Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Dark

In fourth grade my best friend was a girl by the name of Julianne Haas. Julianne and her family were Jehovah’s Witnesses. That meant unlike the rest of us she didn’t celebrate Christmas, Easter, Halloween, or even her birthday. Of course for her birthday which came right after Halloween we always snuck her a lip gloss or some little girly thing. During holidays she was always the oddball, never able to watch Halloween movies. Not even Charlie Brown. Of course my family didn’t have Cable TV and I wasn’t allowed to watch TV during the week. These two things combined made us pals. We were both oddcasts in a school where the kids were overindulged cable junkies able to do whatever they pleased it seemed.
Since my folks had my siblings and I later in life they were old school as compared to the other parents. My mom often would wince when she came to PTA meetings to find the other mothers in high top tennis shoes. Julianne’s mother, a devout Witness, never wore shorts. Although my mom, a gym teacher and fitness enthusiast wore shorts, she felt as much an outside as Julianne’s mom. So as we became friends so did our mom’s. Despite the religious difference that didn’t matter either.
Julianne had an older sister Janelle. Janelle was on a dance team that traveled around the world. She was tall and beautiful and was built like a Barbie doll. All the guys used to talk about Janelle. For as young as we were she seemed like a goddess to these guys. Julianne was pretty too, but not in the same way her sister was. She had pale skin and pitch black hair. Looking like a young Snow White, she always wore dramatic red nail polish. However, she would be the peel off kind that could be removed before her Witness Parents saw her hands.
I never minded Julianne but sometimes she was at odds with the rest of our crew. Sue Ellen McClay, a red head who dreamed of being a writer was a sometimes friendemy of our clique. Once Julianne called Sue Ellen on Christmas Day to go sled riding. However, because Sue Ellen was with her family she couldn’t come to the phone. Julianne never quite got over the supposed diss and didn’t speak to her for the rest of the school year. It wasn’t that Julianne was mad, it’s just that she didn’t understand never celebrating holidays and all. Eventually it seemed she was on everyone’s bad side.
One day as I was walking to lunch in the cafeteria I was pulled to the table by our friend Lauren. “April, lets not let Julianne sit with us today.”
“Why?” I asked the chunkette with brown hair and an olive complexion. Despite a sweet outward appearance she was capable of mean girl stuff the rest of us were not.
“Because she wouldn’t go to my birthday party because her mother said they don’t celebrate birthdays.” Lauren said. I rolled my eyes back. Little Miss Mean Girl hadnt invited me either.
“You didn’t invite me either.” I snapped.
“Well I was mad at you.” And yes she was. I blew off Lauren in order to do an extra credit book report. Then again, Lauren and her gossip could never be trusted. Plus Julianne was my friend.
“Well Julianne is still my friend. Drop dead.” I replied getting up leaving this mean girl to rot with Sue Ellen.
I saw Julianne and motioned for an open spot for the both of us. “Sue Ellen doesn’t want to be my friend.”
“No, you just called her on Christmas. She was with her family.” I pointed out.
“Well I am tired of them gossiping about me. I am glad we are friends.” Julianne said. “Do you want to come over my house next Friday?” She asked.
“Sure.” I told her.
“Bring Skipper too.” Although Skipper was the tag-a-long when we hung out the elf did keep things interesting. Plus it seemed right now I was Julianna’s only real friend. At the time, I didn’t realize how she felt so at odds with everyone.

The next Friday came and the bus dropped Skipper and I off at the front of Julianne’s house. Standing at the front door was her mother. Looking like a larger version of Julianne she was clad head to toe in her usual blouse and skirt. Despite it being the nineteen nineties she looked as if she was dressing for the fifties. With her large glasses she smiled and greeted us. “How are you girls?” Mrs. Haas asked.
“Good.” I said. “Good to see you Mrs. Haas.”
“Good to see you too. Would you girls like some lemonade.” Mrs. Haas asked.
“Sure.” Skipper said.
When we got to the kitchen on the wall there were pages in various frames. “What are those?” Skipper asked curiously.
