Parable of the Sower Critique: Chapter 3

This was a story I wrote my Sophomore year at boarding academy. I gave
it out to all my friends as a Christmas present. It is now my goal to
hunt down every single person who ever got this and remove it from
their possession if they still have it because it’s SO BAD.

For commentary, please insert “Oh my GOD! *headdesk* *headdesk*
*headdesk*” after every single sentence.

Yeah, pretty much. Not satisfied with that? Ok, let’s begin.

I return to school and go through the rest of my classes. I am so
shocked that I actually go to all of them (which, for me, is extremely
rare)

I knew how to write rebellious teenagers! Rebellious teenagers never
go to school! At public school, no one cares if you skip 2-5 classes a
day! No one notices!

I’ve been puking every morning for the last week, craving weird
foods, and I haven’t had my period at all this month. No, I am
definitely pregnant. I wonder if I have some other STD???

Pregnancy: Just another STD. This is a fact brought to you by
abstinence only education.
Excuse me, I’ll have to come back when I can stop laughing.

12 hours later…. ok, I’m done now.

Holly decides not to tell her mom, because she is afraid of her
mother’s reaction. She doesn’t even consider having an abortion,
because she sees abortion as murder. Also…. BABY! I want a baby!
Babies are cute!

Ugh. This is why they don’t want 16 year olds to have babies.

Holly wonders how on earth she will afford baby clothes. She picks up a
skein of yarn. This is 16 year old logic. Thinking that making your
own baby clothes is somehow less expensive. Trust me, it’s the
opposite. Yarn is not cheap.

Holly decides not to tell her mom, which kinda makes sense because
religious parents, but she also doesn’t decide to tell her boyfriend,
because he’s never liked kids, and would probably pressure her to
abort.

This is what teenage!me thought all boyfriends were like. They’d love
you, until you got pregnant, at which point, they would dump you.
Because teenage boys think babies are icky.

In my defense, that is what all the adults in my life told me. Boys
will only love you until they can have sex with you, and then they
will dump you. That is why you must wait until you’re married, because
then he can’t dump you after getting what he wants.

And that is why, even though Holly has said that she and Matt still
hang out, Matt kinda disappears from the story after he has sex with
Holly. Matt is a cardboard cutout character of what I thought all
teenage boys were like. Matt’s only purpose in this story, really, is
to impregnate Holly. After that he just kind of… goes into
hibernation? This is bad writing. Bad teenage!self, bad!

Then there’s this, and I just want to go back in time and beat
teenage!me’s head against a brick wall:

What gender will it be? I stop crocheting. Better use something a
little more transgenderal. I put the pink away and get out soft blue
yarn that goes from light to dark blue and start working with that.

Transgenderal? THAT IS NOT A WORD.

A grown up read this. A grown up read this and thought this was good writing.

Then comes the conversion scene. It’s cringe worthy in every way. You
know what, points to teenage!Merikay: her book is, happily, free of
conversion scenes.

Why did I volunteer to do this without alcohol, again?

Staring up at the ceiling, I start crying. I’ve trashed my life. I
blew it. I really really really blew it. I think about how screwed up
I am; lying, stealing, cheating, having sex, sneaking out, skipping
church… church! I groan and roll onto my right side. I’m gonna be
kicked outta the church for this!

I was under the perhaps mistaken impression that pregnant women get
kicked out of the church on a regular basis. In teenage!me’s defense,
one of my relatives did get booted out for that very reason.

Other than that, this is just me trying to figure out how a conversion
scene works without actually knowing how a conversion scene works.

   But [having our name removed is] what you want. It is. Spiritually
speaking, I left the church years ago

Yeah, getting kicked out was what I wanted. Teenage!me was hoping she
would get kicked out because it would spare her the pain of actually
having to write a letter.

The process of removing one’s name from the church books is sorta
complicated, and it’s why a lot of us simply haven’t bothered. First,
the person must send the church a written letter stating that this is
what they want. At the time I wrote Parable, it had to be a physical
letter rather than an email, but that part might have changed. Second,
the pastor of the church at which you are a member must have a
visitation with you. I am not sure what the purpose of the visit is.
To try and convince you to stay? To make absolutely sure that this is
what you want? I think nowadays this can take the form of a phone
call.

All of this is assuming that nobody puts up a fuss and the process is
easy. Sometimes it’s not. Sometimes there’s a lot of back and
forth….

Teenage!me wanted the decision taken out of her hands.

Anyway, Jaimie hears her sister crying, and asks if she wants to have
that talk she promised Holly they’d have.

“Holly, do you wanna talk now? You can tell me about…. whatever it
is you believe.”

