This post is part of a series that contains strong language and heavy subject matter. Click here to start at the beginning or consult the table of contents.

Once Ian realized that I could stomach the goriest of movies and games with him, he stopped giving me as hard of a time about my dislike for sexual content. There was still the occasional accusation that I was gay, but only when no one else was around. I considered the lack of escalation a victory unto itself.

He brought me a big cup of Coke one day while it was my turn to play whatever game we were working on at the moment. That wasn't like him.

"I'm not drinking that."

"Why not?"

"You probably pissed in it or something."

"I'm just trying to be nice. Do you really think I would do that?"

"You've done worse."

Ian took a big gulp from the cup. "There. If I did something gross to it, I wouldn't drink it myself, right?"

I took a sip of the liquid and coughed.

Ian laughed. "Lightweight. You haven't had rum before?"

I declined to drink any more, but I took part in many of his other activities: my vocabulary expanded to fit a multitude of vulgarities; we laughed at and made vile comments; I joined him in his attic to smoke stolen cigarettes.

All the while, I was still going to church every Sunday with my mom. One morning, the worship team performed a song with a chorus that said, "We will dance on the streets that are golden: the glorious bride and the great Son of Man." Normally, I would stand in worship, listen to the words and feel empty. That day, I walked out of the sanctuary, barely containing my tears. My mother followed me out into the hall.

I told her that it was my favorite song from church back in Titusville and that I was upset because I missed living there. The truth was that I knew with everything in me that a meeting between me and God would end disastrously for me. The truth was that I would never see golden streets or whatever else was in heaven. The truth was that I was hellbound. If God hated me before I was ever born, how did he look at me after my recent behavior?

The truth was that I hated God back, but I hungered for acceptance and approval. So I pretended. Every Sunday, I would put on a mask. I didn't believe most of the Bible, but I knew it. I would parrot back the doctrine and lessons I had learned since my earliest years in children's church and be lauded for my knowledge of and dedication to God and his Word. It's amazing how long someone can fake piety equipped with nothing more than a good memory.

There were many masks like it. I put one on whenever I was with Ian. The difference was that I hated the person I pretended to be with Ian. I laughed at things I didn't understand and felt ashamed for laughing at the things that I did. Whenever he was around, I went right back to being his lackey.

On the other hand, I actually wanted my church mask to be real. Fitting in with Ian meant having a higher place in the social structure at school, even if it only got others to tolerate me. The people at church made me feel like I belonged, like I could actually be loved. I was the only one that knew it was all based on lies.

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