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I once got into a Christian schoolyard fight. It was a verbal one—no one really fought at my strict Michigan boarding school—and thinking back, it was like a bizarro-world version of the standard clichés I learned from pop culture: Instead of meeting by the dumpsters after school, there would be a small crowd of kids in our dress clothes waiting outside the church after the service. It’s hilarious now, but I took that shit seriously at the time. I had a reputation to uphold. Other kids knew that I was sharp-tongued, quick-witted, and angry.
The only problem was that I had recently taken one of those Christian student pledges to stop cursing. Spirit Week, Week of Prayer, and S.W.A.T. Week (Students Working at Temperance) often came with new prayer, purity, and abstinence pledges that students could commit to following. I ignored most of them in my early days of Christian academy, but piousness was a type of social currency that I eventually had to buy into. I lived in a Christian-teen paradox where it was cool to know how to cuss someone out but also to be baptized, save sex for marriage, and stop cursing. I would’ve broken my pledge if I had been a few weeks into it, but I was on a 12-week streak of being pure of tongue. I would just have to work around it.
After the sermon, I stormed outside of Cedar Lake Seventh-Day Adventist Church, where the small crowd of kids had gathered.
“I heard you talking shit,” I said. (I said trash.) “Your lying ass didn’t think I would find out?” (I said butt.) The crowd was confused. Some of them weren’t aware of my no-swearing streak; others were, but thought that I would surely break it instead of trying to cuss somebody out without cussing. But I continued. Finally, I ended with a coup de grâce, pointing my finger in their face and pausing for dramatic effect as the crowd looked on.
“Fuck you,” I said.
Only I said, “Eff you.”
Eff … you.
It was so quiet that I could hear the rotation of the Earth. And that was when I knew I’d fucked up.
“Did … did he just say ‘eff you’?” someone said.
One snicker cut through the silence. Then two. Then laughter erupted from everywhere. One person fell on the ground laughing. She had to be picked up like she had fainted. I’ll never forget that shit.
The day I said “eff you” is the most embarrassed I have been in my life. It was my 8 Mile moment of being booed and laughed off stage, and I learned a lesson I will never forget: Christian doublespeak exists for a reason.