Total Absolution for $121
I look exceptionally drab, I thought to myself while looking in the mirror. My sweater was gray and too large, my coat was worn and vaguely green. My jeans were bunched in the wrong places. My sneakers told a story that I either spent a lot of time on muddy farms or haven’t bought a new pair in years. My skin appeared sallow, and my hair, covered mostly by an unlabeled black hat, looked and smelled suspiciously unwashed.
There I was: the seemingly perfect candidate for the Church of Scientology.
Stepping off of the Q train into the heart of Times Square, I noticed the sky looked similarly lackluster. A gray blanket of clouds hung above me, threatening impending doom. I waded through the crowds blankly. I would be entering the church as Laura, heartbroken and out-of-place Laura. I looked the part, now it was time to act it.
After standing outside of the Church and spending a solid two minutes debating whether or not I should go through the revolving door or the regular door, I entered. I chose the revolving door.
“Hello,” the man at the reception desk smiled at me. It looked forced. His brown hair was aggressively slicked back to show off his matching aggressively receding hairline.
“Are you here to take the free personality test?” He barely looked at me when he asked.
“Yes, I think so,” a timid answer from a voice I did not recognize came from my own mouth. It was not my voice, I suppose. It was Laura’s. Heartbroken and out-of-place.
He told me he would get that started for me and to take a seat while I wait. I sat on one of the two ratty red cushion seats behind me. I noticed L. Ron Hubbard books lined up on shelves around the room. Next to a far bookshelf to my right, I saw four or five laundry bags. One of them was gray, the rest were a putrid lime green color.
Maybe that’s where they keep the bodies of their dissenters? I smiled to myself. Then I wiped the smile from my face. Being Laura was hard.
The receptionist told me to go to the lower-level and fill out a Welcome form. I descended.
While confidently filling out the Welcome form with all false information (name, address, e-mail, age, why I was there), another man approached me. He was smaller than me, and potentially weighed about 110 pounds.
“Are you being helped?” he chuckled nervously while rubbing the back of his bald head. He looked so young to be so bald.
“I believe I am,” I replied.
“Does that man up there,” he paused to point at the receptionist, “know you’re here?”
I swallowed my sneer at his condescension and chose to nod and smile. Laura has southern hospitality. Laura comes from a place where women are not capable of filling out forms without having their hand held. Laura is used to this.
The bald man took my form and seated me amongst one of the 3 rows of cherry wood cubicles lined up under a large metal sign that said “TESTING” in silver letters. He handed me a pencil, a packet, and a scantron.
“This test is not a timed test, so you can take as long as you want. Make sure you read the entire instructions page so you fully understand and can answer correctly.”
He smiled at me, straightened his black tie with a gold knot, and curtly walked away.
I looked down at the instructions page and read the whole thing. I was bored. I looked to my right. There was a glass library with only one man in it. He was reading a large book intensely.
I began the test.
Throughout the 200-question test (the Oxford Capacity Personality test), motivational voices from various television screens droned on about the magic of Scientology. Feet shuffled behind me. The elevator continuously dinged. Doors opened and closed. I heard people talk about their weekend plans.
One of the questions asked, “If you were to invade a small country, would you feel sympathy for its inhabitants?”
Laura answered, “No.”
I finished the test and sat back. I saw that a new man was in the library. He was wearing a tux. An older woman appeared from behind me in a black satin vest with gold trimmings and a white button-up underneath and took it from me.
“Wait here while I go get the IQ test for you,” she demanded this with a saccharine smile. I waited.
I noticed the church in itself could not decide on a theme. The walls were black granite, the floors were a beige tile, the ceilings were made of the same cherry wood that the desks were made of. There were a lot of black metal signs identifying separate rooms loudly. The railings were made of a thick silver metal. There was an enormous stained glass window in the middle of the staircase reflecting different tones of yellow. A cross was constructed from pieces of yellow glass in the middle of it. Hydrangeas in bronze vases lined the bookshelves next to me.
I wondered if they were real.
The woman returned with a new timer, another packet, another pencil and an already used scantron. She informed me that this was a timed test, and I only had thirty minutes to complete this test. She also told me to just erase answers on the scantron and refill them as I saw fit. I got to work. She took a seat at a desk behind me.
After I fully completed the test in the time limit, she retrieved the test from me and told me another man would take care of the rest. He came over and gave me the final test. The aptitude test. He placed one singular sheet down in front of me and gave me a pen. He told me there was no time limit, but I would be timed. The clock began ticking.
I finished the aptitude test in 3 minutes.
The man came back and took the test from me. He told me my results would be in shortly and to wait where I am.
“Laura,” I heard his voice behind me. Continuing to pick away at my cuticles, I didn’t answer.
“Laura? Your results are ready,” he repeated himself. I realized that he was talking to me. I turned around with a smile and stood. He had a long yellow folder in his hands with gold embossed lettering across it that said “PUBLIC.” He shook my hand and told me his name is Matthew. I followed him into another room that was barren besides one seat at an empty desk, and another chaise next to the desk. He left the door open and sat down.
