Flowers in My Ghost Town

People hate me. It's not my fault at all; it's who I've become. it shouldn't be my fault, but they sneer like I can't feel their stares. They must not know how one can sense the eyes boring into their back. They talk like I can't hear the whispers but they ricochet against the bathroom walls. They act like I won't notice the repulsion. They must think I'm blind and deaf to the world.


See, I'm an atheist. A flaw in the polished community. Godless, faithless. In the ever-changing eyes of the public, I remain the same: a disgrace.

 

But aside from the general public, it's never been a problem. I've grown used to the whispers and the stares. It doesn't bother me anymore that a person can be perfectly pleasant until religion is brought up. At least, it didn't.
Until now.


Ana had always been the light of my life. An optimist in a wicked world, she'd been she flowers into ghost town. She was my best friend. Since kindergarten, we had been joined at the hip. Our only problem: she was a Christian.

The scene is set. It is a gorgeous June morning, the kind that makes one feel warm and tingly inside. The birds with the scarlet wings sing outside my window. Squirrels quarrel in the underbrush. The grass is a bright, neon green, and so are the weeds are used to pick and tie with purple string. The baby blue sky is crystal clear. Swaying in the breeze, oak trees scrape against my window. Ana is crying on the phone.


Sitting on the carpet, my feet pressed up against the wall, I twiddled my thumbs as she, simultaneously, gave a speech and threw a fit. It always happened that way when she talked about religion, and the fact that if I didn't believe in God, I'd be sent to Hell for eternity.


"I don't want this to happen to you, Soph," she sobbed. "I don't want you to go to Hell. I want to meet you in Heaven and be best friends forever."


I had always been tolerant and respectful of religious people. In fact, most atheists look over the fact that you're probably religious. We don't want to cause trouble. We're just normal people. We're not calloused and evil and we have no "dark plans" to destroy Christianity. There are no demons in our souls, and we don't come from the pits of Hell. On the contrary, we are perfectly pleasant, which is why I never brought up the subject with Ana. I never questioned her. I accepted her. I never made fun of her. I didn't believe her, but I never, ever insulted her or her religion. But all the time, she vow to save me; all the time she'd question me, and all the time she'd plead to me and push me into converting. Why she did so was beyond me. All I knew was that it was my job not to pour salt over the wound.

"Soph... are you still there?"


I didn't answer her right away. I'd been thinking. I had two options, tell Anna for the nth time that I was not going to give up on atheism, or tell Anna for the first time that I was. And I could hear it in her voice: if I chose wrong, it would be the straw that broke the camel's back. This would be the last time we would ever had this conversation, for better or worse.  I felt like I was being pulled apart by an earthquake. Either way I jumped I would fall in the cracks. There were tears streaming down my face, and suddenly I realized that I was holding my breath. I could hear my heart hammering in my chest and the blood rushing to my ears. I felt sick.

"Soph, don't give up on me."
Don't give up on me.
Don't give up on me.

What happened next was a blur, but I remember telling her I would try. It was the biggest lie of my life, and as she screamed with laughter, I could almost see our friendship crumbling like Pompeii.

Fast forward to the end of the summer. I'd been to church, learned ten verses in the Bible, as well as the seven deadly sins, read the New Testament, asked twelve questions at Wednesday Bible study, prayed for my salvation, and kept a big, blundering, black life for my family, friends, and most importantly, the girl who had made my life shine with silver lining. I'd learn how hard it was to keep a promise, to convince yourself of something you won't ever believe, to change your whole life around, and not to mention praying for forgiveness of your sins each night, and to look into the eyes of the very person you've betrayed.


And for three months, I never said a word. Never told a soul. Because Anna was happy… it was the least I could do.


But something changed in me. All the life slowly vanished from my body. I wasn't eating, wasn't sleeping, wasn't talking; I had become a ghost; the ghost of the person I was before. I spent ninety days and nights lying to the people I loved. Ninety days and nights wondering how I was going to tell Ana the nasty truth.
But I finally did. I told her everything. And I think she was in shock when she said everything would be okay. I think she was lying when she said she was fine, she wasn't mad. I think she was being nice.


I wish she hadn't tried. I wanted her to scream at me. I wanted her to throw things at me and tell me what a horrible person I was. At least then I'd know it to be true.

 

The next few days I couldn't find the courage to talk to her. She didn't try to talk to me. We were dead inside, limp, like wilted flowers. We went through the days monotonously, without any feeling. We were too numb to care. It was the calm before the storm, or maybe, the most deadly part of all.


About a week later, she met me by my locker in the science hallway. She used to meet me every day; she'd even memorized my locker combination. But now, I felt something different. A pang of fear and regret settled at the pit of my stomach; hot flashes sent my jacket around my waist.


We both knew where we were going: the orchestra room. Since I was six, I had been playing music, but Anna started just three years ago. Our footsteps echoed on the tile floor, then padded on the carpet. We both sat down on  concert black chairs in the almost-empty room. She took a deep breath.


"This past week, I've been thinking a lot about, um... well, you know... and the more I thought about it, the less... okay I was with it."


She shifted in her seat. "Soph," her voice cracked, and slowly, a drizzle of tears turned into an avalanche. Wrapping my arm around her, I tentatively touched her shoulder. I could feel her wiry body trembling. She gulped, then started again.


"I need to know..." she took a deep breath. "I need to know if there's a - if there's any way that you can possibly - if there's any way whatsoever - you can believe in God. And this time, be completely honest."
I was stunned. "Ana, you need to choose?"


"Oh God - Soph... oh my God, I'm so sorry, but I can't have both you and Christianity in my life. You're - you're like a sister to me, and I love you too much to see you go to Hell. I can't... look at you every day and still... be happy if I know - if I know you're going to suffer for eternity. I need... to know... if there's a way."
And in that moment, I knew we were over. I knew that are eight years together had shattered into a million shards of glass, and I was looking straight back at my broken reflection with the last bit of light I had left.
Because that's all anything really is. Glass. It can be shattered… or smashed… or broken… at any time. And when I spoke again, my heart was feeling exactly like glass on a hardwood floor.
"There is... no way."

There was a better pause.
There was a caustic pause.
There was a pause of a thousand years.
"Then I'm sorry," she whispered. "I'm sorry, but... I can't."
Another pause.
A sniffle.
A sob.
An "I should go," and a "We'll fix this, I swear," and a
Pause.

Then the world exploded.

The weeks that followed were heart wrenching. They were full of splintering silence, bitter life, and salty tears. They were full of failure, of shutting myself off, full of darkness and pain, but full of learning that if you love it, you have to let it go.

 

Life isn't always rosy and sweet-smelling. I knew this before, but what I can't understand is how the very thing that's supposed to bind us, to make us whole, is destroying us from the inside. How the very thing that gives us purpose is killing us. How we wage wars of guns and words, bodies and minds, over something that should be accepted and cherished. There are sacrifices being made, lives being take.  The whole world is a ghost town. I can only hope that one day, there will be flowers.






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