Jesus Tapes by S. Makai Andrews

Author’s Note: All italics in this piece are quotes from other women who also attended Christian or Catholic high schools in the past two years.



You’re in a hot, steamy chapel with one fan at the edge of the pew whirring haphazardly. Everything is made of dark wood and glass and, while you want to think it’s beautiful, you’ve grown to hate it so much that every bend in the wood is chaos and the glass is nothing more than a distraction.

It’s Tuesday mass, right before lunchtime. Your stomach is growling. You just got out of Spanish and made your way to your favorite pew, the one in the back that the principal sometimes makes you leave to be closer to the front. You like to be hidden back there, though. That way, when everyone turns their heads down in prayer, you can look up. Look at what they’re doing. Try and understand how they could believe in something they’d never even seen.


About nuns: Seeing women literally give up their lives to marry God. It’s a beautiful and unique thing.


When I first started at that school I was in the height of my eating disorder. I would eat, at most, 600 calories a day and burn at least twice that. My shoulder blades stuck out from my sports bras when I went on runs and every morning I would wrap my fingers around my wrist to see if I’d gained any weight.

I joined cross-country as other excuse to work out. Pre-season training started in August, all of us meeting together at six in the morning on Ocean Ave., the park along the cliffs of the Santa Monica beaches. I was by far the slowest of the group, struggling to keep up with the rest of the team on the slow, constant incline we ran up.

I wore mascara to practice so I looked approachable. But nothing more—I didn’t want to look like I was trying too hard. My hair had grown down to my waist, and I tied it back in a thick ponytail at the top of my head, again trying to somehow appear both athletic and attractive.

My body went into shock at the end of each practice. My mom would pick me up with a Gatorade and water bottle, ask how I was, and drive back home where I’d crawl into her bed and layer all of the winter blankets on top of myself.

The coach runs alongside me sometimes, making snide remarks about what an intensive sport it is. I can tell he’s waiting for me to quit, waiting for me to drop the team. But I’m stubborn. More than that, I’m eating-disorder stubborn. So I run faster, pushing myself far more than I was used to doing on my own. After the first thirty minutes, my right foot would start to go numb, then my left foot, until it felt like I was a phantom running on air. I couldn’t feel the ground under me, couldn’t tell how my feet were attached to my ankles. But I was keeping up with everyone else again, running without feet made it easier.

We’re supposed to workout on our own on our days off, too. This is exciting to me, to my eating disorder. More running means more calories burnt away. I head out to run on my own that Friday morning but, after a few minutes, my left foot starts to hurt, a shooting pain at the top left ridge. I try to walk it off, hoping for a charley horse or an irritated tendon, but it doesn’t go away.

I limp back home and call my mom at her office. “I can’t even walk on it,” I say, finally making my way up my driveway after a painful hobble back home.

“Do you think you broke it?” she asks. I knew it wasn’t good when my feet turned numb. I should’ve seen this coming—this new injury serving as the crutch for me to bitch out on something yet again. I was pissed.

I go to the doctor the next day and I’m put in a medical boot for the next three months. I quit the team, or, my foot quits the team. I make an effort not to talk to anyone from the team after that. I think they’ll think I’m lazy now, sluggish, slovenly. I’m a fat cow who can’t even get off her ass and run a mile.

The boot is heavy, sweaty, and has a heel that makes one of my legs longer than the other. I have to learn how to balance again, how to walk with one stilt tethered to the ground.


Well, my school had the reputation of “Hoes on the Hill.” Honestly, that’s not that true. For the most part, girls weren’t wild in that way. A few girls got pregnant every now and then, but it was quite rare.


Some mornings, there was a skirt check at the front entrance of the school. When you saw the line of girls spilling out onto the sidewalk, you knew it was coming. I’d get in line with everyone else as the boys ran by us to get to their first class on time. Quickly, we’d all suck in our bellies, letting our skirt fall from our waist to our hips. After that we’d unroll the first few folds under our sweaters, letting the skirt drop down to our knees. After we got through the line, past the measuring tape, and away from the front entrance, we’d all hike them back up to our ribs. Four, five rolls later and you were back to where you started.

Some days, I’d hike it up a little higher as a taunt to the boy who liked me. He was your stereotypical Christian-School boyfriend. Tall, blonde, blue-eyed, lanky. He liked baseball, bombshell pop stars, The 1975, and occasionally, Jesus. He was the opposite of anyone I’d ever found myself attracted to, but I think the combination of him liking me and how much I hated myself coerced me into the relationship.

