Across the street from my apartment is a church with a big stained-glass picture of Jesus. He looks like he’s going to war, light streaming out in multicolor shades at night when I’m out front smoking a cigarette. Sometimes the side door opens and closes, as if on its own. When my mom visits from York, I tell her that it’s haunted, and she says no, it’s just Jesus inviting me in. She says, it’s right across the street, you have no reason not to.
But my mother and I don’t agree on religion. She started going to church, getting godly when I was doing drugs, as if it would make a difference. When I ask her about the cross hanging in the living room, the framed puzzles of lambs, scripture about forgiveness, she says, I didn’t know what else to do. The things you took from us. All that money. Your grandfather’s guns.
She talked me into going with her a few times. It’s one of those big-time churches with a stage and a band that plays modern Christian rock to make the younger audience feel cool, electric guitars and distortion pedals ringing through the tithing-funded sound system.
The first time I went I watched a young guy, my age, get up in front of the congregation and admit that he was living in sin as a gay man, and wanted Jesus’ help to fix him. Another time I went, they had a bunch of people get up with cardboard signs that read things like, I was addicted to painkillers and porn, and then another poster that said, But today I’m free of sin. And everyone would clap and applaud and at the end they would all get baptized in this big inflatable pool set up in front of the stage. Huge projector screens on both sides of the stage would broadcast them walking to the pool, and someone would be reading their testimony, telling all their secrets, their dirty, shameful thoughts, and they would get in the pool up to their shoulders and two pastors would whisper something in their ear and bend them backwards into the water to soak their sins away, and when they came up there would be more applause and cheering and people would be snapping pictures and the lights would be flashing off the tall polyurethane-coated cross in the middle of the stage, and afterwards my mom drags me over to talk to them, congratulate them, and they say they saw a light, they saw life for the first time.
But tonight the door across the street doesn’t open. I think about church and my mom and how her baptism was no different when she made the pledge to follow Christ. The night before the service my mom called me, told me about how she borrowed money from the cash register of the pet shop she worked in when I was a baby. Holy shit, I say, and she says, I had to. She says, you were sick, and I didn’t know what to do. I’m going to tell them, come clean, she says. I say no, tell her she doesn’t have to do this. That she has nothing to own up to. It’s not going to make a difference now. The next day when my mother gets up on stage she doesn’t say anything, just looks for me in the crowd, but I can tell she doesn’t see me. I can’t look at her, can’t meet her eyes, just look at the screen and wait for the moment she goes under.
Chris Liek is originally from York, PA, and in the ten years between high school and going back to college, he worked in warehouses and factories. He hiked parts of the Appalachian Trail and spent time at a primitive living community in North Carolina called Turtle Island Preserve. He is currently a senior creative writing student at Susquehanna University.