Excerpt from The God Box:
and religion don't mix," my grandma once told me. "The church should
stay out of people's pants."
That random memory flashed through my
mind the first morning of senior year, as I tugged my red rubber WHAT WOULD JESUS
DO? wristband-snap!-against my wrist. I hoped the sting would help me forget the
sex dream that had woken me. But it didn't.
I climbed from bed, hurried
through my Bible reading and prayers, then raced through my shower, all the while
trying to stop thinking about the dream.
When I arrived at homeroom, my
girlfriend Angie had already snagged us a couple of seats together. She'd been
my best friend since kindergarten, when my family moved from Mexico to Texas.
Now, I surprised her with the latest CD of one of our favorite Christian rock
"No way!" Her bright brown eyes gazed up at me like I
was the only one in her world. "You're so awesome. Thanks!"
she scanned the CD's song list, I glanced up. A lanky boy I'd never seen before
stepped through the doorway. Tiny hoops pierced both ears and his left eyebrow-surprising
for our conservative little west Texas town, where even a single earring could
get a guy accused of "going gay." His black wavy hair and cedar skin
hinted he was most likely Mexican, while his cinnamon-colored eyes seemed to almost
pull me toward him. Who was he?
The boy sauntered toward an empty seat
where Jude Maldonado-a ratty guy who came to school mostly to make life hell for
everybody-had his dirt-smeared cowboy boots kicked up.
the new guy asked Jude, friendly-like. "Mind if I sit here?"
blind? " Jude sneered. "The seat's taken."
All of homeroom
turned to watch as New Boy calmly raised his hands.
Keep your chair."
"Here's a seat," Angie, always the rescuer,
"Thanks." The boy walked over with a broad smile.
"My name's Manuel."
"I'm Angie. This is Paul."
Manuel locked onto my eyes, as if peering inside me, with a look that was part
mischief and part something else.
I said firmly. Although my birth certificate actually did say, "Pablo,"
I didn't want to be constantly reminded I was from Mexico. I wanted to be American;
I didn't want to be different.
During the remainder of homeroom I tried
not to stare at Manuel. What was the strange pull I felt toward him, almost like
some force stronger than my own? Did he know me from somewhere? And what was up
with those earrings?
Throughout morning classes, my thoughts kept returning
to him. Nervously, I tugged at my WWJD wristband-a habit I had picked up from
a friend who used to bite his fingernails like crazy. In order to quit, he started
snapping a rubber band against his wrist whenever he caught himself. The pain
of the snap, although merely a sting, had helped him stop. In my case, I hoped
the trick would stop my mind from thinking things I didn't want to think.
the lunch bell rang, I eagerly headed to the cafeteria. My lunch group consisted
of Angie and two other girls, Dakota and Elizabeth, who were as opposite as hot
Dakota was gangly and tall, with curls of fiery red hair flaring
all over the place; editor of the school newspaper; Honor Society president; and
In contrast, Elizabeth was Barbie-doll petite and
impeccably blonde; a cheerleader; student council vice-president; and adamantly
Both were feisty and fiercely opinionated. The big difference
between them was that Dakota was warm and never harsh. Elizabeth acted warm, but
she could be cold as an icicle.
The two of them, Angie, and I had been
friends since middle school. We were all smart, ranking in the top ten percent
of our class, and all belonged to our Christ on Campus Bible Club.
as long as I can remember, my closest friends have always been girls. I'm not
sure why. I just found that generally girls were more open to telling you what
was on their minds and listening to what was on yours. You could talk to them
about emotional and spiritual stuff: like why somebody wasn't getting along with
someone else; or how a certain song made you want to dance or cry; or how you
felt God was calling you to do something.
I had guy friends, too, but they
tended to be more guarded from venturing into discussions much beyond sports,
cars, games, or sex. My Christian guy friends were a bit more open to at least
talking about God-related stuff, but even at Bible Club, the girls did most of
the talking. The few guys who attended mostly lobbed scripture verses as though
In any case, I didn't mind being the only male at our
lunch table. It made me feel special. The girls turned to me for advice. Like
today: Elizabeth had fought with her boyfriend, Cliff, because she'd seen him
talking with his ex. Angie thought Elizabeth was being too severe. Dakota suggested
Elizabeth get more info rather than give him the silent treatment. Elizabeth frowned
at their opinions, then asked what I thought.
gave a diplomatic shrug. "You really think you should crucify the guy just
for talking with somebody?"
