It wasn’t her fault. I was small, I needed help, the van seemed so high off the ground and my legs were shaky from the trip, and nerves. So her hand extended, caught mine. Caught my wrist. I descended, leaning my weight into her hand, knowing she would catch me, the smallest trust fall. Her grip was wrong; her fingers dug deep into the soft underside of my wrist and I felt them move the tendons, felt the little fingernail half-moons form in my skin, felt like I was insubstantial and punctured. I wanted to reach in there myself, something seemed wrong now, felt altered. Not quite pain, or if it was, it was the uncanny uneasy sort of pain when you know that something below the surface has happened. I rubbed at it, little fingers trying to smooth the difference out.

– – – – –

I was chosen. Of all the children there were just a few handpicked by God, or the pastor, to lead the rest of us in glorious service. Women walked through the aisles, down the pews, arms outstretched, hands bestowing power from the prayers they murmured, beseeching God that the devil not be let in here, that he not interfere with our service. That was a new fear. I hadn’t known the devil could cause our electronics to stop working, could cut out the lights. He wouldn’t, though. He couldn’t. This was hallowed ground. I stood on the stage and looked out, imagining the faces, expecting miracles. I breathed deeply. I was to be important tonight. I was to be a vessel.

– – – – –

Looking back, I think it was probably the music, and his words. All the songs played in minor keys, softly or loudly in the background while the pastor spoke to us, telling us that the Spirit was moving here tonight and can’t we feel him, descending on us like holy fire, prayer and power coursing through us, can’t we feel him here now, say yes, say yes. We said yes, and swayed, and speak! he said, the Lord can’t use your mouth if you don’t move it first, so we all spoke as one, and one by one they all fell into the Holy gibberish all the adults spoke, the language that was our direct line to God.

There was an altar call. Soft, persistent drums and chords in the air while the pastor urged us forward. Kneel at the altar, he said, kneel and surrender everything. Give up your fear, your doubt, your pain. Lay it down at the altar, lay down your burdens before the Lord, and we came forward. There was another girl, and we were paired, handpicked to guide our peers into the secret holy place. The pastor gave me oil and children formed a line, shoulder to shoulder in front of the stage, and men, strong men, stood behind them and I wasn’t sure why until I annointed the first child, a small cross on his forehead, and the other girl prayed over him, hand fluttering above his head, and I can’t remember her words but I remember when the child fell. There was warm skin beneath my fingers and then there wasn’t, and the boy fell back into the man’s arms and he slowly lowered the small body to the ground. And again, and again, down the row of kids, and each one fell from my touch. I was a vessel, warm with power, I imagined that I glowed; I was chosen.

But not enough. I stood steadily, still cognizant, no secret holy language spilling from my lips, no visions of the divine. My fingers touched them and they fell, and something inside was different. Not quite pain, or if it was, it was the uncanny sort of pain, the feeling that something under the surface had changed. I watched my friends all laid on the floor as the pastor spoke prophecies over them. I would learn later that one of the youngest girls had laid there curled up on the carpet for three hours and when she came to, she said she’d been talking with angels. She was special. I saw no angels, felt no spirit there for me to float me down. Something in me was changed but not the same as them, different than them, and I wanted to reach inside myself and move the tendons, push little sacred marks into my flesh until I felt it too. I rubbed oil into my wrist.

Nostalgia Smells Like Vanilla, Regret Like Pine

A year and a half ago I was sitting on the ugly couch in the living room of our first house, a CiCi’s Bavarian cream dessert pizza sitting on my lap, crying. I’d come home from work on my birthday and the house had smelled delicious, like vanilla. I chalked it up to a candle. It wasn’t. I’d joked to my beloved boyfriend a few months back about how I wanted a whole Bavarian cream pizza for my birthday, all to myself, in lieu of a birthday cake. I didn’t expect it to happen, but there I was, holding it in my lap and dripping tears on it. He had to take it from me until I stopped crying long enough to take a bite. I cried because it was so like him to do that, to remember something I’d said months ago and make it happen. I cried because he was so unendingly thoughtful and it tasted so good. I cried because things had been hard, and I was an adult but I didn’t feel like it. I missed how my mom used to surprise me and my sisters on our birthdays, putting streamers all over the kitchen, our favorite cake, a little gift. A birthday girl tiara from the dollar store.

Our house was less than perfect and that was all I could see. I focused on the cheap outdated paneling on the walls, the lack of counter space in the kitchen, the ancient rusting bathroom. The fact that someone had pulled up the carpet in the living room and painted the hardwood floor underneath black, and not well. We were alone in this old little house on the rough side of town, away from family, without friends. I felt immensely sorry for myself. This was not what I had expected. We’d had to move out quickly, hadn’t had the time or money to devote to a nicer place. All I could see were the flaws, and the stress, and the arguments.

Now sitting here a year and a half later, on a musty beige velvet couch in an RV from 1987, on the opposite coast from everything I knew, that house looks perfect. We’d gotten our couch for free from a very nice man on Craigslist. We had big windows, and they didn’t have curtains but that just meant we could see our yard, overgrown with weeds and a little garden that had grown wild long before we’d arrived. Our bedroom was small but warm, and warmly lit; I’d hung lights around the rails of our four poster bed and it made the room glow. I remember coming home from work and not seeing Brandon until I followed the beautiful smells around the corner to the kitchen, where he stood in front of the stove, listening to music and lost in his cooking. He complained that the stove was tilted so he burned things but I never tasted it; everything he made me was perfect, because he loved doing it.

We are in a very different place now. When he makes food, it’s because we’re hungry. The richness, the curiosity is gone; it’s been pushed out by necessity and thriftiness. He doesn’t play music while he cooks anymore, and I look at him and cry from guilt. All I could see was what was wrong, while he kept placing beautiful things in front of me. And now that things have gotten harder, as being poor, as living in an RV in close quarters with a parent can often make things harder, he still tries to bring me beautiful things. Sometimes I’m afraid that the only way I can see the beauty in things is by looking back, that I’m not capable of appreciating what’s in front of me unless it’s in memory.

It’s December now, and Christmas has just ended. We’re more poor than ever, and I’ve been in situations I never thought I would have to deal with. But the day before Christmas Eve he surprised me again, this time with a little Christmas tree, a live one, that he had somehow hidden during three days of moving. He had strung it with sparkling lights, had put my little gift under it.

It got thrown away today. A man kindly put it in the bed of his truck and disposed of it for us, to free up space. We don’t have the luxury of that kind of sentimentality now. But there are still pine needles under the table, and I wish I had taken a branch. I wish I had taken a picture, even a moment to admire it during the astonishing amount of stress we’ve been through in the past four days. But I didn’t, and now it’s gone, and now I want it because it’s gone, and now I want a steak with fresh rosemary butter and a Bavarian cream pizza.