Monday, July 25, 2005

Rapture (not the Blondie kind)

It’s Monday morning and I’m exhausted. I’m always exhausted on Monday morning. I’ve already bathed my eyes in Visine twice today, but I still look like I’ve been smoking weed all night. Chronic insomnia has always been a fixture in my life, but Sunday nights are the worst. I don’t know if it’s the impending doom of going back to work or latent guilt for not attending church that day. Or maybe it’s the green light on my smoke detector, which haunts me like it did Gatsby, teasing me with what I have yet to achieve in life. I toss and turn all night looking at that damn light while my husband sleeps peacefully beside me.

My Sunday night insomnia began when I was little. My father was a Pentecostal preacher. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Pentecostal religion, they’re the ones who speak in tongues and dance around like mad men in church but don’t drink or dance or listen to rock-n-roll (otherwise known as Satan’s soundtrack). Growing up, I had to attend church at least three times a week, sometimes more. My sisters and I were not allowed to watch television or listen to secular music. The only movies that my family ever watched were religious movies about the rapture. Usually these movies were shown at church on Sunday nights. The movies were always about someone who got left behind and had to endure the post-apocalyptic environment. They would get horrible boils on their skin and wouldn’t be able to find food, and the beast was always chasing them. One of the characters even got decapitated in one of the movies. They terrified me. Who would show that to a five-year-old? It’s no wonder I always had nightmares about them. And the nightmares were always the same.

First, my room would start to shake. I would jolt up in bed and run into my parents’ bedroom, but their bed would be empty. Then I would run to my sisters’ bedrooms and find them empty as well. I would then run out into the yard and watch as my family floated away, leaving me behind in my sinful ways to face the boils, beast, and decapitation. I would wake up sweating through my strawberry shortcake pajamas and quietly peek in my parents’ room, just to make sure that they were still there.

Is it any wonder that I developed insomnia? Even as a small child I would toss and turn, fearing death and the rapture. I would lie in bed praying quietly out of fear that I accidentally had a sinful thought. Fear was a staple in my life. My religion was not one of peace and love but of fear, judgment and terror. I was not taught to act a certain way because it was the right thing to do, but rather I was terrified into submission. The indoctrination was that strong and that powerful. It has shaped every facet of my being. Every pore of my existence has been permeated by existential thoughts and fears.

My husband, on the other hand, was not raised in a religious environment. His family never attended church. Sundays were for watching football and hanging out by the pool with family. Bedtime was a time for fairy tales, not horror movies. He slept soundly at night then as he does now. His family members are wonderful, caring people with a strong sense of right and wrong. And yet, I can’t help but wonder how many times they’ve stayed awake at night questioning the meaning of life and the nature of the divine. My guess would be not many. At times I envy the peace he seems to enjoy, but I’m not so sure that peace didn’t come at the cost of ignoring the ultimate questions.

Now that I am getting older we’re starting to think about having a family. And something inside of me is hesitant. I think this hesitancy comes from not knowing exactly what to teach my children. I certainly don’t want to bring them up the way I was raised. But on the other hand, I do want them to thoughtfully consider their souls. How do you teach a child about subtle shades of gray in a world consumed with blacks and whites? How can I teach them about maybes without confusing the hell out them? It has taken me a quarter of a century to even begin to figure out what I believe--how am I supposed to teach it to a child? Is there a middle road between the highways of fear and apathy? If there is, I fear it is a road less traveled, and I wish someone would give me a map.