Jesus Freaks, Chapter One
If you haven’t already heard, I’m working on a new NA series, titled “Jesus Freaks.” Book 1, which has yet to be subtitled, will be released late August, or early September. To get you in the right mindset for what this journey holds, I’m sharing ALL of chapter one with you.
*It’s unedited. Uncorrected. Lots of un’s*
Read it, share it, enjoy. Also, while you wait for Jesus Freaks to come out, be sure to check out “Wife Number Seven” by Melissa Brown and “Maybe Maby” by Willow Aster, BOTH DUE OUT THIS MONTH. They’re insanely good. Also, if you haven’t picked up your copy of the recently released “Lily Love” by Maggi Myers, you should go ahead and do that.
But, as for Chapter One ….. HEEEEERE YOU GO!
The drive to campus isn’t really the time for a parent to try to talk their child out of going to their selected college. Mom’s trying her best, though.
“It’s not too late.” Her eyes look out the windshield onto the empty road. There’s nothing out there except for everything she’s tried to get me to avoid becoming.
Like my father, she’s afraid. So afraid of me turning into someone I’ve barely spent a combined six months with my entire eighteen years.
“Kinda is.” I smirk and do my best to hide my grin.
I suck my bottom lip into my mouth as I consider my answer, a habit I’ve had since long before I pierced the skin with a metal ring.
“That,” she says, pointing to my mouth. “You know you’re going to have to take that out before you get on campus.”
I roll my eyes and grin. “The nose ring can stay though. I’ve already checked.”
She shakes her head, a resigned sigh coming from her tight lips. “You’ll reconsider after this year. That’s still the deal.”
Most parents have to force their kids into a specific institution for a year. Try this for one year, then if you want to change your mind, you can, is what most parents plead to their children. Not Wendy Sawyer. And, certainly not when it comes to her daughter—me—attending Carter University.
I was raised in a proper Episcopalian household, but Charter University—founded in 1925— is the Bearded Lady of theology-based universities as far as well meaning Anglicans are concerned. Sure, they’re probably nice people, but … really?
And, my mom—and everyone I’ve known since I was in Kindergarten—has been quick to question me about those who might not be nice. Carter University is as well known for their flamboyantly conservative professors as they are for their gorgeous campus. Okay, that is sugar-coating on my part.
For years members of the administration at Carter has been embroiled in one contentious political battle after another. Not on behalf of the university, they’re quick to amend, but, let’s be honest. Carter prides itself on turning out the world’s foremost evangelical pastors, on-the-ground missionaries, and teachers sent to like-minded elementary schools who take evolution during their studies only because it’s required by the states in which they plan to teach.
Sure, that doesn’t mean they’re not nice people on the basic human level of nice. But, when viewed through the lens of my gay marriage-supporting, Planned Parenthood-volunteering upbringing, “those people”—the opposition—are viewed as evil. Ironic, really, when you think about it under the Christianity umbrella of love and forgiveness.
“I did get a full scholarship, mom,” I’m quick to remind her as she navigates toward the exit that holds my future. For at least the next year.
Carter’s alumnae are loyal. Pouring in millions of dollars a year to ensure that the moral fiber of America doesn’t fall to shreds in the span of a generation. Their words, not mine. But those millions, when not being used for conservative agenda pushing, are used to give nearly every student a significant scholarship. Carter doesn’t want to leave any like-minded passionate student to fall by the wayside of a secular university.
My mom sighs, running a hand through her greying curls. I hadn’t noticed the soft lines on her face until this moment—turning the skin under her eyes into supple pillows with creased cases. She looks kind of like I imagine Julia Louis-Dryfus looks post-Golden Globes. Real Life Julia, and not TV Julia. I can’t help but wonder if my college decision is affecting her deeper than I initially considered.
“Look at that,” she whispers as we curl around the far border of the university grounds.
“It’s gorgeous,” I comment back, craning my neck to see as much of the expansive property as I can.
