood dripped from my face and splattered in little droplets on the pavement. I wanted to lie back down.

“That would be a horrible idea,” the voice admonished as I tried to remember how many serial killers had come from Washington state.

It was at that moment that I realized the pepper spray, which I always keep tucked in my bra when on the trail, was no longer there. I spotted it about ten feet away and tried to push myself onto my knees and crawl to it, but the dizziness hadn’t subsided, and I swayed and fell. Ten feet or ten miles made no difference. For the moment, I was utterly helpless and alone.

I reached for my phone—which had also fallen from my bra to the pavement, but hadn’t gone nearly as far thanks to the earbuds still attached and in my ears—and tried to call my husband. He was also on the trail, but he’d been jogging, so he was way behind me and wouldn’t be covering as much ground. Given the time (the plan was to go 20  minutes down and then turn around), he was likely already on his way back to the trailhead, expecting me to skate up behind him any minute.

It was then that I lived one of my actual recurring nightmares. Do you ever have the dream where you’re trying to operate your phone and you just can’t? You can’t tap the numbers, or you consistently dial the wrong person, or your keyboard is set to the “moving staircase at Hogwarts” setting, created especially for nightmares and stress dreams? That became my experience in the waking world. I couldn’t make my brain and my fingers work together to make the call. I just sat there and stared at my phone and fought the urge to cry.

“Panicking won’t help,” the voice reminded me. I’m honestly not sure if she was talking about my inability to use my phone or what happened next.

I saw people coming and—glancing longingly with my good eye at the pepper spray I couldn’t reach—I could do nothing but hope that they meant me no harm. I couldn’t have fought if I’d wanted to and panicking about it wasn’t going to help. I reminded myself that I was on a family trail, running parallel to the freaking suburbs. I really didn’t have anything to worry about. These people were probably far more likely to be of help than harm.

Then I reminded myself how often the murder shows on the Investigation Discovery channel take place in the suburbs and how many times the killers seem nice and helpful.

I held my head up, which I was grateful I could do, and smiled, trying to look as well and healthy as possible. Drip…drip…drip, I heard my blood hit the pavement and wondered how grotesque my smile must be.

Exclamations of, “Oh my God!” and “Do you need help?” came the second the man and the woman on bicycles got close enough to see my face. I noticed that the man had blood on him. The woman began explaining, as she gathered my scattered belongings, that she’d just bandaged her companion after his bike accident only moments before, and that she didn’t have any more band-aids but she’d do her best to clean me up with what she had left. I think that ended up being a clean napkin and some of the water I had left in my bottle, but unsurprisingly, I can’t recall.

The woman was quiet as she handed me my pepper spray, a silent acknowledgment between us that it wouldn’t have done me any damned good in this situation. If anything, had someone wanted to hurt me, I’d have supplied the weapon. Still, she smiled approvingly as I tucked it back into my bra. She and her companion helped me up and got me to a nearby picnic table so we could continue to assess the damage.

They kept talking to me and asking me questions. I assumed this was because, though I knew exactly where I was and what had happened, I’d had a hard time communicating it. I can only guess what these truly kind people must have thought when they heard me barely string together slurred words, and they did their best to keep me alert. Bless them! Soon, a third cyclist, a woman who told us she was an EMT, also stopped to help. She asked which trailhead I’d started from and if there was someone waiting for me.

“My husband!” I exclaimed. “I need to try and call him.”  I took a gamble at trying to operate my phone with an audience. My vision had started coming back and I was sure that if I concentrated hard enough, I could make the call. I had to. I’d heard the EMT whisper the word “ambulance” to the others and I assure you, nothing scared me more than that word.

For the handful of international readers my WordPress stats tell me I have, I want to be clear. The United States health “care” system would be a joke if it wasn’t already a nightmare. It’s bad enough if you have to visit the emergency room, but you definitely don’t want an ambulance to get you there. Depending on your economic status and your healthcare coverage, an ambulance ride and the subsequent ER visit can be financially devastating, especially if you end up being admitted to the hospital. Even with “good” health insurance, the debacle that followed the care I sought…well, that’s a whole other story. The short point is, I knew there was no way in Hell I was letting anyone call an ambulance. I’d take my chances with The Reaper first. I prayed my husband answered his phone.

“Hi babe, what’s up?” his chipper voice answered. He’d been enjoying his jog.

“Where are you?”

“I just turned around a few minutes ago.”

