Again, I sat in the chapel with the rest of the youth group at the age of 13 or 14-years-old. This night would prove to be the end of the road for me.
My young, handsome, energetic pastor whom everyone loved stood at the front. My peers and I waited in the front few rows of the pews, listening as he explained that night's particular activity. It went like this:
Two of our peers had been pre-chosen to be the angels of death. How they were chosen still fascinates and confuses me--if I allow my thoughts to dwell here, it angers me. Much about this night does.
Two rooms awaited us in the back of the chapel where the pastors' offices were located. One, representative of Heaven. Another, representative of Hell.
The two angels of death would come and take us randomly (like death often does, natch) and escort us to our proper destination.
I wasn't taken right away, but eventually those spared the pains of this ridiculous exercise silently stood before me with outstretched hands. I stood and followed them.
Led into the back hallway, the "angels" opened a door and invited me inside. I entered and found it to be akin to a janitor's closet--for all I know that's exactly what it was. It was hot and stuffy, small, and pitch black.
I was in Hell.
The realization struck me hard. Was it random? I hardly believed that.
Did the angels not like me?
What the fuck did I do?
As a girl who had felt the cruel impact of not belonging with a group of people who, by all accounts, should've been nicer, this was the harsh rub of salt to the wound.
I still don't know why I was placed here, or if it was intentional. I seem to remember another boy in the closet with me as I unsuccessfully fought like hell to hold back my tears and the embarrassment of muffled sobs that accompanied them. This wasn't about being put in hell so much, but of a complete and direct rejection of me as a person. That they thought so little of me as to find no problem damning me.
(It strikes me as something my 16-year-old sister probably feels often now, especially when her pastor unnecessarily took her aside to inform her she had kept her under the baptismal water just a little bit longer as to wash away her "extra sin" and continually berate her for things most teenagers do--effectively pushing her further away)
I don't remember anyone else joining us in Hell except for the one other person, and unfortunately even he remains nameless and faceless in my memory. Few, if any, words were exchanged between us.
Eventually the closet door opened and the two of us were invited to leave Hell. The object lesson was over. "Come to Heaven," they said.
The light in Heaven blinded our eyes as they had since adjusted to the darkness that was Hell. The room per my memory was as large as it was bright, probably a conference room. And rather empty. And a hell (ha!) of a lot more temperate.
"Have some cookies," they said. I wordlessly took one, hoping nobody would say anything to me. Hoping that the redness and puffiness that surely had to betray my resolve to be steeled and resolute was absent. Anger filled me here as much as did the stabbing pain of rejection. I also found the odd logic of the entire event somewhat amusing--did this mean we'd have a chance to enter heaven after a sufficient time in Hell? Of course it didn't. Not per their official doctrine.
Thankfully everyone left me alone. I didn't belong here. They knew it, I knew it. My years of attending had proven that much. And after this shit I was finished subjecting myself to the abuse.
But perhaps I was too hasty. I was eventually invited into Heaven, and there were cookies.
Wasn't that enough?