A couple months ago, I wrote about how it has been seven years since I gave up my Christianity, my belief in a god, my aspiration of an afterlife. I was reminded of this anniversary because Facebook told me that it had been seven years since I became friends with the man who I first confided my disbelief to, so the memories came flooding back.
Of course, he wasn’t the last person. There were a small handful of people who knew those first couple months, maybe only two or three, before I eventually told my (now ex) wife. Lately, with the change of the season into our first glimpse of spring, I’m reminded of how that conversation happened. Though in many ways it was the conversation that I had with Andy that ended what I’ve come to call my old life, there was little doubt that the old life had ended after I finally told Adrienne my secret.
For any readers who may not have read “Seven years,” I grew up in a very strict sect of the Lutheran faith. It was a very insular church, and no one from my family had ever left it, including cousins and aunts and uncles. The exception to that was that my dad didn’t grow up in the church, so his side of the family weren’t a part of this particular faith; they’re largely Baptists. My dad really threw himself into the faith after his conversion, up to the point of becoming a minister. Though I don’t recall anything very specific being said against relatives on my dad’s side of the family, it was generally understood by me and my siblings that those cousins were different, and that we couldn’t have the same kind of relationship with them as we could with my mom’s side of the family, who were all “believers.” So we saw them on the occasional holiday, and that was about it.
Like I said, very insular.
Despite the fact that I had picked
the lock to my mind-forged manacles
I was still clasped at the ankle.
Since no one from my family who was a believer had ever left the church, I had no real way of knowing what anyone would think about my apostasy if it were ever to come out of the closet. Of course I knew it had to some day; I sure as hell wasn’t about to coast through the rest of my existence pretending to believe something I didn’t, including being tethered to the unbelievable life restrictions that came with it (no drinking and no dancing, as two easy examples). I was so scared of what would happen that I made sure to not let on that anything was different, acting the part of the devout believer around my wife and family to mask my true thoughts. Rarely, though, did I think of anything other than how I’d been so sheltered under a blanket of fear my entire life, made to believe an elaborate fairy tale that now seemed only too ridiculous to accept anymore, and how despite the fact that I had picked the lock to my mind-forged manacles I was still clasped at the ankle. I often thought about how I would tell my wife about this. The scenarios that played in my head never worked out very well, so I continued to keep my mouth shut.
One day in early spring of 2009, when the sun came out and the air felt flush with the aspiration of a world of flora recently awoken, we opened the doors and windows of our little house to clean it of the stale winter air inside. The day was spent doing odd jobs around the house, feeling happy that winter was over and generally elated by the fresh air and sunlight. Experiencing days like that is almost like being on drugs, it’s so intoxicating. That evening, we made love, and then laid back on the bed to watch the shadows from the streetlight and trees outside glide across the walls and ceiling. This was the circumstance in which I thought to myself, “love will win out. She won’t be happy to hear what I have to say, but how could something like my not believing in God ruin something like this!” As much as I didn’t want to ruin the moment, it also felt like a chance to get closer to her through honesty. So I said, “Adrienne, this is kind of hard to say…” She reassured me with a gentle, “What is it?” “Well, I’ll just say it. I… I don’t want to go to church anymore.”
The tenderness and joy so characteristic of the day immediately faded at that point. She jumped out of bed, baffled, nearly unable to comprehend what I had just told her. Given what the day had been and the build-up to my confession, I was completely exhausted at this point, but Adrienne was reeling from the bomb I had just dropped on her. It probably didn’t help her anger that I was on the verge of falling asleep during this discussion. For as shrouded in shadow this part of the memory is, I do recall her immediate response: “That was literally the most horrible thing you could have said to me.”
From then on, any small problems we had in our relationship became big problems. She made no secret of the fact that she didn’t trust me anymore, and subtle hints of accusation that I was having an affair with one of my few non-believer confidants came up far too often. Especially since I wasn’t there anymore, rumors about me spread throughout the church, specifically that I was gay and that’s why I left the faith. Adrienne of course heard all this, and when she told me about it, I couldn’t help but laugh! She, though, wasn’t laughing. Naturally, she saw how ridiculous this all was, so why not laugh a little bit about it? But no, she didn’t see it that way. She told me that she wasn’t sure whether or not it was true. That should give a fair illustration of how much she felt she didn’t know me anymore, and how little trust she had in me.
If nothing else, I took communion
one last time, and I received it from
my dad. It felt a fitting send off.
Our marriage hobbled along the next several months. We saw a couple’s therapist once, but that didn’t last long. I even agreed to go back to church one more time, a kind of last-ditch-effort to see if I couldn’t be reminded of what it was I once felt. This was done more to appease her than anything else; there was basically zero-chance that I was going to learn anything new that would change my mind back again. I’m glad I went though. If nothing else, I took communion one last time, and I received it from my dad. It felt a fitting send off.
The end didn’t happen until October, when the topic of children came up again. Especially prior to my apostasy, talk of kids wasn’t uncommon at all. This time, though, we spoke in terms of how these children would be raised. I knew full well that she would insist the kids attend church, and that was non-negotiable. Having grown up in the church, I didn’t even have to ask. But she told me anyway. So I simply said that these kids will someday ask why I don’t go to church, and at that time, I will have to honestly tell them why I don’t. But even this was too much for her to bend on. Faced with living a miserable existence with a woman who hates me and would require that I lie to our future children about who their father is in order for her to make them hate me just as much, I told her that we needed to get a divorce.
We’ve lost touch since the divorce finalized. I still run into a couple of her siblings on occasion, and I’ve learned that she’s since remarried. No word as to whether she has kids, but she’ll no doubt do better on that front with her new husband than she would’ve with me.
It’s funny what a little bit of spring air will remind you of.