We were driving beside a bland piece of scenery in McClennan County, Texas exactly like this one when I first met Lady Ishtar in November 1999.
While serving Ishtar as a priest from November 1999 to February 2001, my experiences with Her were pretty happy, but the rest of my life wasn’t so hot. My family and I moved to Texas in May 1999, and spending my last two years of high school there was a pretty traumatic experience. Perhaps if we had lived in a big city like Austin, Houston or Dallas, things would have been better. At least places like Austin have lots of different people living there, including large Jewish, Hindu, Muslim and even Pagan populations. I find that I’m generally happier in places where the culture isn’t so homogenous; being a polytheist from Philadelphia, it’s much easier for me to feel “normal” in social environments where the word “normal” can mean lots of different things.
But we didn’t live in Austin, Houston or Dallas; we lived in the Temple and Belton area instead. And while there are much worse places in Texas to live (e.g., Moody, McGregor), Temple and Belton were bad enough for me. Technically, they’re two separate towns; but since they’re so close together and they’ve expanded so far into each other, they might as well be considered the same place. They’re also technically considered “cities,” but I’ve never been able to take this claim seriously; Temple and Belton are about as “urban” as I am Chinese.
I don’t want to spend too much time thinking about all of this; but just to give you an idea of what it was like for me to live in the Temple and Belton area during the late 1990s and early 2000s:
- My high school marching band instructor insisted on having a group prayer to Jesus before every football game, even though it was technically illegal.
- My 11th grade history teacher wasn’t actually a history teacher, but a football coach; he also pronounced the word Italian as “EYE-talian” and would go off on random tangents during class about his missionary trips to foreign countries (and his attempts to win local heathen souls for Christ).
- Before excusing us from class, my high school math teacher would say things like, “Next time we’ll talk about differential equations, unless the Rapture happens between now and then” – and she wasn’t kidding.
- A fellow marching band member once saw me reading Merlin Stone’s When God Was A Woman and said, “That title is blasphemous! You’ll go to hell for reading that!” (To which I responded, “Depends on your definition of ‘blasphemy.'”)
- My 12th grade history teacher didn’t like it at all when I mentioned Akhenaten and Zoroaster during her unit on monotheism. Even though I cited history books that I had read and that were published by major universities, she insisted that I was “making it up” and that “Everyone knows monotheism began with Abraham.”
- When I was still dating my ex-girlfriend, she and I were both harassed by kids whose youth ministers instructed them to identify anyone who listened to certain types of music (e.g., Marilyn Manson) or who dressed in certain kinds of clothes (e.g., anything black) as “risks” for demonic possession or suicide.
- One person I knew in the 12th grade hated our ultraconservative social environment so much that he actually thought it was funny to joke about re-enacting the Columbine massacre at our school. (Luckily, he wasn’t serious; but it still freaked me out.)
And the list goes on. This doesn’t even include the things that happened after February 2001, when I stopped serving Ishtar as a priest.
I might also mention that moving to Texas was already hard for all the normal reasons that moving anywhere is hard on kids: I had to go to a new school and make new friends. I never warmed up to Temple High like I did to good ol’ Great Valley High in Pennsylvania, but I at least made a few friends during my junior year. Unfortunately, my family and I moved into a house just down the street from our apartment during the summer of 2000 – and guess what? Our new house just happened to be in the Belton School District (even though it was technically still in Temple). This meant that I had to go to ANOTHER new school and make new friends ALL OVER AGAIN during my SENIOR year of high school. At least I could see my friends from Temple High on weekends, but I was still forced to hang around a bunch of strangers I didn’t know most of the time, which only increased my sense of alienation.
Now mind you, I’m not saying it was all bad. Good things did happen to me during this period, but they were mostly to do with Ishtar. The day that I first met Her was one of the happiest days of my entire life. (It’s strange to think that anyone watching me when it happened would have only seen a kid sitting in the back seat of a car, looking outside his window.) I would pray to Her discreetly while I was at school (usually several times a day), and I would listen to KISS or Philip Glass with Her as I lay awake in bed at night. I’d sing songs to Her in the shower, write poems for Her in my journal, draw pictures of Her all over the place, and watch things like Dazed & Confused (1993), Detroit Rock City (1999) and That 70’s Show (1998-2006) with Her on TV. I wouldn’t normally say that I feel “nostalgic” for that chapter of my life (since everything apart from Ishtar was so depressing). But if there is one thing about that time that does fill me with nostalgia, it’s those intimate moments I shared with the Lady of the Morning Star.
Things got strange by the time I met my ex-girlfriend (who naturally wasn’t my ex just yet) at Belton High. Not only did I fall head over heels in love with this girl, but I had also developed a close friendship with a girl I knew from Temple High named Nessie. We’d met in my 11th grade Theater class, and we first bonded when her parents decided to divorce. She needed help packing her things so that she and her mother could move out, and I volunteered to help. We became very close after that, to the point where we actually went to our junior prom together (just as friends). There was a point where Nessie and I almost started dating, and it would have been a much better decision on both our parts to tell you the truth. For while I had involved myself with someone who would cause me to have a mental breakdown just a few short months later, Nessie ended up seeing an older guy who I didn’t like at all. (I’ll just leave it at that.) I had a lot of mixed up feelings about that, and I’m sure Nessie had a lot of mixed up feelings about me being with the person I was with. Sometimes I wonder how things might have gone if she and I had become a couple instead.
(If you’re still out there, Nessie, I hope you’re OK and that you found yourself a good man who treats you right.)
Anyway, I guess my relationship with Ishtar really started changing when I first met my ex-girlfriend, and not just when we broke up. The dynamic was certainly different; now I was seeing Her as more of a distant maternal figure (rather than an up close and personal “girlfriend”). Perhaps that’s just because I had a flesh-and-blood girlfriend at the time; or perhaps it was a sign that my service to Her as a priest was almost done. Either way, thinking about that period from late 1999 to early 2001 makes me feel really happy and really sad at the same time.
But to end this thing on a much brighter note, there is one non-Ishtar-related thing that happened during this period that I am forever glad to have experienced. That was the day when Tony and I first met, which was in late August 2000. (Funny how things of great historical importance to LV-426 keep happening around Wep Ronpet.) To quote the end title card in 1982’s Conan the Barbarian: “And this story shall also be told.”