My parents sent me to a Christian school for elementary and middle school because they said it was a “good learning environment,” but they were really just scared that I’d turn into a drug addicted illiterate community college dropout if I attended public schools. My family wasn’t crazy or religious enough to attend Catholic schools, and the only other private school was tiny and the 1% only sent their kids there so they could say they did and so they could put the expensively tacky school bumper sticker on the back of their Mercedes, right next to the “OBX” and “Insert name of Republican Presidential candidate here” bumper stickers.
As an elementary school student I went along with the charade and didn’t mind it mainly because I didn’t know any differently. I never thought anything about having to memorize a different Bible verse every week, tucking in my shirt, and watching “Finding Nemo” over and over because if we watched anything not rated G, at least one parent would complain that we turned into butt-fucking Satanists.
As an “immature boy” who could in no way possibly comprehend fallopian tubes, stretch marks, and ass hair, I was never taught about puberty because it would be “inappropriate.” Instead during health class, after my British health teacher lit a tab of something that was supposed to smell like weed (which was probably just weed) to warn us what public schools smelled like, he handed us a goody bag with a trial size Old Spice deodorant and a pamphlet that told us why hair was growing on our balls and we why should wear deoderant, but no explanation about boners, safe sex, or pregnancy whatsoever.
Come middle school, after I befriended my liberal, cursing librarian assistant and spent most hours of the day gossiping with her about the 39 other students in my grade that I’d gone to school with since I was 6 years old, or sitting in classrooms reading while my Bible teacher applied chapstick to her crusty lips and told us that all of the Muslims were trying to kill us, I realized the farce my parents were paying $5,000 a year in tuition on. None of my teachers had a teaching degree, my homeroom teacher was regularly late because she had to stop by Starbucks, and the only lesson my English teacher seemed to teach us was how to use commas correctly and she repeated the same exercises every week. It obviously didn’t take a genius to quickly realize that we were getting dumber every day in school and with that, the tuning out began, somewhere around when our 6th grade Bible and Science teacher told us that dinosaurs still exist, she thought that both transgendered people and hermaphrodites were aliens, and that dogs don’t go to heaven. (The last one’s just cruel. I don’t know if I even believe in heaven, but I DO know that dogs go to heaven. Come on.)
My fellow 13-year-old classmates and I had enough. We weren’t rebellious in the traditional sense that you would see portrayed on a Lifetime TV movie about a teen gone wild; we had much calmer ways of rebelling since we were so closeted from the real world and most of us still didn’t have a firm grasp on sexual education, much less anarchy. We were probably rebellious in the same way Amish teens are, untucking their shirts and wearing a top knot instead of a traditional bun. We belched out loud in class to upset our uptight teachers and got away with it for the most part because burping is a natural bodily function that isn’t as bad as a fart. My friend gave one of her best friends a wet willy and this was deemed by our teacher as “spitting” on another student. Parent signatures on disciplinary notes were forged. I got in trouble for trying to write a music essay on a Queen song because Freddie Mercury died from AIDS.
While me nor any of my friends could possibly be labeled as “bad kids” by anyone with exposure to how badly some 13-year-olds can act, my principal was determined to let us know that we were terrible people. All of our terrible “Breaking Amish” antics and the fact that one of my friends tried to go bowling on the weekend with a girl who wasn’t a virgin caused my principal to call an emergency Chapel service.
Since my school was located in a church, Chapels were held every few weeks on Wednesday mornings. They were spent singing the same gospel songs we had sung since 1st grade (“From the cross to the grave, from the grave to the sky…” we sang as we use an invisible shovel to dig a grave with our hands), multiple prayers, choir performances, and sometimes a speaker. If we were really lucky, a group of muscle men who most likely moonlighted as gay prostitutes would travel into town and take to the stage, ripping apart telephone books with their strength from God and regular anal sex.
For the emergency chapel service however, the pomp and circumstance that allowed us to quietly fall asleep in our seats was stripped away and my principal stood in front of our small group of middle schoolers with tears in her eyes. She thought we had issues and some major problems, going around the act of citing specific incidents. She told us point blank that we had the devil inside of us, causing us to snap awake as if Jesus himself had just descended into the room on a white horse and took us up to heaven.
Yes, the woman just told the group of 120 church-going, well-behaved tweens that we had the Satan inside of us. She went on to hold an altar call, which means to bow down at the base of the stairs (there was no altar because we were Protestants and not showy Catholics, goddamnit) and repent to Jesus that we had sinned. Tears began to stream down the faces of some of the more emotional and dramatic girls’ faces. Most students, fearing the wrath of the teachers who surrounded us in the aisles, looking down at us, making sure we moved to the front of the sanctuary, joined in the theatrical affair. Out of the 100-plus students in the service, myself and five of my close friends were the only ones not to give into the altar call. The teachers stared at us, telling us that the devil would only increase his hold on us in high school (true!).
After the chapel we sauntered back to our classrooms, still slightly reeling in shock that our principal, who had once expelled a student because she was rumored to have lost her virginity, had told us we were possessed by the devil. For whatever reason, my principal thought that harassing us and having us get on our knees would save us from wrong.
Seven years after graduating from middle school, the same students in my 40 person class called to the altar have been arrested, impregnated, college dropouts, married, divorced, came out as gay, and can be seen twerking nightly on Instagram. Most of those students still go to church, call themselves Christians, and proudly vote Republican.
As for the six of us who denied staining the faux altar with devil-filled tears, we’ve yet to be arrested, impregnated, or swayed by the devil to drop out of school. But that’s not what’s important, right? If my former principal is right, the devil’s still inside of me. But I guess he’s doing a pretty good job.