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Do This In Remembrance of Me June 27, 2007

Posted by flyingsirkus in Individualism, Who Am I?.

If there’s one creepy common denominator among Christian religions, it’s the seriousness with which they regard that cannibalistic grape-juice-and-saltine ritual called Communion.  In the Fundamentalist Evangelical church I grew up in, if a person did not confess all the sin in his or her heart prior to partaking in Communion, sanguinary punishments lurked in the participant’s near future like Donkey Kong shooting up steroids behind a barrel, ready to decimate the physical body of the otherwise devout believer neatly and completely.  I found Communion terrifying as a child, and I was torn between the disappointment of my parents and everyone else in the church watching me refuse Communion because there might have been a moment that I thought my sister was a jerk that I forgot to confess, and braving the wiles of a hopped up Jesus, ready to destroy me with maggots in my muscles for daring to eat of his body and drink of his blood with a fleeting yet unconfessed moment of sibling derision still lingering in my heart.

The ritual was always the same.  The round double-decker silver plate, with the handle that doubled as a decorative cross, was passed around, filled with dry matzoh wafers.  It was explained that yeast, or leaven, represented sin (How?  Does sin eat the sugar in your soul and fart CO2 bubbles to make you rise until you’re light and fluffy?  I never got that part.) and so therefore the body of Jesus had to be broken from a big flat cracker.  I remember for a time, we attended a Southern Baptist Church that forbade the women from wearing pants, but used Wonder Bread for Communion.  I, and many others from my original church, refused to take Communion, Wonderous though the Bread may have been.  As the last parishoners took their crumb of the Savior, the pastor would recite I Corinthians 11:24:  This is my body, which is broken for you.  Take, eat, and do this in remembrance of me.

Consumer Christianity.  Literally.  But what if Communion was productive?  Wouldn’t that make it better?

I was thinking about this ritual earlier this week.  I took a short trip back to my hometown to visit my friend Ryan.  We stayed at his mother’s house, which is in the same neighborhood where I went to junior high school.   I once asked him where he went when he was feeling reflective, and he mentioned that he walked to the school, which was around the corner from his mom’s house.

I had my own memories of my junior high years, but most of those involved not so much the building or my friends, but my walk to and from school.  I lived in a different neighborhood, about a mile and a half away from the school, and it was the decision I made one day when I was twelve to stop taking the bus that was the crux in my life Robert Frost wrote about.

I was about halfway through the eighth grade.  I had just moved to this middle class neighborhood from a lower class neighborhood where my next door neighbor’s dad had shot someone in the middle of the day, where perpetually knocked-up Navy wives sat in lawn chairs, mesmerised by despair, watching their Aryan brood spill chaos, like the toxic substances oozing over rashes from their unchanged diapers, across the neighbors’ lawns, where boys in wifebeaters stuck gappers in carburetors while their teenage Puerto Rican girlfriends danced pantiless on the roofs of their cars to strains of Madonna.

The girls I grew up with in Rosemont Forest wasted afternoons with their brothers watching mommy dogs devour half their new litters of wormy puppies if their families were good, and fought their horny brothers off with lots of determination but not much success if their families were not so good.  This was the neighborhood where I smoked my first cigarette, had my heart broken for the first time, and sat, enthralled, in my neighbor’s stepdad’s spare room devoted entirely to his collection of Playboys, surrounded by airbrushed centerfolds displaying their curvily scribbled turn-ons.  Our Barbies didn’t go to prom; they went straight to where Ken and Skipper were parked and popped the cheating bitch’s head clean off with one violent tug to the ponytail.

But my dad finally got promoted to Chief Petty Officer, and with that promotion came the decision to move the family to a bigger house in a better neighborhood.  The home they chose was zoned in the same school zone, but it might as well have been another country.

The girls in my new neighborhood wouldn’t have known how to handle themselves in a fistfight, but they could insult each other into little puddles of tears with casual ease.  Their clothes bore no hint of iron-ons, their mothers actually drew the hearts in their Skippy sandwiches, and their musical tastes were, in a word, banal.  On my new block (no longer a block, mind you, but a cul-de-sac), the band of choice, the unwavering standard of Cooooool, was The New Kids on the Block.

I could have given a shit about the New Kids on the Block.  This branded me, more than any other aspect of my personality, as Weird.   However, I was not tough like the girls I grew up with, the girls who could kick ass.  I was a reader, not a fighter.  So I had no idea what to do when the girls in my new neighborhood started choosing up sides in their New Kids Pubescent Sexual Fantasy League, and tried to coerce me into participating.  It was completely foreign to me.

“Mark would never love you,” they’d spit at each other, their words like Atomic Fireballs of Truth and Passion.  “And how can you think Jordan is the cutest?  Joey is so much cuter.  And he loves me, not you, you slimy cuntfinger.”

It would amaze me how hurtful those words could be to these girls–not the slimy cuntfinger part, but the “he loves me, not you” part.  They’d hate each other in the morning, write a blizzard of notes folded into factory-building shaped origami establishing allegiances,  go to war in the cafeteria in the afternoon,  then choose up sides again and do it again on the bus ride home.   It was like watching expensive cars crash, over and over and over again.  However, I was not amused by disposable dignity.

One morning, as I was approaching the bus stop, dreading the inevitable pull to choose sides in a battle I cared nothing for, something about the nasty chatter just kicked at my heart.  I decided to keep walking. I ignored the calls advising me that I was an idiot, that I missed the bus stop, Hell-looooo?  I walked a mile and a half to school, and it was the most peaceful morning ever.

That afternoon, I decided to walk home.  A few weeks later, I got a brand new Walkman, and that was it.  I never rode the bus again.  Every day I’d walk to school to the strains of music I liked.  Better the exuberance of Bette Midler singing “Miss Otis Regrets” than the intellectually toxic and pheromonally manipulated New Kids shit.

I loved that walk.  Aside from learning to ride my ten-speed, it was probably the most liberating thing in the world for me.  I felt like I flipped a great silent bird to convention and walked on in freedom.  I loved that walk so much, I either walked or rode my bike to school all the way through the eleventh grade, where the trip was about a mile longer.

It didn’t take much convincing, but last Sunday I talked my friend into walking from the junior high back to my old house with me.  I have never walked all the way home with anyone, so it was a little weird for me to have conversation where I once had They Might Be Giants’ Flood album.  As we walked, the streets took on an animated quality, with those things that had not changed taking on the quiet background peace of an Impressionist painting while the new features of the landscape stood out in sharp Fauvist relief, begging to be touched, noticed, appreciated…

We stopped at my parents’ old house and chatted for a while with a new neighbor, but it wasn’t the house that I retook the walk for.  It was for the physical memory of the walk, the memory of the roots of my individualism; it was out of respect for those things that I wanted to repeat the after-school ritual.  It is eighteen years later, and I want to feel a communion with the girl I was and maybe find something of the strength it took her to say Fuck You to those things she could not live with, to find her own beautiful way of dealing with what Tom Robbins calls “the tyranny of the dull mind.”

I found a flower bulb in the middle of the street on the way back and put it in my pocket.  I think I can make it grow here in the desert.  Grow, bloom, and flourish, in remembrance of me.



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