Story Shots: Fall

The fall is a time of leaves changing colors, weather cooling down, harvest, pumpkin festivals, people going back to school, and so much more. Story Shots, our creative nonfiction series, has taken on this theme in our latest installment. Below we have four fall-themed pieces from different writers for your pleasure.

A List: We fall…

into bed.
and asleep.

in and out
of love.
into another’s arms.
in and out
of bad habits.
apart, and

into debt.
onto hard times.
into a deep depression,
and on our knees.

down the rabbit hole,
like fall leaves;
ashes, ashes,
we all fall down.

– Nicole Embrey

As a child, I mainly remember triangle sandwiches at bible camp, but I also remember believing in the God of Israel as much as I believed the sun would come up each day. I was raised by a Christian, single mother and attended those camps at my grandma’s church every summer in an old logging town pared into mountains as green and buckled as elephant apples. The fundamentalist church preached a tough no-sin doctrine, and I pled for salvation at camp the summer before I turned fourteen, old enough to engage with an ancient text about God’s chosen people and a certain Israeli.

I entered the Bush administration wild with purpose. My love affair with Israel had begun.

Near the end of Bush’s administration, I enrolled at a liberal arts university. By that time, I had completed Bible college and helped several people convert to Christianity, including my own father. I read my Bible twice a day, prayed unceasingly, and shared my every thought with a resurrected Jew. Virgin, both of us.

I dreamed of going to Israel.

But my mind would not be still. At the university, my Old Testament class only added to my doubts about comparative religions and historical and intrabiblical contradictions, and my psychology and ethics classes complicated my perception of the human experience. It was in my astronomy class that I viewed the universe of empty, wasted space through my telescope and felt the first surge of despair: We are alone. The sky was so dark.

But I pressed on despite my doubts. I gave to Christian charities, sponsored an orphan from Lesotho, and tithed even when I had nothing. I created a Bible study and mentorship program for middle school girls, taught Sunday school, and co-led a college-group Bible study. I told myself the Shepherd of Israel wouldn’t abandon a faithful member of his flock. I begged for help and tried to ignore how my prayers went unanswered.

Something was tipping.

The final assignment in my public speaking class had been to deliver a speech on a remarkable person, like an ode. I chose Christian apologist Lee Strobel and used the time to present his case for Christ—the manuscripts, archeology, prophecy, and science that supported the Christian story. I even purchased copies of Case for Faith for everyone in class. And behind me, a battalion of saints prayed that I would be filled with God’s spirit.

I wasn’t.

Instead, I felt sick in front of my peers, realizing—so obvious now—that I believed simply because I was raised to believe and that there were just as many compelling arguments for competing religions.

Later in my family’s kitchen, feeling even sicker, I told my parents I didn’t know if I believed in God anymore. They prayed for me, certain God would answer, as he had done for Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

The final deathblow fell in a bookstore cafe when my best friend said, “You didn’t try hard enough.” That’s when the Israeli and I both said, “It’s finished.”

I entered Obama’s administration an apostate.

What followed was a sort of trauma I don’t like to talk about, with many beloved ties severed, but my mind was finally at rest, private.

That Christmas, my mom gave me a Star of David pendant and cried.

– Missy Lacock

September rolls around.
My birthday.
School starting.
Always school starting.
I’m a perpetual student.
I have one year left to finish my Master’s degree.
And I’m applying to PhDs for the fall.
I plan to live the life of an academic.

Today’s the first day of school but I’m taking it off.
I’m at home.
I made muffins.
Blueberry corn.
Lemon poppy.
Banana oatmeal.
They all turn out wonderfully.
My house smells like I’m a domestic goddess.

I could have lived that life.
Married young.
Worked in an office.
Bore some children.
Served a hot dinner every night.
Slept next to a good man that loved me.

Fuck. I burnt my thumb.
Give me a paper cut anyday.
Give me a book and an article to write.
Give me a challenge to solve.
Give me eyes wide open to the world.
Give me the strength to pull off another all-nighter.
I’m too awake to live a sleepy life.
I plan to live the life of an academic.

