He is nervous. He has the house to himself on this bright sunny Sunday. He will not go to the meetings with his parents. Already the elders have delayed the announcement of his excommunication because of his lack of attendance. It seems to be important to them, but James doesn’t care. And he tells them that.
Today is different, however. He is in a better mood. His father has a talk to give out of town so his parents left earlier in the morning. James smiled at the information and retreated back to his room. Once they have been gone for 30 minutes, he begins to quietly pack his clothes into two duffle bags, emptying one side of the closet. His mom had crammed his entire childhood into the other side without a sense of historical sentimentality. He then remembers… he doesn’t have a mom anymore. So he continues packing his clothes, all of which are marked with a small tag reading his Bethel number of “594”, used to keep everyone’s laundry separate. He knows how the numbers function. He worked on the computer program that monitors them.
He thinks about taking his computer. No.
His heart is pounding so hard he fears it’s going to knock the wind out of him. He loads the two bags into his car and goes back inside to sit on the bed, trying to calm down. He eventually gets himself moving again to start packing everything else in the room into his closet. He looks at his childhood memories loosely packed in boxes filled with his graduation cap, diploma, pictures of his first trip to New York, awards and honors he achieved in school. The boxes told a story of a child who had so much talent and potential… a suppressed dreamer unable to pursue any of it because of an organization that praises structure over truth and promotes the ignorance of separation over the empowerment of knowledge. He remembers the scholarship he was offered. He remembers Henry, the first boy he kissed in high school. He briefly skims through some of his artwork. He sees the plans and pictures of the assembly hall and decides to take the binder of architectural drawings with him… it’s the only resume he has. He remembers being given a small baseball bat with his name engraved in it. He remembers his baptism.
On the basis of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, have you repented of your sins and dedicated yourself to Jehovah to do his will?
No, not anymore. Jehovah and I have two very different definitions of “sin” and I will not repent from any of mine. I am proud of them, I honor them. I respect their existence and acknowledge the good and the bad that they have, can, and will do.
Do you understand that your dedication and baptism identify you as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses in association with God’s spirit-directed organization?
Yes, and I wish it is something I could retract.
He was a child, he didn’t know what he was doing. As an adult now, he knows more, feels more, understands human nature with more clarity. He regrets that he has been so blind in sticking with the organization that allows such brutality. Being distracted with kingdom hall and assembly hall buildings made it easier to tolerate, work with, and support the religion. But the organization allows people, imperfect mortals, to control others and wield power that no human should have over another human.
He’s not resentful of the time he spent with them. He learned much that he will carry with him for the rest of his life. But there is a good and decent human being whose light has been extinguished from the planet and he feels an increased level of responsibility to replace that light. He doesn’t know how just yet… but he’s going to find out. The anticipation makes him pause for reassurance that he is doing the right thing.
He closes the door to the closet.
He walks next door to see his grandmother. He just wants to say “hi”, give her a hug. She appreciates it. He walks back.
He enters his room and looks at his phone. There was one number of one guy he met one time way back before the shit storm started. On Friday he called and asked if he could crash at his place a few days…
Sure man! Come stay as long as you need.
Relief. One small thread poking out after the rains, the winds, lightening, and the torrential display of engorged authority bloated with self righteousness there stands this one thread sicking out after the storm. The biggest smile comes over his face. Years of his life melted from his body. Relief.
The dynamic in the house began to shift in the past week. His parents were talking, moving, and conversing differently. They will help him. They will fix him. They will make him better for with Jehovah, all things are possible. He can stay in the house, get a job, and they will nurse him back to health. It’s the best possible maternal mending held fast by a paternal powerhouse drenched in the glory of God’s love. His mother is already telling stories of how her son was salvaged from the grips of Satan’s claws and redeemed through the power of the one true organization of Jehovah. There is a need to control, to reconstruct, to infuse a new bible battery to power the shining example of the golden boy he once was… the ultimate story of redemption and salvation. For his parents, it is not only possible, it has already happened in their minds.
James just needs to catch up.
He couldn’t take any more intervention. Some things people just need to do on their own and this time he needs to walk on his own feet, his own way, and be honest about who he is as a human being. He is not a Jehovah’s Witness. He was a gay man trying to play a straight role in a religion that considers his natural biology worthy of condemnation. And for 23 years, he went along with it, he worked for this organization, dedicated his life to it’s growth, and promoted it from door to door. And every year the light of truth inside his soul dimmed… until he met someone who turned the volume up… way up… to the point where publishers, elders, and bethelites took notice and feared the beam that shot forth, for the brilliance of it’s honesty was too much for them to comprehend.