Second only to the endowment, Charter receives regular national attention from the megachurch—New Life Fellowship— that sits at the edge of its campus. Not a sanctioned part of the university, it’s a public facility that draws thousands … thousands of people to its services on Sunday, let alone the hundreds that attend there throughout the week for bible studies, baptisms, and healings. Charter students are required to attend three church services on campus a week—which doesn’t include Sundays. That’s, apparently, a given. But, on those Sundays students typically flock here, to New Life Fellowship.
From the outside, I have time to note because mom has slowed the car significantly, the building looks like a State House. Brick and pillars assembled to make your jaw drop before you enter. Makes it easier for them to spoon feed you Jesus, my mom sarcastically remarked earlier in the summer. Cram him down your throat is what she actually said, but I talked her down. I’ve only seen the inside from pictures and TV, but I know it has a Colosseum-like appeal with rows upon rows of stadium seating focused on a stage where the Message is presented.
“Do you think he’s in there now?” I ask, momentarily forgetting our plans for the day.
My mom sighs yet again, growing more flustered by the minute. “I hope not, since he’s supposed to be coming back from Africa tomorrow, and that’s why he can’t meet with us in person before you start.” She grows quiet, and I ignore the comment. For now.
New Life’s charismatic pastor has, for the last three years, changed lives, rallied the spiritual troops, and gleamed brightly from the camera in the studio/sanctuary each week. His name is Roland Abbot.
And, he’s my birth father.
At least once a year, Pastor Roland will look ashen as he takes the pulpit and discusses the mistakes of his sinful youth. I’m one of those mistakes. Kennedy Sawyer.
I don’t mean to sound dramatic; he’s never called me a mistake. Rather, the circumstances surrounding his college girlfriend—my mother—getting pregnant and Roland signing away parental rights before I was born have always been in his once-a-year confession. I wasn’t ever bitter about it when I was younger, and neither was my mom. They were young and stupid, she’d always reminded me. No, she was never bitter about it until he called one day, out of the blue, talking about finding Jesus and begging for forgiveness. My mom was so shocked by the phone call, she slammed it down and mumbled something like, his repentance isn’t my responsibility. I was eight, and didn’t hear anything more about him for another couple of years.
The difference in our last names, and the court orders in place that have prevented him from parading my name or picture on TV, are the only things I’m holding onto as a social buffer between me and the televangelist who is regarded as a celebrity among the co-eds and most people who clutch their Bibles tighter than their iPhones. We look so much alike it is frightening. My mom can pass as a friend or babysitter, but if Roland and I are ever compared critically, the recognition will be instant, I’m sure of it.
“You know,” I say, hoping to cheer her up. “I have half his genetics, and half yours, but I have one hundred percent of your environmental upbringing. I’m just … examining the twenty-five percent of me I don’t know.”
She sighs. “A quarter is a lot, Dee. Try sitting down for dinner with a chair that’s had a leg sawed off.”
I look away from her and back out the window. I know how she feels and don’t need to see it pinching at her face.
Despite the sporadic meetings we had through my pre-teen and high school years, Roland will certainly know less about me than I do of him. He hasn’t watched me on TV every week for the last five years as I have him. Sometimes twice in a day if I bother to log into the live sermon feeds. I shift in my seat, flattening out the front of my skirt.
“Are you comfortable?” she asks, filling the sudden silence that’s overtaken the car.
An odd question from the outside, sure, but not from where I sit. In a casual—but nice—plain navy blue t-shirt and a knee-length khaki skirt. This is an outfit I might wear from time to time at home, but at Carter this will be a regular ensemble. Their dress code is strict, focusing on modesty. While the rules are relaxed only slightly on move-in day to allow for all students to wear jeans—which are usually only permitted in residence halls during non-class time—I’ve decided to play it safe. I have enough red flags pinned to me already.
Mom turns the car left and we pass through the gates of the main entrance to the university. Excitement triples inside me as I swallow the beauty of the grounds. I visited probably ten public and private universities between the ages of sixteen and eighteen, and nothing was as shiny as this campus. I can’t even believe it’s real grass, and I almost ask my mom to stop the car so I can touch it.
