Once upon a time, I waited tables at a corporate chain restaurant, the kind of place where the Sunday brunch crowd were almost entirely fresh out of church. On one particularly relentless weekend, the oldest and most conservative guests seemed to be exclusively sat in my section.
I could actually hear them audibly sigh as I approached them; they might as well have just said out loud, "Oh no, HER? Why do we have to be stuck with that one?" As if the piercings, eyeliner, and shaved head warranted some kind of threat, like I might bite their jugulars and suck their blood if they made eye contact. But I was friendly, attentive, kind, and professional. If anything, I used their loathing as fuel to try that much harder to prove them wrong… though it rarely worked. They looked at me through sideways glances, tipped atrociously, and treated me with excessive disdain.
Thank you, church goers, I’d think to myself. If Jesus were here right now, would he be all that impressed with your tattoo-less children, gaudy cross jewelry, and the Bible verses embroidered on your velcro wallets? Do you really think the way you treat the people that look “scary” to you means nothing to the brown, Middle-Eastern homeless hippy Jew whom you believe died, bloody and beaten on a piece of rotten wood for your sins, sipping vinegar and shitting himself like every other broken human piece of flesh does before their bones collapse and surrender to death? But that’s not the “Jesus” Deborah or Brenda or Bob or their fat cunt children believe in. Come to think of it, I bet the blonde-haired, blue-eyed, Aryan Jesus you have painted in your tacky living room would treat his waitress like shit. He and Trump would be mighty proud of you.
I survived through brunch, and crawled my way to the end of a brutal double shift. As is tradition, I see the hostess approaching me to announce that I’m cut, when a group of seven boys roughly between the ages of 14 and 24 seat themselves in my section. …So close. I roll my eyes, take a deep breath, and do my damn job. They were all polite and friendly, geeking out over little computer motherboard panels they had actually brought to the table. There was no cursing, no talk of women, sex, cars, or Kanye West. I couldn't figure out what they were all doing together.
When I brought the checks I turned to the oldest, the clear ring leader, and asked how they knew each other. "Church," he said. My exhaustion had eclipsed my better judgement, and before I could think I accidentally blurted out, "But you're all so nice!" I immediately cringed, but the young man just laughed, and invited me to their next service. I joked and tried to change the subject, making some quip about how every time I tried to step in a church I burst into flames.
Before he left, I thanked them for being so nice and polite. He asked one last question: "Do you get the after church crowd in here a lot?" I’ve never had a good poker face, and I could feel him see the look I gave. I didn’t need to answer. He asked a little more softly, "And how do they treat you?”
It was like that moment when you’re a kid, running on the pavement, and your feet can’t go as fast as your heart wants you to. Your sneakers peel out from underneath you, and your body hurls into the hot asphalt. Your heart is in your throat and everyone is running on without you, but you don’t want the boys to see you cry so you stand up and brush yourself off, trying to steady your breath, blinking back tears. Then a grown up appears, safe and warm and tall, and puts their heavy hand on your shoulder. You’re fine, you’re fucking fine, you’ve almost gotten away with it! But the moment you hear those three words - “Are you okay?” - it all falls apart, and despite your best efforts, the words get caught in your throat and tear your face apart, and you’re undone, you’re boneless, they can see you, and you weep.
For whatever reason, I couldn’t hide my face from this young man who wanted nothing from me but an honest answer. So I gave him one. “They treat me horribly," I said, my voice breaking. “Like they can smell the poor on me. Like they're afraid I will get my dirty sinner germs on them.”
He looked right at me, this precious geeky virgin, and said, "Yeah, you look like a lot of "Christians" have treated you that way."
"You have no idea.” I looked around the table and realized every boy there was silent, wide-eyed, hanging on every word I said. I didn’t know how to say thank you, or what to even thank them for. “I really… I had no idea you guys were from a church," I finally said. "And I mean that as a very high compliment."
The man touched my hand gently. "Coming from you," he said, "I know it is.”