Awhile back, I had started a story about how I became a born again Christian but somehow never got around to the part about how I became unborn. But the ends of things are almost always more difficult than their beginnings.
Before I can get to the actual events which precipitated my break up with Jesus, there are a few background details that I should provide. First, when I was 16, I started dating a non born againer; as a matter of fact, he was Catholic, which means he might as well have been the Antichrist himself. But I couldn't help it... he looked like the lead singer from the Thompson Twins and he was funny and smart and he liked old movies and black and white photography. He was also a college boy, four years my senior, attending the University of Wisconsin -- Madison, working at a soap store run by two gay guys. So now I had smoking and my Catholic boyfriend to feel guilty about. When I was 17, I applied to and was accepted at UW. You can see where this is leading. I remember my pastor expressing his concern about my move to Madison. It was the late 80's and Madison was often refered to as "Moscow on the Lakes." Like most college towns, it was exceedingly liberal. Pastor Paul put me in contact with the Assembly of God church in Madison long before I packed my bags. He told me that if anybody could go to college in Madison and remain true to God, it was me. He told me my faith was unshakeable. Boy, was he wrong.
My first month of college: I attended church faithfully every Sunday and Wednesday night. I went to my classes faithfully. I remained a virgin, faithfully (in spite of having my own apartment. Do you people realize the dedication this requires?!). But I started noticing things. Like the fact that my boyfriend's gay bosses weren't hideous perverts out to molest young boys. They were actually funny and very kind to me. And then there were the rallies held by the born againers on Library Mall; they were full of hate -- toward gays, especially, but in general for anyone who didn't believe. They used the same "Jesus is coming back" approach that had been so effective on me, but eighteen year olds don't scare as easily as eleven year olds; what had always sounded terrifying to me now sounded somehow ridiculous. And then there was Geology 101. Turns out the fossil record pretty much disproves the Bible. Oh shit. Discomfort. Denial. Doubt. That was my first month of college.
My second month of college: upheaval in the church! Factions, infighting, and eventually, a split. I didn't know enough about what was going on to make an educated choice about whom I should go with, so I picked the side that was closest to my apartment (the bus ride to church was over an hour long; now I could walk!). We had services in a woman's ranch-style house. She was tiny and shrewish and severe. She had owl figurines everywhere. I should have known then. I continued to pray and read the bible, but less frequently, and somehow when I talked to God, I felt like a lying child on the brink of discovery. It's hard to lie to God. But also during month two, my boyfriend blew his entire savings on two tickets for us to see Verdi's La Traviata. I loved opera. I bought a vintage black crepe gown and my first tube of truly red lipstick. As luck would have it, the new branch of my church was having a prayer meeting on the very same night as the opera. Choices had to be made. I chose the opera (only after countless hours of soul searching and even more time in front of the mirror in my new gown, mind you). When I called the woman to tell her I would not be attending, she asked me if one night at the opera with my boyfriend was really worth my eternal soul. I tried reasoning with her; surely God would not begrudge me this human pleasure? Oh yes He would, was the reply. My God was an unforgiving God, a God who could take me out of this world as quickly and with as little effort as that with which He brought me into it. I remember the tears stinging my eyes as I told her I would not be attending church any longer. I also remember the bile rising as I told her (with no little satisfaction) that she was the final straw in a decision I had been struggling with for over six weeks. I told her if I went to hell, it was entirely her fault for driving me away from God (okay, admittedly childish, but it felt really good to say it).
And that was it. I went to the opera that night. It was, to this day, one of the most beautiful nights of my life (and included the loss of my virginity! Yippee!). And I have never prayed since that night, nor have I looked to the bible for anything more than beautiful words. And I have never regretted this decision. I thought I would miss God. I didn't.
The meaning of "la traviata"? The woman who strayed.