I was 6 the first time I got baptized. The second time, I was 14.
I was 15 when I baptized my father.
Being baptized is important. Getting baptized is maybe just as important. Being baptized is the state of being baptized. Getting baptized is the immersive act.
I went under twice. Maybe it was because I felt sinful. Maybe it was peer pressure. Maybe I liked getting dunked, not drowning, having someone to lay me down in-between air and water, life and death, birth and rebirth. Maybe I wanted someone to hold me.
Was I “baptized” from ages 6-13 in between baptisms? Am I baptized now, still? Am I double-baptized? Should I be baptized again? Was I re-baptized in the lake, either by proxy or proximity, when I dunked my father under the water? He was heavy and I dropped him and I dunked myself under to help him get up. Did I baptize myself?
There was an above-ground pool set up in the field beside the church for the second baptism.
I was fully-clothed in church clothes and everything got soaked. I’d worn a bathing suit underneath my relatively decent dress, but I wasn’t allowed to wear just the one-piece. I had to be more decent. So I had to just climb down into the pool from the side ladder, up and over the hard plastic wall, hoping the bottom of the dress wouldn’t float up and embarrass me. It was as though being able to look up the dress was different than not having the dress on at all, and wearing just the bathing suit. As I descended into the water I held the bottom of the dress down with one hand so that it would get wet and heavy and not float.
My dress clung to my skin as I stood waiting for the rest of the day’s baptisms to be completed. We were all showing where we stood with God. We were symbolically being reborn, and we were showing it off to the world. And if being all wet was a penalty, then I would consider it a reward. It was hot outside anyway, and the water cooled me off. I felt bad for everyone who wasn’t being baptized. They were standing around in their relatively decent suits and long-sleeved dresses, sweating.
All of the newly baptized changed into fresh clothes in one of the church Sunday-school classrooms after the ceremony and prayers, boys with boys and girls with girls. We were going to have a potluck lunch in the field to celebrate they day’s event and to visit with one another and we needed to be dry. Everyone probably would’ve had wet car seats if we had to go home without having the potluck. My mother brought the casserole dish of squash and onions that she always brought to potlucks that no one ever ate and a pumpkin pie, homemade with pumpkin pie filling from a can.
Everyone was given a little plastic grocery bag for their wet clothes. Everyone had a little duffel bag or small suitcase with dry clothes. Some of the church mothers were in the room to attend to the little kids who’d been baptized. We undressed and dressed together. Some people kept on their wet underclothes. I put on all dry clothes.
When the pastor came in to congratulate us all for following Jesus’ example and showing our commitment to God, I was completely naked. He turned away from me when he saw, and continued his exhortation about shedding the Earthly body and being renewed in a Christian one after the dunk. It was important to be fully submerged to shed the Earthly skin and sin. He turned his head and saw me again and turned his head away. And then back. Not looking at me me, but looking at me, my body. He talked to my body about being righteous and standing with Jesus. He talked to my body about having a new body now that I was baptized. The old body was sinful. This new body I had was clean.
My father tried to teach me about my Earthly body. There was nothing sexual about his ways and lessons, and my brothers’ touchless, curious eyes feeling my nakedness was not a physical sensation. One day he called me into the den. He told me to take off my clothes so that he could teach us something. I complied. I stood in front of my brothers while my father pointed out female anatomy.
This helped me, too, with physiology and terminology. Now I knew “titty” and “pussy” and “mons.” I took a shower every day, but he stressed I would get really stinky and gross down “there.” I decided I would take two showers a day. My brothers didn’t get naked, and I’d learned boy parts already from my father anyway when he’d explained his “penis” and “foreskin” and “nuts” to me.
When I was 15, I went on vacation with my family to a national park reserve. We stayed in a hotel near the reserve across a lake from park land. My father had been going through a phase of renewed interest in religion and the church. He wanted to be cleansed. He wanted to show God that he meant business and that he would get baptized. There was no church around, but he felt that it was important to show God that very week how much he wanted to be renewed in Christ and to discard the Earthly body. Since I had been baptized twice, he asked me to baptize him. I was hesitant because I was not a preacher and I was a 15-year-old girl. But we were sitting at the water’s edge and he started walking into the lake. With his clothes on. He asked me to follow him, that it was time to die with Christ and be reborn with Christ. That scared me a bit, the dying, but I figured that it was symbolic, like all of it, the whole bit.
We walked into the lake so that it would be deep enough to dunk him without too much effort, so that basically I would just need to support his head as it went back. It was important to not just dip under the water, but to go backwards into the water.
He did the praying over the ceremony, and told me to put one hand on the back of his neck and one hand on his forehead. He pinched his nose. I pushed him back. He lost balance and his feet slipped from underneath. He fell all the way backward into the water. I dipped under, or did I dunk, and quickly swept around behind him and got his head back up to the surface by pushing into his back. I had no idea that he couldn’t swim.
Donnie Boman is an advisor and frequent contributor to Ohio Edit. He is fascinated by the costumed street performers in Times Square and believes they are part of some secret and mythical culture. He lives with his wife in Brooklyn.