It’s clear to me by the first day of school that I shouldn’t be there, that I don’t fit in. But I can’t figure out how to explain this to anyone. The truth is a bit of a mess. I’m at this school because, freshman year, I was bullied by rich kids at art school. I’d never even been to church, but that didn’t seem to stop my dad’s therapist from suggesting I apply late to a local Christian school he knew. I didn’t plan on going, but, the same day I was accepted, a classmate started harassing me online, and I decided that was the closest I’d ever get to a sign to leave. So I left.

The first time I saw him, my soon-to-be boyfriend, was in the summer-school class I took a couple months before I actually started there. He sat across from me in the classroom and had a chain around his neck with the pendant tucked into his shirt. It always made me mad that I couldn’t see what it was. He was just the stupid kid who sat across from me, the one who tried to make awkward conversation during our breaks when the rest of the room was silent.   

Officially, I met him in early September on our all-school retreat. It was a long weekend of sports, worship, and mud-wrestling—everything I’ve ever disliked packaged together in one ready-to-buy San Diego trip. Conveniently, because of the newly broken foot, I couldn’t participate in most of the activities. I wasn’t running around circles and shoving kids into buckets, wasn’t jumping in a mud pit and slopping around in a flag-football match. I got to sit on the sidelines and study these people who were the complete opposite of who I was used to.

My old school was the stereotypical art school: wispy, revealing clothes, joints rolled in your backpack, projects instead of tests, liquor in lockers, and the yearly rush for VIP Coachella tickets. It was as much a portrait of West L.A. adolescence as it was the picture of gluttony.

I met him because the one girl who was nice to me, the one person who talked to me on that trip, happened to be his best friend. She said I was his type, that my curves caught his attention. This sentence scares me, feels like a shot of Novocain down my spine. When she says curves, I hear fat. I know this isn’t true, but that doesn’t change anything. After that, I admittedly ate, in total, a handful of cereal that entire trip just in case.

This feeling, this fear of how he saw my body, didn’t pass after I got to know him better. Every time he’d hold me around my waist, or reach his hands down towards the back pocket of my jeans, all I could think about were my love handles or if my ass was as firm as it used to be when I ran everyday. He never knew any of this about me. I didn’t think he’d really care anyway.


I got in trouble a few times for wearing my skirt too short, but most girls did. I think that’s just ridiculous but expected from a nun school. Even on dress-down days they were somewhat strict with what you could wear. No yoga pants, no leggings. And if you showed up in like, a dress or leggings on dress-down day, people would make snarky remarks.


No one got pregnant while I was there, but one boy was hit by a car.

They take him to the hospital nearby where one of his friend’s parents works. We end classes early that day so we can sit in the chapel and pray for him. We already know he’ll be fine but we do it anyway. He’s a big guy and it was a small car. God was looking out for him.

He was back in school soon after, though he couldn’t play basketball anymore.


I think the most valuable thing I learned would probably have to be the concept of my worth in the eyes of God. Like, we learned a lot about how all of us are beautiful and custom-made by God and that whole idea really comforts me. I still hold it with me.


This was also the year I trained to work on a crisis hotline, going back and forth to Beverly Hills three times a week and staying up too late to get my schoolwork done afterwards.

Picture it like this: during the day I pretend to be a Christian schoolgirl with utter faith in God and His plan for me, but at night I’m talking with other kids my age about their suicide attempts. I can’t get these ideas to rest in the same brain, can’t make them coexist. Can’t mix religion and mental illness without starting to feel like one contradicts the other. One is brain chemistry and the other is God’s gift and after we spend a month of Biology talking about Creationism instead of Evolution, I’m not sure I’ll ever really have an answer to these questions. And maybe I’m safer that way. Safer the way I was raised: no God and no beliefs. After a while, I’ll start to use my religious books for blackout poetry, slashing thick lines of black through the text and twisting C.S. Lewis into a Godless creature of lust and anger.

Years later, a friend will tell me a story: “I knew a man who believed in God for a long time. When he started to have doubts, his priest handed him a pile of books all refuting God’s existence. ‘God is challenging your belief,’ the priest said. A week later, the man returned the books and said, ‘Thanks, that was what I needed to hear,’ and never came back.”


