Baptism by Fire

By, Vana Peterson


If anything, God to me is a middle-aged acne scarred film lover living in his mother’s basement whom works the reels at midnight showings in the cinema. He’s got the Criterion Collection on DVD AND Blu-Ray and is only working at the theatre to pay for his habit. (Interestingly enough, this is a close depiction of about 93% of my male friends minus their mother’s basement; I’m not sure what this means.)

However, He, himself, is an aspiring filmmaker. His secret hobby outside of all the being God biz, for the last few decades, has been intimately filming an independent documentary titled, “Vanessa Peterson: The Art of Euphemism and Eating — More Often Than Not at the Same Time.” Day in and day out, he’s there with his cheap camcorder catching the encompassing tragicomedy that is my life. Capturing those secret moments that one holds behinds barred doors. Poor kid. But now that we understand that God in my mind would be a reclusive pervert, if it wasn’t for his life’s work (Woody Allen and the Pope both come to mind,) let’s move forward with why I have mentioned it all in the first place — my Salvation.

I’ll tell you right now that I do not believe in Heaven, if you didn’t catch that by my not believing in God. Yet, it is to my own wild curiosity, even to this moment, as to what Hell is and why I’m convinced this place exists. It’s funny the fear that can be instilled by either of these places as a child. Perhaps it was the fact that while growing up I was told by my elder sister I would go to Hell if I ratted on her for whatever mischievous act she was up to. Nonetheless, Heaven was not real, but Hell most certainly was.

As a youth, Hell was a depiction of flames licking at the immoral flesh of mankind. A blazing inferno ruled by Hades, devil tail and all. Hell was a place my mother willingly went to at 9:00 PM, every three months, to “practice” her faith. My sisters and I would sit on the stairs next to the locked bedroom door where we would hear her scream, “Oh, the Devil, more!” (For years, I believed her to be coercing with the man himself. Why else would she be going to bed so early and have to lock the door?)

As my adolescence approached, it became a place of naughty images full of naked boys and girls, words like ‘fuck’ and ‘cunt’, rated R movies, and all the things I would have liked to do with Matt Barrus underneath the century old tree at lunch time. Maybe it was all the red, or the hush-hush of it all, but I was hooked. I sold my soul to the Devil himself and he didn’t even have to ask. In fact, I’m not sure I was even invited, but I can vividly recall the night that I RSVP’d to the eternal party happening behind those artfully welded gates. I was twelve-years-old and fully aware that what I was about to do next would most assuredly burn my bubbly pink certificate of Salvation to ash.

I masturbated.

You know, like, knowingly.

I had been teasing around the idea of it for weeks. Questions arose like: What will happen to me if God is watching? What is it like in Hell? Will I burst into flames when I’m touching that funny part? How long will it take before I do? And the most terrifying question of all: What will happen to me when my parents find out?

That’s right. Not IF my parents find out, but WHEN my parents find out. I mean, my acne-ridden version of God would be filming the whole bit, after all. What if he wanted to invoke ill-will on me after a bad argument of who gets to be in charge of the remote? Fuck ’em. I had made up my mind. It was either all hands on deck, or the ship was sailing on without me. This was my self-proclaimed passage into womanhood. I was going to touch the ‘funny part’ until that eye-rolling thing happened I saw in my short list of films to reference.

From a viewer’s perspective, it probably looked like I was preparing myself for The Last Supper with how much care I put into what was about to take place. My own personal sacrifice to a world I had yet to know. I bathed with meticulous care and put on my finest set of pajamas, the purple silk ones with moons and stars. Next, I set up my writing desk in such a perfectly innocent manner. Lamp in the corner for dim lighting, check. Analog alarm clock set to least satanic music to deter from the sin about to unfold, the local country station, check. Moon journal with lock and key set neatly before me to transcribe my feelings after the act was done, check.

Okay, so now what? I sat there shyly for about 45 minutes, not quite ready to spontaneously combust. Also, what location of one’s bedroom was this supposed to take place? On the bed? Under the covers or on top of them? No, that would be too obvious and I didn’t want my parents to find out, remember? On the floor? No, the green carpet made me itch. What about where I was already sitting — at my desk? It seemed like as good as place as any, and if anyone decided to walk in, I could pretend that I was writing in my journal with big breathy gasps because I was upset. Brilliant!

As with most sober sex acts, it took a moment to properly get into. It may have been Garth Brooks’ classic “Thunder Rolls” that truly flicked the switch, but once it came on, so did I. In fact, everything came so intensely that I actually thought I was dying. My heart was pounding so heavily, I was certain the Devil was knocking on my chest cavity about to do a theatrical reenactment of Alien, but this version would be much more horrific because my parents would surely hear it and be forced to enter my room. My eyes even did that roll-in-the-back-of-the-head motion, except this probably looked more like Jan Brady going through an exorcism. The Devil was in me now, Lord have mercy! All I needed was for someone to bitch slap me on the forehead and knock me to the ground, followed by a congregation shouting, “Praise Jesus.” And what do you know, that actually happened! Well, almost.

My chair broke during my orgasmic exorcism, or exorgasm if you will, causing the desk to be what was smacking me across the forehead and knocking me out cold. Don’t worry that you missed it. It’s all been documented by my good ol’ buddy, God, for when I need that my-whole-life-flashed-before-my-eyes bloopers reel to be played. I’m sure he’ll let you check it out, for a small fee.

I had done it. Ladies, gentlemen, and Satanists alike, I had fucking done it! I had crossed over into the realm of glorified sex and sin and with only a minor concussion, to boot! I had not burst into flames. A skinny man with a tail did not tear apart my stomach. I had even managed to get by without my parents finding out. I was like an accomplice of pure orgasmic sin speaking the language of pleasure seekers worldwide. So, that’s what Hell was like? No wonder these fear-instilling folks were telling me committing such acts with self were so horrible. They did not want any more people in Hell with them taking up all the warm and electrifying space in the shade. Those selfish bastards. Well, I was on to them now and I made a vow that nothing would stop me from returning in the confines of my dimly lit room. I had scrawled my name shakily onto the license of my soul which made me more than a visitor now — I was committed. Hell was a tangible place I had been to. An orgasm was all the evidence I needed of its existence, which I now realize is why I believe in it to this day. I’ve gratefully been there so many times, it’s any wonder how I make it back to catch my breath and focus my vision. I’ve gotten the proof I need to be a devout believer for eternity.

Let it be known this will be the only time I will ever say this, especially in this context, but I think my mother was onto something.

Maybe I am religious, after all.