Two large suitcases laid on the khaki carpeted floor. I embraced Ben for the first time since I left for Costa Rica. He caught me up with the basics of his life, while our thirteen new housemates wandered in our new residence. We made quiet comments of what may happen living with the others in this mansion. We were ready for the community living experiment.
The mansion had three floors to house four singles, three couples and a family of five. Surprisingly, the spacious floor plan allowed for each pair or family to have their own bedroom and bathroom for personal space as the rest of the house presented itself as common area. Ben and I bunked in the bedroom off of the living room and dining area on the main floor. The Prang family lived on the first floor along with another couple and the rest of our roommates lived on the third. We built relationships through conversations over community meals, board games or video game playing. Ben’s parents, Bryan and Teresa, also lived there, so the mix of familiar faces with new ones put me at ease. And I continued to have classes with Bryan as a professor.
The bitter darkness fully engulfed me after the fall semester began. Each drive to and from school, classroom setting, mealtime or any daily activity was marked with destructive visual hallucinations or suicidal thoughts. Each night, I wrapped a comforter around my body as I prayed for the hallucinations to disappear. Risperdal and Zyprexa, my daily mental health pills offered little relief despite regularly taking them.
My mind, body and spirit geared itself into survival mode.
So, I normalized the bizarre alternative world no one else could see. YouTube became my nightly companion as I attempted to fall asleep to endless clips of dry British comedies while angels and demons fought near my bedside. I told myself if I slept longer or stayed in my bed longer I could stay alive. If I did too much, I believed the darkness would overtake me. My irregular sleep schedule pushed me into an inconsistent morning routine making me late to class or completely absent. Even having my professor and program director as a housemate did not phase me enough to regularly attend class. My mind, body and spirit geared itself into survival mode.
My physical body and inner spirit echoed every waking moment. Each month I purchased new clothes as my weight increased from daily consumption of medication, alcoholic beverages, junk food and sweets. I avoided the simple question of “How are you?” as I internalized my actual emotions and wondered if the other person truly knew what they asked. I had an acquaintance tell me he avoided me because I was too depressed for him. This only justified my need to keep everything in. No one wanted to be around Eeyore anyways.
My new idea of “hanging out” became me asking a friend to take a nap on the couch perpendicular to mine. Naps became a safer activity with never having to vocalize my sorrow because I figured no one wanted to listen to my pain. I hid myself in the five-hundred-student campus, but the reality was that everyone was connected to everyone else somehow.
My friends hosted wine and cheese parties, which, in Bible school fashion, wrapped themselves around theological discussions. A bottle of wine quickly became a friend once or twice as I discussed the topic of homosexuality with anyone nearby. On a solo drunk drive home, I somehow recognized that my continued attendance could result in a serious car accident or deportation. Instead, I hid myself at a local cafe eating homemade cheesecake while sipping on chai tea or sat at home munching on a plate of nachos and drank a couple of beers.
I attempted to see a counselor at the college, who left without warning after two sessions. I wondered if I scared him away or if he suddenly got a new job or a pressing life issue came up. I never found out and declined to see someone else at the college.
One night, Teresa suggested I try to meet with a prayer counselor. I struggled with the idea of reviewing introductory questions again. What brought you in here today? Tell me about your family. What medications are you taking? So you're telling me… and on and on.
I thought it over and told Teresa I would try a couple of sessions with the new therapist. The number of Biblical images scrolling through my mind, especially the two with the overdose convinced me this wasn’t a psychological issue. Teresa dialed her number and handed me the phone. The female counselor gave me directions to her home office located only two blocks from the college. Her house was tucked in the middle of a neighborhood underneath a large oak tree proudly standing in her front lawn. She had mentioned a red light outside of the garage. If the light was on, I needed to wait in my vehicle until she finished with her client before I came in. I affirmed I would remember her one rule and would see her the following week.
I stood on the edge of her lawn wondering how many times I must share my story to a counselor to become healed again. My hands slid into my pants pockets and I slowly made my way to the garage door noting the red light was off. The office door opened to a pale skinned, blue eyed woman with blonde hair. She wore round glasses and firmly shook my hand as she ushered me inside. Two paintings of female warriors in medieval attire hung in the entryway. The female characters reminded me of the girls from C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia series. Armed with bows and arrows, they were surrounded by a forest and ready to combat the White Witch. The fierce look on their faces proclaimed an unwavering spirit and strength to be reckoned with. A fake fireplace, desk, an office chair and couch were squeezed into the little room with another exit into her backyard.