I’d kinda like to hear it too. Because we don’t get told. What is it
Holly believes? Teenage!me didn’t know. Teenage!me didn’t know what
Holly believes because Teenage!me didn’t know what she believed,
either. Teenage!me couldn’t make up her damn mind, and would spend the
next decade trying to figure it out.

And so we get this instead:

[I] tell her a bit about satanism, occultism, spiritualism, new
age, e.t.c. Jaimie listens as I talk, opens her moth to speak
sometimes, then thinks better of it. She can tell something is wrong.
She knows better than to ask. She doesn’t need to, I volunteer the
information.

“I don’t believe in that.”

Jaimie raised her eyebrows, “then what do you believe?”

I flop back onto the pillows with my arms outspread. “I don’t
know1 I don’t know what I am! I’m trying to figure that out!”
Unwillingly I bust into tears.

This is probably the most realistic part of the whole book. Teenage!me
not only wasn’t 100% sure what she believed, she also couldn’t write
about event he things she was sure of. Not if this was to be a
Christmas present for her very Adventist friends. And so Teenage!me
kept this part extremely vague, partly because she had no idea what it
was she actually believed, and partly because she was scared that if
she told her friends that, she would suddenly find she had no friends.

Jaimie gives Holly a hug and Holly whines about how she’s screwed up her life.

Then, I am not sure what is happening, but I think a spark is
beginning to ignite, a fire that was snuffed out a long time ago. I’m
starting to see how dirty I am, and how this life I’m living seemed so
glamorous at first, is really a nightmare.

Teenage!me thought this was what people who converted felt like.
Teenage!me might or might not have been a fucking idiot.

Teenage!me shows off her lack of life experience by saying this:

Even though [spiritualism] is fun and interesting, I am not happy.
I may not understand a lot about God, but I do know this: I was
happiest when I was following Him

Teenage!me had been brainwashed to believe that only Christians who
love Jesus can be truly happy. I’m not sure if there’s a bible verse
about it, but Adventists definitely believe that only true Christians
can be happy. Because Jesus.

And so Holly reconverts. It’s cringe worthy, but it’s not unrealistic.
Teenage!me and Real!Jaimie had this conversations multiple times over
the course of High School.

I wonder if teenage!me had brain damage.

After that, things change. Somehow, everything looks brighter,
fresher, and purer. The snow is whiter, the sky bluer (even though its
still kinda gray out… maybe it looks grayer?) and everyone around me
seems much happier.

This… may or may not have been lifted out of an episode of The Brady
Bunch.  The episode where Jan has a crush on some guy. Falling in love
is often compared to converting to Christianity, because some see
converting to Christianity as falling in love with Jesus.

I’d never fallen in love with Jesus (or anyone else for that matter)
so I just plagiarized another person’s depiction.

Was anything I wrote original?

Jaimie drives me to school today, and I actually stay the whole
day. The teachers give me funny looks when I actually come into their
classes, and a few make sarcastic comments today, but all their
sarcasm seems to fall right off me. Today, nothing matters.

If the teachers have figured out how often Holly skips class, why the
fuck has nothing happened to her? Teenage!me had spent one year in
public school at this point. Teenage!me should have known better.
Well, maybe not. Middleschool!me never skipped class because the idea
simply did occur to her to do so. So I was unfamiliar with the fact
that even in a public school, teachers would notice.

And that is why, even though I was a rebellious teenager, I did not
know how to write rebellious teenagers.

Holly blathers about how horrible her day is, but it doesn’t matter,
because Jesus. She makes reference to “her satanic friends” because as
everybody knows there are large groups of students in public high
schools that worship Satan.

I would expect this kind of writing from someone who’d never set foot
in a public school. And this is the case of a lot of Adventist
children. At the time of this writing, however, teenage!me had had
exactly 2 years of public school. One of them doesn’t count because
that was kindergarten, But I went to a real middle school for 7th
grade. And there weren’t exactly large groups of Satanists roaming the
halls.

So, as to what was going through my head when I wrote this…. I don’t
even know.

all of a sudden I have no friends.

Everyone knows that when you convert to Christianity you lose all your
“worldly” friends. Or, so everybody told teenage!me. Of course,
teenage!me was so obnoxious about her religion that of course nobody
non religious would want to associate with her.

Seriously, if you knew me in high school, I am so sorry.

Holly tells her mother about re-converting. Holly’s mom asks her if
she wants to transfer to an Adventist school. Holly tells her mother
she’ll think about it.