“What made you interested in taking the test?” he asked with a smile.
“I’m just a bit disoriented lately,” I started, “just feeling overwhelmed and this seemed like a good opportunity to re-center.”
“What has you disoriented?”
“A bunch of things. Trying to find an apartment, I’m broke, bad break-up situation, so, yeah, just a bunch of things crashing down on me at once,” I wasn’t lying. This much was true.
“Alright, cool. So we’ll go over your results and take a look at what’s happening.”
He explained to me in greater length how the test results are a composite of my IQ and how that works with my personality and aptitude results altogether. He clarified that the way it works is that the results are not their opinion of me, but my opinion of myself.
Matthew noted quickly that my IQ scored well above average. Then, he went on to tell me that I am slightly depressed, but stable. He stressed that my stability was conditional upon life events that may worsen my depression, in which case my stability may plummet. According to these test results, I am also uncertain, wildly irresponsible and hypercritical. I had to laugh.
“How long were you in your relationship for?”
“3 years,” I said.
“And, what exactly occurred for you to break up?”
“Um, I found out he was cheating on me, and so I broke up with him. And, a lot of other things he lied about, too, ‘cause,” I paused, “you know, when you’re cheating, that can’t be the only thing you’re doing wrong. Then I moved here.”
“South Carolina,” the lie slipped over my tongue so naturally. I almost believed it myself.
“Why’d you come here?”
“I wanted to get out. Big city. No one will recognize me. No one will bother me, I guess, and I could just start over and start fresh. It’s working out so far, sort of.”
This was a gross oversimplification of what I went through, but it did the trick for Matthew.
“So, in the sense that, um, you said 3 years. Did you ever have any idea of what was going on?”
“I didn’t really ask.”
“Well, did you ever have any sense or perception that that was what was going on?”
“I think so,” I answered honestly, “I think so. I wanted to believe things were fine and I was just being paranoid.”
Matthew told me this is where my real problem is. That I don’t have confidence in myself enough to trust that I’m making the right choice for myself. That I don’t trust my instincts. That I aggressively pursue more than I can handle so as to avoid my problems, but it makes my problems worse.
I waited for the “that you can be saved” part, but it didn’t come.
Matthew went through more of my results in terms of my life and asked me more questions. He asked me if I often feel like I regret irresponsible decisions I’ve made. I told him I don’t regret anything. His eyebrows raised and his perfectly trimmed fingernails tapped at the section of my results that said I’m irresponsible as if to say, Are you sure?
He tried to convince me I beat myself up about my poor choices. I was adamant that I do not. Because I don’t.
We went through the rest of the results together and finally came to the conclusion that I have low confidence. As much as I know this isn’t true, a part of me believed him. Most of the test shockingly held up to be true in one way or another. He told me to go over into the next room to talk to a woman about how I could fix this.
Ahh, I thought, the “I can be saved” part.
I went into the next room.
“Hi,” I said cheerfully, “I have been sent in to discuss ways to fix my problems.”
The older woman, whose name I later found out is Cheryl, smiled at me. So much smiling here. She asked to take a look at my results and, again, quickly expressed that she was impressed with my IQ score. She asked me to explain what I needed help with, so I did.
Cheryl began to tell me that I should take two separate courses relating to building self-confidence that would amount to $121. I looked over what the course contains and told her I couldn’t afford that. She asked if I’d like a book instead, which was about a new “slant” on life. That was $21. I flipped through it quietly.
“Have you heard funny things about Scientology?” she asked me.
“I mean,” I began, “yeah, but, I’ve heard funny things about every religion. I don’t participate in any organized religions, so all of it seems vaguely distant to me.”
She nodded and told me I should read about this one to learn about it. I asked her how long she’s worked here. She told me plainly, “a long time.” She asked me what I want to do with my life.
“I like to read, so maybe I like to write,” I said.
“You a writer?” she inquired.
“I do like poetry a lot.”
“Do you do journalism?” This was a test.
“No,” the words came out too quickly, “I don’t like the whole questioning thing. I just like to write about my feelings since I don’t like to actually talk about them.”
This answer seemed to satisfy her skepticism. We went back to talking about Scientology. She told me she was raised Christian and married a Jewish Scientology minister and got into it. Cheryl claims she’s a practical girl, a “show me the money” kind of girl and that’s why she likes Scientology. It’s holistic.
“I’m not really into, you know, like the whole story behind everything, if that makes sense,” I said, “for every religion there’s a story about how it starts, how it works, where everything is, but for me I,” I paused to search for the right words, “I want absolution.”
Saccharine smile be damned. This woman’s smile was downright devilish when I said that.
I declined buying the book and was seen to the door shortly after that. No one smiled at me as I left like they did on the way in. No one said goodbye. A television blared motivational messages on the outside of the building. It was like Laura was a ghost.
I wondered if Tom Cruise’s experience was any different from mine.