A journal of narrative writing.

Everyone has a damn Jesus therapist at the Cityzone Camp. Loser therapists with names like Bethie Ann and Rebeccah spelled the biblical way, Biff, Thad, Bing, and this one new guy named Joseph. Yeah, Joseph. Like he was Lord father of us all. But he's just  some older Born Again with a gray buzz cut and white teeth and heavy lidded eyes that follow us around like my Uncle Roger used to do before I knifed him one day. Which is the reason why I'm here. I have issues with men. 

"Jesus is all around us," Rebeccah says, rolling her fish eyes to a ceiling that's covered with inspirational quotes like Embrace the Light and Give Up Unto the Lord and the ever present, Jesus Loves You in flowers and hearts covered with halos. 

"Fuck," I say and there's a murmur and then the notebooks come out, pens scratching out my name and what I've said today and how I'm not progressing, that I'm playing with fire, and we all know where that leads. Straight down to the red man with horns. Well, who the hell cares? I like red men.

"What are you protecting yourself from?" Bing asks and I used to almost like his prayers, used to almost see myself in his heaven where salvation is easy, forgiveness is given and there was this Jesus and Mary and Joseph without a home in the desert living with all these animals, kind of nice, kind of sane. But he wears a "Save Yourself for Marriage" ring that shines in the sun and last night, I saw him with Rebeccah behind the snack bar, his hand down her Just Say No shorts and that was it. I'm done. I would've probably done him too. But we're not supposed to have sex while we're here. That's what my foster mother told me, giggling. Ha ha. She's an alcoholic who tells me that I'll become one because I'm an Injun and all Injuns are drunks, and she don't have no problems, no problems, as she hides her bottles next to the Listerine and Comet.

Well, I'm not an Injun.

I'm just dark because no one knows who my daddy was or is. And I guess out here that makes me an Injun. My parents adopted me from some mail order catalog or at least that's what my Uncle Roger told me when he got me two days after my parents died. You come from the pages of a book, Uncle Rogie said, you just a piece of paper, just a piece, girl.

Stupid man.

But that's not the reason I knifed him.

Uncle Roger needed easy answers.

And I was just too hard to explain.

"What are you protecting yourself from?" Biff asks again and he uncrosses his legs and I see it finally, the dark space between his legs.

"The burning fires of hell," I say and I cover my face so I don't have to laugh at their damn faces. They think I'm crying which is a riot and I shake my shoulders and jiggle my chin just to add a bit more effect until the room murmurs back at me, Jesus  loves you, Jesus loves you.

Well who is this Jesus anyway?

I've never met him. I've only heard about him from the pulpit--hung by nails, crown of thorns sliding down his forehead and people giving him all kinds of crap, calling him loser and crank and asshole. Poor dude. I've stared at him on the wall of my foster home, up there on his plastic cross right next to some stuffed Bluefish and a collection of Disney music boxes. Like a trophy or something. Look what I got me, look what I got inside me, don't it make me special kind of bullshit. 

Well I don't know him.

And maybe he don't want to know me.

So who the fuck cares?

 "Good, you're doing good." And then there are hands on me, rubbing my back and whispering in my ear and I'm the star here, the one the therapists all want to break into, the one with clear issues. Not like the others here--repentant lesbians from Kansas, and a couple of losers who got caught stealing six packs from Walmart and some fake gang kids from Duluth who held up a store with a toy gun, everyone all white and blue-eyed with pink lips, everyone hoarding their care packages of Gramma's Seven Layer Bars and Mom's homemade miniature soaps, Aunt Ginnie's homemade stationery. Like I want any of their shit. Hey, I'm the ace in the hole here. Someone's kick ass dissertation in psychology. I'm the fucked up Injun.

They think.

Every year I come here wearing my dark shades.

Every year flipping the bird.

Every year their hope for Sainthood.

And every year, their evangelical dead weight.

But this year was supposed to be different.

I was going to change.

Be born again as they say.

