Growing up, I never seemed to fit in. Anywhere. Before I began kindergarten, my parents bought a sixteen-acre piece of land with a small, private school on it, and my mom assumed the role of head teacher. I attended that school from kindergarten through eighth grade. When I reached grade six, my parents cleared some more land on their property, built a log home just a stone’s throw away from the school, and we moved there. That piece of land, the school, and our log home comprised the bubble I lived in until my sophomore year in high school. We didn’t go out in the World much, and the World wasn’t allowed in. The kids I knew from the neighborhood we had lived in prior all went to the local public school together, building relationships and living in proximity to one another; any dreams I had of being part of their social circles disappeared when we moved. There were other kids at the new school, and a couple of them are my oldest and closest friends, but I didn’t feel like I fit. I felt like the life I was supposed to be living had been interrupted, like my path had been irreversibly altered.
Around the same time that I started kindergarten under my mom’s tutelage, we began going to church up the hill from our house. Other than frequent family camping trips during the summers, church was the only part of the World I remember being a part of, and the only activities that were approved were activities put on by the church. I went to Sunday school, sat in the services, memorized Bible verses, and sang in the choir. More of my oldest friends are people I met at that church, but I still never felt that I fit. I felt like a stranger in a place that wasn’t meant for me. I still feel like that sometimes, so I don’t view the people or places themselves as the cause. I am extremely introverted – it takes a lot of energy for me to interact with people, and even when I do, some part of me tends to remain in my own world; the Observer, the Outsider.
Much of this is to say that my parents sheltered me very carefully in my youth. Because of their Christian faith, they believed that I was to be kept separate from the World, and that the only way to prevent me from being corrupted by its influences was to keep me out of it and keep its influences away from me. Anything that was not “Christian” was considered “Secular,” and was off limits. This included anything coming out of pop culture, be it music, movies, literature, or any arts or entertainment that didn’t promote a strictly Christian message. This was the nineteen-eighties, and I quickly found myself unable to carry on conversations with other kids my age who were listening to Michael Jackson and Madonna and reading Mad Magazine. One might effectively argue that much of that same popular media was garbage anyway, but one would be missing the point. So here it is: I was learning was that there were two groups of people, the “Good” and the “Bad.” We were the good, and anyone who took part in things of the World was bad, lost, corrupted, and not to be associated with, unless we were working to show them the light. This idea was hammered home with the authority of God’s allegedly perfect and infallible Word, the Bible, and was reinforced by the church and the entire structure of our lives.
This is where cognitive dissonance began. Anyone who looked behind our family’s curtain could see that we were no different than anyone else, and it wasn’t because of the World. I felt this without being able to articulate it, uncomfortable and uneasy deep down, and yet I believed what I was being taught, both directly and indirectly. I didn’t arrive at my beliefs by experience, knowledge, and reason, and I feared eternal torture in a lake of fire (in addition to my mother’s wrath) if I should ever question. It was easier to just accept the “truth” and be safe. Years went by, and these ideas shaped who I became.
The unraveling is still underway.