I watched a moving truck slowly pulled out of the driveway as its exhaust circled in the air. My parents waved from the truck as they headed back to the deep south without me. I had only graduated from high school a month prior and I decided to flex my new adulthood muscles by staying in the coastal town without my family. A family from church offered their spare bedroom to live in as I began to navigate my new adult life.
Reluctantly, I enrolled in the community college despite my non-directive future. I also started to work at a local Christian bookstore, while continuing employment at the retail pharmacy. Subconsciously, I busied myself with both work and academia to ignore the simmering sexuality questions.
I busied myself with both work and academia to ignore the simmering sexuality questions.
The Christian bookstore was filled with books on how to meet and know the savior, how to find peace, how to find joy; and yet on my first day of employment the manager quit and a few weeks later a disheveled and drunk employee tried to borrow my car while at work. The store should have been a place of peace, not only for their customers, but also for their employees. Due to the bookstore’s recent high turnover rate, employees from other stores filled in to help out. In a lot of ways, I wrote off their behaviors as being a part of this broken world, even if it happened in a Christian business.
Porcelain angels and lions sat on the wooden shelves, prophetic paintings lined the walls and worship music played over the speaker. Ten-foot bookshelves lined the store’s borders. Each section had a small white sign with black cursive writing stating its corresponding book category. The categories covered Commentaries, Non-Fiction, Young Adult, and Self Help among others. And seasonal shelves matched the current holiday season much like other retail stores except our items had Scripture verses engraved on them.
Saul, a manager from a nearby store, and I handled the slower night shifts together, which meant we spent most of our time covering random life topics as we got to know one another.
“The Self-Improvement Section is quite bizarre with all of the weight loss and those finance books…” stated Saul. This felt like a peculiar way to start a conversation. I nodded in agreement thinking about the inconsistencies of running a Christian establishment and trying to build a business. How do weight loss books or finance books become Christianized? Should Bible verses be used as a nutritional guide? At times, it made me uncomfortable. I reminded myself some folks needed different tools to spur on their faith. However, I highly doubted we needed to sell “Testamints.” A tin with a cross on the cover filled with peppermints to help start religious conversations with non-believers.
Saul restated his position as I straightened the smiling angel figurines next to the register. I forced a smile to match the angels staring back at me as customers continued to come in and out of the store.
“... And what about those gay help books? You can always tell who buys those books.” I froze as I could not believe what Saul had said as I tried to grapple with what type of response I should give. I forced my shoulders back, gave a slight nod and continued to dust the figurines of children sitting at Jesus’ feet.
"Really?" I questioned hoping Saul could sense my discomfort and would change the topic.
“Oh yeah. They have a lisp, while they talk like this...” Saul made a pathetic attempt of a gay person talking with a flamboyant voice.
I prayed for Jesus to cover my ears and eyes from his senseless shooting.
“And they have a limp in their wrist.” At the end of his arrogant sentence, he placed his left elbow into the palm of his right hand and allowed his left hand to flop around as his hateful laughter echoed in the air. I stared at Saul as he marched up and down the aisle as if doing a walk off. I could not believe this was actually happening. Saul’s cackling echoed in the now customerless store, which overtook the background worship music. If only I could see where Jesus was in this moment. Would he have walked away, asked him to stop or knocked the bookshelves over in righteous anger? I wanted to do the latter. I prayed for Jesus to cover my ears and eyes from his senseless shooting. In discomfort, I let out an uncomfortable chuckle in almost disbelief of his dramatic antics. Saul never knew I borrowed one of those self-help gay books to get over my sexual desires. I questioned if he thought I had a limp wrist and high voice too. Saul raised his eyebrows at me and his hollow laughter came to a close.
“Let’s get out of here,” stated Saul as we counted the cash and closed the store. We left Saul’s hateful spirit lingering in the store as I set the alarm and locked the door. I felt grateful I had already returned the gay book, so Saul would not notice. And by good fortune, maybe God’s grace, I did not have to work with this man again. Two new employees would start the following Monday, which meant our store didn’t need coverage from stores anymore and certainly not from Saul. As I walked to my car to go home that evening, I had a flashback of Carl sitting in the high school bleachers in Georgia, while my peers threw paper at him. And again, I fell silent.
And I knew, a new adventure would come soon, so I could escape in hopes of getting rescued.