When Heaven and fairytales collide
At the time I didn’t realize what a great tale it would be to tell as an adult that I was baptized in Champaign (of course in telling it, I would leave the part off that it was a town in Illinois). All I felt was the excitement on that day when I had finally reached 8 years old and could be baptized into the “only true church.”
It was my day. Everyone was telling me how proud he or she was, congratulating me and giving me gifts. I must have been doing something right.
And for a few hours I was perfect, at least that is what I was told: Everything I had ever done wrong in all of my eight years of existence was washed away, left in a dirty puddle at the bottom of the baptismal tub and if I had died right then I would have gone straight to Heaven, no questions asked. I wouldn’t even have had to wait in the long two-hour line that I was sure everyone else had to wait in to get through the Pearly Gates.
Yeah, the day was going real well, that is until my brother pissed me off and I got angry and called him a few names, and afterwards I wished I could jump back into the big tub and be cleansed all over again.
And so my life as an official Mormon began. As part of being a full-fledged Mormon, I had to take on the responsibilities of one. One of these responsibilities included a 24-hour Saturday to Sunday fast, once a month. I would sit through that one Sunday meeting with my stomach grumbling, anxiously waiting for the crumb of Sacrament bread to come around and hoping maybe I could sneak two small bites of bread rather than one to ease a bit of the grumbling and then, once the meeting was over, I would race out to my friend’s car where she kept a stash of cookies, crackers, sandwiches.
Another huge responsibility I had was to tell others that their way of life was wrong and the only way they could be happy in this life and the next one was to come and join my church. I lived in my castle in the sky, looking down at the little people below me. I would sit and watch these people, disgusted as they gathered in their groups, dressed in their slutty dresses, chugging down alcohol in smoke-filled rooms, their laughter ringing all the way up to where I sat on my throne. Sure, on the outside they looked happy; in fact, they actually looked as if they were having a lot of fun. But I knew deep down they were miserable, missing out on the kind of happiness that my family and I had, and only we could offer them.
I remember tiptoeing quietly past my mom’s bedroom where she was trying to sleep and had been most of the day, and in fact most of the week, suffering from one of her many episodes of depression and anxiety. I grabbed my scriptures from my room so I could bone up to win this week’s “scripture chase contest” in early a.m. seminary class.
“Let your light shine before men that they may see your good works,” Matthew 5:16. (“Ha, I had this, Mary Ann, you’re not winning the gold ribbon this month.”)
I’m not sure when I stopped believing in Santa Claus. I think I was 9 or 10. I remember one of my friends laughing at me because I truly believed Santa was getting his reindeer ready for Fireplace FedEx delivery. I went home crying to my mom that my friend had laughed at me and waited for her to confirm St. Nick’s existence. Her reply stunned me and I felt my whole castle begin to crumble, broken in pieces like the bread in the Sacrament tray I’d eaten the day before. How can there not be a Santa Claus? Who was I going to ask to give me stuff now?
And so, I fell to my knees and whispered,“Dear Heavenly Father could you please send me a Chatty Cathy doll and could you also make it to snow on Christmas day?” I woke up fantastically happy that Christmas morning because as I tore open my presents, there was my Chatty Cathy doll under the Christmas tree and as I glanced out the living room window and snowflakes fell quietly to the ground. “To Hell with you Santa Claus, I don’t need you or your stupid red nosed reindeer.
“And for unto you this day a child is born in a manger,” by a virgin mother, and a star shown in the sky above a small hut which a wise rich handsome strong man followed to the small house in the middle of the woods where he found the beautiful maiden surrounded by seven little midgets, the maiden fast asleep in a trance, kissed her and she awoke, in a state of utter confusion, wondering why he had in his hand her missing glass slipper. Wait, I might be getting my stories a little mixed up.