He likes that light. He doesn’t fear that light. In the grand scheme of things it’s positive energy being put out into the universe… something far more beneficial than any energy someone like Bechman produces or extracts out of others by beating them with the bible. James sighs at the concept. The bible is a book with no original documents written by people who thought the world was flat… and the copies of the translations that do exist are then translated into English… English, a language confusing in its spelling but so oversimplified in it’s lexicography it only has one word for “love”. And somehow a group of people, any group of people, will provide a specific interpretation of precise wording and use it to to impose discipline and banishment in grandiloquent arrogance tantamount to that of the Crusades. That is arrogance on a level even James fears to tread. And yet, Jehovah’s Witnesses are told they must accept whatever comes through the organization, the good and the bad. We are all just humans, after all.
One could apply the same philosophy to the supposed “wicked world” – one must accept the good and the bad, the evil and the angelic, the “blessings and the maledictions”. There are evils of society, government, people who are obsessed to the point of causing harm, bombers, and mass shooters. But in such debris comes the good. Fred Rodgers is quoted as saying “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'”
For every tragedy, there are always people running to the problem. James loves these people, he is inspired by these people. They do not act out of religion or faith, their instinctual response isn’t because of their love of god. They act out of a sense of global humanity and honest concern for their fellow man, something his former church failed to teach him. Any religion that adamantly believes they are the one and true path to salvation is a lesson in a cloaked sense of superiority. In the back of their mind, running at all times is their “reality”… they have the truth, you do not. They have the answer, you do not. They will survive the last days and the coming judgement of god at Armageddon, and you will not. The colors of the ties and dresses may be different, but the smiling display of warmth and “humility” is exactly the same. They are not concerned for humanity, they are only concerned for themselves. If every religion who separates themselves off with such dramatic enthusiasm were to tear down the walls they have erected, they would be shocked to see at how similar they are to each other… and many times, they are indistinguishable.
So when it comes to this particular cult-like religion cowering behind imaginary plastic facades trying to protect themselves from the Devil and his demons, he doesn’t want to be fixed or healed. He wants to move on and grow up, think globally and respect humanity as a whole. That is where he finds himself when he sits at the dining room table, writing a brief note to his parents.
I’m sorry, but I have to do this on my own. Goodbye.
He signs it.
The release of one’s mask brings a freedom from tunnel vision, the ability to view the periphery previously obstructed by the limitations of the eye holes. In his naked exposure, he his proud of who he is. And for being such, he has been beaten with lies and absurdity. Even more painful, the man he loved was beaten to the point of being unrecognizable. He chooses to not stand for this behavior. He is better than this. And if he’s not better than this… he’s going spend all the time he needs to make himself better than this. He will never reach the same level of brightness that Aaron or people like him can produce, but he can try. He would rather give it an honest attempt then muzzle his heart.
There is a place he has seen and visited where there are people just like him living honest and openly. It is a world filled with orphans and rejects kicked out and discarded by their families, some with physical violence and disgust. They welcome everyone, the poets and the idealists, the artist and the philosophers. They welcome those broken down from the ravishes of religion, homophobia, and hate. And their response is to have a big fucking party. But they also fight, organize, and care for each other, they tend to the sick and the ailing, the lonely and the depressed. They volunteer their time and money to better themselves and the world around them. The community is not perfect, from what he has experienced it has its faults and those who overindulge… But I gotta take the good with the bad, right? It certainly couldn’t be any worse than what he just went through.
He looks around one last time. He smiles to himself. He can’t believe he’s doing this. He can’t believe it took him this long to do it. Thank you Aaron. Thank you for the kick in the ass I needed.
He walks outside and locks the front door. He tears up a little, he’s not sure why, he wasn’t expecting that.
He gets in the car and starts driving quickly, before any of the neighbors see him. Once he gets on the highway he puts in White Zombie’s “Astro Creep: 2000”, a CD he has purchased four times since first listening to it with Tony, and cranks it up. He is officially moving the devil from the backseat to the front. And come to find out, he’s not that much of a devil after all – certainly not the worst one he’s encountered. James rolls down the windows and screams with joy to the open Texas landscape. People passing him think he’s insane. He is insane, and he just escaped from the institution. He’s free. He’s finally fucking free. He can’t stop smiling from joy of nothingness on his shoulders. The light in his chest is getting brighter and brighter the farther he drives, pulsing with a stronger sense of morality, integrity, and humanitarianism.
It feels so fucking good to taste the molecules of air on the back of his throat. Nothing scares him anymore. He’s not invincible, in fact, he now knows exactly how fragile he is. He respects it. It’s beautiful to him. Everything is beautiful, even the burned flat Texas fields of dead grass and falling fences look beautiful. And now, he can be whoever the hell he wants to be. His choice. Because he is free to make that choice.
He is… FREE.
His cell phone rings. It’s his parents.
He happens to be coming up on a body of water. He stops at the lake and stands on the edge of the grass. He looks at his Motorola StarTac phone. Eight missed messages. He breathes in the fresh air and throws his cell phone has hard as he can. It makes a tiny splash in the distance, barely any ripples. He smiles and gets back in his car.
Okay. NOW he’s free.
James P. Perez © 2013