Paula Sophia Schonauer, LCSW, continues a serial memoir. If you haven’t read the earlier parts of this series, look at the bottom of this page.
“Man can live about forty days without food, about three days without water, about eight minutes without air… but only for one second without hope.”
― Hal Lindsey
Every Monday morning at Redeemer Christian School, my teacher took attendance for church services and Sunday school. Every Monday morning, I said, “Not present,” to both. Miss Miller, a stout woman with short hair and wire-rimmed glasses, twisted her mouth, clicked her tongue, and cast a condescending smirk my way, reminding me, again, I was unfit for salvation.
It didn’t matter that I was only 9 years old with parents who did not go to church. Mom, maybe, went to Christmas and Easter services if she was out of the hospital, but Dad never went because Christianity wasn’t part of his “philosophy.”
Sometimes, I was part of a class performance at church, and Mom would drop me off but not go inside. In her way she was faithful, but she was insecure around other church members, finding them judgmental about how we dressed, complaining about their “holier-than-thou” attitudes. She also lacked an understanding of the Christian faith, the rituals, and the scriptures. She knew what the Bible was but never read it. Her religion consisted of nightly prayers to a glow-in-the-dark Jesus figurine, a portrait of the Aryan Christ, and fervent pleas to God to win the lottery.
Redeemer went through the 8th grade, and occasionally, held church-sponsored lock-ins for the students, an overnight stay at the church with various activities: movies, square dancing, pizza eating contests, volleyball games. I was in 4th grade the first year I got to go.
After eating pizza for dinner, we had the choice of watching movies in the basement below the sanctuary or playing volleyball in the gym. I opted for the movies, a double feature: Disney’s Sammy the Way-Out Seal and A Thief In The Night, a movie about the end of the world. I thought the second movie would be a science fiction epic like War of the Worlds, but it was an enigmatic and disturbing story about a young woman left behind after the rapture, the gathering of Christian faithful into heaven at the end times.
In the world of those left behind, people who will not receive the mark of the beast cannot buy, sell, or own property. They are not recognized as citizens, and they are hunted down by authorities who try to coerce them into receiving the mark: a binary code equating the numbers 666 tattooed on the backs of their hands or on their foreheads.
For me, the terrifying thing about the movie was that the young woman was a good person, her downfall being a lack of wholehearted belief in a particular brand of Christianity. A compelling scene depicts her running toward friends who were to take her to safety, the movie’s theme song playing in the background, “There’s no time to change your mind. The son has come, and you’ve been left behind.” Of course, her friends betray her. After all, they had received the mark.
After the movie, the basement was relatively quiet, even somber. The volleyball players had joined us by then, and most of the kids split into various friend groups, discussing the movie in whispers. Some laughed while others scolded. I hovered outside the perimeter of a nearby group of 8th graders, eavesdropping on their conversation. They debated the merits of the movie, discussing whether it represented the truth. There was not complete consensus, but the most compelling voices affirmed the movie’s message.
“My dad said the end times are here. There’s this book called The Late Great Planet Earth, and it tells how everything is getting ready to happen,” a boy said. He had short red hair, a freckled face. “They’re saying it will all end by 1988.”
The boy referenced current events from recent years: the resignation of President Nixon, the looming threat of global thermonuclear war, the fall of Vietnam, the recent Yom Kippur War, the massacre of Israeli Olympic athletes in Munich.
“It’s not going to get any better,” he said. “We need to be ready.”
The group of kids clasped hands and prayed. I prayed with them in silence, not sure God could hear me. After all, I had secret wishes and had experienced shameful things. I knew I could not be as wholesome as the kids in the movie and the kids with whom I was praying. I was part of a doomed generation, it seemed.
The familiar feeling of being haunted overwhelmed me that night, and I struggled to stay awake, to not get caught sleeping as it says in the Bible. The second coming was going to happen at any moment, and I wanted to see it arrive like a child trying to glimpse Santa Claus on Christmas Eve, only to surrender to slumber. However, instead of dreaming about the light and magic of Christmas, I dreamt something else.
It was morning at Grandma’s house. I smelled bacon and heard the crackle of grease in a skillet, television blaring in the living room. I heard the shower, the incessant drone of teeming water echoing against tiled walls in the bathroom. Every time I entered a room, it was empty, tasks abandoned like people had disappeared the moment before I could see them. I turned off the stove and grabbed a piece of bacon from a stack laid on a layer of paper towels covering a plate. The bacon was warm, almost hot like Grandma had lain it there a moment before.
Grandpa’s car was in the driveway, engine running but driverless. Steam rose from a vent on the side of the house. I could almost hear clothes tumbling inside the dryer located in the basement laundry room. I walked down the street, saw an overturned tricycle, front wheel spinning. Two cars blocked an intersection, a horn blaring, fenders crinkled from impact. No drivers. I wandered further, hearing and seeing evidence of people’s activities but seeing nobody, not one living soul. They had disappeared the moment before my arrival, hiding, or worse, taken, leaving me totally alone.
I had been left behind.
This post is the latest of a serial memoir Paula Sophia is writing about her life. We are honored that she chose Free Press as the platform. The following links are to earlier parts of the memoir.
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Last Updated June 10, 2021, 11:56 PM by Brett Dickerson – Editor