Paula Sophia Schonauer, LCSW, continues a serial memoir. If you haven’t read the earlier parts of this series take a look:
- Manhood, from the inside out — Memoir and Mythology
- Part 2 — Cubby Hole
- Part 3 — Magic Carpet Cocoons
- Part 4 — Snips and Snails and Puppy-Dogs’ Tails
- Part 5 — Mirror
- Part 6 – Deep Water
- Part 7 – Limbo
- Part 8 – Dissociation
- Part 9 – Shame
“Every day is Judgement Day. Always has been. Always will be.”
― Tom Robbins, Skinny Legs and All
We had a family doctor who was, as I recall, a fervent Christian.
He had the whole set of ten volumes of The Bible Story, an illustrated series for children. Dr. Johnson also had crosses on the wall, framed posters with Bible verses, and one print of a painting that terrified yet fascinated me.
The painting portrays a destroyed city, the most prominent edifice a crumbling cathedral with three stars shining near the entrance. A mass of people stands at the entrance teeming around the lights.
A closer look reveals an ocean of people gathered among the debris of a failed civilization, a naked woman wandering into a body of water, perhaps a sea, a cluster of people on the beach, crying, embracing one another. There is a patch of beach uncrowded with people where two men are locked in combat, overseen by a dark figure with a staff, something humanoid, perhaps a demon or an angel. A nest of despondent people languishes on a nearby island. Flooded streets form a Celtic cross. Storm clouds part, sunlight beaming across the sky. It might be a sunrise, but it feels like sunset.
I asked Dr. Johnson about the painting after a visit.
He grinned slightly. “Judgment day,” he said.
“Read your Bible.”
His cryptic answer mystified me, and I became preoccupied with these ideas of judgment and destruction.
I am not sure why Mom and Dad decided to take me out of public school and enroll me in a parochial school run by a Missouri Synod Lutheran Church. Maybe they wanted to avoid the bussing mandates that had been ordered by the Federal Government in the early 1970s as a means of desegregating public schools. Missouri Synod Lutherans, in my experience, were stern with a fundamentalist streak, prone to a literal interpretation of the Bible. In 1979, many of them joined Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority.
Years after enrolling me, Dad bragged about a conversation with the head pastor of the church, Robert Behner.
He told me Pastor Behner had asked him if he was a Christian. Dad said he followed his own “philosophy.” The pastor expressed great concern, appealing to Dad to give him a chance to make Christians of his children. He offered to waive tuition if he and Mom joined the congregation of Redeemer Lutheran Church. They did, and in the Fall of 1973, I was a 2nd grade student at Redeemer Christian School.
Most of the kids in class came from privileged backgrounds, one of which, the pastor’s youngest son, Michael, a tow-headed boy, too cute for his own good, got away with all kinds of mischief while other kids got disciplined.
Right away, I learned Christianity has a hierarchy and a double standard. Michael was at the top of the hierarchy along with a few other students, and I was at the bottom among the kids who had working class parents, some of whom did not have high school diplomas.
The working-class kids wore hand-me-downs to school, and it was a challenge to adhere to the dress code: no denim, no shorts, no leather jackets, no skirts above the knee, no t-shirts, and no sneakers, except for gym class. We were not as polished as the more prosperous students, replacing denim with corduroy, sneakers with loafers.
During art class one day, Michael shot spit wads at the back of my head several times, giggling loud enough to get the teacher’s attention, but she only frowned, no other consequence. With each impact on the back of my head, my anger grew. I seethed with resentment and embarrassment as the room buzzed with stifled laughter. After two more hits, I finally exploded.
“Stop doing that!”
I stood and glared at Michael, who slunk into his seat to hide his milk straw and an arsenal of wadded-up paper balls. He had a talent for looking innocent like a cherub, tangled hair and blameless eyes, but a slight smirk betrayed his true nature. Mrs. Walker stood up and pointed at the door.
“You can go see Mr. Haus, young man!”
I felt the sting of injustice, fighting tears as I slammed the door behind me. I was going to get a spanking from the school principal, and a spanking at school meant a thrashing at home. I was already dreading Dad’s belt.
Mr. Haus’ office was a small gray room with faded blue carpet, a painting of an old man on one wall, an old woman on the opposite, both praying over loaves of bread, a cross on the wall behind the desk mounted on a strip of plaster dividing two windows.
The drab of the room matched the austere man sitting behind the desk, a block-shaped head bespectacled with square glasses. He had a dour expression, an intense gaze. He extended his right hand, indicating I should take a seat.
“What brings you here, young man?”
“Are you going to spank me?”
Mr. Haus’ expression did not change. He stared at me, a slight nod.
“Now, why would I need to do that?”
“I don’t know.”
Mr. Haus checked his watch but spoke no further. I tried not to look at him, but I could not resist. I looked for a cue, a gesture, an expression, something to indicate the next turn of events. His silence distorted time, elongating each moment. Finally, I confessed my transgression, but he seemed unmoved, remaining silent.
After a dozen agonizing minutes, he finally spoke, “It seems like you exercised poor judgment.”
That word, judgment.
“What’s judgment day?” I quipped, stalling for time.
“It’s the day humanity gets judged by God.”
I had seen a TV show depicting a judge pounding a gavel on a desk and telling people they had to go to prison. “Like criminals?”
“What are sinners?”
“Non-believers, murderers, thieves, sodomites…”
The word sodomite… that sounded bad, like something alien, misshapen, grotesque. I shivered at the monstrosity it represented.
“What’s a sod-o-mite?”
Mr. Haus leaned back, stern as ever. “Men who act like women.”
I guess he was trying to give me an age-appropriate answer without going into sexual detail while generally adhering to the scripture in Leviticus 18:22 …a man who lies with a man as with a woman ….
However, his answer ignited an inferno of dread. Dr. Johnson’s painting filled my imagination, and I saw myself on that crowded beach at the sunset of time, the dark angel pointing its spear at me.
“Sinners are cast in the lake of eternal fire,” Mr. Haus continued.
“The place where people who disobey God’s commandments go, where they get punished forever.” Mr. Haus looked at me, a discerning nod.
I cringed, waiting for judgment.
Last Updated August 20, 2021, 9:14 PM by Brett Dickerson – Editor