I ran from the sermon screaming
or I walked up the aisle
each of the parishioners’ eyes falling upon me—
the pastor paused—
I punched his face—I dug my nails
into my arms to chase away these thoughts and tried to breathe
under the weight
like stones piled on my sternum.
The pastor resumed, explaining that King Saul
wasn’t crazy. An evil spirit
sent by the Lord descended upon him for
waiting only seven days, as asked, and for showing mercy.
At brunch, an old family friend said
Mental illness is a symptom of faithlessness.
If you want to be sane, better get yourself saved.
I understood my affliction: possession.
I needed to pray each night,
to repent, to read the Bible,
to read that before Moses returned to the Nile,
the Lord had said I will harden Pharaoh’s heart,
so he will not let the people go.
The Lord had promised the death of the first born.
The compulsion to run out of church mid-service
was not a warning but a command.
In the decade since, I’ve learned doubt,
I’ve learned to recognize the symptoms
of a panic attack.
The flesh remembered
what I tried to forget.
After Sunday school, a girl tackled me as I left the bathroom.
At seven I couldn’t fight off a middle-school attacker.
Pinned to the ground,
my hand shoved against my nose.
It smells like shit!
Wash your hands!
It didn’t matter what I said
about my hygiene, she knew I was unclean.
The whole Sunday school class—faces like angels—laughed.