Fundamentalist Horror Film

In my other life I do just as my parents want.

My parents didn’t agree about who I should or would turn out to be, and maybe that’s the reason I ended up disappointing each of them and going my own way. My sister and I often have this conversation: would one or both of us have wound up being who they wanted if they’d envisioned the same unthinkable path rather than contradictory ones? If we’d been brainwashed with a consistent world view? If so, hard as it was to be stuck between the two and required to pay lip service to both, I’m glad their visions were unaligned.

In one of my other lives, the one my mother planned for me, I’m a teacher at a fundamentalist Christian school that she and I founded as a companion to the church she started in our living room when I was a kid. We read the Bible and interpret its language for ourselves. Then we go out into the prisons and into the homeless shelters to take the Lord’s forgiveness, love, and salvation to everyone. We’re a tongues-speaking nondenominational outfit with a real passion for exorcisms, but we’ve borrowed lots of iconography from Judaism. In the vestibule, a shofar, ark of the covenant, and menorah stand before a dramatic burgundy velvet curtain. These remind us — and give us the opportunity to tell others — that we are “the New Jerusalem,” God’s new chosen people, the ones he was forced to choose because the first batch of chosens failed to recognize his son as the messiah.

We believe war in the Middle East is both inevitable and desirable, and that we should hasten its coming in order to hasten Jesus’ return. We voted for Trump, and we told the children at our school that their parents should vote for Trump, and of course we stopped them from drawing swastikas in their notebooks when we saw them doing it. We told them that acting hatefully toward others is wrong — even if the people are homosexuals or Muslims or otherwise the products of Satan and possessed by demons — but also that it’s not really true that people are acting more hatefully toward others since Trump won, that’s just more lies from the so-called news people who put the swastikas in the kids’ heads in the first place. We are so relieved that the world will be getting back on a more godly track now, even though Trump is an imperfect messenger. Hallelujah, Amen, isn’t the Lord mighty.

In my other other life, the one my father planned for me, I am a partner in Newton and Newton, a firm he started as a sole proprietorship when I was a kid and later turned into a partnership to include me. We specialize in international tax and advise wealthy people how to minimize their liabilities, now and at death, and we are greatly excited about the opportunities Trump’s tax code will usher in. We are based in Miami and still go to the Presbyterian Church my whole family went to for a time when I was a kid, before my mom started taking religion too seriously. We believe we were predestined for salvation, as our success shows, so we don’t need to work at it too hard. I live just a few miles from my father, with my surgeon husband and our two children, a boy and a girl, who go to the best Christian school in town. The first time my husband wanted to take me on a date, he went into my father’s study and provided his resume and family background (white, European) and asked permission. Three years later he requested my hand in marriage, and my father gave it, and then my husband asked me.

I was a virgin when we married, right after I graduated from law school at age 26. We and our extended family all voted for Trump. Although we are embarrassed by his language and his background and gaucheness, and we hope that he will be more respectful toward the constitution than he currently appears to be, obviously voting for a corrupt bleeding heart feminist like Hillary Clinton was unthinkable and it is very exciting to anticipate what Trump’s economic policies might mean for us and our clients. We aren’t at all interested in hearing about hate crimes, because we don’t belong to any of the groups being targeted. We aren’t concerned about cuts to social programs because people need to pull themselves up by the bootstraps and if they can’t make it without government assistance, well, they made their own beds and they can lie in them.

In my real life, I rejected what my parents wanted for me, or I was constitutionally incapable of being what either of them wanted, or something in between. I don’t talk to my mother about politics or religion or anything we disagree on and I am not able to talk to my father at all. But no matter how old I get, their beliefs and expectations are horror soundtracks in my mind, alternate lives I might have chosen if I hadn’t, for whatever reason, turned out to live my own.


In My Other Life, a collection of essays from writers we love, is The Awl’s goodbye to 2016.