Baptism by Sarah M. Clifford

swimming pool, close up of water and blue tile floor

They show me how to do it on carpet first. Bare feet and basketball shorts. Plug your nose and dad will dip you. See? It’s like a dance.

I am eight years old.

When they actually baptize me, it’s in water. Chlorine and blue tiles. Folding chairs, the smell of crayons and hymnbook glue.

They say I made this choice myself. (Don’t you want to be baptized?)

They say it’s a good choice. (All eight-year-olds are baptized.)

They say I’m shiny and clean.

The next time I’m baptized, I am twelve and they make me wear socks so I don’t slip. I’ve been singing about temples since the day I was born and today I finally get to go inside. (No, you don’t get to see the entire thing. Just the basement.)

I hold the names of my ancestors. Maria Hausser, who is dead. Ursula Bez, who is dead. The forgotten wife of Hans J. Heizelmen, who is dead (everyone needs to be baptized, even the dead) and I wait my turn in the line of girls until they extend a hand to me.

The water is warm. It soaks into my socks like a sponge and my dad takes my hand, leads me down the cement steps.

“Three names, three dunks,” he says. “It’s easiest if you keep your eyes closed.”

I nod.

There is a woman waiting off to the side with a towel. This is all women can do, give towels and be baptized. (Don’t notice that, look at your dad.)

(Are you looking? Better. Now close your eyes.)

(Are they closed? Good.)

“Having been commissioned of Jesus Christ,” he says, “I baptize you for and in behalf of Maria Hausser, who is dead.”

Now plug your nose and dad will dip you. See? It’s like a dance.

The slip of years, the swell of time. I’m twenty-seven and sitting in the bathtub. Close your eyes

and dad will—

Dad will—

Dad will—

Mom couldn’t do it because she’s a woman. It didn’t matter when I was eight, but it matters now.

(They say it shouldn’t matter.)

They say nothing can harm the Truth. (Don’t Google things.) The computer screen burns bright against my face.

Did you know the Prophet Joseph Smith married a fourteen-year-old girl? A sixteen-year-old? A seventeen-year-old? (God commanded him to do it.)

Did you know he told his first wife, his legal wife, she’d be destroyed if she didn’t consent?

(Emma didn’t understand.)

Did you know when Emma finally agreed, Prophet Joseph staged a wedding and she watched as her husband married his spiritual wives over again? (Where did you find this information?)

Do you think she cried? Do you think it hurt? Do you think she wanted to tear her heart bloody and beating from her chest?

(You can ask God for the answers.)

(You get the right answers?)

(Ask again.)

They say God loves everyone but women don’t have the—

Power

Authority

Ability

They say men and women are equal but it is the man’s job to—

Preside

Provide

Protect

(Why does this bother you? It shouldn’t bother you.)

(You’re old enough to hold the towel now.)

I want to scream. I want to sob. I want to be eight again, practicing baptism on the carpet floor.

Close your eyes and dad will dip you.

I learn about Thecla who begged and begged and begged the Apostle Paul to baptize her. Thecla who forsook her life to follow  the rules   Paul   God. (There’s a good girl.) Thecla who was sentenced to be eaten by sea lions.

Thecla who still hadn’t been baptized.

And when her moment of death came, she threw herself headlong into the pool of water

And

She

Baptized

Herself.

***

The Santa Anas blow hot off the ocean. They trace themselves through open hands. I throw off my shirt, my shoes and wade, careful, into the crashing waves. Salt and sand. Plastic chairs, the smell of brine.

I cross my arms and lean backwards. The sea becomes my chapel, the wind becomes my hymn.

Plug your nose and dip yourself. See? It’s like a dance.

Meet the Contributor
Sarah M. Clifford

Sarah M. Clifford obtained her juris doctorate in 2018 before returning to her native Arizona to practice law. When she’s not doing lawyer things, she can be found sneaking off to make-believe worlds filled with romance, intrigue, and handsome fae princes. Her work has been featured in Y Magazine, The BYU Advocate, and the East Valley Tribune. She is currently working on her debut novel, a YA fantasy about a girl who must go undercover with her enemy to find and steal their weapon. Find her at her website: sarahmclifford.com.

Image Credit: Flickr Creative Commons/Ragnar Jensen

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