This is me attempting to put a conundrum into words:
(Telling an anecdote)
There I was at City Place on a Sunday Night of a Florida “winter” waiting for the church service to start. I was somewhere central to a crowd of people who line up on the concrete stairs waiting for admittance. The cynic in me always says: is this a church service or a club? Because I remember those days.
(switch to present tense)
I know nothing about Christian youth because it took adulthood before I made any attempt to reach Christ. I cant tell who, amidst the skinny jeans, crop tops, booties, and knit berets is genuine. Anyone over the age of twenty-two stands out like an eyesore; thankfully, I blend. There’s a group of guys who look like they came straight from the halfway house. Sometimes one or two of them stand alone.
(back to past)
I had just said goodbye to an unfruitful prospect who declined my invitation to church that evening. Truthfully, I was relieved. I had never been smitten with non-domestic accents and this dude’s South African brogue did more to annoy than excite me. So, there I was alone- in my familiar, comfortable state. This passionate service fueled by the energy of youth was going to be my break from a lackluster evening.
I turned to eye the crowd that had formed behind me, my right hand clutching my Starbucks coffee. If this really was a club I would have done a lap already, skillfully maneuvering through people without offering eye contact to those who glanced my way and then regretting that my go-to move didn’t offer a smidgen of encouragement to my onlookers. Smile, damn it. What kind of person has to remind herself to smile?
But that night was different. I turned around and saw a boy. He had a toothy, childish grin. He was facing me with his group of male companions who didn’t stand too closely. This group was different than the typical Christian young adults. Life, not years, had aged them. There was no way this group was heading back to the Palm Beach Atlantic dorm rooms.
I couldn’t tell if he saw me or not. I couldn’t tell if he was looking at me or past me or if he even saw me at all. I couldn’t stop looking. He was tan-not by ethnicity- but he must have spent time outdoors. He had dark hair and dark eyes highlighted by the light plaid button-up he was wearing. But the way he continued to smile captured me. At a great distance, average height and build, he looked pure. I remember saying to myself: that looks like a really nice guy.
Really nice guy? That’s odd. I almost never have warm and pleasant thoughts towards strangers and even when looking at the opposite sex. Is he hot? Yeah. Does he look like he lives in a gym? Yeah. Does he look like he could possibly be gay? Maybe. But, a nice guy, when does that ever cross my mind?
I was taken by the absurdity of the situation. I kept turning around to catch more glimpses. Maybe the good feeling I had was because he reminded me of someone else.
Finally, the line started to move and people dispersed into the makeshift church. I went to the bathroom, my usual routine, and when I returned to find a seat I saw the back of church guy’s head. He was sitting in my usual spot off center from the stage. I knew it was him because I had memorized the pattern of his shirt. While his buddies filled the left, the seats to his right were completely open.
That’s when the dilemma hit. A part of me almost plopped down right where I was, a few rows behind, which would have almost guaranteed no opportunity for interaction. But, in the next moment, something of adventure struck and it was if I threw it up to God, Fate, Chance, Desire. My body carried me to his row. I was careful not to sit directly next to him but left us at a seat apart after I asked his buddies if the seats were taken.
It didn’t take him too long to talk to me- comfortable small talk. He had a soothing voice. In the process, he moved closer, which I took as a good sign. He was now occupying two seats.
Even in that small exchange I knew this boy was dark. He struck me as someone in recovery. I figured out that he did, in fact, remind me of the most gorgeous man I’ve ever dated or had been with (who happened to be a heroin addict and relapsed to cause our relationship’s demise). Beauty sure does come at a price…
(back to Church Guy)
We exchanged information after the service. Weeks later he called and FaceTimed when I was at the beach. We saw each other a few more times after that. Spoke, FaceTimed, texted and he opened up to me. We opened up to each other. It was refreshing to talk to someone, especially a guy, about God.
I was right about him being in recovery and having a dark past and he showed me a video of him that tore my soul apart. There was so much pain his his eyes, familiar pain. Pain that, at a young age, I knew too much of. Pain that carried the weight and burden and darkness of the world and can only be expressed through the eyes. Even as a child I had distant, judging, unreachable eyes. No amount of toothy smiles would conceal it.
When I was a little girl, only child, I would draw a lot. I was good. My favorite thing to sketch was faces and figures. You guessed it, men. I filled my sketchbook with male faces and physiques. One recurring image was a man with the same kind of pain in his eyes as this church guy, his eyebrows at a high angle of concern. That man knew the darkness of the world and could relate to mine. He was a strong soldier of emotional intensity. A Dark Angel.
The truth is that this church guy wasn’t the first. I had met another one like him at the gym wearing a T-shirt with my church’s logo. That one had also experienced the world’s darkness and carried it around in a less intense but equally apparent way.
(And the conundrum is this:)
What pulls me into these creatures?
Why cant I find a nice, un-scarred, “normal” guy and call it a day?
Why cant I be like the pastor who met a nice, Florida-bred local girl who went to Palm Beach State College and knew at a young age that all she wanted in life was to be a wife and mother. This is a woman who takes genuine care and interest in cutting up ham and cheese slices for her son. This is a woman who downright enjoys her life of making body lotion and granola from scratch and filling it in mason jars. This is a woman who enjoys time with her parents and giving tours of her house and having other wives over for jewelry parties and scrabble.
And the sad thing is that I am like that- at least part of me.
But, just part of me, because there’s another part of me who gags and screams inside and couldn’t wait to get out of the pastor’s-wife’s house. There’s a part of me who wants nothing to do with that life. There’s a part of me who rolls her eyes every time a pastor starts talking in that same generic Christian register with all the appropriate rhetoric and gracefully delivered syntax. There’s a part of me turned off because I can never connect with it. I need the Dark Angel every-single-time.
And my last question is always the most selfish: Cant I have both?
Cant I have everything the pastor’s wife has but amplified? Cant I have my dangerous church boy who loves and fears God with all his heart but fears absolutely NOTHING else? A man who believes not because life has given him any reason to, but because he’s looked darkness in the eye and has had every bit of himself saturated by its Wrath and Pain and yet he still CHOOSES the minuscule pathway of Good every-single-time.
Cant I fall in love with a guy like that?
Well, the answer is yes. Easily. The problem is that he doesn’t exist yet. Because, as it was shown with Mr. Church Guy, he’s too busy with his own demise. Mr. Church guy disappeared, as I could only tell he would, and resurfaced to ask for money as part of a total relapse and breakdown, in which I had to go against my heart and gut and tell him that I couldn’t financially help him or offer physical support. All I could do is whisper Jesus through the phone and hope to stir whatever parts were left of him untainted by the disease of addiction. The Darkness had won. Now all I can do is pray for him.
Yet, I know that Good has won the war. So, maybe what that means is that there’s an angel out there just waiting to be tanned by the perils of this beautifully intoxicating world.