“Well, I’m gonna need you to turn back around.” I calmly told him what happened and that I was going to be fine, but his assistance was definitely required. He said he was on his way.

The vision in my right eye was returning in time to watch the swelling in my right cheek rise underneath and impede my vision in a different manner.

It occurred to me that I hadn’t heard the voice in a while. All of my thoughts were distinguishably my own. I had the sense to thank the source of the voice mentally rather than verbally. I really didn’t want an ambulance ride.

Talk of an ambulance had stopped since reaching my husband, but the EMT kept telling me that I really need to go to the emergency room, that I was pretty badly swollen and continuing to swell quickly. She told me that she was concerned about broken bones in my face, and when I told her about my arm, she was adamant that I get that checked, too. Still, I very clearly stated that I was already feeling better and that I had no intention of going to the ER.

Based on where my husband told me he was when I’d spoken to him, he made it to that little picnic table on the trail in record time. A look of suppressed panic crossed his face when he saw me; a look that said, This is really bad but I don’t dare tell her how bad this is. As if I wasn’t dying to take a selfie to see it for myself.

I told him what happened, and then each of the three wonderful humans who’d stopped to help filled in bits of information. “She needs an emergency room,” the EMT wasted no time telling him. “She says she’s fine but she’s very clearly in shock. Where are you parked?”

There was much discussion about the best way to get me back up the trail. Do we walk the 2.5 miles back to where we were parked? Where was the closest trailhead? Should my husband go back to the car and drive to that one? No real option was better than the last.

“The best way for me to get out of here is to skate out,” I said. I was tired, and nothing good could come of me wasting time sitting there if I did have a serious problem that needed attention.

“No,” literally everyone responded in near perfect unison.

“Any way you slice it, I’m going to have to get out of here, under my own power, on foot,” I said, trying to keep exasperation out of my voice. Everyone there was trying to help me, after all. “The fastest way is to skate.”

Turns out, threatening to skate was the best way to convince everyone that I was fine to walk back to the car. I thanked my trail angels and swore that I’d be okay. My husband thanked them and promised that we’d get some medical care. He took off my skates and carried them, while I strolled down the trail in my socks, holding my arm and smiling sheepishly at every passerby who gasped at my appearance.

The first selfie I published after the accident.

The first selfie I published after the accident. It’s not a trick of the light, I really am bruised from my brow to my collar bone. I got the hat because my mixed-race hair was being done by my very well meaning, but very white, husband and it showed.

By the time we reached the car, some of my shock had worn off and so some of the pain had set in. Though I’d had the opportunity to take a selfie and had seen how mangled my face was (no one but me, my husband, and my doctor have seen the selfie from the trail), I still refused to go to the ER. We went to Urgent Care.

Urgent Care took one look at my face and sent me immediately to the ER, which I thought painfully silly. I said that, though I was concerned about a concussion, my injuries overall looked far worse than they were. I insisted that if Urgent Care wouldn’t treat me, my husband should just take me home; my husband decided we were going to follow recommendations.

Picture of the manicure that survived.

The manicure survived.

At the hospital, I maintained that it all looked far worse than it was. The X-rays and CT scans said that I was basically right, but it still wasn’t good, and yet it still could have been worse. I’d broken my right orbital (eye socket), but I wasn’t going to need any reconstructive surgery.  I’d also fractured my left elbow, but when I saw the orthopedist, he advised against a cast, so I thankfully didn’t need that either. My vision fully returned.

The accident happened at the end of last summer, right before Labor Day (at least it didn’t wreck my whole summer), and so it’s been a year since. My elbow has healed, though sometimes it locks, and my smile is still a little crooked from the last bit of a swollen hematoma that my body has yet to absorb. It makes the right side of my face pull up a little higher and wider when I smile, like Jack Nicholson’s Joker, only half. I’ve been assured that my Joker face will heal, but if I hadn’t had a similar hematoma on my hip from a previous accident that ended up taking  a year and a half to re-absorb, I’d be really discouraged by it.

A shot of Jack Nicholson as the Joker and a selfie side by side

Who wore it better?

And yet, I have a love/hate relationship with my crooked smile. In my better moods, I think of it like the sexy scar marring the tragic hero’s face just enough to be unnerving. I like to think of my new facial flaw as being barely noticeable in the right light, but just unsettling enough to suggest that I’m not to be trifled with. After all, I’ve been through some shit (no one besides us needs to know that it was something as silly and avoidable as a rollerblading accident). I’ll likely miss my crooked smile the second it finally heals.

