Saturday 18 June 2022

'When Your Parents Take You to a Faith Healer' by Tom Walsh

After a seven-hour drive, I stretch in front of a whitewashed shotgun shack of a church on a lakeshore in northern Maine.

Lorelei Slacker stands in the doorway. I’m on guard—her severe look triggers a strong dislike.  

She’s a faith healer, a prayer hermit who gave up earthly possessions to do God’s work, to tap into the divine healing stream and cure blasphemous disease or, in my case, deformity.

Inside, the church is bare but for some pews and a lectern. Purple swim goggles hang from a nail by the door, the only splash of color.

“They’re for baptisms,” says Lorelei, who’s watching every step my 15-year-old body takes.

My parents believe she can “cure” my webbed feet, a curiosity that doesn’t bother me, but which they believe is an omen of the apocalypse they alternately fear and desire. It’s not just a little extra skin between two toes; it’s full-on webbing, like I’m part puffin. My best friends have my back, say “it’s cool,” and will slap down anyone who teases me.

My folks are timid; my growing independence frightens them. I’m no longer scared by their punishments, or their talk of eternal damnation for my choices, for the pronouns I insist on.

Indulging them occasionally makes my life easier, but the Church of God’s Healing Power proves more than I can bear. For 18 hours on Sunday, Lorelei, my parents, and assorted parishioners pray, speak in tongues, faint, and lay hands on me.

Before dawn on Monday, I swipe the purple baptism goggles, slip into the lake’s cleansing waters. I aim for lights on the far shore, strong in the faith that my God-given feet will propel me to a future of my own making.

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