“Oh various passages from the Bible.” Julianne explained. Next to us on the chair were pamphlets from Watch Tower. Although Mrs. Haas was gracious enough to respect the fact my parents didn’t want converted and never approached us, she always had the literature lying around. She often went door to door in our neighborhood with another woman who had red hair. Every so often Mrs. Haas would stop by if my mom was home to say hello. My mom’s whole attitude was while she was a Catholic she respected Mrs. Haas and her commitment to her faith, and maybe these well meaning pests would help someone in need.
“Oh, our dad just keeps his Bible by the bed.” Skipper remarked.
Julianne laughed. “My parents are into the whole JW thing.” She said as soon as her mom was out of ear shot. “Sometimes I disagree with it.”
Just then Mrs. Haas came back with our glasses of lemonade. Sipping the lemonade we heard a car with loud music pull into the driveway. It sounded like hip hop or rap of some sort. Julianne bit her lip. “What’s wrong?” I asked.
“We aren’t supposed to be listening to that sort of music.” She said.
“Who’s listening? We aren’t.” I asked.
“No, it’s going to be another battle grand royale. My sister versus my mom.” Julianne said. Just then Janelle entered. She was dressed in a form fitting tight shirt with painted on jeans. Throwing her back pack down Janelle looked around and headed to the refrigerator.
“Hey kiddies.” She said. That was her usual greeting for us.
“Who took you home?” Julianne asked her sister. Janelle looked beautiful in that beauty pageant meets trash sort of way. She wreaked of cigarette smoke. Quickly, she took out her perfume to try to spray away the smell.
“Oh Rock n Roll Bob.” She said with a dreamy, goofy girl  grin on her face. I was familiar with the lore of Rock n Roll Bob. My brother knew the kid only in passing. He was in high school and had several piercings. As a matter of fact, you could probably run after him with a magnet if you really wanted to screw with him. He was two years older than my brother and even the kids in the seventh grade knew of this Goofus Maximus Supremo.
Skipper and I looked at each other. We had heard that this moron was responsible for a three car pile up outside the high school. It all started when said idiot was driving too fast in the wrong direction during a drag race and crashed into two other cars. Luckily no one was hurt but this idiot regarded it as sort of a notch on his proverbial belt. Meanwhile the rest of us rolled our eyes and didn’t need a crystal ball to know his future either included him pumping our gas or asking, “Do you want fries with that?”
Just then Mrs. Haas entered. Seeing her oldest daughter a look of disapproval came over her face. “Have you been smoking?” She asked.
“No mother.” Janelle said.
“Want to go pick flowers?” Julianna asked. Skipper and I nodded. Something led me to believe that this rebellious teen and mom fight was going to be something of a brawl.
As we walked out of the kitchen I could overhear Mrs. Haas asking again, “Have you been smoking?”
“No mother. Now stop asking me questions. I have dance in an hour.” Suddenly I heard what sounded like a slap.
“I hate you, you bitch!” The teen screamed.
“Flower time.” Julianne directed. Skipper immediately held my hand unsure of what else to do. Whatever was going on with this family they were seriously more screwed up then we knew. Sure our folks could be strict and tough but we didn’t have Bible verses on our wall. This was a whole new level of intense that we could have never dreamed up.
The three of us headed to the spring sunshine where we saw a flower bed and began to pick various daisies and made arrangements. “Wouldn’t it be cool if we made Skipper a crown?” I asked her.
“Sure.” Julianne said as the two of us wove the flowers together to make a crown for the third wheel tag a long. Skipper dawned the crown on her head. She began to skip around the yard and sing some crazy song she had learned in music class that week.
“You have a pool?” I asked.
“Oh yeah but my mom never goes in.” Julianne said sort of saddened.
“Why?” I asked.
“Oh, she doesn’t want the neighbors to see her skin.” Julianne explained. It was the strangest thing I had ever heard. I ignored it and saw Skipper running around the yard in an instant.
