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Our Senior Year

Our Senior Year is a novel about high school, growing up in a small town, and how it's tough to escape that world. But it's also about dealing with religion in your life and how in a small-town, rural environment it can be difficult to escape fundamentalism.

The novel takes place in a town not unlike the one the author went to high school, and involves the main character Jack beginning his senior year ready to escape his parents, which are conservative Christian types and can be over-bearing. The mother is fairly judgmental and the father, while having given up any kind of faith years ago, still remains under her thumb due to their history together. Jack meets a girl through the youth group meetings his mother attends, but the relationship falters in various ways due to the clash between his non-belief and her belief. The author tried to create believable Christian characters while still retaining his own viewpoint on the topic.

Enjoy the following excerpt from Our Senior Year by John Abraham-Watne: 

November 2

I picked Angel up today around three o’clock. I brought along a small bouquet of flowers from the shop in town. They smelled sweet in my car on the way to her house. When I opened the passenger door of the Ghost and gave her the flowers she smiled. She held them up to her nose and then got into the car. I told her we’d do something she’d like. There is a large open space lined with pine trees surrounding Clarmont High School, where a gravel path was called the vita-course. There are different stations along the way with wooden signs indicating different exercises. We had to run the whole thing one time in middle school. It almost killed me. Naturally, Angel said she had one of the fastest times on it. She warmed to the idea once we got there, so we started walking. A light snow fell last night and the temperature dropped with it. I was wearing my father’s old factory coat, a giant brown thing that looks like it’s been through a war. Angel had on a wool coat with a white belt and some pretty little white boots. Over her hair she wore a cute winter cap with ear flaps. Her eyes sparkled as they reflected the snow on the ground. We walked along for a few minutes before I said anything.

“So why didn’t you enjoy the party?” I thought I may as well start from the top.

She looked shocked that I would even ask. “Well first of all, it’s illegal to drink,” she
said. The look in her beautiful eyes said I ought to know better.

“I know, but doesn’t that make it part of the allure?”

“Not really,” she said, her eyes scanning the gravel path. “Do you like how it makes you feel?”

I thought about it and realized I wasn’t sure. At times I did, but that was usually after a stressful week at school. Plus it seemed to help out when Jason and I would shoot the bull. Somehow it made it easier to talk about stuff like, well, her. Even though Jason was my best friend I still had a hard time talking about how I felt with him. It just isn’t what we do.

“I mean, is it because all your friends do it?” she asked when I didn’t answer.

I wasn’t sure about that either. By the start of our junior year we three musketeers noticed we weren’t being invited to do much of anything with our fellow classmates. We couldn’t figure out why until right around the time Johnson threw his first party that year. Finally it hit us: the other kids in our grade were out partying, hanging out at the sports players’ houses. At first we couldn’t understand what the big deal was, either. Who wants to get drunk and puke all over themselves with a bunch of jocks? Not us, we concluded.

As the year wore on toward spring we decided to see what all the fuss was about. Jason had a knack for finding out about these things, so Joey and I piled into his car and took off for the Johnson cabin for his spring break get-drunk-together. We had a fucking blast. I had never talked to people in my grade so much in one night. After a few shots, I was even unafraid to talk to the hotter girls in our grade. It was a sudden revelation for us. We still weren’t exactly with the “in” crowd (hell, even this year we aren’t), but we realized we could party like the best of them. So, throughout last summer the three of us would cruise the empty gravel roads surrounding Clarmont (the “badlands” we would call
them) in Jason’s Oldsmobile with some forties we’d get the college kids to buy us. It was fun. And now, it just seemed like the natural thing to do.

“We really haven’t done much of it until this year,” I said. This wasn’t exactly true, but true enough.

“Well, it’s not good for you. And it’s not good for your faith,” she said. Then she gave me this penetrating look, like she was staring into my soul. I was taken aback, but I also liked how those her sharp green eyes looked at me. I tried to change the subject. We were close to one of the exercise stations. Two large wooden posts jutted from the ground. A long metal bar was stuck between them.

“How many pull-ups do you think I can do?” I asked.

“Let’s see if you can do one first,” Angel replied, flashing me her sly smile. It was all I needed.

Somehow I was able to do three. Not bad considering I still don’t know where the weight room is in our high school. I think Angel was impressed. Then it was her turn. She did ten without even breaking a sweat. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t turned on by this display.

“Wow. Promise you’ll never fight me in a back alley,” I said. That got her laughing. We kept walking. My mind returned to what she said about faith.

“What did you mean that it’s not good for my faith?” I asked. I figured I may as well find out how seriously she took this stuff. She looked off into the barren, white-covered fields surrounding the school.

“Well, it’s kind of like pointing your life toward a goal, but it’s one that’s not really for this life. This world is like a big test for us. As long as we remember what Christ said, live with Him in our hearts, and ask forgiveness when we do wrong, we’ll make it through to the afterlife.”

I was astounded. She really does believe in the whole “everlasting life” crap Will was always carrying on about at those meetings. At first I didn’t know what to say. I’ve reached a turning point with this girl, and I’m stuck. On the one hand, she is the most beautiful creature I have ever laid my eyes on.