First skate of the year early this spring. I wasn’t thrilled about the gear, but I do look kind of bad-ass.

I do wear protective gear now, but that also means I skate a little less. One of the things that draws me to skating is the feeling of freedom, and I can’t help but think of helmets and padding more as shackles than safety devices. It’s a tiny inconvenience and yet, more often than I’d like to admit, the drudgery of donning my armor (no matter how bad-ass I look in it) has been the deciding factor when choosing not go to the trail for a skate, and going without gear isn’t an option.  As an American, I really can’t afford the thousands of dollars (after insurance!) a mistake like that costs.

But, as I said, that’s a story for a different post.

Oh! And if you’re one of the human angels from that day, thank you for not being a serial killer. Thanks to you all for being kind, and wonderful examples of humanity. I appreciated it more than you know.

I Didn’t Change My Mind

I sat in the exam room, answering the standard questions doctors ask when getting to know new patients. My tone remained flat until we got to the subject of surgeries.

“I see you had a tubal ligation in 2017,” she said. I suppressed a smirk. I knew what was coming next. “And how many times have you been pregnant?”

“None,” I answered, and allowed the smirk to surface.

“Oh! Okay,” she said, and then repeated the word “okay” a little too reassuringly. I’d have taken it as a judgment (no matter how hard she tried not to make it) had I not seen a split second of envy cross her face. Make no mistake, the expression was as fleeting as her initial surprise, that little crack in professionalism that I’d instigated completely, but it was there long enough for me to guess—and it’s only a guess—that she had at least 3 kids, and likely a rough morning with them.

I haven’t written a lot about being child-free by choice (CFBC), mainly because it’s not that remarkable. All the voluntarily childless did differently than anyone else was make the perfectly valid decision not to procreate. We’re not even all that rare anymore. In fact, we’ve become so common that most of the articles that turn up in my search to show how common we’ve become are at least 2 years old. We’re literally old news.

What I haven’t found a lot of is what to expect in your real, day-to-day life when you are not only CFBC, but you’re a woman who decided to cement your decision with sterilization. What happens when the people who insisted you’d change your mind find that you’ve doubled down and had yourself surgically altered to be sure your body can’t betray your made-up mind? *Cracks knuckles* Shall we begin?

Things I Expected

I’ve already written about all it took just to have the procedure, so I won’t rehash it here, but to say there were obstacles—sexist, misogynist obstacles—would be understating the issue. Of course, those obstacles were set under the guise of concern that I’d change my mind because apparently women are flighty and incapable of making life decisions (but not too flighty to birth and raise children). So, when I finally had the procedure, it came with a strong sense of victory.

A lot of people turned out to be pretty cool and congratulated me for finally getting what I wanted (even if it wasn’t what they wanted). I’ve been fortunate enough in my life to have a lot of really supportive people around me. However, as expected, there was a handful of not so cool people.

Some people continued to harp on the idea that I might change my mind. The best of them shrugged and told me there’s always adoption; the worst of them insisted that I’d be sorry and actively tried to upset me. Methods of agitation varied from extensive lines of questioning designed to make me feel regretful (always an entertaining volley), to pure and simple judgment. I once had someone more than imply and all but say, “I had to do it. What makes you think you can get away without doing it?” Just sit with that implication for a second.

A very small number of people were so offended by my decision that they don’t have much to say to me at all anymore. Their silence is an improvement. Your mileage may vary.

Given the timing of my procedure, two years ago today on March 10, 2017, there was speculation as to whether I was undergoing the procedure in response to the election; that I’d bought into some fear mongering propaganda and believed I’d lose all rights as a woman. I admit that as I sat at my yearly exam, talking to my OB/GYN about birth control, the political situation certainly crossed my mind, but that was just the newest reality on a long list of reasons I’d wanted to be sterilized for years. My story shut down speculation for anyone more interested in hearing it than making their own point. That said, looking around, if I had gotten my procedure out of fear of the political situation, I’d have been absolutely justified. And that’s all I’ll say on the topic.

The thing is that all of this was expected, and I made my decision anyway. So…

Things I Somehow Didn’t Expect

Women who have had children often talk about their pre-baby bodies, or getting their bodies back, or how they love their post-baby bodies, or literally anything to be said about the fact that a woman’s body is different after childbirth. Basically, a whole lot of things that go wonky with our bodies can rightfully be blamed on carrying and birthing children. “Damn kid destroyed my body!” a friend exclaimed before smothering her son in kisses.