I grin as I plan one more gentle act of rebellion from the passenger seat of the car. Reaching forward, I press the “6” on the stereo, and suddenly the sounds of Casting Crowns— a wildly popular Christian band—fill the car. My mom’s eye-roll and turning down of the volume elicits a laugh from me.
She hastily pushes another button, and Boy George serenades us. I laugh harder, and she finally joins in.
“Kennedy,” she says in a moment of seriousness when the song ends. “I don’t understand how you’re being so calm about all of this. There isn’t even anything here you want to do.”
I lean my head back on the headrest. “No, Mom. There’s nothing here that you want me to do. I’m undecided, remember? Anyway, I don’t now why you’re being so insane. I’m an adult.”
“These kids…” she starts in a wide-eyed whisper as if we’ve taken a detour onto another planet.
“Are people,” I cut in.
“Who can vote,” she snaps back.
I ignore her. “They’re people with parents and high school diplomas and dreams for the future. Besides, they’ll probably be more afraid of me than I am of them.”
I barely believe what I’m saying. Politics aside, the kids who enroll at Carter University are bona fide Jesus Freaks. Capital J. Capital F. I might be Christian as far as the outside world is concerned, but my fledgling knowledge of the Bible and sporadic church attendance won’t fly inside this lion’s den. Which is why I’m keeping it all a secret.
My knowledge of the Bible (which is slim) and my commitment to walking with Christ on a daily basis (I don’t even really know what that means) will be on silent lockdown while I acclimate to my new surroundings. Most importantly, though, no one—and I mean no one—will know that Roland Abbot is my birth father until I’m good and ready. Which might be never. And, I made him promise to uphold my wishes regarding that before I sent in my deposit.
“Here,” my mom slides an envelope out of her bag as she parks in front of my new dorm, “this is from Dan.”
Dan is my stepdad. My mother married Dan Sawyer when I was four, so I barely remember life without him. I’ve never called him Dad. I’ve never called anyone Dad. I don’t have a burning desire to call Roland that, since I know the “D” word is kind of a social construct, but, it’s just a confusing pronoun thing going on in my head right now.
Anyway, Dan’s been far more mellow about my attending Carter than my mom. We’ve always been kindred spirits, and he says he’s not threatened about my wanting to acquaint myself with my birth father.
“What is it?” I question as I slide my fingernail under the seal.
“Save it,” she cuts in. “He wants you to read it after I leave. He was so upset the business trip coincided with bringing you to college.”
I slide the envelope into my backpack and exit the car as my mom pops the trunk. I don’t have much with me. According to the student handbook, the posters and pictures I have hanging in my bedroom at home would not be suitable for my dorm walls. Musicians with too-little clothing or too-foul lyrics, male models, and even TV series posters were all either borderline unacceptable or way in the land of Sodom.
I chuckle to myself at my first Bible-like quip. I’ll have to remember that. Seems as though my summer of listening to the Christian music stations, following televangelists besides my father, and combing the internet for Christian teen and college blogs has started to finally permeate my brain.
There might be hope for me after all.
That’s not all I’ve done to indoctrinate myself with the ways of The Way. I stocked up on good Christian teen reading. Books like, “Don’t Kiss Frogs: How to teach your heart to wait for Jesus”, “Lust and Losing: Partners in Crime”, and, finally, “Why I Waited.” Yes, all of these books are about sex, or the avoidance of it. There is truthfully more attention paid to sex in Christian books than regular books, based on my small sample size.
The residence halls are buzzing with student helpers, emotional parents, and new students. Everyone is smiling. Everyone. My mom and I seem to notice this at the same time, because she turns to me slowly with a very Stepford Wife-looking smile on her face.
“Stop,” I whisper while laughing. “You know, for a Christian you are awfully judgmental,” I tease, still in a quiet voice.
My mom arches an eyebrow as she removes my toiletries from the trunk. “Let’s revisit this conversation on Thanksgiving break, hm?”
I roll my eyes and march toward the door.
