Part I: Prayer and Demons
I’d started to settle into the lull of life here at Ravenhold. The teachers had calmed a bit to, even Stanko was less excitable thankfully, not that his classes didn’t still pose a risk to some with chemicals being mixed incorrectly; usually to his amusement somehow. Jaeger had fallen asleep in a class yesterday but it was something I’d noticed for a while. I didn’t need touch him to know he was exhausted. I didn’t know him as well as I’d like though, although Sanjay seemed responsible enough so I was sure he had someone to talk to. The door opened while I was sat in the conservatory looking outside where Ahti was relaxing in the swimming pool. I looked up to see Allison dressed, their hair still wet.
“Are you going to the prayer group today?” I asked.
“Yeah. Still have time before I go though,” they said, smiling. I couldn’t help returning it as they sat next to me. I’d told them I was agnostic, never really knowing what exactly to believe in but figuring there was a higher power of some kind out there. Allison was looking where I had been, watching Ahti do some silly tricks in the water to the amusement of the others out there. I never knew what to do with myself when Allison went to the prayer group, and I didn’t really want to go to my room where Allen was hiding. The only people he seemed to interact with were Tyler, Mace and Caroline. I was still trying to work out how that last one happened.
“So I was wondering if I could go with you today…If I’m allowed that is.” This wasn’t just a get out of Allen jail free card, I did genuinely want to know more about their faith. I wanted to know everything about them, even though I could sense some reluctance to be with me that I couldn’t place. Yet there were moments when I eased their pain and I could sense a feeling stronger than friendship reach out for me. I tried not to overthink it, tried a lot.
“Of course,” they replied, that brilliant smile lighting their face.
“So, do I need to wear something special?” I asked, aware I was wearing just jeans and a hoodie.
“Nah, we do casual attire. So you’ll be perfectly fine like this.”
“So, how about breakfast? I heard Caroline made pancakes again.”
“That sounds amazing,” I said, leading the way to the kitchen where I sw Allen had apparently left out room to help with breakfast.
“Morning,” he said, giving me the next one he finished. Caroline was immediately taking over, pouring mix for another in the pan. I nodded my thanks and soon Allison and I were in the living room. They shared my disbelief over that friendship. Had I been too harsh on him before? I shook my head. It wasn’t my job to teach him how to act like a decent human.
After breakfast Allison led me to the administration building. Some corridors later and we were at the back of it where a chapel was waiting. There were a dozen benches in neat rows. Ms. Carver was waiting at the entrance wearing a white cloth over her shoulders, a blue stripe pattern decorated the piece. Allison explained to me it was a Tallit.
“Good morning Sage,” Ms Carver said. “Joining us this morning?”
“Yeah, I hope that’s alright,” I replied, feeling a little nervous. Being trans and bisexual I was well aware of how much safe spaces meant and I didn’t want to intrude on what might be a safe space for others if it wasn’t wanted.
“Of course, everyone is welcome so long as they accept my rules; Cell phones go off and everyone wears a head covering.” My phone was already off but I didn’t have a hat with me. As if reading my mind she reached to a nearby rack and handed me a small circular hat with the Star of David on it. I kept trying to put on but it kept falling off.
“So…How do you keep it on?” I asked, feeling embarrassed as I held it on my head with one hand.
“With my hair, I just have velcro,” Allison explained.
“I just clip it,” Ms. Carver added. I nodded, thankfully I had clips in my bag with me so I got some out and Allison helped me clip it in place. I felt very self-conscious as others arrived, sending me a cursory glance.
“So, is there anything I should know?” I asked Ms. Carver, aware there were a lot of people here I didn’t know.
“There’ll be a lot of reading and singing, don’t worry you can follow along in a siddur, we have spaces inside. After service is over, we usually have a small buffet together, you’re free to join.” I thanked her and followed Allison inside. I mostly spent the session observing. I didn’t know the words so didn’t sing. The weirdest part was how calm and at ease everyone felt throughout the service. I could feel waves of contentment and it helped to ease my nerves. I’d gone to church with my parents before but they had never forced Christianity on me and I always loved Christmas. Thinking about it I felt a pang of homesickness. I pushed it aside as Ms. Carver finished speaking and we moved onto the buffet.
“So, how was your first shabbat service?” Allison asked as I nibbled some food.
“It was really nice. I had no idea what to expect, but it was really beautiful,” I replied.
“I’m glad to hear that, although I noticed you weren’t singing. Such a shame, I was looking forward to hearing you.” I felt a blush stain my cheeks at their comment.
“Yeah… I hope it was okay if I didn’t, I just didn’t want to get it wrong,” I explained.
“If that was a problem, they’d have thrown me out ages ago. You have no idea how terrible my hebrew is,” Allison laughed.
“Is it? I thought you sounded so good when Ms. Carver asked you to read your part,” I murmured.
“I might have practiced the verses all week so I wouldn’t sound too bad. So, are you hungry?” they asked.
“Starving.” The food was nice. We talked about the food restrictions of Judaism, there was a lot I didn’t know. Then again I didn’t know a lot about Catholicism either despite both my parents following those traditions, albeit loosely. I attended the local church on Tuesday evenings because that was when an LGBT youth group met up there. I was the only transgender person there although that may have changed since I’ve been gone.
I tried a bit of everything available and the eggplant hummus was amazing. I had to find out who made it and get that recipe. After that we headed back to the house.
“So, what do you want to do now that you’re done boring you to death with faith-stuff for my sake?” Allison asked as we walked into the conservatory.
“It wasn’t boring, it was actually a nice experience. I haven’t really had any religious experience before. My parents aren’t big believers, they only go to church on Christmas eve and Easter Sunday so it didn’t rub off on me,” I replied sitting down next to them.
“You know, I wasn’t always a strong believer, I was pretty much like you for a long time. Just like my dad, I was born into Judaism so for most of my life it was just that thing we did on saturday mornings. Something in our culture I never really thought about it. It was just that instead of getting christmas present like most kids, we got them on hanukkah,” they explained.
“What made you change?”
“My mom…. For her it was different. You see, she was born in very conservative christian family; you know the fire and brimstone kind… When she met my father in the army, she became interested in Judaism and eventually converted. For her Judaism was a liberation from the guilt and fear she was born into so it was very important to her… And after she passed away, I spent a lot of time at our synagogue. In a way, it became a way for me to be closer to her.” I hadn’t realised Allison’s mother had passed and felt momentary shock before their hurt and pain rolled through me.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered, knowing the words were empty and useless.
“It’s alright, it was years ago. And I’m glad I found that connection in faith. I hope that wherever she is, she’s watching over me and I’ve done her proud,” they said, a forced smile on their face.
“I know I didn’t know her, but I think she’d be proud of who you are; a good person who just wants to help others,” I replied, hoping I wasn’t overstepping a boundary. I saw tears threatened in their eyes and reached to hold them as they began to fall. I held Allison for as long as they needed, feeling their body shake as they cried. I made soft shushing sounds when they tried to apologise. It seemed as though I was the lucky one compared to everyone else in this house. I never delved into anyone’s mind, but I could feel it. Every single person in this house was dealing with a demon of their own. Sometimes I needed to walk outside just to get away from it, which is what I did when I was sure Allison was okay to be left on their own. There was a crisp autumn breeze and the foliage of the island was starting to take on fiery orange and red shades. Back home things would already be growing dark this time of year.