When I was 15 years old, I confronted my first existential crisis. It was not my only one, and it is unlikely to be my last, but as far as crises go, it was pretty profound.
This wasn’t a depressive event, and though I did undergo moments of melancholy when I was a teenager, and this particular event caused me to re-examine almost every aspect of my life, I would not learn what the word depression really meant for another two decades.
You see, I was always a bit more mature and thoughtful than I should have been as a kid and still as a teenager. I was raised in a Roman Catholic family and we went to Church every Sunday. I went to CCD (Confraternity of Christian Doctrine) classes twice a week after school all through elementary school. In Junior High School I was part of the Church’s Youth Group. I was a leader there. I was a ‘perfect’ child. I never received anything less than an ‘A’ in my classes, I was respectful to my elders, I always practiced my piano, I was in team sports (soccer and baseball until Junior High, then I switched to track in the spring, and in High school I added wrestling for the winter,) I was in student government, I was involved in student service groups, I was a Lieutenant Governor in Key Club, I was Editor-in-Chief of the High School newspaper, I was even lead in the school play…
Much of that was actually after the event that I am about to describe, but it’s still descriptive of how I led my life at that time. I was larger than life. I had everything going for me that a person could hope to have at that point in my life. I got my first paying job at the age of 12 (though it wasn’t strictly legal.. I was doing contract technical writing for Broderbund software with a false SSN and an assumed name… people were so much more trusting back then) and by the time I was 16, I’d saved enough money to buy a car, and I did. When I was 16 I got a part time job writing software and I was suddenly cash flow positive in a very big way. I could pay for my gas and car insurance and still have enough left over to be a stupid teenager.
But I wasn’t.
I was an ‘old soul,’ according to my mom.
I identified strongly with the persona of Yama, the Vedic god of Death. He was old before he was young, and so was I. The fact that I even knew who Yama was at the age of 15, growing up in a rural community and a Catholic family in the pre-Internet era is something of an anomaly itself, in retrospect, but that’s not the the thrust of what I’m after here. It would, however, come to color the events that caused me to change so drastically from the Christian Beaver Cleaver overachiever that I was and become something new and different.
When I was eight or nine, I made friends with a boy who was in my CCD classes. We went to Vacation Bible School together in the summer. It was only a day camp, but it was the first camp I’d ever been to, and the only one that I would attend until I finally went away for my one year of sleep away camp when I was a teenager, but that was after the Transformation.
This boy, who I will refer to as Charlie, though that was not really his name, was not my best friend, as I understood such things to be at that time, but he was a good friend. We would play with Transformer and Gobots together. He even had some of the cool Gundam toys, straight from Japan, that you couldn’t get in the States. I’m still not sure how he got them, but he would always let me play with the one that I liked best, so I didn’t really care.
Charlie was a year older than me, and at that age, that’s a big deal. He still liked to play with me and I thought that was cool. Charlie and I would have playdates (a word which means something very different to me now…) and we would meet before camp and before school, and even though he was a little strange and the other boys didn’t like him, he was my friend.
Charlie’s dad was gay, and I didn’t know what that meant, but it did mean that Charlie’s mom and dad no longer lived together and that Charlie’s dad wasn’t allowed to go to our Church. My parents told me that he was a bad man and that he did things that people are not supposed to do, and that is why God hated him and he wasn’t allowed in our Church. I thought that was wrong, because Charlie’s dad was very nice to me and he got the best toys for Charlie and I never saw him be mean to anyone or even say anything unkind, despite the fact that people were very unkind to him while he was not looking. I had always been told that kind of behavior was wrong, but for some reason, whatever it was that Charlie’s dad had done made it okay to be mean to him.
For a couple years this would go on, and I eventually came to understand what it meant to be gay and what the Church’s stance on this was and I was torn.
I was a true believer.
I believed that Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary and lived and preached and suffered and died on the Cross for our Sins and that was the only way that any of us would ever make it into Heaven.
Over time I lost touch with Charlie. The year of difference in our ages meant that he left our elementary school and moved on to Junior High before I did, and that year apart, coupled with my own struggles as I approached puberty (which I hit earlier than all of my peers) caused us to drift apart. I was becoming more aloof and socially ostracized as a result of my undiagnosed Aspergers Syndrome, but I was still every bit as much of an overachiever. I was still involved in Church Youth Group, and my Faith was becoming stronger and broader. I would stand toe-to-toe with my Atheist friends and debate them on the logic of Faith. I felt like I would win these arguments, but in retrospect I see the same fallacies in my arguments that I came to disdain.
I made my own path, and it was one of Righteous Indignation and I wore the Cloak of Faith and Righteousness in every act in which I engaged. I was a Paladin and I was going to march right up to the Gates of Hell and take the fight to Lucifer himself.