I don’t even really identify as Christian anymore because I hate the exclusivity, ignorance, and arrogance that comes with that title. My mom and I are on the same religious field; however, my dad is as conservative as a black man could be in America. Here’s my thing about Christianity and God: God has put His word and His reputation in the hands of man. Which was probably the worst idea, since man is driven by motives that rarely rely in truth and justice. Christianity perverts the beauty in the word of God. They take the Old Testament and persecute people which means that they are refusing to believe in the death or resurrection. That death on the cross was supposed to forgive all sin and reveal a more forgiving, understanding, and loving God.


My mornings started at 6 every day when I would roll out of bed and straight into the shower. I was intentional with each move, meticulously washing my hair and brushing the conditioner through my tangled roots. After the shower, I’d put on a bra and underwear and blow-dry my hair until it looked like a stylist did it. Then I would paint my face in the new makeup I kept buying because I thought it would make me feel better. My mom tells me now that back then I looked like a ghost, all foundation and no blush. I was opalescent flesh on nothing but bone.

I pulled up to school by 7:30, jumping out of my mom’s new Nissan and adjusting the pleats of my uniform skirt. We always listened to 102.7 KIIS FM in the mornings, usually catching the section where Ryan Seacrest would talk to people struggling in relationships, interrupted every couple minutes to play a Top 40s song.

My first class of the morning was study hall, where an older boy would pass notes to me, simultaneously hitting on me and picking on me for being one of the only new girls at such a small school. He drove a moped but called it a motorcycle, and I later found out that he only lived two blocks away from my house.

Lunch was always the worst part of the day. Not enough places to sit, not enough people to sit with. We didn’t have any sort of cafeteria so we would all bring our food and eat it in the small, brick walled courtyard that separated the chapel space from the classrooms. I still couldn’t eat much so most days I’d settle for a peanut butter bar my mom found at Costco. Sometimes I ate it during Spanish, my class right before lunch, so no one would see me eat.

On the first day, I eat alone, hidden in a bathroom stall and hating myself for doing exactly what I’d seen the “new girl” do time and time again in shitty teen movies.

After I meet my boyfriend, I eat with him and his friends. Well, they eat. I watch them while plotting ways to get closer to him. I find a way to land my leg on his thigh, fingers in his hair, hands so close to holding it hurts.


I didn’t enjoy it at all, though. I might have, had I not had mental illnesses that made me a miserable person independent of my schooling. It’s hard to separate the two: was I unhappy because of my Catholic schooling or because of my mental illness?


In the United States, due to the separation of the church and state, religious schools are more often than not private. Over four million American students will attend a religious school, most of which are affiliated with the Christian faith. That’s 1 in every 12 children. The largest religious schooling system is run by the Catholic church, enrolling up to 2.2 million students in 2011. Christian education dates back to the 1600s in America as the early settlers were influenced by the then Catholic Church of England.

While many early American settlers left to seek religious freedom, they often times ended up building communities run by the Christian faith. In 1647, the School Law, otherwise known as the Old Deluder Satan Act, was passed in Massachusetts, requiring the teaching of scriptures in school settings. While the modern Christian school movement didn’t gain momentum until the 1950s, this system of education has been readily available since America’s founding.


I specifically remember my freshman religion teacher saying on the first day of class: “Listen, I don’t care if you believe in God. I don’t care if you don’t want to be here. I personally believe in God and am going to teach you my beliefs and the basis of them. I am not going to try to convert you and I am not going to penalize you for believing differently from me. I am here to teach you about Catholicism, and you are here to learn about it. That is how this class is going to work.”


In my theology class, we spent a full day talking about the social implications of the 1980s band XTC’s song Dear God. Everyone was offended by the lyrics, appalled that someone would criticize His authority, His power, or His love.

I was the only one who liked the song. It was asking everything I was too afraid to, everything I was thinking while sitting through endless chapel services.

“I won’t believe in heaven and hell. No saints, no sinners, no devil as well. No pearly gates, no thorny crown. You’re always letting us humans down. The wars you bring, the babes you drown. Those lost at sea and never found, and it’s the same the whole world ’round.”

I didn’t see the problem. It made sense to me.

When I tell my theology teacher I agree with the song, he doesn’t know what to say. At the end of the semester, I tell him my time in his class made me feel closer to God because I think that will get me a better grade. I ended with an A.


He is supposed to be a God of love light and spirituality, something pure and calming. He is supposed to be a God of man. However, man has used God to push xenophobia, sexism, racism, and so much more to divide mankind. If you follow history, Christians are part of the destructive narrative that tears civilizations and people apart. Man has ruined Christianity. I believe in the power of a God but not the one that’s preached, painted, and professed by the media and pastors. If God is omnipresent and omniscient why would he detest other races, sexes, ways of love, or religions? What sense does that make? Absolutely none to me.


