In my late teens, a couple things happened that put my life on an upward path; religion and no more school.
As I had said my parents were not religious. I have very vague memories of going to church as a small child. My father was from a Catholic family, and he tried to keep up the image for a few years. But that faded away when I was quite young, so for all intents and purposes, I was raised in a non-religious family.
I don’t say atheist because my parents were not against religion, they just didn’t want it to be part of their life. This was a good thing because in my teens I started becoming interested in religion.
At first, that was more philosophical wonderings about if there was a god what would they be like. But a few years later this had gone past just wondering. I had acquired a Bible and started reading it.
I started reading it like you would read any book, from the beginning. As I did some really odd questions started coming into my mind. Where is this temple and do they still kill the cows that way? Do I want to get serious about this, I like bacon. Eventually, I realized this was beyond what I could figure out, so I talked to my mother.
I told her that I was interested in learning about God. At that, she told me that was fine, and offered to take me to church. Since the only religion, I had ever experienced was a few trips to church when I was very small to me church was the only religion.
So she took me to one church and then another. At each church, I had a mental list of questions like, how do I know your church is the ‘real’ church, how do I know God is real, and many more. But no one ever listened to me. I think I went to 3 or 4 different churches. In each one, I would do the same thing. I would go up to whoever I could find and tell them I wanted to talk to someone about God.
After hearing that they would all find someone to preach to me the ‘good news’. None of them were listening to my questions. And I was nowhere near assertive enough to point this out to them. This kept going on until I finally gave up on getting any answers and decided to just start attending a church. I think I was hoping that eventually my questions would get answered. They never did.
But what did happen was socializing. It was extremely awkward for me, like a fish trying to play the guitar. At this point, I was still mostly being expected to be in the boy’s Bible study. But they were not like the boys at my high school, they were friendly. I still wasn’t very good at conversation but it was so pleasant just being with people who treated me nicely.
A lot changed in the next few years as I went from a high school kid to a young adult. When I got past 18, I quite school determined to work on getting a GED and moving on to college. The result of which was no more having to try to fit into a stereotype I could never understand. Now I got to choose what classes I would take and who I would hang around.
One thing I didn’t get to choose was who I liked. At my church being a Christian meant following this mysterious unwritten code. Part of that code was that homosexuals were bad people. Since this agreed with how I was raised I readily accepted it. All of these people were fair game for rude comments and tasteless jokes. Over the next few years, I became quite skilled at demeaning these people, something I am now so very bitterly sorry for.
But all was not roses, even as I grew in my disgraceful skills of putting people down, I knew these attitudes applied to me too. I realized the part of me that I had already buried would have horrified my new friends. Most of the time that didn’t matter as I was already doing my best to ignore who I was. But in those rare moments where it surfaced in some way, I was now devastated. Who I was was totally against my religion. If my friends found out that would be the end of that. All of this led to tremendous guilt and shame.
Aside from those moments, life was going well for me. My family moved and I ended up at a small country church. Here even a socially inept person like myself could make a few friends.
In the next couple of years, I grew up socially a lot. I made some good friends, mostly girls, and started enjoying life. I am sure many people thought my female friends were girlfriends, but that was rarely the case. I wasn’t looking for that kind of relationship, I was just looking for friends that I could be me with. With them, there was no need for the awkwardness of trying to fit a stereotype I didn’t understand.
Now that isn’t to say I couldn’t have any meaningful dialog with guys. One of the wonderful things I learned in church was that there was more for guys to talk about than the topics I heard in high school. Eventually, I felt I could talk to anyone.
At this point, life was pretty good. I had a number of very close friends, all female, that I hung around in my free time. I also had a number of good male friends at church. While I rarely did anything with them outside of church, I enjoyed talking and being with them. As long as I kept the part of me that no one wanted to see safely locked up, life was good.