Brief introductions were exchanged until Laurel handed me intake paperwork to fill out, similar to the one I filled out at the college.
Auditory hallucinations? Check.
Visual hallucinations? Check.
Suicidal Ideations? Check.
I handed in the paperwork trying to avoid eye contact like I did with every personal encounter for the past several months. This space of vulnerability triggered death thoughts within me as fear shook my body. Christians, especially Christian counselors scared me as I waited for her to say that I needed to be fixed. I did not want help with the gay issue. I only wanted to be free from the continuous torment inside of me. And I didn’t talk about the gay issue anymore.
I only wanted to be free from the continuous torment inside of me.
Our sessions included a fifteen minute discussion followed by forty-five minutes of listening prayer. Laurel’s gentleness allowed me to openly discuss the pain from Costa Rica. I told her about my feelings of abandonment, shame, desperation, fear and hidden anger. I had no issue discussing with her what the whole college knew about already. I fought against my inner plan to be oppositional in hopes of finding freedom, so I disclosed all of my visions, hallucinations, whatever you want to call it. I was paying for the hour myself, so I made sure my money would not be wasted.
Laurel began the prayer session with a leveling prayer, which I repeated. I did not understand what I stated, but I obeyed. The declarations I repeated against the demonic, secretly made me wonder if Laurel believed Harry Potter was a real person too. Whatever works, I would try. At the end of her prayer, any vision or impression I had guided our discussion. The visions seemed to easily flow for me as she wrote down the details I described. My stomach tightened as she rejoiced about how easily the visions flowed. Enthusiastically, she would continue to state, “You see so clearly! The Spirit speaks to you!”
To her, I had a spiritual gift, which should be celebrated. Internally, I found myself to be an oddity and outside of society. I had difficulty understanding how “seeing” into different painful issues could change my life. Even more so, isn’t this what the psychology world wanted me to avoid? These visions were the reason I stayed on medication. For some reason, I started to believe her - this was certainly a gift and not a curse. I only wanted to believe that.
This semester felt like the semester before Costa Rica, but worse. I hesitantly spoke to my peers about the visions from prayer counseling, while simultaneously trying to ignore the knives jabbing themselves into my chest. A simple homework assignment, which two years prior would have taken minutes to complete, now took multiple hours. I skimmed reading assignments because the silence scared me. How could I learn about spreading this Gospel of Love, while I watched self-mutilation images appear in front of the words I was trying to read? The hallucinations felt amplified a hundredfold.
What if I could sleep the pain away forever?
Like most evenings, I hid myself in the bedroom with the lights off. I wanted to interact with my housemates on a normal level, but I could not communicate without sounding completely miserable. Even with the prayer counseling, I hated life. I missed the painkillers and their temporary high. Medication eased my pain. What if I could sleep the pain away forever? A sleep aid and painkillers could work together. I wouldn’t waste anyone’s time with this exhibition. A failed suicide attempt is nothing to be proud of. People pitied the man who couldn't finish what he started. This time it was I who decided, not the faceless commander, that it was time to die.
Ben had fallen into a deep slumber with the sound of a light snore echoing in the room. I quietly zipped up a sweatshirt and tip-toed out of the bedroom at half past eleven. I tiptoed to the shoe pile next to the front door, slipped on my shoes and left the house. I slowly backed out of the driveway and then adjusted the stick shift into first gear. I sped through the red lights to make it to a 24-hour drug store in less than ten minutes. I parked the car and reviewed my exit plan before heading in. I will walk into the store and buy two bottles: Ibuprofen and sleeping pills. I will drive home and take the medication with water. I will then go back to bed and fall asleep forever.
With confidence, I got out of the car, slammed the door shut and I marched towards the entrance. Mentally, I continued to review the plan. Buy two bottles of pills, drive home, take the pills with water and fall asleep forever. I may even add in a bottle of water or some crackers so as not to raise suspicion with the cashier. I walked to the automatic doors with an intense focus on completing the task. What was going on?
I took one step back and forward again. The automatic sliding doors would not open. I moved my body frantically side to side hoping to set off the sensor. Still nothing happened. Why was a 24-hour drug store not open? The pupils of my eyes narrowed in on the automatic door. What was going on? I moved back and forth again to no avail. I looked through the glass windows to see several police officers talking to the cashiers and pharmacy staff. A cashier mouthed the words “We are closed” and shrugged their shoulders in an apologetic way. Who was the idiot to spoil my plan? My exit strategy was spoiled by a robbery or something similar.