Elizabeth frowned at that, too, while
Angie glanced across the cafeteria. "Hey, there's Manuel."
waved and I turned to see the new guy holding his tray, scanning the room for
a place to sit.
"Ooh, he's cute. Is he single?" Dakota pushed
the red curls back from her face as Manuel jostled toward us.
can I sit with you guys? I was hoping to see you."
As Manuel set
his tray down, Angie introduced him to the others.
flashed a smile. "Where you from?"
As Manuel ate his spaghetti,
he told us that he'd moved from Dallas (the nearest big city to us); his parents
were originally from Mexico; his mom had gotten a job as a math professor at the
little college in our town; and his dad worked as a sales manager for some company.
only half-listened to what he said, paying more attention to his voice. It was
soft and smooth, not gravelly like mine. I'd never liked my voice. And every time
he looked at me, it was, like, kapow! Something happened inside me that I couldn't
Then Elizabeth asked, "Are you a Christian?"
days more than others." Manuel gave a relaxed grin.
"But I try to
Elizabeth's brow knitted in confusion, and I was puzzled, too.
Either you were a Christian, meaning you accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and
savior, or you didn't and you weren't.
Angie and Dakota moved on to other
new-friend questions: Manuel's favorite color? Purple. Favorite season? Spring.
Favorite ice cream? Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough.
He asked us the same sort
of stuff and then said, "Hey, does your school have a GSA?"
what?" Angie's nose crinkled with curiosity.
alliance," Dakota interjected.
At the mention of the word "gay,"
I recalled the dream that had woken me that morning, and my face flamed.
cousin told me," Dakota continued, "that they started a GSA at her school
in Houston. She said it caused a huge ruckus. Some churches even tried to stop
"Ugh!" Elizabeth paled in horror. "They'd never
allow a group like that here."
"They barely even let us have
dances," Angie complained.
" Dakota, intrepid journalist
and always to the point, leaned toward Manuel. "Are you gay?"
expected him to laugh or get angry, but he calmly twirled his spaghetti noodles.
Elizabeth's jaw dropped. Angie's eyes grew wide. And my
heart skipped a beat. He couldn't possibly mean it. Could he?
worry." Manuel glanced around at us, half-grinning and half-serious. "It's
pealed with laughter, while the rest of us sat stunned. How could he joke like
that? Didn't he realize the consequences of what he was saying? Students would
shun and ridicule him-or worse. He had to be kidding.
"Are you serious?"
Angie asked and Manuel nodded.
Elizabeth braced herself on the table. "You
mean you're a practicing homosexual?"
studied her a moment, as if debating whether to take her question seriously. "Well,
actually, I think I've got the hang of it by now."
and Angie commented, "I don't think any of us have ever met anybody gay before."
gazed toward me. Quickly I averted my eyes. Why was he looking at me?
you can't be homosexual and Christian," Elizabeth sputtered. "That's
" Manuel gave a casual shrug, although
his voice sounded a little defensive. "What about John Three-Sixteen? Or
did I overlook the fine print?"
In our little notch of the Bible belt,
it wasn't unusual for someone to cite the famous verse: For God so loved the world
that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but
have eternal life.
But I'd never heard anybody quote it to include someone
gay. I'd been taught that gay or lesbian people had turned away from God.
I now glanced up at the girls, a million questions swirled in my mind. If Manuel
truly was gay (which I still couldn't believe he'd actually admit), then why was
he quoting Scripture? Had he ever actually read the Bible? Then didn't he understand
he was going to hell?
My friends and I stared across the table at one
another, as if we each expected the other to defuse the bomb of confusion that
had landed in our midst. And inside myself, doubts and worries I'd fought off
for years bombarded me.
Without anyone noticing, I slipped my hands beneath
the lunch table and snapped my wristband against my wrist.
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