We were sent home if we weren’t in proper uniform. No pants under your skirts, no unauthorized jackets or jeans. Technically, I could’ve worn khakis if I wanted. Or one of the approved collared shirts. But I wore the skirt and sweater every day that year because I didn’t like the way the sleeves of the shirt clung to my arms, didn’t like the way my thighs looked in the pants they wanted me to wear.

The rules are too strict for my eating disorder to handle. Everything has guidelines, down to the socks they told me to buy. The only thing that isn’t decided for me are my shoes, so I wear Doc Martens everyday for nine months, even in the blazing September heat that year carried. I was the only one with a pair. People could recognize me by my shoes in bathroom stalls. It was my staple.

Sure, I got into some shit. I had sex and smoked pot in my high school’s auditorium. I also was always on my phone or napping during mass. I took advantage of personal relationships with teachers in order to achieve better grades. I pretended to pray and cursed God while I did it. I refused to receive the Eucharist or endorse anything Catholic. Private school kids do more fucked up shit, get more fucked up, and are wilder than public school kids.


I’m taking a bath. This is what I do when I get stressed out. Turn the water on as hot as it can go. Slop bubbles in until none of my skin is visible under the foam. Slip under the water like it’s a chunk of clay just waiting for my form.

The candles I lit around my bath are starting to fade out. They’re those stupid tea candles you buy at dollar stores. The ones that don’t last for more than an hour. I scattered at least twenty of them around my bathroom, which isn’t much bigger than a twin sized mattress or a rowboat. I thought it would calm me down.

That’s when he texts me. It’s only a few weeks into the relationship, so when I see him text me out of the blue with Can I tell you something, my first thoughts aren’t entirely rational. I’m expecting something along the lines of, “I realized I hate you and we need to break up,” or “You’ve gained too much weight since we met and I can’t touch you anymore.”

Nonetheless I reply, asking him what’s going on.

My dad died of a cocaine overdose three years ago today.

He never talks about his dad. I knew he wasn’t around, but nothing more. It was my first relationship, after all, and I didn’t know which subjects I should push and which I should let rest. I didn’t want to mess anything up just yet.

We go back and forth for a while, me trying to offer support while he shoots it down. He tells me that only three other people knew, but he doesn’t need to talk to me about it because he has this other girl he talks to about it. I can’t tell if he’s being genuine or if he is using his dad’s death as a way to make me jealous of this other girl.

I try to let it go, try to remember that this is about his grieving. Not about me. I settle on a simple Well, thanks for trusting me with this.

To which he replies, I’m not sure that I do.

To this day, I don’t really understand what that meant.


I went into college guns blazing with confidence. My school really made me feel powerful as a woman in the world, and that has stayed with me still.


I’m my most insecure during that year, playing that role of the perfect Christian girl that I never even dreamt of becoming. My favorite part of the day, the only part that really feels authentic, happens to be my last class: guitar. There are only a few other people in it, the group switching around as the sports seasons changed and people had to go to practice.

I carry my guitar to and from school every day, lugging the awkward case down the too-narrow hallways until I can store it in the Latin room for me to use later. Along with the four or five other people in class, I learn new songs, new chords, new strum patterns while my teacher jokes around with the class and projected videos of crazy, finger-picking kids against the white board.

This was the only place in that school I could talk about the things I actually enjoyed. I could talk about songs that weren’t about Jesus, music made from suffering instead of glory.


We were essentially brainwashed into being pro-life. What views we should hold on things. I attended the March for Life two times and partook in many pro-life clubs and events in school. This isn’t to say that I still don’t hold those views, but my school didn’t give much leeway for girls to learn the other unbiased sides of important issues. In general, yeah, they kinda pushed a whole bunch of biased info on students about things that should be looked at in all perspectives. It really messed with my mind, but now that I’m out of the bubble, I’ve realized a lot.


The school was made entirely out of brick. If you know anything about California architecture, you know this is a bad idea. Brick doesn’t withstand earthquakes. It’ll crumble below you and shatter on top of you so fast you won’t even find your way out of the building before it’s turned to pieces. This is what we said to our teachers when we had earthquake drills, “If there’s an earthquake we’re going down with the building, so why keep pretending there’s a safe way out?” Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.