"Let's give Rana some space," Bing adds but no one does. They keep rubbing at me until I shake them away and then I watch all their sympathetic eyes going at each other, Oh, poor little sinner girl nobody wants, we've got to get to her before the end of the summer camp because what will Pastor Richard at Tupelo Evangelical Free Church say? We have to bring one more soul to Jesus by August because how else will we go to Six Flags if we don't save her and Oh, pray with me people, pray with me people, it's going to be another Code Orange summer and it's imminent, imminent death if we're not on the right hand of Lord God, Jesus Christ. And oh, oh, you never know who these people are, sinners, terrorists, this fucked up Injun. We need to stay on your Brown Nose list, don't we Lord? Don't we?

"Who loves you?" Bing asks, his voice cracking.

They always ask me this. But I'm not answering.

"Say it," Biff says.

Silence. And the notebooks come out again and there's the soft click of pens writing it all down and it's not confidential, it's not protected, it's something that's repeated to probation officers and social workers and foster families so they can see me, the one who comes two weeks every summer because the state pays and it's a good write-off.

"Don't be afraid," Joseph says behind me. Then, "I love you."

And I hear all their whispers and watch all their lips moving back and forth in front of their faces, We love you, we love you, Jesus loves you, God loves you and there's the swill of my heartbeat and the clink closed of my eyes because they're not calling out to me, they're not saying my name. I know them and they're not waiting around for me, no, they're already packing for the new life, rearranging their motivations, the lesbians and gang boys and Walmart shoppers. They're good. And I'm bad.

Well, fuck this shit.

"Be afraid. Be very, very afraid," I hiss and everything slows as I watch their eyes waver and their mouths close and the moment quivers. I jerk my head around and around and joggle my eyes and it's so much fun.

"Anger issues," Biff states and Joseph jots his little note down. My chart is a history book. Thick and spilling apart. Almost finished. A labyrinth of corridors and elevators, dead ends and dark rooms. A house they want to sell. 

I see her at lunch. Framed in the center of the mess hall doors, this bending girl with muddy eyes, leaning between two counselors, like she can't even stand up on her own. Sweats ripped, face pockmarked brown, she's the real Injun, a Navajo someone says.

"She come from the jail," one fake gang boy tells the others and he wads his paper towel napkin into a ball around his food and chucks it at her but she doesn't even cringe. She just stands there and lets it hit her leg, two meatballs rolling out between her flip-flopped brown feet.

"Yo, you balled her, man," his buddy--bleached and fat cheeked, says. Giggles, snorts. The shuffle of feet.

They nod their heads into fake prayers when the Jesus therapists look around the room.

"Fucking loser," I mouth over to him and his eyes narrow. He sucks on his baby boy lips.

"Who did that?" Biff asks, clipboard raised.

And that girl looks up through slips of hair. At me. A swarm of tiny electric waves coming out of those broken down eyes, smacking against the windows, bouncing over the stainless steel kitchen pans, and landing inside me as the fingers point, the murmurs begin and I'm painted with targets black and huge. Slashes of meat sauce down her sweats almost make a smiley face.

"Rana!" Joseph says, coming toward me.

"I forgive her," the girl says immediately, her hand sliding up and down Joseph's arm and I'm recognizing things, remembering: chafed hands on dark skin, the loosening of braids, beer breathed compliments mixing with badly dressed thoughts, all of it crashing glass to shards, and now, Joseph swallowing this girl's face whole, eyes inside her mouth, fingertips just tingling.

"God bless you, child," he says through clenched teeth at that girl. And everything leaves on that girl's face, no shadow, no hiss, no cloud, no nothing and I'm watching my private secrets on her flat screen t.v., flickering twilight then dark. 

At Fireside Sing-a-long--this fucked up sit on logs and sway back and forth to bad guitars and banging tambourines and hey I made this in craft class today drums songfest--in she came. Like a damn model. Sprayed down and curled high, with painted sparkle toes and shiny lips, tennis skirt and anklets, she's a cheerleader for Jesus. Freshly pressed and ready, her eyes turning blue, flame blue. And her cheeks flushing this pale, white girl glow.  Joseph with his hand on her elbow leading her over the branches.

"Jesus Christ," I say under my breath.

"Don't start," Biff murmurs and he's watching her too, the way her hair slides over her face, the lick of stained lips through the crackle of bonfire and that short, short skirt riding up her moonlit thighs. Joseph just pressing his thumbs into the bark of the log, pulling off chunks of wood.

