If I had to name the god of my early high school years, I would name it Nothing.
As I got older, this god named Obligation didn’t work for me anymore. I outgrew it. However, I still had obligations as a Catholic. I had to get confirmed. I sat through Confirmation Classes that bored the hell out of all of us taking them. I had switched to public schools by this point in my life but, having spent the first seven years of my schooling in Catholic schools, I had a cheat sheet inside of my head with the answers to the questions. All of them. I was even a nerd in Catechism class.
I remember two things from my confirmation classes. The first is when this guy drew on the sleeve of my leather jacket with a pen. I didn’t notice until the next day but there was no doubt about who had done it. I still don’t know why he didn’t like me. On top of just being a jerk, he ruined my leather jacket. Asshole.
That felt good to get off of my chest. Especially since all I need to do now is confess my actions to a priest. I’ll just do my Act of Contrition and be done with it. What a great deal.
The other thing I remember from my confirmation classes is that no one asked me if I believed anything that I was being taught to say. Not once did our catechism teacher or our priest hit the pause button and say, “Hey, y’all look bored. Do any of you really want to do this? Do any of you even believe this?” As a result of this oversight, I was confirmed as an Atheist.
I never told anyone that I was an atheist. I continued going to mass and confirmation classes because my parents made me. On trips to visit my mom’s family, I went to my grandparent’s Methodist church and discovered that their niceness had become annoying. None of their joy made any sense. We were all descended from apes. There was nothing out there. It was all just random and whatever.
I think I summed up Generation X in one paragraph.
I had one source of spiritual solace during that time: Thoreau. We were introduced to Transcendentalism in high school English and I was enraptured with the concept. Walden was my new sacred text. My childhood had been filled with nature and Thoreau was the first person I’d ever read who spoke of it with the same reverence I‘d often felt when I was outside.
There was one amazing time that I was walking under a big oak tree, alone in the field behind my house, and a hawk shit out a giant bird turd as it took off. The poo loudly splatted on the ground as the hawk’s wings concussed the air. I was so awestruck that I froze in place for a minute before turning around and going home. It felt like Nature had issued a warning that I was not to walk into her home uninvited.
I have so many beautiful memories from that time of my life that involve nothing other than a rocking chair and a view of our back pasture. It was so quiet out there and, quite often, the only sound was the squeaking of our sheeps’ teeth as they pulled on blades of grass while they ate. There was even one fortuitous time that I witnessed a sheep giving birth in our field. It was disgusting and amazing at the exact same time when the back of that ewe exploded with lamb and slime and placenta.
I wondered as we studied Thoreau if this beauty could be my god.
I started dating my first girlfriend during this time of my life. I often found myself extremely jealous of her long brown hair and early 90s ensembles. I not only left that jealousy unspoken but I barely even acknowledged it as a thought within myself. There would be these moments when she would flip her hair and I would find myself enraptured with her beauty. Simultaneously, there was this desire to have what she had. It’s hard to explain.
If you could look inside my head in those moments, there was more of a flash of emotion than a logical thought. It was always immediately chased by a cold, emotionless clamping down within my brain. There wasn’t even a conscious “no” inside my head… it was more like a lid coming off of a bed of smoldering coals, which glowed for the barest of moments, before the lid was pressed back down upon them.
When she and I were together, we would get lost in each other like two rivers joining to make one. She became the answer to every problem I had in life… but that answer moved to another parish in the middle of our relationship. I began to feel a growing desperation when I would think about our future. Little things I used to find endearing became annoying. I would listen to Pearl Jam on my way back home from spending the weekend with her and feel the despair Eddie Vedder sang about.
And now my bitter hands
Cradle broken glass
Of what was everything
All the pictures had
All been washed in black
All the love gone bad
Turned my world to black
Tattooed all I see
All that I am
All I’ll be
I also got in enough trouble during my sophomore year of high school that there was a hearing to decide if I would be expelled. I was a typical class clown with a couple of added marks against me.
Every day in 10th Grade my mom gave me a mint with my lunch. I would open the mint in my class after lunch break, which was Civics & Free Enterprise with Mrs. Kleban. Mrs. Kleban sat us in alphabetical order so I was in the front left desk, with the TV/VCR right in front of me. Every day I unwrapped my mint and dropped the wrapper into the VCR. I did it every day for months.
One day I walked into Civics and another cut-up, Joey Allgood, was pleading with Mrs. Kleban that it wasn’t him that broke the VCR. I was sitting in my/Joey’s desk with a smirk on my face as Joey begged her to believe him. In the middle of his pleading, Joey made eye contact with me, stopped talking as his brain put everything together, and he exclaimed, “It was YOU!” I cracked up laughing and got after school detention for breaking the VCR. I lied, told my mom that I was staying for math tutoring, and forged my dad’s signature on the parental form.
I also got into a fight with a football player that year. I remember making the decision to fight him. With a sense of finality and resignation, I left my books in my locker and walked, empty-handed down the hall to where he was sorting through his books at his locker. He was kneeling down but almost eye level with me. I gave him an ultimatum and he stood up to face me. In my adrenaline-fueled mind he towered over me like a giant.
He sarcastically asked, “What are you going to do? Beat the shit out of me?”
I then proceeded to do my best to beat the shit out of him. I swung wildly, counting my punches as they landed on his face.
As my eighth punch connected with the football player’s head, a teacher yelled, “Stop fighting!” Being a somewhat-obedient kid, I did what she said. This leads me to a valuable life lesson I learned on that day: Never, EVER, stop swinging until you or the person you are hitting are on the ground.
In the time between the teacher yelling and her getting to me, the football player’s giant fist connected with my head. The battery I had been holding in my hand to make my punches more solid went flying. It hit a girl and she yelped. I remember chuckling to myself at her yelp as I flew backwards in slow motion.
All of a sudden I was sitting on the ground and the crowd was dispersing.
Then I was walking to the office.
Then I was in the office.
Looking back, I now know that I got a concussion from one of the two punches the football player gave me in response to the eight I gave him. We both received Suspensions from school for fighting. Later that week I got a call from Mrs. Cox, the principle of Acadiana High. I was eating potato chips, enjoying my little vacation from school, when Mrs. Cox asked me if I was holding a battery when I was fighting the football player. I told her that I was and she informed me that the battery counted as a weapon, which meant I was receiving Recommended Expulsion.
I sobbed during my hearing and felt deep relief when Mrs. Cox told me I was going to be allowed to stay in school.
There was something off inside of me and it was bleeding into everything in my life.
This god named Nothing wasn’t working any better than Obligation had worked for me.
Read the third part of the story, A God named Saved