By E. Hughes
I was naked and balled up in fetal position on a bathroom floor when I heard the voice of God. I perhaps have felt nothing more terrifying than being suicidal while experiencing an intervention from the Divine.
We called Amber “Ambro.” She wore her hair in a low pony tail, slicked back tight with gel. Although she was petite, her baggy jeans, XL t-shirts, and wide stance gave away that she wasn’t like most girls in our rural, yet large, high school. She was my captain, point guard, and teammate on the varsity girls basketball team—and the first out lesbian I’ve known. She also was a mentor of mine and, by the end of high school, a close friend.
Half Mexican and half white, she belonged to a conservative family. In our town, it was commonplace that Amber’s father looked down on her butch life-style. Preferred his daughters to look like “girls” and not boys. For all of us, Amber’s friends, this was a sad reality none of us could change for her.
Once, Amber and I walked from her house toward our high school. Part of the road had sidewalks, other parts were unpaved, just dirt from the houses right up to the street. Amber complained about her current girlfriend: how she loved her yet how the girl had done some shady stuff to Amber. I shook my head and gave some naïve advice about what she should do. Then, I confessed: “I think I’m gay.” I was sixteen and ever confused by my hesitant (yet desperate) relationships with boys. In their kisses, I felt noting but flesh pushed up against. There was no burn.
“You’re not gay,” Amber frowned. She said this in a loving yet concerned way.
“Yeah.” I shook my head. I didn’t know how to respond.
“You don’t want to be like me.” She said. Amber looked at the ground, her face tensed like it does before a cry, as if darkness or severity is eminent in queer sexual expression. Later, I would call her reaction shame.
When I was eighteen, I had little going for me, expect that I loved a girl. After I professed my love to said girl, she responded: “I only said I loved you because no one else does.” For the most part, she was right.
I was raised in various forms of violence and by eighteen, I understood that the people who raised me had come up in an era where only the strongest, fearless, and emotionless survive. Yet, I was afraid of everything except death, believed it would wake me from this life, that through dying, I would pass away like some odd nightmare and be ushered into eternal peace.
When I learned that this girl had lied to me about her feelings, I lived with a white, evangelical family who took me in rent free; they were normal, and I was a labyrinth of hurt. In their guest bedroom, I called the suicide hotline from my cell phone all night and also a friend who ended up laughing in my face when I told her about my unrequited love.
When I couldn’t take whatever one calls emotional, physical, and spiritual calamity, I stripped off all my clothes, sat in the guest bathroom in the dark on cold tile and wept. By that point, I’d given up calling the suicide hotline, swallowed pills, and drank slowly a concoction of Gatorade and household cleaning products. I heard voices Do it. Kill yourself. No one f—ing loves you between shivers.
There were no pastors, elders, friends when I heard the voice of God and accepted salvation. And more in holy tremoring than in fear I would take my life, I called the suicide hotline for the last time. I told the listener what I had been doing to myself, which for the listener constituted a “plan to take my life.”
I walked down a dirt road to meet the ambulance. I couldn’t risk the white family who had just taken me in, watching me sit down on the gurney in my grey pajama pants, my high-top Nikes, and my sister’s red Fresno State sweater in their driveway. So I walked the half mile down the dirt road in the middle of an orange grove to meet the ambulance.
On that walk, I thought about many things: having almost failed out of community college, my failing relationship with my family, my attraction to women, this God who spoke into my darkness. Under a grey sky and amongst mocking birds trilling in fully grown citrus trees, an ambulance waited for me at the corner of two county roads.
The strangest element of evangelicalism is its obsession with the afterlife—this belief that once we are out of our bodies and away from the doomed created world we will be free, that our bodies, their wants, are the source of our sin, clinging to various manifestations of death. Sin is a legion of demons. A legion that needs to be expelled from us and into a heard of pigs. Therefore, to enjoy the new heaven and the new earth, we must deny our bodies take up our crosses and die to the sins that cause spiritual death. An odd form of suicide that leads to salvation. As a black, queer, woman, spiritual death (from an evangelical perspective) meant that I had to begin to fear my black heritage, my sexuality, and my vagina. I was so dedicated, so willing to sacrifice everything I had so I could get closer to Jesus, to touch the fray of his garment. And I killed myself willingly in his name.
I never wanted to fail at the religion I’d adopted at eighteen years old, yet when I came out as a lesbian six years later, I officially failed at denying my body the sin it clings to—at least from a conservative Christian perspective. When I relinquished this Neo-Platonist hermeneutic of the Bible, I felt weird in myself, space to feel the inseparability of my personhood and my body—the shared wants of my body and personhood.
Six years later, I learned the cross means something different for bodies like mine. In America, it means physical death—not spiritual death. Like Jesus, my body can be legally destroyed.
No one visited me in the hospital. After twelve hours of suicide-watch, I told the county social worker I wouldn’t hurt myself again, and she drove me home. In my pajamas, I walked past the white evangelical family who were spending time together watching TV and into the room where I’d tried to take my life and heard the voice of God. I laid my head on a pillow, prayed, and fell asleep thinking of the word of God: Don’t do it. I love you.