I know its been several days since I’ve written to you, and I hope this letter finds you doing well. I’m still having concerns about my health, being uneasy as to why I feel a sense of physical weakness and fatigue. There is also a suspicious mole on the side of my face that Laura says is getting bigger. She is taking me back to the doctor in a few days to get this looked at. I’m also experiencing night sweats for some reason, and I don’t know why. I have so many concerns, so many questions.
The polar vortex, which kept us in a deep freeze during the last week of January, has turned into a temperature whiplash as the vortex dissipated and a strong cold front began moving in this direction, giving us a regime of increasingly warmer temperatures, with elevated purple clouds and plenty of sunshine. As today was the day to set out our trash cans in front of our apartments for the garbage men to pick up, I went out my back door, down my back steps to my green trash container, and rolled it on its wheels around my building to the sidewalk in front of my apartment. When I did this, I saw a ten-dollar bill lying beside it upon the asphalt of the parking lot.
It was with a sense of desire and self-reproach that I picked up the money, clutching it in my fist so my neighbors wouldn’t see it. The apartment buildings contain two front doors, with two dwellings in each building, situated in a semicircle around a parking lot. With trepidation, I looked up and saw that my next door neighbors on both sides of me had their front doors opened. They didn’t see me. As I re-entered my back door and placed the bill upon my kitchen table, I couldn’t help but feel the injustice of it all. Everybody in this subsidized apartment complex live here because they don’t have much money, and I have more cash in my savings account than everybody else put together. Donnie could have lost this currency, since he is mentally challenged, sometimes gets agitated, and doesn’t always pay attention to what he is doing. Or it could have been the married couple two doors down; the husband sometimes manuevers his wheelchair along the sidewalk to get to our mailboxes on the far end. Could he have lost it? Novelist and self-proclaimed philosopher, Ayn Rand, wrote that there is virtue in selfishness, that it would be a better world if we all acted in our own self-interest, but I have never believed her. I decided to keep the bill on my kitchen table, and if someone knocked on my door, claiming to have lost some money — if he had a good attitude about it — I would give it back to him.
As the day wore on, no one approached me about it. When I left home and went downtown, entering the town hall to pay my utility bill, the amount being huge, since heating my apartment in the coldest month of the year is always a burden. I immediately left and walked to the hair salon nearby, and when I entered, I noticed that Tammy had grown her hair longer, making her look slightly different. It was quiet in the salon today. Tammy usually makes conversation with other people while she is cutting my hair, but this time she made conversation with me instead. Soon, she was posing an innocuous question which impressed me as a sharp thunder-clap, “Are you still going to Grace Family Fellowship?” Tammy was referring to the church next door to my apartment complex. I didn’t want to lie to her, but at the same time I didn’t want to explain why I do not attend church anymore, so I told her what I told the preacher out there, who blocked my path with his car as I was going past this house of worship one afternoon on my bike after I had quit for good. “I’m going to the First Baptist Church, the one my friend Laura goes to.” But I haven’t set foot in that sanctuary in years, even though someone had invited me to go there.
The reason why I left Grace Family Fellowship was because I was going in there alone, and the other church members seemed to be more interested in telling me where to go and what to do than they were in what I was searching for spiritually. It wasn’t long before some of them realized that I didn’t have as much money as they did, so they started buying me coffee and giving me old clothes. I was being bombarded with propaganda, and I had to pretend to be an evangelical. All of this was making me crazy, and I got to the point where I just couldn’t stand it anymore. A few weeks after I spoke to the preacher about switching churches, I saw one of the parishioners in the check-out aisle at the Food Lion who gave a confused and downcast look. When he left the building with his groceries, he sat in his truck for fifteen minutes until he saw me come outside. He approached me as soon as I walked out the door: “How come I haven’t been seeing you in church?” he inquired, and I repeated the same lie I told the preacher. A week later I had to go to the post office, and another parishioner entered in front of me; I walked away and came back later just to avoid her. A member who used to greet me at the entrance on Sunday morning had a relative pass away, and while she was preparing the house for sale, she saw me leaving Laura’s house on my bike. “We’re missing you in chu-u-urch!” she squalled, as a parent would to an unruly child, even though we were the same age. She looked perturbed when I repeated the same lie. Even now, I feel uncomfortable riding past the church on the way to Laura’s house or downtown — its impossible for me to avoid it, it’s a huge piece of real estate — and there are cars going in and out of its parking lot almost every day.
The only reason I joined and stayed there as long as I did is because I liked the young and energetic minister, but his belief system conformed to that of the community, while mine did not. He once stated in a sermon that the story of evolution was “the big lie.” My Sunday School teacher stated that the land of Israel is for the Jews exclusively — and for no one else — for they were God’s chosen people. The pastor once prayed for homosexuals so they would straighten themselves out, and thank God I never heard any of them talk about abortion. I can assure you, whoever you might be, that I’m not an atheist. I believe that God exists, but He is not the divine personality the Bible makes Him out to be. The stories in the sacred book are Jewish antiquities, legends, and myths. God didn’t create the world in six days and rested on the seventh. It took much longer than that.
Approximately 13.8 billion years ago, space and time didn’t exist at all as we know it. It was a just small point, dense and hot, which for some reason exploded and became rapidly expanding space. It was also cooling rapidly, losing its high density, allowing the formation of sub-atomic particles and simple atoms. Giant clouds of these primeval elements coalesced by the force of gravity, eventually forming early stars and galaxies. Resulting from the collapse of a giant interstellar molecular cloud located mid-way in one of the arms of the Milky Way galaxy, our sun born of hot dust began a process of thermonuclear fusion while the planets cooled. With our sun reaching its middle stage of life, and with water and oxygen forming in the atmosphere, unicellular life on earth began. As life forms started to replicate themselves, taking energy from the light of the sun, they became increasingly complex, fishes and other monstrosities populated the sea, reptiles encroached upon dry land, and dinosaurs began to roam this world. Then a huge asteroid struck our planet, destroying their food sources and they became extinct. Mammals rose up and several forms of mankind evolved from apes. All other forms of man became extinct, only our species survived. This is the story that the scientists and Wikipedia have taught me. And God is not a jealous God, if anything, he is an indifferent force of nature.
This is my faith, and I haven’t lied to you as I had just lied to Tammy. After making more small talk and using the blow dryer to clear away my loose hair, I paid Tammy, made another appointment with her for next month, then went next door to the pharmacy to pick up my monthly supply of medication. The mayor of Robersonville, “Mr. Frank” as they call him, was working there and the people whom he employed had my bag of pills already prepared. Laura called after I brought them home, and we spent part of the afternoon painting ceramics. After awhile, she said she was tired and we went into the bedroom. I sat in the recliner while she lied upon her bed. Her eyes became increasingly heavy as we chatted, and then she got up and put on her pajamas. “I wouldn’t do this in front of just anybody,” she declared, “but, as far as I’m concerned, you’re family.”