“I am Skipper, Queen of the Fairies!” She shouted and began singing, “Tra la la la la.” This seven year old imp was indeed adorable. Balletic in her movements, she leapt around the yard and began to spin until she fell down. I laughed but saw Julianna pale as a ghost upon seeing her mother standing in the yard.
“What are you girls doing and why is Skipper on the ground?” Mrs. Haas asked.
“Oh, just having fun.” Julianna said as if that was against the law in their home. From the looks of it fun was probably a sin in itself against God.
“I am Skipper, Queen of the Fairies.” My sister said.
Julianna tensed up a bit. “It’s a joke.”
Mrs. Haas scowled at Julianna and then went back in the house. “What’s with your mom?” I asked.
“Oh, we aren’t allowed to tell fairy stories or talk about fairies because they are magical.” Julianna explained to Skipper and I.
“Oh. Then we won’t.” I told her trying to make the best of a very awkward situation.
“Why?” Skipper asked propping herself up from the ground, grass stains on her butt.
“It’s my religion.” Julianna explained.
Skipper, without missing a beat said, “Why would anyone want to join such a stupid church?”
There was an awkward silence. Somehow I had to save the situation wherein my kid sister had put her foot in her mouth. Poor Juliana wasn’t a princess but it was clear she lived in a glass tower. And not to mention while my sister was right this was my friend and now this was my mess. Thanks kid.
“She doesn’t mean that do you Skipper.” I said giving my sister a little kick.
“Sorry.” Skipper said as I helped her up from the ground.
“I think the storm has blown over inside. Come on.” Julianna said.
The three of us made our way inside the house. Mrs. Haas was in the other room talking on the phone as I saw Janelle at the table scowling. “Mom’s in a bitch mood.” Janelle informed us.
Julianna stared at the ground. She didn’t know what to say to her rebel without a cause older sibling and neither did we. Either way, it was clear this kitchen was an open war zone and Julianna knew it. “Do you want to play with my hamster?” She asked us.
“Sure.” I said.
Skipper and I followed Julianna to her room where she got her hamster, Captain Cook, out of the cage. Her walls had cut outs from magazines and seemed to be a normal girl’s room. There weren’t Bible verses on the wall of this room which was a relief.
“Your religion lets you have hamsters?” Skipper asked. That’s when I threw my hand over my sister’s mouth in hopes to shush her up.
To my surprise Julianna laughed a very sweet, gentle laugh. “Yes Skipper.” She said, “They let us have hamsters.”
“We can’t have a hamster.” Skipper told her mournfully. It was true. We could not. My parents forbade all rodents. Even our hermit crabs were a stretch and that fad had died out years ago in our home when Hermie I, II, and III all passed and Skipper’s crabs Pretty Nice and Girly Girl had also sailed to crab heaven. Not to mention we had been pinched a few times and that sort of sucked.
“Can he run in his wheel?” I asked Julianna.
With that my friend got the hamster out of the cage and off he went running. Captain Cook was running around the upstairs and of the house and we ran after him. It didn’t matter that the kitchen was a war zone, Captain Cook was on a voyage in his wheel. Mrs. Haas saw us and laughed. I was surprised she knew how to do that. Always serious and religious, I doubted she did anything except go to Kingdom Hall and occasionally sell real estate with her husband.
Of course Janelle was at the table doing her homework and yelled, “Run Captain Cook, run!”
Just then we heard the front door open. It was Mr. Haas. With brown hair and a bushy mustache he saw Captain Cook running around and immediately laughed. “Well, it is clear that when April and Skipper come Captain Cook is out of the cage and in the wheel.” He said chuckling.
Mrs. Haas however was not about to let the fun continue for much longer. The Sheriff of the Fun Police had come and said, “Could you girls take Captain James elsewhere? I have to have a chat with Mr. Haas.” Her tone was steel. If her words could have cut the toughest metal in the world they would have,
As we entered the next room we heard Mrs. Haas hiss, “Your oldest daughter is out of control. She is wandering away from God.”
“Rebecca it’s because you rule with an iron fist. Let the kids have a little fun every once in a while. Let them sing a song. Then maybe Janelle wouldn’t try to test you so much.” Mr. Haas suggested. While he was very involved with the church he seemed more mainstream and less severe than his stern spouse.
