“Pee now, then we’re running errands. Let’s go!”
It was a Saturday. One of those groggy mid mornings after a slumber party—a kid’s version of a hangover.
Errands. A weekend must-do that generally sucked unless food was involved. Today were foodless errands. Stupid, stinking foodless errands.
After an hour of staging sit-ins in the car while my mom went to Michael’s and JoAnn Fabric, we pulled up to a different part of the strip mall. There was a Subway “sandwiched” between two other stores that 11-year-old me didn’t recognize. The neon yellow awning of the restaurant reminded my hung over brain of its migraine.
“Where are we?”
My mom smiled, “Cristina, I’d like you to join me for this one.”
We walked in to one of the stores–all I could see were books. But what really struck me was the odor. It was the ever-polarizing Subway stench seeping in from the restaurant next door.
Years later, I’ve voiced my protest of Subway on the single point of its smell. I have never purchased a sandwich from Subway. The smell isn’t fresh bread. It’s not cleaner. It’s something non-human and pumped out of every vent in the “restaurant.” It’s vile. And it makes me gag.
I started gagging. I sat down and cracked open a book that I think was called, A Young Person’s Guide to the New Testament. I tried to read few sentences, but the words started blurring together and my hands felt clammy. I put the book down and sat against a shelf for a while, pinching my nose. Suddenly, humiliating church memories came flooding back in an instant—squirming in the pews in desperate need of a bathroom, loudly critiquing the wine after taking communion, and my brother nearly lighting a woman on fire with a candle.
I was trapped in this Christian bookstore for hours, suddenly remembering my most embarrassing moments. I nearly collapsed from the stench and tried not to yack all over the religious texts. I never wanted to read anything with the word Bible in it again.
Our family tried a few different religious options growing up. Our first attempt was at age four. We went to Catholic Sunday School, where I told everyone that Jesus was really cute puppy. I was promptly laughed out of the Catholic Church.
Next, we went to an Episcopal Church for Easter where I dropped the notes we fervently passed during the sermon. The woman next to us discovered our running commentary and looked over in horror.
I guess that Saturday afternoon of errands was our third reemergence into religion. We started going to a new church a week or so later. My mom had the right idea of introducing faith to us, even if the last two attempts ended in humiliation.
We always brought donuts to the Sunday school kids at our new church–probably to keep me from thinking about the Subway stench. Eventually, though, we left the church over artistic differences with the youth choir director.
I avoided religion for the rest of my adolescence, because of the embarrassing memories and the Subway death aroma ingrained in my brain. I was a quiet non-believer; I called myself Agnostic for a few years as the blanket term for not dealing with my beliefs, or lack thereof.
At this point, my date often changes the subject quickly and clutches their wallet. Let me be clear. I am not a religion person, but that does not make me a vigilante. I avoided religion like the plague, but I don’t hate the notion of religion.
It was around 17 that I realized I needed to start over with my religious beliefs. I saw how important organized religion was to my neighbors and friends, and I admired their dedication to believing in something. I couldn’t avoid the topic forever; the word agnostic meant less and less to me each time I said it.
I started paying attention to people around me. Through watching others’ behavior, I established my own sense of right and wrong. I noticed my classmates bullying the kids who didn’t look like they did. I heard people talk behind girls’ backs and call them really nasty names that offended me as a teenaged girl. I read about gay bashing in the news, and I was overwhelmed with sympathy for the victims. I knew I didn’t want to perpetuate intolerance of anyone.
I also saw my fellow high schoolers having fun with boys, staying out late, telling crazy stories about their New Year’s parties, and I envied this lifestyle. I knew I wanted to uphold my moral character, but also still have fun and relax.
Since 17, my core beliefs and morals haven’t altered much. I still don’t go to church or any structured service. But I still make sure to live my life with pride and confidence in my decisions.
I read articles on some of my core beliefs. I explore theories on gender, atheism, race, and discover the parts that resonate with me. I’ve engaged in dialogues with people, where I can hear others struggle with some of the same ethical dilemmas I have, once again relying on my observations of others to help me make decisions.
To develop my spiritual side, I go to yoga. I focus on myself for an hour each session. Though I’m only a beginner, I try to check-in with my inner self as I travel into a world beyond the 40-hour workweek.
In short, I’m not a religious person, but I still have morals. I’d like to think I found the middle ground, and I’ve been making a nice spot for myself since that day of errands.
I do good unto others, and I avoid those who give me pain. Or odor.