So, what happens when there’s never been a pregnancy and there’s no child to blame?

You fall apart for no damn reason at all, that’s what!

My mother and I were talking about aging, and though I’m 25 years my mother’s junior, I had a lot to complain about that day. “I just don’t understand!” I exclaimed about my latest little infirmity. My mother laughed and said, completely free of judgment, “I imagine it’s harder for you. I got to blame you and your brother for screwing up my body, but you? You’re just getting old.” She laughed and laughed.

Thanks, Mom.

The other thing I didn’t expect was the guilt. Not the obvious guilt like the how-could-we-not-give-our-parents-grandchildren variety (which my husband and I actually never got from our respective parents, though I know I heard it from a family friend or two), but the little voice in my own head that says, “You know you have the time for that. It’s not like you have kids.” Whether it’s a career opportunity, volunteering my time for a cause I support, or sitting at my desk to write for another hour, that little voice is always there reminding me that there are no little me-s I have to deal with. My time is mine and I can spend it as I please. So, maybe I shouldn’t spend it all watching reality TV? (That is not an invitation to recruit me to your cause.)

Things I’d Been Warned About That Didn’t Happen

A coworker and I got engaged around the same time. We were chatting one day, and she told me how the ring wasn’t even warm on her finger yet and she and her fiancé were already being interrogated about having kids. I nodded, rolled my eyes in commiseration, and chewed on a corn chip. I knew what she was going through. I’d already hurt a couple of feelings with my responses to the same questions. Though she was more open to the idea of having children than I was, that didn’t say a whole lot. I swallowed my corn chip and didn’t take another. My coworker’s expression had changed. Her lips still formed a smile, but her eyes had gone a bit dull as she told me, “I said I really wasn’t sure about kids and then they asked,  ‘What’s the point of getting married at all if we weren’t having children?’”

Most of that conversation is lost to the deepest archives of my memory, but that last part still resonates. How dare anyone say that to someone still basking in the glow of an engagement? How dare anyone say that to a woman at all? We’re not incubators. Still, her story proved just how tactless friends and family can be and so I expected to spend some time defending the decision to get married. Part of me still does, but so far, no one has tried to invalidate my marriage (at least not over lack of children), and I’m not sure if I’m relieved or if I was so prepared for the fight that I’m a bit disappointed not to have it. (That is NOT an invitation to start some mess.)

But the crown jewel, the most important thing that I was warned would happen that didn’t—and I’m sure you can guess—is regret over my decision.

I realize that someone is thinking, it’s only been two years! They’re not wrong. The thing is, I’m not wrong either, and the only reason someone would set out to prove me wrong is to make me feel wrong. Why would I give someone like that the time of day?

We actually do have a couple of really adorable kids.

And, should I ever start to wonder longingly about what my life with children would have looked like, all I have to do is hop over to a mom blog or group on social media to remember why I made my decision in the first place.

Look, I get it. Moms are stressed from their cores to their split ends (because no one makes sure Mommies get haircuts), and need a place to vent about their little miracles. Sometimes that place to vent, combined with a fishbowl size glass of wine, is all a mom has to look forward to, or so the memes tell me. But then please, moms, please don’t act all shocked and shaken when some of us decide not to join you in the world of motherhood. Don’t question our decision and then get offended when we answer truthfully. I can only imagine the pressure—the weight of the world—that mothers handle daily…and that’s why I chose not to be one.

For a nice, morbid shift, I’ve been asked very directly about my deathbed. If my husband goes first, do I really want to die alone? Will I regret my choice then? Maybe I’m a jerk, but my response has been to ask how they can guarantee that they won’t die alone just because they’ve had children. Anything can happen. Maybe their kids are assholes (I know some of them to be just that). Maybe they’ll be surrounded by loved ones when they pass, just not their children, or family at all. As it turns out, people don’t like thinking about their own mortality and tend to drop the topic the second it’s turned back on them. However, since I don’t mind it, and while we’re already being morbid, I think there’s something to be said for dying alone, in peace, without worrying that you’re leaving behind someone who still needs you.

The point is that there are no promises in life, so I’m going to live mine on my terms.

Turns out, kids aren’t part of those terms.