From my youngest years, I have vague memories of going to church: dancing in a weird costume for some reason, reciting the wrong prayer in place of the “our father”, using the “I brought this guy and he brought me” loophole to get a ‘bring a friend to church’ prize. Going to church, Sunday school, is something that I just did. My parents went to church, they took me, I believed what I was told. So is the basic belief structure and understanding that a small child has on religion, you believe in your parents and they believe in this.
We were young.
My brother was in the doorway of his bedroom at the end of the hall laughing with a friend. The way they were huddled indicated that something very interesting was occurring. Being the little brother to the older cooler brother, I needed to know what this funny, interesting thing was. There was a back to me, and my small self was trying desperately to see around, over, under, wherever I could to catch a glimpse. The moment I was discovered, the activity stopped.
What is it? What is so funny? I had to know.
My brother assured me in that brotherly way that it was nothing, and to leave them alone.
I pleaded, I begged, I must know this thing that is causing so much joy and elation
He said, “Fine,” adding, “But, you have to promise not to laugh.”
“Okay,” I affirmed
“You promise?” He asked, “Do you swear to God?”
“Yes!” I declared instantly.
“Say it,” he said, “Say, ‘I swear to God’”
“I swear to God,” I said.
Confident that I was on board, my brother proceeded.
Standing at his dresser, me in his doorway, my brother held up his thumb. He raised his hand and began to move his thumb downward toward the surface of the dresser top. An action that might suggest he was going to stick his thumb into some non-existent pie.
In the few moments that this was happening, I began to lose it. I felt the beginnings of a tremble in my belly. The trembling moved quickly to my chest. My throat. I placed both hands over my mouth to stifle.
My brothers’ thumb made contact. I struggled desperately to keep it together.
The thumb was on the dresser for no more than a second before I exploded into hysterical laughter.
My brother lifted his hand instantly and looked at me with a smirk.
“Now you’re going to hell.” He said.
“No I’m not, why?” I asked.
“Because you swore to god, and you laughed. You lied. You are going to go to hell when you die.”
“That’s stupid,” I said, and walked away.
That night, in the darkness, I couldn’t sleep. I sat awake thinking:
Swear to god. Do I swear to God? Why did I swear to God? This is stupid. How could I have messed up so bad? I’m going to hell. I’m going straight to hell when I die. It’s all over. He didn’t even do anything! Why did I laugh?!
I wept until my eyes were raw.
I fell asleep knowing that I was doomed to an eternity in hell.
As I have grown, I have come to realize that these things are not nearly as rigid and finite as a child may interpret them to be, and what was so real at the time was actually a very silly notion. I am now fairly certain that I am not doomed to an eternity of damnation. Though, it does sometimes humor me to think that at those pearly gates, as I peek over the pedestal at the logbook containing all of my trespasses, the thumb incident will be somewhere at the bottom.
Just what the hell was he doing with his thumb, anyway?