Anger fueled every inch of my body. I jogged back to the car, jumped into the driver’s seat and forcibly started the vehicle. The car squeaked indicating the timing belt needed to be replaced and my tires spun out as I made a grand exit from the drug store's parking lot. How was this happening? I was ready! Tonight was the night! I held the courage to make it happen. I sped through intersections stepping on the gas when a green light turned yellow. I pulled into my parking spot and went back into the house. Death would be welcomed tomorrow. I quietly walked into the bedroom so as not to wake Ben. I undressed and crawled back into the twin sized bed. Tomorrow will be the night. Twenty-four hours left to live.
Twenty-four hours left to live.
The following day started as normal. Everyone avoided asking me how I was doing. They already knew the answer. I was sad. I had no curfew. Ben and I held different schedules. No one held me accountable to where I was going or what I was doing. Day in and night out of empty suicidal thoughts had produced no additional attempt in Canada. For others, it meant there was nothing to worry about. I wanted to use kitchen knives as my means to die. But I convinced myself it would be too painful of a way to go. I wanted it to be a simple, painless and beautiful way to leave. A peaceful narrative of falling asleep forever. It was what everyone wanted anyway, when they are a senior citizen. I just jumped a few decades.
This night repeated like the previous. I quietly grabbed my keys as Ben slept and tiptoed through the bedroom door. I slipped on shoes, jumped into the vehicle and raced down the city’s streets heading to the only 24-hour drug store within the city’s borders.
I parked the car, quietly got out and marched up to the building. My heart pounded as I came closer to the electric sliding doors. The doors slid open as the cool air-conditioned air breezed passed my unshaven face welcoming me to take the next step in my mission. I walked in and took note of where each worker was. One cashier stood at the register and one walked around putting up new weekly sale signs. I walked to the pain reliever aisle and began studying each bottle. I narrowed in on the generic sleeping pills and aspirin. I chose the highest number at a store brand price. Tonight was the night. Another homosexual would die. I welcomed the curse from months before despite feeling some relief from the counseling. I needed to complete the orders given to me months ago. Even though I hadn’t heard from the faceless commander, I still believed him.
“Is that all?” questioned the blue-haired cashier. Did she know the combination? What was happening? Was I actually doing this?
“Yeah,” I said awkwardly loud with too much effort to sound confident. Don’t make eye contact. Keep focus. She will find out.
I whispered, “Credit,” for my next response, overcompensating for my outburst. I charged the purchase, took the receipt and bag from her and left the building. My body began to shake as anxiety settled in. Where did my gusto from the night before go?
I reversed from the parking spot, then I shifted into second gear in an effort to leave the pharmacy faster. I sped through the city intersections anxious to start the lethal undertaking. This was the night. It will be. The pieces fell into place. There was no turning back.
Was it time to die?
I locked the front door, while firmly holding the plastic bag. I slipped my shoes off near the staircase and made a silent dash to the bathroom. I placed each bottle on the bathroom sink counter. I poured five sleeping pills into the crater of my hand as the faucet's water cascaded down the drain. The draining water echoed like a waterfall into the silent mansion. Death felt near. I began to second guess myself. Did it have to end this way? Was I acting completely rational? Was it time to die? I stared into the circular bathroom mirror. The boy stared back at me with his eyes pleading for a second chance. When did his bravery to die leave? Just take the damn pills! Do it! Tears failed to fall due to the psychotic medication making me emotionless. The person in the mirror did not want life to end this way. I splashed water into my face, dried off and turned off the water.
I took the pills with me with a glass of water hoping to complete the task in bed. I readied myself for death. I needed to die. I wouldn’t fail again. Inner thoughts battled each other as my fingers typed a text message to a college friend, "Can I sleep at your house?"
I placed a change of clothes into a plastic bag once his affirming message came through and telling me he would arrive in fifteen minutes.
“Ben?” I shook Ben’s body to wake him up. He rolled over giving me a blank stare. “I’m going to stay at Jared’s house tonight.”
“Is everything alright?” He rubbed his eyes uncertain of the current time.