I want to know how Holly ever convinced her mother to send her to
public school in the first place. Did teenage!me think Holly begged
hard enough, or did I think the Christian school had kicked her out
for some reason? I almost think it’s the latter option, but can’t
quite recall.

Holly tells us she shocks everybody by actually showing up for church!
Only instead of skirts she has convinced her mother to let her wear
pants and earrings. Holly is back, but she is different. She is
slightly damaged by her experiences, and her experiences have changed
her. That is why she allows herself to wear pants instead of trying to
force herself to wear skirts and like it.

At least, that is what was running through teenage!me’s mind at the
time. Adult!me would have interpreted it as “Holly doesn’t want to
hide who she is” anymore. She’s willing to change, but she doesn’t
want to lose herself in the process. Alas, that is not what was going
through my tiny little teenage mind when I wrote this.

Also, teenage!me was allergic to skirts, and liked to fantasize about
wearing earrings.

Holly is happy for a while but quickly grows depressed, because even
though things are better, there’s still a baby she hasn’t told anyone
about.

And this strikes me as like, I don’t wanna say teenager logic… but
Holly is using the kind of logic that goes, “if I try not to think
about it or tell anyone about it, this problem will go away.”

I drag myself up the stairs to my room, flop down on the bed, take
a pillow, press it into my face, and let out a frustrated scream. My
door opens. Jaimie strides in, walks right up to me, shoves the
pregnancy test kit in my face and asks me, “is this yours?”

I don’t want to talk too much about real!Jaimie. Part of this is
because in a sense, “Jaimie” no longer exists. Real!Jaimie is not a
teenager. Real!Jaimie is a grown ass woman who is very very different
from her teenage self.

That being said, this is something I could still picture Real!Jaimie
doing. She prefers the direct confrontation approach, and sometimes
she comes across as meaner than she intends.

Teenage!me was trying to make this scene as realistic as possible, and
I think she nailed the conversation Holly and Jaimie have in this
scene.

Although this sentence does kind of gross me out:

“I’m sorry. You should have thought of that before you and your
boyfriend decided to get it going on!”

Remember, kids, every time you have sex with your boyfriend you need
to keep in mind how you will feel if you have to tell your mother
you’re pregnant. This announcement is also brought to you by abstinence only education.

Another thing that is weird about this part is the order in which I wrote things. Jaimie tells Holly she’ll have to tell her mom about the pregnancy test before
Holly tells her it’s positive. Why would Holly have to tell her mom
about a negative pregnancy test?

Jaimie tells Holly she knows the test kit is hers, because she’s
already asked their mom if she’s capable of getting pregnant.

Teenage!me was thinking that Jaimie had had the box the pregnancy test
kit came in for at least a day or 2 before she confronted Holly. She
didn’t show it to the mom and say, “Is this yours?” She was a bit more
stealthy about it than that. In my head I had pictured Jaimie saying
something like, “so, mom, how likely is it that I’ll ever get a little
brother?”

In any case, Jaimie practically pushes Holly down the stairs.

Holly sees her mother at the kitchen table making a shopping list.
Holly’s mom looks up, sees Holly, and asks her if she needs to add
tampons to the shopping list.

This is something my real mom would have done. Before a shopping trip
she always took me aside and asked me if the box in the bathroom was
getting low, or she’d pull me aside at the grocery store and ask me if
I needed to go down “that aisle.”

Holly’s mom doesn’t react well to the news that Holly and her
boyfriend have had sex. In Adventist culture, this would be a big huge
deal. There are some sins that SDA culture sees as worse than others.
Usually these sins are those that have to do with sex. You know,
homosexuality, having sex with your boyfriend, and masturbating.

Holly runs upstairs to her room to cry and panic, and I can’t blame
her. A few hours later, Holly’s mom comes upstairs to talk to her. We
learn that Holly is 5 weeks along, and I’d have to go back and read
this again, but I’m pretty sure teenage!me showed that only a week or
2 at most had passed. Whatever, it’s not a big deal, it’s just
something that I would go back and edit if I were going to go back and
edit this.

Holly’s mother brings up STD testing, which made a lot more sense in
teenage!me’s head than it maybe does in real life? I mean, it is good
to start getting regular testing when you become sexually active. But
the fact that it is one of the first things people in this story think
of suggests to me that fear mongering was a huge part of teenage!me’s
sex “education.”

Of course, since I am the author, I know fear mongering with STDs was
absolutely a part of my sex “education.” The school paid this one lady
quite a hefty sum to talk to us all about how horrible it would be if
you had sex before marriage, and one of the things she did was show us
a slideshow of vaginas and penises infected with various diseases. She
did this in chapel, btw. Not in a health class where I would have been
expecting it.

