Brittany Higgins is a creative entrepreneur and MFA writing candidate originally from Houston currently living in Atlanta. She uses her personal experiences in storytelling to explore the social constructs of femininity, race, culture, and human behavior. She hopes to release a volume of poetry for young black girls soon.
To imitate pews, the seats are positioned close together, almost on top of one another. I suppose this is meant to create some sense of community—it doesn’t. The chairs are deep red, and although there are no assigned seats everyone occupies the same space every week. Stained glass windows that caress the clouds reflect skittle-like shadows that dance alongside my feet. Routinely, I stand in the same sacred space with my family as we bow our heads in prayer. In my younger years, I would disguise quick naps as deep meditation. Mom always caught me.
On Saturdays, Dad spends most hours in his study. He is preparing. His philosophy: if you fail to plan, then to plan to fail. Sometimes I break his concentration with senseless questions, other times I let him practice his delivery on me and provide unsolicited feedback. It is always my recommendation that he incorporate more comedy. In his study he is still my father, the goofy man who dances the robot to every song by Parliament and is obsessed with re-watching all the Jurassic Park films. In his study we exchange corny jokes, discuss our theories on the universe and dream about the future. Monday through Saturday he is Dad. On Sundays, he is Pastor Higgins, and I no longer recognize him. That is our schedule. On Sundays, he transforms into a well-dressed stranger.
At church I am not myself. I am the pastor’s daughter, undeserving of a name. I unfairly resent him for this. Fellow congregants assume the worst of my sister and I, while still expecting the best. We are deviants for wearing distressed denim to Wednesday Bible study. We are ungrateful tarts for declining a random stranger’s homemade desserts. We are smug for always keeping to ourselves and boujee for dressing up for service. Everything we do reflects poorly on the teachings of our parents. Every time my actions are put on trial and I stand before the court of public opinion I am reminded of a cardinal rule in our house. You must always be twice as good to get half—never settle for half.
We arrive two, sometimes three, hours early on Sundays. My fake smile takes position before stepping through the cherry wood double doors. I am polite, distant yet cordial, from the hours of eight to three. This is as much of a job for me as it is for him, but I don’t recall ever applying.
The building seats about three hundred comfortably; only three of those other families look like mine. The majority of attendees are all some shade of beige. The window glasswork and foyer feature images of a savior I do not recognize. He is pale with blue eyes and light brown feathered hair that falls to his shoulders. My fellow church-goers relish in their resemblance to him, always reminding me of my family’s obvious dissimilarities. My gravity-defying coils and mahogany skin bear no likeness to this man, whoever he is. The man pictured has hair like my seventh-grade history teacher. The image of his side profile reminds me of a police officer that once pulled my father over as we turned into our neighborhood. Mom always hated how that depiction was forced upon us. She would say, “the only way to really see Christ is to look at Him through the eyes of the Spirit”. Her words help get me through the next nine years.
Pastor Higgins makes his way to the stage to commence the service. Before delivering his sermon, he always begins with a word of prayer and weekly announcements. To no surprise, he does not use any of my suggested comedy. I pretend to be invested, disguising my jotted poetry as scripture notes, patiently awaiting dismissal. After what feels like an eternity, final remarks are made, and we transition into the departure prayer. I kneel as Pastor Higgins asks for grace, mercy, health, and happiness for everyone. He prays for continued blessings for all of the church family before concluding service and stepping down from the stage. I arise with carpet indentations on my knees and a cynical gaze. I know this is not a family; this is just the cycle of Sundays. This building serves as a place to gather, rather than connect.
Every Sunday, a man who is not Dad speaks, and I bow before the image of a stranger—a constant reminder of my inferiority—in a white sea of unkind faces. Staining the holy ground with my unbleached skin.