This reminiscence about losing friends due to religion is brought to you courtesy of procrastination and an entry posted.
I met Michelle because we both played flute in the middle school band. She’d just moved to our county near the end of the 8th grade. We became good friends, though we didn’t have much in common other than playing the flute, low self-esteem, and a catty sense of humor. I made her try out for symphonic band instead of settling for concert band and laughed at her shock when she placed higher than I did. She started singing along with me when I played the piano and sang (at her mother’s request)—now she’s in much demand for weddings. I’m rather proud of that. We double-dated and talked about everything on earth. I saw her blossom after she discovered drama.
When we first met, she and her family were your basic “cultural Christians.” They’d gone to a Congregational church in New Hampshire and hadn’t attended any kind of church since moving to Georgia.
Then she met Glen through the marching band. Glen went to my church. I knew Glen quite well. I did not approve of Michelle dating Glen, to be honest—he didn’t have a very nice reputation. He was one of those hypocritical assholes who is extremely Christian on Sunday morning while he’s nursing a hangover from Saturday night. He’d gone out with my other best friend once and she had to threaten him severe bodily harm before he’d take her home from their first date because he had decided that they WERE going parking and he was going to get some.
I never liked the way his mother very obviously ran their family, either—it just seemed unbalanced. His father was a deacon, but it felt like he just spoke for his wife because she wasn’t allowed to be one (Southern Baptist women unofficially control the money, but aren’t allowed to do much of anything officially). No, it isn’t fair to hold that against him, but I don’t claim to be fair.
And Glen was beige. I mean—really. The guy is beige. If you met him, you probably wouldn’t remember him. Just a non-entity for the most part, unless he was being lecherous.
Michelle was Glen’s “settling down” girl. He got very, very fundamentalist suddenly. I’m talking literally burning his extensive collection of heavy metal albums. She went to church with him. She got “saved.” She went into the reverse of that blossoming stage. Instead of being outgoing and bubbling over with naughty quips and going out to Rocky Horror after cast parties, she was out witnessing. Her family ended up joining the church, too. They all got religion in a big way. Hey, instant community!
She was my maid of honor the first time I got married. I was in her first wedding, to Glen, despite my reservations—and hers. See, I was divorced by then, and I could very clearly feel her disapproval. I wasn’t her maid of honor for that reason, because I wasn’t a “maid” anymore. There’s no divorcée of honor. She sang at my second wedding, though, and she and Glen came to my parents’ house to see Katie when we visited for Katie’s first Christmas.
We’d stopped really being friends, though, well before I married Wayne. I actually told her, once, when she called “just to see if everything was okay” that if she was only going to call because she was the “sunshine director” for our Sunday school class, she simply shouldn’t call me. She spluttered and was offended, but that was obviously the case—she had nothing to say unless I missed church, then she was on the phone by Sunday evening.
She was one of the few people who came to visit me in the hospital after my suicide attempt. She tried to convince me that I was only depressed because I “need(ed) Jesus.” I attempted to have a real conversation with her about why I’d left the Christian church, and she just kept repeating the damned scripts from all those “witnessing training classes.” (Those should not ever be used with someone who has had the same courses.) I finally gave up and asked her to just leave.
I still miss Michelle. It’s silly because we haven’t been close for well over a decade. But I still see things that make me think of her, and I still wish I could hear the person I still think of as “the real Michelle” give her opinion on something at times. I call her every year on her birthday. We do have some things in common—we’re mothers with blended families. She met her current husband online. But she’s still extremely fundamentalist and “submitting” to a husband who, from what I know of him, isn’t fit to shine her shoes. (I haven’t met him, but I don’t like what I hear through my family.) Every year, she says my call makes her feel guilty. My birthday is six days before hers and she’s never called then, though she has my number.
I’ve always sent Katie’s outgrown clothing through my mother and her mother to her daughter. She has always appreciated the clothing. I’ve yet to see her daughter. I’ve made overtures of friendship, tried to breach the gap—but the religious differences still outweigh everything else. I’m Not Christian. I am The Enemy. We can chat and laugh and all during that one yearly call, but there’s a wall there because I’m apostate.
I’ve gotten a feeling, a few times, that I’m threatening because I remember “the real Michelle” and would love to see her emerge again. I’d love to know how that person who celebrated her power and talent and beauty has grown, how much more incredible she’d be at 36 than she was at 16. I’d love to see Michelle turn around, one day, and say, “Why don’t you ever cook dinner? Exactly why is it that I’m going to school full-time, working full-time, and doing all the child care and housekeeping while you screw around with unworkable ‘business opportunities’ and never actually bring home a paycheck?”
I doubt that will happen. But I’ll keep calling her every year on November 18, and I hope that someday I’ll hear that vibrance in her voice again.