“I just…. I just can’t stay here tonight.” I struggled to get out the words. “I’ll leave your dad a note. And… take these.” The pill bottles acted as a voiceless confession of what I, yet again, failed to make happen.
“I am sorry, Ben.” I did not give him a chance to respond. I exited the room with my clothes bag. The front door latched behind me as I sat on the front steps waiting for Jared to arrive. I was pathetic. I am a grown man needing to sleep at someone’s house because of suicidal thoughts. How pitiful. Only teenagers acted like this. The clouds rested in the night sky as I tapped my foot uncertain if I wanted to stay or not. I should have let it happen. Why couldn’t I just get over this? With every passing minute, my heart rate increased as I debated if I should run inside and take the medication. Why is my mind doing this?
A smile was shown across Jared’s face as he greeted me with a hug. He didn’t say much and I welcomed the silence. I felt safe with him. Jared was my first friend in college. We met at the new student barbecue, where I saw my old roommate from Spain. Jared always had a smile on his face. The first week in college he found out his mom had cancer, but he kept coming to class even though the prognosis wasn’t great. He and I got coffee together once a week, went to concerts together and had similar classes. His mother passed away while I was in Costa Rica. We kept in contact, but things changed when I returned. I had zero emotions and couldn’t be the friend to him that he needed. In reality, I hid away from everyone afraid of being a burden on them. But for some reason, in this time of deep pain, I knew he would be there and would offer a safe space for me. We drove away from the mansion to his neighborhood across town. Jared walked me to his home carrying my plastic bag.
“There’s a bedroom set up for you at the end of the hall on the left. You can sleep as late as you want and we will talk in the morning.”
I nodded my head as a reply. Mixed emotions rattled my soul as I silently wished I could take my request back. Why did I have to look at the man in the mirror? Did I want to die? It was the perfect time. I wished Jared did not know about this. Still, I knew I could find safety here.
The following morning, Jared’s younger brother and I watched an episode of my favorite British comedy. The sitcom saved me from having an awkward conversation about why I arrived in the middle of the night. I knew he knew. They were a tight knit family and did life well together. He and I conversed about lighter topics until Jared walked down the stairs.
“Is it okay if I call Laurel?” Jared questioned from the open stairwell. I looked at him and stated a soft “Yes.” I looked at his brother, who turned to look at the television. I felt embarrassment, but I knew something like this would come up. Jared called and said we would be heading to her now.
The silent drive to the counselor’s office felt uncomfortable compared to last night’s silent ride. I knew I had to talk, but didn’t want to. In a weird way, I regretted not taking those pills. Jared attempted to ask how I felt this morning. I gave one word answers in an attempt to avoid deeper conversation, but when we pulled into Laurel’s driveway I knew this would all end.
Jared sat next to me in her office with Laurel sitting in her office chair directly across from me as she always did. I tried to discern if it was pity or concern showing on her face. I recounted what happened the night before. Laurel smiled as I described how the twenty-four pharmacy was surprisingly closed two evenings prior. She stated someone did not want me to die. I knew she was referring to God’s plan in my life. I hated that God spoiled mine.
“How do you feel today?”
She stated a question rarely asked to me now. I didn’t know how to answer. Every part of my body dragged through the days trying not to listen to faceless voices and hide from the suicidal hallucinations. I shrugged my shoulders as an indication I was not ready to return home.
“You need to go to the emergency room,” directed Laurel.
My heart doubled its speed. The next time I wanted to go to the emergency room was to be declared dead at time of arrival. A successful homosexual suicide without a chance to be revived. I envisioned this emergency room visit would mean being admitted to the psychiatric floor with all the other lunatics. Every item I had with me would be placed in a clear plastic bag locked behind the nurses' station, so I couldn’t use it against myself or others. An employee or visitor would pass through three or four locked doors in order to exit the psychiatric unit for the safety of the unstable patients. My own thoughts would be my only company as the psychiatric nurses would dispense the pills for me to take and leave me in a room all day. Costa Rica part two.
I looked at Laurel and forced myself to say, “Okay.”
Laurel is a professional and knew what was best. Teresa met Jared and I at the hospital, so Jared could go home. My Canadian friends became my babysitters. Why did I keep doing this to the people I loved? A social worker took me into a small room to talk. I answered a few brief questions if I had suicidal or homicidal thoughts, plans and a way to carry those images out. I wasn’t homicidal, only suicidal. Yes, I had thoughts plus multiple plans and the means to carry it out. I tried to stick to a plan with the easiest cleanup for those I left behind. It seemed like the nice thing to do.
