On sunny days I get off the bus at the transit center and walk the rest of the way to counseling instead of waiting for the next bus. I’m more than likely in need of at least little dousing of sunny vitamin D and I enjoy walking through the heart of my quirky little town.
I lived here as a child but then moved away when I was in late elementary school, and by sheer fluke ended up back in the same town again after I’d just graduated from high school. It’s where I met my husband, and it’s where I now live with him. I loved it here as a child, but as an eighteen-year-old who desperately wanted to experience life in a big city I found it as embarrassing as really bad dad jokes. I mean, the biggest events of the year here are things like Good Ol’ Days, the Santa Parade, and a thing in the summer where painted pianos are randomly scattered throughout town (my personal favorite being the Candyland themed one). But it’s grown on me slowly, like the way moss grows on a sloth’s back.
There are random little quirks here and there, things I didn’t notice at first because I was too busy rolling my eyes. Things I couldn’t see as more than embarrassing but now have grown to love.
I walk past the new, trendy yoga studio with its fresh coat of pea-green paint and notice how they’re trying to sell fancy yoga mats and hats that look like something that would be sold at the Tibetan-themed stall at the state fair. You picked the wrong town, I laugh to myself.
It’s not that I mind it. I picked up a flyer once with the hope of adding yoga classes to my weekly routine but it was overpriced, or at least out of my price range. It’s just that it feels a bit out of place right across the street from The Banana Museum and next to the used bookstore that’s loved for the cats who live there and not the customer service. The bookstore often displays eye-catching fan favorites in the windows like The Encyclopedia of Insects That Look Disgusting and Some Old Dude in a White Wig on a Horse. At the end of the street there’s a store dedicated to unique lighting fixtures and clocks. “Party lights now fifty-percent off!” a chalkboard sign out front reads as the wiener-dog clock in the window keeps time with his tail.
Then, I stand at the intersection until the little green guy lights up, strolling across the crosswalk as I enjoy the sunshine. And as I walk across the yellow lines on the road it happens, as it does every time: the street suddenly morphs from Center-of-Town Avenue to Memory Lane.
There’s a little church there, the first one I really remember ever attending. It’d be easy to miss it since it’s sandwiched between an H&R Block and a forest-y themed shoe store. Some of my earliest memories of church involve sitting in the basement of that Foursquare church in a small classroom that was made up of wall dividers. One time, one of the rowdy boys brought in a snake in a can and the teacher put it up on the wall divider so that it wouldn’t distract us—but for the rest of Sunday School I could barely think of anything but that can with a jumping toy snake sitting above us.
I don’t remember much about my Sunday School teacher, just that she was a woman and that she was kind. She’d sit on a kid-sized plastic chair while we all sat on the floor during Bible Lesson. My favorite part was when she pulled out the flannel board—sometimes she’d let me stick the flannel representations of Jesus or the disciples or Moses on the board. I was the religious zealot version of Hermione Granger. My hand was always in the air when a question was being asked. And often times I was right (but when I wasn’t, my teacher would still smile encouragingly and say, “That was a good guess, Kelsey.”).
The doors of the church are glass—not stained-glass, just your regular run-of-the-mill glass. And for a little while when I was very young my dad worked as a part-time janitor at the church, and sometimes I’d help. One of my clearest early childhood memories of my dad is the two of us standing on the street washing the front doors of the church. He let me use the Windex (which was a mistake), and then I would concentrate hard on the art of not-leaving-streaks which I was impressed that my dad had mastered. “Dad, I can’t reach any higher!” I remember saying as I stood on tiptoe. He laughed, saying he’d take care of the high parts.
Walking by those doors always reminds me of Dad. Sometimes, the memories make me smile, while other times I want to cry. And sometimes, often times, it’s a little of both. Grief—one of many reasons I’m on my way to counseling.
Today I don’t stop to pay my usual momentary homage to the front doors that I cleaned so many years before. Today there’s a man who I think might be the current pastor standing directly in front of the door preaching to the man standing next to him. The pastor-esque man’s arms are going like he’s rooting on his favorite football team and his voice is booming with excitement.
I hear small snippets of their conversation as I get closer—words like “sin” and “blood” seem to be on repeat. I can feel my Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome kick into high gear. The same momentary panic races through my body as when I’m going to have to pass a very large dog on the sidewalk who doesn’t seem to be accompanied by any of its humans. I want to run across the street, but traffic is heavy. So I look straight ahead, walking briskly until I’m safely out of earshot.
I wonder for a moment what the old pastor I knew over twenty years ago would think about me now. I used to take notes during his sermons before I could even write by drawing illustrations. I would then wait in line to show him after the sermon was over. He used to be one of my favorite people because he loved Jesus, was smart, and patiently addressed all of my precocious theological inquires. He’d probably be disappointed if he knew where my life and ideologies have taken me. He’d probably be disappointed at my Christianish-ness—and the fact I’m really more “ish” than “Christian” these days. He’d probably be confused if he knew I was on my way to counseling specifically because of all of that sin and blood talk.
And this is why I’m going to counseling, I think. I look up at the blue sky and remind myself to breathe. Just breathe.