“I will say,” she continues as we trudge up the steps, “that one thing this university has done right is the single sex dorms.”
“Amen!” a bright-faced father cheers as he saddles next to me and mom with a box full of books.
As he passes us, mom calls back, “Hallelujah!” and I want to curl up and die until I realize he likely thinks she meant it.
I shush her and guide us to my room in Baker Hall. Number 1120. I have no idea who will be waiting for me on the other side of the door, but I take the key that was issued during the summer and slide it into the lock. I hold my breath for a minute. Once I turn this key that will really be it. Once you put your things in a place, that’s it.
The lock clicks, meaning no one is in the room at the moment, and I thank God for the tiny grace of allowing me for a minute alone. I’m starting to feel anxious about this endeavor and I need some time to breathe.
Upon entering the room, I notice what I expected to see based on pictures: one bunk bed and one single bed, indicating I will have two roommates. They both seem to have arrived on campus, judging by the clothes hanging up and the bags set on two of the beds.
The room looks rather romantic in a Victorian sort of way. Not what I’d expected from a thirty-year-old university. The floors are hardwood. A light color—pine maybe. They match the wood on the bed. The room is small, but given the appearance of grander space by a gigantic window on the far side of the room that floods the space with light and a peaceful view of the ever-green campus. There is fresh paint on the walls. White, I’d call it, but I’m sure there’s a technical name for it. Like “Eggshell” or “Robe White.”
I smile again at my own private joke.
“Don’t forget to close the shades at dusk,” Mom says mockingly.
Rule #10 in the handbook. It made the top ten! We wouldn’t want changing into our pajamas to become a spectator sport, after all.
“I guess we can set my stuff over here.” I gesture to the bottom bunk, which has been left unclaimed.
Mom and I make two more trips from the car. She helps me unpack some, and hang my clothes in the wardrobe. Most of my clothes still have tags on it. Evidently, I didn’t own enough appropriate clothing to carry me through a year at Carter. There’s certainly a lot more fabric than I’m used to. As I stare at my new closet with new clothes, I suck in my bottom lip, running my tongue along the thin metal band.
“Shit!” I whisper yell, startling my mom as I unhook my lip ring and take it out. “Damn it, I swore!” I cry out in a more hushed tone. “Crap! I did it again!” Mom is laughing now, as she sticks out her hand and takes my lip ring , putting it in her pocket. “How did no one notice that on our trips up and down?” I sit on the edge of the bed and catch the breath I suddenly lost. I do not need demerits before the year officially starts.
Mom sits next to me and rubs her hand up and down my back. “Maybe they thought you were someone’s heathen sister?” she coos sarcastically.
I lay my head on her shoulder and whimper-laugh. “Moooom. Ugh. Is crap a swear?”
She laughs harder than she has since I told her I was enrolling here. “Probably.” She kisses the top of my head. “Good luck with that.”
“Maybe I’m a three-legged stool,” I half-whisper as I kiss her shoulder.
My mom cocks her head back and eyes me curiously. It take takes her a moment to remember our conversation from the car about genetics and environment. “Wh—oh, Kennedy.” She pulls me to her chest and kisses the top of my head. “I didn’t mean that. It’s just …”
“No,” I pull back and eye her, “thank you. I know this is hard for you. There’s no way for me to imagine—”
“And there better never be,” she playfully cautions in what has been her only verbal instruction regarding sex and me.
“Well, then you better be grateful I’m here, then, huh? No chance of that happening unless I become a child bride.” I smile and rise to my feet, wanting to organize my desk.
Mom comes up behind me, placing her hands on my shoulders as she looks out the window. “How’d I get so lucky as to end up with you as my daughter?”
I shrug. “God?”
She smacks my shoulder. “Smartass.”
“Mom!” I scold as I turn to face her.
“What? I’m not a student here. No way in h—”
“Don’t! Don’t say it.”
Mom smiles as she lowers her hands. “Fine.”
She sticks out her tongue for good measure.
That’s great. I really enjoyed the snip it!
Can’t wait till it comes out.
Thanks for sharing