Cut While Shaving
by MIA NGUYEN
If religion were true, its followers would not try to bludgeon their young into an artificial conformity; but would merely insist on their unbending quest for truth, irrespective of artificial backgrounds or practical consequences. – H.P. Lovecraft
He was a self-proclaimed religious zealot. He proudly insisted on telling the world he was a nonbeliever in romance by devoting himself to the verses of the Bible, above everything. He sacrificed his basic needs as a human being to pursue his quest his faith towards the Lord. His name was Luke and he belonged to a religious cult. We dated for a six-month period. It felt like eternity.
At this point in my life I was seeking validation from another person after being out of the dating game for so long. The lack of codependence left me feeling empty. Looking back on this experience I have confessed time and time again to my close friends that it was a time of desperation. It seems to be the only palpable rationale that comes to mind for diving into a relationship that lacked vast amounts of euphoria and passion.
Luke had some redeeming qualities, or else I wouldn’t have continued to pursue the challenge. I looked past the extreme religious ideologies he had, became selfless, and compromised time and being for the pursuit of love and overall happiness. He was attractive, charming, fun to talk to, knowledgeable and charismatic.
I didn’t think it was physically possible to achieve turning a casual visit to the Museum of Fine Arts into a biblical lecture, but he managed. (This has since made me fear suggesting a visit to the art museum or any museum as a date idea.) Every sculpture, statue, and painting was analyzed through his interpretation of the Bible.
As we stood in view of a porcelain statue, I remember my eyes quickly moving around the room to avoid eye contact, having my consciousness drift away from the conversation. He put a sense of guilt around my neck like a knitted scarf for not listening.
In communicating my thoughts and frustrations about not limiting myself to a religious affiliation, I found enough strength in my willpower to not let it bother me. Luke respected my decision and let the subject go for awhile.
It was quite unusual to be hanging around someone, especially in a romantic setting, while they casually lugged around copious amounts of water in a backpack for their water fast.
“Why are you doing this?”
“I want to make the Lord proud.”
He wasn’t a fan of food, or the act of eating. Every time I made plans with him to have lunch he would find an excuse not to eat, usually informing me he was on a fast or telling me how he was on some weight loss pill he ordered over the Internet. The only time I saw Luke eat in our relationship was a bite of salad before leaving it alone on the plate to wilt.
Growing up, my parents didn’t instill my brothers and I with any views or religious deities. I remained spiritual, open, respectful of others for the beliefs they held sacred. I knew he didn’t respect my disinterest in religion. He made strong attempts to proselytize me into believing in the Lord. He would pass on my phone number to others in the cult, so that they would invite me over their house for dinner. Dinner was a code word they used quite often to lure me in. I wasn’t hungry for the religious bait they were trying to feed me.
After denying his many invitations to join him, he finally succeeded on his quest when he surprised me by leading us to the front of a brownstone.
“Where are we?”
“Thought I would bring you here.”
Every feeling I had in that moment felt like a lost child in a shopping mall. I needed someone to rescue me for the misfortunes I created for myself. I knew I had to steer my way out of the predicament I had put myself over those months.
When we entered the house I excused myself. In a moment of fury and panic I locked myself into the closest bathroom. Looking back on it now I could have stayed there long enough to craft an alibi to warrant leaving so quickly. I splashed cold water on my face with and held onto the sink with all of the willpower I had left. Luke stood behind the door waiting for me to come out. We kept our quarrel down to a whisper.
A woman named Rosemary with strands of dark and light grey hair approached me with open arms. I plopped my body down unwillingly on the seat next to her. The movements in her face suggested that I was in for a rude awakening. She took my hand into hers and asked me to pray. All I thought about when we were praying was a pizza place that was several streets over. Another young woman with stringy light brown hair slid a chair next right next to her. My soul was writhing with fear.
“Do you believe in God?”
“Not particularly. I’m not religious.”
“Well, honey, I think you should. It’s good for you.”
I spent an hour or so listening before I felt the pit of my stomach rising and falling with impatience. I remained polite and told Rosemary that I needed to excuse myself to go to the bathroom. Without an ounce of shame, I ended up bolting towards the front door. I made eye contact with Luke before letting myself out.
“We are over,” I whispered.
That day Luke got what he wanted. It was his plan all along to see me get a taste of what I hated the most. I lost him to the hysteria of religion.
After I left the house I got what I wanted. I walked over to the pizzeria a few streets over, the one I had fantasized over during prayer, and ordered myself a slice. I ate it without him. He wouldn’t have wanted to eat with me anyway.
Photographs by the author.
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