Mom was yelling at me and viciously throwing laundry into the dryer. I was sitting at the top of the basement stairs, ready for a speedy exit if I needed one. She was blowing off steam because I, like most eleven-year-olds, had been very whiny and obnoxious that afternoon. In my defense, it was only because I was dragged out to lunch with her irritating friend Donna. She brought her son with her, and he and my brother decided it would be fun to annoy me as much as possible. The entire situation was overwhelming. I started responding to everything said to me with a complaint, forgetting every rule of politeness I'd ever learned, and during one accusatory finger point at my brother, I knocked my water glass over, soaking most of our party's plates.
That's what my mom seemed to be most upset about during her rant. "When that happened, Kayla? That was a sign from God telling you to behave yourself!"
Before then, I'd taken everything she said seriously, but that statement made me laugh out loud. "Are you kidding?"
My question made Mom angry, and she started ignoring me completely, which meant I was finally free to lock myself in my bedroom until she was in a good mood. On the way in, I stubbed my toe on the doorframe.
At the time, I believed in God like other kids believed in imaginary friends; He existed so I never had to be alone, and since I was pretty lacking in friends, He was around a lot. The way I treated my imaginary friend wasn't exactly typical, and since we'd stopped going to church, I wasn't aware of the abnormality until I was much older. Somewhere in my head, "prayers don't have to be verbalized" turned into "God can read minds," so I never spoke out loud to Him, lest the adults in my life think I was crazy. Also, since my imaginary friend was all-knowing, I spent most of my time asking him important questions like "Why does my science teacher hate me?" and "Why are the popular girls so mean?" Of course I was always assured that my science teacher was simply a terrible person, and that all of the popular girls were just jealous. Having God around to provide these answers was incredibly convenient: I could be wrong, but He couldn't.
Stubbing my toe so soon after making fun of my mother made me rethink the ridiculousness of the water-spilling incident. "God?" I mentally asked him. "Is Mom right? And was stubbing my toe a sign too?"
"Yup," God answered. He kept things informal during our little talks. Biblical sentence structure bored me as a kid.
"But why? Aren't we friends? I thought you were on my side!"
"Well," He answered, "maybe you just suck."
In the moment, I didn't believe Him, but in the coming days the notion haunted me. I accidentally bit the inside of my mouth after a rude remark at the dinner table. Was that a sign? I woke up one morning with a headache after blowing off my homework the night before. Was that a sign too? I stubbed my toe again after another argument with my mother. That had to be a sign.
The fact that I've always been a clumsy person wasn't making my trials any easier. Tripping over things and landing on the tiled kitchen floor wasn't an uncommon occurrence at all, and neither was hitting my funny bone or banging my head on things. Still, I took some solace in the fact that these incidents couldn't always be connected to my misbehavior, until a few weeks later in gym class. We were playing volleyball, and I was failing miserably. My teacher finally shouted to me, "Don't hesitate so much! Just go for it!" I decided to take the advice. The next time the ball was coming towards me, I went for it, my ankle gave out, and I fell into the kid standing next to me. Everyone on our team gave me a dirty look. My teacher pretended that she hadn't seen it.
"God?" I asked later, the game still fresh in my mind, "when I do clumsy things and I'm not doing anything wrong, are you punishing me for being over-confident?"
"Well, obviously," He answered. "Look at you. You're a mess. You can't even listen to a teacher right."
This new information made much more sense than my original connection between the toe stubbing and the water spilling. After all, I spent much more time thinking highly of myself than I did misbehaving. So, in the hopes of never injuring myself again, I made a conscious effort to stop liking myself: anyone who complimented me was a liar, and anyone who made fun of me was a genius. I got really good at following those rules after a week or two, and before too long I started believing them. Of course, there were still slippery floors and toe-seeking doorframes in my daily life, and I took them as signals to go even deeper. I somehow managed to turn all of my memories into situations that made me look bad. My old problems faded into the background, and I started asking God questions like, "Why did my parents buy me all these nice things that I don't deserve?' and, "Why do good people die in car accidents while I get to live?"
"Because I hate you," God would say, "and I want you to suffer as often as possible."
It was safe to say that God wasn't on my side anymore, but because of my total lack of self-worth I wasn't friendly with anyone else either. He was still the only one who could give me any answers.
I tried to keep my new attitude private, but authority figures started noticing it anyway. I went from being very talkative to very withdrawn, and any kind of interaction was done on a need-to-do basis. A teacher called home. Relatives who saw me three times a year were pulling my parents aside at parties and asking questions. Mom even tried to convince me to see a therapist. When asked directly what was bothering me, I always said it was nothing, and not once did it feel like lying. Being constantly miserable was far from enjoyable, but being on God's bad side was even worse in the long run. I didn't care what mortals had to say about my self-esteem. All that mattered was that He didn't think I sucked anymore.
My questionable relationship with God ended the next year when I finally made real friends at school. My belief in Him stopped altogether by the time I reached ninth grade. My lack of confidence came up at parent-teacher conferences for the remainder of my grade school career, but in recent years I've been able to change my view on myself once again. I like to think I'm much more normal now than I was when I was a paranoid eleven-year-old. There's still a part of me, though, that feels a little guilty every time my toe catches a doorframe. There's still a part of me that wonders if He saw something He didn't like.