Saturday, June 22, 2019

The First Time I Died: A Transgender Girl's Lessons in Death

"End? No, the journey doesn't end here."

J.R.R. Tolkien

I was around three the first time I died. Fortunately, I was witty enough to think my way out of it before it was time for my parents to pick me up from Pre-School. Despite being raised Roman Catholic, I was enrolled in a Protestant Evangelical Pre-School, called "Sunshine." It was there I learned some things about singing, napping, climbing up stairs, and even got my first kiss. The girl had pulled me aside while we were make-believing in the kitchen play set and surprised me with a small peck. I think I spilled my imaginary cup of tea all over the freshly vacuumed carpet. I remember being confused but not upset. I did get confused and upset when I got in trouble for it. The surprise and the adult response was another lesson I received at this Pre-School: openly trusting what people do or say can lead to confusing problems, especially when I have thoughts to the otherwise.

Another confusing problem occurred to me when I was driving home from Pre-School down Park Street, under the canopy of old trees that seemed to be a staple of my hometown, and we were about to cross the tracks to the north side of town. "I don't want Jesus in my heart," I told my mom. She asked me to explain why I say that. "Because I think that would give me a heart attack or something." She laughed. She was confused and asked me to explain. But I was confused too. "The school told me that to be a good person, I need to invite Jesus into my heart," I reported. "But even if he could fit in all those tubes and things, I don't think my blood could get through with a man in my heart." My imagination flashed with all the damage a tiny human could do trying to make a home, sleeping, working, and trying to prepare meals inside a kid's cardiovascular system. I asked her if that meant I was a bad person, because I didn't want a miniature Jesus to give me cardiac arrest. She told me I was a good kid and a bright kid. Then she told me that I could be friends with Jesus even if he didn't live in my heart. I thought that was a sensible compromise.

The sense of doubt in the adults of my Pre-School came in handy when it came time for me to die. They had arranged a trip for us to tour the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center. The first half of the trip was okay. I had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and watched a video about Humpty Dumpty. Humpty Dumpty was an egg who fell off a wall and broke but he was able to be put back together. I wasn't a huge fan of the film but then again I tend to not appreciate C-rated horror films as this seemed to me to be. After this, the Pre-School teachers broke us up into groups. About five or seven at a time, we would walk through a door into a dark room. As far as I could see, no one was coming out again after they entered. Then it was my group's turn. Our teacher walked us through the door which shut behind us. I could feel the walls which were covered in some sort of dark carpet but otherwise the room was totally dark and quiet. Then our teacher told us, "you are dead. You have died." I immediately began to panic. Death hadn't hurt but I was very sad to not see my mom or my dogs or my siblings or my dad or my house again. I didn't know anyone who had died and so I felt very alone, despite being dead with a bunch of other three and four year olds.

I stood grieving my own death for about a minute before a door on the other side of the room opened, revealing a brightly lit chamber. Walking through the dark hallway into the light, I was surrounded by a bunch of other dead kids, all standing in a high room painted with bright blue sky and clouds. There was a railing, presumably to keep us from falling back to earth. I wanted to see if I could see Wheaton and maybe my home below us, so I went over to the railing. Looking down, I saw a mirror reflecting my face back at me. Scanning along the other side of the railing, I took in the effect of the mirrors reflecting the lights and the sky to make it seem as though they went on forever. At this point, I deduced that I probably was not dead. 

I think I began to cry. My teacher tried to comfort me by saying something about how we are in heaven, pointing to all the walls and lights. I did not have the presence of mind to tell her how this was a pretty boring looking heaven. I was too busy crying and holding my arms across my body. She then told me that I really wasn't dead, it was just a museum. I wanted to tell her that I had figured that out on my own and that I wasn't crying because I thought I was dead (that experience had mostly come with a sense of guilt at abandoning my family) but rather because of how enraged I was that I had been lied to again. As in the case of the the girl who kissed me while we were playing in the toy kitchen, make-believe is fine and good but you should explain the game to the people you're playing with before you start or make significant changes. I wasn't ready to be some girl's wife, girlfriend, or whatever she thought I was in her imagination. Likewise, while these adults were eager to get Jesus into my heart or get me into Jesus's sky palace, I wish the Jesus they were presenting to me was less eager to see me dead. That said, as the Humpty Dumpty film had already warned me, these adults seemed to like horror films way more than I do. All I wanted was to vacuum the rug, make some imaginary tea and take a nap without being assaulted or killed by my playmates. Is that so hard?


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