“You aren’t a Canadian citizen. There would be a huge cost for you to stay at the hospital. And the waiting list to see a Psychiatrist here is close to a year. It would be easier for you to try and see a medical physician across the border,” stated the social worker.
This was a waste of time.
The social worker spoke with Teresa and I together about who would be watching me. The elementary discussion positioned me as a child. I waited and listened. Why did I have to be so needy? I made the situation worse by asking for help. I should have ended this last night. The social worker wished us luck and sent us home.
Teresa talked to me about mental health medications on the short drive home. I took the medications, but I hated it. She explained her thoughts on medication and why she has stayed on Lexapro for close to a decade.
“Depression is like diabetes. Your body is not producing the chemicals it needs to stay balanced and healthy.” I heard this explanation before. But now, the reasoning came from someone I trusted. A decade on depression medication made it evident that taking mental health medication was not a depiction of her Christian salvation, sanity or character. I confessed I had not been taking my medication as prescribed because I hated how it muted my emotions. I would skip days here or there hoping to ease the effects. Teresa said she would be giving the nightly medication to me until she could be certain I would take the medication and also not take them all at once. The game plan was appropriate. I would never try to take all of my mental health medication at once. I researched to discover the appropriate amount of pills to have a lethal overdose. I knew small doses of Risperdal and Zyprexa prescribed each month wouldn’t be lethal. The combination of sleeping pills and painkillers were a better choice.
“Does everyone know?” I questioned as she pulled into the driveway.
“Yeah, they know,” answered Teresa with her gentle tone.
Teresa opened the front door for me and I tried to make a silent dash to my bedroom without anyone noticing me. I took a left turn through the living room to be met by several others in the common space. Stunned, I froze as I watched them stand up to greet me as I wondered if I could get to my room. I gave a quick wave as a silent greeting and attempted to escape again. Cliff stood in front of me intercepting any bypass I could have made to my bedroom. He pulled me into his chest giving me an unexpected hug as he said, “I love you, Mr. Nate.”
I didn’t know how to respond. I kept my arms close to my chest as he held me for a few more moments. Cliff put his hands on my shoulders to push me back a little in order to look into my eyes and say once more, “I love you, Mr. Nate."
“I love you, Mr. Nate."
Tears filled my eyes for the first time since the drive to get my stomach pumped. I couldn’t remember the last time someone embraced me besides the short hug I received from Jared the night before. He pulled me in for a final hug. I didn’t understand how someone could say, “I love you” to me. I felt so hollow and disgusted with myself. Why did he love me? How could he love me? Tears gently fell off my cheeks and onto to his shoulders. Cliff grabbed my shoulders and pushed me back. He stated once more that he loved me. I looked down at the floor and escaped to the bedroom for the evening, falling asleep from the mental exhaustion of the day.
The following afternoon, Laurel sat across from me in her black rolling office chair. I sat on the couch’s edge unable to relax. I enjoyed our sessions, but struggled with having someone reflecting or expanding my feelings back to me. Our discussion ended in the normative fifteen-minute fashion as we changed therapeutic approaches to pray through life’s pain. Each prayer session I repeated this prayer after her.
“In the name of Jesus, I take the sword of the spirit, and I cut and break any and all witchcraft practices, curses, hexes, incantations, astral spirits, familial spirits on assignments, any mind-binding or mind-controlling actions taken against me or my loved ones, and in the name of Jesus, command them to be gone to the uninhabited place to stay until judgment day. In the name of Jesus, I bind and crush the evil source of these activities and loose the spirit of truth upon them that Jesus Christ is Lord.”
I did not understand why, but that simple prayer brought new life into the counseling sessions. In silence, I sat with my eyes closed and waited for a visual, a color, a word - anything to come forth. My spirit outpoured with visions in each session. And Laurel would comment on how clearly I saw. The affirmation scared me, yet it kept a small flame alive inside that maybe I had not lost my mind. I described what I saw and she noted each detail on her yellow legal pad, so the vision would not be lost from our finite minds. Then, we waited in silence. I would have a vision, tell her, she wrote it down and then start again. We asked Jesus where He was and what He was doing. It became an interesting way to heal, but the process seemed to slowly work.
This morning started like every other session.
