The Atheist Closet
As an adult who had become comfortable with my Utahn neighbors for the last twelve years, I was completely apprehensive about relocating to Provo (home of Brigham Young University) just to be closer to my daughter’s school. This move deeper into Utah County had the potential for culture clash and new Mormon neighbors that typically keep me from answering the door on Sunday mornings and make me want to curse loudly and drink beer in my front yard—but once the boxes were unpacked, and the kids and I had legitimate library cards for the first time in years, we decided Provo wasn’t all that “jacked.” It helped that the previous owners of our home were nonmembers and it helped that the neighborhood itself seemed to be moderate, accepting, and loving LDS people—so far, we have not encountered any that are not.
Our new neighbors unnecessarily tend to apologize for community events always being church related, and when my daughter was invited to join the bi-monthly youth activities for the 11-year-old Mormon girls, I was hesitant. She, however, was anxious to meet new friends and was bored with summer. I walked her to the door and met the teacher, who was a very gracious older woman with grown children and fiery red hair. She welcomed us in and quickly explained that her husband was also not a member. I was just getting ready to make my exit when she looked at me and asked, “Do you believe in God?” In my years as an atheist, no one has asked me this heavily-weighted question so directly. I felt nervous, not sure how to respond, and sputtered out through an awkward smile, “No, I’m an atheist, but my daughter will need to decide that for herself.”
As I walked to my car and drove back to work, an odd settling and sense of relief filled in from the back of my mind to the tip of my tongue. My tongue, that up until this moment, had never uttered the words, “I am an atheist” to anyone other than my closest friends, and certainly not a stranger of the local popular faith in my own neighborhood. Over the next couple of weeks I found myself willingly admitting my atheism to people in the office whom I’ve worked with for years and in any other conversation that warranted it. My fears of offending those whom I respect the most had finally receded. I had officially come out of the atheist closet, out from the piles of little-girl Sunday dresses I once wore, out from under my parents’ disappointed eyes, and into a realm where my beliefs no longer need to be squelched out of respect for those I was afraid I might offend. I regained my faith in the compassion of people, which I should have had all along.
Trish Hopkinson has always loved words—in fact, her mother tells everyone she was born with a pen in her hand. She has two chapbooks Emissions and Pieced Into Treetops and has been published in several anthologies and journals, including Stirring, Chagrin River Review, and The Found Poetry Review. Trish is a co-founder of the local poetry group, Rock Canyon Poets. She is a product director by profession and resides in Utah with her handsome husband and their two outstanding children. You can follow her poetry adventures at http://trishhopkinson.com/.