I still saw Charlie from time to time. He and his sister, who was of an age with and friends with my own younger sister, were friends, and he was in the Church Youth Group, though with split custody and his father’s excommunication (and yes, his father was excommunicated for being gay and having the audacity to donate money to the Church) he was not there every week. He and I were no longer close friends, but I never forgot that he was my friend, even if his father was doomed to spend Eternity in Hell for the things he chose to do (note that I no longer believe that he had a choice in the matter – this is reflective of my ignorance at the time – I was only a child, after all.)
I kept on my merry, ignorant path, and could see no reason why I would not remain so as long as I lived.
When I was 13, the Pastor for our Parish, Father Thomas, would retire. In his place, we were assigned Monsignor Heinz, an extremely intolerant and very powerful (within the Church) man who was tasked with ‘turning our backwater Church around.’
I had no idea that there was any trouble, but apparently our Parish had some of the lowest per-capita tithing of any Church in the Diocese. And not only that, but there were apparently some thinly disguised ‘disreputable elements’ in our Parish.
Monsignor Heinz would have none of that.
He conducted interviews with each family individually. He demanded to see tax returns. He set tithes of at least 20% for each family, and when people would complain that they could not afford such exorbitant tithes, he would send Parish accountants to help them file their taxes and make sure that the Church got it’s pound of flesh.
The secondary purpose of these family interviews was to root out the undesirable elements from the Parish.
My own family was found lacking. My father had not been tithing appropriately, and I was ashamed for this. But at least we were found to be morally sound (which I don’t really understand either, but that’s not the subject of this piece.)
Charlie’s family, however, was not. Charlie’s father was excommunicated, and Charlie himself was found to have gay tendencies and was told not to return to the Church.
This did not compute with me.
Charlie was not gay. (He was, and he is, but at the time, I could not comprehend this.) The Church made a mistake.
I didn’t have the normal social constraints that people around me did, so I confronted Monsignor Heinz about this. Charlie must not be expelled from the Church. Excommunicated or not, this would almost certainly mean that Charlie was being sent to Hell, all because Monsignor Heinz had a feeling about him, a feeling which I was certain was incorrect.
Charlie was a good person.
Charlie was my friend.
By this time I’d read The Bible cover to cover at least twice. This is a very unusual thing for a Catholic to do. Monsignor Heinz quoted Scripture at me, and I quoted contradicting Scripture right back at him. Eventually he started quoting things at me that I had not read.
Where was he getting this information? I had to know, so I shifted my arguments and started asking some very pointed questions. Suddenly, my curiosity and conviction were not the Scourge of the Devil, but they were a Path to the Light. Monsignor Heinz was convinced that I was Destined for the Seminary and would be a Beacon for the Faithful. He told me of the Apocrypha and for a short time my ire was deflected.
Ultimately, however, I could not Rationalize how someone as kind and good and pure as Charlie had to be sacrificed and sent to Hell, and someone like myself, who had begun to have some seriously impious urges concerning girls could be a Paragon of the Light.
I could not bring the two things together in my mind, and I realized that I was the Heretic. Charlie was good, the Church was hiding Secrets from people, and I was being driven to think and feel and act in ways that were un-Godly.
The strain of trying to keep these things consistent in my head eventually broke my Faith.
If Charlie deserved Hell, then surely I deserved something much worse than that. I hated myself. I thought to myself: I will someday die, and when I do, what will my legacy be? I have accomplished nothing. I have lived in the shadow of others, reading the writings of men dead for centuries, and blindly accepting what they said, claiming their ideas as my own and extolling the virtues I was handed, with no free thought of my own. I was not a stupid kid – I did get straight A’s and that included A’s in classes like AP Biology, AP Chemistry, AP Physics… I knew the power of the Scientific Method, and I’d been turning a blind eye to it in the name of Faith for years. I was afraid to go against the Church because then I, too, would be Destined for Hell. My Faith was broken, and without that, without the love of Jesus, I would perish in a lake of fire, and yet…
And yet… without a testable hypothesis, and without a fair trial, how could I say for certain that any of these things were true. I had Occam’s Razor, and it cut the fabric right out of my Faith, and yet, I was not yet ready to accept the path of Atheism.
This made me easy prey for Jubal McReady and his gang, but that is a story for another day…
When I was 15, I lost my Faith in God and Jesus and the Trinity. I lost my path to Heaven. I Despaired over the fact that when I die, I’m gone. I will simply cease to exist. At first, this notion was terrifying to me. It caused me to lose sleep. I spent days where I could think of nothing else but the fact that the Universe is cruel and careless.
But today… today, this same thought brings me peace.
When I am gone, I will not have to bear any of this any longer. I will not have to try to be Zen. I will not have to try to live without expectation. Nor will I be a prisoner in some theme-park paradise or for better or worse, some Infernal realm of the Underworld. I will just be done. My work will be complete, and History will judge me as it does. I couldn’t care less. I won’t be here to see it.
This was something of a story and perhaps a bit of an admission.
I am Rant, and this is slice of me.