Our sex-ed was barely even educational, it was in one part trying to scare us away from sex and the next trying to shame women with sexual desires. In high school, they had women come in and briefly—and I mean briefly—go over STDs. They spent two days talking about healthy or godly relationships and the horrors of abortion, which actually affected a teenage pregnancy that happened senior year. The woman talked length and breadth about how awful she felt for killing a baby, and how it’s forever on her conscience. I honestly didn’t believe her. I think she was actually at peace with her decision because she knew it wasn’t the right time. However, her fear-mongering really resonated with a girl who ended up having unprotected sex and getting pregnant. I reassured her about her options and made sure she knew that I would always be here whatever she chose, but she felt forced to give birth because she could not be a “murderer.”


It’s the Christian school retreat in San Diego and I don’t know anyone. I’ve got that boot on my foot because the little bones are bent and twisted. It’s September, and it’s hot. The boot isn’t helping the heat, and my calves are beginning to sweat and the boot sticks to my skin.

The sophomores are divided between three different cabins. Renee, a girl with big lips and dark brown eyes told me that tonight’s the night that everyone learns everything about each other. This is concerning for me because I’m not in the least bit religious and I don’t want anyone to find out. Dinner already passed and we’re all gathered in a small auditorium that’s growing increasingly warm the longer our bodies are there.

They’re all singing church songs that I don’t know and a man is preaching about love and acceptance. “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, Colossians 3:23! Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good, Romans 12:9!” They’re spitting verses faster than I can keep track of them and I’m dizzy from the movement all around me. People are standing up and raising their hands towards the sky, swaying back and forth or singing along as loudly as they could.

When it’s finally over, we go back to our cabins. Renee walks with me. She’s the closest thing I have to a friend right now, and I’m clinging onto her for support. Once our entire cabin is back, we are all gathered in a circle by one of the administrators who’s also in the cabin with us. I think she’s there so that we don’t sneak out at night, but it feels weird. Like they don’t trust us to be alone. I’m sure she’d rather have a cabin of her own, too. The woman with us is Ms. Hamilton, one of our two academic counselors.

First, Ms. Hamilton asks us to talk about our relationship to God. People list various praises, talking about going to church with their families, or how He helped them when a loved one passed away. I’m silent, fidgeting with the straps of my boot that seems to offset every environment I’m in. One girl says she’s agnostic, so I go with that and say I am too. It seems a little less offensive, a little bit closer to the truth without scaring anyone away.

People are talking about times in their life when they questioned God or His purpose for them. It’s dark and hard to see in the room. They turned off all the lights to try and make us a bit more comfortable. “In middle school, I didn’t have any friends. So I’d sit alone in the hallway every day and eat my lunch by myself. I got really good at being alone,” Renee says.

A girl named Faith, whose name alone is so saccharine, chimes in: “But you weren’t ever alone. He was always there with you,” she says, shifting her weight from side to side. I can see her eyes in the darkness, so big and blue they stand out. Renee shakes her head and wipes a tissue across her face.

I don’t talk during this. I don’t want to lie to these people, but I can’t tell them the truth. It feels like too much of a risk, and I don’t want to run the risk of last year repeating itself. “All right, thank you so much for sharing, ladies,” Ms. Hamilton says. “We’re going to separate a bit now, give you all some time to think. Be back here by 10:30, and don’t go too far off. Try to keep this time for yourself, so you can feel as close to Him as possible.”

I’ve always been someone who needed proof. I don’t believe people like me until they tell me directly. I don’t believe people when they tell me how movies end because I need to see it for myself. I have a hard time with science because so much of what I’m being taught can only be proven in advanced labs that I don’t have access to. Clearly, I’m not the ideal candidate for a religion. I can’t believe in something I can’t see.

I stand up slowly and make my way outside. I choose a stairway nearby that leads up to a different row of cabins. It’s still pretty warm outside and I realize I don’t even need the sweatshirt I grabbed on my way out. I look up towards the sky. Coming from Los Angeles, I’m used to there only being one or two stars in the sky, sprinkled in with a few airplanes. So I’m surprised when I look up and I see hundreds of different little sparkles in the sky. They’re like glitter or sea salt, and I’m so distracted by them that, for the first few minutes, I forget why I’m even outside.

Dear God… I find myself trying to force these words out of my mouth, but my thoughts drop off. I never learned any prayers. There was nowhere for me to go from there. I didn’t know where to go.




S. Makai Andrews is a student at Ithaca College, born and raised in Los Angeles, California. She is currently furthering her studies in Writing and Psychology and coming to the conclusion that in order to write well, you have to live well. Her published work can be found in The Claremont Review, The Mighty, Jackelope, and Coal Magazine, among others.



(Front page image via)

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