I Don’t Belong Here

by Chris de Serres

I struggled to feel what they felt.  The white-haired grandma with a Bible in her lap.  She bent her head in prayer.  Everyone around me, with knees on the long stool.  The man in the long white robe, reciting gibberish words and recounting stories I never knew.

My mom picked up a book, so I did too.  I made little effort to find the right page.  The choir began singing verse, but it wasn’t an interesting song.  The grandma looked very happy.  She was having an experience.  The experience for me was distant.

Everyone rose.  Then sat.  Then rose.  Then sat…err no kneeled.  Then filed to the center.  I wasn’t allowed to close my eyes, else I may fall asleep.

On Thursdays, I went to the kid’s church group.  They tried to get us to memorize long prayers.  Then told us Jesus was illiterate.  Jesus was peaceful and kind and always honest and…unlike most men I knew.  He was unknowable and unattainable.  There were crosses everywhere.  Earrings, walls, tattoos, necklaces, on tops of buildings.  This is how he died.

My mother grew up Roman Catholic.  She came from an island colonized by Spain hundreds of years ago.  The local religion was largely erradicated.  The local people were, and are, deeply devoted to Christianity.  Yet, they still spoke of the Taotao Mona, the spirits of ancient peoples who inhabit the jungles and mountains of Guam and other islands.  I once tried to take a leak in the jungle and my mother got angry because I was supposed to ask the Taotao Mona first out of respect.

Guamanians still consult a form of psychic for advice.  They are called Le’an.  They are a remnant of an ancient time before Ferdinand Magellan landed in Guam in 1521.  When one encounters death or great difficulty in life they go to a Le’an.  Their psychic abilities are believed to be an inherited trait.

I wasn’t sure I believed in tree spirits or witch doctors, but I learned to fear them.  I got a tingle in my gut one night when I climbed a tree in the jungle.  A premonition that I didn’t belong on this particular tree.  I will always remember that sudden dread.

Yet, here I sat in church on a Sunday.  Staring at the old lady with her own feeling in the gut.  I closed my eyes to see if I could conjure up something.  I closed my eyelids really tight.  When I opened them, I realized everyone was standing.

My premonition was that I didn’t belong here.

But where did I belong?