"Screw you," I say.

"Jesus, Girl." Shaking his florescent head at me. But he doesn't take it anywhere, just follows two other therapists closer to her. And I'm all alone on my log.

Mona's eyes swimming below the surface as she wrinkles her nose.

"Tell me," he says, opening his legs wide in those tennis shorts.

"Fire," she says. 

And all Jesus therapists surround her as the bonfire snaps, the crickets stop. Hands on her knees, patting her back, rubbing her head, someone shouting out Jesus, Jesus, and Joseph handing her tissues, one right after the other, a pile of feathers on her lap.

But she doesn't cry.

"And smoke."

More waving of hands and shaking bodies, a frenzy of moonlight through pines and everyone smiling. Now here's someone they think, here's the ticket, Lord, they shiver, she's the one we're taking home with us, she's the way upstairs to you, Jesus.

"She torched some church," a Wallmart Shoplifter whispers.

"Holy shit."

Their eyes flicker, fingers twitch.

Mona's skin transparent, hair a haze of firelight.

"She'll burn in hell."

And they snicker and push their toes in the dirt as psalms are said and the bible is raised and soon those Wallmarters go over too, waving their hands in mock ecstasy, mouthing Burn, baby, Burn and Disco Inferno and Mona with that empty plate on her face, moon eyed and slack-jawed. Their stampede raising dust, filling my ears, the creases of my skin and they're shouting We love you, we love you, Jesus loves you, and they rock her back and forth, pulling at her arms, her neck snapping left and right and still there's nothing registering, nothing along the corners of her face and that log just digs into me, jab of bark and twig and root and splinter.

So I say it, "Leave her the fuck alone!" And I say it again and again and again in that filthy starlight because of the hands on her, because of the hands off me, because no one's listening now, no one has the pens or papers out, they just keep at it, keep at it until Joseph, Biff, the whole lot of them become shadows burning for their hidden Jesus. As deadly as the broken glass against my Uncle Rogie's neck.

And that fire blows smoke against my face when I leave, no one following. 

I know where to look for her three hours later. And she smiles slyly to the moon as I hide behind the boulders, her skin dark in the cover of half cast sky. And there are no tears and there are no scratches. But I see. Her door opening in silhouette. So quickly, so gently, this perfect moment of place and then she goes down. Into all that water. And there's barely a ripple. 

Calm lake.

Full moon.

No apologies.


And that's when I just take it. A running flying leap backward over my rock cliff into that cold.  And the rush of muck and reed over my mouth, inside my ears, the stone crack of my hands slicing though all that silent water and it fills me. Not with some heavenly fucking light but with gulp and a choke and a final rising up. And it's Mona, pissed and smacking in my arms, cussing it all out.

"Goddammit," she yells over and over and it echoes across the lake, slapping granite cliffs the color of burned suits. 

"Goddammit," I yell back at her and our voices overwhelm the rocks, filling the air with it, it, it, it, and God, God, God and damn, damn, damn until there's nothing else to do but lean our heads back and howl, just howl, ragged and hoarse. Tears of laughter down our shining cheeks, and the roar of heart, the pound of blood and sharp edged sounds of night opening, popping our ears. And I'm saying this tumbledown Jesus we're screaming at high in the sky isn't pissed at us, he's not rolling over and sending down spikes, no, he's deep-bottomed chuckling, tossing and bucking up there in the heavens wanting some of our excitement. And maybe this heavenly Big Guy's ready to party, maybe he wants to let loose.  Because who the hell wants to save things that don't need saving? Why should he waste his time when there are arms and legs underwater kicking, just kicking, and faces with hair smooth to the moon?  I'm saying my Jesus has huge eyes, ready to take us all in. He don't want just the chosen few, those ones on hands and knees, he wants the ones swimming toward him, choking out his name. He wants all us Injuns.

Then a giggle, a breath and a press down to cool, water against cheeks, we sink in ripples of black and blue and yellow and gold. And we grin with grinding teeth, this water whispering white noise, filling empty spaces, Let it sink, let it all sink away. My mouth filling with lake.

And then swarm of moonlight, shadow in brilliant display of star. We finally float. And the air is so delicious. We taste it, Mona and I.