“I just want you both to be happy, and I don’t see how you can be happy when you’re so different.”
Her tears came the way water filters through a cracked dam. Mist turned to trickle turned to steady stream futilely tamped and wiped by fingers and palms. I thought, More tears. This is what I am now: a bringer of pain. When I finally stepped out from the canopy of acceptable beliefs I faced assumptions, judgement, misconceptions, even pity, but this is by far the worst.
The source of grief is no mystery to me. When I left my faith community I wasn’t simply changing parties, I was posing everyone who is a part of that community with a dilemma. They had to either change their beliefs surrounding the fate of ‘outsiders,’ or face the application of that fate to me. I’ve had several friends say they are concerned for my happiness, but lately the greatest threat to my happiness is the pain I seem to inflict on others by being true to myself, my ideals, and my desires.
My boyfriend, David, accepts me. Furthermore, he believes we have something that is both functional and fulfilling. His belief in us is everything to me right now, because few people seem to share it. Sometimes I don’t share it. We’re learning to negotiate what I suppose is best described as an interfaith relationship. Meanwhile, his sister cries because she cannot see a positive outcome for us. And she isn’t the first to shed tears.
I think–I’m not sure–but I think I made my dad cry.
I hero worship my father…
I know I shouldn’t, but I do. My admiration has matured enough that I know he isn’t without flaws, but I can think of no one whose opinion I value more. A couple weeks ago I sat in my dad’s office and tried to explain to my father why I was going to do something he felt was unethical. The thing itself was relatively small, but for me it wasn’t about the action. It was about my independence of will.
I never had a proper teenage rebellion. I spent my adolescence battling my gremlins (most people know them as ‘mental illness’), trying to carve out a fulfilling social life, and trying to make my parents, and my community, proud. Despite being outspoken and a little brash, I’ve long had the reputation among my peers as the ‘Good Adventist Girl.’ It was a reputation that I simultaneously cherished and despised. Cherished, because the Good Adventist Girl was right. And more than happiness, I think I’ve always desired to be right, whatever that means. Despised because I always knew on some level that she wasn’t me. Or at least not all of me, and maybe that made me wrong.
I did the things I thought I was supposed to do. I participated in Sabbath school and Bible class debates, I dressed modestly and didn’t use swear words (although Mom still scolded me for saying ‘darn’), I was honest with my teachers and my parents, and tried to be the kind of person people would look at and say, “She’s such a good girl. She has such a bright future ahead of her.” And they did.
I wasn’t ‘happy’ in high school, but I did enjoy much of it. I wouldn’t change anything, except perhaps my grade in Algebra II. When I entered college, however, I began to feel dissatisfied with the high school version of myself. It felt like a dress that needed to be altered, or an old cast of my face, now an ill-fitting mask. The summer after my freshman year I returned from a literature evangelism program more dissatisfied than ever. I stopped attending church for a few weeks, I was restless. A lot happened between then and now, but the result is that I am no longer an Adventist.
I’ve shed the old mask and I feel more honest with myself than I have in a long time. Still, I didn’t stop caring about my community’s opinions overnight. I still value the guidance of many people whose values I no longer share, including my dad. In the last year or two this has resulted in periods of profound unhappiness as I continued to seek the words, “She’s such a good girl,” knowing I couldn’t be that girl. And that’s what I told my dad.
That afternoon as I sat in his office, my dad gave up on trying to bring over to his side logically and instead laid out his feelings about my choice–my potentially unethical choice–and said, “Please don’t…for me.” Can he know how wrenching those words were? Does he realize the power of such a plea on a confirmed Daddy’s girl?
“I need to not care what you think right now, ” I said.
Because it’s not about the decision, and it’s not about him. It’s about me needing to be true to myself, needing to make a decision based on my ethics, my desires, my vision of myself. We had a melancholy understanding by the time I left my dad’s office. Unfortunately, about thirty seconds after I left, I realized I was missing my phone. I had left it on his desk, and as I peeped in to grab it and make my hasty retreat, I could’ve sworn his eyes were red.