Photo by Marek Piwnicki on Unsplash

As a Kid, I Was Scared of God

And what about all the noise?

After my bath, pink lotion dripped down the outside of the bottle. To my seven-year-old eyes, it looked like strawberry ice cream melting down a cone. I licked it.

Ack. Nasty. I spit into the sink. Spit again, but the nastiness hung on. Scraping my tongue with a wad of toilet paper only made my mouth taste like Jergen’s and Charmin. I stuck my tongue out so far it hurt my jaw, but aftertaste sneaked in through my nose. Lotion flavor was attacking me everywhere. I couldn’t get away.

“Oh, Jesus!”

Uh oh. Did Mama hear?

Mama would not like that language. Not one bit. Sundays, she dragged us to Maple Street Baptist Church. First, nine a.m Sunday school, then ten a.m. service.

Mama sang alto in the choir, which meant I would have to sit by myself during church. I’d try for a seat on the end of a pew, right by the aisle, which left me surrounded on three sides by women with loud amens.

Like the lady who sat in front of me and fell out. As Reverend Parish got louder, probably around 11:15, she started up. She was shaking a little bit, shouting. “Oh, Jesus.” It was okay for grown-ups to oh-jesus any time they wanted; if I did, I’d get a what-did-you-say. The lady sank her head down, moaning. “Lord, have mercy. Help me Lord.” She sounded hurt, but it didn’t look like the Lord was helping. She sprang up out of the moan, flailed her arms every which way, as she wailed at God — just before she went stiff, her top half shooting over the back of her pew.

I ducked.

She ended up stretched out on the floor in the aisle. Nurses in white uniforms rushed to help her, since the Lord wouldn’t. Kneeling beside her, waving fans, didn’t do any good. God had killed her.

I didn’t know how to be a perfect enough girl so God wouldn’t kill me next.

In the choir loft, Mama was on the floor, too. If she was dying, who would take care of me?

The nurses resurrected the lady in the aisle. But that made Reverend Parish scream and stomp around like he was having a temper tantrum. I was pretty sure that was wrath, and pretty sure the wrath was for me, because he was pointing right at my forehead.

Service at Maple Street would go full bast from 9:00 to 2:00. I would tie a scarf tight around my ears to dull the piano that was trying to drown out the choir that was trying to drown out Reverend Parish who was trying to drown out the women with loud amens. By the time we got out of there, I was faint with hunger, headachy from Baptist battlefield noise, and sick with worry I would do something to rile up God.

In Sunday school, the teachers would always try to convince me that Heaven was soft and safe. They said angels would fold me in their wings, while God and Jesus patted me on the head. I would go to bed on my very own cloud, lulled to sleep by harp music. They made out that Heaven was all honey sweet.

But it tasted like lotion to me.

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Dawn Downey

Dawn Downey

Dawn Downey writes about love and pain. Her latest book is Blindsided: Essays from the Only Black Woman in the Room. DawnDowneyBlog.com.