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.