“The Body and The Blood” by Kristen Arnett

I’m seven years old and there’s fake plastic grass trapped in my tights. At the church egg hunt, the plastic eggs are hidden in the bushes and along the drive that borders the sanctuary. The eggs are all pastel and match our dresses and hats: baby pinks, purples, greens, and pure white. The eggs hold jellybeans and paper slips containing bible verses. I crumple these slips, but I don’t throw them away. I keep them in my basket. We’ll count them as we’ll count eggs at the end of the hunt. The most bible verses collected means the most eggs found, and the most eggs wins a Precious Moments bible with your name embossed in gold on the front cover.

All I care about is the candy, but my family only cares about the bible.

As a thirty-four year old, Easter is still a lot like navigating a field full of plastic eggs – my family cares about my spiritual welfare, but I’m only interested in the sweet moments when we actually connect with each other.

Growing up gay in a community of Southern Baptists was tricky. Now that I’m a mother, it’s even weirder. I’m not alienated from my family, even though they always have their televisions tuned to Fox News. I show up for Sunday lunch at my grandma’s house every week, though the conversations often turn to morality lectures about the right to bear arms. I stay because these lectures are interspersed with moments from the past that bring me joy: stories about when my mother was young and acted just like my sister, or when my Grandpa used to haul furniture and let my brother and I sit in the back of the truck.

It’s hard to decide where I draw the line. Though I love my family, I don’t love what they believe in. I don’t agree with their politics and they don’t agree with mine. They love me and they love my son, but they don’t know what to make of my wife – a woman who has stood by me for over a decade. The wife that my parents ran into at the grocery store and my father acted like he did not know. When do you cut ties with people who don’t accept what you love? Is it possible to maintain relationships with a conservative family as an out lesbian?

Easter has always been extremely important to my family. We buy new clothes, representing our clean spirits, washed in the blood of Jesus. We dye eggs and hide them in my grandma’s yard, taking a thousand family photos that end up on social media. We attend Easter service, as a family, and sit together in a long row that takes up an entire pew. There’s communion, where we hold the tiny cup of grape juice in our palms and silently ask the Lord to bless us while the church organ plays quietly in the background. For my family, these acts are holy. For me, they are tradition. I remember everything in the rosy glow of the past. It’s all really pretty pageantry.

My wife does not understand. Her family is lapsed Catholic and they don’t celebrate the way we do. She asks why I attend these events when I usually come home troubled and crying after someone’s said something I find morally repugnant. I used to say it was for my son, but now I’m not so sure. I’ve tried to give him the freedom to decide how he feels about religion without forcing anything on him. He’s fourteen and also navigates the strange relationship a young person has with a family who’s religious.

“We don’t have anything of our own,” my wife says. “What’s the point of this?”

So we started our own traditions. My wife and I would wake up early on Easter and dress up in new clothes. We’d fix a big breakfast to eat with my son. Then we’d walk to the lake down the street from our house. We’d take family pictures while the people at the Methodist church next door were still in early service. It’s Florida so the weather is still sticky in April. We’d hurry so our hair wouldn’t frizz. From there, my son and I would go to church and my wife would go see her family.

It bothered me, but I wasn’t sure what could fix it. Did I want to cut my family out completely? Easter didn’t seem to have any true meaning without the history I’d attached to it. The following year, we got up and did our hair, the breakfast, the pictures, and my son went to service while I stayed home with my wife.

That wasn’t right, either. I couldn’t find the correct mix of what was enough family and what was enough with my wife and son – and then I wondered why those two had to be separate categories if we’re all technically a family. It made me angry. So this past year, we got up and had breakfast and watched Netflix together in our pajamas. We didn’t go to church and I didn’t feel bad about it. When my son and I showed up at my grandma’s house for lunch, we were the only people in old clothes. I looked around, and for the first time, I wished that I’d stayed home.

No one asked why we weren’t at service. I texted my wife. We dyed the eggs and I sent her pictures, but I wanted to be home with her, dyeing our own batch of eggs and making colorful egg salad with the leftovers. We all trooped outside and hid eggs for the kids, like my parents had done for me and my siblings, but it all felt sad and a little pointless. I found myself pulled like taffy, wondering when I would break. There was no middle ground on any of these decisions. How does a person decide when they’re no longer going to participate in traditions that are the only thing keeping a family together? When do I accept that it’s just me who’s willing to compromise, but not anyone else?

This year I pass boxes of chocolate Easter bunnies and cartons of Cadbury eggs at the grocery store. Instead of feeling excited, I feel sick. My grandma has already asked if I’ll bring the dye for the eggs this year. My wife wants to know if we’ll make cinnamon rolls. My mother tells me that I can bring my wife to church, but one year at service there was a speech about marriage equality that forced me from the building. At my own wedding last year, my father leaned into my ear at the reception and told me “I still love you, though,” as if marriage to my wife might change that.

My brother and his wife have just had a baby and our whole family is overjoyed. I think about what it will be like when my wife and I have a child together. I worry if that baby will be just as loved. I wonder where they will go for Easter; if we’ll have to split the time with this child, like a family who’s gotten divorced.

This year, we could stay home all day. Or the three of us might go to my grandma’s house. But we will choose to do these things together, as a family. If Easter is the sign of a clean start, then there should be real discussion about what tradition will mean going forward. I still love my parents and I love my family. My new family just needs to be part of it, too. I will lean into my father’s ear and say, “I still love you, though.”

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Kristen Arnett is a fiction and essay writer who has held fellowships at Tin House, and Lambda Literary Foundation. Her work has either appeared or is upcoming at North American ReviewThe Normal School, Superstition ReviewHawaii Pacific Review, Timber Journal, The RumpusThe Toast, and Burrow Press Review. She is currently finishing up her first short fiction collection.

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