“This isn’t how things are supposed to work. There’re rules and there’s order. When you circumvent the order, chaos ensues.” Laura watched as her Dad glared at the line of cars ahead of them on the highway.
Her mother checked her watch for what seemed like the 10th time in the last minute. “Daniel, I would hardly call this chaos. It’s Houston. We’re on the highway. There’s going to be traffic. And please don’t turn a traffic jam into a lecture. It’s Saturday and you’re not Professor Williams today.”
“Fine. I won’t lecture, but I will complain about being stuck in traffic on a Saturday afternoon. I bet it’s because of some knucklehead doing something stupid. He probably got himself killed and now we all have to suffer the consequences.”
Laura was looking out of the backseat window trying to daydream herself away from the car. The traffic looked like it was backed up for miles. The wedding was set to start in an hour. If the traffic didn’t start moving soon there was a good chance they’ll miss the start of the ceremony. Even worse, she didn’t want to spend more time than absolutely necessary stuck in a car with her family.
She felt her sister shift next to her in the backseat they shared as if she couldn’t get comfortable. She knew Aubrey was getting more and more annoyed. No good would come out of this. She laid her head on the cool glass and closed her eyes.
“How very Christian of you.” Laura closed her eyes tighter. And there it was. The words she knew her sister had been dying to spit out since their father started his rant 45 minutes and two miles ago. She heard her mother let out a soft sigh as if she’d also been waiting for this moment.
“Aubrey, don’t.” Her mother tried in vain to stop her daughter.
“No, Karen let her keep talking. You know she loves nothing more than to contradict me at every turn. Although she never has any contradictions about taking my money.” Laura opened her and eyes and saw her father and his oldest child staring at each other through the rear view mirror as if they were sworn enemies. She looked at her mother hoping she’d try again to make them stop arguing, but the woman was facing straight ahead. She was all out of try.
“Well, Dad,” Aubrey started as she ran a hand down the slacks of her deep purple suit and then adjusted her glasses. Laura knew what she was doing. She was trying to appear nonchalant as she talked to their father. It was part of the game she played with him. She tries to appeal cool to rile him up even further. “You are a Christian man. Isn’t it more Christ-like to pray for a man who may be injured or dead up the road than to call him names because his possible death may make us late to the wedding?” Aubrey went from smoothing out nonexistent wrinkles in her suit to casually inspecting her nails.
“I am not a perfect man, Aubrey. No one on this earth is. Only Jesus is perfect.” Laura watched as her father broke eye contact with her sister and looked back out at the highway. They hadn’t moved an inch in the last 10 minutes. The hour they’ve been stuck together in traffic was the most time all of them had spent together in years. Usually when Aubrey came back home to visit, only the women of the family hung out together while her Dad worked his usual long hours at the University. She wished she’d brought her iPod so she could drown out their voices with the sounds of heavy guitars and bass lines.
“Ah, yes. Pretty, perfect Jesus,” Aubrey said, “Your Lord and savior. He was sent here to turn a disastrous world back to good, but last time I checked the world is still a pretty messed up place. The fact that the Kardashians have about 5,000 shows on TV is proof enough that the power of Jesus isn’t all that great.”
Their mother finally turned around and gave Aubrey a weary look. “Honey, you know that I love that you have your own opinions, but please don’t disrespect Jesus.”
“Jesus, Jesus, Jesus!” Aubrey exclaimed as she lost her cool demeanor, “Do you know how tired I am of hearing that name? It’s used to justify so much wrong doing in the world. Women can’t get abortions because of Jesus. Gay people can’t get married in a country where they work hard and pay taxes just like everyone else because of Jesus. It wasn’t too long ago when Jesus was used to keep people like us under lock and key, picking cotton, singing Negro spirituals, and hoping for a better day.” Aubrey crossed her arms and her bottom lip stuck out slightly in a pout. Laura found it funny how her older sister regressed to child-like tantrums when she felt their parents weren’t taking her arguments seriously.
Daniel kept one hand on the steering wheel and placed the other on his head to massage his temple as if he was getting a headache. “Aubrey, you can’t seriously compare the struggles black people have gone through with killing babies and giving homosexuals the rights and the Nation’s blessing to participate in an act that God deemed so unworthy he saw fit to destroy the city where they lived.”
Aubrey leaned forward in her seat, rested her elbow on her leg and placed her hand underneath her chin. Laura knew that was her thinking pose. The pouting had subsided and now she was ready for the next battle. “Pre-marital sex is also wrong according to the Bible, but that didn’t stop you from making us go to Monica and Josh’s wedding even though they have been shacking up for three years now. You even bought them a nice, expensive gift. So is one wrong in the Bible, better than the other? I thought all sin was equal.” Aubrey leaned back in her seat with a self-satisfied smirk on her face.
“Tell me the name of one city God destroyed because people were shacking up together and you can have that set of crystal wine glasses I bought for Monica and Josh.” Daniel fired back at his daughter.
Karen placed a hand on her husband’s shoulder and admonished him and her oldest. “You two need to watch what you’re talking about. Laura doesn’t need to be hearing all of this.” Laura was used to her family talking about her as if she wasn’t two feet away.
Daniel looked at his wife. “This is a conversation she needs to hear. She needs to know homosexuality is wrong. That living with a man before marrying him is wrong.”
Aubrey jumped back into the conversation. “Dad you do realize that Jesus never mentioned anything about
homosexuality. So, what I don’t understand is why his name is used to keep others from their rights.”
