I am long overdue in posting this. Back in March the grand high wonderment that is Ian Belknap (Dean of Mean, Minister of Veracity, Overlord) deigned to have me over for his monthly battle royale known as WRITE CLUB.
3 rounds. 6 writers. Going toe to toe on differing topics before a paying audience, and all for charity. Truly, it is great.
I was given the topic FOUND, and faced off against the estimable Noelle Krimm doing LOST. I lost. Justly. But here’s my first venture into the storefront blood sport. Enjoy!
I killed Lost when I was seven years old, standing before the congregation of a small Presbyterian church. You’re welcome. It wasn’t hard. Lost just sucks, like someone who promises to have sex with you for six years before pulling the “they were all really dead” card.
But back to my tale. I was raised a Christian. In a modest Floridian town. Everyone’s business was known by everyone else and, accordingly, everyone was judged in the court of public opinion. And on Sundays this was emphasized with the discussion of the lost and found. Who was lost, who had been lost but now was found, what they’d done to be lost, be found, and on and on. I remember trying to count the minutes until we could go to Dairy Queen and cursing whoever had decided that I had to wear pantyhose in a church with no air conditioning. And I wondered if my lack of patience in church meant that I was lost. I know now that though I was raised a Christian, I was born a pragmatic Agnostic, and my doubts were natural. At the time, I worried. Others worried about me, too, and confided that they were concerned with the contents of my heart, and where I might end up. Before I was seven. I had no words at age six to refute them. I didn’t know the phrase “pragmatic agnostic”, which might have come in handy. These people were my friends, and I do not remember them with anger, or condescension. They were smart, good people, and we had a difference of opinion. But there sure as shit were a lot more of them than there were of me, and it is tiring for a child to hear that she’s going to hell. All wit aside, it is hard, and frightening. I imagined hell as a game of hide and seek where I was forever “It”, and knew the people I loved were around somewhere, but I could never find them and they never came looking for me, and at night I would apologize in the dark, hoping that the presence my community said was God would hear me. Once I was apologizing in the early morning and thought I heard someone say my name in response. “Caitlin.” And that was worse than no answer at all, because the voice was bored with me. I was five, and already God had no patience for me.
To be fair, I was a mouthy kid. Church was a weekly trial for my parents as well, but for different reasons. Every Sunday, at the halfway point of service, our minister, Gabe Goodman, would invite all the children up to the front of the church for an easily digestible mini-sermon, after which we kids would talk about what we’d learned. In front of everybody. There were Sundays my parents regretted ever encouraging me to speak. Whenever I got a chance to grill the God expert I took it. “God loves you.” Why? “Because you’ve accepted him.” But we’ve never met. “You don’t have to.” Why? “Because he’s all around.” Why can’t I see him? “You aren’t looking hard enough.” Is it because I was born with crossed eyes? Why would God make it so I can’t see him? Why? And I received answers I didn’t understand, and I apologized in the dark, and reconciled myself to being Lost.
Then one Sunday, Minister Goodman called for the kids, and up I went with my pantyhose running and sticking and my patent leathers cutting my feet, and Gabe started to talk about our failures. How we came into life failing, and losing, and I feel no anger now, but in that moment I was four feet of blonde rage. So now, according to this God, who refused to come out and explain the rules, I was a failure before the game even started? And so was my little sister, Laurel, in her pink cowboy boots, and so was my baby brother, Walker, three months old and my favorite thing in the world. Well, fuck that. Say whatever you want about me, you pissant bully, but talk about my siblings again and I will hunt you down. I will find you, and you will wish you’d never arranged for me to be born.
Hitched up my goddamn hose, put my skinny arm up in the air, and found some words. Words, which have remained my salvation. “I don’t think there is such a thing as failure. My mom says if I stick to my morals, there’s just set backs. I don’t believe in failure. I don’t.” I remember their faces, which gave up on me. I remember my mother’s face. More specifically, I remember that it wasn’t angry. And that was when I discovered that I didn’t believe I was Lost. I didn’t believe in Hell. I didn’t believe I was anything besides a logical person who meant no one harm, and that was good enough.
Lost? Fuck lost. Lost is a shit pile of misspellings, grave dirt brushed from your hands, busted cherries, blind faith, and layoffs. Come at me, Lost, you false Christ. I renounce you, I deny you, I turn my back. I save myself. I fail, sometimes. I do believe in failure. But I find it within myself to stand, and walk, and do it better the next time, and I am the only thing that makes that happen, I have found.
Found is knowledge, and progress, and strength. It is acceptance, but of your own code, and not a rote lesson. Found is muscle memory in nimble fingers, and empathy from experience, and honor. It is footing, and your calling, and the way, and true love, and forgiveness. You can find it in your heart to forgive the people who did not know they were killing a child. Gabe Goodman, I find room in my heart for your good intentions. Community Presbyterian Church, I find room in my heart for your education and hopes for me. God, I find a sliver of doubting room in my heart for you, because mystery is a gift. Should you ever make yourself known, I will treat you as you would like to be treated. Because, though happily a pragmatic Agnostic, I have found that I’m also what some would call a good Christian.
Never was lost. Am found.