In my early memories as a child I see are two elegant ladies comfortably sitting in the living room at home reading me and my eldest sister a book called “My book of Bible stories”. I appreciated the attention and their all time friendly voice. I was 6 or 7 years old and had no idea why these ladies had been invited into our home to teach us Bible subjects. I would have expected my mother would have done it herself, she was after all a very good communicator, and from time to time would read us a few pages of a green book called New World’s Translation of the Holy Scriptures. I did not really understand a word out of it but enjoyed being there with my mother and my brothers and sister. I appreciated mostly the attention that we were getting. Apart from that all I wanted was to play, jump, break things and drive trespassing cats out of our backyard.
How it all began to me
Only many years later did I find out that my mother had had a first personal contact with Jehovah’s Witnesses in the 70s. As I published in the post about my mother, she had moved with my (biological) father all the way from Sergipe to Sao Paulo and it seems that the life of a married woman in her 20’s at that time consisted of no more than childbearing and housekeeping. My mother had no friends either. My parents’ siblings and cousins, who also had migrated to Sao Paulo around the same time, would not meet up very often if at all. Alone in the city of Santos, my mother was visited by Jehovah’s Witnesses, who were always very friendly and attentive, gaining her confidence and making her visit the Kingdom Hall (the place they meet; the name “church” is never used) and changing the course of my history and my family’s forever. I also remember having visited a real “church” once, one with horrible images of a gory Jesus depicted everywhere and people constantly screaming. I do not know why my mother always chose me to come with her to these places. I hated it and felt a terrible malaise. All I wanted was stay home and watch cartoons. Isn’t that what children are expected to do? Fortunately this “church” was only this once.
However, my mother would only become a Jehovah’s Witness in the late 90’s. My brothers and I were all born in the ’70s, we were way too young and she probably did not find anyone reliable to babysit us. Bringing us all to the Kingdom Hall was out, so she must have decided to wait until we grew up a little more and have members of that religion teaching us something religious and recovering the time “lost”. This happened as of the 80’s. Since late 70’s we lived in Praia Grande, a city at the coast of São Paulo. We started being regularly visited by Rosângela and Iracema. Rosangela, a sun-tanned skin lady, tall and slender, should be a little more than 20 years old and Iracema was of Asian descent and had straight and long hair, probably about 25 years. They lived in the noble part of town, near the beach and we lived in the “new” part of town, where the house blocks are still made up only a few houses. Being both parts separated by a two-way highway.
First meetings and conventions
Around this time we visited the Kingdom Hall as a family (without the presence of my father) and went to a few conventions. As to the visits at the Kingdom Hall, I remember us arriving as always late and that a snazzy young man would hurry to come and greet us and find seats for all of us, so we could sit down together at the same row of chairs. And as usual, my mother would approach her face having her index finger in front of her mouth and ask us to behave and be quiet. But in spite of our collaboration, my mother seemed to be completely lost during the entire meeting, she never knew the order the “rituals” were going to be carried out: prayer, song, etc…Someone gave her a pink songbook titled “Singing and accompanying yourselves with music in your hearts”, pointing where it was being sung but she did not seem to keep up. I liked to observe people there, and check on how polite, snazzy and distinct they all looked. Totally different from everything I would normally see at home, at school or elsewhere in our neighborhood. Apart from that I did not understand a word of the long speech delivered by this snazzy gentleman, but I admired the little boy fluency’s – he must have been my age. The second half of the time I would sleep on the chair only to wake up scared with people sharply applauding.
About the conventions, I remember entering a bus full of smiling faces welcoming us. Rosângela and Iracema were there too and smiled at us. There were seats for us. One man sang this very funny child song “An elephant went out to play On a spider web one day.” A few hours later we were in a crowded stadium, many buses driving, many people walking around and this endless vociferation. Finally we are sitting on bleachers while this man delivered a speech with the microphone. And as always I slept and woke up startled at the sound of stormy applauses. These conventions were always terribly muffled and some ladies had to fan themselves to control the heat. And there was this lunch hour. At that time Jehovah’s Witnesses had real meals – which were not reduced for children – I remember having eaten so much that I could not even walk.
I stood next to my mother and had no idea why we were in this place. I never asked her and she never explained. We were simply there for the sake of it.
The world will end in my turn – this is not fair!
We were constantly moving. My father left us in in 1983 and my mother had another partner the following year. We lost contact with Jehovah’s Witnesses. But their books were left behind. I always flipped through the book of Bible stories, as well as the Bible itself and was, for that matter, a bit proud for knowing so much of the Bible at such a young age. But at age 12, several things began to happen to me, both physically and emotionally. First, I felt attracted to adult snazzy men: mostly their discretion, behavior, tone of voice, gestures, etc… I was probably gay, I thought. And if I were, was there anything I could do to tackle the problem? No one had explained to me what being gay was all about and I never dared asking anything of this level. After father left us, my mother seemed somewhat nervous and I wanted to avoid talking to her more than what was strictly necessary.
I did not want to be gay either, if I had to choose. I remember an effeminate man wearing slightly tight and female clothes, walking by our street, being scorned by everybody in front of the building we lived – my mother included. That man must surely have offended a few people, he must have been no good man. I wanted to be a good example for my brothers. I was the eldest of the boys and no doubt the one with more “common sense,” taking the school years seriously, studying English, doing house chores, taking the youngest to the school and even preparing their meals before I went to school myself. Whenever it happened that I had seen an adult man who had attracted my attention during the day, I knelt before a plastic image of Our Lady and asked for her forgiveness before going to bed.
I have no idea where I learned doing this. Perhaps some of my classmates must have said they also did this and had an image of Our Lady at home. Someone gave me the image as well but do not remember who. As my mother worked all day and seemed to have no more time to read us the Bible, I began reading it on my own. I must have skipped from Psalms to Malachi. I actually thought the most fascinating parts were Adam and Eve, the Flood, the Tower of Babel, the crossing of the Red Sea, etc…
But there were also horrible parts with strongly graphic images like a dead man with a chisel carved into his temples. The parts in which men, women and children were killed, however, were not depicted. It impressed me less and just forgot all about it. Everything surrounding Jesus’ life was peculiarly impressive to me, especially the fact that he resurrected the dead, healed the blind, was resurrected himself and finally ascended to the heavens before several onlookers.
Finally I reached Revelation (or as it was in my Bible, “Revelation”). What a strange book to read. And certainly for a child. What did the writer mean by beast with the number 666, with stars falling from the sky? I asked mom and she told me that the book described how the end of the world would be. I asked: “will the world end?”. “Yes, it will” she said. “But in my turn, this is not fair.” I was frustrated. One thing I knew for sure: if I had this evil in me, namely “being gay”, I would have to do something to tackle the problem and fast too, because I might become an easy prey to the hideous beast with the number 666 before too long.