“It doesn’t matter if Jesus never uttered the phrase, ‘Homosexuals should never marry’. It’s wrong and the Bible makes it very clear it’s wrong.”
“I’m not a preacher or a Bible scholar. I can’t name verses off the top of my head, but I do know Leviticus clearly states a man should not lie with a man as he lies with a woman.” Daniel looked hard at the standstill cars in front of them as if he were trying to use his mind to get the traffic moving.
“But isn’t Leviticus in the Old Testament? I thought everything in those books was null and void once the resurrection occurred. I don’t know why the Christian Bibles even have an Old Testament. It’s not needed. Only Jewish people follow the old laws.”
“Judy was Jewish. I remember you let me go over to her family’s house for Passover dinner when I was in the 5th grade.” Laura hadn’t meant to jump into the conversation. When she felt all eyes on her, she became embarrassed and looked down. She started to squirm in her seat. The stockings her mother made her wear suddenly felt itchy against her skin. The cardigan over her dress felt as hot and heavy as a winter wool sweater. She didn’t know why she butted into the conversation. She’d heard these same arguments so many times from her Dad she’d finally had enough. Her mother turned in her seat and smiled at her youngest daughter.
“That’s right, sweetheart. You did. I remember you had a good time.”
Still looking down Laura said, “Judy died in a car accident two years ago when we were in the ninth grade. She was really sweet. Always had a smile on her face and willing to help others. Jewish people don’t believe Jesus was the Messiah. In Sunday School they taught us the only way to heaven is through Jesus. So does that mean Judy’s not in heaven?” The car suddenly became very quiet. Laura was afraid to look up and see the reactions on the faces of her family. She finally heard her mother’s voice.
“I don’t know, baby. I can’t say for sure. Nobody knows for sure who’s going to heaven except God himself.” Laura looked up and gave her Mom a small smile. Her father interrupted the moment with his dissent.
“I’m sorry Karen, but that’s just not true. It’s a nice fairytale to tell Laura so she can feel better about her friend, but you are doing her a disservice. She needs to know the truth and the Bible clearly states that those who don’t’ recognize Jesus as the Lord and Savior will perish in the fires of Hell.”
Laura saw her mother finally getting frustrated with her father. “Daniel I believe in Jesus just like you do, but you cannot claim to know the plans of God. I know we have the Bible as our guide, but those words were written by man not God. As you said, man isn’t perfect. We don’t know what errors in translation occurred over the years. If I want to comfort my daughter about where the soul of her friend is right now, I will. We don’t know. Only God knows.”
“You tell him, Mom.” Aubrey had to add her two cents.
“And you, young lady,” Karen said as she addressed her oldest, “Stop antagonizing your father. You do these things on purpose. Every time you come to visit we have the same conversations and the same arguments. Can’t we act like a family who loves each when we get together for once?” A chastened Aubrey started to pout again. Laura was compelled to speak up again. She didn’t know the source of this newfound confidence, but she was starting to like it.
“In History class we had a section on world religions. There was Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and so many more. I just don’t understand how we know what the one true religion is. I’ve always believed in Jesus because I was told to do so. And I still believe in him I think. But it’s hard for me to think that all the people practicing other religions are going to burn it Hell. I’m sure a lot of them were good people like Judy.”
Aubrey reached over the space between them and grabbed her sister’s hand. “I might not believe in Jesus, but I do believe there’s a higher power out there, Laura. I don’t think this power has anything to do with man-made religions though. You just have to decide for yourself what feels like the right fit for you.”
Daniel shook his head. “This just isn’t right. My Grandfather was a preacher. My Mother was a preacher. I was raised in the church. Karen you were raised in the church. We said we were going to make sure our girls were also raised with a good Christian foundation. Now it seems the three of you have forgotten about all the sermons and all of the Sunday School lessons. My mother must be turning over in her grave right now.”
“Daniel, it’s good to have healthy debate about these things. It’s good to question, to research. That can make your faith that much stronger.” Karen tried to reason with her husband. Daniel rolled down all of the windows in the sedan. He stuck his head slightly out of the window to get some air. Soon the Texas heat rushed into the car and he was forced to roll the windows up again. He was quiet for a few more moments before he finally spoke.
“I know what I was taught. I know the truth. I know what will get my family into heaven. The sooner you all accept that,
the happier we will all be.”
Laura looked over at Aubrey as her sister dropped hold of her hand and threw her own hands in the air. “I guess everything we just said to you, Dad, went in one ear and out of the other. I just hope you still love me when I marry my Druid boyfriend with a wedding officiated by a lesbian, Wiccan priestess.”
“For God’s sake, Aubrey.” Daniel said as he rolled down the windows again.
“Saying the Lord’s name in vain, Daddy?” Aubrey said with mock innocence.
“Aubrey, stop!” Karen demanded of her daughter.
Laura looked out of the window, letting the hot wind blow her carefully arranged hair into a mass of wild curls. She saw that the traffic was still at a standstill. She closed her eyes and looked up towards the sun. As vivid colors danced behind her closed lids, she said a silent prayer to Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed and more begging one of them to please move the traffic along quickly so she could escape her family.
Tamara Preston is a novice writer. After years spent in Corporate America, I’m currently back in school to pursue my B.A. in English. I hope to eventually complete an M.F.A. in Creative Writing.