“Well she is testing me. Are you aware she was smoking!” Mrs. Haas said.
“So talk to her about cigarettes and how they killed grandma.” Mr. Haas suggested.
“And then Julianna was telling fairy stories with those girls. I don’t blame them so much because they are Catholic. But our Julianna should know better.” Mrs. Haas hissed again.
“She is ten. Let her be a kid.” Mr. Haas suggested.
Julianna looked at us apologetically as Skipper and I stared at each other horrified. “My mom can be intense sometimes.” She said.
“It’s cool.” I told her.
“Want to go to the basement to hang out?” Julianna asked.
Skipper and I shook our heads yes. Anything would be better than hearing her family drama unfold.
As we ran down to the cellar I blurted out, “This would be the perfect place to tell ghost stories.” Indeed it would have been. Her basement was dark and there was only a little light that came through the window. It had this eerie, otherworldly glow about the place.
“Lets tell ghost stories!” Julianna said very excitedly.
We all shook our heads and one by one began to tell our favorite scary stories. Skipper started and ended the scary story session. She told one stock story about a girl with a ribbon around her neck by the name of Jenny. Apparently Jenny’s friend Alfred wanted to know why she had the ribbon around her neck and one day she told him to remove it and Jenny’s head fell off. Skipper, to finish her tale, let out a blood curdling scream at the end.
Because Skipper was being so melodramatic Julianna and I laughed. This kid was a mess but we did like having the pest around. Just then Mrs. Haas came downstairs. “What’s going on?” She asked eyeing the three of us suspiciously.
Julianna was silent not knowing what to say. Then I realized it. We weren’t supposed to be telling scary stories. Oh we were in for it now. There was this tense silence as she eyed the three of us up with her big glasses. They were going to have an exorcism at Kingdom Hall, except they didn’t have exorcisms in the Witness religion.
“We were telling….” And that’s when I threw my hand over Skipper’s mouth. There was no way I was letting Skipper get my friend in trouble again.
“We were talking about this girl we know with smelly feet.” I said making the save of the day.
“And what smelly feet she has.” Julianna agreed.
“Her feet stink like they want to be alone.” I countered. The two of us laughed, my hand still over Skipper’s mouth. A smile cracked over Mrs. Haas’s face. Saved by the bell. Just then she turned to go upstairs and Skipper bit my hand.
“Ouch!” I screamed.
“Don’t ever do that to me again.” She snapped. “I was just going to say we were telling ghost stories. Why did you have to go and lie?”
“Because I am not allowed to tell scary stories either.” Julianna explained. Skipper then looked down at the ground, guilty of not knowing. Her seven year old brain was still trying to wrap itself around this religion.
Just then we heard a car pull into the driveway. “It’s my grandfather. You should come and meet him. He’s so neat.” Julianna told us.
“Is he allowed to tell scary stories?” Skipper asked curiously. I elbowed my sister, who apparently didn’t get the memo about not putting her foot in her mouth. Nonetheless she kept on doing it, more flexible than any yoga instructor.
Julianna to my relief laughed. “Yes, he’s not a Witness.”
“What is he?” I asked.
“Oh well he’s Methodist or something. He sneaks us Christmas gifts and stuff. Don’t tell my mom I told you.” Julianna said making us promise. I elbowed Skipper again so she would get the memo.
Running up the stairs we were greeted by a man with salt white hair and a Santa like beard. “Julianna, how lovely to see you!” He said picking the youngster up. My friend smiled and laughed when she saw her grandfather. Then again, I wasn’t aware that there was any smiling or laughing to go on in that house, the one of dismal service to the tyrant God of their understanding.
“Hi grandpa. These are my friends, April and Skipper.” We both shook his hand as he sat down. Somehow, Julianna began to tell her grandfather I was a geography buff.
“April can name any and all capitals around the world.” She told him.
“Japan.” Her grandfather asked.