Teenage!me decided that that was a great time to read the Bible, so
teenage!me never saw this slide show. But she knew it existed. So when
she went to write a story about a girl having sex, naturally she
brought up STD testing. Because that’s what Teenage!me thought of when
she thought of sex. Well, that and babies.

Holly tells her mom she wants to keep the baby, and her mother agrees
to let her. The mother has very strong feelings about abortion, and is
actually kind of confused as to why Holly is bringing it up with her,
because both of them are agreed that abortion is murder.

I disagree with my teenage!self, but otherwise, this scene is ok. It’s
a nice mother-daughter scene where the mother listens to Holly’s
concerns and then reassures her.

“A baby is supposed to be a blessing.” I cry bitterly into her chest,
“now its a curse to everyone!”

“Hey.” my mother said softly, “your baby is not a curse. Sure, its an
unwanted consequence, but Holly, you’ve always told me you wanted
children.”

“Not when I’m only 16!” I sob harder.

“Its either gonna be a curse, or a blessing, depending on how you view
it. What do you say it is?”

I like this. I like that Holly’s mother is taking something that most
people would consider a bad thing and telling her daughter that she
doesn’t have to see it that way.

Everybody in the Adventist community is going to look at Holly and
tell her her pregnancy is a punishment from god, but Holly doesn’t
have to see things the way they do, and it’s nice to see that
acknowledged.

Teenage!me ruins it a sentence later by saying that the baby is a
blessing because realizing she was pregnant was what brought Holly
back to Jesus.

Which, actually, is a pretty common dynamic among former SDAs. There
are a lot of lapsed SDAs who suddenly come back to the church after
having a kid. I’m not entirely sure why this boomerang dynamic exists,
but it does, and it’s why I would never consider marrying a former
Adventist. I’m just not willing to take that risk.

Holly decides that her pregnancy is a blessing, and the chapter
doesn’t end there. Sigh. Why teenage!me, why?!

Teenage!me really should have googled exactly what STD testing
involves, or left this vague. Because a blood test is not what my
doctor recommended.

Teenage!me did have access to Google, but she was also at an SDA
boarding school. There was a computer lab we could go to for access,
but it was run by the computer teacher, who I’ll call Mr. Computer.
Teenage!me might have been afraid of what Mr. Computer would do if  he
checked her internet history and saw what she was searching for.  Mr.
Computer frequently did check one’s internet history, and that might
have been why I didn’t realize that a simple blood test is not how you
test for STDs.

Mom makes it up to me though afterwards, she takes me and my sister to
the mall to shop for baby clothes, which is REALLY fun because
everything looks so cute!!!

Sigh. This is why they don’t want 16 year olds having babies.

After they get back from shopping, the pastor calls to tell Holly
they’ve removed her membership from the church.

Wait, what? Holly’s own mother just found out, how on earth does the
pastor know? Really, teenage!me, what the fuck were you thinking?!

Holly has mixed feelings about this. She’s wanted this for so long,
but now that it’s here, she isn’t sure. In the book this was because
Holly decided to come back to God. To Holly, that means being a
Seventh Day Adventist.

Holly’s mom comes in and tells her she had a sister get kicked out for
the same thing. This is a reference to a real relative, who I actually
had a talk with recently. Said relative said that that’s not quite
what happened. I’m not going to get into it here, because I have a feeling she wouldn’t want me posting details.
And the real details, to some extent, are not important. What is
important is that Teenage!me thought that her relative really did get
kicked out of the church for having a baby outside of wedlock, so that
is what happens to Holly.

The chapter ends with this:

I feel ugly, dirty, worthless, and, well, bad. I sniffle as the last
of my tears run down my cheeks. I’ve already cried enough to never be
able to cry again. Or, so I thought.

One thing I do like about teenage!me’s writing is this. Holly has
converted to Christianity, but she’s not instantly happier and better.
Even after her conversion, she still has moments where she feels
depressed, angry, or sad. I’ve read so many Christian books where,
after the main character converts, we never get any of that. All of a
sudden the main character’s life is great, with no depression or
sadness or anger whatsoever.

Not so with Holly. Holly has made some mistakes, and those mistakes
have consequences. And Holly’s feelings about those consequences do
not magically change after she converts.

Holly, post conversion, is allowed to retain her personality. And
showing that Holly still experiences feelings of worthlessness shows
that even Christians suffer from depression, and I don’t think there’s
any shame in admitting that.
That is the end of Part 1, which was the conversion story. Next time
we’ll pick up in part 2, wherein the story shifts from a conversion
narrative to paranoid delusion territory.

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