All day I think about holding her petite body and caressing her long brunette hair. But I don’t know if I can get around this. If I wanted to party with Jason some night, would she just leave me?

“We have to avoid things like drinking, drugs, or whatever, as the temptations of this world,” she continued. “They’re placed here so we might stumble. But if we avoid such things and keep our eyes on God we can have a more meaningful life.”

Jesus Christ, she sounded just like Will now. I have pondered over such thoughts before,
of course.

I suppose it’s only ironic I came to realize them through the very church my parents fought so hard to make me attend for all these years. This was back toward freshman year, when my parents made me attend church not just on Sunday mornings but at night, too. The night services weren’t so bad, actually.

There was a lot less singing and the pastor seemed to realize he had probably talked enough that morning so he kept his message to around ten minutes. One night, instead of the singing and the praying they simply put the curtains down over the windows to block out the early evening sun, put down the large white screen used to project films, and started this documentary rolling. It was like nothing I’d ever seen: a film challenging the very basis of Christianity, shown in a church. I think it was something that had run on public television. There were interviews with a bunch of scholars on the Bible, people who had spent their entire lives studying this stuff. People whose very basis for belief they were actually researching to see if it was true. And what was the ultimate conclusion of all of these people? That it really was bunk,and used to control people.

They didn’t put it in quite such a way, of course. But, to my amazement, scholar after
religious scholar appeared up on that screen to make the case that most of the New Testament books were written to conform to the times in which they were written and not around some guy named Jesus who lived two thousand odd years ago. In fact, most seemed to say that this so-called “good news” was mere propaganda for Christianity written many decades after the whole crucifiction thing and used to try and sell the people of the day on this newfangled religion that didn’t involve sacrificing lambs on altars or any such nonsense. The entire theme was that even if you believe this stuff sincerely, you ought to find out about its origins.

The whole thing had a profound affect on me. It made me understand that most of what we were learning in this building each Sunday really was just made up by men in charge of keeping this religion going, but also that those who study this stuff so intently seem to realize that’s the case.

The fact that such a documentary was shown in the very church my parents purported to help shape my young mind was really something I still can’t quite comprehend. Were they attempting to show us that the whole thing really is a joke, and see if we’d still keep coming back? But this still didn’t compare to what happened at home.

Mom went to bed still complaining about the film. Dad sat down on the his old recliner in the living room. Where he got it I will never know, but he had a glass bottle of beer in his hand.

That was the first night I had ever seen my father drink. My parents always told me it was a sin. He took a few sips as we sat in silence. I was still processing what I had watched. Finally he spoke.

“It’s just hard to keep believing in something you know ain’t true,” he said to the quiet space of our small living room. “Jack, I can’t do it anymore. Especially not after watching that. I gave her religious ways a good long try, but no more.” His dark-blue eyes narrowed at me as he sat there, still wearing his Sunday night attire of jeans and a starched plaid shirt. “Don’t you ever tell your mother I said that. Okay?” He must not have drunk alcohol in a long time because I swear that night his eyes were bloodshot by the time he finished that beer. Then he went to bed.

What I’ll always remember from that night is a deep sense of betrayal, both from my parents and the institution they kept dragging me back to each year even as I knew it as a falsity. I couldn’t tell who I was mad at more: my father, for pretending to go along with it and making me do the same, or my mom, whose exhortations for me to try and be a better person for some nonexistent deity in the sky just didn’t seem to matter anymore. I just can’t grow up to be like them.
Now this incredible girl is a true believer and I don’t know how to handle it.

We had reached another one of the exercise stations. This one had some metal rings like those used in gymnastics. I didn’t want to even attempt anything. Thankfully Angel just sat down on the wooden bench nearby.

“Jack, I need to know if you feel the same way about this as I do,” she said. “Otherwise I don’t know if I can be with you. I know you come to the meetings for some reason.”

For a moment I just looked at her. She is such an amazing girl. Why does she have to believe in this stuff? I thought about just saying she was the only reason I came to those meetings. Instead I did what I thought any natural male would do if he couldn’t lose the girl of his dreams. I lied. “Yes, I do. I just . . . struggle with it more than you do,” I said, feeling my principles ooze away as I spoke.

She gave me a very caring look. The damn knot was back in my stomach. This time I knew it wasn’t going away.

“It’s okay,” she said. “We’re meant to struggle. We just have to get past it, that’s all. I can help you.”

“Thanks,” I said meekly. “I’ll need your help.” I had no idea what I was promising. I just wanted her.

We walked the rest of the trail until we came to the climbing wall. I’ll be damned if she didn’t scurry right over that thing, leaving me to struggle pathetically with the rope and finally just give up. As we approached my car, something else happened. Her gloved hand suddenly was holding mine. It was soft and warm and soothing. I felt something stir within me, loosening the stomach knot for a moment.

“I’m glad we talked this over,” she said as I opened the squeaky car door for her.   “So will I see you at the meeting on Thursday?”

“Oh, definitely,” I replied. What else could I have said?

When I dropped her off at her place she gave me another peck on the cheek before walking with the flowers up to her house. That’s two! As she walked away I touched the spot where her lips touched me.