NOTE: THIS IS A WORK IN PROGRESS. There will be so much rewriting and editing that it’ll look like bad plastic surgery. And of course it’s yet to be finished. There’s more to come. A lot more. The hardest part will be editing it down.
I know, I know. I’ve got the beginnings of so many stories and the endings of so few. But life is kind of like that.
(This one is for mine.)
I remember as a little boy for just the briefest of times my eyes and my mind were wide open, ready to see and ready to think anything and everything I could. At least until the disapproving punishments from my John Calvin-like grandmother taught me to keep my heresies to myself. I didn’t realize it at the time but that’s when I developed a convenient talent for avoiding Servetus’ fate throughout my life.
All I’m talking about is arteries, baby. Theology, I don’t know nothin. I. Will. Not. Be. Burned.
But my sister wasn’t like that at all. Willa never caved. It cost her, it marked her, it scarred her, it eventually drove her away, but she never gave in. Grandma Calvin would rage in vain and cast her out, just like she had done to Mom, but Willa never recanted. She dug out heresies from every nook and cranny she could get her fingers into. Rock & roll, pot, dirty novels, witchcraft.
Now, I’m not being kind to Grandma, I know, and Calvin wasn’t her name. She and Grandpa had taken me and my sister in when the Great Big Blowup That Was All Our Mom’s Fault happened.
I had just been born when Mom and Dad split. And for years the only story about it I heard had come from Grandma, and until I was an adult I just assumed that Grandma, being so close to Jesus and all, would never have lied about what happened.
Grandma’s story was this: She had raised Mom right. Mom was saved by Jesus, and was a good little girl. Mom married a decent man, a good provider, a steady one who didn’t drink, had a good civil service job, and didn’t cat around, because that’s what Jesus wanted.
Mom gave birth to Willa five years before me. But by the time I was a lump of tissue inside her uterus, something happened to her. The Devil got into her, you see, and that’s all you need to know, son.
Mom started drinking and running around and totally lost her salvation. Hell, maybe she was never saved in the first place. And when I was born, there was something that everyone in town noticed: Willa really looked like Dad and Mom, but me… well, I looked like Mom and… someone else. Oh, there were stories.
But (as Grandma’s story goes) it was my Mom who left. She left my Dad. And that was a sin, you see? Jesus says when you get married you stay married or ELSE. Mom had broken a commandment, and so, when she left Dad, Grandma, over Grandpa’s objections, cast her out, sent her away, carved a big red A into her heart and she was gone, never to be heard from or spoken of again. Wind. A big empty hole. A dark basement you can’t go in.
And then, because theology is nothing if not consistent, Grandma and Grandpa took Dad and us kids in. Because Dad didn’t sin, see?
But the circle of orthodoxy is ever shrinking, and the search for heresy is never ending, and Dad eventually ran afoul of some commandment or another and was sent away. Through some kind of circumstance, about which I must have heard five conflicting stories, Willa and me stayed with Grandma.
The story isn’t all true. Hardly any of it. But I tell it to you so you’ll know what I accepted as inerrant history for a long, long time. And it was the world as created that I grew up in, me and Willa, Willa and me.
If I am at all normal today, as normal goes, it is because of Willa. Jesus never saved me, it was Willa. She kept me sane. She was my rock, my closet to hide in when the circle of orthodoxy closed tight around my throat.
Until she disappeared.
… to be continued