– Amanda Riggle

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” – Jeremiah 17:9, King James Version

They’re laying it on thick.

“We humans are almost unloveable,” Kevin, the youth worship leader, says. He tells us we know this—we know the ugly thoughts that live inside of us. But there’s good news because God loves us based on who He is and not who we are.

He passes around teen magazines, and we are supposed to read the sex positive headlines with what, I think, disgust? Sex…Your Way. Dating & Mating. I have stacks of these magazines in my bedroom. Stacy and I cut out the models’ eyes or lips, their long stilettoed legs, and make collages. We cut out letters too and mix them around to spell different words. In the end, it looks like something between a mood board and a ransom letter.

“God is the architect. He knows more about sex and love than any magazine,” Kevin says. But I’ve read both the bible and the magazines and know that there are things that both simply can’t explain.

We read the story of Adam and Eve. It all comes back to the Fall. Sons shall not bear the sins of their fathers, but what of daughters and their mothers? Eve born from Adam’s rib as he slept. “God describes Eve as being just right for Adam.” Eve, the answer to Adam’s loneliness, created just for him.

Sex cannot be meaningless, Kevin says. By God’s design, it is two becoming one. God wants sex to be enjoyable. He uses if/then statements. He tells us, “If you really loved your boyfriend or girlfriend, then would you want to rob them of the chance to say to their spouse ‘I saved myself for you’. Ask yourself, are you that selfish?”

They used to pass around a rose, and by the time it reached the end, petals were bruised and missing and dull. We were told we were the rose, and each time we gave ourselves away, we became more damaged. And in the end, who would want it?

Now they use a hundred dollar bill. Kevin crumples it in his hand and asks us if we still want it. We shout yes or nod our heads. I can see exactly where this is going. Kevin throws the bill at his feet and stomps on it. He spits on it. He picks it up and tears it in half. He looks up at us expectantly. “And now, do you still want it?” Stacy makes a show of peering over at Brie and coughs loudly, sending the others into fits of laughter that Kevin and the other youth leaders ignore. A boy in the back mutters something about taking the bill to the bank and getting a new one. But Kevin says this one still has value then—latching on to the boy’s quip and coming back to the whole point of his lesson. “We’re going to sin, but God won’t think less of us.”

I liked the rose better. If someone had only explained to us how to take it in our hands without breaking it, I think, by the end of its journey it might have appeared untouched. But bruised, petals missing, splintered stem—that rose still had value too. It still smelled just as sweet.

Sunk into the back of the strip mall church, the youth leaders separate us by sex, the girls huddle into the small nursery while the boys crowd together at the foot of the pulpit. Becca is now saying something about a family friend who put his hands on her when she was just a few years younger than us. I know Becca won’t cry but I wait for it to happen anyway. Her words sound rehearsed and probably are. It’s an old story, really, one everyone in this room has heard before. She tells her story again now in the hopes that we’ll feel open to sharing ours but no one says a thing. I keep my eyes on the bassinets at the back of the room behind all these bodies squeezed together too closely. The cabbage patch dolls lined up in a row. I imagine the boys discussion will go differently, all slaps on the back and talk about how to properly prune a rose.

I slink back to the pulpit when we are finished. My guitar is tucked behind the drum set. Kevin is asking me about Sarah, my sister’s friend. How is she? he asks.

“She’s fine,” I tell Kevin. I think about last week, about the drive to Havasu for my sister’s bachelorette weekend and how, when the others thought I was sleeping, Sarah confessed to giving her ex-boyfriend a blow job while God watched. She could see Him, hovering above them in the bed, his sad eyes on her. She stopped and ran out of the bedroom. Later, the two of them prayed about it. This confession prompted others. One friend let her boyfriend put his penis inside her. “But just one poke!” she says, and they all laugh. But it’s a funny laugh, all tight and worn thin and I know if I were to open my eyes my sister would be looking right at me.

“Well, if you see her, tell her I said hi,” Kevin says. I imagine Kevin lying in bed with Sarah, God watching them. But then God turns to me. I’m there in the room with them. And his sad eyes turn angry. I can’t help thinking, he thinks less of me.

– Melanie Figueroa

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