“Easy, Tokyo.” I replied. We went on for a few more as he began to tell us that during World War II he had been in the Navy and basically sailed around the world. Somehow, he had won a purple heart for being injured in Japan. He talked to us about the far East and how much he loved the people of Japan despite the fact that they were our enemies during that war. Looking at her grandfather and seeing her mother, I wondered how such a nice told man could have spawned such a religious zealot for a daughter.
As the story wrapped on Janelle came out of her room. She was more or less slinking by her grandfather, shirking in the shadows, trying not to be seen as she wore a crop top and mini skirt. Her lipstick was nearly black and her hair was done in some slut up do that only the MTV rap girls like ‘Lil Kim wore. Just then, her grandfather saw her. “Hi Janelle.” He said.
Janelle stopped dead in her tracks. “Hi grandpa.” She said guilty as charged. Janelle was busted. This was going to be the start of another World War brewing.
Mrs. Haas turned her head. “Get back in your room and take those clothes off. They are disrespectful to your grandfather.”
“Fuck you mom!” She screamed. There was a moment of awkward silence. “Dad said I could wear them.”
The grandfather chuckled. “You were just as rebellious when you were young. Cool your jets.” He told her.
“Not loose like this.” Mrs. Haas snapped.
“Who are you calling loose? Why don’t you tell our company about our older brother you had when you were sixteen? You know the one you had to give up for adoption.” Janelle snapped.
Skipper gave me an awkward look and there was even more of a silence. Mrs. Haas at that moment stood up and slapped her daughter. Julianna looked down, ashamed that this story would circulate back to school. Janelle cried and ran to her room. Mrs. Haas stood there in a daze. The grandfather said, “Laverne, if you didn’t keep such a tight reign on the girl she wouldn’t be breaking out of the cage.”
Just then my mom’s van pulled in the driveway. We thanked Mrs. Haas, we thanked Julianna, we thanked Julianna’s grandfather and off we drove home. Even if my mom didn’t tell us that dinner was burning we would have bilked it. Those people were too much for us.
Soon after our visit to that house Julianna was forbidden to talk to me. It was because we told fairy stories. When Julianna acted as if this was my sister Skipper’s fault I disfriended her immediately. Sure, maybe Skipper didn’t know any better. It wasn’t her fault that she was being a normal seven year old child on a grounds that was one step away from a mental hospital. While Skipper may have been a pain in the ass she was still my pain in the ass and most of all my sister. And it was Mrs. Haas fault for not letting children be children. Shortly after my disfriending her Julianna grew more and more distant from our group as a whole until she completely and utterly ate lunch by herself.
Of course Janelle proved to be more of a problem running away from home several times until she eventually secured employment as a stripper and small time porn star. She doesn’t go by the name of Janelle anymore but rather Bam Bam, because according to the posters she is the hit of the club, but then again she has those cottage cheese thunder thighs the ghetto and white trash patrons of that low class joint she dances at love too. The sad part was, Janelle was probably destined for better things like Scores.
Julianna’s parents eventually divorced. Her father met another woman while selling real estate and they moved to Florida where he now has a second family. I saw his picture a few years ago on myspace, he looks happy. And from what I heard he was also blackballed from the Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall as well. But from the looks and sound of it he went willingly.
Mrs. Haas apparently is still involved and goes door to door with the same red headed woman. Since her shunning of my sister and I, my mom more or less tells her to get off our porch when they come with their Watch Tower nonsense.
As for Julianna, she is married and working as a hairdresser. By the looks of the pink streaks and the gay friends, it seems as if she has broken out of Kingdom Hall. However, in each picture I see of her online she is always holding an alcoholic beverage which means she is still an unhappy slave in her own way.
When I recall that day at the Haas’s house I remember I learned one important thing. My family lived without cable therefore we didn’t see somethings and were denied some programs. However, there are some people with all the channels in the world. But because they have such a severe dogma they are damned to live in the darkness forever, never to see light.
And in their darkness, in their stupidity, in their quest to save the world, they don’t realize that not only is the entire world screwed but their own lives are a complete shit show. That is, a God sponsored shit show.

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