The Day I Knew I Was Damned
Trauma at the laundromat
We lived in a trailer until I was in junior high, which meant we didn’t have a washing machine.
Driving to the laundromat in the next town was a weekly chore for my mom, and she usually brought my sister and me with her. None of us enjoyed it.
But there was one bright spot.
My mom would usually give us a quarter to buy a can of soda from the vending machines. Sometimes we had to split one, but sometimes we could each get our own.
I usually chose a lemonade. Sometimes there was some extra money to spend at the candy store next door. My sister and I would stand and peruse the selection behind the counter for a long time.
I would almost always eventually settle on several individual Andes Crème de Menthes.
(The last time I hit an Olive Garden, they were handing those out with the check. This shocked me the first time I went there. Such luxuries for free? Yeah, you could say I have a poverty mindset. I don’t think winning millions in the lottery could shift that.)
These were big treats.
But I also remember feeling some reluctance about spending money on treats. Sometimes I told my mom I didn’t want anything. My younger sister could not understand why I’d say that.
It was because I was old enough to have figured out that we didn’t have enough money for many splurges. My sister was too young to have realized it.
But the pleasure of some candy and soda did help fill the excruciatingly long time it took to get everything washed, dried and folded.
Then the visit went from boring to terrifying.
I was probably about 6 or 7, but already a good reader, the day a man walked through the laundromat handing out free newspapers.
I was happy to have a copy. It would give me something to do while my mom finished folding everything.
Every story in the“newspaper” was about the rapture that had supposedly just taken place.
I don’t remember all the details, but in one piece, a man reported that while he was hugging his wife, she just melted away.
The publication made it clear that everybody who was going to be “raptured up” had been and the rest of us were pretty much screwed.
We were not good people.
We had blown our chance to be good and now it was too late. We were all going to go to hell. Every one of us.
That was pretty heavy for a kid in grade school.
God wasn’t willing to overlook whatever minor transgressions I’d made? What had I done, anyway? There were frankly not a lot of opportunities to sin in my early childhood.
I was truly terrified.
I remember going into the restroom, locking the door and dropping to my knees, praying my innocent little heart out. I begged God to give me another chance.
I’d do anything! I’d stop accepting money for candy, even. Just don’t send me to hell.
My parents weren’t church-goers, but oddly enough, I often went by myself, and I attended Vacation Bible School every summer. I believed with all my heart.
My fear of Hell was existential, and that tabloid paper had tapped right into it.
At some point while I was hiding in the bathroom, I finished reading the paper. And there on the back was a message that went something like this:
“Hey, it’s not too late! Aren’t you lucky? False alarm! Come to our church next Sunday!”
I remember feeling great relief, but also anger. And then feeling guilty about my anger.
It was a lot of emotion for a young kid to unpack.
I never even told my mom or sister I’d barely escaped the fires of hell.
Speaking of that poverty mindset:
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