And so I married the handsome prince and was whisked away to the Mormon castle where if I promised to submit myself to my husband as he submitted to God, I was guaranteed to live “happily ever after, forever.” In two and a half years of that “forever after” I walked away, even more disillusioned than I had felt when I discovered that Santa wasn’t real. I had obviously married the wrong prince and should have married the one that would have had to climb my long braid to get to the top of the 10 story room I was held captive in. Now that was a prince that I figured could obviously handle challenges. So I set off to find him and marry him.
The problem was, I had an itsy bitsy issue with this whole “submission thing.” Submitting to your husband and your church leaders, no questions asked is critical, and I was beginning to have lots of questions, like why was I chosen to be born in a Mormon household, a member of the “only true religion” and my neighbor who was probably a much nicer person than I was, wasn’t”? Why couldn’t black men hold the priesthood, or women too for that matter? Why couldn’t I watch TV, go to movies or shop on Sundays? Why couldn’t gay people marry? Why did I have to automatically say I would accept a church position even though I didn’t want to accept a position where I had to work with a bunch of little kids on Sunday? (I already had four of my own I was struggling to raise.)
And why, when I said no, did the Bishop tell me that “he and the other leaders had prayed about it and felt I should take it.” Wait. What happened to free agency, finding out independently if something was right? Oh, and “Why the hell wasn’t I allowed to ask any questions?”
One question that really bothered me and began to occupy a lot of my time was why a young 14 year-old boy could wander into the woods and see God and angels but as many times as I went to the temple doing baptisms for those that had died (so they could choose posthumously to get into Heaven) I searched the ceiling for floating angels but couldn’t find any? You would think that one of those dead people I was saving would have showed up to thank me. (Ungrateful bastards!)
I must not be praying, or reading the Bible or Book of Mormon enough. Maybe it was because I snuck to bed without waiting to have family prayer because it took a whole freakin’ 30 minutes to get the eight of us together, and I was tired and just wanted to go to sleep. Maybe it was because I told a lie to the school nurse and said I wasn’t feeling well because I really didn’t want to go outside for recess since it was 30 degrees outside.
Or could it have been that on several occasions, my eyes would wander over to the super cute guy I had a major crush on during the passing of the Sacrament and my mind would start wondering what it would be like making out with him (during the time I was supposed to be focused on how God had sacrificed his only son so that everyone could live with him again). Wow, no wonder I wasn’t having any visions or seeing angels. I was an evil, horrible person.
After the second prince “failed me” (or my expectations), I came to the realization that the fairytale lifestyle wasn’t going to work for me. To some it might sound a little cocky or maybe a little God-like, but I decided I wasn’t going to have anyone else “save me”; I was going to save myself. I was not going to live in a fantasy world anymore, but one based in reality. So I discarded my Cinderella, Snow White books and my Bible and Book of Mormon.
I threw away my Santa Claus decorations and my mini nativity scene. I tossed out a lot, (but not quite all) of the guilt I was carrying on my shoulders and started seeing the world and people in a whole new light. I began enjoying other cultures, perspectives, conversations. I found I was judging people a little less and accepting people a lot more. I began to really live, and learned to truly love.
But realities, though much more logical, tangible and offering a world of choices, can often times be quite overwhelming, painful and quite challenging. It is those times when realities become too painful that I wish I had bought the mushrooms the guy in the alley wanted to sell me, promising me I could see visions, beautiful colors and angels. Instead, I close my eyes and retreat to my own fantasy world where Heaven and fairytales collide.
For just a moment, I escape to a deserted island, surrounded by crystal clear water, where I discover a magic lantern has washed up on the shore. I brush it off and a Genie appears, granting me three wishes, and for one of my wishes I ask for a bean stalk that leads to a white castle in the clouds, where angels play harps and sing and jesters tell jokes all day, and tables of food filled with meat, potatoes and dozens of desserts are laid out, and you can eat all day long but can still fit into a size 6 angel gown with golden wings and fly around with a goose that lays golden eggs and see people walking around with smiles on their faces thinking only good thoughts and doing only good deeds and singing “Hallelujah.”
And then I open my eyes and everything looks just a bit brighter, more colorful and clearer ,and I’m ready to take on the world.