An army trekked through a dense wooded trail directing them to a summit. Each soldier carried packs with the basic necessities to survive. This included water bottles with a filter, energy bars, waterproof gear, sleeping bags, tents and worn out copies of the Holy Scriptures. The army represented every nation with both genders in outdoor gear marching together. Despite the lack of having one language, a lightness could be felt in the air as they walked in unison. Each one knew they would help the other. This army understood that no soldier got left behind.
The sky overhead suddenly turned a dark shade of grey from its light blue. Moments later, the storm clouds released a furious rain. The army scrambled to pull out their rain gear to protect themselves. One man tightened the plastic wrap around his peer’s back in front of him and tapped this pack twice as a signal to keep marching forward. Their boots stomped through the muddy terrain. A swift weather change would not hinder their endless motivation to finish their quest. They would reach the mountaintop with whatever it took. The atmosphere hated the intruders as the rain changed into hailstorm with dropping temperatures to slow their trek. The men and women covered their faces from the onslaught.
Oddly, cartoon-like bubbles formed above each of their heads. Single words pinpointing the depth of their sin.
Murderer. Rapist. Homosexual. Liar. Glutton. Unfaithful. Thief.
The countless number of bubbles hovered over the large army as winged creatures manifested from the dark clouds above. Their snake-like tongues spat lies mixed with high pitched screams causing the soldiers to duck down in their slow march. The creatures were as unique as individual snowflakes, yet offered no sense of peace like a midnight snow. Their mouths contained two or more rows of teeth, orange mixed with red and green eyes and dragon scales on their wings. The winged creatures spoke our languages in soothing, yet condemning voices trying to make the army believe they only heard themselves. The winged creatures from the dark army spoke the bubbles over them. With their screams the bubbles exploded and the earth shook and split wide open. One of the foot soldiers slipped and began to fall into the new crater. Without a second guess, his peers in front and behind him pulled him onto solid ground. They exchanged hugs and began to sing the sweet mercies of our beautiful King. No one left behind. Not one. Everyone needed to reach the top.
The first group made it above the clouds and onto the mountaintop. The view swirled around the first to arrive as I realized it was I who also made it to the top. The high altitude did not allow vegetation to grow, so I stood on the cliff’s edge peering down to see the dark army flying above my peers to taunt them. They whispered white lies sought to convince the trekkers to surrender our swords for their comfort.
This was one battle in a larger war.
“The road is too hard. It is better with us in the valley,” hissed the winged creatures. I knew their tactics and this was one battle in a larger war. As my fellow soldiers reached the mountaintop they knew never to turn back now. The winged creatures flew in to attack us. Swords clashed against their wings and arrows flew to fight against the winged creatures. Each fellow foot soldier fought their personal demon as fellow soldiers screamed truth of their identity into the atmosphere. We would not be shaken. Only one name needed to come from our lips for the demons’ power to dwindle.
From a distance, a loud screeching noise started to take over the atmosphere. The scream intensified more and more causing me to duck and cover my ears in self-protection. I made a ninety degree turn towards the noise to see a large winged creature soaring in my direction. His reptile-skinned wings spanned twelve feet with razor-like fins along his spine. His two short legs hung below his dark purple belly. His head leaned forward in my direction. He had faded golden eyebrows in striking contrast with the black feathers growing on his face. I froze as he halted three inches from me. Our eyes locked as we each wondered who would make the first move. I found his eyes strangely engaging and bringing me a unique comfort that I had experienced once before.
“What is it?” asked Laurel.
I looked up and into her light blue eyes and whispered the words, “It’s him.”
“Who?” Her voice slightly rose with curiosity.
“It’s the faceless commander. It’s the faceless commander from my overdose. His eyes are the same color - the sky blue centered around the black abyss. I flew into those sky blue eyes and started to glide into my own suicide. I laid on the bottom bunk as he tried to lead me to his home. It’s him! It’s the demon from Costa Rica! How did he follow me here? He wants to kill me!”
I lifted my feet and began to curl up on the couch. I began to sweat uncertain of what to do. How did he find me? Oh God, help me!
“In Jesus’ name tell him to go away and depart from you!” commanded Laurel.
I yelled out the phrase demanding the demon to leave me forever. I watched the demon snort air out of his nostrils, flip his body around and fly away. My heart pounded as Laurel commented, “This was incredible! I think that’s enough for today.”
