Savior
Chelsea Kindred

 

When I was eight years old, a man who was not my father wrapped his fingers around my wrist and baptized me in the clear water of our church font.

When I hit the water, I wasn’t worried about embarrassing myself with a toe, a knuckle, a strand of hair floating above the surface. I was in the river Jordan with Brother Kimball’s starched white pants and my white stockinged feet were funny looking fish.

When Brother Kimball and the other men placed their hands on my wet hair to pray, they promised me to God. They promised me the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. They said I was saved. My father sat on the other side of the glass. He wasn’t allowed near the water. My mother cried on the other side of the room.

When I brought the church hymnal to school for show and tell, the other kids laughed. They laughed at my long shorts during gym and my long sleeves no matter how sweaty the days got. But I had my baptism. My baptism in water that was a bite out of an apple. The water that was the first cool day of fall. The water that stung because it was so clean. So pure.

When I was thirteen, I went to The Temple for the first time. There another man who was not my father told us we would be given new names. We went through files in our family history. Our genealogy. These names on a paper of people who shared my genes. People who were wrapped inside my cells. I would take on their names. I could save them, too.

When I was Ella Mae Starkson of Greenville, MS, I thought about the dusty, barefoot little kids I had to feed. I was under the water and I saw them, the whole family, and they were not just birth dates and death dates and census information but they were rounded bodies in black and white. I felt my heart swell in my ribcage and press me up and out of the water. I smiled at the man who was not my father. “She’s relieved,” I said. “She’s in Heaven now, too, with her babies.”

When I was Darla Nell Anderson of Two Forks, AZ, I thought about the cigarette smoke filling my lungs. I thought about falling off that horse and crippling my legs and the fiery comfort of whiskey. I thought about dusty saloons and the Wild West and how I probably had never seen a church.

When I was fourteen, I was baptized as thirty-two different women. They all had stories, some I knew and some I didn’t. All I knew was their story was my story for a moment, for the time I was under the water and for a man who was not my father to say the blessing. Then I came up out of the water and rubbed my eyes, stuck in between the two worlds of my present and my Heaven.

When I thought about those souls crouched at Heaven’s gate, waiting for all eternity to get a glimpse inside, I thought about those girls at school who locked me in the bathroom with the lights off or who grabbed my skirt in gym and cut it short so I had to wear gym clothes to the rest of my classes. I thought about their parents and their parents’ parents and how I could save them, one at a time. If only they had eternity all wrapped up, maybe they’d be nicer in this lifetime.

When I got to thinking about it, there wasn’t much difference between the font and my bathtub. Just the man who wasn’t my father. But I knew the words by heart now. I held the words in my hand, my special gift. The words to save.

When I started one by one, I was doing God’s work. I baptized Carol and Evie and Lindsay and the whole preppy crew of them. I baptized their mothers, for good measure, even though I didn’t know all of their names. I figured God would know “Mrs. Lycheck, mother of Carol” when she got called up to the gates.

When I saved them, their words didn’t hurt me anymore. I told Lizzy once in the cafeteria she didn’t need that rosary necklace she always wore. She looked at me funny, like why are you talking to me. And I said, you just don’t need it. Be thankful. And she still looked confused and I said, Catholics don’t go to Heaven. But you will. I don’t know if she believed me. She just yelled Freak and grabbed her lunch tray from the line.

When I saved all of the girls in my school: the mean ones, the bossy ones, the Catholics, the Methodists, I moved on to my neighborhood. I went door-to-door collecting names, telling them I was a Girl Scout and needed names for cookie orders in the spring. I went through the phone book. Then I went online. I spent a lot of time in the bathroom. My hands were always wrinkled.

I went under once for the man who was my father. The men who were not my father told me his sins were too large to save. I figured his sins weren’t bigger than my bathtub. I could save him too.

When I stopped going to school, it took a while for my mom to notice. I tried to baptize as many as I could but they took me away. I don’t have bathroom privileges anymore. I haven’t seen the underside of water in years. I haven’t stopped gathering names though. I have to be ready. I can save you. I can save the world.

 

Chelsea Kindred is a writer and international educator living in Austin, TX. When not working to complete her MFA in Creative Writing at Chatham University, Chelsea travels the US to advocate for study abroad. Chelsea’s work is forthcoming in Blue Lyra Review.