Before Laura had eaten from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and saw power dynamics everywhere, life was quite simple. She and her gay brother would put on puppet shows in their basement for their parents before she knew he was gay. Of course, at that time he didn’t know that he was gay either, all he knew was that when all of his friends were in the basement ripping out pages from the National Geographic and stuffing them into their pockets, he was still upstairs playing Legend of Zelda on N64 by himself. After Laura ate from the tree, her eyes were opened and she saw clearly that both saving princesses and saving photos of African women’s sideboob for later were both the result of patriarchal social conditioning foisted upon boys at a young age. Even still, Connor (that was her brother’s name) gave her unrealistic expectations about the goodness of men.
Laura used to walk around the house naked long after it was normal behaviour for a girl of her age. But one Sunday afternoon, her mother took her aside and gently said that they were having company later. And it wasn’t what her mother said, it wasn’t even how her mother said it, but Laura’s face burned red hot from shame and she never walked around the house naked again.
And so, when she was old enough to decide for herself, Laura decided to eat from the tree the Lord forbade her to eat from, in the form of enrolling at Michigan State University, a secular school instead of the Christian Alma Mater that both her parents and grandparents went to. Despite the fact that Opa was willing to pay for it in full, Laura took out student loans and enrolled at MSU. She needed to get out of the bubble. But she never expected to be kicked out of the garden.
It was Sophomore year in which Laura first felt the shame that came from eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Thankgiving dinner sophomore year ended with everyone leaving the table but Opa, glaring at her, and Laura’s face feeling a familiar burning sensation. But this time, she felt her face less hot from shame, and more from righteous anger. Her eyes were opened and she knew that the turkey they were eating came from one of only twelve factory farms in America where it had one final, bloody end of its short and torturous life.
She also knew that in addition to having the most churches per capita, they were on the list of one of the most racially divided cities in America, and, she made sure to add, she was indignant for not having met any black kids in her “Christian” school growing up. Her mother said what about Travis and Laura said he didn’t really count because Travis’s was adopted by white people. Her mother said, of course that counts and I don’t like your tone young lady, and Laura doesn’t exactly remember where the conversation went from there except that her face got hot and at one point her Dad stood up, and Connor asked to be excused. Finally her mom and Oma went to do dishes, and so she was left at the table with just Opa, glaring at her that way she imagined God glaring upon his only begotten Son before killing him on the cross 2000 years earlier.
Thanksgiving Junior year was a bit better. Connor came home with his new boyfriend Anthony which thankfully took the heat off of her. Anthony was really cool, and she enjoyed talking with him. But Opa didn’t say a word all evening, and Laura’s mom tried her best to jump in and make small talk that Oma only engaged in as long as the questions weren’t directed to Anthony. But eventually Laura had to speak up and say something and so this year too, dinner ended with her alone at the table but for the wrath of Opa.
Senior year thanksgiving started off pretty typically. Her mother asked her if she would please take her piercings out for Oma and Opa and Laura said isn’t body piercing one of the central values of Christianity and her mother said not in West Michigan it isn’t and so Laura went upstairs and came back down with a plastered-on smile and little saggy holes in her ears, suppressing her feelings until the inevitable blow-up. But this year was different because Oma had only recently passed away and so Laura was really honestly trying to be on her best behaviour.
Everything went really well until it was time to fold their hands, close their eyes, and go around the circle telling God what they were thankful for. Laura said she was thankful for the people that were working for positive change in America. Connor said he was thankful that he was finally starting to get over Anthony. Laura successfully stomached her Mom’s cheesy line, every year she was always just thankful that everybody could be together. Laura even tolerated her Dad’s thanking God for “the refreshing new direction the country was going in”—a clear nod to the new asshole president—but when Opa thanked God for sending Jesus to bear the punishment for our sins, she had to blurt out “The Penal Substitutionary Atonement Model justifies the American Military Industrial complex!”
The family went silent. And she bowed her head, waiting for the inevitable blowback.
Laura looked up through her firey red cheeks at Opa, expecting his wrath, or perhaps tears—which would have been worse. But Opa started to smile, and then he began to chuckle, and then he began to laugh. Laura searched for condescension in his laugh, for anger, she tried to see if he was using humour as a valve to release the awkward pressure. But she saw none of this, instead she saw that her Opa was laughing a laugh of pure joy. Conner began to chuckle next, eventually mom and dad began laughing, and pretty soon Laura did too.
And for a split-second Laura thought that maybe she understood the doctrine of the sovereignty of God. Maybe it was good that she ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and maybe it was okay for her to be insufferable at thanksgiving dinner these last three years, and maybe it was even acceptable for Oma to die. Because as far back as she could remember, Laura could not remember feeling so much joy in the presence of her family.
Erik Michael Delange is a writer, actor, and wannabe pastor currently attending Calvin Seminary. He hails from Vancouver, BC and likes good beer and good conversations. Introduce yourself to him!