Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Sharing Secrets

Whether spoken or not, there was a strong understanding amongst the women in my family that the secret we bore was not to be shared. We all understood that it had far-reaching ramifications if word of the skeletons we were harboring in our closet was to get out. Having recently been torn from the only stable social situations we had ever been in, neither my sister nor I had many people we could even turn to.

We had a small church community in Arizona; it was the first time in our entire lives that we had ever lived close enough to church members to be able to have them as a part of our social lives. Before I had always walked a very delicate line of trying, desperately, to make friends and be a normal kid at school, and also maintain the social distance that my mother seemed to deem necessary. I fought a constant internal battle in my younger years when my mother would criticize me for not socializing more, and yet always seemed to find fault with my friends because they were just not of "high standard."

In a sense, living in proximity to other church members provided its own problems. Often times kids in the church found it easy to bond with one another; we had a shared culture and understood each other's difficulties. We tended to form an instant type of camaraderie. My mother had sent me to church camps and workshops every summer since I had been eight years old; I knew that Blessed Children were easy to bond with and often I longed for those summers of fast, close friendships. It took me many years to understand what an important catalyst shared culture, and even shared alienation, could be for friendship.

That alienation was a strong presence in my life. More often than not I was lonely. And while for the first time my sister and I were living in close proximity to people that we ought to have shared that immediate bond with, we were all going through a time in our lives where our own hormonal desires were in direct contrast to our shared culture. Instead of having the open, safe relationships where we could admit our struggles with our desires to be normal kids and our attractions to the opposite sex, we tended to alienate ourselves from each other as we let our self-judgement and guilt consume us.

The summer of 1999, before year before the desert heat drew our family's poison to the surface, my mother had sent me away to the East Coast where the church was holding a tour of something called the "Pure Love Alliance." Essentially it was a large group of young church teens who were taught the principals of abstinence before marriage, and fidelity within marriage, and then were sent out into the streets to preach the good word. 

Armed with dubious statistics, such as "one in ever six condoms fail," we were deployed on buses across the coast to do community service in the name of Pure Love.

Even at 14 I wasn't sure how I felt about the entire event. While I enjoyed reconnecting with old friends whom I had met at summer camps years back, and finding that fast connection with new friends, I never really assimilated the purpose of the "Pure Love Alliance" with and great degree of comfort. However, when the older teens who were leading the tour across the country discovered that I was relatively articulate, I was chosen to give a speech in Miami and a testimony at the close of the tour.

My testimony had no real depth or emotional timbre. It followed a relatively generic structure that many of us in the church had utilized before: "I struggled but then I overcame and realized the value of the blah blah blah." What I didn't tell my "brothers and sisters" was that I had a boyfriend waiting for me back home and that I really had no opinions on Pure Love or Abstinence . While I felt a certain amount of guilt about having a boyfriend, living a double life created a bit of compartmentalization that allowed me to play the part of active participant with relative ease.

That compartmentalization also allowed me to be involved with my boyfriend and removed at the same time. He had been my first kiss and that had ultimately been a letdown. It was dry and dispassionate and I kept waiting for that feeling of walking on a cloud - instead I walked around asking myself "So is that it?"

Despite the dispassion, I found that fatalistic part of me already disconnecting myself from the church. While I hadn't fallen, my first kiss would no longer be for my future husband. But none of my "Brothers or Sisters" needed to know that.

The one person I did tell about my then-boyfriend was a boy named "S". He had been on my bus and had caught my attention. There was danger in his eyes that seemed to try to hide a vunerability. Instantly I was attracted and did my best to ignore that feeling that rose up in my belly when I caught site of him from the corner of my eye. We did our best to ignore each other mutually for more of the duration of the tour. But by the end we found ourselves sitting across from one another at lunch, staring each other down.

The years have blurred the conversation, but I do remember my admission of having a boyfriend. He smiled, made a gun with the fingers of his right hand and drew the trigger. The bullet was my first pang of guilt. My eyebrow raised in an expression I had worked for years to perfect. That should have been that.

But it wasn't. We stayed in touch. My boyfriend dumped me when my family moved across the city. In my young teenaged pain I reached out a little more to "S". Lying to myself, I said I didn't want him. We were just friends. He was in love with a hot mess named "Y" who had supposedly lost her entire family to freak accidents and disease. He pined for the young woman he would never be able to save.

We weren't supposed to love until we were told to. We were never supposed to pine. In my pain I did both, fooling myself the whole while. Whoever "Y" was, she would never let "S"in the way he wanted. But I was "available", and as he got to know me through the seductive medium of the internet, he realized how desperately I needed saving. In those days I wanted to be saved. Somehow I imagined that a man's arms around me could shield me from the barrage of pain that the world seemed to launch.

Many nights we would stay up late into the night and greet the early morning, talking on the phone or chatting on the internet. While my life unravelled, those late nights when everyone else was asleep were the eye of my storm. Eventually I told him everything.

"God never gives us anything we can't handle," he told me. "Before we were born we chose our lives. We came here knowing we could live through the things we had chosen."

I could have killed him that night. The rhetoric was alien to the religious upbringing we had had, and it ripped me apart. While I had always cast myself as a victim, he told me rise above. That night I lay on the floor sobbing, angry at God, angry at my parents and angry at "S".

When that storm had passed and I dried my tears, I was still confused but somehow stronger. While I knew nothing about contracts made in pre-existence, I knew that in essence "S" was right. I was resilient. Nothing inside of me would die. That was when I made a pact with myself that no matter what abuses we would suffer as we endured the backlash that my parents' lives would incur, it would not be allowed to injure the inner essence of who I believed that I was. Another piece compartmentalized.

To that end I protected myself more than I ever had before. "S" became the only person I allowed in to see the beauty, the frailty and the humanity. This, I thought, must be the person for me. Who else would be able to see through the evils that surrounded me and still be able to offer love?

Quietly I became convinced that "S" was the man I was ultimately destined for. But a murmur of fear also began to echo inside of me. "Would Rev. Moon know?" In the church we were raised to believe that Sun Myung Moon had a certain clairvoyance which he would utilize in matching members of the church, especially with the Second Generation. Yet to me it still seemed like a strange gamble. Could I trust that Rev. Moon would be able to see me and "S" through all of the other people and photographs and applications?

Further seeds of doubt were planted in fertile soil.

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