I nodded my head as my heart rate slowed down. Whatever it was. Whoever it was. They wanted me to die. I exited the makeshift garage office as the spiritual world became more real than the physical world would ever be.
I survived the rest of the academic year somehow. Graduation came and went and now I was left with a new level of anxiety and uncertainty. The prospects of becoming a full-time missionary seemed impossible due to my sexual orientation and mental health conditions. The only consistency after college was my monthly trip to the pharmacy. The same cashier attempted to make conversation as I looked away silently questioning if my life only continued because of these nightly pills. I charged the medication, signed the tiny receipt and disappeared with my bag.
I spent endless hours mindlessly scrolling through the internet searching musicians I enjoyed as a child. Despite the nuances of childhood, I wished for the days of no responsibility, swinging on a swing, naps near the ocean, no worries of having to find a spouse and certainly no taunting from the faceless commander.
I typed “Jennifer Knapp” into the browser as an automatic suggestion “gay” tacked to the end. My curiosity rose as I added its suggestion to my search. Dozens of article links flooded my screen with her recent coming out story.
I closely listened to her Larry King Live interview on YouTube as my heart rapidly beat with both excitement and confusion. Jennifer Knapp did not claim to be a scholar. She only questioned the legalistic usage of the homosexual passages that many pastors used as daggers towards the gay community. I closed my eyes to listen to her words as she described her journey of falling in love with a woman and taking a long sabbatical in Australia. Her journey stood in complete contrast to Jorge and his life that he told me about last summer.
I clicked on one of the YouTube suggestions, which showed her playing new songs. The lyrics were an departure from the evangelical overtones of her previous albums. Her new lyrics sung of coming to terms with sexuality and finding peace within herself despite the opposition.
“Hold on it may seem/That a few small words can come between/Why must we label good or bad?” Want for Nothing
“Please believe in me/Don't believe in me/I'll try to make it plain/That I can change, I can change” Better Off
Change was what we, the gays, all wanted at some point in our lives. Who wanted to sit in a life ridiculed by others like being an outcast is a chosen position?
Bryan and I had our final coffee shop meetup. Smells of coffee and chai tea filled the air outside as we talked for a final time before I would fly back to Georgia to live with my parents. I trusted Bryan. I freely spoke without fear of being persecuted. Bryan was the first authority figure I entrusted with all of my life story. I told or wrote without having a place to hide away in. Bryan stayed present as I returned from Costa Rica on schizophrenia medication. He invited me into the community home despite my inability to stay emotionally present most of the year. The space became my sanctuary. I don’t know if I could have survived another year in an all male dorm. The community house saved me. Friendships grew in that space through board game nights, nacho making and off-key singing of recent pop hits. Bryan would jokingly yell at me every time I played Shakira for him. And every time he told me to stop playing “Waka Waka,” I only played it louder. For every beginning there must be an end and for me it came quite often.
Our discussion covered my time in Canada, yet for much of it I had trouble differentiating what happened in reality versus in my head. Bryan shared one story I would never forget.
“I knew an older missionary couple, who lived in Botswana near Teresa and I. They shared a story about their son. They had a simple concern about what their son wanted. He wanted to grow his hair out long and get tattoos. The couple strongly opposed this and verbalized how morally wrong it was, but the son grew out his hair and got tattoos anyways. The couple hated his physical presentation. And unfortunately this caused a huge rift within their relationship causing them to not speak to one another. The son moved away and before they had a chance to reconcile, the son passed away.
The missionary couple began to question the legality Christians placed on certain issues. Should simple choices, such as style or tattoos, cause a person or a group to push someone out in the name of personal conviction? They came to the conclusion that they were wrong.
This is where I am with homosexuality. I don’t know the answer, Nate. I have watched you journey from coming out your first year to where you are now. I do not know the answers to most of your questions. I do know you are trying to follow Jesus. It is all I know right now. Teresa, myself and everyone else in the house loves you too. I hope you never forget that.”
I do know you are trying to follow Jesus.
I settled into this reality. Simple explanations caused more psychological and spiritual damage than good. The pervasive black and white remarks about the spiritual state of homosexuals grieved me to suicide each day. And I found grace in Bryan’s remarks. It drew upon what Jorge told me the summer prior. God’s goal was not for me to become a heterosexual, but to become more Christ-like.
In a strange spiritual state, I would leave Canada. One thing I knew for certain. The faceless commander now had a body and he had fled for now, but the spiritual war was far from over.