Before I was Black, before I was a woman, I was Adventist.
What I remember most about my childhood is time spent at church. Fellowship meals in the basement after service. Pathfinder and Adventurer lock-ins. Singing in the children's choir. There was my home on Studer Avenue and there was my home in the church. By the age of ten I knew more about the impending apocalypse than my family history. In fact, the throne of God was not only to be considered my personal family history, but my present and future.
There are things Adventists do not do. We do not drink coffee, we do not wear jewelry, we do not eat seafood lacking fins and scales. I thought about this as my hand lifted to my lips, an oyster perched in the crux of my palm.
"Just let it slide down," my friend said. "Or chew, whatever."
It had been a slow decline, not from Adventist feeling but from Adventist practice. Keeping the TV on past sunset on a Friday night. My first alcoholic drink sometime after my 21st birthday. Missing church again. Again...again. Within a few years of beginning my actual adult life I felt so distant from the religion and its God that I began to feel distant from myself.
But there was one line I had yet to cross. The final frontier. A food I so surely knew I would never eat, certain the moment it mingled with my tongue I would lose my entire identity.
Bacon was my savior-as long as I stayed away from it. I could still claim the community I so strongly clung to if I continued to eat as if I were a member. Pork was the biggest no-no, perhaps because it was the most easily accessible, but for me there was something particularly special about bacon. The smell of it seizes the attention of anyone who is near. The crisp crack of the charred fat when cut is enough to stop a heartbeat. People are obsessed with bacon. If I could manage to stay away from this small thing, what couldn't I do? I experienced a haughty enchantment each time I was able to turn down an offer, which only reached peak ecstasy once someone inevitably asked why. With pompous pride I would say, "Because of my religion." It didn't matter how many gin and sodas I'd had the night before. The thinning thread of my connection to the trinity remained in tact if I maintained my porkless purity.
But then there were all these big things, like being a lesbian. I had been so gay for so long that I never personally doubted God loved me the way I was, but as the years went by it looked like it might mean my church would love me less. Or maybe that their love would become unfamiliar. Pronounced in the lips but dead in the eyes. Their distaste for my "lifestyle" made it easier to remove my physical body from their holy walls, but my spiritual body was in steady decay. Who was I without them?
. . .
I was the last to arrive at my friend's home the morning of the Women's March. She had made everyone breakfast. Before I'd even reached her door I could smell the salty sweet of bacon. She asked if I wanted to eat too. I plopped down at the table.
"Yes," I said. "I'm starving!"
"I feel bad only giving you eggs."
"No, I'll take the bacon too."
The words crashed from my mouth. My mind swirled. I laughed nervously, loudly.
"You've never had bacon?" a friend asked.
"Nope! But I'm so hungry I'll eat anything!"
A longtime friend told me to watch it. My life was about to change.
"I know," I retorted. "I've only stayed away from it this long because I know how good it will be."
A plate of soft eggs and crisp bacon was placed in front of me.
"I feel weirdly guilty about this!" my chef friend croaked.
"Don't!" I said while simultaneously lifting the first piece to my mouth.
Within seconds I was Eve, and this was my apple.
. . .
Weeks passed. I found myself walking the city one day for hours and hours. 45 blocks south. 6 blocks west then east then back again. It was nearly 11PM and I'd forgotten to eat. I craved sushi but all nearby Japanese restaurants were closing. I walked and walked until without knowing it I found myself in a West Village booth asking for a bacon cheeseburger. I sat alone and waited. The lights were dim and the server smiled at me. He brought a glass mug of water. A giant stack of napkins. I scrolled through my phone. A man in all white approached me.
"A cheeseburger with crispy bacon, no bun?"
He smiled at me too.
I picked up the knife and fork and ripped into the meat, the tomato, the lettuce, the meat, the pickles, the meat, the onions, the meat. Tilted the cutlery so the too large cuts of food could find their way to my esophagus. My thoughts raced with each bite. I was methodical, quick. The waiter peered over the tall wooden booth as if he had a sense not to come near me. As if he could tell I was a glutton finally crashing.
My eyes watered. Your mom would be mad, I thought. You're only doing this because you're alone but you know He still sees you. Do you even believe in Him anyway? What if it really is all made up? Plus, do you really want to worship a White Jesus? Even if He's not white to you He's white to Christianity. You're probably only Christian because of slavery. Ain't that some shit? You always seem so sure He loves you but what are you going to do when it's time to get married? Which of those people from those after church meals is going to show up for you then? Not one of them, that's who.
Before I'd even finished eating I asked for the check, paid the server while walking out. Standing on the subway platform I felt sick and drunk even though I'd had nothing to drink. The train took too long to show up and when it finally did come all I could think of was how the bacon on that cheeseburger didn't taste nearly as good as it did the first time.